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Author: Gary Frey

Connections

Why Settle for Networking When We Can be Connecting?

Connections

What is the first reaction you have to the word, “networking”? Is it positive or is it negative? What about the word, “connecting”? Do you have the same reaction to it as you do to “networking”? If not, why not?

Perhaps it is just my own idiosyncrasy but more and more, I really don’t like the word “networking”. For some reason, it seems pretty cold and “me-focused” whereas “connecting” seems to be warmer and a whole lot more collaborative to me.

This article isn’t meant to offend those who love “networking”, fancy themselves as “master networkers”, or those who love “network marketing”. My goal is to take a closer look at the nuances and hopefully draw all of us into more introspective look beyond the semantics.

The “networking” call out of the blue that makes you wonder, “Why are you REALLY calling me?” I remember meeting a guy at church a long time ago when I was struggling to connect in a new city during a difficult time in my life. That same afternoon, I got a call from my new acquaintance out of the blue. For a moment I thought, “This is great. I just met this guy. It is nice to know that someone could sense my pain and actually cares about me.”

Unfortunately, after we got past 30 seconds of pleasantries, the REAL reason for his call became apparent. He had a “business opportunity” for me. (Actually, it was a “network marketing business opportunity” that was apparently more about how I and others in his “down line” could benefit HIM.) When I asked him if it was “insert your favorite multi-level marketing name here”, he finally came clean. It made me wonder, “If what you have is so great, why do you have to disguise the kind of company or even the name?”

Granted, not all network marketing “opportunities” are bad nor are all networkers or network marketers self-absorbed. It is just my experience that the vast majority of these “networking” calls are rarely altruistic or collaborative. They are often highly conditional. As long as I buy (or have the prospect of buying) what you’re selling, you’ll be there for me. As soon as it becomes apparent that I’m not buying what you’re selling, crickets…

But I’m in business development. Don’t I need to be networking? Even before I had an official role in business development when I was running companies or working within Fortune 100 companies, I was interested in building bridges, forging relationships, and looking for opportunities to collaborate. I think it is more fun to collaborate than to be a solo performer. (That’s probably another reason I’m a drummer. I think drums are at their best as part of a larger ensemble.)

People have often said I’m a natural networker. I used to embrace that term until I had seen the dark side of “networking”. Unfortunately, I’ve seen “networking” at its self-serving worst also destroy trust, relationships, and even a company that I really loved. As a result, my repulsion for that term continues to grow.

Because I’ve had (and still have) the responsibility of bringing in business for my company, I get the fact that dollars must still roll in as a result of my efforts to forge relationships and help others. However, I don’t believe connecting with others must be a quid pro quo deal where it is, “As long as you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” I also don’t believe it should be a zero sum game that says, “Only one can win so I must win and you must lose” or “If you win, that means I must lose.” I’ve worked with people who actually behaved as though that was an immutable law of the universe and frankly, I reject that.

Is it possible for me to genuinely seek to serve or help someone else and still ask for assistance without hiding “the ask” or making my assistance conditional? Call me naïve but I say, “Absolutely!”

Not that I’m a master at this because I’m ashamed to say that at times I’ve been pretty self-serving in my efforts to “network”. As I’ve reflected back on such times, the root cause of descending from “relationship-building” (or “connecting”) to a more self-serving, “networking” mode has occurred when I’ve been under pressure to perform, close a sale, or just make something happen quickly.

Even though I’m a natural relationship builder, I still have to be especially cognizant of my motivations when I’m under high levels of pressure to perform. I’ve found that in such times, I must be intentional and ask myself these two questions:

  1. “What is my motivation for making this connection?”
  2. “Am I willing to help and/or serve them even if they aren’t buying what I’m selling now or down the road?” (NOTE: That seems to be the fundamental question that separates “networking” from “connecting”.)

Once I know the answers to these questions, I find that I’m usually in the frame of mind that I can make it clear and honestly address why I’m trying to connect with them. If I am connecting with them in hopes that they can help me directly or help connect me with someone who can help me, I try to tell them that early in the discussion.

I think people value authenticity and often genuinely like to help others. I know I do. In such times of overt political correctness and sanitized language, we’re seeing a backlash against career politicians because clever sound bites and outright lies are getting really long in the tooth. I find myself respecting someone who just gives it to me straight (even if it hurts) far more than someone who tells me what I want to hear but either doesn’t follow through or even worse, does the exact opposite of what they told me they were going to do. Authenticity is refreshing. Seeing people unselfishly serve others without strings attached is beautiful.

Here’s a recent example… This past spring, I had just finished a several-month consulting assignment in Cleveland. While we appreciate the relationships formed and many experiences we had during our 13 winters in Chagrin Falls, OH, my wife and I were itching to return to Carolina blue skies and move back to the city we love, Charlotte, NC. The only problem: My unconventional career path and my level of experience (age) made it rather difficult to turn my online resume submissions into interviews eight hours away from our residence in OH. If I had any hope of finding employment back in the Queen City, it became clear that I needed to head to Charlotte and spend at least a couple of weeks meeting with people, reconnecting with friends, and forming new relationships.

I didn’t think I was really in a position where I was able to meaningfully serve someone in my position as I needed to find a job relatively soon. I began my “connecting adventure” back in Charlotte by merely asking friends if they could help me make some meaningful connections. Before I knew it, my friends made connections for me with other people who were more than willing to help a stranger like me. I am humbled when I think about the grace and generosity that others unselfishly extended to me.

I didn’t go into any of these meetings with the expectation that my friends or their referrals were going to give me the job I was seeking. However, I was hoping to:

  1. Make meaningful connections across the city of Charlotte that might result in long-term friendships regardless of whether or not they led me to the right job.
  2. Serve as a conduit or connector for these old and new relationships so as to help someone else along the way.
  3. Find the right professional fit with a company that needed my skills and had compatible values with mine.

To my surprise, all three of these things happened. My job hunting trip to Charlotte resulted in a six-week adventure filled with 90 meaningful meetings. The bulk of those meetings happened because I had friends who were willing to connect me with others who met with me, heard my story, and thoughtfully connected me with others who they thought might be able to help me in my quest.

Along the way, I met some AMAZING people who genuinely fascinated me. Once I got to know a bit of their story, I was even able to connect some of them with friends of mine who I thought they would click with professionally and enjoy a “win-win” relationship.

Sometimes, when we seek to serve others ahead of ourselves, magic happens. During my Charlotte job hunting journey, a friend recommended that I meet with someone at RGP, a global management consultancy. Even though I initially thought there would never be a fit for me there, I went to the meeting primarily to honor my friend’s introduction.

Shortly after I first met some of the RGP team members and learned more about their company and culture, I introduced two of my friends to RGP because I thought that both RGP and my friends would benefit from knowing one another. I honestly didn’t connect my friends to RGP with any thought that I would benefit from the intro. I did so because I genuinely love connecting great people. It is a blast to connect great people with one another, step back, and watch the magic happen!

In spite of my desire (and need) to land a meaningful role and the harsh reality that my need was seemingly unmet at the time when I made some of these introductions, I remembered the advice that a friend and former business partner told me on a day in which we collectively received some depressing news about a business situation years ago. He said, “Given this news, there’s one thing I really need to do to help get my eyes off of myself and this pain. I need to go serve someone else.” He was known for routinely putting action to those very words and I’ve tried to do the same. His words of wisdom were burned into my mind and they have helped liberate my soul.

Much to my surprise, that “random” first meeting with RGP that was based on an introduction from a friend not only led me to connect two good friends to them, it ultimately resulted in a job for me! In my determination to honor friendships and serve others, I was blind-sided with a blessing that I never imagined would come from that initial connection – a unpublished position that had my name on it.

To “network” or “connect”? That is the question. Now that my current role is largely focused on business development and helping our team grow the Carolinas office of RGP (as well as the global enterprise), I must be deliberate and purposeful in assessing my motivations. Will I compromise and settle for a short-term, often self-centered “networking” approach to developing business relationships or will I choose a long-term, others-focused approach of “connecting” and serving?

Granted, impressive sales performance isn’t guaranteed with either approach. I know plenty of people who are known for churning through people and relationships who routinely get impressive sales results. Even so, I find myself believing that we can still enjoy solid sales results AND build lasting, relationships along the way by seeking to genuinely connect with them versus merely seeing these connections as a means to an end.

I hope that this article will encourage each of us to routinely ask ourselves, “What is my motivation and my approach to building this relationship?” coupled with, “Am I willing to help and/or serve them even if they aren’t buying what I’m selling now or down the road?” In doing so, we’ll likely experience the magic of “connecting” with one another versus simply relegating one other to just another member of our “network”.

Metamorphosis

A man. A mission. A Motorhome. Life Lessons From the Metamorphosis.

Metamorphosis

Have you ever worked with or for someone who was an entrepreneur? Someone who seemingly called the non-existent into existence? Someone who could see the potential in others or in new possibilities when the future they envisioned seemed impossible?

If you are an entrepreneur, I think you’ll find some things in this article that will ring true with you and perhaps even bring a smile to your face. If you are less entrepreneurial but are still interested in picking up a nugget or two from a true story of vision, inviting others into the journey, overcoming adversity, and keeping the mission in perspective, stay with me. My dad’s story just might inspire you.

When a leader’s “vision” looks more like a land yacht. One day, my dad rumbled up to our house in the early 1970s in the form of a 1960 Chrysler Imperial that sounded bad and looked even worse. I was embarrassed by the sight of this metal monstrosity but my dad was beside himself with enthusiasm. “We’re going to turn this baby into a motorhome!” he declared.

Granted, I was just about 10 years old at the time, but I wasn’t seeing the same possibilities my dad did in his newest mission. The thing was ugly, ran rough, and was embarrassing to have in the vicinity.

Have you had a similar reaction when your partner, boss, or CEO boldly declares their latest vision and you wonder what they might be smoking? Even so, I think it is truly a gift to “call the non-existent into existence” like so many successful entrepreneurs are able to do.

I realize I’m not a true-blue entrepreneur. I have some entrepreneurial affinity but I’m more of a turnaround guy or an impact catalyst. Even though I’m not quite wired like my dad who was an educator-by-day and entrepreneur-by-night-and-weekend, it can be exciting to be around hard-core entrepreneurs. I especially like being with those are able to effectively recruit others into helping make their vision a collective reality.

Recruit others along for the joy ride. Don’t misunderstand me here. Recruiting others to join you on your journey of “calling the non-existent into existence” isn’t simple hypnosis or coercion. Sure, there are plenty of those who subscribe to this theory. After all, it can yield some impressive short-term results. However, if you want to see people run through walls and do more than they had ever dreamed over a sustained period of time, you have to help them find meaning and purpose in joining you. Provide a healthy dose of fun as part of the adventure and you’re all in for a fun ride.

My dad was able to do that really well. He was really funny. He genuinely enjoyed being around people and seeing them accomplish great things. For him, the mission went beyond the mere accomplishment of doing stuff that others said couldn’t be done or simply transforming basket cases into mechanical works of art. He seemed to enjoy the twisted journey as much as the final destination and didn’t want to make the trip all by himself.

Like my dad, I don’t think life was meant to be lived in isolation. Sure, we need moments of solace. However, I think the real magic happens when we allow our vision to expand and ferment with the active participation and input from others. If you think about it, very few people accomplish truly great things without a little help from some friends.

But you barely have one leg to stand on! All of us face challenges and naysayers. Overcoming adversity is part of life. For some of us, big adversities just create bigger victories.

In my dad’s case, he lost all the muscles in his right leg when he was stricken by polio at the age of 17. In spite of limping through the majority of his life physically, he was outrunning most people on many fronts. The metamorphosis of the 1960 Chrysler Imperial which transformed into my dad’s version of the Winnebago (with the Chrysler’s ultra-cool push-button transmission mounted on the dash) was a great example.

His disability also made room for a 10 year-old son like me to be his helper. Don’t get me wrong, fetching tools, holding boards, gathering equipment on nights and every weekend wasn’t glamorous or even fun much of the time. However, being able to participate in such a deliberate yet drastic transformation of one vehicle becoming something dramatically different over the period of 18 months or so was thrilling. Being able to learn from and be inspired by my dad at such a tender age was priceless. Only now do I begin to grasp what a gift that was.

It’s easy to squash ideas that are outside of the norm or to quickly point out the excuses of why embarking on an uncharted path should be avoided. I think fear of the unknown, risks, etc. drives us to that. However, sometimes all we need is a powerful dream, one good leg, and a willing companion with abilities that complement our own to build something great.

Celebrate the accomplishment without having it define us. Sometimes, especially when we worked so hard to accomplish something great with lots of battle scars to prove how difficult the journey was, it is easy to lose perspective on the accomplishment. If we’re not careful, we can make the accomplishment define us. In doing so, it can alienate us.

One thing I really appreciate now about the experience that my dad and I enjoyed while building the motorhome is how he didn’t allow such a cool accomplishment like transforming a once-creaky land yacht into a rambling motorhome define him – especially for a guy who was repeatedly told he was a bit nuts for trying such a feat with only having one good leg.

We enjoyed using the motorhome after it was built (after the bugs got worked out including a minor engine fire!) and we had some fun times camping in it as a family. I know my dad was proud of it and enjoyed using it but I never got the sense that this accomplishment defined him.

That was underscored when he sold it one day to someone who offered cash for it. I remember the buyer whipping out a thick stack of $100 bills and driving it away. My dad didn’t get rich off of it but he felt like he got what he needed to be made whole. We ended up buying another camper (one that wasn’t as cool) shortly thereafter but it didn’t hit me until I was much older how big of a deal it was for the inventor to gracefully watch his invention drive away.

Have you seen someone who was so wrapped up in their accomplishment that they allowed it to define them? Have you seen them turn what seemed like a noble mission eventually into a vehicle that ran over anyone or anything that got in their way? Have you ever felt used by a visionary who enlisted your help to accomplish their mission only to feel kicked to the curb once the mission was accomplished? I’ve seen it in the business world many times.

I must regretfully admit that I have been guilty of all the above – especially when I was much younger in my quest to build a world-class integrated marketing agency. On one specific occasion, I lambasted an employee with all the finesse of a turbo-charged steamroller as he failed to accomplish MY objective. Our relationship was never the same in spite of my repeated attempts to seek his forgiveness for my insensitivity. Since that time, I’ve made a conscious commitment to never put accomplishments ahead of relationships.

Throughout my childhood and my adult life, my dad proved to me in his actions that he always valued me more than his accomplishments. It is great to celebrate accomplishments and to even savor them. However, I believe that there are more important things in life.

Relationships trump accomplishments. I hope and pray that no matter how bodacious our newest personal or professional mission may be, we will keep that simple truth in front of us.

Dare to dream. Invite others along for the ride. Overcome the detours. Celebrate the milestones. Put relationships in the seat of honor. In doing so, we might just have the kind of positive impact on each other that my dad had on me while we have one amazing journey.

Shipwreck

Could Your “Sales Star” Be Silently Shipwrecking Your Company?

Shipwreck

In today’s marketplace, it’s all about results, right? As long as you are hitting your quarterly top line and bottom line numbers, your Board is nodding with enthusiastic affirmation, and your market share is growing, all is well. Or is it? Could there be trouble lurking below the surface? How can you know before trouble strikes?

It’s tough to argue with financial performance metrics. However, I’ve witnessed some pretty devastating collateral damage within companies that had once been cruising along quite nicely. Had there been more proactive probes, more effective challenges to the status quo, or a thoughtful expansion of what defined the “measures of success”, disaster may have been averted. Chances are, you have witnessed similar failures as well.

Sales performance is more than the top and bottom line. What is your immediate reaction to the names, Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay of Enron? What about Bernie Ebbers of WorldCom? How about another infamous “Bernie” – Bernie Madoff? Anyone with even a marginal sense of right and wrong has a visceral reaction of repulsion to any or all of those names – especially to the name “Madoff”.

However, you would have likely given a different answer if you knew anything about him before “Madoff” became synonymous with “Ponzi” in 2008 and 2009. Prior to that, you were considered to be among an elite group if you were “fortunate enough” to invest with him. Bernie Madoff had incredible sales performance for almost 50 years! He once was the rock star of Wall Street. The guy was slick. He was polished. He had credentials. He “made” a lot of people money along the way – until the music suddenly stopped playing. At the end of the day, he was proven to be a huckster of gargantuan proportions who trashed the lives of many to the tune of approximately $50 billion.

Under the mirage he skillfully “sold” of deep and rewarding financial waters, massive and dangerous rocks of truth were lurking – underwater boulders capable of shipwrecking his loyal crew and unsuspecting passengers who had entrusted their livelihoods to this once-respected man. Once the financial tide went out, the rocks which were always there – hiding just below the shallow surface – suddenly appeared. In an instant, the bow of Bernie’s opulent, “safe investment yacht” was savagely ripped to shreds by perverted peaks of Ponzi.

The power to influence is not limited to the CEO. Ultimately, those occupying the highest seats of power in your organization can have the most profound effect (both for good and for evil) on your company. However, ANYONE who represents your company – especially front-line sales and customer service people – can wield tremendous power in forming your brand’s perception and reputation simply by the way they conduct themselves day in and day out. After all, we are ALL ambassadors of the companies and brands we represent by how we speak and act toward others. Yet, how often do we measure these behaviors?

It doesn’t require committing fraud to severely damage your brand. Have you known sales “top guns” who consistently shot the lights out of the numbers but eventually, their actions revealed that they were all about themselves? Ultimately, they proved to be more about what YOU could do for THEM than vice versa?

Chances are, all the financial metrics on their performance dashboard were on target. Yet, it eventually became obvious in other behaviors that something was off kilter.

I referenced Bernie Madoff as an extreme example simply to make a point: We should be measuring and evaluating MORE than short-term sales performance if we want to build a company of integrity, lasting value, and long-term relationships with our customers, colleagues, and vendors. If those things don’t matter to you or your company, then full steam ahead with whatever you are doing. Good luck with that.

Are your performance metrics incomplete? Believe me, I value and understand the importance of solid financial performance. Whether we are in sales, management, administrative support, etc., we have to provide a positive return on the investment that our employers, partners, or investors have made. Without profitability, eventually there is no ongoing viability. However, I think we all know there has to be more. Perhaps you are even measuring qualities of your salespeople that go beyond financial performance in attributes such as:

  1. “Trustworthiness” and/or “seeking win-win solutions” as deemed by your customers.
  2. “Collaboration and teamwork” as deemed by fellow employees.
  3. “Exhibits company core values” as deemed by both employees and customers.

If you are measuring things like this, congratulations! Your company likely values more than simple financial metrics. However, in the case of Bernie, he may have still scored highly on all of those. We need to measure those things that can be measured and be on the look-out for other indicators.

At the heart of the matter, it’s the motivation of the heart. I think it is very difficult and even dangerous to try to discern the motivation of someone’s heart beyond our own heart. We can misinterpret others’ motivations and easily be deceived by our own. Even so, I believe it is worth starting with an examination of our own motivations first before we take on judging the motivations of others.

A few questions that we can ask ourselves if we are willing to evaluate our own motivations include:

  1. Am I being driven by my needs and desires (short-term sales targets, quotas, notoriety, affirmation, rewards, etc.) or am I genuinely seeking to put the needs of someone else ahead of my needs?
  2. Am I willing to “do the right thing” even if I must pay a hefty price to do so?
  3. Can my values be bought at a certain threshold? If so, “conviction” is really a “preference” with a price.

Look for the fruit. While discerning the motives of another’s heart is really up to God and not us, examining “fruit” of their actions is less difficult to spot. Jesus himself said, “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.” That doesn’t mean that any of us will walk perfectly. We all screw up.

However, I believe that “fruit” means “evidence”, actions, or even patterns of behavior. Fruit is substance that goes beyond words. Talk is cheap but actions are revealing. While I’m no authority on this by any means, some simple evidences of “fruit” that I look for in myself, salespeople, and anyone who may represent my team, brand, or company include:

  1. How does this person treat those who likely couldn’t benefit them in any way? For example, how do they treat the janitor, the lowest paid guy on the plant floor, the teller, the waitress, or the taxi driver? Do they treat those who can benefit them one way and everyone else another?
  2. How does this person treat their spouse?
  3. If they make a mistake, are they quick to blame others or are they willing to raise their hand quickly and accept responsibility?
  4. Do they expect others to “carry their bags” or do they demonstrate “servant leadership” like opening doors for others, helping clean up messes they didn’t cause, tipping generously when no one is looking, saying “thank you” for even little things, etc.?
  5. Can you trust them to honor their verbal commitments?

A broader definition for success is needed and should be measured. I don’t believe that sales performance must ignore financial results. Without financial performance, a company eventually ceases to exist. However, I believe we can all be well served to raise our eyes and take a broader view of what we are evaluating when we define and measure “success”.

While it is important to give financial performance a respected seat at the table, our companies can increase our chances of creating healthy, sustainable, win-win-win relationships with our customers, companies, and colleagues. How? By evaluating and expanding our performance measurement criteria to align with our stated values.

Then what? Once we have taken the time to define and measure relevant performance metrics that INCLUDE but GO BEYOND simple financial performance, I believe that we need to consistently hire, train, and reward our front-line sales and service colleagues based on these expanded criteria. We also need to pay close attention to the “fruit” exhibited by those who are members of our crew. When the fruit is present, the measurable performance is likely to show up as well.

And what about when our “sales star” who puts up great numbers fails in the other important measures? I believe we must attempt to coach them to success – if they are coachable. However, if they can’t be coached to perform beyond the one trick of financial performance, we need to find the courage to promptly ship them out of the organization. In doing so, we just might save our customers, colleagues, brands, companies, and even ourselves from some serious trouble that may be silently lurking beneath the surface.

The Career Path

When Life Leads Your Career Down an Unintended Path…

The Career Path

How do you cope with the unexpected detours of life? We’ve all had them in varying degrees. They can frustrate us in our quest to control our journey or become a surprising source of adventure along the way. I think it’s all about perspective.

In this article, I hope to provide some encouragement, a wink of humor, and possibly some helpful insight for anyone who has also experienced a few unexpected twists, turns, and speed bumps along your own journey.

Finding the blessing in the unexpected. Even though I’m sometimes embarrassed by my non-traditional career path that seems to be a rather humorous example of, “I planned and God laughed”, I’m actually thankful for the rather unusual journey that has unfolded. (One look at my LinkedIn profile and you’ll understand that it isn’t one that fits inside a nice and neat little box!)

Believe me, I have had my moments of fighting some of the detours that seemed destined to sabotage my once-meticulously formulated plans. However, I’ve found that the more intentional I am on finding the blessings and the things for which I can give thanks even in the midst of disappointments, tragedies, threats, and less-than-perfect circumstances, the more joyful, satisfied, effective, and fulfilled I become.

One of my mentors is known for saying, “If it is meant to be, it is up to me.” Well, I can appreciate his perspective but if it had been up to me, my path would have been far more predictable, likely far less exhilarating, certainly less terrifying, and far more boring. I can guarantee you that my pre-planned path wouldn’t have been nearly as filled with the valuable experiences and immensely meaningful relationships that have proven to be more precious to me than coffers overflowing with money.

Is “stability” a destination? Having started my career as a graphic designer and quickly advancing through the creative ranks to management positions in the advertising world, “stability” was never considered to be an option. Accounts were won and we scrambled to add talent. Accounts were lost and talent was promptly shown the door. It was a fact of life that was tough for my dad – an educator who had only worked for two school systems his entire career – to witness, much less understand.

When my young family and I had experienced much of the tumultuous ad agency world, I had an opportunity to take a marketing management role within a Fortune 100 company – a large, national bank. My dad was relieved because after seeing me weather the effects of agencies going out of business or unable to pay their employees after losing huge accounts, he couldn’t think of anything more stable than a bank.

He was shocked to hear my report from the first day of new employee orientation where about 80 middle managers including myself were given a message by an HR representative that went something like this: “The days of retiring from the same employer with a gold pocket watch after years of service are pretty much a thing of the past. We have identified skills and experience that you currently possess that we presently need. There are no guarantees that we’ll need those same skills in the future so while you are here, we suggest you add to your ‘tool box’ of experience and keep yourself relevant for the time when you are no longer needed here or choose to find a different opportunity with another company.” That was an eye-opener. Welcome to Corporate America.

Trail marker #1: Loyalty from a company to an employee is a largely a thing of the past. While I believe we are to be good stewards and demonstrate loyalty to our employers, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment if we think that businesses are going to reciprocate to the same degree. The sooner that we understand that there are no guarantees, the sooner we can embrace the need to keep growing and appreciate the blessings of today.

Is “True North” relative? The movie star from the 1940’s, Irene Dunne once said, “If we don’t stand for something, we’ll fall for anything.” I’ve experienced first-hand the devastation resulting from trusted leaders who ultimately descended down a dangerous road covered with the black ice of situational ethics. As I’ve witnessed, oftentimes these “falls from grace” were generally decent people who ultimately bought the lie that “True North” was relative. The wreckage caused by “ends-justifies-the-means” mentality embraced by once-admired leaders isn’t pretty and isn’t limited to just the perpetrator. Many times, their families, partners, co-workers, and even their businesses have paid unimaginable penalties.

I believe that once we are immovable in what we value most deeply, we can be flexible in the things that are less important. When I was in the ad agency business, an element of my “True North” was found in a simple litmus test: If I couldn’t openly discuss or recommend my clients’ product or service in the presence of my young children, I refused to advertise it.

Shortly after I had discovered and confronted a business partner’s financial impropriety that left me devastated, a very lucrative job opportunity came knocking while I was trying to figure out what to do next. I needed to find another good job rather quickly given the situation my partner had created and my need to provide for my family. Even though this new opportunity was a great position with fun people and great pay in a desirable area of the country, I elected to say “pass” and walk away. As painful as it was to turn it down, it was an easy choice. Why? One of their primary clients manufactured products known to cause unhealthy addictions that clearly violated my litmus test. Ultimately, I took a role that didn’t offer many of my “ideal” criteria but I was able to be flexible in the less-important things knowing that my core values weren’t compromised.

Trail marker #2. Know your own “True North” or you’ll eventually get lost. Knowing what you refuse to compromise and being resolute in guarding these values regardless of the cost can save you, those you love most, and those you are leading from unnecessary heartache. It may be a less traveled and more difficult trail but at least you can sleep well at night. It might even take you to some very cool, unexpected destinations.

So, how do we get there from here? Have you also asked yourself that question when career detours suddenly appear? At one point in my journey, I found myself contemplating my career path that looked more like a random series of cruel pranks than the carefully plotted course I envisioned. In the midst of this introspection, I started asking myself some probing questions that ultimately helped me more clearly articulate my purpose. These same questions have also helped me find the blessings in the unintended paths that weren’t found on my original roadmap.

Here are a few key questions that I force myself to answer on an annual basis that I hope may resonate with you…

Beyond financial rewards, what is my motivation? I found that some questions found in Rick Warren’s best-selling book, “Purpose-Driven Life” helped me clarify this. His “Life’s Five Greatest Questions” contained in the book are:

  1. What do I want to be the center of my life?
  2. What do I want to be the character of my life?
  3. What do I want to be the contribution of my life?
  4. What do I want to be the communication of my life?
  5. What do I want to be the community of my life?

If I could have any role, what would it look like? In other words, what are the areas or situations in which you thrive?

If I should avoid any role, what would it look like? In your experience, what are the areas or situations in which you wither?

These can be tough questions that require some vulnerable introspection. However, I find that they help ground me and reorient my career compass so I can be more effective and confident as I strive to make a positive difference wherever the road may lead me.

Perhaps you can relate. Perhaps you also have experienced some challenging twists and turns along your journey. Even though it doesn’t come natural to many of us, I believe we can discover hidden blessings even in the detours.

I planned. Yet, at times God has seemed to laugh. I’m ok with that. I’m learning to embrace it. While I remain committed to dreaming, planning, and defending the things that matter, I’m determined to be flexible in the things that don’t. I’m also willing to laugh along with Him when His plans take me down an unintended path. After all, He might have something far better than you or I could have ever imagined.

Sink or Swim

A Careful Look at Your Company’s Values: Swimming or Flailing?

Sink or Swim

I’m assuming that your company, like many other companies, has gone through the exercise of defining at least one or all of these five buoys for your company’s brand – Mission, Core Values, Brand Personality, Desired Customer Experience, and Brand Position. (If you haven’t gone through that exercise yet, I encourage you to enlist an experienced facilitator to help you do so.)

In this article, I want to simply encourage you to take a panoramic view of your own company’s Core Values from your employee’s perch. Why? Because I’ve seen two specific scenarios at play across a myriad of companies that can have either invigorating or dangerous results:

  1. Active and swimming along? The company’s Core Values have been articulated AND are purposefully (not to be misconstrued with “perfectly”) nurtured and reinforced throughout the entire culture. The employees are expected to know the company values but more importantly, they see management demonstrate, recognize, and reward behaviors that are in harmony with the values.
  2. Frustrated and flailing? The company’s Core Values have been articulated BUT are viewed to be disconnected from the reality of the culture. These values are seen by many employees merely as “corporate mumbo jumbo” found on internal presentations and plaques or external marketing hype via company websites, social media, literature, advertising, and PR because they see the words (and may even be able to articulated the values on cue) but the behavior demonstrated from management is inconsistent at best.

What is your scenario? Get honest with your answers to the following:

  1. Can you effortlessly recite the Core Values of your company?
  2. Can all of your customer-facing employees?
  3. How about EVERYONE in your company?
  4. If not, why not? Are there too many words to remember or to provide focus?
  5. Besides simple mental recall and verbal recitation, are these values visibly and consistently being lived out by management?
  6. How are these values being taught and reinforced throughout the organization?

A high-stakes example. One of my first assignments within a Fortune 100 company was initially viewed by the company as a “communications” issue that needed resolution. This company had a notable track record for completing successful acquisitions with military precision. However, a very large acquisition hadn’t yielded the same expected results as previous acquisitions had and the company suspected that messaging was a major contributor to the sub-par performance in this new multi-state territory. This sub-par performance required attention. It also created a job opportunity for me.

Clear, concise, and consistent. My first day on the job, my boss scheduled a meeting with me to outline the “measures for success” for my new role. A central element of that meeting was her clear articulation of the company’s values and the company’s expectations for me. Not only did she state the company’s values at that meeting, she consistently modeled those values for me and her other “direct reports” throughout my entire tenure at this company.

The first couple of weeks within this company, I experienced similar modeling from executives who, like my boss, were seasoned and well-respected veterans of this company. The culture was THICK and tangible based largely on the three values articulated to me on my first day. These values immediately resonated with me beyond my intellect and hit me squarely in the heart. They were:

  1. Do the right thing.
  2. Foster teamwork and trust.
  3. Have a passion for winning.

Those values were simple to understand, presented with memorable examples, and prioritized. They were freeing, empowering, and aligned with my own values as well as my personal mission to make a positive difference in the lives of others. These stated values transcended corporate mumbo jumbo and helped me find a noble purpose in the midst of working in Corporate America.

Positive reinforcement. The values weren’t merely words. They were reinforced in the culture. Within the first few days, peers informed me that there was even a rare, prestigious, and highly coveted award (a Waterford crystal hand grenade) that was given by the Chairman and CEO to exceptional employees who exemplified these values in above-and-beyond situations.

Trouble on the horizon. After my first couple weeks of orientation at the corporate headquarters, I hit the road and began my quest to uncover why the messaging wasn’t helping the company realize the same results it had in other substantial acquisitions. I met with general consumers, customers with specialized business needs, front-line customer service personnel, mid-level sales people, in-market marketing professionals, and regional executives across an 11-state footprint. In doing so, I discovered two notable things:

  1. There was in fact a messaging “disconnect” that impacted internal audiences and external customers differently. Frankly, that was the easiest thing to fix.
  2. There was a marked difference between transplanted, legacy executives who were strategically placed in leadership positions throughout the new footprint by the ACQUIRING company. The transplanted execs knew and modeled our values in the same manner I had witnessed at the corporate headquarters. They modeled empowerment. However, it also became clear that members of the ACQUIRED company had been greatly impacted by the negative press surrounding the historic acquisition and the natural fear of the unknown. They weren’t fully aware of the surprisingly entrepreneurial culture that was suddenly available to them and the empowerment that our Core Values enabled. This was a huge disconnect but I saw it as a huge opportunity if we addressed it as thoughtfully and deliberately as my boss treated my first day on the job.

Benchmarking the Ritz-Carlton. Since cloning my boss wasn’t really an option for systematically conveying our Core Values to the thousands of newly added associates, I decided to look to a company I had observed and deemed to set the gold standard for articulating, reinforcing, and consistently demonstrating their Core Values: The Ritz-Carlton. We had already defined our Core Purpose, Core Values, Brand Purpose, Desired Customer Experience, and the Role of Associates. We just hadn’t been consistent, deliberate, and systematic in our training and communication throughout the organization. We used the Ritz-Carlton as a benchmark for conveying this information via a simple wallet card given personally, one-on-one, cascading throughout the organization in attempts to recreate the experience I was given by my boss (and now long-term mentor).

Tangible results. While we didn’t necessarily reach the consistency and same standard of excellence set by the Ritz-Carlton, this effort contributed to some significant results. The 18-to-24-month assignment initially presented to me turned into a less-than 12-month assignment as we saw a turnaround in some key metrics we were measuring shortly after the company-wide roll-out of our “brand conversation” with the brand wallet card as a reminder of the conversation. A few results included:

  1. Products sold per day/FTE increased by 31%.
  2. Core product sales grew by 220%.
  3. Unaided brand awareness grew by 357%.
  4. Brand preference grew by 415%.
  5. Brand consideration increased by 600%.

Granted, these results weren’t due solely to this initiative as we had many talented associates focused on addressing the challenges. We modified our advertising messages along with other initiatives. However, leaders at the highest levels of the organization acknowledged the importance of this particular initiative as it was central to who we were.

Application. I wanted to bring to our executive team something that was proven, aspirational, and applicable. The Ritz-Carlton provided the example we needed. I still maintain that The Ritz-Carlton set the standard for the consistent delivery of their “Service Values” (Core Values) throughout their organization. They work diligently on training and reinforcing these values as well as other articulated elements of their brand experience. Clearly, there are other companies doing a great job out there but I am grateful for what I learned from The Ritz-Carlton in the midst of this critical assignment as well as the experience I’ve enjoyed every time I am fortunate enough to stay at one of their properties.

Solomon once wrote, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” Given that truth, we can enjoy great results by learning from others who have succeeded in areas we long to improve. By taking an honest look at our own situation and adapting, refining, and applying things that have proven to work for others in order to address our short-comings, we can positively impact our employees, customers, and our bottom line.

Customer Survey

Is Your Survey Sabotaging the Customer Experience?

Customer Survey

I’ll be the first to champion the merits of a well-honed Voice of the Customer survey and other surveying tools in order to better understand how a company or brand is doing and how it can better improve the overall customer experience. HOWEVER, in the quest to better quantify a company’s performance with its customers via satisfaction surveys, is it possible that we can alienate or even sour the same customers we are desperately trying to win their allegiance?

Baiting the survey? Think about the last time you were surveyed by a company after making a substantial purchase or used their service department with a series of questions asking you to rate your experience and/or satisfaction on a 1-10 scale. Were you told upon the purchase or after having service to expect a survey and to let them know if there was anything that would cause you to give less than a “10” on the survey so they could address it BEFORE you received the survey?

If so, how did it make you feel? Did it make you feel truly valued? Or, did it sour the experience that was actually positive prior to that caveat?

I think that one of the worst industry offenders in this “customer satisfaction” ruse is regrettably the auto industry. I’ve experienced this with several auto makers. It is too bad because I’m a “car guy” and I’ve been fortunate to help a number of clients in the auto industry.

“10” or failure? Before you think this is a forum for me to rant on a particular company (or even industry), let me say that it isn’t. In my opinion, those who are in corporate sales and marketing departments (regardless of the industry) who invented the “anything less than a ‘10’ is a failure” survey and incentive criteria are REALLY missing the mark and are likely being misled by metrics that don’t reflect how customers really feel. Think about that for a moment – anything less than a “10” is a failure?! Wow.

A recent example. To hopefully encourage reflection on how your own surveying (and incentive structures) may be either elevating or souring the customer experience, I’ll illustrate using my own recent experience. A few years ago, I purchased a new vehicle one evening after identifying and test-driving the exact vehicle the day before. I was happy with the salesman, the price I negotiated, and the car. I spent four hours at the car dealership at the end of a long workday to simply finalize the paperwork (due to their short-staffed situation). I was about at the end of my patience and the salesman apologized for flying through some of the car’s new-fangled technology features as it was past closing hours. It was late so I assured the salesman that I’m a half-way intelligent guy and I could figure out whatever we weren’t able to cover in the demonstration.

Before I even had a chance to get in my vehicle the next morning, I received a customer satisfaction survey from the car manufacturer via email. Since I believe in the power of better understanding customers via surveys, I dutifully fill them out. I rated the experience honestly with rather generous scores (a few 8’s, mostly 9’s, and a few 10’s) given the fact that I spent so much time at a dealership when I’ve done the same kind of transactions with other car brands in less than an hour start-to-finish.

Within an hour of completing the online survey, I received a frantic call from the salesman. He was practically in tears as he said he had never received such low scores in his 20 years of selling cars and that his performance incentives were trashed due to my low scores. (Remember, the lowest score I gave was an “8”.) He said that the auto manufacturer penalizes sales and service department members for anything less than a perfect “10” on their surveys. (He failed to clue me into that little detail the night before.) I was aghast. I had no idea that the manufacturer really didn’t want me to give honest feedback. They clearly wanted me to tell them only what THEY wanted to hear.

I felt horrible about hurting this guy’s performance record and even worse, his financial incentives. I even called the General Manager to see if I could somehow help remedy the situation for the salesman. Fortunately, we resolved the situation for the salesman. However, I realized that the automotive brand for which I’d had a long-standing affinity instantly left a NASTY taste in my mouth.

Pause. Think about that for a moment: How many brand-loyal customers are being alienated by well-intentioned but out-of-touch, misaligned surveys and measurement systems?

When a “10” = resentment is brewing. Even though I’ve purchased another new vehicle from this same dealership since then (and I’ve continued to service my car there), I’m wise to their surveying criteria. I dutifully give them “perfect 10’s” after every encounter. Yet, each time I do, I get a bit more cynical about the brand and a dose of resentment builds in spite of my love for pretty much every aspect of their cars and their brand – EXCEPT for their ridiculous customer “satisfaction” surveying (and incentive) system.

Time to look under the hood. When is the last time you took a hard look at your customer satisfaction surveys and sales incentive structures from the CUSTOMER perspective? I encourage you to do so because if you don’t, the data on your monthly “dashboard” may be saying that all systems are working PERFECTLY when in fact, your customers are about to blow a gasket.

Good Name

The Battle for Your Good Name…

Good Name

The man credited as being one of the wisest (and wealthiest) men to have ever walked this earth, King Solomon, is credited with saying, “A good name is to be more desired than great wealth.” Given his credentials and time-tested wisdom, it seems as though we – as individuals as well as stewards of our companies and their respective brands – would be well-served to probe a bit deeper into this insight and seek applications for our own situations.

Just as nothing in the universe remains static, I believe that the same holds true for our names (and brands). We are actively reinforcing, improving upon, or tarnishing our name (or brand) through every word spoken (or lack thereof) and in every interaction (or inaction). With the proliferation of social media and instantaneous access to a myriad of information and opinions online, our words and actions can get more quickly noticed and they can have a more expeditious result than ever before.

We’ve seen recently in the news how quickly a brand’s reputation – either as an individual, company, or brand in the classic sense – can be tarnished or even destroyed by one misstep (or a series of them). Aside from the news that is frequently riddled with politicians, newscasters, sports celebrities, Hollywood stars, etc. who have seen their once good name lose substantial equity, lists such as “The 10 Most Hated Companies in America” (http://247wallst.com/special-report/2014/01/10/the-10-most-hated-companies-in-america-3/2/) also demonstrate that brands are also subject to the same swift judgment.

So, what are some of the contributors to ensuring that your (or your company’s) good name continues to grow in value? Though this short list is not exhaustive by any means, here are a few that I think are worth emphasizing as we evaluate how we can nurture a “good name” in our spheres of influence:

Integrity & Trust. I think they go hand in hand. Does your name stand for doing the right thing even if it costs you something to do so? Are you known for treating others like you want to be treated or does the Golden Rule get twisted to mean, “He who has the gold rules?” Is your company’s brand known for fulfilling its promises and claims? Can your vendors count on you to pay your bills on time? Is your company known for telling the truth or do you routinely live in shades of gray?

Conviction. Have you defined your “True North” – the mission, values, tenants, and behaviors that are uncompromisingly immovable? Or, do you change directions every time you dissect a new opinion poll or each time a new CEO or CMO takes the helm? You can’t please all the people all the time and it’s easy to accept that truth if you are solid in your convictions. I think Shakespeare was onto something profound when he said, “To thine own self be true.” To do so, it is important to know WHO you are and for WHAT you stand.

Consistency. This is a big contributor to trust (or lack thereof). It also is a barometer for the strength of your conviction. Is your company’s behavior consistent with your stated mission, core values, desired customer experience, etc. across all customer touch points, media outlets, venues, and scenarios over a span of time? Or, would those who know you best (employees, vendors, loyal customers) say that you SAY one thing and DO another?

Humility. Can you take input or even correction from those who know you best? How about taking suggestions from someone who just interacted with your brand, had a bad experience, and “flamed” you online? Are you willing to admit a mistake and address it? Can you forgive others when they’ve wronged you? Humility doesn’t mean weakness. In fact, I think it demonstrates tremendous power. It is the opposite of unapproachable arrogance. I think humility is one of the most beautiful attributes a person, company, or brand can exhibit. It is approachable, welcoming, vulnerable, and endearing.

Others-focused. Go beyond brands and think about famous leaders, heroes, beloved coaches, and selfless humanitarians that you admire. One of the common traits that resonate in each one of them on my list is being “others-focused.” They seem to be driven more by “How can I help?” than the “What’s in it for me?” mentality that seems to run rampant. They consistently transcend the self-absorbed, unholy trinity of “Me, Myself, and I.”

As part of my rather unusual career, I was privileged to serve a unique community of approximately 300 ultra high net worth individuals and their families via a private equity firm that acquired my consultancy. These are some of the most notable and accomplished people I’ve ever known. I continue to be struck by how “others-focused” these successful people are in the midst of such rarified success. Knowing most of their stories, they didn’t simply wake up one day after they “made it” and suddenly, they became altruistic. They nurtured and became increasingly proficient at these “good name” attributes throughout their oftentimes difficult journey.

I think Solomon was right. A good name is to be more desired than great riches. Wealth may come from fostering a good name but wealth isn’t necessarily the litmus test. There are plenty of wealthy individuals and companies who are a mess.

A good name doesn’t just happen on its own. It takes a heart-felt commitment, diligence, and dedication from all who represent that name to nurture it into something that can be called “good.” A good name takes a lifetime to build and yet it can be tarnished or destroyed in an instant. May we (and the companies we represent) be so rich to have those who know us best call us by a name that is synonymous with “good.”

Perceptions

External Perceptions Versus Internal Realities: Who Knows You Best?

Perceptions

As I just reviewed a recent article on “America’s Most Hated Companies”, it made me again question, “Why do people flock to some brands and hate others?”

Though I dare not to try to solve this mystery with a simple and tertiary exploration, in many cases this is answered by better understanding the Customer Experience. What is the Customer Experience? A basic definition of the Customer Experience is simply the sum of all perceptions, interactions, and experiences a customer has with a given brand and/or company.

Think for a moment about your FAVORITE brand – the one in which you are most loyal and most passionate. What are the feelings, emotions, impressions, and thoughts you have from the sum of all your experiences with that particular brand or company? Now, do the same with your LEAST FAVORITE brand. How do they compare and contrast?

Now, take it one step closer to home. Think about your own company’s external perception versus internal reality. Is there harmony or conflict? Why one versus the other?

Having spent over 30 years in helping companies define their brand, elevate their customer experience, and grow their sales, I really enjoy addressing inconsistencies, threats, and opportunities regarding brand environments, product lines, communications, and interactions from the CUSTOMERS’ perspective. In doing so, I’ve also come to realize that addressing the customers’ perspective is only part of the solution that separates the “Most Hated Companies” from the “Most Admired Companies”. There is more. An important differentiator comes down to the harmony or conflict between external perceptions and the answer to this question: “What is the experience of our employees, suppliers, and partners? What do THEY think about us?”

I’ve worked with a number of Presidents, Founders, and CEOs who are willing to take the first step and ask, “What do our customers think about our brand and/or company?” I’ve also been amazed how surprisingly few leaders are willing to ask the tough question: “What do those who know us most intimately, like our employees and vendors, think about our brand and/or company?” Perhaps it is due to the fact that it takes courage, humility, and a willingness to listen to those who know us MOST INTIMATELY. It is the question that can separate the external façade from reality. It has the potential to either affirm or expose. It is the one question that cuts to the chase.

Regardless of your particular belief, I think it is fair to say that no other leader has so radically impacted the world as Jesus has. I find it fascinating that one possessing the power and influence that was uniquely his was willing to ask his “leadership team” (those who knew him best and most intimately) these questions:

“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Think of this in the context of a recent Customer Experience survey that asks, “What attributes best describe ‘Brand X’ or ‘Company Y’?”)
“Who do you say I am?” (Think of this in the context of a company surveying its employees, suppliers, and partners with the same Customer Experience question.)
The fact that such a powerful and influential leader who literally changed the course of the world was willing to ask this final question says a lot about his humility, leadership, transparency, and confidence. I believe we can learn from this example and apply an aspect of this to our own situation – both personally and professionally.

Whether or not you are in or leading one of the “Most Hated” or “Most Loved” companies in America, each of us has the opportunity to get real by asking those who know us best and most intimately the same type of questions that Jesus asked. In doing so, we might get validation of who we (and the brands and/or companies that we may be representing) REALLY are.

Though daring to ask those most intimately acquainted with us, “Who do you say I am?” may take courage, humility, and a willingness to listen to their answers, I believe it is the fundamental question we must ask if we are serious about making the greatest positive impact with the life we’ve been given as well as the brand and/or company in which we may be stewarding. It’s a risky but enlightening challenge. Are you willing to ask those who know you best the question?

Failed Mergers

The Merger Seemed SO Right. So, Why Did It Fail?

Failed Mergers

Thorough due diligence was conducted prior to the deal. The numbers checked out masterfully. The synergies between the two organizations seemed like a perfect fit. The communications plan was executed flawlessly. The management team is proven and up to the task. You know that people downstream are resistant to change but you believe that everyone who makes the final cut for the go-forward entity will surely embrace the change. This deal is going to soar. Time to celebrate, right?

Less than a year into the deal that you thought was sure to be heralded as a best-of-class case study in the perfect “merger of equals” (or acquisition) by Harvard Business Review started to reveal some cracks in the foundation. Operating efficiencies were realized and market growth projections seem to be on track but the sense of a cohesive “team” is becoming more of a battle between two teams, “us” and “them” between the two original companies, “Company A” and “Company B.”

The CEO and the bulk of his management team are from “Company A” but a few leaders from “Company B” were added to the combined management team. Company A is all about decisiveness, collaboration, and nimble execution. Everyone is expected to speak their mind in the meeting and once all views have been heard, a decision is made, everyone salutes, the meeting is adjourned, and the team rallies their respective divisions and executes the plan. Participants are encouraged to speak their mind in the meeting but once the input is given and a decision is made, discussion is over. It is time to take the hill. No second-guessing after the meeting. No sniping afterwards.

Company B is stuffy and highly political. It isn’t known to move so quickly and decisively. The former CEO of Company B is known to issue a direction to his management team. By and large, the team will silently nod in approval or a brave soul will throw out a safe but respectful point to consider and that would be that. The CEO’s inner circle may whisper privately some course corrections to him shortly after the meeting and after additional days (or weeks) of contemplation, the edict is given. Lots of water cooler conversation ensues over the next couple of days and people will speak their minds more freely. People are expected to follow. Factions will develop but eventually, people will fall in line.

Now, do you think there could be an issue festering in this scenario just based around communication, behavioral expectations, and culture differences?

In my experience, cultural compatibility issues are huge contributors to the “perfect M&A deal” that ultimately hits the wall in flames. Curiously, I’ve RARELY seen cultural compatibility systematically assessed as part of the due diligence process of an M&A deal. Why do you think this is?

I don’t know for sure but I have a suspicion that it is largely due to primarily having skilled MBAs and financial analysts driving the due diligence and not including someone with experience in cultural compatibility assessment at the table to drive the evaluation.

Cultural compatibility assessment may seem too “touchy/feely” for some numbers-driven CEOs but all you have to do is look at historical mergers that were eventually undermined by vast cultural differences — the dissolution of Daimler-Chrysler is a great case in point. (An insightful article about this is found at http://www.edmunds.com/autoobserver-archive/2007/05/daimler-chrysler-why-the-marriage-failed.html. It reveals some cultural issues that I experienced first-hand when I did some brand strategy work for the company in 2002 — great people on both sides but vastly different cultures in many regards.)

I remember thinking that, in spite of the tangible cultural differences I experienced between respective Daimler and Chrysler teams, perhaps a merger of that magnitude could overcome what I had seen undermine other “merger of equals” scenarios. In the case of Daimler-Chrysler, the dissolution took longer than others I had seen but the end result was the same. Divorce.

I was tasked with assessing the cultural compatibility of organizations when I was with a private equity firm that did a number of M&A deals. The assessment process doesn’t take a rocket scientist to make it fly. It’s pretty simple when it comes right down to it but it requires a commitment from the CEOs and management teams of the two organizations to commit to the relatively short process and a willingness to get real honest – no matter how great the numbers look or how badly each team wants to do the deal.

When we committed ourselves to the process, it helped us avoid almost certain disaster on one deal and it proved to be foundational to our most successful acquisition. In both cases, I think everyone involved would say to this day that it was worth the two-day investment as part of the due diligence process to address the thing that stands apart from the numbers yet is one of the first things to make the numbers ultimately turn south.

Before you do your next M&A deal, consider learning from the likes of the Daimler-Chrysler deal and consider having the compatibility of the two cultures assessed as part of your due diligence process BEFORE you ink the deal. It might just save a lot of money and a lot of people unnecessary heartache.