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Your Team Craves Accountability

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Accountability is a very interesting topic. When engaged by the CEO, one of the top wish list items for the company to accomplish is the issue of No Accountability. My response to this is, “I bet within one week, your team will be asking for Accountability and they will resort to their own measures.” I usually get a funny look as the CEO nods yes, but in reality they are saying inside their heads: “That is impossible”… “Not my team.” Why is there this disconnect regarding Accountability between the CEO and the rest of the company?

When launching a new client, one of the first things we do is what we call ‘Innerviews.’ We Innerview select employees from the senior team, key players in the company, and anyone in particular that the CEO would like included. These Innerviews allow for the company to be seen through the employees’ lens. We are not simply interviewing the employee, but rather engaging with them on a peer-to-peer level and asking a few simple, yet powerful, questions. These Innerview questions include:

  1. Why did you start working here? Why are you still here?
  2. What frustrates you the most? Drives you crazy? Repetitive things?
  3. How would you rate teamwork from 1 (bad) to 10 (awesome)?
  4. How would you rate the morale/spirit of the company 1 to 10?
  5. How would you rate communication from 1 to 10?
  6. How would you rate leadership from 1 to 10? This is really a self-rating.

NOTE: Whatever the rating is above, I always ask what it would take to get it closer to a 10. This is where the REAL content I’m looking for comes from. Rather than complaining about teamwork, what would actually improve it?

The BIG Innerview questions are:

  1. If you were CEO for 90 days, what three things would you do?
  2. What are the ‘undiscussables?’ What is below the waterline that everyone knows about, but is not safe to talk about?

Notice the one question I did not ask is about Accountability. Accountability is the ‘red thread’ that links everything together during the Innerview. What tends to frustrate team members the most is the lack of Accountability and follow through by other team members. They can’t do their job right because other people are not doing their job right or following through on commitments. Basically, your employees are as frustrated as you are.

How can the issue of Accountability be resolved? You can start by including your team during your strategic and execution planning. Let them help finalize company goals and priorities vs just assigning them out. Let them work through the steps and tasks to make them happen. Let them decide who is accountable for each step. Give your team a chance to volunteer to own the company Race Plan by determining goals, priorities, and tasks… They will.

(Image: Unsplash / Pixabay)

Why Growth Initiatives Fail – Energy, Time, and Money

light-bulb-503881_1280I have taken a few months off from blogging to work on a book that will be published early summer called The Breakaway Move, Entrepreneurs’ Playbook on Crushing the Competition. After 23 years of entrepreneurial experience, founding several companies, and most recently serving as a business growth coach with hundreds of strategy/execution planning sessions under my belt, I have finally figured out the three main reasons why growth initiatives fail – and what to do about it.

Reason Number One: Not having the right kind of energy within the team that’s responsible and accountable to generate the desired result. What do I mean by this? I’m talking about not having clearly defined Core Values, Core Purpose, and the overarching Epic Win (10-year goal), as well as making sure the growth initiative accelerates the achievement of these principals. Understanding why, other than money and profit, you’re in business goes a long way in getting the team behind a project. Having the team emotionally connect to the project will help them navigate the inevitable setbacks along the way. Choosing projects that excite the team is powerful. How do they benefit personally?

Reason Number Two: The team underestimates how much time it will take to generate results. This can be within the management team, in how long departments actually need to meet their goals, or how long it takes vendors and partners to follow through. And for most entrepreneurial companies, it can mean not getting outside help soon enough to accelerate the learning required to drive results. Plus, an unhealthy team that operates without real trust does not get stuff done as fast as a team that trusts each other. These are below-the-waterline, team-related issues (that nobody talks about), but slow down everything.

Reason Number Three: Anything that takes team energy and time must generate a profit or it’s not worth doing. Just driving revenue is not a good idea, given our current economic stage. The challenge is money/profit usually becomes the number one driver for a growth initiative, and energy and time are second thought. And this is why things fail. The CEO (plus maybe someone else) was behind an idea, but everyone else (secretly) was not connected to it and (secretly) hoped this would just be another failed attempt at change. Companies like GE that have a formalized process to take projects to the Board of Directors for clearance don’t really have to worry about energy so much. But entrepreneurial growth companies absolutely do.

Starting a growth initiative often means you have some tough decisions to make. Say you’re trying to decide between opening a new office in a new market vs. combining two current products into something innovative and new. Assuming both will generate about the same financial results with great execution, which one gets the team excited? Which one gets you closer to your company’s Epic Win? What would be a Crushing Move on your competitors? Which one would just be really cool if you could do it? Which one would your team learn and grow from the most on a personal level? Professional level? Get the point? You can feel the energy build around the right choice by the questions alone.

Set a weekly or monthly cadence with your team NOW and start working through what projects or ideas are worth pursuing and start separating yourself from the pack … create your Breakaway Move!

(Image: Comfreak / Pixabay)

Owning Errors Makes You Faster

A lot of things can happen in a two-hour mountain bike race. Sometimes it feels like the competition AND the trail are both conspiring against you to keep you off the front. These are the days when you don’t get the result you want, you were not there to help a teammate pull through a tough section, or possibly you disappointed a sponsor.

It’s so easy to blame someone else for your own non-performance. “The person next to me slipped a pedal at the start and hit me.” “I was cut off going into the woods.” “My water bottle was not where it was supposed to be.” And the list goes on…

This happens in business, too, of course. And the REAL problem with this thinking is that nothing is learned when you blame others for your own poor result. This fundamental truth needs to be firmly integrated into everyday life of the business. It’s OK to mess up a call, make an accounting error once in a while. It’s not OK not to own it.

Creating an atmosphere in our business that is focused on learning, really out-learning the competition, is a BreakAway Move – a strategy that enables you to separate from the competition.

How to out-learn the competition

Here are some ways to create more learning opportunities in your business:

  1. Make an award out of it. Give out an award weekly to the person who make the biggest mistake and learned from it. Make sure to share that learning with the full team so they can avoid the same mistake.
  1. Make sure the leadership sets the example of how to acknowledge a mistake and what they learned. Employees need to feel safe in sharing information.
  1. Create an environment where one can share a mistake without being publicly reprimanded.
  1. Practice on yourself! Are you quick to blame others first?
  1. Become hyper-aware of people who have a pattern of blaming others for things not working right. Offer to help them discover the root cause and create a solution.

There is a saying in the mountain bike racing world and other competitive sports as well. You learn more in races where you lose vs. the races where you win. Over time, the racer who learns the most begins to win the most consistently.

(Image: Grace / Flickr)

How Will You Double Your Business?

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It’s getting cooler outside, leaves are falling, and it’s now Annual Planning season for your business. Interest rates have been low, unemployment rate is around 5%, and the economy has been growing slow and steady for the most part.

You have to ask, how long will this last? I can’t believe how much residential and commercial construction is going on around Charlotte, NC, these days. It looks like 2007-08 to me, and it almost feels like it too.

Every year I have a professional theme I like to deep-dive with my own business and with my coaching clients. This year it has been Core Customer and Buyer Personas. Last year it was getting Discretional Effort out of employees.

I’m going to get out front and announce it now: 2016 is going to be about creating a serious plan to double the business and get the Winning and BreakAway Moves in motion. The last thing I want to happen is to be stuck in the middle of the pack when the economy flatlines or slows down.

Take extra time this planning season to drill into the 3-5 year growth plans and ask your team these questions.

  • How long will it take to double revenue? Hint…. use the rule of 72. Take 72 and divide it by your estimated (or desired) annual growth rate. 33% is about 3 years (check the math).
  • How much revenue will come from your existing business lines and sales capacity?
  • What is the gap between how much you can grow without really changing anything and your target revenue number?
  • How will the operations side of the business need to change?
  • What are 3-5 Winning or BreakAway Moves that can generate that new revenue and profit?
  • What new capabilities will you need to acquire?
  • What new people, contacts, advisors, coaches, etc. will you need to leverage to accelerate, to get you there faster?
  • What components of the Winning and BreakAway Moves do you need to execute on in 2016 to get the proper momentum?

The purpose of the 3-5 year focus now is to get the momentum going strong in 2016 while you still have an economic tailwind. Get the plan moving, test your assumptions, engage the full team, name your plan to double. There are always a few companies in each sector that seem to defy gravity in slowing economies. Decide now this is going to be YOUR company.

(Image: skitterphoto.com)

Scale Your Sales

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One of the most amazing aspects of being a Business Coach working with growth companies is seeing patterns and issues that most companies face. For companies in the $5M to $15M revenue range, the major thing holding the company back is the inability to Scale Sales. As I have said before, the strength of the entrepreneur or founding team is generally the weakness of the organization. So are YOU the bottleneck?

Scaling Sales can be a complex topic for sure. And company leaders today are tasked with having to sort out all of the advice, sales channels, strategy, etc., on their own. There is not much coordination going on, and everything is a test to see what might stick.

Here are 9 questions to ask yourself and your leadership team to begin Scaling Your Sales:

  1. Is your strength in sales holding the company back in developing its own sales muscle?
  1. Do you have your Core Customer’s buyer persona clearly identified? (If you’re not sure, request our free Breakaway Move toolkit – Part 2 of the two-part series will help you with this critical task.)
  1. Is your company Referable? (This means you’re doing great work!)
  1. How does your Core Customer buy? How do they learn? How would they find you?
  1. Do you realize it takes more than just a website to Scale Sales?
  1. Does your company have clear differentiators? Are you easy to find in a crowded field?
  1. Do you have (or are you prepared to hire) more than one sales person? This reduces the risk of starting over if your sole sales person leaves.
  1. Can you outline the difference between Marketing and Sales? (Hint: marketing sets the stage for a sale.)
  1. Have you created a buyers journey? How are your prospects going to participate in the sales cycle?
(Image: Theplatypus / Pixabay)

Create A Personal Race Plan To Win

It’s hard to win a race without a plan. This is pretty much true whether you are lining up in a mountain bike race with a bunch of hammers or trying to grow your business.

A personal “Race Plan” drives each employee’s priorities within their job function AND drives the priorities of the overall business.

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If you’re not sure whether your team members are operating with personal Race Plans, here are the questions you need to think about:

  • Do each of your employees, or at least your key employees, have a personal Race Plan?
  • Do they have a Race Plan for each quarter?
  • Has their plan been shared with the team?
  • Are they tracking their plan, publicly leveraging peer accountability?
  • Is your team helping each other when things fall behind?
  • Do you (the owner/leader) know when plans are going off track early so you can implement easy fixes vs big cleanups?

On Your Mark…

Here are some steps or ideas to create and implement strong Race Plans:

  1. Recognize Race Plans are usually the last thing to get done during a quarterly or annual planning session. Everyone is mentally tired. Create a nice break, have some snacks, get up and move around, and create extra time to get Race Plans completed. Creating personal priorities is one of the most difficult functions the brain does, and you are asking it to work full throttle during a low-fuel time.
  1. Have your employees think about their personal quarterly priorities BEFORE the planning session. They may change during the session based in new input, but having a head start will pay dividends.
  1. Have each person spend 15-20 minutes quietly and individually working on their plan. Next have them meet in groups of three to discuss their plan, challenge it, and make sure it looks right.
  1. Have each person tell the full team their #1 goal and #1 priority for the next year or quarter. Does what they shared drive their Role or Function AND the overall priorities of the company?
  1. Create a display and a meeting rhythm to keep the Race Plans alive. If you are using a Green-Yellow-Red methodology to identify task status, just discuss the Yellows and Reds (the things that are due or overdue).
  1. Use the Race Plans as a mechanism to create team building and collaboration. Someone offering to step in and help move a Red task to Green is a beautiful thing.
  1. Encourage people to code Red things early. Don’t be caught off guard if a priority is in trouble. And really brag on people who are willing to help move priorities out of the Red. Make them look like superstars!

Race Plans win races. Help your team drive performance at the personal level and up and out, all through the organization!

(Image: Skeeze / Pixabay)
Stable Team

How To Stabilize Your Executive Team’s Ship

Stable Team

Recently, Gazelles founder Verne Harnish highlighted a Fortune magazine article on the CEO of Airbnb, Brian Chesky. When the author, Leigh Gallagher, asked the CEO about his leadership style, Chesky drew a ship. “As CEO I’m the captain of the ship,” he said, and his primary job is to look for things below the waterline that might sink the ship. Above the waterline, he focuses on two or three things that he’s really passionate about and feels that “they can truly transform the company if they go well.”

Most companies don’t maximize growth due to internal problems – the below-the-waterline issues that are hard to see. I help my clients focus on one Internal risk and one External risk, and the most common thing I see is a dysfunctional Team #1. So, I think the No. 1 concern for a CEO should be the Health of Team #1.

Team #1 is the executive team. As humans, we are all imperfect. We can all communicate poorly, be passive-aggressive, seem agreeable on the outside but non-committal on the inside … and even just a little weird at times. So by default, all teams are dysfunctional. It’s really a question of how dysfunctional.

As Team #1 goes, so goes the rest of the company. If Team #1 can’t synchronize and work together cross-functionally, the teams below them will not work well, either. Is sales not working well with IT at the functional level? Trace it back to leadership.

I think that continuously working to make Team #1 healthier is a sustainable competitive advantage. Is your competition looking below the waterline like you are? Are their teams (especially Team #1) as healthy as yours? Are they working together cross-functionally and getting tons of stuff done drama-free?

How to Get Team #1 Sailing Together

Here is a starting point to get Team #1 sailing together.

First, have your team read The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. After reading the leadership fable, ask your team if they can identify with any of the characters in the book.

Then do a Team Effectiveness Exercise. Gather your executive team around the table and have each person share two things that the CEO does that ADD to the effectiveness of the team. The CEO can ask clarifying questions, but should otherwise not respond. After all team members have spoken, the CEO can share insights into what he or she heard and learned.

Then, repeat this process for each team member. At the end of this part of the exercise, each member of the executive team will have shared two things each team member does that make the team more effective.

Next, go around the table, again starting with the CEO, and have each person share two behaviors that DETRACT from the team. Personal attacks are off-limits, and the moderator must be watching for potential attacks against a person versus talking about the behavior.

After everyone has shared two ADDITIONS and DETRACTORS for each person, have each person identify and share ONE THING they are going to commit to improving over the next 90 days to increase team health. Write the commitments down, and in 90 days, ask the team how each team member is doing. This drives accountability and action.

Sound scary? For some it is. Don’t cave. You’ll be surprised how many behavioral epiphanies people have. It’s hard to fix what you don’t know about.

A Success Story

A great example of this method in action is an accounting manager at a fast-growing Insight CXO client. She was new to the company and still getting acclimated when we went through this exercise. The Addition feedback was that she was highly trusted and the books were in great hands. This surprised and pleased her – she had put tons of pressure on herself and thought she was not doing a good enough job. But a Detractor theme was that she was not approachable. People were not comfortable walking into her office. This mortified her – she had no idea this was what people thought, and she committed to being more open and inviting. It was a very easy change once she knew what people were thinking.

The below the waterline example here shows an A-player who thought she was performing at a C-level, so she was unintentionally behaving in a way that limited communication.

Remember, the best team wins. Commit and take action to build a healthy Team #1 and unlock your company’s growth potential.

5 Ways to Increase Profit This Year

5 Ways To Increase Profit This Year

By Robert Fish

Your company is growing, your team is adding clients and your net income is growing in terms of total dollars – but not in terms of net-income percentage. Companies that are growing and really focused on client acquisition usually see negative pressure on net-income percentage – much to the CEO’s frustration.

Get Busy

Here are some things you can do RIGHT NOW to grow revenue AND grow net-income percentage.6551520247_ae0315efb8_z

1. Look at your client mix. List all of your clients on a spreadsheet, then ask the following questions:

  • Which clients produce the most revenue? The most gross profit?
  • Which ones require the most management time? The most staff time?
  • Which ones have the most growth potential?
  • Which clients are absolute pleasures to work with? Which ones just drive you and your team nuts?

2. Look at your data objectively and figure out your Top 20% clients. This will help you create your “Top 20% client profile” -– the types of clients that you want more of.

3. Identify the decision makers at the Top 20% clients and begin to create a Buyer Persona. Think about: What are their habits? How do they buy? Where do they look for information? What groups do they belong to? What are their needs and their biggest problems to solve?

4. Focus your sales and marketing efforts on prospects that fit your Top 20% profile, and leverage their typical Buyer Persona into your sales process and messaging.

5. Stop lowering prices to get a deal and stop giving away margin!!! Your targeted group appreciates you and your firm and is willing to pay optimal profit for your products or services. You have already proven it with the spreadsheet you developed. This is also a great time to raise prices.

At the end of the day, without making any additional investment in operations, product delivery, etc., just by getting more focus on WHO you are selling to, you are automatically increasing the value of WHAT you are selling because this group VALUES what you are selling more than others who are willing to buy, but only at a discounted price.

Another net-income percentage benefit is that this targeted group is easier to service. Your core product or service is already exactly what they need. This saves huge amounts of time, but that does not show up easily on any of the P&L statement line items … just net income.

Ask The Question

Get your team together at your next Quarterly Planning session and ask the question:

“How can we get our net-income percentage from X% to Y% by the end of 2015?”

Don’t shoot for the moon. The objective is getting your team aligned around some key priorities and focused on execution. Results drive engagement.

(Image: 401calculator.org / Flickr)

6 Questions To Crush The Competition

In today’s globally connected and competitive business climate, it’s no longer enough to look at strategy on an annual basis. Nowadays, every single month executive teams need to integrate strategy development within the business planning rhythm.

The key to unlocking strategy is answering a powerful question that gets the team thinking in unique ways. But a common “stuck” in strategy development is figuring out the right question to achieve your Breakaway Move to crush your competition. Answers are easy; getting the question right can be harder. Here are 6 questions to ask your team during strategy brainstorming sessions that can unlock hidden value inside your business.

1. Where is the next battle going to be in your business?racing-car-373757_960_720

A good example is Facebook’s massive focus on mobile after they went public. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg’s daily question, “how are we going to leverage mobile,” became his, and his company’s, daily question. Clearly, it’s working.

2. What has been tried before, either by your company or by your competitors, but did not work?
There are so many variables that can make an initiative really stick vs. flat-out fail. Failure does not always mean the idea was not good. For example, it could have been the wrong person leading the charge, market conditions might be different, technology could streamline the process, global platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook could accelerate growth.

3. What two or three existing things in your business, things you are already doing, can you combine?
This is one of my favorites. Take two existing things and create something original. What product and service can you combine and create a unique new product, service or program?

4. When your company wins, what other companies are impacted in a positive way?
Think about what relationships you can create – or what product offerings could you integrate with – to expand your market faster by leveraging other people’s trust relationships? I looked at office space this week to handle our expansion. I could not help but think about all the other things signing a lease would trigger, things like construction, IT, phones, furniture, etc. Building relationships with those companies can result in more referrals to your business.

5. What is fragmented in your market, and how could you coordinate it?
Think about what Uber did for taxi services and what Airbnb did for housing rentals. What is messy, hard to do, clunky, expensive or frustrating in your market, and how could you fix it? What product, service or platform could you create?

6. What can you be the only option for in your space?
Think about what parts of your business operations are hard for someone else to reproduce or copy. For example, there are several business coaches in the Charlotte metro area. But only Insight CXO has a team in place that can help execute the business plan in three areas. The Promise – what makes your firm unique and what is the sales engine to generate revenue? The People – is your team healthy and aligned and do you have systems in place to hire and keep A Players? The Process – do you have core processes documented and measured to make them better, faster and cheaper… with less drama?

Remember that your competition is not asleep behind the wheel, so your team has to be looking through the windshield and down the road as far as possible. Try asking these 6 questions in your next monthly executive planning meeting, and see if you can figure out the strategy – the one that will give your business the boost to crush the competition.

Image: Jingoba / Pixabay

Real Leaders Find A Way

Getting Core Values right in a business is the #1 way to build a strong and enduring Culture and is the foundation upon which an enterprise is built. Having a list of cool Core Values on a website – and really integrating them into the daily life of the organization based on intentional actions – are two different things.

EFI, an Insight CXO member with 80+ employees, finally nailed their Core Values and actions plans this week during their Q3 Quarterly Planning Session. We started the process in January, and I thought it would be helpful to share what a process can look like in reality. Month 5 is where this gets powerful.

Month 1 – Learn what a Core Value is and use sticky notes to generate a list of potential values.14485059353_8d009d4eb3_z

Month 2 – Review the list and test it against the following questions.

  • Are the Core Values alive in the company today?
  • Would you fire an offender for repeated violations?
  • Would you take an economic hit to defend them?

Some values are great attributes, but don’t make the Core Values cut.

Month 3 – Finalize the 3-5 final Core Values. We know the right values are identified, but the wording is not perfect.

Month 4 – Get the wording right for the Core Values, and get clarity on the specific behaviors and actions that support or violate each one. Begin thinking about how the values will be integrated into the company.

Month 5 – Roadblock!!! EFI’s planning team was supposed to start implementing the Core Values, but even though the values LOOKED right, they did not FEEL right to the team. The team was concerned the employees would not embrace the values and might even reject them. This is a common FEAR in rolling out Core Values that nobody talks about.

Here’s where EFI knocked it out of the park. Admittedly, the team was a bit discouraged, so they really dug and – with great focus – re-worded the values. They did not change the values, just the labels. Here’s what they came up with:

MAKE A DIFFERENCE – This is their overarching, one-phrase Core Value.

Respect every Individual

Lead with Humility

Focus on the Improvement Process

Assure Quality at the Source

Winning Attitude

To help everyone remember, they turned the first letter of the Core Values into this mnemonic: Real Leaders Find A Way.

Month 6 – Create a list and an action plan to integrate the Core Values into the company with real excitement. I will report back in a follow-up blog post on the cool and innovative ways they implement the Core Values.

EFI’s Core Purpose is To Inspire Through Innovation … I can’t wait to see what they do next!

My “One Word Close” at the end of our Q3 Quarterly meeting was GRATEFUL. I’m grateful to be EFI’s coach and get to witness a team who really cares about their employees and was unwilling to move forward with Core Values that did not 100% meet their standards.

Sometimes as a coach I learn more from my members than they learn from me. And I’m very grateful for that.

Image: Flickr