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Growth-Related Chaos? Take A Step Back

chaos-485493_1280-geralt-960x720Rapid growth is exciting … and chaotic. When your growth strategies start paying off, the processes that worked well when you were smaller can break down as you add clients, revenue and employees to your business. As you get more decision makers, with differing opinions on how to do things, your processes can become so cumbersome that they threaten to slow your business and increase your risk.

This was the situation faced by one of our clients, a global pharmaceutical services company that saw an enviable 880% organic growth rate over the last four years. Its employee headcount and active customer list were growing beyond capacity, and they had a serious case of growing pains. They knew their processes weren’t working anymore, and they asked us to help them retool to both absorb growth and continue doing what produced their steep growth in the first place.

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Anytime you’re looking for new, better ways of doing things, you must first define how you’re currently operating to figure out what’s really causing your problems. This process of defining your core processes – a group of related activities that transform various inputs into an output that adds value to the customer – is the best way to ensure that the solution you adopt is a Breakaway Move that supports your overall strategy.

To get there, step back and 1) look at processes to see how things are currently done; 2) determine if new systems would improve efficiency; and 3) challenge your processes and see where there might be opportunities to make them leaner.

Here’s what that looked like with the pharmaceutical services company we’re working with.

First, we had to get clear direction on what problems needed to be solved. We had to get the team laser-focused on the outcome and make sure we didn’t try to “boil the ocean”– to try to do more than was realistic or necessary.

Next, we defined the cost of poor quality – the things that could be negatively impacted by not making changes (for example, customer satisfaction, employee effectiveness, compliance).

Then we recorded all of the existing processes. When we began, the team thought they had 10 processes, but once we really dug in and challenged the team and each process, we found there were over 20 different processes in place, with multiple touch points and people involved. We got there by breaking each process down by the following components:

  • Define the process: What 1-2 sentences does the process owner use to describe it?
  • Inputs to the process: What steps, actions, templates or tools are needed for the process to start?
  • Process steps: What is the activity and/or transformation that takes place?
  • Outputs: What is the result of the activity and/or transformation taking place?
  • Controls: What manual or system controls are in place? What’s on your wish list for the future?
  • Risks: What risks are in the existing process?
  • Regulatory requirements: Are there any U.S./international regulatory or compliance requirements that must be considered?

Finally, we took the team through a “wish list” exercise to capture all areas of potential opportunity the client didn’t have capability for, but hoped to see after they made changes.

Potential solutions were weighed against a cost-benefit analysis to ensure that what they chose to adopt (and their priorities for adoption) would provide the biggest payoff in terms of alleviating problems and making processes better, faster and cheaper.

When your processes are causing a lot of business pain, it may seem like a lot of time and trouble to take a step back to define your core processes, but it’s the most effective way to implement processes that are more than a Band-Aid, but fix your problems for the long run.

Image: Geralt / Pixabay

FUEL UP Your Growth Engine

General Electric’s GE90 class jet engine is powerful enough to power a Boeing 777 airplane in flight for over 5 hours … on just ONE engine. GE is relentless in its engineering efforts to continuously create more powerful, safe, fuel efficient and light engines. But as powerful as this engine is, it cannot produce any thrust without fuel. It won’t even start.

Every company has a growth engine. But, in reality, leaders rarely take the time to inspect and tune it up for maximum efficiency. In a business, fuel is CASH. And the number one way to increase cash is to increase PROFIT.

There are 7 Levers that influence your Profit and Cash Flow, the fuel required to rev up your growth engine to maximum thrust.

Lever #1 – PriceGE-90_Engine,_Unknown_JP337557

Lever #2 – Volume

Lever #3 – Cost of goods sold (COGS) and direct costs

Lever #4 – Operating expenses

Lever #5 – Accounts receivable

Lever #6 – Inventory or work in progress

Lever #7 – Accounts payable

It’s easier than you think to take actions on these levers and increase your Profit and Cash Flow. The Power of One is a concept that shows how doing something to move those levers either 1% (on levers 1-4) or 1 day (on levers 5-7) in a few critical areas can lead to a significant increase in Profit.

Move The Levers

The Power of One One-Page Tool allows you to calculate the effect on your profit if you can move those levers either 1% or 1 day.

Lever #1 – Price: What’s the value of increasing prices by just 1%?

Lever #2 – Volume: What’s the value of selling just 1% more units at the same price?

Lever #3 – COGS: What’s the value of decreasing raw material and direct labor costs by just 1%?

Lever #4 – Operations: What’s the value of reducing overhead by just 1%?

Lever #5 – Accounts receivable: What’s the value of collecting from debtors just 1 day sooner?

Lever #6 – Inventory: What’s the value of keeping 1 day’s less stock/inventory on hand?

Lever #7 – Accounts payable: What’s the value of paying creditors 1 day slower?

I know what you are thinking. You already know all of this!

But the reality is, most companies don’t take the time to actually measure the impact these small changes can make. You can easily add 3% to your bottom line just by tuning your engine, making small and painless adjustments.

Put the Power of One into action with a simple spreadsheet that you and your team can use to measure the impact of the changes in each Lever. Assign a person to each lever, and create SMART goals and action plans to generate more profit to FUEL UP Your Growth Engine!

(Image: Dale Coleman / Wikimedia Commons)

Scale Up Faster With A ‘Play To Win’ Mindset

WinningTeam-FC-Barcelona-Team-2011-by-Christopher-Johnson-440x304

One of the most challenging phases for CEOs or executive teams who start a company is to break out of the startup mindset.

In an organization’s early stages, it’s all hands on deck and everyone is a generalist, wearing many hats.

The CEO is involved in every decision and every transaction. The realities of cash constraints, funding payroll, etc. – and the whirlwind of emotions tied to them – are hard-wired into the entrepreneur’s brain.

Then, over time as the company grows, two things happen.

First, the company reaches a ceiling of complexity – things get harder and not easier. Hiring more people feels more like an anchor than a sail.

Second, the startup mindset and the emotional imprints it creates turn the founder(s) into a bottleneck, or the constraining factor to growth.

To grow, the CEO and senior team must become hyper-aware of how their past experiences can be limiters on future plans – and commit to change. Reading Scaling Up by Verne Harnish is one of the best ways to learn how to punch through the ceiling of complexity and continue to grow in a fun, healthy and drama-free way. BUT, the tools don’t work unless the CEO and senior team 100% commit to a Play to Win mindset.

What does Play to Win mean? It means NOT playing not to lose, which is an entrepreneurial trap. It’s why so few companies make it past the $10,000,000 revenue mark. To escape the trap, the next time you are having a growth- or strategy-related discussion, ask yourself and your team: “Based on the plans we are discussing, are we Playing to Win or just playing not to lose?” You’ll be surprised how the conversation – and your plans – can change with that simple question.

5 ways to create a Play to Win mindset

  1. Be very intentional about including your team in strategic-level thinking and problem solving. It’s hard to Play to Win by yourself … you’ll need a team.
  1. Realize that you and your team might not have all the answers. Look outside the organization for help. Hire an expert, coach, consultant, trainer, join a peer group, etc. An expense-centric mindset limits access to information and learning. Most high-growth companies are investing in resources to make big leaps.
  1. Imagine yourself winning. As a professional mountain bike racer, I can’t achieve a podium finish without first believing I can and imagining it happen. I let myself experience the start- and the finish-line sprint. Only then can I plan my Breakaway Moves.
  1. Use the term “Play to Win” with your team. They’ll get it. It’s energizing. Everyone loves to be on a winning team.
  1. Create an enemy. Create a race. Create a finish line. Create competition. High-growth companies create plans to crush their competition. Flat-lined and slow-growth companies stop competing, stop getting upset when someone else wins.

Create a Play to Win mindset for you and your team, and get your company on the podium every time!

 

Image: Skeeze / Pixabay

6 Roadblocks to Growing Your Business

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Companies often encounter barriers as they mature. Here are six big ones and how to break through them.

1. Not knowing your ideal customer

Customers aren’t all equally valuable; some can even be unprofitable. So CEO Scot Lowry of digital marketing firm Fathom, in Valley View, Ohio, had his CFO draft a profit and loss statement for each. That helped him phase out the costly customers — and identify the ideal ones, such as health care and financial services firms that need very customized service. “Our strategy is based on deep customer intimacy,” he explains. “We have to focus on select clients to deliver on this.”

2. Failing to scale systems

Many companies don’t want to invest in brand-new software for accounting, customer-relations management, and other operating systems as they grow because they’re pricey. But procrastinating will lead to chaos and mistakes when you need to tackle tasks that should be easy to do instantly, like updating customers’ addresses in all your records at once. If your company has hit 50 to 150 employees without upgrading its systems, don’t delay any more. It’s an emergency.

3. Using an old org chart

It’s tempting just to stuff this important document in a drawer and forget it. Don’t. With his now nearly 150-person team squabbling over priorities and resources, Lowry shredded his org chart and reorganized everyone into teams dedicated to specific accounts. He is listed at the bottom, with the role of helping employees serve clients at the firm, which expects $20 million in sales this year. “I stopped talking about my ‘direct reports’ and switched to calling them my ‘direct supports,’” he says.

4. Trusting your gut

In the startup phase, you’ve got to rely on your instincts because there’s no historical data to guide you. But intuition often deceives CEOs as their businesses become more complex, says Sunny Vanderbeck, managing partner at Satori Capital, a Dallas-based firm that invests in growing, profitable companies. If you’re not letting data drive decisions, such as what products to develop or which customers are worth pitching, he says, “you’re missing out.”

5. Letting your skills flatline

Companies often outgrow the founders’ ability to lead them because the CEOs don’t sharpen their management skills. “If your company is growing 30% a year, you have to be 30% better by this time next year,” says Vanderbeck. Learn from other CEOs by joining a peer group like Entrepreneurs’ Organization or Young Presidents’ Organization. “If you aren’t a learner, you are the reason the company isn’t as big as it could be,” Vanderbeck says.

6. Not investing in team training.  

Out-learning the competition is a powerful and sustainable growth strategy. To get everyone playing the same music, CEOs must focus training where the company needs it most. Studies have proven over and over again that training has the highest ROI compared to any other investment a firm can make. Jeff Frushtick, CEO of industrial equipment maker Leonard Automatics, found this to be true: Training employees on Lean production resulted in a five-fold increase in profits in a single year at the 35-employee, Denver, N.C., firm. Look into training that can boost your firm’s profits similarly.

 

Verne Harnish is the CEO of Gazelles Inc., an executive education firm. Robert Fish is founder and CEO of Insight CXO.

This blog is adapted from a story in the May 19, 2014 issue of Fortune.

Image: Nicholas Canup / Flickr

Scaling Up with Rock Solid Annual Planning Methodologies

Scaling Up with Rock Solid Annual Planning Methodologies

By Robert Fish

business-1137366_1280Does your company have a proven and repeatable Annual Planning process that is used and referenced throughout the year? Does the full company BELIEVE in the plan and know how they individually contribute to make it a reality? Does your Annual Plan create simple but powerful strategies and direction? Even if you said ‘yes’ to the above, does your leadership team run out of steam half way through the year?

As a serial Entrepreneur, Gazelles Certified Coach and Professional level mountain bike racer, I have learned one very powerful thing. Often, the best way to have a strong finish is to start at the beginning. If I want to have a strong finish at mountain bike Pro Nationals, my ‘start at the beginning’ means lots of long easy and slow miles on the bike in the off season. This is my base. I can only layer in intensity to my training in direct relation to the size of my base I create… think the base of a pyramid.

My fitness pyramid will only be as high (peak performance) as my ‘base’ is wide. From a business perspective in relation to Annual Planning, the base of the pyramid is review, and re-commitment to Core Ideologies such as Core Values, Core Purpose and the BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal).

Want your company to reach peak performance, engage your people, execute without drama, and turn revenue into real profit and cash? Start at the beginning!!! A common mistake during Annual Planning is trying to start in the middle with goals and priorities. A good plan on paper may be possible, but the team will not reach peak performance during the year.

Focusing on Core Ideologies at the beginning of Annual Planning gives your team CLARITY on why they are doing what they are doing and MEANING on why it’s important. Developing a simple set of rules and guidelines that people believe in creates the engine or batteries that will help carry the plan through the year. Developing a plan around revenue and profit alone just does not work in most cases. There is not enough emotional connection to carry through the rough patches. The team needs to physically connect with the Goals and Priorities for the year, and why it’s important to make them happen.

Think about the power of creating a Core Ideology driven Operating System for your team during Annual and Quarterly Planning. There are two major outcomes by creating this:

1) Strategy development (things that drive revenue) becomes simpler because it’s easier to decide WHAT NOT TO DO. Does the proposed strategy idea accelerate our BHAG or does it pull us away? Any strategy that violates any of the Core Ideologies is not a good and SUSTAINABLE strategy. They fail.

2) Scale Up faster by better alignment of resources. By aligning strategy with Core Ideologies, and eliminating projects that conflict, your team will not be fighting over resources during the year. One common mistake many companies make (and they never know this is the reason) is the annual priority stack which pulls resources in opposite directions. The CEO thinks the team is in alignment because of the agreement on the annual plan. But the plan itself (not the people) pulls the company apart and makes execution and profit very difficult. It’s important during annual planning that the priorities build on each other and do not compete for resources. There are other methods to aligning resources but always start with Core Ideologies first.

The fastest way to Scale Up your business and reach Peak Performance is to slow down at the beginning of Annual Planning and get the Core Ideologies dialed-in and re-engaged 100%. Everything through the execution phase of the plan will be easier and faster as a result.

When is the best time to start Annual Planning? Now!!! Especially if any of the Core Ideologies are in question, are missing, or your leadership team is not 100% on board with them. You’ll also give your team a running start into the new year and you’ll have a chance to address potential issues that might prevent success in advance.

SCALE Up with the Cash Conversion Cycle

cycle-150947_1280I facilitate planning retreats every week and I’m always fascinated by the concept of the CASH CONVERSION CYCLE and how it engages every person in the room. Typically, the concept of cash is left to the business owner and the Controller and/or CFO. Cash is like oxygen for the business.  Without it, the business simply dies. So the question is “how can we generate as much cash as possible to fuel growth and reduce the need for outside financing?” There are four parts of the CASH CONVERSION CYCLE and all four need to be analyzed and shortened as much as possible:

1) Sales Cycle

Shortening the sales cycle has an impact on cash! What are the ways the sales team can get to the market faster and less time between steps? How long does it take to bring a new product to the market? What is the R&D process like? How can we speed it up? The sales team is never asked to think about sales in the context of cash conversion. And you’ll be surprised what they come up with when asked. For them it’s really commission conversion cycle and they will become great advocates for the initiatives.

2) Make / Production Cycle

Shortening the make / production cycle has an impact on cash! What are the ways to speed up inventory turns and reduce inventory? How can the sales team get better orders so things get made right the first time? How can operations be organized to increase flow and capacity? How can LEAN techniques be used to eliminate waste of material and time?

3) Delivery Cycle

Shortening the delivery cycle has an impact on cash! We see so many easy to correct mistakes happen at this stage. And until delivery happens billing usually cannot be completed. How long does it take to complete the delivery of the product or service? Was the customer ready? Did they get exactly what they expected? Did the finished product have to be shipped back for re-work due to miscommunication or improper order taking? Did the product work like it was supposed to? Did Quality Control do their job right?

4) Billing Cycle

Shortening the billing cycle has an impact on cash! Most companies think they are stuck in a billing format due to their industry norms. The reality is most clients are willing to pay faster or are willing to change when billing happens. The trick is you have to ask! For example, instead of billing everything at once after the service is completed, consider X% up front and progress billing. If you typically bill monthly, start billing bi-weekly.  If you bill bi-weekly, start billing weekly. If you are a service based business and usually bill for work after it was performed, start billing for work before it is performed.

Look for 100 hundred ways to shorten cycle times and never stop looking. Make it a point, each quarter, to find an area the company will focus on and improve. I guarantee when you look at your business through the lens of cash you’ll realize when you make cash improvements you are also making significant process improvements.

Start Winning With Daily and Weekly Meetings

conference-room-768441_1280I get asked all the time what is the number one thing a company can do to leverage the Rockefeller Habits and tighten up execution.  Daily and Weekly meetings are often unstructured, boring and push aside in most companies but are the quickest way to solve problems quickly and get more work done.    I’m assuming you ARE holding your Monthly, Quarterly and Annual meetings.… right?  Your meeting rhythm is like the heartbeat of the organization that supplies blood and oxygen to the rest of the company.  Without it, issues don’t get uncovered, processes don’t get cleaned up, execution/accountability fades away and key strategic initiatives and adjustments don’t get made.  In short, hundreds or of decisions that should be leveraging the collective minds of the organization on an annual basis just never happen.  Your company’s success can be equated to the sum total of all the decisions, both good and bad, that happen in a year.

The existing or desired growth rate of the company should determine the intensity of the meeting structure.  A company with 20% annual growth should treat each 90 days like it is a year.  A company with 2X per year growth should treat one month as a year.

Each meeting starting with the Daily has a specific purpose and feeds up into the next meeting type.  The meeting types replace each other and are not on top of each other.  An example is in the week there is a Monthly scheduled, there is not a Weekly.


Here is an overview of each meeting and the overall role they play:

Daily (DE-hassle) Meeting – (Execution)

The primary objectives for the DE-hassle meeting is for Problem Identification and Behavior Measurement.  This meeting should be a ‘stand up’ meeting, should start and stop exactly on time, and should last 5 to 15 minutes.  It’s best to start at an odd time like 9:09AM.  The meeting format is as follows:

  1. What’s Up?  Go around the room and in about 30 seconds per person, discusses what is on their agenda in the next 24 hours to move the company forward.  Be careful about being too general in the information share.  If you are working on a proposal for a client, what client?  Why is it important?  What is the dollar amount, etc?  If you are the Moderator of the DE-hassle meeting, make sure you ask clarifying questions and dig into generalities.  The issues you are looking for usually lurk right beneath the surface.   Moderators, please ask “did anyone hear anything that you have a question or comment on before moving on to Daily Measures?”
  2. Daily Measures.  Ideally, each person should have 2 to 3 daily measures that give the group a good idea of how the company is doing.  The measures are data points and/or ratios that can be quickly shared.  This is where general trends are developed and is an early warning radar to catch issues early while they are easy to solve.  Examples are, # of sales call made, Net Promoter Scores, A/R Days, etc.  Or numbers that track how well the company is living it’s Brand Promise.
  3. Stucks?  A key component in healthly DE-hassle meetings is the willingness of each person to share a ‘stuck’ if one exists.  A stuck can be personal (they usually are) and don’t need to impact the rest of the group.  What is the rock in your shoe?  What has you frozen, unable to move forward in a project?  Are you too swamped to get to something important?  Turn each issue into a Process problem and not a People problem.  Otherwise, the group will not share their

Stucks as they will fear being attacked.  Moderators, please jump in immediately if you hear the conversation turn into a People issue and call a time out to re-adjust the flow.  If the Stuck only impact two people, quick ask them to discuss after the meeting.

Weekly  (Week-In-Sync) Meeting – (Execution)

All of the major issues uncovered in the DE-hassle  meetings should roll up into the Weekly meetings.  Weekly’s should be thought of as Issues Oriented and a Strategic Gathering of the company leaders.  1 to 2 hours depending on the size of the group is all the time that is needed to keep the pulse moving.  The suggested format for the Weekly is as follows:

5 minutes:  Good news only.  Each person shares something good that has happened personally and professionally in the last week.  This is a great way for the team to become more comfortable with each other and get each person in the Alpha state which is great for learning and problem solving.

10 minutes:  Go around the room and report on KPI’s, Smart Numbers, Ratios and data points that provide insight into the future.  Take note of anything that is out of line.

10 minutes:  Discuss any customer, prospect or employee feedback.  The management team exists to solve problems so make sure a Process versus People issue environment is enforced.  No feedback on a routine basis is much worse than negative feedback.  It’s hard to fix what the team does not know about.

30 minutes:  Discuss a Rock or single issue in detail and use the collective intelligence to maximize the opportunity, solve a problem or refine/develop a process.  Remember success is the sum total of decisions made in a company and this is critical thinking time to move the company forward.  And by going deep in the Weekly, the Monthly meetings don’t get bogged down in things that could have been handled weeks earlier.

5 minutes:  Complete the Who – What – When matrix with the output from the 30 minute discussion.  Also review the previous meeting Who – What – When’s and make any necessary adjustments.

Close:  Each person closes the meeting by sharing one word or short phrase concerning their reaction to the Weekly meeting.  This is a great way for the team to get a sense of where everyone is mentally and emotionally.

Living Legacy

People often joke that the best moments of boat ownership are the day they bought the boat and the day they sold it.finger-567279_1280

There are similar punctuation marks in our lives—the day we’re born and the day we pass away. As busy executives, if we’re not careful, our personal lives can end up as neglected as those vessels, forever docked in the harbor (or parked in storage!).

I’m a big believer in building a living legacy. Your life will be more meaningful if you treat every day as if it was your last and, instead of rushing from one obligation to another, you proactively establish personal priorities and align them with your professional goals.

As readers of this column know, there are four decisions you must make to build a thriving company: People, Strategy, Execution and Cash. In your personal life, there are parallel areas: Relationships, Achievements, Rituals and Wealth. Commit to writing your goals in these four areas, just as you weave the Four Decisions into your business plan. To guide you in creating a personal one-page plan, here’s a link to a “ME: Living Legacy” tool.


Relationships

At the end of the day, what matters most in life are relationships. The first step in using the Living Legacy tool is to list the key people in your life on whom you want to have a lasting impact.

In business, you have a tremendous opportunity to influence your employees or customers. In your personal life, the important people in your life will likely include your family, your friends, and those in the various communities to which you belong. Limit the list to 25 people, so you don’t get overwhelmed.

At the same time, there may be some people in your life who are destructive and/or distract you from your higher goals. There’s a space on the form where you can note relationships you want to end. Doing so is important, so you can free time for the people who matter most to you.


Achievements

Many CEOs find that even when they reach critical milestones for growing their company, they feel they haven’t made a real difference in the world. The achievements section of the Living Legacy tool can pave the way to a more meaningful life. Think about the major ways you’d like to make an impact through your work beyond reaching monetary goals—perhaps by mentoring others or setting up a nonprofit organization or pro bono initiative—and set objectives in these key areas.

In your personal life, you’ll want to think about how you can make a real difference to the key people in your life. For instance, you might aim to have a happy marriage, instead of just staying married, as many people do. Signing on to facilitate the 5-year strategic plan for our children’s school was something I enjoyed prioritizing this past six months.


Rituals

Establishing regular routines in your life will help you achieve your larger goals. Examples of rituals might include a weekly date night with your spouse and booking some “alone” time with each child once a week. For distant family members, you might build a regular routine, like taking a vacation together every two years.

You might also want to establish rituals with people whose presence in your life supports your bigger goals. Meeting regularly with a workout buddy, for instance, can help you maintain good health—something that’s important to achieving any goals you set.

Like destructive relationships, there might be some bad habits or behaviors you wish to stop – list those as well.


Wealth

Rather than financial wealth being an end in itself, see it as a resource for supporting the rest of your personal plan. Set goals for the amount of money you want to donate to causes that matter to you. Decide what you need to set aside to support activities with your family and friends, investing in experiences that create lasting memories. In the cash section of the Living Legacy document, you’ll want to make note of any financial goals you must meet to fuel your living legacy. And when you let money flow through you to help those around you, it seems to appear more effortlessly.

It’s not easy to do this type of planning, but just getting yourself to think about what matters most is 90% of the battle. You want to make sure that what you leave in the wake of your life as you sail along is a legacy worth living.

Moral Character Wins

Companies that build teams with strong moral character win. Their teams are happier, perform better and are more successful overall.refugees-1020218_1920

This bold claim stems from the work of Jim Loehr, renowned performance psychologist and author of the book The Only Way to Win. Loehr´s research, which in part is based on his experience taking 16 world class athletes to number one in their sport and working with thousands of “corporate athletes,” shows that the satisfaction we get from achieving extrinsic accomplishments (number one in tennis, a new job, winning a deal, building a company) is mostly shallow and fleeting.

Instead, what gives us a long lasting feeling of fulfillment and happiness is having practiced integrity, generosity, gratefulness, humility, optimism, and compassion in the pursuit of these goals. CEOs with the mindset of a “servant leader” are in a unique position to support the development of these strengths.


Characted Strengths Win in Sports

Loehr recently founded a junior tennis academy at his Human Performance Institute. On their first day, the students hear: “We care about your tennis but care more about who you become because of tennis. Our most important imperative at this academy is winning with character.

Working from a list of moral strengths, the students are required to journal about lessons learned that day, on and off the court. Not surprisingly, this has helped their performance. All 15 students going through the program are currently nationally ranked.


… And in Business

What Loehr has learned works in business, as well. After the tragic loss of his wife, Jay Steinfeld, founder and CEO of Blinds.com, reached a turning point. “My future really began to take shape only when I began to define my success as being in the act of continuous improvement and improving the lives of others around me,” he recalls.

Realizing, as he put it, that he was “an overly burdensome micromanager, always finding fault in others,” he concentrated on identifying and recognizing the successes of his team. As he became more empathetic, his team relaxed—and performed better. To help his employees to stick with their own self-improvement goals, he put up a white board where individuals could share such commitments.

As the company has grown increasingly successful—it is now the world’s largest online retailer for window blinds and shades, with $120 million in annual revenue and 180 employees—Steinfeld has tried to help his team stay true to its humble beginnings. He personally brings new recruits to a run-down alleyway in Houston where the thriving company had its first office back in 1996. There, he shares the history and core values of the company. He even built a reproduction of the alleyway at the company’s new offices.

“This way, we keep our humble history fresh in our minds and it also reinforces our core value ´Help People Achieve What They Never Thought They Could,’ ” he explains.


Identify Success Patterns Through Jounraling

Boston Centerless, a manufacturer of ground bars and grinding services, recently completed its first eight month leadership program where character building, not skill building was the focus of the curriculum. Participants developed very specific plans about who they want to be and what kind of change they want to create in their behavior. As at Loehr’s academy, one of the key practices taught in the Boston Centerless program is journaling. Research shows that writing, especially by hand, about one´s thoughts and feelings, is one of the most powerful exercises to provoke lasting character change.

Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, suggests a simple but effective journaling routine: Every night write down three things that went well that day and why they went well. This helps the writer to identify personal patterns of success and highlights how moral character strengths make good things happen in business and in life.


Andre Agassi’s Daily Journey

Andre Agassi shares in his memoirs how writing down his goals every morning and how he wants to achieve them that day helped him gain that “steely resolve” that brought him back to the #1 spot in world tennis. “After putting them on paper, saying them out a loud, I also say aloud: `No shortcuts.’”

As Loehr emphasizes, Agassi’s reinvention of himself—from an obnoxious player who became number one but hated his fame and wealth and at one point battled drug addiction—to “the compassionate, generous, thoughtful and humble person he is today,” as Loehr puts it, shows how moral character development ultimately supports performance. When he focused on improving himself, he came back as number one and was happier.

As a servant leader, consider how you might use your company as a vehicle for building your own character strengths and those of your team. The results will likely astound you.