"McKinsey is not a strategy firm per se â itâs a leadership firm. While other organizations talk about strategy and analysis, we instead talk about leadership and impact."
- McKinsey Corporation, Who We Are
On one level, reading a quote like this isn't all that surprising.
I mean, being âproâ leadership and âproâ impact isn't all that controversial.
Almost everyone in business at least mouths words like this.
That their work is not just about making money, but about changing the world for the better in ways small, and about leaving a legacy.
But then you realize that this otherwise innocuous quote comes from McKinsey, the worldâs largest and most renowned strategic consulting firm, famous for its dispassionate and scientific approach to solving business challenges.
And they here are saying - as perhaps a Tony Robbins or a Joel Osteen or a Louise Hay would - that strategy and analysis arenât really that important, as long as our hearts and motives are in the right place.
Now donât get me wrong - I am all for dreaming big dreams, for visioning our businesses such that it touches and inspires everyone - employees, customers, partners, our community - with which it comes into contact.
But I am also for calculating, planning, and quietly working - with our heads and our analytical minds - to achieve slow and methodical growth.
And doing so without big speeches and blandishments about âcauses,â or culture.
Yes, McKinsey with this quote is making a classic false choice.
Between doing good and, as they say, âmaking coin.â
Because of course we can, should, and must have both.
Big dreams and little plans.
Societal impact and improving profits.
Leadership and management.
The challenge is to find where, and only where, these highly complementary goals and objectives intersect and meet.
And to then only do those things.
As in only build and sell products and services of the highest possible quality.
And as in only market and sell them elegantly and creatively, reaching for both the heart and minds of our prospects.
And striving for the absolute lowest cost structure in all of our operational and fulfillment processes, because we recognize that efficiency and leanness are universal business positives, no matter our market or brand positioning.
And as an organization respecting and honoring all who come into contact with us, especially our employees and our partners (i.e. our culture)
Not with the goal of making the lives we touch comfortable and "balanced."
But rather clearly understanding and believing in our organizational mission and core objectives, and then working to align everyoneâs âbest selvesâ with them (even if this means working really, really hard!).
And then we have it all.
Solid strategy and clear, daily to do lists.
Leadership and impact.
There isn't a false choice here.
Even if McKinsey thinks there is.
What about your company? Do you have the right balance between leadership and management? Between your big organizational goals and your daily to do lists?
Do you need help in getting everyone on the same page to attack a key new business initiative?
If so, then complete this short questionnaire - and tell us about a key initiative that if you execute upon it properly can propel your company forward in a new and powerful way. And weâll reach out to you with our thoughts to help you.
Last week I saw the movie "The Founder," which details which the amazing story of Ray Kroc and the early days of the McDonald's restaurant chain.
Anyone that loves business and entrepreneurship should see this movie, as it paints in beautiful relief one of the most iconic business success stories of all-time.
It starts with the simple, startling and SO inspirational fact that Ray Kroc - played masterfully in the movie by actor Michael Keaton - first became involved with McDonalds at the ripe, young age of 52!
His life career to that point had been a series of failures and near misses - start-ups gone bust, failed marriages, and then middling success as a milkshake machine salesman, which led to his now so very famous meeting with the McDonald brothers.
Yes, Ray Kroc, contrary to popular belief and perhaps even his own illusions, did not start McDonalds, or conjure up its two most famous "secret sauces" - its assembly line inspired fast food âSpeedee Service Systemâ or its evangelically infused âGolden Archesâ signage and store design.
These innovations were those of the McDonald brothers - poor, first-generation Irish immigrants that made their way during the Great Depression to California to seek their fortune.
After a failed movie theater, hot dog stand, and drive-in-restaurant, they had their âEurekaâ moment, the design and implementation plan of the worldâs first, true fast-food restaurant - featuring 15 cent hamburgers, 10 cent french fries, and 20 cent milkshakes - and served via walk-up window at the revolutionary speed of just a seconds from order placement to food delivery.
Soon, theirs was by far the most popular restaurant in town, and catching the attention of Ray Kroc when he received an order from them for eight of his milkshake machines - no other restaurant had ever ordered more than one!
Krocâs curiosity was so piqued that he got in his car and drove 2,000 miles from his Illinois home to Southern California to see for himself how they were doing it.
They quickly struck a deal for Kroc to be the company's first director of franchising.
Kroc then mortgaged his home and put every penny he had on the line (a lot harder to do at 52 versus 22!), and after many heartaches and setbacks, soon was selling McDonald's franchises throughout the Midwest at a rate of almost one per week, building a phenomenon the likes of which the restaurant industry had never seen.
And as I watched as the movie portray him overcome one daunting obstacle after another, his salesmanship, never-say die attitude, and messianic enthusiasm in pursuing and evangelizing his dream was...
...flat out totally inspirational.
Now here's where the Ray Kroc story gets complicated.
Almost immediately after signing their deal, Ray and the McDonald's brothers started to clash.
Over menus, over the look and layout of the restaurants, and most profoundly over what an acceptable rate of growth and risk-taking should be.
The brothers were fundamentally conservative, focused on how the business might provide them a comfortable middle class life and an escape from the poverty of their youth.
Ray Kroc wanted an empire.
And was willing to do whatever was necessary to build one.
It goes without saying that these two world views would clash. Nor was it surprising who won - only the scale of the victory and how it was achieved being shocking and thought-provoking.
In one of the great business heists of all time, Kroc negotiated with the McDonald brothers to pay them a mere $2.7 million for the then 200 unit restaurant chain, along with an "handshake deal" for 1/2% of the companies revenues, into perpetuity.
Ray Kroc never honored that handshake, and instead went on to build McDonalds before his death into a 7,500 store behemoth with locations in 31 countries.
And to a personal net worth in todayâs dollars of over $3 Billion.
This is a tale of persistence, of a 52 year old man who had swung and failed too many times in his life to count, finally connecting and with grit and belief hitting it really big in America.
And then the rest of the story, more complex but no less revelatory as to the competing priorities and values of modern business.
And of the different kinds of courage needed to make the hard and business and life offering choices inherent to truly going for it.
All of us need to grapple with these choices in our own way.
The movie âThe Founderâ condenses those choices into one hour and fifty five minutes of beautifully made cinematic drama.
As an entrepreneur and a middle aged guy, I enjoyed it immensely and think you will too! Go see it!
There is one key to becoming a business superhero.
One that leads their organization to ongoing growth and success.
It is often overlooked because business, for the very most part, is an incremental game.
Each and every day we strive to make small improvements in key business processes - reducing the amount of time it takes to fill a customer order, or complete a project, or increase the conversions from our marketing efforts into sales leads, or once we have those good prospects to increase the percentage of them that buy, and at what price.
Then, the well-founded hope is that all of these small improvements, compounded over time, will slowly but surely grow our sales, profits, and business value.
All of the above is 100% true, and in my consulting practice, I have developed analytics and business intelligence tools to win business races this way - inch by inch, key metric improvement by key metric improvement.
AND I've discovered that this analytics-based, incremental approach is completely insufficient for breakthrough business growth and improvement.
No, what has to be added in is that most beautiful thing that the greatest among us have displayed and embodied throughout the ages and even every now and then in todayâs marketplace.
Courage is defined by Webster as âmental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.â
And for better or for worse, it is not a word that comes up all that often in 21st century knowledge work.
Now for those of us whose work consists of sitting in front of a computer, or on our smartphones, the opportunities and need to demonstrate and embody courage are naturally fewer than when work was more physical, more viscerally interpersonal, heck even more violent than it is today.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with this, as we are all blessed beyond compare by how with our analytical minds, powered by technology, we can earn our daily bread.
But more so than we might think, to achieve business breakthroughs and greatness, we need our crowded hours - those special moments where our hearts race, where the pits in our stomachs grow so strong that we have to consciously remind ourselves to breathe, and that feeling of fear envelops us so tight that we want to run away...
...but instead we stand and fight.
When, in modern business do these moments present themselves? Where courage as much as competence is required?
Well, here are two classic scenarios:
1. When Our Business Needs Outside Growth Capital. Courage is needed throughout - from the initial decision to go seek it, to the hard soul-searching and strategic work to develop a compelling business plan to credibly ask for it, to the the fortitude to press on as the apathy and rejection endemic to modern fundraising inevitably pours in, and finally to the transference of our courage to others to fortify them to take the leap into the exciting but fear-inducing unknown of investment partnership.
2. When we decide to fire a key team member, or to quit our current business/company and go start/find another one. Courage is needed here as the vast majority of us default to letting things stay as they are, no matter how imperfect they might be, versus taking on the confrontation and life disruption of big interpersonal business and career matters.
Of course there are many other scenarios like these. They come up, in ways big and small, in almost every business day.
And when we feel the fear...and say and do anyway those things that serve our business destiny....
Well then the transformation in ourselves and the world around us is immediate.
We and our businesses leap forward, in some magical and inspirational way that makes life worth living, and business worth doing.
Now, when we couple great courage with laser-like focus on incremental, daily improvement...
Then we become nothing less than business Supermen and Superwomen.
And there's a lot of fun, and money, in that!
Your ability to succeed in today's economy is directly correlated with your ability to innovate.
But most organizations change and innovate way too slowly, if at all.
My Growthink colleague Stephen Lehtonen has developed an eight question test to measure an organization's Innovation Quotient , or its "IQ."
The test measures organizational attributes like clarity of mission, process for pursuing new initiatives, the change-friendliness of its culture, and its "intuition" as to customers wants and preferences.
I encourage all to take the test here, as it gives a powerful snapshot of the innovation aspects of a business that are best of class, and those needing re-engineering and rejuvenation.
Business leaders should also look within and authentically ask themselves how committed and able they are, at this point in time, to lead dynamic change at their companies.
Sadly, my experience is that most of them simply are not for two main reasons, both involving that ephemeral but fundamental quality of energy.
The first is discouraged energy, or burnout, caused by the passage of time, by much hard work without ample rest, and by the attempting of very many new things that just didnât work out and produce as planned.
Telltale signs of companies with discouraged leaders include high levels of absenteeism, late completion of assigned tasks, little if any organizational initiative, and just those sad feelings of hopelessness and negativity.
The second is unfocused energy, where a great "fighting spirit" is alive and well but is scattered, with multiple new initiatives being pursued at the same time, but without clear senses of prioritization or realistic time frames for their completion.
Tell-tale signs of companies led like this are meetings without clearly defined agendas or action items flowing from them, and a pervasive unease among the company's line workers as to the projects and to dos in their work day that should be given the most attention and time.
In both these scenarios, the outcome is the same: a business that doesnât innovate - it either doesnât conjure up good, new initiatives to pursue and if it does is unable to pursue them quickly or effectively.
Luckily and not surprisingly, the fix for both energy problems starts with business leaders recognizing their complete power and ability to do something about it.
For the burned out leader, the answer might simply be a long vacation.
Yes, I know real vacations from modern work are hard to make happen, as technology keeps us always so tethered to it.
But we have to recognize that in spite of our technological advancements, that as human beings we are still built for natural cycles of work and rest.
As for the scattered and frenetic leader, the answer could simply be to learn how to do his or her job better - to study the canon of business leadership (some recommendations in this post!) and slowly but surely cultivate a new executive persona and approach.
And for those in between - maybe both a little burned out and a little disorganized....
....well combine the best of both.
Take a nice vacation and read some great business books while on it.
It is summertime after all and yes sometimes the business can wait.
And when we return to work re-focused and refreshed, we might find we can easily accomplish in just a few short hours those things that now seem impossibly hard to even start.
Because yes, sometimes we do need to take a step back, to refresh and reset, so as to lead our companies to an innovative leap forward.
How about You? How well does your organization innovate? Are you discouraged? Scattered? Was your last new product or service launch a huge success? Have you successfully built systems to streamline operations and increase sales and profits like clockwork?
If so, great! If not, send me an email to [email protected] In your email, tell me about an initiative that absolutely must be a success. And then I'll email you back my thoughts to help you.
Everyday, business owners realize that certain approaches and strategies that worked in the past...
...just don't cut it anymore.
Because the competition has gotten better - offering comparable products and services at a lower cost and also often of a higher quality.
Or because customers have just moved on - as generations change and their moods and preferences shift.
Or because industries have eroded away, as is sadly happening in traditional retail right now, and has decimated once prosperous industries like newspapers, wired telecommunications, and travel agencies.
I regularly speak with entrepreneurs and executives grappling with these "the world is passing me by" kind of forces and challenges, and I am both impressed and dismayed by the leadership and strategic choices that they try to make to save their businesses from them.
Two conversations from earlier this week stand out for me - the first with the General Manager of a North Carolina war memorial museum and the second with the CEO a $50 million+ revenue Texas - based satellite services business.
While very different entities in so many respects - from their missions to their organizational structures to their technology fluency - the challenges these two leaders face are surprisingly similar.
The museum directorâs challenges were greatly driven by the demographic reality that the older, âanalogâ generation with personal memory of the wars his museum honors are just dying off, while the "digital" generation that are his current and future patrons just don't go to museums like they once did.
And then squeezing from the other side is the need for and high cost of significant infrastructure improvements at his aging museum facility.
The Texas satellite business CEO had a similar set of âdeclining sales / increasing costsâ challenges.
Their core business for many years has involved the servicing of consumer satellite TV equipment, and as âcord-cuttingâ has put this business into long term decline, his ability to meaningfully grow his companyâs top line has evaporated.
And perhaps most distressingly for both of them, the future trend lines for industry and markets only forecast for their problems to get worse.
Luckily, in my conversations with these fine men, two of the most admirable leadership of them all - resilience and flexibility - were on powerful display.
In the case of the museum director, his resilience came from his commitment to his mission - to honor and keep vibrant the memory of our war veterans.
For our satellite executive, it came from his desire to turn his business around so that its 200+ employees could keep and grow in their jobs.
And from their resilience and determination then came the flexibility to ask the tough existential questions to first save and then grow their enterprises.
Questions like "how could we fulfill our mission if folks just stop visiting museums like ours altogether?"
Or, âin a world where there is no more satellite television, how can we pivot, without going broke as we do, our business expertise to products and services with a brighter future?"
Questions like these require executives to step into the abyss of the ending of their enterprises as they know them so as to have the âtabula rasaâ to re-imagine and re-engineer their sustainable businesses of the future.
Resilience and flexibility.
Without both all businesses are doomed to eventual decline and failure.
But with them both...
...not only can we protect ourselves from technological and societal forces that toss and turn and threaten us unrelentingly and without mercy.
But we can also harness their power to transform ourselves and our businesses into new and more prosperous forms than we have ever been.
What about your company? Do you see opportunity in your market but not sure exactly how to get there? If so, send me an email to [email protected] In your email, tell me about an opportunity that if you can execute upon it can propel your company forward in a new and powerful way. And then I'll email you back my thoughts to help you.
Do you feel sometimes that your work is a âside hustleâ - something we do to put a few bucks in our pockets to then feel and do the âgood stuffâ elsewhere - with our hobbies, volunteer work, personal relationships, and such?
Well, if we want to really enjoy our work....
And as we enjoy it, build a great business.
Then a side hustle just aint gonna cut it.
Luckily, we just need to make three small changes to break out of the side hustle mentality.
And win big.
Now before I go through what these changes, letâs talk for a moment about both the positives and limitations of the âside hustle,â the âcorporation of oneâ mindset and workflow.
The positives can be for very many of us - because of the time and place we are in our lives (students, parents with young children, etc.), and / or the kind of work we do (really anything these days that mostly involves sitting in front of a computer), that side hustles can be awesome.
They allow us to work âvirtually,â to have (theoretically!) that golden elixir of work-life âbalance,â and to find and serve customers all over the world from the comforts and ease of our home office.
But obviously we canât build a great business this way.
No, this can only be done by "collections of humans" gathered together under a common banner and brand...
...and doing great things together as cohesive, inspired, and hard-working teams.
Now doing this is harder today than it has ever been.
And the core reason why is the same one that makes side hustles so attractive..
All of us are just...distracted.
Staring at screens from the moment we wake to the moment we sleep, in a technology-induced daze that if we are not very careful will insidiously prevent and preclude real human connection and teamwork.
Because we are still fundamentally wired as we have always been.
As homo sapiens. As primates who over hundreds of thousands of years have evolved to naturally organize ourselves into small groups and clans, and communicate face to face, in person, with all five of our senses.
And this ânaturalâ method of collaboration and communication has been how throughout business history the greatest teams have done the greatest things.
Like Thomas Edison's famous invention lab, or Steve Jobs leading the development of the original Apple computer, or how our greatest movies have been made, to in more recent times how without irony the #1 social media in the world designed its new headquarters floor plan to be just....
...one very large, loud, and crowded room.
Unfortunately, too many of us have never had team experiences like this at work.
And of course the days of yonder and of Edison and Jobs and the first Apple are never coming back.
And most of us do not want to work on a crowded, open floor like at Facebookâs new office.
So the goal is to keep those blessings and miracles and modern, virtual work - of telecommuting, flex time, work / life balance, etc. - and have a great team environment.
It just requires the three small changes. And then a pig-headed determination to stick with them no matter how strong the temptation and inertia to revert to business as usual.
These changes are:
1) Use a group chat and messaging tool instead of email
2) Whenever possible choose video calls
3) Schedule longer in-person team meetings, but on a more in frequent basis.
Letâs go through them one-by-one:
#1. Use a Group Chat and Messaging Tool Instead of Email. Group chat and messaging tools - like Slack, Voxer, Yammer, and Hangouts - are much better for electronic communication than email because :
a) They are âreal timeâ (more on this in a moment);
b) The etiquette on them is such that when others are âccâdâ there is not a reply requirement to reply;
c) In a chat message there is no need for a subject line as there is with e-mail (think about this for a moment); and,
d) As group messaging is inherently by "invitation only", it naturally avoids the soul-sucking email spam deluge.
Now a big reason why folks shy away from group messaging apps is because of that first and key âreal timeâ benefit, which for many can be distracting from their main work flow.
To this I say if in this year 2017 of ours you just have to find the balance.
Yes, it is not right to just let ourselves to be pinged and distracted all day with chat messages, but nor is it right to not try to make the âvirtual reality of physically sitting next to someoneâ that real time communication allows fit into our workflow.
The darling group messaging tool of choice of the Silicon Valley types is Slack.
Slack finds a great balance between lightness, simplicity, speed and feature richness for virtually any business communication process need.
And even me - a grizzled old man / old school executive - loves Slackâs fun and varied âemojis,â which really do help communicate emotion and feeling.
#2. Video. Business phone communication conducted with video - which can be done at high quality at virtually no cost through a ton of apps - is just better communication than audio alone.
It is better because we are visual beings.
And it is better for the very reason so many of us shy away from it.
Because it is hard.
When on a business video call for business, we first must present ourselves professionally, i.e. no relaxing in tank tops and flip flops allowed!
And we must actively listen - i.e. look right in the camera as we listen and not multi-task, and show that we âgetâ what is being said.
And just like with group messaging but perhaps even moreso, as we do we replicate in-person reality and communication and collaboration results and efficiencies soar.
#3. In person meetings. Now the great thing about group messaging tools and video calls is how they allow us to preserve the brevity and ease and lifestyle benefits of virtual work flow while staying connected to our colleagues.
But of course none of these tools will ever replace the need for a lot of in-person meetings and get togethers to build great team collaborative energy, ideas, and accountability.
These tools will, however, let us have less meetings and can make the ones we do have far more productive.
I've written elsewhere on good flows and agendas for the various internal team meetings that drive mission critical business initiatives forward, but for here it is suffice to say that if a team is communicating effectively with group messaging and video calls as described above, that in-person team meetings can be reduced to as few as one to two times per month.
These in-person meetings should be a bit longer, a bit more free-flowing and relationship building focused than perhaps they would be if all were working under the same roof, but in the end they should proceed as they have always done in businesses and team settings since time immemorial.
Just get together in-person with your team members, and let the magic happen.
Yes, it really is that simple, get on Slack, or a group messaging platform of our choice, make as many of our calls with video as possible, and meet in person perhaps less frequently but with a positive and innovative spirit always.
And let that very limiting side hustle mentality be just a thing of our business past.
What about your company? Are your employees and contractors working as well together as they should be? Do you need help in getting everyone on the same page to attack a key new business initiative?
If so, send me an email to [email protected]
In your email, tell me about a key new initiative that if you execute upon it properly can propel your company forward in a new and powerful way. And I'll email you back my thoughts to help you.
On this great day when we celebrate America, its freedoms and way of life, please enjoy this list of forty of why America is such a special place:
#40. Dow 21,000. NASDAQ 6,100. Markets up 300% since March of '09. Bull markets - run here.
#38. Wikipedia. The Wayback Machine. Google It. ALL the information - at your mouse click here.
#37. Instagram. SNAP. Pictures - worth billions of words here.
#36. The press. Religion. Speech. So blessedly free here.
#35. Apple. Google. Facebook. $1.38 Trillion in market value - capitalized here.
#34. YPO. Vistage. FoundersCard. Entrepreneurial Leaders - networking here.
#32. Uber. AirBnB. WeWork. The New Economy - a reality here.
#31. Silicon Valley, Silicon Beach (Los Angeles), Silicon Alley (Manhattan), Silicon Hills (Austin). Technology - leading the world here.
#30. Gettysburg. Guadalcanal. Bunker Hill. Heroes lived here.
#29. Contract Rights. Judges. Juries of Oneâs Peers. Redress for grievances - practiced here.
#28. Yosemite. The Grand Canyon. Yellowstone. Natural Wonders - in abundance here.
#27. The Interstates. State Highways. County Parkways. The Open Road - Great to be on it here.
#26. Uber. AirBnB. Lending Club. The Economy â Shared Here.
#25. Lexington. Concord. Saratoga. Yorktown â Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Fought for here.
#24. The Bill of Rights. The Supreme Court. The Rule of Law. Justice served here.
#23. The Stock Market. Home Ownership. Low Inflation. Assets built here.
#22. Driverless Cars (and Electric too!). Wearable Devices. The Internet of Things. Tomorrowâs Technologies â Imagined Here.
#21. Diamandis. Kurzweil. Saffo. The future - abundant here.
#20. Hollywood. Disney. Broadway. Entertainment happens here.
#19. The World Series, The Super Bowl, The Masters. Sports are spectacle here.
#18. Jesus. Moses. Mohammed. The Buddha. Religion gets along here.
#17. Gates. Jobs. Page. Zuckerberg. BIG stuff - invented here.
#16. Murphy. Martin. Seinfeld. Rock. Life is a laugh here.
#15. Madonna. Mariah. Whitney. Elvis. Michael. Frank. Songs are sung here.
#14. Faulkner. Hemmingway. Roth. Franzen. Stories are told here.
#13. Kaiser. Pfizer. Genentech. Merck. Healing happens here.
#12. Boeing. Caterpiillar. Deere. UPS. FedEx. Stuff gets built here and gets there.
#11. Amazon. eBay. Ecommerce - transacted here.
#10. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. Networks - connected here.
#9. Google. Yahoo. Bing. Information - organized and accessible here.
#8. Kleiner. Sequoia. Mayfield. Ideas - backed here.
#7. The Inc. 500. The Fast Company 50. Entrepreneurs - inspired here.
#6. Alaska. Montana. Wyoming. Space - open here.
#5. Chicago. Boston. San Francisco. NYC. Cities pulse here.
#4. Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt walked the Earth here.
#3. The first guy in charge here voluntarily gave up power, when he could easily have been named ruler for life. Character stands here.
#2. Since its founding, America has been a beacon of hope for immigrants from around the globe seeking opportunity and a better life. Hope and possibility abound here.
#1. The Greatest Generation was born here, fought and won there. And then they came home, put their heads down, and built a new America. Civil rights, cities, suburbs, highways, schools, and more.
So on this day especially, we say thank you!
Happy 4th to You and Yours!
Can great salesmanship enable athletes to perform at a higher level?
Can it get businesspeople to do the same?
Readers of this column know well my great love of sports, and of the many powerful and usable business analogies I find from it.
My 9 and 11 year old sons now share my sports passion, and over the past few years I have been blessed with the very rich life experience of coaching their competitive level little league baseball teams, and thus have been tasked and challenged with teaching eager but unevenly talented young ballplayers on the nuances of a notoriously difficult but beautiful game.
Some of the business wisdoms and mindsets I have learned from my fandom and my coaching are obvious in theory, but sometimes require the inspiration of sports to apply in practice.
Like the importance of teamwork, of resiliency in the face of adversity, and the importance of leaders in embodying these attributes to their teams.
Then there is the sports wisdom of the "whole life" approach to success.
As I discussed in my recap article on the Rio Olympics, in our hyper-competitive modern world success in both business and sports requires a "24/7/365" commitment - where what we do away from the workplace and playing field is as critical to our success as is our time âin the arena.â
Yes, to be the best these days our âdown timeâ must include lots and lots of clean living - sleep, exercise, nutrition, no or moderate consumption of alcohol and drugs, and an ongoing intellectual and spiritual immersion into quality literature and thought leadership as to peak performance, both in general and specific to our chosen fields and professions.
All of this is the âit is a marathon and not a sprintâ view on high achievement, and sports teaches us the truth of it more viscerally than perhaps any other form of human endeavor.
But what about when we just donât have time to train for and run a marathon?
What do we do when we just need to win today, this game, this deal?
Well, I had this exact circumstance arise when my coaching my sonâs all star baseball team this past weekend.
As background, anyone who has watched or played baseball appreciates and respects the very high challenge of hitting a baseball.
I don't mean just getting the bat to make contact with the ball, but to do as they say in the baseball vernacular - to ârakeâ - to hit the ball hard and do so consistently against good pitching.
Ted Williams famously called it the most difficult thing to do in sports, so on a much smaller level trying to teach little leaguers to hit can be frustrating beyond belief.
Now, in Southern California by late June most little leaguers have been playing and practicing baseball for more than five months.
This means many dozens of practices, and literally thousands of fielding, throwing, running, and hitting drills and repetitions.
For my players, in every baseball skill other than hitting, their skill levels have increased dramatically...
But so frustratingly they are just not better hitters today than they were at the start of the season!
Baseball coaches the world over wrestle with this dilemma, with usually the default response being to just practice more and hope the additional reps will turn things around.
Alas and sadly, I have discovered for little leaguers hitting a baseball it just doesn't work that way.
The additional reps help sometimes, but when on the eve of a big game as was the case this past weekend there is neither time for more reps nor confidence that if the hundreds of hours of reps over dozens of practices haven't worked yet...
...then anymore practice before the big game would be unlikely to make a difference.
So I decided to...just go all âsunshine.â
I told our players over and over and with great enthusiasm what great hitters they were, how beautiful their swings were, how good they looked up at the plate, and at batting practice how hard and far they were hitting the ball.
Now, I always believe in positive coaching, but for this game I went over the top in my exhortations and my enthusiasm!
As I was doing it, my fellow coaches looked at me a bit funny, and at the start of it I could see the skepticism in our players eyes too, some of whom hadn't gotten a hit in over two months!
But as I stuck with it, I noticed a slow building change.
The more vocal and with more conviction I shouted my cries of encouragement, the more I could feel and see our players really start to believe they could do it.
The result: I am quite happy to report that this past Saturday was my teamâs best hitting game of the season - with three of our players getting their best hits ever in the biggest game of their lives.
Nothing changed in their physical or technical abilities, only in their belief and confidence in themselves, surely boosted by their coach's over the top exhortations and praise.
Two key thoughts come to mind from this experience.
First of all, does it matter if I really believed it?
That my players were in actuality good hitters, or just some happy-go-lucky, marginally athletic kids out to enjoy running around on a warm summer day?
Now there are some people that are naturally believe in the potential of all those around them.
I am sadly not one of these people. I have to remind myself often to be enthusiastic and to praise.
But I don't think it matters all that much if you are or are not "natural" and "authentic" in your enthusiastic praise. Pretending is plenty good enough.
Then, can "Sales Jobs" like this actually work to overcome vexing business challenges?
Like making more sales?
Or launching a new product on time?
Or building and sustaining an awesome company culture?
Of course it can.
Our best evidence is the the personality types of so many of the greatest entrepreneurs of our age - the Steve Jobs, the Elon Musks, the Mark Zuckerbergs - who ooze and express vast confidence and belief in their intellectual, marketing, product, and business plans and visions.
And are not shy in the slightest in sharing that belief all day, every day.
In fact, it is incredibly easy to gain competitive advantage in business with just a little hype and mojo because so few of us do it!
Way too many businesspeople are "Eeyoreâ types - forever waiting for the other shoe to drop and just looking for an opening to share their tales of woe to all who cross their paths.
Instead, letâs lighten up and give sunshine a chance.
Yes, our colleagues may not recognize us at first, and some may mock us, but as we stick with it...
...almost in spite of themselves, they will start to believe more and perform better.
And you will too.
Because in business, the greatest sales job you can ever do is the one on yourself. :)
What about your company? Do your employees and contractors need a "reset" as to how big the opportunity with your company is? Do you need help in getting everyone on the same page to attack a key new business initiative?
If so, send me an email to [email protected]
In your email, tell me about a key opportunity that if you pursue it properly can propel your company forward in a new and powerful way. And I'll email you back my thoughts to help you.
There are only 3 things to know to make dramatically better decisions:
1) How weâve done in the past.
2) What our competition is doing now.
3) What our customers will want in the future.
1. How Weâve Done in the Past. At this point in the Big Data and SaaS revolutions at our fingertips should always be dead accurate data on mission critical processes like customer acquisition costs by marketing and sales channel, profitability by client type / employee role, and really anything else that moves and trends on a regular basis, and upon which the performance of our business depends.
Truly understanding and accepting our companyâs historical performance - good and bad - is the mature approach to better business decision-making.
It is mature in that it accepts that while huge business breakthroughs are always possible (and we should always be highly optimistic and innocent in our quest for them, incremental business improvement, with just a little more focus on the numbers, is always highly probable.
And the most important step in getting that incremental improvement is to âget realâ with ourselves and our track records and then find the 1% improvement here, the 2% gain there, that over time compound into significantly better results.
2. What the Competition is Doing Now. Could one possibly imagine a great coach - a Bill Belichick, a Nick Saban, a Mike Krzyzewski - not investing gobs and of time and resources into knowing everything about their next opponent?
Business is no different. Conjuring up and executing upon great business strategy is not possible without knowing everything about our best competitors - how they market, how they sell, how they fulfill, and their costs and margins in so doing.
Now a cool thing is that that thing that we all waste lots of business time on every day- i.e. the Internet - is also the first and best place to find out everything we ever wanted to know about what our competitors are doing and more.
For sure, the most juicy and valuable competitive intell. can't be found from a simple web search, but through that search we can certainly connect with the people and firms who can go out and get it for us (write me if you would like to learn more about how to do this!).
3. What Our Customers Will Want. Since business time immemorial predicting the needs and wants of our customers has been seen as an intuitive and dark art - truly understood only by genius marketers and sales savants.
Luckily, the behavioral science literature as what really drives customer decision-making has exploded over the years, with the most profitable firms in the world investing significant resources into studying and learning from and all of us should too.
Easy shortcuts to do so including online quizzing technology, with the key insight being gamification - i.e. making it fun for customers to tell us more about them,
And pattern recognition software - where we enter in a cohort of our customer and then have a comparison run against public data sets to find the ânon-obviousâ correlations between the psychographics and purchase patterns of our current customers and future best prospects.
Now, a final word as to how to best intake these data sets and use them to regularly and reliably output better business decisions and action plans.
You just gotta meet and talk about it!!
But not in the typical lazy way that most business strategy meetings are run.
Instead, first assemble all of the data above into as organized and simple to digest formats as possible.
Then âpre-readâ it all before the meeting. This âpre-readâ preparation time is critical to let the insights from the data sink in and to allow the meeting time to be focused on the key business decisions that flow from the data versus just data âdigestionâ
Then and only then get the key team members together, (and these need to be longer meetings - 90 minutes to 2 hours at a minimum) and let the âEurekaâ moments flow!
None of the above is complicated.
Just diligently collect and review those three big buckets of data, meet to talk about it, and watch both the better business decisions and $$ flow!
What about your company? Do you need better information and / or a solid sounding board for some of your key business decisions? If so, send me an email to [email protected]
In your email, tell me about a key decision that if you execute upon it properly can propel your company forward in a new and powerful way. And then I'll email you back my thoughts to help you.
I recently wrote that, when it comes to customer relationships, most businesses should NOT emulate Amazon, since Amazon's margins are so thin.
Many of you replied with "then who SHOULD we emulate?"
So, I did a bit of thinking and came up with 4 well-known companies to model. They are:
Warby Parker. Warby Parker is an online store for prescription sunglasses and eyeglasses that since their founding in 2010 has taken the Lenscrafter âeye doctor in a mallâ concept and fully âInternet-izedâ it.
Trailing twelve month revenues for the company is over $100 million and the company was valued at over $1.2 billion in its last round of funding.
As they have grown, they have also had amazing success with a hybrid âbricks and clicksâ model where customers can try on frames in one of their 50+ retail locations and then order them online, right in the store.
Very impressively, for a mid-priced player in the eyeglasses space, Warbyâs gross margins are estimated at a healthy 60%+.
Warby manages this killer combination of moderate prices and solid margins through supply chain efficiencies on the back end and on the front end picture perfect web branding and âwhite gloveâ customer service.
How to emulate this great business? Well, first do a quick status check on the perceived value and differentiation of your offerings via running the âwhat would happen if I doubled my prices?" thought experiment.
If the answer comes back that sales would plummet as customers would leave for lower priced competitors, then the needed places where our offerings lack intrinsic and perceived value - because of operational inefficiencies and / or branding ineffectiveness - should become readily obvious.
And then get to work to fix those places!
For recurring revenue, Uber.
Because of their well-publicized internal troubles and management dysfunction, Uber these days is everyone's favorite business punching bag.
But of course the company is incredibly deserving of heavy admiration and emulation for how, in just a few short years, they've re-engineered and become the default offering for a massive business category.
And in so doing they created a powerful recurring revenue business model based as much on their organizational design as on their marketing and technology prowess.
Uber, perhaps like no other company in history, has through its business model empowered the people that work in it to create and drive its recurring model.
These now over more than 1 million Uber drivers around the world that every day leave their homes (for no base pay!) to canvas 300+ of the worldâs biggest cities and thus make it so easy for Uber customers to buy transportation from the company.
Again and again and again.
Our challenge is to similarly âcrack the codeâ of empowering the people connected to our business - employees, contractors, partners, even vendors and customers - to "sell for us" in a way that benefits all.
Franchising is a great âold schoolâ way of accomplishing this and Uber the ultimate 21st century technological way to do so.
Most organization designs will fall somewhere in between, but there is powerful insight to be had in reflecting on how the very structure of our business either motivates or hinders customers to âpassivelyâ transact with us, over and over again.
For profitable reselling, Grainger.
Very many companies have as their business model distributing / reselling, - i.e taking products and/or services made by someone else and then inventorying, marketing and selling them.
These kinds of businesses are under severe âdisintermediationâ threat, as technology allows buyers and sellers to connect directly with each other, and thus bypass âmiddlemenâ like Grainger.
Grainger's awesome re-selling trick - even though they sell mostly to just businesses in construction, manufacturing, and building maintenance environments - is to personalize the purchase experience in such a way that they, and not the actual maker of the products, get selling credit for the productsâ âemotionalâ aspects - i.e. stress reduction, status enhancement, etc.
The end result is gross margins of 40%+, well above competitors in its category, and a stock up more than 300% in the past 10 years (50%+ above the S&P for this same period).
For companies that sell B2B, learning from Grainger is easy - just talk to customers not as faceless representatives but rather as living, breathing, and feeling human beings.
The Grainger Everyday Heroes video series show us exactly how to do this.
Finally, there is McDonalds for lifetime customer value.
Through its play places and its Happy Meal toy-based marketing, McDonalds establishes brand loyalty and joyful associations for customers at the youngest of ages and then continue for a lifetime.
This mindset - that we will market to and serve our customers for 50 - 60 years and more - creates a whole different conversation around our customer relationships.
Warby Parker, Uber, Grainger, McDonald's.
Learn from them and both your customer and your bottom line will thank you.
What about You? Do you need help marketing your products or services so they attract more customers and boost your bottom line?
Was your last new product or service launch a huge success? If so, great!
If not, send me an email to [email protected] In the email, please give me a brief overview of your situation, and I'll email you back my thoughts.