A culture of accountability and a unique compelling brand are what drive change today

Monday, November 24, 2014

Delegation Dilemma

Julia slumped across her desk, head in hands staring at the pile of work she just received. She was wondering how she was going to distribute all of it to her staff who already felt overworked.

The holidays were rapidly approaching and she could already hear their comments at the upcoming staff meeting. Bob, one of her supervisors and most productive employees would roll his eyes and tell her he would not be working any overtime and he would not be cancelling or changing his vacation. She knew that Bob's wife coordinated her vacation with him as well as the vacations of their children. So getting more hours from Bob would be impossible. In addition she did not feel it was worth threatening their rapport and good working relationship in order to simply get him to put in a few more hours.

Audrey was her most experienced and knowledgeable employee but was rather resistant to change and wasn't exactly the best at getting along with other people or working together with other departments. Audrey worked best when she worked alone. Surely Audrey could take on some of the work but Julia knew that doing so might make her even more temperamental than she currently was. There certainly would be some complaints from other department managers as well as other employees. Again, in Julia's mind, upsetting the "Audrey applecart" was not worth the effort to attempt to delegate this additional work.

She also knew if Bob and Audrey (her best people) were resistant in taking on additional work, certainly the rest of the staff, who followed their lead, would not be willing. She could do as she had done before and distribute the work evenly among all of the members of her staff but it just ended up resulting in more errors and duplicate work than was practical. Often times the employees would go to Audrey and Bob for help anyway. Her last attempt at doing so almost called the departmental mutiny.

Sadly, Julia felt the best way to handle this new pile of work was to get it done herself. But she also knew she would have to cancel her holiday plans which would greatly disappoint her family. Not to mention the fact that this wasn't very good leadership.

How do you think Julia should deal with this situation?

Maybe it sounds familiar. I will be collecting responses and next week I will be delivering another email with the best suggestions and my advice in how to deal with this kind of issue.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Hold on Tight or Let Go?

Skylar and Sheena were sisters and they both owned similar businesses which seemed to be valued at nearly identical levels. Each of the sister's had desired to sell their business for an amount of money which would easily finance a comfortable retirement for themselves and their families. The had about the same business model, prospects for growth, intellectual equity, resources, head count and cash reserves. Yet the leadership style of the sisters were quite different.

Skylar was in the office every day. She had control over every variable of the business. Nothing happened without her knowledge and approval.

Like Sheena, she had two Sales Reps, but Skylar was always the person to negotiate the deals with critical clients. She oversaw contact with investors and business partners. She would direct the marketing initiatives. She ensured that customer service was timely and accurate. She kept a watch over production daily. She was involved in leading and managing every aspect of the business right on down to who would assume new responsibilities and how they would do so.

While Skylar appointed three managers for sales, administration and production, all decisions would filter through her before implementation. Whenever there was a question or someone wanted to move forward on something they all knew to discuss it with Skylar FIRST before ANY action was taken. Skylar even led all the meetings with employees. She felt this level of "oversight" was necessary for clear communication, good resource management and smooth operations. Skylar believed it was the key to her success and would someday pay-off big when it was time to sell the company. She had a well-oiled machine!

Sheena on the other hand was quite different. She only spent 3 or 4 days in the office and often worked from home. Whenever someone asked her a question she would typically defer it to someone else to answer. Occasionally she would visit clients with one of her two Sales Reps yet she spoke very little at these meetings. She would attend employee meetings but rarely led them. Sheena also established leaders for sales, administration and production who did most of the decision making and merely kept Sheena informed. Many times employees would just start a new initiative on their own and work with other employees to implement these changes, Sheena coached her managers to allow employees to enjoy this freedom. Even though several times these initiatives failed and consumed some resources. Sheena felt this was still OK. She spent more of her time just encouraging, listening and congratulating her team. She was very cordial but to many observers, it looked like Sheena was somewhat disconnected from her business operations. It seemed that "the tail was wagging the dog" at her company.

One day a private equity firm came along to evaluate both Sheena's business as well Skylar's. This was the moment each of the sister's had been waiting for... PAYDAY!

The private equity offered to buy Sheena's business outright for 12 million dollars (FOUR times her current level of sales).

They decided to PASS on making an offer to Skylar for her business as they did not feel it was worth much to them.

Skylar was furious. How could this arrogant private equity firm value her sister's business at four times the current sales yet feel that Skylar's business was worth nothing?

What do you think the private equity firm told Skylar?

I am dying to hear your answers.  Remember other than their style of leadership EVERYTHING about these businesses were the same.

Email me at or better yet leave your comment here.

Mark Deo

Monday, August 25, 2014

Get Your Way by Shutting-up

A while back I had to do something we all abhor... get a root canal. I say we all abhor getting a root canal because I've never heard anyone say they enjoyed it. It is at the very least uncomfortable,  inconvenient and expensive. At worse it's extremely painful.

A root canal has become synonymous with doing something you really would prefer NOT to do! As in, "I'd rather get a root canal than speak with Mark Deo." (A little self-depreciating humor there).
Yet I have discovered something good about a root canal. I am FORCED to shut-up! And not just shut-up but to actually listen.

So there I am sitting or lying in this rather humiliating position in the dental chair at the endodontist office, who happens to be a friend. He is droning-on about some specific problems he's having (This is the downside of having a friend as your endodontist.) It is at this point I realize I actually have a perfect solution for his troubles.

Yet it is impossible for me to tell him due to my mouth being stuffed with; a suction device, dental dam, wads of cotton, various bits of metal, plastic and what feels like all twenty of his and his assistants fingers. I can only emit a deep guttural groan which I decide NOT to do because it might sound like a wounded animal or an ungrateful, onerous patient of which I am both.

Suddenly to my utter surprise he begins to articulate the very solution which I had been planning to tell him. Wow! How could this be? Hearing my own thoughts coming out of HIS mouth started me kicking my feet and waving my hands. I look up at him with big pleading eyes like a harp seal about to be beat over the head with a Louisville Slugger. He looks down at me as if I was a 5 year-old, "it's OK, we're almost done."

Could it be that my higher (yet reticent) level of listening allowed him to work this out for himself? Hmmm... isn't this what a coach is supposed to do?

So this listening thing, which I preach about all the time, actually works! Imagine that.
After all the various objects are removed from my distended mouth he proceeds to thank me for helping him work out a solution to his problem. You really are a great coach, he tells me. I swallow my pride because my jaw hurts too much to speak anyway from all the hardware that has been jammed in it.

I high-tailed it out of that office learning something yet again by keeping my mouth shut.
My next stop... the dental supply store to get some hardware of my own.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Not a Good Sign

I guess it's NOT a good sign when your wife of 30 years decides to buy a book with the name... Living Successfully with Screwed-up People" That would be me.

Thank you Dear!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Make Fear Your Friend

Here are some very specific things that you can do to make fear the friend that you consistently court, rather than the foe that you chronically avoid:

1.When things look bleak don't deny reality, accept it and begin to develop some options. Write them down and take action to change things rather than waiting for them to get better.

2.Don't allow yourself to be forced into change. Make the decision to bring about change BEFORE you are swept-up in the maelstrom...

3.Find someone that you can mentor. Taking this leadership role with even just one person will allow you to see the power of fear and change in another person. In the end, this will make it much easier for you to cope with fear and embrace change.

4.Look for situations where others are positively dealing with fear and change. Give them the recognition they deserve for coping with their changing environment. This will reinforce your own values.

5.Change the way you celebrate achievements. Typically, we set goals, we work hard at achieving them, we reach them and we celebrate. We are content and satisfied with a job well done. Hopefully when the party's over we set new goals and the cycle starts all over again. But shouldn't we be setting new goals BEFORE we pop the cork on the Champaign?

6.Be an evangelist for your company, product or service. Ask yourself, how YOU change peoples lives for the better. Focus on this. NOT features and benefits.

7.Be a catalyst for change with everyone that you meet. Look for ways that you can help them to cope with the fear and change in their lives.

8.Don't try to eliminate all stress in your life. Like my old boss, Sue Schneider used to say, "Stress is good, DISTRESS is bad." If we try to completely eliminate stress and fear in our lives we will be sadly disappointed. On the other hand if we find ways of coping with stress and fear, we will amass for ourselves resources of great value.

9.Be the first. Decide from this day forward that YOU will be the first to initiate change in your organization and even at home.

You will lead and inspire.

You will give compliments and provide recognition.

You will thank your clients and vendors.

You will lend a hand to help fellow workers.

You will seek prospects whose businesses and lives can be improved by your company, product or service.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Change is Upon Us

Are You Waiting...
 for someone to lead and inspire you?
 for the boss to recognize you?
 for clients to thank you?
 for coworkers to help you?
 for prospects to find you?
 for the world to hail you?

Well here's a news flash.... They are all just sitting there waiting for you.
Someone recently asked me, what I felt was the biggest challenge for corporate leaders today? My answer was complacency. Websters dictionary defines complacency as contentment and self satisfaction. You might say, "Hey hold on there Deo! Isn't that what we are striving for as business leaders? Shouldn't it be our ultimate goal to be content and satisfied with our business, finances, family and life?"

I say, NO.

When we become content and satisfied, we no longer have any motivation to get better. We drop our guard. We become OK with achieving the minimum. Unfortunately in today's competitive environment achieving the "minimum" in the short term may just not be good enough to "survive" in the long term. This can be very dangerous in the fast paced, high risk, volatile economy of the 21st century. You may be thinking, "that sounds a little scary, Mark."

It is.

You satisfied  with yourself? Hope not! Many people today are saying that fear is bad. I agree that too much fear can be debilitating, just as a complete lack of satisfaction can create disappointment and disillusionment. There are no absolutes. But if we completely eliminate fear from our lives, we lose some of our most base instincts.

Think about when you first started your business or your first day on the job. Weren't you a bit apprehensive? Didn't you have some fear? You probably found yourself asking questions like, what if this doesn't work? What will I do if I fail? What if my coworkers or clients don't like me? Can I really compete? Do I really have the skills necessary to succeed at this?

I think you would agree that this is the GOOD kind of fear. The fear that drives us to greater levels of performance. Fear that motivates us. It's the kind of fear that makes us have more apprehension for things staying the way they are rather than bringing about change.

What does this have to do with business success, you might ask. A successful enterprise must significantly differentiate themselves from the competition. They need to look different, sound different and be different. They must be willing to always be a bit uncomfortable with the way things ARE if they want to change. They can not be content with waiting for change. They can not be satisfied with the most comfortable option.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Team Innovation

Today, businesses large and small like to say they are "team oriented" (whatever that means). I guess it means they work in teams. Big deal. Does that improve their performance? Does that mean that the quality of their product or service is better than the competition? Does that allow them to complete a project more timely, profitably or effectively? Is teamwork really a better way to go about solving problems than say the "hermit" approach? What about Thomas Edison or Leonardo DaVinci or Alexander Graham Bell?

If you've ever worked on a team you know there is one thing that can not be avoided: CONFLICT. At some point someone is going to disagree with somebody else and then, look out! Getting to a simple solution can take hours or days while these two "team-members" fight over minutia. Sound familiar?
Let's face it, often times, teams can hit roadblocks that can sabotage their success. There are a number of things that can be done to ensure good teamwork:

Conflict is Good
As team leaders we must not allow ourselves to think that we solely carry the burden of resolving conflict. I see so may managers, owners and team leaders rush to squish the most subtle sign of conflict within their team. Without conflict we can not reach the best solution. This also places us in a patronizing, parental position that encourages your team members to abdicate personal responsibility for resolving conflict. It keeps them from developing the skills to necessary to grow, mature and hold each other accountable. Allow the team to detect conflict and manage only those that escalate.
Guidelines for Managing Conflict

As leaders we need to model guidelines that set the tone for resolving conflict. In this way we will be educating our team members to take responsibility. These should include:

•No personal attacks
•No heated outbursts
•No backbiting
•No hostile assumptions

Establishing Expectations
Over the years I have noticed that communicating expectations to the team is paramount in achieving exceptional team performance. The following are areas that team leaders should develop clear expectations for members:

1. Work methods - Make sure your team knows the methods and procedures you expect them to follow when completing the job. If they do not they may frustrate themselves by taking the "long route" and end up disillusioned.

2. Deadlines - Make sure that the team fully understands the time frame for completion. This should include non-negotiable dates as opposed to to dates that can slip.

3. Responsibilities - Ensure that every team member understands their role in the team process. This should be communicated one-on-one with each team member prior to establishing the team. Also ensure that the team members responsibilities are consistent with the teams responsibilities.

4. Priorities - It is critical that team members know the proper priorities. What's to be done first, second and so on.

5. Performance - Paint a picture of the outcome for the team. Show them a vision of a "good" job vs. a "bad" job. Make sure they understand the degree of effort that you expect them to each contribute to the successful solution.

6. Measurement - Establish a system to measure performance in small increments.

7. Communication - Establish a format for consistent communication with the team. This forum will give you the ability to ask the right kind of questions to determine whether the team is "on-track." At this pint you can provide feedback to the team and make suggestions on course correction.

8. Resources - Make sure that your team members understand the resources that are available to
them. This could include staff, facilities, technology, equipment, outside consultants and so on. Encourage them to use the resources to their best advantage but in a cost effective way in order to achieve their goals.

As leaders it's our job to foster innovation. Team members look to us for confidence, guidance, direction and innovation. What can you do to set the stage for creative thinking in the teams that you lead? How can you get your team to discover the best solutions in the most cost effective manner. Remember teams are not just resources, they are people. As I have said many times, we line in an age of relationships. How can you create relationships that go beyond just getting the job done. How can you create relationships that can produce the kind of Edison, Bell and DaVinci innovation.