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

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.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Why We Do What We Do

How many of us brush their teeth every morning?
Ewww!  (to those who said NO)

I venture to guess that most or nearly all of us would answer, YES to this question. But why?
- Because our dentist lectured us?
- Our Mommy and Daddy taught us to do it when we were only 3?
- Our cubicle mate sent us paper airplanes with little notes saying, your breath is killing me?

Have you ever thought about... Why it is we do the things we do?

In 1920 Claude Hopkins (father of advertising) was asked to help a little upstart company called Pepsodent to sell their toothpaste. Hopkins had already made Shlitz the #1 beer in America as well as Quaker Oats, Goodyear, Palmolive, Van De Kamps and a score of other household names.

Now in those days less than 7% of the population used toothpaste and even less bothered to brush their teeth so Hopkins had his work cut out for him. He spent many hours researching the product (which was typical for him) and he discovered that a protective film called "muncin plaque" formed on the teeth. He used this in his advertising touting consumers to... "Run your tongue over your teeth and feel that sticky yellow film. Then brush with Pepsodent and feel the tingly freshness."

Hopkins identified a way to get consumers to adopt a new habit by creating a CUE to motivate a change (sticky yellow film on the teeth), a ROUTINE (brushing with Pepsodent) and a REWARD  (tingly freshness) as a result of the habit. It worked and in less than three years more than 70% of the population were brushing their teeth!

Habits work the same way today. We are likely unaware of them but every habit contains "cues, routines and rewards." The movie theater produces a cue (the smell of popcorn), we engage in the routine (waiting on line to buy snacks at double the price). Our reward is a more satisfying time at the theater.

When we think about habits we think about smoking, eating, grooming and a variety of undesirable personal practices. Yet habits encompass positive practices and are relevant to how we conduct ourselves in business and leadership settings.

Some business leaders have a habit of shooting from the hip, others may respond to a cue that causes paralysis by analysis. Many are so involved in responding to daily cues that they are stuck in just maintaining the status-quo or "working IN the business" and may never have an opportunity to work ON their business, thereby facilitating growth. Still others are perpetuating a minimal level of innovation, engagement and teamwork through subtle communication or behavioral cues. The sad thing is that they are utterly blind to these. Few of their associates can even see the cues and even less know how to change them.

Think about your work habits now. What "cues" are you responding to?  What routines are they triggering?  What are the rewards you might unwittingly be creating for yourself?

This is the time of year that many people are making new year's resolutions. Statistics show that by March less than 5% of those resolutions will even be acted upon. Habits are so strongly ingrained that people would rather fail or even die than give them up.

The upside to all this is that we can change our habits by changing the cues, creating new routines and modifying the rewards. What habits might you need to re-evaluate?  What new habits can you create to replace them?  What might be keeping you from experiencing that breakthrough success that a habit change could bring?

This is the work I do with executives in our coaching sessions. It is so rewarding to see business leaders finally make the changes they have always been wanting to make.

What I often hear is... "I didn't know it was so easy." It is. About as easy as brushing your teeth every morning.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Navigating Competing Values in a Family Business, or... “Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

Tom is the CEO of a prosperous family business. He has always been a conservative fellow and has plodded along over 25 years providing good service, a solid product line and aiming for predictable results. He believes that it is this strategy which is the reason for sustaining a loyal base of customers and employees with an average tenure of 12 years. Conservatism has also allowed him to establish a generous pension plan and the ability to bank some good cash reserves. He will be retiring in five to seven years, relinquishing control to his sons desiring to finally travel the world with his wife. But he wants to be sure the legacy of the business continues.

Rob is Tom’s son. He is more of a risk-taker and believes that being the first to market is a definitive advantage. He believes the company needs to grow in order to survive in what is becoming a competitive industry. He has encouraged his father to invest in process improvement, state-of-the-art production equipment and progressive training. Tom does admit that his son’s innovative ideas have spurned the growth of the firm in recent years but he is concerned about their diminishing margin and when all of this will really pay-off.

Yet both Tom and Rob are a little nervous. Tom wonders if the company will be able to continue to thrive with his kind of “investment-driven” strategy that his son believes in. Rob wonders if his Dad will ever REALLY let go and allow Rob to fully assume the reigns.
What do you think?

Welcome to my world. This is similar to the issues I face when consulting with family-owned businesses. Often times there are competing values. It’s not so much that family members disagree on strategies, tactics or even the mission or vision of the company; it is more that their values are very different. They see the world through different lenses. They make decisions based on a different set of criteria. What might appear to one member as a “dangerous road to be carefully navigated” to another might be a challenge to “see how fast we can take that curve!”

Who is right? Either? Neither? Both?

Being RIGHT is hardly what is important. What IS most critical is how this family will be able to merge their diverging values into a strategy which will ensure that the company continues to prosper. Tom’s values got them where they are today but Rob’s values might very well propel to where they need to be to continue prosperity.

Of course it would take more than a two page article to communicate all of the details which need to be considered when helping a firm like this align their values and goals. But I have outlined a few (albeit oversimplified) issues which must be considered:

1. Start with the vision. No one can decide how they will make a journey until they are clear about “where they want to end-up.”

2. Identify the common ground for all the principles. The thing that gets in the way of good decision-making is emotions. Being clear on the “common-ground” allows the players to take the emotion out of the decisions which need to be made.

3. Create a third person who will be at the center of every decision – THE COMPANY. Remember that a corporation is a legal entity and retains the same rights as a person so weigh every decision with the impact to the company as a whole rather than only the individual shareholders.

4. Be clear on roles and responsibilities. When the principles that are transitioning out of the business understand and agree to what responsibilities they will relinquish and WHEN they will relinquish them, it makes it easier for the next generation to assume the role.

5. Create a clear succession plan with a timeline and accelerating and decelerating involvement from the appropriate parties.

6. Provide the right level of training and coaching for the emerging leaders. There is no worse formula for failure than throwing leaders into positions they are not ready for.

7. Invest time in understanding intergenerational differences. There has been a lot of information published on this topic. It is critical that both or all three generations, if applicable develop a greater understanding and appreciation of the others.

8. Create a family board to include members from each generation as well as an advisory committee. This should include key leaders in the company who are NOT family members as well as advisors who are not retained by the business to ensure impartiality. This allows family members to gain the perspective of experienced professionals outside the family.

9. Get the right training, coaching and mentoring or the emerging leaders and principles. This might mean going outside the family to retain experts in the vertical specialties needed.

Family businesses comprise 80% of all business enterprises in North America. They account for 60% of total U.S. employment, 78% of all new jobs. It’s not surprising that nearly 40% of family businesses in America will be passing the reigns to the next generation over the next five years according to Business Week Magazine.

Yet the most incredible statistic by far was the one postulated by Robert Avery at Cornell University in his paper, “The Ten Trillion Dollar Question: A Philanthropic Game plan.” Avery noted that by 2050, virtually all closely held and family owned businesses will lose their primary owner to death or retirement. Approximately $10.4 trillion of net worth will be transferred by the year 2040, with $4.8 trillion in the next 20 years.

The plain fact is that family businesses are in trouble because succession plans are quite obviously less and less effective.

Chances are if you are reading this, you or someone you know will be transitioning their family business.

What are they doing right now to prepare for that?

Mark Deo