February 28, 2014
For many of you, the last recession put you into survival mode. This is especially true if you are in banking, financial services, construction, retail or automotive. Those industries were hit so hard, all growth plans had to take a back seat.
Shrinking expenses was the order of the day.
As long as we continue to watch cable news (CNBC, etc.) or let the doomsdayers continue to beat the drums of double dip or next-bubble, we'll stay in neutral, letting our competitors pass us by.
Here's my analogy: A downturn is like a car crash during a NASCAR race. The yellow caution flag comes out, we all coast in the same position. At some point the green flag is waved and everyone scrambles for the lead.
Here's where business turns out differently: The "game on" flag is invisible, just like the hand of the market that Adam Smith wrote about. Some leaders see it early and others see it too late. In 2009, a New Yorker article (Hanging Tough) isolated some of the great leaps in history that were made by companies that got back to growth, innovation and employee development before their competitors. When they saw the green flag, just as the worst of the crash was over, they hit the gas. Kraft, Kellogg's, Hyundai and Apple are all examples of this phenomenon.
Here's a news flash for you: The recession is over. The run up is on. If you wait for any more of a clear sign, the next downturn may be upon you and there's nothing left in your tank. It's time for you to think about growing your business, buying companies and investing heavily in your talent.
As one leader recently told me, "By the time you realize you should have been focusing on growth, it's too late. Your competitors have been doing it long enough to build up not only a lead, but barriers to you being able to draft on their success."Tweet
February 12, 2014
Recently, I was booked to give the closing keynote at an annual corporate meeting for an industry leader. Their CEO had a vision for the meeting: Create A Mindset Where Winning Is the Only Acceptable Outcome. She picked me because I'd worked at a company (Yahoo) that famously developed this outlook, then lost it over time.
I was intrigued by this assignment, and immediately thought of lessons learned from studying Paul Galvin of Motorola (video clip from one of my talks about him). Researching post-Galvin case studies led me to A.G. Lafley's days at Procter and Gamble and ultimately his book, Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works.
Lafley believes that strategy is "an integrated set of choices about how to win in the marketplace." In other words, strategy is not about accomplishing a certain task or reaching a certain goal. Those are tactics. Being strategic is about making the hard choices to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage in the eyes of customers.
He's got an attitude about leaders that see it any other way. He picks on companies like Saturn, a GM division, that was 'Playing for the sake of playing.' They never intended on beating the Japanese at their game. They just wanted to sell cars in 'the low end of the market,' so Saturn was created. They were not resourced to outperform Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Kia or Hyundai, and eventually, the division was shuttered.
He's even harder on leaders that Play To Survive. In his view, "a company must seek to win in a particular place and in a particular way. If it doesn't seek to win, it is wasting the time of its and the investments of its capital providers." He's right too. Around 2003, I witnessed the Yahoo culture shift from winning to "hanging in there". This was the beginning of the sideways years for the company. We watched competitors like Google leapfrog us with moonshots (Google Earth), while we played it safe by incrementally improving products (Click To Print Map).
Over and over again, Lafley stresses the choices leaders must make in their strategy. The first choice is 'What is our winning aspiration?' which leads to a cascade of choices which build on each other.
I like this cascade (based on the work of Michael Porter, one of Lafley's mentors). It starts with our aspiration or purpose, which according to Jim Collins, should be audacious. Lafley points out that "too many companies eventually die a death of modest aspirations." They made modest choices that the beginning of the strategy cascade, which then led to market-mediocrity.
Then, the second strategic choice is location - where are we going to win? This narrows the market, sometimes to a specific niche where a true winning opportunity lies. Narrowing the market is a hard choice for many, making it even more strategic. But to narrow the market is to narrow the scope of competition as well - making it easier to win.
The next difficult choice has to do with our weapons in the market, the sources of our competitive advantage. In Lafley's view, they need to relate to the perceived value the company delivers to its most important customers. Then, the next choice is about which resources need to be marshaled to deliver that competitive advantage over time. Finally, choices about management systems are made to ensure a high degree of operating excellence. This is a great exercise for any business leader or entrepreneur thinking through their strategy. Each choice is limiting, and serves to give the company a true sense of focus.
One of his stinging points is that "Too many leaders define strategy as the optimization of the status quo." In his view, this leads to sameness, which is not a strategy but "a recipe for mediocrity."
To Lafley's cascade, I added a six element: How Do We Close Value Gaps? This is based on the work of Sandra Vandermerwe in her book Customer Capitalism. Stanley Marcus Jr. told me about this book back in 1999 when he was sharing a case study about the Mercedes Smart Car launch in Europe.
The idea is that you can't lock in a customer anymore with contracts or proprietary technology. Your efforts to do so have decreasing returns over time. The key to winning over time is to get the customer to lock on to your company that solving all their problems in the activity space. For Mercedes' Smart car launch, the activity space they focused on was short haul mobility. The car was designed for trips up to about 100 kilometers at most. For such a specific activity focus, there are obviously value gaps that they need to close: Repair, Renting a bigger car, Insurance, Maintenance and so on.
Here's the idea: Each value gap is an opportunity for a competitor to enter your customer's life and steal them. If you've rented a car at Avis, for example, you likely drove a GM product such as a Malibu or an Impala. If you drive another brand, that's an example of a value gap they didn't close, which might lead you to switch later. Mercedes anticipated this in their strategy, so they provided rental car services to close that gap.
For my keynote, I used a more contemporary example from the medical care industry. For Baxter Healthcare's Renal Bag product line, they built a strategy around the activity space of maintaining kidney health. As they built a wining strategy, they realized that the customer has pre-during-post needs. Up until then, they only played in the 'during' phase, where their bags were part of treatment.
From pre-treatment advice to post-treatment therapy, Baxter had value gaps a competitor could drive a truck through - dropping off samples of a competitive core product. So the team built or partnered their way into an airtight approach to the market, which served the activity space with their product serving as a piece of the puzzle and not a commodity.
My audience was intrigued and provoked into action at the same time. Several focused on choice #2 (where do we win?) and #6 (how do we close value gaps?) as key questions to answer quickly in order to protect their winning hand.
My closing words echoed Lafley's perspective: If you are not playing to win, at best case, you are losing a little more each day. It's a matter of tough choices about the things that matter ... to the customer.
December 11, 2013
I've been working on a new book now for the last few months. In between other stuff in my life. When I get a moment or carve out a few hours. I guess that means I'm just grazing on it. Sure, I could slap a self-imposed deadline on writing it (or better yet, the detailed book proposal). But that's a deadline to be massaged, moved or even missed.
Why not? What's the real downside to missing the deadline?
I've published four books through major publishers, and when working with them, my writing schedule was locked around a drop-dead-miss-your-pubdate-get-in-trouble due date for the manuscript. Three out of four times, I handed it in on time, as the result of significant effort on my part and a compliant calendar. One of the times, I knew I was getting behind, so I asked for (and received) an extension which I met.
I didn't have a choice. Miss their deadlines, face big repercussions. Let others down. That's really the secret to making your dream project really see the light of day. Outside pressure from someone that cares about the outcome and believes in YOUR dream. So here's how to line up your dreams with deadlines to achieve your goals.
Choose your dream. Never confuse an assignment with a calling.
Find partners to pursue it with you. If you can't get someone excited enough to invest time or money into it, it may be a small dream that's not worth your time.
Meet their deadline, based on their return-on-investment requirements or needs.
Your dream//Their deadline. This is a motivational match made in heaven for all you big thinkers. You know that a goal is 'a dream with a deadline' and now you now how to source both.
Have an idea for an app? Get someone on board to invest in it, and then follow his or her delivery deadlines. Think they have unrealistic expectations? Choose partners that are smart, reasonable and truly excited about your vision. But let their needs create a rock solid deadline you can't miss.
Want to launch a new career? Make a significant move (quit your job, sell your house, sign up for courses) and let the economics deal you deadlines. In this case, you've convinced your family or bet the farm on the move -- and you have to follow through! It's the difference between ham and eggs. The chicken is involved, but the pig is fully committed.
I know that many of you are confident that you can assign a due date to your dreams, be they a book or a product or a company. But in 90% of the cases I've come in contact with, those deadlines faded away and life got busy or the excitement wore off. That's why I doubt I'll ever self-publish a book or start a business without an investor. <Note: I deeply respect all self-pub'd authors' tenacity.>
To get back on track, I'm going to polish a proposal, sign with a new publisher and march to a deadline that meets their pub date. Otherwise, I'll still be working on my new book this time next year.
I need the structure, the support and the collaboration of shared risk. And likely, so do you. You'll find the external pressure something that gives your energy, focus and helps you reach...your goals.Tweet
November 22, 2013
Each one of us is part of a network of relationships, where we serve as a resource for each other. We protect, promote and inform each other. We advise, connect and encourage each other. It's a support base that can help you overcome extreme adversity or complete a moonshot project.
We do not inherent these networks, nor do they appear like magic for the chosen few. It's not a legacy or a lottery. We build them, like homes, one brick at a time. Sometimes, if we ignore a network node, his or her support levels wane. When we invest in a relationship with someone in our network, our synergies and mutual support grows.
Ignore or invest. While this reads like a simple choice, where the no-brainer is the latter, we don't act like it. In our face paced go-go life, we often finish our work weeks, ignoring our personal networks unless prodded by mutual opportunities. If we don't plan for it, our chances to make new connections or add value are occasional.
If you want to build up a strong support system and widen your world, carve out a minimum of 4 hours every week for relationship development. Put four one hour blocks on your calendar. During each block you can:
1. Mentor people via phone calls or email. They present themselves to you with questions, problems or requests for help. Do some homework. Send some help. Solve some problems.
2. Make helpful introductions. Connect people that should meet via phone or email. Keep a running list of "should meets" on your phone. Always be building introductions. Accomplish three connections per week.
3. Reconnect with dormant connections. According to Adam Grant in Give Or Take, they will be glad to hear from you and will possess a unique perspective and set of experiences. That's the value of catching up!
4. Give encouragement or say thanks. Send out thank you cards. Be on the look out for friends in need and deliver encouragement high touch (phone, face to face).
Don't relegate this exercise to your weekends, evenings or free time. It's a real business investment that's right up there with long meetings, hour long status calls and TPS reports. Surely, you can find five wasted hours in your current biz-life that's a weaker investment than your support network!
In just a few months, you'll see a change in your business ecosystem. More opportunities will suddenly appear in your Inbox. Complex problems will be solved with just a few phone calls, instead of countless hours. You'll eventually realize that investing in your network is a way to save time, and extend your horizons.Tweet
November 15, 2013
Fear is often cast as a bad thing, never to be fed or encouraged. But that is an oversimplification. Fear comes in many flavors, driven by its source. Some sources are healthy, some are illusionary and others are destructive. That’s right, some fears are quite healthy for your sense of balance.
Fear is the acknowledgement of a formidable threat and substantial stakes. If you don’t really think it can hurt you, you aren’t afraid. If it doesn’t matter, you can sluff it off as a casual concern. If you lack ANY fear, in many situations, you aren’t dealing with reality or you are overconfident. By recognizing the constructive fears, you’ll find proper direction.
For example, when consultants or journalists asked former Yahoo CEO Tim Koogle ‘what kept him up at night’ in 1999, he would reply, ‘two college kids in an apartment, tapping out code that will disrupt the industry.’ In other words, he feared irrelevance. It was a legitimate fear too, as Google was being hatched on the Stanford campus at that exact time.
On the other hand, I’ve worked for several CEOs that put more of their energy against the fear of failure. They worried that the proposed product might not sell well, giving them a black eye to investors. They worried that shifting to the new technology platform might lead to downtime, alienating legacy customers. Were these fears legit? In all situations, the greatest risk wasn’t a botched release or a short outage in services. It was competitive innovation.
The best way to manage fear in your life is to prioritize them by their legitimacy and urgency. The healthiest fear for a modern day business leader is obsolescence. As Koogle pointed out to me, “for every company that goes down due to a few bad product SKUs or sloppy accounting, there are nineteen that die a sudden death because their customers flee to the new-new thing.”
Takeaway: Your fear of getting lapped in the marketplace should be the one you pay attention to and lose sleep over. If you want to be a modern day innovator, your fear of obsolescence should be greater than your fear of failure.
What do you do with these fears? Face the worst case, and resolve to do better than it. Deploy resources to overcome its source (competitive innovation). Talk about it as a burning platform to your colleagues.
For more, watch this video clip from 2005 where I share Tim Koogle's insights and the Paul Galvin story. "Do not fear mistakes. Wisdom comes from them!"Tweet
November 07, 2013
It's only three weeks until Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays. Most years, we huddle up with family and friends, and give thanks for the bounties in our life. In too many cases, we are thankful for stuff: home, possessions, luxuries. In some cases, we are thankful for the people in our lives. That's when it has the greatest impact on our psyche.
In Today We Are Rich, I wrote that gratitude is a muscle that we need to exercise often. Otherwise, we get spiritually flabby, lose our gratefulness and nosedive in our relationship lives. This applies to work as much as it does our personal life, too.
So here's a simple exercise you can give your gratitude muscle over the next few weeks: Buy a box of Thank You cards (nice collection here). Create a list of professional connections that have made a real contribution to you or your work over the last year. Write a short note in each card, itemizing what he or she contributed, and what it has meant to you. Send the card so that it arrives the week of Thanksgiving. Your entire investment will run you less than $30, including postage.
Do not take any shortcuts here. Don't send an emails or an electronic cards to save time/money. They don't have nearly the impact as a real card that you've signed with a pen. Don't limit giving the cards to those that report to you or work side-by-side with you. Find people that might be surprised by your gratitude, yet deserve it for their contributions.
This exercise is inpsired by my friend Brian Palmer, who has surprised me on many occasions with a thoughtful Thank You card. When I've told him what a classy move it was, I could sense that he got just as much out of the exercise as I did. And now I know why.
The whole experience will force you to turn up your noticing knob, trying to locate the recipients for the 20 Thank You cards in your box. The act of writing a short note to each person on your list will cause you to recollect the times when he or she was there for you, and it will fill you with positive feelings.
Like any work related gratitude exercise, the experience will also drive something deep into your perspective: You are not alone. There are people in your life that are helping you, supporting you and caring about your future. This will bolster your sense of confidence about your future, knowing that you are not in it alone.
You'll also see your mood lifted and your behavior influenced by the process. One taxi driver I met in Denver told me that he was taught to believe that gratitude is a compound word: Gracious + Attitude. He's right too. When you are dialed into what people are doing for you, your ability to bounce back from life's little obstacles will be greatly enhanced.
Check out this video from Soul Pancake, which demonstrates the emotional benefits of expressing gratitude:Tweet
November 05, 2013
More than ever, telephone mastery is the key to success. In my work, the phone is my number one tool to close deals, network, conduct deep research and build relationships. It's a magic medium that allows me to connect deeply without the time-space requirements of face to face meetings.
A phone call is much higher touch than an email exchange. You can hear someone's intentions in their tone of voice, unlike reading one of his or her emails. The interactivity of a phone call allows for adjustments, explanations, retraction and exploration. While this might make common sense, in reality, it's not a common practice in the digital age.
Over the last decade, many of us moved our conversations from the phone to the Inbox, thinking we would be much more efficient and less interruptive. Generation Y doesn't like to make or receive calls, instead preferring a text. The idea of voice exchange to many feels like 1999.
As a result, many of us conduct our phone calls on-the-go, usually over our smart phone. We call people in our car, while we wait on our next flight, when we eat and whenever we can squeeze it in. We likely think that the quality of our work isn't suffering, but in fact, it is.
Our calls are often garbled, as reception varies when we are on the move. We are constantly distracted by traffic, people interacting with us, our computers and anything that crosses our periphery during the call. At best, we are giving 50% of our attention to the call. If you've been on the other end of one of these mobile calls, you know exactly what I mean.
While calls on the go might work for simple transactional work, it's no way to make friends and influence people. Your mobile phone work gives very low ROA (Return On Attention), which will cause you to lose access to them in real-time. And real-time is the new face-time in business.
If you are going to schedule a phone call with someone of any length, consider the following appraoch:
* Schedule calls for no more than 30 minutes. Send information prior to the call, so the entire conversation is about reaching a decision, understanding a situation or charting a plan of action.
* Conduct the call on a landline or via a super dependable connection. If you are Skyping, make sure you have an ethernet connection.
* Conduct the call in a closed door environment with no distracting noises or window scenery.
* Create a written outline for your call so you can begin it with your computer screen OFF. Never do any computer work during the call unless you are looking something up by request or looking at a website for the purpose of the conversation.
* If the call is part of a project or a sale, get permission to record it so you can capture all of its value. Send the audio file out to Rev for inexpensive transcription. You'd be surprised how much gold you'll find in the transcripts. For your conversational partner, it's pretty impressive when they receive an edited transcript from the call. Really values their time (and content) highly! (PS - Rev only charges $1 per recorded minute, no minimum.)
* Send an email after the call, highlighting what was agreed upon and next steps.
The keys then to a great call are preparation, focus and followup. If you adopt this practice, you'll find that your phone is your best weapon to acquire new business, delight customers and gain valuable insights. You'll leave the thumb warrior smart phone crowd in the dust.Tweet
October 31, 2013
Success is not a destination, it's a direction: Forward. However, it's surprisingly easy to end up going sideways in life. Aimlessly moving neither forward nor backward. Passing time, waiting for a sign or a miracle. I've experienced this in my life, and I'm sure at some point you likely have too.
In some cases, a tragedy or adversity sends us spinning like a top. A death in the family, a lost job, foreclosure, divorce, etc. But in most cases, we go sideways because of our thought patterns and not reality. While life is still good to us, we find a way to go negative on the inside, and quickly steer our career into the abyss. Our thoughts shape our way of seeing the world, and design our emotional response system.
How does this happen? We change what we put into our mind. We start to listen to a new program on the way to work. At first, we enjoy the shocking news or crude humor, but then it eventually seeps into our psyche. Or we start to hang out with a mean spirited or pessimistic person at work. He eventually convinces us the sky is falling and that most people are 'out to get you'.
As we are adding these negative inputs, we stop consuming the positive. Our mind is quite binary in that it's hard to enjoy both diets at the same time. The former inoculates us from the latter. If the world is coming to an end and people can't be trusted, how can you be grateful?
At some point, the negative inputs change our focal point, and our work suffers greatly. Our new perspective makes us less appealing to others and less resilient when faced with a challenge. The little failures that follow likely confirm our dour outlook, and we add to the problem by increasing the negative inputs: More bad friends, more bad programming.
Here's the risk: At some point you stop moving sideways, gain traction and then enter the downward spiral. Going backwards into self-destruction. That's when it becomes hard to right the ship. There's not clear threshold either. You won't see the shift into reverse coming.
Here's your way out: Feed Your Mind Good Stuff. Be as judicious about what you put into your head as what you put into your mouth. If you find yourself muttering internally about all the things wrong with your life, this country or the world -- check your sources of information. Scrutinize them for positive-neutral-negative intentions. Rethink your media patters and consider changing out your work friendships.
Once you scrub out the negative inputs in your life, replace them with constructive ones. Spend your first 45 minutes of each morning reading from a book that gives you confidence, inspiration or direction. Find a new colleague at work to lunch or spend time with, and give her as much positive feedback as she gives you. Quickly, you'll find yourself moving forward again, as your thoughts dictate your actions and reactions.
If you know someone who has suddenly jerked his career sideways, and you cannot figure out why, now you know. And it's time for YOU to be the positive inputs in his life.Tweet
October 15, 2013
As I travel around the world to give speeches or to consult, I'm often asked about my experience working for Mark Cuban. While many are curious about what it was like to work for him, some dig deeper, asking for my opinion about his secret to success.
My answer is always the same: He understood how to build powerful customer relationships. Beginning with his first startup (MicroSolutions), he adopted a mantra: Make Love, Not War. I've met several of his former clients, and they've all remarked about how responsive he was to their needs, even when they seemed overly demanding. He'd personally visit their office, getting underneath desks if necessary to check wiring. He'd answer emails in the middle of the night without any grousing. It endeared him to customers who usually had to fight to get their value from solution providers.
When I went to work for him at AudioNet (later to become broadcast.com), he repeated this mantra often. He explained that too many companies often go to war with clients that don't easily fit into their value chain. Make money or war was their approach.
In Cuban's view, the secret to customer success was to find out what they liked, then give it to them consistently. He believed that a service provider needs to design their company around the customer's needs and wants. He didn't just talk this game, he lived it daily.
If there was a disagreement about the quality of our service, the customer was right and the invoice was torn up. If a customer felt slighted, he or she was welcome to contact Mark directly to resolve the issue. The culture of his startups was about being tuned into and responsive to the desires of the customer - and not the investors/owners.
That's why he retained customers even though he operated on the bleeding edge of technology, where failure was a commonplace occurance. In this sense, it works just like our personal relationships. If we make love, not war, we are often forgiven for our imperfections. Or as author Steve Farber once told me, "If you are an electrician, and your client loves you, you can burn down their house they they'll say 'accidents happen'!"
For more, read his book: How To Win At The Sport Of Business
October 10, 2013
A few years ago, I discovered a technique for overcoming stage fright. We all likely have to fight through nerves when making presentations, sales pitches or participating in meetings -- especially when the audience is tough or the stakes are high.
I've learned that our performance is a function of our thinking patterns, and in particular, the state of our subconcious mind. If we are confident, we can relax for easy power. If we are afraid, we are either too timid or inappropriately bombastic. Furthermore, the last thoughts we take to the stage ultimately frame our mood and outlook.
So what are your last thoughts before it's go-time? In this keynote excerpt, I share my fear-busting technique with a group of high performing sales people. While it seems like a simple plan, it requires one's imagination and determination to rise above the situation. Can you do this?
Reload A Success Experience For Total Confidence by Tim Sanders