Are You Focused On The Right Dials To Drive More Rapid Growth

Are You Focused On The Right Dials To Drive More Rapid Growth

As a business leader, there are a thousand and one things to distract you on any given day from driving growth in your business. Just think through all of the different options you’ve faced in the past week. My guess is that you’ve probably had to deal with issues and to do’s like

  • Processing way too much email
  • Tweaking your website
  • Solving a staff conflict
  • Dealing with a problem customer
  • Doing research
  • Putting together a meeting agenda
  • Running a meeting
  • Responding to requests
  • Returning phone calls
  • Reviewing financials, etc.

Now, none of those things are bad things in and of themselves. They’re only “bad” when they distract someone like you from focusing on what really matters.

As you may know, last week I ran a quick survey of business owners and entrepreneurs. The number one problem/frustration they identified was,

  • “We’re not growing as fast as I’d like.”

And, surprise, surprise, the number one want/aspiration was,

  • “To grow my business faster.”

Now, isn’t that interesting?

So, let’s ask, “What hinders growth?” If the number one want is, “To grow faster” why would most business owners and entrepreneurs be frustrated by the lack of it? My answer, because of distractions and lack of focus.

When you strip growth down to it’s core, there are only five dials (only five) that you can adjust to drive the growth of virtually any business (Note: In my coaching club we talk a lot about the 7 dials of growth and profitability, but since the final two are focused on profitability and we’re only focused on growth today, we’ll just discuss the first five here).

The challenge for any business leader is to make sure their time is focused first and foremost on those activities I refer to as HRAs (High Return Activities). As Alec McKenzie said so well years ago,

“Nothing is easier than being busy. Nothing more difficult than being effective.”

Getting distracted from focusing your time and energy on the five dials (first and foremost) is what hinders growth. In other words, if you want to get back on the path to accelerated growth, the solution is relatively easy. Stop focusing your best and highest use hours on well meaning distractions and get laser focused on your HRAs (in this case, the five dials).

So, what are the five dials? Well, here they are. Note: Don’t discount their simplicity. The most powerful things in this world are simple.

Dial #1: Generate More Leads

In a funnel, the size of the opening at the top determines everything else that flows south of it. In the internet marketing world, an email list of 50,000 will, in general, always drive more growth than an email list of 5,000, which will drive more growth than an email list of 500. In a VAR software business, a pipeline with 100 leads will dwarf a pipeline of 10 leads. In the professional services arena, a law office with 50 leads a week will grow infinitely faster than one with three a week. Everything in your business runs south of dial number one.

What surprises me when I talk with business owners and entrepreneurs and ask the question, “So how many qualified leads do you have in your pipeline?” is how frequently the answer is, “I don’t know.”

Listen, if everything in your business runs south of this number, how can you not know? More importantly, how can you not be fixated on this number all of the time?

As a business owner/entrepreneur, you don’t have to be generating and/or qualifying all of the leads, but you should be focused on them. You should be driving awareness about it. You should be generating new ideas for more leads. And you should be holding your team accountable for the number of qualified leads they’re supposed to be generating each week/month/quarter.

So, how are you doing at ratcheting up the dial of generating more leads in your business?

Do you have a weekly focus on it? Are you continually challenging your team with new strategies and ideas to get more leads in the door? Are you testing your tactics? Are you getting out there? Are you considering new marketing channels? Do you need to change your current copy to produce better results? Etc. What can you do this month to drive more new leads for your business?

If you want to drive more growth, you need to make sure you give weekly attention to how your business is doing at lead gen. Everything else runs south.

Dial #2: Increasing Your Lead Conversion

Once you get a new lead in, the next dial is to increase the probability that lead will convert into a new customer. All things being equal, if you have a 100 leads in your pipeline and your current conversion rate is 50%. If you can grow that to 60 or 80 percent, you’ll have an additional 10 to 30 customers per 100 leads. That’s a game changer.

However, this is also one of those dials very few business owners and/or entrepreneurs pay a whole lot of attention to. Just think back over the past month (or six months). How much time have you spent on ensuring that the percentage of leads generated converts at a higher percentage? If you’re like most business owners, probably not much if at all.

Obviously, the first way to increase your lead conversion is to improve the quality of your leads. So, what are you doing to ensure that you’re getting better quality leads?

The second way is to improve your sales process and sales scripts.

And the third is to improve your sales training.

So, looking at those three options, what are you going to do this week and month to increase your lead conversion? That’s dial #2.

Dial #3: Increase the Average Transactional Value

Again, this is another dial that often gets forgotten but has a huge impact on growth and revenue. It’s the old McDonalds, “Would you like fries with that?” principle. If, in general, 30% of people take an upsell and you’re not offering an upsell option, you are by definition “leaving money on the table.”

In the online world, you see this all the time when you go to buy a product. It’s part of their funnel process. You buy a product, then the next screen says, “Wait? Upgrade to the deluxe version for this one-time only special price. Then based on whether you take the offer or not, they offer an even bigger package or a less expensive package. Then based on that choice, they may offer another upgrade (or not).  So, instead of a $67 transactional value (the first item), you’ve now opted to spend $397 (with two up or cross or down-sells).

Depending on the kind of business you’re in, there are plenty of ways to increase your average transactional value. For example, you could …

  • Increase your prices
  • Make sure your customers know of your other products/services (they probably don’t)
  • Productize your services
  • Create more packages
  • Use a point of sale promotion
  • Systematize a cross-sell or up-sell or down-sell
  • Add bonuses to your current services or packages to justify a larger investment
  • Offer varying levels of service (silver, gold, platinum, etc.)
  • Set a minimum purchase level, etc.

The key is to make sure you and your business are actively helping your customers to choose a higher level of investment because it’ll help them get the results they want, faster, better, cheaper, more comprehensively, etc.

So, what are you going to do this month to increase the average transactional value of each customer? That’s dial #3.

Dial #4: Increase the Frequency of Repurchase

In some businesses this is more difficult than others. For example, if you’re in real estate, most people won’t buy more than one home in a year. However, most businesses have some influence over the frequency of repurchase. For example, a hair salon can either accept that most men will get their hair cut every six to seven weeks or they can be proactive and try to reduce that down to once every four weeks.

Now, going from every six weeks down to every four weeks might not seem like a big deal, but it is. If you divide 52 weeks by 6-7 weeks, you end up with roughly eight hair cuts per year. If you divide 52 by four, you end up with 13 hair cuts. If you then divide 13 by eight you end up with a 62.5% increase in revenue. Did you catch that? A 62.5% increase in revenue just by increasing the frequency from once every six or seven weeks down to once every four weeks. Can you imagine what a 62.5% increase in revenue could do for your business? That’s the power of the frequency dial.

As you think of ways to increase frequency be creative. You’ve seen this with software products. In the past, you would have bought the program and then bought a new version three or five years later. However, now, they’re selling it to you with a monthly recurring charge for, let’s say, $4.99/month.

You can also increase frequency with add on services. For example, if you’re a pool company. You could just sell someone a pool (a one time sale). However you could also sell them an annual maintenance package with a monthly charge.

You could also create a customer loyalty or rewards program. Or offer your customers more special sales. Or you could increase the number of emails and contacts you have with your customers. Or you could develop a more intentional follow up system. Etc.

There are a ton of ways you can increase the frequency of repurchase dial, but the question for today is, what are you going to do this month to increase the frequency of repurchase by your customers? That’s dial #4.

Dial #5: Increase Your Retention Rate

The fifth and final dial that you can adjust to rapidly grow your business is to increase your retention rate. In my old church days, we used to call this, “Closing the back door.” As much as you want to grow new clients and customers, if you’re bleeding them out the back door, all your efforts on the front end are being thwarted by your leaky back door.

To help you realize how impactful this is on your business, if you only retain six out of every ten of your customers (a 60% retention rate), that means that the next four new customers you attract to your business are simply replacing those you’ve lost so you’re not really gaining. You thought you had a 40% increase in new customers but you didn’t. Those four customers were simply returning you to what you had. Even worse, at a 60% retention rate, one of those four won’t be retained so you actually need five or more just to stay where you were.

Let’s play this out in real life. Let’s say you have a million dollar business, your average transactional value is $10,000 and you have 100 clients (i.e. let’s make the math simple :-). If you want to grow by 25% this year, the typical business owner would say, “We need to attract 25 new customers.” But, he or she would be wrong. If your retention rate is, let’s say, 80% (which sounds good), that means you have to replace those 20 lost customers first (plus possibly four more … 20% of the 20 who won’t be retained). So, the reality is, you have to land 45-49 new customers just to grow by 25% (i.e. you would basically have to acquire twice as many new customers as you though you needed to grow by 25%).

On the other hand, if you could increase your retention rate from 80% to 90%, then you’d only have to replace 10 client defectors vs. 20 (plus you’d only need one more vs. four more) for a total of 35-36 new customers to get to your 25% growth objective. That sounds a whole lot more achievable and that’s why focusing on increasing your retention rate is so critical.

So, what are you going to do this month to increase your retention rate?

  • Will you improve your on boarding?
  • Share more customer success stories?
  • Eliminate some customer unWOW?
  • Create a customer community?
  • Work on your Moments of Truth?
  • Assign your customers a customer advocate?
  • Send some follow up notes?
  • Improve your follow up system?
  • Offer more hours of operation?
  • Speed up your response times?
  • Or something else?

Every week, a thousand and one things will try to suck your time away from what matters most. But if you want to scale your business quickly, you have to focus on those activities/dials that have the greatest potential impact for your business (your HRAs). And when you boil all of your options down to their core, they usually fit within one of the following five dials for growth.

  1. Generating more leads
  2. Increasing your conversion rate
  3. Increasing your average transactional value
  4. Increasing your frequency of repurchase
  5. Increasing your retention rate

Even better, when you focus on all five, you can rapidly accelerate the growth of your business. For example, at just a 10% increase in each of the five dials, you can end up with a 61% growth rate. Think about that. What would a 61% increase mean for you and your business?

If you’re serious about growth, get serious about these five dials and make sure you and your people work on them every week!

To your accelerated success!

P.S. If you find this subject interesting, and you want to accelerate the growth of your business by scaling it, these are the kinds of discussions we have at our WTG Coaching Club meetings. To find out more, check out our WTG Coaching Club page

3 Keys to Building a Highly Effective Sales Organization In Your Business

3 Keys to Building a Highly Effective Sales Organization In Your Business

You know that in order to grow your business, you need to drive sales up. Everything else runs south of sales. You can have a great plan, a great business model, great people, great products and services. But if you can’t scale up sales, everything else is irrelevant.

The problem, of course, is that most small businesses don’t have any kind of sales organization in place that even has the capacity to scale.

Now, your business may be different but a typical small business has a founder who is the primary sales person and maybe one or two other people doing sales. Nothing is systematized. There’s rarely a great sales plan or sales process in place. Almost all of sales are done by relationships (usually with the owner/founder) and whatever the sales person thinks will land the account or get the deal across the line.

While that’s sufficient to get a business off the ground, it’s also what keeps most stuck. There’s only so much revenue that one or two sales people can generate. And when the whole sales process relies upon them and their relationships and their personal style, that is, by definition, unscalable. In other words, one of the primary reasons why most small businesses remain small is because they haven’t developed a scalable sales organization that can rapidly ratchet up revenue.

So, how can you turn that around? Well, here at Wired To Grow, we believe there are three keys to building a great sales organization. If you apply these three keys to your small business, you’ll be able to begin the process of scaling up your sales, which will then help you to scale up your business. We refer to these as the 3 Ps of Sales (People, Process, and Performance).

Key #1 – Select the Right People

The first person you need in any great sales organization is a great sales manager—and therein lies the first problem. Most business owners and entrepreneurs are terrible sales managers. Sales people close deals. Sales managers build sales people. The difference between the two is dramatic. Sales people are driven by immediate rewards (they want to hunt, kill and collect the cash as fast as possible). Sales managers are driven by the long-term development of people, which is also why their compensation is structured completely differently.

Sales people are compensated primarily by closing deals (where frequently 50-100% of their compensation is commission-based). Sales managers, on the other hand, are compensated primarily by salary with a smaller variable compensation component (often in the 10-25% category).

So, what do you think happens when an owner wears the hat of the CEO, the sales person and the sales manager? Exactly. Nothing good. No one is great at all three. Why? Because all three are full-time jobs. Which means that sales suffers (as well as the organization). Systems aren’t created (or optimized). Training rarely, if ever, happens. And nothing is scalable. In other words, finding the right person to be the sales manager as fast as possible is critical. And if you as an owner have to function in the sales manager position for a period of time, you have to give up being the primary sales person and start functioning like a sales manager vs. a sales person.

The second person you need to get right on your team is your sales person (which could and should be multiple sales people). The problem for most small businesses with picking sales people almost always begins with their hiring process (which is rarely systematized and optimized). Typically, business owners hire someone they know or someone from their church who needs a job or a friend of a friend who’s out of work, etc. And not only is the interview very casual, the on boarding and training are even worse, which is why most small businesses I’ve seen often have to let go of their current sales people and hire a higher level of sales person if they want to scale up.

Note: apart from hiring people they know who need a job, the second most common mistake I observe with hiring sales people in small businesses, is hiring sales people from large organizations thinking that they can lead their company to the promised land (“Hey, they worked in sales for Marriott or IBM or Lockheed Martin etc. They know more than me. They’ll help us scale up.”). Sorry. It rarely works that way. Better to hire one or two levels beyond where you’re at than going to the big leagues (i.e. if you have a team of ten, it’s better to hire someone from a company of 20-50 employees than one from a Fortune 500 or even a company with 100 employees. Those transitions are rarely successful, though often tried).

The third person who needs to be a part of your sales organization, is your sales support person. For example, if everything in your company runs south of sales, do you really want your sales person entering data into your CRM or Pipeline software? Do you really want them qualifying leads so they’re frequently wasting time with unqualified prospects? Or do you really want them going back and forth with people to schedule meetings? No! You want your sales people spending their time building relationships and having conversations with people that can result in dollars flowing into your organization. That’s just smart.

So, as you look at your sales organization, do you have the right people in place? Do you have a great sales manager? Some great sales people? And then a great sales support team or person?

If not, you now know what you need to do.

Key #2 – Develop the Right Processes

As I mentioned above, one of the typical problems with most small business sales organizations is that they rarely have a systematized process for how they do sales. Everything is a one off or is dependent on the person who’s trying to sell in that moment. Just ask yourself, “If I asked someone on our team to lay our our sales process, could they draw it out?” And then, would their diagram and yours be the same?

When I’ve asked people who’ve been leading companies for five, ten, fifteen, twenty years or more to lay out their sales process, the vast majority of them can’t (let alone their people). That’s shocking.

If you remember, we started today’s conversation be asserting that everything flows south of sales. If someone doesn’t sell something, everything and everybody else is irrelevant. You would think then that if something was this important, it would be one of the first things to systematize and then optimize.

Here at Wired to Grow, we use a simple seven step sales process.

  1. Lead Generation
  2. Lead Qualification
  3. Appointment Set
  4. Meeting Preparation
  5. Meeting/Conversation
  6. Follow-up
  7. Close

Pretty simple. You can easily adapt that overall process to your business and change the language. Then the hard work begins.

For example, how will you determine what a qualified lead is? How will you score it? How will you distribute inbound leads? How will you set the appointment? Who will set the appointment? What research needs to be done before the meeting? Who will do it? What is the sales conversation process? How will you answer the objections that prospects might raise? What are the steps in your follow up sequence? Who will create your win plans? How will you stay on top of your pipeline? Etc.

Once you get your sales process systematized, then you’ll want to focus on your sales collateral. What additional support will your sales people need to help convince your ideal prospects that you and your company are the best solution for what ails them?

And then finally, you’ll want to make sure you have all the right technology in place to support your sales processes from you CRM to your pipeline tools to your sales dashboards to your sales support technologies (like demos).

So, when you look at your sales organization, do you have your entire sales process systematized so that you can easily onboard a new sales person and make them successful in short order or not?

If not, you now know what you need to do.

Key #3 – Ensure the Right Performance

If you have all the right people and all the right processes in place, there’s still no guarantee you’re going to get the results you want unless you put in place a series of systems to ensure you get the right performance from your people and processes.

From our perspective, there are five components you need in place to ensure your sales people and sales processes produce the kinds of results you want. The first is sales training. Simply put, great sales people are built. The typical approach of hiring a sales person and assuming they can figure it out on their own is foolishness. As an owner, you need to make sure your sales people are regularly getting sales training. Sometimes this is didactic (like a sales manager teaching from the front of the room) whereas other times it’s in real-time in front of a prospect and then afterwards during the debrief. But whatever the format, it needs to be there on a weekly or at least monthly basis.

Secondly, the right performance is about accountability. And thirdly it’s about sales meetings, which is often where a lot of the sales accountability takes place. Every week, at a minimum, you and your sales team ought to be meeting to review your metrics, discuss your sales pipeline and commit to a win plan for the week.

Finally, the last two parts of ensuring the right performance from you sales people are incentives and strategy. To get the right performance from your sales organization, someone needs to be working continually on your sales strategy. Likewise, someone ought to regularly be thinking through what incentives can get the best/optimal performance from your sales team.

Remember, great sales people love the hunt. They’re driven by the short-term. So having something continually thinking about how to motivate your sales people to go after more sales at a more rapid rate and for more money, is always wise.

So, there you have it. The three keys to building a great sales organization. They’re not difficult to remember (after all, they’re only three words and they all begin with P).

  1. People – Select the Right People
  2. Process – Develop the Right Processes
  3. Performance – Ensure the Right Performance

If you want to build a more scalable version of your business, you now have the basic framework to make that happen. And if you’d like to go much deeper on this subject, these are the kinds of conversations we regularly have in the WTG Coaching Club. If you’re interested, just contact us and we’ll have a short conversation to see if we’re a great fit and if we can help you get where you want to go faster.

To your accelerated success!

The Single Most Important Question to Ask If You Want A Bigger and Better Brand

The Single Most Important Question to Ask If You Want A Bigger and Better Brand

Have you ever been frustrated with not knowing how to build your brand?

I mean, “everyone” talks about how businesses and entrepreneurs need to “build their brand.” There are plenty of books and courses, conferences and blogs all about branding. Type “branding” into Google and you get 229,000,000 results. Type “branding” into’s book search and you get a whopping 7,592 book results—which is a pretty impressive number if you do the math (i.e. if you were to read one branding book a week, every week of the year, it would take you 153 years to get through that stack of books).

Yet, despite all that talk about branding, how does that help you as a small business owner and/or entrepreneur to build your brand?

Evidently not much because when I ask business owners and entrepreneurs what their brand is, it’s not unusual to get that deer in the headlights look. You know what I’m talking about. They know the word, but describing what their brand is or how they’re actively building their brand … well, that’s another story.

So, let me help you take your next step in your brand building journey by reducing all the clutter around branding to just one idea and one simple question.

A few years ago I wrote a post about what a brand is and isn’t (i.e. a brand isn’t really about a logo or a color). A brand is all about your reputation.

Now, if that’s true (and it is), what is your reputation built on? Exactly. It’s built on trust. So, if a brand is about your reputation and your reputation is built on trust, what do you think the single most important question you need to ask yourself is if you want to build a bigger and better brand? Bingo.

How can we build more trust?

It’s that simple. Logos, colors and style sheets are important to helping people visually connect with your brand. But, ultimately, what builds your brand (or any brand) is trust. So, the more you and your team wrestle with how to build more trust, the better your brand will be.

How can you do that? Well, here a handful of ideas for how you can build more trust with your target market and, by doing so, build a bigger and better brand.

I. Share More Credibility Authenticators (i.e. Trust Builders) With Them

Few things in life are more compelling to a prospect than seeing or hearing results that others have obtained using your product and/or service. Credibility is about trust. An authenticator proves that trust is well-grounded. So, a credibility authenticator is something that can communicate to your prospects that you can be trusted (like a testimonial or tangible result or a third-party endorsement or an award or a case study, etc.).

In other words, brands are built bigger and stronger when someone or some organization outside the referring organization says, “This is a company or product/service you can trust.”

Unfortunately, most businesses are terrible about collecting this kind of data. In fact, when was the last time you shared a credibility authenticator? Even better, when was the last time you asked for one (like a testimonial) or created one (as in a case study)? My guess is it’s been awhile—which means you’re missing out on a critical part of developing of your brand—proof that you’re worthy of trust.

In fact, a great question to ask is,

“If trust is the key to brand building, then how can we prove, to our prospects and customers, that we actually are trustworthy?”

When you answer that question, my guess is that one of your best answer is going to be, “Through sharing our credibility authenticators on a more consistent and predictable basis.” And you’d be right.

So, what credibility authenticators do you need to collect and distribute this quarter?

Remember, the more positive results you show, the faster your brand will grow.

II. Consistently Deliver What You Promise … Every Time

Believe it or not, I’ve been a Mac Addict now for over three decades—and will be for as long as Apple is around. Why? For a number of reasons but one of the simplest and easiest is “It just works” (a la Steve Jobs). Apple’s brand of cool technology that’s innovative and designed well and just works is just that—a product that continually delivers what it promises. By controlling the entire supply chain, everything ”just  works”.

In fact, I’m writing this on my MacBook Pro (Fall 2016 version) and I love it (including the magic bar). When I meet people I’ll say, “Check this out. Isn’t the design gorgeous? Hold this. Isn’t it amazingly light? The speed is incredibly fast. The new keyboard is awesome. Ya da Ya da Ya da.” In other words, I’m a fan because they’ve made a promise and they’ve kept it … over and over again.

In your case, what is it that your “brand” promises? Do you promise speed? Or great customer service? Or innovative products? Or seamless integration? Or quick resolution? Or saving money? Or making money? Or delivering a certain result? Or …

Whatever your promises are, you need to make sure that you and ALL of your employees consistently deliver on those promises. Why? Because a promise that isn’t kept kills trust. Even worse, all it takes is one employee or one botched product to spoil all that brand value you’ve built.

In other words, if you promise to deliver a software patch by Friday at 2:00 p.m. it better be there before 2:00 p.m. (remember, everyone’s watch isn’t synced the same). If it arrives at 5:00 p.m. or next Tuesday at 11:00 a.m. or even worse, the following Friday by 5:00 p.m. a little (or a lot) of trust has been lost.

So where are you not consistently delivering on what you promise? Whatever it is, fix it quickly so you’re back inline with consistently delivering on what you promise.

Trust is built one customer experience on top of another. Do what you say and you’ll build a great reputation and brand.

III. Regularly Share Relevant Content They Perceive Is Beneficial To Them

Notice, I didn’t say, “just share content.” I said, “share relevant content they perceive will be beneficial to them.”

This is another classic small business problem. The tendency for most small businesses is to share content about them (“We just released a new X142 machine that will help you do XYZ) or content that the business thinks is relevant (i.e. If I’m interested in this, then others will be as well). Both of those are unwise choices.

All of us choose to consume content everyday that we perceive is relevant to us. It’s why we all skim newspapers and magazines, as well as website search results and blog posts. All of us skip over 90%+ of our content options and only read those items that we perceive to be relevant to us TODAY and may help us solve a PROBLEM we have (or an interest we have).

This is how you and I get to be trusted authorities in our respective markets. Not by talking about us or about what we’re interested in but by sharing information that’s relevant and beneficial to those we’re trying to reach (i.e. sharing something that helps them solve a problem or meet a need or offers them a new insight or accelerates their goal achievement). When we do that consistently, the people in our target markets begin to believe  that we’re worthy of trust. And that’s when they begin to turn to us for help.

Or to put it another way, part of your brand is built one piece of content on top of another. If you regularly provide content that’s perceived to be irrelevant or motivated by self-interest, your brand will be established as a self-centered brand that’s only focused on getting a sale. If, on the other hand, you continually provide content that helps the people in your target market solve their problems, without them having to pay anything for it, you’ll be perceived as a trusted advisor and a brand worth working with/purchasing from.

So how are you doing at giving lots of value without expecting anything in return? The more relevant content you share that helps your target market prospects solve a problem that they have, the more trust you’ll be building (and hence your brand will be building as well).

IV.  Be Different In Ways That Matter to Them

This is counterintuitive but critical. The natural tendency is to think, “If we want to be successful, we should be doing what others are doing who are currently succeeding.” In other words, modeling or engaging in best practices—which is good advice for certain things—but not when it comes to branding.

In one sense, you would think sameness would build trust (“Hey, this company is just like every other company, so we can trust them”) but it doesn’t work that way. Why? Because if you’re like every other company/solution, and their need isn’t being met or their problem isn’t being solved, then being the same won’t increase their trust  because, “You’ll fail me just like every other company has and I’ll still have this problem.”

When it comes to branding, different is good. For example, I was talking with one of my coaching club members recently about how his franchise was different (he owns several Mosquito Squad territories). As we were discussing it, one of the items he mentioned was that they use a premium chemical blend for their mosquito spraying. I said, “That’s a feature. What’s the benefit?” He said, “Well, it lasts longer.” I said, “How much longer?” He said, “Our spray typically lasts two to three weeks, even if it rains.” “Whoa.” I asked, “What do you mean, even if it rains?”  He said, “Well, most sprayers use a less expensive blend that washes away if it rains, which is why they often have to come out and respray.” I said, “Now, that’s a difference that matters.”

To me, that’s a difference that builds trust (our spray lasts even if it rains … which clearly matters here in the low country of South Carolina because it rains a fair amount here). When I heard that, it automatically made be trust the Mosquito Squad brand because it was both different from it’s competitors and it was different in a way that matters.

Everywhere you go you can see that different matters in branding. For example, my wife is a “The Voice” addict. She loves the show. Every year a number of incredible singers get stage time and they’re all good (unlike “American Idol” where you had a lot of terrible singers competing with good singers, especially through the auditions). But what separates out the best performers from the good performers is always difference. When you hear someone sing a familiar song just like the original, it’s good but not worth buying. However, when they sing a familiar song in a different way—well, that’s remarkable and that’s a brand worth trusting for your music tastes.

So, how are you doing at being different? What is unique about you and your company? And, then, how are you marketing that difference to make sure your prospects know that difference?

Brand building doesn’t have to be so hard. Nor does it have to cost a lot of money. At its core, brand building is about building trust. The more trust you build, the better your reputation. And the better your reputation, the stronger your brand equity will be (and hence, the more faithful your customer base with be).

It all begins begins by asking a simple question on a regular basis, “How can we build more trust?”. Once you do that, you’ll begin to think of ways to make that happen, including the four options we just talked about.

  1. Share more credibility authenticators (i.e. trust builders)
  2. Consistently deliver what you promise every time
  3. Regularly share relevant content they perceive is beneficial to them
  4. Be different in ways that matter to them

So what are you going to do to build more trust this week?

To your accelerated success!

5 Lessons Your Small Business Can Learn From United’s Big Mess-up

5 Lessons Your Small Business Can Learn From United’s Big Mess-up

Everyone messes-up some time. It’s not a question of if your business is going to mess-up, it’s only a question of when and then how you’re going to respond.

Note: If you’re reading this post later (or somehow missed this story), this is the week that a 69 year-old doctor (of Chinese descent) was forcibly taken off a plane by security guards in Chicago, literally dragged down the aisle with blood on his face. The incident went viral leading to a non-apology, an internal memo that discredited the “apology” and finally a “real apology.”

In a week where big stories should dominate the news (like Russia-US relations sour after Syria bombing, North Korea threatens US nuclear strike, etc.), this United story was everywhere. The video of the doctor being dragged down the aisle was shown and re-shown on every network and cable news station over and over again.

And that doesn’t count social media where this story was ubiquitous. In fact, in China alone (hence my reference to the fact the doctor was Chinese), within a few hours, over 120 million users of the Chinese social web app, Weibo, had viewed posts with the hashtag #UnitedForcesPassengerOffPlane. Think about that. 120 million within hours.

Any way you add it up, it was a PR nightmare leading to people stating that they won’t fly United anymore.

So, what can you and I learn from United’s mess-up? Well, here are five lessons that all of us, as small business owners and entrepreneurs, can learn from one big company’s mistakes.

I. Make Sure You Have the Right Systems In Place Before Something Goes Wrong

United should have had a great plan in place for how to deal with this situation because it’s not hard to anticipate that something like this could happen.

Unfortunately, most people who fly don’t realize that when they purchase a ticket, there’s no guarantee that you get to keep that seat. It’s in the small print that most people don’t read. Since most people don’t read the small print, it shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that discovering that you don’t have a right to your seat, when you’re already sitting in a seat on an airplane, could be a shocker.

Moreover, it shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that there are small set of predictable reactions to this news—one of which is “No.” Everyone who’s ever been a parent should have seen this coming. The idea that everyone who learns this news, while sitting in a seat on an airplane, would be compliant is ridiculous. Every part of what happened on that plane, should have been anticipated and planned for.

So, looking at your business, have you and your team played out all of the possible actions and reactions your customers might have as they interact with you and your business? If something goes wrong, what’s your system for handling that? And then have you played out, how your customers and the public might respond to your response/action?

Remember, the best time to fix a problem is before that problem actually occurs. United’s mess-up should hopefully remind you to “war game” out possible scenarios and responses so that you have the right systems in place before anything goes wrong.

II. Make Sure Your People Follow Your Systems Perfectly Every Time

It’s one thing to have a system in place. It’s another to ensure it’s followed correctly. In the case of United, part of their system was not for their people to respond to someone who wouldn’t leave a plane but for them to contact the Chicago Authority’s security team to do so—which they did.

However, I’m trusting that neither organization has a system in place that calls for dragging a passenger out of a plane by their extended arms (let alone for a 69 year old). But that’s exactly what happened.

The reason so many organizations train, re-train and role-play is because “knowing something” and doing it are two completely different things. Just because something is in a manual, doesn’t mean it’s actually being done by those who are supposed to be doing that thing. And some of the worst offenders are professionals and executives who think they know better (i.e. it’s not just front line staff who mess-up).

This is why the best sales team members still do role-plays in their sales training meetings. This is why high performance organizations place controls throughout their organization to ensure compliance. And this is why you should be making sure you both train your people to follow your systems and put controls in place to ensure compliance. Why? Because it only takes one mess-up to go viral and you’re losing customers, prospects and market share.

So what are you doing to ensure your people are actually following your systems perfectly every time?

III. Build Flexibility Into Your Systems

Having a system doesn’t mean you only have one response for everyone, it means you’ve thought through the range of options and then you empower the people who have to execute the system to choose the right option.

In the case of United, there were lots of possible options they could have chosen. The system United uses for choosing who to “kick off” could have been changed. A 69-year old doctor who wanted to get back to Louisville so he could see his patients the next day is in a different category than someone heading home after vacation.

Note: I didn’t know United’s system for selection because different airlines use different systems. Southwest does last on, first off. Others use cheapest ticket prices or those who have direct flights over connections, etc. But there are people who have a greater reason to not be bumped than others. For example, those of us who are professional speakers. If we don’t show up on time, hundreds or thousands of people will be left waiting, an organizer will be in big trouble and we lose real income. In other words, there are factors beyond ticket prices that should be factored in (i.e. the airplane companies are only thinking about metrics that matter to them (like ticket prices and the inconvenience of rebooking multiple flights) than what matters to the individual customer). Shocker!

But, more importantly, why get to that point? Incentives work. They could have easily empowered their attendants to up the incentive to make it interesting enough for four people to say, “I’ll wait for the next flight.” Being cheap is bad business. If they had offered more, they could have easily found four people to take an offer for a free round trip ticket and some cash—and, by doing so, they could have avoided this PR nightmare completely.

They also could have offered alternative transportation if a later flight wasn’t available. For example, I bet an Uber driver would have gladly driven the doctor to Louisville (which is approximately four and a half hours away from Chicago).

Bottom line, United should have built in more flexibility into their system. Once the team realized that the person who drew the bad card was a doctor who needed to see patients the next day, that should have changed the equation. However, the better system would have been to give some flexibility in the choice of incentives. No one likes being bumped off a flight. Why make it worse? Compensate them in such a way that they’ll love the airline more, not hate it more (i.e. “Hey, I got a free first class ticket” is so much better than “I got dragged off a flight by my arms with blood streaming down my face.”).

So, looking at your systems, how much flexibility do you need to build in so your people on the front line are empowered to make better choices?

IV. Apologize Fast … And Mean It

Years ago, I wrote a post that Leroy Gibbs (from NCIS) is wrong. Gibbs hates apologies. I disagree. There’s nothing wrong with apologizing and it’s not an admission of guilt. Apologizing is about restoring relationships, not about rightness and wrongness.

I apologize all the time. Why? Because relationships matter. If someone feels wronged (whether it’s legitimate or not), you want to connect to the emotion so the relationship can move forward. Note: there is a big difference between saying, “I’m sorry. I was wrong.” And “I’m sorry that what I said made you feel so angry.”

In the case of the CEO of United, he blew it. Here’s what he said in his first “apology.”

“This situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we politely asked to deplane refused and it became necessary to contact the Chicago Aviation Security Officers to help. Treating our customers and each other with respect and dignity is at the core of who we are and we must always remember this no matter how challenging the situation.”

Does that sound like an apology? Not even close.

Finally, after taking a beating in the media (and markets), the CEO, Munoz, came out with a real apology (just a little too late).

The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment. I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened. Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way. I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right.

If he had only said the above immediately, the story would have been completely different.

So, in your case, when something goes wrong, what’s your natural inclination? Do you double down on “rightness”? Or do you apologize fast (and mean it)?

V. Remember, Andy Grove Was Right … Only the Paranoid Survive

If you’re not familiar with Andy Grove, he’s the guy who led Intel to become the world’s largest chip maker and who penned a book back in 1999 entitled, “Only the Paranoid Survive.”

I love that phrase, and you should too, especially in the social media world that we now exist in. All it takes is one bad video, one bad email, one bad text, and you can have a PR nightmare on your hands that can either significantly decrease your revenue this year or totally kill your small business. Hence why it pays to be a little paranoid.

Of course, the problem for most entrepreneurs is that we, as a group, tend to be pretty optimistic. We want to believe the best (I mean, who else would ever want to start a business when the odds of success are so low and the probability of making less money than you were or could have is so high). In addition, we often tend to be big picture people who don’t want to be “burdened” with systems and minutia.

However, it’s usually the little things that hurt/kill us. Which is why it pays to develop a little paranoia. Not enough so that you think there’s a bogeyman behind every bush, but enough so that you’re constantly thinking about and preparing for the worst (as well as the best).

United’s CEO should have been a little more paranoid about what a negative passenger story could do to his airline. It’s not like this hasn’t happened before. And, as I mentioned above, it’s not like it couldn’t have been anticipated.

In addition, with news leaks on Capital Hill every week, Munoz, should have been paranoid enough to anticipate that his “internal memo” defending his attendants would be leaked by someone in the organization and become an “external memo.”

So, don’t be like him. Be a little paranoid. Don’t assume everything will just work out. Do assume things will leak. Risk mitigation is still part of your job. And, in a social media world, I would suggest that every small business owner in America needs to be a little paranoid. All you need to do is look at how much destruction one little video did on a Fortune 100 company within a few hours.

Well, there you go. Five small business lessons from United’s mess-up that can help you protect your business from a PR nightmare.

  1. Make sure you have the right systems in place before something goes wrong
  2. Make sure your people follow your systems perfectly every time
  3. Build flexibility into your systems
  4. Apologize Fast … And Mean It
  5. Remember, Andy Grove Was Right … Only the Paranoid Survive

In light of those five lessons, what are you going to do this week to ensure your business is better prepared in case something goes wrong … before it ever happens?

To your accelerated success! 

5 Keys to Designing Your Perfect Org Chart

5 Keys to Designing Your Perfect Org Chart

No one in their right mind wakes up in the middle of the night thinking, “I need to design a perfect org chart.” Why? Because, technically, you don’t need to have an org chart—unless you’re running into some problems. And typically, these problems fall into one of two camps.

  1. Complexity Issues
  2. Strategy Issues

Complexity issues arise when your organization has grown and what used to be simple no longer is. For example, when you had a smaller team, let’s say a small business (or department) of five or six people organizational issues were pretty simple. In that kind of environment, everyone on your team “knew” what everyone else was doing. Rules were probably pretty lax. Communication was probably very informal. And everyone on your team helped do a little bit of everything.

However, as your team grew and now comprises, let’s say, eighteen employees, complexity has raised its ugly head. Now, everyone doesn’t know what everyone else is doing. Communication is incredibly complex. Your employees now have very specialized roles but it’s often unclear, especially for those who were with you when you only had five or six employees, who reports to whom. In fact, some of your people may have one direct report, but others as many as four (which, as you can guess, is a major problem). In other words, complexity calls for clarity (and the need for an org chart—or, at least, a better one).

On the other hand, strategy issues are related to design questions about the future of your business. Let’s say your business now has 12 employees (congratulations). The question is, “In order to get to the next level (or fulfill your strategic plan), what are the next positions you need to add?” Or let’s say you want to double your business in the next twelve to twenty-four months. If that’s true, what kind of organizational structure will you have when you’re twice the size you are now? To answer those questions, you need an org chart.

In other words, the only reasons to care about org charts aren’t related to org charts, they’re related to the twin motivators for any change in your life—pain or pleasure. Either you’re in pain (complexity has taken over and something needs to be fixed in order to release the pain) or you’re in pleasure (strategically, you’re dreaming about the future of your organization that you want to have vs. the one you currently have). Either way, you need a better org chart (which I’m calling here, “the perfect org chart”).

In order to do that, you’ll want to use all five of the following keys to designing the perfect org chart for your business.

Note: don’t overcomplicate this process by trying to figure out the best software program to use to design your org chart (or how to get the boxes to look right in PowerPoint). Delegate that away. All you need to design your perfect org chart is a yellow pad of paper and a pen. Someone else can make it look pretty.

I. Design for What Your Want, Not What Is

One of the more difficult transitions for most business owners to make is to get out of what is and to think about could be. Why? Because it’s difficult to forget what you’ve been working on for the past x number of years. It’s hard to forget all the decisions you’ve made and the people you’ve hired. It’s difficult to let go of everything that you’ve done up to this point.

However, if you want to design your perfect org chart moving forward, that is exactly what you need to do. Some people like to call this “Zero Sum Thinking.” In other words, you choose to let go of everything that’s brought you to this point as if you were starting all over again from scratch (i.e. zero).

Based on everything you know now (primarily through experience), if you were to do it all over again, how would you design your perfect org chart for today moving forward?

Forget what you have. Focus on what you want. This is your chance to design your perfect org chart.

II. Design for the Position, Not For the People You Have

Probably the biggest mistake most business owners and entrepreneurs make when they’re creating their perfect org chart is they start by designing it based on the people they already have. I hear this over and over again when they say, “Okay, next we have Danny who’s my Director of Operations …”.

Did you catch the mistake? They started with a name (Danny). However, when you’re designing your perfect chart, no names should be present until it’s completed (including your name).

In other words, at the top, it should NOT say, “Bruce” or “Marjorie” or “Warren.” Instead, it should say something like, “Owner” or “CEO” or “Managing Partner” or “Executive Director.”

Anytime you’re tempted to put a person’s name in a box or a title you’ve used in the past, let it go.

For example, when you were smaller, you might have called someone who helped out with office issues your “Director of Operations” (probably as an inflated title).  However, now that you’re larger, moving forward you may conclude that at your current size that position should be filled with a COO (Chief Operations Officer). Forget that Anik doesn’t have the skill set to be a COO. If you need a COO moving forward, that’s what you need. Don’t simply insert, “Director of Operations” because that’s what you’ve had for years.

III. Design For Formal Reporting Authority, Not Skill Sets

Have you ever had four bosses? If you have, it wasn’t a great experience, was it? Well, it’s not great for your people either. The good news is that designing your perfect org chart can help alleviate that.

For example, in a small business, it’s not unusual for people’s responsibilities to drift based on their expertise. Let’s say you hire a woman, let’s call her Natasha, as a sales rep. She starts working at your company and you soon learn that she’s really good with Quickbooks. Before you know it, she’s helping each month put financials together and then developing your budget. You also realize that she’s pretty good at writing copy so she’s now helping George, your Marketing Director, with creating copy for your marketing collateral.

The question is, who should Natasha report to? Should she report to your Operations Director, your Sales Manager or your Marketing Director? Currently, that’s not clear.

What should be clear, when you create your perfect org chart, is that a sales rep should report to the Sales Manager (i.e. see point two above, you don’t design for the person, you design for the position).

Now, your business may be the exception, but frequently when I help business owners with their org chart (especially if they have more than eight employees), they almost always have several people who fit under several different bosses and that’s a problem.

Back in my old pastoral days, we used to say, “Anything with two or more heads is called a monster.” No one likes to have multiple bosses. This exercise is your chance to correct that.

IV. Make Sure Every Function Is Covered, Even If It’s Not a Position

As a business owner and/or entrepreneur, apart from positions, you always want to make sure that every function is covered by someone. For example, you may not have a position called “strategy” but you want to be clear on whose responsible for strategy formulation in your business. Note: I suggest that should be you.

The reason this is important is because you may need to add a new position or clarify what current position should be responsible for a specific function. Now, in case you’re not sure what functions should be covered, here’s a good list for you to start with.

In your business (on your perfect org chart), who’s responsible for each of the following functions.

  • Strategy
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Customer Service
  • Finance and Accounting
  • Collections
  • Technology
  • R&D/Product Development
  • HR
  • Legal
  • Operations/Administration
  • Ordering
  • Delivery/Fulfillment
  • Department Responsibilities, etc.

Note: feel free to add to any additional functions based on your industry since different industries have different functions.

That said, looking at your org chart as it’s designed right now, do you now need to add any positions to carry out any of these functions? Or can your current design handle all of them?

V. Reduce Your Direct Reports to Three to Five People

Probably the biggest issue that most business owners and entrepreneurs complain about most of the time is, “I’m just too busy.” Or “I’m overwhelmed.” Or, “I have no time.”

This occurs for a number of reasons, but the main one (related to today’s discussion) is that they’re wearing too many hats and have too many direct reports. For example, once you create your perfect org chart and then start filling in names, one of the things that will probably become clear is that your name is in too many boxes.

For example, it’s not unusual for the business owner/entrepreneur to also be the sales manager (as well as the main sales person). It’s also not unusual for them to be the bookkeeper/accountant. It’s also not unusual for them to oversee all operations. Etc. You get the picture. Way too many boxes leads to an overworked and overwhelmed business owner.

On the other hand, it’s also not unusual for the business owner to have too many people reporting to them, especially when the business owner has less than ten employees. However, to do your role as the business owner, you can’t do that well and oversee ten or twelve or more people. Note: you probably can’t do that well with seven or eight people either.

So my recommendation is that as you’re designing your perfect org chart, you try to reduce your direct reports to three to five people. Every number beyond five will make or keep your life more complicated. Plus, your job has too many important responsibilities that won’t get done well if you’re trying to manage too many direct reports.

Trust me. If you take my advice on this one, you’ll be forever grateful. I’ve done this countless times with plenty of business owners and leaders and I’ve never heard one of them regret it and come back to me saying, “Please, I want to go back to more direct reports!”

So, there you have it. Five keys to designing your perfect org chart.

  1. Design for what you want, not what is
  2. Design for the position, not the people you have
  3. Design for formal reporting authority, not skill sets
  4. Make sure every function is covered, even if it’s not a position
  5. Reduce your direct reports to three to five people

If you follow these five keys, you’ll be infinitely ahead of most business owners and you’ll have either eliminated some of the pain you’re currently experiencing or increased your sense of fulfillment as you’ve laid out where you want to head. Either way, you’ll be happier and a better leader/manager of your business.

To your accelerated success!

P.S. In another post, I’ll talk about what to do when you realize you either have the wrong people in the wrong positions or you have too many people’s names in too many boxes. Those are different issues. But for today, be happy that you now have a perfect org chart for where your business is today.

How To “Demand” Excellence Without Being a Jerk

How To “Demand” Excellence Without Being a Jerk

You want your employees to perform at an “excellence” level. You want them to deliver excellent work—both externally to your customers as well as internally with any work product produced for you or anyone else inside your company. The question is, “How do you get them to produce at that level of excellence on a consistent basis?”

For some of your employees, it’s no big deal. You give them an assignment and they always do it to the best of their ability. They’re like you or me. Unfortunately, not everyone is like us. In fact, I’d guess that most of your employees aren’t like that. So, what can you do to get that more than half of your employees group to up their game and consistently produce at an “A” or “A+” level?

Well, here are five ideas for how you can do that … and do so without being a jerk.

I. Recruit for It

I know this doesn’t impact your current employees, but one of the first steps any business owner/entrepreneur ought to take in creating a culture of excellence is to make sure they recruit people who perform at an excellence level. In other words, if you only hire “A” players from this point forward, you’ll automatically increase your corporate level of excellence.

The problem is that most business owners/entrepreneurs don’t hire only “A” players. They often hire fast to get someone in the job. Or they hire based on their “gut” or their desire to “help someone out,” or believe that they can turn anyone around, etc. And the result of all of that is a lot of bad hires.

In other words, the primary reason we’re having this discussion today is because of some bad hires. If you only hired “A” players, you wouldn’t have to “demand” excellence because excellence would be the only thing your people would be producing.

So, the first step to “demanding” excellence would be to go back and revise your hiring process (remember, at Wired To Grow, we’re all about systematizing everything). How can you change the expectation? How can you check for examples of it? How can you test for it? What questions should you be asking in the interview process (and the reference checking process)? Remember, if you stop hiring less than excellent people, your people will automatically produce at a higher level.

II. Set the Expectation For Excellence Early and Often

In your recruitment process, you should be setting the expectation. In your on-boarding, you should be setting the expectation. In your communications, you should be setting the expectation. In other words, it should be impossible for anyone who works for you to not know that excellence is your standard.

If anyone thinks that they can do less than excellent work in your company and get away with it—then you know you have some work to do. Clearly they don’t understand your expectation (which usually suggests a “you” problem vs. a “them” problem).

This is especially true for any task you delegate. You need to clearly communicate your expectation for what excellence looks like for that task when you’re delegating it. If they don’t clearly understand what your expectations are, you can’t hold them accountable for something they didn’t understand.

So, what expectation do your employees have related to your excellence standard? How often do you remind that of that expectation? And how clear are you on setting what excellence looks like per task?

III. Cast Vision for What Excellence Looks Like Everyday

In general, it’s difficult for most people to create something that they haven’t seen (i.e. it’s the reason why it’s easier to put together a jigsaw puzzle with the box top than without it). So, help them see.

Share with your employees examples from other companies. When you see excellence in a service (a restaurant, a hotel, an airline, an HVAC contractor, etc.) or a product (a car, a smartphone, a knife, a power washer, etc.) share that story with your people during a meeting or in a video or in print or one-on-one.

Likewise, if you’re working on a marketing piece, keep a swipe file of marketing pieces that you like so that when you’re delegating that task, you can show them, “This is the kind of quality I’m looking for.” Or, if you’re working with a sales person, keep a swipe file of sales presentations so you can show them, “This is the kind of quality sales presentation I want you to shoot for.”

Also, make sure you keep some bad examples that you can share with them as well so you can say, “I don’t want you to do something like this.” For example, if you were to show someone on your marketing team some examples of direct mail you don’t like (you know, the kind with clip art 🙂 ) they would have a better idea of what not to shoot for. Then when you combine that with some positive examples you do like (e.g. those with nice glossy images on both sides, a great hook to a need/want of the prospect, lots of white space so it doesn’t feel cluttered, a clear call to action, benefit-focused copy vs. feature-centric, etc.) they can easily understand what excellence looks like for you.

Note: this is one of the easiest ways to “demand” excellence without being a jerk. By showing your people BEFORE they execute what excellence looks like, you won’t be a jerk. You’ll simply be a great boss.

Another great source of examples of what excellence looks like is from your own team. Anytime someone does something great, share that with your team. It’s an easy double win—the employee who did the excellent work will love it, and everyone else will get another picture of what excellence looks like.

Bottom line, everyday, whether you’re at work or not, you should be looking for ideas and examples to share with your team of what excellence looks like.

So, how are you doing at casting vision for excellence? Do your people get it? And are they hearing it often enough?

IV. Hold Your People Accountable To It

The primary reason why most people can get away with “less than excellent” work is because their bosses let them get away with it.

So, if you want to “demand” excellence, you have to stop tolerating less than excellent work. You have to be the one who calls someone on the carpet for not holding up to your expectation/core value of excellence.

But, how can you do that without being a jerk? Well, here are a few ideas

  1. Ask questions vs. make statements.
    In other words, become Socrates. Ask, “Betty, do you think this email hits our standard of excellence?” vs. “Betty, this email is terrible. The design is bad. The content stinks. There were two spelling mistakes and three grammatical mistakes.” The former is non-jerky, the latter, jerky.
  2. Refer to your core values. 
    In the above question to Betty, did you notice that I referenced the core value. In other words, I was asking a question that connected Betty to something greater than the task at hand. Whenever you’re referencing a core value, you’re reminding the person of an agreed upon standard of behavior—which makes it less about you being a jerk and more about them not living up to the standard.
  3. Don’t get emotional.
    Anger leads to jerky-ness. So, don’t give in to it. It’s not in your best interest to hold someone accountable when you’re angry. Instead, get past the anger and confront the employee once you’re back in control. Then, in a calm voice, you can ask them about the thing they just blew.
  4. Never scold (and definitely not in public).
    Scolding is what parents do to children (and, by the way, wrongly). Adults hate to be scolded. So, don’t do it. Scolding is about making someone feel bad for something they’ve already done. That’s not helpful. Instead, you want to focus on changing their behavior moving forward. So you might want to say something like, “Betty, this seems below your standards. I know you can do better and I assume that the next you attempt this you’ll be back on track with what I know you’re capable of producing.”

There are plenty of ways to hold someone accountable without being a jerk (these four will give you a start) but the main idea is to make sure you’re holding your people accountable to an excellence standard and not letting them get away with doing less than excellent work. Remember, people don’t do what you ask them to do but what you inspect. So, inspect continually. Praise them when they hit it, but also make sure you call them on it when they don’t.

V. Model Excellence In Your Own Life Everyday

Everyday your people are watching you. Everyday, they’re taking their cues from you. Everyday they’re assessing, based on what you do, what really matters around here.

Now, if you’ve been reading my content for any length of time, you know I’m a huge advocate of core values. I think they’re critical. They tell your staff, “This is the standard at which we do work around here.” They are the 24/7 culture drivers of your business so your people know what they should do or how they should decide something without even having to ask you.

However, as critical as core values are, your example is even more important. Your example lets people know if your core values are simply words on a wall or the real drivers of your business.

So, what model are you setting for your people when it comes to excellence?

  • Do you check your spelling and grammar before sending an email or letter (or any other communication piece)? Or not?
  • Do you show up at meetings fully prepared? Or do you just wing it?
  • Do you dress with excellence? Or not?
  • Do you take the time to develop well thought through plans? Or go by the seat of your pants?
  • Do you keep your office “reasonably” clean? Or are there messy piles everywhere?
  • Do you prepare well for your talks so they come off “flawlessly” and have additional support (like slides)? Or do you just wing it because, well, you’re the boss?
  • Are you the banner carrier for excellence in your business?

In general, everything tends to run south of the key leader of that organization. So, if you’re not modeling excellence, there’s very little chance your people will. However, if you’re modeling excellence, you should be setting the expectation everyday of what the standard of performance is in your company. And you will, in essence, “demand” excellence without being a jerk. Your sheer example will drive everyone else to up their game.

So, if you want to “demand” excellence in your business without being a jerk, I’d encourage you to use all five of these ideas.

  1. Recruit for it
  2. Set the expectation for excellence early and often
  3. Cast vision for what excellence looks like everyday
  4. Hold your people accountable to it
  5. Model excellence in your own life everyday

The more you systematize each of these, the more you’ll get the behavior and company you want—a business where everyone on your team is producing at an “excellent” level—both internally and externally—to the delight of you, your customers and the rest of your team. It’s a triple win!

To your accelerated success!

How To Avoid Needlessly Ticking Off Customers

How To Avoid Needlessly Ticking Off Customers

When was the last time you lost a customer—and you knew you didn’t need to lose them?

What was the problem that caused the breakup? Was it a big issue? Or a little one? My guess, a little one.

And you know this to be true because it happens to you when you’re the customer.

  • Someone didn’t return your phone call
  • Someone was unresponsive or inattentive to you
  • Someone said, “That’s not my department” (or “that’s not my responsibility”)
  • Someone sent you an incorrect bill
  • Someone said, “Hey, that’s just the way the system works. I can’t change it.”
  • Someone promised to do something by a certain date and missed the date (and didn’t even communicate why)

None of those things are “big” in the fullest sense of the word. They’re just annoying. But when they happen often enough, they become the “stick that breaks the camel’s back” and you leave, just like customers leave you.

What’s amazing to me is that all of those issues are fixable … if you simply create a system to fix them.

So, what can you do to avoid unnecessarily ticking off (and sometimes losing) customers that you don’t need to? Well, here are a three ideas to start with.

I. Train Your People In What NOT to Say

Earlier today I received a text from Comcast saying my checking account had just been docked at a rate higher than I should have been. Immediately, I was ticked off. Why? Because when I saw the bill a few weeks ago I called them about the incorrect amount. I spent a long time with their customer service agent explaining why it was wrong and finally got her to fix the account so that I would be charged the correct amount on my auto-billed account in two weeks. Fine … until today when I saw the incorrect number again.

So, I immediately called Comcast (and had to go through their painfully long voicemail system which makes every irate customer even more irate by the time they can actually talk with a live person—note: never do that to a customer). When I finally reached a live person, I explained what had happened. She checked and said, “Yes, I see your call notes. However, the agent who handled this imputed the change order incorrectly which is why you were incorrectly charged on March 5th. However, the system noticed the error and has credited your account $34.55 which will be applied to next month’s bill.”

I said, “For a company that wants to pride itself on good customer service, this is not very good customer service.” I continued, “Let me ask you a question. If I took money that you didn’t owe me from your bank account and then said to you, “Don’t worry I’ll give you back the money that you didn’t owe me in 30 to 60 days, would you consider that good customer service?” To her credit she said, “If you’re asking me personally, no, I would not think that was good customer service.” “Exactly.”

I then said, “So, please credit back my $34.55 today.” She then said words no one should say, “I’m sorry sir, I can’t do that. That’s not the system.” Now, you’re a business person. I’m a business person. And we all know that charge backs can be made on any day. If I can refund an overage as a small business, Comcast certainly can … if they cared. They just don’t. Which is why they’ve rigged the system. Their answer, “That’s not the system,” is a cop-out. You know it. I know it. And that’s why it’s a phrase that should be eliminated from the list of options any of your employees can use.

Think about it. When was the last time that someone said to you, “But that’s not the system,” that you felt any warm fuzzies toward that company? Exactly. Never!

So, make a list of the words and phrases that tick customers and clients (like you) off. And then train your people so they never use them.

  • “That’s not my job”
  • “That’s not my responsibility”
  • “I/We can’t …”
  • “That’s not our process” or “That’s not our system.”
  • “There’s nothing I/we can do about that.”
  • Other: _______________

Go ahead and create your list.

II. Fix the Little Ten Cent Issues Because They Tick People Off More Than the Thousand Dollar Ones

One of the more common mistakes that most business owners and entrepreneurs make about great customer service is that they tend to think that what matters most to customers are the big issues. In a restaurant, it might be the main course. In an accounting firm it’s the document (a tax return or a P&L). In a software firm it’s the software.

But rarely are those the issues that tick people off. For example, using the restaurant example, what are some of the ten-cent problems that often tick customers off?

  • The restaurant was too cool (or too hot).
  • The bill was inaccurate
  • The coffee cup wasn’t clean
  • The coffee was old
  • The seat was uncomfortable
  • There was a tear in the seat
  • The noise level was too loud so it was hard to carry on a conversation (or so quiet that it felt like everyone was eavesdropping on your conversation)
  • The room was too dark (or the sun was so bright and it was hard to look at the person across the table from you)
  • The server forgot to bring something you ordered (or they forgot about you), etc.

Like I said, it’s rarely the big item (in this case, the food or main course), but the small items that tick people off (and cause them to leave and never come back)

Note: Restaurants rarely pay attention to temperature (they’re usually clueless, often because they’re running around or going in and out of the kitchen)—but it’s a big issue. In fact, Jacquie and I were at a Panera Bread the other week and it was FREEZING. Trust me, it’ll be a while before we’ll give them a second chance. The food was fine for Panera. The problem was the temperature.

III. Put In Place a System to Stay In Touch Regularly

How many times have you bought something, especially something with a recurring monthly or yearly amount, and never heard again from them? My guess is virtually all of the time.

Isn’t that interesting? You’d think they’d want to stay in touch, wouldn’t you? They have virtually guaranteed income from you and yet, they take you for granted. So, what happens when you feel like you’re being taken for granted? Exactly. You’re open to being bought by someone else with a new shiny thing.

Think about it. When was the last time your insurance agent just called to check up on you (and not to sell you on anything)? How about your financial planner? Your accountant? Your internet provider? Your dentist? Your gas company? Your pest control company? Your favorite restaurant? Your airline of choice? Your cable provider? Your attorney? Your coffee or water company? Etc.

Well, guess what? If you don’t like it, what do you think that says about your customers and clients? Exactly. They feel the same way.

When I talk with business owners and entrepreneurs who’ve recently lost a client/customer and I ask why, the answer is almost always because they forgot to stay in touch with that customer. In fact, I just had one of those conversations today.

So, don’t do that. Put in place a system that forces you and/or your people to regularly touch base with your clients and customers—not to sell them anything more—but just to stay in touch. Invest in the relationship. And then, when the time is right, ask them for a referral or an upsell—but not in the first conversation, nor in every conversation. Build the relationship and all of the rest will follow.

Now, obviously, we can discuss a number of other ways to avoid needlessly ticking off customers, but these three will get you started.

  1. Train your people in what not to say (create a list and then teach it continually)
  2. Fix the little ten-cent issues because they tick people off more than the thousand dollar ones (make your list and fix them)
  3. Stay in touch regularly (create a system to touch base at least twice a year)

If you do these three things, I’m confident you’ll significantly reduce the potential for you and your business to unnecessarily tick off some of your current customers—which is a good thing! Some business owners think that customer retention is a nebulous or theoretical subject. I don’t. I think it’s pretty practical and pragmatic. And these three ideas are pretty pragmatic suggestions that can definitely help you retain more of the customers you don’t want to lose!

To your accelerated success!

P.S. If you have some other ideas about how to avoid needlessly ticking off customers, make sure you add them in the comments section below!

How to Think More Like a CEO Than an Owner

How to Think More Like a CEO Than an Owner

Have you ever wondered why some business owners/entrepreneurs seem to be able to start and grow businesses rapidly and others can’t? Or why some business owners/entrepreneurs seem to be able to lead their businesses and have a life whereas others can’t?

Well, one of the reasons why is because only a small set of business owners/entrepreneurs really get and own the idea that to grow their business, they have to become more of a CEO than an owner. Why?

If you’ve read any of my content for any length of time you can probably guess what I’m about to say. It’s because …

No business can consistently perform at a level beyond the capacity of their senior executive.

You are both the primary reason for your business’ success and its primary bottleneck. As the business owner/entrepreneur in charge (or managing partner), you have to learn to let go and build a team and a system that will do what you used to do. In essence, you have to learn to transition from being an owner of your business to being a CEO of your business.

But what does that mean? Well, let me give you six key differences between how CEOs think and how business owners think to help you make this transition.

1. See Your Business as External To You, Not an Extension of You

One of the more common beliefs you’ll hear from business owners these days is that the business they lead is an extension of themselves. This occurs for a number of reasons. For example, how many times have you heard someone talking about starting a business say, “Pursue your passion!” Exactly. Way too many times. The problem with this kind of thinking is that it causes the business owner to think that everything their business is and does represents them as a person (i.e. it’s rooted in their passion). How could it not be personal?

Another reason this occurs is because a business is like a baby. Those of us who’ve started companies all get this. We get an idea. We gestate it for a period of time. And then we give birth to it as it’s launched into the world. And just like any other parent, we view that “child” as ours. It’s our baby. We gave it life. It’s an extension of us.

Likewise, because of all the sweat equity (hours and hours of time poured into it) and actual financial commitments to this “child” we’ve made, it’s easy to see this business as an extension of us. Not only have we given it birth, we’ve nursed it and trained it and fed it, etc.

However, all of those issues actually get in the way of us growing our businesses into maturity—something no CEO ever has to deal with. Why? Because CEOs always see the business as something that’s external to them.

Now, to be honest, it’s usually easier for a CEO to think this way because most CEOs come late to the party. They’re rarely the founder so they didn’t go through the birthing process (though, some do). But even those who do know that a business is an idea, not an extension of themselves.

So, how are you doing? Do you see your business as an extension of you (your passions, your ideas, your efforts, your child)? Or do you see your business as something external to you?

2. Realize the Money in Your Business is the Business’, Not Yours

This is a classic extension of the first principle. I’m continually shocked at how many business owners see the finances of the business they lead as “their” finances and treat them as such. They try to “run everything through the business” that they can. Can you imagine a CEO doing that? No way.

Another classic example of how a business owner thinks about the money in the business is when they’re confronted with an opportunity and they evaluate it against something personal for them. For example, “I can either send Bob to this conference for $3,000 or I can put braces on my daughter. Which should I do?”

Anytime you find yourself evaluating a business expense vs. a personal expense, you know you’re thinking like a business owner who sees the business as an extension of themselves.

On the other hand, if you can separate the two and see the revenue and expenses of the business as separate from your personal expenses, then you’re thinking like a CEO.

CEOs get paid a salary and then a bonus. They’re not evaluating how much they can “draw” out that month.

So, how are you doing with difference number two?

3. Remove Yourself From Everything Possible

Most business owners want to be at the center of everything. They like control. They like knowing everything that’s going on in their business. And I totally get that. As a control-freak, I love being engaged in everything. I love both the big picture and the little picture. I love knowing all the details of everything.

However, that’s a recipe for slow growth. If you need to be engaged in everything or give approval for everything, you will be the bottleneck and everything will be slowed down. To grow faster, you have to remove yourself from everything possible.

Back in my old pastoral days, I used to create a list every year of what I was going to give up doing. It’s one of the reasons we were able to grow at 32.5% per year for over a decade. Why? Because even though I was the founder, I knew I had to keep giving up control over more and more things.

CEOs get that. They don’t want to be at the center of everything. They want to hire well, delegate well and trust their people and systems to get the job done. That gives them the bandwidth to focus on the more important issues, which leads to difference number 4.

But first, how are you doing at removing yourself from everything possible? And what are you going to give up this year?

4. Focus on the Big Picture, Not the Day-to-Day

Another classic business owner mistake is to be “working in the business, not on it” (a la Michael Gerber of E-myth fame). Probably the biggest complaint I hear from business owners is, “I just don’t have time to work on the big picture strategic issues.” Exactly. Why? Because they’re thinking like a business owner and not a CEO.

CEOs know that their number one responsibility is to see the future. Their job is to chart the path and then rally a team around them to complete that preferred future.

However, it’s now the middle of February when I’m writing this and I still know plenty of business owners who haven’t completed their plan for this year. Over 10% of the year is gone and they still don’t have a plan. Why? Because they’re stuck in the day-to-day operations of their business.

On the other hand, when you start seeing your role as more of a CEO role where you’re focused on the future and not the day-to-day operations, you’ll easily find time to work on what matters most (which will be a result of taking care of number three above).

So, how are you doing? Are you more focused on the day-to-day in your business or the big picture/future of your business?

5. Empower People to Make Decisions vs. Make Them

Hopefully, you’re beginning to see a pattern unfold here. Most business owners want to make all the decisions—especially all of the big decisions. But frequently, even some of the small ones.

I remember years ago being in a large church when they probably had about 1,500  people attending. The senior pastor took a call during our meeting because his secretary told him it was urgent. What was the urgency? One of his staff members wanted approval to buy … an extra gallon of paint. Amazing! Note: I’m sure that’s no longer the case.

Whenever you or I want to make all the decisions, we become the bottleneck. But to grow a fast growth company (and have a life) we have to get out of the decision-making business and into the empowering others to make decisions business.

CEOs don’t want to be the decision maker for everything. They want to be out building relationships, raising capital, recruiting team players, developing strategy, etc. They can’t do that if that have to be “around the office” to make all of the decisions.

The key here is to train your people in how to make wise decisions, give them parameters (and checks and balances) and then entrust them to make the right decisions. And the good news is that when you do this, you get your life back. In fact, you can be gone on vacation for two weeks in Tuscany and never be needed. How cool is that?

So, how are you doing? Do you need to make all of the decisions? Or have you empowered your people to make all the decisions?

6. Manage More By Metrics and Reports Than By Gut or Like

If you were to evaluate the average managerial ability of most of the business owners you know, what letter grade would you give them? Most of the business owners I’ve met are at a C level or below. And one of the reasons why is because they not only dislike managing employees, they do it poorly.

For example, they often “manage” based on their gut. If they “feel” that they need to attend to something, they do. If they don’t, they don’t.  If they “feel” someone is underperforming (or over performing) then they believe that person is (whether that’s true or not in reality). If they “feel” everything is “good” then it is (whether or not it is in reality). Everything is gut or feeling driven.

Another common problem is that they tend to manage based on who they like. If they like someone, they manage that person very easily (basically, do whatever you want). If they don’t like someone, then they manage that person very toughly (e.g. constantly inspect that person’s work or give that person undesirable tasks).

On the other hand, CEOs don’t manage either of those ways. Good CEOs manage based on metrics and reports. They want data. Gut and instinct are good, but they’re not always right. That’s why CEOs love metrics and data. They affirm or challenge what they, the CEO, believe to be true.” Is Joey a good employee or not?” It has nothing to do with gut or like-ability. The question is, “Did Joey deliver the results he was supposed to achieve in his position or not?”

So how are you doing? Are you more gut and like driven as a manager? Or more metrics and report driven?

If you want to build a more scalable and successful business, then you’ll want to make the shift to leading more like a CEO than an owner. And to do that, you’ll want to follow each of these six CEO guidelines.

  1. See your business as external to you, not an extension of you
  2. Realize that the money in the business is the business’, not yours
  3. Remove yourself from everything possible
  4. Focus on the big picture, not the day-to-day
  5. Empower your people to make decisions vs. make them yourself
  6. Manage more by metrics and report than by gut or like

If you do these six things on a consistent basis, you’ll be shocked at the results. Okay, you’ll actually enjoy them.

To your accelerated success!

How to Pick a Better Niche For Your Business

How to Pick a Better Niche For Your Business

If you want to get more traction for your business but you’re running into difficulties. Or if you create a great offer that you think a lot of people will want, but they’re not responding. Or if you spend a lot of time and money trying to generate a growing list of qualified leads, but they’re not leaping at your offers. What gives?

Well, frequently the problem is that you (and, by the way, most business owners/entrepreneurs) are trying to reach too large of a group of people with too generic a solution—and that’s a problem.

Why? Because in an age where access to information is ubiquitous and the number of marketing messages bombarding us is unending, the only thing that gets through is a specific message aimed at a specific group of people who have a very specific and urgent want/need.

As you know, the “everyone” markets are gone. No one wants generic information and help anymore, they want specific information about their specific industry that can help them specifically.

So, how can you do that? Well one way is by choosing to niche down. By choosing to go deeper, rather than shallower. By choosing to narrow your niche vs. enlarge it.

This often seems counterintuitive (“How can I grow my business by narrowing my niche?”). And while there are times when you need to expand your niche, it’s usually wiser to narrow it … until you can get enough traction that increasing it makes sense.

So, how can you pick a better niche for your business? Here are a few ideas.

I. Believe That Going Narrower is Better Than Going Wider

You have to start here because what you believe influences what you do. In other words, it doesn’t make sense to talk about niching your business if you don’t truly believe it’s the right thing to do.

So, let’s take a look at some of the myths that a lot of business owners and entrepreneurs buy into

  1. “If I focus on a niche, I’ll miss out on a lot of business.” (Why? Because in our minds, more means more).
  2. “If I go after everyone (e.g. like all business owners), I’ll have a larger target market (i.e. I’ll have 28M+ potential customers in the US vs. just a handful)
  3. “All the good niches are gone”
  4. “If I focus on a niche, then I’m not being honest with everything I or my business does?”

The problem with each of these thoughts (and others like them) is that they’re all focused on what we believe—what what we believe is irrelevant. All that matters is what the people we’re trying to reach think—and what they think is that going specific is way better than going broad.

For example, let’s say you’re a solo-practitioner dentist and you’re looking for a CRM for your practice. Would you rather buy an off the shelf CRM that’s designed for any business on the planet or a CRM just for dentists? Even better, a CRM just for solo-practitioner dentists? It’s not even a fair fight.

In addition, you can’t compete with the “everybody” companies in your space. They have way too much money to out-market you. For example, if you’re marketing in the health and exercise space, you can’t compete with all the big companies, let alone all the online marketers in the health space. Your only option to compete is to go narrow (i.e. kettle bell training for school teachers).

So from both a strategy viewpoint and a marketing (and dollars) perspective, it’s hard to make a wiser choice than choosing to go narrower. Or, as the saying goes,

“It’s better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond”

II. Identify a Specific Group of People Who Have a Specific Problem You Can Solve

As you know, at it’s core, business is all about solving problems. No problem. No solution. No value transaction.

So, instead of marketing to “everyone who has a need or want,” you want to start thinking of a specific group of people who have a specific problem you can solve. In the niche world, these are usually broken down into a handful of different niches. The six most common are as follows

  1. Occupational niches – dentists, attorneys, accountants, chiropractors, consultants, hair stylists, dog trainers, etc.
  2. Industry niches – retail, manufacturing, heavy industrial, construction, healthcare, insurance, etc.
  3. Demographic niches – male, female, teens, seniors, millennial, boomers, overweight, etc.
  4. Lifestyle niches – people who like cat videos, dating and relationships, fashion, hip hop, travel, etc.
  5. Interest/Expertise niches – marketing, leadership, making money, time management, knitting, etc.
  6. Geographic niches – Charleston, east coast, NYC, rural, regional, US, etc.

As you review those options, what pops out to you? As you think about your expertise, what specific group or groups would have a specific need your expertise/products would be a solution to?

Note: this could be a decent sized list. For example, let’s say you have a productivity app that you want to take to market. How many niches could that be applicable to? Lots. Executives. Leaders. Moms. Dads. Teachers. Managers. Etc. It’s a huge list.

So, how do you start to narrow that list down? One way is to look at the open space in your market space. For example, let’s say your competitors are all marketing to the executive/leader/manager space. If that’s true, you might want to focus on the mom and dad space. You could probably own that space in a way that would be infinitely more difficult in the executive/leader/manager space which is where all your competitors are playing.

III. Consider If It’s Possible To Still Go Narrower

Since most of us will, by nature, try to go larger, it’s always wise to ask, “Can we go any narrower?”

For example, using our productivity app for moms and dads from above, how could you go narrower? If you’re stuck, here are some ideas

  • You could focus on just moms or just dads
  • You could focus on moms and dads of preschoolers or elementary children or teens
  • You could focus on suburban or urban or rural moms and dads
  • You could focus on affluent moms and dads
  • You could focus on coordinated care between sitters, doctors, drivers, etc.
  • You could focus on first time parents
  • You could focus on second time parents
  • You could focus on blended family parenting, etc.

The options are far greater than most of us think. However, by going narrow, you open up the opportunity to be the dominant player in your market instead of just another player in a crowded market.

So, what potential niche (or niches) you could possibly go after? Note: You choice doesn’t have to be your final choice, just a potential.

IV. Test Your Niche Idea

Niching is both a marketing and a strategy decision. Therefore, it’s wise to test the idea both strategically and marketing wise before executing on it.

From a strategy perspective, I’d recommend asking these kinds of questions

  1. Do the people in this niche actually recognize that they have this problem?
  2. Are they actively searching for a solution to this problem?
  3. Do they have the financial resources to pay for your products and/or services at the price points you want to sell them at?
  4. Can you easily reach the buyers in this market?
  5. Will they need to buy your products and/or services at the frequency that you want?
  6. Can you become credible to this market?
  7. Is this market big enough to sustain you for years?

You want to get an affirmative answer to each of those questions. For example, if you get a “Yes” for the first six but a “No” on the last question, that’s a problem. Why? Because too small of a market won’t sustain you and your business at the revenue levels you want to hit. You want a “Yes” for all six.

Secondly, from a marketing perspective, you always want to test your ideas with real prospects and customers because, as I mentioned above,  what you think is irrelevant. Only what the potential buyers in your market think is relevant.

This is where customer development (from the entrepreneurial world) makes a whole lot of sense. Having real conversations with real customers and prospects, pitching ideas and then getting feedback BEFORE you invest a lot of time and energy into creating a solution (creating maybe a minimally viable version of your idea if need be) is worth doing all the time.

Using our productivity app example, you’d want to interview a bunch of people in your prospective new niche (let’s say the affluent parents niche) and see what matters to them. Even better, if you had a MVP (minimally viable product) version, you could watch them interact with it and then ask, “If this were available right now, would you be willing to pay X for it?”

The brilliance of testing is that it’s never personal. It’s not about what you or I like, it’s what the data shows that real people in our target market want—and the matters a whole lot!

So, as you think about how you can grow your business this year, niching down just might be the right option for you. And if that’s true, I’d encourage you to follow these four simple rules.

  1. Believe that going narrower is better than going wider
  2. Identify a specific group of people with a specific problem that you can solve
  3. Consider if it’s possible to still go narrower
  4. Test your niche idea

If you’ll follow those four simple rules, you’ll not only niche down, you’ll start gaining more traction and drive faster revenue. I know it’s counterintuitive, but going narrower is often the key to growing faster!

To your accelerated success!

How to Get The Best From Your People This Year

How to Get The Best From Your People This Year

If I were to ask you, “What are five things that bother or frustrate you about your business right now?” chances are one of them would have something to do with one or more of your employees. Right? Absolutely!

Virtually every business owner I’ve ever met has some issue with one or more of his or her direct reports, let alone other people in their organization. The natural follow up question then is, “So, what are you going to do about it?”

Since we’re at the start of a new year, it seems appropriate that we ought to address this issue now so that as you walk through the rest of this year, you’ll experience less and less frustration and observe more and more productivity from them.

In other words, if you want to get better performance from your people while reducing your level of frustration with them, you’ll want to keep reading this week’s post.

The key to turning this issue around is to develop a personal development plan for each of your direct reports (note: getting the best from your people isn’t just about correcting your bad performers, it’s also about increasing the performance of your best performers—i.e. it’s not an either/or but a both/and).

That said, here are four ideas to help you get the best from your people.

I. Select One to Three Areas to Work On Over the Next 12 Months

No one can handle twenty different things to improve in a year. Even though Joe may have a lot to work on, trying to change too many things at once is a futile goal. Plus, you have other people to work with and all the other items on your to do list.

So, what kinds of areas might you want to improve? Well, here are some more common ones.

  • How to handle criticism
  • How to listen more than talk
  • How to create more compelling arguments (i.e. how to think more logically to construct an argument)
  • How to run more effective meetings
  • How to be more confident
  • How to be more gracious
  • How to be a better team player
  • How to manage money better
  • How to be a better leader
  • How to be a better coach/manager
  • How to systematize more of his/her work
  • How to not take things so personally
  • How to speak up more in meetings
  • How to be more creative
  • How to be more productive or how to be a better manager of their time
  • How to be a better problem solver, etc.

You get the idea. There are plenty of areas to work on. The key is to pick just one to three of them.

So, as you look at your direct reports, what are the one to three things you want to work on for each of them?

II. Create a Simple Plan for How You Can Help Them

This isn’t meant to be a long process so don’t pull out Microsoft Project or create a Gantt chart. You just want to think through a handful of ways that YOU might be able to help each person become better at whatever that goal area is.

For example, let’s say one of your direct reports has a problem with spelling and grammar (i.e. they don’t “own” your core value of excellence). What could you do this year to help them become better at that? Here are a few ideas

  • You could buy them (or sign them up for) a course on spelling and/or grammar
  • You could have them send their proposals to you before sending them out and then you could walk them through their mistakes (vs. just sending back a draft of corrections)
  • You could have them practice the “Two Eyeballs Rule” (i.e. no emails, letters, etc. can go out before someone else has read them)
  • You could buy them a book on grammar and meet with them once a month to talk about what they learned that month
  • You could install a grammar app in their email client
  • You could have them bcc you on every email for the next few months
  • You could recommend a couple of grammar blogs for them to read and then report back to you on what they learned, etc.

The key here is to not make the plan too difficult or complex (you have plenty of other things to take care of). However, you also don’t want to just walk into a meeting and say, “Fix this.” And then leave. That would be poor leadership.

So, based on the one to three things you want each of your direct reports to work on this year, what are the next three to five next steps to ensure that this issue will be dealt with for this year?

III. Have a Face-To-Face Meeting With Each of Your Direct Reports

A lot of leaders think that this should be done in stealth mode (unbeknownst to the other person)—I disagree. Instead, I highly recommend that you schedule a sit down, face-to-face meeting with each of your direct reports, especially those with whom you’re frustrated. In other words, don’t avoid the difficult conversation, head directly into it.

Here’s a sample conversation.

  • “Joe, as we look back on this past year, what do you think you’ve done well and where do you think you could use some improvement?”
    • Note: you always want to start here because frequently, they’ll identify the problem so you won’t have to (not always, but frequently).
  • “Good to hear that. I think we’re on the same page—for the most part. However, there is one issue that I want to help you with this year that you might be unaware of, that is hindering your effectiveness and because I’m committed to helping you become the best version of you possible, I want the two of us to work together on.”
    • In other words, you want to ensure them of your intentions, this isn’t just about your frustration level. This is about you wanting to help them be their best.This is the context for this conversation.
  • “You may be unaware of this, but not only have I observed this behavior, but several others on our team have as well (Note: you want to focus on behaviors, not intents). Whenever someone critiques you or one of your ideas, you get defensive and then tend to go on the attack. If you ever want to be your best version of you and/or a great leader, you can’t do that any more. So, this year, the number one issue that we’re going to work on in your personal development is your ability to not get defensive when you or one of your ideas is critiqued and instead to welcome critique and, believe it or not, even ask for it. Okay?”

You get the idea. Once you clarify the issue, then you want to offer to help them (using the ideas from step two). “In order to help you with this, here are a couple of things I’m going to do to help you succeed at this …” Then get them to work on creating their own plan for how they plan to conquer this issue (i.e. the change is ultimately their responsibility, but you’re not going to leave them alone).

IV. Stay Engaged On This Issue Until It’s Well Ingrained

I don’t know if you ever read Chet Holmes classic text on “The Ultimate Sales Machine” but one of his key phrases was “pigheaded discipline.” Similarly, Howard Hendricks (a theology professor) used to use the term, “bulldog tenacity.” Whichever phrase you prefer, run with it.

Change is hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it. But it’s not. And the mistake most business owners and entrepreneurs make about this issue is they tend to think that if they say something once, it’s done. Nothing could be further from the truth. And you know this from your own experience. Habit gravity is compelling. There’s a reason why people keep doing the same things over and over again.

So, if Sally has a problem with managing her department’s budget, you can’t simply say, “Fix it!” during her annual review—and be done with it. You might need to meet with her once a week or once a month for the next three to six (or even twelve) months, until she manages the budget for her department well.

Likewise, if Anik has a hard time expressing his ideas in a logical and compelling way, you can’t just have a one-hour training session and assume he’s going to magically transform into a great presenter. It won’t happen. I’ve been training pastors for decades on communication and I’m frequently reminding them of issues we’ve discussed over and over again for years. Habits die hard.

This is why I like to limit the issues to one to three items. Why? Because you can stay on top of one issue for one person for twelve months. Every time you see Sally or Anik you know exactly what you want to work with them on.

It’s all about pigheaded discipline (or bulldog tenacity). You have to stay on top of this one issue over a long period of time—not just have one conversation or follow up on it once—if you want the change to stick.

The good news is that if you do these four things,

  1. Select one to three areas to work on over the next 12 months
  2. Create a simple plan to help them
  3. Have a face-to-face meeting with them
  4. Stay engaged on this issue until it’s well ingrained

You’ll have an incredibly better team by the beginning of next year (and the year after that, and the year after that, etc.). Not only will your frustration level be less and your direct reports’ productivity be higher, you’ll be shaping the members of your team into better people—and what more can a leader ask than that? Ten years from now when they look back on their lives, they’ll each look back with gratitude on how you helped them become a better version of them!

So, what’s your next step today?

To your accelerated success!

P.S. The other nice thing about using this approach is that these kinds of behaviors tend to carry over to the rest of their lives. For example, if you can help Joe become less defensive at work, don’t you think that’ll affect all of his other relationships? Of course! If he’s married, his wife will appreciate you. If he has kids, his kids will thank you. And all his friends and relatives will thank you. At every level, you’ll have made an indelible impact on Joe for the rest of his life. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like something worth taking the time to do.

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