Archive for the ‘innovation’ Category

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Professional Development Coaching

October 4, 2010

Chris Westfall talks about “what they don’t teach you in business school” (video)

Are you looking for ways to capitalize on the value of your educational experience?

Produced by Your Online Video, Inc. Dallas, TX  http://youronlinevideo.net

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What’s the Value of an MBA?

September 29, 2010

There are some things they don’t teach you in business school…

What’s the value of the MBA degree? Every program has a cost, whether you pay through student loans or scholarships.  And, there’s also an investment – whether you go to school part-time, full-time or on the weekends.  So, there’s an investment of time.  Of course, there is the quality of the teaching in the classroom that has to be considered.  But what is the value of the MBA?

We all know that thousands of students graduate from MBA programs each year.  But the value of the degree is more than the cost, more than the quality of the teaching, more than the investment.  The value of the MBA can only be found in action.

The real value of the MBA is based on what the students make of it.  Top MBA programs realize that they have to give students real-world insights that can help them to apply their knowledge in a new economy.  Studying the work of Deming, Porter or Bennis is crucial to establishing a knowledge-base.  But, it’s what you do with that knowledge that establishes the value of the degree.

In my coaching sessions with professionals and MBA students, I focus on what they don’t teach you in business school.  Topics include:

  • Personal branding: Going beyond “sensible shoes, matching belt” to create executive-level interaction
  • Business Development Strategies:  Emails that Get Results, How to Bridge the Gap between Gen-Y and the Hiring Manager, Web 2.0 & Search Tools
  • Leadership:  Communicating at the executive level, and establishing yourself as a leader (no matter where you are in your career path)
  • Promotions, Raises, and Responsibility: How to Negotiate like a Pro, and Know When It’s Time to Move Up (or, Move Out)

Going Beyond the Classroom

The economy has changed, and MBA programs need to adapt.  More than the employment picture, MBA programs must consider the value of their brand – the application of the knowledge they provide.  By providing students with insight that they can’t find elsewhere, schools create competitive advantage, and enhance the value and prestige of their institution.

In my career, I have answered phones, done data entry work, and even delivered food.  I’ve also run a global sales force, with responsibility for 1200 systems integrators and distribution in 68 foreign countries.  In order to move from “smiling, filing and dialing” to the corner office, I had to become a student of success – observing and noting what skills and techniques were rewarded in the workplace.  For top-quality graduate programs in the new economy, the prestige of the degree (or the institution) isn’t enough.  Professionals have to understand how to apply their new-found knowledge, if they want to maximize the value of their degree.

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What CEOs Really Want

September 14, 2010

Click the image to see more on this report

Recently, IBM surveyed over 1500 CEOs, to find out their most pressing challenges.  The complexity of the worldwide markets, combined with an increased rate of change, were the top remarks.  In attempting to deal with the challenges of the current economy, business leaders cited one quality above all others that can help employees to make a difference.

Surprisingly, the most-desired quality or characteristic was not technical competence.  It wasn’t loyalty, or communication skills, or financial acumen.  The number-one most important characteristic for business leaders?  Creativity.

Surprising, when you consider the traditional definitions of creativity.  For “creatives”, that word is used as both a description, and an excuse (Ever heard this one? “We can’t/won’t/don’t do that, we’re ‘creative'”).  Under careful consideration, “being creative” is not always a positive and encouraging description.  Where do you find “creative” accountants, for example?  Answer: Jail.

For financial professionals, project managers, executives and other task- or numbers-oriented individuals, the call for creativity seems quite contrary to the training and experiences that form the very foundation of the business world.  “Creative” is a department, or a compartment, reserved for individuals with unique talents that are not particularly commonplace in shipping, accounts payable, or operations.  So, “creativity” is rare, shapeless, often negative, potentially dangerous and certainly counter-intuitive.  Has IBM generated a survey that appeals for an artsy-craftsy approach to business?  Or is there a deeper meaning that this author has carefully chosen to ignore, in an attempt to roll out a few one-liners? (Ah, you caught me….)  This survey actually says that it is time for creativity to turn this economy around.

Creativity, in the context of business, means the power of creation.  Creativity is the way that we harness our imagination to disrupt the status quo, and find new solutions to the same old problems. The global leaders in the IBM survey seek creative solutions to experiment and innovate.  The leaders in the survey identify creativity as the antidote for the status quo, and central to the necessary disruption that is required for our collective marketplace to get unstuck.

CEOs are looking for ways to shake up their portfolios, their business models, and their old ways of addressing challenges in the marketplace.

Business leaders expect complexity to increase, and the need for disruption to follow (perhaps even lead) the advancement.  Creativity is needed, above all else, in order to innovate and lead through this current financial climate.  Why?  Because business must create a new future.  That future must build on the present, but in new and meaningful ways – ways that can only be described as “creative”, because they haven’t been created yet!

Creativity means many things, but at its core, the process of creation begins with an idea.  Based on current information, “what if?” opens the door to imagination – and new solutions can only come from within the realm of new ideas.  As the economy continues to churn and struggle, the leaders of tomorrow are the ones who are open to new concepts, new perspectives and new solutions.  Seeing things as they are is an important skill (awareness), but seeing things as they could be – and then making them that way – well, that takes some creativity.  Don’t you agree?

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Westfall and Associates

May 24, 2010

Looking for new ways to grow your business?

Video introduction to our services and our approach.

Special thanks to Jeff Adair and the team at Dream.Work.Conquer for all their help!

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Turn Your Business Into One You Can Sell

May 13, 2010



Dear Business Owner, What’s your exit strategy? John Warrillow wants to know.  He says that high-impact businesses that are ones that offer products and services that are teachable, valuable and repeatable.  As the author of  “Built to Sell” (2010, Flip Jet Media), Warrillow presented his perspective to the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce quarterly briefing today at Cityplace.

From Warrillow’s vantage point, many entrepreneurs create businesses as an expression of their own personal creativity.  Their inventiveness and ingenuity are personified in their firm; it is the source of their wealth, and creates opportunity for their team and their customers.  Oftentimes, the best salesperson at the firm is the owner; a fixture that is inextricably linked to the company’s internal workings.  Yet, in order for a business to be valued and ultimately sold, that valuation must be based solely on the processes within the company – processes that will continue to produce after the current owner is no longer there.

While business owners are arguably the best sales people within the firm, being linked to the sales process is actually a detriment in business valuation.  The worst remark an owner can make in front of potential investors?  “Everyone always relies on me as the last word on any decision.”  Uh-oh; then how will this thing run after you are gone?  Are you the business, or are you the business owner? Investors acquire processes – as well as property, plant and equipment –  in a transaction.  If a business owner is intricately linked to the day-to-day production and sale of products, then the process has a built-in flaw.  That business is not, in Warrillow’s words, “Built to Sell”.

For entrepreneurial firms that do get sold, the transaction is often a reaction:  either in response to some life-changing event (like health issues), or the phone rings – with an offer on the line.   The most highly-valued businesses are pro-active about the sales process, and understand how to create value within their processes for potential suitors.  They also have positive cash flow, the kingpin of all valuation models.

What Warrillow didn’t address was, “What now?”  Once a business owner has sold his “baby”, what’s the next step?  Dedicating your life’s work to a particular enterprise is a full-throttle, all-encompassing endeavor.  Suddenly, it’s sold – and then what?  If you are pro-active in selling your business, you have to find another path.  Easier said than done for many who have their own businesses.  That psychological shift can be massive if you are not a serial entrepreneur.  (in John’s defense, how much ground can you really cover in a keynote address?  Delving into the psyche behind the sale is a pretty deep swimming hole…)

However, there has to be an exit strategy, and “Built to Sell” may help point toward the door.  Creating wealth and building an enterprise is a worthwhile goal in and of itself, but Warrillow suggests that changing the business model may be the only way to truly sustain – and ultimately sell – the company.

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The Color of Money

May 8, 2010

Four years ago, my friend “Money” was a regional account manager for a local manufacturer’s representative, carrying a bag and trying to make a buck.  Now, in just four short years, he’s the COO at a major IT and integration firm.  His story is especially timely, not only because of the economic climate, but because Money is having a birthday this month…he turns 29 (no joke). How did Money rise to the top?

Here are some key characteristics that put Money in the corner office:

1.  Education: Money went back to school, finished his undergraduate degree (he was a few credits shy) and then started in on his MBA at night.  Balancing a travel schedule and a family added to the complexity, but forced him to stay focused.  Now he goes back to his alma mater and advises graduate students on workforce initiatives and interview skills.  The advanced degree was crucial; Money sees the value of education.  Others would not be able to balance a family, a career, and graduate coursework (and Money might say that “balance” was not a fair description on many occasions).  However, the folks that make extra impact are willing to make extra effort.  Success comes to those who will do what others will not.

2.  Watching the Bottom Line: Money has always been focused on …the money.  His impact as a salesperson was evident when he would help customers to see the financial implications of their decisions.  The best salespeople are able to create a clear vision of the future (in their customer’s eyes), and that future always includes their products or services.  If you are a sales leader who wants to advance your career, a clear understanding of finance is crucial to your success.  It’s not about reading a balance sheet (although that’s where it starts); it’s the ability to put your products or services into the cash flow of the organization.  Adding value to your customer means understanding their business well enough to know the bottom-line puts and takes of your sale.

The words “Trusted Advisor” have become almost cliche, but if you understand the underpinnings of the company – in other words, if you can follow the Money – you create the kind of trust that makes customers for life.

3.  Empathy: What makes Money so successful is his ability to read other’s emotions, as well as his own.  Covey says “seek first to understand than to be understood.”  I just say, “Money!” While his accomplishments couldn’t have happened without a healthy ego strength and mental toughness, Money is always quick with some kind of self-effacing humor.  Being able to see the forest and the trees, whether we’re talking about business or indiviual traits, is an important mark of an executive.  That’s the “EQ” (emotional quotient) that is often missing from hard-charging type A individuals.

4.  Diversity: Did you know that the author of “Jurassic Park” and the creator of “ER”, Michael Crichton, was also a surgeon?  Some of the most interesting people I have ever met have surprisingly disconnected backgrounds or interests; like Crichton, these folks somehow manage to succeed in very different fields.  This internal diversity has always been an indicator of intelligence and adaptability.  Money is no exception; a former college athlete, he is also a classically trained pianist.  Reading music – and reading defenses?  Impressive.

5.  Find opportunity in your own backyard: Money is now running a company that he previously worked for, right out of college.  Early in his career he made a strong impression with his work ethic, but moved on to larger opportunity elsewhere. Last year, he returned to his previous company – a company he had followed closely since his early days.  Staying plugged in with an organization, through industry events, personal contacts, and networking can help you to add experiential insight to the interview process.  Upon returning to the scene of the crime, Money walked in like an insider.  That “inside track” is the path to rising above your last title.

6.  Get plugged in: If you aspire to run an organization, you have to understand how it works – within the industry, and within the marketplace.  As I’ve said before, that internal understanding starts with the balance sheet.  Money knew what the organization needed, he knew what he could do for them, and he told his story in a way that was compelling and convincing.  Why?  Because he already knew the plot and the characters. Sales leaders know how to use their past experience to establish a pattern of success, described in terms of a future that includes their impact and influence.  If that last sentence sounds like mumbo-jumbo to you, well, what can I say? Maybe you aren’t Money. Creating the future (with you in it) requires storytelling skills and a firm track-record of accomplishment.

You may find new opportunity awaits you in Manitoba or Marrakesh, but chances are that your best hope for advancement will come from where you are now, or where you’ve been.  I’m not denying any far-off possiblities, but moving forward quickly usually starts close to home, in an industry or company where your talents are viewed with “rockstar” status.  Your greatest value is to those who know you, in an industry where you are an established player.  (Transferring skills from one company or industry is a subject for another blog post).  Where you’ve been is a pretty good indicator of where you’re going, if you know how to capitalize on your talents and experience.

All that being said, the truth is that Money is far from perfect.  In fact, he would be the first to tell you so, typically in a story where he is featured as the punchline.  In our adventures together, we’ve made an interesting observation:  no matter your version of “success”, life circumstances often exist to help us identify our inner comedian.

It’s best to react to triumph and adversity with a wry smile before you believe your own press – good or bad.  Money is no exception; he’s rightfully proud of his accomplishments, but never loses sight of the bumps and bruises that got him to this point.  He is driven, ambitious, well-educated – and still able to laugh at himself on a daily basis.  Perhaps that characteristic is the most important of all.

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Make Your Breaks – Thoughts on Serendipity

April 24, 2010

Serendipity is good – but can it be shaped?

The answer is yes, if you understand how to create the unexpected and turn it into opportunity. Serendipity means good luck in making fortunate unexpected discoveries; so how do we create the unexpected?

IU Logo here

Indiana University

My dad always told me, “You practice like you play”. As a former college quarterback, he knows a lot about the importance of practice. His logic goes like this: you practice your game, so that you can create unexpected events. Practice creates opportunity; skill allows you to capitalize on the unexpected. After all, the difference between “serendipity” and “surprise” is… results.

From Nathan Jamail’s “Sales Leaders Playbook”: Athletes spend 90% of their time practicing, and 10% on performance. In business, it’s more like 1% practice, 99% “just do it”, and hope for the best. Not a good strategy for serendipity, but it certainly can create a lot of surprises!

In the business world, effective practice means taking time to reflect on opportunities, to explore ideas (like this one!) with others, and exchange innovation with other thought leaders. By asking “What if…?” we can unlock the key to imagination – that’s the birthplace of new discoveries (IMHO). Creativity shapes serendipity. Put that idea into practice by exchanging new ideas; prepare for the unexpected by considering it with colleagues you trust.