Posts Tagged ‘Leadership’

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Building Blocks of Business: Getting Started

January 19, 2011

When starting an entrepreneurial venture, there are four key pillars that must exist, in order for you to create and sustain your business.

Concept: Why are you in business? What product or service do you offer, and how is it unique, desirable and/or better than what’s currently in the marketplace? What results or outcomes does your business offer, and how can you demonstrate the value of your solution?

Communication: Leveraging the value of your solution means that you have to tell the marketplace about your product or service. What is your message, from a marketing perspective (product, price, promotion and place/distribution)?

Clients: Who are your target customers? How will you communicate with them, and how will you engage those customers to buy (distribution methods)?

Cash Flow: While “cash is king”, you must first have a compelling offer, priced correctly, and presented to the right audience. What investments will you make to acquire customers? How much do you expect to spend, to attain your first customer? Are your prices both competitive, and profitable? What is your path to break even, and how will you tend to your “burn rate”, before that first customer puts their money down? Then, what will you do to maintain and expand your results, creating relationships with other customers?

Starting a business is a complex endeavor, and each business has its own unique challenges. Creating a communication plan, based on an innovative concept, is the key to creating successful relationships – and positive cash flow.

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Ideas Wanted: What’s Yours?

October 11, 2010

The average adult has as many as 50,000 thoughts per day – these are unique ideas, that range from “what do I want for dinner?” to “what’s my carbon footprint?”  (FYI: Studies show that your footprint increases, if you eat fried food and cupcakes for dinner).  With 1.3 million people in Dallas, the entire city is generating over 65 Billion thoughts per day, on average.  What if we could harness that cloud of concepts, decisions, and imagination, for business innovation, or social change?

That’s the big idea behind Idea Week, a series of sponsored events leading up to TEDx SMU.  (websites to follow at the end of the post…).  On Monday, October 11, a series of six locations will conduct sessions in “Speed Ideating” – a structured brainstorming, featuring “man-in-the -street” interviews, videos, and more.  (Should that read, “person-in-the-street”? Hopefully you follow my meaning..)

 

SMU logo

TEDx Happens Here

 

Speed Ideating is a method for generating new ideas on a product, issue or situation.  Think of it as structured brainstorming, with each idea building on the last.  It’s all guided by a moderator, whose job is to get you thinking, talking, and ideating.  The five topics to be addressed on Monday are:

1. Mainstreaming eco-transportation

2. Improving public education in North Texas

3. Changing the automobile

4. Preventing bullying in schools

5. Reducing waste

Do you have a few ideas?  Come on out and share your thoughts, with the team at Idea Week.  Can’t make it out? Send your thoughts to ideaweek@gmail.com.  If you can, come out and meet some of the local business celebrities onsite, at the various sites.  Here are the locations for the sessions, starting at noon today:

 

Jeremy Gregg

 

1.  Meet Jeremy Gregg – Executive Director of Executives in Action

  • Preston Center – NW Hwy and Preston Road, near Sprinkles and Taco Diner

2.  Fair Park DART Station, Perry and Exposition (Entrance to Texas State Fair)

3. Meet Gabriella Draney, Founder of Tech Wildcatters, in Deep Ellum (2615 Commerce Street)

4.  Downtown Dallas, corner of Ross and St. Paul

5.  Thanksgiving Square – Back Beat Cafe, 300 N. Akard

 

Lori Darley

 

6.  Meet Lori Darley, top executive coach

Bishop Arts – in front of Hattie’s, in the Bishop Arts center in Oak Cliff

Why not come on out, and share some thoughts – or, send an email to the address below with your ideas.  It only takes a moment to offer something that could make a difference.  And, look at it this way: even if you share 3 new ideas, you still have 49,997 left for the rest of the day.

One person – one idea- can make a difference.  What’s yours?

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Resources:

  • Twitter: @IdeaWeek
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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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“I Only Want the Toughest Customers…”

August 30, 2010

Asking for the toughest customers is like trying to pet a shark, or date a nun – you instantly know that it won’t end up well, so why ask for it? I was out to dinner last night with my friend, BigTime. Surprisingly, he let me know that he only wants the toughest customers. Say what–?

My friend is one of the best salespeople I know – he deals with an ultra-elite clientele in the Big Apple. This guy specializes in the demands of high-net-worth individuals with a skill that is both rare, and easygoing.

His customer logic goes like this: I want only the most difficult customers because, if they even think of shopping me with competitors, I will win every time. The toughest customers will chew up my competition, and disqualify them right out of the gate, because that’s the kind of service and solutions that my company can provide. He’s looking for the clients who are so tough and so demanding that other service providers get scared by their demands, and struggle to prove they can meet them. It’s not a problem for BigTime, and that’s the way he knows a qualified lead.

Also Big Time: Lincoln Center

Interesting perspective. We bounced the idea around some more, and I came away with some additional thoughts.

  1. If you are faced with a tough customer, thank them for helping you to be better. The best antidote for attitude is gratitude (apologies for the terrible rhyme, please judge my ideas – not my poems).
  2. If you are taking a beating over something you did, or your company did, or you are about to do, I have two words of advice: don’t duck.
  3. Here are six more: Face it, take it, fix it. It’s that simple.

Face up to the challenge of the difficult customer, and you will learn what it is that you need to know. For BigTime, he always looks forward to the toughest possible client as the greatest opportunity. He knows that he can offer what others cannot, that’s why he’s BigTime. A demanding client, in his business, means that the competition is out of the mix. The best way to defeat your competition is unequaled customer service. Disqualify your competition by being the one who doesn’t duck the tough stuff. When you resolve the really scary issues, you learn, you grow, and you create customers for life. The only way to know if you have what it takes, is to get started. If you’d like one suggestion on what you could do today, make up your mind to astonish the most difficult customer you know (and yes, the people you work with are internal customers). What can you do to make a difference, and show that when it comes to customer service, you are BigTime?

Difficult times show us what we are made of; difficult customers force us to be better and help our companies to demonstrate competitive advantage.

[ The names in this post have been changed to protect the guilty 😉 ]

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The Right Way to Say Goodbye

August 25, 2010

Recently, a business partner who I respect was given an abrupt boot by a manufacturer.  Essentially, the manufacturer “fired” their business, due to lack of performance.  Despite a long history, numbers were down, and a one-sided decision was made to end the relationship. In this economy, there’s a lot more good-byes than good buys, and that conversation is always a difficult one.  Yet, there is a right way and a wrong way to handle this most difficult and final transaction.  Parting ways with a supplier, vendor or employee is never pleasant, but sometimes necessary.  For executive leaders, it’s not a conversation you have via email, text message or registered letter.

And yes, my friend John recently received a registered letter.  It was his first communication in nine months, and yes, it was a “Dear John” letter.  Is it right for a manufacturer and business partner to simply say goodbye, without as much as a conversation?  In a word, no.

Parting ways is the most difficult kind of conversation, because it always ends with one party wishing for a different outcome.  Even if the decision is a mutual one, and clearly a necessary move for both parties, there is still a sense of regret.  Here are three steps to make sure that the process goes through with dignity for those involved:

  1. Have the conversation – So, a letter (even a registered letter) is not satisfactory.  Painful as it may be, you have to show up for this appointment.  Out of respect for the (business partner, vendor, employee) you should look someone in the eye when you say goodbye.  The phone call is the next best thing, but second place is a looooong way from best practices.  It’s important to say, in person, that the relationship matters, even though it has come to a close.  Life is short and the world can be very small at times – you never know when your paths may cross again.  Face to face is the best way for closure.
  2. Explanations don’t help – Arguing a point after a decision has been made is moot.   When you hear ‘goodbye’, it is a wake-up call for change.  But turning your attention to the future is easier said than done, when you receive difficult news.   On the other side of the table, explaining a decision has little effect; after it has been made, it’s best for both parties to move on.  Still, out of respect for the past, a conversation is the least you can provide.  But ultimately, on both sides of the table: Whether you are seeking an explanation, or offering one, does it really matter?  OK, if it’s possible to take emotions out of the equation: does it really matter?  Rationalizations are not germane to the conversation; but respect and dignity for both parties must be maintained.  The decision is, by nature, one-sided and unilateral – delivering it  in person is the best way to dignify the relationship and the individuals involved.
  3. Anger is a natural reaction – “All progress is change, but not all change is progress” my friend Dean Lindsay likes to say.  Terminating a business relationship is a major change, and causes stress, challenge, and anger –  and all of that happens before, during, and after the decision.  Saying goodbye is a form of progress, but it can feel more like a punch in the stomach.  Or a kick in your favorite glands. There’s no way around it; anger will be in the room.  Best you can do is prepare for it, acknowledge it, and move on…in spite of it.
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Motivating High Performance

August 2, 2010

From a recent question on linkedin, regarding the “Pygmalion Effect”. Do high expectations and motivation create high performance?

We all know what makes for good performance. What makes for good motivation?

Motivation is a mystery; it’s one of those words like “stress”, or “jubilation” that fall into a category called “nominalizations”. These are words that we use to describe something that is intangible, and only exists for those who experience it. You can’t put my motivation in a bucket, or in a chair; it’s real, but virtually impossible for me to share with you. Expectations, on the other hand, can be described, quantified, and measured.  But, if my expectations are high, does your motivation improve in some way?

What Henry Higgins did in Pygmalion was not so much about motivation as it was education. I’m not sure what motivates anybody, and sometimes my own motivations are a mystery (even to myself). But, I can say with certainty that if I know how to do something, and I know why I should do something, that I’m a lot closer to taking action and …DOING SOMETHING. Action is the evidence of motivation, wouldn’t you agree?

Action creates performance. Motivation? Mysterious, no matter how high your expectations! If we seek high performance, what we need is action – action that comes from a base of knowledge and understanding “why?”. If you have a team that you want to perform, concentrate on those areas and you will create this elusive concept of “motivation”, with recognizable results.

What Higgins did was provide Eliza with the kind of education that helped her to see a new world for herself. (His motivation? It was a wager, and one that he came to regret!) She learned, she took action. The result was a complete transformation for Eliza; and Higgins was not the “hero” of the story.

If you want to create great performance, don’t focus on motivation. Give people the power to excel through teaching and communication, clear expectations, and an understanding of “why?”. Is money is a “motivator”, or a result of action? (Pick choice #2 – and that’s a subject for another post).  Great performance comes through knowledge. Do you and your team know how to win? That’s where great performance starts.

Hopefully, this post has provided you with some excellent motivation….whatever the heck that is. 😉

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Thoughts on Building High-Performance Teams

May 25, 2010
"Chart of Team Dynamics"

Context for Hiring Effective Teams

Building and leading a high-performance team requires an understanding, first and foremost, of your own personal leadership style.  The best leaders are aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and can identify exactly what the team needs (and what skills they need to hire) to succeed.  That’s where the talent of the team comes into play.

Each team member brings unique skills as a solutions provider to the team.  While some skills can be outsourced, depending on a company’s business model, competencies, and budget, an internal team is built around the talents of the members.  Within a context of the leader’s style and abilities, employees must present their talents for consideration within the following context:

  1. Relationships: both interpersonal (within the team) and professional (connection to the organization and to leaderhship personnel).  Does a particular candidate have a prior relationship with your company, your customers or (watch out) your supervisor?
  2. Personality/Fit: ability to connect with the boss is key, especially at executive levels.  Personality also goes to the foundation of good team dynamics:  key characteristics include integrity, honesty, work ethic, coach-ability and willingness to take on responsibility/ownership
  3. Quantifiable results: For hiring managers, “soft” skills like integrity and work ethic are hard to measure.  Even past performance is no guarantee of future results.  Testing tools help to stack rank employee capabilities, and provide insight into personality traits.   Balancing relationships, personality fit, and measurable characteristics are key to wise hiring decisions.  Rely on testing to confirm or deny your instincts on candidates and team compatability.  Then, tracking performance with scheduled feedback will help confirm your choices, as a hiring manager…or help you to understand when it’s time to make a change.

Finally, all teams exist within a cultural framework.  Creating a culture of open communication, integrity and honesty is the job of the leader.  If team members know that they are supported (as well as measured!) with clear objectives and straightforward feedback, the team – and the company – is much more likely to succeed.