Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

Four Fabulous Business Books

I shot this video around Thanksgiving, before I had left for London and Kraków, and forgot to post it! However, better late than never. Here are four book recommendations that would be excellent holiday gifts. Bear in mind that the book by Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick on great teams will not be available until February, but you can preorder it now (and you should). I really loved all four of these books and I hope you will too.

And if you have not read it, this is a pretty good business book too;-)

Four Great Questions About Leadership

A few weeks ago, a student named Joey Brodsky, who is studying business at the University of Florida and is taking a class from a close friend of mine, Dr. Alex Sevilla, sent me some questions about some of the things he was learning about management and leadership.  I thought the questions were excellent and that you might find my answers of some value.  Here is the conversation between myself and Joey.

 

Mr. Spence,

Currently I am taking a senior leadership course taught by Dr. Alex Sevilla here at the Heavener School of Business. We are working on both theoretical and application based leadership strategies, learning how to combine them with our skills to become better managers.

Some questions I have for you below are about how you implement specific leadership theories in your work (or don’t), experiences you have had being an influential leader from such a young age, and certain challenges you have faced overseeing and motivating individuals. My goal is to relate some of the topics I’ve learned in my course to real world experiences. I’ll keep them brief as I know your time is valuable, but any information you feel would be influential I would love to learn from!

Questions:

  1. One of the first topics we discussed in class was the differences between trait leadership and process leadership ideologies. Trait leadership having to do with personality traits that influence one’s skill of leadership and process leadership being more interaction based. Do you find leadership to be a more inherent quality to individuals, or would you say it has more to do with the way someone interacts with their ‘followers’?

If I’m reading this correctly, it seems that you are asking the age-old question, “Are leaders born or made?”  I believe that if someone has good values – they are honest, they act with integrity, they show respect, they have empathy and concern for others – I can send them to a class to learn most of the process skills they need to be a good leader. However, if someone lies, cheats, steals, manipulates and doesn’t care about others – there is no way they will ever become a truly effective leader.  

Also, there are many people that talk about extroverts versus introverts as leaders.  I have seen many leaders that are highly motivational and inspiring, that can get up in front of a group and move them to action – I’ve also seen many leaders that are quiet, humble and introspective. But they have a burning passion for what they are doing and that passion creates highly loyal followers.  

In my opinion, a leader must be superb at two skill sets: they must be absolutely excellent at what they do, their actual job description, and they have to have strong leadership skills.  

Lastly, remember that leadership is not only the purview of the people at the top of the organization, every person in an organization leads at some level.

  1. Another interesting concept we have learned is the difference between an assigned leader (a leader because of a formal position) and an emergent leader (a leader because of the way others respond to them). Being such a young CEO at 26 when working with the Rockefeller Foundation I would expect you were very influential among your peers and showcased your leadership earlier on. Can you tell me a little about how you leveraged your leadership skills as an emergent leader into a more formal leadership role so early in your career? What are some of the characteristics you displayed that you think helped you to stand out?

Almost immediately after joining the foundation I became the “right-hand man” to the CEO (not Mister Rockefeller, a professional manager who was running the company on his behalf).   I spent a lot of time watching him, learning what to do, and learning what NOT to do.  At this point in my career I was reading every single business book I could get my hands on and listening to 4-5 business books a week.   In a meeting with our Board of Directors, one of the key directors asked a question that the CEO could not answer – and then the director (a multibillionaire) turned to me and asked me if I knew the answer – which I did.   Then, the board started asking me for my opinion more often, and when the current CEO began to stumble, they put me in as an interim CEO – which eventually led to me becoming the permanent CEO.  

Very frankly, I was in no way ready to lead an organization at that age, I was woefully unprepared.  I realized that I could not be successful if my team was not successful.  For my part, I studied, read, worked and did everything I could to learn as much as I could about leadership and business success.  I tried to model the behavior of lifelong learning and always striving to do your best.  I also went to my team and asked for help and focused a great deal on empowerment.  In the early days, I was very immature as a leader, but as I faced more situations I slowly learned how to run the business and be a better leader to my team.

  1. One quote from Professor Sevilla that really resonated with me was “It’s not about you [the leader] . . . it’s about them [the followers].” He said if there were to be only one thing we take away from this class, let it be this statement. In your professional experience, how important has it been to focus more directly on the group and achieving common goals, rather than just using subordinates to achieve more personal objectives?

Dr. Sevilla is 1,000% right.  This is a concept known as servant leadership, where the leader understands that they are actually there to serve their employees.  As to your question about common goals or personal objectives – it’s not an Either/Or – it is a Both/And.  Everyone in the organization must be focused on the vision, strategy, and a set of common goals they are all aligned to as the do their work.  It is the job of the leader to ensure that they execute the strategy with discipline and continuously deliver superb business results.  ALSO, the leader needs to help each person grow as an individual and show them how their work directly ties into the success of the overall organization.  

  1. Over the last few decades you have become one of and got to work with many of the greatest business leaders in the world. I don’t expect there to be a catchall answer on how to become a powerful and respected leader in the business world, but what are some of the strongest traits or strategies you see these leaders (and yourself) using to motivate others? Are there some particular things you think are more important for a young leader, like myself, to help showcase my skills to companies?

Rather than give you just my opinion, here is a list of traits that have emerged from the thousands of leadership classes I’ve taught and the great leaders I have had the honor to spend time with.

Honesty – tell the truth all the time – period.  Another word here would be integrity.

Excellent communicator – asks great questions and is an intense listener.

The courage to be vulnerable, to admit that you don’t have all the answers. Another word here would be authentic.

Competence – you must be exceedingly good at what you do.  My favorite phrase in this area is, “be so good they can’t ignore you.”

Great team player – treats their employees as partners and peers.  Shows them respect and gives them trust.

Compassionate – shows a genuine concern for their people and their personal and professional growth.

Visionary – has a vivid, compelling vision and strategy for growth that is well communicated across the entire organization.

Passionate – another word would be inspiring.

Innovative – a lifelong learner who is a good creative and strategic thinker.

 

Joey, I hope you found these answers helpful, let me know if you need any more information.

I wish you every possible happiness and success – John

Two Powerful Interviewing Questions

Here is a link to the book I recommended in the video: Who – by Geoff Smart

If you want to make more money: ASK

Several years ago, one of my clients asked me to put together a special workshop to help their employees increase the quality of their customer service. I told them that the single best way to figure out what it would take to deliver consistently superior customer service was… to ask their customers!

We, of course, pursued the standard route of sending out a general customer satisfaction survey and I also interviewed a handful of their customers to get some confidential feedback, but what really helped them achieve an entire new level of customer service excellence was inviting a panel of their top customers for an open and frank discussion about how they currently viewed the service they were getting and exactly what sort of improvements they would like to see.

On the day of the event we gathered every employee in the company (60+) to listen to what the customer panel had to say. The results were amazing! As the employees sat on the edge of their seats, key decision-makers from their seven biggest customers (representing nearly 70% of their annual revenues) spent more than two hours talking about what they loved about the customer service they were receiving; what they hated about the customer service they were receiving; and precisely what they wanted changed, fixed or improved.

Imagine having your very best customers tell you exactly what you would have to do for them to give you a larger share of their business and eagerly refer you to their friends and colleagues. In nearly 25 years of running training workshops this was one of the most powerful and motivating sessions I have ever had the pleasure of leading. By the end of the day every employee that attended felt like they understood what they personally needed to do to deliver outstanding customer service Interestingly, it was just as rewarding for the customers who said it was the very first time that one of their vendors had invited them in to share these sorts of issues in open forum. A true win/win for all involved.

So now the question is: how can you apply this idea in your business? Maybe this sort of customer panel is a perfect way for you to open the lines of communication with your customers and make significant progress in deeply understanding what it will take to consistently meet and even exceed their specific customer service expectations. Maybe your company isn’t quite as big and instead you simply invite two or three of your top customers to lunch and discuss how well your company is meeting their expectations and what they feel you need to improve. It seems pretty straightforward to me, if you want to make more money, ask the people who are currently giving you money what it would take for them to give you more money. Because, as Mark Twain so beautifully put it, “The only critic whose opinion counts… is the customer.”

How to Get the Best Talent for Your Company

The last video I posted was on the importance of having top talent in your organization (here is a link). I got a great follow-up question from my friend Brandon West the owner of PHOS Creative (the company that does our digital marketing) asking: “Do you have any resources that would be helpful to us in starting a stronger recruitment initiative? Sites, books, tools, contacts, etc.” Instead of writing him a long email, I decided to just shoot this video with my best ideas on how to find, hire and retain top talent.

Please send me any business or leadership questions you have and I’ll be happy to shoot a video with my best ideas and suggestions.

I hope you will share this video with your network. Thanks so much – John

 

Here is the book I talked about from Geoff Smart and Randy Street – I very highly recommend it.

A very important question…

Which Should Come First? The Employee or the Customer?

A few weeks ago I posted a guest video from my good friend Joe Calloway, so that I could introduce him to all of you that did not know about his fantastic work. He sent a great video on leadership and disruption. (Click here to watch that video). The video was so well received that I decided to reach out to several of my very favorite authors and ask them to contribute. Today I am extremely pleased to introduce you to Dr. Joseph Michelli, who I would consider the world’s leading expert on customer service/customer experience. Joseph has written several amazing books including “The Starbucks Experience” and “The New Gold Standard” (about the Ritz Carlton). His newest book is called “Driven to Delight” and it looks at how Mercedes Benz catapulted the company to first place rankings in national customer satisfaction studies while at the same time growing sales and profits. ALL of his book have valuable insights that can help any business improve their customer service, satisfaction and loyalty. In this blog Joseph answers a question I get a lot too; Is it customer first or employee first? I will give you my opinion at the end of the blog, but first, here is what Joseph has to say…

Which Should Come First? The Employee or the Customer?

from Joseph Michelli

Ok, I admit the issue of employee versus customer primacy falls into the category of   unanswerable debates such as which came first the chicken or the egg. That said, many leaders continue to articulate a mantra that either the customer or the employee “comes first.”

While I personally like to side-step this looping debate by suggesting that “all business is personal,” and that personal connections must be formed with the people we call employees in order for those people to profit and serve other people we call customers or shareholders, I am convinced greater leaders have a penchant for forming meaningful personal connections at all levels of an organization.

The experiences on which I’ve come to concluded the importance of “interpersonal engagement” stems from my work with and the books I have written about companies like the Pike Place Fish Market, Zappos, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, Starbucks, and UCLA Health Systems. Here are a few lessons and tools I’ve picked up along the way by watching the consistent care afforded by leaders in these organizations:

1) Employee Engagement Drives Customer Engagement.

While a causal relationship would be difficult to prove, strong correlations exist between employee engagement and customer engagement. As such, leaders in “world class” service organizations measure and actively seek to drive employee and customer connections. Ultimately these leaders seek to have employees who feel their opinions matter, are recognized for work that is well done, are provided opportunities to work and grow and to function in a community environment where employees experience autonomy, mastery, and purposefulness.

2) Customer Engagement Drives Loyalty and Advocacy.

Customer satisfaction does not ensure customer loyalty. In fact, satisfaction alone leaves your customers a coupon away from trying a competitor. As such, great leaders and business owners seek to instill a culture of service excellence through a clear delineation of the optimal customer experience (operationally and emotionally), and by constant discussions of core service values, as well as an emphasis on the overarching purpose of the business. These leaders collect stories of service excellence and link them back to the desired optimal customer experience and to their companies mission, vision, and values

3) Business must be transacted for high efficiency but filtered through the lens of humanity. In my book Leading the Starbucks Way, I share a conversation I had with the company’s CEO Howard Schultz in which he demonstrates this point best, “Take love, humanity, and humility and then place it against a performance driven organization; these are in conflict to the naked eye but …we have become more performance driven than at any other time in our history and the values of the company are at a high level. If we can infuse love, humanity, and humility on a global basis and build it into a performance-driven organization, we are unbeatable.”

So rather than trying to craft a catchy slogan like the customer is king or queen, or the employee is number one, how about redoubling efforts to drive the engagement of both customers and employees while fueling a high-performance organization in which leaders makes decisions through the lens of humanity? That seems like an unbeatable combination to me, how about to you?

 

From John: I agree with Joseph in large part, but I will sum-up my thoughts with one Awesomely Simple phrase…

The customer’s experience will never exceed the employee’s experience.

I hope you found this helpful, if so, please share it with your network. Thanks so much – John

 

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Leadership and Disruption

There are several authors who have had a huge impact on my thinking and my career, and at the top of that list is Joe Calloway. I have read every book he has written, and then reread them, and then read them again. The title of one of Joe’s books is “Be The Best At What Matters Most”” which exactly describes Joe. I asked him if he would send me something that I could share on my blog to introduce him to any of my followers who did not already know him. Folks, this guy is brilliant, he has amazing business ideas, he has ideas that can change your organization and take you to a completely new level of success. He put this video together especially for us, and it offers you some very valuable business advice. I urge you to go look at his other videos and buy his books. Not because I’m trying to help him make money, but because I’m trying to help YOU make money. Here is my good friend and someone I respect and admire a great deal, Joe Calloway…

Here is a link to Joe’s author page on Amazon — it lists all of his books there.

Click HERE

 

 

What is Your Philosophy of Business?

Here is a powerful idea that is fundamental to creating a culture of accountability…

 

 

**** The Australia events have passed ***

 

 

Several people have asked to see the pyramid I mentioned in the video — here are two of the slides I developed for this program – hope these help!