Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

Irrationally Passionate

I was driving into the office this morning (Saturday – and you notice I didn’t call it work) listening to a podcast about how to increase sales. The person being interviewed said that the best way to grow your business was to focus on “irrationally passionate” customers. People, who are fanatical about the type of products or services you sell. Good examples would be Star Wars fans who will buy just about anything that has to do with Star Wars, or a sports fan who is crazy about their team, someone into golf, knitting, gardening, dogs, cats… a target customer who is so irrationally passionate that they become a raving fan for your business because you offer something that they “have to have.”

I love this idea. It makes perfect sense for how to identify your key target market. If you start your focus on this potential group of customers, you will also appeal greatly to the folks that are not quite as passionate but still very interested. It also makes it so much easier to sell when you are offering your products and services to people that are enthusiastic about buying them. I see a lot of businesses waste time and money trying to sell to people that either don’t want or can’t afford their product. Here is a quote I use a lot when I’m delivering sales training, “Don’t try to sell to broke people.”

However, I also saw another application for the idea of “irrationally passionate.” This is the exact same thing that YOU need to be about your business/career if you want to achieve a high level of success. It’s very hard to become superb at something you are not deeply excited about. If you want to be one of the best of the best you must be fully committed… irrationally passionate… and willingly do what unsuccessful people are unwilling to do. So here are a few questions for you.

Are YOU irrationally passionate about…
  • Being better prepared than any of your competition?
  • Being insanely customer focused?
  • Delivering the highest quality products and services?
  • Delivering world-class customer service?
  • Operating with 100% honesty and integrity?
Is your company irrationally passionate about…
  • Hiring only top talent?
  • Building a winning culture of highly engaged employees?
  • Being fair and generous with your customers and employees?
  • Creating high levels of accountability across your entire organization?
  • Fostering lots of open, honest and transparent communication within your company?
  • Focusing intently on disciplined execution?
  • Demanding excellence and refusing to tolerate mediocrity?

These are just a few questions; I could easily add another twenty. The point is, you will never become truly great at something if you are not irrationally passionate about achieving greatness in that area. I know that sounds simplistic, but it is the truth. Unfortunately, I see a lot of people today that think that they can attain great success without great effort. That has never happened and it never will. All success comes from work, usually very hard work, and excellence comes from being irrationally passionate about the pursuit of excellence.

What are you irrationally passionate about?

The Single Most Important Leadership Characteristic

For more than 20 years I have taught leadership at startup companies to the Fortune 50 and the single most important trait for highly effective leaders has always been the exact same thing. I can show you dozens of major research studies from around the world, representing millions of respondents, and they all say the exact same thing. When I teach classes on leadership and ask the attendees what they look for in a leader they would willingly follow, it’s always the exact same thing…

HONESTY

However, it is getting harder and harder for people to believe this.  In nearly every arena; business, politics, religion, science, education…there are “leaders” who have no problem lying. I’m not talking about small mistruths, or perhaps twisting the facts a little bit, I’m talking about boldface, in-your-face, complete and utter lies. So-called “leaders” who can look you straight in the eye and tell you something that they know is absolutely false.

I am NOT taking any sides here. Every side of everything now has people who seem to have no regard for the truth and are willing to say anything, no matter how outlandish, to advance their position. When I open the floor for questions at my events, inevitably someone will ask, “If telling the truth is so important, then why do we have so many leaders who don’t?” My response: “I don’t know. It does not make any sense to me. I would not consider those people leaders; however, they are in leadership positions. I don’t understand how people like that rise to the top positions in organizations. It drives me crazy.”

The Death of Honesty?

I refuse to believe that we have come to a place in society where lying is an acceptable, even expected, behavior. I’m at the point where I question the validity everything I hear and read and that is painful and frustrating. It makes me physically tired to listen to the news and hear the constant stream of stories about “leaders” who have been lying, cheating, stealing, killing… and mostly getting away with it. I cannot fathom the damage this has done to our society and the example it is setting for our youth. It terrifies me to think about a generation of young people who have been raised watching authority figures lie, and then lie about their lies.

But I believe there is a solution and it starts with you and me.

Now more than ever I feel that it is essential to be a living example of honesty and integrity. It is only through modeling these behaviors, in even the most challenging situations, that we can demonstrate that character, authenticity and truth telling are truly the most essential characteristics of leadership. We need to make more of an effort to highlight and showcase successful leaders who build great companies on a foundation of honesty, fairness respect and generosity. We also need to call out “leaders” when they are dishonest, when they mislead us, and hold them accountable for their destructive actions and behaviors.

This will not be easy. There is a tsunami of misinformation, lies, fake news and manipulation coming from all directions. Again, I am not taking any sides here, I am simply saying that it is up to you and me to hold ourselves to the highest standard of honesty and integrity in our personal and business lives. I will end with one of my favorite value statements, from one of the greatest leadership institutions in the world, West Point.

“A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”

Sounds like a good plan to me.

 

For more of John’s ideas on leadership here is a link to his book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Talk About Vision

In 23 years serving as a management advisor to companies of every size, all over the world, I have yet to encounter an organization that does not struggle with some form of “communication” challenges. Although this can impact companies from several different angles, there is one communication breakdown that has the most significant impact on the overall success of the business.

The lack of a sharply focused, easily understood and extremely well-communicated vision and strategy for growth.

In most businesses, the executive team and senior managers are constantly talking about the vision and strategy, it’s part of their meetings, it’s what they lay awake at night thinking about, but typically if you go just one or two layers down in the organization nobody has a clue about the actual meaning of the vision and how they are supposed to implement the strategy. Remember this: without a clearly communicated vision there is no way to achieve alignment across the organization, act strategically, empower fast decision-making or create a high level of accountability.

When people do not know where they’re going, it is impossible for them to get there successfully!

The key point here is, to effectively communicate the organization’s vision and strategy you must talk about them all the time, using multiple communications channels, at all levels of the organization, delivering a consistent and focused message. I once had the CEO of a company ask me, “When do you know that you have communicated the vision enough?” I replied, “When you get to point that if you have to explain it one more time… you’ll vomit… that’s when the lowest person in your organization just heard the vision for the very first time.”

The answer is simple: communicate, communicate, communicate… and then communicate some more.

Does Your Team Measure Up?

A Perfect Breakfast Storm

240_F_90927099_z6LSkcqAbKKIpsbNmhygPROfNiNTK1x9Recently I witnessed a perfect storm of two prevalent business problems:

 Activity vs. Results and The Law of Unintended Consequences.

 

I was having breakfast at a very nice hotel. When I was seated I asked the hostess if I could have a menu but she explained to me that they only offered a buffet. So I walked over and put together a plate of food. When I returned there was a glass of water on my table, however, I really like to have iced tea with my breakfast, so I looked around to try to catch the attention of one of the servers. I was literally the only person in the restaurant, yet I couldn’t get any help. The staff was feverishly working away at folding napkins and setting tables for lunch (it was 8:40 AM), busy as could be and completely ignoring me. When I started to eat my meal, the eggs were cold, the sausage was cold and the potatoes were cold, so I decided I might as well have some yogurt, because it’s supposed to be cold. I set my plate to the side and went back to the buffet for the yogurt, upon returning my plate was still there and no iced tea. After I ate my yogurt I waited patiently for someone to come over so that I could ask for a check, and no one ever came to my table. So on my way out of the restaurant I mentioned to the hostess that no one asked me to pay for my breakfast, to which she replied, “Oh it is included in with room, you have already paid for it.”

That is when it dawned on me. Because they had no way to earn a tip, nobody put any effort into helping the customers, it was much easier to just look busy folding napkins so that their manager did not give them a hard time. Again, I tell you these sorts of stories not to complain, but to hold up a mirror and ask you: Do you ever do this in your business? Do you judge your employees by how early they get to work, how late they stay and how busy they look – not on the quality of their work or results they deliver? Is your reward and recognition system in alignment with the priorities of your business?

Are you paying your people to do what is most important and drive success, or to have nicely folded napkins?

If you would like some ideas about how to improve your culture, I wrote a short ebook with my best ideas. Here is a link to learn more:

51Mk+KEqXTL

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Key Business Ideas to Help You Succeed in 2017

Mercedes, John, Sheila, Esther

Mercedes, John, Sheila, Esther

On behalf of myself, my wife and business partner, Sheila Spence, our Operations Manager, Mercedes Petrus and our Financial Manager, Esther Mallard – thank you VERY much to all of our clients from 2016 for trusting us to be involved in your businesses.

 

I hope you will share this video with your network, and if you have not already, please sign up for my blog – I only post good stuff!  blog.johnspence.com

 

The Big Trends From 2016

shutterstock_150443150I am sitting in my hotel room in San Diego taking in the view from the 16th floor. I’ve just delivered my last speech of the year, it was on advanced sales, teamwork and the future of work. This year I had the opportunity to work with clients in six countries, dozens of different industries, from small startups to the Fortune 10. Here are a few big trends that stuck out to me as I look back over 2016.

Communications: I have not worked for a company in my entire career that did not have some sort of communication challenges, but this year they seem to be even more prevalent. In business after business I encountered organizations which had trouble clearly communicating their vision and strategy for growth, their purpose and core values, and the critical information needed to keep their employees engaged and aligned.

The key to successfully overcoming this ever challenging issue is simply to over communicate using every channel available; one-on-one meetings, town halls, weekly meetings, email, social media, video… any way you can think of to share important information with your employees, vendors and customers. When you think you will get sick if you talk about the vision and strategy one more time, the lowest person in your organization just heard it for the very first time.

Execution: The lack of disciplined execution is the single biggest problem I see in companies around the world. I meet a lot of very smart people who develop unique and compelling strategic plans that would surely give them a strong competitive advantage, only to see them struggle mightily in taking their plans and turning them into results in the marketplace.

The key to successfully overcoming this challenge is to make sure you spend as much time building your execution plan as you do on creating the strategic plan. Your plan must have clear, specific, measurable and binary goals. As I often say: Ambiguity Breeds Mediocrity. For a strategic plan to be successful it MUST have extremely clear expectations of what is required, who is responsible, how the work is to be done and when it is due. Then, you have to have the discipline to consistently work the plan and make sure it stays at the forefront of everyone’s mind. I promise you this, if you could increase the effective execution of your strategy by just 10%, it would have a massive positive impact on the success of your organization. This was a major focus of my work for clients this year and I anticipate it will be again next year because even the best strategy in the world is useless without superb execution.

Technology: For the last several years people have been talking about the, “hyper-speed of technological change,” but I don’t think they really understood just how fast technology is actually changing and the mind-boggling impact is going to have on every business in just the next few years. A number of my clients have asked me to deliver speeches on the future of leadership and business, which has forced me to invest a large amount of my time into studying the various trends in emerging technologies. To name just a few; robotics, artificial intelligence, big data, Internet of Things, genetic decoding and recoding, synthetic medicine, virtual reality and augmented reality are all accelerating at a pace that will leave many, many companies and people completely unable to keep up. Even though I have devoured all of the information I can get my hands on, it is still exceedingly difficult for me to comprehend just how monumental the changes to our lives, businesses, communities, and the world will be in just the next decade.

The key to successfully dealing with this change is to dedicate a minimum of 10% of your time to studying all of the technologies that will potentially impact your business. I currently work with several clients who are directly connected to the auto industry and have challenged them that unless they become “experts” on autonomous cars and other forms of transportation technologies their business might not exist in 5 years. Let me make this Awesomely Simple: Learn or Die.

Talent: For many, (if not most) businesses, two of the only sustainable competitive advantages left are the quality of the people they can get, grow and keep on their team – and the relationships they create with their customers. This means that talent acquisition, talent development and talent retention should be a major strategic objective. However, I still see many companies tolerate mediocrity, do not invest sufficiently in training and development and have difficulty retaining their very best employees (the bad employees don’t want to leave because they know they can’t get a job anyplace else). The success of your business is directly determined by the talent on your team and creating a culture of engagement, customer focus, collaboration, accountability and disciplined execution.

The key to successfully overcoming this challenge is to make getting and keeping wildly talented people as a major focus of your business. Build a talent pipeline to ensure a steady stream of quality recruits, implement a focused and consistent interviewing process, create a robust onboarding system, develop a focused and intensive training program to take great people and make them even better, and have a career pathing program with mentoring, assessment, feedback and coaching to keep your top performers engaged and thinking long-term about their role in the company.

Sales Effectiveness: Nothing happens until somebody sells something. Let’s face it, all of the other stuff I’ve mentioned is useless if at the end of the day nobody buys anything from your company. Sales are the lifeblood of every business, or as Peter Drucker famously said, “The purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer.” Unfortunately, the vast majority of salespeople that I meet are NOT prepared for success. They have not had enough good quality training, they don’t have the right attitude, they don’t spend enough time investing in their own development, they don’t do their homework on their products and services and they don’t spend enough time asking superb questions and being an intense listener when they are in front of their customer. In other words, they waste their customers time, which is the single biggest complaint that executives have about dealing with salespeople.

The key to successfully overcoming this challenge is to be highly selective and targeted in who you hire as a salesperson and then ensure they get all of the training, support and resources they need to be successful in the field. Set clear and specific sales targets, coach and mentor for them for success, over-train them on both sales skills and product knowledge, and align their compensation plan to strongly encourage their full engagement and a strong desire to be successful in their sales efforts.

Leadership Development: I have been teaching leadership skills for nearly 25 years and I can say with great confidence that in the last few years the requirements for being an effective leader have actually changed quite a bit. Theory X, command-and-control and “do as I say not as I do” has not worked in a long time, yet I still see people trying to “lead” this way. Currently just over 50% of the workforce is made up of millennials with this number growing every day, and millennials definitely have a different way they want to be led. If you agree with me that talent is a critical element in building a successful company, then it is important to remember the single biggest reason millennials leave a company is poor leadership. Several research studies also show up to 50% of lost revenues are a direct result of ineffective leadership. Those numbers should be eye-opening to you.

The key to successfully overcoming this challenge is to understand everyone in your organization needs to be a leader. That begins with treating them like a leader, training them, supporting them and rewarding them for superior leadership skills. It also means having the courage to remove people from the team who are ineffective in leading in your organization. I’ve also stumbled across a new idea this year that I think is an important complement to creating great leaders: helping people to learn how to be great followers. Although everyone in your organization needs to be a great leader, they won’t be leading all the time, actually they are typically “following” a good amount of the time as well. So it is also essential to help people understand the importance of being a supportive, encouraging and productive follower.

There are other issues I came across during the last 12 months, but these are the major ones my clients specifically hired me to help them with. I hope my recommendations above will help you if any of these sound familiar.

I look forward to your feedback and comments, what have you been seeing?

For Your Convenience

Screaming into telephone.Whenever you see the phrase, “For your convenience,” you know it’s going to be anything but convenient. I’ve been on the road for about two weeks and during my trip here are just a few of the things that people so kindly did for my convenience…

“For your convenience, rubber mats for the shower are available upon request, simply call the operator and we will have one brought your room.” Not very convenient when I’m standing in the slippery shower and realize I need a shower mat to keep from falling and killing myself.

“For your convenience, we have added a daily $10 charge to your room for cleaning services.” I guess if I refuse the charge they will leave my room dirty?

“For your convenience, the café opens at 7 AM.” Unfortunately, I have a 7:30 meeting on the other side of the hotel, not very convenient to have to skip breakfast.

And finally, my favorite one, yesterday morning I ordered a taxi cab at 8:30 AM so I could make the 6-mile drive to my client’s building and arrive on time for my 9:00 AM meeting. I called down to the desk at 7:00 AM to order the cab, and 30 minutes later they called and said the cab was out front waiting for me. I mentioned to the operator I was not expecting the cab for another hour, the reply was that the cab driver thought it would be more “convenient” because there’s often a lot of traffic at this time of the morning.  “Really,” I inquired, “I need an hour and a half to go 6 miles?” She told me the cab driver said it would likely take that long. So I rushed like crazy to get dressed, packed and down to the cab as fast as possible.

While riding in the cab on the way to my appointment, the cab driver mentioned he just happened to be across the street when the call came in for an 8:30 ride and thought it would be much more “convenient” to pick me up at 7:30. Convenient for who? By the way, it took 11 minutes to get to the building where my meeting was and I had to sit in the lobby for an hour before going up to my client’s office.

My point in all this? What might your company be doing for your customer’s “convenience” that is not actually convenient for them at all? Where are you causing frustrations, disappointments and unhappy customers because it is more “convenient” for you and your staff? How can you remove or replace any procedure that is not truly convenient for the people you serve?

I wrote this article, “For your convenience,” I hope you found it helpful.

Loose-Tight Controls for Business Success

37827-watches_teaserI recently presented several workshops for client company with an absolutely brilliant CEO, among the best I’ve ever met. He was a new to the organization and had been brought in to turn around the company, which was facing very severe financial troubles. This was very bureaucratic organization whose main customer was the government. They were slow to make decisions, reluctant to take any risks, complacent in their attempt to grow their business and keep margins strong, which landed them to more than billion dollars in debt. The CEO gave an impassioned speech about the need to be more entrepreneurial, while still having a culture of disciplined execution around the core strategies. He described it, much like Tom Peters did in his wonderful book In Search of Excellence, saying that the company needed to have “loose-tight controls.” They need to have elements of loose  control around entrepreneurship, innovation and prudent risk-taking, while maintaining areas tight of control around their values, strategy, alignment and accountability for positive business results. He told them that in order to be successful they would have to balance a strong entrepreneurial ethic while still embracing a focused culture of discipline – and summarized his idea in the graph below.

So, where does your company sit in this matrix?

Best Managed Companies graphic