Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

How to Attract Top Talent to Your Company


It has long been one of my core themes:

The success of your business is directly tied to the quality of the talent you can get, grow and keep on your team.

Think about this carefully, it’s a simple but extremely important business idea. If you agree with me, then you should be approaching talent acquisition, talent developemtn and talent retention as a key strategic objective in your company. Here is a video that outlines the six most important things that top talent looks for in the company where they work. I hope you find this helpful and that you share with your network – thanks so much – John

Free eBook Link for Building and Sustaining a Winning Culture by John Spence

You MUST Learn to Delegate!

DelegateI was recently delivering a speech in Des Moines (great city – incredibly nice people) and one of the attendees approached me after my talk to ask for some advice. It seems that he had an employee that was very, very talented… except she could not (would not) delegate.

I had encountered a similar problem with a senior executive I was coaching at a Fortune 100 financial firm, he was a superstar, but was also doing everyone else’s job and working 100-hour weeks. Not only had it completely destroyed his personal life, but I was brought in because, in the words of his manager, “If he cannot learn to delegate this is the end-of-the-line for his career, he is totally maxed-out and I cannot give him any more work – or promotions.” I told the attendee in Iowa that I would be happy to put together a brief video that focused on: Superstar Who Cannot Delegate = End of Career. I hope you find this of value and share it with your network!

Three GREAT Business Success Books!

Three superb business books that will help you have more success.


Hope you enjoy these books!!!

Free eBook Link for Building and Sustaining a Winning Culture by John Spence

Business Success: Four Key Ideas

defining-it-project-successMore than a year ago I ran a two-day “business excellence” retreat with the owners of 21 small to medium-sized businesses. Over the course of the workshop I helped them take a very hard, honest and realistic look at their businesses to discover their true strengths and weaknesses. As a takeaway from the workshop, each of them left with a list of three or four key areas to focus on in their business and a list of action steps that they planned to implement in the coming year.

We recently got the group back together to look at what they accomplished in the past year and set new goals and objectives for 2014. When I asked the participants what some of the most impactful things they did during last year were, almost the entire group said the same handful of key things:

  1. I upgraded my talent.  After the workshop I went back to my business and realized I had some mediocre employees that were not truly delivering value to the organization. I let them go and took my time to replace them with top talent, which has made a world of difference in the success of my business.
  2. I figured out what to focus on. Before the workshop I had a hard time understanding the real priorities of my business, where the leverage was…but in the last year I figured out exactly where my business adds the most value, where I can get the most profit, and have the most fun – and that is where I’m focused now.
  3. I figured out what to stop. In the workshop I realized that I was doing an awful lot of work in areas that were not in my zone of expertise. I figured out the places where I add the most value to the organization, the things that ONLY I could do, and delegated away everything else – or simply stopped doing it altogether.
  4. We got much, much, much closer to the customer. After all of the audits and workshops, I realized that we had a done a pathetic job of “owning the voice of the customer.” In the last year we have used surveys, focus groups, meetings, client councils…everything we could think of to get closer to our customers, build strong relationships and understand them at a deep level. It has been a game changer!

So there you have it, a great list of four absolutely critical ideas to help you run a more successful business!

Free eBook Link for Building and Sustaining a Winning Culture by John Spence

Three Keys to a Winning Culture

Happy Business Team 3During the past year a great deal of my time has been spent teaching organizations around the world how to improve their culture, as many organizations (both large and small) are now realizing that Culture =Cash! They have finally accepted that if getting, growing and keeping top talent is a strategic objective (and it should be!!!), then having a superior culture is one of the main ways to attract that top talent. So to me, there are two sides to the culture coin… what employees look for, which is a Winning Culture, a place that’s fun to work at, with a family atmosphere, where they are treated fairly , have the freedom to do their without micro management and an organization that has created a culture of catching people doing things right!  However, there is also the other side of the culture coin that the employer looks for, which is highly engaged employees who have an Ownership Mentality…that is they show dedication, passion, creativity, pro-activity, a sense of urgency and high levels of both personal and mutual accountability .

These are all important factors, and there are several more key factors to creating a winning culture , but a few years ago I was talking to a good friend of mine who is a leading psychologist and he pointed out that a great deal of what I was talking about was exactly the same things that everyone looks for in the most important relationships in their lives … and when you think about it, your relationship to your job and the people there is absolutely one of the most important relationships in your life .  According to my friend, here are the three factors that everyone looks for in the key relationships in their life :


Safety: employees need to feel physically safe at their job, that they’re not going to get hurt by machinery or that it’s safe to walk out to the parking lot late in the evening.  They also need to feel emotionally safe, that no one is going to yell at them, embarrass them and their job will not be simply yanked out from underneath their feet with no reason.  Lastly, they need to feel psychologically safe, that they can express their opinion, share their ideas or disagree with a superior … without the fear of retribution, bullying or embarrassment.


Belongingness: people want to feel that they are part of the team, part of the group, part of the tribe.  They want to know that the people at work like them, like having them around and feel they are an important part of the organization. No one wants to feel like an outcast or that no one cares about them.


Appreciation: employees want to know that they are appreciated not only for the work they do, but also who they are as an individual, what they contribute to the team, and the ideas and diversity that they bring to the organization.


Safety            Belongingness          Appreciation


It is my strong belief that if you flood your organization with safety, belongingness and appreciation that you will build a framework for creating a truly a winning culture.  And, as with many of the other factors, these three are mostly what I call atmosphere issues…they cost no extra money to implement – it is simply the way you treat your people, the way you engage them, and the respect you show all of your employees that make them feel safe, that they belong and that they are genuinely appreciated.

So my question to you is: What can you do TODAY to create more safety, belongingness and appreciation across your entire organization?  

Free eBook Link for Building and Sustaining a Winning Culture by John Spence

A Great Leadership Competency Model


Ideal Leader?

I was recently serving as a lead instructor for the Florida Recreation and Park Association (my longest standing client at 17 years!!!) Joe Abrahams Academy for Leadership Excellence, an elite school for their emerging leaders. During the program I challenged the group to develop an “Ideal Leader” competency model and this is what the came up with…

Honest: authentic, humble, character, integrity to values, show and gain respect.

Communication: transparency, honesty, clear goals, collaboration, listener, storyteller, stakeholder input, open door policy, curious.

Compassion: community of caring, recognition and praise, shared credit.

Inspirational: positive attitude, accountable, passionate, lead by example, authentic.

Talent: empowerment, accountability, competency, training, lifelong learning, investment, get the right people.

Risk Taking: be decisive, have a shared vision, highly competent, innovative, embrace change, be connected, pursue the big idea.

That is a SIMPLE but very powerful list. Easy to talk about – challenging to live. Welcome to leadership! 24/7/365

I think they did a spectacular job of capturing some of the most fundamental and essential elements of being a truly successful leader. What do you think?  Did them miss something critical? I would LOVE your ideas and insights.

The Ten Elements of a Winning Culture

A winning culture

I have been working for the last several months on two new book projects, one of them is a “strategic life planning workbook” called Strategies For Success – the keys to success in school, career and life —  and the other is a compilation of advice I’ve given to senior executives, CEOs and mentees that I have coached over the years. As part of working on that second book, I took a very serious and long look at all of the research I have on how to build a winning culture – the Great Places to Work study, a huge national Gallup poll, the Firms of Endearment study, the new Harvard study on the best places on earth to work and much, much more – and compiled it down to this new list I just created of what I saw as the pattern across all of this research. I thought you might find it interesting, I welcome any feedback, questions, suggestions.

Ten Elements of a Winning Culture by John Spence

  1. People enjoy the work they do and the people they work with.
  2. People take pride in the work they do and the company they work for.
  3. There are high levels of engagement, connection, camaraderie and a community of caring.
  4. There is a culture of fairness, respect, trust, inclusiveness and teamwork.
  5. The leaders walk the talk, live the values and communicate a clear vision and strategy for growth.
  6. Lots of open, honest, robust and transparent communication across the entire organization.
  7. The company invests back in employees; there is a commitment to learning, coaching and development.
  8. There is a bias for action, employees have an ownership mentality and always strive to give their personal best.
  9. There is high accountability and a strong focus on delivering the desired results.
  10. There is ample recognition and rewards and mediocrity is not tolerated.

PS – this list would probably act as a great internal audit, so if you want to you might try scoring it on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being excellent and 1 being terrible, and I would be concerned about any scores to drop below a 7.

John Spence

Free eBook Link for Building and Sustaining a Winning Culture by John Spence

The Cost of Disengaged Employees (and What You Can Do About It)

A guest blog from Sean Conrad

The Human Capital Institute lists some interesting financial consequences of employee engagement/disengagement:

  •  Fully engaged employees return 120% of their salary in value
  • Engaged employees return 100% of their salary in value
  • Somewhat disengaged employees return 80% of their salary in value
  • Disengaged employees return 60% of their salary in value
  • Gallup estimates that a disengaged employee costs an organization approximately $3,400 for every $10,000 of salary.
  • Disengaged employees cost the American economy up to $350 billion a year due to lost productivity.

You can find more about the dollars and sense of employee engagement in this blog post and infographic.

The point is, employee disengagement is costing your business money — every day. And it’s preventing your organization from achieving its potential.

So what can you do about it?

Hire the Right People

On some level, engagement is a character trait. People who are passionate about their work and about life in general, and who take pride in what they do will naturally be more engaged at work. People who can leverage their skills and experience and bring their “best selves” to work are more passionate and engaged. Those are character traits that you can’t “manufacture” or develop in your staff. They have to be there from the start. So make sure your recruiting and hiring processes screen for passion and fit with your organizational culture. You want people on your team who care about the same things you do. Look for a “spark” when candidates talk about their previous roles and the new opportunity.

Articulate and Communicate Your Organization’s Mission, Vision and Values

Of course, you can’t hire like-minded, passionate people if you haven’t yet figured out your organization’s mission, vision and values. And you can’t impassion your current staff if there’s nothing for them to rally to. So think about mission vision and values, agree on them, articulate them, and then communicate them to your employees over and over again. Make sure they’re reflected in your organization’s core competencies and strategic goals. Make your mission, vision and values part of your everyday work conversations. Make them visible and accessible to employees. And hold all employees accountable for supporting them.

Give Employees What They Need to be Engaged

Gallup and others give us fairly consistent lists of what employees need from their employers in order to be engaged in their work.

In essence, they need:

  • Clear expectations and direction for their work
  • Regular feedback on their performance
  •  The opportunity to use their knowledge, skills and experience, and “be their best”
  • The opportunity to develop further and advance their careers
  • Recognition and rewards for their contributions

These seem like such simple things, yet they can be hard for leaders and managers to provide. We often think we’re doing them, then find out that from our employees’ perspective, we’re not.

That’s why having a formalized performance management process that regularly prompts managers and employees to have conversations about goals, performance and development is so important. And doing employee reviews once a year certainly isn’t enough. Most experts now agree that quarterly reviews, especially for progress on goals are critical.

But you need to really build a management and workplace culture where discussions about expectations and performance are a weekly or even daily practice. And employee development needs to be actively encouraged and supported, both through informal, on-the-job training along with ongoing coaching and feedback, and through more formal development activities.

You also need to ensure that employees are recognized and rewarded for the contributions. Recognition can take many forms, from praise to public “thank yous” to company wide communication about team or group accomplishments, and even regular communication about organizational accomplishments that acknowledge team and individual contributions. It should also take the form of appropriate monetary rewards. It’s important to make a clear link between compensation and performance, whether that’s in the form of base pay increases, bonuses, stock options, profit sharing or some other scheme.

Make Engagement a Leadership Priority

Leaders need to not only endorse these management practices, they need to lead by example and charge HR and their management teams with engraining them in the organization’s culture, using formal and informal means.

While you can’t make your staff be engaged in their work – only they can do that — as a leader you can create a work environment and management culture that encourages and supports employee engagement. The research indicates that that is just good business.


Sean Conrad has helped countless organizations improve their employee engagement and talent management practices. He writes and speaks regularly on the topics and is a regular contributor to Halogen Software‘s Exploring talent management blog.

Free eBook Link for Building and Sustaining a Winning Culture by John Spence

The Ten Biggest Issues in Business Today

During the past 45 days I have presented workshops to more than 1,000 CEOs, business owners and senior executives in several states in the US and across New Zealand and Australia and have been amazed to see an extremely clear pattern emerge about what this widely diverse group of businesses all agree are key areas they must focus on more intently in their organizations. 

Read this list carefully and consider whether these might also be areas that you need to spend more time, effort and resources on in your business.


  1. Lack of a vivid, compelling and well-communicated a vision and strategy for growth.
  2. Lack of specific, measurable, binary metrics that support the vision and strategy.  
  3. Lack of disciplined execution / culture of high accountability.
  4. Do not truly listen to, and deeply understand, the voice of the customer (VOC).
  5. Do not understand our “Moments Of Truth” and therefore do not have processes in place to execute them flawlessly every single time, with every single customer.
  6. Do not do a superb job in talent development.
  7. Do not deal decisively with mediocrity and poor accountability.
  8. Have not invested enough time and energy in building a high-performance/winning culture. 
  9. Not focused enough on innovation.
  10. Lack of trust and true teamwork across the entire organization.

I would say that in the last year, talking to literally thousands of business owners and CEOs that nearly every one of them struggled with at least a few of the things on this list.  It would be my suggestion that you sit down with your top people and score the above items on this scale:

1 = Strongly Agree that this describes our organization.

3 = Agree Somewhat that this describes our organization.

5 = Not Sure if this describes our organization.

 7= Disagree Somewhat that this describes our organization.

10 = Strongly Disagree that this describes our organization.

Anyplace you score a 7 or less should be an area of concern and any score below a 5 should get you very worried.

As you look at this list you might think the items I’ve listed are fairly mundane –just fundamental business practices that you know are important, however there is a big difference between knowing something – and actually doing it every single day.  Most business people I talk to clearly understand that on a scale of 1 to 10 they should be a 9 or 10 on all of the items I’ve listed above, yet very few truly are.  While having lunch with a client yesterday in Auckland, he asked me why this was and I replied that from my experience is because most people are too busy putting out fires and taking care of emergencies to focus on these critical fundamentals, or they do not have the will to enforce them as non-negotiable standards of performance across every part of their business.

Look for more blogs on these topics in the coming months as I will be building several new training classes to address these issues and adding them as chapters in the new book I’m writing.  If you have any specific questions on these issues please send me a note or post it here on the blog and I will do my best to address them.

Hope you are doing fantastic — John


PS – all work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy, so I did make sure to take a few days off to go fly fishing while on the south island of NZ!! (And yes, I released it – I release ALL of the trout I catch)

John Spence