Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

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.

 

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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?

Two Superb Books I Highly Recommend

John SpenceI have just returned from three weeks on the road, including 10 days on a speaking tour across Poland as a guest of the United States Consulate General in Krakow. I had a lot of time on airplanes and read several books but there are two that I would especially like to recommend.

The first is called “BOOKSMART – hundreds of real-world lessons for success and happiness,” by my friend Frank Sonnenberg. This is an absolutely fantastic book of wisdom and sage advice that is presented in a very user-friendly way, with lots of lists of things to think about and apply. The book covers numerous topics around business, family, success, financial health, marriage and other critical issues. The chapters are short but powerful. I have already reread this book twice and have applied several of the ideas to my business and life. This is one of those books I plan to come back to often as a reminder of what I should be focusing on and how to build a happy, joyful and highly successful life. This book would be a wonderful Christmas present for anyone you know that enjoy books on self-improvement or business improvement.

The other book I’d like to recommend to you is called, “The Leaders Mindset – how to win in the age of disruption,” by Terence Mauri. In this book Terence describes three major leadership mindsets:

  1. Think Big Mindset (Future Shaper)
  2. Act Bold Mindset (Risk Taker)
  3. Learn Fast Mindset (Knowledge Seeker)

He then goes on to describe how to integrate all three of these mindsets in order to be an effective and successful leader. I underlined a lot of this book, and I’ve recommended it to several of my clients. It’s a good, solid book that will help you take a new look at how you lead in your organization. One of the reasons I love this book so much, is that it aligned very strongly with what I have been studying for years about great leaders and great organizations. It was reassuring to read such focused and detailed ideas and descriptions that match so closely with my strongly held beliefs about what makes a real leader. If you are interested in a book that will help you examine the way you think about leadership and the actions you take as a leader, you will definitely enjoy this book.

I have just a little bit of downtime around the Christmas holidays, so I will have a few more books to recommend at the start of the new year. If you have recently read a great business or self-help book, please comment on it here so that my followers and I can pick it up and learn from your recommendations.

I hope you find these books of great value – take good care – John

 

6 Keys to Effective Strategic Planning

mini-peepsI am currently preparing to facilitate three strategic planning meetings, for an association, a technology company and a Fortune 100 client. Here are a few things that I see as foundational for creating an effective strategic plan.

  1. The key to a successful strategic plan is: FOCUS. Every company, regardless of size, has limited resources and strategy is all about effectively deploying an organization’s resources where they will have the most positive impact in the marketplace.
  2. To mirror my first point, one of the most important things a great strategic thinker does is figure out what to say “NO” to. What markets will we not compete in? What products or services should we not try to sell? What current projects should we abandon?
  3. If you have 10 strategic objectives, you do not have a strategy. All of the successful companies I’ve worked with were able to focus in on 3 to 5 major strategic initiatives. Anything more than that causes a lack of focus and ultimately a lack of success.
  4. When examining business issues, are you trying to solve a puzzle or a mystery? With enough data and information, you can find the right answer to a puzzle, but no matter how hard you try it is impossible to find the exact right solution for mystery. Because of this, as much as I hate to admit it, a large part of strategy is simply an educated guess about what might happen in the future.
  5. Alignment is critical. If the senior team is not 100% committed to strategic direction of the organization, the plan will fail.
  6. It’s an age-old business cliché, because it is correct: What gets measured gets done. A major reason that many strategies are not effectively executed is because there is no way to determine exactly what the expectations are. Ambiguity Breeds Mediocrity.

Those are just a few of the key ideas I try to help my clients keep in mind as we move through a strategic planning retreat. I will also add one more critical point; to make sure you follow through and implement your plan, you should spend just as much time on strategic execution planning as you do on planning the strategy. This is a very important idea that few companies truly embrace.

What are your thoughts?

The Six Fundamentals of Business Success

blog-money-1This evening I’m giving a speech to 350 CEOs of small to medium-size businesses and I’ve been asked to talk about some of the fundamental elements necessary to build and sustain a highly successful organization. After running several companies and spending the last 22 years of my life helping businesses around the world be more successful, here are a few things I think every business owner needs to focus on:

1. Start with a clear vision and purpose for why you are building the company. By the way, if the only reason you’re starting the company is to make money, there’s a good chance it will fail. Success comes from a genuine passion to help your customers, if you are focused intently on that and charge a price that allows you solid profit margin, everything should work out fine in the end.

2. Solve a real problem. You also have to make sure that your vision and purpose are focused on delivering products and services that the market eagerly wants to buy. It does not matter if you think what you sell is really cool, the only critic whose opinion counts is the customer.

3. Build a world-class team. Competitors can copy your products, beat you on price, outspend you on marketing, but one thing they cannot do easily is beat a company that truly values top talent and gets them engaged and passionate about serving their customers.

4. Extreme Customer Focus. I have said this a million times and I am more than happy to say it a million more: whoever can attract, grow and retain the best talent, and also “owns the voice of the customer,” has a huge market advantage. Fantastic employees who build great customer relationships are a key to success in every business.

5. Quality and control. This one is very fundamental, but without it the other things above can’t work. You have to have very high quality products and services, deliver consistently superior customer service and manage the financials of your business with extreme discipline. There is a reason that one of the most often used clichés in business is: Cash is King.

6. Disciplined Execution. Once you’ve got all of the above factors in place, then you must be incredibly vigilant in always focusing on the most important things in your business and making sure they get done. If you do not take the time to make these things your top priorities, then you will likely have to make time for bankruptcy court.

Leaders Are Readers

How To Achieve Customer Service Success

shutterstock_2246461dqs72I think pretty much every business understands that giving great customer service is important. However, it confuses me why so few businesses actually deliver consistently good (not even great – just good) customer service when they know it is critical to their success. In my opinion, I think it’s because they have skipped some of the fundamental elements of creating a culture of great service, they simply talk about how important service is, but do not do the things necessary to achieve a high level of superb customer service. Here are a few questions to get you thinking about how well you have prepared your employees to consistently deliver an absolutely delightful shopping, buying and owning experience for your customers.

  • Does your company have a written Customer Service Credo that clearly explains exactly how your business and employees should be treating customers?
  • Has everyone been thoroughly trained (with plenty of on-going training) on all of the things they need to do in order to meet or exceed your Customer Service Credo?
  • Do they have all the resources they need to deliver the level of service you have promised your customers?
  • Do you specifically hire people that enjoy giving great service?
  • Do you assess your current workers by their ability to deliver superb customer service?
  • Are people who do not deliver great service removed from your company?
  • Do you do a minimum of two customer satisfaction surveys per year?
  • Do you have an awards program for employees that deliver superior customer service?
  • Do you benchmark against other companies that are recognized for customer service excellence?
  • Has your company won any awards recognizing you for great customer service?

If you can say “yes” to all these questions, then you are likely one of the few companies that can actually claim outstanding customer service as one of your unique differentiators in the marketplace. If you answered “no” to several of these questions, you’ve got some work to do.

*** By the way, I recently wrote a short and focused e-book on how to build and sustain a winning culture. It sells for just $4.99 and is available on Amazon. Here is a link to learn more about the book: Winning Culture e-book

First Class Customer Service???

kelly-server-thousand-oaks-restaurantI have made a commitment to never use my blog to just complain. So I’m going to outline a few service failures as a lesson to all of us who understand the importance of delivering superior customer service is essential to business success.

I recently had a trip to New Zealand on business, on the way there my wife and I flew First Class with Air New Zealand and had an absolutely spectacular experience. The staff was extremely friendly, the food was excellent, great wine, laydown bed, everything you could possibly ask for on a 14-hour flight to the other side of the world. On the way back, we flew First Class on American Airlines. Once on board we noticed they were serving champagne to other folks in First Class cabin and when we asked for some they apologized and said they had just run out, catering had not put enough on board for everyone in First Class. Several hours later, I was getting ready to go to sleep and needed to take some medication so I asked the flight attendant for a bottle of water, to which she replied, “No, only one bottle of water per person, 36 people in First Class, 36 bottles of water.” I spent well over $10,000 for the ticket and American Airlines was kind enough to let me know I only got one bottle of water for the entire flight across the Pacific Ocean. Not what I would call “First Class” customer service.

During a recent trip to Idaho, I went out each morning for breakfast and had an extremely hard time finding a restaurant with any waiters or waitresses. Place after place I walked into were beautiful, well-appointed, upscale locations with signs directing you where to order, then wait to pick up your food and carry it to your table on your own. There was also a sign on my table explaining I had to clean up after myself so I could leave the table clean for the next patron. Perhaps this is a backlash from trying to set higher minimum wages, or simply a way to increase the profit of the restaurant by not having any servers, however, I will tell you every time I walked in one of those restaurants, I walked right back out to look for someplace I could sit down, get an actual live server and enjoy a relaxing breakfast while I read the news. I didn’t want self-service, I wanted First Class service.

The reason I tell you these stories is as a warning. Company after company will readily insist that delighting their customers is essential to growing and sustaining the success of their business, and yet I experience horrifically bad customer service all too often. So, before complaining about how bad the service is at other businesses, take a long hard look in the mirror and make sure you are NOT making some of the same mistakes with your customers.

Create a Customer Service Credo, develop a specific plan and set of processes for consistently exceeding your customer’s expectations, train your people like crazy to follow those processes and focus on the customer, reward employees who do a great job and remove employees that don’t. It’s just this simple, but apparently the businesses I mentioned above did not think it was important.

Professional Listeners?

shutterstock_254737258During my recent trip to New Zealand I gave a number of talks on how technology is going to dramatically disrupt every type of business. Part of my presentation focused on advanced robotics and how many jobs will be eliminated by robots and algorithms. Here is a question that I just received from one of the folks that attended a session I delivered to a group of New Zealand entrepreneurs.

Hi John,

I didn’t get a chance to talk to you after your presentation, but I was really curious about the balance between EQ and robotics. You mentioned a bar where the bartender was replaced by robots and how many other service jobs will be. How will this feed into our EQ? Many people go to bars etc. to talk to the bartender about how horrible their boss is. Do you think that as technology progresses more humans will turn to the virtual world for emotional conversations rather than the real world?

Take hotels for example, many can differentiate on price because of the quality of service they provide and the personalized touch they give. I think empathy is one of the key qualities needed to provide customer satisfaction. If a lot of these employees are replaced by robots for the sake of efficiency, how will user experience and emotions play into this?

I would really appreciate it if you could expand on this a bit.

My reply:

 

Wow, really great questions, with complex answers.

It is my opinion that many jobs such as bartenders and hotel receptionists will be replaced by robots, it is already happening. However, I completely agree with you that these are positions that traditionally act as service providers that directly connect with customers. I do not believe that computers, even with highly advanced AI, will be able to make a true “human connection.” So perhaps there will be new jobs for people that do nothing but sit and talk with other people about how horrible their boss is, politics, religion and other topics that people like to discuss. They will be trained not to push their own opinion, but to simply be there to listen to the other person, connect with them and show empathy. Actually, I just thought of this idea while I was writing you this note and it is something I’m going to look into with a lot more focus, service jobs being replaced with “professional listener” as a new career. Interesting?