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I 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?
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.
This 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.
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I recently did a podcast interview with John Lee Dumas of Entrepreneur On Fire (listen to the interview here). It was extremely well received and I got a lot of people that sent me great questions. Here are a few of those questions with my answers, I hope you find this of value…
Q. I currently do a lot of different things. I have a full-time job and run a small business with my spouse, I hold several board volunteer positions, recently directed a non-profit, and am working on other charity projects in my community. These all make sense for me in terms of my “why”, but I worry about being sub-par at a lot of things, versus being excellent in one. Is it possible to be great in a lot of areas, or do you suggest someone narrow their scope? If someone’s attentions are split in a lot of ways, how can they be most successful?
A. To become truly world-class at anything – you must have a great deal of focus. It is an old cliché, because it is true: If you try to be all things to all people you will end up be nothing to anyone. It is possible to do a handful of things well, but if you are too scattered there is no way to do any one thing exceedingly well. The hard part is figuring out what to say “NO” to. To me, the best way to do this is to be very clear about your core values, exactly what you hope your life will look like five years from today, and what you want to accomplish with your life – and then have the courage to remove anything that does not directly add to that goal. You can stay involved in everything you’re doing, but it’s my opinion that you will likely not achieve a high level of success in any one of them.
Q. What do you with your time? With all of the books, presentations, mentees, traveling, etc. you do, it seems like you have more hours in the day than most people. How do you maximize your free time? How do you create balance? How do you work smarter versus harder?
A. First, I don’t have kids. That was a specific career choice because I thought it was unfair to have children and travel as much as I do. Luckily, my wife did not want to have kids either, so it wasn’t a big sacrifice for us. Also, I do not watch TV, movies, go to the mall, cut my lawn, do my own laundry, wash my own car or any other activities that do not directly align with what I’m trying to achieve – or – where I can hire someone else to do them for a few dollars an hour while I either enjoy myself, spend time with my wife, or work on projects that will make me a significant amount of money – which allows me to invest a small amount of it back into getting other people to do my chores. It’s all about the time/value of money. Figure out what an hour of your time is actually worth and then pay other people to do the things that are dramatically below that level. It is hard to do this in the early stages of being an entrepreneur, but once you start reaching a level of financial success this practice allows you to focus only in the areas where you can generate the most value and revenue.
Q3. In some of my ventures, I work a lot with professionals who are in a different generation than me, the “baby boomers”. In your opinion, what actions and attitudes most impress you when working with a “millennial”?
The thing that works the best with all generations is to ask great questions and and be an intense listener – AND – be so incredibly competent at what you do that people can’t ignore you. I took over as CEO of a multinational company when I was 26 years old and most of the people on my board were billionaires and in their late 50s or 60s. I simply worked extra hard to listen to them and be so exceedingly well prepared and well-studied that they had no choice but to trust that I would get my job done superbly. There are definitely generational differences, but being open, flexible and curious will allow you to understand those differences and determine how to work best with people older or younger than you.
Q. Like many entrepreneurs I have tons of ideas about different products and services I’d like to bring to the market. How do you choose which ones to actually pursue?
A. The answer to this is really quite simple, but difficult for some people to implement because they get so attached to their idea and the vision of selling their company for $10 billion to Google next week. For any business to be highly successful it must meet these three criteria:
A. It has to be something you are extremely passionate about and have fun working on, because you will never become truly great at something you don’t enjoy.
B. It has to be in an area where you have an exceedingly high level of competence, or you have surrounded yourself with insanely competent people and you have Uber-strong leadership skills and solid business experience.
C. This is the one that most entrepreneurs miss…
If it does not meet all of these criteria you might be able to build a good business, but you will never build a sustainably successful enterprise that generates significant revenues and profit.
Those are just a few of the questions I’ve gotten this week, if you have a question you’d like me to answer please send it along and I will give you my very best advice.
I wish you every happiness and success – John
**** By the way, I just developed a Consultative Sales training program to help sales people be much more successful. If you are interested click on the link below and there is a short video that will explain to you exactly what I cover in the series. If it turns out that you want to go through the course, here is a special promotional code that will give you a 45% discount. The code is: 45OFF
I hope you’ll take a minute to watch the video and see if this program might be right for you or some of the people on your sales team. Thanks so much – John
At the beginning of each year a lot of us look for inspiration on how to take our business to the next level over the coming 12 months. In past years I put together special videos outlining what I believed it would take to make the next year in your business one of the best years ever. This year, I simply want to reiterate what I believe are some of the most powerful business success ideas I have ever learned. Below is my video on the “The Five Fundamentals of Business Success,” this is a class I have taught all over the world to every type of business from mom-and-pop shops and startups to companies in the Fortune 10. I created this particular video in December of 2014 after a speaking tour of the Netherlands with the Entrepreneurs Organization. I truly believe that if you will watch this video and apply the ideas I share with you, it will have a dramatic positive impact on your business success in 2016.
*** If you found value in the video please send it to everyone in your network so we can help them too! Thank very, very much – John