Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

How To Turn Ideas Into Action

Photo of man reading book and learningWhen I was named CEO of a Rockefeller foundation at the age of 26, Mr. Rockefeller knew that I needed a lot of help and assigned his right-hand man, Charlie Owen, to be my mentor.

Every Monday, Charlie would walk in my office and put a business book on my desk and say, “I’ll see you on Friday for lunch.”At the end of each week, we would go to Em’s Home Cooking for chili, cornbread, and iced tea, where he would grill me on everything I had learned in the book.

  • What were the major themes? 
  • Why do you think the author said this? 
  • Do you agree with the author’s ideas on…? 
  • How do you think this applies to the company you are running?

He would ask me dozens of these types of questions but in the end, he always asked the most important one:

“What are three specific action steps you are going to take in the business as a result of reading this book?” 

I would tell him what I planned to do, then he would write it down and say, “You will now be held accountable for doing those.”  Every Monday I got a book, every Friday I made a book report, and Charlie held me strictly accountable for implementing the ideas I was learning.

Ideas Into Action

Several years ago, I was doing a strategic planning retreat for a large company in Texas and was describing the three circles of the Hedgehog Concept from the famous book Good To Great by Jim Collins.  Just as I was beginning to explain the concept the CEO interrupted me and said, “John, you don’t need to cover that, we all read the book and went through a training course on it and I even hired Jim Collins to come in and teach it to us.”  I thought for a moment and then asked the CEO, “Then could you or anyone one else on your team explain the Hedgehog Concept to me, or the Stockdale Paradox, or the key characteristics of a Level 5 Leader?”  There was total silence.

It is one thing to read a book, attend a training session, watch a YouTube video or listen to a podcast… and a completely different thing to understand the ideas well enough to implement them.  To me, study without application is useless because it does not improve performance or results.

The Key Questions

Because of Charlie, now when I study anything I constantly ask myself three questions:

  1. What does this mean to me?
  2. How can I apply this idea?
  3. What can I do right away?

By asking myself these questions, I have gained the invaluable ability to convert what I have learned into action. These questions have changed my life and career, I hope they do for you as well.

The Three Keys to Building a Great Company Culture

I’ve said it 10,000 times, but let me say it again: Culture = Cash.  I’ve learned from working with hundreds of companies around the world that the biggest area for dramatic improvement, or failure, is most often a company’s culture.  The number one factor in highly engaged, satisfied and loyal customers… is engaged, satisfied and loyal employees.

“The customer’s experience will never exceed the employee’s experience”

Recently, I read an article that outlined the three main things that millennials, the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, look for in the culture of an organization.  Those things are safety, dignity, and purpose.

Safety

What we are focused on here is psychological safety, which refers to an employee’s belief that it is safe to speak their mind without fear of being seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive. In a culture with high psychological safety, employees feel confident that no one will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new iCuldea.

A study by Google identified psychological safety as the most important aspect of highly effective teams. The Google researchers found that individuals on teams with higher psychological safety are less likely to leave Google, they’re more likely to harness the power of diverse ideas from their teammates, they bring in more revenue, and they’re rated as effective twice as often by executives.

To measure a team’s level of psychological safety, the researchers asked team members how strongly they agreed or disagreed with these statements:

  • If you make a mistake on this team, it is often held against you.
  • Members of this team are able to bring up problems and tough issues.
  • People on this team sometimes reject others for being different.
  • It is safe to take a risk on this team.
  • It is difficult to ask other members of this team for help.
  • No one on this team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts.
  • Working with members of this team, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilized.

It has been my experience that it is impossible for people to do great work in an company culture where they do not feel safe.

Dignity

Dignity is derived from showing trust, granting autonomy, and recognizing the value of individual contributions. In a culture that exhibits these three key traits, employees develop more self-worth and self-respect, and feel they are respected by others. Trust, autonomy, and recognition build a sense of ownership of their work and pride in performing it well.  I believe that the path to helping people feel dignity is to treat them with genuine respect.

Let me give you a personal example.  I travel a lot, 200+ days a year, so that means I eat about  600 meals a year in restaurants.  Most people basically ignore their server, often times not even making eye contact with them.  In contrast, I realize that these people are literally “serving” me, since they are carrying food to me when I am hungry.  I genuinely respect them for that and show it by calling them by name, complementing their professionalism, commenting on the quality of the food, and thanking them often for their assistance.  I don’t do this to get a free dessert, I do it because I am truly appreciative of their efforts to make me feel well cared for.  Do I get better service?  Absolutely.  But I also have a more enjoyable meal because I get to make a genuine human connection and I let someone know that I believe that they are important.  A culture where people treat each other with great respect will encourage people to do great work.

Purpose

When I started my career in 1989, the sole “purpose” of nearly every company was to make money.  Putting money to the bottom line is of course still critical, but today many companies are embracing the idea of the Triple Bottom Line (TLB). The TBL is an accounting framework that incorporates three dimensions of performance: social, environmental and financial. The TBL dimensions are also commonly called the three Ps: people, planet and profits, but now there is a 4th P, Purpose.

The consulting firm Ernst and Young define purpose as “an aspirational reason for being that is grounded in humanity and inspires a call to action.”

Does purpose really matter?  A global study found that 89% of consumers are more likely to buy from companies that support solutions to a particular social issue.  For more than half of consumers, purpose is the most important factor in their choice to do business with one company over another when the products are similar.  So the numbers show that not only having a strong purpose is important to your customers, but it is also an essential element in attracting top talent. For 77% of millennial employees, an organizational culture based on purpose and strong core values are just as important as base salary and benefits.

If building a great culture in your organization is important to you, keep in mind that psychological safety, dignity through respect, and an inspiring purpose is the foundation for creating a culture that motivates your people to deliver excellence.


 

Do you want to take your expertise and experience to the next level and grow your business? Join my webinar to learn the performance essentials organizations and individuals need today.

They are 30 minutes long and I will be covering these items.

IQ, EQ, AQ: What is the difference, why is it important?
Purpose: It is not just a paycheck for the talented
Five Generations: There is a lot to be learned here
Culture: The Great Differentiator

 

 


What Is Your Definition Of Leadership?

a graphic displaying the word leadershipFor nearly 30 years I’ve had the honor of delivering leadership training and executive coaching to companies around the world. One of the things I get asked a lot is, “What is your definition of leadership?” I think I have a pretty good one, but first, let’s take a little detour.

I also do a lot of training in the area of high-performance teams, and one of the workshops I typically make the group go through is to create a list of the characteristics of an Ideal Team Member. I ask them, “If you were able to bring somebody fantastic onto your team, someone that you would love to work with, what would that person be like? What are the skills, abilities, attitude, and personality of an ideal team member for your company?” Here are the responses I hear the most:

  • Honest
  • Has 100% integrity
  • Positive attitude/fun to work with
  • Proactive/self-starter
  • Competent
  • Innovative/creative
  • Excellent communicator
  • Great listener
  • Highly collaborative/a strong team player
  • Lifelong Learner
  • Loyal
  • Respectful

Wow, what a great list, and after I read the list back to the group, I ask how many of them would love to have someone who has all these characteristics on their team? Every hand in the room shoots up, and then I say to them, “To get someone like this to join your team, you have to be like this first. Because anyone who has all the characteristics on that list will only work for someone else that also exhibits those characteristics.”

So, back to my definition of leadership. In my leadership classes, I run a very similar workshop where I ask small groups of attendees to develop a list of what they would look for in an Ideal Leader. I get all of the same things I listed above, plus a few more…

  • Visionary
  • Courageous
  • Inspiring/motivating
  • Fair
  • Compassionate
  • A great coach
  • Leads by example

It’s that last characteristic that shapes my definition of leadership.

To be an effective leader, you must be a living example of what you hope your followers will one day become.

Remember, if you hold a leadership position at any level in an organization, you live under a microscope. People watch everything you do; they listen to everything you say. Whatever you focus on becomes what they focus on and whatever you ignore they will ignore. Your behavior drives their behavior.

So, in my mind, to have great people in your organization, you must first become the kind of person that they want to work with. By the way, this is really hard. It takes a lot of discipline. This means you can’t just do what you feel like doing, or what you can get away with, or mistreat people because you’re in a foul mood, you must keep asking yourself, “What would an ideal leader do?” and follow that as your guide.

What is your definition of leadership?

 

 

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?

Working Together Really Works

I just finished reading a fantastic book called “American Icon” about Alan Mulally, one of the key players in turning Boeing around and the CEO who led the Ford Motor Company back to greatness. These are extremely complex companies and products. The average commercial airliner has more than 4 million parts and Ford has roughly 213,000 employees at 90+ plants and facilities worldwide. During his tenure at Boeing, Mulally played a role in the development of every major plane they brought to market including the Boeing 727, 737, 747, 757, 767 and Boeing 777 projects. He helped steer the company through turbulent times including the 9/11 terror attacks in which all four planes were Boeing aircraft. When Mullaly arrived at Ford they had just posted a $12.6 billion loss – the biggest in the history of this century-old company. Yet in just three years he was able to turn the company around and make it the world’s most profitable car company. How did he do it? By sticking to the fundamentals.

During his time at Boeing, Mulally had developed a leadership framework he called “Working Together: Principles and Practices,” which he considered the foundation behind his successful management style. Although the folks at Ford said it would never work because of the massive bureaucracy and infighting at the Corporation, Mulally insisted that “this is really all I know,” and then used his framework to completely change the corporate culture within the organization.

Here is Alan Mulally’ s 11 point system for leading a company to greatness

  1. People first
  2. Everyone is included
  3. A compelling vision, comprehensive strategy, and relentless implementation
  4. Clear performance goals
  5. One plan
  6. Facts and data
  7. Everyone knows the plan, the status and the areas that need special attention
  8. Propose a plan, positive, “find-a-way” attitude
  9. Respect, listen, help and appreciate each other
  10. Emotional resilience — trust the process
  11. Have fun — enjoy the journey and each other.

As you look at this list you’re probably saying to yourself, “that is not very complex, there is nothing here I haven’t seen before.” I agree, these are all common leadership and management ideas. They may look simple, but they are devilishly hard to do consistently and it is extremely uncommon to see an organization that can effectively implement all 11 of these items. I have had several senior executives and CEOs tell me that these things are too fundamental, that they couldn’t possibly be enough to run a successful organization, well, tell that to the folks at Boeing with 94 billion in revenues and Ford with 145 billion. To quote one of my heroes, Leonardo da Vinci, “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Whether you run a small company or one of the largest on the face of the earth, here are 11 things that you can focus on to help make your company be more successful. It’s also important to note that these are not location specific, they’ve proven their effectiveness all over the world and, this is really important to realize, they cost nothing to implement. These are all focused on building a high-performance culture, with transparency, trust, disciplined execution, teamwork and clear expectations of what success looks like. Even though Alan Mulally was an aeronautical engineer and had dreams of working at NASA, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that it’s all about people, processes and principles.

What do you think?

Five Things To Focus On In 2019

2018 marked my 24th year traveling around the world to help people and businesses achieve more success. I went to some amazing places, spent time with old friends and made lots of new friends. It was also a great year for learning, as I worked on all kinds of projects from executive coaching, facilitating strategic planning retreats and doing some consulting to running lots of workshops and delivering dozens of keynotes. In this video I’m going to share with you the five major things I learned in 2018 that I think will be important for you to focus on in the coming year.

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

 

How to Make Your Business MUCH More Successful in 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every year I do a video with some ideas about how to make your business more successful in the coming year. This time I’ve changed it up a little bit and instead of giving you a list of “Big Ideas,” I’m going to give you a challenge, a great new tool, I’ll ask for a favor, and I’m making an offer to help you have a great 2019.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch the video and please share it with your network if you find the ideas of value.

Thanks so much – John

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I appreciate your referrals VERY, VERY, VERY much!!!

 

Be sure to tell me your business challenge for 2019 in the “Speak Your Mind” section below so I can find the answer for you.

 

 

Change A Life and You May End Up Changing Yours

Here is a link for the better book club, it is free for small companies and insanely affordable for other organizations. I cannot encourage you strongly enough to go take a look at their website, look at all the things it can do for your business, and I hope you join, as I said above it will make a dramatic positive impact on the success of your organization.

Click HERE to learn more about the Better Book Club

 

And now, a fantastic guest blog from Frank Sonnenberg…

 Think about a person who’s had a tremendous impact on your life. It may be your Mom or Dad who believed in you, the coach who inspired you, the teacher who guided you in the right direction, the boss who gave you your first big opportunity, or the friend who’s always been by your side. I’m sure when you think of that person, it brings a huge smile to your face — as it should.

You may say that some of these folks were just doing their job. True. But even though you’ve had several good teachers, coaches, and bosses over the years, I’m sure a few of them really stand out from the crowd. You remember their passion, dedication, kindness, and, of course, their generosity. After all, they changed your life!

That obviously begs the question…are you leaving a lasting impact on others? It only takes one person to change a life — and that one person may as well be you.

Make a Difference

Whether you’re aware of it or not, you’re touching the lives of people every day. What can you do to step up your game?

Be an exemplary role model. Lead by example. Demonstrate that character is the DNA of success and happiness.

Be an awesome parent. Having kids is not the same as being a parent. Raise your kids to be kind, productive, and self-reliant; to make good choices and to be personally responsible for their actions; to pursue their purpose with gusto; and to live their life with honor and dignity.

Be a humble leader. Share your success. As you climb the ladder of success, reach down and pull others up with you.

Be a dedicated mentor. Take someone under your wing and show them the ropes. Give the kind of advice that they won’t hear anywhere else.

Be a compassionate boss. Show your employees that work isn’t all business. Build trusting relationships. Make yourself available and supportive in times of need.

Be a shrewd businessperson. Develop win-win rather than winner-take-all relationships. Prove that there’s more to go around when you grow a large pie, together, than when you squabble to divide a smaller one.

Be a real friend. Demonstrate loyalty when someone’s chips are down and no one else has their back.

Be an inspiration. Set high expectations and push people beyond their capabilities. Show confidence in them when they’re having a weak moment.

Be perceptive. Give someone the big break they need in life. See someone’s potential even when others are blind to their promise.

Be tough, but fair. Make people accountable for their actions. They’ll thank you one day.

Be available. Give the gift of time. Lend a shoulder to cry on when someone needs a friendly ear or support during tough times.

Be the better person. Be the first to give, the first to forgive, the first to compromise, and the first to say “I’m sorry.”

Be even-handed. Stand up for injustice, speak up for the less fortunate, and don’t give up on fairness and tolerance.

Be a loving spouse. Put your heart into your marriage. Share your hopes and your fears, your laughter and your tears, your joy and your sorrow.

Change a Life Forever

Think of your greatest accomplishments. Where would changing someone’s life rank on your list? Consider: If they hadn’t crossed paths with you, they wouldn’t be the person they are, they wouldn’t have the opportunities they have, and they wouldn’t be positioned to achieve their hopes and dreams. Bravo! You made a difference! As an added bonus, change someone’s life and you may end up changing yours.

Why complain about the ills of the world when you could be a world of difference to someone you know? You may not be able to change the world, but you can change the world around you. Change a life and create a ripple that cascades forever.

 

This post is an excerpt from Soul Food: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life by Frank Sonnenberg

Frank Sonnenberg is an award-winning author. He has written seven books and over 300 articles. Frank was recently named one of “America’s Top 100 Thought Leaders” and one of “America’s Most Influential Small Business Experts.” Frank has served on several boards and has consulted to some of the largest and most respected companies in the world.

Additionally, FrankSonnenbergOnline was named among the “Best 21st Century Leadership Blogs”; among the “Top 100 Socially-Shared Leadership Blogs”; and one of the “Best Inspirational Blogs On the Planet.”

Frank’s newest book, Soul Food: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life, was released inNovember 2018 (© 2018 Frank Sonnenberg. All rights reserved.)

 

 

 

 

 

Four Amazing Business Books That I Highly Recommend

I have been reading a lot of business books lately, about a dozen a month, and wanted to take a minute to share with you four that I found very helpful. I am honored to call three of the authors, Tim Ressmeyer, Frank Sonnenberg, and Marty Neumeier friends. I’ve read every single book these authors have written, they’re all extremely talented and knowledgeable business people and have a lot of wisdom to share. These are all excellent books that will give you valuable ideas for personal, career and business success.

To find out more about these books just click on the cover and it will take you to a detailed description on Amazon. All of them are listed, so scroll down to find the ones you are looking for.

Here are some other great books by Frank Sonnenberg.

 

Here are Marty Neumeier’s books

This is one of my all-time favorite books…

Here is the book I told you about on hospitality by Danny Meyer.

I hope you find these books of great value, I know that I sure did!