Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

How To Manage Up For Change

It is always challenging when you’re trying to convince someone in upper management to change the way they do things. Senior leaders, especially owners of private businesses, are often emotionally tied to the organization and feel that a request to look at things differently is a personal attack on their leadership abilities. I’ve had to deal with this challenge multiple times in my career and from my experience, there is a continuum of “aggressiveness” that one needs to move through to convince upper management to change their ways.

Here is the continuum from least aggressive to most aggressive:

Level I: if you have a good relationship with the senior leader then simply go visit with them and share your ideas. Make sure that you are extremely well-prepared, understand the full ramifications of what you are proposing and come with solutions, not problems.

Level II: if you personally do not have a great relationship with the senior leader, gather a small group of employees that the leader respects, talk to them about your proposal for change, gain their buy-in, and then go as a small team to speak with the senior leader. Again, be extremely well-prepared and come with solutions, not problems.

Level III: find a sponsor on the senior management team who believes in your ideas and is willing to take them to the CEO or owner. Let them use their credibility, experience, and relationship to support your ideas and encourage the top leader to embrace your proposed changes.

*** At this point you move from trying to convince a single leader, to attempting to change the thinking of the entire senior leadership team. This gives your idea more leverage against the leader who does not agree with your proposed changes.

Level IV: this is the one I use most often; overwhelm them with data. Do surveys, focus groups, research – whatever you can to build a solid case for your proposed changes. In the change process we call this creating an “irresistible case for change,” a scenario so irrefutable that it is nearly impossible to ignore the facts of the situation. Unfortunately, many people will choose to ignore them nonetheless.

Level V: find some excellent articles or blogs, on a topic your senior leadership team strongly supports, and then send those articles to everyone in the organization (if it is a small company), or to selected leaders. The first few articles should be about a topic that the leaders will enjoy reading about because they believe in it. After sending several articles that that support their ideology, start to drop in articles on the change you want to make the organization. This is a way to begin the conversation in an innocuous way, by introducing your ideas slowly, mixed in with articles and blogs on ideas they are in favor of. The goal here is to change the conversation across the organization, or at least within the senior leadership team, in hopes that they will see that they need to make changes within the business.

Level VI: gather together a group of key employees, gain their 100% commitment to the change, and then go as a group and demand change from the senior leadership team. This is different from my suggestion at level II because now you are being dramatically more aggressive and basically threatening the senior leaders that if they do not change, there is a possibility they will lose good employees.

Level VII: tender your letter of resignation. Explain fully why you are leaving, that you think the change you are championing is necessary but that the senior leadership team, or senior leader, refuses to make the necessary changes, therefore you are going to go to a new company that is more in alignment with your ideas about business success.

I have given this list to hundreds of people and typically they never have to reach level VII. At some stage along the way the senior leaders or leader eventually come around and either embrace the change or give a solid and thoughtful answer as to why the organization has chosen not to go in the direction you are proposing.

I hope you found this helpful – John

Who is Your Competition?

Last year I did a speaking tour of Australia and one of my session was a business excellence program for an organization called The Growth Faculty. A young lady named Kasey Patterson attend that workshop and recently sent me this question. I thought you might find a few ideas for your business in my response.

Hi John & Sheila

I attended the growth summit last year and saw John present. What an informative session. Thank you.

The reason for my email is that I have just watched your keys to success for 2018 video and have a questions in regards to competition and thinking outside your industry. We are a Financial Planning business and I have been thinking hard about competition outside our industry – ie banks, accountants, but that is where my mind stops. Who else would you consider our competition?

Kind Regards



Kasey, it’s funny, I was just watching that video myself because someone else asked me a question about it. So as a financial planner/advisor you likely get paid a percentage of the amount of money you manage for someone, or at least that’s how it works here in the United States. But no matter what, here are a few things I might consider competition/replacements if I were a financial planner.

Anything expensive that someone buys would compete for them saving for their retirement. So vacation homes, private airplanes, boats, motorcycles, around the world vacations, buying a new home, sending their kids to an expensive school/university – at some level, all of these could be considered replacements for saving my money and allowing you as my financial planner to manage it.

Another competitor would be startup companies that are seeking angel funds. Instead of giving money to my financial planner, I invest it in a company in hopes that I will have a much larger return.

Here’s a big one, bitcoin!!!

You could probably throw gold in on that list too, as another type of currency.

You compete against collectibles: artwork, cars, rare coins, antiques, and other such items.

You compete against people who decide to do it for themselves and think they don’t need a financial planner. Or, they use someone in their family to help them invest.

You compete against ignorance and apathy; people who don’t know that they need a financial planner or who don’t care.

You compete against nonprofits and other charities that will seek major donations from your potential customers, again, reducing the amount of money they have to invest with you.

You compete with ill health. If someone gets sick and has to spend a lot of money on care.

You compete with death. If someone in their family dies and does not have adequate life insurance then your potential customer might spend a large chunk of their money taking care of the funeral costs and other financial obligations of the deceased person.

You compete with disasters. If there is a major fire/flood/earthquake that wipes out one of your customer’s businesses or homes and they do not have adequate insurance they will not have enough money to invest with you.

Okay, I’m starting to run out of ideas here, but those are a few off the top of my head. Give this some more thought and let me know if you come up with any more.

I hope you found this helpful – John

I followed up with this last idea…

Kasey, I forgot the most important competitor of all… You. You are constantly competing against other financial planners, but the number one financial planner that can do the most harm to you is you. If you lack discipline, if you are not working incredibly hard every day to keep your current clients exceedingly happy, if you’re not constantly studying and trying to get better, if you are not out networking and asking for referrals, if you are not trying to be among the best in your industry… you are your own worst competition.

So, who do you compete against in your business?

Here is a link to the video Kasey mentioned if you’d like to watch it: Click Here


Five Things To Focus On For 2018

At the beginning of every year I put together a video with what I feel are the most important things to focus on for business success in the coming year. For 2018 I have five major things that I believe will be extremely important for you and your business. I have also added the video from 2017 for you to view. There are some very powerful ideas in these two videos, things that I know will help you as a professional and your business.

Also, please share this blog with your network, I’ve dedicated my life to helping businesses and people be more successful, so I want to get these ideas in front of as many people as possible.

Thank you very much and I hope that 2018 is an absolutely wonderful year for you and your organization.


Two Powerful Interviewing Questions

Here is a link to the book I recommended in the video: Who – by Geoff Smart

How to Get the Best Talent for Your Company

The last video I posted was on the importance of having top talent in your organization (here is a link). I got a great follow-up question from my friend Brandon West the owner of PHOS Creative (the company that does our digital marketing) asking: “Do you have any resources that would be helpful to us in starting a stronger recruitment initiative? Sites, books, tools, contacts, etc.” Instead of writing him a long email, I decided to just shoot this video with my best ideas on how to find, hire and retain top talent.

Please send me any business or leadership questions you have and I’ll be happy to shoot a video with my best ideas and suggestions.

I hope you will share this video with your network. Thanks so much – John


Here is the book I talked about from Geoff Smart and Randy Street – I very highly recommend it.

Leadership and Disruption

There are several authors who have had a huge impact on my thinking and my career, and at the top of that list is Joe Calloway. I have read every book he has written, and then reread them, and then read them again. The title of one of Joe’s books is “Be The Best At What Matters Most”” which exactly describes Joe. I asked him if he would send me something that I could share on my blog to introduce him to any of my followers who did not already know him. Folks, this guy is brilliant, he has amazing business ideas, he has ideas that can change your organization and take you to a completely new level of success. He put this video together especially for us, and it offers you some very valuable business advice. I urge you to go look at his other videos and buy his books. Not because I’m trying to help him make money, but because I’m trying to help YOU make money. Here is my good friend and someone I respect and admire a great deal, Joe Calloway…

Here is a link to Joe’s author page on Amazon — it lists all of his books there.

Click HERE



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?

Why Should I Worry About This?

Here is an idea that I believe can make a dramatic positive impact in your life if you apply it!

I hope you found this video helpful and that you will share it with anyone you feel would find value in the ideas I shared .

Thanks – John

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…


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