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

Do You Have A Team Charter?

I have been teaching quite a few high-performance teams workshops in the last several months and have been surprised to discover that not one group I worked with had ever created a “team charter.” By this I mean, a written list of rules and expectations that the team all agrees to and guides the way they work together. I believe this is an essential document to help people clearly understand their role on the team, what behavior is appropriate and what things will not be tolerated. Without a charter, members of the group are simply guessing at how they are supposed to act and behave together as a team, leading to assumptions, politics, rumormongering, conflict, lack of accountability and ultimately lack of results. To help your organization avoid these issues here are a few ideas of what a team charter might look like:

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review recommended that a team charter should include these basic foundational tenets:

  • I agree to be on time, realizing everyone’s time is limited and extremely valuable.
  • I agree to show respect to every other member of the team and give them the benefit of the doubt.
  • I agree to give my best effort in accomplishing every task, the team’s mission, and our shared purpose.
  • I agree not to engage in any gossip about my team members and to put a stop to it if I encounter it.
  • I agree to communicate early and often pertaining to any time off needed for my personal life.
  • I agree to handle disputes, perceived offenses, or conflicts with dignity and professionalism.

This is the charter from a nonprofit organization I worked with:

  • Be accountable
  • Think before you speak
  • Ask for clarification
  • Set clear expectations
  • Treat people with dignity and respect
  • Empathy
  • Ask for help
  • Be direct and loving
  • Look for the positive first
  • Create safety zones where people can be honest in their feedback without fear of retribution
  • Be present
  • Check up on folks
  • Helpful and supportive
  • Communicate professionally
  • Spend time together
  • Have fun

This list is from a manufacturing company that I assisted:

  • Listen to each other with an open mind without interruption
  • Share knowledge, information, and experience with those who can benefit
  • Take key decisions based on reasoning, not rank
  • Express concerns only to those responsible for dealing with them
  • A responsibility culture, not a blame culture
  • Base our work on the ‘customer’
  • Strive for continuous improvement
  • Behave with integrity
  • Positively challenging dishonesty or destructive behavior
  • No ego

These are just a few ideas to help you in creating your team charter, however, it is essential that you develop a written, clear, and well-communicated charter that everyone on the team is fully committed to and agrees to support at all times. Without this document, it is impossible to build and sustain a high-performance team.

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments and if you found value in this article I hope you will share it with your entire network.

Thanks so much – 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


How To Lead Four Generations At Work

A great new book from Kelly and Robby Riggs.

Buy it from Amazon 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.


Four Great Questions About Leadership

A few weeks ago, a student named Joey Brodsky, who is studying business at the University of Florida and is taking a class from a close friend of mine, Dr. Alex Sevilla, sent me some questions about some of the things he was learning about management and leadership.  I thought the questions were excellent and that you might find my answers of some value.  Here is the conversation between myself and Joey.


Mr. Spence,

Currently I am taking a senior leadership course taught by Dr. Alex Sevilla here at the Heavener School of Business. We are working on both theoretical and application based leadership strategies, learning how to combine them with our skills to become better managers.

Some questions I have for you below are about how you implement specific leadership theories in your work (or don’t), experiences you have had being an influential leader from such a young age, and certain challenges you have faced overseeing and motivating individuals. My goal is to relate some of the topics I’ve learned in my course to real world experiences. I’ll keep them brief as I know your time is valuable, but any information you feel would be influential I would love to learn from!


  1. One of the first topics we discussed in class was the differences between trait leadership and process leadership ideologies. Trait leadership having to do with personality traits that influence one’s skill of leadership and process leadership being more interaction based. Do you find leadership to be a more inherent quality to individuals, or would you say it has more to do with the way someone interacts with their ‘followers’?

If I’m reading this correctly, it seems that you are asking the age-old question, “Are leaders born or made?”  I believe that if someone has good values – they are honest, they act with integrity, they show respect, they have empathy and concern for others – I can send them to a class to learn most of the process skills they need to be a good leader. However, if someone lies, cheats, steals, manipulates and doesn’t care about others – there is no way they will ever become a truly effective leader.  

Also, there are many people that talk about extroverts versus introverts as leaders.  I have seen many leaders that are highly motivational and inspiring, that can get up in front of a group and move them to action – I’ve also seen many leaders that are quiet, humble and introspective. But they have a burning passion for what they are doing and that passion creates highly loyal followers.  

In my opinion, a leader must be superb at two skill sets: they must be absolutely excellent at what they do, their actual job description, and they have to have strong leadership skills.  

Lastly, remember that leadership is not only the purview of the people at the top of the organization, every person in an organization leads at some level.

  1. Another interesting concept we have learned is the difference between an assigned leader (a leader because of a formal position) and an emergent leader (a leader because of the way others respond to them). Being such a young CEO at 26 when working with the Rockefeller Foundation I would expect you were very influential among your peers and showcased your leadership earlier on. Can you tell me a little about how you leveraged your leadership skills as an emergent leader into a more formal leadership role so early in your career? What are some of the characteristics you displayed that you think helped you to stand out?

Almost immediately after joining the foundation I became the “right-hand man” to the CEO (not Mister Rockefeller, a professional manager who was running the company on his behalf).   I spent a lot of time watching him, learning what to do, and learning what NOT to do.  At this point in my career I was reading every single business book I could get my hands on and listening to 4-5 business books a week.   In a meeting with our Board of Directors, one of the key directors asked a question that the CEO could not answer – and then the director (a multibillionaire) turned to me and asked me if I knew the answer – which I did.   Then, the board started asking me for my opinion more often, and when the current CEO began to stumble, they put me in as an interim CEO – which eventually led to me becoming the permanent CEO.  

Very frankly, I was in no way ready to lead an organization at that age, I was woefully unprepared.  I realized that I could not be successful if my team was not successful.  For my part, I studied, read, worked and did everything I could to learn as much as I could about leadership and business success.  I tried to model the behavior of lifelong learning and always striving to do your best.  I also went to my team and asked for help and focused a great deal on empowerment.  In the early days, I was very immature as a leader, but as I faced more situations I slowly learned how to run the business and be a better leader to my team.

  1. One quote from Professor Sevilla that really resonated with me was “It’s not about you [the leader] . . . it’s about them [the followers].” He said if there were to be only one thing we take away from this class, let it be this statement. In your professional experience, how important has it been to focus more directly on the group and achieving common goals, rather than just using subordinates to achieve more personal objectives?

Dr. Sevilla is 1,000% right.  This is a concept known as servant leadership, where the leader understands that they are actually there to serve their employees.  As to your question about common goals or personal objectives – it’s not an Either/Or – it is a Both/And.  Everyone in the organization must be focused on the vision, strategy, and a set of common goals they are all aligned to as the do their work.  It is the job of the leader to ensure that they execute the strategy with discipline and continuously deliver superb business results.  ALSO, the leader needs to help each person grow as an individual and show them how their work directly ties into the success of the overall organization.  

  1. Over the last few decades you have become one of and got to work with many of the greatest business leaders in the world. I don’t expect there to be a catchall answer on how to become a powerful and respected leader in the business world, but what are some of the strongest traits or strategies you see these leaders (and yourself) using to motivate others? Are there some particular things you think are more important for a young leader, like myself, to help showcase my skills to companies?

Rather than give you just my opinion, here is a list of traits that have emerged from the thousands of leadership classes I’ve taught and the great leaders I have had the honor to spend time with.

Honesty – tell the truth all the time – period.  Another word here would be integrity.

Excellent communicator – asks great questions and is an intense listener.

The courage to be vulnerable, to admit that you don’t have all the answers. Another word here would be authentic.

Competence – you must be exceedingly good at what you do.  My favorite phrase in this area is, “be so good they can’t ignore you.”

Great team player – treats their employees as partners and peers.  Shows them respect and gives them trust.

Compassionate – shows a genuine concern for their people and their personal and professional growth.

Visionary – has a vivid, compelling vision and strategy for growth that is well communicated across the entire organization.

Passionate – another word would be inspiring.

Innovative – a lifelong learner who is a good creative and strategic thinker.


Joey, I hope you found these answers helpful, let me know if you need any more information.

I wish you every possible happiness and success – John

Two Powerful Interviewing Questions

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

If you want to make more money: ASK

Several years ago, one of my clients asked me to put together a special workshop to help their employees increase the quality of their customer service. I told them that the single best way to figure out what it would take to deliver consistently superior customer service was… to ask their customers!

We, of course, pursued the standard route of sending out a general customer satisfaction survey and I also interviewed a handful of their customers to get some confidential feedback, but what really helped them achieve an entire new level of customer service excellence was inviting a panel of their top customers for an open and frank discussion about how they currently viewed the service they were getting and exactly what sort of improvements they would like to see.

On the day of the event we gathered every employee in the company (60+) to listen to what the customer panel had to say. The results were amazing! As the employees sat on the edge of their seats, key decision-makers from their seven biggest customers (representing nearly 70% of their annual revenues) spent more than two hours talking about what they loved about the customer service they were receiving; what they hated about the customer service they were receiving; and precisely what they wanted changed, fixed or improved.

Imagine having your very best customers tell you exactly what you would have to do for them to give you a larger share of their business and eagerly refer you to their friends and colleagues. In nearly 25 years of running training workshops this was one of the most powerful and motivating sessions I have ever had the pleasure of leading. By the end of the day every employee that attended felt like they understood what they personally needed to do to deliver outstanding customer service Interestingly, it was just as rewarding for the customers who said it was the very first time that one of their vendors had invited them in to share these sorts of issues in open forum. A true win/win for all involved.

So now the question is: how can you apply this idea in your business? Maybe this sort of customer panel is a perfect way for you to open the lines of communication with your customers and make significant progress in deeply understanding what it will take to consistently meet and even exceed their specific customer service expectations. Maybe your company isn’t quite as big and instead you simply invite two or three of your top customers to lunch and discuss how well your company is meeting their expectations and what they feel you need to improve. It seems pretty straightforward to me, if you want to make more money, ask the people who are currently giving you money what it would take for them to give you more money. Because, as Mark Twain so beautifully put it, “The only critic whose opinion counts… is the customer.”

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.