Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

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

 

For Your Convenience

Screaming into telephone.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.

Leader of the Future = EQ + Technology

How-to-Become-a-Better-Leader-730x493I have just returned from two weeks of working with clients in New Zealand and while I was there I was asked to give lectures at the University of Auckland and the University of Canterbury. The topic they asked me to address was, “Leading in a Time of Disruptive Change.” This is a topic I know pretty well, but I decided it would be nice to get some additional opinions to add more depth and credibility to my comments, so I sent a note asking for input to some of my friends including Marshall Goldsmith, Guy Kawasaki, Seth Godin, Tim Sanders, Jim Kouzes, Tom Morris, Joe Calloway and several other top thought leaders, asking what they would share around this topic.

Everything they offered revolved around two key ideas: EQ + Technology

 

EQ = Emotional Quotient

The next 10 years will mark one of the most explosive eras of technological advances in the history of humankind. It is hard to believe that the smart phone was invented just 10 years ago and in that time span people around the world have downloaded more than 2 billion apps. Connection by computers is increasing at a dizzying rate, whereas connection between people seems to be decreasing at an equally alarming rate. A successful leader of the future must be superb at collaboration, personal connection, empathy and interpersonal communications. They need to be effective at bringing people together, creating high-performance teams, developing deep levels of trust and building real relationships with the people they lead. For some people EQ comes naturally, they are great at working well with other people and showing genuine concern, caring and empathy. For others of us (me included) EQ is just not something we were born with, however, through study and practice I have been able to increase my level of EQ significantly and so can you. Either way, natural or learned, the skills necessary to display EQ are essential for tomorrow’s leaders.

Technology

I mentioned it briefly above, but it bears repeating, in the next 10 years we will go through a truly overwhelming influx of new technologies that will be highly disruptive to every business (and person) in the world. That might sound like hyperbole, but I assure you it is not. Last year I attended the Abundance 360 Conference (an offshoot of Singularity University) where some of the world’s top technology experts outlined the eight major areas of technological change that would have the most impact on the human race in the next decade.

  1. Computer speed / deep learning
  2. Artificial intelligence (AI)
  3. The Internet of Things (IOT)
  4. Advanced robotics
  5. Augmented reality
  6. Virtual reality
  7. Synthetic medicine
  8. Genetic decoding/recovery

As just one example, the director of the business school at the University of Canterbury explained that in 2026 you will be able to buy a laptop for $1,000 that surpasses the brainpower of a single human, and by 2046 you will be able to buy a laptop (if they even exist anymore) that will exceed the brainpower of the entire human race. When you apply this computing power to the areas I have listed above, the impact is literally unfathomable. Therefore, to be effective, future leaders don’t need to embrace change, or even revel in change, they need to DRIVE change. They will need to be visionary in their ability to predict how these seismic technological shifts will impact their industry, their individual businesses and their customers. As another example, a good friend of mine who is the president of a prominent university here in the US lamented to me, “We are training students today for jobs that don’t exist on equipment that has not yet been invented, which means we are going to have to completely change the way we educate our youth.” Now if that isn’t a disruption, I don’t know what is – and the same thing is going to happen to you.

Leader of the Future = EQ + Technology

What do you think?

 

*** Also, I am very pleased to announce that my blog has been named one of the Top Small Business Blogs to Follow in 2016.
To check out the other winners and their superb blogs click HERE

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Loose-Tight Controls for Business Success

37827-watches_teaserI recently presented several workshops for client company with an absolutely brilliant CEO, among the best I’ve ever met. He was a new to the organization and had been brought in to turn around the company, which was facing very severe financial troubles. This was very bureaucratic organization whose main customer was the government. They were slow to make decisions, reluctant to take any risks, complacent in their attempt to grow their business and keep margins strong, which landed them to more than billion dollars in debt. The CEO gave an impassioned speech about the need to be more entrepreneurial, while still having a culture of disciplined execution around the core strategies. He described it, much like Tom Peters did in his wonderful book In Search of Excellence, saying that the company needed to have “loose-tight controls.” They need to have elements of loose  control around entrepreneurship, innovation and prudent risk-taking, while maintaining areas tight of control around their values, strategy, alignment and accountability for positive business results. He told them that in order to be successful they would have to balance a strong entrepreneurial ethic while still embracing a focused culture of discipline – and summarized his idea in the graph below.

So, where does your company sit in this matrix?

Best Managed Companies graphic

Effective Followership

42BAF516-2E42-4C1D-B901-4F0B46E6DA09_t_4101-e1352134353644Earlier this year I was sitting in a restaurant in St. Louis reading an article in the Wall Street Journal and I had an epiphany. This is my 22nd year of traveling around the globe teaching a number of different business workshops including Advanced Leadership and in all that time I have never heard of a single company, nor met a single instructor, that taught a class on followership. How can this be? In order to have effective leaders you need effective followers. And everyone in the company has someone they have to follow, even the CEO has to report to the board of directors. I know that most people love to go to a leadership class because they want to think of themselves as leaders and aspire to be better leaders, but few people would get very excited about going to a followership class, even though being a good follower is a critical steppingstone to becoming a great leader. True to form, I immediately went to Amazon.com and bought every single book I could find on followership and have begun a quest to study this topic deeply so that I can create a program on how to be a superb follower. However, I decided yesterday when working with a fantastic client in Las Vegas, to test my idea. I explained to the audience of about 300 people what I have just explained above to you and heard a giant sigh from the crowd as they too realized they had never been taught how to be highly effective followers. To learn more, I broke the audience up into groups of 5 to 7 people and asked each group to develop a short list of what they felt were the most important things needed to be a great follower. I then asked several of the groups to share their list and here are some of the things they came up with:

  • Want to be there – be engaged
  • Be highly capable and competent
  • Support the vision
  • Know the vision, mission and goals of the company
  • Hold yourself highly accountable
  • Ask for help when needed
  • Work to support the leader and the team
  • Give loyalty – but not blind loyalty
  • Challenge the leader’s ideas when appropriate, but with respect
  • Be proactive, don’t wait to be told what to do
  • Have an ownership mentality

This is just a partial list of the feedback I got but it is extremely telling. Although a number of these correspond with the sort of answers I get when I ask about what it takes to be a leader that people would willingly follow, there is a portion of this list that is unique to being an excellent follower. Based on this feedback I am extremely excited to be building a new class on the elements of effective followership, and I would highly value any feedback or ideas you want to share with me as I research this topic and begin to build the new program.

What do you think it takes to be a great follower? I very much look forward to your ideas.

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How To Handle Lazy Employees

Businessman sleeping at deskLast week I posted a blog that got a lot of comments, it was called: On The Intolerance Of Mediocrity. One of the folks that shared some feedback indicated that he was struggling with employees that were, shall we say, less than extremely motivated. I was beginning to write out a reply to him and realized it was probably best to post it as a blog so that everyone could see my ideas and comment as well. Here are my suggestions for dealing with lackadaisical employees.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do they have clear, specific and measurable performance expectations?
  2. Have those expectations been exceedingly well communicated to them?
  3. Have they agreed to deliver those expectations?
  4. Do they have all the training, tools and support necessary to achieve those expectations?
  5. Are they held rigorously accountable for achieving those expectations?
  6. Do they get positive reinforcement for positive behavior and negative reinforcement for negative behavior?
  7. Do they understand the impact their behavior is having on the overall business?
  8. Do they understand the impact their behavior is having on the rest of the employees?
  9. Do they realize what is at stake if they do not meet expectations?
  10. Do they understand all of the positive ramifications if they exceed expectations?

These are just 10 questions to get you thinking, but if you’ve got employees who are not delivering the required results, I would look over this list and see if there is any place where you have not given them what they need to succeed. It’s one of the things I learned a long time ago as a young manager, if one of my people is not performing the way I want them to, it is my fault. Either I hired the wrong person, did not train them well enough, did not explain what I really wanted, didn’t give them the tools or support they needed… it was always something that I did wrong and I simply had to take accountability and ownership for fixing the situation. If you do the same, I’m confident you will get a positive resolution, one way or the other.

I hope you found this helpful in a very much look forward to your comments – John

20 Questions To Make Better Business Decisions

8D9xPlllM2WzeTfM4McZ-Tl72eJkfbmt4t8yenImKBU8NzMXDbey6A_oozMjJETcYears ago I attended a class on Precision Questioning and Precision Answering, it was a tough class but I learned a lot. One of the most important things I learned, which I had experienced many times in the business world, is that very few people use a process in order to make important decisions, they just go with general ideas and a gut feel. Again, from years of experience, I have watched many senior executives make huge decisions, multi-million-dollar decisions, not using any kind of a formal process for organizing their thinking. Here is a list of 20 questions I use when helping organizations to make important business decisions.

  1. What is the real timeframe for this decision?
  2. Who needs to be involved in making this decision?
  3. Who does not need to be involved in making this decision?
  4. Can this decision be overridden by a person higher in the organization?
  5. If so, why are they not making this decision?
  6. Do we have the data necessary to support making a good decision?
  7. How do we know that the data is reliable and up-to-date?
  8. Do we have the financial numbers necessary to make this decision?
  9. If so, how do we know that they are accurate and up-to-date?
  10. Who else in the organization will be impacted by this decision?
  11. Do they need to be involved in making this decision?
  12. How, specifically, will we implement this decision?
  13. What metrics will we use to track success or failure?
  14. Who, specifically, will be responsible for the implementation of this decision?
  15. What is the real timeline for the overall implementation of this decision?
  16. What do we expect, specifically, as a successful outcome from this decision?
  17. Is there anything we would have to stop doing or change in order to implement this decision?
  18. Will this decision have a major impact on our brand in the marketplace?
  19. Well this decision have a major impact on our customers?
  20. What are the ramifications if this decision is wrong or poorly implemented?

If you have to make a major decision in your organization I strongly encourage you to use this list of questions in order to ensure that you are making a good decision. I can’t guarantee that the decision will work out perfectly, but I can almost surely guarantee that if you don’t go over this list and at least entertain several of the key questions, there will be a good chance that the decision will fail.

Are there any questions that I missed?

On The Intolerance Of Mediocrity

5117ec57cab7b.imageI have spent the last 20 years of my career studying excellence. I have read dozens if not hundreds of books on the topic, interviewed CEOs, Olympic gold medalists, artists, musicians and other people who have achieved preeminence in their field. I especially enjoy spending time with world-class chefs who are insanely focused on producing only the finest dishes they can humanly make. Recently I read an article from one of the top chefs in the world that discussed how he built his restaurant into one of the most revered eateries on the face of the earth.

His simple four-step formula for excellence?

  1. Strive every day to be the best in the world.
  2. Be completely intolerant of mediocrity.
  3. Constantly innovate and push the envelope.
  4. Deliver a truly world-class dining experience to every customer.

I read that list and thought to myself that you could pretty much copy it, change number four a little bit, and it would apply to being excellent in nearly any business. But I have one big problem, its number two, something I believe in very strongly, but can cause a tremendous amount of stress in your life.

For those of us who want to be highly regarded at what we do, I believe it takes a complete intolerance of mediocrity, both in yourself and in those you work with. However, taking on that attitude means that you will often be frustrated and sometimes be seen as too aggressive or even a bully. I have been mentoring a young man that wants to be one of the top 10 chefs in the world and during a recent breakfast he asked me, “If I become one of the best chefs in the world, will any of the people that work for me like me?” And I quickly answered, “No, they will think you’re an asshole.” I know it sounds harsh, but it’s the truth. In order for him to demand near perfection and be completely intolerant of anything less than excellent, he will have to step on a lot of toes and bruise a lot of egos.

Which brings me back to…me.

I struggle mightily with this idea. I coach all my clients to stop tolerating mediocrity and to remove anyone on their team that is not a solid contributor to the success of the organization. According to a recent test I took, I literally broke the scale on self-competitiveness, so I obviously have no problem (or perhaps it is a problem) in pushing myself very hard to achieve excellent results. But I will say that my focus on making myself and my company absolutely the best I possibly can does make it extremely hard on the people that work with me and the vendors we do business with. I am accused by many of being too harsh, unrealistic and overly demanding – which part of me takes is a great compliment and the other part of me feels almost embarrassed about because I know how difficult it can be to work with me.

In the end though, I know that to achieve a high level of success I must be unwilling to settle for mediocrity. On the other hand I am coming to the realization that the distance between “Mediocrity – Good – Great – World-Class” has a lot of room for delivering fantastic work, without having to be constantly stressed and frustrated over not delivering world-class work. I understand now that driving for near perfection can often times drive people into the ground, yet if I challenge them to deliver the best they possibly can a level that I can accept as really, really great work – then I don’t have to be an ass. It’s a tough lesson to learn, but one that I’m working on.

What about you?

 

 

The High Cost of Poor Leadership

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I was recently asked by one of my clients to put together some statistics on the cost of bad leadership and the upside of excellent leadership. He needed this information so that he could help support an investment in hiring me to do an advanced leadership training workshop for his organization. I think that intuitively, most people understand that subpar leaders/managers obviously have a negative impact on the organization. However, when you look at how big the cost of poor leadership really is, then you begin to re-examine the importance of leadership development within the company. In order to review the high cost of poor leadership, I am sharing the information I sent to my client:

Poor leadership practices cost companies millions of dollars each year by negatively impacting employee retention, customer satisfaction, and overall employee productivity.

Evidence of the High Cost of Poor Leadership

According to research from the Blanchard Company:

  • Less-than-optimal leadership practices cost the typical organization an amount equal to as much as 7% of their total annual sales.
  • At least 9% and possibly as much as 32% of an organization’s voluntary turnover can be avoided through better leadership skills.
  • Better leadership can generate a 3-4% improvement in customer satisfaction scores and a corresponding 1.5% increase in revenue growth.
  • Most organizations are operating with a 5-10% productivity drag that better leadership practices could eliminate.

From other sources:

  • It’s a sad truth about the workplace: just 30% of employees are actively committed to doing a good job. Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report indicates that 50% of employees merely put their time in, while the remaining 20% act out their discontent in counterproductive ways, negatively influencing their coworkers, missing days on the job, and driving customers away through poor service. Gallup estimates that the 20% group alone costs the U.S. economy around half a trillion dollars each year. The single greatest cause for employee disengagement? Poor leadership.
  • Authors Rosen and Brown, for their book Leading People, compiled findings from more than a dozen studies that focused on leading companies from the Forbes 500, Fortune 500, seven hundred privately-held firms, and interviews at the three thousand largest companies in America, and Rosen and Brown found that current leadership is costing American companies more than half their human potential. To put that another way, improved leadership alone could double worker productivity. This translates directly to the bottom line. The single biggest influence on employee commitment and performance is the leadership skills of their managers.

From Harvard:

Quite simply, the better the leader, the more engaged the staff. Take, for example, results from a recent study we did on the effectiveness of 2,865 leaders in a large financial services company.

You can see a straight-line correlation here between levels of employee engagement and our measure of the overall effectiveness of their supervisors (as judged not just by the employees themselves but also by their bosses, colleagues, and other associates on 360 assessments). So, as you can see at the low end, the satisfaction, engagement, and commitment levels of employees toiling under the worst leaders (those at or below the 10th percentile) reached only the 4th percentile. (That means 96% of the company’s employees were more committed than those mumbling, grumbling, unhappy souls.) At the other end, the best leaders (those in the 90th percentile) were supervising the happiest, most engaged, and most committed employees — those happier than more than 92% of their colleagues.

*By Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman

Employee Engagement croppedPreventative Action for the High Cost of Poor Leadership

It would be easy to deliver another twenty pages of statistics showing both the negative and positive impact of leadership. Even if some of these numbers are skewed, the impact of the high cost of poor leadership is still so significant that it warrants serious attention. I would suggest that for most companies today, a focus on improving leadership skills and creating a winning culture that engages employees is likely the single greatest area for organizational improvement, and the fastest way to decrease costs and increase profitability. The high cost of poor leadership cannot be ignored.


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