According to Dr. Mike Bechtle, most people stop pursuing their New Year’s resolutions on January 17. Why? By then we have transitioned from focusing on a specific goal to gutting it through a new routine that has yet to become habit. And thus, people lose sight of their purpose and the energy to pursue it.
If you want to beat the odds, then perhaps you’d like to join Caroline Adams Miller and Positive Business DC for Creating Your Best Life for Success. Miller, an internationally known coach who speaks frequently on the topic of goal accomplishment and its connection with happiness, holds a Master’s degree in Applied Positive Psychology. She is recognized as one of the world’s subject matter experts on the relationship between goal setting and positive psychology, and released a book under the same title a year ago.
On January 31, Miller will share how people can apply the latest research on goal attainment and well-being at Positive Business DC’s second Well-being in The Workplace event. The group draws on the latest research in neuroscience, neuroleadership, and positive psychology to teach how the science of well-being can improve companies, corporate culture, and the bottom line. The Meetup will be held at Teqcorner (1616 Anderson Road, McLean, VA). Networking begins at 6:00 and Miller will begin her presentation at 6:45. Food and beverages will be provided.
Registration for Creating Your Best Life for Success is free. There are only a few seats left, so don’t wait to snag one!
Last month the Harvard Business Review published an interesting article about strategy derailment. Most of us have experienced it first-hand. The executive team rolls out a new strategy to capture market share, cut costs, or create synergies to streamline execution. And then the change initiative stalls out. The HBR post cites three factors that derail new corporate strategies. People:
- Verbally agree to support the change, but don’t mean it
- Look the other way rather than confront issues
- Lack persistent reinforcement by management… the pieces will just “fall into place,” right?
While addressing these challenges will help improve the success rate of your change initiative, they alone do not guarantee success. If you’ve got large-scale passive aggressiveness (point #1), then you have politics and deep-rooted cultural issues that need attention.
Trust and authentic communication lie at the core of a successful strategic transitions. These basic ingredients must exist in order for desired changes to occur.
Motivation lies at the heart of change. What’s in it for me… or for us? Does the strategic shift inspire people and give them a sense of purpose? What reward comes from making the new strategy successful?
The mere thought of change causes fear. Your people need to know they’ll receive recognition and reward for their contributions. Keep in mind that extrinsic rewards wear off over time while intrinsic rewards provide sustained motivation and satisfaction.
A shift in strategy requires a concurrent shift in structure and processes. If you’re reconfiguring jobs, involve the people affected. If you’re looking to improve operations, then lead a grassroots movement. The people who perform the work will have the best approach and brainstorming with them only serves to improve the quality of everyone’s ideas. It also enrolls people across the the organization in transformation.
Eliminate confusion. Establish accountability by setting clear, achievable goals. Define and communicate roles and responsibilities so employees know how to engage with one another. And finally, give people the authority to perform their jobs well. You can further set the stage for success by providing the tools and training your people will need to execute the new strategy.
Constantly reinforce the vision. Talk about how the company will look, feel, and perform as it executes its new strategy. Keep people looking forward. One of the strongest indicators for failed execution is when an executive team announces a new strategy, designates someone who sits further down the org chart to lead the charge, and then just walks away. That action sends the most powerful message of all.
My parents are mathematicians, and taught me as a child to learn all the formulas, run all the numbers, and find the right answer. That was my mindset through high school, where I was captain of the math team. Then freshman year of college I studied psychology under a brilliant professor who opened up a whole new world for me — one where there is no single right answer, and where people’s perceptions rather than some absolute truth are, as a practical matter, paramount.
The challenge and joy of being a business leader is the merger of these dual perspectives: Unless you’re skilled at both you’re in trouble, or at best your success will be relatively short-lived.
As CEO you need to excite customers, instill passion and ambition in your team, and sensitively resolve conflicts — endeavors at which you can’t succeed without skillfully probing the needs, dreams and anxieties of others; in other words, without being an excellent psychologist.
Yet everywhere in business there are disciplines where more deterministic rules of the road must be learned: In finance and strategy, technology and operations, and even sales and marketing. These laws are not quite as clear-cut as those of math – there are wider ranges of acceptable answers, allowing for more creativity – but if you fail to learn and live by them you do so at your company’s peril.
Business is roughly equal parts art and science, and great leaders master both. If you choose to focus on one and downplay the other you’ll succeed only up to a point, and not for as long as you’d like.
When much to the relief of our European allies the United States finally entered World War II, Winston Churchill famously said that Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing, after we’ve exhausted all the other possibilities.
I’ve known too many CEOs who act this way. They agonize interminably about getting rid of the executive who is making it harder for others to do their jobs, or repeatedly put off exiting an unprofitable business which has no real hope of a turnaround. When presented with an opportunity to invest in a new business or technology, they equivocate for too long, lowering the probability of success when they finally decide to move ahead.
Time really is money, and delay is not free. You not only degrade the result of the decision through delay, you squander management attention and money by working out “all the other possibilities.” The motivation of your team and your credibility as CEO are compromised as well.
Try the following technique. When you’re faced with a decision and can’t make up your mind, give yourself two seconds to decide. Not later, right now. Then go do all the data-gathering, analysis and possibility-exploring you’d like, and decide again. You’ll be surprised how often (more than nine times in ten) your initial instinct is verified, because even the first time you decided (in two seconds) your brain had already been processing the decision and the data for a long time.
Part of being a superb leader is learning to move on less information and therefore to move faster. By doing so, you multiply what your company can achieve and how far it can go.
Last month The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step-By-Step Guild for Building a Great Company hit the Amazon ‘bookshelf.’ The Startup Owners Manual is a sequel to Steve Blank’s book, The Four Steps to the Epiphany, and is designed to help entrepreneurs build a successful business based on the customer development process.
Take a look at the Customer Development Manifesto to get a sneak peek at the thinking behind the book. Built on lessons learned, the manifesto suggests that learning and flexibility lie at the heart of growing a startup into a sustainable business. In fact, the learning process relates to at least eight of the 17 elements that emphasize the customer development process.
Of those elements my favorite is, “If you’re afraid to fail, you’re destined to do so.” It’s similar to the axiom, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” First popularized over 200 years ago, the saying was used as the means to encourage American schoolchildren to persevere when faced with adversity.
Try, try again wove its way into the American culture, which embedded creativity and invention into the fabric of our economic development. More recently, however, we’ve experienced a push to find ‘one right answer’ in the classroom. The idea that only one answer can be ‘right’ has weakened our cultural drive to experiment and makes some people afraid to try.
The willingness to try and fail fosters tenacity, improves problem-solving skills, and establishes a certain comfort level for risk and experimentation that leads to hitting a business formula that works. These personality traits imprint early in serial entrepreneurs who consciously inject learning into organizational DNA so that it embeds in both culture and systems. In the end, success often boils down to attitude and execution.
- Ask the right questions
- Conduct due diligence
- Assess value
The same advice applies when looking for employees, professional service providers, and contractors. You need to get to know the people you’ll be working with to ensure synergy. Do your business philosophies align? Will they care as much about your success as you do? Are processes compatible?
Perhaps most importantly, are personalities compatible? You’re looking for shared values, diversity, experience, talent—and people who will sometimes disagree with you. The ability to challenge one another’s thinking in an environment based on respect and trust can prove to be an invaluable asset.
Asking the right questions helps you get to know people and deliberately build chemistry inside and outside of the company. Not only will you improve your company’s success rate, the journey will be a whole lot more rewarding for everyone involved.
The same is true for any high-leverage position in your organization: Sales, head of marketing, head of operations, head of human resources, your technical leadership, and yes, CEO. When you put an exceptional person in that position, all sorts of good things happen: Better products, more satisfied customers and employees, better people working around them, less internal friction, greater efficiency, more revenue, and more profit. You can argue the “30X” magnitude of the great-vs.-good effect, but the effect itself and its dramatic impact are indisputable. (The same concept also applies to staffing within each sub-organization of your company.)
So why do you settle for only “good”? Or worse yet, so-so? Once you embrace the huge returns that come from employing great people, you’ll happily spend much more effort filling open positions, you’ll pay more to attract and retain the best people, you’ll coach and mentor more actively and skillfully, and you’ll be more decisive and timely in removing laggards from your organization.
After I’ve met with the key people in a company I can predict its level of marketplace and financial success with uncanny accuracy, because great people hit home runs, good people produce reasonable results, mediocre performers deliver stagnation, and poor performers cause bankruptcy. You’re welcome to choose whichever you want, but if you plan on being the leader who defies that pattern, the odds are not in your favor.
“Sincerity is the key. Once you learn to fake that, you’re golden.”
Such is the creed of many a salesman, and many a leader.
There’s just one problem with that approach: It doesn’t work. You spend too much time with your employees, your partners, your customers, and for that matter your friends to successfully fake sincerity for very long. Sooner or later, they see you for who you really are, not for who you are pretending to be.
That’s not to say you can’t learn to be sincere. I’ve observed leaders who learn the hard way to genuinely care as they mature, when the other approach either fails or leaves too bitter an aftertaste. They’re motivated both by good intentions and the desire to succeed, because they learn that the two truly are mutually reinforcing over the long haul. So if you suspect that your insincerity is well known (and it probably is), take heart: You can actually become the leader you are pretending to be, if you’re willing to be introspective and are willing to change.
All leaders need to motivate the people around them. In fact, if you want to achieve great success, you need to motivate them to do extraordinary things. And all businesspeople, one way or the other, need to sell. To do either successfully and consistently, you need to be genuine. If instead you’re faking it, perhaps it’s time for some soul-searching, and some self-improvement.
A recent study revealed that basketball players are more likely to attempt a three-point shot if they hit their previous three-pointer. However, the shooting percentage on that shot is considerably lower than that of players who had missed their previous attempt, because the previously-successful shooter was less discriminate in his shot selection.
That phenomenon may explain why successful second acts in business are relatively rare. Once we’ve had a big score, we assume an inflated sense of our own invincibility. The care we took to secure that first score takes a back seat to an assumption that anything we touch will turn to gold, through the sheer force of our leadership, will and personality. Unfortunately, it’s rarely that easy.
In other words, success is dangerous. Those of us who have won before need to be even more careful than first-timers to be strategically and analytically rigorous before making new investments, asking questions such as: Is this an arena where our strengths give us as much of an advantage as they did for our initial success?; Will we be up against tougher, more intractable competitors?; Is this new market more mature, more price-sensitive or less attractive?; Will the company culture and individual drive that created our first success survive into our next stage of growth?
I hope you’ll take that next three-point shot. And many after that. But if you do, double down on your strategic analysis and your implementation due diligence, rather than banking on success breeding success. It’s a much higher-percentage shot.
Yesterday we watched Governor Bob McDonnell sign the proclamation designating 2012 as the Year of the Entrepreneur. Virginia’s tendency towards business friendliness already produces one of the highest startup rates in the US, which corresponds to a relatively low unemployment rate. (The Commonwealth ranks 9th lowest in unemployment.)
How does Virginia perform so much better than its counterparts? The Governor invites meaningful dialogue between small business and government to gain a clear understanding of the challenges entrepreneurs face… and then works with our legislature to take action.
So, what does that mean to residents? If you’ve been thinking about taking the plunge, it’s time to stop thinking and start doing. The Commonwealth has a number of quality programs and resources available. You might want to start by checking into the Virginia Department of Business Assistance and picking up the Small Business Resource Guide.
You might also want to take a look at FounderCorps. Located in our back yard, people who have ‘been there, done that’ in high growth businesses volunteer their time to promote ‘a broader and deeper entrepreneurial experience.’
While small business owners receive advice from all types of professional services providers, FounderCorps takes formal, organizational roles and economics out of the picture. Their approach to mentorship improves the quality of the advisory relationship, which can make a big difference in the success of your business.
For those of you who read yesterday’s blog, I calculated the ratio of men to women in the room. With an estimated 75/25 split, we have already blown California out of the water. Let’s keep the momentum going.