Leadership

What does YOUR Year End Review Look Like?

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The year end brings a perfect time to take a clear look back to see what worked and what didn’t in your business.  Too many times, senior leaders look at “did we hit our number?” as the all consuming barometer.  That is absolutely critical.  It’s also dangerous if that’s the only thing that’s reviewed with a magnifying glass. 

Start at the basics to ground you in the brutal economic truth.

  • Are your sales & profits up or down?  How close to your budget?

  • Are you getting better at what you do?  Usually your margin %’s are an indicator here, all things being equal (input costs, pricing), margins moving north indicate productivity improvements and/or favorable mix.  Sometimes businesses plan them up or down based on op ex investments, so margins relative to expectations are the critical view.

  • In almost all cases, up beats down…….but in my experience, businesses that can not grow margin rates over time are forced to grow the topline at accelerated rates, and that can be expensive for shareholders if it’s not done organically (ie via acquisition).  Growing margin rates and top-line revenue are obviously not mutually exclusive, doing both is where it’s at.

 

Investment & Focus areas

  • People/Team?  (new hires, promotions, existing employees), how have you done? 

    • Are key individuals getting significantly better, or are they treading water?
    • How much did you spend on training?  Did you see an impact?  If not, why?
  • Culture? 

    • Overall workforce engagement (morale) and ownership of outcomes and common definition of a great future.  What have you spent against this?  What was your ROI, or if too difficult to measure, would you repeat it?
    • What’s your turnover rate and is it better or worse?
    • What’s your safety record?
    • What are your quality defects?
    • Are you happy with the results orientation of the business among your people?  Or do they have just a cursory view of business performance and their respective role in improving it?
    • Is recruiting becoming easier because your existing workforce is turning into the company’s best advocates?
  • What does your business pipeline look like going into the new year? (Customers)

    • How strong are you with your existing customers?  Are they growing as a group, flat or declining?  What are their intentions going forward?
    • Strong enough to recover from key customer losses and still grow?
    • How does your innovation stack up?  Are the new products/services in development likely to pull margins up or down, or are you doing more of the same?
    • Are you telling your story (marketing) effectively and attracting people to YOU?  Have you embraced the world of digital or still part of the masses that think it doesn’t apply to you?
  • Process Improvements?  All areas of business have a process, whether well defined or not. 

    • Have you analyzed your key business processes to look for improvement?
    • What’s your key business process where the management team comes together?  How strong?
  • Equipment?  Better, more efficient, safe equipment, or more total capacity….

  • Technology? 

    • Still stuck in a world of cocktail napkins or contemplating a real company system?  Or are you stuck in a world of spreadsheets where power users get it, others struggle?
  • Last, is your company stronger financially at the end of 2016 vs. the start of it?  Multiple metrics for this, but your balance sheet ratios of liquidity, debt coverage, shareholder equity and cash are all good indicators.  NOTE:  All of these metrics are the outcomes of everything above

[Continue Reading…]

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Being “Title Blind” in The Sales Game: Learn From Sunshine

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There are a few things that won’t ever get old in business (or life).  Many times, they are painfully simple and don’t cost a nickle.

  • A smile

  • A pat on the back

  • “Please”

  • “Thank You”

  • Atta Boy!  Atta Girl!

  • I appreciate you!

You know what can get messy?

When you treat people dramatically different, or are BEING TREATED dramatically different once your title/role/position authority is understood.  The entire game is changed.

A brief story…

While sitting at the desk with an office staff all away from the desk, the office phone (remember those things?) rings.  I pick it up:

Me:  “LM Foods?”
Caller:  “Hi, Mr. X please.”
Me:  “Sorry, Mr. X is tied up in the plant, been a crazy week, how can I help you?  Where you calling from?”
Caller:  “Calling from company Y.  When is Mr. X Available?”
Me:  “Hard to tell, it’s a plant and he’s putting out fires, tell me what company Y does?”
Caller:  “Sir, I’m one of Mr. X’s vendors, why don’t I just call back at another time when Mr. X may be available!”
Me:  “What kind of business have we done with you in the past?”
Caller:  “I’m one of Mr. X’s Vendors, but you buy product A from us if you need to know and you bought it in January?”
Me:  “Interesting and thanks for sharing that, but Mr. X is not the person that can help you with that?”
Caller:  “I used to deal with Harry, he’s no longer there and someone told me to talk to Mr. X!”
Me:  “Why don’t you send me a brief e-mail with a short description of your company, how we’ve done business and if I have that context I’d be happy to get you to the right person so your not so frustrated?”
Caller:  “What is it that you do?”
Me:  “Well I own the company, on a good day!”

What do you think our caller did next?

  • First (after a long pause) the tone softened dramatically!
  • Than an apology for the short/terse conversation.
  • Then I counseled the caller that I felt a little bit of pressure when all I’m trying to do is help, “and to be honest the tone/vibe shouldn’t change when you learn of my position which is what I’m feeling right now.”

 

Unfortunately, I’m still waiting for the follow up email.

Sometimes helping sales people (or anyone) can only happen when they want to help themselves.

This little story reminded me of “the old days” and a former team member of mine.  I used to work with someone who earned one of the great nicknames that can be given to a human being:

“SUNSHINE”

Nicknames only matter when they stick.  Sunshine earned her nickname.  That’s what I felt when I interacted with her.  As did everyone around her.  Sunshine is human like all of us, had her bad days like all of us had.  But like the real sun, she rose each day.  And whether you were the owner of a company, or whether you were the janitor, she treats everyone like they are the most important person in the room, and status never got in the way of her basic, warm approach to human interaction.

At the end of the day, sales is about people connection.  Forming a bond with humans.  So is leadership.  So is doing a good job if you are a factory worker, a delivery person.

I believe most humans NOTICE when behavior changes on a dime, and whether they know it or not, they can spot the trigger of that change a mile away.  Those are the moments a connection is made, but all too often, it is LOST.

If a person’s behavior IMPROVES as the person recognizes a person title, when that title has some “status” watch out.

If a person’s behavior is great all the time, but ESPECIALLY thoughtful to the people at the lower rungs of the ladder, watch closely here as well.  That person may have a gift.  That could be a nose for sales.  Or an ability to lead or inspire.

Or maybe, that person just has a component of Sunshine?  One thing I’m fairly certain:  Every company needs a little Sunshine.

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The Empathy Void: Politics, Business, No Difference!

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Presidential election season is filled with interesting leadership lessons, voids and learning opportunities. One word comes to mind when I think about Leadership

em·pa·thy

According to our good friend Google….

ˈempəTHē

noun

1.  the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Pretty basic.  And arguably such a lacking trait among leadership, politics, and society in general.
Election season brings out a host of topics where our leading candidates, in one form or another seem to be devoid of this thing called EMPATHY.  Pick a topic….
  • Economy

  • Minimum Wage

  • Immigration

  • National Defense

  • Budgets/deficits/planning

Ask yourself:

Does the leader have any REAL, dirt under the nails experience with the topic at hand?  Or are they just trying to figure it out “on the fly?”

Who has more credibility on a given topic, the leader that has lived through it and therefore can articulate a vivid story of experience, or the one that simply pontificates to the audience affected by it?
I wouldn’t consider myself a political junkie by any means, but it is hard not to be tuned into national politics.  At the very least, you can certainly learn how NOT to behave in a leadership situation by observing the daily discourse.
At it’s core, EMPATHY is about “walking a mile in the other person’s shoes.”  Too many leaders have not done this, and they are at a severe disadvantage when leading their troops.

There’s something to be said for the Old School Leader, those that have started at the bottom and worked their way up.  This does not need to be a CEO, it could be a supervisor that manages 10 people in an organization of 150…..if they started at the bottom and worked their way up, I’ll put my money on them.  As long as they have a memory so they don’t forget where they came from!  

A leader with a healthy dose of Empathy is not guaranteed to succeed.  But it sure does tilt the deck in their favor.  How do you know if they have it?  

  • They demonstrate it.  They talk about what matters, the people surrounding them.  
  • They talk with admiration, passion and great detail about what it means to win, how they did it, the critical role of people and their “coaching” role in the process.  
  • You start to view them as someone that can do the job of the people they are being asked to lead.  Because they have done that in the past, and haven’t forgotten where they came from.  

When searching for the Empathy Trait, a close cousin of Empathy should emerge at some point:  

Humility  

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2 Warning Signs in Talent Selection

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One of the hardest areas in business to consistently get right is “picking winners.”  Great talent that makes an impact is a game changer for any business.  Of course, picking winners is easier said than done.

I’ve written on some recruiting challenges in the past….

The Talent Hunt:  Where’s the Will To Win?

Where Job Candidates Fail:  Articulating GBE

Talent Selection:  Skills or Values? 

Picking the winners is flat out hard, no matter how sophisticated the process.  Many people try different methods to increase their batting average:

  • Personality Profiles
  • “Case Study” Presentations – Give the candidate an assignment, have them present results to a panel
  • Extensive reference checking
  • Skill screening tests (especially for technical areas)

All methods provide insights/data points to increase the odds of success.  Unfortunately, I have yet to see a combination of methods that increases the odds over time.

However, I HAVE seen a couple of warning signs that DECREASE the odds of the candidates success:

  • A real hard charging focus on up-front salary negotiation  
  • A greater than “average” concern for a particular title, one that looks good on the resume’ or provides a degree of “prestige.”

Let’s take the first one, the hard charge towards maximizing the starting base salary.  I get it, I love the hustle, the ambition and the fight for what a candidate perceives to be their fair market “value.”  Salary is one of the most sensitive areas of business, it’s a black and white number that tends to be compared, analyzed and too much self worth wrapped up in that one number.  It’s one of the ultimate barometers of business.  There’s a problem however with the hard charging negotiation for candidates that have been extended an offer/invitation to join a company….

By definition, a job candidate that has been extended an offer has not accomplished one thing.  What they have demonstrated is an impressive showing BEFORE the bell rings.  

Their pitch on value is all related to potential, or their past track record.

Some level of negotiation could be considered “expected.”  However…

Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see a candidate completely confident in their ability to produce great results and say “why don’t we go with YOUR number, than lets sit down in 90 days when you actually see me action?”  Do you think that candidate would stand out while simultaneously showing they are willing to let their performance do the talking? [Continue Reading…]

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April Fool’s Day Matters

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Today, I knocked out a post on my company blog on April Fools day:

http://lmfoods.com/blog/april-fools-day-laughter-matters

April Fool's Day

Here’s the gist of it….

People at work flat out don’t laugh enough.  I mean REAL laugh, that takes oxygen, makes the ab muscles hurt.  With other co-workers.  That’s a crying shame.

I’ve often wondered why WORK is a viewed as a 4-letter word in way too many places.  Maybe, because far too many companies….

  • Value results over people, when people actually DRIVE the results.

  • Have cultures that value rules/process/protocol over individuals and diversity of thought.

  • Maybe they don’t value results at all, but value face time, politics and the people that conform to a certain mold?

Regardless of the reasons, April Fool’s Day is a reminder to not take oneself TOO seriously.

When you think of your most trusted, approachable people you’ve dealt with in business, do they take themselves SERIOUSLY, or not so much?  

I would argue the people that play lose, both with themselves and others tend to have an extra bounce in their step.  They become magnets for people to confide in, to trust.  Other functions in an organization seek them out over time.  

And dare I use a political metaphor, but people will “cross party lines” to be around those that don’t take themselves too seriously.  

April Fool’s day is a reminder to take it easy.

But everyday is an opportunity to Laugh.  To laugh hard, and laugh often.  At the very least, life is too short not too.

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Standing Up: If Not Now, When?

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There’s something about running a business and all the different twists and turns that can cause you to think.  Combine that with 3 strong cups of black coffee, the last day of 2015 (the day of turning 42!) and a look to the future and voila, a couple of thoughts.

I think of a great quality of life in terms of “Standing UP.”  Deciding what really matters in life.  Being true to yourself.  Being Real.  Making the tough call when needed.  What appears to be a tough call on the surface really is not……you’ve already determined what matters.    

So some real world examples….

One of the areas of business that I find fascinating are STAKEHOLDERS, how they are managed and IF/HOW one is more important than the others.

  • Employees.
  • Customers
  • Vendors
  • Owners/Shareholders
  • Debtors/Lending Institutions

Interests between stakeholders can sometimes appear to be in conflict.  Good leaders make them all co-exist together.  GREAT leaders will clearly articulate how they view stakeholders, talk openly about each, and back up their words with real actions.  They communicate their beliefs in ADVANCE any decisions that can be construed as conflict.  They welcome debate.  But when a decision needs to be made, it’s the leaders job to STAND UP.

My company, like many is financed by a combination of Debt and Investor Equity.  The Debt Piece I’ve found fascinating for a couple of reasons.

One smart banker called money “the ultimate commodity.”  I never thought of money that way before, and still have trouble getting my head around it.

A small lesson here:  The more smart people you come into contact with, the more challenges you will have to your world view, and that creates growth.

Rarely, will Debt be given without a hefty sum of collateral.  Want to mortgage anything?  There better be an asset in place.  And most times, that may not be enough, SOMEBODY will need to stand up and PERSONALLY guarantee the loan is safe and will be watched after.

The Personal Guarantee.  “PG.”  It’s a big one.  It’s a real test for an entrepreneur’s stomach, confidence, character and ability.

If money is indeed the ultimate commodity, than a PG is what stands between the money and the deal itself.  It’s a banks test.  Employees don’t have to deal with it.  Shareholders have risk, but its usually limited to their investment.  When $’s loaned > entreprenur’s net worth?  That’s a real test.  Many aren’t cut out for it.

The PG is one small example of STANDING UP.  Most will never experience it.

But STANDING UP (or not), happens everyday, and it happens to all of us.  There are choices that are made that move people forward, or keep them stuck.  People make choices everyday, based on their values, what matters, what doesn’t.

What can be the most stressful in life?  When people don’t clearly know what is important to begin with.

They aren’t “All in.”  They spread themselves like peanut butter, evenly across the landscape.  They either try and please everyone while the people and things that matter most aren’t clearly defined in their own mind.  People that try to please everyone usually end up pleasing nobody.  

When I look back on 2015, one of the most memorable and important moments came when a friend told me he was “all in” despite a character defining difficult decision that many would have been tempted by.  These are the people you go to war with.  And if your lucky, you grow old with these people.  They have their values front and center, and when they need to STAND UP, they do.

If people can stand up for THEMSELVES, they will eventually be able to stand up for OTHERS, and that matters even more.  Leaders ultimately fight for other people.  

2015 is in the books.  People everywhere will write their resolutions, some small, some big.  Many will dream big dreams, which is great.

What is NOT great, is when dreams of a better future happen with ZERO behavior change.  New, different, better ACTION.

Hustle happens to be verb.  A great life that you imagine takes real, intense action.

But hustle without understanding what’s important in life can be chaos.

Thinking through values matters.  It will allow you to be one step closer to STANDING UP.  That’s the first step towards action.  

So happy new year.  Wishing everyone the best, and thank you for listening.

It is hard to believe Hustle Or Bust has been kicking for 3 years now.  I thank my wife for kicking me in the rear to start this labor of love.

Actually, in many ways hustle or bust has been kicking for 42 years!

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A Lesson From The Shark Tank: Simplicity & Focus

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I love the Shark Tank.  It’s not only great entertainment, it’s a fantastic education to the start-up world and how entrepreneurs pitch investors, what’s important to both sides, sales/communication and how both sides come together to form a partnership (or not).

While all the sharks are brilliant, maybe the best overall clip I’ve seen is “Money” featuring Kevin O’leary.  He hits every important theme in brutal clarity.

It is clear how Kevin O’leary views the world.  He keeps it simple, and he evaluates everything quickly with a disciplined approach.  Everyone that watches the show, or this clip will quickly realize that you need to get to the point, show value, and most importantly, leave no doubt as to how you will protect and make money.

This got me thinking….

What if everyone had a “vision” as crystal clear as Mr. Wonderful’s, regardless of what they do in life?

What if everyone had a bed-rock mantra that differentiates them and makes them stand out?

Would they not be more successful?  More happy in whatever they do?  ABSOLUTELY.

Lets take your basic professional worker in a “grey area” results role.  I consider a grey area role anything that is not PURE and tied to easily measurable contribution, which in business is the majority of roles.

  •  Direct Sales may be the easiest to assign a numerical contribution too, although the value of sales driven by one person vs all the other contributors is always debatable.

How do MOST workers value their OWN performance to their employer?

If I had to sum it up, MOST would view their performance in terms of INPUTS, not OUTPUTS.  In other words, the amount of effort, dedication, attitude and approach they put into the role, vs the actual outcome of all those characteristics.

  • If I work hard and put in the extra hours, life will be good.
  • If I’m well respected and liked, life will be good.
  • If I’m dependable, reliable and know my job I’ll be valuable.
  • And on the story goes….

What would the Kevin O’leary equivalent manager use to evaluate the performance?

OUTPUTS FIRST.  INPUTS second.  And a distant second.

 

 

If you want the long version spread across all of the sharks, here’s a good one.

 

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Talent Selection: Skills or Values?

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My world view around phenomenal business success is clearly centered around the “soft” issues of business.

As Tom Peters brilliantly put it: “Soft is hard.  Hard is soft!”

Culture.  Team Work.  Service.  > Strategy.  Planning.  Analysis.

All are important yes.  But if we all hand endless resources we could apply equal pressure to all of them.  But we do not.

Lately I’ve spent an enormous amount of time trying to get the people area right, particularly in the area of NEW talent coming into the business.  And like any area where new energy is applied, you should start to see results emerge, which was the case in this area.

Since putting new pressure on ramping up the hunt for new, great talent, it’s clear that I’ll need a governing principle for selecting among a pool of qualified people.  How to pick among multiple highly qualified candidates?

  • Greatest skill set?
  • Greatest GBE?
  • Greatest personal story?
  • Best match to the job description?
  • Consensus pick among the interview team?  The “vote”?
  • Highest scores among a combination of key criteria?

All are important.  But I came down to one clear acid test:

The person that most closely matches the CORE VALUES of what the company is built around will be the candidate that comes in the door.  Period. 

Skills and job descriptions will always matter.  But the match to core values will be the difference maker.

The challenge for leaders will always be defining core values.  Living them daily.  Creating vivid pictures and stories about why they matter. Who lives them.

Every company is different.  All companies define Core Values differently.  Some seem generic, wordy and could apply to any company on earth.

At my company, LM Foods, our core values are 2 Simple Words:

HEART

HUSTLE

Subject to interpretation?  Yes.  Crystal clear to everyone inside of the organization?  A work in progress, but getting closer everyday.

For talent selection, be crystal clear that the candidate selected is the superior match on Core Values.  Let this be your #1 difference maker, not the easily measured hard skills. 

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The Hidden Secret to Rocky’s Success? Relationships

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Spike TV ran a Rocky Marathon on 4th of July, and of course I got sucked in for what had to be the 100th+ time of my life watching the great American Classic.  Like all great movies that get watched over and over, you tend to pick up new lines each time through.  This time was no different.

What struck me more than ever, was the phenomenal impact that Rocky’s managers and friends had on his great life story.

From Mickey, Paulie, Apollo and Tony, Rocky had interesting and deep relationships that shaped his life.  Below are a handful of clips, they also make great conversation starters for team meetings.

Mickey

Wasted Talent:  Confronting Brutal Realities.  

Woman Weaken Legs:  It’s not just the job at hand, it’s the whole picture.  Throw in a little chicken ass and you have a great moment.  

Mickey:  Church Scene.

Sometimes you just need to say your piece, regardless of what is appropriate.  Than sit back, and be with your guy.  Until the Moment Strikes to get back at it.

 

“What Are We Waiting For?”

Great managers tell people the truth, even if it isn’t pleasant.  

The most cringe-worthy training scene of the entire series.  Rocky looses his Old School Fundamentals, despite Mickey’s urging to get back to the old gym.  

Friends Owe, or Don’t Owe?  

How can you talk about the success of Rocky without recognizing enemies turned best of friends?  

Apollo creed was in a unique position to train/mentor/support like no other before or after him, but it required a dose of humility.

Rocky & Appolo’s last talk.  They were both right.  Fighting or real life, a talk everyone can relate too.  If you can have a talk like this with one or two friends, consider yourself lucky.  

Rocky 4, Tony.  The New School version of Mickey.  

Even the when the odds seem insurmountable, there is always an angle to find.  

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Where Job Candidates Fail: Articulating GBE

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The Jersey Shore

The Jersey Shore Reality show (if you can call it that).  Yes, I cringe at the portrayal of young Italian Americans in this light, from my home state.  And of course I can relate and found it comical.  But they captured perfectly with their GTL Acronym:  What the daily routine looks like.

 

So why do I think about the Jersey Shore and GTL when it comes to hunting for great talent?  Simple….

Job candidates everywhere struggle to articulate what I would consider their number one goal on an interview:  To Articulate their GBE.

Great.  Business.  Experience.  (GBE). 

I made this up.  Jersey Shore Style. 

What is it?

GBE is any business (or LIFE) experience that demonstrates value to an employer and eliminates risk associated with hiring.  That $1 invested in the potential new employee will likely return AT LEAST $2, but likely more. 

Because they have done it before.  And if they have NOT done it before, they clearly get that this is the standard in business: CREATING VALUE.  They understand that results trumps all. 

Where is this even more important?

  • Upper management jobs, stakes go higher as the compensation grows
  • Jobs that are not easily quantifiable to the person (translation: most outside of direct sales).

Most hiring managers look for specific qualifications listed on a resume.  Good ones also look for the cultural fit to the organization.

Candidates that succeed in their job pursuits have a significant HUSTLE factor.  They get that a hiring manager has many choices. To cut through the clutter, they need to bring their GBE to the table.  They need to leave no doubt that a $ spent will result in multiple $$ earned by saying yes to the candidate.

Resumes list qualifications.

Interviews are your chance on stage.

Don’t miss your chance to tell your GBE story. 

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