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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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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Do The Crazy One’s Keep You Up at Night?

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Any better ad of all time than Apple’s “Crazy ones?”

I have no idea if this sold more Apple products, which in my opinion is the real definition of advertising success.

But sometimes, thoughts (communicated in ANY medium) serve a purpose other than selling.  They try to define the future for key people, in particular the troops within a business.

  • The crazy one’s drew a line in the sand and elevated apple to an idea, an aspiration, a license for people to be different.

Those people could be their customers, their employees, their suppliers.

Now ask yourself as a business leader:

  • How many crazy one’s are working for YOU?

  • How many suppliers in your network fit into this mode?

  • What about your competitors?

Are you OK with crazy one’s working for your competition?  Or does this thought keep you up at night?

There is comforting news if Crazy One’s working for your competition keeps you up at night:

Our education system doesn’t inspire crazy one’s.  It inspires conformists.  People coloring within the lines.  Talking when called upon.  So by definition, crazy one’s are not the norm.

Neither is greatness.

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The Growth Challenged Player: Warning Signs

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Most leaders like to talk about growth.  Few will do what’s necessary to make it more than a concept.

There are plenty of reasons for why businesses don’t grow:

  • Industry is flat to declining
  • Too many financial constraints (tight margins, leverage, lack of capital for investment)
  • Lack of talent
  • Competition is dominant

The list can be endless.  But at it’s core it is more basic than business constraints.

Growth begins and ends with INDIVIDUALS and their ability to grow themselves.  

This is ESPECIALLY the case if you happen to work in one of those “non-sexy” businesses that are tied to industries that measure growth in single digits vs double or triple digits.

For leaders wired for growth, there may be no MORE frustrating profile than people that are simply unable or unwilling to grow THEMSELVES.  If those people are in a key role, this can not persist for long or something will need to “give.”

Many people are not ready for dynamic growth.  Why?  It isn’t easy.  It creates CHANGE.  Some people flat out struggle with change.

There are clear warning signs for people that will struggle with a growth orientation.  One or two aren’t a problem, but if the person starts checking off multiple warning signs, leaders better be prepared to have a difficult conversation.

The “Growth Challenged” Warning Signs

If they are Growth Challenged…….they very well MAY:

  • LOVE their routine.  Same route to work.  Same activities.  Same check-list.  Same closing time.  Same starting time.  They value ROUTINE and the certainty it creates OVER the uncertainty of change.  Challenging routine is a no no.

  • Invest VERY LITTLE in themselves.  No books, newsletters, You Tube videos, courses, etc have been consumed and assimilated in MONTHS trying to take their game up a few notches.  Because that is a break from routine, or countless other excuses not to grow (no time, too busy, etc).

  • Never make noise.  Never involved in conflict that results from trying to push the envelope, get better, break things, bring people together and build a team.  Sometimes rumbles are good.

  • Always involved  in the same conversations, vs developing new ways to conquer new paths.

  • Stuck to old processes that worked in a stable world but add little value in a dynamic world.

  • Defensive when receiving feedback.  As if their purpose is to protect their own image vs. figuring out how to grow.

  • Never SEEK feedback.  Too risky, or why bother?

  • Don’t ask for help when they hit road-blocks.

  • New challenges always need to be handled by someone else…..

  • Cling to the past and may even question the fundamental premise of growth: “Is this even better?”

There are natural skeptics in the world, or people that like to play devil’s advocate with every new idea.  That doesn’t mean they are anti-growth.  These could be some of the greatest assets in building a growth mindset in companies.  That’s not what the growth challenged player is about…

Leaders need to understand if their players are capable and WILLING to grow.  

If there are multiple warning signs, they need to have a difficult conversation that makes the concern clearly known.  These are not conversations where you sugar coat.  If Growth is important and a key player exhibits anti growth tendencies (and multiple warning signs), they need to clearly understand this.

The leader has a choice if they do not want to confront the warning signs with the Anti-Growth Players:  Don’t confront it.  Continue to be frustrated.  Give yourself a nice little barrier on your marathon.  ANKLE WEIGHTS.

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A Leadership Challenge: Stay Humble. Hustle Hard

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Have you ever met a great leader that doesn’t exude confidence?  Probably not.

But sometimes, like all great strengths, confidence can be over-played and it can creep into…

  • Confidence’s twin evil brother:  Arrogance

  • Confidence’s twin evil cousin:   Cockiness

I would venture to guess that Confidence, Arrogance, Cockiness are adjectives that are somewhat common among C-suite leaders in the eyes of those that matter most:  The people they are supposed to lead.  Ask anyone that has gone through a formal self assessment where peers weigh into various leadership characteristics and they can tell you how humbling the process can be.

Which brings me to another great graphic a friend shared with me recently.

stay humble hustle hard

 

If you believe that TRUST is critical to sound relationships, than what better characteristic could describe a leader than…

HUMBLE

Not the typical word you hear when your thinking about titans of industry right?

But it IS possible to be humble, and also a driver with a healthy dose of confidence.

The great Tom Peters has 2 great concepts that inject a dose of humility in every leader

  • WDYT:   Ask What do you think?  Then shut up and listen.

  • MBWA:  Management by wandering around.  Get out of the ivory tower.

If both aren’t done daily, it will never become part of the leader’s DNA.

I’ll take this concept one step further.

How many mistakes does a leader make in a given month?  I’m not talking about simple “errors.”  I’m talking about real mistakes, that if we had the chance to go back in time and un-wind a decision or series of events, a better outcome would have resulted.  If you are in the business of growth and pushing the envelope, then there should be a handful by definition.

Team “Contact” Drill:
  • Pull your management team into a lessons learned session of the mistake.
  • Take responsibility, OWN it.  Explain what the person in the mirror could have personally done differently to create a better outcome.
  • Ask the team for their feedback, agreement, disagreement, other perspectives.
  • Ask the team for their thoughts, ideas, concerns on the road ahead.
  • Make some commitments
  • Follow-through

There’s no magic formula.  But it’s a fact that leaders don’t do enough listening.  That’s unfortunate, and it creates an environment that does not get the most of their teams talent.

There’s a thing about listening:  It’s a skill.  It takes practice.

Leadership is a CONTACT SPORT.  However, sometimes the “contact” is not outward, it needs to be directed to yourself, with the people you lead.  Thick skin optional, open mind mandatory. 

The great Jim Collins has written extensively about this trait and he describes it as “Level 5 Leadership” in Good to Great.  Here’s a great HBR primer on the topic:

Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve

https://hbr.org/2005/07/level-5-leadership-the-triumph-of-humility-and-fierce-resolve

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Want to Scale Your Career Mountaintop? Shatter Your Functional Stereo-Type

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Every function has its role in business.  Every function also has its “knocks or biases.”  Stereo-types if you will.

Have you heard of any of these sentiments?

  • Accountants are bean counters, but they really don’t have a clue about customers, internal or external.
  • Sales people are great with people, sure!  But they don’t get the bottom line and only think about the customer.
  • Marketing people are dreamers, but they can’t analyze themselves out of a paper bag!
  • IT thinks they are the gestapo!  Do they realize they are a support function, not a deli counter giving out a ticket?
  • Operations– No, they really won’t just “buy what we make,” there needs to be some kind of customization!
  • Senior management is so out of touch!  They really don’t know how the real work is done!
  • HR – Hiring.  Firing.  Party’s over!  HR is coming to the meeting?  Yikes!

Want a recipe for career success?

Find a way to shatter your functional stereo-type.

YES, be great at what you do.  That’s a given.

But if you want more  than just being an “accountant,” break the mold in what it means to be a great.

  • Do you know how to close the books as an accountant?  I sure hope so.  Can you pay your vendors and collect your invoices?  That’s like breathing.

You in sales?

  • Can you line up a big meeting to present your annual offering?  Of course, that’s why your in sales.  Can you form relationships with various types of personalities?  Like breathing.

You in IT?

Can you build a program to automate routine tasks?  Set up networks, hardware, software?  Well I hope so, it’s like breathing.

To be a “basic valued” employee, you better know how to breathe in your function.  Some people breathe easier than others, sure.  There are people that run marathons faster (and finish) better than others.  They flat out work harder at their craft than others.  Hustle is a choice.  

But it takes more than hard work to transcend the middle of the functional bell curve.

 

I would argue that any person that aspires to rise the ranks and become one of the best at what you do…….need to flat out work their ass off to “breathe” better than those around you.  But you’ll need an edge…..

Standing out and rising to the top of any one function (or beyond) requires not just breathing.  You’ll need to stand out from the rest.  Not just by being the best, but by breaking the mold and shattering what it looks like to be the best at what you do.  Shatter your functional stereo-type.  

Take the perception by the collar, lift it up and throw it back in the career stereo type pile.  Don’t be that guy/gal.  Be the anti-stereo type.

Think Superman.  He turned the tables, in his greatest moment ever.

And a CAUTIONARY NOTE:  Before tackling any ambitious project, it helps to get a baseline for where you are at.  In this context, have you mastered “Breathing?”  What do your peers think?  If not, start their.  

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