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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An Employer’s Perspective: On-line No Pay MBA vs. Traditional MBA?

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I am fascinated by the market for higher education.   My views of the market are shaped through the eyes of 3 roles I currently play in life:

  1. As a father of 2 youngsters (7 & 10) having the challenge of figuring out how to fund what will likely be north of a half million dollars, wow!

  2. As the writer of a leadership/business blog: Hustle Or Bust:  Where Old School Meets New School.

  3. As CEO of LM Foods.  A company that aspires to be one of the great little manufacturing plants in the USA.

In January of 2013 I wrote my longest post ever (1,500+ words) on Hustle or Bust:

4 Reasons the College President Sleeps Well at Night….While Their Industry Awaits Disruption

If you don’t want to read 1,500 words, here’s the summary:  The higher education market is showing all the signs of being in the middle stages of disruption.  There’s plenty of reasons why they will avoid the fundamental shift to a new, more efficient model like the record industry, book industry all experienced (and didn’t end well for many in the “don’t change” mode).

To say that I’m fascinated by the movement towards MOOC’s (“Free on-line courses”), and in particular the structured approach profiled on No Pay MBA is an understatement.  That’s from the perspective of a Father, and the perspective of a student of business.

But I play another role in life.  It consumes 65+ hours a week.  It consumes 90% of my mental “think time.”  It’s that of company owner, CEO.  And from that vantage point, the audience of No Pay MBA may be interested in my thoughts related to the following:

Can a MOOC education translate to employment opportunities the way a conventional degree can?[Continue Reading…]

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Your First 90 Days & The Only School That Matters

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The first 90 days on a new job are probably the most critical for ANYONE.  It’s a time when you are confronted with so many new things….

  • New Colleagues:  Establishing sound relationships, remembering names, knowing who the key opinion leaders are

  • The Culture:  One of the critical components.  Here’s a primer.

  • The business model of the company:  How they generate money and improve over time

  • External stakeholders of the business:  Customers, suppliers, investors

And of course, your JOB.  What you were hired to do.

It brings me to the critical question:

Who’s the #1 person in charge of training a new employee?

  • The direct manager?
  • The “training” manager?
  • The peers of the new employee?
  • All of the above?
  • None of the above?

If I answer as the leader of a company, I probably lean towards “All of the above.”

If I’m giving practical advice to 99% of the world?  NONE OF THE ABOVE.

The person in charge of successfully on-boarding a new employee, is the NEW EMPLOYEE.  The person in the mirror is the one in charge.  The one with the most at stake.  The one that has the most to learn, and if they don’t learn it, they will not survive.

The stakes are even higher, if that person…

  • Has > 5 years of experience.  Companies hire for experience for a simple reason:  Most are not good at training, and they are paying for the accelerated ramp up experience SHOULD provide, but often does not.  The more experience, the > the expectations.  
  • Is working for a person (direct manager) that may fall into one of my favorite institutions:  The Old School.

Everyone has a different definition of what it means to be Old School, but most agree on the general characteristics.  Fact is, put a new employee reporting to an Old School manager, and that new employee better get used to the person in the mirror being in charge.  Why?

The Old School Leader tends to gain their satisfaction from:

  • Results, not pedigrees.

  • Sincere effort.  Blood.  Sweat.  Tears.  Paying your dues.  Action > Talk.

  • In short, the Old School Leaders almost always has Dirt Under Their Nails.  They wear it as a badge of honor.   They believe in leaving it all on the field.  Hustle mandatory, not optional.

Want to find a surefire way to UN-successfully fail on your first 90 days?  Come off acting like a robot, a stuffed shirt, a business wonk, a theorist.  Don’t get your hands dirty.  Don’t show the effort beyond normal working hours.

Imagine this:  A new employee enters the following scenario (extremely common by the way)

  • The company is not “sexy,” but it’s manufacturing, one of the pillars of our great economy.  Margins are measured by pennies on the $.
  • The key people all have 10+ years of great experience building that company.  They are successful BECAUSE of these very people.
  • They are all generally “Old School.”

What’s the recipe for failure?

  • Work normal business hours.  Remember, we are dealing with Old School.

  • Don’t ask questions.

  • Don’t offer to help people swamped.

  • Don’t get your hands dirty in the ugliest, un-sexiest assignments.

  • Most important:  Don’t build trust.  Break commitments.  Don’t “Do what you say you will do.”

Common sense?  You bet.  Broken often?  ABSOLUTELY.

If you were to analyze why most new hires do not make it, I bet the root cause is simple:  There’s a tendency for the new employee to not count on the most important person to get it done:  The person in the mirror.

Most of the time, where and IF a person went to college doesn’t matter.  But everyone has gone to school.  If you are starting a job and those people are from the Old School, strap yourself in.  Be humble.  And be prepared to garner respect the old fashion way:  Earning it.  

 

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The Power of a Text Message

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A recent text message exchange with a team member, I mentioned we should give some “thoughtful planning” to a company Labor Day celebration.  Labor Day is a time when our company comes together as one for BBQ, and since everyone is in the same place and away from the production floor, it’s a great opportunity to send and receive important messages about where we are at and where we are going.

There’s a problem, or opportunity however in this exchange, depending on your view of the world.

When asked:  “What shall we do?”  I did my best version of project management and wrote the following:

Cook.

Message.

Campaign.

Sell.

Laugh.

Eat.

Work.

Hustle.  Celebrate.

Live.  Hug.

Ball-Bust.

“That’s a rough outline.”  12 simple words.  

Text messages are great for free flow thinking, but not really project management.

For most people, this exchange can be infuriating.  For players that like to write a playbook and not just execute one that’s been handed to them, I would think this is energizing.

There’s a thing about project management I’ve learned?  It doesn’t motivate me.  But it’s important.  It breaks down a vision into concrete steps.

I always wish I had the project management skills of my sister.  She could PM her way off an island in any time-frame given.  

Sometimes, the best laid vision of success is a words picture.  As the great Stephen Covey once said:  “Start with the end in mind!”  

For me, Words help with that process.  

One of my best friends once declared in our college yearbook:  “Words are everything!”  

He’s right.

What else is “everything?”  PEOPLE.

Find people that can take an exchange like this and make a words picture a reality and you have something special.  

 

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Guest Post: The Longest Month of the Year

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If August were a person it would be my frenemy.

I love the nostalgia that is associated with “back-to-school” time.  It reminds me of my childhood and my mother stocking our “school drawer” with all of our school supplies, shopping for new shoes and clothes and later in life of me beginning a new chapter of my life and going off to college.

Now that I am a stay-at-home-mom to three of my own and living in coastal North Carolina, August seems to be the longest month of the year.

You see, school starts back here in late August but it is also our “monsoon” season as I like to call it; hot, rainy and kind of insufferable.  Patience are short and days are long when you can’t spend your time frolicking at the beach, pool or park because it won’t stop raining.

Just last Friday, my children were being exceptionally good.

I mean, “entertaining-themselves-all-day-with-my-foot-spa-and-giving-each-other-foot-rubs-good”; yeah, their idea of “fun” is different, I am aware.  It was 4:00 and I had been doing housework most of the day while they played together so when I was preparing dinner and realized that I was short two ingredients, I didn’t think that it would be much of an inconvenience to any of us to hop in the car and drive the two short blocks to the store to grab what I needed.

I think you know where this is going, right?  Mistake.  Big mistake.

Not having been in public all day, my children did not know what to do with themselves.  And as soon as I walked in the door there was a complimentary table set up whereby I was instantly distracted.  How could I refuse a sample of Hawaiian Moonfish/Opah that had been flown in from the Big Island that day (did I mention that I love all things Hawaiian?).

As I’m talking with the Fishmonger I turn in horror to find my three children on the floor like a pile of dominos!

They are tangled as if they were a pair of double-knotted shoe laces and I can’t tell whose arms/legs are whose or whose cries belong to whom.  That high pitched sound didn’t come from my oldest boy, did it?  Surely these are not my spawn!? With a mouth full of fish, panic sets in.  What the (bleep) would my Mom do?  Nothing!  My sisters and I would not dare dreamt of behaving like this in public.  People are looking at my children as I am frozen with a smile on my face. This is going to have to go further back than “What Would My Mom Do? “We’re talking “What Would Jesus Do?”  

So I look over at the other sample table. Water–>Wine.

The wine rep gives me an empathetic smile, pushes two sample cups towards me and offers, “I have 5 children.”  I calmly sipped my wine, gathered my children off of the floor and proceeded to the self checkout.

Sanity is optional but dignity will remain.

 

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The Crazy One’s: “Retail Negotiating”

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This picture seems innocent enough right?  A customer (who is also a colleague of mine) contemplating their order at the Golden Arches.

While working the graveyard shift (2:30pm – 5am) we made an 11pm run to Dunkin Donuts and Mcd’s to keep the troops fueled, productive and a very small thank you.

Negotiating at Mcd's

This is a fun little drill I subject select people too…..

“Retail Negotiating:”

Trying to get a deal for basic things, where deals are never cut.  It will drive 99% of the population crazy, and create a fair amount of embarrassment.  

And of course, I love it.  

Your looking to engage.  And Score.  And make a little life moment.  

  • A free donut.
  • A cheaper price on the $ menu.
  • Throw in something extra.
  • See what your server is made out of.

Here’s the Negotiating Drill in action:

  • $80 of Mcd’s is a ton of food.  What’s the average ring, $7?  Time to have some fun.
  • Shouldn’t they give us 4 large cups of ice for free?
  • Shouldn’t they throw in apple pies for free?
  • Wouldn’t walking away with just our $80 purchase put us in the rest of the 99% of America, the sane?

I put my colleague to the task, providing nice “encouragement” while she assessed me as borderline pathological.  But she was game to try….and here’s what we learned.

  • She needed to pull out her Spanish on the manager.
  • She also found out they do $10k in revenue per day, a number I would not have guessed (and I’m skeptical of).  And we were the largest sale of the day.
  • She got 4 extra large cups of ice thrown in for free.  And about 5 free apple pies.  But this was after being told we would be charged for the Ice.

To borrow an expression from the New School? BOOM!  She got something done.  We laughed.  We learned a couple of things we didn’t know.  

  • Dunkin Donuts was tougher.  Elmo was our server, and how can you not like a server named Elmo?  He said he’d lose his job.  I told him our people are working with heavy machinery and the caffeine he’s providing is an enormous safety issue, he won’t lose his job.  He laughed to himself.  He thought we were crazy.  He may be right.
  • We worked hard to get 4 coffee rolls put into our 2 dozen donuts without paying the incremental charge.  Maybe a $.75 win.  But a win nonetheless.

These are fun little moments in life.  Chances to interact with people and push them out of their comfort zone.  

Little moments make days stand out, for the negotiatOR and the negotiatEE.  

Opportunities are everywhere to learn something.  To make an impact.  To attack life with energy.  And maybe…. create a few smiles along the way.  

Hustle knows no off days.

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Want to Lead? Grab a Squeegee & Make it Your Friend

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I love metaphors & symbols.  They bring a point home clearly, better than words alone can do.

You know what brings home a point even better?  ACTIONS.  The EXAMPLE you set.

In a food manufacturing facility, water on the floors tends to be all around, and it’s also a safety risk.  There’s an Old School Tool to combat water on the floor:  The Squeegee!

squeegee as a metaphor for leading

If your a leader and want something done, encouraging people to take ACTION against something important is mandatory.

“Keep the floors dry, PLEASE!”

Even more important?  Backing up your Plea with your OWN behavior.

Never let the squeegee go untouched and get lonely.  Pick it up and make it your friend.  Pull some water off the floor.  Do it daily.  More than 1x per day.  Your team will notice, then follow suit (eventually).

Grabbing a squeegee for even 30 seconds while running to your next appointment will set the tone for the troops.

Directives are always needed.  Backing up a directive with ACTION brings the importance to life.

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A Look Back @ A Career First: Violating 50% of A Success Mantra

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I have been accused at times for being a bit “extreme” in my personal habits.  The one that has always raised eyebrows the most is my “Start EARLY!” mantra.  This is still one of the most visited posts on Hustle Or Bust.

Not early in the conventional sense, but the 4am work-out, 5:30am desk start.  By most standards, this is viewed as a bit extreme, which I understand.

Interestingly, from March of 2014 through mid June, I violated half the equation, which was the 4am workout.  I can rationalize it by saying I was living in temporary quarters, away from home and my 24 hour gym.

The fact is, I let excuses creep in and allow me to do only half the equation, the 5:30 am desk start.  What did I give up on the front half?

  • About 50-60 workout @45 minutes- 1 hour.  Granted, I still got SOME activity in (stretching, walking, etc), but sweating in the gym > piecing it together.
  • About 20 minutes of podcast listening from thought leaders, about 1,000 minutes of “lost education.”
  • Lost “incremental calories burned” = 50 lost workouts * 250 calories burned  = 12,500 calories lost.  Yes I’m a geek!
  • Guess how many calories are in 1 pound?  3,500.  12,500/3,500 = 3.5 lbs excess.  How much did I gain in this time period?  4.5.  Sounds like my routine break caused 80% of the problem!

Being a bit of a data geek and recording every workout for the past 6 years (time/date, minutes & weight) I can easily rattle off cause and effect of my routine to an outcome.  But you don’t need a spreadsheet to tell you a change in routine can create different results.

So where did these 90 hours go?”

  • I certainly didn’t sleep it away.  Basically, I stayed up later than usual and spend the time with my sister, brother in law and god-daughter.  That’s priceless, after being away from them for 8+ years and worth every minute.  Giving away 90 hours to sleep would have been a pure waste.

Did my business results fall off?

  • Not at all, but hard to tell.  I finished the due diligence of LM Foods, finalized the acquisition and put in about 70 days at the helm with decent results (met objectives).
  • The hard to tell part is what it WOULD HAVE BEEN if I kept my old routine?  I actually would say “not as good!”

Was the break in routine worth it?  

  • ABSOLUTELY!   The time at night with my sister was invaluable.  She’s the most organized, disciplined people I know and the source of many laughs.  She held me to task and called me on it when I was veering off, which was often.  My brother in law is more my speed, and that provided an entertaining and stress reducing balance.  And my god-daughter started to imitate her crazy uncle’s sayings, and those memories will last a lifetime.

So what’s the bottom line?

  • Lost the calories and physical benefits, GAINED time re-connecting with loved ones.  Met business goals.  Clear winner was breaking the routine.  

Lesson going forward?

Sometimes having an extended break from a proven, successful routine can be insightful.  It either proves out the success principle, or it causes you to ask different questions.  

Thankfully, I have a wife that is also my life’s greatest secret weapon.  She just signed me up to the same gym (Lifetime Athletic) I went too in Memphis.

In the immortal words of life’s greatest folk heroes, she has the ability to Take Me Back!

 

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Innovation in Action: 2 Cellos

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Re-invention.  Innovation.  Those words that businesses dream about for both survival and long term growth.  

It comes from a mindset that is open to:

  • New ideas, especially ideas that are “Not invented here.”

  • Outside thinking, completely different areas of life

  • A relentless pursuit of action:  “How do WE apply that to OUR business?”

  • A willingness to accept failure, scrape your knees and get at it again.

Take what could be one of the most boring instruments you can imagine from high school band:  The Cello.  Do you remember people dying to sign up for that instrument?  Could you imagine the masses ever paying money to see people perform it, outside of an orchestra?

With that said, I present 2 Cellos.  Their videos tell the story, as well as the millions of people following them.  

Gamechangers indeed. 

 

2 cellos - innovation in action

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HUSTLE or BUST: Not Just a Blog Name Anymore!

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Sometimes the walk up to the starting line takes a while….4+ months that started with a series of exploratory conversations with some accomplished pro’s turned into an acquisition of a Food Company.

Buying a business is a bit like training for a marathon.  Lots of preparation, long runs, and the lead up to a massive test of endurance.  Not an easy process, and one that requires skill, and like most things in business, a great team is critical.  

I have been privileged to work with a great Private Equity team that worked tirelessly on the deal and will continue to add value over the years ahead.  In life, who you surround yourself with is one of the life’s greatest difference makers, and the team I worked with are nothing short of life’s A-Players.  Can’t say enough good things about my partners at Salt Creek Capital.

With this acquisition comes a series of life events

  • Moving back home to NJ after 8+ great years in Memphis
  • A transition of company and roles:  From CMO of Monogram Foods, to the new role of President/CEO for a niche manufacturing company.
    • More to follow on specifics and how this business will continue to do great things and new things in months ahead….

What else comes with acquiring a business and assuming the top role?

RISK.  Putting your name and every financial resource you have on the line.  The banks call it a Personal Guarantee (of the debt).

Over a year ago I started Hustle or Bust.  I loved the name, and it came to me quickly.  

If forced to describe my career, and maybe life in ONE word, HUSTLE would be that word.

Hustle is 100% controllable, it’s a choice.  I’ve always believed that you either Hustle, or BUST.  Unless you’re an absolute genius, lucky, or born with a silver spoon, Hustle is mandatory.

Now for the BUST part:  Back to guaranteeing debt, RISK.

First, RISK is present in everyday life whether you sign your name to it or not.  It’s why we have emergency funds.

What’s the worst thing that can happen to someone in a job?  You get fired.

That’s risk, you just didn’t sign your name to it.  It happens to very talented people, sometimes without cause.

Is risk scary?  Yes.  Is it manageable?  Usually.  

Becoming an entrepreneur is not for everyone.  When you sign personal guarantees you are basically saying that you are comfortable with the worst possible financial outcome.  Not many can stomach that kind of risk.

Life and careers are about a series of choices.  Weighing the scales of what is important, understanding risk, and how that risk compares to reward.  And a host of intangibles always factor into the process.

Today marks a turning point in this blog.  When a life event or transition happens, it fundamentally changes your point of view, outlook and perspective on things.  Having the good fortune to lead a company, the responsibility, risk and opportunity to build something great……I would say that qualifies as a defining “life event” that is sure to change my outlook and view on the world.  

I hope you join me on this journey and share your insights and comments as well.

Here’s wishing all of you success on YOUR journey.

Life is short.  May you always live each day with HUSTLE…..or Bust.

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