The Biggest Barrier to Success

3 10 2012

How is it two people in very similar businesses can have two completely different outcomes?  Whether it is retail, service, manufacturing, or healthcare, we know a company that is growing rapidly while another is going out of business.  Some may argue it’s luck.  Others might say it’s location.  There are even others who would imply that the company was successful because of other outside influences such as political incentives and breaks.

Yet for every success there are ten failures.  These companies may be across the street from each other, or they could be on the other side of the world.  Regardless of the industry, location or political environment, one barrier is pivotal to the success of any business; the habits and beliefs of its leaders.  It is the deep rooted habits that drive the outcomes.  It is the belief system that drives a person to create their own realities.

Much of my work is spent with CEOs helping them understand how their behaviors influence their decisions, actions, and outcomes.  This is very apparent in companies that are caught in the money trap: wanting top dollar for your product but unwilling to spend more than the lowest possible price on anything you purchase.

Our habits attract people who are most like us.  If a leader is constantly haggling to get everything for the cheapest price possible on goods and services, they shouldn’t be surprised that their customers demand the same from them.  It’s the law of attraction.  Whatever you place your energy towards will grow.  Obstacles are visible because you are looking for them.  Opportunities exist but most people miss their chance because they aren’t looking for them.

Bottom line, your biggest barrier to success is often you.  When you accept that, and change your thinking, the right opportunities will begin to present themselves.

Action item:  Struggling with something?  First look to yourself and ask, “What am I doing to create this?”  Can’t figure it out?  Then ask someone else.  A friend, mentor, coach, or trusted advisor are your best options.

The Impact of September 11

12 09 2011

Yesterday marks 10 years since the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington DC, and the failed attempt which led to the crash of flight 93 in Pennsylvania. Over the past week, many of my friends and colleagues have reflected on this event and how it changed our world. Like many, I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when the news first broke. In the weeks following the incident, we became a unified nation committed to overcoming our differences and moving forward through our pain. Ten years later, life has moved on. The pain and grief are still there though more subdued compared to a decade ago.

Though our world changed, we still enjoy a good quality of life here and we owe much to those who have given their lives for the freedom we sometimes take for granted. Today we face new challenges with mounting debt and a sluggish economy. These too can be overcome if we commit to the same resolve we had on that fateful day. It involves each of us taking an active role in growing this nation. We must be accountable. We must be responsible and we must use our strengths to innovate and compete on a global scale. I hope we can learn how to come together to get things done much like our grandparents did in World War II. They sparked a growth in this nation that continued a generation of prosperity. We too have to tap into that work ethic and provide direction and leadership not only for this generation, but future ones as well. Remember September 11. Remember how it unified us towards a common cause and let’s apply that to the other challenges we now face.

Is It Time to Get Your Motor Running?

15 08 2011

I read once that the modern internal combustion engine used to power most of our cars is incredibly inefficient.  Surprise huh?  The report stated that less than 20% of the energy produced actually went to power the car.  Even less makes it to the wheels to actually propel the car forward.  A vast majority of the energy is lost in the form of heat and friction created by the burning of the gasoline.  The rest of the energy is lost by the transference of that power through the different moving parts that make the car go.

Today we are experimenting with new ways to make our transportation more efficient.  From hybrids to electric vehicles we are doing more to get the most mileage out of our vehicles.  This desire spurred primarily by volatile gas prices.  We are in the early stages of development and while we have made progress, we have a long way to go to achieve our goals.

Running a business doesn’t seem to be much different when you look at it.  There is data to show that businesses are often inefficient.  Some of that is also created from heat and friction.  Whether it is through communication issues, lack of focus, or productivity challenges a company may find that a lot of energy seems to go up in smoke.  I have read articles and seen presentations that state most employees are only productive for about three hours of an eight hour day.  While we may have to wait for the better car engine, we have a great deal of control over creating the better business engine.

The key driver of business is people.  Their efforts are the engine that makes your company go.  Sales and profitability suffer when this resource isn’t maintained or continually improved upon.  In an article put out by the consulting firm Deloitte, a 1992 study found that “over a ten year period companies that intentionally managed their corporate culture outperformed similar companies that did not.  Additionally, companies listed on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For further demonstrate that those with well managed cultures significantly outperform the S&P 500.”  So what can you do to get your motor running?  For starters, follow these five steps:

  • Improve your horsepower – Culture starts at the top.  Leaders have the power to influence everyone below them to either do great things or plan their time plotting their escape.  Invest in your leaders to make them better.  Coach and mentor them so they can do the same with their staff.  Excellence in leadership will lead to excellence in business.
  • Change the fuel – The fuel is what provides the potential energy that makes the engine go.  Listen to the information that you are sharing with your people.  Is it all gloom and doom?  Are your people overly negative?  Instead of possibility thinking, do they spend more time worrying about the competition and how they are going to survive?  Much of this is created by the fuel that is put into the system.  While important to be realistic, it is just as important to be positive.  For every problem their is a solution.  Only focusing on the problems creates more fear.  Fear is what robs the engine of all its power.
  • Give it a tune up – Provide the spark that ignites the fuel.  If you find your business wallowing in fear and pessimism you need to introduce something that will create a spark.  In the height of the cold war and our race to dominate space, President Kennedy offered his vision of sending a man to the moon in less than a decade.  His vision became the spark that launched the US into a new era of space exploration.  What do you need to do to create your spark?
  • Redesign the engine – Energy is lost when there are a lot of working parts.  These parts are the processes used in your business to get things done.  Systems and procedures should always be reviewed for efficiency.  How many of your people are doing things “because that’s the way we have always done them?”  During the last downturn, many companies reduced staff yet did nothing to redo the workflow.  The result was the same amount of work done by fewer people.  Many saw their efforts as making their business more efficient.  Many employees saw an increased workload with no benefit to them.  Right sizing to meet business demand can be a necessity.  It can also hurt morale.  Invest some time to review your procedures and streamline whenever possible.
  • Place the power in the wheels – There are leaders and their are managers.  Most companies have too much of one and not enough of the other.  Managers manage operational issues in an effort to control outcomes.  Many times these managers assume a great deal of control over the systems and the people beneath them.  This equates to inefficient leadership and staff.  Leaders also handle operational issues and they empower their staff to make things perform better.  Leaders focus on the bigger picture and work hard to avoid getting stuck in the day to day fires that inevitably happen.  Instead they strengthen and develop their people to handle these issues.  They place the power of success into the hands of those who have the greatest ability to influence it.  Doing this creates an engaged, well-developed staff that is capable of addressing challenges as they arise.

The Harsh Realities of Public Opinion

16 06 2011

Ever heard a story that you knew for all practical purposes is wasn’t true, but people embraced it anyway? Recently McDonalds experienced just that.

McDonalds was subject to an attack that made them popular on Twitter for several days. Last week a picture popped up on Twitter showing what appeared to be a note at a McDonalds cash register claiming that due to a recent string of robberies, customers from certain ethnic groups would receive a $1.50 surcharge on the transaction. While many may think that it’s absurd that anyone would do this, it still generated plenty of excitement making the phrase “Seriously McDonalds” a popular tweet.

To be clear this was a hoax. The 800 number listed on the letterhead was, in fact, for KFC. Yet why do so many people believe a story like this? And if they don’t believe it, why does it go viral at its mention?

McDonalds suffers from a stigma it has been trying to shed for years. To be honest, it is a good company with good people that fills a need for customers all over the world. Whether or not you like their food, they have done a lot to employ millions over the years. For some, it is a temporary career move. Often it is the opportunity you have in high school or college where flexible schedules, and limited hours of availability are the norm for most students. Some take it as a career path. Others see a business opportunity. The truth is McDonalds changed the way we eat and provided a livelihood for many along the way.

And sometimes when you are the big kid on the block, people want to see you fall. For some reason, humans seem to revel in the demise of another. We watch television and read articles about the bad behavior of celebrities and politicians. Maybe their mistakes make them more human. Maybe we feel it knocks them down to our level. Part of it is our unhealthy craving for negative information. That is why a story so unbelievable with little fact checking spreads like wildfire while other positive contributions barely create a whisper.

So how do you avoid this type of negative publicity? For most of us, it is easier to do. We aren’t owners of multi-billion dollar companies or in the public spotlight. However, depending on how we define the size of our world, negative information can impact us.

For a company like McDonalds, it takes time and a conscious effort to change their message at a cultural level. They have the resources to flood the ad market, but that won’t change peoples perceptions. They also have to address the growing population that has been lead to believe McDonalds is out to poison us with fatty, unhealthy food. This is a difficult challenge since our culture is focused on placing the blame on others for our behavior. Most of us have an easier task.

First, your business is part of you. It should reflect your values and beliefs. Your people should clearly understand what you are all about and deliver on your promise. When there are discrepancies, they should be corrected quickly. When there is public doubt, it should be addressed as transparently as possible. It all starts with a Vision. Your ability to bring that Vision to life is the difference maker. That is what separates you from your competition. It is also what will help protect you from negative campaigns, false information, and negative publicity.

To McDonalds, I wish them the best. For the rest of us, how do we change our behavior to focus on positive outcomes and avoid negativity?

Is Productivity Growth in the US Gone?

19 05 2011

I recently read a McKinsey Quarterly article that debated that very question. ( Good points were raised on both sides, and in the end, it will be the economy and job growth which will truly provide the answer for us.

As a nation we have an amazing tradition of innovation which led to much of our productivity growth over the past hundred years. This growth has given us a higher quality of life and more opportunity than many other countries out there. But the times are changing and are we changing with them? Have we become so complacent to our lifestyle that we now just expect prosperity to happen? What are we willing to do to ensure our success for generations to come?

I believe that opportunities for growth are all around us. However those opportunities may fall outside what we have been accustomed to in the past. As a nation, we have looked inward for our growth. Now I think it’s time we look elsewhere. We expect our consumer spending to support our lifestyles. Easy credit has helped boost this along and has led to some unintended consequences for which we have been paying the price. In order to grow, we must work within our means and seek to build our economy through a global market. More importantly, we must rely on our innovators, not the government, to spur this growth.

I believe we can be the most innovative country in the world when we put our minds to it. This will lead to further productivity growth and job creation. I welcome others to share their thoughts and ideas. There are so many opportunities in front of us right now. It’s just a matter of looking through the challenges to see them.

Can Best Buy Survive?

16 03 2011

A few years ago Circuit City filed for bankruptcy. At that time, Best Buy looked to be in a very good position to control the world of electronics. Today, times have changed. Best Buy faces an uphill climb against competitors such as Walmart and Amazon. Market share continues to be impacted by price and convenience.

It’s kind of ironic that some of the strategies Best Buy is implementing aligns with the content of Apples to Apples. As a retailer, Best Buy sought to compete on more than just price. They don’t want to be the cheapest and instead focus on service as their key differentiator. After all, as I discuss in the book, culture is the brand. So upon first glance, it would be easy to discount that people are focused on price and not much else.

To be sure, price always has an influencing factor. Best Buy’s situation isn’t any different. However, did Best Buy really differentiate themselves on service? Was it exponentially better than that of Walmart’s? I would say no. For the most part, service at best is probably marginally better on a good day.

To Best Buy’s credit, I have worked with some excellent sales people. At the same time, I have also dealt with many people who are inexperienced and aren’t strong service people. The results show. While I think Best Buy wants to believe they are the best in service, it doesn’t always carry through.

Best Buy has the opportunity to regain its share as a market leader. It is going to take a stronger focus on training, sales and service. Competition isn’t going away. Apple has opened several retail locations and is now competing against someone who distributes Apple products. Compare the Apple Store’s service to that of Best Buy’s, what differences do you notice? Which one is over and above and which is just average.

Check out an article on Best Buy from Forbes:

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