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.

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.

Why Killing the Arts is Killing Business

20 06 2011

A conversation with a client today made me think about the impact creativity has on a successful business. We are in a climate where budgets are carefully being watched. Our educational system is under review and programs are being reduced or cut out of the curriculum all together. One of the biggest targets for the axe over the years has been the arts. After all, what do music, theater, and art have to do with creating successful people anyway.

Programs we often define as extra-curricular can often make the biggest impact on who we become and how we innovate. Things like playing an instrument, painting, or acting tap into a different part of our mind that allows us to think of new possibilities, find new solutions and think “outside the box.” What refreshed my memory on this was a discussion I had with a client about something he was passionate about in his youth.

This person had a talent for painting. This person was even lucky enough to have parents that were encouraging and supported the interests she had. Often the paintings were used for gifts to friends and family who were admirers of the work. This love for art continued on through high school until the rational mind set in. After all, very few people make a living painting. So the choice was made to move into a “safer” career.

It is common for us to look at the arts as unnecessary. And that belief might change if people would see what I see. There are organizations full of very capable people who are incapable of finding creative solutions to complex problems. These are well educated, intelligent people. Yet throughout their lives, we have learned the creativity right out of them.

History, math and science are all important and it is channeling the creative side of our minds that allows us to use what is learned through our analytical side. Without tapping into our creative side, we may find ourselves being good at going through the motions, but struggle finding new solutions when the problem changes.

Now some may think that this is to build a case for keeping the arts in school. And while I think we should, we have a real challenge with getting funding for education. For the foreseeable future, I do not see that changing. Funding for the arts is going to require a major paradigm shift in public thought as we place value on graduating students that can compete in math and science with places like Asia or India.

So the challenge is this: How can we understand the value the arts have on those who will not grow up to be professional musicians, painters, or actors? Above all, how can we re-engage people into creativity in the workplace? Over the years we have been a nation of innovation. To continue that trend, we must continue to exercise the creative muscle.

While it sounds great to say embrace the arts and make it part of our learning, I don’t expect that to happen. Unlike certain groups, I will also not throw out a problem and then complain how it is someone else’s fault and they should fix it. I will also not demand government tax more from anyone in an effort to haphazardly justify incorporating the arts into schools without some plan. I do however, propose a couple solutions.

First of all, embrace the arts in your own way. Find something you enjoy doing and do it whether you think you are good at it or not. Give yourself 30 minutes a day to play. Make it a habit. If you enjoy photography, take pictures with your camera phone. Virtually every cell phone has one. Grab an number 2 pencil from your desk and draw a picture on a napkin over lunch. Write a short story. The beauty of this is in its simplicity. Work with what you got. It may teach you to do the same in business.

Second, encourage others in the arts. Specifically your children. When you are young the laws of physics and reality do not apply. Our thinking is boundless because we “don’t know any better”. Along the way as we learn we teach the creativity out of ourselves. Instead, spend 30 minutes with your children reading, coloring, drawing, making up stories, or whatever else it is they want to do. Not only will you benefit from tapping into their creative mind, you will strengthen that relationship with your children as well. No children? Participate in organized groups and associations in your community. Give some time and give some talent. If you don’t think you have what it takes, become the student.

Third, as business leaders, provide creative channels for people. If there are people who like to sing, encourage them to create a choir group. If they like to paint, or they like photography, create a group that supports the hobby. Devote a little time each day for people to be a little right brained for a while. It will help re-energize people and possibly help them find new ways to address the challenges your business is facing.

None of these ideas involves significant time. Nor do they ask us to carve billions out of our reduced tax dollars. They are simple solutions that anyone can do at any time with limited resources. Who knows, if we can take some simple ideas and solve complex problems here, what else would we be capable of doing when we apply it elsewhere?

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.

The Importance of Purpose in Leadership

7 04 2011

Throughout my career I had to deal with conflict. Whether you’re a leader or not, conflict is something most of us face almost daily. As leaders, we are constantly in the spotlight when it comes to managing conflict. That spotlight increases exponentially based on your place in the organization and the size of the group you are leading.

As leaders, we often are responsible for creating conflict. Sometimes intentionally and sometimes not. On the positive side, conflict can be a good thing. When done properly, conflict acts as the catalyst for change. It creates new ideas, causes innovation, and can move people to new levels of thinking. Other times, conflict tears apart everything we are trying to build. It causes chaos and bitter feuds.

As leaders, we are responsible for bringing people together to work through challenges. However ego, insecurity, lack of purpose, poor communication, and lack of Vision can get in the way. When these factors take hold of an organization, it can literally rip the company apart. As leaders we need to recognize when this is happening and address it early on.

Conflict is impacted by change and vise versa. When the change is a negative influencers (i.e. low sales) conflict can increase. So how can we avoid the damaging effects of behavior on a company. One key to this is purpose. Each person needs his/her purpose defined in order to achieve the highest level of success. Leaders need to help create this purpose which is why it is imperative that the leaders themselves have a clearly defined purpose.

Each of us want to bring value to what we do in life. Knowing this value means understanding the strengths each person brings to the table. Those strengths may be observed by others and it is important we understand our own strengths as well. Imagine being placed in a situation where you were required to do something you hadn’t done before. You were left to your own choices with little feedback on expectations from someone else. How would you do? How comfortable would you feel making those decisions? How would you know you did the right thing? This happens more often than some might think.

Whatever role you play in a business, you need to understand that behavior significantly improves when purpose is there. Make it a point to understand your purpose and help others understand theirs.

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