In-Synk Blog

This blog is all about my latest insights into growth, strategy, and execution.

Questions, Quotes, and Notes

questions, quotes and notes from ScaleUp Summit by Michael Synk - #GetInSynk

Heads are still swirling around a bit from my “Think Week” at the Scaling Up Summit held in St. Louis. Rather than trying to explain it all for you, I’m going to list the questions, quotes, and notes that are on my mind. Let’s ponder them together.

Verne Harnish Quotes:

  • “Strategy is head hurting work. We have the answers, but we don’t know the questions.”
  • “Marketing is the #1 constraint to Scaling Up.”
  • “Insufficient data is the #2 constraint.”
  • “The CEO’s job is to press the ‘EASY BUTTON’; make things easier for customers to buy, for staff to do their jobs well, and for partners and vendors to help you…”
  • “CEOs should be talking to customers and employees most of their time.”
  • To find talent, go to an adjacent industry that people make less in.”

Ryan Holliday (author of The Daily Stoic, The Obstacle is the Way, and Ego is the Enemy) Quotes:

  • “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
  • “Whether it is the best or worst time to be alive, doesn’t fucking matter.”
  • “Successful people learn warnings are wrong and dangerous.”
  • “Ego is never needed to accomplish anything. It’s the Disease of Me. Egos Chase Colored Balloons.”

Quotes and notes from all the others:

  • “What job is your customer trying to get done by hiring you, buying your product, or using your service?” Steve Wunker, author of Jobs to be Done. 
  • “Focus without perspective is a form of blindness.” Steve Wunker
  • “The Three Ps Process of writing doesn’t work: Procrastinate, Panic, Pray.” Josh Bernoff, author of Write Without Bullshit. If you write a lot you need to read this book.
  • “The 11th Commandment: Thou shall not take yourself too seriously.” Sam Zell
  • “You talk to generalists, but you buy from specialists.” Brandon Dempsey of goBRANDgo!
  • “3HAG – Three Year Highly Achievable Goal.” Shannon Susko, GI Coaches new “Execution” Thought Leader
  • “CEOs don’t listen to the wisdom of Flight Attendants (when demonstrating oxygen masks) and don’t take care of their needs first.” Kevin Lawrence, GI Coaches new “People” Thought Leader
  • “All of us are only two events away from mental illness.” Kevin Lawrence
  • “Rather than thinking ‘I’m right,’ ask yourself ‘How do you know you are right?” Brad Giles, Gazelles Coach from Down Under, on how to remain humble.
  • “When someone on the team isn’t living your Core Values, your company is running like an engine that is missing one cylinder.” Jerry Fons, Gazelles Coach, Wisconsin
  • Dare to be bad at something in order to dare to be great at something.”  someone paraphrasing the core message of Uncommmon Service by Frances Frei. This will be my next book to read.
  • “CFOs complicate things too much, and 80% of them don’t understand their roles.” Lynn Hartwick, Gazelles Coach, Pennsylvania
  • “Create your own pre-suasion. Be of service. Stop trying to solve things or help things. Notice how to be of service and serve.” Jeff Redmon, Gazelles Coach, Minnesota
  • “Strategy is defining what you won’t do.” Kaihan Krippendorf, GI Coaches new “Strategy” Thought Leader
  • Thinking about the Fosbury Flop. First they ignored him, then they laughed at him, then they competed with him, then they copied him. The Flop won out.

My Questions and Quote:

  • “What’s the most important one page strategic plan (OPSP) you have ever worked on? Don’t include your own business. Mine is the Dorothy Day House (DDH). What charity or do-good organization are you a board member of that would have a greater impact for society if they had a OPSP? Why aren’t you leading them through the process?”

More to come.

Is Your BHAG a 3 Lane Swimming Pool?

Is Your BHAG a 3 Lane Swimming Pool? - Michael Synk - #GetInSynk

Some background on this rather obscure BHAG analogy.

BHAG is a term from Jim Collins’ books, Built to Last, and Good to Great and referenced in his other books and articles. It’s also used by many coaches and business gurus. BHAG is an acronym for Big Hairy Audacious Goal.

If you want to grow significantly and consistently, it helps to set a BHAG for your company. You want it to be ten plus years out, difficult to accomplish, and inspiring to the team. Something they can aspire to achieve that makes a difference. It also needs to be based in market dynamics and conditions.

I hope your BHAG isn’t a three lane swimming pool.

I swim four days a week at a workout facility near my home. It has a three lane swimming pool. Although I enjoy swimming there and appreciate the convenience and the impact the workouts have on my health, I regularly walk out scratching my head. Why a three lane pool? Who builds a three lane pool? It’s impossible to host swim meets or swim team practices with only three lanes. When a couple of lanes are used for water aerobics or swim lessons, only one lane is left for individual workouts. Too many swimmers have to share the lane. This makes workouts difficult at best; so people wait or leave.

The rest of the swimming facility is beautiful and modern. But by only building three lanes, the mission of the workout facility is limited. The impact the place can have on the community is restricted. None of these restrictions would exist if they had built a four lane pool.

So many BHAGs are limiting in the same way. They restrict one’s company to only one way of doing business or making an impact on the world.

Make sure you don’t build a three lane swimming pool when creating your BHAG.Book Michael Synk - #GetInSynk

Inward or Outward: Where’s Your Next Rock?

Inward or Outward, Where Are You Looking for Your Next Rock for Business Growth? - Michael Synk - #GetInSynk

Where are you looking for your next opportunity for business growth?

Strategically, are you looking inward or outward to determine the next rock to move?

The strategy experts (myself included) love to look externally to the market. We enjoy examining the ever-changing world to define the next strategic move for the company. It’s fun, stimulating, creative, and challenging. Your strategic plan ultimately must address the challenges your core customers face in the world. We have to be looking externally, or outwardly, to create great strategic plans. After you identify these external issues, address or solve these challenges and you’ll be able to grow significantly.

You’ve identified an outward Rock, but what’s next?

The harder part of strategic thinking, and planning, is identifying the internal obstacles. Not only must you identify them, but you must also address them. Internal obstacles prevent your organization from acting on the external opportunities. The internal obstacles have to be addressed to be able to work on the external opportunities that exist for your company.

Don’t forget to be constantly moving the sand, but you want to organize your rocks. Most of the time, the inward rock must move before working on the outward rock.

You can’t look externally without looking internally. You’ve got to do both. In my experience, it’s usually the internal obstacles that prevent growth. Make sure you are looking inward to find rocks not just outward.

Book Michael Synk - #GetInSynk

Aren’t Sales & Operations Supposed to Argue Each Other?

Are Operations and Sales Supposed to Argue with Each Other? - Michael Synk - #GetInSynk

Do you ever wonder about your operations and sales departments?

This morning a client I’m coaching commented in an offhand manner, “Why are my sales people and operations people always arguing“?

I stopped him right there, after all we were working on a different issue at the time. However, I said “Aren’t they supposed to be arguing with each other“?


That’s right. There is supposed to be tension between these two. In fact, I would put both department managers in offices next to each other and make sure they argue with each other.

Okay, “argue” might be too strong a word. There should be tension between the two, and regular communication between the two areas is necessary for success. The better expression would be “productive conflict.”  You want it to happen regularly. Why?

Sales people will naturally want to sell more than operations can currently deliver. Operations will naturally want to avoid the risk that innovation brings. By having regular productive conflict, the two sides will push the other to be better at what they do.

A long time ago, I heard a speaker say something on this topic that I’ve always remembered. “You can’t have your sales people selling snowblowers when your company makes lawnmowers. Conversely, don’t you want your company to learn how to make snowblowers in addition to lawnmowers if they have that ability and the opportunity exists.

The sales team has to understand the limitations of operations and constantly push them to expand those limitations. The operations team needs to understand the demands customers put on the sales people.

Get your sales team and operations team productively conflicting with each other regularly.Book Michael Synk - #GetInSynk

Shouldn’t We All Do a Think Week?

Have your own think week - Michael Synk - #GetInSynk - ScaleUp Summit - St. Louis - 2017

Have you heard about the think week?

Most of the entrepreneurs I’ve worked with embrace learning, constantly reading, participating in round tables and workshops and webinars. I do it as well but am heavier on books than the other two. The reason we do it is that the world is changing. Our businesses and markets are shifting, and we acknowledge that we need to keep investing in our own education to stay fresh, relevant, and ahead of the game.

I don’t know about you, but all the learning can take it’s toll. Right now I have three business books open at the same time, feeling compelled to complete them to stay ahead of things for my clients. At the same time, I have clients to coach and serve that compete with the learning for my attention. It’s a yin and yang thing. At some point, I have to say “enough already.” I close the books for a while.

What we really should be doing is having a think week or two each year.

Like Bill Gates does.

Bill piles up all the books and reports and articles and videos that he can’t get to but thinks are important. Then, once a year he locks himself away and plows through all that he’s set aside. In doing so, he not only learns useful information and data, he makes connections between all the ideas that have been set aside, multiplying the his learning quotient. Shouldn’t we all be doing this?

But, we aren’t Bill Gates are we?

Our businesses might not be cruising along like Microsoft. They may not be able to afford to being on autopilot for a week. We might not have the leadership teams beneath us to carry on like Bill does. We might not even have a place to go to lock ourselves away with the books, articles, and videos. What are we to do? We know we could use a think week.

Let me tell you what I’ve been doing to get my Think Week in each year. For the past 8 years, each spring and each fall, I’ve attended the Scaling Up Summit (formerly known as the Gazelles Growth Summit). Each Summit consists of two days of keynote addresses given by recognized thought leaders (serious authors) curated by Verne Harnish (Mastering the Rockefeller Habits and Scaling Up). These leaders deliver the latest, greatest, and most effective learning in which CEOs and entrepreneurs need to take part.

It’s a bit of a fire hose, but it sure knocks out a bunch of books for me. It also guides me on which ones I really need to read next.

The Fall Scaling Up Summit is on October 17th and 18th in St. Louis. Click on this webpage to get an attendance code that you can use to get a $345 discount on the summit fee. Register this way, and I’ll come by your table and give you a copy of my book, Rock & Sand, as my gift to welcome you to the summit.

Make the summits a habit, and unleash the growth from your business.

Is Your Founder’s Front Line In Focus?

Lost Your Founder's Front Line Focus? - Michael Synk - #GetInSynk

Let’s talk about the third predictable pitfall of growth.

One of the key strategic advantages a company can have is the founder’s focus, especially as it applies to the front line.

Obviously, the founder of your organization (maybe you?) started the business. To be successful starting any sort of company, the founder usually has a unique understanding of everything on the front lines of the business. He/she was the frontline, sales person, customer service person, negotiator, marketing person, order taker, etc. As such he/she knows what it takes to successfully transact business with customers. The customers and all their nuances are known. The founder knows the deal; he knows the challenges the front line has when transacting business. His knowledge of this, and his ability to do it, is why the company has come so far.

What happens when the founder steps away?

So often, the founder steps away from the front line or stops paying attention to the front line transactions. When that happens the company is at risk. Just ask Howard Schultz of Starbucks.

After years of great year-over-year growth, he sold the business. It flat lined, much to the chagrin of the buyers. This is the third predictable pitfall to growth that you want to avoid.

The new management changed the focus to efficiency and took their eyes off the front line transactions and how they attract sales. The barista’s became hidden (the barista performs a key front line activity), menu changed and became less coffee oriented (key front line attraction), and the stores became smaller which made hanging around less attractive (again a key front line ambiance). There were many more similar things too numerous to mention.

The new guys didn’t appreciate everything that went on at the front lines. Schultz came back and noticed the mess ups. They were called self-inflicted wounds. He triaged them, and therefore made Starbucks four times more valuable than before the sale. The founder’s focus returned.

Find, define, and remind your team of your founder’s focus and how they can continue it.

Have You Misdefined Your Core?

Have You Misdefined Your Company's Core? - Michael Synk - #GetInSynk

Misdefining your core is the first predictable pitfall of growth.

Defining your core is essential. A company’s core, its core strengths, core processes, core capabilities, core customers, are the most distinctive and powerful assets a company can have.

Unless it is something special, your business is a commodity. It determines where and why you win. It determines how your most loyal customers choose you.

Still, many companies get it wrong. Not intentionally, but they still misdefine it. In my last blog post, I talked about the second pitfall of growth. Now you know the first predictable pitfall of growth.

So, how does a company misdefine this?

  • They apply it too narrowly. (Netflix asked Blockbuster to buy them for $50M in 2008.)
  • They apply it too broadly. (Trying to be all things to all people.)
  • They shift poorly. (Legos started selling children’s clothing.)
  • They fight on too many battlefields. (Selling and competing everywhere instead of dominating just a couple of channels.)

Don’t lose the love of your cores. Double down on them.

How Many Steps From the Core is Your Next Growth Initiative?

How Many Steps From Your Core is Your Next Growth Initiative? - #GetInSynk

It’s an intriguing question.

Strategy expert Chris Zook asked the audience. I could see that it challenged everyone. “How many steps away from your core is your next growth initiative”?

This audience was a room full of  entrepreneurs and many Gazelles International Coaches (I’m one). Chris Zook, from Bain, was presenting a talk entitled, “The Three Predictable Pitfalls to Growth and How to Avoid Them.” The question addressed the second pitfall. We’ll take a look at the other two pitfalls in future posts.

Scale-able Growth comes from the repeatability. Zook contends that most companies fail to leverage this repeatability by making strategic moves that are NOT adjacent to their core. Another way of saying this is that leadership takes too many steps away from what it’s good at. Go only one step away at a time, and you leverage your repeatability. He called these adjacent moves, and he listed six types of them. Each of these is just one step away from the core.

  1. New geography or territory
  2. Additional channels
  3. New value chain
  4. New customer/consumer segment
  5. Different products
  6. New businesses

These moves are each one step away from the core. Doing two of them takes you two steps way, doing three, three steps away, and so on.

Trying to do more than one step away decreases your chance to succeed.

When you try to take more than one step away from the core that has been successful, it multiplies complexity instead of just adding it. Sticking to one step away at a time, until it is mastered, is the way to grow, according to Zook. He had the data and case studies to back it up. Eighty-seven percent of executives indicated that their one step adjacent moves were much more complex than they anticipated.

He introduced “strategy on a hand,” which I found compelling. One step away is your thumb, the second step away is the index finger, the third step away is your middle finger, and so on. Don’t go further away than your thumb.

I’ll talk about pitfalls #1 and #3 in my next two posts.


Six Signs Your Strategic Planning Process Is Too Simple

Six Signs Your Strategic Planning Process Is Too Simple - Michael Synk - #GetInSynk

If you agree with any of these six, you have some work to do.

Ever wonder about your strategic planning process? You should, because it’s important and should be treated as so.

Here are some things to watch out for that might indicate you’re not treating this process as seriously as you should. Take a look, and give your planning process more teeth.

Six signs that your strategic planning process/system is too simple if…

  1. …it doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable on a regular basis.
  2. …your assumptions, upon which you run your company, are not challenged.
  3. …it doesn’t inspire your team to think or act differently.
  4. …you can update without input from your team or from your customers.
  5. …benchmarks, to which you can be held accountable, aren’t set.
  6. …your team isn’t wringing their hands a bit as they work with you to update it.

After completing your plan, it should be simple enough to understand and clear to everyone on the team. However, it shouldn’t be too easy to create or execute.

So, is your strategic planning process too simple?

  • Click here ( to set up a discovery meeting (no fee) to determine how “Scaling Up” coaching would help you create a simple/clear plan that will guide the hard work of growth.
  • Learn here ( more about the ways I coach owners/entrepreneurs/CEOs to Scale Up.
  • Click here ( to learn about my book and streaming video Rock & Sand.

Do You Have Rock and Sand Confusion?

Confused About Rocks & Sand? - Michael Synk - #GetInSynk

When I start working with new clients, especially those do-it-yourselfers who are already using a “strategy system” like Gazelles’ One Page Strategic Plan or Traction/EOS, there is often what I call Rock & Sand confusion.

Here’s what I observe: they are diligently working hard on moving about 27 rocks at the same time and getting incremental growth as they are moving them. As a Gazelles/Rockefeller Habits Adviser, I’m all in favor of each person on the management or leadership team having a Rock that applies to their specific areas of responsibility. However, I’m certainly not in favor of an organization  having more than two company-wide Rocks at a time. Really, I prefer only one at a time.

Less is more. So, let’s clear this up.

Rocks are major initiatives or projects that move the company forward substantially in the next 90 days. It’s usually cross functional or cross departmental. This means it has a bit of complexity and requires focus by more than one or two people to move it. The following criteria should be applied, “Failure to move the Rock is not an option.

Just last week, I was doing some “naked coaching” with a prospect. I challenged him about his 15 Rocks he was trying to move. While discussing, it was apparent that there was one Rock that if successfully moved in the next 60 days, it would unlock the door to solutions to so many other challenges. The question became, “Why isn’t everyone focused on moving this Rock”?

Stopping him in his tracks is not what I anticipated, but it’s what happened. He had an epiphany about Rocks. Over the next day and a half, he reworked the focus of his entire team. He and four others would drop everything else and work exclusively on this Rock. This would continue until they achieved the successful outcome. The rest of the team would “hold down the fort” on everything else. This meant that they would focus on the Sand. They would keep everything else going until the Rock was moved.

No other duties for those focusing on the Rock. Everyone else was handling the Sand.

Have you a better understanding of Rock and Sand now?

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