This blog is all about my latest insights into growth, strategy, and execution.
We needed some time to chill out from the stress of the pandemic crisis this past weekend. Fortunately we were able to pack up the car and drive about two hours to the farm of a friend of ours. No one else was there, but probably more important was the lack of cell phone reception and very weak Wi-Fi. We spent the weekend eating and reading and playing cards and being with each other and our kids. We also went on hike.
There wasn’t an obvious path to follow, just the creek.
Our friends recommended taking a 45 minute hike up the creek to see a waterfall and that’s what we did. It turned out to be quite an adventure. We ended up finding our way through brush, climbing over and around fallen trees, wading int the creek, crossing it a number of times, all while not really knowing the way or what we would encounter along the way, unknown terrain with each step. Each of us fell at least once, but it seemed like we fell forward, going further even then.
Eventually we came to a waterfall. It wasn’t much of one, and being both mentally and physically tired we thought about turning back. Martha, my daughter, encouraged us to go at least 100 yards further to see if it was worth continuing. The creek and it’s bed at this point was both shallow and wide, so I went with her. In 100 yards we saw it. A bigger and prettier waterfall, 200 yards further up the creek, over much more slippery and tricky footing. The rest of the family joined us and we made it, feeling proud that we didn’t quit.
That’s the journey we are familiar with as business owners.
We know the objective or outcome we want to accomplish. We don’t exactly know how to get there, but we plow ahead, working through or around obstacles repeatedly until we get there. And we look for more. It’s entrepreneurial way isn’t it.
The journey back down was different.
It certainly looked different going down than coming up. Since we weren’t climbing up, the footing was more slippery and treacherous. When we fell down, we fell backwards, onto our bums, and then slid down the creek or the terrain. Falling backwards usually ended up meant we fell much further that we were comfortable with. I know I spent much more time thinking through each and every step, instead of just plowing through like before, knowing that I could get injured much more easily on the way down than on the way up.
Handholds, became much more important, both with family members helping each other, and grabbing onto trees and branches as we eased our way down. It’s not that we didn’t help each other and grab branches on the way up, but then it seemed more automatic, easy, and the polite thing to do. On the way down it was difficult, absolutely necessary, and hard to figure out. One couldn’t make one’s way without help. I remember thinking, “this is much harder than before.”
The path through the pandemic will be like going down, not going up.
The path through the pandemic, won’t be like the hike up to the waterfall, a desirable outcome. It will be much more like the way back down the creek. Handholds will be much more important and essential to get to the other side of things, than when you were building your business. It’s more slippery, the falls might end up being further and faster than you are used to or comfortable with. Everything is at risk when you are going through something like this.
What’s the way through for you?
It requires thoughtfulness, firm footing, and lots of handholds. You can figure it out with the help of your team, your peers and your advisors. We made it back with only a few scratches and no broken bones. You will too.
Looking for some handholds?
It’s one of the things I’m good at. Check in regularly at https://in-synk.com/covid-19-checklist/ as I add tools and resources for getting to the other side.
Set up a phone call or zoom call with me at https://in-synk.youcanbook.me
And by all means, hold out a hand for someone else looking for a handhold along the way.
There is an overwhelming amount of information being pushed out about what to do during this unprecedented time. “Expertise” seems to be coming from everywhere. First and foremost, whose expertise should guide you?
Your own, of course.
This may not be what you were expecting, but stick with me. As the CEO/owner of your organization, you have substantial expertise to fall back on during this crisis, and you should use it. That doesn’t mean to exclude other experts.
Let’s talk about the other expertise available to your right now.
From the Medical Profession
Their expertise lies in how one passes along the virus, how one catches it, and the symptoms. Heed their advice, because it’s spot on.
From Public Heath Professionals and Scientists
Their expertise lies in how the virus will progress through communities and how well our health systems can handle it. They are watching the curve and making predictions, so pay close attention.
From Economists and the Big Consulting Firms
Sure they understand recessions, which we are entering. However, do they understand pandemic driven recessions? Some of their stuff makes sense, although it’s mostly for big companies. Remember that no one alive has lived through a pandemic like this.
Now We’re Back to You
You have loads of expertise to leverage. Who knows more about your particular business delivery model? Nobody but you. You are experts about your customers and why they buy from your organization. Do you think there’s someone who knows more about your people and how to lead and deploy them? No, you’re the expert here, too. That’s what you’ve got to work with.
You’re expertise will guide you in figuring out how the pandemic will affect all of the areas mentioned above.
I’m confident that you can figure it out. You just need a bit of focus and confidence in what you know.
There are six areas of focus for you, the CEO or owner.
- Your personal health and well being. This covers both physical health and mental health. Make sure you take care of these things first. You can’t help others if you aren’t healthy yourself.
- Your vision of the near future. Determine you worst case, best case, and middle case scenarios. Follow the middle road.
- Do your numbers. Don’t wait; do this right now. Figure out what 15%, 30%, and 45% drops in revenue and what actions to take to break even in each case. After you complete this task, you’ll know the trigger points for action and the actions you will need to take. You’ll then be clear and confident about them.
- Communication and leadership. Your team wants to know where you are headed. Tell them. Be FREQUENT and TRANSPARENT with your communications.
- Communicate that your objective is to get to the other side in good enough position to grow again. This current time will pass.
- You need to communicate the company plans for when one of you gets sick.
- Communicate the specific actions you are doing to get through through this.
- Cash and profitability. Watch the cash like a hawk. Anticipate the impact of supply chain disruptions, and talk to creditors about extending your credit.
- Opportunities. There is always opportunity in disruption. Mitigate risk, but spend some time finding opportunities.
- Can you improve your COGS and add offerings to improve your margins?
- Is there a way to reach more customers?
- Can you improve your processes and maximize your cash conversion cycle?
- Can you “gussy up” any in thing else in your business in anticipation of the recovery?
I’m available to walk and talk you and your leadership teams through these conversations. I’ve opened up more of my schedule to accommodate your calls for quick chalk talks to get your started on finding your “middle road” to the other side of the pandemic. Here’s the link to my calendar to set up a call https://in-synk.youcanbook.me/.
Two final thoughts:
- Many others are experiencing the same bad luck you are.
- No one will get through this without help from others, so welcome the help.
Do you wish you had more confidence in your service providers? I’m not talking about service providers like internet or cell phone service or delivery services like FedEx or UPS. This is in reference to those professional service providers whose advice and expertise you rely on regularly. They are there to keep your business running successfully and profitably. Service providers like attorneys, bankers, advertising agencies, marketing firms, P.R. companies, accountants, software developers, and IT companies that keep your computer networks running can be important.
These service providers are necessary partners in your success.
They can keep you out of ditches, finance growth, build the right kind of infrastructure, count your money, pay your taxes, help you land clients, and get the word out about your company. Most have expertise you don’t have, making them very valuable. Yet, this can also make them confusing to deal with, unless you have previous experience in their particular area of expertise. They have different views of the world and how it works than you do. This can be confusing at best and intimidating at the worst.
How do you really know the true value of the advice being given or the actions being proposed?
The first thing to remember is that no one knows your business as well as you. Advisers can never know what makes your business tick as well as you. Notice I said the word “can” and not “do.” It’s not a given that you, as the owner, know your business as deeply or as thoroughly as maybe you should. You can know it well and completely, but many owners don’t or don’t have confidence in it.
As I write this, I’m reminded about the client I was working with a few years back. This person employed a high-powered marketing expert whose hard charging advice he deferred to. Her advice and background caused him to doubt his deep expertise and experience in his business. Therefore, the excellent strategic plan we had put together was ignored. He spent $200,000 plus in radio advertising. That service delivered exactly no customer traffic to his location. His core customers were out-of-town convention visitors and vacationers who didn’t listen to local radio stations. He later apologized to me for not trusting his brand promise in his strategic plan. After all, it was derived from his deep understanding of his core customer.
Develop a good strategic plan.
The best way to make sure you truly understand the dynamics of your business is to study it under the guise and guidance of a good strategic planning process. Put your leadership team, and other sharp people, together for some self-examination of company. Turn what you learn into a strategic plan. This can be a do-it-yourself project, especially when your organization is small. The larger it gets, the messier the creation of a good strategy gets. More people in the company means more complexity and more confusion.
Get an experienced strategy coach who follows a proven methodology to help you.
What a good strategy coach does is to make you examine and dig into the expertise in your business. You very likely may have forgotten what you have. He’ll dig it out of your collective brains. A good strategy coach will force you to challenge the accuracy, relate it to your current circumstances, and help you apply to your future. You’ll find out you know more than you thought about your strengths and weaknesses, market conditions, purpose and values, and why your customers buy from you. I am completely convinced that my clients really know this stuff better than they think they do. I find this especially true when it comes to information about their customers and why they buy.
A good strategy coach helps you define all of this and evolve it.
Then you’ll differentiate it. When you have this down, in a simple and understandable format, you now have the expertise at hand to advise the service providers mentioned at the beginning. You’ll be able to deal with them as partners with equal levels of expertise, albeit in different areas. You’ll be able to understand their expertise more fully and advise them more accurately on how they can help. Furthermore, you’ll be able to select partners whose expertise fits your situation best.
Now equipped, you’ll have confidence in service providers abilities to assist and deliver.
Develop a strategy plan using proven strategic planning methodologies that is based on what you can know better than anyone else: your business.
Recently, I checked an item off my bucket list. You see, I’ve really wanted to go on a duck hunt, therefore a combination duck hunt / leadership development trip was just what I needed to do.
I took charge of the leadership development portion, and my host took charge of the duck hunt.
I’m not a hunter. Nothing against hunting, it’s just something that I didn’t grow up doing. I’m a big city kid who did the four-sport rotation growing up. In my case, in Michigan, that was baseball, football, hockey, and basketball with some soccer, golf, and swimming thrown in for good measure. Consequently, that meant no duck hunts.
Since I moved to Memphis 26 years ago, I’ve been intrigued by the passionate duck hunting conversations between my duck hunting friends. I’ve really wanted to see what goes on during a hunt that makes these guys so passionate.
The collaborative conversations that took place to plan out the next morning’s hunt were the first things that I noticed.
They came to agreement on the who, what, when, where, and the logistics of how the hunt would take place. No blaming, no shaming. All were aimed at coming to agreement on a plan of action that took in the input and talents of everyone going on the hunt, including me, the rookie on the team.
The special duck hunting language and lingo ensures that everyone knows what’s going on and what their roles will be. Everyone was fully engaged.
Come to think of it, that’s great business practice.
The next morning, the plan from the evening before was fully executed. Not that there weren’t obstacles along the way, but because all the objectives were agreed upon and committed to, the hunters were able to flex their way to the duck blind. No time lost. Everyone had each other’s back.
On to the plan.
At the blind, we took up our assigned roles. Two hunters called the ducks in and also directed the rest of us on when and where to look to shoot. The tension brought everyone to full attention. Ducks were called, announced, and then fired upon, with the dog being released immediately to fetch the kill.
Then, we were off to a celebratory breakfast in town with more conversations.
Stories, stories, stories.
That’s when I really understood what was going on and the passion for it. Duck hunting is a culture. One that’s built on camaraderie, conversation, inclusion, celebration, and alignment around a common goal. We came, we saw, and we conquered. Veni, vidi, vici.
A good leader aims for the same thing in an organization. Imagine if your culture was as intense and engaging as the duck hunters on a hunting trip. It’s possible, and it’s what I work on with my clients. When my clients achieve it, the hunt is on and growth ensues.
Planning for a new year is not an unusual undertaking. You may even have meetings several times during the year dedicated to this purpose.
Do you try to make your plans perfect during the process?
You may be hurting your organization with your planning more than helping. In the planning process, when you try to make perfect plans, you are holding yourself back. You’re probably restricting your organization’s growth, as well.
Strategic planning trumps perfect planning.
Strategic planning is the ongoing process of setting the direction of your company. It’s an ONGOING process. Get your plan right for the time being, and then get going on getting it done.
There is quote, that has been paraphrased repeatedly, that applies to this discussion. “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.” Those words came from General George Patton.
It’s impossible, and it’s always been impossible, to create a perfect strategic plan.
Stuff happens too fast for a perfect plan to remain perfect for long. However, the direction of the plan can remain true and can be adjusted and refined over time. The major areas of emphasis to achieve the plan have to be decided on but can’t really be perfectly defined. Your path to the future will not be straight. It will evolve over time.
Keeping all of this in mind, don’t go for a perfect plan. Go for the right direction, and get going.
As business owners, we all know that being in business is tough, right? At my Rotary Club meeting, of all places, I learned a new definition of being tough or toughness courtesy of Nick Sabin.
I believe if you adopt this definition of tough, you might just change the game for yourself and your organization.
The speaker at this particular meeting was a four-year starter at the University of Alabama and three-year veteran of the NFL. He spoke to the club members about what it was like to play football at Alabama and for Nick Sabin; it was a motivational speech. It was actually the kind of speech I’m not usually excited about. He started reviewing the five core values of the Crimson Tide football team (I’m not sure he called them core values, or pillars, or standards, but you get the picture).
A new definition of toughness came from his review of the values shared by his Alabama football team.
Frankly I didn’t remember four of the five core values, because I became obsessed with understanding of the core value of being “tough.” (Thanks to a friend of mine, who provided a picture for this blog, you can see all five values.) According to the speaker, Coach Sabin says, “You aren’t tough, if you aren’t coachable.”
He went on further.
You can be the most talented player, smartest player, meanest player, fastest player, strongest player, or most coordinated player, but if you aren’t coachable then you are of no use to the team. Let that sink in. Unwilling to be coached equals being NO use to the team.
To be coachable, you have to be vulnerable and admit you don’t know everything. You have to be able to learn, even when you don’t want to learn. In order to be tough enough to be coachable, you have to be open to input and suggestions. This means even when you don’t like the person giving the input or the way they are making the suggestions. To be coachable, you have to be open to new ways of thinking and doing things. To be coachable, you have to be able to suppress your ego for the good of the team. If you aren’t coachable, you can’t get better. If you can’t get better, you can’t become great.
It takes toughness to be coached. Are you tough enough to be coached? If you are, how about scheduling a discovery meeting with me?
Roll Tide! Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer! As a Michigan Wolverine, I can’t believe I just said those things!
Recently, I spent a day with Joey Coleman. Joey is the author of Never Lose a Customer Again. Over the course of that day, he shared some ideas we have all heard, but regularly over look, when trying to increase sales.
There’s a basic theme to all of his advice.
“Create a great customer experience, not just in landing the customer and client, but also in the onboarding process, and continue it along the way. Do this with every customer, and you’ll increase your sales at least 25%.”
In his book, Joey outlines a process to follow to build an onboarding process for new customers. It will ensure they will never consider leaving. Without giving his secrets away (they are in his book so they aren’t all that secret; pick up the book), the main message is communicate, communicate, communicate. Do it in ways meaningful to the customer using all forms of communication. Think about using phone, email, snail mail, texts, video, and gifts. Use them in a coordinated way that connects the sales team to the customer care/service team in onboarding and communicating with the customer. Do it intentionally.
What happens is two things.
The customer readily and easily will do more business with you in more ways than the original one. Then, they’ll tell others and influence them to buy from you as well.
Joey is not saying to stop selling. Just make sure the experience of buying from you the first time is incredible, and continue that incredible experience as the customer continues to buy more and tell others about you.
All his advice lines up well with a couple of other books.
Selling Boldly by Alex Goldfayn, and my first book from way back when, The Cheers Model of Marketing: How to Create Customers as Loyal as Norm Peterson. Both advocate that customers that like you will influence others to buy from you, and companies and their sales and service teams need to leverage that.
There’s another post relating to this topic, A Fresh Look at Operational Entanglement, and I’m working on another about Actual Value, Strategic Value, and Influential Value.
I have some copies of The Cheers Model of Marketing at my office, so send me and email if you are interested in getting one. I think I’m going to issue and updated version.
Not too long ago, one of the buzz phrases in the business world was “operational entanglement.” The term described the practice of creating a high value for your customers as you served them. Their successes would be so dependent on you that they would never think about leaving you. It would be painful to switch to another provider.
If you could accomplish the above, you and your customer would be an example of operational entanglement.
I learned the idea a while back from the customer relationship management expert, Don Peppers, who wrote a seminal book on this titled The One to One Future. I recommend this book. Get it, read it, and figure out how to do it.
I’ve been a fan of the book for a while now. Several years ago, it inspired me to write my own book. It, along with an experience at a seminar with one of my fellow attendees, led to The Cheers Model of Marketing: How to Create Customers as Loyal as Norm Peterson. More on that later.
Then, a good thing became something else.
Unfortunately, as far as operational entanglement, many people took the term to mean that you wanted to make it hard, maybe even painfully hard, to disengage from buying from you. The emphasis changed from making your customer’s success an essential part of your service. Instead of never wanting to leave, some took it to mean locking customers into your company so that it would be difficult to leave. Make it so they couldn’t leave, or try to make it feel that way. Services would be interwoven into the way of conducting business, whether high value was being delivered or not.
Think about the pain of switching banks. The same thought can be applied to cellphone plans, internet service, etc. These are good examples of painful operational entanglements. I’m sure each of you reading this can add additional industry specific examples.
I encourage you to go back to the original intent of the term.
Create great customer experiences. Make your service so great,, that it creates such success for your customer and delivers such value, that going elsewhere wouldn’t even be a consideration.
The inspirational experience mentioned earlier? My friend, who will go nameless, drove into New York City from our seminar to eat at his long time favorite restaurant. He hadn’t visited in a number of years. When he walked in the door, the bartender shouted out his name, brought him his favorite style Manhattan, and ordered his favorite steak. It was all from memory without even asking him. How’s that for delivering value and anticipating needs? No wonder he drove two hours to have dinner there. I said to myself, that’s just like on Cheers when Norm walks through the door of the bar. The very next day, I started writing my first book.
Recently, I spent some time with the president of a manufacturing company in St. Louis. I wasn’t there to solicit their business or coach them; I was there to learn from them. A client of mine in Memphis recommended that I get to know them, because my coaching of him seemed so similar to how they run their business. He suggested that we were of like mind, and it would worth getting to know this company’s president, Marc Braun.
My client was right.
Cambridge Air Solutions has a phenomenal culture that drives their continued success. They don’t need any help from me, but I learned so much from observing them.
There was one particular observation I made that I want to share.
The biggest learning moment for me came as I witnessed what I’m calling a “live the core-values hack.”
We were walking through the plant. I noticed it was very organized, very productive, and very engaged in lean process. Marc stopped to talk to Davie, an new employee who had started three days earlier. Davie knew the president’s name. He was on top of what he was doing. Also, he was excited about his new job and his new company.
Marc went on to introduce me and asked Davie to explain why he was wearing an optic yellow vest. This was one of those vests that you see road crews wearing. I looked around and didn’t see anyone else wearing one, and this wasn’t a traffic intersection. I was intrigued.
The man in the bright yellow vest explained.
“I’m wearing this so that everyone can help me succeed as a new employee. The vest says to everyone that I’m new, and highlights to everyone else that I could use some help getting up to speed. Everyone has been so kind, introducing themselves to me, helping me, encouraging me, telling me ‘well done.’ It’s been great.”
What a great hack!
I see this as a type of hack that companies need to develop in order to communicate the core values and purpose of the company. In this case, the company has a overriding core value of “Enriching the lives of others in everything we do.”
The yellow vest made it easy for the team to live that core value with Davie. It surely enriched his life. You can bet he’ll return the favor when working with the next person wearing a yellow vest. I’m betting this company has many more practices that make living their culture easy for the team. I can’t wait to learn about them.
Before you go out and purchase a case of optic yellow vests, there’s important work to be done.
Get clear on your core values, purpose, and strengths. Communicate them clearly and often to everyone. Then ask your team, “how can we make it easier for you to live the core values?” I’m pretty sure that if you do this, you’ll come up with something that fits your situation. It’ll work as well as the optic yellow vest Davie was wearing.
Helping CEOs, owners, and entrepreneurs is what I do. We identify core purpose, core values, core customers, brand promise, and core strengths. Then, I use that information to design executable strategic plans that deliver and sustain growth.
Need me or know someone who does? Let’s talk.
That word “growth” is bandied around a lot isn’t it? So much of the talk out there is advice about how to grow your business. We all seem to believe the adage “if your business isn’t growing, it’s dying.”
Have you defined exactly what growth means in your business?
After you consider the question above, you need to answer the follow-up question. Have you considered how much growth is right for you?
Traditionally, growth is often measured by growth in revenue, the top line. It’s what we can easily compare between companies and organizations, so we are bound to look at this first. It relates to bringing in business; more business equals growth, right?
However, we also know growth in revenue isn’t really growth without at least corresponding growth in profits that translates into cash flow. This is the true bottom line of your business. Hopefully, you can run your business and get greater growth in profits over solely a growth in revenue. That turns into more cash. I think we all understand these definitions of growth.
Let’s go a step further. Aren’t other definitions of growth out there as well?
Here are some other definitions I’ve been pondering lately.
- Business growth could be the same revenue but with increased profits.
- It may mean the same revenue and profits that’s been accomplished much more easily.
- Growth could be signaled from the same revenue and profits but with more enjoyable customers or work that is more fun.
I’m still holding on the belief that if your business isn’t growing, it’s probably starting to die. But, these additional definitions of growth give us a better idea of what growing actually can be.
Let’s define what business growth looks like for your organization. Then, we’re ready to unleash the growth that fits your definition.
Get Practical Insights for Growing Your Business
Michael Synk’s latest book is available to ship or download today.