Essential Business Advice from One Generation to the Next

mba

From a Mom

Karyn Schoenbart is CEO of The NPD Group, a global provider of information and advisory services to the world’s leading brands. A working mom, she often gave career advice to her daughter Danielle as she was growing up. By the time Danielle entered the workforce, she joked that she had received a “Mom. B.A” giving her a tremendous competitive advantage. Now years later, Karyn has written MOM.B.A: Essential Business Advice from One Generation to the Next, based on her “lessons” to Danielle as well as on her thirty years of experience building a successful career. The book, filled with wise advice and numerous personal anecdotes, is noteworthy for Karyn’s candor and her delightful sense of humor. I recently spoke with Karyn about her favorite tips for those just starting out or climbing the corporate ladder.

 

“Your integrity is your biggest asset.” –Simon Chadwick

 

Make a Good First Impression

What’s the best way to make a good first impression?

It starts with how you show up.  It’s important to dress appropriately for the occasion.  But that doesn’t mean it is a “one size fits all” rule.  Dress the way that matters to the people who matter. And when in doubt, find out! A few years ago, we were looking for someone to fill an executive position that would report to me. One of the candidates came to the interview in a very low cut dress. She was clearly qualified, but we didn’t know what to make of her choosing that particular dress for the interview. In the end, we all agreed: The candidate’s attire demonstrated a lack of judgment, and we didn’t want someone with poor judgment helping to run our company. We didn’t hire her.

How you speak is also a reflection on you.  Avoid bad vocal habits like the dreaded up-speak (where every sentence ends as though it is a question).

In my experience, people like it when you call them by name – it shows you care.  Make it a practice to remember and use people’s names.  My tip for remembering names is to use it three times when meeting them; when introduced, during the conversation and finally when saying goodbye.  It really works!

 

How do you build a good relationship with the boss?

Be the person your boss can count on. Step up and go above and beyond.  Every positive interaction that you have is like putting money in the bank. Then if there is a problem, you have something to withdraw. Think of criticism as an investment in you.  Your boss is taking the time to help you be better.

It’s also a good idea to get to know your boss as a whole person.  Find out what matters to him or her and show an interest.  One way to break through is to check in on a Monday or Friday, which creates an opportunity to interact on a more personal level (i.e. do you have any interesting plans for the weekend?).

 

“Focus on being a good listener, which includes being patient and attentive.” –Diane Bowers

 

Survive the Bad Boss

What advice do you have for surviving the occasional bad boss?

How to Increase Team and Company Morale and Performance

people skills

Increase Company Morale

 

People issues. Many leaders will tell you that people problems keep them up at night. From dealing with the under-performers to retaining and motivating the superstars, people problems dominate a leader’s thoughts.

One primary difference between a great culture and a poor one is this: a great culture has stars in every seat and a poor culture tolerates under-performers.

That’s what Trevor Throness explains in his new book, The Power of People Skills. His book teaches how to make the right people decisions. Don’t let the difficult people problems slow you down. His book is a helpful guide to everyone in management. I recently spoke with him about his work. Trevor is a coach who has helped hundreds of entrepreneurs and organizations fix people problems and build exceptional cultures.

 

“The one quality that all successful business leaders have in common is tenacity.” –Trevor Throness

 

Attracting A Players. Many say they want to do this, but they don’t put the time and resources in to show it’s a priority. Why is it so important?

It’s important because A Players are up to 300% more productive and valuable to you than others.  Think of your best person; wouldn’t you rather lose three other weaker players than lose him?  One great employee is worth three adequate employees.  The irony is that often the best employees cost nearly the same as the worst.  50% of medical doctors graduated in the bottom half of their class, but they all charge the same!

 

“A-Players are up to 300% more productive and valuable to you than others.” –Trevor Throness

 

2 People Myths

What are some of the people myths that affect many companies?

Here are two of the biggest myths:

  • People’s basic weaknesses will change if they’re coached

Often leaders believe that, through their expert intervention, the basic construct of someone’s personality will change.  “Sure, today they’re a quiet, detail-oriented person who prefers to work alone, but once I show them the way, they’ll become an aggressive leader!”  The truth is that leopards don’t change their spots.  The best case scenario for any employee is that he will become a better version of who he already is.  If you’re unhappy with the fundamentals of who he is, coaching is not going to fix that.

  • The point of coaching is to help people fix their weaknesses

The focus of coaching should be to capitalize on strengths, not to build a set of strong weaknesses.  When I’m coaching someone, and we’re discussing weaknesses, I’m hoping that the person will grow in self-awareness so she can see how her weaknesses affect her team and then moderate that behavior.  Mostly, however, I’m looking to adjust her role so that she can spend more of her day capitalizing on her strengths, doing what she was born to do, what makes her feel strong, and what accounts for most of her results.

 

“One great employee is worth three adequate employees.” –Trevor Throness

 

Which myth most surprises people?

9 Steps to a Better Bottom Line

profit

How to Improve Your Bottom Line

In the last several years, businesses have faced smarter competitors, continual change, technological innovations, and uncertainty.

It seems more difficult than ever to both grow the top line of a business and the bottom line, too.

That’s the challenge that Dr. Dorriah Rogers, CEO of Paradyne Consulting Works, takes on.

From her work with some of the most complex projects and organizations, Dorriah has developed a 9 step program to grow net profit. After reading her new book Decide to Profit: 9 Steps to a Better Bottom Line, I asked her to share more about her research and experience.

 

“The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” –Chinese Proverb

 

Tell us more about the 9 steps and how you arrived at them.

The 9 steps are the result of many years of implementing various profit-focused solutions and systems across many different types of industries and companies.  At one point in my consulting career, a senior executive (almost, but not quite) jokingly asked me if I could develop an “Operations Manual” of all the tools I had at my disposal.  That was the genesis of the 9 Steps.  From there, I kept refining the steps, making sure they were interrelated, and asked for real-world feedback from my clients, until I had it down to a system as simple as I could make it.  I wanted to create a process that was not overly complicated to understand or use, and I wanted to create something that both managers making decisions and employees wanting to make an impact could readily implement to help their companies improve profitability.

 

“Whenever man comes up with a better mousetrap, nature immediately comes up with a better mouse.” –James Carswell

 

Identifying the system that needs improvement seems straightforward, but it isn’t as easy as it sounds. What if you can’t seem to identify which one is off course?

Agreed.  It is not simple to get started.  And that is why so many of my clients struggled.  They either focused on too many improvements or the wrong ones.  In many cases, most managers and employees inherently know where they need to start, or in what general area, and that is as good a point to begin with as any.  It may not be as tight a starting point as you might want, but the 9 Steps will help to define and clarify if it is the right place to focus your attention and resources as you progress.  Keep in mind that a “system improvement” could be as big as an entire corporate overhaul (like the Lego case study in the book) or as small as an internal vendor payment process.  The idea is to find those things that are impacting your ability to make money.  So the first place to start is to discuss internally which things are impacting your ability to generate profit.  Not revenue, but profit. 

Companies have a choice: keep doing what you’re doing and make incremental (or no) improvements to your bottom line, or tackle your best estimate of the system within your organization that could potentially have the biggest impact on profit.  You might start out with the wrong one, but the beauty of the 9 Steps is the iterative process built into it.  Along the way (and fairly soon) you will realize that the system you chose to improve might not be the right one because it is NOT positively impacting your financial goals, and the steps will prove that out for you through the ROI process.  At that point, you simply readjust, and the 9 Steps will guide you closer to those areas that will have the biggest impact.  So in short, start somewhere and the 9 Steps process will get you where you need to be.

 

“Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.” –Theodore Levitt

 

Beware the Expert Loop

What is the expert loop and how does it often cause problems?

The expert loop was first coined by Alex “Sandy” Pentland in his November 2013 HBR article entitled “Beyond the Echo Chamber.”  In it, he posited that within organizations only a handful or individuals are viewed as the experts and the only ones who are capable of making important decisions.  I agree with his conclusions that, in fact, seeking information outside of this expert network is often much more valuable.  Time and time again I have seen the phenomenon of top executives sitting in rooms with the same small group of people as they rehash both problems and ideas in a tired, circular rhythm. The same ideas are beaten to death, and the same people are heard.  Even when new people are brought into the conversation, their ideas are often dismissed or even scoffed at as the experts re-establish their positions of authority at the top of the food chain. The problem this creates is twofold: a lack of true innovation and the stifling of a culture of continuous improvement.  While it is true that experts should (and do) have great ideas, it often requires a fresh perspective or a dissenting voice to shake things up and move the company in a new direction.  Some of the best ideas I have ever heard have come from the most unexpected voices.

 

9 Steps to Improving Your Bottom Line

  1. Identify the system that needs improvement.
  2. Put the right team together.
  3. Identify the goal.
  4. Observe the system.
  5. Identify bottlenecks within the system.
  6. Brainstorm.
  7. Select optimal solutions for improvement.
  8. Implement one change at a time.
  9. Sustain a culture of continuous improvement.

 

Unlock the Power of Brainstorming

How to Set and Simplify Business Strategy

stand out strategy

Making Big Decisions Better

All organizations are faced with decisions. What to focus on, what to invest in, how to get to there from here are all common questions when approaching strategy.

I’ve read many books on strategy. There are many that are theoretical. I enjoy them and think about the implications. But there are a few that are actionable. As a CEO, I can use aspects of them immediately. That’s what I found when I read Tim Lewko’s new book, Making Big Decisions Better: How to Set and Simplify Business Strategy. Tim Lewko is the CEO of Thinking Dimensions Group, and his book goes right to the core of setting strategy that you can implement immediately.

I followed up with him to discuss his new book and his strategic work.

 

“Strategy is decision-making.” –Tim Lewko

 

Develop a Common Definition of Strategy

Why is it problematic that most of us don’t share a common definition of “strategy”?

Not having a common definition of strategy creates all the problems CEOs, executives, managers and people who want to make their mark are trying to avoid in the critical areas of:

Purpose

Growth

Profit

 

What are some of the common misconceptions about strategy?

The list could be quite long but I will share the top three that trip up firms in setting a quality strategy—and that are easy to fix if the CEO and leadership chooses to. They are:

  • EUREKA – It’s a magical idea that just comes to you
  • SINGULAR – One person holds the key to the great idea
  • BYPASS SWEAT EQUITY – Outsiders can tell you the answer and it should work

 

“Cause is king for sustaining results.” –Tim Lewko

 

Be Wary of Outsourcing Strategy

Why is it often problematic to “outsource strategy” work?making big decisions better book jacket

There are many large successful firms that come and provide the “answer” that shows up as a long set of PowerPoint slides – and this prescriptive approach is the choice for many CEOs.  However, the approach which I practice is process based – where we bring a proven strategy system that “forces tough tradeoffs” and leaves them in a better place because they created the strategy and understand how to modify the choices as events fold.  This process approach helps to avoid the problems associated with outsourcing strategy including:

  • DEFAULT on sweat equity – missing out on working through, understanding and deciding the key things that matter from EXTERNAL and INTERNAL standpoints
  • TOLD WHAT YOU ALREADY KNOW – in my experience, clients already know 85% of what’s holding the business back (outsiders may give you 60%) so why pay for what is already known?
  • DELAY or DESTROY BUY-IN – if you outsource strategy, you have already short-changed your ability to implement the strategy – because you have side-stepped the most important people – your executive team and workforce who need to intimately understand the why behind the PRODUCT, MARKET and CAPABILITY choices that are being made. Sure, a great CEO communication or town hall helps to sell the outsourced strategy, but deep down those closest to the issues feel side-stepped – and it takes an awful lot of time to get them to buy in to something that is not theirs.

 

“Unwarranted complications are killing strategy in organizations.” –Tim Lewko

 

Have a Visible Process for Strategy

The Mythical Leader: 7 Myths of Leadership

mythical leader

Misunderstanding Leadership

My friend Ron Edmondson is a pastor, author, blogger, and consultant. After reading his leadership book The Mythical Leader: Seven Myths of Leadership, I followed up with him to discuss the many misunderstandings people have about leadership.

 

“Leadership is influence.” -John Maxwell

 

Avoid the Boss Mentality

I often say that leadership is personal, not positional. Myth number one hits this immediately. What are some of the problems with the “boss has ruled” mentality?

I so hate the word boss. Maybe because I’ve had one and, no, I never want to be seen as one. Frankly, from a purely practical standpoint, the “boss has ruled” mentality simply doesn’t work. It might get the job done for a while, but it will wear people out over time. We don’t get the best people have to offer because they will only do what has to be done to meet the “boss’s” expectation. But, I think there is a bigger reason. It’s wrong. At least from my Biblical perspective, we are all – regardless of title or position – ultimately to be servants of others.

 

“The culture the leader creates impacts the feedback a leader receives.” -Ron Edmondson

 

Myth number two says that if you’re not hearing complaints, everyone must be happy. Tell us a little more about this observation.

I’ve learned even in the best organizations and on the healthiest teams, the leader only knows what they know. And, people may be either hesitant to share what they are really feeling for fear, or retribution or they assume the leader already knows the problems. I go through seasons, as the leader, where I’m simply getting the required things done. I’m traveling a lot. I’ve got a lot of projects on my plate. If I’m not careful, I can assume silence means agreement. I must consistently be asking good questions to make sure I know the true pulse of the organization.

 

7 Myths of Leadership

Myth 1: A position will make me a leader.

Myth 2: If I am not hearing anyone complain, everyone must be happy.

Myth 3: I can lead everyone the same way.

Myth 4: Leadership and management are the same thing.

Myth 5: Being the leader makes me popular.

Myth 6: Leaders must have charisma and be extroverts.

Myth 7: Leaders accomplish by controlling others.

 

 

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