A View on Two Great CEO’s: Steve and Sam

Recently I had discussions with several C-suite clients about a comparison between the legacies of two great CEO’s: Steve and Sam.

Steve became CEO in 1996 of a company he and a friend founded 20 years earlier and created the most visible company in the world. Today, Company A has the most valuable brand in the world. With its consumer focus, an amazing strength an innovation and product design, and world-class execution, Company A has dominated the world in its chosen markets to the tune of $108B in FY 2011. Company A is also the most valuable company in the world based on market valuation.

In a different situation, Sam took over as CEO in 2002 of a company founded in 1911. Through its long history, Company _B_ has created the 2nd most visible brand in the world. With its business focus, an amazing strength an innovation and product design, and world-class execution, Company B has dominated the world in its chosen marketplace to the tune of $107B in FY 2011. Company B is also 1 of the top 5 most valuable companies in the world based on market valuation. In fact, last year an investor named Warren bought almost $11B worth of company B stock citing the company’s long history of excellence.

FY 2012 brought CEO changes at both organizations for different reasons.

Tragically, Steve passed away after illness just as the new fiscal year is starting leaving the company in Tim’s hands. Much has been written about Steve’s legacy and leadership choices. Some have voiced concern about the future of Company A without Steve since he seemed to make himself indispensable. Externally, he was the visible face of Company A. Internally, projects that Steve was personally involved in got fast tracked while others languished.

At the same time, Sam retired from Company B and handed the CEO reins to Ginni. Little fanfare accompanied Sam’s departure. Some news outlets did cover the powerfully simple framework of questions Sam had used to lead the company’s world-wide employee group of over 350,000. Here they are:

Why would someone spend their money with you — so what is unique about you?

Why would somebody work for you?

Why would society allow you to operate in their defined geography — their country?

And why would somebody invest their money with you?

My C-suite clients and I were talking about the probability of future success of both organizations. We discussed the insight offered by author Jim Collins in his book How The Mighty Fall. In particular, we considered the results of Collins’ research on successfully resilient organizations and his advice for CEOs: utilize rigorous discipline, question relentlessly, be humble and avoid arrogance, watch for risk denial, be wary of silver-bullets.

In the end, our conversations return to the choices made by Steve and Sam. Choices around customers, competitors, costs, capital, and communities are very different between companies focused on consumers and businesses. At the same time, choices around discipline, insight, creativity, support, and values do not need to be different. Steve and Sam made very different choices yet were both been remarkably successful. Their legacies have yet to be written and will become clearer with time.

We did agree that Sam did not receive the notoriety he deserved.

What do you think?

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Zappos Great Model Can Work 4 U2!

I am over 50. I did not go to Harvard. I did not start my own business at age 22 and sell it 2 years later for hundreds of millions to Microsoft or Google. I am not a Twitter expert. Some could say I have little in common with Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh.

I am, however, a business leader. I have a broad range of experience leading companies, both large and small. I am also a huge supporter and practitioner of Zappos path to success:

1. focus primarily on employee culture and values, to

2. deliver the best possible customer service

Tony points to research on Happiness and how he applied it to run a better business. I point to research provided by John Kotter and James Heskett twenty years ago in Corporate Culture and Performance that leads to the same conclusion, and one offered by legendary management guru Peter Drucker – “Culture eats strategy for lunch.”

In businesses ranging from a start-up with $1M in revenue to a global organization with revenues exceeding $12B, I can point to many examples over 20 years where we used a Zappos-like focus to drive consistent growth. Further, I developed my own roadmap to establish strong, positive cultures in each of these situations. The roadmap is called All-In Leadership.

Critical parts of the All-In Leadership roadmap include a balance of Discipline, Insight, Support, Creativity, and Values that enable employees to excel and achieve the organization’s goals. Each of those choices can be further broken down into specific areas that help unlock the potential in others.

Access the free summary of All-In Leadership on this site that includes a specific case study of where we tripled the growth rate of a $3B global business and sustained that growth for three years.

I remain a fan and customer of Tony Hsieh and Zappos. Hopefully, many more companies will follow what has become known as a Zappos approach. It can work 4 U2!

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Turnaround Success Starts with i3K!

Having been recruited to lead several organizations where it was said a “turnaround” was required, I have learned that organization-wide overhauls seldom work. In fact, some would argue that they’re often not necessary. Organizations are often not as bad as some would say when results are poor, just as they are not as grand as some would say when results are great.

The truth is that dramatically improving results in under-performing units most often involves “adjustments” when working with the same employees. The existing organization. It is key to create a culture where employees excel, and it starts with i3K.

i3K is a short-hand for Intelligence, Intensity, Integrity, and Kindness. I have personally used this standard successfully for years to determine if we have the right people on the bus. In his book Good To Great, Jim Collins offers a view that organizations would be well served if they adopted a “First Who…Then What” approach. i3K answers the question “How do I select the Who?”

Everyone wants to work with smart people. Most people don’t need a high IQ to perform well, but they do need to be able to anticipate and adapt to change. Within i3K, intelligence also includes EQ or emotional intelligence. It is important for people to be able to perceive, use, understand, and manage emotions to work well in teams.

In addition, people need to be willing and able to work hard. Many have linked success to a combination of inspiration and perspiration. Intensity can be sustained when people are productive and growing, while being supported, recognized, encouraged, inspired, and well-managed.

Cultures that support excellence are also based on absolute integrity. Honest and direct communications must become the norm. People need to be open and willing to share their thoughts and feelings without fear of reprisal. Everyone has to seek the complete, “all-in” truth in all situations as they collectively build a reputation for reliability.

Finally, while it is important to completely commit to the value statements provided by most organizations, my experience has taught me the single most important value to look for in team members is compassion. This quality is heralded and reinforced in many different places. The Golden Rule says “do unto others…” and the Talmud asserts “the highest form of wisdom is kindness.”

Utilizing the i3K standard, organizations can assemble teams of smart, hard-working, and compassionate people who trust each other. Once assembled, these teams self-regulate and can deliver incredible levels of speed, innovation and results. With the right people, sustained exceptional performance creates a really successful turnaround. It is true that depending on past execution, this level of performance may be referred to as a turnaround. In other instances, it’s simply called good leadership.

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Turnaround Success: Six Key Questions

Turnarounds are in the news these days. Political media are currently fueled by dueling debates about the merits of private equity firms and their turnaround tactics, including the impact on jobs. Business media report both on companies that have seemingly recovered from our economic tsunami and those that have yet to turnaround. In all cases, the key question is whether a company can sustain positive performance and continue to grow once it has turned around. With sustained growth, all constituents—employees, customers, investors, and the community at large—benefit.

In my experience leading successful business turnarounds in many different industries, the key challenge is to ask the right set of common questions. Specifically, finding answers to six key questions has led to consistent turnaround success and growth for companies ranging from a start-up to a multi-billion dollar worldwide organization.

If you are leading an organization in need of a turnaround or simply looking to improve your company’s performance, I urge you to thoughtfully consider your answers to each of the questions below.

1. Customers: What do they need to succeed and how can we be the best place for them to get it?

2. Competitors: Where are their strengths and weaknesses and how do we take market share from them?

3. Costs: Where are our opportunities to be more efficient and how to we improve our margins?

4. Capital: How do we ensure we have adequate investment resources and provide the best returns for our investors?

5. Community: How do we demonstrate social responsibility so strongly that the broader public views us as great partners?

6. Culture: How do we attract and retain the best team of people who can answer the first five questions today, and tomorrow when things change?

This “6-C” turnaround framework can be used as a starting point to assess your organization’s strengths and weaknesses. The answers to these six questions also hold the key to your company’s long-term success.

In particular, this framework points to the importance of culture. As legendary management expert Peter Drucker shared, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

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Flip Flopper or the Right Leader?

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” When Ralph Waldo Emerson penned these famous words in Self Reliance, he never envisioned 24-hour cable news or the craziness of today’s presidential nominating process. Emerson did, however, offer a key to successful leadership—the willingness to learn and adjust.

While former Gov. Mitt Romney endures a relentless state-by-state marathon of delivering stump speeches and interviews along the campaign trail, we are treated to a seemingly non-stop set of reminders of the list of positions that he has adjusted over the course of a long and successful career in business and politics. Several of the shifts that occurred on major social issues, such as healthcare, have been described by his detractors as “flip-flops.”

But Romney’s not alone. Democrats have had their share of accused flip-floppers too, including President Barack Obama, whose more liberal wing is as frustrated with his lack of action on gun control and other issues than the more conservative wing

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is about Romney. In the polarizing, partisan world of today’s primary politics, Republicans and Democrats reward candidates that are clear, confident, concise, convincing, and above all, consistent.

While consistency and standing firm reinforces attitudes, builds confidence, becomes a rallying cry among followers, and often earns the derision and enmity of one’s competitors, it fails to account for changes in the social climate, the needs and desires of voters (consumers) and seesaw economic conditions. Being mindlessly rigid does not accomplish objectives, and frequently stifles rather than fosters progress.

The success of any enterprise, public or private, rests firmly on the ability of its leadership to adapt to constant change. In business, a leader must guide a company to adapt and meet the often shifting needs of the majority. A truly successful venture may need to change direction, take in new partners and fund investments that may have seemed uninviting in the past to contend with new markets and new competitors. This requires a high degree of flexibility and wisdom to apply the right amount of strategic and tactical adjustments that will deliver the desired results.

A company’s ability to adapt to the economy, climate, rapid marketplace fluctuations, and unforeseen situations is an essential characteristic for success. Consider that iconic 100 year-old IBM (formerly International Business Machines) now gets less than 20% of its revenue from machines. Also, consider the following two quotes: “640K ought to be enough for anybody,” and “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” The first was made by Microsoft CEO Bill Gates. The second was offered by Digital Equipment Company CEO Ken Olsen. Any guess which executive adjusted?

A leader who is accused of flip-flopping on an issue, policy or a plan may have his or her eye on a much bigger picture and just may be adjusting for more than votes or short term gains. They may have a more insightful view of how to achieve sustainable, long term success. Whether it’s your new CEO or a presidential candidate, you may want to re-evaluate your opinion about their positions. Adaptability is a quality you should want in your leader; that is, if you want success.

Emerson was right.

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How Coachable Are You?

Rick Miller featured in MSN Business on Main:

START_QUOTE_30t_smIf you aren’t open to feedback and new ideas, it could be what’s keeping you and your business from long-term success. Here’s how to be more coachable.

“Our chief want in life is somebody who shall make us do what we can.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you believe the Emerson quote above, then every one of us could use a coach. In spite of the difficulty in finding hard data supporting the efficacy of executive coaching, most everyone who has ever had a coach swears by the experience.

“I combine my emotional intelligence, experience and understanding of business with [good] coaching, and the result is magic,” says Tom Walter, a serial entrepreneur and founding partner of Tasty Catering, an award-winning Chicago-area corporate catering and events planning company.

The way Walter sees it, the more he taps external and internal coaching resources, the better. To that end, Walter engages in several different networks for ideas, feedback and advice—from his millennial staffers who help him tap into current market shifts, to his independent group of nine advisors, to his membership in several associations, as well as a peer mentor group, among others. “I rarely override them, because their ideas are about what’s good for business—a solid financial basis, strong market share, et cetera,” says Walter.

Not surprisingly, entrepreneurs aren’t always the easiest coaching candidates. And yet, “Ask pretty much any executive, and they’ll likely be able to tell you things they would like to improve about themselves and/or their company in a heartbeat,” says Michele Michaelis, chief executive officer of IvySage Education LLC, an online interactive tutoring service. “Most of us also realize that we probably have blind spots—areas for improvement that we are not even aware of,” says Michaelis.

Indeed, the requirement of a leader to become more self-aware happens as a company grows and the entrepreneur needs to delegate and depend on other people. At that point, “It becomes critical to understand who I am, what I do best, what I don’t do well,” says Robert Holland, Ph.D., chairman and CEO of Vistage Michigan, an executive coaching and peer-to-peer advisory group organization.

“When I share [that information] with a coach, two of us are working on the problem rather than one,” he says. A coach also helps give leaders a balanced view of their performance, and helps them develop clear professional development goals. But just what does it take to be coachable? How do you get started?

Take a risk. This kind of a risk is different than the type of risk it takes to start a company. Many coaching newbies are concerned about losing themselves or their company direction as a result of too much external advice. But keep an open mind and realize this is a new experience that may be out of your comfort zone. Give yourself six months as a tryout period.

Identify areas of growth. If you’re comfortable, ask those closest to you (not necessarily work cohorts) for feedback on areas that you would like to develop — it could be driving an effective meeting, making public presentations, or managing and motivating employees.

Choose wisely. “Relationships work best when the coach’s style and experience matches the needs and preferences of the leader,” says Rick Miller, executive coach and author/founder of All-In Leadership. Ask for recommendations from executives and business owners who’ve been coached. Find someone who’s an expert in the areas where your company is struggling. Regularity of interaction can range from weekly to monthly to periodically, based on need.

Remember the ‘iceberg’ rule of feedback. “If you show that you’re willing, able and eager to accept criticism and advice, the coach will be more comfortable giving you the whole story (the full iceberg), versus just a bit of feedback (the tip of the iceberg),” says Michaelis. Listen carefully and ask clarifying questions. Make sure you’re being very open to new ideas and fully understanding and considering the feedback and suggestions.

“Once you’ve worked with a coach and trust her, ask her to address any other issues that she sees—what are your blind spots and how might they be holding you back?” says Michaelis.

Keep in mind that while you should listen carefully and consider ideas with an open mind, if the rationale for an idea doesn’t make sense, always trust your instincts.




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Need to Meet Rick Miller

Rick Miller featured in Thomson Reuters, Buyouts:

START_QUOTE_30t_smWith private equity in the spotlight of political controversy, industry executives have a chance to get their message out, but only if they can connect with the 99 percent at a human level, says executive coach Rick Miller.

The problem is not unique to buyouts pros, but is common to senior executives in many industries, says Miller, the president of Morristown, NJ consultancy Choices & Success LLC. “I think they as a group are chastised for not being good listeners.”

The buyout business, however, starts at a disadvantage, because members of the public were unaware of the industry until political opponents started assailing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for his career at Bain Capital.

“They didn’t know about it before. Now they are seeing it for the first time in a harsh, perhaps untrue, light, and they’re entering the conversation cynical,” Miller said. “People aren’t interested in listening to the facts, often, until you reduce their level of cynicism.”

In public presentations or on television, breaking through those barriers may involve taking off the suit jacket and necktie, as Romney has done on the campaign trail to reduce the level of formality. Likewise, in smaller groups or private meetings, executives first must listen before they can be understood, Miller said. “Communication is the joint construction of meaning.”

That can be as simple as directing one’s assistant to hold phone calls during a meeting, said Miller, who has worked in environments both corporate—he is a former president of global services at AT&T—and countercultural—he served as CEO of a dot-com startup during the Internet bubble era a decade ago. “And let’s be clear about how much time we have. If you think we have an hour and I think we have half an hour, when that half hour is up, you’re just getting into it and I think it’s over, you’re going to feel the tension.”

Body language, engagement, eye contact, vocal tone, posture—many factors beyond words themselves influence the way that encounters succeed or fail. The simple act of checking your Blackberry during a meeting can send a crucial signal to others in the room, he said. “For a lot of senior people, we’ve been told multitasking is a good and necessary thing. I would tell you it destroys potential relationships quicker than anything else.”

The irony is that senior players automatically seek to make those human connections when they are dealing with others whom they considertheir peers, Miller said. “The challenge is to remember that everybody is a senior player.”



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Coach Offers Body Language Tips

Rick Miller featured in Small Business Opportunities publication:

START_QUOTE_30t_smRenowned executive coach, author and former President of Global Services of AT&T, Rick Miller offers the following Tips on Body Language and Management:

  • Joint construction: Up front remember that communication is “the joint construction of meaning.” You can’t communicate alone.
  • Set the stage: Close your appointment book, shut off your monitor and ask your receptionist to hold your calls; announced or unannounced, showing someone you respect that they have your undivided attention is a powerful way to communicate, even before the meeting starts.
  • Consider losing the tie: What does your attire say about your ability to relate to others in your organization?  From Mark Zuckerberg’s pullover to the infamous mock turtleneck made famous by Steve Jobs, the uniform is changing at the top.
  • Posture: Even when innocent or unintentional, the most subtle slouch can be a key indicator of apathy or indifference. Lean in instead.
  • Get out from behind the desk: A symbol of inequality, a surface can be as much of a communicative barrier as a physical one.  Connect eye to eye and face to face.
  • Two-way: Ensure adequate time to allow for both parties to speak their piece and avoid interrupting. You may just learn something!
  • Put up your antenna: You’re looking at someone, but how present are you? Eye contact alone doesn’t cut it. Practice whole-body listening. The polar opposite of multitasking, having your antenna all the way up can be more beneficial than knowing your industry’s latest news, trends and competitive market data.
  • Tone it down: Be aware of your volume and tone. These are as important as the words you choose.
  • Recap: After both parties have spoken and been heard, acknowledge they were “heard” by summarizing the exchange.
  • Simple thanks: Show appreciation for their time and the conversation.



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10 Strategies Improve Culture and Performance

Rick Miller featured in The Business Edge, March 30, 2012:

START_QUOTE_30t_smIt is often said that the toughest thing to turn around is a culture. According to Harvard Business School researchers and authors, John Kotter and James Heskett, “Culture represents the interdependent set of values and ways of behaving that are common in a community and that tend to perpetuate themselves.” I came across their classic Corporate Culture and Performance when I was a regional vice president at UNISYS in the 90’s. The book not only validated the link between culture and performance, but the authors’ findings gave me a starting point for the roadmap that I created and used for the next 20 years.

Turnarounds are my game. In assignments ranging from a startup to a $13 billion worldwide business unit, I developed and deployed a simple roadmap that has led to consistent and sustained improvement on corporate culture and performance. Recruited to join AT&T to turn around a $3.3 billion unit growing at 5 percent, I used the roadmap, had the company averaging 16 percent growth for three consecutive years, and built a robust $5 billion business. I’d like to share the key takeaways of what worked for me then and highlight some of the research on which it is based.

Kotter and Keskett promoted the importance of building an adaptive culture, rather than simply a strong culture. Adaptive cultures expect and embrace change and are the key to create long-term economic performance. Over a ten-year period, the results of the companies studied are compelling.

cost of low performance cultures
It was clear from these results that while culture may be among the toughest things to turn around, it is absolutely the most important and only place to start. As a president, COO and turnaround specialist, my roadmap is designed for senior executives to use as a blueprint for their organization, helping them build and sustain a corporate culture that delivers stronger results.

The 10 Strategies for Improved Culture

Specifically, research indicates senior executives must display an uncommon combination of

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personal attributes and actions. My experience spent on the front line has taught me that executives must focus on five sets of choices in areas that include discipline, insight, support, creativity, and values. I encourage senior executives to adopt 10 specific strategies that will drive improved performance by addressing corporate culture:

1. Create a sense of urgency and a need for change when setting a new direction.
2. Communicate consistently and broadly.
3. Display and “outsider’s” propensity to embrace change and new ideas.
4. Reinforce the importance of innovation.
5. Build and maintain an “insider’s” credibility.
6. Institute a balanced focus on the success of customers, employees, and shareowners.
7. Establish leadership (the ability to produce change) as a focus at ALL levels.
8. Decentralize decision making where possible.
9. Promote carefully and demote when necessary.
10. Celebrate early success.

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Choosing Resilience Program

Rick Miller featured in USA Today online publication, “All-In Leadership Founder Rick Miller and Transition Expert Dr. Susan Berg Offer New ‘Choosing Resilience’ Program”:

START_QUOTE_30t_smTerror alerts circulate as U.S. and allies’ embassies are attacked. An investment banker ‘loses’ $2 billion and stocks plunge. Gunman appear out of nowhere, wounding and executing bystanders outside shopping malls and restaurants. Tornadoes flatten entire cities. Storm floods leave monumental destruction. In all of this, one thing is certain: in todays world, disaster can occur at any moment.

A recent study by The Creative Group found that responding to crises or problems took one third of executives’ time on the job.

“Corporations that are prepared for change have the best chance of being resilient in the face of enormous upheavals and devastating alterations, whether man-made or a force of nature,” said Rick Miller, founder of the All-In Leadership concept and president of Choices & Success, LLC, an executive coaching firm. “Smart, disciplined leaders focus on resilience before disasters occur. They communicate information employees need to know in addition to the organization’s recovery plan and strongly convey confidence in their team’s ability to overcome obstacles.” 

Miller, a highly regarded corporate turnaround expert and successful senior leader of multi-billion dollar corporations, noted that employees are in need of support more than ever before as their consistent stress levels have reached new heights. There are continuous waves of change and demands that push human limits. “Most companies can benefit from resilience programs and must prepare its workers for unpredictable hazards by creating cultures where people can excel,” said Miller.   

Miller and renowned Transition Expert Dr. Susan Berg, whose career focuses on mastering change and helping executives and groups transform into achievement and stamina-characterized teams, have collaborated to create an insightful program for organizations and individuals; helping them remain flexible while sticking to their values, providing the tools needed to cope with challenges as well as resilience strategies that include disaster recovery plans.    

The tools provided in the ‘Choosing Resilience’ program help individuals reassess their choices. It promotes participants to re-energize, encourage pliability within themselves, their colleagues and their companies when dealing with unforeseen change.




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4 Steps to Sell Your Way to Success

Rick Miller featured in 1 to 1 online publication:

START_QUOTE_30t_smTimes are tough for lots of businesses: layoffs, disappearing market demand, and lost revenue. At the same time, business leaders are still accountable for delivering bottom-line profits. As a senior executive, the one thing you don’t have is time. People are looking to you for results now. Some think the best approach is to focus on cutting expenses, but there is a limit. You can’t save your way to success when employee morale drops and customers feel the impact. Your best bet to start a successful turnaround is actually to do a better job selling to your current customers and top prospects.

Improving sales performance can be as simple as following four steps based on actions and attributes that I call DISC. Here’s how this four-step “playbook” works:

Step 1: Discipline

Contrary to the approach of many organizations, my first step does not advocate pulling the reins in to centralize decision making. I advocate decentralization as much as possible to gain both speed of execution and better decision making by moving decisions closer to the customer. This requires you to optimize your selling process for efficiency and use the right dashboards to provide focus on the most meaningful metrics at all levels of your business on a regular basis. It also requires you to focus on performance management to maintain accountability and develop a pipeline of new talent for when you need it.

Step 2: Insight

In a turnaround situation, you always encounter different ideas about what is lacking. Your organization needs you to set a confident tone. Your confidence will increase when your self-understanding increases. Your self-understanding will grow as you stay focused in each moment on the task at hand, accepting of the reality of each situation, grateful for the opportunity to face challenges, and generous with others—and as you slow things down from time to time to hear the truth by listening to yourself and to your customers.

Step 3: Support

To make your sales organization as effective as possible you need to focus on five key areas. Thorough and ongoing training must comprise hard and soft selling skills. Good sales communication can enable your sales force to internally align team members, while externally giving customers clear, consistent, and simple messages. Use market-based compensation plans, as well as recognition programs for motivation. Finally, when many things are changing in your market you can emphasize the values in your organization that will not change.

Step 4: Creativity

Using the root of the word, your full creativity is unleashed when you create internally and externally. Internally, you need to trust your gut and pay attention to how you feel. You also need to be aware of what you think. These things lead to external creativity. You know the positive impact you can make with the right words when you speak. Similarly, you can create real momentum when you write a well-timed, well-worded email. Finally, always do what you say. Aligning these creative forces brings out your best, when your organization needs it most.

The underlying theme of the playbook is to be aggressive. Establish a culture of metrics, performance, and individual accountability. Channel the confidence you have in yourself and those around you, and commit as a team to stretch goals. Back your sales force with what they need to succeed. Personally, bring your “A” game every day and realize everything matters.

At a time when so many organizations need to turn around their performance quickly, focus on selling excellence as the best place to start. Building a profitable business becomes easier with the positive momentum created with top-line



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Return on Engagement: A New Metric that Matters

Forbes guest bloggers John Hagel, Suketu Gandhi, and Giovanni Rodriguez posted a great article on February 9 titled “The Empowered Employee is Coming; Is the World Ready?” I think the answer to their question is yes, but the key will be the ability for companies themselves to measure the return on their required investment. The authors make a compelling case for the empowered employee in exerpts quoted below. Next, I offer a real-life example of a company that made the choice to invest in their employees AND measured the R.O.E.—Return on Engagement. The results are compelling.

“Return on assets for public companies in the U.S. has collapsed by 75 percent since 1965. Businesses have largely responded to this pressure by focusing on the denominator side of the productivity equation – by squeezing out costs wherever possible. … Employees are viewed as costs.

But here’s the problem: focusing on the denominator of the productivity equation – the cost side – is a game in diminishing returns. Each additional increment of cost reduction is harder and harder to deliver. And yet the pressure continues to mount. What to do?

The key answer that defines the post-digital enterprise is to shift attention from the cost side to the value side. Rather than treating employees as cost items that need to be managed wherever possible, why not view them as assets capable of delivering ever increasing value to the marketplace? This is a profound shift in focus. For one thing, it moves us from a game of diminishing returns to an opportunity for increasing returns. There is little, if any, limit to the additional value that people can deliver if given the appropriate tools and skill development.”

Understandably, much of the business world wants to “see the numbers” before they switch its employee strategy from “minimize costs” to “increase value.” The good news is that examples of companies that are leading in this area exist. I had the pleasure of working with a just such a leading company for more than two years. This organization found success investing in employee engagement. It also has the metrics to prove its strategy worked. Here is a summary of the organization’s story:

After seven consecutive quarters “in the red,” senior leaders at this major financial organization decided to build employee engagement through a multi-faceted plan. The plan included a multi-year investment to increase employee value, and in 2009, the company strategically hired an experienced learning leader to spearhead a three-year effort to improve employee value. The organization also increased its training budget by 15 percent each year, resulting in revamped attitudes and increased employment engagement.

This particular financial organization also wanted to “see” the return for its investment. Here are a few of the selected “returns” announced internally at the end of 2011:

  • Engaged Branch employees converted 30 percent more customers to primary relationships.
  • Engaged Mortgage employees generated 38 percent more mortgages.
  • Engaged Private Wealth employees generated 48 percent more in investment sales.
  • Engaged Commercial Banking employees opened 49 percent more new primary relationships.
  • Engaged Business Banking employees generated 59 percent more revenue.

As a result of the success of the program, the company’s senior leaders tightened their belts in other areas to fund an amazing 300 percent increase in training support for 2012. They were sold on the return for their investment.

Today, there are many companies that include employee engagement as part of their strategic plan. Unfortunately, fewer companies have not made the choice to find the necessary funds and realize the increased value and potential of their employee base. Many organizations operate under the axiom: if it is important, you measure it. In this case, R.O.E. stands for Return on Engagement. As one prominent financial institution determined, it is an important new metric that matters.


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Connect for Results: Try Unconventional Thinking

Rick Miller featured in Personal Excellence Magazine, January 2012:

START_QUOTE_30t_smTo improve performance and results, you need to connect people and pieces that have been traditionally disconnected, thanks to conventional thinking.

Conventional thinking is no longer acceptable because it: 1) disconnects managers and leaders (“Managers do the right things, while leaders do things right; manage things and lead people”); 2) disconnects professional and personal life (“it’s just business”); 3) disconnects the value of looking for guidance from personal reflection (feeling, thinking) as opposed to taking action (speaking, writing, acting) or relying on the opinions of others; and 4) disconnects the power of all potential leaders from the impact of a few people at the top of the hierarchy.

To facilitate connected leadership, I developed an All-In Leadership Roadmap that connects sets of choices, including Discipline, Insight, Support, and Creativity (DISC), and asks you to self-assess your actions and attributes in these areas.

Discipline starts with a vision. Who are you and what do you stand for? It is followed by a strategy and plan to accomplish that vision. After you plan the work, you work the plan. Discipline is required to build trust. Instead of relying solely on strong central control over decision-making, you decentralize decision-making and build appropriate controls to build rapid response capability to make critical adjustments.

Insight starts with self-understanding. As a connected leader, you understand who you are and what you stand for. With all the change that surrounds us today, people are looking for leaders who are reliable and confident in themselves. These leaders can integrate information that comes from others with their gut instincts and trust their own voice. They find that voice when they are focused, present, accepting, generous, and grateful. Connected leaders also understand the downside to multi-tasking. They know that by devoting all of their focus to a given individual, communication can be enhanced and relationships strengthened.

Support for others is effective only after you understand their needs. It starts by listening to understand and learn from everyone and every opportunity—being willing to accept the input of others. It can be challenging to be confident, clear, concise, convincing, and compelling—and also be open at all times to input. Support also includes questioning, inspiring, encouraging, enabling, and role modeling for others.

Creativity is at its fullest and is unleashed when you connect what you do to who you are. When you connect your internal creativity (your feelings and thoughts) to your external creativity (your written and spoken words and your actions), you see a dramatic increase in both your effectiveness and your positive influence. Knowing that your words matter, you connect your email language with the words you use in everyday conversations. You also integrate your personal and professional roles and remain true to yourself and what you believe in.

In his new book Great by Choice, Jim Collins and co-author Morten Hanson write: “It is not discipline alone that makes greatness, but the combination of discipline and creativity.”

The DISConnect strategy is supported by a strong focus on core values. When you are managing or guiding others, your values (values like truth, respect, teamwork, equality, service, and connection) are visible in word and action. Values become the ultimate glue that holds people and organizations together when everything else is changing.

When you connect what has traditionally been disconnected, amazing things happen. The potential of all people is released, leading to turnaround performance, along with improved results and resilience.



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Start Your Turnaround Before the Crisis Hits!

Answering simple but important questions could make the difference between choosing a quick fix or a truly broad turnaround strategy before a crisis strikes.

With a fresh year upon us, business leaders would be well-served to review key indicators and determine whether even short term success may be hiding significant long term problems. It may be time for a turnaround plan, depending how you answer the following 10 questions:

  • Are you continually improving your margins?
  • Are you meeting profit objectives primarily by cutting expenses?
  • Are you growing below the market rate?
  • Are you managing your business quarter-by-quarter?
  • Are you regularly measuring customer satisfaction/loyalty?
  • Are you in demand at industry conferences?
  • Are you attracting top talent to your business?
  • Are you retaining your best people?
  • Are you expanding your community of partners faster than your competitors?
  • Are you improving communication with key suppliers?

If your organization cannot answer these questions, you have a choice to improve your management system in the New Year by including them in a new dashboard. If your answers to these questions raise some concern, they should. The good news is you

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can choose to create a turnaround plan before these critical leading indicators point to a real crisis.

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