Millennials—How We Can Help Them Save Us

Working with Chiefs across many industries today, I am struck by the consistency of the number one issue facing companies: how to unlock the potential of a changing workforce (namely, the Millennial Generation.) In its May 20th issue, Time Magazine writer Joel Stein offers his view of what he calls “The New Greatest Generation.” Joel concludes that Millennials will save us all. In my view and experience, we can make choices today to help them do it sooner rather than later.

According to sources like Forbes, Millennials will make up 36% of the US employee base next year, 50% by 2020, and 75% globally by 2030. Stein’s characterization of this group includes terms like business friendly, innovative, sharing, confident, and nice. This group has huge expectations, feels entitled to choices, and they are “going after what they want.” In short, Millennials offer plenty of potential. In my personal experience, concrete steps can be taken to unleash this potential. Here’s an example.

On February 1, 2000 I joined the Internet start-up Opus360 as President and Chief Operating Officer. Just one month later, NASDAQ peaked and the market began a slide that would wipe out 70% of its value. While many will remember that period as the time the market bubble burst, others will mark it as the first year the Millennials entered the workforce.

At Opus, a majority of our employees were Millennials. Thank goodness! There is no question that this group made many important contributions at a critical period in our young life as a company. In addition, the game plan we used to support this group worked particularly well and offers a potential blueprint for others. I call my five-part plan the All-In Roadmap.

Millennials Apply All-In Roadmap Elements

The roadmap starts with discipline, and Millennials have no problem with it. Although their methods of carrying out discipline may look different than those of past generations, at the end of the day Millennials get the job done.

Millennials crave support. They appreciate recognition and expect fair compensation. They need to know they can pave a path within their organization that allows them to do their best work. And when they deliver, commending their work will ensure continued successful collaboration.

They are very creative. Millennials are well equipped to think outside the box, and willing to act on their instincts: both critical when an organization is faced with new challenges.

They are insightful. As a group, Millennials are amazingly self-aware. They know what they want and are aggressive at pursuing it. Organizations that want to attract and retain these talented individuals need to involve them deeply, seek their feedback and act on it.

They support values-based organizations. Millennials seek meaning. It’s not all about money anymore. Millennials want to connect with organizations that stand for the same things they do.

The bottom line: Many Millennials are now ready to lead and the All-In Roadmap is the right tool for the right time. Good luck!

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The Power of Vulnerability

Recently, I watched Dr. Brene Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability. It was insightful. It also reminded me that the toughest job I ever had was also the same one that taught me about the power of vulnerability.

It was 1999 and I had just been named as President at AT&T’s Global Services Division. I was ecstatic

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…for a short time. I had joined AT&T three years earlier as an outside recruit to help a great team turn around the Eastern Region at Global Services. Our team had tripled the growth rate to fifteen percent and maintained that growth rate for three years to build a strong $5B unit, all while improving employee and customer satisfaction.

After I was promoted, I thought my biggest priority was to quickly introduce myself to the great team that comprised the Central and Western Regions and get started expanding on the approach that had worked in the East. It quickly became evident, however, that things were brewing both inside and outside the company that created a set of challenges I had never encountered, and it brought me to a place I had never been before.

Inside the company, thirty days into the new assignment I got a new boss. He was not a fan of mine. Thirty days later I learned that due to budget cuts I needed to lay off fifty percent of my work force using a voluntary program with no exclusions. The best producers could leave. Shortly after, I learned that forty percent of my accounts would be shifted to other business units at year end.

Outside the company, we faced a competitor who was operating illegally. Specifically, Worldcom was reporting overstated revenue and profit growth at the same time they were waging a price war in our market. (CEO Bernie Ebers subsequently went to jail.) Our business targets had been set to match the competitor’s growth claims.

Employees were shaken and so was I. But I was able to rely on a roadmap that had served me well in other difficult situations. I had experience using discipline, support, creativity, and values to align our team. I also had experience with insight to keep me balanced in the face of the lunacy. The challenge was to find a way to connect our nationwide workforce in order to pull together and raise their game in spite of all that was going on around them.

The answer came as the senior leadership team continued our practice of open dialogue yet added a willingness to acknowledge and share our own feelings of concern for the future. Personally, I openly shared my concerns and my vulnerability. I made it clear that I was not sure what senior management’s plans for me would be in the future. I was not looking for sympathy but rather simply trying to model straight talk. This was not typical of senior leaders at AT&T. Then, at one particular all-hands meeting I decided to go even further.

At the meeting, I was asked by an employee about the health care coverage options available for those who voluntarily left the company. He went on to explain that his wife was recovering from cancer surgery. I chose that time to share a secret I had held for over ten years—that I too had battled cancer. You could have heard a pin drop in the auditorium as I shared my news. News about my disclosure spread quickly—I was surprised by how many times it came up in later discussions with employees. In hindsight, I may have actually “joined” the workforce at AT&T that day. While some might question the wisdom of this level of openness, for me it was the right decision and made a huge, positive difference. My vulnerability allowed me to connect to the team at AT&T. Brene Brown explains this very phenomenon in her talk.

Amazingly to some and in spite of all the challenges we faced, the Global Services team actually doubled our revenue growth rate that year, although we did not reach our plan. We also set record levels for customer satisfaction. Perhaps most significant was our record-setting employee satisfaction improvement. Employees—who saw half their peer group leave during the year including those who were being transferred out of our unit—reported a huge increase in their confidence in unit leadership.

There is no doubt that our team worked hard and smart that year. For me, however, the breakthrough that enabled this amazing performance was the level of teamwork prompted in part by our choice to be open, honest, and vulnerable.

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Startups and Multinationals: Swapping Lessons

Why are startups so attractive and why do so many of them fail? Why do multinationals continue to expand yet find it a challenge to attract and retain the best talent? The answers to these questions may be found in lessons each can learn from the other.

Let’s start with startups. The author of Drive, Daniel Pink, would argue these young companies offer three key elements of motivation that help them attract talent.

First, startups offer autonomy. With few resources everyone has a key role and a divide-and-conquer mentality. People enjoy the ability to set their own plan and work it. They are clear on their individual scope and they enjoy it.

Second, start-ups offer a great opportunity for mastery. People love to learn new things and experience increased confidence as they improve in new areas.

Third, start-ups often begin with a strong sense of mission. Early employees are attracted to the thought of being part of something bigger than them.

In my experience, too many large companies miss the opportunity to focus on these important attributes. However, larger companies could keep these elements if they remained committed to decentralization wherever possible, continual employee education and training, and a focus on objectives beyond an all-consuming attention to the bottom line.

So where do the lessons go the other way? In my experience there are at least three areas where well-run multinationals have something to offer start-ups.

First, strong multinationals can handle complexity. While change is a constant everywhere, the ability to stay responsive to massive change is a learned behavior and requires a healthy dose of discipline.

Next, strong multinationals are excellent at planning and adjusting. They develop detailed plans with associated dashboards of metrics and measures, including leading indicators to let them know when plans need to be adjusted.

Finally, strong multinationals utilize a well-understood set of values that are consistently communicated to unify their workforce.

In my experience, start-ups can learn from these practices even though it is common to eschew anything that looks too “corporate.” However, startups could benefit if they remained committed to regularly scheduled planning sessions, accountability reviews, dashboards (with leading indicators), and an agreed-to set of values available for everyone to see.

Both the best startups and multinationals excel when they share a practice of encouraging leadership at all levels. By swapping these best practices, each could be more successful.

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Leading in a Storm

Rick Miller featured in Empower Me Magazine online publication:

START_QUOTE_30t_smAs an entrepreneur or senior leader in a small business, you have never had an easy job. Among lots of other tasks, you must envision, strategize, and plan tactics for your company after you have researched the market for your products or services. Of course, you do all of these things with limited resources. Assuming you have developed an appropriate financial plan for your company, and have kept your competitive profiles updated, you must also flawlessly implement your plans and measure with quality and speed to produce results. You are accountable to align your employees by communicating direction throughout the organization by being confident, clear, concise, convincing, and compelling (5 C’s).

Attempted together, these tasks can seem daunting. Yet in tough times, even these practices alone are not enough. In fact, when things get difficult the MOST IMPORTANT part of your job might be that while you are communicating with the 5 C’s, you also need to be truly OPEN to input and opinions from key stake holders in and around the organization.

With today’s unprecedented turbulence, the most successful leaders are those who can confidently set the direction for their group while actively seeking, and intently listening to, input from employees and customers for much needed innovative ideas.

In Servant Leadership, Robert Greenleaf describes the approach required of a leader who truly understands that game-changing insight can come at any time, from anyone. “One must make choices. Perhaps one

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chooses the same aim or hypothesis again and again. But is always with a fresh and open choice, and it is always under a shadow of doubt”. Leaders open to fresh perspectives are more likely make critical adjustments ahead of others. In today’s “stormy” business climate, this ability is critical.

Greenleaf also offers a perspective on how a leader can create true communication and engagement. He emphasizes both the exercise of authority and the inner quality of humility that characterize a true servant leader. With a commitment to serve first, a leader is more likely to truly listen. With an underlying belief in equality and respect for every individual, successful leaders appreciate the necessity to learn from anyone and everyone.

With the economic, political, social, and environmental challenges we are now facing, pressure to perform is higher than ever. You will always be looked to for future direction. Your due diligence and the quality of your strategies and plans will continue to be an important starting point of your business. You will continue to need to display confidence in your organizations. In light of today’s complexities and uncertainties, however, your long-term success may hinge far more on your ability to find the right balance of confidence and the humility that comes with a healthy dose of doubt.

I suggest you add a big “O” to the 5C’s. The O is a reminder to be OPEN. You’ll get better ideas and employee engagement will stay high, just when you need it most.END_QUOTE_30t_sm


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Being Chief—What Does It Mean to Be Chief?

A new advertising campaign from IBM asserts that a successful CFO should be viewed as a Chief Future Officer. I smiled when I saw the ad because I thought businesses had exhausted all possible Chief Officer titles. Today, it seems most companies have shifted from various combinations of Vice President titles (VP, SVP, EVP) to Chief titles as a way to identify who is in charge. As companies named endless vice presidents in times past, lately it seems Chief titles are taking over.

This practice has not been limited to business. The same seems to hold true in government where one finds Chief titles of all makes and models, including Chief, Senior Chief, Deputy Chief, Administrative Chief, and Assistant Chief. Recently, I also noticed a shift to Chief titles outside the workforce altogether.

Specifically, a new Lincoln Financial Group advertising campaign advocates that everyone view themselves as a Chief Life Officer®. Their award-winning promotion resonates with a segment of the population that connects a title with authority. But with so many Chief titles out there, do we really know what it means to be Chief?

Thinking back to when I was growing up, I don’t remember hearing or reading the term “Chief” all that often. Certainly there was Commander-in-Chief, and closer to home there was the Chief of Police. (I also recall watching the original television portrayal of Superman where Jimmy Olson invariably referred to Perry White, editor of the fictional Daily Planet newspaper, as Chief.) The term was reserved for those who were in charge at the very top level.

I also remember the stories my Dad told us when he came home from work about what it really took to be Chief.

It’s a Matter of Choice

My Dad was a mid-level personnel manager (human resources) working at the only non-union machine tool shop in central Massachusetts. Dad would tell me and my brothers about grievances, pay and benefit issues, and his challenge of connecting the managers at Heald Machine to the workers so the company could grow. In twenty-seven years at Heald, there was never even a single union vote. Why? Because my Dad treated everyone with respect and led without any positional authority.

Dad taught me that being Chief had more to do with choice than title or level. I have benefited greatly throughout my career from the foundational lessons my Dad taught me.

In the first phase of my career, I worked in one organization at a time. Over thirty years, I served in many roles in five organizations in five different industries. Early on I found myself consistently thrust into turnaround situations. Later, I sought them out. Success in each was due in large part to a specific roadmap that I used to enable Chiefs at all levels to unlock their potential.

Five years ago, I made a personal decision to change my life-work balance. The nature of my turnaround assignments in phase one had taken a toll on the time I was able to spend with my wife Diane and our two children. As my oldest was entering high school, I decided not to pursue another big job until both kids graduated. I founded my own company, Choices & Success LLC, as part of phase two. I began working as a Chief, supporting a limited number of Chiefs in different organizations. It was rewarding to serve others who could use my roadmap and guidance to help them grow as their organizations grew.

BEING CHIEF—Taking It to the Next Phase

I am excited to announce the beginning of phase three with the launch of BEING CHIEF LLC. I will expand my service as a confidant and advisor, supporting select clients’ business and personal growth. In addition, I will be expanding my speaking schedule and my advocacy for Chiefs at all levels. The lessons that started with my Dad are now research-based, broadly road-tested and simplified to help Chiefs and companies grow. In 2014, my new book BEING CHIEF…the CHOICE is YOURS will be published to serve a larger audience.

As we build a community, I am grateful for the opportunity to engage with so many others who believe it’s not about title or level, but choice.

Thank you. I look forward to our continuing conversation.

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Listening to the Quiet Ones

Can you realize the full potential in a group if members don’t choose to openly share their thoughts? The answer is no. If team members are unwilling to speak their mind for any reason, good leaders must find a way to convince members to share their ideas in a way that works for them. I was reminded of this challenge recently when I had the opportunity to read Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain. The book makes a compelling case for the increased innovation and productivity available to organizations when firms find ways to ensure contribution from everyone, including introverts.

The book brought me back to my arrival at AT&T in 1995 as the first outsider in 100 years recruited to lead a unit of “long lines” as a corporate officer. At the time, the $3B organization included 2,000 professionals and was under-performing in a number of areas. On arriving, my initial goal was to set up a series of town hall meetings to listen to employee thoughts, questions, and suggestions. When I did not get the level of interaction I had hoped, I asked a peer if she had any guidance. She told me to review the Employee Satisfaction Survey results.

The survey results were alarming. One particular question told me all I needed to know. The specific questions asked: Do you think it is safe to say what you think at AT&T? The prior year results for our unit showed that only 39% said yes. I learned that results across AT&T were similar for that particular question. Translation: on average, 6 out of 10 people would not tell you the full truth.

Whether these results were due to introversion or lack of trust, the simple truth was that I needed to confront this issue straight on if we were going to turn around performance. I needed to find a way for people to express their feelings and thoughts in a safe way.

I decided to get creative to set up a safe way to get employee input. Specifically, I actually signed a contract with our major competitor MCI for a toll-free 1-800-SAFE-2-SAY number that my employees could call at any time. MCI would transcribe employee comments and send me a written weekly report. Nobody’s voice could be recognized. My employees were amazed; while I am sure some in upper management were flabbergasted.

On my regular all-associates conference calls I would regularly pull from the prior week’s MCI report the “toughest” questions and answer them openly and honestly. At first people were surprised that no comment or question was over the line. Over time, more and more employees felt comfortable asking tougher questions in open forums. I am sure that many talented introverts continued to use this tool to communicate.

We also made progress on the safe to say question on the Employee Satisfaction Survey, becoming one of the only units to break the 50% mark. Perhaps not surprisingly, overall employee satisfaction hit record levels and customer satisfaction levels did the same. Our revenue growth rate TRIPLED from 5 to 15% and we grew to $5B over three years.

Question: What are you doing to ensure you are “hearing” from the quiet members of your team?

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Ethics and Sledgehammers

A recent Wall Street Journal article outlines the increasing efforts at a number of B-schools to beef up their focus on ethics. While the article also points out the challenge of measuring the return for this investment, there is no doubting the havoc created when ethical behavior is not followed.

Increasing ethics training in school is a good start, but from my experience leaders must double-down on the job as well, with consistent actions to ensure that a culture of ethical behavior is the most visible attribute in an organization. From a cost/benefit perspective, focusing on ethical behavior may be the only area where it makes sense to “kill a flee with a sledgehammer.”

Personally, as an undergraduate I was fortunate to attend Bentley University which started its Center of Business Ethics in 1976. Bentley’s focus on ethics helped me translate what I had learned growing up into the world of business.

At my very first job as a computer sales rep, I was assigned to the local government market in Massachusetts. There I learned quickly that ethics were a really big deal and the different rules in the public and private sectors. I remember making sure we had a clearly identified “cash cup” next to the coffee machine for government prospects to deposit their 25 cents. Since I was prohibited from any social contact with prospects or customers, my golf game never improved. I was well aware that violating the rules could cause disbarment from all government prospects in Massachusetts.

Later serving as President at AT&T’s Global Services Division, I made sure we mandated training for our global work force to ensure they understood every detail of behavior expected of them as part of a US company doing work abroad as laid out in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). We required annual training certification including an understanding that violations could result in jail time, and ensured leaders at all levels regularly included related topics in monthly agendas.

In another assignment, I served as President at an internet start-up and did not have access to the resources of an AT&T to build formal ethics training programs. Our management team met regularly to discuss how we could include integrity as part of our daily discussions with our young workforce.

In my last corporate assignment, I served as President of Lucent’s Government Solutions Division. Serving the Federal Government involves a whole new level of rules and regulations. We set up a Compliance Office to ensure we took every step possible to set the right tone in our organization that ethics was our top priority. We used mandatory training, monthly newsletters, and regularly included compliance as a meeting agenda topic to ensure appropriate attention on ethics.

The (WSJ) article points out that everyone likely knows the meaning of right and wrong, but business has run under an axiom for a long time: if it is important, then you measure it. Measuring the implications of culture is not well understood. Harvard researchers Jim Heskett & John Kotter provide just such a study in their book Corporate Culture and Performance. Their research proves a values-based, change adaptive culture drives sustainable, measurable growth.

Some still believe ethics, like culture, is “soft.” Legendary management guru Peter Drucker said “what’s soft is hard and what’s hard is soft.” Translation: this stuff matters… a lot.

In my view, an organization has nothing more important than its reputation and leaders must make ethical behavior Job #1 and an active part of their objectives. In addition to good hiring and strong internal audit practices, robust training programs and constant reinforcement can help companies of all sizes support good choices. Ethical behavior is the key to long-term success with customers, employees, suppliers, partners, and the community at large.

My recommendation: educate and reinforce the importance of ethics early and often…and bring out the sledgehammer.

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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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