10 Ways to Build an Adaptive Culture in Your Organization

Rick Miller featured in Vistage Executive Street online publication:

START_QUOTE_30t_smIn this post-Great Recession era, too many companies are suffering from a lack of growth in revenue, profit, and job creation. Company leaders are facing unparalleled technology shifts, increased competition, changing government regulations, and accelerating globalization.

So how can managers respond to unprecedented challenges and create increased innovation, jobs, and top- and bottom-line growth? Some would tell you that new challenges require whole new leadership tactics. I disagree.

The truth is that unprecedented challenges (just not these particular ones) are nothing new—change is a constant. Fortunately, leaders can create growth despite these challenges. Research has proven that an unconventional approach can enable company leaders to sustain high performance, even in the face of great change, by creating a change-adaptive culture.

Specifically, in 2011 Jim Heskett and John Kotter published Corporate Culture and Performance, sharing an updated version of the seminal work they first offered more than 20 years ago. It provides great insights for today’s leaders.

The authors offer impressive data to support their central assertion: If you build an adaptive culture, rather than simply a strong culture, you can create long-term economic performance. The results of the dozens of companies studied over 11 years are compelling.

Heskett and Kotter go on to offer specific advice on how to create this type of culture. They focus on actions (discipline, support, and creativity) and attributes (insight and values) that lead to performance-enhancing and change-adaptive cultures.

Here are the top 10 ways you can build an adaptive culture in your organization:

  1. Create a need for crisis and a need for change and a new direction
  2. Communicate consistently and broadly
  3. Display an “outsiders” propensity to embrace change and new ideas
  4. Reinforce the importance of innovation
  5. Build and maintain an “insiders” credibility
  6. Institute a balanced focus on the success of customers, employees, and shareholders
  7. Establish leadership or the ability to produce change as an important focus at ALL levels
  8. Decentralize decision making where possible
  9. Promote carefully and demote when necessary
  10. Operate as a servant leader

I have personally seen the benefits offered by this approach in organizations from all sizes and in all industries. For example, an internet startup facing a market crash grew revenue from $1M to $11M in just a year while a multinational tripled its revenue growth rate from 5 to 15%, growing to $5B while facing intense market competition. In each case,

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both employee and customer satisfaction reached new levels.

With so many companies facing challenges, will more follow the proven path forward outlined by Heskett and Kotter?

Only time will tell. The path is not easy. It has been rare that organizations have committed to the discipline, support, creativity, insight, and commitment to values required to build truly change-adaptive cultures. Those who chose to follow the path consistently benefited with strong results.

With the levels of complexity and challenges ever growing, leaders would be well served to make this unconventional approach a little more conventional. Should you try it?

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How a Growth Roadmap Drives Financial and Personal Growth in Turbulent Times

Rick Miller featured in The Wealthy Business:

START_QUOTE_30t_smHere’s the good news: Many companies are announcing record profit levels. Now for the bad news: Too many of these same companies are saving their way to profitability rather than driving top-line revenue growth as employee engagement continues to fall. While markets have risen, there is a clear concern about whether this growth is sustainable. In my experience, revenue, profit, and personal growth are all attainable and sustainable in tough times using a proven Roadmap.

As a senior business turnaround specialist, I have worked with teams facing daunting business challenges ranging from poor culture and product shortfalls, to external issues like illegal competitive activity and market crashes. In each case, I relied on the All-In Roadmap as a guide. Independent of industry or whether I was in a startup or multinational, each time our team succeeded.
roadmapI created the All-In Roadmap, providing evidence that strong performance can be sustained even in tough times by focusing on a set of actions and personal attributes. A famous fighter once said that a plan is fine until you get hit in the mouth. In my experience, when things get tough it’s both the plan and your execution that determine success. The All-In Roadmap includes a balanced focus on five areas: discipline, support, creativity, insight, and values.

Success requires a key component—discipline. I define this as an orderly pattern of behavior that increases the likelihood of a desired outcome. For example, you must develop effective dashboards that include leading and lagging indicators. Do you have detailed plans linked to your strategy? Can you adjust quickly? Do you maximize the probability of your team’s success with strong discipline?

Support is the act or process of promoting the interests of another. First, truly successful leaders offer great support by being the example. Are your words consistent with your actions? Is your team properly trained for the battle and recognized when they achieve goals? Do you go the extra step and take responsibility to “set others up” for success? Do you do all you can to support your team?

Creativity is defined differently in my model. The All-In Roadmap advocates that creativity is actually the ability to manifest or create the future. It is up to you to “make things happen.” Do you listen to your gut feelings? Do you manage your thoughts? Do you speak your words carefully, write deliberately, and act in a way that will align each of these? Do you create fully and consciously?

Insight is the power or act of seeing intuitively that comes with self-understanding. You are most effective when you engage in actions that are consistent with who you are. Here are five ways you can learn more about yourself. Can you choose to be present and focus on the task at hand? Can you be still long enough to get in touch with your own voice? Can you accept what is? Are you generous and grateful? How well do you really know yourself?

Values are the foundation of great relationships. And great relationships can be characterized by a number of values including compassion, forgiveness, respect, empathy, and kindness. How visible are your values? Can team members clearly see your values in how you speak, write, and act? Do you respect the values of others?

Although my approach is research-based, it has also been called unconventional. Regardless of one’s opinion, it works. It’s why I was hired by AT&T in 1995 as the first outsider in 100 years to take over a poor performing business unit. Three years later, employee and customer satisfaction reached record levels while the revenue growth rates grew from $3B to $5B.

At a time when so many organizations face challenges, consider using a proven Roadmap to ask the right questions. Revenue, profit, and personal growth are all attainable and sustainable, even in tough times.
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So You Want to Be a CMO

Rick Miller featured in Direct Marketing News online publication:

START_QUOTE_30t_smWhat choices can you make to unlock the potential of every member of your marketing staff? Many studies have confirmed that leaders can create and sustain next-level performance by focusing on a specific set of actions and personal attributes. Using these studies and adding a reality check from my personal frontline assignments as a senior operating executive, I have developed a simple set of choices to help you bring out the marketing chief in every member of your team. I refer to this tool as the All-In Roadmap.

The critical parts of the All-In Roadmap include actions (discipline and support), attributes (creativity and insight), and values. Positive choices in each of these areas will enable your team to perform at the next level—as Chiefs.

Discipline is an orderly pattern of behavior that increases the likelihood of a desired outcome. Whether you’re managing a team or simply managing your own projects, good discipline is always the right starting point. You must plan the work and then work the plan, while also developing effective dashboards with metrics for important leading and lagging indicators. Successful marketing requires not only a focus on many moving parts—strategy, competition, research, budget, endless details, etc.—but also the ability to quickly adjust your plans as needed. Do you maximize the probability of your team’s success with strong discipline?

Support is the act or process of promoting the interests or causes of another. Truly successful leaders offer great support for others, and support begins by being the example. It is often said, yet infrequently practiced, that great leaders must “walk the walk.” You can inspire team members with the consistency of your actions as a way to teach everyone more about who you are. Support can include the practice of asking questions to guide less experienced staff toward new ways of thinking. Or, formal and informal recognition can help encourage risk taking. Finally, you can take responsibility for enabling team members’ success. Take the attitude, and perform the actions, required to set your team up for success. Do you do all you can to support your team?

Creativity is the ability to bring things into existence. Creativity is no stranger to the field of marketing, but I offer to you an unconventional definition. All-In Leadership advocates that creativity is actually the ability to manifest, or create, the future. To be successful in marketing, there are five ways to be creative: Listen to your gut feelings, choose to manage your thoughts, speak your words carefully, write deliberately, and act in a way that will align each of these. If you find yourself having trouble creating the future you want, you can choose to simply “act the part” and feelings, thoughts, and words will follow. It’s important to acknowledge your accountability to create internally (through feelings and thoughts) and externally (in talking, writing, and acting). Do you create an optimal culture for your team fully and consciously?

Insight is the power or act of seeing intuitively that comes with self-understanding. You are at your most effective when you engage in actions that are consistent with who you are. Insight can be challenging to discover in a world that appears to move faster each day and is filled with challenges, opportunities, and seemingly endless to-do lists.

There are five ways you can learn more about yourself, and thereby learn more about your team. You can choose to be present (focus on the task at hand), still (get in touch with the only voice that matters—the one inside your own head!), accepting (don’t fight it), generous, and grateful. These acts may seem contrary to everything that goes on in your current workplace, but once implemented, they will open up new insight that can take your team to previously unreachable heights. Do you regularly invest time to quiet your mind to hear your own voice?

Values are the foundation of great relationships. Great relationships can be characterized by any number of values including compassion, forgiveness, respect, empathy, and kindness. Each of us has the choice to bring positive values to all our relationships—with team members, customers, owners, and partners. The values of truth, service, equality, and connection are universal value principles that can offer a great framework for your organization. Can team members clearly see your values in how you speak, write, and act?

Taken together, discipline, insight, support, creativity, and values comprise the parts of the All-In Roadmap. At a time when so many organizations and groups are in need of stronger leadership, I urge you to consider your opportunity to make choices proven to unlock the leadership potential in your team. It really doesn’t matter if you’re on top of an organization or somewhere below the top. You can help create a culture where every member of your team can operate as a chief. This roadmap has helped me unlock the potential of many diverse teams and I sincerely believe it will help you and your marketing team. The choice is yours. Good luck.

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There are Marketers and Chief Marketers: Which are You?

Rick Miller featured in CommPro Marketing online publication:

START_QUOTE_30t_smBeing a Chief Marketer has nothing to do with level or title. Instead, it has everything to do with choices. Like Chiefs in other areas, Chief Marketers are leaders. They set the pace for others. They consistently make choices that demonstrate their value as they increase the value of those around them. They can be found in any part of any organization. So what choices can you make to earn your Chief stripes?

Research has confirmed that leaders (Chiefs) can create and sustain strong performance by focusing on a specific set of actions and personal attributes. Using these studies and adding a reality check from my experience as a senior operating executive, I have developed a simple set of choices to help you operate as a Chief Marketer. I refer to this set of choices as the All-In Roadmap.

The critical parts of the All-In Roadmap include actions (discipline and support), attributes (creativity and insight) and values.

Discipline is an orderly pattern of behavior that increases the likelihood of a desired outcome. Whether you are managing a team or simply managing your own projects, good discipline is always the right starting point. You must plan your work and then work your plan, while also developing effective dashboards with leading and lagging indicators. Success requires that you be able to quickly adjust your plans as needed while focusing on the many moving parts involved in marketing—strategy, competition, research, budget, endless details, etc. Do you maximize the probability of your team’s success with strong discipline?

Support is the act or process of promoting the interests or causes of another. Truly successful leaders offer great support by being the example. You can inspire team members with the consistency of your actions as a way to teach everyone more about who you are. Support also includes the practice of being curious. Ask questions to guide less experienced staff toward new ways of thinking. Also, formal and informal recognition of reserved staff members can help encourage risk taking. Finally, you can take responsibility to “set others up” for success. Do you do all you can to support your team?

Creativity has always been critical in the field of marketing, but I am offering you an unconventional definition of creativity. I believe creativity is actually the ability to manifest, or create, the future. To be successful in marketing, there are five ways to be creative: Listen to your gut feelings, choose to manage your thoughts, speak your words carefully, write deliberately, and act in a way that will align each of these. Acknowledge your own accountability to create internally (through feelings and thoughts) and externally (in talking, writing, and acting). Do you create fully and consciously?

Insight is the power or act of seeing intuitively that comes with self-understanding. You are at your most effective when you engage in actions that are consistent with who you are. Insight requires you to slow down at times to learn how to truly listen to your inner voice. There are five ways you can learn more about yourself. You can choose to be present (focused on the task at hand), still (in touch with the voice inside your own head), accepting (not fighting), generous, and grateful. These acts will open up your insight, which will have far-reaching beneficial effects for you, professionally and personally. Do you regularly invest time to quiet your mind to hear your own voice?

Values are the foundation of great relationships. Great relationships can be characterized by a number of values including compassion, forgiveness, respect, and kindness. Each of us has the choice to bring positive values to all our relationships—with team members, customers, owners, and partners. As you perform your marketing activities, can team members clearly see your values in how you speak, write, and act?

Taken together, discipline, insight, support, creativity, and values comprise the parts of the All-In Roadmap. At a time when so many organizations need great marketers, you have an opportunity to be your best. I urge you to consider choices proven to unlock your leadership potential. It really doesn’t matter if you are on top of an organization or somewhere below the top. Independent of level or title, you can operate as a Chief. The choice is yours.

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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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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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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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Leading Innovation: AT&T’s First Shared Office

Rick Miller featured in Harvard Business Review, May/June 1998:

START_QUOTE_30t_smRichard S. Miller, vice president of global services (GS) at AT&T, leads some 2,000 sales and support professionals serving major corporations and government clients in the eastern United States. His organization generates $4 billion in annual revenues; its expense budget is about $200 million, of which real estate represents 6%.

In December 1996, Miller learned on a television newscast about a competitor’s initiative to pursue an AW program. Driven into action, he asked the help of AT&T’s global real estate (GRE) organization in developing a new facility. His idea: a shared office that staff members who spend much of their time with customers outside the office would use as needed, without having assigned workstations. The objective: creating an environment in which teamwork would flourish while reducing real estate costs.

The GRE unit, then in the early stages of developing AT&T’s Creative Workplace Solutions strategy, had not yet planned the type of facility Miller envisioned. So he and GRE’s planning director, Thomas A. Savastano, Jr., formed a team to consider the alternatives. The team rejected several scenarios. One would have refitted a building already occupied by Miller’s group, but that would have disrupted existing operations. Instead, the team opted for a three-part plan: redesign vacant AT&T space in Morristown, New Jersey, as a shared office; move 200 employees from five traditional office locations and 25 others from three satellite offices to the new facility; and redeploy the space to be vacated.

The total group included 58 salespeople, 101 technical specialists, and 66 management and support staff. Miller knew that the staff would need full-time space in the new facility. But he estimated that at least 60% of the sales and technical people would be out of the office with customers at any given time and therefore could share work space. At the time, the GS organization was beginning to transform its technical specialists into virtual resources; that is, rather than dedicate individuals to specific customers, these individuals would float from one account to another as needed. That change, Miller reflects, eased the transition from a conventional to an alternative workplace.

The new shared office works as follows: Through their laptops, employees log onto a system to reserve a workstation either before they arrive at the building or when they enter the lobby. Once there, they retrieve their own mobile file cabinet and wheel it to their reserved space. The workstations are six feet square and are arranged in pairs with a C-shaped work surface so that two people can work apart privately or slide around to work side by side. The reservation system routes employees’ personal phone numbers to their reserved space. As one occupant says of the new arrangement, “I don’t know who is going to sit next to me tomorrow, but interacting with different people all the time helps me think about customer issues more productively. I’m always getting a new perspective and new ideas from others’ experience.”

AT&T has installed three low-tech features in addition to its high-tech systems. A café encourages people to mingle for coffee and conversation about new sales, customer solutions, and office events. Two large chalkboards allow people to leave messages for others; this feature also reduces the paper flow within the office. And three types of enclosed space—phone rooms, “personal harbors,” and team rooms—accommodate private meetings and teleconferences.

AT&T’s project shows how significant the tangible and intangible results of an AW initiative can be. It cost $2.1 million to develop, including construction, furniture, equipment, and systems. But the investment was well worth the effort, as the accompanying table shows. Annual savings alone amount to more than $460,000 or $2,000 per person. Over five years, the company will avoid nearly $2 million in costs associated with running a traditional office. In addition, individual space was halved, and team-meeting space doubled. Finally, the project has produced closer teamwork, better customer service, and greater employee satisfaction.

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Leading Turnarounds: How Lucent Fights Back

Rick Miller featured in Success Today magazine, June 2003:

START_QUOTE_30t_smHis friends thought he was crazy. But then, what are friends for but to tell you you’re nuts for taking on the impossible? And that’s what it looked like when Rick Miller went after the top sales job at Lucent Technologies, a company with a once-golden reputation that had tarnished to a dull brown by the time Miller arrived on the scene.

When Miller took the job of senior vice president global sales at Lucent Technologies last May, the once high-flying telecom’s stock, which had fetched $57 in December 1999, had crashed to under $4 per share. By September 2002 it would dip below a buck a share. Everywhere there was a deathwatch, as reporters, analysts and telecom insiders united in whispering that the once glorious company (a 1996 spin-off from AT&T) was not long for this world. “When I joined Lucent, it definitely made a statement,” says Miller, a onetime president of AT&T Global Services who immediately before coming to Lucent had served as president of Opus360, a dot-com that had provided staffing solutions.

“I chose Lucent; it didn’t come after me. I pursued it,” relates Miller. “I saw that this was a company with fundamental strengths. It’s a place where I knew I could make a difference.”

Has he? Not quite a year into his position, Miller says, “You can definitely see the progress. In 2002, our customer satisfaction rating” – based on an annual survey Lucent asks customers to complete – “was the highest in history. We are helping our customers’ bottom lines. We have been very aggressive about getting our pricing in line. When the telecom market turns – and it will – we will be ready. There have been a lot of misperceptions about Lucent and about our sales team,” adds Miller. “I want to change that.”

Miller backs up his words. He threw open his sales team to interviews by Selling Power – and that’s because he wants to get out a loud message: Lucent is going to be a place where hard-charging sales executives make a lot of money, because this is a new company where selling rules. “A lot of people think we’re about technology,” says Miller, who acknowledges that because Lucent’s roots lie in Bell Labs, the company’s technology heritage is rich. “But this also is a company where selling matters. We definitely know that.”

Proof: Every week Lucent CEO Patricia Russo picks up the phone and calls her counterparts at 10 to 15 major customers. Her calls target whales – the companies that most emphatically determine Lucent’s success. But she is not alone. Just below her is Bob Holder, Lucent’s COO, and every week he, too, makes a dozen or so calls. “The rest of the organization can look up to the very top and see the commitment to selling, to building customer relations,” says Miller.

Another key sales agent in the current environment is Lucent’s CFO, Frank D’Amelio. “Whenever a customer raises questions about our future, our CFO goes in and tells our story,” says Vince Molinaro, senior vice president, North America, for integrated network solutions. “We take the viability of our company right off the table, so we can get the conversation back to how Lucent’s solutions can help this customer.”

When there is good news about Lucent’s finances – and the company insists it is enjoying rising revenues and is cash-flow positive – executives are quick to get out that news, to customers and employees alike. “We share that information with people who would be interested,” says Miller, and he well realizes that in a battle for the hearts and minds – of customers and Lucent employees alike – it’s critical to get out positive information.

“We don’t wait for customers to ask,” adds Molinaro. “We background every customer with the facts. This communication has become part of our daily habit.”

Rebuilding a Team

Commitment to selling from the top executives was a start in reviving Lucent’s fortunes, but Rick Miller knew when he came aboard that he had inherited a shattered sales force. The numbers tell it all. At the start of 2001, Lucent had 106,000 employees. Today it has around 40,000. That’s a lot of bodies cut loose, and the sales team suffered losses too. Miller knew he had to bandage these wounds and get the sales force refocused on making the deals that would keep Lucent alive. How would he do it?

“We have gotten smaller but we also now are putting our money on our sales force,” says Miller, who explains that in 2003 he has put strong emphasis on three key programs designed to pump up the sellers.

Recognition. For several years, recognition programs were suspended – Lucent just didn’t have the money to spend on traditional morale boosters. But in 2003 Miller shook lose money to fund programs (such as a winter trip to Scottsdale for high producers) and, probably just as importantly, the company has taken big steps to engrain low-cost but powerful recognition programs into its culture. Such as?

“I’ve personally sent out around 600 recognition letters to top employees,” relates Molinaro, and you can bet that when a personal thank-you comes from a senior vice president, that carries weight. What makes Molinaro’s output all the more impressive: that output was generated in just the first few months of 2003. “We have a lot of great stuff going on in this company, and as executives we are just beginning to say thank you,” adds Molinaro.

Training. In the lowest months Lucent did little training, but Miller has ratcheted that up: “We have doubled the dollars we are making available for training,” relates Miller. How much training will be involved in 2003? Joe Dymond, a sales rep with Lucent’s BellSouth team, says that he personally is looking at 80 hours of training – mainly in selling techniques – during 2003. Many reps will put in the same number of training hours.

“This tells our salespeople we are investing in them,” says Miller who knows the research is plentiful showing that when a sales team is invested in, it feels more valued, and usually that translates into a harder working, more dedicated group.

Compensation. “We have committed ourselves to providing market-level compensation,” says Miller, who indicates that there has been a broad revision of the compensation program for sales reps. Throughout the revision process, says Miller, reps were consulted with the hope of producing a program that would more effectively motivate the sales force. Did Miller hit his target?

From the trenches, rep Dymond indicates, “the numbers are aggressive but realistic. If we bring the customers in, we can achieve our numbers.” Once a rep’s quota is reached, “multipliers” – as Lucent calls them – kick in and the rep can wind up with generous bonuses. Is the program fair? “We always want more money,” laughs Dymond, but he indicates that to his eyes the new Lucent compensation program offers both incentives to sell and rewards for those who close deals.

Kicking It Up with Customers

Miller may have shored up Lucent’s relationship with its reps, but what about with customers? “We are going back to the basics of selling,” says Miller, and to him that means building lasting relationships that lead to sales.

A methodical, patient approach is still Lucent’s way, even amid the current financial urgencies and, frankly, there probably isn’t any way to speed up the process. Telcos (about 40 mammoth telecommunications providers who have been identified by Lucent as their core customer base) just don’t move fast when making decisions involving many millions of dollars and that will shape the future of their networks.

“We do relationship selling, not transactional,” says Tom Moore, director of optical sales on Lucent’s Verizon sales team. He adds, “It can take up to a year to close a sale. Developing relationships with influencers inside the company is critical.”

This is a deliberate sales process that begins when a customer sends out a Request for Proposal to perhaps 10 telecommunications vendors. “If our relationships are solid we may know a month in advance that an RFP is coming,” says Moore. “That can give us a head start.”

Vendors’ responses to the RFPs, in turn, are screened by the customer and some – perhaps three to five – will be invited in for presentations to the customer’s operating managers. “These talks can take one to two days,” says Moore, and, increasingly, Lucent comes loaded for bear. The company now builds into most of its presentations a so-called “business case,” a thick document that minutely details the dollars and cents payoffs of going with the Lucent solutions. In every instance Lucent wants to show the customer where and how its products will make money for the customer because, without that, a sale simply won’t happen in this market, says Moore.

Pass that stage and one more hoop needs to be jumped through: “A few finalists then are invited in to present to the customer’s senior management,” relates Moore, who indicates that usually Lucent will get one hour, tops two, to talk about the business advantages of its solutions to a customer executive team that may include the CEO. “They want to hear how the Lucent solution will better their bottom line, how it will enhance their operational effectiveness, and also how our solution will differentiate them from their competitors,” says Moore.

That elaborate dance, truth to tell, is little changed from how sales were made five years ago. But there are differences. Telcos today are slower to decide – that’s a byproduct of a financially more reticent industry – “and they absolutely insist we spell out the ROI,” says Moore.

In Lucent’s case, it has moved fast to give customers more in its sales presentations – but inside people have a keen sense that they are doing this more with less. “Our teams now are smaller, leaner,” says Pamela Reilly, a rep on the Verizon Wireless Team – and notes that, although teams have gotten thinner, every major customer has a dedicated team serving its needs. For instance, 48 reps are on the Verizon team, and they can call on another 25 specialists – engineers and marketers – as needed.

There may even be a silver lining in the downsizing of Lucent’s teams. “Sometimes I think so many of us visited customers it could have been intimidating. We’re a smaller group now,” says Reilly. She adds that the prevailing philosophy within Lucent now is staffing teams with multitaskers – “We look for people who can sell but who also understand and can explain the technology.” A few years ago, it was more common for a team to include a few engineers to talk the technology and salespeople to do the closing, but now, with fewer people, wearing multiple hats, “the sales process may be smoother,” says Reilly.

A Paradigm Shift

Three years ago Lucent was resolutely a DIY company – if it wasn’t going to happen internally, it wasn’t going to happen, because Lucent did not reach out for assistance. So if there are skeptics about Lucent’s commitment to change, listen up: the company is knee-deep into a paradigm change with a goal of bringing in resellers and partners who will generate“20 percent of our revenue base,” says Molinaro. For a company that has always been 100 percent direct, this is a massive, wrenching shift. But, says Molinaro, “we call this ‘extending our reach.’ We are trying to make the pie bigger.”

As Lucent got smaller, it realized their were opportunities out there that it simply wasn’t pursuing, especially when the prospects weren’t the large telcos that are Lucent’s core customers. But Lucent also realized it could no longer afford to ignore those opportunities. “We decided to create a competitive advantage for ourselves by bringing in partners who can help us sell into new markets,” says Molinaro.

So far the program is in its early stages – with partners ranging from small resellers in Asia to IBM and Accenture in the U.S. – but Lucent expresses deep optimism that this will help pave profitable future paths for the company.

What about panicking already anxious internal sales teams who might see these alliances as further erosion of their income? “We are working hard to reassure our people,” says Molinaro, who indicates that compensation plans are being tweaked to provide assurances to inside reps that outside reps are not stealing sales out of their pockets. “This strategy will let us make sales we probably wouldn’t otherwise have made,” says Molinaro. “People inside see how this is very good for the company.”

Bell Labs

Yet another paradigm shift is enveloping Lucent’s crown jewel, Bell Labs. Nothing else in the telecom sector rivals the sheer brainy firepower of Bell Labs, but this also is a facility that traditionally operated at arm’s length or farther from the selling process. No more. Big changes have unfolded as Bell Labs fights to make itself a cost-effective component of Lucent. “We have a spectrum of activities that helps our sales teams,” says Wim Sweldens, a Bell Labs vice president. “In the past two years, interactions have become much more frequent. The goal is to intensify the relationship between research and selling.”

A tangible demonstration of this new direction for Bell Labs is that key researchers are buddied up with counterparts at Lucent with the aim of seeing where the Lab’s research can help the sales team get meetings and close deals. Sweldens, for instance, is paired with Molinaro, and each quarter they review each customer Molinaro serves and the question, always, is where can Bell Labs help? This involves lots of communication between Sweldens and Molinaro. “We have phone calls and email, and we may get together in person seven or eight times a quarter,” says Sweldens.

Bell Labs also directly reaches out to customers. “With key customers, our researchers will get together with theirs to review topics of mutual interest. This buys us a lot of mindshare,” says Sweldens, who reminds us of the stature of Bell Labs in its industry: “Many telephone companies see Bell Labs as their research organization,” says Swelden.

This is a two-way street, however. “We get a lot out of meeting with customers. Hearing their problems helps us better focus our efforts. We walk away from these meetings with a treasure trove of problems to solve” – and every problem, potentially, engenders a new Lucent solution or improvements in current Lucent products.

Ramping Up for Tomorrow’s Successes

“It’s not your grandfather’s telecommunications industry any more, that’s for sure,” says Gina Johnson, account manager with Lucent’s SBC team. “We have been through a lot of change.”

Listen to Rick Miller, however, and the changes are just beginning for Lucent. “We’ve made a strong start, but there’s more to go,” says Miller who acknowledges that Lucent still has challenging times ahead. But, he adds, every stock picker knows the strategy for beating the market is to buy low when you believe a stock is bound to rise. “That’s what I tell people about my coming to Lucent,” says Miller. “Of course the stock was low. Of course the company had problems. But this is a company with a great future before it. We are going to sell our way out of this.”
– Robert McGarvey

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