Millennials Bring Collaboration to Companies, Ready or Not

by Warren Barkley

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Eighty million strong, outnumbering their Baby Boom generation elders, Millennials are poised for a takeover. For companies that adapt and adopt, the takeover doesn’t have to be hostile… as long as everyone plays nice and collaborates.

The New York Times recently labeled the 18-33-year-old demographic as “Generation Nice.” Entering the workforce with natural tendencies to collaborate and share, Millennials are changing the workplace at a pace faster than most senior business leaders realize.

Millennials are so far ahead of the collaboration curve that they have moved beyond BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) into a culture of BYOC (Bring Your Own Collaboration). Frustrated with the lack of formal collaboration tools they find on the job, they use their own – bringing Dropbox, Evernote, Asana, and join.me into the workplace, They feel empowered to use whatever tool they need, whether IT provides it or not. They are diverse, well educated, open-minded and optimistic, but not without concern for the future.

Collaboration is second nature to these digital natives. They’ve grown up in a connected world and feel entitled to connectivity that stretches virtually around the globe. At work, they expect to find something like the Skype/Snapchat world. If you watch kids today, you’ll see that they’re forever texting, connecting via Skype, sharing their content, and throwing documents back and forth; as a way to collaborate on homework assignments.

The new workforce knows collaboration, needs to collaborate, and feels empowered to collaborate with anyone, anywhere. If they can’t collaborate, they leave — either to another company or off to do their own thing.

There’s a fierce talent war to get that top 5-10 percent coming out of school, an expensive fight and a wasteful one for the company that isn’t also building a collaborative culture. Realizing the challenge, perceptive companies are asking how they can:

  • Create social collaboration inside the company,
  • Move from meetings about work to meetings where work is done,
  • Provide flexibility in the tools and devices their employees use, and
  • Create geo-independent communities of experts in their companies that are easily reachable and discoverable.

Future Workplace surveyed more than 1,000 knowledge workers and 150 managers and found that the ability of an employer to provide ongoing opportunities to share openly and collaborate came up as the fourth most frequently mentioned criterion for seeking a best-of-breed employer.

More than the people that they work for, Millennials understand technology and know how it works. They’re constantly looking for ways to connect and extend collaboration at will. When they don’t get that opportunity, they get frustrated. And they get frustrated quickly. Our own analytics found that when Millennials download a new app, there’s a window of about two minutes to engage the customer, or they’ll never come back to that app again. Either they’re going to use it, or they’re gone.

At SMART, I recently hired a Millennial into one of the teams I was running. She didn’t have all the experience or background for the role but the passion was there. The team was made up of a bunch of experienced people who had been largely doing things the same way for a while. She burst into the scene with new processes, new tools and interesting ideas. It was likely a rough start for her and the team, but it raised the level of performance of the whole group. Millennials can and will be your collaborative change agents if you give them the support they need.

So, how do companies rate when it comes to providing a truly collaborative culture? SMART Technologies created an online collaboration assessment tool that will evaluate a company’s CQ — Collaboration Quotient. The tool has generated the startling data that less than 14 percent of the thousands of companies evaluated are rated as fully optimized for collaboration.

How does your company CQ rank? How will you instill the collaborative culture Millennials crave? How can you equip the best and brightest of this rising generation gets with the collaboration technology they need to add their distinctive value to your company’s bottom line?

Millennials are a trending topic. So play nice with the “Nice Generation.” Foster a culture of collaboration, get them the tools for true collaboration, and then reap the benefits… together.

*This article originally appeared on WIRED.com.


warrenWarren Barkley is the CTO of SMART Technologies with more than 17 years of technology experience and leadership, most recently serving as General Manager in the Microsoft Lync/Skype division. Barkley held several key positions in Microsoft over his tenure and was instrumental in the development of Microsoft Lync as the communication and collaboration software of choice for Fortune 500 companies. At Microsoft he played a central role in establishing WiFi as a worldwide standard, and building world class real time communications technologies used by hundreds of millions of users every day. Barkley holds over 35 worldwide patents in networking, wireless and communications.

Why Trusting Your Physician Can Result in a Heart Attack

by David Meinz

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I was away at school. My phone rang at five minutes after midnight. I got up to hear my pastor tell me that my dad had just died from a heart attack. He was just 56 years old. He didn’t smoke. He wasn’t overweight, and he wasn’t a couch potato either. But he made one fatal mistake: He thought because he felt good, everything was OK. It wasn’t. That one event changed my whole life. It’s one of the main reasons I do what I do today. I’ve spent the last 25 years helping people avoid what happened to my dad.

As a C-level executive, your number one health threat is a heart attack or stroke. Same disease, different location. If you think you have this cholesterol and heart attack issue all figured out… you don’t. Just because your cholesterol and LDL’s and HDL’s are good, just because you’re fit, just because you’re at an ideal weight doesn’t mean much anymore in predicting your future health. If you think your physician or cardiologist is up-to-date… they probably aren’t. They are assuredly good, well-meaning professionals, but most of them are practicing cardiovascular medicine that does not reflect what we now know about preventing the biggest threat to your life.

The medical community is getting better all the time at keeping you alive after you’ve had a heart attack or stroke. But still, half die before they get to the hospital. Of those that survive, half of them are gone within a year. Where the medical experts really fall short is in preventing a heart attack or stroke from happening in the first place.

Every 25 seconds someone in the U.S. has a heart attack. Every 40 seconds someone in the U.S. has a stroke.

Most Americans tend to deal with problems when they show up. Your goal should be to prevent a heart attack or stroke, not treat it.

On average, it takes 15 years for new research discoveries to get to the place where the average physician is practicing that information with his patients. Fifteen years! With new technology and genetic testing, we now know how to stop a heart attack or stroke years before current medical care can. This new knowledge will become the standard of care about 15 years from now. The problem is, YOU may not have 15 years to wait!

If you want to see what we now know about preventing the biggest killer of C-level executives watch the videos and download the special report at www.ExecutiveHeartProgram.com


meinzDavid Meinz works with organizations that want to enhance their productivity by improving the health of their people. He is the author of “Survival of The Fittest: Maximizing Your Personal and Professional Performance.” Contact David at 1-314-838-7288 or david@davidmeinz.com. Learn more at DavidMeinz.com.

Bill Clinton and Inclusion

by Lance Secretan

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In late March I participated in a remarkable event called LEAD2015. It was the brain child of Debbie McGrath, the founder of HR.com, who had a vision: to put together an event featuring 22 global thought leaders, speaking for 22 minutes each, over two days. Because high-level events of this kind are beyond the reach of most people, she elected to live-stream the entire event globally with the objective of reaching 1 million people who would therefore be able to access this cutting-edge leadership thinking at a modest cost.

I presented a keynote, and I interviewed President Bill Clinton following his keynote address. Among the questions I asked was, “What are the key qualities of a great leader?” He responded by defining four essential qualities:

  1. Vision
  2. Explanation
  3. Inclusion
  4. Execution

He observed that great leaders, firstly, articulate a very clear road map of what they are trying to achieve; secondly, they explain it thoroughly to all the involved parties; thirdly, they ensure that anyone who is affected, or could be interested in the strategy or objective, is included in the conversation; and finally, they develop a strategy that, when successfully executed, will achieve the vision.

None of this will be new to students of strategy or leadership, but what is striking is President Clinton’s emphasis on inclusion. He elaborated on this point at some length, pointing out that this is where so many leaders fail. We talked quite a bit about President Clinton’s successes and failures, and he stressed that both of these hinged on the quality and success (or lack of it) of inclusion. When all of the affected parties feel as if they have been engaged, consulted and their interests considered, they will then become allies in helping the strategy to be successfully implemented.

As you contemplate your leadership style, and the strategies that you are working on, reflect for a moment: “Have I included all of the parties who could be affected by my leadership or the strategies that I envision?”

*This blog originally appeared on Secretan.com.


lance_photoDr. Lance Secretan is widely acknowledged as one of the most insightful and provocative leadership teachers of our time. He is the former CEO of a Fortune 100 company, university professor, award-winning columnist and author of 15 books about inspiration and leadership. He is a thought leader whose teachings and writings on conscious leadership are courageous, radical and ingenious and have been hailed as among the most original, authentic and effective contributions to leadership thinking currently available.

Conversational Courage: It’s Putting Your Intelligence Into Action!

by Judith Glaser

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We all recognize the need for courage to start a business, play competitive sports, incur risks in investments, lead a diverse team in competitive markets or take on an outback adventure. But do we really need courage to have a conversation?

Curiously, I know many people who have the leadership courage to engage in risky ventures, heroic quests and brave actions, and yet lack the relationship courage to initiate and engage in meaningful conversations with the people who matter most to them — family members, business partners, employees, investors and others.

I regard courage as a vital component of Conversational Intelligence because, by definition, courage deals with matters of the heart — the word courage derives from Latin cor, meaning heart, having the inner strength to share innermost feelings, to speak your mind, openly and honestly, by speaking from your heart.

Every conversation has a physiological impact. As we converse, neurochemicals are released in our brains, making us feel either good or bad, strong or weak, positive or negative, energetic or enervated. Feel-good conversations keep the blood flowing, the energy pumping and light up our ability to see the world in new ways.

With Conversational Intelligence, you can know which conversations trigger lower-level brain activity — such as primitive instincts for fight, flight, freeze and appeasement — and which ones spark higher-level brain activity, such as trust, integrity, strategic thinking, empathy and the ability to process complex situations.

How can you summon your courage to engage in conversations that improve your relationships and your results? Here are three steps you can take to create quality conversations. 

  1. Set rules of engagement.
    If you’re heading into a conversation or confrontation that could get testy, start by outlining rules of engagement. Have everyone suggest ways to make it a productive, inclusive conversation and note the ideas. You might agree to give people extra time to explain their ideas and to listen without judgment. These practices will counteract the tendency to fall into harmful conversational patterns. Afterwards, consider see how you and the group did and seek to do even better next time. 
  1. Listen with empathy.
    In one-on-one conversations, make a conscious effort to speak less and listen more. The more you learn about other peoples’ perspectives, the more likely you are to feel empathy for them. And when you do that for others, they’ll want to do it for you, creating a virtuous circle.
  1. Plan who speaks.
    In situations when you know one person is likely to dominate a group, create an opportunity for everyone to speak. Ask all parties to identify who in the room has important information, perspectives, or ideas to share. List them and the areas they should speak about on a flip chart and use that as your agenda, opening the floor to different speakers, asking open-ended questions and taking notes.

When you converse with courage, you gain access to the brain’s prefrontal cortex, or executive functions, which allow for sophisticated strategies. You can then respond intelligently and creatively to investors, banks or customers, without feeling fear, freezing or becoming defensive, protective or argumentative.

You can pay attention to what is going on in others and manifest empathy. The other person will feel that positive neural connection and cooperate. We are wired with mirror neurons that pick up signals in others’ brains. When we approach people with empathy, the mirror neurons in their brains synch with our own, and they feel understood and open to our influence.

So, raise the bar in your conversations — put your intelligence in action by summoning and showing your courage.


Judith GlaserJudith E. Glaser is the CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc. and the Chairman of The Creating WE Institute. She is the author of the best selling book, “Conversational Intelligence” (Bibliomotion, 2013), an Organizational Anthropologist and a consultant to Fortune 500 companies.Visit her at creatingwe.com; conversationalintelligence.com or contact her at jeglaser@creatingwe.com. Follow Judith on Twitter @CreatingWE or connect with her on Facebook.

We Need More Nos

by Tom Asacker

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Last week, dozens of newsletter readers unsubscribed. I have an idea why, but it still stung.
I’m wired to feel that way (so are you). But then I remembered something. Ironically, it was something that I said years ago. Following a speech and during Q&A with a room full of CEOs.

This was the question, as best as I can remember: “What’s the one piece of advice you’d give us to help increase sales productivity?”

All eyes were on me (I felt like I was being baited).

“That’s an easy one,” I replied.

“The next time one of your salespeople feels a prospect may not be interested, have him or her say this.”

“Mr. Prospect. I may be way off base, but I get the feeling that we’re not going to be doing business together.”

The questioner looked confused. So did everyone else in the room.

“And what if the prospect replies, ‘You’re right. We’re not going to be doing business together?’”

“That’s great!” I said.

“Now your salesperson can get on with doing the real work of finding and helping interested people.”

I still sensed skepticism.

“Look, there will be two, and only two, possible reactions to that very honest and direct approach,” I said. “And both are extremely helpful.”

Here’s the first: “You’re feelings are wrong. I’m definitely interested. That’s good, because now your salesperson can probe to find out what’s holding that individual back. And the other response is just as good.”
“Yeah, you’re feelings are right. We won’t be doing business together, because . . .”

“And that’s good too!”
“Because now your salesperson can stop bringing that person donuts every week.”

Suddenly, everyone in the room lit up and started writing. It’s so simple. We hate the word “no.” We avoid it like writers avoid clichés.

“No” feels like rejection (it’s not). And so we gravitate towards “maybe.” Maybe validates us. Maybe gives us hope. We’re living in a world of maybe. But maybe is dangerous. Because maybe feels good. Maybe appeases us. Maybe keeps us on the same path — a path that goes ’round in circles.

It’s time to put on the brakes. If you feel it, say it. Straighten yourself out. What’s the worst that can happen? Certainly not “no.” No is valuable information. No is a kick in the pants.

No gets us moving in a different direction. No helps save our most precious resource. For as Buddha’s teachings made clear, our real problem is this. We think we have time. We don’t. And that’s why we need more nos.


What is the True Entrepreneur’s ‘Difference’? To Find Out, Ask Yourself These 3 Questions.

A large number of C-Suite leaders consider job loss their No. 1 business concern. Entrepreneurism is the key to sustainable success, as is a culture that supports risk taking. C-Suite Network Co-Founder and CEO Thomas White explores three key factors that separate entrepreneurs from executives in his latest article for Enterpreneur.com. 

My former business partner, Sheldon Adelson, is the epitome of the American success story. The son of a Boston cab driver, he early on decided that his best option was to skip college and instead hone his skills by starting a business. Along the way, he never stopped learning and dreaming — and pushing against conventional wisdom. Perhaps that’s why Adelson succeeded as one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our time.

Another push Adelson made against conventional wisdom is implicit in his view that while the CEO of this or that company is no doubt very successful, he or she is not an entrepreneur. I didn’t agree with this early on, but as I spend more time with senior executives of companies, I get Adelson’s point: There are many great qualities of successful entrepreneurs, and one of them is that these entrepreneurs aren’t worried about losing their job.

More than anything else, this concern separates entrepreneurs from executives.

I have studied surveys of c-suite leaders from companies of all sizes. Consistently, throughout these surveys, you’ll find that one of the top three concerns of top business leaders is the fear of losing their jobs. What is the impact of this concern, and if you are truly committed to being an entrepreneur, what can you learn?

Worry about job loss always, always affects the ability to both be true to your dream and to act with fearlessness. The most successful entrepreneurs are clear about their vision, and persuasive in inspiring others to adopt it. These entrepreneurs exhibit a depth of risk-taking and relentlessness that supports making their dream come to life.

Read more at Entrepreneur.com

Why Your Cell Phone Shouldn’t Be Your Business Phone

by Kiera Abbamonte

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Running your own business is exciting, especially when you’re first getting started. People are beginning to hire you — they want your services and your products. Maybe your referral generation machine is moving so quickly that you have to turn people away, or maybe you’re still figuring out how to get customers. Either way, it’s exciting to think about how the business will grow.

When you meet potential clients, you start handing out your cell phone number like it’s candy. “Call me,” you say, as though your voicemail greeting is more professional than an Armani suit and tie.

Unfortunately, many small business owners and entrepreneurs don’t realize that a cell phone for business is wildly unprofessional. It’s time to face it — your personal cell phone isn’t a great communication tool for your company.

Here’s why:

It’s Not Professional
How are you answering your cell phone? Do you say “Hello, M & S Consulting,” or do you simply mutter a gruff “Hello,” as though you’re talking to your sister? In business, perception is everything, and if you want clients to respect you, you need to perfect the way you answer the phone.

If you’re using the same number for business as you are for the people you date, the process is impossible. Even if you’re more concerned about your child’s babysitter than your love life, you don’t want to mix up who’s calling. If a random number is ringing you, it’s hard to figure out if it’s for business, pleasure or something else.

How about your voicemail greeting — is it personal or business oriented? The last thing you want is for potential customers or investors to be confused about whether or not they’ve reached the right person, so a professional voicemail greeting is key.

When it comes to sounding like a capable, reputable business, there’s nothing quite like a professional main greeting, extensions for different types of inquiries or people and a business-only voicemail box.

It Can’t Scale With You
So, maybe your personal cell meets the needs of your business today, but what about next month? Next year? The capabilities you need from a business phone are just like any other aspect of business — they’ll grow with you.

Say a few months down the road you decide it’s time to hire your first full-time employee. How will partners, investors and customers get in touch with him or her? Will they have to keep track of an additional cell phone number? Will you cover your new employee’s cell phone bill?

Now, let’s say your business explodes. You’re fielding phone calls left and right about a wide range of topics. How do you keep track of all the different calls, customers and messages? Sometimes you have the answer, but other times you need to delegate to an employee. How can you assign inquiries to someone else or to a whole department?

Once you’re at this stage of business, you simply need a phone system with more robust capabilities than your standard personal cell phone. Extensions, more than one voicemail box and a host of other features will make your life as a small business owner a lot easier and less stressful.

It Mixes Business with Pleasure
Using your personal cell phone as your business phone can also make it difficult to differentiate between business and your personal life.

With all of our devices and connectivity today, it’s already hard to manage work-life balance. It gets even harder when you can’t turn off or unplug from your business phone. If you’re doing business with people across the country, or even the globe, that means you could be getting phone calls at all hours of the day and night.

When you can’t tell if a call is business or personal, it makes it hard to really shut off and focus on the non-business parts of your life — something that’s important for your health and productivity when you are at work.

So, What’s a Business Owner to Do?
Get a virtual phone system that works with your cell phone.

Just because your cell phone doesn’t make a great business phone doesn’t mean you have to go with a complicated and expensive phone system. Your best bet is a virtual phone system that can be integrated with your personal cell phone.

A virtual phone system will help you sound professional, separate business from personal and handle as many calls as your business can get. You’ll be able to forward calls to your cell phone or your employees’ phones, record your own greeting, organize callers and messages and even set hours for when calls get forwarded to your cell. It’s a win-win!


KieraKiera Abbamonte is a Marketing Specialist at Grasshopper and a student of Merrimack College. She loves pumpkin coffee, baseball, and the beach.

Growing Up is Hard to Do: Charting Course from the Future 500 to the Fortune 500 | Part 2

by Ron Carucci

hoto courtesy Grant Wickes

hoto courtesy Grant Wickes

In our last post, we discussed strategic patterns that can enhance or stall growth in midcap companies. In this post, we’ll turn our attention to organizational patterns, issues occurring within the organization that affect sustainable growth. These patterns have consistently revealed themselves as we have accompanied executives in midcap companies (again – $100M-$1B) on journeys of transformation.

By organization, we are not referring to merely an “organizational chart.” We are referring, holistically, to the set of processes, systems, cultural norms, structures and leadership that combine together to translate what you say you aspire to accomplish (your strategy) into results you have targeted to achieve.

Many organizations in their early years have highly organic, loosely formed organizations. In the most entrepreneurial environments, you hear terms like “responsive 24/7,” “pivot” and “embrace chaos” to describe organizational disorder that is intended to execute the work. Yet, like a tall 14-year-old boy wearing his dad’s suit jackets, these organizations grow in size but don’t necessarily grow in maturity (see part 1 for the difference between them). So how can they ensure both growth and maturity?

Maturing requires intentional work to design the organization needed to accommodate the current and future requirements of growth. While there are many aspects of the organization that could arrest maturity, the following four seem to most commonly get in the way.

  1. Don’t resist standardization to protect the entrepreneurial vibe.
    Of all the words that make entrepreneurs shudder, few do so more than the word “process.” They immediately associate this with large, corporate bureaucracy and nonsense. Their innate fear is that standardizing approaches to work will neuter entrepreneurial freedom and stunt creativity. This is rarely the case. Standardized processes liberate freedom and creativity because they free up distracted energy consumed by having to reinvent approaches every time something is done.Throwing more bodies, cobbled-together technologies or bolting on another department becomes the easy Band-Aid in the heat of battle. But, over time, such organization designs become a mass of confusion, redundancies and cash bleeders. They are costly in human, physical and financial resources. Intentional maturing means preparing the organization with systems and processes that allow creative freedom while clarifying repeatable, sustainable and efficient approaches to work that give needed cohesion to keep the organization integrated.
  2. Raise the altitude of leaders.
    In most younger organizations, the leaders are often doers too. The phrase “player coach” has been nicely adopted to account for those who need to keep their hands in the work while leading others. The problem arises when you lack leaders who are keeping an eye on the future, ensuring all the pieces of the organization are working in a coordinated fashion; therefore, you stunt maturity.Leaders must raise their game by raising the altitude at which they play. This means founders, owners and those at the top should deliberately transfer power to others. There have to be leaders who are working on the most strategic aspects of the organization, leaders who are coordinating the translation of strategy into the daily work of the organization and people who are running daily operations and executing the organization’s core work. When any two of these three roles collapse into one, or fail to exist, the organization’s maturity stalls.
  1. Accept the limits of “culture.”
    What makes young, growing organizations special is often the intangible aspects of their culture. There are “unspoken” rules of the road that intensify a sense of community, almost a tribal nature within the organization. You see it in the passion, sacrificial dedication and pride for the organization expressed by people at all levels. These are, indeed, sacred aspects of growing organizations that should be preserved. Too often, unfortunately, attempts to preserve them come in two immature forms. First, organizations try to codify their values — to take what is implicit within the organization and define the “values” so expectations are clear. In and of itself, this isn’t bad, but it usually backfires when instead of making the culture clearer, it trivializes it. The resulting posters, screen savers, coffee mugs and other swag become objects of mockery.The reason is this: If you are going to codify your values, you must ensure they are deliberately designed and deeply embedded into every aspect of the organization.Human Resources processes like hiring and performance management, financial processes like budgeting, and governance structures where decision rights are clarified are all opportunities to bring your values to life. If this doesn’t happen — or worse, if these parts of the organization contradict the espoused values — you’ve taken your unique cultural identity and translated it into a weapon people now use against you, pointing out every inconsistency they find.The second form of immaturity is based in the assumption that the culture is so strong and so pervasive that the rest of the organization needs no attention. We commonly hear leaders in such organizations declare, “Our culture drives us. These people know what to do — they don’t need formal processes stifling them.” As such, these leaders forfeit efforts to deepen the maturity of the organization under the naïve assumption that a deep sense of loyalty and pride will take care of everything.Culture plays a critical, even sacrosanct, role in organizations, but it does so alongside other equally important aspects of the organization — systems, structures, standards and leadership. In concert, they work together to deliver great results.
  1. Clarify decision rights.
    “Whose decision is it anyway?” could be the game show played in immature organizations. As organizations grow, the importance of shifting decision rights commensurate with growth is monumental. When decisions are retained in the hands of too few, you slow the organization and limit people’s ownership of outcomes. From leaders on the ground executing work, information goes up, awaiting a decision to come back down.Conversely, when decision making is unclearly dispersed in environments characterized by a free-for-all, “empowerment” is confused with anarchy, decision quality is diluted, analytics are exchanged for “gut” calls and individual agendas replace a collective sense of priorities and performance. Customers become infuriated and are played against each other. Blame becomes the surrogate for accountability. “Everyone’s in charge so nobody’s in charge” becomes the rule of law.Avoid these extremes by setting up simple, clear governance structures that put the right leaders around the right tables with the right regularity and the right data and clear boundaries about the scope of their decision-making authority. Do that, and you will synchronize your organization in ways that enable sustainable growth.

There is an endless list of issues that can hinder or enable growth and maturity regardless of an organization’s size. But if you want to set your organization on a course for greater maturity and sustainable growth, regardless of the size you are or wish to become, pay attention to these strategic and organizational patterns as they appear within your organization, and address them head on. You will find your aspirations more in reach than you imagined.

For more on this subject, watch for the upcoming Navalent and C-Suite Network White Paper debuting in September, titled “Building for Sustainable Growth: How Midcap Executives are helping their Organizations Grow Up and Win.”


ronRon Carucci, Co-owner and Managing Partner of Navalent, is a seasoned consultant with more than 25 years of experience working with CEOs and senior executives of organizations ranging from Fortune 50s to start-ups. He has consulted to some of the world’s most influential CEOs and executives on issues ranging from strategy to organization to leadership. Best-selling author of 8 books, including the recent Rising to Power, The Journey of Exceptional Executives, he has been featured in HBR, Bloomberg, CNBC, CEO Magazine, BusinessInsider, Business Week and Fortune.

Growing Up is Hard to Do: Charting Course from the Future 500 to the Fortune 500 | Part 1

by Ron Carucci

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No doubt this title will provoke baby boomers to cue Neil Sedaka music in their heads as they join the lament of midcap company executives (let’s call them $100M-$1B) intensely focused on finding pathways to sustainable company growth. The number of midcap organizations (now more than 200,000 in the U.S.) and the number of people they employee continues to outpace small business growth and Fortune 500 performance. As do their loudest laments:

“I run around all day like a chicken with my head cut off, and not sure what I got done when the day is over.”

“I don’t feel like we are all rowing in the same direction — it feels like a lot of us are not on the same page with where we are going.”

“If I don’t tell them exactly what to do, it doesn’t get done. I might as well just do it myself.”

“I think the chaos is starting to get to people. For the first few years it was fun, but now the amount of bickering and the time I spend refereeing are telling me something’s got to change.”

The consistent question we believe lies underneath these leaders’ frustrations is “How do I step away from the daily grind of working in the organization to find the capacity to work on the organization?” Regardless of which aspect of the organization cries for attention, midcap executives suffer in the breach between today’s demands and tomorrow’s opportunities. As an increasing number of executives have reached out for help, we’ve identified several patterns as we’ve accompanied them on their journeys to growth into mature organizations.

In this two-part series, I’ll discuss two types of patterns that impact the realization of sustainable growth. In this post, we’ll look at strategic patterns — issues affecting the company’s identity, positioning and direction. In the next post, we’ll look at organizational patterns – issues like culture, organization design and leadership that can help or hinder growth.

By organizational maturity, we mean the degree to which the organization has the needed processes, systems, structures and culture in place consistent with its current and desired growth and size. Maturity, and size are different. Just because a company has revenues of $500M doesn’t mean it has the maturity of a $500M company. We’ve seen many companies with revenues of $8B+ struggling to operate at the maturity level of a company less than $1B. That’s because the necessary work to intentionally grow up was arrested — or never done. So a $200M company can have greater maturity than a $1B company despite being a fifth the size.

Among midcap companies, arrested maturity is an all-too common predicament. Whether due to the frenzy of accelerated growth or the daily grind and struggles to keep the lights on, an organization focused exclusively on today provides no time or capacity to plan and scale for tomorrow. Great executives force themselves to rise above the fray and focus the organization on the future requirements of growth despite the lure and immediacy of today’s fires.

These are four common strategic ditches we see midcap companies needing to dig out from. The good news is they are very avoidable, and if you find yourself in or headed toward one, they are survivable if you pay attention.

  1. Prepare for major shifts.
    For smaller companies, major change feels like a major body blow. A transition to new ownership, a competitor’s sudden market share gain, regulatory and compliance mandates, or a major customer unseating you or naming you as strategic supplier, can all have profound impact on accelerating or stalling growth. The fragility of a smaller company’s growth must be bolstered by contingencies for such unforeseen shifts. But smaller companies have all they can handle just to get current orders out, stretch thinning resources, or pacify an angry customer. Thinking about issues which haven’t happened yet feels impossible. Yet with even a little foresight, they can do basic scenario and contingency planning that helps them rehearse the future before it arrives. While they may not have big strategic planning functions like the Fortune 500 might, they can still become strategists and plan as if they do.
  2. Avoid counterfeit strategies.
    It’s astounding how many companies will produce a financial plan or forecast when you ask to see their strategy. A compiled list of customers, products and revenue forecasts is an interesting look at what they hope to accomplish in the coming year, but it’s not a strategy.The other all-too-common replacement for strategy is when executives whip everyone into a crescendo by writing down their “mission, vision and values” statements. While these are important, by themselves they are insufficient and a poor counterfeit to real market identity. Perhaps the worst is whem they let their identity be formed by their buyers — whoever the sales force gets to say yes and buys the most, that’s the strategy. Executives in midcaps who say, “we’re too small for that kind of strategy work” do so at their own peril. The basic identification of your competitive positioning, your unique capabilities and the investments required to protect them, in addition to a shortlist of prioritized work to advance your position, can be built by companies as small as $10M. It’s a function of discipline, not size.
  3. Don’t confuse replication with sustainable growth.
    Many smaller companies are fortunate to find early tailwinds — a market niche for a service or product that grows rapidly. So “rinse and repeat” or “riding the wave as long as we can” becomes the strategy. This approach ignores the fact that one day the wave will crest. Being able to quickly replicate success is not the same as building for sustainable growth. And once the growth outpaces the organization’s capacity to supply it, you can hear the organizational seams ripping apart just trying to keep up while the cash rolls in. Stopping a train of success long enough to design strategies and organizations that can sustain growth is what distinguishes great executives from those that ride the wave until it crashes on them.
  4. Put strategy in the hands of many.
    In most small companies, it is the owner or one singular visionary calling the shots about growth with loyal soldiers simply carrying out the direction. This danger can’t be overstated. The insight, reach and creativity of a single leader, or a very small group of them, runs out long before they realize it — sometimes years before. This issue is greatly amplified when the founding executive remains in the picture.“Founderism” prevents the founder from separating his own identity from the company he created. As such, every decision, every critique, every suggestion, is weighed with unhealthy personal interpretation. The price of failure to transition to a broader group of executives coming together to co-create the future is pronounced when the great ideas finally run out and nobody else has been asked to offer any. Exceptional executives build teams of leaders around them well in advance and prepare them for sharing the reins of the future.

Making a few meaningful adjustments to how you think about your future, and how you plan to get there, can make all the difference in ensuring that you actually do. Next time, we’ll turn our attention inside the organization and how you build for growth and maturity.


ronRon Carucci, Co-owner and Managing Partner of Navalent, is a seasoned consultant with more than 25 years of experience working with CEOs and senior executives of organizations ranging from Fortune 50s to start-ups. He has consulted to some of the world’s most influential CEOs and executives on issues ranging from strategy to organization to leadership. Best-selling author of 8 books, including the recent Rising to Power, The Journey of Exceptional Executives, he has been featured in HBR, Bloomberg, CNBC, CEO Magazine, BusinessInsider, Business Week and Fortune.

C-Suite Conference Joins Forces With Chicago Area Business Leaders

The C-Suite Conference has assembled an advisory board of regional business leaders for its Chicago event on June 7 – 9. The conference, which focuses on business leadership, is held three times annually in centers of American business. The C-Suite Conference draws top-tier executives from around the country for a program of keynotes, panels, interviews and networking with business peers across industries.

The C-Suite Conference Chicago Advisory Board includes:

  • Leigh Segall, CMO, InnerWorkings, Inc.
  • Anthony Hegarty, VP of National Accounts, Manpower Inc.
  • Beth Frystak, Vice President, Yes Lifecycle Marketing
  • Matt Pazaras, SVP of Business Development, Milwaukee Bucks Inc.
  • Aaron Goldman, CMO, Kenshoo
  • Terese Herbig, Managing Director of Member Development, Path to Purchase Institute
  • David Buckley, CMO, Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores
  • Jocelyn Johnson, CMO of Services and Asset Management, GE Healthcare
  • Patrick Farrey, Group Vice President, Kellen Company
  • Jack Philbin, Co-Founder and CEO, Vibes
  • Jennifer Fondrevay, VP of Client Marketing and Communications, Asurion
  • Lucino Sotelo, CMO of U.S. Personal and Commercial, BMO Harris Bank
  • Chris Vitrano, CMO, Nelson Schmidt Inc.
  • Jennifer Faraci, SVP of Strategy and Analysis, DigitasLBI
  • Vijay Talwar, President of Gifts and Special Occasions, Sears Holding
  • Rodrigo Sierra, Chief Communications and Marketing Office, American Medical Association
  • Brigitte Janos, Executive Vice President, Wynright/Daifuku Co. Ltd
  • Cynthia Gedemer, CEO, Continued Success Group, Inc.
  • Joel Warady, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer, Enjoy Life Foods
  • Steven Handmaker, CMO, Assurance
  • Brian Krause, VP of Global Marketing and Communications, Molex Inc.

“As we build on the successes of each conference, we work to make each event relevant to the city where it’s being held,” C-Suite Conference co-founder and CEO, Thomas White said. “The leadership and expertise of this local Advisory Board will help connect the C-Suite Conference to the region’s vibrant business networks.”

The conference agenda is packed with business leaders from top businesses around the country, including Atari Corporation founder, Nolan Bushnell, widely known as the “father of the video game industry.” Also appearing onstage is noted writer and innovator Tom Asacker, who will deliver a keynote that helps promote excellence in your organization. Vala Afshar, CMO of Extreme Networks, Jaycen Thorgeirson, Founder and Chief Stand Out Expert of UviaUs, and Deidre Siegel, Founder and CEO of PEAR Core Solutions are among the additional leaders and innovators sharing the latest insights and trends in business.

For more information about the upcoming C-Suite Conference visit http://conference.c-suitenetwork.com/.

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