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Executive Briefings: Part 1 – Navigating the New Presidential Administration

The C-Suite is a vast audience of leaders who all have a little extra insight into their industry and the current business world. I sit down with these leaders to give them the opportunity to share that insight and give a glimpse to their personal stories as a business leader. I recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Michael Mandel.  Dr. Mandel is the chief economic strategist at the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington.

 

What is the Progressive Policy Institute? What do you do?

We are a Washington-based think tank research institute. We are pro-growth, pro-market, and pro-trade. There are exceedingly partisan views in Washington, however we believe most people want something in the center that is about growth and innovation and the future. That is what we focus on.

 

Business owners are concerned about innovation.  How does regulatory policy impact innovation?

Regulatory accumulation has actually had a negative effect on productivity and innovation over the last 10 or 15 years.  Democrats and Republicans have continued to layer on regulations without worrying about their impact on businesses.

As an example, manufacturing companies are hit by an enormous amount of regulations. Eventually, people develop a compliance mentality that makes it difficult for them to innovate.

Regulations get passed and they become outmoded, obsolete, and overlap new ones.  We are suggesting a regulatory improvement commission that would have that power to propose a package of regulations to eliminate or to improve upon existing regulations.

 

What do you see happening with the modification of the banking regulations that helped free this market up for small businesses to get out of this strangulation hold they’re in?

The first thing that needs to be done is to accelerate the rate at which the SEC approves the regulations which allow small businesses to raise money.

We, as pragmatic progressives who believe in growth and innovation in the market, see that this movement in regulation has not brought about what was expected. We want to be able to pare away and then improve the system, and do this in a way that enables small businesses to raise money and allows bigger businesses access to the capital they need without putting the economy at risk.

 

What are your thoughts relating to the long-term economic impact in the areas of tech?

I think that tech is moving into the internet of things and we are headed for another burst. Right now, tech in the U.S. has only transformed about 20 percent of the economy. It has not transformed manufacturing. It has not transformed health care yet. It has not transformed transportation and the physical industries.  Because of this, we may see the rise of new tech giants that are on the interface between tech and manufacturing, on the interface between tech and health care.

 

If industrial technology is the next wave, it will certainly reshape manufacturing. Will that be a positive thing? Will we see improvement in the manufacturing world?

It’s going to be a positive thing because as we will see gains in productivity, we’re actually seeing real gains in productivity, real drops in cost that will have the effect of helping people’s living standards and bringing jobs back, although they will be very different types of jobs than we are used to seeing in the manufacturing industry.

What has happened over the last few years is that productivity growth in manufacturing, what we call multi-factor productivity growth, has not been strong. It has been negative in a lot of industries. We have seen relative growth in prices for a lot of manufactured goods, especially ones that are made in the U.S. We need great amounts of investment in technology in the U.S.  We need a big leap forward in manufacturing.

Over the last 10 years the two biggest technological innovations were the smart phone and factory tech.  In 2006, nobody could have predicted this.

I believe we will see the same type of innovations… things will look very different than they do now.

See our article on Huffington Post.

Where’s The Melody?

by Deborah Johnson

 

Wayland Pickard, a music colleague of mine, was famed pianist Roger William’s neighbor. William’s biggest hit was the song “Autumn Leaves,” the only piano instrumental to reach #1 on Billboard’s popular music chart. It sold over two million copies. At Roger’s front door was a large carved wooden Indian. The Indian’s right hand was at his forehead, shading his eyes from the sun, squinting to see some far-off object. When Williams asked what he thought the Indian was looking for, Wayland was at a loss. Roger said, “Where’s the melody?”

 

Even though that incident happened some years ago and Williams died in 2011, that phrase has stayed with me. “Where’s the melody?” applies not only to music, but to speaking, to writing, to leadership and to content in general. With the number of blogs, tweets, pings, videos and training programs, it is a question most leaders, speakers and writers should constantly ask themselves.

 

Regurgitated Melody

It becomes easy, especially after some years, to regurgitate the same material over and over again rather than work and craft a melody or message that is fresh, memorable and sticky. I was told by a client that a pianist played Elton John’s “Your Song” over and over again in the background for one of his events, thinking it didn’t matter much as no one was listening. Apparently it did matter, as that pianist wasn’t hired again.

 

I hear comics inserting every expletive imaginable and expounding on personal body parts to get quick laughs. Those comics using those shortcuts, sacrificing wit and craft, are by example, training a new generation to do the same. Where is the true humor? The story line? The content? As some speakers and authors take shortcuts, I have taken on the personal challenge to not take shortcuts where it really matters in my work. My goal is to help others get unstuck, giving them tools to move forward with realistic goals in life and business. If I have regurgitated content played over and over again, like a song stagnant and lost in background noise, my message will be watered down and weak.

 

How do you unearth significant content or create a memorable melody? There is no sure-fire way or formula. The main foundational ingredient is always hard work and discipline, enhanced with creativity and excellence.

 

Today, to find your niche or focus area, there are more coaches than clients touting their methods. A good coach is extremely valuable, and I encourage that assistance. However, there are basic initial commitments every leader, artist, author, comic or entertainer should make.

Commitment To Quality Melody, Message or Material

One of the most difficult challenges is to cut down content to be pithy and memorable. I have written full stage musicals where I have had to cut pages, songs and full sections to make the story move along quicker on a stage. It’s very difficult and I speak from experience that it takes many midnight hours of crafting. That same principle applies to speeches and books. What’s the heart of the message? Is it memorable? Is it applicable? Commit to quality content.

 

Commitment To Effective Communication

Communicating effectively takes creativity and work. Find ways to communicate that will inspire and keep your audience interested. Some are gifted with the ability to captivate an audience with only their personality, voice tone, style and presence. However, most would do well to use the visual and media tools available to communicate to an audience with ever diminishing attention spans.  Commit to excellent communication.

 

Commitment To Doing What It Takes

“It’s good enough,” is no longer good enough. There is too much competition! What will make you stand out to where you won’t be ignored any longer? Being great doesn’t just depend on great content, but going to the edge of your abilities and developing something that is unique; something that is yours alone. You may get away with being a copy-cat for awhile, but it doesn’t last. Commit to doing what it takes to be great.

 

If you commit to quality content, communication and doing what it takes to be great, you will have an answer for William’s question, “Where’s the melody?” Your content, your communication and your greatness will be your unique melody. The song is now within you, ready to be shared with the world!

 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Deborah Johnson helps others get unstuck, ridding bad mental code to reach realistic goals. Deborah is an award-winning entertainer with deft piano and vocal skills and uses those skills, when appropriate, in her speaking presentations. She has performed on many stages around the world as well as served as a first-call pianist for Disney for over twenty years. With a Masters Degree, she has taught every level through graduate school, receiving many awards for her innovative methods and abilities. Up for multiple Grammy Awards, Deborah is a prolific writer of musicals, songs and books. She is able to successfully help others reach their goals with proven principles gleaned from her expansive training and research.

My People-Centric Journey to CFO

By Nintex CFO, Eric Johnson

Growing up, I was always interested in business.  My dad spent his career in the corporate world, eventually becoming the CIO for a Fortune 500 transportation company.  I learned a lot from my father and became interested in business very early.  From my dad I vividly learned a few key lessons:

  • Deliver on your commitments
  • Have passion for your trade
  • Treat people right

I was fortunate to have a great role model who laid a strong foundation for me.  My dad advised that I study finance and accounting as he told me it is the language of business—that in the board room having this knowledge would be invaluable.  He was right. Since my first job, every single role that followed has come from a referral of someone I had worked with before.  I am eternally grateful for the help I received from these individuals and know that it was based on the fact, that in the prior roles, I had delivered on commitments and was viewed as a strong teammate.   

In my early roles, as a financial analyst and then as a finance manager, I focused like a laser on delivering on my commitments and making great relationships at work.  My bosses and other leaders quickly appreciated my execution and because of this I often was given the opportunity to take on extra roles.  At Merant as a Finance Manager, in a turn-around situation, I was part of a team that tripled the value of the company in about two years.  This experience led me to receive a large promotion to the Director of Finance and Accounting for the acquiring company, Serena Software, at age 27.  I quickly went from leading a two person team to a 30 person team.  The pressure was high with several critical projects.  I was fortunate to be able to lead a high performing team and was recognized with the Employee of the Year award in my first year. 

About three years later Serena needed an executive to lead WW Sales Operations.  Given my knowledge of the sales organization and working relationships with key sales leaders I was promoted to VP of WW Sales Ops.  In this role, I learned a ton about selling having the opportunity to spend time with prospects, customers, and our sales teams.  After four years in this role I was ready for a new challenge and joined Jive from a co-worker referral as the VP of Finance and Sales Ops.  We had an outstanding team, took the company public eight months later, and in the two and a half years I was there grew revenue from under $50 million to $150 million.

Throughout my career journey, I have learned to appreciate and fully understand the critical role of ensuring your team members know you care deeply about their personal success and the organization’s success.  Team members give their best when they have strong relationships with their boss, co-workers, and they are bought into the mission of the organization.  After Jive, I joined Nintex as CFO (of course, this too was based on a referral).  Nintex has an outstanding culture, combining innovation, collaboration and respect for the individual.  I am fortunate to be a CFO well before 40 at a successful high-growth software company. 

I credit my success to having had many great bosses and co-workers, combined with my commitment to execution and my concern for building great relationships.

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.

4 Questions Every Leader Needs to Answer | Part 2

by Mark Sanborn

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Leadership, like life, can be spent skimming along the surface. It can be difficult if not painful to dig deeper into the motivations and philosophies that make leadership meaningful. But that is the work that is required for the rich rather than the cheap experience.

If you want to go deeper and further in your leadership experience, there are four questions you need to answer. Review questions one and two in ‘4 Questions Every Leader Needs to Answer | Part 1.’

Who will I follow?

Leaders are rarely developed in isolation. We all emulate to learn. If we emulate effective leaders, we become effective leaders. Emulate the wrong kind of leaders, and we imprint negative behaviors.

You can learn from a bad leader (what not to do), but emulation is about acting like or performing as the leader you follow.

Choosing who you follow determines both how effectively you use your time and talent to contribute and the lessons that you learn. (And it is very difficult to learn the real lessons of leadership outside of a living example.)

An expert in spotting counterfeit money was once asked by a journalist how difficult it was to study all the different types of counterfeit currency in the world. He responded, “I don’t study the counterfeit. I study the authentic, and that makes any counterfeits easy to spot.” While there are some lessons to be learned from bad leadership, we have more to gain by studying the authentic.

How will I continue to improve?

Sad is the day when any of us think we are as good as we will ever be. Ultimately, no one can force you to keep improving, but it is one of the great opportunities and challenges of life and leadership. The better you become, the harder it is to get better. Improvements in your thinking and skills go from being big jumps in your early years to tiny increments the longer you lead.

Before identifying how you’ll get better, it is important to deal with your motivations. The intrinsic reasons include a commitment to being the best you can be, the excitement of new challenges and a desire to make a bigger positive impact.

Extrinsic motivations include things like competition within your organization for advancement and competition from other firms who desire your customers and marketshare.

I could build a very solid case for the importance of your ongoing improvement, but it is more effective to let you build your own. You will improve in proportion to your reasons and motivations. If you don’t truly desire to improve, you won’t. Important growth doesn’t happen by accident.
Growth in your leadership abilities requires at least three things:

  1. Study
  2. Example and/or mentors
  3. Experience.

You can’t think your way to leadership skills without leading something any more than you can think your way to riding a bike without ever getting on the bike.

The best leaders continue to get better.

You’ll never be the best you’ll ever be. You can only be the best you are right now. Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey offered a unique perspective at the 2014 Oscars. Here’s what he said in his acceptance speech for best actor:

“… when I was 15 years old, I had a very important person in my life come to me and say “who’s your hero?” And I said, “I don’t know, I gotta think about that. Give me a couple of weeks.” I come back two weeks later, this person comes up and says “who’s your hero?” I said, “I thought about it. You know who it is? It’s me in 10 years.” So I turned 25. Ten years later, that same person comes to me and says, “So, are you a hero?” And I was like, “not even close. No, no, no.” She said, “Why?” I said, “Because my hero’s me at 35.” So you see every day, every week, every month and every year of my life, my hero’s always 10 years away. I’m never gonna be my hero. I’m not gonna attain that. I know I’m not, and that’s just fine with me because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing.”

Leadership impact, effectiveness and success are a moving target that only committed and thoughtful leaders can consistently hit. Investing the effort to truthfully answer the four questions above will give you the information and inspiration you need to be counted among the best and continue to get better.

*This blog originally appeared on MarkSanborn.com.


Mark SanbornMark Sanborn, CSP, CPAE, is president of Sanborn & Associates, Inc., an idea studio dedicated to developing leaders in business and in life. Sanborn is an international bestselling author and noted authority on leadership, team building, customer service and change. Follow Mark on Twitter @Mark_Sanborn.

Leading and Communicating Organizations through Big Change: Part 1

by Bob Domenz

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Leaders of organizations of every size deal with change daily, and most are adept at managing and communicating through it. The trouble starts when leaders try to apply those same strategies used with routine change to Big Change.
Big Change is often triggered by a disruptive event, such as new leadership, a new product or services launch, new market entry or total rebranding. It is transformational and driven by new vision and direction, and it comes with heightened expectations of performance and growth.

For leaders, these are often once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that will make or break them, their organizations and their brands. But for the employees, those same opportunities are often overshadowed by fear and anxiety triggered by the possibility of re-organization, downsizing, job losses or new directions for company strategy, culture and policies.

This is precisely the situation where it is imperative for leaders to have a strong communication strategy and flawless execution. Getting all employees across all functions of the business to understand and take aligned action on a Big Change strategy is an enormous undertaking.

Big Change sets into motion a set of actions that behave much like a starburst. Channeled properly, this burst of energy can propel the organization forward quickly — motivating and aligning the organization, strengthening the brand, sparking innovation, accelerating growth and creating new business opportunities.

But when that burst is not properly directed, it can become a straight pathway to Organizational Swirl, or simultaneous inefficient, counterproductive efforts from individuals and groups due to confusion, information gaps, misalignment and unclear priorities.

The Typical Path to Organizational Swirl: Six Steps

Step 1: Leadership spends months in preparation and planning, then are quick to communicate the strategy to their organization with the assumption that employees will embrace the plan and enthusiastically take action. They expect progress against goals will be swift, but this is rarely the outcome.

Step 2: Employees react with mixtures of confusion, skepticism, worry, resentment and indifference. Many don’t, won’t or can’t take action, in part because they are unclear on what action is being requested.

Step 3: Beset with stalled progress, costly missteps and lost opportunities, frustration arises at every level. The fingers begin to point between leadership and employees.

Step 4: Frustrated, leadership reacts with additional waves of communication in the belief that more is the solution to the problem. 

Step 5. The cycle painfully repeats itself.

Step 6. The business swirls and misses its goals.

It’s not that leaders don’t make communications plans in preparation for and response to Big Change. They do. It’s just that they don’t always fully appreciate the magnitude of what is about to happen to them, their organization and brand and the resulting communication needs. In the end, they unintentionally commit the common mistakes and oversights that lead to undesired outcomes.

In our next post, we will identify the four root causes of why Big Change goes bad and the benefits of an integrated Big Change strategy.


bobdomenzBob Domenz is founder and CEO of Avenue, a Chicago-based marketing strategy and activation firm that partners with B2B leaders to transform their businesses and brands, and launch new products. He can be reached at bdomenz@avenue-inc.com

Reversing the Path of Stagnation: What Are You Waiting For?

by Bob Domenz

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Most mid-market organizations are very vulnerable to stagnation because they operate in industries that rarely change. Often they recognize it too late, which decreases their chances of successfully reversing their course. First, they must recognize the 7 telltale signs their company is on the path to stagnation.

By understanding the two scenarios of change — proactive and reactive — leaders can be better equipped to take the first steps of change and, preferably, choose to be proactive.

All companies are at risk of stagnation — and almost every company has, or will, become so at one time or another. It’s a sneaky thing. Stagnation is like a slow-growing toxic mold. It eventually takes over your company, stifling culture, development and progress, and hindering the organization’s ability to grow.

Getting off the path to stagnation requires making a deliberate change within the organization, especially to be able to break from the grip of status quo. Fundamentally, this happens in one of two ways: Proactive and Reactive.

The Proactive Scenario
In this scenario, the organization recognizes it is on a path to stagnation and proactively “self-inflicts” change before there’s any permanent damage to the business, the culture or the brand. A proactive approach is optimal to the situation. It allows time to develop organizational buy-in, and action is taken well before things become critical, providing the longest track for successful course correction.

While a preferable approach, being proactive does comes with its own set of challenges. Often, a concrete “burning platform” doesn’t exist yet. Pain points, such as rapid declines in revenue, or budget cuts and layoffs haven’t occurred yet either, making it difficult to align management and rally employees against the need for change.

Timing and tone is important. It can be counterproductive for leadership to try to implement change plans too early, or come across as alarmists. Employees might ask: Why is leadership rocking the boat?

The Reactive Scenario
In this scenario, the organization has typically been (knowingly or unknowingly) at some level of stagnation for some time, yet it doesn’t recognize the need to change until a trigger-event forces the company to reactively attempt to reverse course.

Examples of triggers are numerous. Some take the form of a single major event, such as the loss of a major customer or an aggressive new competitor. Triggers also come as a series of small event, with one eventually becoming “the final straw that breaks the camel’s back.” Examples include the terrible sales forecast that comes after several consecutive quarters of sales decline; or a key employee who leaves at the end of a wave of employee departures; or a distributor who’s been slowly displacing you with another manufacturer finally notifies you that you’re no longer their preferred brand. And so on.

In reactive scenarios, reversing the path requires a different set of strategies in order to avoid dire outcomes, and time becomes a critical success factor. More often than not, urgent action is required, the runway is short and there’s minimal room for errors. In these situations it may not be necessary for leadership to invest as much time in communicating and building support for the need to change. The “burning platform” is already visible and known to the organization. There is tangible pain or threat.

Instead, leadership needs to rapidly craft a change plan, begin communicating it and stress, or amplify, the specific actions the business (and individuals within the organization) must take in order to reverse the path and achieve a successful outcome.

We have met the enemy… and he is us.
Reversing the path of stagnation in any scenario is inherently difficult. Programs that attempt to shift organizational culture and capability frequently fail, in large part due to the “rejection culture” that pervades stagnant organizations.

Anna Catalano, former group vice president of marketing at British Petroleum explains, “Within any stagnant company an army of anti-bodies (i.e., attitudes, behaviors, policies, etc.) have grown around it in order to protect it from anything that seeks to change the status quo. Invaders are thrown out very quickly because there is an interest in protecting the body.”

The key to success lies in the ability to disrupt these anti-bodies and introduce a new set. This takes perseverance and an unlimited supply of enthusiasm. Understanding the specific nuances of proactive and reactive situations, and employing the accompanying ideas, can help you get back on the path to growth.

Ask yourself: what’re we waiting for? Ideally, you’ll become proactive once you answer the question.


bobdomenzBob Domenz is founder and CEO of Avenue, a Chicago-based marketing strategy and activation firm that partners with B2B leaders to transform their businesses and brands, and launch new products. He can be reached at bdomenz@avenue-inc.com

Why it’s Time for Professional Services Firms to Embrace Online Marketing

by Lee Frederiksen

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You may not have noticed it happening, but the past few years have created a revolution in professional services marketing. What was once a referral-driven marketplace is quickly being replaced by the convenience and visibility of online marketing.

This shift in how professional service firms are doing business has grown from a change in buyer preference. Rather than spending weeks waiting for an RFP response, buyers are taking their search for services to the Internet. They’re Googling keywords and comparing content to narrow down their choices, allowing them to make an informed decision in a fraction of the time. This change in buyer behavior has permanently altered how professional services are bought and sold.

This change can be daunting, but it can also help generate growth for your firm — at least, it seemed like that was what everyone was saying. We decided to find out for ourselves just how effective online marketing is for professional services firms. We wanted to know if online marketing was a good business choice for professional services firms and, if it was, how to do it the right way.

Does Online Marketing Work for Professional Services Firms?

To answer these questions, we surveyed a total of 500 firms across five primary industry groups: A/E/C, Marketing/Communications, Management Consulting, Accounting/Finance and Technology Services. The results were extensive, but there were two main indicators of growth that emphasized the increasing advantages of online marketing.

First, firms that reported a higher percentage of leads generated online also experienced a higher percentage of growth. Over a two-year study period, firms that didn’t generate any leads online only saw a 15 percent median growth. Contrast that with firms that generated at least 40 percent of their leads online — these firms grew about four times faster. The bottom line: Online lead generation drives faster firm growth.

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Second, firms that generate more leads online also see an increase in profitability. Our results show firms that generate more than 60 percent of their leads digitally are twice as profitable as firms that generate less than 20 percent of leads online. So, embracing online marketing and generating leads online goes far in helping your firm to grow faster and be more profitable.

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While these are obviously two very compelling reasons to embrace online marketing, the motivations don’t stop there.

5 Additional Benefits of Online Marketing for Professional Services Firms

  1. Convenience: There are numerous online marketing tools designed to simplify and automate the process. The convenience of these tools allows firms to test out different options and find a system that works best for them.
  2. Versatility: Online marketing opens up several different channels through which your firm can demonstrate your expertise to potential clients. Through blogging, premium content, social media, webinars and videos, you can reach a wider audience over several different media.
  3. Visibility: With online marketing, your target audience is no longer limited by geography and time zone. Your messaging can reach substantially more people with significantly less effort.
  4. Affordability: HubSpot found that online leads cost companies 61 percent less to generate than traditional outbound leads. Online marketing doesn’t require materials to be printed and distributed or representatives to travel to events.
  5. Specificity: Your audience consists of several different varying subsets, all with their own set of concerns and needs. Online marketing allows you to target the various sectors of your audience with specific keywords that speak directly to their problems.

These five reasons, combined with the ability for online marketing to increase your firm’s rate of growth and profitability, paint a pretty persuasive argument for why it’s time to embrace online marketing. And make no mistake — if your firm doesn’t change with the times, it’s a safe bet your competition will.


leefLee W. Frederiksen, Ph.D., is Managing Partner at Hinge, a marketing firm that specializes in branding and marketing for professional services. Hinge is a leader in rebranding firms to help them grow faster and maximize value. Lee can be reached at LFrederiksen@hingemarketing.com or 703-391-8870.
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7 Telltale Signs Your Company is on a Path to Stagnation

by Bob Domenz

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“The most fatal illusion is the settled point of view. Since life is growth and motion, a fixed point of view kills anybody who has one.”
— Brooks Atkinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the New York Times

What is stagnation? Imagine a slow-growing toxic mold that eventually takes over your company, stifling your culture, development and progress, and retarding your ability to grow. In business, as in nature, stagnation breeds disaster. Lack of movement allows harmful antibodies to gather and breed. To avoid this, forward motion must be a constant, like a shark that has to continuously swim to stay alive.

All companies are at risk of becoming stagnant, and most every company has, or will, become so at one time or another. It’s a sneaky thing — often companies end up this way without even recognizing it until it’s too late. Even Apple, the most celebrated and referenced brand and business in history, stagnated for years before rejuvenating itself and transforming into the epic example the world admires today.

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