Blog

No win without a Winning culture

On the road from a few bucks to a few billion, every company creates the same problems for itself. One of those must be solved in order to achieve lasting success:

Preventing growth from destroying culture.

You see, every successful startup has a special culture – whatever it is – that propels it to those early successes. Most don’t think much of it. It’s just “the way we do things around here.”

But something happens when most companies start growing; that culture that everyone felt in their bones starts to slowly leak away.

I read another of the many examples of this in Play Nice But Win, an autobiographical account by Michael Dell of the early years and recent transformation of Dell Technologies.

From its start in Dell’s University of Texas dorm room to #28 on the Fortune 500, the company knows a thing or two about growth. One of the topics Dell covers is the challenge of creating a healthy culture in a company with explosive growth. He writes:

Back in the beginning, when the company was just me, I had this set of values that I knew were important, but I didn’t have to communicate them with anybody. But as more and more people came on board, things got more complicated. As a company grows it becomes compartmentalized. Our salespeople understood our values because they were interfacing with the customer all the time. As were the technical support people. But our manufacturing and supply chain team members were a little farther away from the voice of the customer. We battled this by going out of our way to have customers visit our manufacturing sites. What we learned was that the best way to tell the story of our company was through their stories. What were our customers trying to accomplish? What were their challenges? Especially the new and unsolved challenges? Understanding these new and unsolved challenges is at the core of what we must continue to do as a company to succeed. Why was what they were doing important in the world – and how were we helping them to do it?

Michael Dell, Play Nice But Win: A CEO’s Journey from Founder to Leader

Out of that challenge came one of the five key tenets of Dell’s values: “We believe in creating loyal customers by providing a superior experience at a great value.” Some of the new people who had joined Dell were more motivated by a big financial payout than they were by Dell’s set of values.

The answer was that Dell had to get really clear about what was important to them. They had to define their values and repeatedly communicate them so that they would attract people who were committed to upholding those same values.

Defining the culture is the first step in our proprietary 4 step process at FiveFour to get companies growing from the inside out. It’s a necessary first step in order to cope with the growth that success brings.

And the best cultures call people to some kind of larger purpose, like Dell was talking about in the quote above. If you don’t do that, you’ll likely end up with a team of mercenaries who are motivated by a paycheck.

Could an undefined culture be what’s holding you back from future growth? Maybe even from a future spot on the fortune 500? Read Dell’s book to learn more and reach out to me for a conversation. I would love to help you define your culture and start you growing from the inside out.

What I learned from Cancer.

The day before Thanksgiving 2021, I was diagnosed Cancer.

It shook me, as you can imagine.

Upon processing this – emotionally, mentally, physically – I took action, almost immediately.

I help people solve problems for a living.

Now, I had the biggest problem of my life intruding my body. My tongue, to be exact.

So, I dug in and researched.

I read five books in two weeks.

I changed my diet from already healthy to everything being natural foods, as I had learned that cancer primarily feeds off of sugar. I added several healthy foods, spices and supplements to that healthy diet.

The actual PET scan that was given to me weeks after my surgery is, in simple terms, this:

Step 1 – pour a solution filled with glucose into your body.
Step 2 – wait to see if it binds to any cancer cells.
Step 3 – wait.

I was CLEARED.

Me and my beautiful girls

For now, I am cancer free.

I can’t control as much as I would like in this life, but I can control what goes on between my ears, what goes into my body, and how I choose to live every day.

Today, I’m reading again.

Today, it is not about cancer.

Today, it’s about the Experience Economy, a book that changed my life and drove me and my partners to start FiveFour.

For a short time after the surgery – my first ever – I learned what it’s like to live with chronic pain. That gave me a new empathy for people that live that way all the time.

It made me realize what a blessing my health has been.

Life is a beautiful thing.

My wish is for the experiences ahead to be breath taking, as I’m now acutely aware just how special those breaths are.

Consistent & Deep

In 2021, my One Word was CONSISTENT. I knew how important it was to be consistent – in schedule, in how I showed up in every life role, in results.

That word served me well. I had consistency gains in my morning and evening routines, my reading and learning, and the results for my business and clients.

As always, I see the ways it could be better: consistent time with the people who matter most to me, more consistent exercise, consistent leadership, the usual things.

But when I thought about how I could build on my consistency gains, it led to my One Word for 2022:

DEEP

One way to define deep is:

“Extending far beyond the surface, to a great depth, not superficial.

I want to go deep in 2022. I want to deepen my important relationships, my marriage, my business partnerships, my faith.

I want to make a deeper investment in the few things that make a difference in my life and not force them to fight for my attention with the trivial many.

What’s your One Word for 2022?

What parts of your life need your deeper involvement?

How can we go deep together?

Let’s make 2022 the year we all make a deep, meaningful difference where it’s most needed.

“Intensity is the price of excellence”

– Warren Buffett

I’m about a quarter of the way through Alice Schroeder’s excellent 1,000 page biography of Warren Buffett and I’m struck by two things, both of which are summarized by this quote that she attributes to him.

The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life

First, was his voracious appetite for learning. He devoured everything he could get his hands on: newspapers, magazines, industry publications, books, and much more. He streamlined his life to devote as much of his time as possible to learning. He eschewed possessions, depended almost completely on his wife to run the household, set up his business so that he could devote time to this.

Early in his career, he took jobs based on what they could teach him, he applied for schools based on the professors he wanted to learn from, he took classes from Dale Carnegie. He ran his life in such a way as to find the information he needed to succeed.

The second was how focused his learning was. He wasn’t learning for the sake of learning. He had an almost single-minded pursuit of capital management. He read stock tip sheets, company reports, and whatever else he could get his hands on in order to learn.

I am already learning from Buffett. I’m already a dedicated learner, reading more than 100 books a year. But I love to learn about a wide variety of topics and could be more focused on the things that really move the needle for me.

What have you learned from the Oracle of Omaha? How intense is your learning?

The Airport Shuttle Ride that was an Amazing Experience

If you fly into Cleveland and need to rent a car…. 

OK, that’s an unlikely scenario, but for the sake of today’s story, imagine that it’s possible. 

If you fly into Cleveland and need to rent a car, I hope you get to ride the shuttle with Felicia.  

It’s not that Felicia is a particularly adept shuttle bus driver. She clipped a curb or two in the ten-minute ride from the airport to the rental car center.  

That’s the “what you do” bit of this story. Our takeaway today is all about the “how.” 

Felicia’s got a pretty good “how.” 

Cleveland Hopkins International is a fine airport. It’s not huge but it has a quirk of geography that requires a shuttle from the terminal to the spot where all the rental car agencies are located. There’s no option. You have to get on the shuttle.   

Felicia probably makes that drive about 40 times a day. Maybe more.  

This is a repetitive task. Same route. Same bleary-eyed set of travelers, only with different T-shirts.  

It would be easy to stare off into the distance watching jets drop on the landing strip and wonder what to make for dinner. 

Or, you could personalize the journey like Felicia and make it memorable, at least for the kids and parents on board. 

Felicia talked about her kids, grandkids and her first great grandkid. She asked questions of the kiddos. And then she did her song. 

“The wheels on the bus go round and round…” 

You know the tune. But then it became more theatrical.  

“The wipers on the bus go slap, slap, slap,” with an accompanying squirt of washer fluid.  

“The horn on the bus goes, beep, beep, beep.” Three toots of the horn. 

“The seat on the bus goes up, up, up.” And this is where it got a little concerning as she bumped up three notches, but still, it was good.  

The kids loved it. The parents were happy for the diversion.  

And you couldn’t help but jump in with, “all around the town” at the end of each verse.  

It was a memorable little moment in a long day of travel. 

It’s also a great example of “How You Do What You Do,” one of the central themes of OnStage, the customer experience training we teach at FiveFour.  

There are opportunities at every step of the customer journey where, with intention and creativity, the routine or mundane tasks can be turned into memorable experiences.  

Book a time with me and we’ll discuss where to find those moments in your business.  

Talk soon.

Three lessons for your business from Steve Jobs

It’s been 10 years since Steve Jobs passed away, but the lessons to be learned from his life and the business he built will be around for a long time. 

Possibly the best insight into what made Jobs what he was comes from the biography “Becoming Steve Jobs” by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli. 

The book was published in 2015 but I read it earlier this year and the takeaways have been rumbling around in my head ever since.  

In my work with clients at FiveFour, I see some of those lessons play out in real life. Not so much in the specifics of building Apple into the most valuable company in the world. Rather in the development of people from entry-level entrepreneur to fully developed business leader.  

You get that message right away from the book’s subtitle: “The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader.” 

What you learn is that Jobs was the right person at the right time to found Apple. He was driven and uncompromising in the goal of revolutionizing the personal computer.  

And he did just that – he took on the biggest computer companies in the world – and won.  

But then he stalled. Not as a company, but as a person. He didn’t develop.  

Jobs was forced out by the Apple board of directors in 1985. The company nearly died before the surge of innovation that revolutionized communication with iPhone, iPad, iEverything. 

When he returned to running the company full-time in 1997, he was a different person. He’d grown and was ready to turn Apple into the most successful company in the world.  

Reading that I was reminded of something we say frequently at FiveFour: Businesses don’t grow, people grow.  

There are three points I take from “Becoming Steve Jobs” that illustrate that phrase. 

First, he learned how to make the products that consumers wanted and the ones that he wanted. That meant he needed to compromise on some things he wanted in order to get a product to market.  

He realized another one of our favorite sayings at FiveFour. That 80 percent done and shipped is always better than 100 percent done and stuck in your head. 

Second, he realized the pitfalls of his own ego. I don’t think the first adjective that comes to mind when you mention Steve Jobs is “humble.” But when he came back to Apple, he was more willing to listen to others, innovators such as the brilliant designer Jony Ive, and Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar. 

He learned he didn’t have all the answers. Cue another of our favorite sayings: Don’t be the smartest person in the room. If you are, switch rooms. 

Takeaway three is the relentless focus Jobs brought back to the company. He whittled the product line down to a few things and then made them the very best in the world.  

It’s that commitment to vision, mission and values that separates one company from another, from the highly successful and those that don’t stand the test of time. 

Jobs’ vision was “to make a dent in the universe.” 

He died on Oct. 5, 2011. 

We are still talking about him and the companies he built. It’s a testament that, while he could be an incredibly difficult person, he made that dent. 

If you want to make a dent with your business, book a call and we’ll talk. 

In the meantime, I’m waiting patiently for my iPhone 13.

H3 = Sales Success

Last week, I spent two days with one of my clients onboarding new business development representatives they hired to handle the growth opportunity that is in front of them.

This client was not hiring salespeople. They were hiring peers of their target prospect and enlisting me to help turn them into new business developers.

It was a fun two days and we covered a lot of ground, much of it specific to their industry and prospect.

But the one universal we spent a lot of time on was what I thought it took to be a good business developer. I gave them the following acronym:

H3

  • Heart
  • Humility
  • Hustle

Heart: The most important sale a salesperson will ever make is to themselves. If they aren’t fully bought in to their offering, they will struggle getting anyone else to buy it. They can’t let inescapable rejection dissuade them from that belief.

How? Motivation is like showering. What you did yesterday was helpful, but you must do it again today. Review customer testimonials, share wins as a team and continually remind yourself why you do what you do.

Heart also means that you must genuinely care about your prospect and their business. If you don’t, find something else to do because your prospects will feel that.

Humility: A good sales person is coachable. They don’t think they have all the answers. They know there’s always more to learn. More to learn about their offering, their customers, their tactics and tools.

Good salespeople are infinitely curious and care more about their prospects than their products. They would rather ask questions than give pitches. They can know what their prospect needs, but lead them to that truth rather than beat them over the head with it.

Hustle: Great salespeople daily do the things that average salespeople are unwilling to do. They aren’t afraid to pick up the phone and make the tenth call when the previous nine didn’t go well. They find a way to spend the majority of their time on the high value activities that lead to success rather than creatively avoid those things.

I recently read that the average business developer spends 36% of their time selling. Only a third! The great salespeople hustle and spend much more of their time on high value activities by scheduling it in their calendar and building the habits that make them successful.

Heart. Humility. Hustle. If you have those three things, you’ll succeed at sales. (BTW, if you do have those, call me. I have several clients who would love to hire you).

What would you add to H3?

The Persistence of the Founder

Persistence > talent, genius, education.

I watch very little TV, so I might be the last person to watch the Founder on Netflix. I enjoyed that the movie portrayed Ray Kroc in a way that felt unbiased, highlighting both positive and negative behaviors.

But there was one aspect of the movie that really stood out to me. That is how Kroc credited his success to his persistence:

He needed a lot of it. Even as it was exploding, his business faced bankruptcy as a real possibility. I read a lot of business biographies and that is a recurring theme.

When we see today’s successful companies, we tend to see their success as a foregone conclusion.

But many of today’s great companies had near-death experiences that their founders have written about: Tesla, Nike and lululemon are some recent examples that come to mind.

This is important for current business owners to know. When you encounter tough times, that’s not weird. Business is difficult.

I once worked with a founder who thought business was all about the idea. He believed that if your concept was good enough, the business should practically run itself.

When he encountered difficulties he started tinkering with the concept. If he could just get the concept right, everything would be okay.

But there was nothing wrong with the concept. Could it be better? Sure. But was it good enough? Yes. It just required a lot of hard work to make it work. All businesses do.

He eventually lost his business because he was trying to perfect the idea.

He didn’t have the persistence of Ray Kroc.

Do you?

The “And”

Most of the companies I work with have been built on the passion and drive of a charismatic founder. The sales “process” was simply to free up as much of the founder’s time to spend with prospects and watch them magically convert.

But they quickly realize that if all sales has to go through them it puts a lid on company growth. So, they start building a sales team, but I have seen many make this mistake: they hire people for sales and…

There are many versions of the “And”

  • Sales and marketing
  • Sales and social media
  • Sales and design
  • Sales and fulfillment
  • Sales and

They’re still hiring as if they’re the small, scrappy startup, asking their people to play multiple roles.

There’s just one problem: building a sales team for the first time is hard work. If you don’t do it the right way – by documenting a clear sales process, identifying your ideal customer, laying out the expected daily activity, painting a clear picture of success, managing and coaching – the first sales people you hire will struggle.

And if they struggle at sales, they’ll be more likely to spend time on the “And.” People naturally want to spend their time on things that are succeeding. So, they’ll subconsciously find a need to post something on Facebook rather than make the next uncertain sales call.

One of my clients who made it through the adolescent phase and is now more than $200 million in annual revenue said that the biggest growth in the company came when they started hiring to plan and not to need.

They had plateaued at around $10 million for more than a decade and had always been hiring for their current need, waiting until everyone was overwhelmed. It was only when they began to hire people that they wouldn’t need for 3-6 months that growth took off.

Resist the temptation to hire sales and…

Hire them for a sales role they can grow into over a few months. Do the hard work of setting them up for success and coach them so they can help you succeed.

This is the fourth step in our 4D Transformation Method: Drive Results. I talk about it here:

If you want to drive better results by setting up a sales team for success, reach out to see if I can help. Just fill out this short assessment and book a strategy session with me.

You can’t know everything

In a meeting with one of my clients, a member of the leadership team mentioned that she was surprised when a member of the team she manages asked about a new development in another area of the business and this leader didn’t know about it.

The implication was that there was a communication breakdown at the leadership level and to her team it appeared that she was out of the loop.

I pushed back. Was it something she needed to know?

Growing businesses like the ones I work with require different things from their leaders. Some changes are obvious. Others are less so.

In the early days, everyone is a doer. But as you grow, leaders must become supervisors, managers or, well, leaders. Having to do everything will limit the growth potential of the company.

That part of leadership development is pretty straightforward.

But adaptation is also required when those leaders come together as a leadership team. They must play a new role there as well.

Just as they have to trust their team to perform their responsibilities, they must also trust other members of the leadership team to lead their part of the business.

That means that they can’t know everything going on because that would place another limit on the growth of the business. It would also make leadership team meetings a long series of informational updates. Anyone ever been in one of those?

As a business grows, you must become comfortable focusing your attention on fewer and more important aspects of the business. That goes for each leader individually and as a leadership team.

She asked how you know what you should share as a leadership team and what you shouldn’t. There’s only one way: constant communication.

If she felt like she really needed to know the information that surprised her, she should simply say to the leader of that part of the business, “My team surprised me with that and it would have been nice to know in advance.”

But I challenged her first to think hard about whether or not she really needed to know about it. If not, she could have simply replied to her team member by saying, “As the business continues growing I’m getting used no longer knowing everything that’s going on. But I have full confidence that the leader of that part of the business is leading well and will keep me in the loop whenever necessary.”

The only business where you can know everything is a small one. If you want it to grow, sooner or later you’re going to have to accept that you can’t know everything.