Getting Pushed is How we Learn

Any business can grow from the inside out.

I start with that fundamental belief. The journey to that goal is seldom easy or obvious.

That was certainly the case when I first started working with RHB, a higher education consultant based in Indianapolis, Ind. There were early doubts that it was a good fit.

I quickly learned that the RHB team was incredibly talented and committed. They were not going to take what I said at face value. New concepts needed to be deconstructed and redeveloped.

I needed to be at the top of my game to earn their trust.

They needed to be open to new ideas.

It worked.

“What FiveFour has done for us in the past year is remarkable,” says Richard H. Bailey, co-founder and principal of RHB.

Bailey admits that, early on, he was openly skeptical that FiveFour could deliver on the promise of helping their firm.

“I was resistant to messing around with our mission, but as we are starting to use that new language, it really is at the heart of what we are talking about – our ‘why,’” Bailey says. “I’m really grateful for the help.”

Growing businesses face a common problem. The vision of the leaders gets blurred by the distance from the center of the organization. Bailey was looking forward to transitioning out of day-to-day leadership of the company he founded with his wife Tamara, RHB’s chief executive officer. But he’s confident that the work they’ve done with FiveFour will cement the core values of the firm, creating “virtual hallways and watercoolers.”

“We don’t have the opportunity to let osmosis do its thing,” he says of the modern, increasingly remote workplace. “There’s no shoulder rubbing.”

It’s not just a reshaping of language. RHB is growing fast, attracting some of the top professionals in higher education. Expanding the team brings a new set of challenges, but Bailey notes that the foundational work they’ve done to define the RHB culture has assisted the firm’s growth.

“That momentum is in part due to the way FiveFour helped us rethink who we are, what we’re doing and what we’re all about,” he said. “I was skeptical at the beginning of this. Nathan and his team have done a great job of turning me around on a lot of things.”

It’s a wonderful experience when professionals challenge each other to be better.

I’ve learned so much as this relationship has developed.

How exactly?

First, that what we believe about company culture, what it is, how it looks and works, and the long-term benefits of putting in the work, are true.

Second, that listening is the first step toward learning. Our work with RHB led us to create a completely new structure for one of the foundational parts of our process. It’s not done yet, but we can’t wait to unveil it!

Third, that challenging yourself every day is necessary. Any of the people involved in this venture could have said, “It’s not working,” at any time and we’d have gone our separate ways.

I’m sure thankful we didn’t.

What I believe now, more than ever, is that we can help businesses leaders who want to grow, who are committed to their teams and their purpose.

If that sounds like you, and we’re not yet working together, let’s talk about how we might challenge each other. Connect with me and we’ll figure out how to grow together.

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.

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.

TNU – They’re Not You

I was recently visiting with the HR director at a five-year old company that has experienced significant growth. They have a good product in an expanding market.

In the early days, it was the CEO who was doing most of the selling, and – like the CEO of every company who has early success – he was good at it.

But as the company grew, so did the list of CEO responsibilities. And he increasingly found himself torn between selling and fulfilling. It’s the sales-fulfillment teeter-totter that I’ve written about here before.

So they started hiring salespeople. Some did well and others have yet to achieve their quota in any time period that they’ve measured.

Sound familiar? It’s very common in the companies I work with. Give me a call and we can chat about your situation.

Taking over the sales role from a founder isn’t easy. You can never replace that perfect blend of passion, product knowledge and motivation.

I am constantly reminding the owner-operators I work with: TNU – They’re not you.

So, what can you do? How can you set up your first sales hire for success?

There are four things:

  1. Get the hiring process right. Seems obvious, but this is missed far too often. A young, growing company is not right for everyone. Make sure they match the culture you’re building and have the mindset of someone who can succeed in selling your service. Be honest if they’re walking into an undefined role that will be difficult for them.
  2. Don’t assume that just because they have sold something else, those skills will perfectly translate to what you’re selling. Make sure the sales process is documented and ready to execute.
  3. Be clear on expectations and then inspect what you expect. Having a job scorecard is critical. If they have to make 50 calls per week to be successful, put that on their KPI dashboard and look at it weekly.
  4. Don’t expect perfection. Again. TNU. They’ll never sell at your level. Shoot for 80% as good, then coach and develop them so they can continue to improve.

That’s some of what we do in the fourth step of our 4D Transformation Method. Watch this video to learn more:

Can I help you be successful in sales as you continue to grow? Reach out and let me know. Just take our short assessment and then book a strategy call with me.

And always remember. TNU.

“The only people who don’t want to hear from me are the people I’m paid to talk to.”

I was speaking virtually to a group of salespeople recently and you could see their demeanor change as they came to this realization.

Like most companies, theirs looked to hire extroverts – the “High I’s” on the DISC assessment – that would be comfortable talking to new people. This can be a great strategy, but it comes with a potential problem.

That is, the people who like to talk to other people are usually the same people who really, really want everyone to like them.

In modern business, there is no shortage of people vying for our attention. We have bosses and co-workers, customers and suppliers, and so much more.

They’re calling us, leaving voicemails, sending text messages, tweets and direct messages, pings and dings on any number of social media platforms (that all of these salespeople are told they need to be on, right?).

Those who have a need to be liked feel a need to constantly reply to anyone and everyone who asks for a piece of their time. Because each individual response makes someone happy – thus making the responder happy.

But for salespeople, like the ones I was speaking to, there is one group of people who are not asking for their attention – prospects.

That’s when the salesperson said, “The only people who don’t want to hear from me are the people I’m paid to talk to.”

That’s why time management is such a big deal for salespeople. But it’s more than the ability to manage time. It’s the ability to get yourself to do the stuff you know you need to do but don’t want to.

That’s why author Nir Eyal, says that a better term for time management is pain management.

So, how do you manage your pain? It’s a process of knowing your goals, determining the highest value tasks to help you reach those goals and the using your calendar to prioritize those tasks.

It’s that simple.

And that hard.

It’s one of the things we do all through our process of working with companies as they go through our 4D Transformation Method. We help them prioritize their time so that they can spend it on the things that make their highest value contribution to the company.

But we spend the most time on it when we’re documenting the sales process and helping their sales team prospect for new business.

You can learn more about that fourth and final step in our process by watching this video:

If you are an owner-operator who wants to improve the results of your service-based business, I might be able to help you. Just take this short assessment and book a strategy session with me.

I’d love to help you stop avoiding your prospects and growing from the inside out.

Start with WHY

When we started FiveFour in early 2018, the vision of the founders was to teach everyone what had made our individual businesses successful: a remarkable customer experience.

But what we discovered is that, with our customers, most needed a step before that. They needed to start with WHY.

I was reminded of this while listening to Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Sinek writes:

It all starts with clarity. You have to know why you do what you do. If people don’t buy what you do, the buy why you do it, so it follows that if you don’t know why you do what you do, how will anyone else?  If the leader of an organization can’t clearly articulate why they organization exists in terms beyond it’s products or services, then how does he expect the employees to know why to come to work?

If a team doesn’t know WHY it’s important to have a great experience for their customers, teaching them WHAT to do has far less of an impact.

That’s why the Define the Culture is the first of the four steps in my 4D Transformation Method and Design the Experience is the second. We have to start with WHY.

Sinek perfectly describes the type of business we most frequently deal with:

When organizations are small, WHAT they do and WHY they do it are in close parallel. Born out of the personality of the founder, it is relatively easy for early employees to “get it.“ Clarity of why is understood because the source of passion is near – in fact it’s physically comes to work every day. In most small businesses all the employees are all crammed into the same room and socialize together. Simply being around a charismatic founder allows that feeling of being a part of something special to flourish.

But, as Sinek writes, For companies of any size, success is the greatest challenge. When businesses grow and employees are no longer around the leader all day, every day, the WHY can get fuzzy and disengagement creeps in.

The answer is almost always to rearticulate the WHY. Sinek writes:

Finding WHY is a process of discovery, not invention…the WHY from every individual or organization comes from the past. It is born out of the upbringing or experience of an individual or small group.

And in our experience, that rediscovered WHY always includes something that was done for the customer, which perfectly sets the stage for focusing on customer experience.

How’s the WHY of your business? Has it gotten a little fuzzy? Take my assessment to find out and then chat with me about how to rediscover your WHY.

“We have three cultures”

I was talking to the CEO of a bank with more than a dozen branches when he said, “We don’t have a culture at our bank. We have three cultures and which one you encounter depends on which branch you’re at.”

What’s more, the CEO said, “You can tell when you’re in a branch that doesn’t have a healthy culture. You can just feel it.”

This is more common than you might think. It’s easy to maintain a cohesive culture when you’re a small team at a single location. But growth can change all of that in a hurry, especially when growth leads to multiple locations.

That geographic distance doesn’t make it impossible to maintain a healthy culture – far from it. But it does make it more challenging.

There are three things that CEO could have done to create a consistent, healthy culture. You can do them to.

  1. Be really clear about what you want your culture to be. What are you trying to accomplish? What are the expected behaviors? What is out-of-bounds? Defining your culture is the first step.
  2. Have a consistent communication plan. The leader must talk about the culture until they’re sick of talking about it…and then talk about it some more. They must be what Pat Lencioni calls the CRO: Chief Reminding Officer.
  3. Get regular feedback from the front lines. Your communication on culture (or anything for that matter) can’t be one way.

Without taking these steps, you’re leaving the culture up to each individual manager of each individual location (or team, division, etc.) and multiple cultures is the inevitable outcome.

That’s one of the issues I help owner-operators solve in the first step of my 4D Transformation Method, Define the Culture. I explain it in this video:

Have you left your culture up to chance – or to each employee’s interpretation? Can you feel an unhealthy culture in part’s of your organization?

The first step for you might be just getting a handle on the state of your culture. Let me help you with our free assessment. Take a few minutes, answer a few questions and then jump on a call with me to strategize ways to improve your culture.

Do it before it doesn’t feel good walking into one of your offices.

Does this vision statement mean anything to anyone else?

That was the question asked by the leadership team of one of my clients this week as we were discussing their vision.

They just had the best year in the company’s 30-year history, but they’re hungry for more. Why? Because they have a big vision that hasn’t yet been fully realized.

But they’re not sure if their current vision statement accurately communicates that big vision. They’re not sure if it’s recruiting anyone to their cause.

And that, after all, is the purpose of a vision statement. Because the only vision that doesn’t require the help of others to achieve it is a small one.

A good vision statement must memorable and motivational if its going to serve its function as a memory-enhancing device that points to your broader vision.

That’s why their question was such a good one. That’s exactly the question that you should ask about your vision statement. But then, be careful how you answer. You might be tempted to go with your gut instinct (I think it connects), or personal preference (It means something to me!), but this is too important to leave to either method. You must ask the right questions of the right people to know if it connects.

Only then will you know for certain whether you need to craft something more memorable and motivational to point to your vision.

Why spend all of this time on vision statements? On defining the culture of your business? You already have monthly revenue targets…quarterly rocks…wildly important goals. Why not just focus on those? I talk about that – and why defining the culture is the first step in my 4D Transformation Method in this video:

Does your vision mean anything to anyone else? Are you living it? Instead of guessing, would you like to assess the culture of your business? Just take our assessment and then book a free strategy session with me. It’s the first step to get your business growing from the inside out.