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  • Aspire » Leadership

    06 Oct

    Prefer to listen? Click below to hear an audio version of this week’s blog post:


    Great Idea

    Have you ever tried to roll out a change at work and didn’t get much of a response?

    Quick example – a client decided it was critical that his team started actively tracking their time, at least at a high level. He needed to know what they were working on (billable or not) and which client it was supporting. He had a lot of good reasons for the change – improved billing, better forecasting for his cash flow, a better sense of where his employees were getting stuck, etc. And it wasn’t a big change – maybe a couple of minutes a day at the most.

    The result? About half his staff started complying, although not consistently and the other half just couldn’t seem to get it done. They weren’t being defiant; it just wasn’t something that was convenient or top of mind.

    Motivation and change are challenging. We’re hardwired to fall into habitual behavior (think about the last time you brushed your teeth – did you consciously think about any of that process?). However that doesn’t mean change is impossible – here are 5 ways to think about change and motivation that might spark something for your situation.

    1. Change the Path / Change the Environment

    It doesn’t take much of an impediment to change (or keep) a certain behavior. If you’re addicted to Ice Cream bars and you decide they’re not good for you, willpower might be able to keep you from eating them some of the time, but if you take them out of your environment, make it difficult to have one, it’s a lot more likely that you’ll stop eating them for good. Find ways to make the behavior that you want to encourage easier to do.

     2. Look for the Bright Spot – Build on What Works

    It’s likely that you are sometimes getting the outcome you want. Maybe you have a team of 5 salespeople and 2 of them are successfully selling your new product and the other 3 haven’t made any progress. Rather than deciding the product is a bust (or that you’ve got 3 bad salespeople) take a few minutes to figure out what your 2 successful sales people (your bright spots) are doing to make it work. Are they talking to different people? Using a different angle for the sale? Packaging it differently? It may turn out to be just luck and coincidence, but it’s more likely that you’ll find something you can use to get everyone on board.

     3. Plan Ahead – Focus Your Willpower

    There have been a bunch of studies that show that your willpower is a finite, but renewable resource. When you’ve had a challenging day, when you’re tired, when you’re hungry it becomes a lot more difficult to step up and do the right thing just based on willpower. Knowing that, it becomes important to recognize when you’re most likely to fail at implementing a change and plan around it. Let’s say you have committed to writing a weekly blog article but you know that it’s almost impossible to concentrate at the end of the day. Block out time on your calendar first thing in the morning to give yourself a clear uninterrupted window to write – plan ahead.

     4. Make it Fun

    Australian software company Atlassian came up with a concept they call ‘Fed-ex’ days, where once a quarter they give their software developers 24 hours to work on whatever they want – it could be a new product, a fix to a problem, etc. The only rule is that they have to ‘Deliver’ (that’s the Fed-ex part). They present their idea at the end of the 24 hours – on a Friday afternoon in front of the whole company with cake, beverages and the winning idea gets recognition and a prize. Atlassian credits a huge part of their growth and success to the ideas that have come out of these fun team events.

     5. Think Big – Why are You Here?

    It turns out that most of us, once we’re making ‘enough’ money are really motivated to do our best work because of big ideas. If you want to tap into that extra well of energy, inspiration and ideas that all of us have, then you need to find a way to Think Big. What’s the big idea behind your business (beyond just making money)? Why was it started? What makes you get up in the morning? How are you helping people and is that a worthwhile cause? The more you can tap into the big idea, the more people on your team who also buy into that big idea will give their heart, soul and free time to making that big idea come to life.

    What happened to my client who wanted better time tracking? He found a way to automate collecting the time for most of the work, leaving just a quick review and send at the end of the day. He changed the environment to make it easier and faster and now everyone is actively tracking their hours – soon it will be a habit.

    How do you make change happen in your world? How do you motivate your team to take the right actions? We’d love to hear your thoughts – leave us a comment with how this impacts your world.

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach

    29 Sep

    Click below to hear an audio version of this week’s blog post:


    champagne bottle eruption

    On Friday evening, Sept. 26th the Kansas City Royals did something they had not done in 29 years, when they clinched a berth into the MLB post season and the celebration was on.  It was a great moment not only for the team and franchise, but all Royal’s fans.  Way to go Royals!  Your business may not have a celebration budget that include cases of champagne, Oakley goggles for eye protection, or a cleaning service eager to tackle the aftermath, but that doesn’t make your successes in business any less significant than winning a pennant race.

    It is easy for business owners to get so wrapped up in the daily grind we forget to celebrate the successes we are having along the way.   Not finding that time during the first few years of owning my dealership is one of the things about those days that I regret the most.   My team was “all in” and we were consistently reaching new levels of growth (bottom line and top line) year over year.   It was nearing the end of the 3rd year when it dawned on me, that we had hit some pretty significant milestones and we had never really celebrated the victories. My experience (and a lot of studies) has shown that you and your employees will be more motivated and more charged up if you can authentically celebrate an achievement.

    So what can you do?

    It doesn’t have to be expensive.  This may be the biggest misconception about celebrating an achievement.   It isn’t about spending a fortune every time something good happens.   But it is about recognizing excellence, whether that’s a sales goal, the number of days without an accident, someone going above and beyond, or collectively reaching a production goal.   It’s about putting a smile on the faces of those who helped achieve the result, letting them know they matter, that their efforts made a difference.   And yes, this includes your own family and friends.

    Here are 5 meaningful yet inexpensive ways to celebrate success:

    • Personally thank those who contributed to the success. How many times do we forget to simply look an employee or customer in the eye and say “Thank you”.  If you don’t have employees, maybe it is a spouse or business peer who supports you.
    • When an employee with a family goes above and beyond with extra hours of work or travel and you know it impacts their personal life. Send a hand written note to their home address and thank their family for the sacrifices they made in completing the project/sale.
    • At company meetings, recognize employees in front of their co-workers who displayed actions in the work place that exemplified one or more of your company’s core values. The acknowledgment could be for something done internally in your business or externally with a customer or at a community event.
    • Take pictures of the event so it can be shared in a newsletter, put in a frame, or included in a newsletter. Pictures are worth a thousand words, but you first need the picture.
    • Breakfast burritos, Pizza parties, or one of my favorites (if your business location allows) is the owner or management team grilling hamburgers and serving their team.

    When it comes to celebrating, the bottom line is you don’t need to have cases of champagne to make your business Royal.   What you do need is an intentional effort to acknowledge those who contribute to the successes of your business as they are achieved. Throw in some sincere gratitude, public acknowledgement and some time to reflect on things and your business will be royal too!

    Congratulations to the Kansas City Royals for all their accomplishments this year.  Feel free to share any thoughts about the Royals or ways you celebrate at your business in the space below.   We always appreciate comments.

    Ned Yost Celebrating by Charles Sollars via Flickr

    Ned Yost Celebrating by Charles Sollars via Flickr

    Chris Steinlage  Kansas City Business Coach

    25 Aug
    photo by Jan-Erik Finnberg via Flickr

    photo by Jan-Erik Finnberg via Flickr

    With most of the schools back in session, the number of buses on our roads has increased significantly; latest estimates have the number at about 500,000 school buses in the U.S.  All those yellow school buses created the opportunity not only for a PSA to be a be aware the buses and 26 million students riding them, but to think about your own (business) bus as well, even if it is just metaphor.

    The Business Bus….

    In his 2001 best seller “Good to Great”,  Jim Collins used this bus analogy; you have to get the right people in the right seats on the bus.  Starting with the bus driver’s seat; think of the bus seats as an organizational chart of your business.  Every seat contains a list of duties and responsibilities and it the bus driver’s responsibility to see that the right people are assigned to the right seats.

    As a business owner you are the driver.  There can only be one driver.  You may have a management team; you may be part of ownership group that allows different drivers behind the wheel at different times, but at the end of the day there can only be one driver.   Every business must have a bus driver, the place where the buck stops, the person who is ultimately in charge of everyone on the bus (or in the business).

    Filling the seats…

    Once a seat is filled, the (owner) bus driver needs to monitor the person they placed in the seat, but they need to let them do their job.  This is where so many small businesses repeatedly take steps backwards; the owner(s) need to stay out of other people’s seats!   The seat contains duties and responsibilities; you placed someone in that seat to complete those tasks.  Once you do that, you need to allow them to do what was asked of them.  There isn’t room in the seat for you too!

    Disrupting the seats….

    Although it can happen in any business, for some reason this seems to be a bigger problem with family owned businesses more than others.   In family businesses, there often are multiple owners and even though they have agreed to sit in certain seats (their org chart) they are always bothering family members in other seats they have agreed to stay out of.   All it does is creates havoc and stress on the business.

    To make matters worse, rather than asking them to step into a private location and discuss a difference of opinion they stand up in the front of the bus and undermine or question their authority in front of all the other people on the bus.   Which ultimately leads to the absolute worst scenario of all….(again metaphorically speaking) they  throw them the under the bus.

    “You’ll never get the right people in the right seat on the bus, if you are constantly throwing your people under it!”   – Aspire Business Development

    If owner(s) are constantly being disrespectful of their peers or their managers in front of all the other employees by questioning their actions, discounting their procedures, or overriding their requests,  how are those being disrespected ever supposed to win the respect of everyone else in the company?   Not only is it personally disrespectful, but it diminishes the importance of the tasks they are responsible for in the first place? You reap what you sow.  You may need to change the seats people sit in, you may need to let someone off the bus, but do not throw your people under the bus!

    Remember as the driver (owner) you have the ultimate responsibility for the bus. Even if someone else is struggling in their seat, that’s on you. You can help fix it, you can replace them, but you can’t blame them for struggling.

    So what do you think?  How do you think your Business Bus is doing?  Do you respect the people you place in the various seats on your bus?  Do you compliment them on the bus in front of everyone and talk to them about issues in private?    We would love to hear your thoughts on this in the space below.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    12 Aug
    photo by JD Hancock via Flickr

    photo by JD Hancock via Flickr

    If you don’t understand your business, who will?

    That’s the question that came with the 5th and final piece of the business advice given by a dealer peer/mentor in 1997.  This one was the bullhorn that screamed the significance on not only working IN the business, but working ON the business.

    As mentioned in the previous Winning Advice posts, the total length of this handwritten manual for business success was only 1 ½ pages long and barely contained 200 words.  But, compared to the four bullets of advice that preceded this, #1 People, #2 Customers, #3 Profit Margins, and #4 Collections,  almost half of the words in this business manuscript were reserved for this final secret to success.

    It was about ….Working ON the business…!

    ….And, as it was originally written, this was the 5th and final instruction.

    “5. Manage & understand all phases of the business.

    A. Manage Purchases according to Sales & Potential Sales.  Turning _X_ times a year.

    B. Watch parts sales, paperwork flow, direct ship orders, attached to factory invoices, accuracy of parts to internal repairs, customer machine repairs, obsolescence, top parts customers.

    C. Actively watch service dept operations, talk openly with customers as to how the service dept. is doing for them.  Identify all problems or issues.  Know Lip Service versus Real Service.  Make sure all hours worked on any machine is log’d correct.  Make sure return rentals are inspected for repairs, and invoiced with a week.  Look over rental equipment repairs for patterns.”   


    Now let’s white wash and scale the message to benefit your business…

    On the surface,”Manage & understand all phases of the business” doesn’t need a lot explanation.   But notice he used the words “manage and understand” notindividually master and be an expert of” all phases.   That was important to note; the underlying message is effective delegation is part of long-term strategic growth.  Lack of delegating can be a ball and chain for business owners when they try to be involved in every detail of their business.

    Example:  A business owner should have a general understanding of their financials.  However, as a business owner, is it really the best use of their time to be involved in every step of creating each financial or other business tracking report?  Even for smaller businesses, it can easily be more cost effective to have an outsourced CFO, bookkeeper, or CPA assist with these functions.  The business owner or management team can then monitor the information generated.

    1. Managing Purchases (Inventory)….
      1. If you carry inventory, do you know & track your turns per year?
      2. Are you tracking what is in the pipeline for potential business?
      3. What about seasonal purchasing and tracking?
      4. All this involves “forecasting”, some business owners still discount the importance of managing their inventory but ….if you sell hotdogs & mustard you need them on your shelf before July 4th.
    2. Watch Parts Sales….etc.  Though the focus was about “Parts Sales” as it related to the equipment business, the bigger message in this bullet was the significance in having reliable systems and procedures in your business.
      1. How much work are you doing for free?
      2. Does your business capture all the billable materials or services it performs?
      3. Do your employees unnecessarily give away billable labor?
      4. What do your top customers value most about your business?  Maybe it is time to ask them.
    3. Actively watch service….etc.   There was a statement in these final sentences that has stuck with me as much as any piece of business advice I have ever been given.

     The statement was “Know Lip Service verses Real Service”.  Strong customer service was one of his mantras, so I am sure he still preaches that today.  The thing that always puzzled me was the spelling of the word “Know”.  Was it intentionally spelled that way or by accident?

    Honestly, I think he meant to write “No” as in, “Don’t say something you can’t back up”.   As time went by, I was always glad he wrote it as “Know”, because in the context of “Know lip service” the sentence took on a much broader meaning that reminded me that as a business owner, one must always be managing, asking, listening, observing, and leading.

    It would become an ongoing decree of responsibility that as a business owner one must not only keep their own commitments, but they would also be held accountable for the actions of their employees and all who represented their company.   As the owner, you need to “Know”.   And when employees don’t act or speak in a way that aligns with your values, it can’t be overlooked.

    Well that covers it; People, Customers, Profit Margins, Collections, and Management.  The five key areas generously shared by another dealer to ensure a healthy dealership in 1997.  By sharing these in a way that applies to business in general, hopefully you have been able to pull some useful nuggets out of his words and put them to work in your business.

    Thanks Jr., know that a copy of your hand written document still remains inside my business folder today.

    As always we value your thoughts and feedback.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    04 Aug
    photo by US Army via Flickr

    photo by US Army via Flickr

    Great leadership is critical for business success, but it’s rarely a matter of life and death. Which is why it makes sense to look to the US Armed Forces as an inspiration for leadership ideas – in the Army, not only is leadership the key to long term success…it’s also the driver for survival in enemy territory.

    With that in mind, it’s no surprise that the US Armed Forces takes leadership study very seriously. In fact they go back to 1948, when they first published the Field Manual on Leadership, which is built around 11 key Principles that were uncovered in all sorts of real world situations.

    What is surprising is how timeless those principles have turned out to be.  According to this great summary by Tom Deierlein of Combat Leaders those same 11 principles are still taught to all levels of the military today…despite being consistently reviewed every couple of years at the highest levels to determine if they are still valid or if they’re missing anything.

    These principles have held up for over 60 years and are used to grow strong leaders in life and death situations…I suspect they might apply to your business as well.

    11 Principles of Leadership (US Armed Forces)

    1. Know yourself and seek self-improvement

    Before you can lead others you must be able to lead yourself…which means you MUST understand your own strengths and weaknesses. It’s equally important that you are continuously looking for ways to improve yourself. Success isn’t a snapshot in time, it’s a journey and the most successful people are getting better every single day.

    2. Be technically proficient

    This one is interesting and pretty much shatters the concept of a ‘professional’ manager. People respond to competence and if you can’t do what you’re asking your team to do, then you’re likely going to struggle with leading them. You don’t have to be the best, but you need to be up to date and be able to appreciate what it takes to succeed from a skills / technical perspective.

    3. Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions

    Being a leader isn’t about being given a title…it’s about making things happen. This principle also highlights a very strong belief of mine – Leaders never play the victim role…things will go wrong at some point, but a leader isn’t going to blame others (or the economy, the weather, etc.). Instead a leader takes responsibility for the situation, analyzes it, takes corrective action and moves on.

    4. Make sound and timely decisions

    Although it’s important to think through challenges and issues, it’s even more important to make a decision and keep things moving. Nothing will shut down an organization like the inability to make a decision.

    5. Set the example

    Hopefully your team is listening to you, but you can be sure that they are watching you.  And if you aren’t ‘walking the walk’ at all times then it won’t matter what you say. Leadership is especially challenging because it requires you to live as a leader and take on the burden of role model and it’s 24 x 7.

    6. Know your people and look out for their well-being

    Have you ever seen a master mechanic or craftsman with shoddy tools? They know the formula for success includes taking care of their tools. A leader understands their role is to SERVE their team – understand what they want, what their strengths are and creatively find ways to help them grow. If you take care of them, they’ll take care of the work that needs to be done.

    7. Keep your workers informed

    Good communication is critical. In battle everyone has a specific role, but they’re also clearly told what the overall goal is as well. This becomes especially important when things break down and team members have to improvise on the fly. If they don’t understand the big picture and where they fit in, they won’t be able to reach your collective goals.

    8. Develop a sense of responsibility in your workers

    Contrary to a lot of management theory from the early 1900s, people want to take on responsibilities…and if they don’t feel any ownership for what they’re supposed to do, then you’re not going to get much out of them. The best teams own what they need to do and take responsibility for the outcomes. Your job as the leader is to help them figure that out.

    9. Ensure that tasks are understood, supervised, and accomplished

    It’s critical that you are communicating and measuring what you want done at a fairly detailed level, especially if it’s something new. I can tell my kids to clean the kitchen, but unless I’m specific in what that means, I’m not likely to get the result that I really want.

    10. Train as a team

    If you want to get the most out of a group, then you need to play to their individual strengths and they have to be able to work together. Pick your favorite sport and it’s obvious that players have specific roles and the whole thing works only when all of them work together. Your team has the same challenges and need to train together to develop the communication and understanding it takes to blend.

    11. Use the full capabilities of your organization

    A healthy team is continually growing but that growth requires the application of different skills over time. If you’re consistently just using your core capabilities, the team…and the team members aren’t going to be growing. Find creative ways to use all of the skills and capabilities in the team.

    That’s the list – what do you think? Are there any key principles wrong…or missing? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach