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  • Aspire » Leadership

    26 Jun

    EPSON scanner image

    Illustration from Tom Fishburne

    Why? Why? Why?

    If you have been following the news lately, Verizon recently made an announcement that sent many of their loyal customers into a frenzy, ready to jump ship for another wireless plan. They have clarified and retracted the announcement, but that misstep created a windfall for their competitors. As it unfolded I am sure senior management was left asking themselves how could something like this happen? Why? Why? Why?

    The really contentious stuff seems to always fall in around money – for Verizon it was a change in how they plan to bill their customers and charge for data being downloaded. In the summer of 2011, Netflix announced a change in the way they were billing their clients and it nearly sank the company (regardless of the intention, most customers viewed it as a 50% plus increase in their service costs). At the time, Netflix stock was trading near $300/share, by the time their CEO publicly apologized a few months later it was about 50% of that. One year later, the stock value is over 75% lower than the value prior to the announcement. Ouch!

    So how does all this play into your business? You may not be a publicly traded business, but many of the challenges you face are more similar than you might think. At the end of the day you are faced with making decisions about pricing for a product or service and why (or why not) the profit margins are where you need them to be. Is the product even profitable at all? If not, why isn’t it profitable? Has demand for one of your products dropped recently? If so, why did it drop? What changed?

    Often in business we get our tunnel vision blinders on and don’t take enough time to look at the whole picture and understand what is really going on. We start treating the symptom instead of the cause; the true root of the problem.  We don’t ask why things are the way they are.

    Here’s an example – Honda has a clever commercial showing a competitor selling a longer standard warranty on their car compared to Honda’s. The message is about reliability, and the Honda is telling you the competitor’s car needs a longer warranty…because it’s not a Honda the implication is that it’s going to break down and when (not if) it does, you are going to need that warranty. The competitor is treating the symptom with a longer warranty. But Honda is saying the real issue, the core benefit of Honda is about the quality and reliability of the product.

    Start asking why…!

    The challenge to you is to pick out an area of your business where something has changed in the last 6 months. What are some new problems you might be having?  What might be unexpectedly going well?  Are there changes in the profit margins of a specific product?  More (or less) leads in a territory?  Productivity of a line better or worse?

    Find something that’s changed and take your blinders off and look at all the variables that could have contributed to that change.  Are you clear on the root cause or are you just looking at a symptom?  Why? Why? Why? Ask why about 4 or 5 more times than you normally do. Work with your team and get them to start asking Why as well.  Make sure your efforts to correct it are going towards root cause and not a symptom.

    If you have any short success stories from this exercise, we would love to hear about them. You may find the results fascinating!

    Chris Steinlage    Kansas City Business Coach

    11 Jun


    (Photo by humbert15)

    “Do you live Rich?”

    It was the first question asked by Dina Dwyer-Owens, CEO of the Waco, TX based Dwyer Group at a luncheon this past week in Overland Park, KS. You knew she had a hook in the question, but her delivery was just crafty enough that it invoked several thoughts instantaneously. What is rich? Is this about money? A luxury lifestyle? Define rich?

    (If you are a fan of Undercover Boss you may recognize the name, Dina was recently sent undercover to see if her companies were living Rich.)

    The audience quickly learned “RICH” was an acronym for the Code of Values that their company was built on over 30 years ago. It is the secret sauce. The constant. The part that never changes regardless of the economy, what business they are in, where they are located, or who it involves. In good times and in bad times the company strives to lead and operate following what is defined in RICH.

    At the Dwyer Group living RICH means….

    • Respect – Treat others as you want to be treated.
    • Integrity – Your word counts. Do what you say.
    • Customer Focus – Maximizing Customer Loyalty, Listening.
    • Having Fun in the Process!

    They attribute much of their success to building their business on these principles. She also credits her faith (she is Catholic) for her values and work ethic, and then living them. Today the Dwyer Group has over 1,600 franchises operating under a number of different brands around the world. As an integral part of their DNA, their culture, if you are part of the company you are expected to live RICH. It is a clear testimony of the value in clearly defining who and what your company it at the core.

    Now the reality…..

    Dina suggested only 5% of all businesses actually follow their vision-mission-values statement! She said it doesn’t matter how nice your values look on the wall or how cleverly it’s written, if the leaders don’t live it, the company will not either and it means nothing.

    Most of us have seen these plaques she is talking about. The company has a heartwarming, inspiring mission statement, powerful core values, or an inspiring vision statement that has absolutely no bearing on how the company actually operates. How many times have you seen this?

    Another startling percentage…


    “77 percent (of businesses) have yet to achieve their vision for their company”.

    - Inc. Magazine, June 29, 2010

    It is hard to achieve your vision if you don’t know what it is. A good place to start is figuring out what are the things that will stand the test of time. The ideals, principles, or values you want to be the foundation of your business regardless of what your business actually does. It does not need to be displayed on a wall. It doesn’t need to be a catchy word or acronym. What it needs to be is real, genuine, and what you want your company to be about at the core. Then your business will live its own version of “RICH”.

    What do you think? If you have a mission-vision-values statement, do you live it? Do your employees? If asked, can your employees recite/explain it? I would enjoy hearing your thoughts and how this impacts your business – talk back in the comments below.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    24 Apr


    Even extremely successful business owners have issues they don’t want to deal with – they think  “I’ll do it tomorrow”, and tomorrow is the day that never comes.  Some things just fall into that category of ‘I need to put this off’.

    Do you ever find yourself sliding important issues you really don’t want to deal with further down your priority list?  You’d rather work on something less painful, less stressful, and less exhausting than dealing with the “that issue” right now.

    For business owners this can be a dangerous trap to get caught in. Yes, it can be easy to justify doing other tasks you’re accomplishing in lieu of “that issue”. There are always plenty of other things to do and if you’re even halfway creative, you can put something you don’t want to do off indefinitely.  This trap can happen even if you’ve got a team working for you – maybe it’s the kind of thing you can’t delegate or maybe you just recognize that if you don’t want to do it, then it’s not really fair to pass the buck.

    At one point in my career, the inevitable employee termination was “that issue” for me. When all other options were exhausted and additional training and coaching was not going to change the unavoidable outcome…I knew I had to fire someone. But even after all of that, I found reasons to delay, to make other tasks more important.  Of course bad news doesn’t get better with time, so eventually experience taught me that pulling the trigger was not something I could put off until tomorrow.  It wasn’t helping anyone to delay (including the employee) by finding excuses not to address it.

    What are you putting off until ‘tomorrow’?

    Businesses are different, businesses are the same.

    Think about this…

    Have you ever noticed most business books and business articles resonate with the majority of business owner regardless of the industry? You read the book and it’s like the author must have secretly visited your business! The reason is that, although every business may have challenges that are unique, there are a number of cross industry issues that nearly every for-profit business deals with, yours included.

    Many of the best sellers are simply a rehash of the same topics in a different wrapper. The reason the books continue to sell is because the issues are real and if you don’t pay attention to them your business may not survive. The authors know it and their audience knows it. Despite the importance and understanding…ironically, businesses continue to find ways to keep these kinds of topics in limbo; Just put it off until tomorrow!

    If this scenario sounds familiar, maybe it is time to identify what’s been getting put off your plate and act on it. Move it to the top of your priority list. You owe it to your business, your customers, and your employees. You and your business will be healthier for it.

    Easier said than done right?

    Looking for help?

    One of the best ways to step up and address the hard issues is to get some support.  If you would like to do this with other business owners – business peers who share common issues, then you should check out the Aspire Business Growth Program.  Get into an environment with other successful business owners and lead your company through those recurring topics you keep reading about. But this time, instead of just learning, you will also write your own chapter of successfully implementing a solution! Move “that issue” from tomorrow to today. You can do it! We guarantee you’ll be glad you did.

    What are the things in your business you find yourself putting off until tomorrow?  Share  your thoughts in the comments below.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    19 Mar


    We have all been there at one time or another, the “To-do list” looks more like a novel than a manageable list of activities to complete before week’s end. Suddenly your Friday spills over into Saturday, and then Sunday. Monday morning has you fighting to catch your breath and the week is just getting started.

    If this is striking a chord, it may be time to take a good hard look at your Delegate-o-Meter. You know this meter. It shows just how well you’re doing at finding other able bodied people to do repeatable tasks that for whatever reason you continue to do yourself.  Doing too many things on your own…without delegating?  You’re wasting time and your Delegate-o-meter should be ringing.  We often see this with business owners. The funny thing is, once you identify tasks that could be delegated to other people we have a hard time coming up with reasons why they are still doing them.

    “No person will make a Great Business who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit.”    – Andrew Carnegie

    There are a lot of reasons to not want to delegate (none of them very good…).  Some of it is often rooted in the “I can do it better myself” mentality. Maybe it is a matter of trust, knowledge, or proper training. Maybe it is simply, because that is how they have always done it. The point is it really doesn’t matter, if you are doing tasks that could be performed by another person (employee, 3rd party, virtual, or other) who’s value per hour is less than yours you are limiting your business.  And you don’t get to play the “I’m the owner…so my time is free” card.  Typically tasks are delegated to employees or staff – which is where you should consider “value” and not just “cost per hour”.  You have to factor in the actual cost and the opportunity cost – when you are performing a task someone else could be doing, you are not performing a task only you can do. And that is costing you money.

    “Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere as long as the policy you’ve decided upon is being carried out.”    – Ronald Reagan

    There are few leaders in this world who have achieved any notable level of success without learning the importance of delegating along the way. So this week as you go about your business turn on your Delegate-o-Meter. Be mindful of all the tasks you are performing that could be delegated and make a list. At the end of the week, prioritize them by the value per hour you are spending on them. I think you know the next step from there! If not, give us a call.

    Please feel free to share any successes you have had with delegating and how it has impacted you in the comments below.

    Chris Steinlage  Kansas City Business Coach

    06 Feb


    How would you like your business to perform 259% better than your competitors?  What if there was one thing (albeit a major thing) that you, as a business owner, could do that would create this huge competitive advantage?  Would you do it?

    Surprisingly, you probably wouldn’t.  Most business owners don’t view this approach as a real ‘competitive advantage’ – instead writing it off as touchy feely and not important.

    The advantage I’m talking about is employee engagement…or being a great place to work and it’s illustrated by the performance of Fortune’s Top 100 Great Places to Work business versus their peers in the Russell 3000 stock index.  Granted small businesses don’t trade on a stock exchange, but it’s not a stretch to assume those results reflect the underlying performance of the companies.  Check out the performance comparisons below:

    Equally impressive, Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For experience less than 50% of turnover compared to their peers…across all industries!

    Of course it’s one thing to appreciate how engaged employees…and being a Great Place to Work could  make a difference in results, but the real challenge is figuring how to build that kind of environment for your own business.

    One place to look might be what’s going on at Zappos – a hugely successful company built around a company culture of service and delivering ‘wow!’.  Zappos went from almost going under after the Dot-Com bust in 2001 / 2002 to generating over a $1 Billion in revenue less than 8 years later.  Since that time, they’ve been purchased by Amazon for $1.2 Billion – primarily as a model on how to really implement an amazing company culture.

    According to Tony Hsieh – the CEO of Zappos and the author of the best selling Delivering Happiness, the essence of what it takes to be happy in general boils down to 4 things:

    • Perceived Control (ability to make things happen)
    • Perceived Progress (ability to get better)
    • Connectedness (the number and depth of your relationships)
    • Being part of something bigger than yourself

    This ties in well with Daniel Pink’s Motivation 3.0 Model that he outlines in the book ‘Drive’.  The Motivation 3.0 model uses 3 key components as the drivers for motivation:

    • Autonomy (ability to make things happen, decision making control)
    • Mastery (ability to get better, develop skills that are important to me)
    • Purpose (opportunity to work on something exciting that’s bigger than just me)

    The underlying assumption here is that happy employees are motivated employees are engaged employees who have a great place to work.  In other words, all of these things tie together.

    How do you apply this to your business?

    For most business owners, adopting this new motivation model or building a strong company culture around things that will make employees happy seems almost impossible.  It’s definitely hard to make major changes, but the good news is that you don’t have to change everything at once, you can make incremental changes at your own pace.

    Here are few things you should consider doing to get started:

    Get to know your employees!

    Do an employee survey that will help you learn more about what your employees think, what makes them tick, where they want to go and what kinds of things would motivate them.  In a smaller business you have the ability to really get to know everyone on a more personal basis – you still need to keep a professional distance, but the more you build a real relationship the more you will be able to engage them and find out what makes them go.

    Delegate authority!

    This is something you have to do anyway if you want to grow your business, but for the purposes of motivating your employees, you should brainstorm decisions that your employees should be making without you.  In a call center environment that might mean giving your call center representatives the ability to ‘make the customer happy’ with whatever means are necessary…up to a certain dollar amount. 

    For other employees, identify ongoing decisions that have historically been escalated to management and ownership and figure out how to push those decisions down to the working level as much as possible.  Obviously you can’t just hope everything works out, so you’ll want controls and reporting in place, but your employees can and want to own more responsibility (and if they don’t you should get rid of them).

    Involve employees in planning!

    A big part of engagement is having everyone buy into where the company is going and how they’re going to get there.  As the owner you have the responsibility to lead the way, but that shouldn’t translate to a command and control approach, rather you should be leveraging your employees skills and experience to help you come up with great ideas.  Hold regular planning and status meetings with employees – done right these are very empowering and productive…and critical to keeping everyone engaged.

    Consider flexible work arrangements!

    If you’re like most business owners I know, you work a ton of hours but you would be very unlikely to go back to taking a job…even for good money.  Why?  A big part of the reason is the flexibility you have as the owner.  You work a lot of hours, but you (generally) have complete control over what hours you work.  Guess what – your employees would love that kind of flexibility as well!  Obviously different industries and different businesses will require different hours of operations, but there’s likely a lot more flexibility that’s possible than what you’re currently doing.  Brainstorm how you could pass along some of that to your employees.

    It’s not easy, but it’s worth it!

    Clearly rolling out significant changes on how you operate your business is not an easy thing to do, but the upside is clearly there.  If you have a business where every employee is engaged, on the same page and helping to make things happen, you will routinely be blowing your competitors out of the water…which will translate directly to the bottom line!

    What changes could you roll out in your business in the next few months?  Which of these ideas resonated with you and made you think ‘hmmm…’?  What ideas did I miss?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback – share them in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach