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  • Aspire » Leadership

    03 Sep


    As a business owner do you ever feel like you’re struggling to hang on by your fingernails?  Most of us have been there at one time or another – in fact it turns out there are some predictable reasons why you might be at risk for having your business fall off the cliff.

    If you haven’t had a chance to check out Jim Collins latest book ‘Great By Choice’, you’re missing out on a new business classic. (I just did a Business Book Review on the book and if you can pull together 8 to 10 people – I’d be willing to talk about doing a Business Book Review for you if you don’t have time to read it).

    Like all of Collins books, Great By Choice is grounded in research and analysis…in fact it took a team of 20+ researchers 9 years to develop the conclusions in the book.  Their goal was to answer the question:

    Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not?

    Using a bunch of data and a very scientific approach they identified a handful of very successful companies who dominated in chaotic, uncertain industries…and they identified their counterparts who…fell off the cliff.

    The really interesting part came out of figuring out what these companies did (or did not do) compared to their failing peer companies.  Did they innovate more?  Did they have a better crystal ball?  Did they work a lot harder? Take more risks? Were they just luckier?  The answers were surprising and generally not what you’d expect.  Collins and his team focus on what to do to succeed, but there’s another clear message here: if you aren’t following these ideas, you’re likely to fail (and fall off the cliff).

    What are the concepts that lead to success or failure?

    1. Slow and steady wins the race

    It’s not as cliché as it sounds. Collins and his team discovered that the successful companies all shared a strategy that he dubbed the ‘20 Mile March’.  They used fanatic discipline to insure they made healthy progress every single year based on a key performance indicator.  As an example, at Stryker the CEO imposed ‘the law’ that the company would achieve 20% net income growth every year.  During the 21 years of the CEO’s tenure, the company hit that goal over 90% of the time.  Equally important…the company pulled back on growth many times during that period in order to stay in control.  The idea is to stretch, but not too far.

    Question:  Do you have a clear, easy to follow stretch goal that your entire team is completely focused on every year?  Do you have the discipline to hold back on opportunities when things are going very well?

    2. Try before you buy

    Before you buy an expensive car, you’re going to take a test drive.  Before you buy new music from a band, you listen to samples online.  Collins discovered that the successful companies rarely jumped into unproven ideas.  Instead they would find creative ways to try things out on a small scale…and if the results made sense, then (and only then) they would jump in with both feet and execute strongly.

    The unsuccessful companies did things differently – they would identify a new idea, talk it through, maybe do a focus group and if they thought it looked worthwhile…on paper…they would make a big investment and hope for the best.  Their odds of success were low (much lower than the successful companies who did actual trials) and the cost of the failures were a big reason why these companies didn’t succeed in the long run.

    Question:  Are you trying things on a small scale before you make those big bets?  Are you in a position to really be able to track your results in a way that’s meaningful?

    3. Live within your means

    The ‘Great Recession’ has recently taught this lesson to everyone all over again.  Houses don’t always increase in value, bad things can happen to anyone at any time and if you owe a lot of money for credit cards or loans, you are in a very risky position without many options.

    It turns out those lessons don’t just apply to families, they also apply to large companies.  Collins and his teams discovered that the successful companies were ‘productively paranoid’ – hoping for the best, but planning for the worst.  They kept their debt levels extremely low and made sure not to over-extend, even if that meant passing up on great market opportunities.  The unsuccessful companies ran just the opposite – leveraging everything they could at every turn and hoping and praying that nothing bad happened…which of course eventually it always will.

    Question:  Are you clear on how much ‘Runway’ you and your company would have if things suddenly went south?  Are you constantly scrambling to make payroll?  What could you do to start building up some reserves?

    4. Follow the recipe for success

    If you’ve ever tried to cook something from memory without the recipe…then you know it can be a dicey result.  Everything might turn out fine…or it all might go horribly wrong.  A proper recipe is based on someone trying something and documenting what worked and what didn’t.  Without following the recipe, you’re open to random outcomes and a lot of time spent re-inventing the wheel.

    Every one of the successful companies had their own recipe for success.  A fairly short, simple list of rules of what they do…and just as importantly what they don’t do.  More importantly, once the companies identified the keys to success…they didn’t mess with them.  They consistently executed and stayed focused without changing the recipe.  The failed companies sometimes used a recipe, but were very likely to make big changes as they went…negating any long term benefits.

    Question: Do you have a simple list (written down) of rules that everyone follows?  Do you know what drives your success?  Does your team know?

    5. Don’t be a victim

    The research team went to the unusual measure of studying luck…and it turns out, luck, both good and bad, happens to everyone in pretty much the same amounts.  The real difference in long term success lies in your reaction to luck.  When the successful companies had bad luck, they were prepared (because they planned for the worst) and they took charge of their response and didn’t play the victim.  Conversely when they had good luck, they had the discipline to take a measured response and they executed…within their means.

    The failed companies tended to blame the world when things didn’t go well.  And they tended to be unable to follow through successfully when things rolled their way.  In short…

    “They didn’t fail for lack of good luck; they failed for lack of superb execution.”

    Question:  What’s your reaction to luck?  Are you likely to play the victim?  Do you have plans in place that will help you overcome bad luck?  How about to take advantage of good luck?

    There are lots of ways you and your company can fall off a cliff, but if you consciously adopt these 5 behaviors, your odds will be stacked towards long term success.  Much of this is common sense…but it turns out that common sense really isn’t so common any more.

    Which of these traits do you most identify with?  Which one do you need to work on?  We’d love to hear your thoughts – leave them in the comments below if you get a chance.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

    photo by Elsie esq.

    16 Jul


    Photo by Striatic

    Have you ever felt like you just can’t get through to some people?  That the line of communication just isn’t working?  It’s frustrating on a personal level, but it can be a killer when it comes to small business success!

    Of course the best time to work on a potential issue is before it actually becomes a problem.  With that in mind, one of my clients recently asked about doing a team assessment and communication exercise to help get everyone closer to the same wavelength.  We decided to use Extended DISC assessments and a Team Analysis as a tool to educate everyone and get the ball rolling towards better communication.

    What is Extended DISC?

    If you’re not familiar with Extended DISC, it’s a behavioral assessment tool that’s based on extensive research that goes all the way back to the early 1900s with the first formal assessments in the 1950s.  Variations of DISC have been used by millions all over the world and have been proven effective across all languages and cultures.  At Aspire we’ve found Extended DISC to be an easy, cost effective tool that quickly helps people understand their behavioral style…and with the Team Analysis they will also understand the overall make-up of their co-workers and the team in general.

    The core behind all of DISC type assessments is a 4 quadrant model (as seen below) that uses a fairly simple set of questions to place where you fit on the matrix.  As you can see, the different quadrants behave and look at things very differently.


    As an example, someone who is a high ‘D’ style (which fits a lot of entrepreneurs) tends to be very decisive and demanding and they are comfortable moving forward without all of the facts.  By contrast, someone who is a high ‘C’ style wants needs to have all of the details and take the time to process things.  If you put a high ‘D’ and a high ‘C’ in a room together, there are guaranteed to be issues unless one or both of them is willing to adapt their natural styles.

    What my Client learned

    Through this process, a few things really jumped out for my client and to his team.

    1. Not a balanced team:  A quick glance at the team analysis showed the business owner on the right side of the matrix (denoting a focus on people and the big picture)…and every other person on the team on the left side (denoting a focus on tasks and details).  The team works as it is for now, but they are missing some important perspectives.  Long term it would be best to have all of the quadrants covered by the employees…which may drive to some different priorities for the next new hire for this group.

    2. Need to address differences:  Because there is such a sharp difference in style between the business owner and all of the employees, it’s important for the owner and the employees to recognize those style differences and adjust accordingly.  As an example, the owner…true to his style…doesn’t focus on details in client meetings, so it’s critical that someone else is responsible for the appropriate documentation and follow-up for those clients.

    3. A chance to understand themselves:  The other big take-away for everyone was a great opportunity to do some introspection and understand their own behavioral style.  If you’re going to improve communications with others, the first thing you have to understand is your own natural tendencies.

    All in all, it was a very productive session and it’s going to give the entire team an ongoing opportunity to openly talk about how to be more effective and productive.  Check out this link if you’d like to learn more about Extended DISC.  If you’d be interested in doing this kind of session for your team – Contact Us and we’d be glad to talk about how this could help you in more detail.

    What’s your experience with assessments and using them to improve communications?  Have you used this approach before?  If so, what did you think?  We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach

    09 Jul


    On Tuesday evening, July 10th, 2012, baseball fans around the world will watch the annual Midsummer Classic – the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. With Kansas City as the host city this year, it’s a tremendous time for people all across the entire region to stand a little taller, show your pride, and take ownership of the slogan the Royals organization has been chanting for months. “This is Our Time”.

    For the people of Kansas City this truly has been a time to showcase what makes our little part of world special. In the 40 years since Kansas City hosted an All-Star game a lot has changed, but for the most part, the heart of the people, what makes the Midwest a great place at it’s core, has remained unchanged. It has been inspiring to see how the entire metro area has rolled out the red carpet in preparation for this event. For anyone in the area, it really is a time to be proud.

    It is also pretty safe to predict that many businesses in Kansas City will set 5 day attendance records that may never again broken (unless one day we host the Superbowl…it is fun to dream!) That achievement alone is an All-Star accomplishment, but what would make a business an All-Star? What about your business? Is your business an All-Star?

    Webster’s defines…

    All-Stars: ….as…outstanding performers or participants.

    Business: …as…commercial or mercantile activity (producing) a means of livelihood

    So an “All-Star Business” would simply be an outstanding performing business producing a means of livelihood. Sounds simple enough, but the opportunity lies in uncovering how an “average business” makes that jump to “outstanding All-Star”?

    Could three Baseball Legends provide the key?

    Maybe…Let’s simply inject a business word twist on comments from three of the greatest baseball players in history; Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Sandy Koufax. See what happens when you swap the underlined word with the business twist. Warning! Consistent execution of the results could create an All-Star Business.

    “My ability to fully focus on what I had to do on a daily basis made me the successful player (business owner) I was”    – Hank Aaron.

    The ability to focus and prioritize what’s really important definitely lies at the heart of long term success!  Do you and your team have a clear, consistent focus on what’s really important?

    The way a team plays (works together) as a whole determines its success.  You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play (work) together, the club (business) won’t be worth a dime.  – Babe Ruth

    Many an entrepreneur learns this lesson the hard way.  It’s your passion and expertise that allows you to start the business, but if you don’t learn how to make it a team game and get everyone working together, you’re not going to get very far.  Are you using all of the strengths from every member of your team?  Is everyone on the same page?

    I became a good pitcher (business owner) when I stopped trying to make them miss the ball (talking) and started trying to make them hit it (listening).                     – Sandy Koufax

    It’s exhausting and not practical to force your will as a business owner onto every aspect of the business.  As the leader it’s your job to set the direction…and then listen to your team on the best way to make that happen.  Are you listening and engaging or commanding and controlling?

    So what do you think? How does your business align with these three ideals once you cast them in a business light? Are you on your way to becoming a Business All-Star?

    It is time for all us to say, “This is our Time!” and start creating more Business All-Stars!  We hope you have enjoyed the All-Star Events. Feel free to share any thoughts you have on this in the space below. Your comments are always welcome.

    Chris Steinlage        Kansas City Business Coach

    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