Bula Business Builders: Helping Small Business Owners Hit The Trifecta

Every night while sitting in the front of the TV I’d open a large accordion file where I kept manufacturers’ literature on high-fidelity stereo gear. The file was alphabetized with a slot for every letter. Advent speaker literature went into the A. Thorens turntables into the T slot. I started this habit while in junior high because I loved music and the gear used to play my favorite records. All this cool equipment was far beyond my means, but nightly I’d look at all the features and specs and dream. I’d visit stereo stores as often as possible to hear systems I could only dream about owning. Glorious! That’s what it was to sit down in a listening room to hear a record the way it should be heard. Full fidelity. I’d leave each store with whatever new product literature was missing from my growing collection. 

A passion for music and stereo gear propelled me to walk into a stereo store when I was 16. No selling experience. No real work experience except manual labor for my dad’s business, home construction. Stepping and fetching mostly and cleaning completed construction. Not exactly the kind of work that would make your heart rate increase, except due to exhaustion. 

Somehow I wound up in front of the owner of this stereo store – a store with four sound rooms, each armed with those 70s fixtures, sliding glass patio doors. Sitting in his office he began to grill me about products, including products his store didn’t carry. I quickly was able to answer all his questions, including the only one I still remember. “What do the model numbers of Marantz receivers represent?” No problem. I knew the answer, “Their wattage per channel.” He hired me right there. My first real job working for a small business owner. Straight commission. I was hooked.

In 2007 I formally began to serve small business owners. Years of being in the trenches of working to achieve the trifecta of business building compelled me to serve “my people.” People with whom I have more in common than probably any other segment of business people. Small business is close to my heart. Admittedly, I’m biased heavily in favor of the entrepreneur working hard to make a difference in their part of the world. 

In 1984 I was 27 years old. I was a couple of years into my first #1 leadership role running a business with $14M in annual revenue. The trifecta of business building became a reality sitting in my office one morning battling the issues of the day. As I pondered a variety of challenges that day I had a rare epiphany, all my challenges in running a small business could be distilled into three categories – the three things that were most important in operating a successful enterprise.

Getting new customers

Serving existing customers better

Not going crazy in the process


Nothing else mattered. I began to think of my business that way. Every action fits into one or more of the categories. From purchasing to merchandising, to cash flow management, to profit margins, to personnel, to operational efficiencies…you name it, I could instantly make it fit. 

Over the years as I encountered other operators of small businesses I learned that we shared similar frustrations and challenges. But I also learned that if I was going to achieve stellar results – I was never satisfied with being good…I wanted to be remarkable – I’d have to do something others weren’t doing. Perhaps I’d have to avoid doing what others were doing. Sometimes you have to be like Captain Kirk of Star Trek and go where nobody has gone before. Besides, it’s fun!

Helping small business owners is a passion. Coaching city government leaders is also a passion. These days, they’re more congruent than you may think because they’re both about high impact influence. I define leadership simply as influence and doing for others what they’re unable to do for themselves. And both small business operators and city government leaders must excel at that. Both have their own challenges and while the trifecta of business building isn’t exactly in play with city government, parts of it sure are – serving existing customers (citizens) better and not going crazy in the process. 

The work is completely relationship-based. It’s never transactional for me because I’m just not a transactional guy. I value transactions – people who decide to buy – but I’m not the guy able to take people’s money, deliver a product and service, then be done! Nothing bad about doing that, it’s just not what moves me most. What moves me most is seeing the story unfold – establishing an ongoing relationship of some sort. I’m not talking about becoming best friends or intruding into people’s lives, but I’m driven to make a positive difference, a difference I’d like to see as I watch clients and customers put in the hard work to grow, improve and change! Nothing is more rewarding. 

Getting New Customers

Every small business needs new customers in order to thrive. Horror stories abound of small (even mid-sized) businesses who relied too much on a single or few customers. A small candy manufacturer landed a major retailer. They threw a party and figured their future was secure. The initial purchase order for the big customer was the largest they’d ever had. A game changer! They ramped up production to meet the demands of their new customer, who paid them clockwork. Major investments were made in production equipment and additional shifts were hired to meet the demands. Explosive growth fueled their euphoria. 

By the third series of purchase orders, things changed. The big-box retailer told them how much they’d pay, a significantly lower price than before. It was pricing that put a serious cramp on the profit margins of the little manufacturer. What do you do? They felt they had no choice but to meet the demands of the higher price. By leaning too heavily on one customer, they put their entire company at risk. And the story didn’t end well for them. They neglected the first of the trifecta – you must continue to get new customers!

Serving Existing Customers Better

Few things are more valuable than building a solid customer base – a base of loyal, repeat customers. Small business owners quickly discover how much easier it is to get a customer to come back than to get a brand new customer. It costs less. It fuels more word-of-mouth. There are many benefits to serving existing customers better!

Give them something to talk about. Jeffrey Gitomer is famous for saying people can say one of three things about you: something good, something bad, or nothing. And it’s up to you what they say! He’s right. So why not give people something good to say about your business?

This part of the trifecta impacts operations, which translate not to just existing customers, but every facet of the enterprise. This is where businesses must focus on systems and processes that produce predictable results. Consistently. Without fail. 

Too often the exceptions are the rule for small businesses. It doesn’t have to be that way. If we’d approach our small businesses like airlines or fast-food chains, we need to figure out to deliver superior service every single time.

This is THE key to high performance – deciding it’s what you’ll do, and who you’ll become. Sounds simple I know, but it’s true. And simple. Not easy, but simple!

Think of the worst experiences you’d have as a customer. For many of us, it may have to do with a cell phone or TV service provider. Enormous companies with lots of resources. Companies that mostly choose to be transactional, not caring if you’re happy or not because they figure saving a dollar trumps making you happy. “We’re no worse than anybody else,” is an unofficial battle cry for such companies. 

Google the various reviews of companies and you’ll see page after page of horrible stories, stories of NOT serving existing customers well. Rather, treating paying customers poorly. And because they thrive anyway, they can be lulled into feeling good about themselves. Maybe they’ll survive. Maybe not. Deep pockets help insure feeling safe. Small business owners don’t have that luxury. And that’s a good thing. No, that’s a great thing. It’s why innovation happens in small businesses. And why patrons enjoy supporting small businesses. 

Comedian Steve Martin gave a famous answer to the question about how to become a famous comedian: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” Let that be our mantra as small businesses. We want customers to become clients, repeat customers.

Not Go Crazy In The Process

This part of the trifecta may be the hardest to achieve, but it’s doable. Small business owners who have plenty of new customers and who are serving existing customers well may find themselves sacrificing their entire life. Too many small business owners have given up marriages, children, and health as they worked to make their company thrive. Worth it? Well, each person can decide for themselves, but I don’t think so. Our sanity, and our health and relationships matter!

It’s common to encounter small business operators who truly believe this leg of the trifecta may be impossible. That’s only because my favorite quote is in play…

Everything is hard until it’s easy.

Seeing things more clearly – or seeing things for the first time – requires hard work. But hard doesn’t mean impossible. Like going to the gym for the first time in years and using muscles that haven’t been pushed in a long time, it can make you sore. And tired. But if you’ll persist, strength will come. What began as hard will become easier. 

It pains me to see small business operators struggle in any of these three components of the business building trifecta, but this one is especially painful. The human toll on a small business operator, and the staff, and family, and friends is enormous. Financial rewards are worthwhile pursuits, but don’t be fooled into thinking they’re more valuable than the people you love – and the ones who you love. 

Can You Have It All?

No. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that every business owner can hit the trifecta. Most won’t, but many will. Some will figure it out by hit and miss (mostly miss). Others will hit on something at just the right time, fearful people will figure out they got lucky. Others will figure out that their accelerated growth is easily worth investing in some help – somebody who can help them figure things out more quickly. Somebody capable of helping them make the most of their resources while giving them more time and opportunities. 

You don’t have to have it all. You just want more of what you want and less of what you don’t. That IS possible. But you have to decide for yourself. You have to make up your mind about what you want and how determined you are to achieve your ideal outcome

Our work dubbed Bula Business Builders isn’t about us achieving our ideal outcome. It’s about YOU achieving your ideal outcome. Ideal outcomes change and that’s fine. When I was 35 I wanted a very different outcome than the one I want today. And the one I want today is different from the one I wanted just a year ago. Clarity of our ideal outcomes is important along every phase of our life. It’s a journey with an intent focus on the destination. We have places we want to reach in our lives and in our businesses. Like kids in the car moaning, “Are we there yet?” — we hope to enjoy the ride, but we’re headed to a destination that beckons us. We want what we want. Bula Business Builders is bent on helping you get to where you most want to go. And working feverishly to help you there faster!

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

Rest & Rejuvenation: How Stepping Away Can Improve Perspective and Performance

Now that the 30-Day Micro Leadership Course is complete I’m going to keep my word and step away for a bit. As I prepare to shut things down for a while I’ve been thinking about rest, rejuvenation, revival, recreation, and all the various things we can do to help ourselves improve. Last week I was talking with a couple of people about the things they do to catch their breath. We’re all pretty driven people and all of us are experienced, mature leaders (that means we’re all in our late 50s or early 60s). 😉 “What’s the longest you’ve ever stepped away?” I asked. There was a lot of mental calculating going on as we all tried to remember our various vacations and time away from the daily workload. Nobody answered so I asked, “Have either of you taken off 2 weeks straight…or more?” The answer to that came almost instantly. From both of them. “No, never!” “Me neither,” I answered. 

Then for the next few minutes, the conversation was solely about why taking extended time away is a bad idea. I pushed back, even though I had no clue what I was really talking about because I’ve never taken more than one week off. Even so, I wasn’t sold on their logic that the cost of coming back was so high. I questioned if they had mental blocks about being gone, fearful they might not be missed. Or worse, fearful things might go even better in their absence. They chuckled and claimed that would be wonderful if that were the case. 

Well, that was too much of a lob pitch for me. I had to swing for the fences and asked us to all talk about what it might take in order to make sure our absences improved things while we were gone. I don’t manage a team these days, but I’ve spent my career doing it so we constructed scenarios of what we might need to do to prepare for such a reality. 

What about you?

What do you do for rest and rejuvenation? 

Do you find yourself not wanting to step away for fear of “fill-in-the-blank?”

It’s worth wrestling to the ground so you can figure it out. But today, think about how stepping away can improve things for you. And your leadership. 

Sometimes it’s not about doing nothing. It’s not necessarily about playing either. It could just be about a change of scenery. 

This past Sunday afternoon I was watching Dallas’ own Matthew Stafford soundly defeat Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay team. While the skill surrounding Stafford is substantially different, the change of leaving a basement-dwelling NFL team like Detroit for the sunny outlook of a talented Los Angeles Chargers’ team has clearly given Stafford new life. The TV crew commented how Stafford, in spite of years of NFL experience, has never been in a game of such magnitude as playing against the defending Super Bowl champions and Tom Brady.

It may be that your career is stuck because you’re struggling with a losing culture, or teammates who lack the competence to excel. I’m optimistic, but I’m not crazy. Not everybody can be or do anything they put their mind to. I know their moms all told them that was true, but moms can be too nice! 😉

Henry is a supervisor for a small manufacturing company. He’s been there almost 5 years and confesses he’s hated almost every moment of it. When I ask why he stays, he says because he’s long thought he could influence the outcome, but now he’s pretty convinced it’s a losing effort. The details are heartbreaking. Here’s a highly motivated manager who described years of building a team he has supreme faith in. They’ve proven their effectiveness and efficiency in spite of upper management’s ineptness. I ask, “Is your team the reason you stay?” “Absolutely,” he admits. These people are doing great work and Henry used to be convinced the culture of his team would be contagious. It never happened. Henry now seems convinced it’s a lost cause. 

I don’t know what he’ll do, but it’s evident something needs to change so Henry can remedy being stuck. He’s anxious for growth and improvement. And in this economy, he realizes the opportunities may be at the highest of his short career. I challenge him to avoid being jaded and urge him to figure it out sooner than later by accepting responsibility for his own outcomes. The last thing I want to see is a young leader lose heart before he turns 30. Henry may decide a change will do him good. Such dilemmas have nothing to do with vacations or time away. Even a 2-week vacation won’t remedy Henry’s problems. 

But a vacation might help Henry figure out what his next steps should be. Rest and rejuvenation are largely internal, self-induced awareness benefits. 

Exactly 3 years ago, in October 2018, my wife and I stepped away for a few days. It wasn’t even a week. Our family experienced a crisis that required a change of scenery so we could figure some things out. Mostly, we just needed to process some things because there weren’t really actions to take. Could we have done it staying home? Maybe, but it was hard and we felt like that old Southwest Airlines commercial punch line, “Wanna get away?” Yes, we did. 

We went away where we could be out in the woods, walk trails and get away from the hustle of the city. It didn’t remedy our pain, but it gave us improved coping skills. Things didn’t magically improve, but our mental strength and our spiritual resolve grew. Had we not made that trip I know our struggle would have been even more severe. 

Even if life is just ordinary – whatever that means – and the pressures aren’t abnormally great, stepping away can give us a new viewpoint because our mind shifts focus. It’s the same power as those morning shower moments when some folks claim their best ideas happen. It’s the power of getting unstuck! Getting our minds off their current, or ordinary course can help us see and think differently. Better. 

Catching our breath is required whenever we’re winded. However, when it comes to our careers we don’t often know we’re winded. Some of us – my generation is especially guilty – think there’s some medal given for battling through adversity without giving up. Or quitting. Even if it’s just quitting for a week or two to take time off. 

Spending more time at work versus spending more time with family and loved ones. I’m not debating those issues. I happen to think the people we love – and our obligations to them – matter more than our careers. But truth is, they both matter. And it’s not a contest. We’re mostly greedy. We want both to be great. We’d rather not sacrifice either one. But if we look at it merely from the perspective of how our lives are improved, there’s no arguing how getting away, looking at someplace new, experiencing something out of the ordinary, and shaking up our daily routine helps clear our vision and strengthen our resilience. 

“Getting our minds off” a thing can help us become more creative in figuring out that thing. It’s counterintuitive, but we’ve all experienced it. A family gathers for a meal after a funeral. There’s crying, but there’s also laughter. People reminisce. They joke. Collectively they deal with the tension in their own individual and collective ways. It’s grief management by not sitting alone quietly falling to pieces. And there are likely some of those moments, too. 

It’s all a process. Grief. Handling situations. Figuring things out. But I’ll tell you the benefit I’ve discovered in stepping away. Having no point. Which is completely the opposite of my coaching focus with clients – the pursuit of the ideal outcome. Stepping away, for me, is the pursuit of no outcome. I just want to be. In the moment. And see what happens. Removing the pressure to figure things out has the magical effect of helping me figure things out. The lower I can get my expectations, the better. Which is ridiculously hard for (another benefit of getting away). 

As I enter a short, but hopefully productive fallow period, I’m working hard to reduce or eliminate my expectations. I know if I can do that, even for a few days, it’ll pay off. It always does. Besides, life will still be here when I get back – and no, I won’t be dreading that. If I did, I’d figure out a way to do something else that I wouldn’t dread. So there’s that! 

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

30-Day Micro Leadership Course (September 30th 2021)

Session 30. We’re completing this short 30-Day Micro Leadership Course. My goal when we began was to provoke thoughts, beliefs, and actions. Mostly, I wanted to help you challenge yourself and your enterprise to higher human performance! My role isn’t to tell you what to do, or how to do it. My role is to help you figure it out. I want to help you see more clearly and take positive actions that will move you forward. Always forward!

So with that, let’s wrap up our 30 days together in this course. No, it’s not the end of this podcast. It’s just the end of this 30-day series. I’ll be taking a break after today so don’t panic if you don’t hear from me for a week or two. That’ll give you an opportunity to catch up and perhaps go back to review episodes of this course that most resonated with you – or the ones that you felt might be most needed. 

Pursuing The Ideal Outcome

This is the objective of all this work. We’ve mostly learned how beneficial it is, to begin with the end in view. Everybody says it and claims to practice it, but in my experience, very few people put in the work to detail it out. When pressed, people find it challenging to articulate or specify in writing their ideal outcome

Put in the work. Sit down and write down your ideal outcome. Your leadership will never exceed your willingness, courage, and dedication to improve.

Be detailed and specific. You’re not etching it in stone. Ideal outcomes are always subject to change because life happens. Our circumstances and situations change. People come and go in our life. Relationships change. Some grow. Others diminish. Many factors impact our ideal outcome so give yourself permission to go with it and change it as needed. This is your life and your career. Take control of it. Remember, you’re writing a hero story, not a victim story. Construct your ideal outcome accordingly. 

It’s The People Who Matter!

Leadership has an obvious point. It’s relationships with people. I’ve been beating the drum of leadership being all about influence and doing for others what they’re unable to do for themselves. The beneficiary of each of these activities is OTHERS. But more precisely, it’s about your ability to relate well to others. 

High-performing enterprises behave differently. They’re willing to do what others aren’t. They behave differently because they think and believe differently. Those thoughts and beliefs drive them to act differently. And it impacts all the relationships. Vendors, suppliers, strategic partners, employees, leaders, management, customers – all these relationships are superior in high-performing organizations. That makes an enormous difference in the outcomes. 

Part of relationship building is mutual benefit. One-sided relationships aren’t tolerated in high-performance cultures. That is, a person unwilling or unable to contribute isn’t tolerated. Suppliers unwilling to meet the expectations aren’t either. Up and down and throughout the operation, relationships must be beneficial, not detrimental. 

There is a relentless pursuit of the ideal outcome coupled with compassion where judgment is focused on the honest pursuit of the ideal outcome. That doesn’t mean everybody is perfect. Mistakes will be made. Errors will happen. But in the context of learning, growing and trying things. Innovation will always be fraught with imperfection as we pursue perfection. The relationships are forged in willingness, intention, and wisdom. Relationships are damaged by unwillingness, selfishness and foolishness. 

From employees to customers and every relationship in between, high-performing organizations raise the bar over which everybody must jump. Expectations are highest in excellent organizations. 

The rich get richer because excellent performers attract more excellent performers. They want to be surrounded by and enjoy a relationship with other excellent people. 

College football is underway as I hit the record button today. This weekend there will be lots of games played. Some teams haven’t had a winning culture in a long time, if ever. We look at the colleges that seem to always find their way to the top of the rankings each year and we could think they’re lucky, they’ve got more resources…we might even think they cheat. We can think whatever we want to think. The reality is success breeds success. So the elite college football programs can recruit better players because better players know if they go to those schools they’ll have better players as teammates. They know they won’t have to worry about having to play with somebody who is unwilling or unable to compete at the highest levels. 

What do your people know? 

Do they know there are weak performers whose low performances are tolerated? Do they know that if they work harder and outperform their teammates, nobody will notice or care? What kind of relationships exist internally and externally? 

Look at every relationship carefully. How do leadership and management relate to the people within the enterprise? How do employees relate to management? Is there trust? Is there safety? 

How are vendor and supplier relationships? Describe them. Are they ideal? Are they true partnerships or are they more adversarial? 

How are your relationships with your customers? 

As you survey all the lines that connect us as humans, think carefully about how you might accurately describe these relationships. How congruent are your descriptions with your ideal outcome? How are you closing the gap to make them more as you’d want?

Predictable Results

Every high-performing organization produces predictable results. Their work is as precise as flying an airliner. Or as precise as a fast-food drive-through. They get it right all the time, with few exceptions. And when there are exceptions, they recover well. 

Things that were once difficult are now easy. Nobody even thinks much about it because processes and systems are in place and people are devoted to following them so the same result occurs over and over and over. Every single time. 

With such an environment in place, people can now get busy tweaking and honing things. Making things more perfect. 

There’s something powerful about making a 1% improvement when you’re already performing at a high level. It’s dramatically more impactful than getting a 25% improvement from a poor performance. Excellent organizations are relentless in making things even better…then better yet still. It’s the game everybody wants to play and win.

Success is a habit. So is losing. That’s why leadership is so important. Somebody has to show us the way forward. Especially when we can’t see it for ourselves. 

Last week I heard a college football coach, Sam Pittman of the University of Arkansas (a team that hasn’t enjoyed much success in recent years but got off a 2-0 start this year) say that when he got the job he made sure he and his coaching staff yelled the loudest in practice when players performed well. That’s a leader who understands the power of relationships and achieving predictable results. He insists that praise and celebration for getting it right outshine the loudness against getting it wrong. 

Excellent organizations focus on finding people doing great work and they celebrate it. Poor, even average organizations, are fixated on catching people doing things wrong. That focus and behavior demonstrate the difference in their outcomes. The one focuses on great predictable results. The other concentrates on mistakes, errors, and mishaps. 

Attend any youth sporting event and you’ll hear parents hollering instructions to their kids. If barking out orders worked, then every kid would be a superstar. But most aren’t. Largely because they’re learning and don’t yet know what the parents “think” they know. In too many instances, the kids will lose whatever love they may have for the game because the adults in their life can’t understand one fundamental truth. A truth that is summed up in my all-time favorite quote, a quote I’ve never been able to trace back to its original author…

Everything is hard until it’s easy.


All the things we’ve talked about in this series are relatively simple. Nothing is complex or difficult to understand. Some things may be tough for you to believe, but belief is your choice based on the evidence. Ignore it if you’d like. Choose to believe whatever you’d like. I’d encourage you to believe the truth and find a way to understand that you and your career can go much further, faster. It’s up to you. Serve yourself and your organization. 

I’m going to end this series with a common story used in my coaching. A simple story to demonstrate the power we each have to choose what we think and what we believe. 

Here in DFW, we have lots of traffic, the hazards of a city with over 7 million people. Road rage is common in big cities. 

Picture yourself on the highway headed to the office. Suddenly, in your rearview mirrors, you see a pickup racing up behind you. The driver whips his truck around you and jumps in front of you irritating you. He races on down the road leaving you alone in your car to fume about his behavior. “What a jerk,” you say out loud (or something much more profane and foul). 😉 

“Who does he think he is.” All kinds of negative emotions sweep over you. If he came close to hitting you, you’re really steamed. 

By the time you arrive at your office, your blood pressure is elevated. Your emotions are high. It was half an hour ago when the pickup cut in front of you and you’re not over it yet. This will linger for as long as you’re willing to give it oxygen. All because it’s up to you. This is your choice. You’re thinking whatever you’re thinking because you choose to think these things. 

Meanwhile, the driver of the pickup has no idea who you are, or how you’re feeling. Your feelings are having no impact on him. You’re only hurting yourself. 

What if you were to think better of that driver? 

“Why would I?” you might say.

Because it’s better for you. Because it serves you more. 

What if that driver were en route to a family emergency? “He wasn’t,” is how most folks reply. “But what if he was. What if you chose to believe that he was?” I’ll say. How are you helped by extending grace to the driver of the pickup? You’re helped in every way. 

I know it’s hard, but it’s helpful. I know it’s not complicated, but it’s not easy to do. 

“How do I do that?” is a pretty common question I field. 

“You decide,” I say. “Just make up your mind that you’re going to choose to think the best because you have no evidence to support how you’re feeling – and even if you do have evidence to think ill of that driver, it won’t do YOU any good.” 

It’s been said that everything is hard. Good things. Bad things. Beautiful things. Ugly things. Things that build up. Things that tear down. Choose your hard. 

That’s right because that’s profitable. It helps us. It influences us and does for us what we otherwise might not be able to do for ourselves. It’s a life of leadership as we work to control our own destiny and write our hero story.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

30-Day Micro Leadership Course (September 29th 2021)

Session 29 in our 30-Day Micro Leadership Course. Let’s keep the ideas flowing about being excellent – not just in our leadership but for our team, group, or organization. Let’s talk about it context of connection, collaboration, and communication. These three C’s are crucial for high-performance and your leadership. 

By now you’ve figured out how to improve the psychological safety in your organization. Without it, there’ll be no good connection. And collaboration and communication will both suffer. These are important factors in measuring performance and whether or not people see it as a “gotcha” tactic versus a scorecard where success can be celebrated. 

Connect with your people individually if possible (as I said in an earlier session, think about your direct reports and expand it out beyond that if you can). Sit down and learn about their career goals, their life goals, and what they most want. Find points of congruency between the organization’s needs and their goals. Help them reach their goals and lead them (influence them and do for them what they can’t do for themselves). This is a perfect opportunity to collaborate with them on how they can better know if they’re on track toward what they most want to achieve. Communicate what you’re going to help them do to better measure their own success, so like me at the gym – they’ll know if they’re getting stronger. 

Connect with your people collectively for the same purpose. Ask them for their input. Challenge them to come up with measurements that will help each group, or team and the whole organization know the progress you’re all making together. Make it exciting, fun and challenging. 

We’re living in a society full of gamification. High-performing cultures gamify the quantifiable measurements to drive the competitive urges we all have to achieve more. My son has three kids ages 10, 8, and 6. When they were younger getting them to eat better was a challenge. Like most siblings, they were competitive with each other. So he made it a nightly contest with the winner getting some prize. The winner would be all smiles. The losers were in tears knowing they’d have to wait until tomorrow night for redemption from their losing performance. 😉 It works. 

Ideally, you want people involved in the measuring. Now some data will be easily captured by whatever computer systems are in place. Other measurements might require a more manual process. It’s important that people see the true value of the measurements to help them achieve more – and to have more fun (be more engaged in the outcomes). Remember, everybody in your organization wants to know where and how they fit in the world at work…and how they make a difference. This is how they’ll know!

One easy suggestion is to start with the speedbumps and roadblocks they encounter every day (or at least every week). A great point of connection and collaboration is to communicate your commitment to help them remedy these frustrations. Work together to measure the negative impact of these constraints. How much time is lost? What’s the financial cost? Figure out whatever you can quantify that will help determine the true impact of the impediment so you can then figure out what needs to be done to reduce or eliminate those measurements. Then keep measuring as you implement the changes!

Part of this will involve systems and processes. Simplify, simplify, simplify. 

I arrived as a new leader and quickly found an organization steeped in manual forms. I asked staff to give me a copy of every form being used. Thinking this would be a straightforward task I quickly learned they weren’t quite sure exactly how many forms they were using. Nobody had ever gathered them all together to inventory them. By the time the 27th form – again, these were paper forms filled out with a pen – I cried, “Uncle!” I’d seen enough. No, I didn’t bother calculating the inefficiency. I jumped straight to ditching the forms by distilling the information into just a couple of forms. All the same information. 95% fewer forms. Much less time spent completing them. 

What systems or processes do you rely on that may be broken? Question everything. Why not? Maybe it’s great. Maybe it’s not. Time to find out. 

Again, connection, collaboration, and communication. Work with your team or organization in figuring this out because you need to push problem-solving and decision-making down throughout the organization. The closer to the frontline workers you can drive these, the better. Who better to figure out solutions to the frustrating, nagging speedbumps than the people doing that work every day. They’re the ones encountering the constraints and they’re likely the ones with great suggestions on how to fix it. 

Don’t be afraid of process and system improvement. Remember the high value of humility. Quit caring who gets credit for what. When you grow to the point where you’re less interested in blame and credit, then you can improve your interest (and work) in becoming excellent!

Be brave. Challenge yourself and your team. Find paths forward to higher efficiency, lower cost, higher output, and quantum leaps in performance. I’m a big fan of striving to do something others don’t think is possible. Or things they don’t even consider doing. Why not? Let’s push the limits of what we think is possible. There’s no point in imposing limits just because we think it’ll be hard, maybe impossible. Why not find out?

It’s fun. It’s engaging. It’s how you can elevate your leadership, too.

a) influence
b) do for others what they’re unable to do for themselves

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

30-Day Micro Leadership Course (September 28th 2021)

Day 28 of our 30-Day Micro Leadership Course. Let’s continue our conversation about keeping score, measurements.

About 15 years ago I decided to get more intentional about my physical health and fitness so I signed up at a gym. From the get-go I went five days a week for about 45 minutes to an hour. At first, I didn’t really track anything. I mostly just wanted to develop the new habit of going regularly and I focused on cardio. I’d see guys hitting the weight machines and free weights, many of them keeping notes. They were writing down how many repetitions and how much weight they did on any given date. I got acquainted with a few of them and would watch them increase the weights. Sometimes they’d increase the weight and the number of repetitions. I started to do the same thing except I’d keep the numbers in my head. Admittedly, I wasn’t using as many machines or as many free weights so tracking my numbers wasn’t a big challenge. But I was well on my well to better understand my strength levels once I began to track the numbers. 

The same thing applies to your enterprise. You can think you’re excellent – as I could have easily thought of myself as being fit and strong – but the numbers don’t lie. And they display our progress or lack of. 

High-performance organizations accurately measure their important numbers. These numbers become the scorecard for everybody in the organization. People enjoy tracking it and grow increasingly competitive to pursue improving the numbers. Nobody sees such tracking as punitive. Instead, it’s rewarding – like seeing the pins you knock down when you’re bowling. In 2012 research published in Personnel Psychology reported that high-performing employees are 400% more productive than the average. Plenty of other research bears out that enterprises who undertake some systematic process of high-performance (think Lean, Six Sigma, or a variety of the many other options) realize an improvement between 25-40%. Merely picking a horse to ride, and committing to it results in significant growth and improvement. 

Far too many organizations approach their daily work in a willy-nilly fashion. Going through the motions, putting one foot in front of the other without strategic purpose or intent isn’t the way high-performing enterprises operate. Avoid joining or remaining among the ranks of the average or below-average organizations. It’s time to soar, but first, you must know where you are so you can better determine where you’d like to go. 

When I started 30 minutes on a treadmill at brisk speed (setting the machine on 2.8-3) would wind me. Within a month I was able to increase it to 3.8-4 and maintain that for an hour. I was committed to walking at a fast pace, not running. I was (and still am) too old to develop knee problems resulting from running. By measuring the time and the speed, I was able to set my sites on improving. My goals were constantly moving forward because I wanted evidence that my fitness was improving. I didn’t want to just feel like I was getting better. I wanted to know. For sure.

So it goes at work. Everybody feels like they’re doing pretty well. Some, perhaps most, will claim, “We’re doing our best.” The reality is few have a clear idea of what their best might even be. Watch any video or documentary about military training, like the SEALS, and you’ll quickly realize these candidates mostly didn’t think they could push themselves to the point required to qualify for achieving entry to such a prestigious group. Those who don’t make it likely have the physical skills required, but they lack the mental toughness to go beyond whatever limits exist in their own mind. They quit believing they’ve done their best and it’s just not good enough. 

Can you identify the top key measurements that might be vital in the success of your organization? How many can you list? 

Is there any current documentation of these measurements? If so, how are the numbers shared in your organization and how do people respond to them?

Before we end today’s session let me challenge you to avoid falling into your industry trap of just looking at whatever measurements everybody else in your space looks at. I’m not urging you to not measure those same things, but I would challenge you to consider measuring things others aren’t looking at – things that might have a meaningful impact, but are largely being ignored by others in your space. 

For example, many years ago I began to look at a number that seemed obvious to me, but I didn’t hear anybody in our industry talk that much about it. At the time, I was increasing my fanatism with inventory management. Vendor returns – aka “defectives – were problematic because we’d buy merchandise, pay for it, then be stuck with some portion of our purchases that were unsellable. We’d have to then negotiate with the vendor to have the merchandise returned. More lost time with unsellable and paid-for inventory. I decided to more carefully track this and use it in meetings and negotiations with vendors. I was also able to negotiate better terms and conditions so the vendor would more quickly help us return the defective merchandise (another part of the tracking was how many days it took the vendor to take the merchandise back and issue us credit). Such things had a big impact on my internal vendor scores and I wanted vendors to pursue a higher score by making it easier for us to return defective merchandise AND to get the offsetting credit to our account. 

Do you have anything like that? Something that will make a difference, but you’ve not yet thought to measure it?

Tomorrow we’ll continue down this same path because great leadership is evidence-based. You want to have proof of how well you’re doing. 

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

30-Day Micro Leadership Course (September 27th 2021)

Day 27. Four more sessions including today and then we’re have completed our 30-Day Micro Leadership Course, a series of about 5 hours of real-world leadership coaching. You’re doing the work. I’m only here to help spur you on to do the work by showing you a few things you may not have considered, by sharing some insights that might be helpful, and by giving you some concepts that might help you move forward in your own leadership journey. Thank you for being part of this 30-day journey. 

High-performance leadership focuses on creating a high-performance environment where people can do their best work, where they can grow, where they can be challenged, and where they can see how their contributions make a difference. Your leadership relies on knowing what is real and true. It’s been said that fear is False Evidence Appearing Real. You don’t want to be ruled by fear, but by reality. 

That means you have to have great, accurate information. Data. Intel. Analysis. Measurements. Great leaders embrace knowing the numbers, the facts, and other data that can help make better decisions. After all, the daily work of a leader is communicating and making a series of decisions. Usually, the decisions aren’t “bet the farm” magnitude, but the higher up you go, the more critical the decisions become. The CEO can make a decision that can have an enormous negative or positive impact. The staff supervisor can make a decision that will move the needle, but the repercussions will be much smaller than those made by the CEO. 

I must reiterate the progression of leadership because these ingredients matter. Greatly. Especially that foundational ingredient, humility. It’s not just an honorable character trait. It’s practical. Without it, you’ll be robbed of seeing things more clearly and accurately. 

Business intelligence is steeped in curiosity, seeking answers – and questioning existing answers. Effective leaders want to make sure they’re seeing things accurately. Understanding is an accurate comprehension of something. Delusion isn’t helpful. False assumptions aren’t either. 

Survey organizations and ask them if they’re high-performing. Most, maybe all, will say they are. Probe more deeply and you’ll quickly find they stake their claim on how they feel about themselves. They think they’re high-performing, but they really don’t know. 

Let’s Go Bowling In The Dark. Wanna Go?

Who wants to go bowling when you can’t see the pins? You have no idea how many pins you knocked down. You hear the ball rolling down the lane. You hear pins fall. But you can’t see anything. No way to properly measure your success or failure. Nobody would sign up for such a game. The fun of bowling isn’t merely the act of tossing the ball down the lane. It’s in the work of trying to knock down as many pins in a single throw as possible. 

Why then do you think your team or organization should perform at a high level when nobody can keep score? Lots of people are disengaged because they can’t see how or if they’re making any difference. 

Measurements – keeping score – is important so you can objectively know if you’re making progress. Feeling good about yourself isn’t an accurate measurement. Those annual performance reviews tend to not be performance-based at all, but rather how somebody feels. Those feelings may be based on something, but often the basis isn’t something very quantifiable. 

What is quantifiable in your organization? Likely anything and everything. Does it mean everything is important? Not necessarily. You must be careful to connect the dots. Perhaps you have to be even more careful not to connect other dots that don’t belong together. 

The other day I heard somebody talking about how many Native American tribes were prospering because of casinos. One particular tribe comprised of about 400 members was prospering so much that tribe members were each paid over $80,000 monthly. Unemployment was over 99% because nobody needed to work. The slim percentage of people who did work, I’d assume did so because they wanted to – not because they needed to. Not knowing all the facts, some economist or expert could look at this particular tribe with 99% unemployment and conclude, “We need to help this tribe. Hardly any of them have jobs.” But by knowing and understanding the context, you realize unemployment in this community is not a problem, so far as earning money is concerned. 

Leaders can make erroneous conclusions, too. We can all get it wrong if we lack the humility to see real answers, accurate data, and even more accurate conclusions. 

From the number of incoming phone calls to inventory turnover ratios to customer acquisition costs – we can measure just about anything and everything today, thanks to computing power. Don’t be afraid to measure. People daily ignore going to the doctor even they “know” something isn’t right. Incorrectly thinking “what I don’t know won’t hurt me” can prove fatal if we have something seriously wrong.

Ignorance is not bliss. Know your numbers. 

Great leaders don’t fall into the trap of tracking only the key numbers indicative of their industry. They look to track things few others are willing to track. Seeking the competitive edge others may be unaware of, high-performance leaders push to figure out ways to gain the slightest edge for their organization and the people doing the work. And the workforce responds to the scoreboard. If you don’t think so I urge you to read The Great Game Of Business by Jack Stack of Springfield Remanufacturing. 

Employees can understand business. They can understand the numbers and how they matter. Great leaders show them. Teach them. Inspire them. And help them see how performance can be improved. 

What are you measuring?

What are you failing to measure?

In order to know where you’re going and how to get there, you must first know where you are. That’s why the measurements matter. They’re the starting point of your GPS, without which you can’t possibly compute a route to the future.

Share that information with the organization. Information isn’t to be hoarded. Don’t ask your employees to bowl in the dark. “And enjoy it.” 

Help the organization know the score, then you can get busy helping the organization learn how to improve the score. It’s a major path forward toward that coveted prize of “highly engaged employees.”

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

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