Daily Brief

Asking & Answering Tough Questions – Grow Great Daily Brief #241 – July 8, 2019

When I was about 27 I uttered a statement one afternoon while my team was wrestling with some customer service challenges.

“The quality of our questions determines the quality of our business.”

The statement was provoked by our company’s inability to consistently deliver the experience I wanted. Dumb problems were frustrating me. Problems I felt we should easily avoid, but we weren’t avoiding them because we were failing to ask customers the proper questions.

We grabbed a stack of invoices that had problems attached, then we put them through a rigorous post-mortem. We met with each salesperson to review how the conversations went with the customer. And with teammates whose help might have been needed to complete the transaction.

Immediately it was clear what our problem was. We weren’t asking very good questions. The result? We weren’t getting clear enough answers and it was causing us to fail the customer.

That’s when I first uttered the phrase because it seemed so blindingly obvious to me. And to everybody else, too.

We quickly devised a series of questions – better questions – to improve our ability to give customers a consistently extraordinary experience!

Presto! It worked. Amazingly well. With tremendous consistency.

Our customer experience delivery shot up by quantum leaps and was ridiculously predictable. Very soon the exceptions were when we dropped the ball. We had turned things around by asking and answering tough (and even not-so-tough) questions.

I became a lifelong proponent for figuring out better questions to ask. And for deeper courage (if necessary) to answer them.

A few years earlier in my career, I had figured out that the “what if?” questions people were so fond of had a more practical benefit other than to serve as a brain game. This was especially true when asking worst-case-scenario questions.

“What’s the worst thing that can happen?”

Bravery is needed to answer it. Most people don’t answer it. They just ask it.

Rarely will the answer seem so plausibly likely. Sometimes people say, “It could kill me,” but that’s not the literal case. Worst case scenarios are infrequently the worst case. And even if they are, we can likely recover.

Tough questions aren’t about making people intentionally uncomfortable with some show of force, authority or power. They’re about helping us come face to face with clarity. It’s about digging deep enough to find the truth so we can fix a problem or seize an opportunity.

Some of the highest quality questions are personal. They deal with our lives, professionally and personally. 

Be precise and specific.

For example, our quantum leap innovative idea was largely the result of figuring out how we could ask our customers better questions. We hadn’t been asking good questions. We were asking very non-specific questions that wouldn’t help us serve our customers better. Keep in mind the trifecta of business building: getting new customers, serving existing customers better and not going crazy in the process.

Part of our problem involved delivering items to our customers’ homes. Turns out we were asking customers, “Is there anything unusual about your delivery?”

Guess what their answer was 100% of the time.

“No.”

Of course. Nothing seemed unusual to them. It was their home. Never mind there were 100 steps up a 40-degree incline. They were used to it. It wasn’t unusual to them. Besides, who wants to admit there’s something unusual about their situation?

Then when our delivery team arrived and looked up at those 100 steps up a steep incline they were not happy. Sometimes ill-prepared, too.

Rather than ask a “YES” or “NO” question we modified the question. Here was our new question – more of a request actually.

Describe how we need to come into your house to make this delivery.

Customers would then tell us. “Well, you’re going to need to come through the front door. If the truck parks on the street there are about 100 steps up a pretty steep incline…”

Now we were able to ask deeper, more probing questions to get the delivery instructions just as precise as our questions. That precision made us more efficient, effective and gave us the opportunity to deliver a superior experience to every customer.

That’s the power of great questions. They foster greater answers.

It’s a busy week here so I’ve decided I’m going to step away from the podcast while I complete some important projects. This is your opportunity to go check out some of the back episodes. Or it’ll be your opportunity to stop listening for a little while so you can focus on your own important projects.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

Randy

Why You Should Join A Peer Advantage Group (But Not Mine) – Grow Great Daily Brief #240 – July 2, 2019

Small business owners.

CEOs.

Executives.

Leaders.

Whether you’re a #1 or a #2 or a team leader…surrounding yourself with others who are like you is one of THE most powerful learning, understanding and growing tools you can find.

Business people in every role, up and down the authority chain, benefit from being around others who are like them in the role. Simultaneously, they benefit from being around people who are dramatically different from them.

Peers – The Common Ground

This is where it begins. The peer advantage requires the right peers. Where’s the common ground? Can the culture created by these people fuel you in the best ways possible? And can it challenge you, too where you’ll surrender to how uncomfortable it may be for you – but you hang in there because you know it’s for your best?

Companies like YPO, Vistage, Entrepreneur’s Organization and a host of others operating all over the world provide extraordinary value to members intent on L.U.G. (learning, understanding and growing). They put people in rooms together where all the people share one common thing – the role they serve. CEOs with CEOs. COOs with COOs. CMOs with CMOs. It’s the whole “birds of a feather” deal. This is where it all must begin.

It’s important that everybody in the room – physical or otherwise – relate to what they’re doing in their respective organizations. You may have heard me refer to a group that nobody wants to qualify to join – Parents of Murdered Children. It’s a dramatic illustration though, which is why I use it. If you’re unfortunate to qualify to join that group, is there a more powerful group on the planet where you can go to instantly have everybody else in the room know exactly what you’re doing through? No. That common ground is imperative.

Peers – The Diversity

Every parent of a murdered child has their own unique context. Their stories are insanely personal. They come from every corner of society. They don’t need to share educational backgrounds, financial well-being or anything else. The one commonality is so strong it binds them together. Their diversity – their individual context and experiences – is the value!

Diversity can scare us. Don’t let it. Embrace the truth that you know what you know. It’s what you don’t know that can help you. That’s where others sharing their stories can benefit you like nothing else.

The common ground fosters safety and trust. The diversity fosters the deep conversations and sharing experiences where we find growth. You have to have both or there’s no value.

Vulnerability – It’s A Must

Don’t even think of joining a peer advisory group if you’re not willing to show your underwear. This is not an opportunity for you to always be on, trying to make every moment an Instagram moment. You’ll derive no benefit if you’re busy trying to impress and constantly judging yourself against the others in the room. This isn’t a contest designed for you to win – or lose. Not based on appearances or false / vanity measurements. It’s about growing your business, your leadership and your life.

Can you listen deeply enough to understand?

Can you pay close attention to what others say and be curious enough to seek an understanding of what they really mean?

Can you be thoughtful enough to fully participate with all the others? To help them and perhaps more importantly for some, to be helped? (That’s vulnerability. To stop acting like you know everything you need to know. It’s fine – no, it’s mandatory – if you’re going to grow. And if you’re not intent on growing, then why are even in such a group? Get out. Stop wasting everybody’s time.)

The Answer Isn’t Complicated

You should join a peer advantage group because there’s nothing on the planet that can compress the L.U.G. time requirement better. The big key to what you hear me say over and over again – “you’ll figure it out” – is time. As business people it’s urgent that we figure it out as quickly as possible because the market is moving, changing and growing more fickle all the time.

I love to ponder, but we both know there’s not a ton of time to ponder. We have to respond, react and adapt quickly. I’m fond of 7×7 fast starts – and I universally encourage business owners to do it. Sit down for one hour a week for seven weeks straight. Have a pad of paper and pen in hand. Shut off all distractions. Get in a quiet room. At the top of the paper write down one challenge or opportunity in the form of the most detailed question possible? That’s the question you’re going to wrestle with for an hour. But think of this. One lousy hour out of 168 in a week. That’s .006% of your week. It’s NOTHING. But that nothing can have a powerful impact on your ability to come up with better answers or insights to your question.

When you devote yourself to working on yourself and your business – something very few business people do because they’re too busy chasing their tails and putting out fires – then positive changes happen. When you join a peer advisory group they happen much, much quicker – and the changes are dramatically better!

This can be especially true for #1s, people at the top of the authority pyramid in their organization. Being part of a great peer advisory group can prevent “the Emperor has no clothes” syndrome so pervasive among top-level leaders.

Put in the work to find a group suitable for where you are right now. If you’re a CMO, then find where you might join up with other CMOs. Look for the common ground first. CEOs sitting around with CMOs can be profitable, but not nearly as profitable as sitting with other CEOs. Whoever you are – whatever role you serve – find a group of people like you. People shouldering the same responsibilities as you.

Find a group dedicated to what you most want to accomplish for yourself. Your willingness to be vulnerable is key, but that doesn’t mean you avoid putting your interest up near the top when you’re thinking of joining a group. I’ll tell you a secret – something you’ll learn once you join a great group – after you experience the group you’ll find yourself benefiting mostly when you avoid selfishness. By helping others and by allowing others to help you, growth will happen in those moments when the conversation may not even be specifically about you.

Culture matters. Group leadership has a big role to play. Groups tend to be uniquely specific to the person leading the group. In short, one size doesn’t fit all. Are you a Hyper Pro? Don’t know what that is? Let me explain. A Hyper Pro is somebody who would never enter a business meeting in anything other than a custom made suit and French cuffs on the shirt, highlighted by an expensive tie and other accessories. Nothing wrong with it, but a guy like me would never be in such a group. Or allow such a person into any of my groups. It’s not right or wrong. It just is. Find a group that rolls the way you most prefer to roll. And it goes beyond dress (since some groups like mine are virtual).

The sad truth is, there is plenty of opportunities for you to find a suitable group. Depending on your role and what you most want to accomplish, the search may take some time. But maybe not. Statistically, fewer than 1 or 2% of CEOs ever take advantage of such a group. There’s likely no improvement in the participation rate of other roles. I think it’s sad because the power is extraordinary. You’d think more people could see the value.

The Peer Advantage by Bula Network is my group. It’s not for everybody. Fact is, it’s pretty limited. Quite narrow.

It’s only for small business owners in the United States. That’s because I don’t want to manage a bunch of International time zones (yet).

It’s only for small business owners because they’re the people I most want to serve. And I don’t define “small” by revenue or headcount. I’m interested in serving business owners who are close to the work and closer still to their customers.

The trifecta of business building is important to me and therefore, everybody who would join one of my groups must be intently focused on it, too. This is part of that culture stuff (oh, and jeans and t-shirts are permissible and even encouraged, too – no French cuffs around here). The trifecta of business building consists of 1) getting new customers, 2) serving existing customers better and 3) not going crazy in the process. I’m intent on every member hitting that trifecta as much as humanly possible. I know it’s unrealistic to think we’ll hit all 3 all the time, but I think we can improve our odds when we focus on it.

You should also join a group because the accountability will move you forward faster than anything you’ve experienced. It’s the missing ingredient in our lives. It’s why diets and other life changes often fail. Find a group where discomfort is acceptable. In some groups they may avoid making anybody feel uncomfortable. If that’s what you prefer (I’d advise against it, but it’s your life and I respect your right to do as you please), then find one. My objective inside The Peer Advantage by Bula Network isn’t to forcibly make people uncomfortable, but if the conversation needs to go there to best serve, then that’s where we’re all going. TOGETHER. The key is to not judge. That’s the responsibility of the leader of the group. To not allow it. Everybody in the room as their role inside their company. They can roll however they want. It’s not our job or obligation to convince them to not want what they want. It’s our job to serve them to get what they want and help them clarify it.

You should join a peer advisory group. Google it. Read about it. Research it. Contact one, two or many organizations offering peer advisory groups. Figure it out. It’ll be worth it.

We’re now beginning the second half of 2019. Before you know it, this year will be history. Will you end the year being stronger as a business owner? Will you end the year prepared for high growth in 2020? Will your life be vastly better because you’ve grown? All the more reason to join a peer advisory group.

But not mine. Unless it speaks to you. Visit ThePeerAdvantage.com

Happy 4th of July to my American listeners. Lord willing, I’ll talk to you next week.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

Randy

Happy Birthday, Second Half Of 2019 – Grow Great Daily Brief #239 – July 1, 2019

Today I want to provoke you to take a quantum leap forward. It may be uncomfortable. Maybe it’ll be exciting. Let’s just give it our best to make it profitable.

Learning. Understanding. Growing.

Let’s start with a word. An important word. One that should remain at the forefront for you the rest of this year (and beyond).

Curiosity.

Get in touch with your curiosity. Don’t sweat about the object of it. Follow it. Spend some time with it so it becomes an improved habit – the habit of embracing it.

As a leader, you’re going to very quickly find yourself curious about any number of things pertaining to your career, your leadership, and your life.

I’ll throw some fuel on the fire. Think about the trifecta of successful business building:

  1. Getting new customers
  2. Serving existing customers better
  3. Not going crazy in the process

Follow your curiosity down these paths. Give it time. Ponder. Ruminate. Question. Question everything. Deeply.

Let one thing – just one thing – bubble to the top of everything else. You may not think there’s time to pursue everything. Just assume there is. Enough time. Concentrate on the one thing that you know – your gut won’t likely lie to you – will move the needle the most. And perhaps the fastest. It’s likely something that has been nagging you for quite some time. Something you’ve long been fretting about and feeling, “I really should do something about THIS.” For some reason, it has scared you off. So you put it off.

Stop wasting time. Now is the time to get on with it. Own the power to deal with IT today, on your terms. Time to engage this enemy.

Write it down. Your enemy. The object of your curiosity. The big question. It’ll be a question. If it’s not, make it a question.

It may be a “what if?” question.

It may be a “why can’t we?” question.

It may be a “who?” question.

Don’t rush into battle with this foe until you know what you’re up against. Figure out the question because this is the first real enemy you must conquer – clarity. Clarity on the true issue. It’s important that you get this right else you’ll spend time trying to figure out the wrong thing.

Sit still. Figure it out.

Ask yourself if this is really what you want to fix, solve, remedy or improve. Don’t advance until you’re sure. As sure as you can be. You can do this alone or solicit outside help. There’s enormous power in having others help, but don’t let that stop you from moving forward.

Once you’ve fully questioned the issue AND you’re satisfied that you’ve accurately identified the challenge, it’s time to write it down. Rewrite it as many times as you must to get the wording as clear as possible (you’re seeing a theme emerge – clarity). This question should be concise, clear and bluntly to the point. Don’t get caught up in fancy terminology or corporate lingo.

The focal point of the question is highly likely going to begin with one word: HOW.

How? 

For example, many years ago my curiosity led me down a path of “I wonder if we can…?” After wrestling with it for a few days I morphed it into a how question. “How can we…?”

The result was a big, quantum leap innovation to accomplish never done before by our company or anybody in our market. In fact, at the time I didn’t know of anybody anywhere who did it. But my team did it. Rather quickly too. All because we identified the challenge, accepting it and refused to lose to it.

This process is my birthday gift to you for the second half. I hope you’ll try it because there’s no power in thinking about it. The power is in using it. Deploying it. And making it a habit for how you operate your life, your leadership and your business.

After tomorrow I’ll be dormant for the rest of this week. No, I’m not taking a vacation, or even a day off. But I’m going to be doing exactly what I’m challenging you to do in today’s show. I’m doing some work on what I want this podcast to look like and sound like for the rest of this year and moving forward.

Some questions I’m asking myself are:

a. If this podcast were like a party that I was hosting, who would I most want to attend?

b. If this podcast were like a party that I was hosting, what would I most want the theme to be?

c. Who do I most want to work with – translation, who do I most want to attract?

d. How can I provide the most value to that group of people?

e. What content would provide me the most joy and the audience the most value?

f. Where is the gap in the market for these things? Translation: where is my best opportunity?

g. What do I most want this podcast to be known for?

Just like you, the easy part is figuring out what I don’t want. Or who I don’t want to attract. Or the people I don’t want to work with. Or the things I don’t want to talk about. Or the subject matter I would quickly tire of.

I’d happily document the process, but it would likely bore you. Besides, I want you to focus on YOURSELF. Figure out what you need to figure out so the second half can be spectacular.

Lord willing, I’ll see you tomorrow, then we’ll return next week. Now get busy doing this work. Spend the rest of the week deeply devoted to getting something powerful done.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

Randy

Making Failure Temporary – Grow Great Daily Brief #238 – June 28, 2019

Increasingly I’m convinced there is one factor that is far superior to all others in determining our success.

Some of my favorite terms are…

Tenacity

Resilience

Ferocity

They speak to a person’s refusal to quit. And I’m not talking about quitting things that aren’t working. Or quitting things that we discover we don’t want to accomplish. Quitting and changing one’s mind aren’t the same thing.

And I’m not talking about quitting because you realize you don’t want it badly enough. You thought you did but turns out – you didn’t.

I’m talking about pursuits we want, but when it’s hard, or when failure continues to slap us in the face (or worse)…our resolve weakens. And eventually, we just give up.

World-class athletes often speak of having “short memories.” When they experience defeat – and they all do – they don’t dwell on it. They make that failure temporary. The voice in their head doesn’t defeat them by trying to convince them that this is a permanent condition.

The one factor that trumps all others is OPTIMISM. Pure and simple, it’s belief.

The belief that this too shall pass is a quality we could all more of – optimism. But it’s a deeply personal issue and our head trash can be hard to clear out.

What’s the cause of your failure?

What’s the cause of your difficulties, troubles or issues?

It goes to the heart of how we think, which goes to the heart of how capable we are to view failures as temporary. Or not.

Don’t avoid responsibility. Our accountability is a critical component of how our resolve, strength, and determination are built up or weakened.

When you look at the causes of most of your failures…to what do you ascribe them? We all attribute them to something or somebody.

I’m aiming this at our leadership. Whether you own a business or you’re the CEO or executive or team lead…you’re the leader in whatever situation you’re in. Trouble ensues and you assign blame or responsibility on who or what?

Permit me to make a case for you to own it. Every bit of it. Why not?

There’s just not much – if any – downside to it. You’re the leader. It’s your responsibility. You’re accountable first to yourself, then to your organization or team. It’s the burden of leadership. It’s also the upside of leadership.

You choose to be the leader and accept that responsibility.

Or you choose to be the victim suffering failure because of somebody else or something beyond your control.

Yes, things happen beyond our control, but even those things can’t make us victims if we don’t allow it. Bad things happen to everybody. This isn’t about finding fault or assigning blame. It’s rather about how we choose to think about and what we choose to believe about adversity, obstacles, challenges and failures!

Choose to own it and move on.

That’s only possible if you can truly believe that this isn’t a permanent condition. Realize it happens to every human on the planet. More than you’ll ever know because you know your story best. You’re attracted to see the success – those mountain top moments – of others. You dwell more on your failures and more on the success of others. That doesn’t help. It’s unreasonable because it’s inaccurate.

Don’t sell your mind to failure. Just rent out your mind by the minute to it.

Failure loves to move in a take up permanent residence. That’s when you have to put up your NO VACANCY sign. And mean it.

You have to show the organization the way. If you refuse to keep pushing for innovation, creative problem-solving and overcoming challenges then you’ll quickly find your team resigning themselves to defeat. It’s a culture killer! A business killer. A life killer.

There’s another word we have to consider.

Confidence.

Failure erodes it. Success fuels it. Mostly.

What if we flipped failure on its head and put it in a chokehold? What if we leveraged failure to increase our confidence? Confidence that we’ll figure this out. And now sooner than later because we accept responsibility for the failure. It’s the protection we provide to ourselves and our company. We liberate our team to move forward because there’s no time for blaming. There’s only time to get on with figuring out how to improve. Confidence that we can and will do it.

That’s puts even more pressure on you as the leader. Because people are going to follow your lead. Which means they’ll follow your optimism or your pessimism. You decide.

See, I told you pessimism was way harder!

Let’s end the week and this month of June on the highest note possible. Whatever didn’t work out well for you in the first half of 2019…let it go. First, dissect it to you and your team can learn from it. Spend no time assigning blame. Take responsibility for it yourself. And take responsibility for nudging the team forward past it.

The challenges, constraints, and obstacles that foiled you in the first half have no place in the second half. Refuse to dwell on them. And don’t let any of your team members do it either. Remind everybody to have short memories. Preach the truth that failures are just temporary and useful to help everybody learn, understand and grow.

Be optimistic about the second half. Expect success. Express belief in your team’s ability to achieve it. Commit to remaining out front in that belief and in doing whatever you can to help each one of them reach higher.

The second half of 2019 is going to be spectacular. See to it. Make it happen.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

Randy

Small Business Is A Description, Not A Condition – Grow Great Daily Brief #237 – June 27, 2019

Almost 30 years ago I had a conversation with an owner of a small business who was lamenting the smallness of his business (which wasn’t so small really since he was generating multi-millions in annual revenue).

“I’m not a neighborhood store, ” he complained. “They want to make me a neighborhood store.”

I reminded him that he decided to make himself a neighborhood store. Nobody did that to him. He hadn’t ventured beyond the neighborhood ever. His choice.

He was viewing his own condition as a small business as a condition imposed on him by others. Truth was, it was an accurate description of his business resulting from his own choices. He never wanted to expand beyond the neighborhood even though he had casually considered it a time or two. He liked being where he was until he felt others were looking down on him for being who he was.

I urged him to embrace being who he was…and if he wasn’t happy with being who he was, then do something about it. Change it. It’s within your power.

Almost 90% of businesses have fewer than 20 employees. Over 76% of them don’t have any employees. Most American businesses aren’t just small. They’re very small. In size. Either by revenue or headcount. (find some data here)

Small may describe the market impact of a company. Small may describe the employee count, annual sales or annual profits. But that doesn’t mean insignificant. It certainly doesn’t mean unimportant.

I’m very drawn to small business owners. And likely because of how my career started – working as a high school kid for a local stereo shop owner – I’m empathetic to the struggles and the opportunities of these owners. It doesn’t matter if they’re generating a few hundred thousand dollars annually or hundreds of millions. Add a zero. Add a few people. Scope and scale apply to problems and opportunities alike.

Small describes it. And it’s fine.

I like small cars. Small 4-cylinder cars that are quick and zippy. I can get in and out of traffic quickly because I can go fast quickly, I can turn quickly, and I can stop equally fast. The term I’ve used for decades to fuel companies – and to engage people more fully – is “highly maneuverable.” And it’s a quality that is mostly afforded to small business.

Highly Maneuverable

As a small business owner you can move faster. If something isn’t working, you can change it right now. You don’t need to assign a team of people to study it. You likely know the issues intimately because you’re close to the work, to the people doing the work and to the customers. So you’ve got a sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. So you can adapt and change.

And if your adaptation or change isn’t spot on, then you can do it again. Speed is your friend.

I often liken it to shooting at a target. The first shot taken quickly establishes how far off dead center you are. So you adjust your aim and take your second shot. It’s closer, but perhaps still not quite dead center. More adjustment and now a third shot. BINGO! Smack dab in the dead center of the target.

While bigger enterprises are researching, assessing, quantifying and whatever other examinations they need to feel confident enough to pull the trigger…you’re setting up your second and third shot. It begs the question, “Will your 3rd shot be more accurate than their 1st?”

OF COURSE.

There’s your advantage as a small business.

Bigger isn’t necessarily better. Or more powerful. Or more impactful.

You and your business matter. How do you put a measurement on the scope and scale on mattering? Ask your employees. Ask your customers. Ask your suppliers. The ripples in the water go on and on and on and on.

Sometimes I find myself working really hard to pump up a small business owner who just feels thankful for the success (many of them aren’t quite so small in revenue), but feels overwhelmed with all the resistance. And there’s always resistance no matter your size. Government. Industry constraints. Finding quality people. Technology costs. It just never ends…but such is the game (that we talked about yesterday). The game is great fun. The game of business.

Keep the trifecta of business building in mind.

  1. Getting new customers
  2. Serving existing customers better
  3. Not going crazy in the process

Your description as a small business is a terrific advantage that should give you increased confidence. It’s speed. It’s effectiveness. It’s intimacy with employees and customers. And from a practical viewpoint, it’s something else. It’s overhead. It’s the fuel you need to be extraordinary.

Big fish need much more food. Their daily dietary requirement is significantly bigger than small fish.

You can get by on less. This isn’t merely an advantage in bad times but in good. Don’t get fat and happy in these good times. Enjoy them. Plan for a downturn because there’s always one coming. And when it comes you can shift gears and blaze past the competition – likely the larger, more lumbering competition that now finds itself needing more fuel, but unable to find it.

Embrace your smallness. Embrace it for the strength is it. Lean heavily into the extraordinary performance you’re capable of because of your size. Focus on what you can do – and better. Don’t focus on what you can’t do. Don’t view your description as your condition. It’s not.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

Randy

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