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Coaching Session 6

Today’s audio is 18:48 minutes.

strategy
answers the question, HOW?

By now we’ve likely established some specific goals. And we’ve probably at least broached the topic of STRATEGY.

Goals and objectives answer the question of WHAT. Now, we’ve got to get busy with strategy because it answers the question of HOW.

How am I going to accomplish my goals?”

There has to be a plan. So let’s talk about planning. Let”s dive into strategy.

It Doesn’t Have To Be Perfect

Most of us have grown up hearing all the usual drivel…and unfortunately, many of us believe it’s true.

Dot your i’s and cross your t’s.

Get your ducks in a row.

Sweat the details.

In certain context they’re all decent advice. The problem is our inclination to swallow things hook, line and sinker (speaking of cliches). It all compels us to think we’ve got to pre-think every conceivable possibility and outcome. The pressure mounts as we attempt to figure out what we should do, and how we should go about it. If it doesn’t paralyze us, it slows us down because we continue to work on our plan fearful that we’re overlooking something.

Some years ago Dr. Paul Dobransky, M.D. told a story in his newsletter that illustrates a powerful point about strategy, time and incompleteness. He operates a website for men at MensPsychology.com. It’s clearly a male perspective, but the point applies to all of us.

I was talking with a friend who had been in the Marines.

We were talking about how it can be so difficult to get a guy to make the right decision in his life. I know so many guys who agonize and agonize over the major ones when its time to get exclusive with a woman or even marry her, when its time to cut your losses and move on with a career thats just plain bad for you and doesnt treat you right, or what to do with money in building your life.

He said, Um, that doesn’t happen to a Marine, because we have the 70% Solution.

Needless to say, my curiosity was peaked.

He went on to tell me that when there is a military operation going down, if the guys on the ground are faced with a difficult decision and wait around for a 100% CERTAINTY of a decision being the right one, they might be waiting FOREVER.

And that is DEADLY when lives are at stake.

He said that the general rule is that if a soldier is 70% or more certain of the situation, he needs to go ahead and MAKE THE DECISION based on that percent amount, and commit to the action he sees as best at the time.

This saves lives and works out the best. When mistakes are made some of the time (and most often they are not, or are minimal), the bad results can be reviewed and improved on next time.

This is one reason that I’ve learned through the years to be a speed freak. Okay, I’m naturally a speed freak, but early leadership roles taught me the value of going with my natural inclination. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not talking about flying by the seat of your pants or being a master of the knee jerk reaction. I’m talking about forward progress with minimal hesitation.

He Who Hesitates

You know the saying. “He who hesitates is lost.” Dictionary.com defines it this way. “A person who spends too much time deliberating about what to do loses the chance to act altogether.”

Timing is important because time changes things. Opportunities come and go…in a flash. Challenges grow. Minds change. Perceptions erode. But there’s a problem. And it drives us crazy.

“Let’s sleep on it. Things will look different in the morning.”

We’ve all thought it, said it and followed that advice. And it’s often very wise. So how do we resolve this whole speed thing with delaying action so we can gather our thoughts (and sometimes, our emotions)?

Remember, we’re talking about STRATEGY. Yes, it involves decisions, but let’s stay on point with our context. We have our list of 2 or 3 things we’d like to accomplish. That decision has been made, even if it’s not written in stone. You’ve got these things in your mind that you really want to “get done.” Now, it’s about how to best go about getting them done!

So many of these wisdom quotes apply to situations where we don’t know what to do. We’re stuck. Or we’re in a highly emotional state.

A woman suddenly loses her husband to a car wreck. Her life is turned upside down in an instant. Should she be a speed freak in making decisions about her life? Of course not. Besides, what’s the hurry? There are no opportunities that are going to slip by if she takes some time. There are no challenges that are going to be magnified by delaying a decision. And…she’s suffering the most emotional ride of her life. She relies on family and friends to help her with the vital decisions (funeral arrangements, etc.). Well meaning friends may encourage her to do something with the house, or with a move…but mental health experts will likely encourage her to avoid making any life changing decisions for a good long while. She needs time to sort out what she wants.

Situations dictate strategy and how we go about constructing strategy. 

What’s the time element for you? That’s important. Think about it and carefully consider it. This won’t likely take long. I’m betting you already know the time element.

Do you have an hour, a day, a week, a month, a quarter, a year? How long do you have before you need to act? How long do you have before you have to have the work completed?

Your list of 2 or 3 goals may consist of 2 or 3 different timelines. That’s okay. Just consider the situation and the timeline associated with each one.

Hesitation often stems from not knowing what to do, or how to do it. Sometimes it’s self-imposed because we avoid thinking about it. We delay and procrastinate because maybe it’s an unpleasant thing and we just don’t want to think about it. Whatever the reason, hesitation equals delay. That’s not the same as giving something sober consideration.

The widow who delays a decision about whether to sell the house and move isn’t hesitating. She’s taking the necessary time to consider her options. She’s sorting things out. She’s taking action by carefully thinking through what she wants to do and what she needs to do. And if she’s wise, she’s collecting information from trusted advisors who are helping her consider things she may be uninformed about (tax and financial concerns, for instance).

Maybe you need to take that kind of time to come up with a good plan. That’s fine. Just make sure you’re not putting things off due to hesitation (procrastination).

What’s The Worst Thing That Can Happen?

Usually the worst thing that can happen doesn’t. But it could.

The courage isn’t in asking the question. Everybody asks it…mostly rhetorically.

True courage is in answering it. So, go ahead. Answer the question. Then press on like a 4 year old and keep asking, “and then?”

It goes something like this.

The boss could get mad. “And then?”

He could write me up. “And then?”

He could fire me. “And then?”

I’d lose my income. “And then?”

I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills. “And then?”

I’d lose my car. “And then?”

I’d have to borrow my mom’s car. “And then?”

Very quickly most people realize that not only are the latter answers unlikely, but the first ones are, too. Most of the time when I sit down and ask clients to do this, they readily admit that the very first item isn’t likely to happen. Well, if the first fear isn’t likely to happen, then what are you waiting for? Are you waiting for some miraculous measure of fearlessness?

I do have an answer that is very likely. If you don’t decide on a strategy then you’ll do nothing and that will be worse than doing something!

Form A Plan. Work The Plan. Re-Work The Plan.

This is where I discovered the truthfulness of that Marine 70% formula, and how important speed can be in forward progress. I’ll share a secret I learned, but I’ll admit my need for speed served me well. Call it serendipity if you’d like.

I was about 24 years old. I had just been hired in my first general manager job. I was already an experienced manager, but I had never done anything at this scale before. And to top it off, it was a turnaround project. It was a pilot operation for a large company. It was a high-end consumer electronics retail operation serving as a test for expansion. The operation was a little over a year old and it was failing miserably. The first GM had just been fired. The store manager had been fired. The day they were fired was my first day. I didn’t have time to sit around and ponder for too long.

I quickly discovered that part of the problem was merchandising. As you might imagine, merchandising and inventory are the life blood of successful retail. Well, I had stepped into a situation where the inventory was in dreadful shape. Wrong price points. Obsolete merchandise. Too many gaps. Too many out of stock situations. You name it. I had every imaginable inventory problem.

And I had no store manager. I had a sales staff that seemed lethargic and incapable.

But what I really had was an opportunity. I was thinking, “Well, it won’t take much to outshine the last guy.”

I took action. I got a store manager I could trust, somebody I had worked with. We quickly formed a plan to get the staff in shape. We supported them, but ramped up accountability. We immediately got the entire place cleaner than it had ever been. In every turnaround I’ve ever done – it doesn’t matter what business it is – I’ve jumped on housekeeping. It’s amazing how cleaning things up symbolizes improvement. It’s a universal thing. When you clean things up people immediately have a stronger sense of pride and accomplishment.

I took more action. I went through the inventory while walking the warehouse and marked down every single item that didn’t belong (most of it). Cash is king in every business and I was relentless.

On and on it went, lots of fast action. I didn’t get it all 100% accurate, but during this time I soon realized that I could make much better decisions and formulate much better strategies by acting quickly. I’d visit with peers from other companies at conventions like the Consumer Electronics Show and it was apparent that I was making about 3 decisions for every 1 decision they made. But it wasn’t merely a “more is better” proposition. By the time they made their first decision I was on my third. And my third decision was based on things I had learned during the first two decisions. That put me way ahead of my peers in other companies.

It made sense to me that decisions and strategies were vastly improved by speed. These weren’t modest improvements. They were quantum leap improvements.

I also learned something else that seemed to get past some of my industry peers at the time. I was willing to re-work the plan more quickly than most. I would devise a strategy, work the strategy with intensity, but I was always willing to embrace changing it if the results weren’t what I expected or wanted. I refused to fall in love with a strategy no matter what the outcome. I focused on getting the result and if the strategy was failing, I’ll quickly formed a new strategy based on what I had learned.

I saw other people in the industry using the “push harder” approach to their strategies. If the strategy wasn’t working, they quickly figured it was because they weren’t working the strategy hard enough. Well, I had already eliminated that from the equation because I had systems in place (along with capable leadership) to insure the execution was at least “good enough.” Push harder just delays the need to change the strategy.

Not All Time Is Equal

When you’ve got millions of dollars tied up in inventory that’s growing more obsolete by the day…you’ve got to act quickly because time is money. The more you delay marking down the inventory, the more money you’ll lose. Take a $100 item and mark it down to $70 today so you can sell it…or wait a week and you’ll have to mark it down to $60. That’s how it works in retailing.

When you’ve got the opportunity to purchase a deal that may garner an extra 20% profit, but the vendor says, “We’ve got to have your order right now” – that’s a different time element.

Both demand you act now. In the former, you must act or it most certainly will cost you. It’s not so cut and dried in the latter scenario.

Will you really make an extra 20%? Is this deal going to everybody and their dog or it is exclusively yours? Can you get a deeper deal? Is this merchandise congruent with your overall plan? Do you have the cash to invest? Do you want to invest the cash you’ve got in this deal?

Whenever a person tells me they need an answer RIGHT NOW. I have a standard answer. Every single time.

NO.

That philosophy has never failed me. Sometimes it’s gotten me a much better deal.

The point is that not all time constraints are identical. The pressure of time is often real (as in the markdown example). Other times, it’s contrived (as in the vendor offering me a “right now” deal).

Make sure you have a good idea of the time element for your strategies. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you have more or less time. Be realistic.

Let’s Get A Workable Strategy

I use the term “workable” for a few reasons.

  • Workable means what works for you. A good strategy for you may be different than a good strategy for somebody else.
  • Workable means a strategy that has the best chance for a favorable outcome.
  • Workable means a strategy that you can execute. You don’t need other people to do something in order to pull it off.
  • Workable means a strategy that won’t risk the farm. Betting the farm is rarely a good strategy.
  • Workable means a strategy that can be course corrected if you find it doesn’t work as expected.

Make your notes. Think through the challenges and risks. Consider the upside.

It’s time to ramp up our work.

Randy

212 – Climbing Up The Corporate Food Chain: “You’re Either A Money-Maker Or A Killer!”

Kurt Sutter's Outlaw Empires
Kurt Sutter’s Outlaw Empires

Kurt Sutter is the guy behind “Sons of Anarchy.” Back in 2012 he did a documentary on the Aryan Brotherhood for the Discovery Channel series, Outlaw Empires.

The Aryan Brotherhood was born in the 1960’s and grew from a prison system based band of criminals to one of the most feared groups in history. One person in the documentary, John  (one of the founders) revealed how the group finally realized they needed a more structured leadership. By the 1980’s they had established a 3-man commission. He was one of the commissioners. An articulate man imprisoned for life, he said, “There’s only two ways to get to the top. You either earn your way or kill your way. You’re either a money-maker or a killer.”

Don’t go thinking I know my way around climbing to the top of a criminal organization. I have no firsthand knowledge or experience. I have seen The Godfather and plenty of documentaries on organized crime so I understand the basic concepts.

In season 1 of Vikings (a History Channel TV series that is now in season 2), the main character, Ragnar Lothbrok, engaged in a one-on-one battle with Earl Haraldson, the local chieftain. The victor would be acknowledged by the society as the ruler. Ragnar killed Earl Haraldson and instantly became the chieftain. Survival of the fittest and all that.

In the business sector it’s not terribly different, except it’s less literal and more metaphorical. Power, fear and authority in the corporate setting often stem from a person’s ability to do you harm. Hopefully, no literal blood is shed. It’s bad enough to have a career that hemorrhages to death. At least you can go find another one and start over though. If you get shanked in prison and die…or if you battle to the death with a subordinate who wants your kingdom, let’s just say your opportunities for redemption are dead, too.

As for the money-maker or the earner, we all appreciate the person who can get us things we can’t otherwise find. From Radar on MASH who could work magic to get the supplies lacking at the 4077, to the rainmaker who brings in new clients to the law firm – and all the countless examples in between – we all have learned the value of the person who can bring in business or increase the assets. They become indispensable to the organization. They may become indispensable to us, too.

Money-Maker or Killer: Which One Are You?

Don’t confuse money making with just sales. It’s not merely about revenue generation. It’s about being valuable and other people seeing your value. It’s also why killing your way to the top works so well. It gains you instant visibility. And notoriety. Doing good work tends to keep you off the radar like a referee in a game who does a great job. You can become invisible if you report to work daily and do a good job. You can’t remain anonymous if you’re terrorizing people.

Now I don’t have to tell you that if you’ve got enough cold water in your veins to instill fear among your cohorts, you’re eventually going to encounter somebody whose blood runs even colder. Then what will you do? Or you may go after the wrong person, at the wrong time and find yourself lying in a pool of your own blood. Ruthlessness is a hard road to follow in getting ahead, but history is filled with success stories.

But there’s another kind of killer in the business world, the person capable of besting the competition. We tend to focus merely on people inside the company who get ahead at the expense of their peers. That’s a crummy way to go. Instead, it’s possible to add value to your organization because you have an ability to defeat the competition, or contribute heavily toward that cause.

Money makers and killers. It’s two completely different personalities, skill sets and inclinations. But both can achieve success others only dream of.

What if you’re neither of these? What if you’re not resourceful in bringing value and you’re not a killer either? Well, kiss your butt good-bye. You’ve got to add value somewhere, somehow. Then, you’ve got to be visible enough to gain proper recognition. Else…you’ll wind up like the millions who suffer daily with the frustration of feeling under-appreciated.

Some tips discussed in today’s podcast:

  • You have to identify and faithfully serve your number one customer. It’s not who you think it is.
  • You have to be able to see problems and solutions.
  • You have to be able to clearly communicate your ideas, and sell them.
  • You must believe in yourself and your ideas. It’s a confidence you must cultivate.
  • You can’t be bashful, but you can’t be overbearing either. You have to know when/where to pick your spots.
  • You must forge helpful alliances. Successful people don’t go it alone.
  • Visibility is key. You have to help others see your value else it will go unnoticed.
  • Your value is often determined by what others value, not what you value.
  • Life is not fair, but you can improve your odds by being capable, smart, confident and visible.
  • Gripe guts and malcontents won’t rise to the top and if they do, they won’t stay there long. Don’t join them. Avoid them.
  • Promote other people. Climb the ladder with colleagues. You need their help. Besides, it broadens your scope of influence.
  • It’s a marathon with countless sprints built in along the way. Be prepared to break away from the pack in an instant. You never know when your opportunity will come.
  • Do not let it go to your head. Keep your head on a swivel and stay on top of your game. Keep building value in your career.
  • Success is never final. Be prepared to suffer a setback.
  • Failure isn’t final either. Well, it doesn’t have to be. Be resilient. Bounce back. Be a fighter!

Randy

Luck, Timing And A Benefactor: Lessons From Early American Titans Of Industry

Like most young people who get breaks, luck has a lot to do with it, and timing. And the second factor, besides timing, is that as a young man usually all of us would admit that there was a mentor, a benefactor. And when an older person who you respect and admire has confidence in you, it’s a great booster to your own self-confidence.”

– Steve Wynn, regarding Tom Scott’s mentoring of Andrew Carnegie, on the History Channel’s “The Men Who Built America”

 Timing. Andrew Carnegie’s life was full of good timing and bad timing. Not unlike your life. Or mine.

As a 12-year old boy, “Andy” was working for Tom Scott’s Pennsylvania Railroad. He became Scott’s personal assistant and in short order, Scott took a special interest in Carnegie. He taught young Carnegie the railroad business, and along the way a thing or two about operating a business.

There’s much more to success in business than luck, timing and a benefactor.  Some things that are good. Others…not so much.

Ruthless business behavior isn’t limited to the stories you hear about today’s technology giants or social media moguls. It was well practiced by the men who built America. Winners don’t take well to losing. Some will do whatever it takes – legal or not, ethical or not – to gain an advantage.

Smartness isn’t the private domain of those who’ve built companies like Apple, Microsoft, Intel, Oracle or Facebook. Being smart pays off in every arena of life and in every era. Yet, there are many success stories whose main character was less than brilliant. You don’t have to be a top drawer brain to be successful in business.

Luck, timing and a person willing to show us the way or help us out are three common denominators often seen in the stories of successful people. That isn’t meant to diminish brilliance, determination and courage. Or the power of ruthlessness.

Post Civil War America was built mostly by ruthless men. Men whose business success was fueled by fearlessness, opportunity and an intense desire to best their peers. Putting the other guy out of business was often the primary objective in the early 1900’s. During America’s industrial age capitalism was dominated with men doing their best to gain a monopolistic advantage. From railroads, to steel, to oil and to electricity – early American business success came most to those able to dominate an infrastructure industry.

Could these industries have progressed without enemies driving the competitive spirit? Likely not. It’s the reason Edison invented the electric chair! Nor is it likely that any of these early pioneers of business could have achieved their success without luck, timing and a benefactor.

Take Edison and Tesla, one of Edison’s underlings. Both were brilliant (smart). Both were hard-working and devoted to their ideas. Tesla resigned from Edison’s company because of his firm belief that alternating current (AC) was more powerful and useful than direct current (DC). Edison was all in on DC and dismissed Tesla’s ideas so Tesla quit.

Edison had JP Morgan backing him. Tesla had Westinghouse.

JP Morgan ended up with the whole shebang called General Electric. Sometimes one benefactor wound up on top! It’s always better to have successful coat tails to latch onto. History might have been very different if Tesla’s benefactor had won. But he didn’t. Tesla’s horse lost and the rest is history.

Without boldness, courage, conviction in their rightness and confidence in their ability…it’s doubtful any of these early American businessmen would have found luck, timing or a benefactor. Good things don’t necessarily come to those who wait. More often than not, they come to those who step out from the crowd determined to find them, chase them down and own them. It’s high risk behavior.

But I wonder if it’s any riskier than those poor workers who suffered the abuses of working conditions that were life threatening. Living without options, no choices. Destined to accept whatever low wage was offered, working whatever schedule was imposed on them and suffering a life without hope for improvement.

The titans created their own choices. Failure was always an option, but so was success. It seems they were driven to have choice. And to connect with whomever could help them achieve their dream. They were committed to their own cause, their own idea and their own belief. I hope you are, too!

Randy

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