Most Critical Lesson for Success

I have found in life that there are two groups of people: the Doers and the Servers. The Doers look inside themselves to decide what action they will take. The Servers look outside themselves to decide how to act. The simple lesson is, if you want to be successful, be a Server. Learning to be of service, however, is not so simple and most people resist it.

Serving is more about attitude and focus than style.  One need not be an extrovert to serve; you can take direction from those you serve without changing your environment. Being of service is never passive; it requires action. For example: many people have complained that government is ineffective and needs to be changed; yet few have ever introduced themselves to their representative in Congress. Many people are concerned about those in society that need assistance; but few have committed themselves to a mission that extends a hand. And many people in business claim to be customer-focused while never asking for critical feedback from customers or using customers’ important problems to direct business plans. While the concept of serving is simple, putting it in action is difficult. Often people are not aware of the priorities and values that create obstacles and can benefit from a teacher, mentor, or coach to change. Here are three reasons I think it’s so difficult:

It requires maturity. We are all born with a Doer’s mindset. Being of service requires the awareness that customers or people being served are not an extension of you. I am one of many people who grew up with the parental message, “If it’s good enough for me, it’s good enough for you.” Many missteps in business have stemmed from thinking that there is some universal logic that causes customer wants and needs to be the same as the business owner’s. Service requires humility and respect for what is different.

It requires embracing ambiguity and agility. I recently heard Carnegie-Mellon’s Prof. Anita Woolley speak about Smart Teams and the importance of having Right Goals. Prof. Woolley noted there are process-oriented goals that focus on executing a process with little regard for outcomes and outcome-focused goals that focus on an outcome with no preconceived process for getting to the outcome. Both approaches are appropriate and Smart Teams correctly identify which approach is best for a circumstance. Customer-focused strategies take a desired outcome identified by customers and trust that a process can be found to achieve it. Many organizations balk when they need to stop doing what they’re comfortable doing and listen deeply to find the way forward.

It turns values upside down. People start businesses with a passion for a trade or technology and a desire to practice it independently. Focus on customers creates a dilemma that asks the business owner to cede independence for interdependence with customers. Customer-focused businesses are taken in directions that the owners never could have anticipated.

The first step in changing a business’ focus is developing Right Relationships where needs flow from the customer to the provider and not vice versa.  I am happy to be of help to businesses looking to make that first step.


Do You Confuse Vision and Mission?

Whenever I work with a group regarding strategic planning, I find the wordsvision-mission vision and mission often need definition. Perhaps some of the confusion comes from faith-based organizations using the word mission to mean what a commercial organization often calls vision. Simply put, vision is a description of how your organization expects to improve the welfare of your customers and community and mission describes how you will progress toward the vision in the short term. Let us address the two terms in detail:

Vision: The Internet has made it possible for every enterprise and individual to capture a global audience if they have a message the world finds interesting. The vision is a succinct, compelling statement describing who will benefit from the existence of this operation and how. It is the “punchline” for why people should buy from you, invest in you, and work for you. The focus is on how you want the world to perceive what your organization will become. Visions are supposed to be a bit hazy. This is because they ideally deal with qualities and character more than tangible actions. My suggestions for vision statements are:

  • Remember words of appreciation you have received from customers and integrate exactly what they appreciated in the statement
  • Prepare a list of three to five descriptors that you would like people to use in remembering your organization. Think about how they fit into your vision.
  • Include all of the relevant characters in the vision (i.e. customers, employees, surrounding community, etc.)
  • Use visual, metaphorical language and try to keep it under 25 words if possible
  • If your statement proclaims the organization to be a leader or “#1”, be sure it is evident how the world will come to that conclusion

Mission: The mission statement highlights the few areas of focus in the current planning period. Mission statements leave no doubt on what will be done and the result to be achieved. My suggestions for mission statements are:

  • Vital missions target innovation and change. Remember that customers just assume you deliver quality products and services and do not need to embark on a mission to do so.
  • Focus the organization on the critical goals and results to be achieved
  • State how the organization will be held accountable. Include measures, priorities, completion dates, and who will lead the mission
  • Mission goals should be realistic and supported by describing investment of talent and capital to involved parties.
  • Review mission progress on at least a quarterly basis

This is how I introduce these key concepts. For a leader or executive, these two elements are the most important part of a strategy. Please share your comments on best practices for vision and mission.

Election 2014: Not a Time to Be Complacent

I’m a firm believer that people get the government they deserve. I’m not sure what we were thinking when we created the crisis-driven, short-sighted leadership we have today, but now is the time to contemplate change. As a state, Connecticut faces structural changes that will require big changes to fix. Unless we take the time to get informed and involved, we will continue to get what we deserve.

Webster Bank has sponsored a forum titled, “Fiscal Sustainability: Critical to Connecticut’s Growth.” This forum has been presented in a number of locations and I caught the presentation in New Haven last week (see ). I define a structural problem as a condition when the available processes and resources no longer are able to satisfy the obligations and objectives of the organization. It’s all too common for businesses to run into sustainability issues; but seeing a state veer into that territory is new ground for me. Some of the key points addressed in the discussion are:

  • 28% of the General Operating Fund are used to service debt and entitlement obligations
  • In 2016, Connecticut must begin repaying additional bonded debt
  • Medicaid expenses have surpassed K-12 education expenses
  • Federal sequester will constrict funding that has been available to municipal government
  • The electorate needs to spend less time worrying about new taxes and more time reviewing how government funds are actually spent

Harry Browne said, “Security…it’s simply the recognition that changes will take place and the knowledge that you’re willing to deal with whatever comes.” The message I took from the presentation is that education and healthcare are going to be delivered very differently in the future and we had best be ready to guide the change.

I find it ironic that while economic projections show that Connecticut will not recover all the jobs lost in 2008 until 2017, there are a significant number of high-paying jobs in manufacturing that go unfilled due to a lack of skilled labor. I hear educators complain that with current policies and regulations, it is difficult to target new programs to address the STEM and vocational skills issue. This fall, plan some time to understand the issues and your local candidates’ views. This is a time when we all need to vote smart.

Let me know what you think is important and what you’d like to see in our future.  

Strategic Planning – The Essence of Being?

I am in a book group that’s reading Richard Rohr’s “Falling Upward – A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.” The premise of Mr. Rohr’s book is that the first part of life is a focus on learning how to do for ourselves through managing a career, picking a partner, etc. The second part of life is deciding who we want to be. The first part yields security while the second part offers fulfillment. I am struck by how well this discussion parallels the life of a business.

Mr. Rohr offers that a hazard in life is fixating on doing and the first part of life and never reaching for the fulfillment of being.  Every business has to start with an idea of what it wants to be. But with just a little bit of success, the entrepreneur must focus on “the doing” of building teams, process, and infrastructure. Management is a discipline focused on how to do things better. Just like people, perfecting how things are done can become a fixation and a source of false security. Managers can see planning as a distraction from “doing the real work.”

Any plateau or stagnation in growth can be traced to the owner and/or the company losing sight of what they want or need to be.  As a company grows, the owner must continually redefine their role away from doing and more toward leadership. A company must evaluate what it wants to be as they outgrow market niches or new competition and technology enter the market. Amazon would be an insignificant company if it remained just an online bookstore. It’s questionable whether Apple would still exist if they remained just a computer company.

Every new phase of growth at a company stems from an adjustment in what the company wants to be. Likewise, companies that resist reinvention usually find themselves on the slippery path of decline and blaming their sales and market staff for revenue shortfalls. Asking two simple questions: “Who am I targeting as customers and why will they buy from me?” can breathe new life and fulfillment into any organization. 

So….let me know what you think!

Business Day 2014 – What Dreams May Come?

The Connecticut Legislature celebrates Business Day on Wednesday March 5th. This event is scheduled for the beginning of the legislative session and is an opportunity for lawmakers, lobbyists, and business owners to shake hands, exchange wish lists, and do all those other things that happen in the political arena. Manufacturers have much to celebrate with the current Administration; as programs to develop the workforce and encourage capital investment have rolled out.

Still, Business Day is often tagged as the day when the legislative agenda is set. Agendas narrow focus and launch a pragmatic discussion of what we will do. Last fall, the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology (CCAT) promoted the Manufacturing Institute’s “Dream it. DO IT.” campaign across the state. Agendas fit nicely into the DO IT part of the campaign. True partnership between manufacturing and government, however, requires some shared dreams. Without vision, agendas are reduced to the Win-Lose arguments of politics.  In the long run, it’s our dreams that will determine if Connecticut manufacturing remains sustainable.

From strategy, to design, and to fabrication, manufacturing has become a virtual, visionary world. Connecticut’s future in manufacturing lies in productivity and innovation, not low-cost commodities. I am concerned whether Connecticut’s dreams are bold enough in the area of the technical education. Someday our economy is going to recover and the shortage of technical talent will endanger our ability to hold our share of the market. We need to find the right incentives and focused programs to entice workers with skills to receive the incremental training to fill the talent gap.

I am optimistic. Every day I see more leaders recognizing the importance of manufacturing in our economy and that manufacturing needs their cooperation and support to succeed. Happy Business Day!