Smoothing Rough Edges

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

How rough are your edges? Which aspects of your professional life need to be smoothed, polished, developed or refined? Do you understand what it takes to close the gap between success and true greatness as it applies to you? We have all known truly talented executives and entrepreneurs who while successful, still have a huge barrier precluding them from reaching their full potential…themselves. In today’s post I’ll discuss how to break through the final obstacle between success and greatness which is most often the barrier of self.

Over the years I have come to believe that the professional talent curve is comprised of a range consisting of the low-end, mid-point, upper-end and several points in-between. Under achievers are those professionals whose talent and ability far exceeds their level of performance.  Achievers are those who perform up to their ability and the over achievers are the rare few whose performance consistently eclipses their natural ability. The professionals at the upper-end of the talent curve have learned to grow beyond self imposed boundaries, and have developed their skill sets and competencies to levels that most never thought them capable of.

I can’t tell you how many successful professionals I’ve met that have lost key employees, failed to close substantial transactions or missed significant opportunities, had clients consciously make a decision to work with other less talented practitioners or inferior companies simply because they were tired of the attitude/ego/arrogance, had their company hit a plateau, or any number of other tragic and avoidable circumstances simply because they were either unwilling or incapable of recognizing their own shortcomings. They either weren’t capable of doing what was necessary to polish the rough edges and take their game to the next level, or they failed to recognize their shortcomings to begin with.  

Okay, so you own your own company or run someone else’s, have had your fair share of media attention and industry accolades, have achieved many of your goals and earn a better living than most…The bigger questions are:

  • Are you successful or are you a true success? Do you know the difference? 
  • Are you content and do you really feel successful or are you frustrated that you haven’t reached your full potential? 
  • Have you truly maximized your potential, or do you even recognize what that is?
  • Are you making others successful, and do others view you as a true success?
  • How do you know what you don’t know? 

The difference between being successful and being a true success is to bridge the gap between being good and becoming great. I believe it was Shakespeare who said “Be not afraid of greatness; some are born great, some achieve greatness and others have greatness thrust upon them.” Whether greatness is inherited, earned or stumbled upon, it cannot be sustained without consistent effort to refine and develop your skills and abilities. A cavalier reliance upon what has worked in the past will only take you so far. It is very common to watch professionals leverage intellect, aggressiveness, creativity, innate leadership ability, charisma or other positive traits to become successful. However it is uncommon to see professionals take those same characteristics and truly develop them to the extent of achieving greatness.

If you are not consistently working on self-improvement you will eventually hit a plateau, and the only way to break through the plateaus that will inevitably arise is to continually improve upon your abilities and to further develop your talent. Let’s say for sake of argument that you are indeed the best at what you do. Does this mean that there is no room for improvement and that you should not seek the help and counsel of others?

Let’s use Tiger Woods as an example…At the time of this writing he is without question the most dominant golfer on the PGA tour. Yet he still has a coach, frequently practices improving his game and has a team of professionals surrounding him with the goal of increasing his level of performance. He is already considered great, but is constantly working to improve his competitive capability in order to build upon what he has achieved and to sustain greatness as opposed to fall from greatness.

My recommendation to those at the upper-end of the talent curve who desire to transition from being successful to becoming a true success is to get out of your bubble and get honest with yourself. It is not necessary to succumb to the bondage of self…Find a mentor or coach who can credibly assess your strengths and weaknesses, understand your goals and help you see the things that you cannot see yourself, that others won’t tell you, or even if they do tell you that you refuse to acknowledge. Step outside yourself and begin the journey from good to great. 

Say Yes To Corporate Alumni

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

No company is immune to the perils of employee turnover. But what if I told you that there was a way to recoup some of the investments made into former employees? While I’m sure each of us can easily recall those former employees that we were glad to part company with, it might not be so easy to recall those good employees that got away from us. Even the best of companies will from time-to-time lose good employees. Think about the number of employees that have come and gone over the years and you will quickly realize that some great talent (or great talent in the making) has slipped through your fingers.

Under the right circumstances former employees can provide fertile ground for present day recruiting efforts. Corporate “alumni” were good enough to hire the first time around so with more maturity, experience, possible business intelligence gained from working for competitors or fresh perspectives gained from working outside the industry they should certainly be good enough to invite back for an encore performance. More and more organizations are developing formal corporate alumni programs to take advantage of these types of benefits. If nothing else, those that have come and gone only to come again should require less training and ramp faster than the alternative of first time hires.     

A management consulting firm that I worked for in the mid 80’s has sent me a recruiting letter each year on my birthday for almost 20 years. It is a professional yet friendly piece of correspondence reminding me of my former relationship, the many benefits associated with being a member my former firm and inquiring as to the possibility of me rejoining the firm. I have always had a good feeling about my former employer and the annual letter hasn’t hurt. While I have not yet taken them up on the offer to rejoin the firm I know many of my former colleagues have with some of them on their 3rd and 4th rounds of employment with the firm.

The fact of the matter is that former employees can not only make great re-hires on a full time basis, but they can also be called upon to fill interim needs on a contract basis. Following are the keys to creating an alumni program for your company:

1. Create a Talent Management Strategy: To maintain a competitive edge HR can no longer be a passive, reactionary, compliance focused department. A “real” HR group will have a strong hand in leadership development, training, team building and culture optimization. As early as the initial employee in-take interview the HR department must start creating a sense of corporate family and belonging. The company must win the hearts and minds of its employees and HR must be an active participant in this.

2. Make the Most of Exit Interviews: Most exit interviews are conducted with little strategic purpose and are nothing more than a formality to be concluded when closing a file. If HR is looking for anything it is usually looking to mitigate any potential future liability. But what about future opportunity? HR should be looking for specific talents, abilities, characteristics and leadership qualities so that the file can be appropriately noted as a potential source of information when looking to fill open positions in the future.

3. Convert Closed HR Files into an Active Database: As mentioned in number two above, a career history, personal profile and contact information should be entered into an alumni database that is kept current and that can be searched by specific variables. This database should be e-mailed frequently with company updates, news and information to foster the sense of “alumni” that will allow you to successfully mine this valuable source of talent.

4. Establish an Alumni Website: To go hand-in-hand with the alumni database you should create an alumni website where former employees can retrieve information and communicate with the company. Consider an alumni blog or hosting an alumni webinar to facilitate an even broader base of communication with your former employees.

The bottom line is that if you build the right brand and the right culture employees will take pride in being associated with your company both during their tenure of employment as well as after they have left the company. Creating this type of environment is a solid retention strategy that will make it more difficult for employees to leave the firm but it will also make it much easier for them to return to the company at a future date.

The Value of a Brand

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

In an earlier post this month entitled “Assessing Brand Value” I provided a fairly in depth overview of both how to calculate a brand’s value as well as describing why it is critically important to focus on creating brand equity. Nothing illustrates the impact of a brand’s contribution to the overall health of a company more than an assessment of its financial contribution marked by its valuation, its change in growth and its short-term momentum.  In today’s post we’ll peel back the layers of some of the best and worst performing brands in order to validate proof of the mission critical nature and value of a brand…

I would strongly recommend that you read BrandZ, which is an annual study of the world’s top 100 brands (by valuation) conducted by Millward Brown. The beauty of this report is that regardless of how you feel about the business logic used or the key metrics evaluated in their analysis, it was nonetheless objectively applied across all companies covered in the study. The study breaks down brands by category and does a decent job at profiling sector analyses as they relate to brand growth. However for purposes of this post I simply want to use the data contained in the report to validate what I’ve been saying for as long as I can recall…Brands matter. As a senior executive if you don’t understand the power of your brand and its linkage as a driver to virtually every other key metric then you are in for a very rocky and likely short-lived career.

Pulling from Millward Brown’s study, in the lists below I’ve highlighted a comparison between the 10 most valuable brands, the 10 fastest growing brands, and the 10 brands in greatest decline:

Top 10 Most Valued Brands (by market value of brand equity)        
1.   Google – $66.4BB                              
2.   GE – $61.8BB                                             
3.   Microsoft – $54.9BB                                         
4.   Coca Cola – $44.1BB                                       
5.   China Mobile – $41.1BB                                
6.   Marlboro – $39.1BB                                         
7.   Wal-Mart – $36.8BB                 
8.   Citi – $33.7BB                                             
9.   IBM – $33.5BB                                                
10. Toyota – $33.4BB                             

10 Fastest Growing Brands (percentage increase in valuation over 1 year)
1.   Marks & Spencer 192%
2.   Best Buy 113%
3.   Target 88% 
4.   Google 77% 
5.   ABN Amro 72%
6.   Apple 55% 
7.   Gucci 49
8.   Starbucks 45%
9.   Hermes 44%
10. Cingular Wireless 39%                            

10 Brands in Greatest Decline (percentage decline in valuation over 1 year)
1.   Home Depot -33%
2.   T-Mobile -32%
3.   Dell -24%
4.   Intel -23%
5.   Budweiser -15%
6.   Vodafone -12%
7.   Microsoft -11%
8.   Cisco & Chevrolet -10%
9.   Ford -9%
10. IBM & Goldman Sachs -7%      

Let’s begin by contrasting Google and Microsoft…Microsoft once thought of as an impermeable brand that would play king of the mountain forever vs. Google, the dominant brand of this decade. When you consider that Microsoft fell from number 1 last year to number 3 this year suffering an 11% decline in valuation while Google saw a meteoric rise to the most valuable brand in the world increasing its brand equity by 77% this year it provides strong testimony to the linkage between vision, strategy, operations and brand.

In even the most cursory review of the above three lists (not to mention if you take the time to read the entire report) you can see how brand affects value. Witnessing former blue chip brands such as IBM, Goldman Sachs, Dell, Intel and Home Depot fall into decline shows the need to carefully manage a company’s brand. Declining brand equity not only erodes overall corporate valuation, but it also impacts customer loyalty and crushes revenue growth. 

If you are a CEO or entrepreneur and don’t fully understand that brand equity and momentum are perhaps the most critical success metrics to be measured and managed then your personal reputation and brand is bound to decline as rapidly as the corporate brand you have failed to steward.   

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