Productivity for CEOs

By, Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Understanding how to maximize CEO productivity becomes even more critical during recessionary times. Oddly enough, when it comes to productivity at the C-suite, many CEOs tend to struggle with determining what constitutes highest and best use of their time.  It has been my experience that all CEOs, regardless of tenure or ability, tend to find themselves conflicted with this issue at some point in time. Clearly everyone on the org chart deals with this same issue, however it is infinitely more complicated for the chief executive. In today’s post I’ll provide some thoughts about how to maximize the use of your time while removing some of the more typical internal decisioning conflicts…

One of the root issues that most CEOs need to address when coming to grips with improving their productivity is the fact that most of them don’t have a job description. In fact, out of the CEOs I’ve worked with over the years, only about 10% of them actually had formal job descriptions when I first started working with them.  There appears to be an unwritten rule for CEOs that goes something like this…by the time someone reaches the esteemed position of CEO they automatically know what to do, always having the right answer to any and all problems. The truth of the matter is that CEOs have a greater need for a job description than any other employee within the company. 

A good CEO wouldn’t allow other members of their executive team, management team, or staff to operate without a job description. So I ask you, why then, when the CEO has more responsibility, more accountability to a greater number of constituencies, and ultimately more at risk than other employees, do they not take the time to clearly define their duties, responsibilities, obligations, and performance expectations? There is no real pat answer to this question, but rather the reasons underlying the answers consist of a convoluted combination of arrogance, over-confidence, laziness, confusion, and ignorance. 

The CEO job description is certainly the shortest job description on record, and frankly a rather a simple one: To ethically increase shareholder equity. The problem therein lies in decisioning how a CEO should go about accomplishing that task. CEOs are constantly faced with deciding between strategy and tactics, vision and mission, leadership and management, internal vs. external communications, branding vs. advertising, marketing vs. sales, talent vs. resources, and on-and-on. Further complicating these matters is that great CEOs need to touch on all these points (see a previous post entitled “Contextual Thinking“) in order to get the job done.

While one person clearly cannot do it all, the CEO also cannot abdicate responsibility. On one end of the spectrum, many CEOs either misunderstand the difference between ultimate responsibility and day-to-day responsibility, or on the other end of the spectrum, they cannot or will not accept responsibility for anything at all. The truly great CEOs clearly understand their role and are masters of execution. They realize the influence they possess, and the powerful impact that their decisions and actions have both internally and externally. They neither take on too much responsibility, nor do they ignore their responsibility.

I have always believed that the role of CEO is first and foremost to be a leader. It is the CEO’s job to provide leadership based upon a clearly articulated vision and a well defined strategy. Priority number two is team building and talent management. If the vision and strategy are clearly articulated, and people are hired, mentored, and developed based on a values based leadership model, then you will develop an outstanding corporate culture where innovation and performance become the rule and not the exception. One of the main keys to generating organizational leverage is for chief executives to know when, where and why to deploy (or redeploy) talent and resources. It has been my experience that it is much easier to recruit talent or acquire resources than it is to properly deploy talent and allocate resources. 

The successful CEO understands that they are responsible for vision, mission, strategy, culture and talent management, and that executives and management are responsible for objectives, goals, tactics and process. Great companies are focused, collaborative, and innovative which only happens in an organization created and led by talented chief executives.      

How Productive Are You?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

How Productive Are You?” Let’s face it, productivity is the standard by which most of us are judged in the business world. At the end of the day, in most business environments, your destiny is likely to come down to a “what have you done for me lately” type of evaluation. My question to you is this…Are you as productive as you think you are, or even as productive as you used to be? Would your co-workers agree with your assessment? In today’s post I’ll share my thoughts about any number of different things that can adversely affect your ability to produce, as well as some of the key items that can leverage your ability to optimize productivity. 

Even though entrepreneurs and executives are typically bright, talented, and motivated people known for being highly productive, studies have shown that most professionals, when objectively assessed, are found to view themselves as being more productive than they really are. This is even true with the classic over-achieving type “A” personalities. So, what separates the productive from the non-productive? In working with countless CEOs and entrepreneurs, it has been my experience that those professionals who like to cover a lot of ground, and consider themselves masters of multi-tasking, are not nearly as productive as those who have an ability to focus (see previous post entitled “The Power of Focus“).

Okay, let’s examine an all too common scenario: You have 30 minutes before the beginning of a strategy meeting which you are facilitating, and as you start to prepare your final thoughts you receive an e-mail from legal asking you to review the latest version of an important contract before you go into the meeting. As you begin to redline the contract you receive an IM from a board member asking for your immediate attention on a key issue. As you start to respond to the board member, your assistant informs you that an important client is on the phone and needs to speak with you immediately…As you begin to take the phone call you glance out your window only to see a small line forming outside your door, and just then your Blackberry goes-off with a 911 from your spouse…

The sad part about the aforementioned illustration is that for many executives this is standard operating procedure. The pressure to become a multi-tasking phenom is in my opinion at the root of a decline in executive productivity. Multi-tasking in my opinion is choosing to deal with perceived “urgent” matters rather than focusing on truly “important” matters. My father once told me that “part-time efforts yield part-time results” and I have found that with rare exception his premise is correct.

In the scenario presented above it is likely that this fictional executive would not have been properly prepared for his/her meeting, missed a key business point in reviewing the contract, sent the board member an indiscernible IM full of typos, upset the important client by not giving him/her the deserved amount of respect and attention, frustrated the employees lined-up outside the door, and more than likely would have ended-up sleeping on the couch because he/she forgot to return their spouse’s phone call.

It is impossible to kind-of, sort-of, almost, focus and still be productive. If you find yourself constantly multi-tasking you are exhibiting a lack of focus, an inability to prioritize, and regardless of what you might think, you are not optimizing your productivity. The first step in dealing with an addiction is to recognize it exists in the first place. Technology can be a beautiful thing but only if you learn to be its master and not its slave. Without question the most successful executives I know are the ones that can prioritize, delegate, focus, and who understand the difference between a productive ”no” and an unproductive “yes”.  Learning to stop trying to be all things to all people while attempting to single handedly conquer the world is what will help lead you toward a certainty of execution and an increase in productivity.

Risk Management Made Easy…

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Accountability is the lowest cost, most practical, and most productive form of risk management and quality assurance that can be implemented across an enterprise. Put simply, accountability is really nothing more than a common sense understanding that decisions made within a framework are going to have a greater chance of success than those made in a vacuum. What type of checks and balances exist within your business environment? Who are you accountable to, and who is accountable to you? In today’s post we’ll examine not only the benefits of accountability, but also how to implement a framework for accountability within your business…

Regardless of where you are in the corporate hierarchy, accountability is a fundamental principal associated with success. Administrative and support staff needs to be accountable for the quality and timeliness of their work. Sales people need to be accountable for not only production volume, but the manner in which they represent the company brand while attaining said volume. Management needs to be accountable to their subordinates as well as to executive leadership. Executives need to be accountable for their quality of leadership and decision making. Have you ever sat in a meeting when an obviously flawed decision was uncovered, only to have everyone around the table adopt the deer in the headlights stare of total confusion? Wouldn’t it be nice not to find yourself in that position ever again? The bottom line is that individuals, teams, business units, divisions and corporations will be better off when a culture of accountability is adopted.

It is those individuals or organizations who don’t believe they are accountable to anyone, for anything, or at anytime that are nothing more than a disaster waiting to happen. All human beings, regardless of who they are, can be capable of making huge mistakes when operating in a vacuum or under a veil of secrecy. While there are certainly those individuals who are just predatory, bad to the bone people, clearly not everyone who makes a mistake is evil with the intent to do harm to others. Rather many people when faced with a tough situation simply were not operating in an accountable manner, and thus made a decision that they would not have otherwise likely made if they were openly operating under the scrutiny and review of others. If you think back to any of the bad and/or regrettable decisions you’ve made in your life, it is highly probable that you didn’t seek the counsel of others (or ignored said counsel) prior to making the wrong decision. Setting up an enterprise wide framework for accountability is as simple as implementing the following three items:

1. Have a clearly articulated statement of corporate values: Accountability is a principle that operates best in a top down context. If the leadership team does not hold themselves to high standards of accountability, then it will be difficult to convince subordinates that they should do otherwise. It is important to not only state the values you want the entity to use as a foundation for operation, but also to use the values to frame your vision, mission, strategy, tactics and processes. Hire and manage based upon the corporate values. If you hire someone who doesn’t share the corporate values, or don’t hold existing employees accountable for maintaining the corporate values, then you will get what you deserve

2. Have a written delegation of authority: A written guideline for corporate decisioning will help individuals make good decisions. Define the difference between major and minor decisions, and describe in great detail which employees are authorized to make what decisions. Establish budgetary and approval guidelines for all decisions, and create a process to insure that no major decisions are made in a vacuum. Making sure that good checks and balances are in place will help keep employees accountable.

3. Implement a good leadership development program: Utilizing training, coaching, mentoring, peer review, talent management and other sound development practices will help insure that your leaders will continue to grow, and that corporate accountability guidelines are being consistently reinforced. If your executive and management teams lead by example, subjecting themselves to accountability, then staff level employees will follow suit. When good decisions are made on a consistent basis, trust is established and credability is enhanced both internally and externally.

The Value of Free

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

The old adage “you get what you pay for” makes for a good sound bite, but it is simply a myopic perspective based upon a misinterpretation of the value of “Free”. The ultimate marketing hook has always been, continues to be, and will remain the “Free” trial or give-away. Free does not diminish value, nor is it beneath a premium provider or brand…Rather ”Free” is simply a very intelligent way to leverage your strengths. In today’s blog post I’ll examine the lost art of how to use “Free” as a strategic marketing advantage.

Brand snobbery is not the key to success, and in only the most rare circumstances are companies built upon consumers make a purchasing decision solely based upon a positioning strategy of demonstrated arrogance. A key focus area should be in establishing a bond of trust and engendering credibility with your target market. Moreover anything you can do to remove barriers and shorten the selling cycle is time very well spent. Nothing gives you the chance to demonstrate competency, overcome objections and communicate unique selling propositions better than a “try before you buy” strategy.  It is a very rare occurence that I speak with an executive or entrepreneur where I can’t reach an agreement so why wouldn’t I want every possible chance to do so? 

If you believe free offers are for discount providers or brands, or that they are not used by busy or successful professionals, then I would encourage you to reevaluate your thinking as it may be resulting in lost opportunities. Our firm has a premium brand and we use free give-aways as a key component of our marketing strategy…I am a very busy executive with numerous operating responsibilities at the corporate level as well as maintaining a personal consulting practice and yet I take the time to author this blog and in the right situations will give away snippets of time at no cost or obligation.

You will find that the most sought after professionals will always invest their time as they have nothing to hide and everything to gain in doing so. From my point of view, the best thing that can happen is for prospective clients to speak with other firms and then for them to speak with me…I certainly don’t want to do anything that would stand in the way of letting the client compare me with my peers. I’m reminded of an experience I had many years back while shopping for an automobile…I had narrowed my options down to three brands, of which two, gave me the normal 10 minute test drive and one said take the car for the weekend. The dealer that gave me the 72 hour test drive was confident in his product and as it turned out rightly so…

Bottom line…free consultations, free access to white papers or articles, trial offers, performance guarantees, discounted, tiered or bundled pricing models, rebates or any number of other incentives that incorporate a free offer will result in an increase in sales and customer loyalty. Still not a believer? Call me and let’s see what happens…

Lessons from Iowa

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

An interesting thing happened in the world of politics over the weekend…for those executives and entrepreneurs who paid attention, we were treated to some valuable lessons on communication, strategy, tactics, leadership, branding and positioning. In today’s post I’ll attempt to draw some corollaries between the politics of the preceding few days on the campaign trail, and the everyday realities of the world of business…

Neither the majority of pundits, nor the results of the initial polls, predicted Obama or Huckabee as likely victors in Iowa. So this begs the question, why the surge in popularity down the home stretch leading to eventual, and decisive victories for both of these candidates? Can you say “Change” and “Likeability”? If you’ve been following the Presidential race of late, you will have noticed a recent thematic change in the campaign strategies of the major candidates in both parties. The results of the Iowa Caucus, which favored the change candidates, who by most accounts were also the most likeable candidates as far as the Iowa voters were concerned, immediately influenced not only the campaign tactics for all the leading candidates, but also had a palpable impact on the debates over the weekend.

Politics and business share many things in common, but certainly one of the most important shared commonalities is understanding the critical importance of constituency management. You see, Obama and Huckabee had a clear understanding of the fact that Iowa Caucus goers were seeking to be inspired. They recognized that a message of change, effectively communicated, would be well received by Iowa voters and would in turn provide them an edge over the other candidates. While Huckabee and Obama were right, it didn’t take long (it started within minutes of the polls closing) for the other candidates to recalibrate their positioning, change their stump speeches, and to prepare their messages for the debates on Saturday and Sunday. 

By early Saturday morning you could find news clips of every candidate spinning their position in an attempt to show that they were in fact both more likeable and a candidate of change. By the time the debates aired Saturday evening, each candidate has essentially reworked their messaging to communicate their positions and views as those of a likeable and successful change agent. You’ll note that in just the last two days each candidate has made very aggressive attempts to soften their approach and improve their likability factor in an attempt to better connect with potential voters.

Let me be clear, I’m not attempting to comment on how successful or sincere these candidates were in their actions over the weekend, but rather to point out the power and influence that is held within the message of change when communicated by a credible, likeable messenger. Don’t allow yourself to get lost in the frivolity of debating whether change is best caused from the anti-establishment outsider, or whether change is best catalyzed by the insider who has the most knowledge of how things work…Rather stay focused on the concept of change itself, as well as the credibility and likeability of the messenger. Historically there have been numerous examples of successful change occurring from both inside and out. The bottom line is that change is a powerful message when effectively delivered.

While I think most people in business or politics understand and accept the need for change, perhaps the more important thing to discern about change is what constitutes the actual definition of change, and can it be effectively implemented? Let’s move from the form over substance analysis of political maneuvering, and look at the real key to change which is execution. The simple truth is that anyone can talk the talk and capitalize on dissatisfaction with the status quo. However, very few people can effectively determine how to lead and manage meaningful, productive change.

Change is about more than vague, ethereal, ambiguous rhetoric. Change is all about clear definition, leadership, excellent communication and execution. It is important to understand that change can either be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Ill-conceived change, implemented by change agents for the sake of change, can cause irreparable harm. On the other hand, there is little debate that the successful implementation of well conceived change can create an extreme competitive advantage and offer massive improvements in performance.

Those businesses that seek out and embrace change are healthy, growing and dynamic organizations while companies that fear change are stagnant entities on their way to a slow and painful death. Agility, innovation, disruption, fluidity, decisiveness, commitment, and above all, a bias toward action will lead to the creation of change which results in evolving, growing and thriving companies.

Leading change is certainly not without risk, but if implemented properly it can breathe life back into the most tired business. So, why is it that so many established companies struggle with the concept of change? Many times it is simply because companies have been doing the same things, in the same ways, for the same reasons, and for so long that they struggle with the concept of change. Consider the modern workplace.  In executive circles, leaders often talk about employees who are not on-board, resist change, and are reluctant to try new things.  And among employee ranks conversations that take place in the hallways and break rooms often center around whether or not executives really know what they’re doing and whether the newest change initiative is just a passing fad. 

In today’s competitive business environment you must quickly be able to assess risk and make timely decisions. You cannot be successful being guided by fear and hesitation. Work on your likeability factor and your focus on execution. Regardless of what the politicians say or do change is a message of success. Don’t fear change…embrace it.

Back to Basics

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Every professional, regardless of their position or stature, should go back to basics on a regular basis to insure that bad habits have not been formed. In that vein, I cannot think of a better time to review a few basic fundamentals than as we approach the beginning of a new year. I have watched the undisciplined and casual choice of vocabulary cause even the most savvy executives to lose productivity and leverage without even realizing it. The simple reality for leaders is that what you say and how you say it does in fact matter. In a previous post entitled “Vocabulary…It Does Matter” I address this subject in great detail. However in today’s post I want to get back to basics and focus on three words that can make a huge difference in not only boosting your personal productivity, but also the productivity of your entire team… 

While I encourage you to follow your parent’s direction and always use “please” and “thank you” as they are greatly appreciated by all, these are not two of the words that I referenced above. Two of the words that I’ll share with you in the text that follows are not used nearly often enough, and the third word is used all too often and usually in an inappropriate manner. However when used correctly these three words can make a dramatic difference in raising your productivity to new heights.

Let’s start with the word that is quite literally a two edged sword. Used correctly the word “yes” can enable great things to happen. As an enabling word “yes” is a catalyzing and driving vocabulary item that sets things in motion. However the inappropriate use of the word “yes” will sink your boat faster than any other 3 letter word in the English language. The incorrect use of the word “yes” overextends, over commits, causes a lack of focus, launches failed initiatives, wastes resources and causes any number of other problematic situations.

The key to the proper use of the word ”yes” is to use wisdom and discernment in its application. Don’t just say yes because you can, but rather evaluate the chain of events set into motion by a yes answer and determine whether or not an affirmative response will cause more harm than good. I have always prided myself on trying to find ways to say “yes” in a manner that moves things forward in productive fashion. This means I actually think about the consequences of what I say before I say it. If my analyses leads me to believe that a “yes” will create more harm than good that 3 letter word simply won’t pass through my lips.

Let’s turn our attention to the word that will help you clear the decks to focus on highest and best use activities. The word is “no”… Most achievement oriented professionals want to take on the world and as such have a propensity to bite-off more than they can chew. Being over committed will suck the life out of those who possess even the greatest amounts of energy.

Saying ”no” doesn’t come easy to many as it is counter intuitive to wanting to help others succeed. The fact is that by saying “no” more often you’ll help others develop their skill sets faster by not being overly dependant upon your expertise. It is critical to remember that by solving other’s problems or fixing their mistakes you are neither being productive or a good leader. When someone asks you to bail them out you should tell them that you would be happy to support them by coaching them through the issue, but that they’ll have to resolve it on their own accord. This is leading by mentoring and educating not by being a doormat. Try this…the next time someone asks you for a “yes” answer that you’re disinclined to give say: “that’s an interesting idea, what other options have you considered and what are the pros and cons of each?” This question gives someone the chance to refine their thinking with the possibility of still receiving a “yes” answer to their request.

By learning to say “no” to things that do not constitute highest and best use activities you will find that you have much more time to focus on priorities and you’ll notice an immediate boost in productivity. Additionally with appropriate use of the word ”no” you will start to build some bench strength by training people to resolve conflict and problem solve on their own.

The third word and my personal favorite is “why”… No other word can cut through ambiguity, force justification of positioning, control a conversation, surface flawed logic or stimulate refined thinking like the proper use of ”why.” The skillful application of “why’ can also serve to test the depth and breadth of someone’s commitment or subject matter expertise. 

My favorite use of ”why” kills two birds with one stone…it allows me to gain an insight into how people think by having them step through their thought process while at the same time using the exercise as a teaching tool. By continuing to drill down on a subject with the appropriate use of “why” I have watched individuals take what was little more than a raw concept and within a matter of minutes refine it into a well fleshed-out plan. 

Use these three words effectively and watch your productivity soar…

CEO Resources

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Happy New Year! I just returned from my first extended blogging vacation since 2006, and after taking the last 10 days to recharge my batteries I can earnestly state that I’m glad to be back. In my first post of 2008 I thought I’d offer you a New’s Year’s gift by providing a list of some of my favorite links. You can bookmark this post, and by adding this page to your favorites you will have a single location that will serve as a valuable list of resources which should be of interest to any CEO or entrepreneur. I hope you find this helpful

Business Publications, News Papers & Periodicals 
BarronsBBC | Boston Globe | Business 2.0 | Business Week | CFO | CIOChief Executive| Economist | Entrepreneur | Fast Company Financial Times | Forbes Fortune | Harvard Business ReviewInc. Investor’s Business Daily | Kiplinger | London Times | MicroCap Review | Mergers & Acquisitions | MIT TechReview | New York Times | Newsday | Singapore Business Times | Small Business Review | Strategy+Business SuccessUSA Today | US News | Wall Street Journal | Wired |

Business Wires, Online News, Databases & Information Portals
ABC | AP Wire | BBC | Bloomberg | Business WireCBSCommercial Property News | CNBC | CNN | C-Net | C-SpanDrudge Report | Edgar OnlineFox | InterNIC €˜Whois’ | GlobeSt.com | Google NewsMSNBC| NAICS/SIC Codes | PBSPR Newswire | ReutersSEC Database | Smoking Gun | Topix | US Patent OfficeVentureWire   

Financial Markets
Amex | BolsaDJIAFTSE | HKEx | ISE | MoscowNasdaqNikkei | NYSE | TASE

Investment Banks, Private Equity Firms & VC’s
Bank of America | Blackstone | Bear Sterns | CitigroupCredit Suisse | Deutsche Bank | DLJ | Goldman Sachs | Lehman BrothersJP Morgan | Lazard | Merrill Lynch | Morgan Stanley | RBC | RBSUBS | Extensive Private Equity Database (free trial) | Top 100 VC Firms  

Legal & Accounting Firms
Top 100 Accounting Firms | 250 Top Law Firms |

Miscellaneous Links
1-800-Flowers | Airlines (World Wide) | Airline Phone #s | Airport Directory | Flight Arrivals and Departures | Flight Tracker | Amazon.com | Barnes & Noble | Concierge | DHL | Express Mail | FedEx | Maps & Directions | UPS | Weather Channel | Zip Code Finder
If you can think of any links that I’ve missed (I’m sure there are many), just let me know and I’ll update the list…