15 Seconds of Fame…

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

15 Seconds of Fame15 Seconds of Fame” – It’s been said that at some point in everyone’s life they’ll have their 15 seconds of fame…Your 15 seconds of fame may come to you in good times or in bad, it may happen as a result of tremendous diligence and hard work on your part, or it may simply occur as a matter of chance. Regardless of the reasons or circumstances surrounding your moment in the sun, my question is this…what will you do to maximize the opportunity when it presents itself? In today’s post I’ll share some thoughts on how to leverage your 15 seconds when it arrives…

When your time comes (and it will) you have a choice to make…You can take it for what it is and just let the opportunity pass you by, or you can leverage it for all it’s worth. There is really no right or wrong choice here as it simply boils down to personal preferences and priorities. That being said, if you’re a person who wants to capitalize on your 15 seconds of fame you need to be prepared. Let me make this as simple as I can…the only way to maximize the opportunity surrounding your 15 seconds of fame is to extend it. If you let the 15 seconds come and go it’s over. However, you can easily extend the clock with a plan.

My favorite example of someone who is maximizing their 15 seconds also happens to be a recent example…His name is Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, aka “Joe the Plumber.” A self-purported “average Joe,” this 34 year-old tradesman jumped all over his 15 seconds by doing something that most people don’t do…He hired a publicity firm to extend the clock by developing his message, and promoting a highly marketable and timely personal brand. “Joe” simply took the opportunity and ran with it…

You Go Joe...So, what does Joe have to show for his efforts? A new website which sells memberships (for only $19.95 you too can join Joe’s cause), a blog, a new book deal, and media appearances galore. All this has come as a result of a great sense of timing…Joe realized he was a hot commodity and decided that he didn’t want to fade away as he so easily could of… The result is that this “Average Joe” isn’t so average anymore…Moreover, his days of fixing toilets and sinks are likely gone forever (assuming his new handlers do their job properly). So what can you do to leverage your opportunity when it comes? The following list contains three items for your consideration: 

  1. Be Aware of Surroundings: Joe could have easily just stood in the rope line and let Barrack Obama pass him by without uttering so much as a sound, but that’s not what he did. Opportunities most often come to those who look for them. You can’t hit the ball if you don’t step-up to the plate and swing the bat…
  2. Assess The Opportunity: When the event happens, take the time to assess the opportunity to determine the potential upside as contrasted with all the potential risks. Seek advice and counsel from friends and family and decide whether or not chasing the opportunity is worth the sacrifice it will take to extend your 15 seconds.
  3. Get Professional Help: Just as Joe did, leverage the advice of professionals who understand what’s involved in branding, promoting, positioning, and messaging in a fashion that will catalyze momentum and public interest. When opportunity knocks, there is no time for a do-it-yourself learning curve.

Employee Retention

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Employee Retention begins with Great LeadershipEmployee retention discussions are often reserved for burgeoning economic times when competition for talent is high. Therefore it holds true that during tough economic times, when unemployment is high, employee retention quite frequently just gets ignored. Today’s Myatt on Monday’s question comes from a CEO who asks: “In a post earlier this month (“Workforce Reduction“) you criticized CEOs who use layoffs as an operating strategy, but could you comment on how to retain employees during tough times?” In today’s post I’ll examine the topic of employee retention…

Few things in business are as costly and disruptive as workforce churn…whether it occurs knowingly as a result of layoffs, or unknowingly through poor employee retention practices, having the provervial  revolving door for employees to exit from is never a positive sign. While there are many secondary and tertiary items that can influence an employee’s decision to leave, I believe there is one single factor that constitutes the overarching reason which drives a person’s decision to leave their employer…Poor Leadership

Let me begin by stating that no company in the world has a 100% retention factor if measured over any meaningful length of time. It is also important to note that while the least productive component of your workforce might be less tempted to jump ship during tough times, your tier-one talent is always at risk for what I call “opportunity shopping.” Highly skilled and talented executives tend to have a “grass is greener” mindset, whereas while less skilled workers might dream of greener pastures they have fewer options and are more risk adverse. 

The reality is that in good times and bad, there are definitely companies that have created excellent work environments leading to superior employee satisfaction and retention. Organizations that display the healthy, dynamic, and positive culture that fosters a motivated and engaged workforce all have one thing in common…great leadership

There is an old saying that goes; “Employees don’t quit working for companies, they quit working for their bosses.” Regardless of tenure, position, title, etc., employees who voluntarily leave generally do so out of some type of perceived disconnect with leadership. Furthermore, while the accuracy of exit interviews are somewhat debatable, they nonetheless support the conclusion drawn in the previous sentence. The following list contains just five representative samples of the differences between solid company leadership and poor leadership…

  • Hiring Methodology: Great leadership teams use a values based hiring methodology. They hire slowly, carefully, and only to fill a defined need with a specific skill set. Companies with challenged leadership hire quickly, often based on how affordably they can fill a position, and many times in absence of a defined need.
  • Leadership Continuity: Great companies have a clear vision, mission, and strategy, which are evangelized by a cohesive leadership team. A crisply articulated vision, and continuity of leadership creates an engaged workforce that understands the business model and key objectives of the enterprise. Companies that have a fractured leadership team lose the confidence of line and staff. Employees that don’t understand what they’re playing for are very difficult to motivate and as a result are often disengaged and non-productive. 
  • A Planned Transition: Outstanding leadership teams set employees up for success and not for failure. They have an established onboarding process which puts forth an initial road-map for a successful transition by clearly defining key performance indicators, business objectives, and other key metrics. Well honed leadership teams immediately assign an in house mentor to new hires to help insure a successful acclimation. Unsophisticated leadership teams usually have a sink or swim mentality with regard to new hires and have substantial voids in training and management processes in the early days of a new hire. Poor leadership teams have a lack of continuity in their training and development which breeds discontentment and dissatisfaction.  
  • Compensation: Great leadership teams understand the value of tier-one talent, and are not afraid to pay-up in order to attract it and retain it. They create a multi-tiered compensation plan that rewards employees at the top of industry scale when performance objectives are met or exceeded. Moreover they understand the value of non-compensatory recognition and apply it generously and judiciously. Companies with poor leadership often trip over dollars to pick-up pennies when it comes to compensation. Their compensation plans lack sophistication, creativity, and are engineered by default and not be design. People will often cite non-competitive compensation as an issue for leaving a company, but what they are really stating is that the company has an unsophisticated leadership team which is out of touch with both the market, and the needs of its employees.
  • Professional Development: Solid leadership teams challenge their employees by offering them a clear path toward personal and professional growth. Great companies create a career path that offers the successful employee the option of matriculating throughout the company based upon achievements, needs, and qualifications. Great leadership teams understand that in order to create a thriving and sustainable enterprise that a key priority is to develop talent to their greatest potential, and ultimately to create other leaders. Poor leadership teams don’t see the value in training, mentoring, coaching, and other forms of professional development. Their workforces are stagnant and not competitive, which places them a not only a competitive disadvantage, but also at risk for long-term sustainability. 

While today’s post was an extemporaneous highlight of just a few critical acknowledgements, I hope it clearly portrayed the value of leadership in employee retention and development.

Kudos to Goldman Sachs…

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Kudos to Goldman SachsKudos to the top 7 C-level executives at Goldman Sachs for agreeing to forego their bonuses this year…Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Presidents and co-Chief Operating Officers Jon Winkelried and Gary Cohn, CFO David Viniar, and three vice chairmen: J Michael Evans, Michael Sherwood and John Weinberg all voluntarily refused their annual bonuses. Only 11 days ago I authored a post (“It’s Bonus Time Baby“) severely admonishing Goldman Sachs for planning to dole out nearly $7 Billion dollars in bonuses while accepting $10 Billion dollars of Bailout funding. As critical as I can be at times when I sense something is afoul, I am also quick to tip my hat to those who do the right thing…Congratulations gentlemen.

Is Starbucks an Economic Bellwether?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Starbucks has seen better days...Is Starbucks and economic bellwether, have they just been mismanaged, or are consumers simply becoming more savvy? Why do I ask, or perhaps more to the point, why do I care? Whenever an industry giant stumbles there are lessons to be learned. If you couple Starbucks recent earnings announcements, with massive store closures and other corporate re-engineering initiatives, there can be little doubt that Starbucks is in trouble. Put candidly, Starbucks has gone from an industry darling to just another turnaround. So, in today’s post I’ll share some insights that all CEOs can apply to their businesses in hopes of avoiding a Starbucks like event…

Let’s start by looking at Starbucks recent earnings announcement:

  • Quarterly Earnings: Starbucks Q4 earnings fell 97%, to $5 million, from $159 million in the year-ago period. To be fair, this figure included a $105 million charge for restructuring, and other costs associated with executing Starbucks re-engineering plan.
  • Annual Earnings: Full-year earnings also fell, 53%, to $316 million, from $673 million last year.
  • Same-Store Sales: U.S. same-store sales also cratered, down 8% from Q4 2007. The company cited decreased store traffic, as well as lower average customer check prices, thanks in part to a reduction in merchandise and in-store music sales.

In all fairness, I believe there’s an element of truth to be found in each of the scenarios posed in the opening question of today’s post. Let’s examine each one:

  • Is Starbucks an economic bellwether: Absolutely…Times are tough, consumer confidence is down, and retail spending is off. While some of us don’t see coffee and pastries as discretionary spending, the majority of Americans still do. Starbucks store traffic is down, their average ticket price is down, and many of those still frequenting Starbucks are literally pinching their pennies. Coffees are now often being purchased on credit or by rounding up change, something that wasn’t as prevalent even a few months ago…
  • Has Starbucks been mismanaged: Yes and no…on the positive side of the equation Starbucks has been an innovator on numerous fronts, and as a result built a category dominant brand. On the negative side, Starbucks grew too fast, spent too loosely, and let quality and customer service take a back seat to expansion hurdles. The reality is that even with all of Starbucks brand power, and the genius of Howard Schultz, their overall business model had intrinsic flaws, and management took too long to recognize this.
  • Are consumers simply becoming more savvy: Look, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that you can buy a month’s worth of coffee at the grocery store for just a bit more than what you’d spend on one drink at Starbucks. When something is new and hip, or when the economy is flourishing, consumers will pay a premium. When a trend (see a previous post on trends) begins to run its course, and/or the economy wanes, pricing premiums evaporate in a New York second. Put simply, not too many consumers are interested in paying a 600% mark-up on their coffee even though the lines are shorter these days… 

Bottom line…Starbucks fell asleep at the wheel and took their good fortune for granted. If you can believe it, Starbucks ran their first TV ad this year…They should have been plowing money into advertising to expand their dominant brand equity in good times creating a competitive gap that would have been tough to overcome. Instead, they waited to launch their first TV commercial as a Hail-Mary desperation pass when the game had already been lost. Will Starbucks live to play another day? Sure they will, but it will be a long, tough climb back-up to the top of the mountain…

Veteran’s Day

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Remembering Veteran's DayIn celebrating Veteran’s Day each year it is virtually impossible not to think of our founding fathers and the sacrifices they made when they fought to establish our country’s independence. Those thoughts of respect and admiration in turn always lead me to think about of our troops currently fighting to protect our way of life and preserve our freedom. The more you begin to ponder the heroism of our military (past and present) the more you begin to consider the traits possessed by our nation’s warriors. I believe the same characteristics that are present in the heart of a warrior are also present in the most successful executives and entrepreneurs.

Regardless of whether or not they have served in the military, today’s business leaders would be well served to possess the characteristics of a warrior in their pursuit to achieve sustainable growth and long-term success. Commitment, attention to detail, discipline, service above self, honor, integrity, perseverance, the ability to both lead and follow, to execute with precision, and the ability to adapt, improvise, and overcome are all traits that will serve you well in the boardroom.

There are many so-called management gurus in today’s politically correct world who would take great exception to what I’m putting forth in today’s post. They would tell you that the classic strong leadership traits that define our nation’s best military leaders are outdated, and that they don’t display a proper amount of empathy and compassion. I’m here to tell you that strength and compassion are not mutually exclusive terms…rather the strongest leaders are in fact the most compassionate leaders. When I was in the service my troops slept before I did, they ate before I did, and they were cared for before I was. A leader’s greatest responsibility is not for his/her own glory, but it is for the well being of those whose care has been entrusted to said leader.

The characteristics mentioned above will allow you to inspire and lead with a focus and commitment not present in DNA of those leaders who don’t have the heart, mind, and soul of a warrior. It is the ability to stay mentally focused on achieving the mission at hand, regardless of circumstances, that will help you take your organization to that next level. 

A warrior’s heart has served my family well in both business and life in general. It is the mental agility, a fierce determination, and a never say die attitude that has carried us through the best of times and the worst of times. My father was a Marine before he was an attorney, I served in the Army before I entered the business world and my son is currently an officer in the US Air Force. While not all great business leaders have served in the military, those of you who possess the heart of a warrior understand the advantages you derive from your military bearing and state of mind. I’ve rarely come across students of military history that don’t have a great command of both strategic thinking and tactical implementation.

I strongly recommend to all business leaders that they learn to develop a command presence, and lead from a committed and passionate position of strength. The word “passion” comes from a Latin root which means quite literally to suffer. If you’re passionate about something it means you care so much that it hurts…Refusing to surrender, and having the ability to make the tough decision or the needed sacrifice, will allow your company to continue taking ground and will keep the competitive advantage on the side of your enterprise.

Managing Outlook

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Email...your best friend or your worst nightmareManaging Outlook is nothing short of a pain in the *** if you don’t pay attention to it. In coaching top CEOs and entrepreneurs I find that one thing they all have in common is an over abundance of e-mail. When e-mail was originally labeled as the “Killer App” it was because e-mail was thought to be the ultimate productivity enhancement tool. Regrettably, I believe e-mail has become the “Killer App” for most executives because it actually kills their productivity. The truth of the matter is that e-mail in-and-of-itself is not the problem, rather it is how you utilize it that determines whether or not e-mail is an asset or a liability. In today’s post I’ll share the same tips and techniques that I use myself to handle the constant deluge of e-mail…

By the time you have reached the C-suite level it is very likely that you receive between 100 and 300 e-mails per day (some of us receive multiples of that number). Even at the low end of the aforementioned range, if you assume it takes 2 minutes per e-mail for response, that means you can expect to spend a minimum of 3 plus hours each day dealing with e-mail (assuming you choose to deal with it). The worst part is that without a methodology for processing e-mail, it is likely that the time you spend on e-mail will be spent in a reactive, unfocused, and undisciplined manner which will only further dilute your efforts. If you implement the five techniques mentioned below I guarantee you’ll be able to recover some much needed time for your day while boosting your overall productivity:

  1. Learning to use Outlook to its full potential: I find that most executives only use Outlook to about 10% of its potential. By learning to not only use native Outlook features, but also to use third party add-ons, Outlook’s functionality can be massively improved. My favorite add-on is PlanPlus for Outlook by Franklin Covey. PlanPlus not only allows you to see all Outlook features (folders, multiple calendar views, tasks, and your inbasket) in one window without having to toggle back and forth between applications, but it also adds key features such as project management, goal setting, and a great note taking tool. It only takes about 30 minutes to master and will take your productivity to a new level.
  2. The Basics: Whether or not you choose to install PlanPlus, the first step to take with Outlook is to whitelist anyone who you wish to receive e-mail from. Go to your Outlook toolbar and click on Actions > Junk e-mail > add sender to safe senders list. You can either add the sender and/or their domain to your safe senders list making sure that they don’t get filtered out. Next create a folder structure for your messages. You should set up folders and sub-folders that mirror how you do business by creating separate folders for events, categories, by names of key individuals, departments, functions, clients, etc. Once you have set-up your folders create rules which will send messages directly into the folders by-passing your inbox altogether. Go to Tools > Rules and Alerts > E-mail Rules and route as many e-mails as possible to destination folders striving to keep your inbox volume minimized. You can now check these folders at times convenient to you or to staff designated to monitor said folders. You can also write specialized macros to program special events within Outlook.
  3. Spam and Junkmail: Set your junkmail folder to auto-delete junkmail on arrival. I never waste anytime checking junkmail because there is no junkmail to be checked. Sure from time-to-time a piece of important e-mail will find its way to my junk email folder and will be deleted, but if it is important enough, the sender will figure out how to get in touch with me. There is no full proof system and I simply choose to play the odds which are substantially in my favor if I’ve done a good job of whitelisting. Additionally, you may choose to use a third party spam filter which you can use to screen incoming mail by designated keywords. This is worth investing in as for a nominal investment you can easily get rid of the most frivolous forms of spam.
  4. Leverage Staff: I only receive e-mail directly from a few designated individuals, or after the e-mail has bubbled-up through staff who has screened or filtered it according to instructions that I’ve provided. The reality is that most people’s needs can be met by staff in my organization which prevents me from having to respond to correspondence that shouldn’t have been addressed by me in the first place. You’ll find that only about 10% of the e-mail you receive is “important” but most executives treat e-mail as if it is all “urgent”. By limiting the amount of e-mail that you actually see to mission critical e-mails you insure that you’re working of the right items while being brutally efficient with your time.
  5. Rules to Follow:  1.) Educate your staff and external contacts how you wish to be communicated with. Make it a point of telling them when and why to e-mail you and not to e-mail you. Set reasonable expectations by letting them know how long it will take you to respond. Severely chastise anyone who sends you a chain e-mail regardless of the topic. 2.) Only respond to e-mail twice a day; once in the morning, and once in the evening. 3.) Only handle e-mail one time…once you open an e-mail, read it, understand it, and take action on it by replying to it immediately, deleting it, archiving it, or forwarding it to a staff member for response. Resist the temptation to defer a response to a later time unless absolutely necessary. 4.) Turn-off your auto-notification settings to avoid the Pavlovian response instilled by audio or visual prompts notifying you of a new message.

You can either choose to manage your e-mail or have it manage you. I hope the tips mentioned above will add some time back to your day, and help you be more productive.

It’s Bonus Time Baby…

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Let The Games Begin...It’s bonus time again baby…Let the games begin. Some things never change, but just once it would be nice to see fiscal responsibility take precedence over the blatant greed and disregard displayed by the likes of Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley. Some of the recent bonuses doled out by these financial institutions who were recent recipients of billions of dollars via the bailout are nothing short of ridiculous. Given the current state of the economy, massive layoffs, and the overall financial uncertainty in the lives of many Americans, do these types of actions do anything to restore trust in corporate America? The answer is no…In today’s post I’ll share my thoughts on the bonuses which are being paid out by these two institutions…

I understand that this is the time of year where employee expectations are high, and so is the volume of chatter around the water cooler in anticipation of that great corporate tradition…The Year-End Bonus. But more now than ever, the expectations of the citizenry of this great nation for Wall St. to do the right thing are also high. So given that our economy is in a shambles, and the fact that many Americans are financially suffering more than they have in years, are Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs doing the right thing? Here are the numbers, you be the judge…

  • Morgan Stanley, which is receiving $10 billion from the US government, is shelling out almost $6.5 billion in bonuses (more than $138,000 per employee) even though its profits fell 41% and its shares have tumbled by 69%.
  • Goldman Sachs, which is also getting $10 billion from the bailout plan, is paying out almost $6.9 billion in bonuses. That’s more than $200,000 per employee, and despite a 47% drop in its profit and 53% drop in its share price.

By any reasonable standard the numbers laid-out above reflect everything wrong with corporate America…greed, arrogance, self-indulgence, and a misplaced sense of entitlement. Those of you who have read my thoughts on compensation know that I’m a big believer in performance based pay. However my idea of a well constructed performance based compensation plan, while having tremendous upside when hurdles are eclipsed, also has a substantial downside when attainment goals are not met. Good plans both reward performance during goods times, and they penalize a lack thereof in bad times. The real problem is that these are not just bad times, they are unprecedented bad times, and times when CEOs and Boards of Directors need to depart from the ways of old, and do the right thing.

I can’t even begin to communicate the number of times I’ve heard employees complain about the size of their bonus…It was if they felt entitled to significant rewards solely based upon the fact that they happen to be employed. Is a year-end bonus a right of entitlement or a privilege to be earned? I believe that it is all to often the former and not the latter. The question is during these challenging times should Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley take a giant step backward and rethink things? I believe they should.

Imagine working at Goldman Sachs where bonuses in any given year are expected to range from secretaries receiving $10,000, analysts garnering close to $100,000, junior executives seeing as much as $2-4 million and top income producers receiving upwards of $40 million dollars in bonus money…To be fair, this years bonuses are down, but are they down enough? Could you in good faith accept a large bonus being paid out of the bailout and ultimately funded by tax payer dollars? I couldn’t…

At the end of the day, employers should hire well, bonus generously, and provide public thanks where merited. Employees on the other hand should be thankful for the privilege of having gainful employment and be grateful for any bonus compensation received. However this year is different…Wall St should see this and do the right thing. All I can hope for is that the employees of Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs will perhaps consider giving some of their bonus to those less fortunate this year…    

It’s A New Day…

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Gopd Bless the USAWhat a ride…but as with all rides they must inevitably come to an end. With any political race, as is the case in any competitive endeavor, there must be winners and losers. While I know that most of you who frequent this blog were not overly enamored with the candidate Barack Obama, the votes have been cast, the election is over, and the candidate is now President-Elect Barack Obama. Those of you who know me understand that I enjoy vigorous debate, and I’m not even opposed to a bit of bombastic contentousness in the spirit of supporting values and positions held dear. That being said, I’m also an old soldier who understands chain of command, and that come inauguration day, our nation will have a new leader and Commander-In-Chief. While I’m clearly not happy about the outcome of the election, I will now cease my opposition, and lend my support for as long as it is earned. We all must now hope for great things from our new President, but we must also hold him accountable to uphold the standards of the office he holds and the country he represents. May God Bless America…

CEO Branding

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

CEO BrandingCEO Branding” has never been a more important or relevant topic than it is in today’s highly charged business and economic climate. Working with some of the top CEOs in the country I can tell you from first hand experience that to the one, chief executives at the top of their game all place CEO branding near the top of their priority list. With the public’s overall perception of CEOs as a class being at near all time lows, there is much work to be done in the arena of CEO Branding. The simple truth of the matter is that what was once the most coveted title in the world, now rests just above villain status in the minds of many. In today’s post I’ll address the benefits of CEO Branding both for the chief executive and the corporation they serve…

With well more than a trillion dollars being spent on corporate branding initiatives each year, most CEOs readily understand the need to build brand equity at the corporate level or for products, services, intellectual property, etc. However while times are changing, there are still very few CEOs who understand the substantial benefits that are created from increasing their personal brand equity. The simple fact is that many chief executives completely miss out on one of the most powerful branding strategies available in today’s market…the creation of their own personal brand.

When reading newspapers and periodicals, listening to media interviews on the radio, watching guest appearances on the TV, and seeing who gets the speaking invitations you’ll notice that it is usually those CEOs who have positioned themselves as innovators and thought leaders through a carefully managed personal branding campaign. These individuals may, or may not, have anything more to offer than their peers other than the fact that they knew how to brand themselves as consumate business leaders.

If you would, picture in your mind’s eye any high profile company and you will likely find that their CEOs have not only established themselves as leaders inside their firms, but they are also perceived as industry heavy weights and power brokers to the external world. When a company’s chief executive is viewed as an astute, savvy,  and innovative leader by the media or the public at large, it makes them more valuable to the company. It is a true win-win scenario in that the CEO who knows how to manage his/her brand equity in turn increases the brand equity of the enterprise. Because the corporation benefits from the chief executives ability to brand themselves, they are willing to pay more for their services and work harder to retain their considerable talent.

Regardless of how you feel about the following list of individuals you must agree that they have done a remarkable job of building a personal brand which has often times resulted in the creation of modern day empires. Think of Warren Buffet, Donald Trump, Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Sam Walton, Ted Turner, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Larry Ellison, and a whole host of others and you’ll quickly see just how powerful a strong CEO Brand can be. In fact, spend some time browsing through the Forbes 400 and you find that you recognize far more names than not. View a list of the Fortune 500 CEO’s and you’ll be surprised how many of their names have been converted into strong personal brands. Look at the Inc. 500 or Entrepreneur Hot 100 lists and you’ll see a number of strong personal brands in the making.

The reality is that most of us will probably never achieve the status of icons, nor do most of us really aspire to that end. However increasing your CEO brand equity is good for adding value to your company’s brand, leveraging your earning power, and improving your job security and/or marketability. Personal branding is far more than an ego-play; it is smart business. If you don’t know how to create a strong personal brand as a CEO the following tips will start you in the right direction:

1. Make those around you successful. While some CEO Brands are built at the expense of others, or on the backs of others, the most highly regarded CEO Brands are built on the success they have created for others. Think “selfless” as opposed to “selfish.”

2. Hire a coach or mentor. This is something that many CEOs initially struggle with as their pride can be barrier to seeking the wisdom and counsel of others. However this is one of the single best investments you can make in building a powerful, sustainable and respectable personal brand as a chief executive.

3. Invest in continuing education: Okay, so you already make a mid six-figure or seven-figure income, run your own (or someone else’s) business, and you’re busy…the sad fact is that it is far easier to reach the C-suite than to remain there. You will only stay in the corner office if you continue to refine and advance your skill sets and competencies. Never sacrifice or forego learning because you think you don’t have time, or worse yet, because you think you already know it all.

4. Learn to work the media, or hire someone to do it for you. When it comes to the media you only have three choices: a.) you can try and remain invisible, but anonymity won’t help you build a brand; b.) you can be a target for the media, and while controversy is not always a bad thing, it causes more unnecessary brain damage than you will likely want to incur, or; c.) you can be a friend of the media and serve as a subject matter expert who is available as a resource for the media. While the choice is yours, I’d personally recommend option C.

My advice is simple…start building your CEO brand strategy yesterday you’ll be glad you did.

Transitioning the CEO

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Transitioning the CEOToday’s Myatt on Monday’s question comes from a board member who asks: “Our current CEO is underperforming against expectations…How does the board know when it is time to transition the CEO?” While it is refreshing to hear a board member paying attention to CEO performance, the decision to replace a CEO not only requires a complex analysis, but the wrong decision will have far reaching consequences. In today’s post I’ll share my thoughts on the right reasons to transition the CEO…

The first thing to understand is that transitioning the CEO should only happen as a result of a sound succession plan. Spontaneous or surprise changes in leadership are the worst possible scenario, and should be avoided at all costs. In collaboration with the board of directors, it is a CEOs obligation to identify and develop successor leadership (a recent article in Fortune points to the successful transition of A. G. Lafley and is worth reading). Nobody knows what the future holds…whether the CEO is called upon to resign, or decides of his or her own accord to pass the baton, a company that has developed a strategic process surrounding the succession planning of key executives will transition more smoothly than those entities who wing it…

Before I address the question at hand, for contextual purposes, I believe it’s important to actually define the role of the board of directors. While there are certainly a variety of opinions as to the roles and obligations of a company’s board of directors, from my perspective they can all be boiled down into four simple responsibilities:

  1. Shareholder Accountability: A board member’s primary responsibility is to act in good faith as a fiduciary in representing the long-term best interests of shareholders. A board’s actions and decisions must be able to pass the litmus test of public scrutiny (legally, morally, and ethically), rise above personal agendas, and always place shareholder interests above all else;
  2. Corporate Governance: A board must insure that the corporation’s charter and by-laws are adhered to. Moreover a board must use its best efforts to hold executives accountable for insuring that corporate actions fall within other legal, financial, regulatory, and compliance boundaries. Ignorance and apathy are not the traits of a good board. Great board members are proactive, involved, supportive, consultative, experienced, and savvy. They know the rules, play between the lines, and do the right things.
  3. CEO Oversight: It is the board’s job to select the CEO, provide the CEO with support and guidance, and to hold the CEO accountable. Good boards exercise great care and prudence in profiling CEO candidates, recruiting the right CEO for the job, providing the CEO with a clear job description, successfully onboarding the CEO, and holding the CEO accountable for meeting a set of clearly defined expectations. Good boards do not attempt to micro-manage a CEO, rather they understand their highest value in being a value added resource for the CEO focused on helping the CEO become successful.
  4. External Visibility: A key responsibility of the board is to serve as an external champion of the corporate brand. Board members should have a clear understanding of the corporate vision and mission, and where prudent, evangelize the message for the benefit of the corporation. Whether this requires providing networking assistance, investor relations support, or engaging the media, a highly regarded and active board can add substantial value to the enterprise.

Let’s turn our attention back to the original question…In the text that follows I’ll offer several points that will help a board evaluate whether or not they have the right CEO for the job:

  • Tenure: In a previous post entitled “CEO Term Limits” (a must read for board members) I stated that there is no such thing as a standard shelf-life for a CEO. No rules of thumb apply when evaluating whether a CEO has outworn his/her usefulness purely from a chronological perspective. I’ve witnessed CEO’s where the company has outgrown their skill sets, and/or abilities within a year of hire (a bad hire…), and I’ve also observed many instances of CEOs that have successfully guided companies for 20+ years. The question is not how long a CEO serves, but rather what he or she does while serving. Whether age 32, or age 72, a board must ask themselves, is our CEO doing the job, and perhaps the better question is, are they the best CEO for the job?
  • Performance: The topic of performance is a multi-faceted issue. A CEO’s performance should be benchmarked against a variety of key performance indicators which are clearly spelled out in the chief executive’s employment agreement. When evaluating performance, a board must evaluate whether a lack of performance exists across all areas or in a single area, whether the lack of performance is a short-term aberration vs. the likelihood of it being a burgeoning problem, and whether the CEO can be coached through the performance gap or whether the lack of performance is an irreconcilable issue.
  • Ethics Violations: The character of the CEO is often synonymous with the brand of the enterprise. Once a chief executive has violated the public trust, or made a gross or negligent error in judgment which could taint the corporate brand, a board should move swiftly to restore the integrity of the corporation. Many things can be spun, justified, rationalized, or managed, but a lack of ethical behavior on the part of the chief executive is not one of them.
  • Loss of Confidence: Once the board, the employees, the capital markets, the press, or other key constituencies have lost confidence in the CEO, the board must replace the CEO. A CEO cannot lead, motivate, or inspire without the trust and confidence of those they serve.
  • Lack of Development: The corporate enterprise and the business world in general, are dynamic, fluid, and evolving environments. Therefore great chief executives cannot be static in their personal or professional development, or in their strategic and tactical approach to doing business. A CEO that does not exhibit the ability to change, innovate, and grow with the world around them is someone who will likely need to be replaced.

In the final analysis, the board’s decision as to whether a CEO should be replaced is a decision that should be made within the framework of managing risk and opportunity. The board must weigh the transitioning a CEO against the financial costs, the impact of the business disruption and lack of continuity that can come with replacing the CEO, the market reaction to a change in leadership, and whether the decision is ultimately motivated by right thinking.