The Declining US Dollar

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Today’s Myatt on Monday’s question was posed by a business school professor who asked: “Do you think we should be worried about the devaluation of the US Dollar?” While the short answer is yes, the reasons underlying the answer are both far reaching and complex. In today’s post I’ll not only give you my thinking on the US Dollar, but also its relationship to more macro economic concerns that left unchecked could give way to the potential for a US recession…

Let’s begin by examining the semi-recent history of the US Dollar (a very brief summary due to space requirements). Prior to World War II it was the British pound sterling which resembled the closest thing to a global standard for currency. The strength of the pound at that time was largely due to the fact that it was issued by an Empire upon which the sun never set. However the fact that neither the Empire nor the British economy survived the war intact gave rise to the growing strength of the US Dollar around the world. During the post war economy the US Dollar continued to grow in strength as the American economy became a worldwide juggernaut building a dominant trade surplus with most of the nations around the world. 

While the US Dollar would ebb and flow in its strength over the years with events like the economic battle with the Soviet Union that was waged coterminously with the cold war, the United States declining oil production and resultant increasing dependency on oil imports, the evaporation of our trade surplus and mounting foreign deficit and finally the emergence of strong Asian and European economies, it was the establishment of a single European currency that was perhaps the final nail in the coffin.

Fast forward to last Friday when the US dollar traded down against 11 of the 16 major world currencies and at all time lows against the Euro and it becomes readily apparent to even the most casual observer that a seed change has taken place in the global currency markets. Perhaps most telling is that even the Canadian dollar is now worth more than the US dollar for the first time since the mid 70’s (That bargain Whistler ski vacation of years past just got a bit more expensive).

Certainly a major contributing factor to the US dollar’s devaluation last week was the Fed’s easing by cutting interests rates with an aggressive .50 basis point reduction. Along with recent capital infusions this was clearly another defensive move by the Fed to allay concerns over the credit crisis and the consensus opinion that commerce department’s release of home sales data later this week will show yet another decline. Furthermore many speculate the Fed may yet again ease interest rates by another .15 to .25 basis points when they meet again at the end of October.

While my crystal ball is certainly no better than anyone else’s I tend to look at the mounting economic data which depending upon how one connects the dots could certainly give credence to the possibility of a looming recession. Let’s take a look at just some of the data and I’ll let you draw your own conclusions:

  • Mounting budget and trade deficits
  • Historically weak US dollar
  • A credit crisis that is just now beginning to rear its ugly head
  • Waning consumer confidence
  • The Fed’s aggressive economic policy in an attempt to engineer a soft landing
  • August decline in the US non-agricultural employment index

Bottom line…the US dollar is no longer the default world standard currency and economic events of late certainly could be construed to paint a bleak economic picture which does not bode well for the US in general. That being said I am not a doomsdayer in my outlook. Just as markets cycle so do economies and there is a natural cleansing process that must occur to keep financial markets healthy and robust. Just as a stock market often takes a breather before moving onward, economies also have regular periods of expansion and contraction. We are clearly already in the midst of an economic slowdown, but whether it will lead to a recession is my opinion still to early to call. What I can say with a certain amount of confidence is that things are likely to get a bit worse before we see improvement.

Why You Need A War Room

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

The modern war roomToday’s Myatt on Monday’s question was posed by a CEO who asked: “I’ve heard reference to executive teams that utilize ‘war rooms’ for strategy development. Is this beneficial?” Let me begin by stating that any tools or techniques that bring executive teams together for the purposes of consistent and focused strategy development and refinement are marvelous things. Furthermore, any company that I have run has had at least one war room for the executive team, and often times war rooms have been assigned to each business unit or department. In today’s post I’ll cover the benefits associated with war rooms, or what I like to refer to as the place where good things happen…

Are your meeting areas, conference facilities and board rooms used? Perhaps more to the point, are they used effectively? When I see a conference room that looks as if the main purpose for its existence is to serve as a corporate art museum, I tend to question why it exists at all. I recently spent two days on site with a new client. The client had an exquisite headquarters facility with a number of absolutely gorgeous conference rooms. However during my two days on site, not once did I observe any of them being utilized. When I asked the CEO about this he said “nobody uses them.” Hmmmm…..

Let’s start with the basics…As wonderful as technology is, and as small as our global footprint has become, as a workforce we are really more disconnected (at least personally) than at any point in history. Even workers who office in the same location are so busy being busy, and virtually collaborating, that they often don’t spend enough focused time with one another working on key issues. Rather than sequestering your talent behind the closed doors of their individual offices, or spreading them hither and yon in cube farms, consider the benefits of bringing them together (face-to-face) for the purposes of accomplishing something specific. 

Executive teams don’t come together often enough, and when they do, meetings are often not as productive as they should be as they try and cover far too much ground in short periods of time. I’m always amazed when I witness companies that will take all the C-suite talent into a boardroom for an hour or two and accomplish virtually nothing. Likewise, project teams and work groups have become creatures of habit who prefer to use internet or software based toolsets as a substitute for the power of highly focused and very intense personal interactions. As noted above, it is after all much easier and safer to be disengaged, but is it more productive? In most cases, I think not…

At first blush, one might think that the concept of a war room is bit of a throw-back to some Orwellian form of old school management theory, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, studies have shown that while workers may initially resist the idea of working in close quarters for the purpose of increasing intensity over extended periods of time, the benefits of collaboration and productivity quickly win them over. By way of example, the University of Michigan produced a study on war rooms only to find that workers functioning in a war room environment were twice as productive as their counterparts working in traditional office arrangements.

Where possible, I’m a firm believer that workgroups should spend as much time as possible in war room environments. I would take this so far as to suggest that one should consider this to be the best form of collaborative workspace configuration and should therefore make this the default space plan of choice if possible. With regard to executive teams, you will rarely find executives that will subject themselves to a co-officing arrangement, but this does not obviate the need for a war room. As stated earlier, executive teams do not spend nearly enough focused time together, and simply committing to one half-day per week cloistered in a war room together will improve both efficiency and productivity. Following are a few points of consideration when building your executive war room:

  1. Your war room should be a dedicated conference room with a locked door. You will keep a great deal of confidential information out in the open and you’ll want the room secured.
  2. Without sounding cultish, the war room needs to become revered as your company’s executive bastion for disruptive innovation where you major in the majors. Do not allow attendees to be interrupted while sessions are in progress. This is highest and best use time which should be protected at all costs.
  3. The war room should be configured for optimum productivity with acrylic walls (or multiple white boards), easels, wireless internet access, a high quality conference phone, multiple large wall mounted plasma screens, webcams, laser pointers, etc.

The bottom line is this…If you commit to giving war rooms a chance you’ll find that productivity will soar and that your executives will begin to embrace the concept because things that were once normally carried forward from meeting to meeting as rollover agenda items are now consistently being crossed off the list. 

Should I Use A Recruiter?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

I recently received an email from a CEO asking the following question: “My HR department isn’t producing the quality of applicants we need. Should I use outside recruiting firms?” Since N2growth has a talent management practice which includes a practice group that provides retained search services, in order to be transparent I must disclose my bias before answering today’s question. While I clearly have a strong bias favoring an outsourced recruiting model, the question merits a bit of exploration in order to provide a fair answer. In the text that follows I’ll do my best to manage my bias and provide a transparent and authentic answer to a question I’m sure most of our readers have asked themselves at some point in time.

Let me begin by providing some historical background on organizational behavior which might serve as a useful backdrop for today’s post. While I could go as far back as Aristotle’s lectures on the topic of persuasive communication and self-awareness, to Plato’s writings on the essence of leadership, or even refer to Machiavelli’s work on organizational power and politics, for the sake of brevity and relevancy I’ll fast forward the late 1800’s in America. It was during this period of time we can find the roots of modern HR. It was during the late 1800’s industry recognized people problems were a very real and rapidly growing concern in the workplace. It was also during this time the US Government stepped-in to provide the first real legislative protections for the workforce.

As time has continued to march forward America has moved from the concept of “personnel administration” to “human resources administration” to “human resources management” and now we are moving on to “talent management.”  Nomenclature aside, the biggest challenge that HR departments face today is that of multiple and often competing agendas, which in turn tends to cause staffing inefficiencies often resulting in lackluster performance. As with the evolution of most functional departments in the corporate world, with the passing of time has also come some empire building and title inflation. The HR department is no exception to this regrettable state of dysfunction.

Let me ask you to think about your HR department for a moment – How large is it, how big of a budget does it command, and most importantly how productive is it? Upon reflection you’ll find that much of your HR department is likely charged with defensive posturing associated with managing compliance and litigation risk. Other staff members are likely charged with training and administration activities, some have fallen into IT roles developing applicant tracking systems and other support infrastructure, while others perform marketing and research activities surrounding candidate development. How much of your staff is actually charged with recruiting, and how senior are these people?

It is not that HR departments are incapable of making high volumes of consistently great hires, it’s just that most or not organized to do so. If your executive level recruiting is being handled by staff level HR shame on you (see “Who Should Do The Hiring“). Following are just a few reasons why I believe in most cases a company is better off leveraging the services of an outside recruiting firm:

1. Outsourcing allows companies to focus on core business while leveraging a broader, deeper and more senior recruiting talent pool than they normally can manage organically. The real issue isn’t internal vs. external, but internal and external. Talent organizations which collaboratively partner with executive search firms produce better results than those who don’t’. It simply doesn’t matter who makes the hire – what matters is the right hire is made.

2. When payroll costs, ad budgets, job posting fees, research costs, IT costs, lost opportunity costs, etc. are considered it is more affordable to leverage search firms. Why dilute your internal budgets on redundant efforts when you can leverage the budget of a search firm?

3. There are many benefits associated with using an outside recruiting firm including realizing the benefits of a confidentiality buffer which keeps the employer in relative anonymity until they are ready to engage with a candidate. Managing the noise of a high profile search is better handled externally leading to fewer conflicts, political hi-jinks, and the potential for leaks.

4. Recruiting firms have existing  long-term relationships with passive job seekers not readily known to most HR departments. A broader talent pool simply results in better talent being acquired. 
Recruiting firms also have broader access to a wider range of candidates who may not have ever considered working in a particular industry or for a specific employer.

5. No charge replacement guarantees makes using an outside recruiter a very low risk proposition.

6. Recruiting firms normally have access to a broader array of tools and information which can often be useful to employers in terms of efficiency, benchmarking and analytics.

Bottom line – the best results come from combining the knowledge and skill possessed internally with the competencies of external resources. Think collaboration – not isolation. Good luck and good hiring!

The Truth about MLM

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

Today’s Myatt on Mondays question comes from a CEO who asks: “I’m evaluating using multi-level marketing to accelerate my distribution Is there anything truly wrong with MLM?” Let me begin by disclosing that I am not involved in multi-level marketing (MLM) and/or network marketing. Let me also be quick to state that in my opinion there is absolutely nothing wrong with the business model. In fact, the business model in-and-of-itself is rather brilliant. In today’s post I’ll share with you where I believe the MLM industry misses the mark, as well as what it is that makes most of us shiver when we hear the term MLM

My personal belief is that MLM is like any other business in that there are very successful and credible companies within the industry and there are those to be avoided like the plague. In spite of whatever perceptions people may have, the fact is that companies like Amway, Mary Kay, Excel Communications, Primerica, PrePaid Legal, USANA Health Services, and many others have sold millions upon millions of dollars of products to a broad base of satisfied customers, many of whom are NOT also reps. As further proof of credibility, many of the world’s leading consumer products manufacturers have chosen to align themselves with MLM companies in diversifying their distribution strategies.

MLM is just a business model, and really amounts to little more than “micro-franchising.” Its upside is that it has a very low cost of entry, with the potential for exceptional revenue, and there are those who achieve that. So why is it that in the circles I tend to run in you might as well declare yourself a leper as admit to being involved with network marketing? The answer is that for the reasons mentioned above (low barrier to entry and large earning potential) MLM doesn’t always attract the best people. The reality is that most people that have a problem with MLM don’t really have a problem with the business model, but rather they have a problem with some of the people they have met over the years that have been involved with MLM.

Let me give you two personal experiences with MLM encounters at both ends of the spectrum: The first is a negative experience that occurred when my wife and I were a newly wedded couple just getting to know other young married couples in our neighborhood. We were invited over for a dinner at a neighbor’s house and were excited to get to know the couple better…that is until in the middle of a pleasant conversation the husband abruptly left the room and returned with a vacuum cleaner. He then promptly proceeded to demonstrate the vacuum by dumping a veritable plethora of disgusting materials on his carpet so that he could show the prowess of his shiny and way overpriced machine. We in fact were not potential friends, but rather just prospects that were subjected to less than professional sales tactics.

The other experience that I’ll share is one that was positive, motivating, and that is perhaps the definition of what MLM is all about. I had a workout partner for a few years that was at the highest level of the Amway hierarchy. When I met him he was three years removed from being a UPS delivery driver and was at the time making between $40 and $50 thousand dollars per month. He is an outstanding husband and father and works very hard for the income he earns. Since that time he has moved into an incredible home (he even has his own lighted baseball diamond) and his business and income have only continued to grow. In the entire time I have known him he has never once attempted to “recruit” me. He has respected what I have accomplished while I have respected what he has accomplished and I count him among my friends.

The difference between the two examples mentioned above is that in the first example the people were in fact attempting to get rich quick (while only working “part-time” I might add) by exploiting their friends and family. I certainly don’t begrudge anyone the opportunity to earn a living, I just prefer that I have the opportunity to make an informed decision as to the authenticity of someones intent. In the second example this man treated what he did as a business. He worked hard, smart, professionally, and would have been successful in any business endeavor he chose to undertake regardless of the model or platform. It was his honesty, work ethic and professionalism that made him successful.

Bottom line There is nothing wrong with MLM as a business model. But there is often times much that is wrong with the people it attracts and the tactics employed…it is all about the people. If an MLM organization attracts well educated people who desire to build a company based upon solid business principles and professional practices it will thrive. If the organization recruits inexperienced people with unrealistic expectations as to what it takes to build a successful company then the organization, its associates, and customers will collectively experience less than favorable results.     

The Importance of Building Rapport

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Today’s Myatt on Mondays question: “How do you create rapport with people?” comes from a noted author, educator and leadership coach. At first glance you may be thinking that today’s question may not induce the most stimulating or thought provoking discussion and analysis, and if this is what you are thinking you couldn’t be more inacurrate in your evaluation.

Unlike previous Myatt on Mondays features where a question is posed to me via e-mail and I provide a unilateral answer, today’s feature is a compilation of extracts taken from an online dialogue that I participated in with some of the smartest people you’ll ever come across (with the exception of me of course…I was in way over my head). While the discussion was themed around the general topic of building rapport, it quickly developed tangential but very real links to leadership, politics, religion, human nature and yes even world peace…This is not a short read, but it will definitely cause you to do some soul searching and in the end refine your perspective on how best to deal with the most complicated variable that life can throw at you: other people…

I stray from the norm with this blog post simply because I want to demonstrate what can happen when you really peel back the layers and go in depth on a subject. When was the last time you had a long, in-depth and truly meaningful discussion with someone? In business and in life in general we have become all too comfortable in surface level conversations. People often seek quick solutions as to opposed to the right solutions. Time seems to be considered as the most precious commodity by many and therefore most conversations are governed by time rather than by meaning. Rarely do people push the envelope on a topic and really strive to find the truth, rather most seek to find a safe haven where they won’t be challenged or perhaps more importantly won’t have to evaluate and justify their own positions. I hope that you enjoy today’s post and that it will stimulate within you the desire to penetrate beyond the surface in order to make greater and more lasting contributions in all that you do. On to the dialogue…

The Participants: Yours truly; two professors from London (Jesvir and Harun) and a philanthropist from Liverpool (Martin) You can see that I was in trouble from the start…

The question posed by Jesvir: “How do you create rapport with people?”

The discussion and debate that followed:

Martin: The challenge I believe is not in just accepting another persons view of another person, but in finding our own direction, our own guiding light. In my case it burns very bright, so much so that I have little desire to get into looking at the potentially limiting perspectives of friends of friends who have opinions, these in truth can limit us too…I said that I was for something as opposed to being against something. If the system needs changing, I asked myself the question, who’s in the system? the answer of course is all of us, so my simple solution is to use the system itself as the means of communicating the commonality of our values, the logic of collaborative action and the common sense of maximising our collective potential towards a mutually beneficial goal.

Jesvir: Martin, I know that there is a wealth of knowledge & information you have acquired around your project and no doubt you have created a network of supporters with whom you have established rapport. If we just focus on this quality of “rapport” for now….how do you establish & nurture rapport in order to take your project forward? Would you share with us some of your favourite stories?

Martin: I believe it’s important to create a space of mutual interest, to find out what a person is interested in and looking for. I often feel as though I may have lost rapport to be honest, this often occurs when I say too much or go off on tangents which then make it difficult for people to grasp the simplicity of the campaign. So I’d say that my rapport building skills are very much a work in progress!

I do consciously listen and look for the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) for other people and try to imagine what they’re looking for at 2 levels, firstly materially … is there a potential business exchange where they could derive an income from helping the campaign and beyond this are they looking for something that inspires them and answers their higher aspirations. Win-Win-Win.

Being in awe of peoples skills is easy for me, I’ve been that way since childhood and I express a genuine interest in the gifts that people have which I guess must contribute in someways to rapport. That coupled with a strong awareness that listening is a learned skill gives me a desire to learn about the other person and to practice being a listener (even if I do say too much if asked the right questions!)

I was first told about how to loose rapport in the desert by a former police officer who told me in no uncertain terms about how I’d lost rapport with a colleague by being ignorant or blind to his feelings. This knocked me back as I value every relationship and showed me that I need to be careful not to be clumsy with people’s feelings. I quickly apologised to the man in question but the damage had been done. To this day I recall the scene and the importance of paying attention to what I say!

Jesvir: So, I can see that you are adept at bringing out the best in others Martin and sure enough, that would help to create & nurture rapport. I guess that sometimes we have to respect other people’s values even if they conflict with our own in order to maintain rapport? What do you think?

Martin: You hit on a key element in your article, affirming people works in a number of ways. If we view ourselves as being patterned by life, then sometimes we may unconsciously affirm a potentially limiting belief in another. I’ve noticed that how we communicate to each other has a ripple effect over time and when we’re unconscious of what we’re actually saying and its impact, the ripples can have a long term effect.

Mike Myatt: Creating rapport is simply a matter of finding common ground. Moreover, building rapport is easily achieved assuming your motivations for doing so are sincere. I have always found that rapport is quickly developed when you listen, care and attempt to help people succeed. By way of contrast it is difficult to build rapport if you are driven by an agenda that is not in alignment with the other party…

Jesvir: Mike, you say: I have always found that rapport is quickly developed when you listen, care and attempt to help people succeed.

Goodwill is important isn’t it? When the goodwill is lost, rapport gets lost too…..the thing about leadership is that goodwill may be towards SOME people and not others…it is easy to express goodwill towards our supporters and much harder to express goodwill towards our opponents. How have you maintained rapport with your opponents Mike? You must have had “enemies” at some point in your life or if that is too strong a word, you must have had people who strongly disagreed with you? How do you maintain rapport with your opponents?

Mike Myatt: Great questions…While building and maintaining rapport with people with whom you disagree is certainly more challenging, many of the same rules expressed in my original comment still apply. I have found that often times conflict resolution requires more intense focus on understanding the needs, wants and desires of the other party. If opposing views are worth the time and energy to debate then they are worth a legitimate effort to gain alignment on perspective and resolution on position. However this will rarely happen if lines of communication do not remain open, and candid, effective communication in best maintained through a mutual respect and rapport. 

Jesvir: You say: “….candid, effective communication in best maintained through a mutual respect and rapport. “….I am sure this is true…but how do you maintain respect & rapport with people that you know are set on stabbing you in the back? I am sure that most leaders face that situation at some point…don’t you?

Mike Myatt: It is a leader’s responsibility to effectively lead not only those that agree but also those that disagree. There are always those who choose to oppose or undermine authority but it does not remove the obligation of a leader to fulfill his or her duty.

It is not essential that you be liked as a leader, but it is essential that you command the respect of those you lead. Respect is earned by honoring commitments and doing the right thing regardless of opinion, sentiment or influence. It is through right acts, good decisions and honest communication that you earn respect and maintain rapport even with those who are not necessarily your greatest supporters.

While I like to think that I have earned the respect of the majority of those I have led over the years I am not so naive to think that that all have liked or supported my positions…that being said, I have had to lead them as well and that has been done by adhering to the following principles:

  1. Hit conflict head-on…You can only resolve problems by proactively seeking to do so;
  2. Always attempt to understand others motivations prior to weighing-in on an issue;
  3. Say what you mean, mean what you say and follow-through on your commitments;
  4. Never be swayed by consensus rather be guided by doing the right thing, and;
  5. Know that no person is universally right or universally liked and become at peace with that.

Martin: It’s an interesting subject Mike, and I see you’re clearly experienced at leadership and also being conscious of your responsibilities as a leader. I’m currently doing a Common Purpose course, it’s designed to align leaders from across a given region, heads from public, private and voluntary sectors all learning together over a year long experiential course.

On the course I see many styles of leadership and ‘feel’ that we’re all leaders in one form or another and whilst that form may not show up for many people in their day to day lives, there is doubtless in everyone one thing they will have a passion for that shines.

I became aware of another leadership style that rather than assuming authority it assumes service to the team, it is based on trusting that each person has within them a desire to improve, to stretch, to grow, so the leaders role is to empower each person with the opportunity for this self discovery. It calls for tremendous faith, for total commitment to each person and willingness to allow each person to learn at their own rate but at the same time raising their bars to help them to attain their potential.

Grounded in the qualities you mention in your piece Mike, this style of ‘facilitation’ is one that I would aspire to, though I often feel as though I fall way short of the mark. I’ve seen it action for about 7 years and I’m always amazed by how simple and effortless a master practitioner of any skill can make it look.

Jesvir: Mike, I have looked at your profile & web pages and it all suggests that you are a naturally gifted leader in creating success in business…your ability to create & maintain rapport with people is probably due to the interpersonal skills you have developed and the respect you command because of a proven track record.

What advice would you give re. creating & maintaining rapport to someone who has not had your level of education and does not have a proven track record that commands respect?

I bring it back to the question of rapport again as I feel that so many would-be trailblazers fail miserably at this initial trial of personal power.

Mike Myatt: Martin and Jesvir, a great track record or powerful resume can certainly be an asset out of the gate, but history in-and-of-itself will not justify or sustain people’s loyalty over the long haul. I would refer you back to Martin’s comment on my last reply. While I don’t know Martin my perception of him is that he has a great grasp on the topic of leadership. I believe what Martin is referring to is the concept (or some derivation of) the “Servant Leader.” This concept was somewhat implied in my commentary but not drawn-out as clearly as I should have.

In my earlier comments I talked about earning respect as a key tenant in building rapport. The servant leader that operates on a basis of service above self will earn respect and engender instant rapport. Some of us come by this trait naturally and others learn the value of it over time. I suppose my first lesson in this regard came during my service in the military where I was charged with the responsibility of others. My troops ate before I did, rested before I did, slept before I did etc. Moreover, I never asked them to do anything that I would not do, and in fact, had not done myself. This earned their respect and loyalty and gave me an instant rapport even though in the beginning I had no great track record to fall back on. 

Jesvir: Mike, you say: >>>>My troops ate before I did, rested before I did, slept before I did etc.>>>> I can see how putting others first can generate instant rapport & long-term respect & loyalty….the most effective managers & people in leadership roles would need to follow this line of etiquette wouldn’t they? Those who get caught in the conflict between serving their seniors in the organisation vs serving their juniors in the organisation, can easily lose rapport and therefore the support of the people they are managing or leading.

Have you ever faced a dilemma over whether to support your upline vs your downline in an organisation? If so, how did you maintain rapport with BOTH groups?

Martin: On the subject of putting others first Jesvir I first got that one as a young boy, a teacher took me to one side and told me in no uncertain terms “think of others before yourself” his words resonated with me and from that day on it became second nature. A great example of patterning. Equally he could have said “look after number one” and I can see where that would lead me.

It came as no surprise to read that you’d had military training Mike, you share many great characteristics with other ex services people I’ve met, focus, precision, self discipline and whilst I wasn’t academic enough to follow my dream of joining the merchant navy, I can see what a great grounding it would have given me in so many aspects of my life.

I was referring to servant leadership earlier, though it wasn’t referred to as such on the courses I attended, the adoption of a service mindset is essential I would say in today’s world. This same mindset is born out of a sense of our relativity or smallness (humility) and results in a natural and total care for others, it can be learned and in my experience it begins to set us free as human beings from the prison of consciousness as Einstein is referring to here;

A human being is part of the whole, called by us “universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, has thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest– a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

Imagine if such things were taught in primary schools! 

Jesvir: I like the notion of “widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature”….that reminds me of Ghandian philosophy of non-violence…..which in my mind conflicts with the military attitudes…I think I have a question for Mike again!  

Martin: It certainly fits into the Ghandian philosophy of none violence. But Gandhi was also a man who applied great levels of self discipline in his life. If military training were in the future no more than a builder of this trait and the only battles ever fought were only with ourselves and our weaker instincts then we would have a new breed self disciplined peaceful warriors. 

Mike Myatt: Jesvir, you are just full of enlightened questions aren’t you? All kidding aside, the question you posed is one faced by all leaders. In a perfect world the interests throughout the entire chain of command would be aligned with the interests of the enterprise. The reality is divergent interests always exist within any organization and this is most often a healthy thing as varying opinions stimulate innovation and creativity.

I don’t mean to be redundant in my answers to your questions, but perhaps I’m just simple-minded in my approach. I believe I have always been blessed with a higher quotient of street smarts and common sense than I have uniquely brilliant intellect and while this may limit my tactical approach to things I learned long ago to play to my strengths.

Opposing perspectives present a chance for learning and growth and if opposing views are looked at as an opportunity as opposed to a set-back then I believe positive steps can be taken. What I like to refer as “positional gaps” are best closed (here I go again…) by listening to both sides, finding common ground and then letting the principle of doing the right thing guide the process.

The ball is now squarely back in your court…

Jesvir: Mike, your military background and the skills you acquired as a result of this training gain you respect and open many doors ….the very same background will close lots of doors to you….I have in mind many of my friends that actively demonstrate against military interventions in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan…I am not sure they would easily trust or respect you.

So, how would you create rapport with people that feel terribly aggrieved about the things that you are associated with? I am sure you must have had a lot of experience of facing “the enemy” in your military experience…is it possible to be in rapport with those we consider to be the “enemy”….the obvious answer is “of course not”…we wouldn’t have such terrible wars if it was possible…but I am not looking for obvious answers as you may have gathered…just what works for you in this regard.

Mike Myatt: Jesvir, I fear we may be starting to stretch a bit, but I’m always game to explore…However you should also be aware that you’re starting to hit a bit close to home now, and you may find that the veneer of political correctness could quickly elude me in this area…

I am all for freedom of speech and the right to peacefully assemble. I have no problem with those who choose to voice their opinion about military conflict except when they take a stand against those that honorably place their life in harm’s way to defend the very same people who mock them. I have heard many express sentiments along the lines of “I support the troops, but I don’t support the war.” While this makes for a nice sound bite, you’ll be hard pressed to find many serving in the military that will be comforted by statements such as this.

One of the beautiful things about life is the free will to make choices. I have the right to choose whom I want to build rapport with and whom I don’t. I believe it was Sun Tzu who said: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” While there is certainly an element of wisdom in the aforementioned quote, my long winded answer to your question is: I would choose not to build rapport with anyone that I truly considered an enemy.

I apologize if my candor and passion on this topic doesn’t sit well, but it is how I feel and you’ll find as you get to know me better that I rarely pull punches. For better insight into why I feel the way that I do in this regard you may be interested in reading a prior blog post that I authored on the 4th of July entitled: “The Heart of a Warrior.”

Martin: It’s a great blog Mike and I can really see how the experience has given you a strong sense of national pride … And in reference to the prison of consciousness Einstein referred to the idea of their being ‘an enemy’ I really wonder if this is where the prison walls appear for us as human beings?

Let’s say we had the same conversation about the qualities of a well trained soldier but with a man from say Germany, France, Korea, Russia, Italy, Algeria. Would they each describe their training as being the best, would they see others as enemies, would they derive skills and qualities that served them for life? No doubt.

Now where I’m getting to is this … strip away the veneer of nationality, of race or cultural identity, raise slightly above the boundaries that man imposes upon the earth and look at the possibility of their being one race of people called human beings, a race that identifies not with flags but with one another. The very same mindset that is capable of embodying the belief of service above self is already 99.9% there, this mindset thinks in terms of service, of teamwork, of comradeship, of integrity, of many shared values. The .01% that bursts the bubble of potential peace today is a shared belief that we’re right and they’re wrong … and we’re all alike.

Using the belief that everyone has a gift and a potential in the work place is the foundation for building an empowered team. It values the individual and in many countries around the world the individual may have come from another country, he/she may be the so called enemy but are they, who is the enemy? Perhaps it’s within each of us in the form of a belief that no longer serves us. Perhaps it’s a perceived that might is right or business power gives some the right to exploit their neighbours natural resources. Perhaps it’s a breakthrough that we’re on the verge of collectively experiencing in our consciousness.

I empathise with your statement about choosing not to build rapport with your enemies and in truth 7 years ago I was in that same space. But something clicked in my mind that allowed me to see every man as my brother, it was liberating and logical at the same time, like ‘why hadn’t I seen this before?’ and I’ve faced death since in my work and not had an ounce of fear, only unconditional love for my would be killers.

What has amazed me since this discovery was that aggression or anger has no place to go if it meets with a steadfast peaceful response, it’s as though anger in man is impartial and needs to fight it’s true opposite, if it is successful in finding its opposite it clashes and the consequences are evident.

So to differ slightly from Mikes approach, I would seek to find the common ground with everyone but not consciously seeing it as rapport, for me it’s just a recognition of another’s humanity, rapport is what occurs when we cross the bridge of you and me and discover us.

Mike Myatt: Martin, you are a true gentleman and scholar and clearly a great human being. I admire your philosophy and outlook on life, and in large part, find myself in whole-hearted agreement with you. I really don’t have anyone that I know on a personal level that I would consider an enemy in the strictest sense of the word.

That being said, I believe we may differ slightly in that I do believe there is a clear existence of “right and wrong” in this world. I am willing and capable of forgiving wrong doing where there is contrition, acceptance of responsibility and a sense of remorse. Building rapport and closing gaps in philosophical differences in these situations is what I believe we should rightly expect of all human beings.

I believe it is much more difficult to apply the aforementioned sentiments to the distinction of “good vs. evil” as I believe there is a clear difference between acts of wrong doing and acts of “evil”. Evil has always existed in this world and regrettably I believe it always will. I don’t believe this is necessarily a question of “flags” as there is an element of evil residing in every culture. Simply wishing evil doesn’t exist or wanting to look past its existence does not mean that it is not ever present. Evil shows no remorse or contrition…Evil does not discriminate and evil can strike at a moments notice as we witness on the news each and every day. It is evil that I see as everyone’s enemy and that I choose (it is clearly a choice) not to seek common ground with or to build rapport with. You cannot negotiate with evil as evil is not trustworthy and will not honor commitments and promises. I don’t mean to come-off as cynical or jaded, but I simply believe in dealing with the reality (at least as I see it) at hand.

Martin, I thank you for your comments and I hope that I can be proven wrong over time as I truly hope for the sake of all that you are correct and I am not.

Jesvir: Martin & Mike, I have read both your comments and blog The Heart of a Warrior and appreciate your honest contributions to the discussion here. Ideally I would love to think that I could build rapport & friendship with every single human being on the planet on the basis that we are human beings but I know that is not going to happen in my lifetime…..perhaps in future generations or in different dimensions of our existence.

Mike….you wouldn’t choose to build rapport with those you consider to be “evil” and the millions of people I have seen protesting against the current wars, express the same sentiment as you…they are choosing to take a stand against what they consider to be fundamentally evil in the Bush & Blair administrations.

It may make sense to all of us to fight against evil …. the paradox is that what we define as evil can be absolutely polemic in any organisation and society….what sets us apart is our certainty about our own definition of “evil”.

I was in a leadership role of an organisation and my credibility was being slowly eroded by a racist White South African who could not tolerate a “Coloured” in a position of power. I believe that racism is “evil” and like yourself, I expressed my freedom of choice, and chose not to build rapport with this person. Stonewalling her was very ineffective as you can imagine so I had to surrender my position of power.

In my experience, deeply entrenched racism is “evil” and most of us will face this irrational, fearful and oppressive behaviour in multi-cultural organisations…so I would love to know how people CAN build rapport with those that are set to sabotage their progress. Let me know if you are stimulated to think of ways we can bridge the gap between “us and them”.

Martin: Rumi said famously…Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make any sense. Let’s stand back and look at conflict for a moment.
Is it in soldiers?
Is it in politicians?
Is it in citizens?
Is it in everyone else but not in me?
Is it only in me?

What am I looking out from?
Where do I experience you?
If there is conflict in me I see it in others.
If there is peace in me I see that in others.

And Mike & Jesvir we could quite easily distinguish between right and wrong, good and evil but here’s another view … life is just events, events, events, cause and effect. I wonder if right actions resonate within us all as our ideal. If in our heart of hearts we all know the difference between right and wrong.

Which leads me to this thought … the only person I can lead is myself, for the flaws I see in man are inherent within me, from this perspective I see that we’re all learning and that the only person I can logically effect change in is myself, so I work on changing/evolving/improving me or simply accepting that to err is human and learn from my mistakes as they occur.

Imagine if just for one year each of the worlds governments tended to its own internal issues, no traveling beyond its own national boundaries, no telling other governments how to act, just tending to its own challenges … of course it may never happen but never the less do you see my point? As human beings we’re all doing it to each other, we’re all creating conflict, we’re all complicit in hunger, poverty, war, terrorism as long as we continue as a majority to work on everyone else but ourselves.

Its a view, and that’s all it will ever be as the one thing I am crystal clear on this … I know nothing relative to what there is to know.

Jesvir: Martin, you say: >>>>For goodness to prevail it simply moves in the opposite direction, it gets on with its own business, it pays no credence to evil.>>>>

Do you have real examples of how that belief has actually worked in practice for you? I know it sounds good….if I were to follow that credence however, I’d be living in a remote mountain spot in the Himalayas somewhere…not very practical I’m afraid.

Previously I gave the example of how I emotionally shunned the racist White South African while they persisted in sabotaging my work….I was even coached around this issue at the time as my strategy was clearly not working. I was advised that I would need to find a way to build rapport with this person and I remember telling my coach that in order to build rapport with a racist, I would need to care about them…I did not care at all for this person and therefore my only option was to leave….I record that event as one of my leadership failures…so I am sincerely interested in learning what works in building rapport with those that we find it difficult to care for…this is the kind of rapport building that requires a great deal more courage than the straightforward interpersonal communication skills that make us popular with our natural supporters.

So…you talked about facing danger…in those situations, how did you build rapport with people that might easily have stabbed you in the back?

Maritn: Jesvir, It’s something that can’t be explained by words alone, it was though experiential education that I learned about the commonality of us all. In this learning I faced my prejudice and found that others prejudice was just like mine, that the feelings and thoughts I was having about another they were having also about me and for completely different reasons. It took me 4 days of experiential learning first then this was followed by a more intensive training that took another 4 days, then from this point forward each day became the lesson of awareness and consciousness. If I can learn this I thought, anyone can. I learned alongside other people who on first impression I judged to be quite different to me, racists, bigots, snobs, bullies, you name it it was there in thought from one person of another until that is we had each been through shared experiences that put us on the same page so to speak. On day 4 and day 8 I discovered that my prejudice was my ignorance and that I was not alone in this trait. I also shared an experience of seeing the positive traits in each and every single person present, especially as it happened in those whom I had formed opinions of in advance.

So, in a practical sense as well as an heartfelt understanding I came away from the experience with what could be described as a toolkit for life, one that enabled me to see what had previously eluded me. I’ve experimented with these findings ever since and realised that life itself is the lesson and that every single interaction gives me an opportunity to learn and to grow as a human being.

Harun: Jesvir, Thank you for inviting me to join this discussion and give my two pennies worth. First of all, please let me say that you guys are geniuses. I could never remotely give such eloquent arguments as you have regarding leadership and rapport. I fear I am too abrupt for many. But I can live with that.

I think it is all well and good building rapport, but what about knowing what can break down rapport. Digressing slightly, as a muslim, it disappoints me to see that on one hand Islam is treated so harshly by non-muslims; and on the other hand, the muslims getting the most amount of air time happen to be radicals who lie in the outer peripheries of the muslim community.

A number of years ago, I read a book (I can’t remember the title) that inspired me hugely. In a nutshell, I learnt that there are three kinds of attitudes you can have towards other people and their beliefs.

1. Intolerance, e.g. “I will not put up with you and your views”. This is symbolic of dictatorships and fascist leadership.

2. Tolerance, e.g. “I appreciate you have a view. I do not take this view, but I will put up with it.” I’m not sure I’m so excited by this approach either. Is British society so great because it is a tolerant society?!!

3. Understanding, e.g. “I don’t know your view point – yet. Please help me see things from your perspective”. This is where true inspirational leadership takes place.

The fact is that, as human beings, we are so diverse in nature even within a family, it is highly unlikely we will have the exact same view as anyone else. 1 & 2 clearly demonstrates that through the results of these attitudes. It is when we take the approach to understand others beliefs and cultures that we then become people of worth, people of value.

Rapport takes place when we become people of value. The integrity will shine through.

Mike Myatt: While I’m all for stimulating dialogue and philosophical exploration I believe we are beginning to rehash the same turf. It is true that I believe there is always room for growth and evolved thinking…that being said, we are debating the very bane of human existence which is in fact human nature itself. Pride, ego, fear, power, greed and a number of other factors will always create gaps in thinking and philosophy and no matter how much we all wish it wasn’t so…it is.

Bottom line…I believe rapport can be built with anyone where there is a sincere desire to do so. Turning the other cheek, compromise, forgiveness, compassion, empathy, finding common ground, being an active listener, service above self and numerous other approaches will always allow one to be successful in building rapport if the underlying desire is strong enough.

The issue is really not how to build rapport, but rather why to build rapport? If the issue, circumstance or situation is important enough and there is enough at stake people will do what is necessary to open lines of communication and close positional gaps.

Martin and Jesvir, I am clearly not the deep thinker that you two are but I have always had a talent for cutting to the heart of an issue. Let me say that I possess a generally optimistic outlook on life but that I also don’t consider myself to be an idealist, which by my definition makes me a realist. Therefore I don’t believe this is a complex issue, rather it is just an issue of accepting things for what they are and not creating complexities that do not exist. Can the world be improved? Absolutely and unequivocally yes! Will people ever exist in perfect harmony free from conflict? Absolutely and unequivocally not.

While these were only partial excerpts and this post does not contain the dialogue in its entirety I felt it beneficial to examine different perspectives and philosophies and leave you with these questions to ponder: What motivates you to build rapport? Are your motivations for building rapport sincere, too broad or too narrow? And, are you taking the time to build rapport with people on issues of meaning and significance? 

Is Podcasting a Viable Medium?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Today’s Myatt on Mondays question comes from a Chief Marketing Officer of a professional services firm who asks: “Is Podcasting a Viable Medium?” I have answered questions like this each time a new medium comes to market. Over the years I’ve commented on fax machines, infomercials, e-mail, e-mercials, CD-ROM’s and DVD’s, Internet Yellow Pages (IYP), Instant Messaging (IM), Webinars, Blogging, and now in this post, Podcasting…

I’ll start by defining podcasting for those not familiar with the term. Podcasting was created by former MTV VJ Adam Curry. The term (meant to rhyme with broadcasting) describes the technology used to push audio content from websites to end-users of the content who prefer to use iPods or other mp3 players to listen to said content. Podcasting is simply a new content delivery method that combines audio content delivery with RSS (Really Simple Syndication). Instead of reading the new content on a computer screen, you listen to the new content on an iPod, iPod-like device or via your computer.

Now that the term Podcasting has been defined let’s address the issue of viability. Most of you familiar with my work know that I am a big believer in being an early adopter. I am always a proponent of being a market leader vs. a market lager. Those that move quickly in today’s market (see “The Need for Speed“) increase brand awareness, mind-share and market share while those that move slowly face increased barriers to entry, increased competition and reduced margins. Few consumers like (B2B, B2C or B2B2C) to work with companies that are behind the times. Once there is validation of proof of concept it is time to move aggressively.

So the question remains are podcasts viable? The answer in my opinion is a resounding yes. According to Nielson Analytics about 9 million Internet users have downloaded postcasts in the last month alone. If the previous number doesn’t grab your attention you might want to consider the following statistics taken from a white paper produced by KnowledgeStorm, Inc in which almost 4,000 respondents comprised of business and IT professionals across a variety of job titles, vertical industries and company sizes weighed in:

  • 41 percent of survey respondents claim they have listened to podcasts on more than one occasion, while 13 percent stated that they “frequently” download or listen to them.
  • 32 percent of survey respondents stated their usage of podcasts has “Increased” or “Significantly Increased” in the last six months.
  • 72 percent claimed that they have downloaded or listened to podcasts on technology topics on more than one occasion; 23 percent do so “frequently.”
  • Nearly 60 percent of respondents said that information on business or technology topics, currently delivered as white papers or analyst reports, would be more interesting as podcasts.
  • 55 percent of respondents would be more likely to consume white papers and analyst reports if they were delivered as podcasts.
  • 57 percent of the frequent podcast users stated their biggest challenge with podcasts is the scarcity of interesting content.
  • 65 percent responded that they listen to podcasts for both personal and business interests.

Bottom line…Podcasts are here to stay and I’d suggest that if you are not utilizing this channel that you begin to do so immediately. Happy Podcasting!

Private Equity vs. Venture Capital

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Based upon numerous requests from N2growth Blog readers and subscribers I will be publishing my advice and opinions in answer to your questions each Monday in a new series creatively named: “Myatt on Mondays“. Any questions related to the topic of business in general (Branding, Finance, Leadership, Talent Management, Marketing, Sales, PR, Strategy, etc.) are fair game. While I will do my best to accommodate as many requests as possible, the reality is that not all submissions will be accepted. Furthermore, because I am only going to publish an answer to one question each week it may be sometime before your answer is published (assuming your request is accepted). Therefore if you need immediate response, please mark your inquiry accordingly and I will attempt to contact you directly. Now that the ground rules are out of the way the first question I’ll answer is: “What is the difference between Venture Capital and Private Equity?”

The text book answer that would be given by most B-School professors is that venture capital is a subset of a larger private equity asset class which includes venture capital, LBO’s, MBO’s, MBI’s, bridge and mezzanine investments. Historically venture capital investors have provided high risk equity capital to start-up and early stage companies whereas private equity firms have provided secondary traunches of equity and mezzanine investments to companies that are more mature in their corporate lifecycle. Again, traditionally speaking, venture capital firms have higher hurdle rate expectations, will be more mercenary with their valuations (please see an earlier post on valuations) and will be more onerous in their constraints on management than will private equity firms.

While the above descriptions are technically correct and have largely held true to form from a historical perspective, the lines between venture capital and private equity investments have been blurred by increased competition in the capital markets over the last 18 €“ 24 months. With the robust, if not frothy state of the capital markets today there is far too much capital chasing too few quality deals. The increased pressure on the part of money managers, investment advisors, fund managers and capital providers to place funds is at an all time high. This excess money supply has created more competition between investors, driving valuations up for entrepreneurs and yields down for investors.

This increased competition among investors has forced both venture capital and private equity firms to expand their respective horizons in order to continue to capture new opportunities. Over the last 12 months I have seen an increase in private equity firms willing to consider earlier stage companies and venture capital firms lowering yield requirements to be more competitive in securing later stage opportunities.

The moral of this story is that if you are an entrepreneur seeking investment capital your timing is good. While the traditional rules of thumb first explained above can be used as a basic guideline for determining investor suitability, don’t let traditional guidelines keep you from exploring all types of capital providers. While some of the ground rules may be changing your capital formation goals should remain the same: entertain proposals from venture capital investors, private equity firms, hedge funds, and angel investors while attempting to work throughout the entire capital structure to seek the highest possible valuation at the lowest blended cost of capital while maintaining the most control possible.

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