Talent, Leadership, Culture: The Number 1 Operating Challenge Cited By CEO’s

By John Mattone
Chair, Culture Transformation, N2Growth

What has been top of mind for corporate boards and CEO’s worldwide since 2004? It is not competitive threats, rising costs, innovation challenges, risk management, technology, debt, or even the regulatory environment. Corporate directors and CEO’s identify the need to create and sustain a leadership and talent culture that drives superior operating results as their #1 current and future challenge….and, this has been the case since 2004!

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Why Your CEO Just Doesn’t Get It

By Mike Myatt
Chairman, N2growth

* This column was originally published on Forbes.com

Quality leadership or a lack thereof is easy to spot if you know what to look for. The problem is most people don’t know what to look for in a leader, and according to a recent study by Chief Executive magazine many CEOs don’t seem to know what to look for either.

While I probably shouldn’t have been surprised, I will admit to being absolutely stunned as I reviewed the results of a survey published in the January/February 2014 edition of Chief Executive in which respondents (sitting CEOs) ranked the top 10 skills needed for effective leadership.  Following are the results in descending order of importance:

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Where J.C. Penney And Ron Johnson Went Wrong

Ron Johnson_2

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

It’s not hard to lead talented people with an aligned vision who fall under the umbrella of an iconic brand that has a cult-like consumer following. This describes Ron Johnson’s role as head of Apple’s retail operation prior to assuming the CEO role at J.C. Penney. Johnson was fired today by JCP as his efforts to rebrand and turnaround the struggling retailer failed to get traction. In June of 2012 I predicted Johnson’s failure as I warned of cookie cutter leadership practices in a Forbes column entitled Culture: Don’t Copy – Create.

While the aforementioned Forbes column offers an insight into why the turnaround failed under Johnson’s leadership, it points to a much bigger issue – another example of a board of directors tapping the wrong CEO for the job. Penney’s opted for star power, when what they should have done was hire a CEO with proven turnaround experience.  Penney’s didn’t need cool – they needed someone who understood the JCP culture, the JCP consumer, and the JCP business, all of which varied radically from Johnson’s Apple experience.

Penney’s board opted for a silver bullet that didn’t exist. Rather than do the hard work and heavy lifting necessary to turnaround a brand that had been mismanaged for years, they wanted a quick fix – they bought smoke and mirrors rather than sound business practice. You can’t lead with cool – cool must be earned. The label of cool comes as a result of great business decisions and outstanding leadership.

While JCP was broken long before Johnson took the helm, the retailer’s performance clearly declined under his leadership. The thing is, it didn’t have to happen, and oddly enough, I blame Penney’s board and their search firm just as much as Johnson. There were a dozen candidates who would have been a better selection, but they just had a demonstrable track of turning around businesses – they weren’t considered cool. Here’s the thing – had they made the right choice, for the right reasons, everyone would be looking cool right now.  Succession matters – especially CEO successions.

Let me give credit where credit is due – Johnson didn’t do everything wrong, in fact, he made some long overdue changes. That said, he misfired on the big ones of culture, business model and understanding the consumer. Most importantly, he failed to produce results. A lesson for all would-be turnaround CEOs.


Why Marissa Mayer Will Fail At Yahoo

Why Marissa Mayer Will Fail at Yahoo

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

Marissa Mayer is a case study in what NOT to do as a new CEO. While she’s clearly under intense pressure to pull Yahoo out of what many see as a death spiral, making rookie mistakes is not going to help her cause. Being a new CEO of a struggling enterprise is a challenge for any leader, but it’s also not a role every leader is ready for – shame on Yahoo’s board for botching the selection process – again.

I don’t often succumb to the relative ease of playing armchair quarterback, and I’m not typically one for piling on. That said, I see no indication whatsoever that Mayer is the right leader for Yahoo at this critical juncture. No one can doubt her pedigree or intelligence, nor can they dispute she brings a breadth of good experience from her tenure at Google.  But there is nothing in Mayer’s track record to suggest she was ready for this job. She’s in over her head, and perhaps a bigger issue is Yahoo’s board doesn’t seem to have a clue.

The constraints of this medium will keep me from dissecting every faux pas Mayer has made to date, so I’ll focus on the most recent. Marissa Mayer’s decision to end the practice of working remotely at Yahoo makes ZERO sense, and all the rationalizations and justifications on the planet can’t turn a bad decision into a good one. Even if I could make a case for her decision, which I can’t, she still went about it in the wrong way – real leadership isn’t about issuing regressive mandates via memo. Her decision was indicative of someone desperately seeking a solution prior to having understanding. It’s a classic case of treating the symptom and not the problem.

Here’s the thing – it’s not where someone works, but their contribution that matters. Whether working remotely or on-site, good team members should be engaged, productive, and add value to the culture. If any of these components are missing, it’s not an indictment of the platform, but it should be a reflection on the worker and their manager. Any chief executive who needs to have all employees on site in order to create a healthy culture is lacking in leadership skills. Making a bold move is not synonymous with good leadership unless the bold move is effective. Ultimately, this is not a location/logistics issue, it’s a leadership issue.

The debate about flexible working should not center exclusively on whether Yahoo’s workers should be located onsite or remotely.  This is a classic case of unnecessarily using either/or decision-making because it was fast and easy – the problem is, it was also reckless, cavalier and flawed. Clearly, not every Yahoo employee working remotely should be, but many probably should. You don’t create a healthy, productive culture by adopting regressive one size fits all policies; you do it by creating trust and aligning values.

Job number one for a new CEO is to understand the workforce, not impose their will upon them. A new chief executive must engender trust and confidence in the workforce, while going to school on understanding the culture and the business model. The job of a new CEO isn’t to make immediate radical changes; it’s to gain trust and clarity in an attempt to reach the point where the right changes can be made with the biggest impact and the least amount of acrimony.  While her sense of urgency in both understandable and admirable, her lack of finesse and discernment is underwhelming. Change solely for the sake of change usually doesn’t end well.

If you have an unproductive workforce, coach them to productivity or let them go – don’t just relocate them and hope things will change, because they wont. If what you want to do is downsize, don’t draw ridiculous lines in the sand and hope some people quit, take the time and effort to deal with the situation correctly. If you want to improve the culture, don’t pollute it with unrealistic demands. Rather align your vision with the needs of the market, and then ensure the work being created is also aligned.

When people like Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and other storied CEOs roll their eyes at Mayer’s decision to eliminate working remotely, perhaps it merits peeling back the layers on her ability to make good decisions. If Google has remote workers who contribute, why can’t Yahoo?

I’m not much of an either/or thinker, as I tend to believe in most instances it’s quite possible to have your cake and eat it too – think “and” instead of “either/or.” The key here is to have standards, and to apply well reasoned business logic. When Best Buy announced it was going to place its flex-work plan under greater scrutiny and require workers to coordinate schedules with management, this seemed to be a prudent, thoughtful approach, and probably what Mayer should have done.

Mayer may generate a lot of buzz, and she’ll likely be able eke out a few positive quarters based on cost cutting. However, if she’s to have any chance of success over the long haul, she’ll need to understand her company, the people who work for her, and most of all, she’ll need to mature as a leader.


Leadership About Leading_2

Leadership Is About Leading

Leadership About Leading_2

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

Leadership is about leading. Leadership is a 24-7-365 endeavor. In fact, I’d go so far as to say the best leaders view what they do as a calling and not just a job. If you’re a leader, what you do in public or private, in silence or in word, and in thought or in deed will be observed, evaluated and critiqued – count on it. There are simply no free passes for leaders. Don’t believe me? Just look around – the news is littered each day with examples of people in leadership positions who ignore or forget what I’ve just espoused. In today’s post I’ll examine the fallacy of leading by not leading.

There has been an interesting amount of chatter of late around the concept of “when to lead.” What puzzles me is this statement’s inference there must be a good time not to lead. I couldn’t disagree more – abdication is not a leadership quality, characteristic or trait. Leaders who view their role as a part-time activity will be replaced by those who realize the frivolity of such a belief. When you’re in a leadership role, everything you do is on the clock. Whether you realize it or not, everything you do as a leader is leading – the question is whether or not your action or inaction constitutes good or bad leadership.

Let me take a moment and dismiss the sophomoric leadership theorists who believe that sometimes a leader must not lead by stepping-back, stepping-aside or stepping-away and acquiescing leadership to others. This doesn’t represent an example of not leading, rather it is a great example of real leadership. Real leaders know that choosing to surrender the floor, to remain silent, to delegate, or to utilize any number of other subtle acts of leadership demonstrate astute examples of situational and contextual leadership.

Furthermore, real leaders don’t stop leading when they leave the workplace – they are the same person at work, in the home, or in social settings. They also understand effective leadership doesn’t always require a physical presence. They recognize good leadership is transferable, distributable and scalable, and therefore, should continue in their absence as well. Leadership that doesn’t exist in the absence of a leader really isn’t leadership at all.

Leadership isn’t about volume – it’s about vision. Leadership has little to do with personal glory, but everything to do with influencing the right outcomes. Smart leaders understand leadership influence is multi-directional and can come from many angles. While leadership is most easily recognized when appearing from the front, it is often times more effective being exerted from behind through service, or in collaborative engagement standing along side those you lead. Regardless of approach, great leaders understand leadership failure comes most often when leaders fail to lead.

Everything you do as a leader sets an example or sends a message – good or bad. Leaders are measured by how they conduct themselves online and offline, in business and social settings, and by how they value family and friends. Whether you accept a leadership position, or are thrust into a leadership role by circumstance, once you make the choice to be a leader you must ALWAYS lead. Dismiss or forget this advice at great cost and peril – remember it and you’ll be long admired for your service as a leader.


Managing The Board – 10 Things Every CEO Should Know

Managing The Board – 10 Things Every CEO Should Know

Managing The Board – 10 Things Every CEO Should Know

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

I’ve yet to meet a CEO who at some point in time hasn’t been frustrated by their board – it goes with the territory. That said, it should be the exception, and not the rule. Ultimately, chief executives deserve the board relationships they develop. As a CEO, your board can be one of your greatest allies. Conversely, and just as easily, they can be a significant contributor to your undoing resulting in an early and unnecessary demise. In today’s post I’ll share 10 tips to help develop a skill set all successful CEOs excel at—managing board relations.

What’s interesting to me is that of all the constituencies CEOs must deal with, the relationship with a board of directors is among the easiest to manage, and the most valuable. So why do so many CEOs blow it when it comes to managing their board? From my perspective, CEOs who fail in their attempts to coalesce with the board usually do so as a result of being either arrogant or naive. The odd thing is, whether through arrogance or ignorance, the results are often the same. These misguided CEOs often just ignore the board as if they didn’t even exist until they see a board meeting scheduled, or receive an angry phone call or e-mail.

The simple truth of the matter is savvy CEOs see their board as a strategic asset, and not a liability to be avoided. The following 10 tips will help you become skilled at managing board relations by lessening your burdens, extending your shelf-life, and improving your performance:

1. Understand the Landscape: 
Regardless of composition, your board is likely made up of successful and influential people. As such, they make better friends than adversaries. Remember that no one likes to be publicly embarrassed, and that your statements, actions and overall performance are an indirect reflection on the personal brands and professional reputations of your board members.

If you inherit your board, seek to build strong relationships as quickly as possible. If you find yourself in the enviable position of being able to drive the selection process for your board—choose wisely. If you find that you have strong opposition that cannot be managed or improved, do everything possible to have them removed/replaced before they do the same to you.

Board members have egos, and will go to great lengths to help you if they perceive you respect and value their position. Likewise, they will seek to undermine your efforts by creating substantial barriers and obstacles for you if you choose to trivialize them.

2. Board Composition:
First rule of board management—avoid conflicts of interest. All board members should meet director independence standards and not subject themselves, their company or your company to unnecessary risk

While race/gender diversity mandates are drivers in today’s selection process, the diversity drivers you should be paying attention to are thought diversity, industry diversity, skill diversity and experience diversity. Selecting a board that challenges your thinking, and makes you a better chief executive, is more important than having a rubber-stamp board that adds little value.

Length of board term should also be considered when appointing new members, as you don’t want to be wed to a board member for a long-term commitment only to find out early in the relationship the member is not a good fit (see succession below).

Lastly, when developing board committees, I would recommend forming a minimum of the following: audit committee, executive committee, investment committee, nominating and governance committee, and organization and compensation committee.

3. Boards Must Be Led:
As I noted above, CEOs deserve the boards they develop – a failure to lead at any level, especially at the board level, will have significant negative consequences. The concept of “tone from the top” doesn’t just apply to employees. Just as chief executives must align expectations with their employees, they must also do so with the board. Smart CEOs develop a framework and platform from which to effectively lead the board.

Just as boards hold the CEO accountable to a set of standards and behaviors, the CEO must require the same of their board. The CEO must clearly communicate what they need from board members and then demand they do more than just show up for the meetings. CEOs that allow board sessions to devolve into gripe sessions as opposed to

4. Be Proactive:
The number one rule of board management is not to hold the meeting at the board meeting. Put another way, the meeting never happens at the meeting. As the CEO, your role in board management is that of leader, executive, fiduciary, lobbyist and evangelist. As such, it would behoove of you to have individual phone calls or meetings with board members in advance of the actual board meeting to seek their input and advice.

Also make sure to get a draft of the board deck out to the lead director or key committee chairs well in advance of the meeting creating another opportunity for feedback and input. Use these proactive encounters to flesh out, and seek alignment on, key issues and positions.

Never reserve bad news for the actual board meeting, but rather air it out well in advance. If you’re going to get beat up by your board, it’s better to have it happen in private rather than on center stage where the beating can not only be more severe, but where the results may also be recorded in the minutes. Never hold a board meeting when you don’t know where your board stands on key issues in advance. An unprepared CEO is a CEO who will not endure the test of time.

5. The Agenda:
Make sure the agenda isn’t too crowded, and that there is sufficient committee and session time available to cover needed ground. Most board meetings don’t lend themselves to being held over the course of a single day. I would suggest have committee meetings on day one, a board dinner the evening of day one, and executive sessions on day two. Having a high powered board of directors does little good if you don’t give yourself the time to peel back the layers of critical issues. 

6. Display Backbone:
Smart CEOs respect their board—that said, they will not allow themselves to be run over by the board, or to allow board meetings to turn into the meeting into little more than glorified gripe sessions. The board’s role is one of governance not management, and sometimes it’s necessary to remind them of that fact. Don’t go to the mat over insignificant issues. Be willing to compromise where prudent, but you’ll also need to stand your ground and successfully make your case on mission-critical issues.

CEOs who make a habit of too easily acquiescing to the board have in essence surrendered to the board. They will have lost the respect of the board and will have rendered themselves ineffective as CEO.

7. Manage the Trickle-down:
Remember that what happens in the board room rarely stays in the board room. VC, private equity or other investor directors leave your board meeting only to make a report on their observations. Non-investor board members will usually discuss the goings on of your board meetings as well.

If you conduct yourself professionally and respect your board’s ability to add value, the down-stream communications that follow your meeting will advance your cause as opposed to undermine it.

8. The Environment:
What should be obvious, but what is often overlooked, is the importance of having your board members look forward to the meeting. In other words, make the meeting meaningful, productive and if possible enjoyable. If your board members dread attending your meeting, they will be predisposed to show up with a bad attitude. Bad attitudes bring out the worst in people, and that is not what you want waiting for you when you arrive at the meeting.

Don’t bore your members with meaningless drivel or worthless presentations. Rather be crisp in your delivery and be specific about the issues at hand. Feed them, make them comfortable, ensure they don’t feel their time was wasted, or that they didn’t have the opportunity to be heard—have them leave looking forward to the next meeting.

9. Set the Chinning Bar High:
While rogue CEOs have received most of the media attention in recent history, don’t fool yourself into thinking that rogue board members don’t exist as well.

Remember that all board members are obligated to make decisions in the best interests of the company. Moreover, personally motivated decisions that speak of self-dealing will eventually come out into public view and will be dealt with harshly.

Make sure all board members share a commonality of values and vision where possible, and hold them accountable to make decisions in alignment with the fiduciary obligation they assumed when they accepted the board seat.

10. Succession:
Many studies show succession as a major issue of importance for boards, yet in most surveys, often more than 50% of companies feel dissatisfied with present succession practices/positioning. The board should make great effort to ensure continuity and succession is a primary focus, roles of the incoming and outgoing CEO are clearly defined and understood, and that transitions at both the operating and board level serve to advance the succession, not impede it. There should also be succession planning as it relates to board members as well – board member for life is not acceptable.

Bonus – Board Development:
Regrettably, many CEOs believe their investment into the board begins and ends with compensation – big mistake. I’ve always said you cannot have a growing and developing enterprise when leadership fails to invest in growing and developing itself. This applies to both executive and non-executive leadership. An investment into board development simply means the board will be better equipped to excel in the performance of their governance function, as well as to develop their ability to challenge and stretch your thinking.

Please use the comments section below to share any other tips for working more effectively with the board. Thoughts?

Is the Customer Always Right?

Is the Customer Always Right

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

Is the customer really always right? How far should a company go to satisfy their clientele or customer base? What is the lost opportunity cost associated with customer churn? Is there a point when satisfying the customer is actually harmful to the enterprise, or back to the original question, is the customer always right? In today’s post I’ll share my opinion as to the validity of this old business axiom, and also offer a few insights on where to draw the line…

I believe all businesses should use great care and concern when determining how their customers and clients are treated. The time, energy, and cost associated with acquiring a customer are substantial, the benefits of retaining customers are considerable, and the costs associated with customer churn are significant. I’m always amazed at how much money will be spent to acquire a new customer, but how little care is given to insuring customer satisfaction after the sale.  There is great truth in the old axiom that states: “if you’re not serving your customer well, someone else will.”

If as an executive you believe customer service is someone else’s problem, you have a much bigger problem than you realize. While I believe most CEOs have a grasp on the concept of lifecycle value, I’m not sure they really understand the true cost of losing a customer. Let’s just assume that the lifetime value of a customer for company X is $2,000 dollars. If company X loses just one customer, the total lifecycle loss could run well into the tens of thousands, if not the hundreds of thousands. If you don’t believe me consider the following 7 points:

  1. The Initial Churn: First you have the $2,000 dollar lifetime value loss attributed to churning the account itself.
  2. Sunk Acquisition Costs: Don’t forget to add in the cost of acquiring the account to begin with. You spent very real dollars to acquire the account so you need to factor that into the total equation. I’ll let you pick the percentage you want to use and add that into the total number.
  3. Replacement Costs: Remember the cost of acquisition number you just calculated above? Well, you need to add it back in again, because now you have to go out and replace the customer you just lost. By the way, you should probably multiply the cost of acquisition number by 5 since it costs about 500% more to acquire a new customer than retain an existing one.
  4. Lost Ancillary Revenue: On average, a single account is good for a 30 -40% cross-sell/up-sell revenue increase over time as new products, services, joint ventures etc. are brought on line and offered to existing accounts. This means you can conservatively expect to lose another $600 dollars of upside in our $2000 dollar example.
  5. Lost Referral Revenues: Depending on your business, and whether or not you have a solid customer acquisition process in place, a single account should be good for a minimum of 2-3 referrals (direct or indirect) on an annual basis. Over a 10 year period of time, assuming only 2 annual referrals, without any cross-sell or up-sell value being added-in, you just lost another $200,000 dollars.
  6. Loss of 2nd & 3rd generation referrals: But wait; it just gets worse….Those lost referrals mentioned above would have also given you 2-3 referrals each year, and if you carry this formula out over 20 years the loss of a single account could easily cost your organization more than a million dollars in lost revenue.
  7. Negative Brand Impact: If it isn’t bad enough already, a lost account can easily have a negative impact on future sales due to spreading the news of their bad experience with your company.  The average dissatisfied customer will persuade 10-20 other people from doing business with your firm. If the upset customer takes their dissatisfaction online and amplifies it via social media you could see a much bigger problem. This will not only impact your revenue, but can also taint your brand equity.

The bottom line is that it is very expensive to lose an account. That said, I also believe there is a point where customers can begin to abuse the good will of the merchants and service providers who work so hard to earn their business. So, when does a customer cross over to the dark side and become your worst nightmare? The answer is a fairly simple one – when the squeaky wheel becomes so loud that the brain damage involved in greasing it becomes too high, if an account doesn’t deal in good faith, if they become unprofitable to keep, or when you can replace them with more profitable accounts.

Regrettably, experience has shown me that a small percentage of customers/clients live for the chance to wield their perceived power over their merchants, vendors, suppliers and professional service providers. These customers are the proverbial “squeaky wheels” that demand to be greased. These are the verbally abusive customers who expect special consideration, and whose demands can far exceed the boundaries of reason. There is in fact a point where “bad customers” can erode margins, negatively affect morale, or even tarnish a brand. These customers not only are not right, they deserved to be fired…

The following tips will help you minimize the amount of bad customers served by your enterprise and will show you what to do once a customer crosses over to the dark side:

  1. Align Expectations: Where possible, and especially if your business has the luxury of choosing your customers, make sure that mutual expectations are both defined and aligned at the outset of the relationship. Ensure your client understands what types of customer behaviors will be accepted and what types of behavior will not be tolerated.
  2. Develop Customer Scorecards: You should actually profile your clientele such that you understand the difference between good accounts and bad accounts. Much like you have performance reviews for your employees, you should also conduct an analysis of how your customers are performing. Not all accounts are accretive, and more accounts than you think may in fact be dilutive.
  3. Turnover Bad Accounts: When a client is identified as being a bad account either not capable of being saved nor worthy of salvaging, you should strongly consider firing the client. Evaluate the bottom tier of your clientele each year, and look to upgrade your clientele either by improving account performance or by releasing the client and replacing that business with a better quality account.

Those of you who have worked with me know that I state very clearly at the outset of any new relationship that I reserve the right to terminate an engagement if said engagement turns out to be less than a fruitful endeavor. While I feel privileged to serve my clients, and am thankful for the opportunity to earn their business, I also believe that the relationships should be reciprocal in nature. Business as they say is after all a two-way street…


Leadership and Resourcing

Leadership and Resourcing

Leadership and Resourcing

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth
It’s not what you have, but what you’re able to make out of what you have that matters. Every great leader understands the importance of creating leverage via proper resource allocation. The best leaders possess an innate understanding of how to create resources where none exist – they know how to deploy and redeploy resources to maximize opportunities and to minimize risk. So my question to you is this; are you over-resourced, under-resourced, resource aligned, or do you even know? In today’s post I’ll look at the topic of resourcing as a key success metric for anyone in a leadership position.

If you think CEO means chief everything officer, your tenure in the C-suite won’t be long. Attempting to do everything yourself is nothing short of a recipe for disaster as a CEO, and in fact, is exactly the opposite of how top performing CEOs think. Furthermore, the best CEOs consistently spend time contemplating how not to do things themselves. Let me be clear that I’m not advocating an abdication of responsibility, but rather an understanding of highest and best use of financial, human, and technology resources.

The essence of Leadership is not found in doing things yourself, but in teaching others how to do things better than you ever could. Leadership is about teaching, coaching, developing, and mentoring. Leadership has nothing to do with hoarding knowledge, but everything to do with distributing knowledge. Without leveraging down it is virtually impossible for a CEO to create any real velocity or momentum in growing the enterprise.

It has been my observation that when deadlines are missed, or important initiatives don’t get off the ground, it is usually an issue of poor resource management. When I hear CEOs say things like “I didn’t have time” or “I didn’t have the necessary resources” I only have one question: Why not? When I hear a CEO complain about a lack of revenue growth while maintaining a small sales force supported by paltry marketing investments, I’m left shaking my head in wonderment at how such a huge blind spot could possibly exist. You see if the project/initiative was worth planning and implementing, it should have been worth resourcing.

As a CEO, if you couldn’t resource the project you either had a flaw in your planning process, you misunderstood or misapplied your talent, or you should have never started the project/initiative to begin with. The most successful CEOs are like the corporate version of MacGyver in that they can overcome any obstace with whatever resources they have at their immediate disposal. If you expect miracles from your under-resourced staff you are likely to be disappointed. However if you expect great things from an appropriately resourced staff, you will be consistently rewarded. If you continually stretch your resource rubber band too tightly, trust me when I tell you that it will eventually snap.

Here’s the big takeaway – As a CEO, your goal is not to see how much you can get out of your people, but rather how much leverage you can create for your people…there is a big difference.

On the flip side of the coin is being over-resourced…overspending is not the same thing as making prudent investments. Just throwing money and resources at a problem is not a solution…it simply constitutes unnecessary margin erosion. Overspending is a tactic for the lazy or the incompetent. The trick is to throw the right talent, and the appropriate investment at a challenge in a fashion that creates a certainty of execution while still generating return on investment.

The bottom line is this – apply your best talent and the lion’s share of your operating capital towards exploiting your greatest opportunities or toward solving your greatest challenges. Everything else is majoring in minors…


Leadership & Discipline

Leadership and Discipline

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

The difference between good and great often comes down to discipline. So my question is this – how disciplined are you as a leader? Context, fluidity, and other nuanced behaviors are positive traits to embrace so long as they don’t serve as an excuse for a lack of discipline. I’m not suggesting that leaders should be robotic or static in approach – quite to the contrary. Implementing a framework of discipline allows leaders more flexibility not less. While subjecting yourself to the rigor of discipline is not easy, it is essential if you want to maximize your effectiveness as a leader. The best leaders I know are extremely disciplined people – they simply do the things others are not willing to do.  Are you disciplined in all facets of your life, or just those which come more easily to you?

There’s a lot of material in circulation about strengths and weaknesses, but the truth of the matter is the mantra of “playing to your strengths” is often an excuse to avoid doing things you dislike or don’t happen to be very good at. It’s much easier for most people to refine their areas of giftedness and revel in the admiration of being a high achiever than it is to be honest about their shortcomings. I want you to take a hard look in the mirror – is it truly an attempt to increase your efficiency that guides you to play to your strengths, or is it pride, ego, arrogance and laziness that precludes you from being disciplined? Remember that being efficient is not always the same thing as being effective. Here’s the thing – you don’t need to observe a leader for long to know whether or not they’re disciplined. Disciplined leaders stand out because they’re the one’s that get things done – the ones you can count on.

The good news for those willing to do the work is you can have your cake and eat it too. By applying rigor and discipline to aspects of your personal and professional life that you normally tend to avoid, your strengths will standout even more. How many times have you put up with, or overlooked certain weaknesses in people because of their considerable strengths in other areas? Wouldn’t it be better to find yourself in a place where others weren’t tolerating certain of your behaviors in lieu of others? It’s been said that “Discipline is the refining fire by which talent becomes ability.” Wouldn’t it be better to be viewed as a complete package – the real deal? Sure it would, so why not apply the discipline it takes to ensure that outcome?

I want you to envision a golfer who is long off the tee – the grip it and rip it type who can out drive anyone on the range, yet never wins a round because of their pathetic short game. Here’s the thing; it’s not that this champion of the long drive can’t master their short game, they just spend more time on the driving range than on the putting green. They would rather receive the accolades that are sure to come from their mighty display in the tee box rather than suffer the chuckles that might result from sculling a chip shot around the putting green. Know the type? The sad thing is they don’t just exist on the golf course…

My bottom line is this…real leaders don’t accept mediocrity – they constantly seek improvement. If you want to become a true standout as opposed to someone who has great potential my message is simple – become very intentional about bringing discipline to every area of your life. Take an assessment of what you do well and what you don’t, and then apply rigor, process, structure and discipline to each of those areas. Hard work isn’t easy, but it does pay huge dividends.

As always, feel free to share any thoughts or tips by commenting below…

Vision and Leadership

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Leadership and VisionVisioning for CEOs is a topic that I often address on this blog. I don’t do so in an attempt to torture you with redundant thought, but rather because I believe it is a message that is often taken far too lightly by chief executives. A CEO’s ability to perform effectively is so closely tied to their ability to form a clearly articulated vision, evangelize the vision and then to execute on their vision, that no real discussion on executive leadership should take place without an emphasis on vision. Put simply, I believe that leadership absent vision is a train-wreck waiting to happen. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that you simply cannot decouple the two without causing an organizational implosion. In today’s post I’m going to share a few brief thoughts on visioning for CEOs, as well as providing you with the thoughts of others on the importance of vision…

Examine any list of great leaders and you’ll find that to the one, they have a clarity and purpose of vision. The good news is that CEOs without vision will take care of themselves in short order, as they simply won’t survive for long. However worse than the CEO with no vision, is a CEO with the wrong vision. These CEOs can often go undiscovered for great lengths of time before their poorly constructed vision bubbles-up to the surface, by which time it is often too late to repair the damage. Many a good enterprise has been blown to pieces by a CEO with either no vision or the wrong vision.

It’s important to understand that vision statements are design oriented.  The vision is bigger picture and future oriented – it is the vision that defines the end game. Vision statements, as implied in the construction of the phraseology itself, put forth a statement of envisioned future. This vision, if successful, must be underpinned by core ideology (values) and then expressed with clarity and conviction. A non-existent, ambiguous, or ideologically weak corporate vision is nothing short of a recipe for disaster…It would be akin to the proverbial ship without a rudder adrift without any direction or control. A well articulated corporate vision should be capable of being easily understood and distributed throughout the value chain.

As magically vibrant and illustrative as a vision can be, a vision isn’t really about what can be imagined – it’s about what can be delivered. A leader’s vision must be distributed, adopted, and deeply embedded into the daily fabric of the organizational culture. A leader who doesn’t possess clarity of vision cannot expect those they lead to have clarity in thought or deed. A shared vision based on common values is the gold standard of corporate alignment.

It should be clear by now that I believe your vision or lack thereof will shape your destiny as a CEO. But hey…you hear that from me on a fairly consistent basis. So in today’s post I thought I’d share the thoughts of others on this topic so you can see that I’m not alone in placing great emphasis on the correlation between great vision and success as a leader…

“The empires of the future are empires of the mind.”
Winston Churchill

“Destiny is not a matter of chance, but of choice. Not something to wish for, but to attain.”
William Jennings Bryan

“To grasp and hold a vision, that is the very essence of successful leadership.”
Ronald Reagan

“Dissatisfaction and discouragement are not caused by the absence of things but the absence of vision.”

“The future belongs to those who see the possibilities before they become obvious.”
John Scully

I can teach anybody how to get what they want out of life. The problem is that I can’t find anybody who can tell me what they want.”
– Mark Twain

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.”
Henry David Thoreau

“After character, the ability to create, articulate, evangelize, and execute on your vision is what will make or break you as a leader.”
Mike Myatt (couldn’t resist slipping one in)

“Create your future from your future, not your past.”
Werner Erhard

“No matter how dark things seem to be or actually are, raise your sights and see the possibilities – always see them, or they’re always there.”
Norman Vincent Peale

“Where there is no vision the people perish.”
Proverbs 29:18

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it,but that it is too low and we reach it.”

I hope these thoughts will inspire you to take stock of your vision, and focus on its attainment as a top priority in the execution of your duties as a leader. I would love to hear your thoughts and observations in the comments section below. Don’t be shy – jump right in…

10 Steps to Productive Meetings

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Meeting Overload

If you’ve ever watched an episode of NBC’s “The Office” you know exactly what unproductive meetings look like. The tragic news is many real world meetings too closely resemble a fictional Michael Scott get together. Stories of “death by meeting” are a well represented part of corporate folklore for good reason – unplanned, unnecessary, uninspired, or otherwise unproductive meetings are a colossal waste of time and resources. In today’s post I’ll provide you with 10 steps to creating meetings that produce real results.

Over the years I’ve found that you can tell quite a bit about a person by how many meetings they call or attend. I have consistently found the most productive people call very few meetings, and likewise they rarely attend meetings where their presence isn’t absolutely necessary. Whether meetings are held at the board, executive, management or staff levels, or whether they are small project related meetings or large company-wide meetings, the same basic principles apply to making meetings effective.

Early in my career I worked for a company where the CEO loved to have meetings. Meetings were held ad-nauseum about virtually every topic under the sun. Mostly we held meetings for the sake of meetings for one reason: Our CEO was a poor leader who couldn’t make decisions. Regrettably these meetings rarely resulted in anything being accomplished. Because the meetings were poorly conceived and poorly facilitated, it turned out that most meetings just ended-up being rehashing sessions for the subjects not resolved in prior meetings – a theme most of you are probably all too familiar with.

Unproductive meetings not only serve little purpose, but they waste one of the most precious resources that a company has…time. One of the biggest mistakes an organization can make is to take its top talent away from productive activities and sequester them away for a mind-numbing babble session. Bad meetings are not only a productivity drain, but they also can cause a decline in morale and a lack of confidence in leadership.

I recently read a brilliant Kindle book entitled: Read This Before Our Next Meeting by Al Pittampalli (@Pittampalli on Twitter)- I highly recommend this book. Al’s book is a fast read that absolutely nails the problem with most meetings, which is: “most meetings delay decisions rather than enable them.” The following excerpt is representative of what you’ll find between the covers of Al’s book:

Q: “What if I end up making a decision that not everyone agrees with?”
A: “Congratulations are in order. You’re a leader.”

The simple truth of the matter is that most meetings are not productive – they kill productivity. If leaders would spend more time leading and less time presiding over useless meetings the world would be a better place. The reality is that there is no excuse for holding a non-productive meeting. I won’t attend a meeting unless it is a good use of my time.  You won’t see my smiling face in attendance at a meeting unless I know why the meeting is being called, who’s going to be in attendance, what the objectives (preferably hard deliverables) are for the meeting, and unless an agenda has been circulated in advance of the meeting allowing for proper preparation.

A leaders role in a meeting is absolutely critical. A meeting isn’t an excuse to pontificate from the bully-pulpit, but to listen, extract information and gather intelligence. A leaders role is not to be right and to try and convince attendees they should be in agreement, but to seek the right outcome regardless of whether dissenting opinions exist. Once everyone in attendance is aligned around the expected outcome for a meeting, the leader’s role should quickly transition into observation and facilitation mode (mediation mode only if necessary). Again, the end game is to make decisions, which drive actions that are in alignment with the desired outcomes – it’s just not that hard…

While Al’s book calls for a meeting revolution, the truth of the matter is that meetings are not going to disappear, so rather than call for an end to meetings, let’s focus on how to make them productive. I’ve led meetings according to a standard for a number of years now based on 10 simple rules. Following is a more detailed breakdown of Myatt’s 10 rules for productive meetings:

  1. Culture: Create a culture where meetings are the exception and not the rule. When meetings are a rare occurrence the laws of scarcity will apply causing them to be valued as a highest and best use activity and not a nuisance. 80% of meetings never need to take place, so invest your energy in the 20% that do. If leadership doesn’t adhere to this standard then it will be impossible for the rest of the company to do so.
  2. Purpose: Some meetings are strategic and some are tactical – know the difference and don’t confuse the two. Remember, the purpose of a meeting is to create solutions – not problems, and to alleviate frustration  – not cause it. This only happens through some form of value creation, and value is created by action. Meetings should not be held to report things, but to do things. Discussing a problem only adds value if the discussion leads to solving the problem. Hoping for an opportunity is not the same thing as creating one. Ideating is not innovating. The bottom line is meetings that don’t drive action are useless – no exceptions. (see deliverables below).
  3. Scheduling: I’m not a big fan of impromptu meetings (I refer to these as “drive-bys”). Creativity and innovation are stimulated by structure, not stifled by it. If the subject is worth addressing, it is worth planning for and preparation takes time. A detailed agenda for a meeting should be circulated in advance to all attendees so that they have time to prepare to make a valuable contribution. Lastly, all meetings need to have a start time and an end-time. Don’t abuse other people’s time and expect them to appreciate you for it.
  4. Deliverables: If the objectives for the meeting are not clearly articulated as a defined set of deliverables your meeting is not worth having. The purpose of a meeting is to accomplish something, and you can’t accomplish something if that something is vague, ambiguous, ethereal or has not been defined to begin with. Set individual and collective expectations ahead of the meeting. Remember, the richness of meetings can be correlated in direct proportion to the amount of work done prior to the meeting.
  5. Mindset: Meetings must have a relaxed, non-intimidating, and professional atmosphere. If candor and trust aren’t fostered within a framework of accountability, no amount of talking will overcome the tension and animosity always lingering just beneath the surface.  Again, the purpose of a meeting is to be productive – to actually accomplish something. Leave the political correctness at the door. Meetings aren’t for coddling, and neither should they resemble a dance contest. Meetings must be challenging, welcome dissenting opinions, and encourage candid discourse. If people know that they are valued, respected and won’t be publicly embarrassed they will come prepared to deliver.
  6. Attendees: Too may people equals a circus and not a meeting. Other than a shareholder meeting, Christmas Party, an organizational (department, division, or company wide) gathering, or other special event, meetings should be limited to 10 or fewer attendees. Not everyone can or should attend a meeting, and far too many people receive invitations to meetings for no other reason than to appease their fragile egos. Don’t invite people to a meeting who have nothing to contribute, and don’t hold a meeting unless the key contributors can be in attendance. If a key person is not able to attend the meeting, reschedule for a time when they can be in attendance. If you’re coming to a meeting not prepared to make a valuable contribution why are you coming?
  7. Leadership: Someone must be in charge of the meeting. All meetings should have a meeting chair who’s responsible for keeping the meeting on point, on schedule and achieving the meeting objectives. Bad meetings are a result of bad leadership.
  8. Focus: Blackberrys, iPhones, and other PDA’s need to be turned-off. Nothing can be accomplished when people are not giving 100% focused attention to the issue at hand. If a meeting is important enough to attend, it should demand the participant’s full attention.
  9. Location: Don’t fall into the trap of going off-site unless it is absolutely necessary. Off-site meetings are expensive not only in terms of the hard dollars spent on facilities, but also in terms of the commute time to and from the meeting. You should have the discipline to use your facilities in an uninterrupted fashion. Make it known that meetings are not to be interrupted unless it is an emergency (an “emergency” needs to be defined as both urgent and important).
  10. Assess and Evaluate: The meeting chair should conduct a critical post-meeting analyses to determine what went well, what went wrong, were the right people in attendance, were the people prepared, were the deliverables met, etc. The bottom line is that companies that have great meetings have great meetings for a reason…they work on it.

It’s your time, and if you choose to spend it in meetings, make sure you spend it wisely….Please share your thoughts and observations in the comments below. Bonus points for those willing to share their “worst meeting ever” story…

10 Steps to Creating a Talent Advantage

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Creating a talent advantage begins with smart hiring. That said, it never ceases to amaze me at the number of people who are charged with hiring who possess absolutely no skill at doing so. While I rarely meet a CEO who is completely comfortable with the administration of the hiring process, most of them still seem to accept the status quo…”Who should do the hiring?” is a question more CEOs should spend time pondering. Here’s the thing; Anyone can make a hire, but not all hires are good hires. Smart leaders do more than just hire smart people – they have a smart hiring process and/or methodology. In today’s post I’ll share my philosophy on the best way to insure you hire tier-one talent.

Put simply; talent matters. The problem is that very few people actually possess the talent to identify talent. Identifying and recruiting talent requires much more than screening a resume and having a set of standard interviewing questions to guide you. There are issues of values, vision, culture, context etc., which need to be creatively and intuitively addressed in the hiring process. Sadly, it’s these areas that often go overlooked because the wrong person is evaluating talent.

Further complicating matters, is just because someone has succeeded in the past doesn’t mean they’ll be a success for your company. Likewise, just because someone has failed in a previous position doesn’t mean they might not end-up being a top performer for your company. Assessing talent is in fact a talent… Adding even more complexity to the hiring process is that not all those capable of identifying talent are capable of recruiting the talent by sealing the deal…Think about it, does the person in charge of your hiring process have the experience and charisma to convince a top performer at another company to take a pay cut to work for your company?

While CEO’s can’t personally be in charge of recruiting, it’s important to realize CEOs still own responsibility for the outcome – the buck always stops at the desk of the chief executive. No matter the size of your enterprise, I don’t believe recruiting should be the sole domain of HR (other than for lower level positions). Rather in most instances, I believe HR should be a part of the hiring team. The following commentary came from Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft when he was asked about his philosophy on hiring:

“I did all the hiring myself for a long time. No one joined Microsoft without my interviewing them and liking them. I made every offer, decided how much to pay them and closed the deals. I can’t do that anymore, but I still invest a significant amount of time in insuring that we’re recruiting the best people. You may have technology or a product that gives you an edge, but your people determine whether you develop the next winning technology or product.”

I tend to be similar in positioning to Steve in that I believe one of the highest and best uses of time is to make sure we attract the best talent for our company and our client companies. I believe C-level executives can’t afford not to keep their hands in the talent function at some level. In order to ensure you make the best hiring decisions possible, I would strongly recommend you follow the practices listed below:

  1. Definition: Make sure you know exactly what you are looking for, both in terms of the job description, and the profile of the individual most likely to be successful in that role. If you can’t define what you’re looking for, you shouldn’t be looking.
  2. Timing: There is wisdom in the old axiom “hire slow and fire fast.” Don’t panic and end-up making a regrettable hire out of perceived desperation. Give yourself plenty of runway. You’ll be much better-off taking your time and making a good hire rather than using the ready, fire, aim methodology and end-up terming the new hire before they eclipse their probationary period.
  3. ABH: Always Be Hiring…Never let your organization be put behind the talent 8-ball, as great talent is rarely available on a moment’s notice. In the world of professional sports the search for talent often starts during the middle-school years, which is long before the potential talent being tracked by the scouts has matured. Your organization should always be on the look-out for great talent whether that talent is still in graduate school, in the military, working for competitors, or working outside the industry. Some of the best hires I’ve made over the years were executives that I spent months, and in some cases, years developing relationships with.
  4. Identify Your Talent Scout: Look for and identify the person within your organization that has the best nose for talent. Regardless of what position this person holds, get them involved in the process. If you don’t have a natural talent scout internally, seek outside assistance in the form of a consultant. Don’t turn your talent scout into just another corporate bottleneck, rather give them leverage by having them collaborate with outside recruiters. Outsourced recruiting is very effective and affordable if managed properly.
  5. Team Based Hiring: While I’m not generally in favor of management by committee, hiring based upon a team approach works very well. In a perfect world, a hiring team would consist of your HR manager (compliance), your internal and external talent scout (the gut-check), the direct supervisor over the position being hired for (competency, capability, and compatibility) and the senior executive who is the best at selling your organization (the closer). Hiring in a team based fashion eliminates many of the typical mistakes that can be made in the hiring process.
  6. Values Based Hiring: You can either spend time finding employees who share your organization’s values, or deal with the brain damage of managing conflicts that arise due to opposing values. Smart companies focus on the former and not the latter. It simply isn’t necessary to compromise on core values to get talent. A new hire should desire to be part of your company for more than the ability to maximize immediate earning potential…they should be interested in your company because there is a sincere alignment of values and vision. Trust me when I tell you that compromises in this area which seem insignificant during the interview process will become visibly and materially significant down the road.
  7. Hire Leaders: I have a basic premise when it comes to hiring – most companies get exactly what they deserve. When companies complain about a lack of leadership, or how difficult it is to identify leaders, my question is simply this: Why didn’t you hire a leader to begin with? Sure, leadership can be learned, but not everyone is willing to learn, and even if they are, education takes time and has a very real cost. Let me be clear, I’m not knocking leadership development initiatives – there is no perfect leader, and all leaders need to focus on development. What I am saying is that development of an existing leader is faster, easier, and more effective than creating a leader.
  8. Cultural Fit: Culture matters – forget this and all other efforts with regard to talent initiatives will be dysfunctional, if not lost altogether. Don’t allow your culture to evolve be default, create it by design. The first step in cultural design is to be very, very careful who you let through the front door. People, their traits, attitudes, and work ethic (or lack thereof) are contagions. This can be positive or negative – the choice is yours. The old saying, “talent begets talent” is true.
  9. Pay for Talent: I cannot even begin to count the number of times I’ve witnessed companies pass over the right hire, or worse yet, not even look for the right hire because they let self-imposed financial constraints serve as a barrier precluding sound decisioning. I’ve actually personally observed HR managers filter better qualified candidates because they were a few thousand dollars outside the “top-end” of the salary range. It is precisely this type of thinking that will keep a company from being competitive in the market. To put it bluntly, you get what you pay for…Real talent produces real results, and is worth the investment. Always hire up where possible…find the right talent and then do what it takes to secure the services of said talent. You cannot afford not to invest in talent.
  10. Constantly Upgrade: You can hire the best talent in the world, but remember that “best” is a subjective evaluation largely measured within the context of a snapshot in time. Obsolescence can take root in anyone if growth and development are not focus points. Development needs to occur at every echelon of the workforce  – the top, middle, and bottom performance tiers. Top performers need to be stretched, mid-tier performers need to be challenged to up their game, and you should always look to upgrade the bottom 20% of your workforce. This can be done through training and development or via new hires. You need to ask yourself the following question: Who are the least productive members of your team? Why? Coach them to productivity or replace them – there is no third option.

Hiring is a blend of art and science. The reality is that those organizations that identify, recruit, deploy, develop and retain the best talent will be the companies who thrive in the market place. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback below…

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