Monday, April 24, 2017

Could You Be A Business Coach, Or Do You Need One?

business-coachingWe all know some peers in business who could use some coaching to unleash their potential and optimize performance, but would you know how to do the job if they asked you for help? Most people find it easier and quicker to just do the work themselves, than to guide someone else through the mindset and process needed. The result is frustration and dissatisfaction all around.

In reality, even the best performers and leaders need some coaching from time to time, and everyone has the potential to be a coach, so it behooves all of us to learn how to do it right. In an effort to help myself, I read a new book on this topic, “The Master Coach,” by Gregg Thompson. As an expert on this subject, he has provided coach training for many Fortune 100 companies.

His approach, which I espouse, is first that every company needs to make coaching an integral part of their company culture at all levels, rather than rely on occasional outside consultants to come in and fix problems. The reality is that every professional in every organization at every level needs to understand what coaching means, and how to live and build a coaching culture:

  1. Nurture the spirit of sharing in every team member. People who make great coaches, as well as the best performers, are ones who are willing to liberally share their time, attention, and energy with others on the team. Self-centered members need coaching.

  2. Partner with people who see the best in everyone. Coaches need the ability to look past the shortcomings of others to focus on their positive qualities, even if deeply hidden. Team members who are most often negative or critical of others drag everyone down.

  3. Select team members who have high self-esteem. The best team members feel good enough about themselves to not use the coaching relationship to feed their ego. Healthy self-esteem rests on the principles of integrity, authenticity, and self-reliance.

  4. Only add team members that are emotionally mature. People who are the most productive, and also make good coaches, are keenly self-aware, understand how to manage their emotions, and are able to create sustainable relationships with others.

  5. Look for people who are interpersonally courageous. These team members will boldly confront peers and those they coach, and seek truth in all conversations. People who are hesitant to engage or disagree, need coaching to bring out their potential.

  6. Coaches need uncommon empathy and compassion. They need to understand the struggle and pain that often accompanies personal learning and change, most notably from personal experience. Those who refuse to change rarely relate well with others.

  7. Life-long learners make great coaches. These have voracious appetites for new knowledge and self-development, and can inspire other team members to look outside the box for new levels of performance and satisfaction. Inspiration is the best teacher.

  8. Team members need flexibility and resilience. In the rapidly changing world of business today, everyone needs to be strong enough to bend. Both coaches and your business need to weather the setbacks and conflicts inherent to progress and success.

  9. Don’t allow judgmental voices to stymie progress. Good coaches and business leaders have an accepting nature, and overcome their human tendency to be judgmental. They speak from the heart, but rely on data and results in making decisions and strategy.

  10. Favor people with a perpetually optimistic bias. Coaches can only help if they have the power to make people see a tomorrow that is better than today. Businesses can only succeed if they can make customers see a win-win situation by working together.

Once coaching is a part of your company culture, it’s not so hard to accept coaching from your peers, or for managers and executives to ask for coaching from people at other levels in the organization.

Only then will people see that coaching ability or being coached is not about credentials, job titles, or what you do, but is more about who you are. Are you the person today that you would want as a coach?

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 04/11/2017 ***

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

4 Chasms And 5 Customer Types That Kill Entrepreneurs

Technology-Adoption-Lifecycle-GapEveryone in the business world has heard of the old bestseller by Geoffrey A. Moore titled “Crossing the Chasm,” but most entrepreneurs have no idea how it relates to them. In fact, it’s all about the “focus” required to get early stage technology products across the deadly chasm from early adopters to mainstream customers.

Most investors and startup professionals expand this concept of focus to apply to key issues of every aspect of strategic and tactical planning in a startup. Missions and products that are too broad confuse your team, your customers, and potential investors. There are other chasms out there just as deadly as the technology one, such as the ones below:

  1. Market requirements chasm. The first chasm is getting the customer requirements right, product or service, to satisfy a real need that a large number of customers will pay real money to satisfy. It takes focus to resist adding a long list of features that seem to make the opportunity larger, but dilute to focus of both you and potential customers.

  2. Product development chasm. Another common chasm is never-ending product development. Focus is required to resist adding a few more neat features, made possible by the new technology, which in fact make the product more complex to use, impossible to test, and very expensive in time and cost.

  3. Marketing and sales chasm. Lots of people still believe the major cost of a new product is development. These days, with all the clutter in the marketplace, the highest cost is usually marketing. Focus is required here to pick the low-hanging fruit, break through the clutter, and then move on to the next segment. Marketing costs can be a deep hole.

  4. Customer support chasm. Products that have features which are unfocused, or aimed at too broad an audience, can be almost impossible to support. Customers need lots of help with installation, or can’t make the product work the way they expect. The result is that customer satisfaction in unachievable or at least very expensive.

In his book, Moore limits his discussion to the transition between customers that are visionaries (early adopters) and customer pragmatists (early majority), in the context of high technology products that appear “disruptive,” meaning they move innovation in that arena to a new level.

Here are the five customer segments outlined in his analysis:

  • Innovators – they love the challenge of a new technology and expect problems
  • Early adopters - customer visionaries driven by technology who expect it to work
  • Early majority – pragmatists that buy only with peer review, references and support
  • Late majority – conservatives who wait until the product is no longer state-of-the-art
  • Laggards – skeptics who will only adopt when forced or the need is critical

The reason that his book was so popular, and is still studied in MBA programs and talked about by investors, is because his analysis has proven to be right so many times. There is a big gap between people who love to try new technologies, and the rest of us, who tend to be much more “technophobic.” Startups need to show real traction before attempting to cross the chasm.

I always recommend focus as the key to avoiding Moore’s chasm, as well as the others highlighted here. Start your business with a narrow niche and a focused strategy, but don’t stay there. As the company matures, and you learn more about your customers and your market, then it is time to go broader or deeper.

Build an overt strategy with feedback triggers to enhance the product to meet the needs of another segment of customers, and add more features to serve additional needs for the customers you already have. With this approach, you will find it a lot easier to jump all the chasms without crashing or breaking a leg.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

6 Cases Where Quick-To-Market Beats Market Research

target-market-ready-fire-aim

I know entrepreneurs who have suffered from premature execution often associated with the ready-fire-aim quick-to-market approach. Yet I believe that many more have benefited from this approach, especially in early startup stages. If your product is highly innovative, and speed to market is critical, you won’t get it right the first time anyway, no matter how cautiously you plan.

The ready-aim-fire traditional approach works best in more mature markets, where your strategy is to add features and value to competitive products, or address an underserved new segment of the marketplace. These are the environments where you really need extended planning to ensure proper positioning before launching the product.

But Lonnie L. Sciambi, in his classic book, “Secrets to Entrepreneurial Success,” reminds me that premature execution will doom even a good ready-aim-fire plan. This most often happens due to impatience, which is not typically an entrepreneurial virtue. It also happens due to overreaction to some market surprise, a last-minute input, or a squeeze on cash.

Even when a good plan is possible, I believe there are many circumstances where the ready-fire-aim approach is the best alternative, even though it may be counter-intuitive that one can fire without having aimed precisely. Here are the key parameters that can swing the pendulum:

  1. Engineers have an uncontrolled ability to add more features. Many good ideas never get off the ground, simply because the product or service is never “finished.” Some entrepreneurs don’t believe in the “minimum viable product (MVP)” approach, and they keep thinking they need to get the vision absolutely perfect before launching it.

  2. Entrepreneur confuses sense of urgency with sense of emergency. Urgency comes from an outbound purpose to get market returns quickly, while handling emergencies is a reactionary inward approach to saving ourselves from the daily crisis. It’s easy to be too busy to aim, so ready-fire can get you moving, but may generate the next emergency.

  3. Impossible to get adequate market information for any given plan. For innovative new products in a "fast-paced culture," entrepreneur leaders can’t count on conventional market research or expert consultants to give them the data to build a plan. After you've "fired" once, you have some actual data with which to adjust your aim.

  4. The target market is moving in unpredictable ways. Marketing is inherently a trial and error process in new and unknown environments. The ready-fire-aim approach works best here, but must be used with a plan to learn from misses and feedback, rather than random shots into the dark. Be prepared for pivots and mistakes.

  5. Planning cycle for determining certainty is too long. Too many entrepreneurs get bogged down in planning and thinking and never get to the point of action. This leads to another dreaded syndrome, called analysis paralysis (i.e. ready-aim-aim-aim-aim-aim...). If they don't fire before they aim, they may never take action at all.

  6. Cost of a planning cycle is greater than cost of an execution iteration. Start with a strategic plan that embodies an iterative launch cycle, with a minimum viable product to a focused and limited domain, and the cost of execution will be low. That limits the scope of your plan, makes is more measurable, and forces you to plan for change.

It was Tom Peters and Bob Waterman (“In Search of Excellence”) who first came up with the “ready-fire-aim” go-to-market strategy. I like it in many cases, since it is action-oriented, helps streamline and decrease product development time and costs, and focuses the product and the firm on customer needs rather than technology.

Of course, if you fire without aiming, there’s always a greater chance that you will shoot yourself in the foot. I’ve even seen some entrepreneurs who quickly reload, only to shoot themselves in the other foot. Making your business a game of Russian Roulette is not the way to success. If you can’t plan ahead, at least plan to learn from your mistakes.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Smart Entrepreneurs Favor People-Centric Leadership

Employees-Office-Greeting-WorkEvery business needs repeatable processes to grow and thrive, but modern business processes need the right people to make them efficient and productive. In addition, today’s customers judge a company by perceived people relationships through social media, phone conversations, and sales experiences. The right people make productive processes, not the other way around.

Thus I believe that business leaders and entrepreneurs need to focus first on people leadership, rather than process leadership. As a business advisor and investor in new startups, I see how difficult it is to make any process work, no matter how well designed, if the team is dysfunctional. On the other hand, I see teams with almost no process that are tremendously productive.

Of course, some balance is required. That’s why I was pleased to see the balance on people versus process in a new book on how to fix your organization, “The Diamond Process,” by Mike J Diamond and Christopher R Harding. These authors highlight the importance of both in their guidance on becoming a complete leader. Processes without people leaders will still be chaos.

Thus I find that the best entrepreneurs and business leaders today are people-centric, but they never forget that efficient repeatable processes are required as the business scales up. There are many advantages to this focus today, including the following:

  1. It takes people to see the need and adapt to change. Today’s pace of change in the market and in technology is unprecedented. Business leaders who are people-centered understand that a learning culture, tolerance for mistakes, and innovative approaches are required to thrive. Process leadership focuses on repeatability and efficiency only.

  2. Customers demand more engagement and flexibility. People-centric leaders drive ownership and engagement down to their customer-facing team members. For this to work, team members must commit themselves and freely accept accountability for their actions. In the end, engagement drives customer retention, sales, growth and profit.

  3. Leaders need direct and open team communication. Effective communication in a rapidly changing environment must be two-way and continuous, from all levels of the organization. Leaders need to share their values and goals, as well as challenges, to get effective assistance and buy-in from team members delivering the company image.

  4. You need a team focused on the future as well as the present. Long-term business survival and success requires everyone taking calculated risks for future gains, rather than blindly following a hard-coded process that seems to work today, handed down from leaders on high. People-centric leaders encourage and reward thinking outside the box.

  5. Self-motivated people require less supervision and management. This means more time for leaders to concentrate on looking ahead and rewarding team progress, rather than managing corrective individual performance actions and motivational incentives. Self-motivated team members are known to be many times more productive than others.

  6. Priority is placed on employee mentoring and coaching. A primary focus on process leads to highly structured training classes, leaving little room for personal career development. Mentoring and coaching tend to improve commitment, motivation, decision making, and creative talents, which are required for a competitive business and career.

  7. Taking care of people generates a quid pro quo. What goes around, comes around. If you treat people as automatons who execute a process, your team will respond in kind. If you treat your team as peer business owners, they'll be there to support you as the business changes. Leaders who demonstrate trust and respect will gain that in return.

  8. People leave you a favorable legacy long after you are gone. The mark of a complete leader is the ability to leave on vacation, and be assured that all will proceed without change. The greatest legacy that any leader can leave is a team who remembers and continues to honor the right values and objectives, even after you are gone.

Whether you are building a new organization or fixing an old one, the leadership analysis and focus needs to start with the people, and extend from there through the level of process and productivity required by the size and scope of the organization. Process leadership is important, but it’s just not effective without people leadership first.

How much of your time as a manager or business leader today is spent on people versus process? Would everyone on your team agree and return the focus?

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Huffington Post on 04/19/2017 ***

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

5 Key Ingredients Make A Happy Content Entrepreneur

happiness-satisfied-entrepreneurBuilding a startup is hard work for low pay, it’s risky, and it requires total responsibility to make it work. Yet, many entrepreneurs are the happiest people I know. On the other hand, I know many unhappy individuals who are always partying, have minimal commitments, and little responsibility. I suspect the real parameters of happiness have eluded these people.

According to one of my favorite authors, Brian Tracy, in his classic book “The Power of Self-Discipline,” happiness is not even a goal that you can aim at and achieve in and of itself, but it is a by-product that comes to you when you are engaged in doing something you really enjoy while in the company of people you like and respect.

Tracy defines the five key ingredients of happiness that every potential and existing entrepreneur, including Mark Zuckerberg (and every non-entrepreneur), should evaluate relative to their own situation:

  1. Happy relationships. Fully 85 percent of your happiness – or unhappiness – will come from your relationships with other people. For entrepreneurs, that includes business colleagues, but it also still includes spouse, children and friends.

  2. Meaningful work. You must be doing things that you love and give you a sense of fulfillment, as well as making a contribution. Studies have shown that the three most motivating business factors include challenging work, opportunities for growth, and pleasant coworkers.

  3. Financial independence. The happiest of all people are those who have reached the point at which they no longer worry about money. That doesn’t mean unlimited funds, but enough that they don’t fear being destitute, without funds, or dependent on others.

  4. Health and energy. It is only when you enjoy high levels of pain-free health and a continuous flow of energy that you feel truly happy. For many, health is only a “deficiency need,” meaning you don’t think much about it until you are deprived of it.

  5. Self-actualization. This is the big one, the feeling that you are becoming everything you are capable of becoming. Before this can happen, you must first feel that all deficiency needs are satisfied, and you have achieved self-esteem:

  • Survival. Basic survival is the top deficiency need, meaning sufficient food, water, clothing, and shelter to preserve your life and well-being. You cannot be happy, and you will experience tremendous stress, until survival requirements are met.

  • Security. The second deficiency need encompasses financial, emotional, and physical security. You have to have enough money, security in your relationships, and physical security to assure that you are not in imminent jeopardy of any kind.

  • Belongingness. The final deficiency need reminds us that we are social people, and we need social relationships with others, both at home and at work. You need to be recognized and accepted by other people who count in your world.

  • Self-esteem. Your self-esteem is the core of your personality and largely determines how you feel about everything that happens to you. Are you liked and appreciated by peers, doing a good job and being recognized for it, and achieving your ideals?

According to Abraham Maslow, a noted psychologist, less than two percent of the population ever reaches this height of self-actualization and personal fulfillment. But the wonderful thing about self-actualization needs is that they never need to be completely satisfied. As you stretch yourself in this direction, you experience a steady flow of happiness and contentment.

In all of these areas, you need to exert self-discipline and willpower to overcome the tendency to take shortcuts. When you keep going in spite of all obstacles and hardships, you feel powerful. Your self-esteem and self-confidence increase, and then as you move, step by step, toward your ideals, you feel genuinely happy. Are you a satisfied entrepreneur?

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, April 17, 2017

How Future-Proof is Your Company (and Your Career)?

technology-future-proofWhen you are growing a business, it’s hard to find time to focus on anything but the crises of today. Yet if you don’t spend some resources preparing for the changes in the marketplace we already know about, there may be no tomorrow for your business. In my years of mentoring and advising business leaders, I find that real planning for the future always gets the short shrift.

Of course, nobody really knows all of what tomorrow will bring, in terms of globalization, digital technology, or demographic shifts, but most experts agree that certain elements are already obvious, and things must be done today to get your business ready in time. I found some key ones in a new book, “The Future-Proof Workplace,” by Linda Sharkey, PhD, and Morag Barrett.

These authors, who both have extensive credentials as executive coaches with top tier business leaders around the world, detail six factors of change that every business needs to address today to keep ahead of the wave. I believe these factors are key to the future success of every new startup, as well as every mature company:

  1. Leadership must be values-based and people focused. The command and control leadership of the past is proving to be too inflexible, devoid of values, and not empathic to people issues – customers, employees, and partners. Check your leadership style today, and expedite the transition to one of engagement, collaboration, and adaptability.

  2. Company culture drives decision making and process. Business culture now means much more than uniformity and conformity. It now means shared values and true empowerment, which is the new key to employee productivity and profitability. A healthy culture, with living values, is essential today for growth, adaptability, and innovation

  3. Organizing principles must include social impact. Yesterday’s principles were good verbiage about profit and shareholder value, but ignored in day-to-day operation. Today, a compelling and impactful purpose, around which teams can get excited, is key. Team members want to contribute to the greater good and have pride in everything they do.

  4. Relationships in all directions are critical to success. Historically, organizations played down the role of work-based personal relationships. Google was one of the first to learn that good relationships created high-performing teams. Due to social media and the Internet, these relationships now need to extend to customers, partners, and suppliers.

  5. Diversity and inclusion bring more value than ever. Most companies never realize how much damage can be done by human unconscious bias. Only by embracing inclusion and creating a truly level playing field for all, is a company able to connect and adapt to all the diversity in today’s global marketplace, and keep up with the changes.

  6. Data technology facilitates more fact-based decisions. Technology is now much more than speeding communication and automating work processes. Technology allows forward-looking predictions of outcomes, and critical decision-making assistance through artificial intelligence, Internet of Things (IoT), medical diagnostics, and data analytics.

It’s not enough to merely talk about these changes. Every company needs to track their progress and measure results – establish metrics to understand how much and how effectively their workplaces are being transformed and compete. From a career standpoint, leaders and employees need to assess their own progress to “future-proof” their career.

It is evident that the pace of change is not slowing down, and will continue to accelerate into the future. This means that both you and your company need to be more agile, more open and willing to learn, and rethink your focus on the future versus the present. Sometimes you have to make waves today to balance and survive the waves already starting to crash around you.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 04/04/2017 ***

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

5 Solution Domains Suggest A Wealth Of Startup Ideas

entrepreneur-startup-ideasPotential startup founders are always looking for ideas to implement, when they should be looking for problems to solve. Customers pay for solutions, but there is no market for ideas. I’m often approached by people with a “million dollar idea,” but I haven’t seen anyone pay that for one yet.

Equally often, I see startups who are on the road to implementing an idea, but haven’t figured out what problem it solves – the business plan waxes on eloquently for 20 pages about how great this product and technology is, but never gets around to defining the problem (investors call this the “solution looking for a problem” syndrome).

A related “red flag” in a business plan is a missing competitive analysis section, or a short paragraph that essentially says, “this product has no competition.” My reaction is, if there is no competition, then there is no market demand for your product, so why are you building it?

Luckily, many startups are smart enough to keep morphing their idea, until it finally fits a real-world problem, and they can move forward in the marketplace. Unfortunately they could have saved themselves much lost time, money, and heartache if they had just focused on identifying the problem before they built a solution.

Smart startups also don’t forget that startup ideas are solutions for someone, and companies have to make money. The way to make money is to make something people or companies need (not necessarily what they want). Here are five solutions from a classic essay by Paul Graham on “Ideas for Startups” that I believe have even more potential in today’s fast changing environment:

  1. Automate a labor intensive process. This is the traditional realm of computers. Microsoft Excel applied it to accounting spreadsheets, and Google applied it to information mining on the Internet, but Henry Ford even applied this principle to auto manufacturing. There are still millions of these opportunities for startups out there.

  2. Fix something that’s broken. In business, it seems to me that the traditional banking business models are broken or at least no longer fit the purpose. On the other end of the spectrum, Internet dating sites don’t seem to work. There are new ones sprouting up every day, so they must be offering something people want. Yet they work horribly, according to most people who have tried one.

  3. Take a luxury and make it a commodity. People must want something if they pay a lot for it. Yet most products can be made dramatically cheaper as technologies improve. This opens the market opportunity, you sell more, and people start to use it in different ways. For example, once cell phones were so cheap that most people had one, people started adding functions and using them as cameras and Internet devices.

  4. Make something cheaper and easier to use. Making things cheaper means more volume and more profit. For a long time making things cheaper made them easier, but now even cheap things are too complicated. Computer applications today are cheap, but often still impossible to use.

  5. Take a current solution to the next level. Solve the currently intractable problems that impact all of us. Tackle the global warming problem, predict where earthquakes will occur, find alternative energy sources, cure cancer, and unlock the keys to aging. There is no shortage of opportunity here.

Combine these with the value of a good understanding of promising new technologies, and the value of having associates with complementary skills to extend your thinking. Problem solutions are the ingredients that startups are made of. Start solving a problem today that you can use as the basis for the “idea” for your next startup.

Marty Zwilling

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