Wednesday, October 30, 2019

7 Secrets to Leading Others and Enjoying Your Legacy

Steve_Jobs_leader1By default, every one of you who owns a business or manages a team has the title of leader, but in my consulting experience, I find that just having the title doesn’t make most of us a leader. I also find that leaders are made, not born, meaning that we all can grow into leadership, if we learn from experience. I find also that if you fail as a leader, your team will likely fail with you.

Of course, everyone thinks they know what it takes to make a great leader, and many books have been written about the subject. Yet I haven’t found many that offer practical recommendations and examples. In this context, I was impressed with the new book, “The Intelligent Leader,” by John Mattone, widely regarded as the world’s number one executive coach and authority.

John distills the work he’s done with thousands of clients over the years into what it takes to lead, empower, and inspire others. I like his seven actionable principles of leadership for the rest of us, that we can use to evolve ourselves as business leaders as well as owners, including the following:

  1. Consistently strive to think different and think big. Most of the people on your team have to worry about the current crisis, and getting their job done today. A leader has to keep the big picture in mind, and keep people focused on the long-term vision and mission. Hone in on alternative ideas that are actionable, no matter how revolutionary.

    Steve Jobs had many faults, but he was perhaps best known for his marketing slogan “Think Different” and his commitment to a vision of new and better products, inspiring consumers to demand products and services they never even knew they needed.

  2. Create a culture of vulnerability, and be the role model. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable and transparent to others makes it possible for them to trust you. Without vulnerability and humility, real change and growth isn’t possible. You need to be willing to open yourself up to others’ feedback, and acknowledge flaws in order to correct them.

    Jack Welch, one of the most successful executives in American history, set up a “reverse mentoring” process by pairing younger, more internet-adept employees with he and older members of senior management so that the former could teach the latter about new technology. This made his leadership team stronger, and built huge bonds with his team.

  3. Replace a mindset of entitlement with a mindset of duty. The duty mindset is a perspective in which you see yourself as a key cog in a much larger wheel. Having this bigger picture empowers you to better identify the areas where you need improvement, and set yourself on the right course to positively impact those around you.

  4. Prioritize leveraging your gifts over closing your gaps. First, don’t hesitate to solicit input to get the most accurate possible picture of yourself. Then don’t take your strengths for granted, or overreact to gaps. Develop an action plan to lead from your strengths, and seek outside support or complementary partners to shore up leadership weaknesses.

    In the early days of Microsoft, Bill Gates recognized his technical leadership skills, but relied on partner Steve Ballmer, trained at Procter & Gamble, to lead the marketing and business development efforts. Both learned from the other, and became even stronger.

  5. Cultivate the courage to execute with passion and precision. Some never make the shift from perspective to action, even if it takes you outside your comfort zone. Only then can you identify the opportunities for change, and make the mistakes leading to growth and learning. Fearlessly executing with pride and passion inspires others to follow you.

  6. Take the time to stay present, listen, and be vigilant. Leaders often make the mistake of thinking that their time is more valuable than anyone else’s, but this breeds resentment and takes you out of touch with reality. In this age of distraction, you need to slow down and absorb each situation, decision, or moment, to provide the most effective leadership.

  7. Make course correction both a mindset and an action. As an action, course change leadership is what you do in the moment, when you need to pivot. As a mindset, it’s a way of life. You need to be aware that the world around you is in a state of constant evolution, and your leadership must stay balanced in the face of inevitable change.

Ironically, despite all these positive action items, intelligent leadership in business isn’t really even about you – it’s about the culture and the teams that you create, who really are the leadership interface that your customers see and depend on. Your challenge is to be the steward and model for the leadership that inspires the success and legacy that we all want for our business.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 10/16/2019 ***

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Monday, October 28, 2019

How Starting A Business Fits Into Every Career Today

start-business-career1With the cost of starting an online business today at an all-time low, I can’t imagine why everyone doesn’t have a web site and an LLC to mitigate liability and minimize taxes. You need to have these as backup, in case the gig economy catches up to you, or you need a side hustle for extra income, or being in control of your dream role as an entrepreneur finally becomes a passion.

I also suggested this a while back to my neighbor who was between jobs, through no fault of his own, and frustrated by the slow pace of the job search, and wondering what else he could do to improve his position. First of all, you should never wait for a crisis to prepare for the future, but even initiating a startup for consulting in your favorite role is good for the following reasons:

  1. Companies prefer candidates with no gaps in their resume. Having your own online business going eliminates that embarrassing period where it appears you have been idle and desperately seeking work. Instead, having your own business going shows initiative, leadership, wider experience, and makes you more competitive for any role available.

  2. A single job is not adequate for today’s lifestyle. To keep ahead of the game, the smartest people I know always have several things going concurrently – and more in the queue. With the rapid pace of change in the world, everyone should be working on multiple projects, including a conventional paying job as well as an entrepreneurial one.

  3. Learn more about business by doing versus studying. Of course, you can always take more business classes at school, or on the side, but that’s not as cost and time effective these days as doing it, with a little help from the internet and a friendly advisor like me. Make it a fun experience by making something you love be more than a hobby.

  4. Give yourself a lifestyle choice – employee or owner. Too many people I know would love to change careers over time, but don’t really have any experience or confidence with alternatives. Now is the time, with minimal risk and cost, to give yourself some insights on what you like, what you know best, and how to leave a legacy you can be proud of.

  5. Keep up with modern business tools and online processes. You will be a better employee, or a better owner, if you know how to use social media tools for business, how to go online for web hosting, a domain name, a company name, and incorporating a business. New tools make it easy create your own web site, and manage accounting.

  6. Start networking for potential partners or people who can help. Whether your future is a career or a startup, you need business relationships. Smart people find that business is no place for a loner, and we all need someone to test our ideas, hone business skills, and focus on complementary activities. Seek out relevant business groups and events.

  7. Find maximum meaning and purpose, as well as money. Every study shows that happiness does not scale up with income. Doubling your income in a job might increase happiness by ten percent. Doing good, like helping society and planet sustainability, is a key to maximizing satisfaction, as well as profit. Start a business while you still can.

  8. Challenge yourself to find out what you are capable of. Don’t let me mislead you. Starting a business is still hard, even though the cost of entry is low. The challenge will make you grow as a person, and can give you the confidence to succeed in whatever you decide to do. You will find that startup efforts help you in every future role you tackle.

In these days of the gig economy, world-wide outsourcing, and working remotely, you need to think of yourself as a business, even if you haven’t created one formally. The days of long-term employment and employer loyalty are gone, so quantifying your value, and marketing yourself are key skills in any environment.

Take advantage of internet, free tools, and peers out there today to get ahead of the curve. You won’t regret it when seeking future career opportunities.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 10/14/2019 ***

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Sunday, October 27, 2019

5 Steps To Successful Problem Solving For A Business

businessman-problem-solving1Perhaps sparked by the now forgotten recession, I’m seeing a new era of the entrepreneur, with startups springing up all around. Based on my own mentoring and investing experience, the best entrepreneurs are pragmatic problem solvers. They have an uncanny ability to find elegant, easy, and fast solutions to pain points in the marketplace, as well as their own challenges.

The real question is whether problem solving is a skill you have to be born with, or is there any hope for the rest of us to become successful entrepreneurs. After some review of available resources, I’m convinced that problem solving is a learnable trait, rather than just a birthright.

For example, I remember a classic book by Penina Rybak, “The NICE Reboot,” that does a great job of outlining problem solving steps, honed from working with special needs youngsters. While her book is aimed primarily at aspiring female entrepreneurs, my adaptation of the five steps of her problem-solving hierarchy should work equally well for entrepreneurs of any gender:

  1. Acknowledge that a problem exists, and react appropriately. Problems will occur in every startup, simply because you are stepping into uncharted territory. Good entrepreneurs anticipate these, and celebrate each resolution as a positive step toward success, rather than responding with anger and frustration and counting failures.
  1. Verbalize the problem to fully understand it and why it’s occurring. Every business problem has a context that is critical, and it’s easy to be too close to see the forest for the trees. If you can explain the problem to a mentor, or even write it down, you will more likely get to the root cause quickly, and avoid emotional and blame-infused responses.
  1. Explore solutions, outcomes, and options calmly. You can’t think clearly while riding high on emotions, so calm down first. Then outline the possible outcomes and alternatives. Good problem solving requires making informed decisions, relying on logic. This is where I say “two heads are better than one.” Work with a partner you can trust.
  1. Use negotiation to come to an agreement or compromise. Whether you are charting new territory for pricing models or technology, there is rarely a perfect solution. Every approach is a compromise between cost, time, and return, so forget your perfectionist tendencies. Listen to your customers to arrive at acceptable and marketable solutions.
  1. Resolve conflict, accept outcomes, and rebuild communications. In startups, conflict is constructive in steering through the maze of innovation that is part of every successful business. Don’t let it make your startup dysfunctional in resolving future challenges. Real entrepreneurs always look ahead and learn from problems resolved.

The best way for a first time entrepreneur to learn problem solving is to find a partner who has “been there and done that.” A good alternative is to enlist the help of a business mentor you can trust. The best mentor is sensitive, knowledgeable across a broad spectrum, but is probably not your best friend. A mentor has to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. When the message is the same from both, you don’t need the mentor anymore.

As mentioned earlier, one of the most difficult traits to overcome for effective problem solving is perfectionism. A few years ago, Amanda Neville wrote an incisive article for Forbes online entitled “Perfectionism is the Enemy of Everything.” In it, she lists three types of perfectionism that are equally toxic to entrepreneurs and mentors:

  • Self-oriented perfectionism, in which individuals impose high standards on themselves.
  • Socially prescribed perfectionism, where individuals feel that others expect them to be perfect.
  • Other-oriented perfectionism, in which individuals place high standards on others.

Perfectionism quashes the desire to ask for help, see others’ viewpoints and empathize, and promote teamwork. For more help on this one, I recommend Esther Crain’s old article “Five Ways to Blast Perfectionism and Get Your Work Done.”

With all these incentives, maybe it’s time for you to reboot your career and join the new era of the entrepreneur. Problem solving may be a required skill, but it’s definitely one that can be learned, and perfectionism can be un-learned, independent of your IQ or book smarts (there may even be an inverse relationship here).

The best part of the entrepreneur problem-solving lifestyle is that it can bring satisfaction and happiness to your work. According to a summary of recent research, those running their own businesses are happier and healthier than employees, regardless of how much money they make. As I have said many times, life is too short to go to work unhappy every day.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, October 26, 2019

10 Insights For Locating The Perfect Business Mentor

mentor-business1Every entrepreneur can learn from a mentor, no matter how confident or successful they have been to date. Most people don’t know that billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, for example, gives real credit to the inspiring mentorship of Steve Jobs for Mark’s Facebook success. Yet most entrepreneurs simply don’t know how to work with a mentor. It is not as simple as one person giving the other all the right answers.

Some of the best mentoring relationships don’t involve monetary compensation, but none are free. The first cost is networking to find a mentor who is willing and able to give adequate focus to the relationship. In any case, it is good form to offer compensation, such as a small monthly stipend, plus expenses, and perhaps a 1% ownership in your startup, to show your commitment.

From my experience, here are ten basic principles and actions for both the mentor and mentee to remember in getting the most out of any mentoring relationship:

  1. Good mentoring requires building a relationship first. A positive business or personal relationship between two people normally requires a high degree of shared values, common interests, and mutual respect. Remember that good relationships take some time to develop, so don’t assume that your first discussion will seal the deal.
  1. Agree on specific objectives and time frames. Mentoring that consists of random discussions is not very satisfying for either side. I recommend one or more early discussions of mutual objectives, with a written summary of goals and expectations from the mentee to the mentor, with timeframes and milestones.
  1. Make efficient use of time for both parties. This means being respectful and diligent about scheduling and keeping appointments, and returning emails and phone calls. Don’t attempt to multitask, or allow constant interruptions, during meetings. Book follow-up sessions, with an agenda, rather than fill time with random discussions.
  1. Identify strengths and weaknesses early. Both the mentor and mentee should put their cards on the table, to avoid surprises later. Then both should look for opportunities to leverage strengths, and shore up weaknesses. This avoids wasted time and speculation, and provides the motivation to bring in other experts or mentors as required.
  1. Mentor feedback must be thoughtful, specific, timely, and constructive. An important aspect of a mentoring relationship is how the mentor provides feedback to the mentee. Formulate negative feedback in a constructive fashion. Using open-ended questions that start with “how” or “what” help the mentee to arrive at their own solution.
  1. Mentees should avoid any defensive reaction to feedback. The right response to most mentor feedback is a thoughtful question for clarification. Immediately responding with “reasons and rationale” to every feedback will be read as insincerity, and will likely end the mentoring relationship quickly.
  1. Practice two-way communication and candid feedback. Mentoring is not a series of monologues and lectures, from either side. But candid feedback means not pulling punches when they are deserved. Both sides need to practice active listening and thoughtful questions. Constructive conflict is good.
  1. Agree to deal with unforeseen challenges openly. The most common challenges involve time and accessibility demands on either side, or the level of help expected. Both sides need to honor business boundaries, and not stray into personal relationship issues. Agree up front on how to end the relationship if other unforeseen circumstances arise.
  1. Celebrate successes, and deal openly with failures. This will help the learning process and build the mentee’s confidence. With patience and time, the partners should develop a good rapport and become more comfortable with openly and freely conversing with each other.
  1. Evaluate mentoring requirements on a regular basis. The mentee, as primary beneficiary, should be proactive in making sure the review process occurs on a regular basis, perhaps quarterly. This allows for frank discussion of unanticipated changes, and the potential for discontinuing the process and declaring success.

The end of a mentoring relationship should be seen as an opportunity to review what did and didn’t work, and more importantly, to reflect on the results, so that every lesson that can be learned from the relationship is recognized.

Both the mentor and mentee should celebrate the successes, review the learning from failures, and conclude the relationship with positive feelings. To bring it full circle, mentees should now consider passing on their new knowledge and skills by entering a new mentoring relationship – as a mentor. That’s the ultimate satisfaction.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, October 25, 2019

5 Strategies To Thrive In Customer-Driven Disruption

Amazon_Prime_Air1In my experience as a business consultant, I find than most people still believe that technology drives business disruption. I’m more convinced that technology merely enables disruption, and changing customer interests and needs really causes it. Many companies try to recover with more advertising and rebranding, and discover that these strategies don’t work well in today’s market.

Other companies keep the focus on their customers, and seem to thrive on disruption, much less survive. They make it their top business priority to understand, anticipate, and gratify customers’ needs. I first saw this approach outlined well in the new book, “Customer-Driven Disruption,” by Suman Sarkar, former A.T. Kearney consultant and now leader of his own consulting practice.

As disruption examples, the rise of ride sharing, e-commerce, and social media were clearly driven by changing customer trends, more than technology. Even smartphones, though based in technology, are more of a customer phenomena than a technology play. I like the five strategies that this author recommends for capitalizing on future rapidly emerging customer needs:

  1. Win with current customers before chasing new ones. New customers are more expensive to acquire, and typically produce less revenue than would current, satisfied customers. Yet, when faced with declining revenues, most companies focus on finding new customers. I recommend creating new services and products for existing customers.

    When Amazon wanted to increase its revenue, it identified existing best customers and offered a new membership service – Prime “free” shipping. Shipping costs increased, but membership fees from 100 million new Prime members more than made up for it.

  2. Offer affordable personalization without a premium. Mass-produced products aren’t on anyone’s wish list anymore. Today, customers want personalized products and services at reasonable prices. To make personalization affordable, leaders must use available technologies but not market them, create flexible operations, and reduce waste.

    Memorable personalization doesn’t always have to include fancy technology or high cost. In many cases, a thoughtful gesture is more than enough. Nordstrom “remembers” the sizes of customers, and Chanel follows up sales with handwritten notes from associates.

  3. Speed up both the new design and the supply chain. Customers don’t wait today. Most companies take too long designing new products and services. By the time the product launches, more nimble competitors have captured the market, or customer needs have changed again. Often that means finding new channels or a better supply chain.

    Zara, a fast fashion company, gets new catwalk trends to stores more quickly by a faster supply chain. They keep their manufacturing facilities close to the market instead of locating them in distant Asian countries, so new designs reach stores within a week.

  4. Develop higher quality than just good enough. Now that consumers judge products based on reviews and peer recommendations, rather than advertising, quality if more critical than ever before. It’s time for designing and thinking outside the box, to offer a level of quality and performance customers can’t resist and the competition can’t beat.

    Chick-fil-A changed their quality focus to the kind of quality that today’s customers care about. Their birds are raised in barns, not cages, on U.S. farms. They avoid fillers, added hormones, and steroids. Revenue per location now averages double that of McDonalds.

  5. Continuously revisit and evolve, or re-invent yourself. In today’s fast changing customer environment, what works today may be “old news” tomorrow. Smart companies make and measure change as part of their normal strategy process, rather than only focusing on it when a crisis occurs. Use autonomous teams, rather than functional silos.

    Disney, for example, has managed to maintain its broad entertainment appeal by evolving from Mickey Mouse cartoons, to Old Yeller type movies, Pixar animation movies, to Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Theme parks and attractions are revised regularly.

Disruption wrought by customer change can be a death sentence to a business, and technology alone is not the solution, or cause. Every business should start capitalizing today on the strategies outlined here to retool their products, services, culture, incentives, and operations to thrive on disruption, rather than fight and fear it, in the days ahead. There is no going back.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 10/10/2019 ***

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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

10 Lessons For New Businesses From Ocean Racing Teams

ocean-racing-team-stormA perfect storm is an expression that describes an event where a rare combination of circumstances aggravates an environment drastically. In the entrepreneur world, I feel we are in such a situation now for new startups, with the confluence of business transformations, the explosion of new digital technologies, and the political turmoil around the world.

It’s easier and cheaper to start a company than ever before, yet it’s tougher than ever to survive. It takes a “well-oiled” multi-disciplined and motivated team to win, and yet I see and hear all too often about teams that are well-funded and smart, but don’t work well together, or are downright dysfunctional.

The challenge they face is not unlike that described in the classic sailing book “Into the Storm,” by Dennis N. T. Perkins, where a team of amateurs applied some key lessons in teamwork while surviving and winning a treacherous Sydney to Hobart Ocean Race. Here are ten principles from the book that I’ve easily extrapolated to the business startup environment:

  1. Team unity: Make the team, not an individual, the rock star. Flat management is the business term to describe an environment where all members of the team feel they are part of the whole, that each has a key role to play, and each can express their views without jeopardy. There are no individual superstars or bosses with special perks.
  1. Prepare, prepare, prepare: Remove all excuses for failure. Winning teams set out to ensure that every element of the system is known to all and is functioning to the best of their combined ability. Make sure no one has an excuse for failure. That means preparing for things that could go wrong, as well as driving things efficiently that go right.
  1. Balanced optimism: Find and focus on the winning scenario. In business, startups will inevitably encounter setbacks, and need to pivot. The first step is to define “winning.” Is it more customers, more revenue, more profit, or killing competitors? Of course, all of these are important, but everyone needs to prioritize the same way during a crisis.
  1. Relentless learning: Build a gung-ho culture of learning and innovation. The very best teams learn the most quickly from experience. That means they take action, reflect on outcomes, and gain insights that help them continuously improve. Innovation and new ideas are the norm, rather than maintain status quo, or charge straight ahead.
  1. Calculated risk: Be willing to sail into the storm. Great business teams accept that every startup is “a big risk,” and there is no quick path to safety. Winning requires situational awareness, which means always understanding the critical success factors, and working to stay aware of current business realities around you.
  1. Stay connected: Cut through the noise of the wind and the waves. The information blizzard in business is just as noisy as on the stormy ocean. Don’t let it be further clouded by political concerns and turf battles. Everyone needs to personalize communication, warn others of big waves, and even break protocol to help others when required.
  1. Step into the breach: Find ways to share the helm. In adversity, any given team member can be faced with a burden too heavy for one person to carry. A good team draws on each other’s strengths, and shares the load. At the top, this is called distributive leadership, which lessens the burden on the formal leader.
  1. Eliminate friction: Step up to the conflict, and deal with the things that slow you down. Fix the problem, not the blame. Confront differences in ability without blame, and add training, coaching, or education, and eliminate excess weight, before the storm. Humor can help alleviate anxiety and mitigate conflict, providing time to solve the crisis.
  1. Practiced resilience: Master the art of rapid recovery. Startups need people who thrive under pressure, meaning they are resilient and have a high stress hardiness. They enjoy change and look at problems as a challenge, rather than a burden. They measure success in terms of recovery time, and strive to make it shorter.
  1. Tenacious creativity: Never give up – there is always another move. Determination and creativity under pressure make a team unstoppable – on the ocean or in business. The “proud moments” of successful teams are the times when they come together in the face of adversity and win.

Some startup founders try to dodge the team-building challenge by single-handedly doing all the work, or establishing a monarchy where only one voice counts. Neither of these strategies can succeed, since even a small business will soon scale too big for one person to manage everything.

If you are a new entrepreneur, you need to realize that you can’t win by sailing around the edges of the perfect storm ahead. You have to hit it with an innovative plan, and you need a confident and disciplined team to get you through it. Are you ready to rock and roll?

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, October 21, 2019

How The Right Employees Have An Innovation Advantage

post-it-notesConventional business wisdom tells us that entrepreneurs are today’s main source of innovation. We see the stories of young founders leaving college with a big idea, going to work in their garage, and building something that changes the world. We hear about corporate employees, strangled by slow-moving bureaucracy, that are blocked from making transformative discoveries.

In fact, a Wharton Business School study in this decade of the “Top 30 Innovations of the Last 30 Years,” concluded that only eight were first conceived by entrepreneurs, and twenty-two were conceived by employees. Even more importantly, only two of the thirty innovations were scaled by the original creators. These included the PC, mobile phone, the internet, and MRI imaging.

As a business consultant, I admit to being misled by the hype, and was impressed by the insights offered in a new book, “Driving Innovation From Within,” by fellow consultant and founder of the strategy firm Outthinker, Dr. Kaihan Krippendorff. He outlines the attributes of the “entrepreneurs” or intrapreneurs in your organization, and how to lead them to make your company an innovator:

  1. Love to explore novel approaches and solutions. In every company, there are a few people who don’t like to follow the accepted way of doing things. Rather than punish them, it may pay you to nurture and manage their outside-the-box thinking, and capitalize on their innovations that help your customers and keep you ahead of the competition.

    For example, Google was already a big company when Paul Buchheit was unhappy with the capabilities of external email for internal communications at Google. He created a simple Gmail for internal use, and later it became one of the biggest Google offerings.

  2. Exhibit market awareness and a drive to win. Sometime employees on your front lines have a better handle on what customers need next than external entrepreneurs. They know your competitors, understand your industry, and have the same desire to win in the name of the customer. Give them an incentive in time and money to drive their solution.

    Not many people know this, but the original Sony Playstation was, in essence, a prototype based on employee Ken Kutaragi’s Nintendo in an attempt to make it more powerful and deliver a better gaming experience for his daughter and other customers.

  3. Propensity to “lean in” before being told how to act. It’s hard to act autonomously in a big company, but it’s not hard to recognize the natural leaders.in any organization, no matter what the size. These are people who can and will drive change and innovation, if given half the chance. All you have to do is nurture this activity, rather than kill it.

    Dr. Spencer Silver, a scientist at 3M, was leading an effort to create a strong adhesive for aerospace. Instead of discarding an apparent failure, a light adhesive that didn’t leave a residue, he persevered and fostered it to become the Post-It Note that we all use today.

  4. Excel at calculating risk and making thoughtful bets. Indeed, internal innovators usually don’t have the risk tolerance of entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, who invested nearly everything into SpaceX. Yet there is sometimes greater value in being very deliberate at calculating risk and making more thought-out proposals for change.

    An employee of Sun Microsystems, James Gosling, created a new object-oriented programming language called Oak in 1995. He de-risked it initially by using it to set up client Time Warner cable boxes. Later renamed Java, it now runs a world of devices.

  5. Understand and able to negotiate internal politics. While entrepreneurs may shop their idea to, on average, forty investors before getting funding, internal innovators really have only one option – their employer. So, winning support internally depends less on the quality of the pitch than on the political work performed before the pitch to align interests.

    I was lucky enough to be part of a key intrapreneurial effort at IBM, the IBM PC development, which I believe was only allowed to happen due to the internal political acumen of our leader, Don Estridge. He knew well IBM executive sensitivity to open architecture, third-party suppliers, and micro technology, and used it to leverage funding.

  6. Demonstrates a sense of purpose without risking all. Internal innovators often express frustration that they could be making more money if they were building their own businesses and driving their innovation independently. Yet some will make the tradeoff of achieving an innovation dream without risking their family life or an existing career path.

I’m not minimizing at all the role of entrepreneurs in new innovations, but I now realize that entrepreneurs are everywhere, both inside and outside of existing businesses. At least the first half of the attributes described above apply to both, but employees in business with other key attributes have a real innovation opportunity as well. We all need the best efforts of both worlds.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 10/07/2019 ***

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Sunday, October 20, 2019

10 Ways That Open Business Sharing Propagates Success

open-business-sharingToo many customers have long felt distanced from many successful brands, seeing them as closed and mysterious environments, focused only on profits and killing competitors. They may not have noticed the wave of “open businesses,” spawned by the Internet and social media. These are responding to the demands of this new world for collaboration, trust, and transparency.

In a thought-provoking book by David Cushman with Jamie Burke, “The 10 Principles of Open Business,” the authors contend that many recent success stories in business, including Apple and Whole Foods, were built on at least one open business principle. In fact, Conscious Capitalism companies, for example, historically have outperformed the S&P 500 index by a factor of ten.

I especially like Cushman’s outline of the ten principles which distinguish the organization and operation of an open business from the more traditional closed model. Here is my interpretation of the key focus points and requirements to be categorized as open:

  1. Shared beliefs (purpose). Your stakeholders all need to understand and agree to the “why” of your organization. As the business owner, you need to have a higher level purpose (beyond making money), and be willing and able to continually clarify and communicate this to your team and your customers.
  1. Shared risks (open capital). Share the costs and risks, and therefore the ownership and the passion with your constituents. In the idea stage, get customers involved with an engaging contest. If you are at the funding stage, try the new crowd-funding platforms or micro-capital investments. Offer equity in future projects to people outside your business.
  1. Shared clients and objectives (networked organization). Support and enable mutually beneficial activities inside and outside the organization. Bring focus on your core competencies and expertise by educating and helping others, who can then return the favor by helping you or buying from you.
  1. Shared knowledge packaging (shareability). Establish vehicles, like a formal customer satisfaction program, to recognize and reward staff and customers for sharing what they can do to help you. Use and contribute to shared resources, like Wikipedia and Creative Commons, rather than relying totally on proprietary and internal tools.

  1. Shared and collaborative activity (connectedness). Enable people within the organization to find what (or who) they need when they need it. Set an example by being visibly connected to the people and information you need through social media. Encourage collaboration by providing the platform, and setting best practices.

  1. Shared ideas and rewards (open innovation). Bring customers and stakeholders into the innovation process to share the risk and reward of development. Consider setting up a new idea forum on your website, with rewards and motivational offers, to facilitate involvement from customers and business partners.

  1. Shared intelligence and opportunities (open data). Make data available to those inside or outside of your organization who can make best use of it. Contribute and give talks to local business organizations, like the Chamber of Commerce, to establish your expertise, and contribute information as well as gather it.

  1. Shared decision process (transparency). Make decisions openly and be honest about the criteria on which they are based. Ramp up transparency by making people the boss of what they do. Respond openly and in a timely fashion to requests for information about the business.

  1. Shared leadership (member and customer led). Make sure your organization is structured around the formal co-operation of employees, customers, and partners, for their mutual social, economic, and cultural benefit. Do things with your customers and staff, rather than to them. Strive to treat them as genuine partners.

  1. Shared goodwill (trust). Foster a mutually assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of the partnership between your company and customers. Earn trust through your consistent actions over time. Review your current investment in “creating goodwill.” Compare this to how highly you value trust. Adjust accordingly.

In the last few years, I have seen a tremendous upswing in “open business” movements, especially by entrepreneurs and startups. Examples include Conscious Capitalism®, made popular by John Mackey of Whole Foods, The B Team, with serial entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, and the Benefit Corporation (B Corp) form of business now available in 35 states.

We seem to have a rare convergence between demands from the marketplace, driven by the real-time collaborative Internet culture, and a desire by entrepreneurs to define success as something more than making money. I think it’s really happening, and it’s time to take a reality check on your own business, and your own shopping habits, to capitalize on this trend.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, October 19, 2019

6 Principles To Move Innovation Intentions To Results

digital-catapultReal innovation in the business world is still rare. As I’ve said before, everyone talks about innovation, but the majority of new business plans I see still reflect linear thinking – one more social network with more features, another smartphone app for marketing, or one more platform for faster e-commerce. Historic changes and great successes don’t come from linear thinking.

What does it take for more dynamic transformations? I like the recommendations in the classic book “Orbit Shifting Innovation,” by Rajiv Narang and Devika Devaiah. They summarize twenty years of breakthrough research initiatives and innovation strategy they have led with many of the most dynamic global organizations large and small, including Unilever, Walt Disney, and Intel.

They define ‘orbit-shifting’ innovation as something that happens when an area that is ripe for transformation meets an innovator with the will and the desire to create history, not follow it. The breakthrough innovation creates a new orbit. Beginning with the Macintosh, Apple succeeded in doing this time and time again, transforming the lives of millions, with Steve Jobs at the helm.

Every entrepreneur and every company I know has orbit-shifting intentions. But there is a big difference between orbit-shifting intentions and orbit shifting results. According to Narang and Devaiah, the people who accomplish real innovation results seem to exhibit a higher set of attitudes and motivation:

  1. Personal growth relates to the size of the challenge, not the size of the kingdom. What motivates real innovators is the more exciting challenge, not the number of people reporting to them. The ‘size of the difference’ they will make is more inspiring than the ‘size of the business.’ They relish getting out of their comfort zone, and into the unknown.
  1. The new direction is the challenge, not the destination. The challenge is the transformation vehicle for true innovators, and not a performance goal. They focus on legacy creation, not legacy protection. They ignore failures and are constantly looking at the progress made. They treat innovations reviews like performance reviews.
  1. Be an attacker of forces holding people back, not a defender. Real innovators start by questioning the world order rather than conforming to it. They begin by confronting the forces holding everyone back, rather than living with it. The forces include mindset gravity, organization gravity, industry gravity, country gravity, and cultural gravity.
  1. New insights come from a quest for questions, not a quest for answers. This discovery mindset searching for new questions drives real innovators away from more of the same. They fundamentally become value seekers; they look for value in every experience, in every conversation. They don’t seek prescriptions, they seek possibilities.
  1. Stakeholders must be connected into the new reality, not convinced. True innovators tip stakeholders into adopting and even co-owning the orbit-shifting idea. They go about tipping the heart first, assuming the mind will follow. They seek smart people, who openly express their doubts, and then collaborate to overcome them.
  1. Work from the challenge backward, rather than capability forward. Overcoming execution obstacles is combating dilution, not compromising, for these innovators. Their mindset is not ‘if-then’ but ‘how and how else?’ They convert problems to opportunities, and often the original idea grows far bigger than the starting promise.

Overall, what is different about these innovators is their mental model of romanticism in vision and realism in execution. They expect challenges, and when problems do arise, they are not surprised or let down or disappointed. They face them head on, handle them and move on. Most of the rest of us are the reverse; realistic about the vision and romantic about execution.

Entrepreneurs and startups are in the best position to find and run with orbit-shifting rather than linear innovations. They don’t have to start by overcoming the choking gravities of an existing organization and product set. That’s why most large business and government entities are resigned to buying innovation, rather than birthing it. Is your best startup idea and mindset really orbit-shifting, or just linear thinking that stakeholders won’t buy?

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, October 18, 2019

6 New Organizational Lessons From Amazon and Alibaba

Jeff-Bezos-organizationIn my current role as a business consultant, I still find that most companies, large and small, organize themselves wholly based on what goes on inside the company, rather than looking outside – at their networks, their partners, and the niche they wish to dominate. The result is a hierarchy and a static group of silos that doesn’t adapt to market changes and competitors.

In fact, it is so tough to reinvent a legacy organization, that new businesses, such as Amazon, Apple, and Alibaba, are rapidly replacing former powerhouses, including Blockbuster, Sears, and Nokia. According to experts, as many as 50 percent of the existing S&P 500 companies will be pushed aside in the next 10 years, and the lifespan of traditional organizations is getting shorter.

Thus I was impressed with the dynamic new organizational approach outlined in a new book, “Reinventing the Organization,” by Arthur Yeung and Dave Ulrich. These authors are widely recognized, both in the U.S. and China, as thought leaders in this area, so their framework for reinventing your business organization, with some of my own insights, is definitely worth a look:

  1. Environment: Fund a group to track market changes. Not many businesses today spend any real resources, or organizational focus, on understanding and anticipating the changing forces facing every industry and business. We all need a well-defined and systematic approach for keeping up with today’s fast changing market environment.

    For example, not many of the big retail store chains, including Sears and Macys, had any tracking of how quickly online shopping was changing the environment, until Amazon and Alibaba became bigger than most brick and mortar retailers in their best years combined.

  2. Strategy: Define an execution pathway for growth. All businesses I know will tell you they have a strategy for growth, but I often have a hard time finding any group or silo really incented and measured on growth targets. The challenge is a growth rate greater than the market and new competitors, and a process to implement growth at that rate.

    While Amazon was growing at an average rate of twenty-five percent per year in each of the last five years, most of the big retailers found their business shrinking every year, and despite their best efforts, had no organizational ability or process to turn it around.

  3. Capability: Focus on customer innovation and agility. A market-oriented organization doesn’t focus on internal budget allocations and power struggles between functions, but remains customer obsessed, external data driven, and measured on their rate of innovation and agility. They focus on anticipating customer needs before the crisis.

    Individual unit leaders in this ecosystem are incented to meet regularly to share experiments, initiatives, insights, and lessons learned on the never-ending journey of capability enhancement. They share and celebrate successes, and analyze failures.

  4. Morphology: Organize around teams and partners. It’s time to take a new look at your organizational structure. Deep hierarchies and large functional silos don’t highlight agility and constant innovation. Evidence today points to the effectiveness of short-term teams, strategic partners, and a flat organization supported by a common resource platform.

    Amazon is organized into autonomous teams, each running a particular product or business and not a function like marketing, product or engineering. Amazon leaders are strong general managers, relying on external partners, rather than functional experts.

  5. Culture: Shape priorities and behaviors to your values. Your culture is what you want to be known for by your key customers, and it must be imbedded throughout the organization. It shapes and sustains employee well-being and productivity, business results, customer reputation, and investor confidence.

  6. Accountability: Inspire and tie focus to business results. In traditional large organizations, people lose sight of the big picture, and want to be accountable only for the internal results of their silo. Your challenge is to keep them connected and positively accountable to external results through all communications, standards, and incentives.

In all cases, organizations today have to learn to mine unstructured data for what could be, instead of structured data on what has been, and how to pivot the organization fluidly to transform the company as fast as the market changes. Reinventing your existing organization may be hard, but it’s not as painful as the long downhill journey to obscurity now being experienced by many.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 10/04/2019 ***

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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

5 Ways To Minimize Employee Negativity In Your Office

angry-employeesThroughout my career in small companies and large, I’ve always been appalled by the number of people who have a negative attitude or complain all the time. These people don’t seem to realize that they are hurting themselves, as well as other people’s productivity, and jeopardize the future of the company they are working for.

I’ve always thought that I might be overly sensitive, until I saw an article about bad bosses a few years ago by The Business Journals, which claims that many employees spend 10 hours a month complaining or listening to others complain, and 75 percent say their boss is the most stressful part of their job. No business can afford that huge cost in emotional capital, as well as lost productivity.

In every report, negativity is seen as an indictment of bad managers, but I believe it is also an indictment of employee whiners as well. Ten hours a month is a lot of time to waste, not to mention the indirect time lost of the listeners, and the morale impact.

What does all this mean, and how do you correct it, or prevent it in your business? First, you have to identify quickly and fix problems that are outside the scope of control of individual team members. In addition, you can follow these key recommendations from experts for proactive and recovery actions by all parties to minimize the problem in both employee and management ranks:

  1. Executives have to be the role model. If you as the founder, or other members your executive team are chronic complainers, the disease will spread rapidly through the rest of the organization. Don’t play the blame game, give negatively charged emotional speeches, berate employees in public, or wear an angry face at the office.
  1. Use the hiring process effectively. Too many startups give short shrift to the hiring process, because they are too busy, don’t want to pay market prices, or have no experience. It’s actually easy to spot whiners during the interview process, by listening to them run down previous employers and not accepting accountability. Don’t hire them.
  1. Encourage regular self-assessment. Encourage your management team and employees to always check themselves before making unsolicited comments against the following criteria: “Will this comment add value to our company, our customers, the person I am talking to, or the one I am talking about? If not, don’t say it.”
  1. Openly reward positive suggestions. Maybe it’s time to establish or re-activate the old-fashioned “suggestion box.” Make it work by regularly handing out real accolades, as well as real money, to people who add value or reduce costs in your business. A positive can-do attitude should also be recognized in job performance feedback.
  1. Quietly deal with people who won’t change. Some whiners have been that way all their life, and don’t know how to change their stripes. With proper counseling, they need to be moved out of your business before they do more damage. How quickly and quietly you deal with these problems will be the loudest message you can send to others.

Some people will use “honesty” as the excuse for negative and insensitive comments. In fact, the most honest and productive comments are always positive recommendations on how to fix a problem, rather than the complaint that someone or something is a problem. Even if some of your co-workers are jerks, you have no moral, ethical or legal obligation to broadcast this view.

Everyone needs to understand that complaining about salary or pay, criticizing colleagues and bosses, or vendors and customers, will generally just reflect negatively on the whiner, rather than accomplish any positive results.

The truth is that optimists lead better lives, and startups with positive teams are more successful, simply because they believe that what they are doing is going to work. Negativity also is a self-fulfilling prophecy, with an outcome that can be the demise of your business.

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, October 14, 2019

5 Strategies For Building Winning People Connections

Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl SandbergIn the entrepreneur world, it’s still a popular misconception that the “idea” is everything. Even though investors, like myself, have long made it clear that we invest in people, not ideas, new venture owners insist on talking about their latest “million dollar idea,” rather than their “million dollar team.” The power is in the people, their business relationships, and their connections.

For example, I grew up in IBM when Bill Gates was helping us deliver the first IBM PC. We slowly realized that Microsoft’s value went far beyond his technical contributions, due to his connections with key software developers and relationships with hardware manufacturers who could make the PC revolution universal. In a very real sense, we funded him, and he superseded even IBM.

After years of consulting, I find that the same lessons apply to businesses of every size and stage. Yet many business owners and leaders don’t seem to understand the basic principles of building business relationships and connections, or don’t know where to start. For the benefit of all, I offer the following key steps:

  1. Keep a focus on people relationships as a top priority. Some executives consistently tell me they are “too busy” to find and nurture the relationships they need to move their business to the next level. Others let their ego convince them that they have all the answers, and no one can help. I believe collaboration is the lifeblood of every business.

    For example, most people think Mark Zuckerberg built Facebook all by himself. In fact, he had four development co-founders, built a relationship with Peter Thiel, a top VC who invested early, and enticed Sheryl Sandberg to fill the COO role he sorely needed.

  2. Use and reward curiosity as a basis for relationships. Nurture relationships and connections with people in your realm who exhibit curiosity and a passion for learning. These are win-win arrangements leading to continuous innovation, early access to new markets, and a higher return. Connections across business domains are even better.

    Bill Gates, for example, shared a common curiosity and mentoring relationship with Warren Buffet, although their business domains were quite different. Oprah Winfrey was clearly helped in her career by her relationship with the famous Barbara Walters.

  3. Build connections with key customers and competitors. With the pervasive internet, and global social networks, it’s easy to be visible and connect to your customers, and they expect it. Smart business leaders look forward to talking with their competitors, not to steal ideas, but to learn more about the industry and potential win-win opportunities.

    Even though Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were bitter rivals, they knew each other very well, and both realized the value of their software running across multiple platforms, and benefited from joint efforts to standardize on key protocols and interface elements.

  4. Contribute time and skills to a non-business higher purpose. Identify a “higher purpose” that embodies your passion, such as a social or environmental issue, that could benefit from your strengths. In that context, you will likely build relationships with other leaders who could be instrumental in adding long-term value to your business.

    Again, back to the case of Bill Gates, IBM CEO John Opel already had built a connection to his mother while they were both serving on the board of United Way, and this relationship facilitated the contract that propelled the Microsoft business into success.

  5. Expedite growth with strategic partnership connections. Very few businesses can grow organically fast enough to stay ahead of competition. Business leaders with wide relationships are able to more quickly find and close on alliances to fill gaps in their product line, increase distribution, and reduce costs through common components.

    Some leader has to initiate every alliance or partnership connection, and nurse it to fruition. Executives who are too busy or comfortable with inside company activities are likely to miss the potential of a Nike and Amazon relationship, or similar win-win deal.

Overall, my experience tells me that a good idea is necessary, but not sufficient, to foster a sustainable and long-term successful business. Only the right people, with the right focus on business relationships and connections can do that. The ability to build these relationships is not a birthright – it can be learned and honed with effort. Where is this effort on your priority list?

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 09/27/2019 ***

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Sunday, October 13, 2019

7 Strategies To Prepare For Global Market Challenges

Global-market-challengesNew entrepreneurs who want to survive, and optimize the growth of their startups, need to think globally, and act locally, from day one. This approach, popularly known as “glocalization,” means you have to design and deliver global solutions that have total relevance to every local market in which you operate.

Recognizing this is as much about culture as about language, ensures an understanding of regional motivators, cultural taboos and local customs – so that your solutions are ideally designed and marketed to deliver value that has genuine local relevance.

What all this doesn’t mean is that you should roll out your product in every country at the same time. But it does mean that you think about the global implications at every step of the process:

  1. Pick your company and product names carefully. Don’t pick a name for your company or product that has a negative or totally different meaning in another language. Remember when the Chevy Nova required a rename, once Chevrolet realized that Nova meant "no go" in the Spanish market (not a great name for a car).
  1. Anticipate greater growth outside of North America. Not every international market matters, but some are larger than life. McKinsey estimates, for example, that the upper middle class in China will grow from 14 percent in 2012 to 54 percent by 2022. Just the middle class in India is equal in size to the entire population of the United States. And aging populations in Europe and Japan will join the retiring baby boomers in the U.S. with demands for new products and services. Be ready.
  1. Reinforce your brand in international markets. An international brand will command higher prices and additional customer demand. This is called brand goodwill, a hard-won value resulting from the trust that a strong name engenders among buyers and partners. As you begin to saturate the demand in domestic markets, let your brand take you international at low cost.
  1. Balance your business between geographies. When buyers in one region start to slow down, look for buyers in other geographies to take up the slack. Companies with diversified portfolios can focus their energy on other global markets that are doing well.
  1. Speak the customer’s language. People tell me that a multi-lingual website can double your local online business in many parts of the U.S. These days, customers begin their buying cycle online, where they can get answers to their frequently asked questions, product information, and transactions — all in a language they really understand.
  1. Find global sources now. This may not be politically correct these days, but smart startups are looking globally to source their products from the very beginning. Software can be developed “offshore” for a low cost, manufacturing volumes are quickly available from China, and European designs have increased opportunities in every country.
  1. Selectively protect your intellectual property worldwide. At present, no world patents or international patent process really exists, so you need to apply in every relevant country. Trying to get patent protection worldwide at the beginning is prohibitively expensive, so pick your geographies and timing carefully and strategically.

These days the world is a single market. It is both homogeneous and heterogeneous. The communication revolution and the advent of the Internet has brought about a new age of globalization. Easier access to international markets is creating limitless sales opportunities on a worldwide basis.

The result is that every startup company now needs to consider every aspect of management, sales and service on a global basis. However, to gain a true competitive edge, you still need to implement effective solutions first at the local level. Don’t try to do it all at once.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, October 12, 2019

3 Elements Of Business Planning Drive Future Success

Strategic_Planning_logoYour business can’t be all things to all people, and excel at anything. Every entrepreneur and every business needs a strategy to keep them focused. In fact, in this new world of pervasive interactivity, it’s time to rethink even how to develop a strategy. Strategy used to come from the inside looking out, but now it must come from a dialogue and engagement with constituents.

These challenges and the processes for a modern strategic approach are highlighted in the classic book by Gerben Van Den Berg and Paul Pietersma, “The 8 Steps To Strategic Success,” which focuses on unleashing the power of engagement with customers, suppliers, employees, partners, shareholders, competitors and government institutions, to set your strategic direction.

Van Den Berg and Pietersma point out that strategic planning no longer works as a static event that occurs once a year. Market change happens too frequently these days, and organizations need to quickly change course just to survive. The real challenge is to recognize when and why a new strategy is needed, and optimize the process against three critical success factors:

  1. A good understanding of the context of strategy definition. Without shared understanding of cause, necessity and ambition, a business trying to formulate its strategy will drift. And without knowing where you stand, there is no way to set a course.
  1. An adequate use of content in terms of quality, completeness, and depth. Thorough analysis with appropriate models and instruments is needed to really understand what is not possible for the organization and the environment in which it is active. Thorough analysis is the basis for finding the right strategy options.
  1. An effective and inspiring process. Who are involved at what time, what are the roles, how is participation organized? In other words: applying the correct methods of engagement. These help to increase the intrinsic level of understanding, stimulate creativity, and develop ideas. Three things are essential in engagement:
    • High quality level of participants’ contribution.
    • Willingness in analysis, vision, and numbers to think about the future.
    • Initiating and pacing the implementation process.

Every business strategy should still be based first on a long-term business vision and goal – referred to by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their textbook “Built to Last” as the Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). The BHAG always poses three questions in parallel:

  • What are you deeply passionate about? According to Collins and Porras, companies can only be really outstanding in areas where they are fully committed. The answer to this question should be formulated as ‘a customer’s problem the company is going to resolve like no other.’
  • What can you be the best in the world at? This questions going beyond one or two features or best-selling products. It is about identifying a core competence which others cannot match. It might be a patented technology, but it could also be the creativity of employees or logistic competencies of the company.
  • What drives the economic engine? This could be the utilization rate of a plant, the price premium of the brand, or the service offered or products sold. It is essential to keep this financial pillar in view.

From the answers to these questions, the strategic process needs to work its way through the futures you need to anticipate, business capabilities, and strategic options. From there, it’s time to make a decision, execute on the new strategy, and measure results. Based on results, it’s usually time for another iteration, and successful startups and enterprises never stop.

These days, you won’t last long as an entrepreneur with one “next big thing.” Success is more about your ability to “see around the corner” and sense the potential for market changes before they happen, and change your company rapidly to make them happen. How engaged is your strategic process with your constituents, and how fast can you adapt to their changes?

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, October 11, 2019

10 Signals That You Can Be A Trusted Business Leader

Bill_Gates_MSC_2017Every entrepreneur and business leader believes that he or she has the full trust of their team and their customers, and in fact most do in the beginning. In my experience, most business professionals still believe in the old proverb, “trust but verify.” In this context, that means you trust your leaders initially, but you look for signals that your trust in them is deserved and reciprocated.

Unfortunately, many aspiring leaders I mentor are not aware of the signals people are looking for, or are not attuned to the subtleties of their own actions. I saw a good summary of the required principles for long-term trust in a new book, “The 10 Laws of Trust,” by Joel Peterson, Chairman of JetBlue, professor at Stanford University, and thought leader in this area:

  1. Practice personal integrity in all that you do. Integrity is the practice of being honest and showing a consistent adherence to strong moral and ethical values. Your actions better always match your words, and your public and private behavior must be consistent. Without integrity, you lose trust quickly, and will likely not regain it.

  2. Demonstrate respect for every constituent. Trust grows out of respect for individuals manifested in simple, daily interactions, often reflective of listening without agenda. Respecting every individual is also the foundation for learning and changing to meet new challenges in the marketplace.

  3. Empower others to do their best. Mistrustful leaders and organizations are preoccupied with keeping people from doing their worst. Empowerment means granting trust to people in increments and expanding it with results. Granting trust is a strong signal that motivates returning the favor.

  4. Define metrics to measure what you want to achieve. Only when people know what’s expected can they put the right programs in place, rather than working on the wrong objective, and losing trust in you at the same time. For example, measuring marketing team members on sales leads may not get you the revenue growth or trust you expected.

  5. Create a clear and meaningful common vision. Trust grows as a shared dream brings all members of the team together in the pursuit of something beyond profits. I find that visions that includes a higher purpose, such as improving the environment, are particularly powerful in increasing trust with employees and customers alike.

  6. Communicate clearly and often on business issues. Leaders who share key aspects of the business openly, bad news as well as good news, to everyone, garner more trust. In my experience, too many owners try to hide key issues, in order to protect employees, and this often backfires into a loss of trust as employees find out from other sources.

  7. Do not suppress constructive conflict. Respectful conflict surfaces and refines new ideas. Always keep the problem separate from the person when in conflict (do not make them the problem). Making sure the best idea wins, not the most powerful person, promotes a sense of teamwork and leadership trust from deep within an organization.

  8. Show humility while acting as a mentor and coach. High-trust leaders see themselves as stewards, rather than owners, guiding people, assets, and decision making. Humility makes it possible for a leader to be seen as a real person, worthy of trust and respect.

  9. Strive for win-win negotiation outcomes. Most conversations have an element of built-in, if subtle, negotiation. A trusted leader knows that all negotiations with an individual are cumulative, not independent and soon forgotten events. Everyone needs to win sometimes, and will not trust a leader who pushes for a win-lose in every case.

  10. Recognize and address trust breaches immediately. Trust is a leader’s most valuable currency, but always at risk from misunderstandings. These must be fixed immediately, lest they harden into a permanent wariness. If the breach is willful or rooted in an ethical violation, the best approach is to terminate the relationship, to retain the trust of others.

Based on my years of mentoring, too many leaders remain blissfully ignorant of their team’s low levels of trust, and too many professionals see mistrust as the natural response to repeated betrayals. Thus it is incumbent on new entrepreneurs and leaders to start early practicing the principles outlined here, to build a trusting culture and a powerful competitive advantage.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 09/25/2019 ***

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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

7 Strategies To Make You A Business Leader Role Model

Business-leader-role-modelWe are living in a new generation of business, where customers drive the experience, and highly engaged employees are required to keep up with customer expectations. Traditional business leadership practices, including autocratic, reactive, and narcissistic, aren’t good enough. Over 16 percent of workers are still actively disengaged, and half have left at least one job because they hated their boss.

We have all heard the examples of the great new company cultures, popularized by Google, Zappos, and Facebook, which seem to imply that company perks are the secret to success. Of course, these are great, but they don’t happen without enlightened leadership coming first. I believe that business cultures are a function of people and leadership, more than programs.

As a business advisor, I’m always looking for guidance on leadership practices that work, and I was impressed with the classic book, “The Leadership Mind Switch,” by D. A. Benton and Kylie Wright-Ford. Their experience as executive coaches and entrepreneurs gives real credibility to their assessment of some new leadership approaches that are required in business today.

In my view, every aspiring business leader and entrepreneur needs to understand their seven leadership initiatives, as summarized and paraphrased here:

  1. True blue: stay trustworthy beyond reproach. Trust is still at the top of the required list in a leader. New leaders need to remember that trust works two ways – you need to be trusted so people will choose to follow you, and you need to be able to trust people you work with. “True blue” is a step beyond trust, adding authenticity and transparency.
  1. Kindly confident: project and inspire confidence. Leaders today must always project confidence and help others develop confidence, courage, and curiosity. Everyone needs to take the necessary action, despite their fears, to continuously explore new ideas. Combining courage and curiosity creates a confident unstoppable leader and team.

  1. Enlightened: open your mind and constantly learn. Enlightenment refers to an interest in staying informed and approaching every interaction free of prejudice. An effective leader is intellectually curious, constantly learning, and genuinely in pursuit of wisdom about people, places, technologies, scientific advances, economies and cultures.
  1. Tenacious: be persistent in your pursuits. True leaders are tenacious, determined, and self-starting. They can take a tough situation and fix it. They might retrench, reiterate, reconvene, or pivot more often than others, but they keep at it, instead of stalling when something becomes difficult. They know that nothing significant happens with little effort.
  1. Be uber-communicative: use all channels to connect. Effective communication is critically important for a leader – for two purposes; to deliver the right message, and to establish a common understanding of the message by everyone. Assuring mindshare and connection is the new challenge is this world of distractions and multitasking.
  1. Be dynamic: enable change in yourself and others. Dynamic leadership refers to an energy or force that is spirited and magnetic. Leaders must continuously change and advance, with behaviors that require substance as well as style. More importantly, dynamic leaders always support individuals, and enable others to reach their goals.
  1. Be playful: have fun and try new things. Increasingly, as your work and personal lives blend into each other, it is important to bring levity into the workplace, while making it enjoyable for others to be around you. Learning to be more flexible in your thought processes and actions will get you one step closer to a full leadership mind switch.

Compared to what I most often see today, these approaches represent a “leadership mind switch” in the way entrepreneurs need to think about their behaviors to generate the level of employee engagement required to keep up with rapid market changes and customer demands.

Just as importantly, every leader deserves to feel success and satisfaction from their efforts, rather than continual stress and negative feedback from employees and customers alike. The bottom line is that by directing your actions toward helping others pursue their dreams and customer dreams, you will make amazing progress in achieving your own.

Marty Zwilling

*** See Turkish translation, thanks to Zoltan Solak ***

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Monday, October 7, 2019

How To Check Your Ethics Before A Business Decision

good-vs-bad-business-decisionMost business leaders I know clearly understand the difference between legal and illegal activities, but often are not so clear on the line between ethical and unethical. Unfortunately, there is no universal code of business ethics, written down and enforced by some external governing body. We all have to rely on our own interpretation of what will maintain a working level of trust between all constituents.

For example, most would agree that a lending manager must look for the same qualifications from a friend that he or she applies to other applicants. But what do you do when making the right ethical choice will almost certainly hurt that friend badly? The problem is that so many choices fall into a gray area, and you may not even see the ethical creep that is happening in your actions.

Many professionals I know in business have the sense that an adherence to ethics is spiraling downward in business, and most don’t believe they know how to make a difference. They don’t realize that if they don’t make the effort to be part of the solution, out of indifference or fear of jeopardizing their own careers, then they really become part of the problem.

In my view, most people agree on the fundamental principles of ethics – integrity, objectivity, competence, confidentiality, and professional behavior. They just need to follow a set of practical steps, including the following, to get beyond the emotion and the theoretical, to arrive at pragmatic yet ethical solutions to tough problems that we all encounter in business:

  1. Isolate the legal and moral issues that frame the issue. Ethical issues are usually driven by an attempt to accomplish a desired objective, without overtly violating some existing legal or moral code. You can’t be a change agent to improve business ethics without understanding the constraints, and the gray areas that surround them.

    For example, most would agree that bribery to win a contract is unethical, but how far can you go in nurturing a relationship with a key vendor? Defining legal and moral constraints is only the first step. Then you face cultural and historical norms, and your own integrity.

  2. Identify any hidden objectives driving a possible outcome. Often it helps to analyze a list of likely results, and reason backward to find who benefits and who loses. The best solution for a tough ethical challenge is one that could be surfaced on the front page of the newspaper the next day without being mis-interpreted by an unbiased customer.

    In the previous example, if a given vendor has a family connection to you, legal and moral constraints are not enough. If the information surfaces that you may have the intent of favoring family or friends, your analysis of qualifications must be beyond reproach.

  3. Re-examine facts that may be challenged or inaccurate. If everyone agrees that the key facts are clearly true, or non-debatable, then the first two steps will likely lead you to an ethical solution. Otherwise you need to examine how your decision might change if key facts are proved irrelevant or wrong. New alternatives may need to be evaluated.

  4. Put yourself in the position of other affected parties. When you think ethically, you are in sympathy and empathy with others. It helps to meet face-to-face with the ones that differ from you most. Your ethical eye gets sharper when you bring all relevant objects or people closer. In that context, you must treat others as you would have them treat you.

    Consider, from a personnel standpoint, how much harder it is to fire someone face-to-face. That's because your empathy is engaged by their presence, and it makes you examine more closely all the ethics, facts, and emotions that are part of your decision.

  5. Balance total benefits versus harm to select an action. In this final step, you first assess how each party is impacted, then what counts, as a benefit or harm in considering the possible actions. Good ethics are ultimately about maximizing the positives of the entire situation. This attracts loyalty and trust from customers and employees alike.

If you follow these steps, and iterate as required, I assure you that your own ethical eye will be sharpened, communicating these steps to others around you will improve their view, and will ultimately change the perception of your business in a positive way. The number of perceived ethical dilemmas will also be reduced. You definitely can make a difference if you start now.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 09/23/2019 ***

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Sunday, October 6, 2019

6 Lessons For Business Leaders From Military Training

Lessons-from-the-Navy-SealsYou have to be extra tough mentally to start a new business venture. While thinking about it, I realized that it’s really not that different from the toughness required and trained into America’s elite military force of Navy SEALs, who are known to be cool under fire, able to sense danger before it’s too late, and never give up on achieving their objective.

I learned some good lessons along these lines from the classic book “The Way of the SEAL,” by Mark Divine. He spent many years with the SEALs, but has since started and built six multimillion-dollar business ventures. He now teaches these key principles to business leaders, focusing on the following lessons and strategies, which I recommend for every entrepreneur:

  1. Lead from the front, so that others will want to work for you. To be an entrepreneur or a Navy SEAL, you must first have vision, focus, and the courage to step up to lead. That means visibly walking the talk and willing to clear a path for others. People want to follow leaders they can learn from, who demonstrate excellence and commitment in all they do.
  1. Focus on one thing until victory is achieved. SEALs call this front-sight focus, or the ability to envision your goal to the point that you see it, believe it, and make it happen. Every entrepreneur needs this kind of focus to build a minimum viable product, target the right customer segment, differentiate from competitors, and drive business growth.
  1. Think offense, all the time, to eradicate fear and indecisiveness. Indecision leads to doubt, then the two blend and become fear, which signals defense, resulting in being overrun in the business world, as well as the military world. Offense, for entrepreneurs, means leading with a new business model, new marketing, and new technology.
  1. Never be thrown off-guard by chaotic conditions. Smash the box and think outside the box. In the world of the entrepreneur and the SEAL, chaos is the norm, not the exception. Plan for it mentally and physically, and you will see opportunities rather than problems in the chaos. Winning is finding opportunities, rather than fighting problems.
  1. Access your intuition so you can make “hard right” decisions. Your intuition is really your knowledge and awareness of your business environment, which must be honed with practice and focus. This knowledge is required for you to turn quickly or pivot based on new input from the market, without loss of competitive position.
  1. Achieve twenty times more than you think you can. Set your targets high. Nobody knows what they are truly capable of, with the right discipline, drive, and determination (three Ds). SEALs challenge themselves to find their 20x factor, and entrepreneurs should accept no less of a challenge. Leverage the resources of mentors, investors, and peers.

By teaching and practicing the principles behind these six lessons, Mark Divine was able to improve the pass rate of Navy SEAL candidates from less than 30% to over 80%. I see the same potential for improving the success rate of new entrepreneurs from the current 10-year survival rate closer to 30%, to a new high target of 80% in this new era.

He suggests that you start with a self-assessment against the “five mountains” to be climbed on the path to self-mastery and success, with my adaptation for entrepreneurs:

  • Physical: business as well as technical skills required for the domain you want to enter.
  • Mental: ability to persevere, make decisions, focus, and visualize success.
  • Emotional: resilience, open to relationships, keep negative emotions under control.
  • Intuitional: level of awareness, listen more than speak, strong self-esteem, insightful.
  • Spiritual: strong values, at peace, willing to make sacrifices, see the big picture.

I agree with Divine that if you desire serious change in your life, you can’t get there by focusing on what you don’t want. Becoming an entrepreneur is a great lifestyle, but it is a serious change from other career alternatives. If you decide to be an entrepreneur because you don’t want a boss, on don’t like regular business hours, you may be setting yourself up for failure.

Apply the lessons from the Navy SEALs and you too can be an elite warrior who leads and succeeds in the new global business paradigm. Are you up to the challenge?

Marty Zwilling

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