execution

Mindfulness and Business: Coulda Woulda Shoulda

It's a week, now, since the beginning of this year - and, frankly, even a Martian who landed in the Western Hemisphere (and parts of the rest of the world, too) would know it must be the New Year simply based on the number of advertisements for weight-loss and exercise that now riddle every form of media we have.

It's time to lose weight.
It's time to exercise.
It's time to lose weight and exercise.

And, oh, by the way, they say, you've probably already lost sight of those New Year's Resolutions you made...to lose weight and exercise...and we have the answer!

No, they don't. But you do.

And, just so you know, it's not about the resolutions. It's about being mindful about what you're doing as you're doing it.

I'm going to be talking a lot about mindfulness in this blog with the help of my friend and yours, Dr. Leon Lessinger. The Leadership Quantified Experts will be writing about it from their perspectives, too. Because it's time that we all bring a new level of presence and consciousness to the decisions we're making and the actions we're taking. (BTW, the weight loss and exercise industries are hoping you do exactly the opposite. That's the only way their business model succeeds.)

Okay. So. Mindfulness. Sounds good - or not. Sounds woo-woo - or not. What it is - always - is practical. So, let's start with how to identify the indicators that you've not been mindful in the past. (Because that's going to change now.)

Think back over the past 6-18 months and identify all the "Coulda Woulda Shoulda" experiences you had. These are the ones where, after the fact (no matter how short or long a time period) you say to yourself:
  • We could have done that after all, or
  • We should have done this instead, or
  • We would have done that, but....
Any or all of those - individually or in any combination - are your indicators that you were not being fully present when making the decision you made...particularly when, even as you're making the decision, you know you coulda/shoulda/woulda gone the other way. But you didn't.

Over my years working with executives around the world and in different languages, the two most common versions sounded like this (usually in a 2 am phone call):
"Leslie, you're not going to like what I did, but..."
or
"Leslie, you were absolutely right. I should have..."
In both cases, the origin was the same - they knew they were not making the optimal decision even as they were making it. The only difference between the two was when we talked about it (i.e., immediately or long after the associated actions were taken).

Which brings us to an important point: Regrets are not the same as mindfulness.

Regrets occur after the fact. Mindfulness occurs in real-time. In the present. As you're making the decisions you need to make.

That's why doing a Coulda/Woulda/Shoulda Retrospective Analysis is so important. What you're trying to figure out are the situations that lead you to make decisions that you later regret.

That way, you've got the best insider information possible. You know your habits and trends. You also know the habits, trends...and fears...of your team that lead to the after-the-fact regrets expressed.

So, starting now - because you're being mindful and present - look at the decisions you're making...both small and large...and, before finalizing them and either taking or assigning action, identify whether there are any Coulda/Shoulda/Wouldas that you know will arise later. (You may not want to admit it - but you know them. Now.)

Then, take the actions necessary. You'll find that your own and your business's productivity and success accelerate faster than you could ever have imagined.

The Secrets of Success: Managed Expansion

It may seem counterintuitive to be thinking about expansion while the global economy is still trying to figure out which direction it will go and how fast it will get there. It's not. In fact, this is the best time to be thinking about all things growth.

That way, you can build your success before you begin using what I call Managed Expansion.

The easiest way to understand it is by understanding what it isn't - and that's its opposite: Reactive Expansion. So we'll start there.

Reactive Expansion is when...suddenly there's lots of money. Suddenly there's lots of opportunity. Everybody is buying. Everything it's growing. It's an up-cycle! It's time to expand!

Well, yes and no - and that's where Managed Expansion comes in.

It's time to expand - but only if you've got robust and well-thought out plans in place for exactly how, when, how fast, in what ways and into which markets you want to expand. Specifically, plans that you've been working on throughout the down-cycle to be ready for just this moment.

Sure, there'll be adjustments in the plans as the landscape becomes more clear. But if you've been consistently working on your expansion plans as a regular part of your job (which it is), then you'll have already seen those opportunities and be ready to move.

In contrast - and what we see far too often - is the Reactive Expansion that companies take on...and then have to reverse.

Think Starbucks. You'll recall that they are one of my examples of "Cheerful Ruthlessness." Well, they're also a perfect example of Reactive Expansion - which they may be repeating but in a different way.

Here's how it works:

A number of years ago, someone in the executive ranks decided that there should be a Starbucks coffee shop on every corner - or nearly. Rather than following what had been lauded as one of the finest location determination systems in the world, they just grew. And grew. And grew.

It just so happened that they were opening all those locations during an up-cycle. Everybody wanted coffee - and, according to this logic, they wanted it absolutely everyplace they went, every day, all the time.

That was all well and good until the down-cycle started and people weren't sure they wanted to shell out a few bucks a cup every time they needed a caffeine fix.

Change of management, change of plan. Now it was time to shut down all those excess locations and for the company and its shareholders to take the hit financially - as well as hitting all their employees with unemployment simply because management made bad decisions.

It was sort of a coffee version of the dot-com boom and bust - all in one company.

Interestingly, Starbucks may be running the same risks but in a different segment of its market: the Keurig/Nespresso world.

Individual, made-to-order, customized coffee-makers for the home are just the thing in the market. Especially as a holiday gift...or so the advertising would lead you to believe.

Only, in this case, Starbucks is venturing into a market that has ongoing high costs - from manufacturing and inventory to shelf-space in its shops - and, contrary to what the thinking may be in the company, does not guarantee a captive, returning audience.

That's because - unlike equipment ranging from inkjet or laser printers and their cartridges to the Amazon Kindle and its in-bred ecosystem of sales - customers don't have to go back to Starbucks for the ongoing, high-profit coffee tubs. They can buy other brands - because everybody's already on this particular wagon - or they can purchase a reusable, washable 'k-cup' from a cheap and cheerful television advertisement.

Starbucks isn't being a leader. It's being a follower - but on a very big scale - which is a Reactive Expansion strategy that is particularly dangerous.

It will be interesting to see whether the company wins, takes a hit on this or keeps its product in play as an also-ran in the individualized coffee field. But that's on them.

For you, the lessons are there to be learned.

Opportunities are always presenting themselves. Some of them make sense for you. Others don't. It's your responsibility - and should be your passion - to consistently be looking for the windows that have yet to open and figure out how you and your organization will be the ones to open them.

The best opportunities are the ones you identify where you will be the go-to resource - product or service - for that particular offering. And that's what you're planning for: a Managed Expansion that builds on what you do best and expands upon it in such a way that existing and new customers are happy to find you doing what you do.

Just don't do it faster than you can manage or put too much time, energy and cash into a high-risk venture that may or may not work out.

Take risks using a Managed Expansion plan by:
  1. Building on what your organization does best
  2. Expanding that definition by bringing even more and better of what you do to the market
  3. Focusing on innovation in existing products and services as well as new ones
  4. Studying what best of breed organizations in other industries are doing
  5. Identifying how those product and service innovations can be adapted to bring further success to your enterprise
  6. Managing your expansion so that you're ready for "+1"...ensuring exquisite, seamless execution.
By taking these steps, you've designed your expansion to succeed - long before it has even begun.
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The Secrets to Success: Cheerful Ruthlessness (ctg)
The Secrets to Success: +1 (ctg)

The Secrets of Success: Cheerful Ruthlessness

There's something particularly enjoyable about the shopping experience - in person and online - that some retailers simply know how to create.

They make you happy to do business with them. In fact, they make you so happy to do business with them that you begin to forget to do business with anyone else.

It's not their products or services or branding - or not necessarily. And it's not even their customer service - although that plays a part.

It's their ubiquity. Just as "xeroxing" became a verb for the action that is, in fact, photocopying, these organizations make themselves so common to your retail transactions in their spaces that they become a default.

Which is exactly their goal.

How do they do it? It's what I call "Cheerful Ruthlessness."

For those organizations that have nailed the strategy, they feel and operate and keep working to be unbeatable. They work with the assumption that there is simply no aspect of the industry in which they define themselves as leaders that they're not going to own.

And it's that bit "the industry in which they define themselves" that's most important to watch. Because that's how they become ubiquitous. They see their space as the whole space - not just an aspect of it. And particularly not as an aspect that would be defined by those outside.

That's how they fool everyone as they build and expand and then expand some more. While the competitors are looking at the company either for what they think it is or what it was in the past, these Cheerfully Ruthless companies define themselves in their own terms - and then bring the consumer right along with them.

(By the way, this is as applicable for the Big Boys as it is for the Little Guys, so everyone pay attention.)

The easiest way to explain how Cheerful Ruthlessness works is to take two primary examples: Amazon and Starbucks.

When Amazon first started, it was an online bookstore. Or so everyone thought. In fact, as everyone who wasn't paying attention found out later, it was all aspects of online retail. Here's how it goes:
  • You have a small business providing specialty items you want to sell? You can do that on Amazon.
  • You're a Big Boy but haven't been able to crack online retail? Amazon will partner with you.
  • You're a customer and you purchased something - whether for yourself or as a gift? You're going to get guidance and pings on a regular basis to 'help' you find more of the same...or different, as the system learns your preferences.
And everything comes packaged in a box with a smile on it.

After a while, no matter which aspect of the retail experience you touch, you're going to turn to Amazon. And that's exactly what Jeff Bezos, its Founder and CEO (among other titles) wanted to achieve.

It was never about being an online bookstore. That was the Test Drive. It gave the organization the chance to kick the tires of putting the internet and retailing together for the first time. But, even by Bezos' own reckoning, it was a matter of selecting what the company would start with first. That was never where it was intended to end.

Which takes us to Starbucks. In the world of ubiquity, there are those who would argue that no organization can beat Starbucks for being everywhere. But there's more to it than that.

Because Starbucks isn't just Starbucks any longer.

After all the years of expansion and brand-building followed by the years of too much expansion, negative reputation and the effort required to rebuild what was lost, Starbucks figured out two things:
  1. People drink things besides coffee that the company can make and sell, and
  2. There are people who don't like the Starbucks brand...but they still like coffee.
As a result, Howard Schultz, its Chairman and CEO (twice), has taken the company into:
  • Juice-like drinks (that have a base of green coffee beans)
  • Energy drinks (that are canned, bottled and can easily be found in your local shop, gas station or supermarket) and, most importantly, 
  • "No-name" Starbucks coffee houses.
Yes, it's very possible that you are going to a Starbucks in your neighborhood which has a neighborhood-like name ("34th Street Coffee," for example) but is, in fact, a Starbucks. Because for everyone who doesn't want to support the Big Beast coffee vendor, they can say, "Oh, I don't go to Starbucks" - but the company is still gathering their cash.

All with happy barristas serving you whatever you want.

It's Cheerful Ruthlessness. They're finding every way to get consumers through their doors or on their site or seeing their products - all the while making them feel as if they still have a choice.

And they do - which is the most important point, because, when you work it right, that's where you and your company come in.

For those who are competing against a Cheerfully Ruthless competitor, you watch, learn and change how you define your win...because, realistically, you're not going to put these guys out of business (which is their intent for you).

So, it's on you to figure out how to differentiate yourself enough that they can keep doing what they do (because they will) - while you out-perform them at every turn in your own particular part of their bigger than big space.

But, before you start, there's one thing you need to know: They're afraid of you.

Yes, you. Scared to the bones. Because what they know (and hope you don't...or hope you forget as you stress about them) is that you can do things - both online and off - that they can't. Specifically:
  • You're faster and nimbler. 
  • You're more responsive and personable. 
  • You create personal relationships while theirs are all at least one, two or three degrees of separation removed - frequently more.
b2b or b2c, those are your greatest selling points and point of differentiation. Add in your ability to be innovative and you can take and keep your piece of whatever your market is.

Business is ruthless. It's the nature of the game. Even if you're in the charity sector, you're competing against every other charity - in and out of your field - for the money people are willing to spend. And that makes you ruthless as you do your good deeds.

So, as you add Cheerful Ruthlessness to your and your organization's skill set and strategy, first stop thinking of it as a bad thing. Instead, think of it as being completely committed to:
  • Taking and keeping your particular part of your market, in part by
  • Determining what your customers need,  while moreover
  • Meeting and exceeding those expectations regularly, by
  • Building an organization that is as committed as you to those goals. 
Never feel bad about being strong and consistent and tough about what you want. As long as you're clear about what you do and where you're going, not only will you take your employees along with you (who will help you get there and beyond faster, cheaper and smarter than you ever hoped) but your customers will gleefully go along for the ride.

Because, in your ruthless commitment to their satisfaction, you've made your customers cheerful - which will bring a smile to your and all your other stakeholders' faces, too.

The Secrets of Success: +1

Ask any of my executive clients over the years and they'll tell you how I harangued them not about the projects they were working on, but what they were going to do immediately and on an ongoing basis after the projects were finished.

I call it +1.

1 minute. 1 day. 1 month. 1 year.

It's all about +1.

It doesn't matter what the project is. New product. New service. Improvement of internal operations. Expansion into new markets. Merger or acquisition.

It isn't about getting the project itself done. That's the easy part - because that's the part that everyone is focusing on.

It's that, too often, in doing the project we forget that there's something that has to happen afterward.

Because real success is all about how you make what you've achieved work over the long term.  Sure, you make immediate decisions and things move fast. But business is a long term proposition. At least it is if you want to succeed.

If you're in business you're always playing a long game.

So, what's the secret? Treat it like a mathematical equation that's applied to everything you do. It looks like this:

P + 1 = S

Where P is your Project, +1 is what you do after and S is your success.

Define each one. Know the exact components of:
  • What it takes to achieve the immediate goal (P)
  • What the specific, step-wise operational and tactical requirements are to ensure seamless execution from the first moment and on an ongoing basis after the "goal" is reached (+1)
  • The revenues, profits, markets, morale, partnerships, development, innovation and any other components you will monitor and measure (S).
By integrating +1 into your business planning, you're able to: 
  1. Build and monitor your future success in every phase of your project planning and execution, and
  2. Adjust, in real time at every step, if you're not seeing the results you want or expected.
Most important of all, by using +1, you'll identify the bridges and obstacles to success that exist and are operational in your organization every day. Then, when you decide on your next project, immediate and long-term success will be even easier to achieve - and maintain - than before.

You Didn't Build That...Or Did You?

Just so you know, it's a trick question.

That's because the answer always is: Yes. You did.

How do I know? That's an easy one to answer: If it's yours - from start-up to SMB to multi-national - if you're at its head at this moment...whether first line supervisor or CEO...you built it.

Did you do it alone? No. Could you have? No. Will anyone ever build anything in business alone? No.

Because it doesn't work that way. Excuse the Kumbayah vernacular, but it really does take a village - no matter what kind of enterprise you've built or are trying to build.

The question, therefore, isn't about whether or not you built it. The questions you should be asking are:
  • Is it what I want?
  • How did it get this way?
  • How much history is driving our present?
  • How much is that helping or hurting us?
  • What do we need to change?
  • How've we been doing in making those changes?
  • What do we need to do differently in successfully executing the changes we need?
  • What kind of data do we have to tell us that any of the answers to the questions we just went through are actually true?
  • What kind of measures do we need to ensure we know what we're talking about now and for our future?
And those questions are just the beginning. 

Take it as said: You built it. What you want to know - and act upon - is: What do I want to do with it?

That's when you'll create the success you seek.

(If you thought I was going to go play with the politicians on this one - not this time. Frankly, when it comes to this, they don't know what they're talking about anyway.)