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Using Innovation to Drive Your Company’s Success

Lately, I’ve been talking a lot about the concept of solo entrepreneurship and I’m all over it for a number of reasons. One of the biggest reasons is because I really, truly, in my heart of hearts believe our economy will continue to sputter until we find a way to get all of this knowledge capital back in the market place. I’ve talked before about how the hiring model has changed. Businesses really do not want to hire people at “full freight” anymore but they are willing to hire a piece of them, just like fractional ownership of a jet plane. Very few people can afford to own a jet plane, but many people can afford fractional ownership. I think that until we get the people rich in knowledge capital back into the market place the economy is going to sputter for quite some time. It just fascinates me why so many of us with absolutely fabulous resumes are afraid to adjust to what’s really going on.

I met a gentleman the other day who’s been looking for a job for two years. He’s exhausted his savings, but refuses the thought of doing anything different besides literally every day doing the exact same thing over and over again — You know the old adage, ‘What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.’ — Why is he so hesitant to trade job ‘A’ for projects B, C, D, E, and F? The book I mentioned last week, Take the Stairs by Rory Vaden, talks a lot about why we sabotage ourselves and that fear is one of our biggest hurdles. As an example, he explains how many pop performers have fear when it comes to performing, but they really don’t have to work very hard to overcome it – they just feel the fear and do it anyway. I mean they have it, they understand it, they realize it, and then they just move forward anyway.

I find it fascinating how we put these roadblocks in our own way. I’ve often thought that courage is a number of things. Not only the obvious thing of reacting under challenging circumstances, but I also think courage (or at least the kind I most admire) is where you actually have a moment to process what’s going on. I have this huge respect for people in situations where the accident is a mile away, yet they are still going to jump into the burning car and pull somebody out. They had time to think about it. They had time to realize what these consequences might be and acted anyway.

A lot of business people out there need to act and I think solo entrepreneurs are the people who have huge amounts of experience but are still sitting on the sidelines. We need to act and I think it’s important for everyone to remember that you really have to see it, meaning you have to be able to see what it’s going to feel like. So if you are stuck either in a business or a personal situation, take some time to look at it and say to yourself, “Okay, three years from today with all the constraints removed and everything is going perfectly, what would it look like if I were able to do ‘X’?”

If you were able to adjust your business to ‘X,’ what would it look like? Or if you were able to stop trying to find job ‘A’ and look for projects B, C, D, E, and F, what might that look like? I often think that change is like forgiveness – “It’s a great concept for others.” You know forgiveness is a wonderful thing as long as we don’t have something to forgive, and change is a great concept until we are the ones that need to do the changing.

I think it’s important that we think about that and we all should remember to — like the Nike commercial says – ‘Just Do It!’

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What Makes an Employee Productive?

There are three elements that help create a motivational environment: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Let’s dig a little deeper.

First, a little Organizational Development 101: The only reason organizations exist is because (generally speaking) we can do more collectively than we can individually. For example, manufacturing facilities and airports, even with today’s automation, can’t be run by one person. It takes a lot of people to do that and aligning all that talent requires a purpose and direction. Next, necessary functions are identified to support direction and purpose. For instance, at a manufacturing facility, somebody’s got to sell something before anything can be manufactured. We also have to consider operations, safety, human resources, accounting, finance… (you get the picture). Several functions are necessary to accomplish a common purpose. Those functions are broken down into responsibilities and tasks, the next layer down in organizational development. We lump similar responsibilities and tasks together and form jobs. Those “jobs” are supported by metrics we use to measure job performance. To summarize, metrics support the jobs and those jobs deliver the responsibilities and tasks that support the necessary functions that drive the purpose and direction of the organization.

At Leahey Media, we do a lot of strategic planning with all kinds of different organizations. One of the questions we ask during that process is, “Why is it necessary for your company to exist?” That question stumps a few people (the president or the owner has a pretty good idea). We’ve found that people with a clear ‘why’ make better decisions. That filter helps identify things you want to do and things to be avoided. It points people in the right direction by giving them an idea of what’s off-limits and where to allocate resources. When organizations set a specific direction, we see four (predictable) employee reactions:

  1. Buy-in: the best possible reaction. If they understand your why and agree with it, they’re much quicker to adapt and work with.
  2. Wait and see: You have to spend some extra time and resources to win this group over to your direction, purpose and why.
  3. Opt-out: Not too many problems there; they tend to fire themselves or choose to leave on their own.
  4. Quit and stay: the worst possible reaction. Cubicle zombies. Vocational pigmies. Saboteurs. This group actively brings down anyone in their blast zone. They understand your why, disagree, and work against you. Get rid of them quickly!

Ben Franklin said, “By failing to plan you’re planning to fail.” That got me thinking why do some robust, well-researched plans stumble? And Why is it that sometimes you’ll find cocktail napkin plans that do so well? I searched Google for “strategic planning” and got 102 million hits. Then I Googled “strategic planning process” and got 15 million hits. There are more than 51,000 books on Amazon.com about “strategic planning” and 11,000 of those talk about the strategic planning process. There seems to be no shortage of information.

What all of those strategic planning resources have in common are analytics. They’ll ask you to do an environmental scan and a SWOT analysis to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. They take a look at the competitive landscape, do a market analysis, and a break-even calculation. I’m not berating analytics at all – I think they’re necessary to win the minds of the people that you’re trying to convince to invest or the people that you’re trying to convince to come on board with you. But what are you doing to win the hearts of those same people? What are you doing to make sure that there’s a compelling reason for everyone in the organization to get up in the morning and do what you do?

Compelling reasons engage people (and customers). It also helps them believe in your why. If customers and employees believe in your why, so many things become so much clearer. If compensation were the only thing that people were concerned about then there would be no social service agencies, volunteer organizations, and no military; all lower-paying jobs that have huge whys. Some mission statements provide compelling ‘whys:’

  • “To unlock the potential of nature to improve the quality of life.”– Archer Daniels Midland
  • “Organizing the world’s information to make it universally accessible and useful.”– Google
  • “Be the fabric of real-time communication on the web.”– Skype
  • “Make sure all this works the first time.”– Gate LLC

The mission or why drives people’s behavior. When they understand the why, it’s so much easier for them to take on what comes next and fulfill the organization’s purpose.

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Are the Happiest Employees Really the Most Productive Ones?

Let’s start off with a quiz. True or false: Happy employees are productive employees? Of course, it really doesn’t matter how you answer that question because your answer determines your approach to managing people. Here are a couple of more questions for you. Can you be happy and unproductive? I think that if I spent the entire day at my cubicle playing Counter-Strike and no one said anything to me, then I’d be pretty happy but not very productive. Can I be productive and not happy? I think most of us have worked with someone who was a “Mr. Grumpy-Pants” to deal with or just plain prickly to be around, but they got the job done. They were just a highly productive person. The real question you need to answer is: Are people satisfied or are they engaged? Companies have spent a lot of time, money and effort on employee satisfaction surveys. I have no problem with those as long as you understand the two truths about these types of surveys.

First, the minute you ask someone a question about anything, you’ve immediately raised their expectation of whatever subject you’re talking about. For instance, if I were asked a question on an employee satisfaction survey that says ‘my manager is fair’ – I might have never thought about that before. Now I start looking at my manager wondering, “Are you fair?” Or if you ask me about my benefits package and the combination of benefits I have. Then you start asking me whether or not that benefits package is competitive. I had never thought of it that way before, so now I start looking around to see whether or not my benefits package is competitive. If you start to ask me questions about my working conditions I may think, “You know, the lighting in here is not to my standards and there seems to be a vent that blows directly on me all day long. No, my working conditions are substandard.” Of course, now you have raised my level of expectation with that employee satisfaction survey. Now I am assuming because you asked me about it and I responded, then you are going to fix it! You must be planning to do something about it because you wouldn’t have asked otherwise. That’s just human nature.

For example, I’m the middle son of three boys and we are very close in age. My mom would make the world’s best oatmeal raisin cookies. My dad absolutely loved them! My mom would say, “Okay boys, I just made your father some cookies. You guys can’t touch them until he gets home.” All I’m thinking is, “There are cookies?” I didn’t even know there were any cookies until she said it. So now, my quest for the balance of the afternoon was, “Where are the cookies?” My brothers and I had a competition to find them. So, in a nutshell, is one truth about employee satisfaction surveys.

The second truth about these types of surveys is a basic HR principle: Just because you remove a bad, that doesn’t make a good. It just makes a not bad. Just because I don’t have the flu anymore doesn’t make me healthy. It just means I don’t have the flu. So when we talk about engaged employees, the difference is between being satisfied and engaged. Engaged employees seem to be motivated to accomplish things, but are they happy? Would they be productive if they were engaged? Probably so. There are different elements of engagement.

I’d like to sum this up with an excellent example from Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates UsHe points out three elements that help create a motivational environment that would engage a workforce. Those three elements would be autonomy, mastery, and purpose:

  • Autonomy has to do with how I am managed. People will join companies but they’ll quit their managers. So that autonomy piece becomes, “How much control do I have over what I do? How much say do I have in the policies and practices that affect me?”
  • Mastery is my opportunity to get really good at what I do best. So structurally in an organization, are there training and education opportunities? Are there experiences or projects that I can get engaged in that would help sharpen my skill set?
  • Purpose is what I really think we should focus on when it comes to engaged employees because that identifies the ‘why’ and if we get that right, a whole lot of other things become a lot more clear.
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Innovation: Inside the Driving Factor Behind Your Company’s Success

I recently read a book by a guy named Rory Vaden. I was just fascinated by this book! Its message is simple and summed up completely by the elegant title, ‘Take the Stairs.’ If you think about it, the title is exactly what the book is about. Don’t take the elevator, take the stairs. Do the short-term, hard thing first. The main premise of the book is that if you do the short-term, uncomfortable thing – meaning, just step out of your comfort zone — it makes the long-term things that much easier. It’s so simple. I think the title is elegant, yet so true.

I was traveling the other day and found myself wanting to head to the gym. So I’m on the fourth floor of a hotel standing at the elevator waiting. Suddenly, I bust out laughing to myself thinking, “What the heck am I doing? I’m on the fourth floor and I’m going to the gym. I can’t walk four flights of steps to get on a treadmill?” I had no choice but to laugh at myself. I grew up in a three-story home and if you ran up to my bedroom from the basement that was four stories, so here I am waiting for the elevator. That’s why I just love this title, ‘Take the Stairs.’

This book really got me thinking about why do we do the things we do. Why do we sabotage ourselves the way that we do? It happens all the time. Myself, my clients, executives that are working in businesses, why do we send ourselves such negative messages? I was golfing with my wife this past weekend and we got to chuckling. I had a shot and I plopped it right in the middle of the sand. Later I mentioned to her that my mindset was, “Don’t hit it in the sand” vs. “Hit it on the green!” Why is it that the human condition is to send ourselves such negative messages? From our client’s perspective, which has happened quite literally with our clients around the world, there’s this hesitancy to address a top performer who is poisoning the well. This will be someone who is tremendously negative, yet they will keep them around because they are afraid to act. In reality, the bottom line is that the damage they are doing is so far beyond the performance they are giving, and that’s just ridiculous!

There are many businesses out there that will just completely and consistently ignore competitive threats. You know, where a competitor is doing something that’s challenging their markets or it’s going to take market share away. They seem to be of the mindset of, ‘If we ignore it long enough, it will go away.’ I had a client chuckle with me the other day because there was an issue in his business and he knew he should have addressed it. Eventually, he did but at the time he said, “You know, once again, if we ignore it long enough it will take care of itself!” He was laughing because he knew that just wasn’t the right thing to do.

So why is it that we ignore these types of things? Why are we doing ‘C’ work on ‘A’ time? We know that’s not productive. We know that we’re just doing busy work and not productive work, yet we do it all the time. Next week in part two, I will discuss this concept further and expand upon how this line of thinking is affecting the job market today.

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The Evolution of Business: There Is a New Normal In Talent Acquisition

I’d like to make a point to both employers and prospective employees. It is time for all of us to evolve. I focus a lot on the mid-career professional, however, both sides of this equation need to adjust their model. I would really like to stress this point because I want people to understand that there is a new normal in talent acquisition.

If you are an employee, then you need to adjust your strategy and do things differently. Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do I need some extra training?
  • Do I need to go back and get a couple of credits?
  • Do I need to learn a certain skill?
  • Should I present myself differently?
  • Do I need to use tools other than what I’ve been using?

If you are an employer, then you really need to challenge your talent acquisition thoughts:

  • Do we need to do something differently?
  • Do we need to hire and train people?
  • Do we need to on-board people differently?
  • Do we need to help our employees refine their skill sets?
  • Should we create a strategy that helps the marketplace leverage their skills into our business?

Basically, I think both prospective job seekers and prospective employers need to be thinking about this from a new perspective. I have a question I sometimes like to challenge my clients with. Have you ever heard a conversation between two people turn into a heated debate? Suddenly you find yourself as the third party and completely unemotional to the entire conversation. As you are listening it becomes clear they are both saying the exact same things. The problem is neither side is taking the time to listen, adapt, be silent and adjust their strategy so they can actually hear the other side. We see this all the time with internal managers. They are arguing about something and yet they’re saying the exact same things. We need to cut down on the noise so people can hear. When we cut through the noise, then people can hear what needs to happen. Only then, we are able to link the right talent to the right opportunities.

The bottom line here is that mid-career professionals should rethink how they position themselves in the marketplace and employers need to take a hard look at how they acquire talent. It’s time for the business world to ask the necessary and challenging questions and figure out what’s working and what’s not. Now is the time to listen, adapt, adjust and evolve.

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Want The Best That Money Can Buy? Consider Fractional Ownership

Here’s a little piece of trivia for you. Do you know the name of Warren Buffet’s private jet? He has cleverly named this amazing piece of machinery “The Indefensible.”  His point is that not even he can defend the expense of having a private jet. That’s why people like Warren Buffet started investing in fractional ownership of aircraft. This allows them to purchase (or lease) a fraction of an aircraft and have guaranteed access for a number of hours per year. This makes perfect sense these days for anyone who wants the luxury and convenience of private jet ownership but is not willing to pay the full price to own one exclusively.

Mid-career professionals should consider themselves along the same lines as fractional private jet ownership. There are only a select few organizations out there that can pay full freight for a private jet. However, there are literally thousands of organizations on earth willing to carry a NetJet card and pay a fraction of the cost for the same experience. The truth is that these businesses are paying $100,000 to use these jets and when it comes to that absolutely critical strategic meeting, they are more than happy to pony up $100,000 get things done.

Think of yourself the same way. Think of your career and ask yourself, “How can I position myself as ‘fractional ownership’?”If you have a skill set that is critical to organizations, then there is a real need in the marketplace. Your career has gained you twenty to thirty years of leadership experience and valuable knowledge capital. You are a fine-quality streamlined luxury aircraft! Not every organization can afford you, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need you. Businesses have a strategic need for that kind of talent and are willing to pay to have access to it. Not everyone can buy that luxury jet, but it sure is nice to know it’s waiting at the airport and available when you need it!

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Connecting Talent With Opportunities

When a need arises within a small to medium sized company that requires legal expertise, it is very rare to have a permanent in-house counsel. Most of you do not hire people full-time to purely to focus on your company’s legal issues. When a need arises, you will call your attorney and will be billed for their time. What you understand in these important situations is that you’re paying for their knowledge capital and years of experience, but it would be difficult to pay for this on a full-time basis. This is what we are used to doing in small to medium sized firms. I own a small to medium sized business and I will call my lawyer or my accountant for advice. I know that when I need them they are there. They will provide their expert knowledge and it’s not cheap!

I’m asking managers and leaders out there to be thinking about this model as it relates to other knowledge capital situations. If you need to have some experienced talent in your business to solve a problem for you, then it is a lot like calling your attorney. You layout an issue, they give you the answers you need, and the problem gets solved. With the same concept in mind, I challenge leaders to be thinking about this model and applying it to other experienced skill sets. So if you’re a business leader in charge of or influential in talent acquisition, then maybe you should start to look at your strategy from a different angle.

What I really want leaders to consider is hiring the talent your business needs in the same way that you would hire a lawyer or an accountant. There is a wealth of talent out there with twenty to thirty years of knowledge capital and experience they can share. If you’re a business owner or a leader in your organization then you are in a position to acquire talent for your business. I know you have to have the right fit, the right experience, and the right leadership, but let’s face it – the person who has the best talent usually wins. If you get the right people and everybody is pulling in the right direction, then you are going to win. If it’s your job to bring on the right talent, then I want to challenge you to be thinking about the way you acquire it within your organization. Sure it would be expensive to hire them on a full-time basis, but why not use them on a per-project basis? Why not connect these incredibly experienced and knowledgeable people purely to the right opportunities? It’s a win-win!

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As the Recovery Takes Hold, What Are We Seeing in the World of Business?

Today, I would like to discuss what we are seeing from the consultant’s standpoint with businesses around the world. What are we seeing now that the recovery, slow but steady, is starting to take hold?

There are basically three things happening overall with businesses today. By the way, this isn’t regional or industry-specific. Literally across the board, we are seeing a couple of key things play out that are not industry-specific, not region-specific, not just in the United States, but with our clients around the world.

First, we are seeing some very major projects emerge that were put on the back burner as far back as maybe 2006 or 2007. At the time, people felt the downturn coming. They became more cautious about investing and some major initiatives were put on hold; strategic projects that most businesses would normally be moving forward. Now we are starting to see those projects come to the forefront. Not only that, the projects that were put on the back burner five years ago, suddenly need to be done yesterday.

The second thing involves strategic thinking that has been put on the back burner. People really battened down the hatches during this challenging economic time and now they are ready to move forward. They want to start looking long-term at what’s going to happen down the road. Strategic thinking is back!

The third is the acquisition of talent and the retention of talent. When I was first introduced to American Entrepreneur Radio I was known as “A Gen-Y Guy”. My first interview was with Ron Morris, who was completely fascinated with this topic of Gen-Y and how they are reshaping so many things in business today. So he was really interested in Gen-Y and I had written a book on the subject. However, after I wrote the book we went into a worldwide recession, and the interest just kind of waned. People really weren’t all that concerned about how to attract and retain the next generation of talent.

Fast-forward five years. In the past 30 days, I have been to Austin, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Denver, and Los Angeles talking to legal contingencies, young president’s organizations, Vistage, and other major corporations about this phenomenon of Gen-Y. And at this point in time, there is a really deep understanding that we may have missed the boat a little bit. We didn’t think about this strategically enough at the time the economy had us not even considering adding new talent. Now we really have to make this move. In the book we talk about any time you’re doing anything, you have to have understanding, awareness, and alignment. Now there is a strong understanding that we really need to go after Gen-Y.

All things said the bottom line is understandingawareness, and alignment. Organizations should strive to gain a deeper awareness of what they need to accomplish and the most challenging part is creating the alignment. If you’re going to attract and retain the best talent out there, companies need to be seamlessly aligned from every angle. Everything should line up from how talent is recruited, to how people are interviewed, and so on, maintaining alignment every step of the way.

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What is Your Value Proposition?

If you can’t answer that in short order, then you need to give it some thought and figure it out. No matter who you are or what you do, in some way you need to add value to be successful.

As a consultant, you can quote past successes or project outcomes, but you really do need a brief statement that encapsulates what is truly unique about what you bring to the table. When a business owner asks the question, “What will you do for me?” they are asking you to define the value offer. They are trying to minimize risk and at that moment you represent a risk to them. Can you do something that will help them become more profitable? Will you create more revenue than expenses and on what timeline?

There are thousands of consultants that business leaders can turn to. Defining your unique value can help separate you from the pack.

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Avoid the Negative Stereotypes of Gen-Y

When I speak to groups I like to give them a little homework to help make them aware of what’s going on in the world of Generation Y. I will ask them to pay attention to the media and articles they see about millennials or Gen-Y and to determine how many of them are positive and how many of them are negative. Overwhelmingly, most articles are negative towards Gen-Y, or at least the headlines are.

Recently I read an article in the Arizona Republic about David Moskovitz and Justin Rosenstein, co-founders of Facebook. These guys are worth zillions of dollars and the headline said that they shunned luxury for the start-up life. This was a rare positive headline and a great article. These guys could easily retire to a Caribbean Island. They could buy a Caribbean Island! It was a very rare positive article about Gen-Yers and how these guys are setting a very positive example.

A while back there was another headline that read, “Gen-Y Woefully Ill-prepared For Retirement.” So obviously, my antenna went up. I read the article and they talked about Gen-Yers at the youngest part of Gen-Y, which are the 18 to 25 year-olds. I’m not sure about you, but I know I was “woefully ill-prepared” for retirement too when I was 18.

A major news story caught my attention about a woman in Florida whose child went missing and she was under suspicion. A national publication wrote an article stating that she represented “the self-centered generation.” Are you kidding me? An accused child-murderer represents Gen-Y? I just couldn’t get my mind around that. 

Now I’m going to challenge leaders to ignore the negative stereotypes the media attempts to put out there. It’s all about readership because they simply want to play to the prejudices so you will read the article. Leaders really need to fight through that. Understand that the people in your organization are also hearing all of these negative stereotypes. On that note, I’m going to leave you with a couple of great quotes:

 “When we think of work, we think of work as an act of service. We think of it as an act of love for humanity.”

Justin Rosenstein

 “If we were just retired, we wouldn’t be serving anyone.”

David Moskovitz

Now does that sound like the prejudices we hear all the time about Gen-Y? That they’re selfish, lazy and don’t have a sense of work ethic? Does it sound like that to you? It doesn’t to me. The hardened of us might say, “Well they have billions of dollars. They can do anything they want.” But I can tell you this; if I had a billion dollars I’d be working on becoming a single-digit handicap. I wouldn’t be thinking about how my work is a service to others and I don’t think there are many baby-boomers out there who wouldn’t feel the same way as me.

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There is a New Equation for Supply and Demand in the Job Market Today

Have you taken a hard look at technology lately? It has really changed dramatically! In Florida, I met with a client who is from Switzerland and he was tucking his children in bed at night through an iPhone. It is absolutely amazing what we can accomplish with technology these days. The way we do business has completely changed in the twenty-first century. For example:

  • It used to be that you traded time for money and now you trade results for money. We used to put in long, hard twelve-hour days and now what companies want is 20% of your brainpower. 
  • It used to be that companies would hire, train and develop in their culture. Now speed is critical and they want experienced talent right away. 
  • It used to be that in order to build a network you had to have lunch, breakfast or coffee with potentials. The best you could do in any day was to meet two or three new individuals. Today social media can connect you to literally thousands of opportunities in cyberspace in a split second. 
  • It used to be that major corporate entities had the power to reach tens of thousands of people in one fell swoop. Now that power is in the hands of the individual.
  • · It used to be that talent was industry-specific. That’s not the case anymore. Talent is transferable across a wide spectrum of industries. 

If you are a baby boomer on the supply side of knowledge and experience, then you need to take a hard look at how this whole transaction has changed. Deloitte recently released a study called The Talent Paradox based on critical skills, recession and the illusion of plenitude. As they interviewed executives and business owners around the country they found a significant gap in the critical skills area of the market place. Given the high unemployment rate, it would seem that there shouldn’t be a shortage in skills. The shortages they describe include functional areas of executive leadership, operations, IT, strategy and planning. You would think there should be enough talent to go around, but according to Deloitte there is a “talent paradox.”

I tend to disagree with this theory. I don’t see a skills gap at all. I think the skills are out there. Instead, I believe what we have is a talent acquisition gap. The supply side of those critical skills is not matching up with the demand side of corporate desires. So much like the evolution of technology, we are also experiencing an evolution of talent acquisition. Take a look at the skills they have focused on in this study: executive leadership, operations management, strategy, and planning. 

These are jobs that require a tremendous amount of experience. These valuable skills cannot be learned from a book – obviously, there are academics behind it, but you have to have the experience. My point is that it’s not as if the experience isn’t out there when there are millions of people who are unemployed. What has changed is that organizations are looking to acquire talent differently than the supply side of that equation is looking to market their services. Right now businesses are not looking to increase payroll expenses. Businesses want to remain flexible, which means they have a really difficult time hiring thirty years of experience on a full-time basis. Employers are looking at talent acquisition from a dramatically new angle and instead are bringing in that valuable experience on a per-project basis.

The other part of this equation is that not only has the recession made employers gun shy to add long term dollars to their payroll, the recession has also forced them to shrink their payroll budgets. Now they need to find ways to do more with less and limit the number of employees, which forces them to put many strategic initiatives on hold. 

This is why, I believe, Deloitte is finding a gap in executive leadership, operations management, strategy, and planning because those folks have not been on the corporate payrolls throughout the recession. If they were, their talents were funneled into other more time-sensitive initiatives. Where planning is a long-term opportunity to look into the future and around corners, these folks were given tasks that needed to be accomplished right away. The talent may have been there, but it was targeted towards other things. I think the recession has made employers gun shy to make long-term payroll commitments and has forced them to put strategic initiatives on hold. So there is this – it’s not a skills gap. The skills are there. It’s simply a mismatch when looking at the supply and demand equation.

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Heavy Metal Trivia Mobile Application

One of the first programming projects I ever completed was a Heavy Metal Trivia application for Android phones. This application displayed a list of multiple choice questions broken down by category. The application kept score based on how many questions were correct in a series of ten questions. After the series was completed, the user was given the choice to continue playing with a chance to increase their score. The application charted as a Top 50 Music application in the United States during May of 2012 and returned to the charts in Japan as a Top 500 Music application during January of 2014. Unfortunately, this application is no longer available due to changes in the Android operating system.

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Avoid the Blind Spot When Planning Your Next Career Move

Like some of you, in our house, we have a junk drawer stuffed with miscellaneous items just in case we might need them someday. For example, one time I found a great deal on 9-volt batteries and knowing they would come in handy at some point, I tossed them into this drawer. When that day arrived, I opened the junk drawer, dug around and they were nowhere to be found. After digging around a few more times, I finally called out to my wife, “Sue, what did you do with the batteries?” She responded, “I never touched them.” So I decided to do some more digging. Finally, as my frustration had reached its peak, Sue took over. She opened the drawer, pulled out the batteries, and handed them to me. They were there the whole time. Right in front of my eyes and I just couldn’t see them!

This is an illustration I often use when I talk to people about their blind spot or scotoma, as the Greeks called it. A scotoma is something we can’t see, in spite of all the evidence that is right in front of us.

Recently, I was the keynote speaker at a meeting in Phoenix. In attendance were about fifteen very well known companies. The discussion started off about what these companies look for from employees and what it takes to get hired in their organizations. There were people from every generation in this room and I was fascinated by how little has changed over the years when it comes to the job hunt. The basics like making sure you fit the job description, targeting your resume, professional dress, and being on time are all still very standard procedure. These basics have not changed much and all fifteen companies agreed on this.

The scotoma occurred to me later in our discussion. As we talked about hiring and employee qualifications, each company made it abundantly clear that they were extremely open bringing on consultants and contractors on an as-needed basis for projects, rather than hiring people full time. If they are a good fit, then maybe later they can give them a permanent position. This seems to be the latest trend in the job market and a blind spot or scotoma in the eyes of a lot of mid-career folks in transition. It’s time to look at opportunities from every possible angle, avoid the blind spot, and leverage the many years of knowledge and experience these seasoned professionals possess. Here are the signs I suggest paying attention to:

  • Companies are extremely open to hiring consultants and contractors with years of valuable experience to get projects done.
  • A recent job report showed over 80,000 new jobs have been created and around half were contractor jobs.
  • The largest demographic in that jobs report that did get full-time jobs were between the ages of 24 and 35, right in the sweet spot of Gen Y.

So when looking at the signs, and doing my best to avoid the blind spots, I can conclude that the Baby Boomers are quickly becoming the minority in the workforce. However, their strong skill sets and years of knowledge and experience cannot be replaced by the younger generation. That experience is invaluable. It’s simply time to find new ways to leverage that talent. I suggest finding five or six companies willing to hire on a per-project basis. Focus on a new equation:

knowledge capital + cost-effectiveness + leadership = demand 

If you have the experience, sell yourself as a consultant or a solo entrepreneur to five or six different places. To their benefit, you are very cost-effective. They are not paying your full salary, only a piece of it. Not to mention, the leadership skills you bring in combination with years of experience are extremely valuable. Businesses have a tremendous need for those types of skills, so there is a huge demand. It’s just that simple.

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How Do New Employment Trends Affect the Job Seeker?

Talent acquisition has been a very hot topic lately. A lot of my clients have been asking, “If unemployment’s so high, then where are all of the good people?” I have analyzed recent employment trends from the perspectives of both the solo entrepreneur and the business owner. Today I would like to flip this topic and discuss it from the perspective of the job seeker. What is their responsibility? Experienced individuals seeking employment need to embrace the fact that there’s a new normal in the employment world. Forget about trading job A for job B. Trade job A for project B, C, D and E. Don’t try to trade one for the other, because that model is dead. It is important to recognize what you’ve done, where you’ve spent your time, and on what projects. What have you accomplished? Stop focusing on what you have done in one particular industry. Job seekers simply need to figure out how to position their resumes differently.

From the employer’s perspective, one of the issues with Baby Boomers is the misconception that if you started your career in one industry you should stay in that particular industry. Forget about the industry! Think about what you’ve done, instead of where you’ve done it. Think about all you have accomplished and how that can be transferred into other industries.

I recommend that all job seekers read or reread the book Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson, MD. That cheese has moved. That cheese is gone. It’s never going to be in that same room again, so are you ‘Hem’ or are you ‘Haw?’ Are you going to figure out a way to go find it or are you just going to keep sniffing where the cheese no longer is and hope it magically reappears? That is why this book is so good because that cheese is not coming back. So if you’re a job seeker, with 20-30 years of experience trying to figure out what to do, realize there’s a new normal with new rules. Stop trying to trade job A for job B and stop believing that you are “sentenced” to the industry that you’ve always been in. That’s simply not true. Your talents are needed out there, so figure out a way to leverage them.

The final point I would like to make — and I’m obviously stealing this slogan from Nike — is ‘’Just do it!” Go read Who Moved My Cheese and stop sniffing in the same places for a job. Realize that you have a resume that is valuable (by the way, if you don’t think it is, then you are absolutely wrong). The market is strongly in need of your skill sets, so go out and find four or five projects. Here’s how:

  1. Take the income you want, multiply that income by 1.3. Once you get that number divide by 5.
  2. Go find five businesses that will pay you what you want for the projects they need done.
  3. You’ll be getting a 30% raise if you have five projects at any one time and you will be making more money than if you had simply traded job A for job B.

Where are all the good people? The good people are the job seekers that need to change their plan and employers need to understand that there is talent ready and available in the marketplace.

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New Trends in Business

Lately, I’ve been talking a lot about trend spotting and looking ahead at the employment market. Recent employment numbers are giving us some good insight into where these trends are headed. I would like to explain what these new trends and opportunities mean for businesses. What should they be considering as these new trends take hold? How should they be looking at attracting and retaining the best talent?

As I’ve mentioned before, many businesses have been putting off important projects they need to accomplish. In addition, they have not been willing to commit payroll dollars to bring in the necessary talent to take on those projects. I would contend that they would be willing to bring in temporary talent, committing expense dollars rather than payroll dollars, in order to get those projects done.

Another big business trend is beefing up human resource departments. HR departments are bringing on more people in order to bring on more people! If you think about it, before a business can start to hire, they have to hire the people who can do the hiring. Businesses are adding people who can recruit now in this turning economy. Another thing to keep in mind is that the biggest bump in hiring, as it relates to a demographic, is between 25 and 34 year-olds. If you’ve tuned in to the show before, you’ve heard the Gen Y conversation I often have, and the biggest bump in employment numbers are around that very specific demographic.

Here are three things I think every business should consider when looking to bring on the best talent:

  1. When you consider hiring an independent consultant, look at the opportunity to mentor some of these young people coming on board. I’m talking about the 25 to 34 year-olds who are joining the workforce at the highest number of any other demographic. Who is going to provide that experience and problem-solving? There is a new math that businesses are looking at and it is simply: How do we get as many hands and minds on the team as possible without increasing spending? For example, if a company has $180,000 to spend, do they go out and get a 30-year veteran who would take the entire $180,000? More often today, businesses are hiring from the Gen Y demographic and would instead hire two people for around $60,000 each. Then, the really smart businesses are also reaching out and bringing on one experienced person as a consultant and paying him about $30,000 or so. Do the math. Instead of $180,000, now they’ve only spent $150,000 and have hired three more people to get things done. They are saving money and getting the talent they need. This brings together both experience and young talent, so there is both succession candidates and growth.
  2. Look at the projects you need done now and the descriptions for the jobs you are hiring for. Make sure you have that in place. Not the way the job looked five years ago, but what does your business need now? Also, is your onboarding plan up to date? What you did during the last hiring frenzy is completely different from what you should do now. An analogy I often use is that if you were buying a new computer to replace the one you purchased 12 months ago, you would look for completely new and updated features. Your needs change that fast.

Absolutely critical for every business, is to make sure your current talent is secure. Make sure they are happy and don’t feel put upon or overworked. Be aware that when you bring new talent on board you don’t give all of your time, energy and attention solely to the new people, excluding the ones who have been with you from the start. Remember that if the market changes and new opportunities arise, your current workforce has the option to go after those opportunities. There was a 60-Minutes episode recently that talked about the new demographic of people looking for jobs. It pointed out that many advertised job openings are requesting only currently employed people apply. They really don’t want people that have been unemployed. My point to the matter is that if you are a business understand that there are people out there actively advertising for your currently employed talent. Make sure that the people you have onboard are happy, productive and engaged!

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Bringing In New Talent: Employment Trends

When it comes to employment, the past couple of years we’ve gotten used to hearing nothing but negative reports and news from the markets. However, in the last 90 to 180 days a lot of positive news has emerged and the most recent jobs report really stands out. What does this new trend mean and what is the market saying to all the entrepreneurs out there?

I like to use the term solopreneurs, which describes people who want to branch out on their own and start a consulting business. What is the market saying about that? One of the reasons you’re not seeing the employment number shift to the degree that it normally would is that many had given up the idea of getting re-employed back in the marketplace, but are now entering the job market again in a different way. The unemployment numbers are staying the same, even though in the past several months there were 200,000 plus jobs added. What are some of the things solopreneurs should be reading into these trends?

Specifically, I would like for solopreneurs to consider that the strongest gain in the employment sector came from professional and business services. There were over 80,000 new jobs created in that sector alone and temporary workers filled over half, which is really unusual. Normally when businesses are in need of a certain skill set they would hire someone full time. So if you’re a seasoned and talented professional thinking about consulting, then it’s important to understand that businesses want your talent. They want to put your experience to work, but they don’t necessarily want to commit payroll dollars to do it. These days, businesses are more willing to commit expense dollars and bring in temporary talent, than to commit payroll dollars with an on-going effect. Recent trends show that businesses have brought on over 80,000 workers and nearly half were not with payroll dollars. Companies are thinking carefully about the money they are willing to spend.

I contend that businesses for many years have been sidelining some very critical strategic initiatives they really need to get accomplished. For those businesses to fully come out of the current downturn, they are going to need to bring experienced talent on board. If you look at the jump in employment numbers you’re going to see it really highlights the point we’ve been making for professionals considering leveraging their resume as a solopreneur. It highlights that the market is really hungry for talent. Businesses are adding professionals, half of which are temporary. If you think about it, the temporary agencies are getting paid for placing these highly experienced people! If you are ready to take the solopreneurial leap, then the opportunities are out there and available to you. 

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Change Management: It’s the Little Things That Make the Biggest Difference

Regardless of the scope, size, or importance of a change, the most critical factor is people. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people, including your employees or your client’s employees, don’t like change. At best they are wary of it, and at worst, hinder your efforts to bring back the good old days. I’ve seen companies spend millions of dollars on ERP and CRM systems only to see them go to waste because their employees find a way to just keep doing things the way they always have.

These are wonderful systems that have cost a lot of money and countless hours have been spent implementing them, but the company forgot about the people who actually have to use them. By focusing on the “big” deliverables – choosing the right software, cost savings, productivity increases – we are ignoring the one factor that will make or break a change initiative – people. There are employees who are ambivalent, some that are passive-aggressive in undermining the company’s change management efforts and in some cases, openly sabotage the process in an attempt to get things back to the way they were.

Getting buy-in for a change is important, but you never know how much someone has truly bought in. A kick-off meeting or meeting introducing some new tool or process is a necessary first step, but if it is the only step, it is headed for disaster. It is critical that you assign clear accountability and responsibility for the success of a new initiative to those who are most responsible for its success – not Senior Management, but the people who will be working with the affected areas and processes every day. Assign goals and metrics. Measure those metrics, keep them top of mind, and reward them for a successful implementation.

Accountability and rewards for the people doing the work, not meetings, are the key to successful change management.

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Of Solopreneurs and Supertemps

These days you have probably heard the term “micro trend.” Basically, a micro trend is when up to 1% of the population moves in a certain direction, by purchasing a certain product, using certain tool, etc. Once a micro trend is underway and 1% of the population begins to move towards that trend, there is a momentous shift. The power and influence of that micro trend can actually change culture. 

There is a micro trend going on right now. I’ve talked about it in a couple of different ways, but in the last month I have gotten a tremendous amount of input from some very sophisticated sources, like Deloitte and Touche and the Harvard Business Review. The trend today is how small and medium-sized businesses are acquiring the talent they need to get things done. I would like business owners and decision makers to really pay attention to this. Those of us who adopt this quickly will have a strategic advantage over our competition. Being innovative is not being the first to have an idea. It’s being the first to have an idea that gets completely implemented. So how are businesses bringing people on board? Business owners should ask themselves a few questions:

  • What could my business accomplish if I had the best talent?
  • How could I outpace my competition? 
  • What could I accomplish if I could afford the best talent available?

Think about how you could get “ahead of the game” and how you could outpace your competition if you had the best talent available. Once you’ve answered that, the only thing left is to find the talent to implement your objective. The good news is that the talent is out there and you may find it to be a bargain! 

I’ve been talking a great deal lately about solopreneurship. A solopreneur is someone who takes their years of experience and knowledge capital and finds ways to leverage it into several businesses, rather than just one. The May issue of the Harvard Business Review called this micro trend “the next big idea.” What HBR is calling the “supertemp” is synonymous with the term solopreneur. HBR explain that businesses are becoming extraordinarily comfortable with just-in-time talent. The old model was to hire people permanently to drive initiatives, however, the new model is to define the initiatives, create a project and bring in a supertemp (or solopreneur) to get it done. 

The challenge for business owners is this. First, you need to shift your thinking on your talent acquisition strategy. We run so many decisions through an old filter of the way things used to be, but things just aren’t that way anymore. Next, understand that consultants who drive these strategic initiatives are no longer exclusively a domain of the Fortune 500. This type of brainpower is available for small to medium sized businesses. No longer do you need to hire some big consulting firm to tackle these huge projects. What was probably true 15 years ago is no longer the case anymore. Another important thing business owners and decision makers need to understand is that they can bring in talent to attack their initiatives and outpace their competition. There is no doubt about that. 

There was a time when you needed to be in a company, major consulting firm or in a corporate situation. But somewhere along the way, many talented people began to realize they were spending too much time in useless meetings and political infighting. This atmosphere didn’t allow them to do what they were passionate about doing, so they stepped out on their own. 

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about outsourcing talent from an IT standpoint. We all know that trend has been going on for a long time. I’m talking about professional management, executive leadership, outsourcing CPAs, and supervisory skills. As a business owner, you don’t need to look to major consulting firms to get this kind of extraordinary talent. This talent is available and even the Harvard Business Review is talking about it. It is no longer just available for the Fortune 500s. Today, hiring solopreneurs is the best strategy for business owners that have specific projects in need of just-in-time knowledge and experience. The businesses that adopt this talent acquisition strategy are going to outpace their competitors significantly! 

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How Can You Use Emotional Intelligence To Build The Best Team You Can?

A while back I spoke with a friend of mine. He uses a lot of great quotes and one that really sticks with me is, “Teachability is man’s capacity for growth.” It’s about always being open to learning something new. As true as this is, at times it can be difficult to do. Even avid learners can get stuck sometimes. Even if you are committed to constant improvement, by constantly reading and trying to stay ahead, you can still get stuck. Everything cannot be learned from a book. Some things you have to experience. As consultants, one of the biggest challenges we see is leaders getting stuck when it comes to people skills and communication. 

Even best-selling authors will tell you that the bottom line for leaders is getting the message out and communicating it effectively. It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it. Your audience needs to hear it, understand it and act upon it. A leader’s job is to create the: vision, alignment, and execution. The way you align people to get things done is by communicating your vision. Let everyone clearly know what has to happen to make it happen.

This is one of the biggest issues for new supervisors who are in a management role for the first time. The reality is most people get to a supervisory or management position based on their technical skills. The best welder becomes the welding manager, the top finance guy becomes the finance manager, or your best salesperson becomes the sales manager. They are promoted because of their skills and knowledge base; not for their leadership and communication skills. Often times, these highly skilled technical people may “lack the people skills.” It’s not that they can’t develop these skills, but up to this point they haven’t had to develop these skills.

The reality of leadership is that technical skills are the price of admission. Having the skills to go from A to B gets you in the door. What sets you apart as a great leader is developing your people skills. Learning to take a vision and communicate it effectively, so that people understand it and will act upon it. I’m always fascinated when I talk to business owners, business leaders, and new supervisors. They will suggest that hard skills are the technical knowledge of getting it done and soft skills are just the “huggy-huggy” stuff. The reality is that soft skills are very hard to implement. They are not soft skills at all! People need to understand that communication skills, people skills and understanding how to get your message across is the hard side of business. They are very difficult to do and lacking those skills will derail great companies, individuals and entrepreneurs. It’s just one of those issues that can take everything you are trying to accomplish and knock it off the tracks.

The other day I spoke to Dr. Rick Brandenburg. He has been doing some world-class work in crop development in some of the poorest countries in the world. I found it very interesting when he said, “I really wish I had paid more attention in sociology class and anthropology, so I understood how to communicate my message and how people tick so that I could be even better at doing what I’m doing.”

Leaders need to take a good look at their communication skills, as well as their manager’s communication skills and find ways to help develop them. They probably didn’t get to that position because they lacked a technical skill, but they need the communication ability to sell the vision. It is important for leaders to take their knowledge and communicate it in a way that can be heard and understood by their followers. The bottom line is that it is completely irrelevant what leaders say. What is absolutely crucial is what is heard and understood.

There’s a great book called “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” by Marshall Goldsmith. It explains that the skills that brought you to this point in your career may not be the ones that get you to the next level. Leadership is a continuous improvement process and is not something that is going to come naturally all of the time. This requires constant focus for leaders everywhere. And, if you are a business owner, focus on getting your supervisors the help they need to get better, as well.

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Taking the Leap Into Solopreneurship

This topic evolved from a question I received about the risks and uncertainties involved in becoming an entrepreneur after a 30-year career and are there any economic trends to consider ahead of time. I would like to expand on this discussion and go deeper into the specifics of taking this leap.

Let’s look at the word solopreneur. We all know what it means to be an entrepreneur. The word solopreneur has a little different take on this meaning. A solopreneur is someone who takes their years of valuable experience (I like to think of it as years in R&D) and stops searching for traditional employment. They take those years of R&D, step out and make something happen. Let’s add this new word to our vocabulary. I think that from a business perspective, related to solopreneurship or entrepreneurship, it’s also time to think of what new meanings there are to words like “safe”, “secure”, and “risky.” What is a safe job? What is a secure job? What is risky? Is corporate America really safe? Is it really that secure? Is making a minimal investment in your future that risky?

Five, ten or fifteen years ago, an investment in an entrepreneurial or solopreneurialstart-up meant tens of thousands of dollars. Now the investment is really very minimal, if anything, at this point in time. To answer this question about solopreneurship, here are five trends that we see for folks that may be considering this as a business strategy:

  1. Expense dollars vs. fixed costs: Business leaders and business decision-makers are becoming very open to using expense dollars to get things done vs. fixed costs. Meaning, there is a huge trend of bringing in “just-in-time” talent to get a project done vs. leveraging payroll expenses or adding to payroll.
  2. Leverage talent for big projects: Businesses are willing to bring in just-in-time talent for significant projects and not just the little throw-away projects. During the recession, people needed to do more with less so many very important projects were put on the back burner. Business owners are now starting to say, “Hey, it’s time to pull these out and get them done.” If they bring in someone with 30-years of experience to get the project done, the ramp-up time is less. There may be little to no training costs and no residual expense because once the project is complete that talent goes away. There is a side benefit to businesses, as well. While they bring in a 30-year experienced person to handle a project, they are also getting knowledge capital to help train their new workforce.
  3. Start-up investment is minimal to none: The barrier to entry for becoming this kind of solopreneur is nearly zero. Solutions 21 has been in business for nearly 20 years. In the beginning, we needed an office, computers, a fax machine, software support, etc. It was literally thousands of dollars just to get started. That simply isn’t the case anymore. The investment is minimal if not non-existent and you may already have it in your pocket. These days a smartphone, getting cloud applications or bringing on virtual support may be all you need to get you there.
  4. The virtual workforce is now a reality: What I want to drive home is that 10 or 15 years ago “working virtually” or “working out of your home office” really meant that you were unemployed, and not a consultant on your own. However, that’s just not the case anymore.
  5. Develop a network: For entrepreneurs or solopreneurs that are thinking about doing this, it used to be there was nowhere for you to connect with others. In this world of social media, you have the ability to reach out to like-minded individuals and now you can develop a network. Join networks that allow you to talk and chat and bounce ideas off of other like-minded people.

I think it’s time for us to look at words, the meaning of those words, and the emotion those words bring out. Think about becoming an entrepreneur or a solopreneur. Is it really as risky as you might think? And on the other hand, is corporate America really as safe and secure as it once was?

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The Definition of a “Solopreneur”

Lately, we have spent a lot of time discussing the concept of “solopreneurship,” which originated from the term “solopreneur.” This newly evolved buzzword was born from the many discussions we’ve had on our show talking about the nuts and bolts of running your own business.  This subject has stimulated a tremendous amount of interesting conversations! The idea of solopreneurship has taken hold and created a lot of motivational interest for some and others are a little hesitant to take that leap.

Currently, I am in the process of writing another book. While doing the research for this project it occurred to me, as I have mentioned before, that English is a living language and words tend to take on different meanings as time goes by.  One of the concepts I have challenged, based on the idea of entrepreneur or solopreneur, is that “preneur” could be considered a kind of phraseology that equates to risk-taker. Going back to the turn of the century, entrepreneurs have been people with big bold ideas.  These were the huge risk-takers willing to work 24 hours a day to get things done.  When you talk about entrepreneur or solopreneur I think there is an assumption that they are risk-takers putting everything they have on the line. This may be true in some instances, but it’s certainly not true in all cases in today’s modern world.  

The solopreneurs we are talking about are people who are their own businesses. In the past, running your own business required an awful lot of support. It required a tremendous amount of investment just to get that started and that’s no longer true today.  You can get virtual help, virtual bookkeeping, and virtual administrative support just about anywhere. Just having a smartphone can be enough of an investment in many cases to get your business up and running.

Another point I would like to make is that there is a huge trend of vanishing knowledge capital in today’s market place.  The first baby boomer officially turned sixty-five on January 1, 2011. For the next 18 years, they will be marching toward retirement and taking this tremendous amount of knowledge capital along with them. In my next post, I would like to dive a little deeper into the concept of “solopreneurship” and discuss how you can turn years of valuable experience and knowledge capital into a thriving and successful business moving forward. 

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The Importance of Developing Emotional Intelligence

Entrepreneurs get something started, they keep trying to move it forward, they realize that it’s not working so they retrench and start again.  However, it’s that feedback mechanism of continually building on that, and as a leader you know it’s really important to get your mind around those three key areas of vision, alignment, and execution. There hasn’t really been any leader that I’ve worked with, from fortune 500 to start-up, which has not worked very, very hard on their EQ.  Frankly, there aren’t many really great leaders out there, in my humble opinion, that haven’t developed really great EQ or at least the understanding that they need to be working on that.

Most leaders have some kind of technical skill in a certain area but they really work hard on that emotional intelligence side of life.  Here are 6 key points I think leaders should consider:

  1. Get input on how you can be better.  You know as a leader the bottom line is that it all starts with you. Go to your board, go to your peers, and talk to your managers and get assessed. It is important to understand where you can improve.
  2. Look at your managers and how you can get some help. How can you coach them? How can you make them better? How can your managers get better? Frankly, how can you get better? If you don’t think it’s broke how can you fix it?  Find out some different areas that you can work at. Get a set of outside eyes.
  3. Look at leadership as a continuous improvement program. You never arrive.  I constantly quote John Wooden saying, “It’s what you learn after you know everything that counts.” You never arrive.
  4. Realize that no one can be great at everything.  Naturally, you may be a little better at the vision side of it, or maybe you are better at creating that alignment or that execution. You may be better at one, but realize that you have to improve in other areas and develop your team to help fill in those gaps.  One of the keys is to be open about your weaknesses and developmental needs.  Admitting it is not a weakness, admitting it is a strength, because everybody knows that you have those weaknesses anyway. Admit them upfront and get your team to fill in those gaps.
  5. Communicate, communicate, and communicate your message again and again.
  6. Traditional performance management is dead. If you are looking at vision, creating alignment and execution, then how are you constantly communicating with folks and creating this alignment and execution? Get rid of those annual reviews, which really aren’t every twelve months, they are every fifteen to twenty months, so get rid of them. In your organization, create a mechanism that provides what folks want and that is real-time feedback. It creates alignment, it inspires your team and allows you to give and get feedback so that you can drive your vision home, it provides the structure that you need.
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Is Leadership Just About Leading People?

Recently, I got into a discussion on this subject with a leader and his team from one of the organizations we work with. They were talking about leadership, what does it mean and what does it particularly mean to their organization. Then the conversation eventually evolved into, “Is leadership just about leading people?”

Leadership is more than just about leading people.  Not to downplay the importance of leading people because it is hard work, whether you’re leading 2 or 2,000 or 20,000 folks, to get them all on the same page. What I mean is, it is a leader’s job to also lead markets, to create a culture that leads innovation and to be the leader of trends.  From Pittsburgh, Tom Grealish is one of the better leaders I know. He always talks about looking around the corner, trying to see trends and anticipating the market. You can research this all you want, but what leadership really comes down to is three key areas:

  • Vision
  • Alignment
  • Execution

It’s really a leader’s job to deeply understand what is about to happen. Reading the tea leaves and then aligning the organization to attack that market.  The reality is that a leader should have their team overcoming what is happening now and proactively addressing what is going to happen. If you’ve been in business for twenty years this is going to sound very familiar. If you’re a new entrepreneur, look this up historically and it will make great sense. Think back to the early 1990s. What was your company’s web strategy? You might chuckle now and say that back then you would have asked, “What web strategy?  What is the Internet?” That is if you even had a website back then. My guess is that if you did have a website, it was static, more or less an electronic brochure.

Here’s a really interesting thought. In 1994 there were 10,000 websites.  Think about that, 10,000 websites. What happened in 1994 when a leader assembled his team and started to try and look around that corner and attack this thing called the Internet?  He brings his team together and everyone on his team has about the same amount of experience as he does. In other words, no one had any experience at that point in time with the Internet! Now this “brain trust” is together and they are asking each other,  “How do we look around the corner? How do we pro-act to what’s about to happen?”  You can imagine what was talked about, “This thing (the Internet) will never last. This is a waste of time. This is a waste of money…” Then finally someone has the courage to put his or her hand up and say, “Oh hey, by the way, Boss, what is the Internet?”

If you go back less than 20 years ago, this major sea of change happened and we really looked at it as a replacement for what we already knew.  It was an electronic brochure. How about those folks that refused to look at it that way? What about the ones who saw something completely different and really did look around the corner?  (I am not talking about the dot-com bubble folks that weren’t following business fundamentals. You know no business is worth a billion dollars that doesn’t have any revenue.)  I’m talking about those folks that built a business on fundamentals. Those who took and applied foundational business practices to look around the corner. How did they do?

When it comes to looking around the corner, a key fundamental for leaders to focus on is acquiring strong talent for their organizations. 

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The Power of Positive Thinking

The other day while working with a long-term client of mine, DCK Worldwide Global Construction Firm, and I got to thinking. Some of the things they do are almost mind-boggling!  For example, they are building hospitals in Guantanamo Bay and fighter jet hangers in Yuma, Arizona for the US military.  You name it and DCK has built it and literally all around the world. This got me to thinking about how most business leaders and entrepreneurs rarely take a moment to sit back and reflect on all the incredible things that they do. 

When it comes to running a business, entrepreneurs are often caught up in just making it happen. Making sure payroll is met, customers are content, employees are engaged and things are being done correctly.  Rarely do they sit back and say, “Wow, we’re getting some cool things accomplished here!” At Leahey Media, working with leaders we realize that oftentimes the failure to take the time to recognize the good things really can have a negative effect. It doesn’t necessarily project the positive excitement and enthusiasm that most leaders want to display.  Let’s be honest, sometimes we are all just too busy to stop and reflect. We think it’s important for leaders to focus on these three Rs:Retreat. If you look up the word “retreat” in the dictionary it says: to make your plans, not in the heat of battle but to pull back or withdraw. Realistically, it’s very difficult to think strategically when you are in the midst of a battle. Leaders need to take themselves, their teams and retreat.  Don’t stay in the heat of battle all the time, but pull back and think about what your next moves should be. It is important to be sure you are making decisions without the constant pressure of the day-to-day struggle.

  1. Recharge. This is very difficult for a lot of businesspeople and especially entrepreneurs. Frankly, this is one of my biggest developmental areas. Retreat, pull back, make your plan away from the heat of battle, and then recharge. Did you know that this “R” is Biblical?  Take a day of rest, without putting a whole lot on your plate. You only have so much energy and there is only so much that you can get done. As leaders, allowing yourself to run out of gas is not fair to those whose respect you command and who follow you.
  2. Reflect. Take a moment and give yourself a little bit of credit. Ask yourself, “What are we doing really well?” and think about this from a positive standpoint.  At Case Western Reserve University they focus on what is called appreciative inquiry. This involves taking what you want to get done and focusing on the positive aspects. It is incredible how much more innovative groups become by using this approach.
  3. Reflect. Take a moment and give yourself a little bit of credit. Ask yourself, “What are we doing really well?” and think about this from a positive standpoint.  At Case Western Reserve University they focus on what is called appreciative inquiry. This involves taking what you want to get done and focusing on the positive aspects. It is incredible how much more innovative groups become by using this approach. 

When you’re an entrepreneur, you are the wheel that drives the machine. You need to get things done! If the CEO of a 200,000-employee firm gets the flu and doesn’t show up for a week, you know that 199,999 other folks will get things done. If an entrepreneur has the flu and doesn’t show up for a week, things could get worse. This is why we try to get the leaders we work with to remember those three Rs. It is important to take the time to retreat, recharge, reflect and get your mind around what’s good and positive. As a leader, that will carry over as you are interfacing with your team.

Here is a little homework. This weekend, pour yourself a hot cup of coffee. By the time you have finished that cup, I want you to have reflected on what you’ve accomplished in the past twelve months. Think about it very positively and stop pushing yourself on what is yet to do.  That will take care of itself and you will get those things done. Take some time to retreat, reflect, and recharge. As a result, I guarantee the people who follow you into battle will feel a renewed energy and be motivated to tackle the next obstacle moving forward.

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Three Springs Fire Company Computer Lab Build

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Is Becoming an Entrepreneur Really That Risky?

When talking about leadership, one point I try to stress is that it’s a leader’s job not only to lead people and projects but also to look around corners and spot trends. Leaders need to tackle what’s happening now, anticipate what will happen in the future and make sure those resources are aligned. As a result of this discussion, I have received tremendous feedback, including several questions about leadership, entrepreneurship, trend spotting, and how to look around corners. 

One interesting question was about trend spotting, as it relates to someone thinking about becoming an entrepreneur for the first time–“After a thirty-year career in business, I’m thinking about taking the entrepreneurial leap. I’m very concerned about the risk at this stage in my career and the uncertainty. Are there any economic trends I should be aware of before I take the leap?”—For the record, I don’t know this individual, their background or what business they want to take the leap to, so I can’t get very specific on an answer.  However, that question got me thinking about the uncertainty and risks involved in becoming an entrepreneur and what are some of the trends one should consider before taking the leap.

I want to challenge this thought right out of the gate. In this economy, is becoming an entrepreneur really that risky?  Think about it.  One of the things that prompted me to respond to this individual’s question is that English is a living language and words tend to take on different meanings.  Words that meant one thing 10, 20 or 100 years ago can mean something completely different today.  New words have emerged like “blog”, “tweet” and “app.” There was a time when “tweet” to me was Tweety Bird!  Ten years ago those words didn’t even exist.

The words and communications of the living English language are meant to paint a picture and derive an emotion for certain things.  What I want you to grasp is that 10 years ago entrepreneurship may have meant “risk-taker” or “someone willing to take the leap.”  However, I would challenge that the word had a meaning then that may no longer be true. Is being an entrepreneur today really that risky? I might argue otherwise.  In some cases, leveraging your thirty years of experience as an entrepreneur could be the least risky thing you can do!

According to an interview in USA Today, 23 out of 27 prominent economists believe the unemployment rate will return to 5% by the end of 2015.  However, most of them think it will be at 6% at least until the year 2020.  That is a long time if you are searching for a new position or are currently unemployed and looking for a job. Pick an age, whether you are 50, 52, or 55. Eight years from now is a long time to be sitting on the sidelines. So, is being an entrepreneur really that risky?

Next time, I would like to dive deeper into this topic and discuss what it means to draw upon your years of valuable experience, take the entrepreneurial leap and make something happen.