Posted by: kevinliebl | October 3, 2010

All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten

Robert FulghumOne of my favorite business books was published in 1988.  It was a very simple book entitled, “All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten”.  The premise of the book is that the simple lessons we learned in Kindergarten can carry us through the balance of our life.  We would all be more successful and the world would be a better place if we applied a few simple rules.  Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work some every day.

As I have advanced in my career, I have realized how true Robert Fulghum’s words are.  The business executives who I have the most respect for, play by these simple rules.  These executives attract the best talent.  They have the strongest business partners.  And, they have had the most consistently successful careers.

I find it interesting how often I am in business meetings and we are analyzing a very complex business issue.  It may have to do with a channel partner relationship, an acquisition target, a business management process or a marketing campaign strategy.  However, after lengthy dialog, it often comes down to a simple discussion about “doing the right thing”.  The ultimate question is typically very easy to answer.

Ironically, many executives have spent so much of their career focusing on forecast models, margin analysis, manufacturing metrics and development cycles, that they have lost the ability to make simple business decisions based on common sense.

To be a successful business executive, there is always a baseline of business knowledge that is necessary.  You need an understanding of finance, manufacturing, sales, marketing, product development, as well as industry domain expertise.  Yet, the truly great executives are able to see beyond manufacturing variances, product margin, time-to-market advantage and fundamental ROI and distill the business decisions down to very a simple analysis.  They remember that customers will purchase from you if you treat them fairly.  They understand that employees will be loyal if you treat them with respect.  When appropriate, they accept the blame and apologize for their mistakes.  They understand that you can’t manage a business from a balance sheet alone.

Recently, my eight-year-old daughter asked me how my day went.  I told her that I was in a business strategy meeting most of the day.  I couldn’t describe much of the meeting to her because she wouldn’t have understood it, so I just gave her a very high-level description of the problem.  Out of curiosity, I asked her what she would have decided, and without hesitation, she gave the right answer.  I smiled and told her she was right.  It took my eight-year-old daughter about three minutes to get to the same answer that it took eight extremely well paid executives five hours to get to.  Sometimes the answer is easier than you think.  I’ve gained a new respect for “bring your daughter to work” day.

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Posted by: kevinliebl | September 12, 2010

Hardware vs. Software Marketing Strategies – Can They Co-Exist?

The Odd Couple

Hardware vs. Software Marketing - High Tech's "Odd Couple"

I have spent my entire career marketing hardware, software and services for high-tech companies.  The debate over hardware vs. software vs. services (“services” often being an afterthought) has been a fascinating discussion for me.  Many companies don’t face this problem because they are either a hardware company or a software company by design.  However, others find themselves wrestling with this challenge because they either acquire technology that thrusts them into “the dark side” or they add new technology through organic growth that creates the conflict.

I have seen many companies fail to make the transition because they underestimate the true impact of trying to transition from a hardware company to a software company or vice versa.  In my opinion, this is a left-brain/right-brain issue.  Hardware companies are typically very analytical.  Their development cycles take longer – often measured in years, but their sales cycles are shorter – often measured in days.  They are focused on speeds-and-feeds, and their competitive analysis is based on specifications from data sheets (often referred to as “specmanship”).

Software companies, on the other hand are highly creative.  Their development cycles are shorter.  Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) architectures have exaggerated this issue by allowing companies to release software in real-time.  It is very common for software companies to have a weekly (or even daily) release cycle, but their sales cycle could take months.  Software companies rarely focus on specmanship, but rather on the “solution” and “user experience” of the product.

Much of this issue is due to where the products fit into the solution food chain.  Most users don’t think about the hardware that much.  As I type this blog, I am less aware of the I/O ports and processor speed of my notebook, but I am keenly aware of the software features I am using to create my document.  The hardware products are simply a layer removed from the user experience.

It is very common for high-tech companies to grow through acquisition.  In an effort to out-flank the competition or to gain market share, a company will acquire new technology to fill the gap.  Relatively speaking, the acquisition is the easy part.  Integration of the new company into the larger organization is the difficult part.  This can be particularly tricky if a hardware company is acquiring a software company or vice-versa.  Management teams often underestimate the challenge of bringing the teams together.  Hardware and software businesses are completely different and employees at all levels think, execute and manage differently.  Engineers, marketing managers, sales executives, support staff and even finance managers work completely differently.  Asking a hardware sales person to sell software is like asking a Spanish teacher to give a lecture on Italian.  They know the process, but not the domain expertise.

I am not saying that the process is impossible.  There are many examples where companies have been able to market and sell hardware, software and even professional services.  However, in each case they were very strategic and diligent in there execution.  In every case that I am aware of they have had laser-focused strategies to create focused hardware and software groups.  They developed “solutions-marketing” strategies to bring the elements together into an end-user experience that exceeded their competition’s value proposition.

Each time I enter into a hardware vs. software discussion, I am reminded of a boss who put it into perspective for me.  He said, “The difference between hardware and software is that eventually all hardware will fail, and eventually all software will work.”  This statement is humorous because it is so accurate.  It reminds us of how inherently different the two worlds are.  They approach the market from opposite ends of the spectrum.  If you are trying to manage, market or sell products that are at their core uniquely different, then recognize the challenge and don’t fight a losing battle.  Position them differently.  Apply the right talent and leave your competition behind.

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Posted by: kevinliebl | September 4, 2010

The Only Thing that is Constant is Change

the only thing that is constant is changeMy wife and I dropped our children off for the first day of school this past week.  They were clearly upset that summer was over and that they had to go back to school.  I took the opportunity to attempt to teach them a life-lesson and reminded them that “change” is part of life.  It happens whether you want it to or not.  Summer is over.  Fall is coming fast.  School is beginning.  Dad is starting a new job.  Change is all around us.  I used one of my favorite dad quotes, “The only thing that is constant is change”.  Change is good.  It is nature’s way of cleaning out the old, and bringing in the new.  I was fairly eloquent, but when I looked back in the minivan, I realized that they were all listening to their iPods and missed the entire speech.  Oh well, it is tough being a parent.

Throughout my career, I have had good jobs, bad jobs, mediocre jobs and times when I was in transition.  In each case, I had to remind myself (and others around me) that none of these phases last forever.  The good times will leave, and so will the bad times.

In this economy, at least one out of every ten people are out of work.  Starbucks is doing great because everyone who is in transition is “networking” at your local coffee shop.  Dry Cleaners are doing poorly because less people are dropping off their shirts to be laundered.  Let’s look forward to the day that Starbucks is struggling and the dry cleaners are profitable again.

Bud Light Real Men of GeniusOne of the commercials that always makes me smile is Bud Light’s “Real Men of Genius”.  As a marketing guy, I think the campaign is brilliant and it’s timing couldn’t be better.  It salutes the “unsung heroes in the job force”, such as the Boneless Buffalo Wing Inventor or the Wedding Band Guitar Player.  While most of us don’t want those jobs, the truth is that we are all learning to find our unique value that we can add to the workforce.  We are learning the importance of differentiating ourselves and finding our unique positioning.  The world needs CEOs, but it also needs mid-level managers, entry-level employees, inventors, administrators and “giant foam finger makers”.  The key is to align your skills sets with the requirements of the market.  We will all need to reinvent ourselves several times in our careers.

Most people don’t realize the irony in the Bud Light commercials.  They are a parody of themselves.  The terrible lounge singer who repeats the announcer’s comments over poorly arranged piano music is the former lead singer from the 1980’s rock band Survivor.  Here is a guy who had a Grammy Award winning, Platinum, #1 Billboard hit with the Rocky song “Eye of the Tiger”.  They were once at the top of their game.  Today, he was smart enough (and humble enough) to take the job of an off-key, lounge singer in a radio commercial and is making a very good living doing it.  So, here’s to you, “Mr. Washed up 80’s Lead Singer, Singing Lounge Music for Beer Commercials”!  Nice job reinventing yourself and doing what you love for a living.

Change is inevitable.  Change is good.  You just need to be open minded to new opportunities that present themselves.  To use another dad quote – “Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift.  Enjoy every minute of it.”

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Slices of PieAs I grabbed my coffee and was running out of the door this past Tuesday morning, my 9-year old daughter asked me if I had any duct tape.  I told her “Sure, it’s in the garage.  Ask mom to help you get it from my work-bench”.  I got in the car and drove off.  All day, I was wondering what she needed duct-tape for.  When I got home, I found out.

Not only had they used my roll of silver duct tape, they purchased several additional rolls of various colors.  They had used the duct tape to complete a number of crafts, including two wallets, several bookmarks, and a full-sized purse.  I quickly found out that you could make anything from a shower curtain to a mini-skirt with duct tape.

It reminded me of the famous marketing quote, “We don’t need a bigger piece of the pie, we just need to make more pies.”  I am always impressed with marketing teams who saturate their target market segment, but then find new markets to conquer.  Most of us don’t have this problem.  We have plenty of room to grow in our own specific target market.  However, what if you honestly have saturated your market?  Originally developed during World War II as a water resistant sealing tape for ammunition cases, duct tape has pretty much matured over the past 70 years.  How much more can you honestly sell?

Well, if you are creative, you invent a whole new market.  You build a new segment (or pie) around duct tape crafts.  Duct tape is a perfect building material for crafts.  It is simple to use, safe for children, cost-effective, and well distributed.  Duct tape is unique in that it enjoys a cult following of people who make a hobby of finding new unique uses for duct tape.  In 1994, The Duct Tape Guys (Jim Berg and Tim Nyberg) coined the phrase, “It Ain’t Broke, It Just Lacks Duct Tape”.  In 1995, they added to that phrase with, “Two rules get you through life: If it’s stuck and it’s not supposed to be, WD-40 it. If it’s not stuck and it’s supposed to be, duct tape it”.

Another great example is baking soda.  Some years ago, baking soda sales were slipping and the marketing teams launched a campaign explaining that people should put baking soda in their trashcans to keep them from smelling badly.  In other words, “buy our product and then throw it away – then go buy some more”.  Sales jumped due to this innovative marketing campaign.  Again, brilliant marketing because they didn’t focus on cooking recipes that used baking soda, and fight for a greater share of the existing market.  They entered a new market – garbage container deodorizers.  Today, baking soda is used for everything from toothpaste to a way to repel rain on your windshield.

It is important to realize that sometimes you have maximized the opportunity in your existing market segment and you are reaching a point of diminishing returns.  The harder you work, the less return you are receiving.  This is when you should look at other markets that can be complimentary to your existing market.  Find new markets to conquer.  There are additional, untapped revenue sources available to you.  Trust me, I have purchased more duct tape this past week than I have in the past five years.

What new markets have you been able to create for your business?

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Posted by: kevinliebl | August 15, 2010

One Employee Can Make the Difference

Customer SatisfactionMy 12-year-old son returned from a week of summer camp today.  On the way home he stopped telling stories just long enough to ask, “Can we get pizza?”  Apparently, depriving a 12-year-old from pizza for a week is cruel and unusual punishment.

We stopped at one of our favorite Italian restaurants on the way home and he devoured a cheese pizza.  Oh, to have the metabolism of a teenager.  The service at the restaurant was predictably good and it reminded me why we like to eat there.  Not only is the food excellent, the prices reasonable, but the service is consistently good.

On the other hand, I could name several restaurants that, as a family, we have decided never to attend again.  In fact, it has become a family inside joke when we drive by certain chains to say, “nope, can’t eat there anymore”.  Or “behave or we will take you to XYZ restaurant”.

I attended a presentation this week on branding where the speaker asked, “How many people in the audience have had a bad experience with a service organization, and based on that single experience, have chosen never to do business with the company again?”  Most of the people in the room raised their hands.  Then he asked, “How many of you were negatively affected by a single employee?”  Most of the hands stayed up.  Next he asked, “How many of you have decided to avoid the entire company, not just the single store, or location?”  Again, most of the hands stayed up.

This exercise reminds us that purchase decisions are more emotional than rational.  The reality is that the single employee can’t affect the service experience at another location, and they may not even work at your local store any more.  However, most of us make an emotional decision never to visit the entire chain again based on a single negative experience.  Conversely, most of us can point to examples where a company went above and beyond normal expectations to provide exceptional service and gained loyal customers for life.

Never underestimate the value of a single act of courtesy or a single act of unprofessionalism.  One positive or negative experience can influence a customer’s perceived value of a company for a lifetime.  Additionally, customers are not shy in sharing their views with others.  Therefore, that single event can also ripple through the marketplace by word of mouth, and now instantaneously through social media.  A single event can create a “tipping point” that can shift market perception of your company.

In our case today, the food was exceptional, the prices were reasonable and our service was predictably very good.  Our waiter treated us like we were his only customer and connected with each one of us at the table.  Ironically, positive customer service takes less effort than negative service.  When you impress a customer, they give you the benefit of the doubt.  However, when you offend a customer, you spend significantly more effort trying to turn them around.  Every interaction with your customer is an opportunity to move the needle in either a positive or negative direction.  Never pass up the opportunity to reinforce the positive experience.

If we don’t take care of our customers, someone else will. – Unknown

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Posted by: kevinliebl | August 12, 2010

Do You Have a Personal Branding Agent (PBA)? You Will…

Personal Branding AgentI’ve written a number of articles on the changing corporate landscape (e.g., Your role in your company is changing, 5 Steps to Prepare Yourself for the New Corporate World, Building Strong Business Relationships, Building your Personal Brand).  It is clear that our roles within corporate America are changing.

If you think about your father’s career, he probably worked for the same company for 20, 30 or 40 years and then retired from the company with a full pension.  A decade or so ago, working for the same company for ten years was the norm – and was valued on a resume.  Today, it is viewed negatively.  Five years ago, the average tenure for a manager, was 3-5 years.  Today it is 18 to 36 months.  Estimates show that within the next few years, employees will be changing jobs every 1-2 years.

The loyalty between employer and employee is evaporating.  In California, “at-will” employment has given employers the ability to terminate employees “at will”.  Employers look at employees as interchangeable resources.  A manager is hired to develop, or turn-around a department.  Once this is complete, they are often replaced with a new manager who will take the group to the next level.  The bottom line is that employees are often viewed as contractors or consultants regardless of their employment status.  Most roles are “project” based.

Employees are recognizing that in addition to being responsible for their own retirement fund (remember that pensions disappeared a long time ago), they are also personally responsible for their own careers.  They need to develop their own personal brand.  They need to create a brand identity and create brand loyalty.  They need to promote themselves and create demand in the market for their personal brand.  In much the same way that athletes such as Kobe Bryant, entertainment moguls such as Oprah, and actors such as Brad Pitt develop, promote and protect their brand, employees must do the same thing.

Many employees who are in transition feel as though they are out of work actors looking for their next movie or television series to work on.  They hope that the television series will get picked up by the network and provide employment for the next several seasons, but often it is cancelled before it develops.  In the entertainment industry, actors use agents and publicists to develop and promote their brand.

I believe that over the next decade, the struggling executive search industry will stop working for the employers and evolve into Personal Branding Agents who will work for the employees in much the same way that talent agents work for actors.  I believe that many PR executives will evolve into executive publicists.

Asking an engineering director or manufacturing manager to be their own brand manager is like asking them to rebuild their car’s transmission.  They simply don’t have the skill set, and honestly, don’t want to develop it.  Most executives and managers are lost when asked to maintain their own LinkedIn profile, create a personal blog, build an effective business network, speak at networking events and the fifteen other activities necessary to promote themselves effectively.  I believe we are moving toward an era where personal agents will build executive brands by booking speaking opportunities, scheduling them into the right industry events, introducing them to the leaders in their industry, writing press releases about their accomplishments, promoting them in the trade publications and business journals, identifying upcoming roles that met their profile, and generally managing their careers in much the same way talent agents manage athletes and actors careers.

The service doesn’t exist on a broad basis yet, so we all need to manage our careers ourselves.  However, I look forward to the day when I can outsource this to an expert.  I would pay for it.  Would you?  There is a reason I don’t work on my own transmission – There are experts who can do it better, faster and cheaper.  I would rather focus on my core-competencies.

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Posted by: kevinliebl | August 4, 2010

Hard Work Beats Talent, When Talent Doesn’t Work Hard!

Hard WorkAll three of my children play basketball in local leagues.  One of the groups that they play with has t-shirts promoting their league and on the back of the shirt it has the phrase “Hard Work Beats Talent, When Talent Doesn’t Work Hard“.  I love this shirt because it is a lesson that we can all learn from.

On an athletic level, it is clear.  There are plenty of “gifted” athletes that never excel because they rely on their natural ability to pull them through.  We see this in middle school, high school and we clearly see it in professional athletics.  It is always sad to see money and fame ruin a great athlete’s career.

This lesson can also be seen in academics.  Some students rely far too much on their natural ability and end up paying the price.  We all have stories of high school valedictorians that never made it through college.  On the other hand, we also have stories of kids who struggled through school and ended up very successful in life.  Sometimes those challenges we faced, made us far more prepared for the real world.

There is no simple secret to success.  There are no silver bullets.  There are no short cuts.  However, nothing is more important than preparation and hard work.  Yes, we can always point to the examples of people who were successful by flying by the seat of their pants.  We can also point to the guy who jumped off the 3-story building and walked away without a scratch.  There are always exceptions.  However, I prefer not to jump off buildings.

In business, we compete every day.  We compete with other companies.  We compete with other employees.  We compete with other candidates during interviews.  Does the most naturally talented individual always win?  No.   Does the most naturally talented individual win most of the time?  I would argue “No”.  In my experience the most prepared individual wins.

It is a common excuse in business to say, “We can’t compete with Goliath Corporation.  They are 5 times our size!”  Other companies will always have more people, more budget, better products, better market position and so on.  This should not, and cannot, be an excuse.  Why do startups with little or no budget beat billion dollar companies every day?  It is simple – because they can.  They are rifle focused.  They usually only have one product, while larger companies have an array of products to worry about.  They don’t have legacy issues to deal with.  They know that failure is not an option, so they work exceptionally hard.  If they don’t succeed, their company fails.  They simply don’t have other revenue streams to fall back on.  They are nimble and creative while larger companies are often bureaucratic and slow moving.

The lesson is simple, “Hard Work Beats Talent, When Talent Doesn’t Work Hard”.  Don’t make excuses.  Simply work hard and be prepared.  You will win more often than you think.

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Posted by: kevinliebl | July 24, 2010

The Importance of Making a Memorable Impression

Reggie's Bait Shop Carpinteria CA

Reg's Bait and Tackle Shop, Carpinteria, CA ~1971 (click image for larger view)

From the time that I was about 7 years old until I was about 13 years old, my family had a small RV camper.  I have great memories of traveling the California coast, meeting amazing people, and learning life-lessons.  When I was about 8 years old, we spent most summer weekends camping in Carpinteria, CA – a sleepy beach community that is known for having “the safest beach in the world”.

Surprisingly, as an 8-year-old boy, my parents gave me the freedom to explore the small town on my own.  I would get up in the morning, grab my bike and make every day a new adventure.   I remember leaving the campground one morning in the summer of 1971, riding up Palm Avenue and noticing a small bait-and-tackle shop about a block up the road that simply screamed at me to stop and explore it further.  It was covered with signs selling fishing gear, soda, beer and artwork by the proprietor – Reggie Reynolds.  The sign that caught my eye was a small sign on the door that said, “Join my Free Fishing Club”.  I parked my bike, walked up and opened the door.

Having a larger-than-life grandfather who told non-stop stories about fishing in Minnesota, I couldn’t help but take a liking to the owner of the store.   Reggie was a crusty old sailor/fisherman who sold more stories than he did product.  As I entered the store, I couldn’t decide whether to take in the overwhelming clutter of fishing paraphernalia, beer/soda signs, candy, and general junk, or to keep my eye on Reggie who was busy introducing himself.  He immediately asked me if I wanted to join his Rod and Reel club and began explaining that I would have to pass his “initiation”.  While intimidated by the process, I immediately said “yes”.  With this, he shook my hand, and as he did, he tugged on it as it I had a fish on the line and said, “Hey lad, you have a big one on the line!”  He laughed hysterically and said, “you have just been initiated”.  We walked to the counter where I signed his membership book, while he filled out an official membership card.  We both signed it, and it was official.  I carried that card in my wallet for years.  Reggie claimed to have over 49,000 members in his club.  I didn’t doubt it for a minute.

Each time we visited Carpinteria, I would go visit Reggie and we became good friends.  We would sit and talk and he would tell me stories of fishing, running a business and general life’s lessons.   He made a huge impression on an 8-year old boy.  Unfortunately, one trip a couple of years later, I rode my bike over to meet him and the door was locked.  Reggie had died.

Over the years, I have thought a lot about Carpinteria, the family fun and specifically Reggie.  As we planned our family vacation this year, we decided to rent a beach house in Carpinteria.  As you can imagine, it has been a walk down memory lane.  As I sit writing this (with my feet in the sand), I am realizing that I haven’t been here for 35 years.  While purchasing candy at Robattaille’s Candy shop today, I met an elderly gentleman who remembered Reggie and we shared a moment laughing about his “initiation handshake”.  He pointed me to the local museum where, to my surprise, I found a postcard showing the front of Reggie’s Bait and Tackle shop (see above).  The museum official told me the building had been on Linden Avenue but was torn down many years ago.  I explained that I remembered it being on Palm Avenue, but she corrected me.  I purchased the post card and decided to walk down Palm Avenue to see if I could find the location where I remembered the bait shop.  Amazingly, I found the condemned building exactly where I remembered it – 40 years after first meeting Reggie.  It had been re-painted and turned into a family residence.  However, the building was unmistakably the same.  Even the address – 586 was still over the doorway (click on the image below).  I walked up to the front door and saw something that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.  Someone had written with their finger in the dust on the front window, “Reggie’s Gone Fishing!”  Reggie died over 35 years ago and many other families lived in this house.  But after all these years, someone walked up to the house and wrote this on the window.  Clearly, I wasn’t the only one who Reggie made a huge impression on.

Action Item: Be sure to make your mark.  It doesn’t matter if you are the CEO of a large company, a professional athlete, a mid-level manager or the proprietor of a bait and tackle shop.  Be amazing at what you do.  Do it with style, authenticity and sincerity.  People may remember you much longer than you ever thought they would.

Reggie's Bait and Tackle Shop, Carpinteria, CA

Reg's Bait and Tackle Shop, Carpinteria, CA - 2010 (Click image for larger view)

Thank you for the lessons Reggie.  I hope you are enjoying the fishing.

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Posted by: kevinliebl | July 11, 2010

Scratch Your Head and Question Everything!

Question EverythingI have written a number of blogs on how repetitive routines can kill creativity and productivity (e.g., Have we become corporate zombies).  The problem occurs when we create routines to drive efficiency.  By definition, we focus on speed and output and we stop trying to be creative.  We fall into a drab routine and stop asking questions.

Driving home from work the other day, I heard a comedian on the radio who asked, “Am I the only person on this earth that thinks the lullaby song was written by a sick and twisted individual?”

Rock-a-bye, baby
In the treetop
When the wind blows
The cradle will rock
When the bough breaks
The cradle will fall
And down will come baby
Cradle and all

Is this really the story we should be telling children before they fall asleep?  However, every parent has sung this song to their child and then said, “sleep tight sweetheart” and tucked them into bed.  Why are we surprised that they have nightmares?

Unfortunately, we are taught to go through life following the rules and not asking questions.  This translates into our business life and we continue to implement processes the same way, simply “because they have always been done that way”.

The other side of the equation is just as bad.  We rarely ask, “what if?”  However, those that do, sometimes end up with life changing results.

Swiss engineer, George de Mestral was returning from a hunting trip in the Alps with his dogs in 1941 when he took at close look at the burrs that kept sticking to his clothes and his dogs fur.  He was fascinated by how difficult they were to remove.  He scratched his head and asked, “why?”  By studying them under a microscope he noticed their hundreds of “hooks” that caught onto anything with a loop.  Thus, Velcro was invented.

Percy LeBaron Spencer, an engineer at Raytheon, was experimenting with a magnetron.  The magnetron had been invented during WWII and used a microwave to allow the Allies to determine the exact locations of Nazi war machines and arsenals.  While testing the magnetron, Dr Spencer reached into his pocket for his chocolate bar, and discovered it had completely melted.  He scratched his head and asked, “why”?  He made the connection between the melted chocolate and the heat-producing magnetron.  He then tested his theory on a bag of un-popped corn kernels, and made history by discovering the microwave oven.

As you go through your day, stop and ask “why” more often.  We are surrounded by things that don’t make sense.  However, we take them for granted and never question their rationality.

So, what items make you scratch your head and ask, “why?”

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Posted by: kevinliebl | June 29, 2010

The Importance of a Positive Culture

Culture for SuccessDepending on the source, statistics show that anywhere from 7 to 9 out of 10 startup companies fail within 5 years of their founding.  In today’s challenging economic markets, mature companies are failing left and right.  Household-named companies who seemed rock-solid and a part of the country’s fabric, are also disappearing.

What differentiates those who fail from those who succeed?  Generally, those who succeed are “firing on all cylinders”. Clearly, I am generalizing and we can always point to companies who succeed despite themselves.  However, when you look at highly successful companies, they are typically running at very high levels of efficiency. They have maximized their probability of success by removing those obstacles that they can control and are leveraging every asset within their control.

A brilliant CEO cannot make a company successful all alone.  A world-class executive team can’t either.  It takes an entire company working in unison.  Mobilizing a company cannot happen through fear and intimidation over the long haul.  Yes, short-term targets can be hit, but over time the company will implode.

What makes great companies and attracts the best talent is a great culture.  A culture of collaboration, creativity, strong work ethic, transparency, trust, integrity and honesty creates a foundation for success.  Executive teams often ask, “why can’t we attract and retain world-class talent?”  They wonder, “why do the employees leave at 5:00pm?”  They struggle with the fact that employees “don’t think creatively and offer up good suggestions.”  Often, this is because employees don’t feel empowered and part of the team.  When the company takes a draconian approach to management and creates an environment of fear and uncertainty to drive employees, the results are exactly what you would expect – marginal at best.

Companies understand the need to get maximum efficiency out of each employee.  Yet they often do exactly the opposite through their actions.  To leverage your most important resource – your employees – treat them with respect and build trust through your actions.  Create a culture of success not through transparent statements and banners, but through actions.  Hire the best talent possible and then empower your employees to do their job, rather than be micro-managed.  Trust them to make the right decisions and understand that they will make mistakes.  You will be surprised how few mistakes they make.  Create an environment where employees are not afraid to make mistakes, but rather they recognize the value of learning from the mistakes.

I have had the fortune of meeting many successful CEOs in my career and the common theme is simple.  “I couldn’t have done it without surrounding myself with a great team, both executives and general employees.  Hire the best team possible.  Empower them to do their job well.  Treat them the way you would want to be treated.”

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