By Whitney Johnson
Driven by discovery.
This phrase sounds magical—evoking images of explorers like Columbus or Lewis and Clark. It seems even more magical when you consider one of the key attributes of a successful executive is curiosity, and that 70 percent of all successful new businesses end up with a strategy different than the one initially pursued. Groupon, for example, started out as an activism platform bringing people together to fundraise for a cause or to boycott retailers (ironic!) while Netflix, the Emmy-winning content company, started as a door-to-door DVD rental service.
But there’s a rub.
Discovery implies the unknown and most of us seem to prefer the safe harbor of the known–even when the known isn’t all that great. So, here’s a hack for putting some structure around navigating the unknown based on theory of discovery-driven planning of Rita Gunther-McGrath and Ian McMillan.
1. Create a reverse income statement. If you are launching a new company, rather than forecasting how much revenue you will generate and what your costs will be and then solving for the profit, you build the income statement in reverse. You decide on your required income, and then solve for how much revenue will deliver those profits, and how much cost can be allowed. When it comes to personal disruption, the question you ask is: To achieve my baseline level of happiness, what do I need to accomplish and what am I willing to give up in order to make this happen?
2. Calculate the cost. With this step, you estimate what the cost will be to produce, sell, and deliver a product or service to a customer. Combined, these are the allowable costs that permit the business model to hold together. As an individual, the question is what kind of time, expertise, money, and buy-in will you need to make your plan operational?
3. Compile an assumption checklist. This checklist allows you to flag and discuss each assumption as the venture unfolds. For example, what assumptions are you making about how much you will sell and at what price? As an individual, if you decide you want to earn $300,000 a year consulting, and last year you earned $270,000 consulting, then conventional planning works. If you’ve never consulted, then you’d want to think about the assumptions behind your ability to earn that $300,000. How many clients will you need? How many hours per day will you need to bill, and at what price point? Do you enjoy the work, and will it be emotionally satisfying?
4. Prepare a milestone chart. This chart specifies which assumptions need to be tested and what you are going to learn by each milestone. In discovery-driven planning, learning is the essential unit of progress, so a course correction isn’t equivalent to failure, as it would be in conventional planning. Rather, it’s an opportunity to recalibrate so you achieve your goals more quickly.
One of the key attributes ascribed to disruptors is that they play where no one else is playing. As a trailblazer, even though you may have a goal or purpose, your path to that objective is yet to be marked.
Being driven by discovery can be scary and lonely, and you will undoubtedly end up in places you haven’t anticipated. But, like Lewis and Clark, you have a plan: to discover and conquer territory.
About the Author
Whitney Johnson is an investor, speaker, author, and leading thinker on driving innovation through personal disruption. Her new book Disrupt Yourself, will be released on October 6, 2015. To learn more, visit http://whitneyjohnson.com/disrupt-yourself.
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“Promotion means finding new ways of being successful- and walking away from the old ways that defined success. A leader who tries to be the same leader across all levels is not going to be successful at all.”
~ Matt Pease, DDI Vice President ~
Client Jamie Asks: There are many people in my organization that could benefit from increased executive presence. What should I look for in a business leadership training program? What skills can I expect my people to gain from such a program?
Coach Joel Answers: This is an important step. Your executives and those you are grooming for leadership need to have a whole company perspective. To be successful they must move from a tactical day-to-day approach to a more strategic overview. Here are six skill sets you’ll want your business leaders to develop.
- Step away from the day-to-day. There’s a saying: When you’re up to your ankles in alligators, it’s hard to remember you’re here to drain the swamp. Executives face many compelling day-to-day problems that can eat up all their time. Help your executives learn how to set aside a specific part of their day to reflect on ways they and their team can contribute to the company’s bottom line.
- Look at the big picture. It’s no longer enough to excel in your area. You need a clear view of how your work contributes to the overall success of the company. Get your program to help your leaders elevate their sights.
- Gain self-confidence. This is a mind game, but it’s based on past performance. People need to know they are doing a good job. A key training program will help your leaders assess their past ideas and work. This builds self-assurance which will give then that executive presence that makes people want to follow them.
- Do the work. Find a program that focuses on teaching skills that give real, measurable results. People need to deliver on the high profile jobs they are given. When they manage every project so their work shines, they demonstrate their abilities to co-workers and supervisors. And it gives your people confidence they have the necessary skills to perform at that high level.
- Recognize and seize opportunities. Part of situational awareness is looking beyond current tasks. What else needs to be done? Is there a gap that someone is not filling? Can you take the initiative? Successful executive training courses help with the mind shift necessary to look beyond the average and take those opportunities.
- Focus on solutions. Far too many people spend lots of time discussing the problems. They may lament the shortcomings or complain about the problem. Good leadership seminars will show people how to find solutions.
Jamie, you are wise to look at training your leaders from within. You already know their work ethic and they know the company culture. But leaders don’t just grow on their own.
They need extra and different skill sets. They need a professional to coach and train them to perform at their optimum level. The abilities that have grown them to this point are not sufficient to get them to the top. Unless you train them in those new ways of thinking and acting, you will not help them acquire that executive presence.
Of course you and I both know it can’t be a façade. It can’t be for looks. That leadership, that executive presence has to be backed by a history of success and by skills and vision.
If you need one or two people to gain these skills, I recommend individual coaching. If you want a group of people to grow, a business leadership course can be brought to your executives and tailored to their challenges and the needs of your company. When considering which trainer is right for you and your company, ask how they’ll customize the training to meet your needs and follow up. Choose someone who takes prep and follow-up seriously.
For more information on how Joel can help your leaders gain that executive presence, contact him.
Talkback: Have you found programs that were successful in developing your leaders?
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“Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.”
Emily owns a boutique investment opportunity firm. She finds her small business has an employee retention problem. “I really need skilled workers,” Emily says. “I feel like I just get them trained and they leave. It’s so frustrating.”
Emily went to an executive coach to try to find out what the problem was. With a small business, each new hire created a proportionally higher business cost. “I just had to find a way to cut costs,” Emily said.
The coach helped Emily face some painful truths. She was part of the problem. The good news was there were things she could do as owner and manager to help retain her employees.
Feedback. “My coach helped me realize that I was not very good at taking feedback. I was so focused on getting the job done… and getting it done my way… that I was not listening. As I started to listen, I found that some of my employees had valid concerns and great suggestions.”
When Emily started listening, it did several things to increase employee retention.
- The employees felt more important and valued. They saw their impact in the company increase. Especially in a small business, when the input of one employee is taken, it can change the course of the company.
- Dissatisfied employees found their problems might be corrected if they spoke up. That meant the problem could be solved without leaving the company. It also increased job satisfaction among Emily’s workers.
- Emily’s business improved. The great feedback helped propel the company to a stronger niche presence. The elevated esteem of the company transferred to the employees as they felt the increased prestige.
Balance. Once Emily started listening, she discovered the burnout, unrealistic expectations and the need to be available 24/7 were driving her workers to leave.
“Those things are kind of expected in our high pressure industry,” Emily said. “But it was time to do things differently. I studied other methods and came to recognize the benefits of down-time. We implemented deliberate time off.” Emily created a rotation system.
She had her employees cross-train so each employee could be “on call” as needed. This gave others time off. “The difference was amazing!” Emily said. “I could feel the tension lift. I came in more refreshed and eager to work. My team felt the same way. It was like a new office.”
Training. Emily found the cross-training essential to help every team member function well. Then no one person was indispensable. But Emily went further. She wanted her small business to retain every employee. So she had her people look for products, training, and systems to streamline and save time.
They came up with three software programs that her employees agreed would save time and energy. Emily had them all trained to thoroughly understand the systems so they would feel comfortable and qualified using them.
“This was one outcome of my learning to accept feedback,’ Emily said. “We worked together and agreed on the systems. Those systems really added to the life-balance of my employees.”
“Some were hesitant to change over from the old ways. I know the training was the key to success there,” Emily said. “The proof is that my employee retention is now at 100%. I haven’t lost a worker from my small business all year.”
If you’re a small business and you’re struggling with employee retention, contact Joel for guidance and help.
Talkback: What steps have you taken with your small business to keep your employees?
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“You know you’re an introvert when you get excited about cancelled plans.”
~ Anonymous ~
Ryan is at a crossroads in his career. He’s been with the same company for five years, working in IT as a programmer. He gets along well with his co-workers and his manager thinks he’s doing a great job. Lately, however, he’s started to wonder if he should look for a change. He’d like to move up in the company, but all the hot jobs with great prospects are in sales. There’s a sales job that’s just been posted and he’s thinking of applying. But he feels uncomfortable every time he thinks about it. His brain is going in circles so he decides to call his business coach and run the idea by her.
Ryan’s coach asks him a number of questions about what the new job would look like. Would he be spending a lot of time on the phone, making calls and setting up appointments? Would he have a lot of tight deadlines and pressure to meet sales targets? Would he be working independently or would he be part of a team? Would he be in a position to do a lot of networking, attending meetings and public events? Ryan answers “yes” to all her questions.
“Clearly you have an introvert personality,” she told him. “All these activities that you’re describing generally make introverts very uncomfortable. It’s certainly possible for an introvert to succeed in some types of sales jobs. But before you decide to take your career in a whole new direction, I think there are three things you need to do:
- Be yourself
- Find your niche
- Learn to compensate.
Ryan decides to do some further research and self-analysis before he makes a decision. If you’re contemplating a job change, you might want to follow these steps as well.
1. Be yourself. When you’re interviewing for a new job, whether it’s with your present company or a brand new management job, don’t be tempted to fake it. A job interview is where a potential boss or employer gets to know the “real you.” It’s his or her opportunity to see if you’re right for the job. But it’s not a one-sided deal. It’s also your opportunity to be who you are and see if the job is right for you. If you like to work independently, with little or no supervision, don’t brag about your teamwork skills!
2. Find your niche. A recent study conducted by CareerBuilder found that extroverts were more likely to rise higher in management ranks, by 22 percent compared with 18 percent of introverts. “The data does indicate that extroverts may be better suited for higher-level positions, many of which involve a lot of collaboration and public speaking,” says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder. “But that doesn’t mean an introvert can’t still rise high in a company. It may be the case that many of the respondents began as introverts and gradually became more extroverted as the situation demanded.”
Here’s the key question to ask yourself: How comfortable will I be as an introvert in extrovert’s clothing? Can I play that role for an hour a day? Eight hours a day? Every day? Is this a skill I want to learn or am I going too much against the grain?
3. Learn to compensate. If you’re already in a job that’s not exactly your cup of tea, or if you’re contemplating a new opportunity that may take you outside your comfort zone, develop a game plan. First of all, be honest with your boss and your co-workers. If you’d enjoy setting up the trade show exhibit, volunteer to take that on if someone else will make the follow-up calls.
Pace yourself and don’t get into stimulation overload. That’s a sure loser for any introvert personality. If you’ve spent all day meeting with clients, skip the happy hour festivities with the gang and take a solo walk or do some yoga instead. If you’ve had a week of high-pressure deadlines, spend your weekend in low-key activities rather than shopping and socializing.
After some soul-searching and in-depth conversations with his boss and his human resources department, Ryan decides to develop an upward mobility plan in IT. He takes on some new projects and starts to develop his management skills so he’ll be ready to move up when the opportunity occurs.
Knowledge is power. Know yourself. Know your strengths and your weaknesses. Know what you want and how much you’re willing to change to get it. As Ricky Nelson crooned in his hit song, Garden Party, “You can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.”
Are you wondering if a job or career change is right for you? Contact Joel today. He can help you sort through your options and make the right decision.
Talkback: Are you an introvert in an extrovert world? Have you developed some coping strategies that work? Share your ideas here.
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“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.”
~ Helen Keller ~
Client Stephanie asks: I’m really disappointed! I paid a lot of money for a business career development program. It promised to give me all the knowledge I needed to really move my career forward. Then I invested all this time and effort. And I really haven’t seen any results at all. I feel cheated.
What should I look for in career development programs, so I can really see my business career take off?
Coach Joel Answers: First, you need to set realistic expectations for all business career development programs. They are not the be all and end all of career advancement. They can play a key role in growing your skills and knowledge, but they have limits.
Typically they give you knowledge and skill sets, but they don’t always tailor the class to your needs. Nor do they analyze your progress in a real-job way or give you opportunities to implement what you’ve learned.
Even after the course you need to practice implementation, gain visibility and influence, and work with your boss to find places to put your new skills into practice.
Assuming you are doing everything right, here are some valuable keys to uncover strong business development programs—programs which might help with your career growth.
1. Not all programs address the same thing. Some focus on new graduates and helping them find jobs or learn about career opportunities in different businesses. So if you’re just out of college, these may be great programs for you.
If you are further down the experience path, these programs will not move your career along. So as you investigate a program, ask who its intended participants are. What are the specific skills, knowledge, abilities they will teach?
2. Evaluate your own career goals. Stephanie, look at the current skills you have and the areas you need to improve. Will this particular career development program address the weak areas you want to strengthen?
Don’t hesitate to call the school or company offering it and ask in depth questions. This is your time and money. You need to see that it profits you.
3. Will you get knowledge or application? Simple book learning or even audio or video learning can only take you so far. Do you have a chance to apply what you learn? Do you have interaction with other employees, role playing, modeling and other ways to practice your new found skills?
4. How much feedback will you get? Sometimes we cannot see our weaknesses. We might think we are being direct. Others may see it as an attack. Will your business career development program give you the kind of feedback that will be meaningful to you?
Stephanie, you may find your career needs more individual attention than a career development program can give you. At times you’ll get more rapid advancement through a mentoring program or a coaching program.
Your business may also have a strong career development program you are not familiar with. It may let you try out different areas in the company. It may help you work on new skills, find new opportunities to grow, and give you frequent feedback. Check with your boss or HR department.
5. Look at the credentials of the business offering the career development program. Do they have a history of success? Can you talk to other graduates and learn the strengths and shortcomings they found in the program? Are they well known?
Do they have books, articles, or other resources you can review for free? Then you can see their philosophy, teaching style, and content. You can see if it will be a comfortable fit for you.
Stephanie, I know it hurts to feel you’ve wasted your money. However, every experience can be a learning experience. Now you know what to look for in strong business career development programs.
When you search again, you will have the fundamentals necessary to make a good investment choice.
If you are uncertain whether a career development program would help you advance at this stage in your career, contact Joel. He will help you see the best path for you to use to advance your career.
Talkback: How have you invested in business career development? Have you used a program you thought was effective… or not very effective?
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