It was halftime on Sunday, January 21, 2007, in Indianapolis’ RCA Dome and the Indianapolis Colts were playing the New England Patriots for the right to play in Super Bowl XLI. The Patriots, led by quarterback Tom Brady, had won 3 of the past 5 Super Bowls and the Colts hadn’t been to the big game since 1971 so you could forgive the Indianapolis fans for thinking this was their year.
The Patriots didn’t get the memo and led the game 21-6 at the half. Obviously, the plan that Tony Dungy, the Colts’ coach, and his staff had spent the past week developing and refining wasn’t working. So, he got his team into the locker room and made some changes to the game plan: a different mix of run plays and pass plays, a new tempo, and fewer mistakes.
6 minutes and 47 seconds into the second half, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning scored on a rare (for him) rushing touchdown and the Colts were on their way to a win, the largest deficit ever overcome in an NFL conference championship game, and, ultimately, a Super Bowl XLI victory.
When we look at scaling companies, we often use a football analogy like this one. Your North Star tells you where you want to go but doesn’t consider where you are today. Your ‘State of the Union’ tells you about the current situation without a perspective on where you ultimately want to go. Just like Coach Dungy at halftime, now is the time to take into account both where you are (down 21-6 in his case) and where you want to be (the Super Bowl).
We call this today, forward and tomorrow, backward. You want to find the intersection of your current state and your long-term goals. If you remember the ‘North Star’ analogy, this intersection is called the ‘North Pole’. The North Pole is a short list of tangible things that we can accomplish in the next year that move us in the direction of the North Star.
If things aren’t going as you planned, don’t despair…just take stock of where you are, where you want to go, and get your team together to develop a short list of actions that will start moving you down the field!
Friday, January 8. The President of the United States stands before the Senate and the House to give them his perspective on the ‘State of the Union’. The 1089 words rang out through New York’s Federal Hall. Wait, only 1089 words?! New York?! This address was no ordinary State of the Union, it was the first ever, delivered by George Washington in 1790.
He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.
— Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution
The State of the Union today is often used for political purposes, but it was created for the President to give a big picture view of what was going on in the country and what needed to be done as a result.
That big picture view is exactly where we start when we want to scale a company.
- Who are our customers?
- What do we provide them?
- How do we provide it?
- What are our financial drivers?
The goal is to understand the big picture BEFORE diving into the details.
Often the review of the big picture highlights some opportunities for improvement:
- Are we focused on the right customer segments?
- How are we connecting with them? Is this the best way?
- What suppliers are key for us? How is our relationship with them managed?
- What makes us different from our competitors? Is it sustainable?
- What’s our cash flow situation? How would we navigate a cash crisis?
Understanding the “State of the Business” gives us the opportunity to take a high-level view while also providing some hints about where we need to do deep dives. Want to do this for yourself? Just take a piece of paper, turn it lengthwise (i.e. landscape) and draw a line down the middle. The right side is your ‘front stage’ – what the customer sees. The left side is your ‘backstage’ – what you have to do to make things happen. Then, take a step back and look for the opportunities that present themselves…we bet you’ll be surprised at what you find!
For thousands of years, the stars in the night sky have been used to help humans (and even birds and seals) know where they are going. One star in particular, the North Star (a.k.a. Polaris), was critical for determining direction before the invention and broad use of the GPS.
In the night sky, Polaris is extremely close to where the Earth’s northern axis points. So close, in fact, that while other stars rotate around the sky, Polaris stays in roughly the same place…which makes it very useful for navigating. However, regardless of how much we’ve used Polaris, no human has ever visited. At the speed of light, it would take 433 YEARS to get there!
So, what would happen if you decided to follow the North Star and go as far as you could go…where would you end up? The North Pole. The North Pole is a place that has been flown over, skied to, walked to, and visited by boats and submarines. It’s difficult, but you can get there.
This is where we start when it’s time to scale a company. What’s the ‘North Star’ for both the leader and the company? We’re looking for those things that may seem like dreams (we often use the term ‘Imagine if’) and that are free from any constraints. Are we going to get there? Probably not. However, we have a clear idea of the direction that we’re going in and why.
Later in this process, we will take an understanding of our current situation combined with our North Star and turn it into a ‘North Pole’. Specifically, what are some tangible things that we can accomplish in the next year that move us in the direction of the North Star?
Next time you can see the stars, take a minute to think about where you want to go (your North Star) and how you’re going to get there (the North Pole). Then get a warm coat and start the journey!
It’s been said that all businesses are experiencing pain…it’s either growing pain or shrinking pain. So, if growth is the (sometimes elusive!) goal, how do we get there?
In the business world, we frequently think of growth as linear – invest in new resources (factories, people, capabilities, etc.) and see increased revenue…easy, right? In real life, markets determine if our work delivers the goal, and the increase is often proportional to the investment (ex: increase marketing à increase sales).
Linear growth is good (and results in growing pains which are, in my opinion, much more fun than shrinking pains)…and there’s something even better. We call it scaling.
Let’s look at the world of architecture for some context. Although it can take a long time to lay the foundation of a building, thankfully, the depth of the foundation typically doesn’t have to be equivalent to a building’s height. For example, the Empire State Building stands at 1,454 feet above ground with a foundation just 55.7 feet deep. At the Willis Tower in Chicago, a foundation just 10 feet deeper allows it to be 351 feet taller than the Wilshire Grand Center in Los Angeles (11% increase in depth, 32% increase in height).
That’s what scaling is all about. Growth that is significantly higher than the investment needed to obtain it.
In our work with growing companies, we’ve found seven secrets to successful scaling that we’ll be sharing in 2022:
- Having a clear vision of the future
- Understanding the state of your business
- From today, forward…and tomorrow, backward
- Analyzing your competition and the ecosystem
- Simultaneously “changing” AND “running” your business
- Sticking to the plan
- Finding the right coordinator for this work
So, take a break from digging today to ask yourself “is this work going to provide linear growth or exponential growth”? If it’s not the latter, ask yourself if you have the seven things above and start working on the gaps!
I had just started the meeting and the team was staring back at me from the screen, expecting wise council and direction on how we were going to achieve today’s objective. As I began the meeting I felt confident but, about 15 minutes in, I realized that my preparation on the first group exercise was lacking. Just a few minutes of pre-work would have made the difference between a good experience for the team and an excellent one. I silently blamed myself for wasting the team’s time and promised myself I’d do better next time.
Many times I’ve found myself in the situation above and I’d guess that you have as well. We’re faced with so many competing priorities that we are often preparing for things at the last minute…if we have time to prepare at all! Regardless of how painful it is to be under-prepared, it seems like the pain of preparing is often so significant that we still set ourselves up for failure!
I’ve found that in the moment, I would much prefer the pain of preparing to the pain of being unprepared. But in the emergencies of the every day, I choose the opposite. Paraphrasing the Apostle Paul, I don’t do what I want to do and I hate what it is I DO do!
What’s the solution? I like Jesse Itzler‘s solution when he says “Remember Tomorrow.” Take a peek into the future and decide if future you will be happier that you knocked three tasks off your list or that you spent another 15 minutes on Instagram…and we all know the answer to that question! Then, make it happen. Remember tomorrow and take a step in that direction. I look forward to seeing you there…and you don’t even need a DeLorean!
Have you ever been in one of those meetings that seemed to last forever? You know the ones. You entered with optimism that this would be the meeting where that thorny problem got fixed. However, 30 minutes in, you’re doing e-mail or checking facebook or (gasp!) completing just one more level of Candy Crush.
Sometimes when I’m in meetings like that, I think of the generations before me who have suffered the same way. For example, they had to plan the wonders of the ancient world like the Pyramids. I can see the meeting now…
- Project Manager: So, what’s the right percentage of straw to put in these bricks?
- Engineer: We commissioned a study that says bricks should be 50% mud and 50% straw.
- Finance: You know, the straw market is strong this year. Is there any way we could we use less to save money?
There’s a clear antidote to meetings like this…doing.
“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” — Walt Disney
So today, instead of liking your cousin’s re-post of a cat video, find one clear action that you personally can do, volunteer to do it, and report back to the team in the next meeting. You’ll both feel and be more productive. And who knows, you may inspire someone else to begin doing as well!
photo copyright: Kenneth E. Fields 2006-2020
A couple of years ago, I moved from a Chief of Staff role focused on research and development to a more far-reaching one in a newly created organization. This new role would allow me to see firsthand what it took to run a multi-billion dollar company from the executive suite. I readily admit that I was intimidated. There were lots of big names in the company who were making huge decisions…and they were expecting me to keep them organized!
I decided that I might need to find some different ways to work with this new team so, I took inspiration from a college professor, Kevin Treu. Dr. Treu always asked a ‘question of the day’ to start each class. I had successfully used that tactic in several training classes I gave. and decided that we would start each weekly staff meeting with a ‘song of the day’.
The first Monday morning of the year, I had the song Good Morning by the artist Mandisa playing as the team walked into the room. For a few weeks, I was met with some strange looks (maybe due to my taste in music) but by soon I had people making playlist recommendations!
It’s always been challenging for me to focus on the capabilities that I do have instead of the ones I wish I had. In high school, my choir sang a song called “Moses” that included the line “What do you hold in your hand today?” That line has always challenged me and it’s my challenge to you.
Are you staring at a challenging project, a new role, or an opportunity to be ‘stretched’? If so, take stock of what you have…the experiences and unique mindset that you bring to the table. Then, pick one or two that you can start implementing. You’ll discover that what you already hold in your hand is more important than you thought!
Many thanks to Treyci Lilje for accompanying me on the journey and constantly reminding me of what I had in my hands.
I’ve coached my sons on the baseball field for the past 9 years so it was really strange not to be out there this Spring. It’s often said that baseball is a game where hitters can be in the Hall of Fame if they can only limit their failures to 60-70% for 20 years. It’s true that the highest batting average in Major League Baseball is Ty Cobb’s .366 – meaning he failed 634 out of every 1000 times he went to the plate!
Failure isn’t limited to baseball….basketball greats are acquainted with it as well.
I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.Michael Jordan
Marty Osborn made the same observation about football: “In a football game a team will run about 60-70 plays. Of those plays, 90% fail. That’s right. Only 10% of plays will really work. It’s those 6 or 7 plays that will be the difference between winning and losing.”
If we take a step into the world of organizations, it’s clear that there are lots of things we do every day that don’t work:
- That meeting that did NOT go as planned
- A project you poured weeks into doesn’t get approved
- The sales lead you thought was ready to sign the contract goes another direction
- And many more!
So, what do you do with all that failure? I’d propose you embrace it!
Success has been defined as the ability to go from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.Anonymous – referenced in How to Say a Few Words by David Guy Powers
(not Winston Churchill as I thought!)
The next time you strike out and are disappointed by what was a sure thing, pick yourself up and try again…with enthusiasm!
Who knows, the next time you’re at the plate, you may hit a home run…
Photo Credit: Louis van Oeyen, photographer. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (058.00.00)
One beautiful Saturday, my family headed out to take a hike up one of the nearby extinct volcanoes. My wife and I had hiked it over a decade ago with our infant son so we knew that it was worth the trip. The route we chose was completely wooded for 95% of the way and we had a teenager and tween in the crew who were looking for immedicate gratification. They were pretty vocal about their lack of interest in hiking (between their sprints up and down the trail). Finally, we arrived at the top and everyone quietly sat down and enjoyed the view.
The fact that my wife and I, the leaders of our little expedition, had already been to the top of this mountain gave us the energy to encourage our ‘team’ that it was worth the trip.
“Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.”John C. Maxwell
Recently, I’ve been working with business leaders who are trying to get their teams to ‘hike’ a pretty significant mountain. It requires the leaders to run ahead of their teams by looking into the future and working on strategy, then circle back to the team to get them on board. That means the leaders are doing twice the work of the team…and that’s exhausting!
If you’re a leader, and you haven’t (mentally) been where you want the team to go, maybe now is a good time to take a few hours off the treadmill and make sure that the future is clear for you so you can take others there.
If you’re being led (and we all are in some area of life), take a minute to thank the leaders that are running back and forth between the future and today!
photo credit: flickr.com/photos/alphaducentaure/11887177805
Social distancing got you down? Here’s how to take one of your worst experiences and make it one of your best!
Ever since I lived with 2 guitar players during college, I had wanted to learn how to play acoustic guitar. My fiancée (now wife of 21 years) had purchased a guitar for me as a gift, I had taken lessons, and I couldn’t play a chord. Finally, I had put my guitar in a closet, irregularly pulling it out, longingly looking at it, and usually beating myself up for my failures in learning.
After seeing an ad on facebook, I decided that June 2016 was the month I would learn. I had purchased an online class from Tristan de Montebello and planned to start it after getting home from a business trip on June 17, 2016.
June 18, 2016 is a ‘date which will live in infamy’ for my family. That’s the day I decided to play soccer with my sons and their friends in the cul-de-sac in front of our house. The day an 11 year old kid faked me out well enough to send me tumbling over the soccer ball. The day my kneecap took a direct hit on the asphalt…and broke in two. Ouch!
After a few days waiting on the couch, I had surgery and wasn’t allowed to bend my knee for 6 weeks. It would have been really easy to have a pity party, tell myself that this was just another roadblock to learning and given up. I definitely had my share of feeling sorry for myself but, for some reason, I pressed on, finished the class, and began playing a few songs for kids at our church.
Almost 4 years after these experiences, I have a 4 inch scar and a guitar I can pick up and play between virtual meetings at home during a global pandemic
Speaking of that global pandemic, did you think this was going to be a time you finally read that book, reconnected with that former client, or made progress on that objective that was so hard to complete with the interruptions of the office? If you’re anything like me, there’s been a significant conflict with those intentions and reality. After 28 days of ‘isolation’ I was sure I would have written several articles and posts that are on my list and maybe even made progress on a book manuscript.
Until now, I’ve accomplished none of those things. The urgent is STILL crowding out the important! So, I’m challenging myself to spend just 20 min a day on some of these important professional goals (knowing that I’m likely to be interrupted by my even more important family). How about you? Have the urgent tasks (or even the pity parties) taken far too much of your time and attention? This week, try to find just 20 min a day (or 25 if you’re a believer in the Pomodoro Technique) and make progress on one thing. You may find you can make one of your worst experiences one of your best!