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It was the summer before my freshman year of college at the University of Delaware. My Dad took the day off of work to take me to the main campus in Newark for freshman orientation.
We met with counselors, took a tour of the campus, signed up for meal plans and went to the parent/new student barbecue. Over hot dogs and corn on the cob – my Dad asked me a question –
Soon you will be in college. What will you study and what will you do with it?
With the unbounded certainty of youth, I declared.
I want to be an Economist.
I had done my home work, researched careers, done summer internships to rule out what I did not want to be and to uncover what I did. I was going to study the science of business, of nations, of the the funds that flow through them, and the people who drive them… I was going to learn to predict the future.
It was not until my senior year of college that I was introduced to a then comparatively new field of economic application – econometrics. The link will take you to a broader definition, courtesy of Wikipedia, but in short, econometrics combines the theory of economics with quantification and statistics to actually measure and predict economic outcomes. Using punch cards and a Burroughs 7700 (a computer you now find only in museums) we learned to model past and present outcomes of the national and world economy. We learned about variables and assumptions and the impact they would have when combined together. And then came the rub. The greatest variables all of – perceptions of outcomes and the changes in people’s behavior that would result from them.
That’s when it hit me. Once economists tell people what will happen – using their computerized crystal balls – people react to that information and change their behaviors. And, in that case, your model and your predictions would often be WRONG.
Maybe I didn’t want to be an economist after all – I hate to be wrong!
And so on graduation, I went into the world of business. Starting in banking, moving on to the emerging field of electronics and technology, and later into entrepreneurship.
Almost 20 years after freshman orientation, I went back to school again. This time at Arizona State University in their executive MBA program. I did not go back to get my MBA for the degree – but for the learning. After almost 20 years in business – things had changed – the rules were different, and my crystal ball was in jeopardy of getting cloudy. And I began to see that it was not just my crystal ball that was flawed. We were at the peak of the Dot.Com Bubble – soon for many of us in the technology industry, the bubble would burst and our crystal balls would clear to show some serious cracks.
In class, we learned about the many bubbles throughout history from Dr. Stephen Happel and the Blue Chip Forecasts from Dr. Lee McPheters. We went to Washington D.C. to see how it worked from the inside, and later to Europe and China to see the changes in our world first hand. But equally important, I learned what was happening in a wide range of businesses from my fellow students , leaders in healthcare, investments, and industry.
It was a reminder of what I had learned long ago. That economics is not a subject but a study… of business, of nations, of the funds that flow through them, and the people who drive them. And so I began to study economics again on my own.
As business people, perhaps we all should pay more attention to economics.
You see, it’s not what we study or even the answers that makes a difference.
But what we do with the knowledge, once we find it, that most surely will.
Thanks for stopping by. Stay tuned.
Often one of the most important lessons we learn as business owners, innovators, and leaders is how and when to ask for help.
In 2001, I was VP of Global Supplier Contracts at Avnet, Inc. a Fortune 500 global distributor of electronic components and computers.
I had an idea for a new kind of business and took the idea to Avnet Chairman and CEO, Roy Vallee. We discussed the potential benefits to the company and what I wanted to do to make it happen. He told me to “…take the idea and run with it. Take it as far as you can and come back to me if you need help.” There are 3 components to this advice:
1) develop new ideas;
2) plan and take action;
3) ask for help.
At the time, for me, #3 was the MOST important. Up to that point, I had done everything for the project on my own. To make it viable, I had to find the people and resources that I lacked and get them to be part of the solution. A year later, Avnet decided that the time was not right to proceed with the project. But I was not ready to give it up.
So, I took Roy’s advice and asked for help.
First I asked Avnet’s permission to take some of the ideas I had developed and create my own business. They said yes.
Then I looked for and found the best people and resources to partner with to build that business. They said yes too.
The result, CorePurpose, Inc. has been supporting other businesses in their journey along the growth path since July of 2002. Our whole business is built around having the right resources and knowing how to get help when you need it.”
Applying the Lesson
For many of us, asking for help is not an easy thing to do. Many still believe that asking for help makes you appear weak or out of control. Contrary to this belief, asking for help at the right time and for the right reasons is NOT a sign of weakness, but rather can be a sign of confidence, strength and savvy resource management.
Few organizations or projects succeed without some form of assistance today – be it leadership, financial, supply chain, staffing, technology resources, or a myriad of other needs. Interestingly, the strategic process we go through in developing our program or project can also be a great process to follow when determining how to go about finding the right help at the right time.
Develop new ideas
Look at each step of your current strategic plan or program map. Identify the areas where the process or program can be strengthened through outside support or other partnerships. Look at each step of your process not only in light of how a strategic partner can benefit you but also how, by working together, the partner will benefit too.
Plan and Take Action
Evaluate the things that you are doing that might be done as well as you are currently doing them or can be done even better by others.
Start by identifying outside resources for non core activities and then evaluate how you can better utilize your existing resources by redeploying them into core areas of strength or differentiation within your organization. Strategic partnerships like these are a resource investment for you and the partner. Be realistic in calculating the ROI for both parties.
Put together presentations you can make to potential strategic partners with a focus on how each of you will benefit from the partnership. Then build your target partner list and start scheduling the presentations.
Asking for help.
Following this process, asking for help moves from sending out an ‘S.O.S.’ or distress call to proactively building relationships where both parties benefit. Now, you are not just asking someone to help you with a business challenge, you are offering to help them overcome one of theirs.
So, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Look at your business on a regular basis to determine how by asking for help, you can make your business stronger, more cost efficient, or more financially sound. You’ll never know, until you ask!
Thanks for stopping by. Stay Tuned…
In today’s economy, wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a magic recipe for growth? Just pull out your business cook book, follow the instructions, pop it in the oven and enjoy success. Unfortunately it’s not quite that easy. If it was, we would all master the recipe early and reap the benefits.
I remember, when I was a kid, my Grandmother telling me, “If you want to eat, you need to learn to cook.” Well, in the world of business – the same can be said.
Each recipe starts with a goal in mind.
You have a physical or mental picture of what your desired result will be whether it is scrambled eggs, a mushroom quiche, or chocolate chip cookies.
The second section is the list of ingredients
If I am making my favorite, warm, gooey Chocolate Chip Cookies – there are some basic foundational ingredients – butter, sugar, flour, eggs.
I need a leavening agent like baking soda or baking powder to make my batter rise.
Flavoring – like vanilla or almond extract
And differentiators like chocolate chips, nuts, coconut, or raisins to make my cookies stand out.
I also need to focus on the quality of my ingredients to ensure a great result. Lot’s of people may have the same recipe – but the quality of the ingredients I use can make my cookies better than the rest.
And then I need to apply just the right amount of energy to make it all blend together. Plus a different kind of energy to bake it into a finished product.
Only when the cookies are out of the oven, cooled, and in my mouth will I know if I have obtained the desired results. If it’s not perfect – I can always try again.
Applying it to business.
When it comes to our businesses the processes are not that different. We need…
A goal – that clear picture of what we are trying to achieve.
The right base ingredients – a product, a service, a market to serve and people to do the work.
A leavening agent – No baking soda here – this the the values that you and your people employ as you follow the plan.
Flavoring – your marketing and communications strategy
Differentiators – the unique aspects or innovations that you bring to the equation and to your customers.
To Add Energy – in the right proportions at the right time – and that’s where leadership comes in. Not enough energy and your result is half baked. Too much and your result is burned to a crisp.
Don’t forget to focus on the quality of your ingredients to ensure a great result. Lot’s of people may have the same recipe – but the quality of the ingredients you use can make YOUR BUSINESS better than the rest.
There is a recipe after all.
You just have to keep experimenting until you find yours.
So, what are you going to mix up and pop in the oven?
Thanks for stopping by. Stay Tuned…
If you passed me on the street, would you know my name? Would you call me by it? If you needed what I had to offer, would my company name be one that came to mind?
There are few things more powerful than a name. It links to our actions, our reputation and to the history of who we are. In days of old, continuation of the family name was a key goal of lord and serf alike. It was all they had to guarantee they would be remembered after they were gone. Today, both individuals and companies focus on a name as a brand, hoping to link what they stand for and what they do to the name they carry.
Our name connects us to others.
Many companies have recognized the power of the sharing of names between employees and customers. Last week I had lunch at the Macaroni Grill. Our server came over to the table and introduced himself, saying “Hello, my name is David” as he pulled out a crayon and scrawled his name right on the table. He went on to welcome us, ask what we would like and assure us that he wanted us to have a good time today and to call for him by NAME if we needed anything at all. Other businesses, including Sam’s Club and Safeway have taken the practice one step further. Each employee has a name tag which allows us to call them by name. They use technology and our name on membership cards to thank us by name for coming to their store. The Safeway at Chandler and 40th Street has been where I do my weekly shopping since we moved to the Valley of the Sun in 1992. Through familiarity and the regular exchange of names, we have come to know each other.
Al is always available with a smile to help me find a special ingredient or item. Linda has been ringing up my orders for years. If I see her behind one of the registers, that is the direction my cart veers – even if the line is shorter on row over. Steven is often there to help me take my overloaded basked to the car and fills me in on the things he has been doing or how his family is getting along.
Within a short drive from my home, there are six supermarkets within a very small radius, including another Safeway. They all have coupons, bargains and specials. But I always go back to the same one. Not because it is closest or cheapest, but because we are on a first name basis and I know that I can get what I need there. It is not just store policy, or a marketing gimmick. It’s a connection.
What’s in a name?
When I launched my own business in 2002, I had to answer a lot of questions. The most important being…what was our reason for being in business? This broke down further to… what would we offer, who we would serve and how we best serve them.?
My personal passion was innovation, doing something in a new way to make life better for the people who matter. Helping other organizations create innovative ways to achieve their business goals became the central focus of our company – our core purpose.
When I started to research possible names, it all came back to who and what we were. We had a strong, motivating drive to our core purpose. We helped others discover and capitalize on their core purpose in innovative ways. We became CorePurpose, Inc.
Today, companies come to us to help them refocus, to grow, to make the most of what they have, or find the things they need to realize their own core purpose. We get calls from around the country and around the world asking about what we do and how we do it.
Our name and our reputation brings customers to our door. The work we do brings them back. ~ Joan Koerber-Walker
What about your business? What does your name say about you? What do people think of when they hear it?
If you do not know, there is a simple test. Ask the question! Most people will be happy to tell you what they think and are pleased to be asked. You might be surprised what you hear. What your customers tell you is what they perceive your purpose and value to be.
What they think of when they hear your name matters the most. Their perception of your business and the value it brings when linked to your name becomes your brand. If you like what you hear, maximize the message in the marketplace. If you are not hearing what you want – you may have some work to do.
Just as a business brand links your name to what the markets perceives you to be, you have a personal brand that links your name to how those around you see you. What you do and how you do it becomes tied to your name. Your personal brand may change depending where you are. In my case, when I am around the school or at the hockey rink, I am well known as Chris Walker or Nick Walker’s Mom. My brand is directly linked to theirs. My claim to fame is directly linked to what they do and who they know. In the business and philanthropic community, my brand is more closely linked to the personal values I exhibit in my work with customers, organizations I volunteer with, or associations I belong to. In the case of my personal brand, what they see is what I get. What I do becomes what my personal brand is perceived to be.
Ask yourself – what is my personal brand? Ask your friends. You might be surprised by what you hear. If you like the answers you get, build on it. If you don’t like the answers, get to work.
So, do you know my name? Will I know yours? Whether you look at this question personally or in terms of your business, the answer may be one of the most important ones you ever hear.
Thanks for stopping by. Stay Tuned…
One of the biggest mistakes we can make as innovators and business leaders is to assume that we automatically know what our customers want, need, and are willing to buy.
CorePurpose, Inc., the company I founded in 2002, would run a 12 month lecture series with thought leaders from across the country.
We were smack dab in the middle of a down turn. People were looking for answers and strategies to help turn things around. And of course – I knew who had the answers. I would bring them to town, one each month, and help all the small businesses by giving them access to ideas and talent as a group that they could not afford individually. I was really excited!
The folks at the Phoenix Business Journal also thought it was a great idea and featured the program with a full page story to kick things off in January 2, 2004. Doug Brodman and my friends at AVI Communications created an incredible 12 month interactive marketing campaign highlighting each month’s speaker in addition to the ads (like the one above)that would run each month in the Business Journal . We had a sure fire hit!
Well, maybe not. While we had gotten great feedback in designing the program as to the topics of interest, the areas of need, and the program’s price, we failed to ask one key question:
Would they, as business owners, make the investment of their time to attend twelve half day sessions throughout the year?
It turns out that for many in our target market, the answer was no! Instead of standing room only crowds, the room was half full each month. Still, we held to our commitment to provide all twelve sessions. Those that attended loved the program. CorePurpose got lots of critical acclaim from the economic development community and even won awards.
Through out the year, we kept asking potential customers – many of whom we had talked to during the design process – what we needed to do differently. In almost every case we got the same answer.
They could not afford the time away from the office when times were so tough. The perceived benefit did not exceed the perceived cost… of their time!
In the end, the program lost over $60,000 dollars because I assumed I knew the answer to one very important question and did not ask it.
Back then, that was a BIG hit to take.
So what is the moral to this story?
When you are designing products or services, be sure that you look outside your organization and ask ALL the important questions.
Get with professionals to help you design accurate assessments of market needs AND your target customer’s willingness to adopt what you are creating before you commit to investing your time and money to create a product or service that customers may say they want – but may not be willing or able to buy.
And for me – as a personal reminder – this ad has a place of honor on my office wall. It stands as a reminder to be sure to look outside of the company, to talk to customers and prospects, and to ask all the right questions – FIRST.
Thanks for stopping by. Stay Tuned…
I remember my grandmother quoting the poem “For the Want of a Nail…” to me as a child. Her message to me – all things great and small can have tremendous impact on the success or failure of what we are trying to achieve”
For want of a nail,
the shoe was lost.
For want of the shoe,
the horse was lost.
For want of the horse,
the rider was lost.
For want of the rider,
the battle was lost.
For want of the battle,
the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail!”
Grandma looked at life as a series of chapters, each full of choices, opportunities, goals and challenges. When one chapter ended, another commenced. You might not have control of all the twists and turns of the plot, but you could make a huge impact on how the story turned out.
So, why write an article about business – and that’s what this is – with old proverbs and messages learned at Grandma’s knee? Because we often make business and business decisions much more complicated than they need to be!
Many of the lessons we learned early on in our lives – when things were simple – can have a significant impact on business success. Simple lessons like –
- Look both ways…
- Listen to your teacher
- Look out for your brother
- Don’t cry over spilt milk
- You’ never know until you try
- If you fall down – get up
- You’ll never finish if you don’t get started.
Our lives and our businesses are made of a continuous series of little things – some that may seem important at the time but have little impact in the grand scheme and others that seem insignificant but can have a long and lasting affect. The trouble is that we lack perfect intuition or the crystal ball to determine what the important things are right now.
There may be some pretty big questions that you are be facing in your life or business in today’s economy. It pays to keep in mind that the simplest answers are often the right ones and, as in the case of the nail, one small thing can make a big difference.
Thanks for stopping by. Stay Tuned…
For those of you that have been following my Little Life Stories blog over the past week, you know that I have had quite a bit of windshield time as my son and I drove the 2500 miles from Phoenix, Arizona to Brookfield, Connecticut. Over 40 hours in the car equated to that much time off-line. You should try it some time. Disengaging and taking the time to think without the constant demands of meetings, phone, or computer.
But for most other areas of our life and business – traveling down the one way street is a very short sighted solution.
A very wise friend of mine taught me long ago that by extending yourself, engaging, and helping others there is a karmic affect. What you give comes back to you. This video tells the story…
A recent blog post and developing exchange with Gloria Feldt on her blog “Speaking Up” under the category of Courageous Leadership really helped me bring my thoughts into focus in terms of social media interactions and my social media tool kit as a leader.
How does social media fit in my leadership tool kit?
I loved that Gloria started off by recognizing that social media is a tool for leaders and not a strategy. Social Media – interactive websites, blogs, Linked In, Twitter, Facebook, and more are each separate tools that can be used separately and on concert to 1) deliver information and 2) interact with your audience, employees, customers, and community in general. These actions are the components of our strategy. The tools simply enable us to act more effectively.
The days of one-way communication are coming to a close.
With the development of new social media platforms, we have entered into a new era of two-way communication that will allow us, as leaders, to develop stronger relationships, enhance communications, share ideas, and collaborate.
I am just learning to use these new tools to facilitate these interactions. The more I learn, the better a communicator and ultimately a leader I can become.
Here is a short story to illustrate what effectively using social media tools can do.
Gloria and I met at an ASU Women in Philanthropy event in 2002. Since then we exchanged holiday cards, read an occasional newsletter or email, and were loosely connected. As we both began to use the newer social media tools, we began to more actively interact, follow each others projects, and introduce each other to friends with shared goals. Ultimately these conversations can lead to collaborations in the future. Basically, our communication has become a two-way street.
Are you still stuck on the one way street?
Not everyone is taking advantage of this opportunity. Often I continue to come across others in the social media and business worlds who are still stuck on that “one-way street” mode of communicating. They continue to PUSH information out while failing to take advantage of the opportunity to PULL information in by engaging with their social media communities. Until they do, they will run the risk of missing out on great new ideas, critical information, or opportunities to collaborate, and make a difference in their businesses, their personal interactions, and their communities – where ever they may be.
It’s kind of sad – I hate to see anyone miss opportunities – but in the end, that is their choice. Their decision just creates more available opportunities for those of us choosing to travel down “two way streets”.
Thanks for stopping by. Stay tuned.
Looking inside our organization and accurately assessing where and what we are isn’t always easy.
Many changes, for good or bad, are gradual. If we are living them every day, we may not notice the change. It’s like a pearl growing in an oyster or the grass growing in your yard. You do not notice how much the grass grows each day, but go away on vacation for two weeks and you immediately notice the difference on your return.
OK, so we need to take stock inside our organization, but what are we looking for?
The first key area to examine is who you say you are. A good place to start is with your core purpose and value statements.
What’s your core purpose?
Your core purpose is what you are and what you work to be. Unlike mission statements that should be time bound, your core purpose is a continual quest and directing force. It is the first component in who you are as a company.
The second component is the set of values that you adopt as an organization to realize that core purpose. Your values point your people towards HOW they will realize the organization’s core purpose. How they will deal with each other and how they will deal with customers and partners. These values drive your organizational behaviors – what you do day in and day out.
Let’s look at an example.
My own company, CorePurpose, Inc., (www.corepurpose.com) is a distributor of value added services and outsourced solutions. We work with companies ranging from start ups to the Fortune 500® to establish where they are, where the want to be and how to get there. We then build solutions from our portfolio of specialty service providers in the area of human resources, sales & marketing, operations, finance and information technology.
At CorePurpose®, our core purpose is To Provide Services and Solutions that Build Businesses. Everything we do in the company is focused on building businesses – our own – our partners – our customers.
From that core purpose, we then determined our corporate values: People, Acceleration, Promises Excellence, and Results. If you look at the first letter of these words you will note that put together they form PAPER. This was done with specific intent since values are noting but words on paper without sustaining behaviors demonstrated every day.
Looking at our corporate values, we can break them down into specific behaviors:
People – are the most important – no business exists without people – they are our employees, our partners, and our customers.
- We treat people with respect.
- We seek out diversity and partner with people who compliment our skill sets.
- We create services and solutions that are designed to make people successful in what THEY want to achieve
Acceleration – our customers and partners look to us to help get them where they want to be faster.
- We set aggressive but achievable milestones.
- We offer resources that allow things to happen faster.
- We do not wait and wonder. We are decisive and help our customers be decisive also.
Promises – to succeed we must be trusted. That means we must keep our promises.
- Be clear in the promises you make – gain shared understanding.
- Don’t EVER make promises you can not keep. Don’t over commit.
- Ask for help when you need it.
Excellence – people choose to work with us because of the quality of what we deliver.
- As experts we stay at the top of our field.
- We know our facts and do not guess.
- If we don’t know – we say so – we find out – and communicate back.
Results – it’s what we are looking for and what our clients and partners expect.
- We measure what matters.
- We do the job right the first time.
- When we achieve our result, we set the bar higher and start again.
- We deliver.
If you worked at CorePurpose®, would you know what was expected of you?
If you were the customer or partner, would you know what to expect?
Hopefully so. But as we all know, seeing is believing.
Our employees, partners, investors, and customers watch what we do, and make their own assessment of the strength of our commitment to our core purpose and corporate values.
What we say is fine… but what we do is what really counts.
Thanks for stopping by. Stay Tuned…
CorePurpose® is a registered service mark of CorePurpose, Inc.