Lessons from Good to Great

Good to Great by Jim Collins is a classic business book. Its lessons are timeless for anyone trying to run a department or a company.

No summary is adequate for conveying all the book has to offer. It’s a worthy read from beginning to ending.

That said, here are a couple of our takeaways:

  1. The best companies attend first to getting the right people in the right positions. They don’t pull the trigger on a hire when they have doubts, they hire based on character, not skills or educational credentials, and they put their best people on their biggest opportunities not their biggest problems. THIS IS CHALLENGING ADVICE TO FOLLOW based on our work with clients. That does not mean it’s bad advice.
  2. The best companies drive alignment by conveying their value proposition to the market in a simple message for both internal and external consumption.
    The best companies esteem discipline.
  3. That is, the best companies become cultures of self-disciplined individuals who work toward meeting clear expectations set by the organization.

Let us know if you have questions or would like help sorting through the challenge of hiring the right people.

The quotes:

“A company should limit its growth based on its ability to attract enough of the right people.” ― James Collins

“The moment you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you’ve made a hiring mistake.” ― James Collins

“What separates people, Stockdale taught me, is not the presence or absence of difficulty, but how they deal with the inevitable difficulties of life.”  ― James Collins

Why is Mindfulness SO HARD?

To be mindful you have to overcome at least two seemingly natural tendencies: the tendency to judge ourselves and others and the tendency to see threats even where they don’t exist.

Both of these tendencies are rooted in the emotions (fear, anger, etc.) and are thoughts the emotions drive. Whether it’s judgment or seeing threats, it’s important to note that they spring from emotions.

It’s important because the “antidote” to these tendencies is SOOTHING the emotions. That’s where mindfulness comes in. By focusing on the present and letting go of judgment and threat detection, the emotions are less likely to gain traction and take over.

Still, the emotions are always ready to take over and that’s what makes mindfulness hard–it seems like fighting your own natural tendencies.

With practice, these tendencies can be reduced to manageable forces but only practice will rein them in.

Understanding what you’re up against (seemingly natural tendencies to judge and catastrophize) is a step on the journey to mindfulness (that is LESS HARD).

Let us know if you have questions…

The quote:

“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” ― John Steinbeck

Core Beliefs of Great Bosses

Dr. Travis Bradberry wrote a LinkedIn article1 entitled 7 Core Beliefs of Great Bosses. We’ve taken a little license with his thoughts and come up with five slightly modified beliefs for your consideration.

Employees are unique individuals, not clones. This is a critical belief for several reasons. First, it paves the way for individuals to aspire and achieve in areas that play to their strengths and passions. Clones do not have that freedom. Second, people who are seen as individuals and are encouraged to contribute in their own special way, make better employees in the sense of engagement and loyalty. They are more likely to be all-in than anyone treated as a clone.

Diversity, not like-mindedness, should be embraced. Diversity in perspective and interests makes for better decisions at all levels. It’s not always as smooth or conflict-free or comfortable as those organizations that insist on like-mindedness but it makes for better processes as well as service and product offerings.

Work should be enjoyable. It’s the only way to raise employee engagement to above average levels as well as retain top performers.

Motivation, is better in the long run, coming from inspiration, not fear. Fear works as a motivational tool but it has an expiration date. Sooner or later, people motivated by fear get fed up or fatigued. Either way, they leave, usually in correlation with their value to the organization–the most valuable leaving first.

Change is an opportunity, not a curse. This may be the most challenging reframe that any business leader has to deal with. Again, change is not always smooth or conflict-free or comfortable but it’s an opportunity for those who embrace it. Just reflect on those organizations that haven’t changed with the times. They don’t always fail but they always pay a price for dragging their feet.

The quotes:
“The best leader is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” ― Theodore Roosevelt

“A leader is admired, a boss is feared.” ― Vicente del Bosque

“A Harvard Medical School study has determined that rectal thermometers are still the best way to tell a baby’s temperature. Plus, it really teaches the baby who’s boss.” ― Tina Fey

1Published on December 14, 2016:  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/core-beliefs-great-bosses-dr-travis-bradberry

Vicente del Bosque. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved May 25, 2017, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/v/vicentedel487283.html

Tina Fey. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved May 25, 2017, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/t/tinafey145038.html

This is a weekly email to clients that work with Vital Growth. We ask them to consider it a reminder of content they’ve likely already heard. Our experience is that individuals who keep the content “top of mind” accelerate any changes in behavior they are trying to make. As you might expect, this information is only as useful as one makes it. Read it, re-read it, re-read it again. Practice it, practice it, practice it again. Refresh your take on it every day until it becomes part of your standard approach or you’re sick of it (whichever comes first).

It takes putting these ideas into practice intentionally and repeatedly to be successful. It’s the only way to erase and move on from behaviors that are better left in the past and we all know how easy it is to get busy or distracted and slip back into old behavior habits.

Finally, if you want to add a member of your organization to our mailing list for this weekly content reminder, just email us and let us know their name and email address.

Lessons from the Successful Family Business World

The content this week contains thoughts on important lessons from the successful family business world.

Successful family businesses often start with the premise that hiring, promotion, and performance decisions regarding family members are made using objective criteria–they take as much “family relationship emotion” out the decision as possible. Their goal is simply to avoid letting relationship based bias or favoritism get in the way of what’s best for the organization.

Furthermore, and very importantly, they make sure all family members know this from the beginning, even before they start work. The expectation is stated and clear: Your position as a member of the family is not going to interfere with the best interests of the company.

From the very start, everyone understands that the best interests of the company are the first priority in making decisions and nothing else, not even family relationships, are a greater priority.

These family businesses understand something all businesses should. Bias toward individuals can, sooner or later, get in the way of business success.

The quote:

“Several companies have explicit policies against cronyism, with good reason. Hiring a family member simply for a relationship can be troubling and may not necessarily serve a company’s interests. But by and large, financial firms in particular commonly hire people who have certain connections, whether through family or a business relationship.” ― Andrew Ross Sorkin

Andrew Ross Sorkin. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/andrewross657440.html


The content this week contains thoughts on firing or “freeing up someone’s future.”

The national headlines make this a better week than usual to write about ways to approach the choice of firing someone.

In our view, there are only two reasonable reasons to fire someone (other than for criminal behavior). The first is when they do not meet clearly stated expectations. This is a “performance” based firing. Often, the responsibility for poor performance is shared by management as well as the individual. This is the case when there is a poor fit between role and person or a lack of training or resources to do the job well.

Sometimes, on the other hand, there is a lack of motivation by the employee and this lack of motivation translates into sub-par performance. If this is the case, you’re probably better off walking away than trying to change motivation. While there are no absolutes, if someone lacks motivation and they don’t respond to your attempts to inspire them, they probably aren’t going to become one of your even average performers.

In the end, if expectations are not being met, moving to redeploy or fire someone is a hard but necessary action for the health of the organization.

The second reason to fire someone is because he/she does not share your organization’s values. If someone does not share the values that drive you and is an under-performer, it’s an easy decision to make. Why keep him or her? This is in contrast with the situation of someone being a great performer but not sharing your organization’s values.

In the latter case, the great performance is at the expense of shared values. A common example of this is when someone does their job well but does not respect co-workers and/or customers. The tradeoff here is between employee morale and an individual’s performance above average for someone in their position.

I can say, we’ve never seen an individual’s contribution to the bottom line above average for their role, exceed the cost associated with turnover and productivity of offended employees. Mathematically, one could express this as (Revenue Contribution Above Average for Role) < (Cost of Turnover of Offended Employees + Cost of Lost Productivity of Offended Employees).

While it’s not easy to calculate the values associated with variables like “Revenue Contribution Above Average for Role,” the point, hopefully, is clear. Even top performers in any given role, cannot overcome the cost of their disrespectful behavior (because it inevitably affects multiple individuals).

Please let us know if you have questions. Firing someone, in most cases, is a hard decision, made only slightly easier by being clear about whether it’s for performance issues or values concerns.

The quotes:

“The single biggest lesson I learned was when a hire isn’t working out fire them fast. My biggest mistakes, and where I’ve seen the worst results, were when I gave someone too many chances, or let a situation drift on for too long because I couldn’t bring myself to terminate it.” ― Cindy Gallop

“We should be firing bad teachers.” ― Malcolm Gladwell

Cindy Gallop. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/c/cindygallo545502.html

Malcolm Gladwell. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/malcolmgla662351.html

In Praise of Anger

The content this week contains thoughts on anger.

Daniel Goleman, of Emotional Intelligence (EI) fame, quoted Aristotle to add color to his definition of EI. As Aristotle put it, “to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”

Aristotle’s quote predates (by a long time) the work of Goleman and others on EI. It also highlights how anger, in the right measure and delivered in the “right” way, is very much a part of communicating to others with emotional intelligence.

Perhaps it’s just my blind spot but it’s easy to think that communicating with EI means never making the audience of your communication uncomfortable. That is not true. Indeed, masking anger or other strong negative emotions is emotionally un-intelligent. You rarely fool anyone about how you truly feel and removing anger altogether robs your audience of important information.

The trick is to modulate your anger to the point where people keep listening and do not withdraw in fear or ignore your distress. Too much anger shuts communication down. Too little anger and your message is easily dismissed. Like the temperature of Goldilocks’ porridge, you need your anger to be “just right.”

The goal of increasing your emotional intelligence is NOT to be like Spock (unemotional). It is to be more sophisticated when communicating so that how you are feeling does not overshadow the content of your communication.

Let us know if you have questions.

The quotes:

“When angry, count to four; when very angry, swear.” ― Mark Twain

“When angry count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred.” ― Thomas Jefferson

“For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Mark Twain. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/marktwain125615.html

Thomas Jefferson. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/t/thomasjeff132201.html

Ralph Waldo Emerson. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/r/ralphwaldo120981.html

Huddle Meetings

Huddle meetings have the ability to maintain focus on the priorities you set. They make accountability easier and provide a forum for repairing relationships that are strained (talking things out always beats allowing grudges to ferment).

Done well, they take 10-15 minutes. Done well, people share what they are working on, what they’ve succeeded at and where they are stuck. They also facilitate setting up a separate meeting to deal with “stucks.”

The ideal frequency depends on your team’s difficulty with accountability. Teams that are relatively new may need daily huddles until all members can be expected to work on their priorities independently. I don’t like to go more than a week between huddles, just the same, in case a “stuck” is left unattended.

Huddles are a powerful management tool. Especially when combined with clear expectations, clearly communicated. Make your life easier by implementing a daily or weekly huddle.


Become a Maestro

A maestro, among other attributes, has given up the role of contributing directly to the output of the organization. Instead, he or she, guides others in a way that maximizes their contribution. So too, the coach does not play the game (the output of the team) but instead guides the players to do their best.

Making the transition from musician to maestro or player to coach is not easy… or for everyone. For some, the fun is in playing the music or the game and not in leading others. Many try to have it both ways. They are player-coaches, if you will.

The trouble with being a player-coach is that it’s hard to be good at both roles simultaneously. It’s hard to maintain a high skill level at each role and, perhaps most importantly, it’s hard to maintain the difference in perspective required by each role.

My best counsel is to drop the musician/player role and to get good at being a maestro. It seems to me that your leverage is highest when you are at a maestro level because of how you can affect the people who work for you.


Celebrating Success

Celebrating success is a challenge for most of us. Indeed, the irony is that those who are the best at accomplishing things are usually the worst at celebrating them. Is that you?

If so, take the time to celebrate and while you’re at it, to express gratitude and appreciation for the efforts made by you and by those around you–your team.

The key instruction here is to TAKE TIME. Schedule it and make it happen. Fighting fires or attending to a crisis is easy compared to taking the time to reflect on past success. No need to wallow in nostalgia. But important to spend a few minutes EXPRESSING APPRECIATION and generating some GOOD FEELINGS about a job well done.

Know Thy Self

The content this week contains thoughts on knowing one’s own strengths and weaknesses.

The most successful leaders we have worked with are aware of their own strengths and weaknesses and not resistant to relying on others to take on tasks that are not in their wheelhouse. They are also good at seeking the perspective of others whom they recognize as having a different point of view and, therefore, something valuable to offer.

For example, a current client has a unique technical expertise that makes him in demand in the market. He knows his strength is in conscientiously attacking a problem and working out a viable solution. He prefers to work alone and to take on one challenge at a time.

He’s an excellent technician but has little interest or practice in networking with potential clients or making sales calls to secure the next contract. He may be an exceptional partner with someone who is more people and sales oriented but on his own, he is likely to have trouble getting steady work.

The point is, of course: Alone this client has a small chance of thriving but, partnered with someone with complementary skills, the chances of thriving increase significantly.

This example has relevance for leaders at all levels of an organization because even though the details can vary, the fact that all of us have areas of strength and areas of weakness is invariable. The best leaders accept this fact and act accordingly.