Category Archives: Good to Great

4 Leadership Lessons You Need to Learn Fast

Recently, I came across this article about the Leadership Lessons You Can Learn From Clemson’s Dabo Swinney. Some of you may not know this but I graduated from Clemson University so I was interested to see how the coach of Clemson’s football team applied the principles of Good to Great to achieve success.

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There are great leaders and there are bloody awful leaders. As for the rest, they’re merely inbetweeners. Now, I don’t know about you, but I know which part of the bench I’d want to sit on. Not the left or the in the middle. I’d only want to be on the right side of that leadership bench.

While you can’t get a degree in great leadership, you can learn valuable lessons through experience. Even better, you can learn the fundamentals of leadership very early on in your career. And – quite frankly, the earlier you learn, the more likely you are to have a better and more successful future.

Constant improvement

Did you know that when he became Clemson’s permanent head coach, it was Dabo Swinney’s first head coaching job? Obviously, the man had a lot to learn and that’s what he did. In his first three seasons coaching the Tigers, Swinney lost 16 games. In the following five years he’s only lost nine games. And in the last two years he has only lost one game each year and has vied for the championship one year and won it the next.

A great leader will continuously develop and improve in many ways throughout their professional career. However, you need to have a real desire for constant self-improvement. As a COO or Director, there will always be new things to learn that will help you mature and evolve. But that’s not all. You also need to challenge every member of your team to keep improving.

I mean – how else do see your company reaching new levels of success when you don’t allow room for growth? When you push yourself and your team, you’ll also notice a boost in positive energy, which will motivate everyone to keep reaching for excellence.

Surround yourself with star players

One thing that Swinney is famous for is accepting a lower starting salary so that Clemson could afford top coordinators. Here’s a man who was willing to sacrifice his own paycheck to ensure that he surrounded himself by the best and brightest minds. The best part though is that Swinney took advantage of those minds. He didn’t micromanage or try to tell them what to do; he just let them do what they did best.

The same rules apply to your business. Surrounding yourself with the best tech, marketing and operations experts means that you won’t need to constantly worry that everyone is doing their job. You can trust that everything is running as it should.

That doesn’t mean you should have favourites by the way. The moment you make it obvious that you prefer your top performers and start to ignore everyone else, you are going to land yourself in tricky territory. It’s perfectly fine for your employees to make mistakes and slip up every now and then. You just need to help these lower achieving individuals become star players.

Set expectations for your team and offer guidance to anyone who struggles. A great leader will know how to bring out the best in every member of their organisation. Plus, it shows that you care about them being happy in their work. Yes, surround yourself with star players, but don’t ever be put off by helping others to get their bums on that bench too.

Always be positive

Unless you’re a Vince Lombardi, Nick Saban or Bill Parcells, it’s unlikely that you can inspire and lead your team with fear and intimidation. If you can, that’s great, but otherwise, keeping a positive attitude like Swinney is the best approach.

Even when your company is going through a rough patch, kick the bad times in the teeth with some fighting spirit. If everyone else around you can feel your negative vibes or see that certain obstacles are getting to you, then they’re likely to behave in the same way.

Think about it. Can you picture a great leader who is well-known for being negative and fearful? Would you want to hire or work with someone like that? Always be unfailingly positive, regardless of how good or bad the situation. Of course, you need to be realistic and understand the brutal facts – the tough times are there to challenge you, but when you smile in the face of your troubles, you’ll learn how to navigate the bad times, and in turn, become a stronger leader.

Leave the ego at home

As Theodore Roosevelt once said; “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” This statement is absolutely true. If you’re only concerned with getting credit when things go right, then you are never going to be a great leader. And anyway – no one expects you to be perfect. Nor should you expect your team to be the same.

Make sure you always put your self-interest at the back of your mind and show your people some support. This is especially important when your team has achieved success, even without your help. The same can be said for when something goes wrong. Have a little compassion and take responsibility for any bad decisions and anyone affected by them.

 

Setting the path for Greatness

Have you ever thought about the stories behind the great retail businesses you see? Many people think great organisations are often overnight successes with outstanding facilities and teams to make it happen. I can assure you that very few great retail businesses get to where they are now without persistence. Their transformations come from persistently and consistently building their retail empires for many years.

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With so many Australian retail companies clueless to the fact that fads and gimmicks rarely work to jump-start their success, it’s no wonder they fail miserably in business. If you aren’t prepared to put in the time and effort it takes to go from good to great, then you’ll just end up in a cul-de-sac.

Don’t be a doom loop fool

Author on the subject of company growth, Jim Collins discovered during research that good to great transformations never happen in one fell swoop. So why are an alarming number of retail companies taking all kinds of detours in the hope of reaching their desired destination? It makes no sense to me. However, there are a few things that you need to look at.

The doom loop is a concept created by Collins that involves reaction without understanding, new direction, no build-up of momentum, and disappointing results that lead back to reaction without understanding. Think of it as a vicious cycle. You frequently attempt to launch new promotions with great fanfare to motivate your team and fail to produce sustained results because of the underlying problems. Waste of time, right? You bet your last dollar it is – and there’s your doom loop.

When you combine superficial solutions (such as promotions) with no understanding of your underlying issues, the doom loop occurs. Often, short-term solutions that have a temporary impact just end up making the primary problem worse. Don’t be a doom loop fool.

Be a persistent flywheel

Collins uses the metaphor of a flywheel to represent great companies that have momentum. A flywheel requires many small pushes to get it running in the beginning, and with every push, it gradually increases in speed. The breakthrough moment is when the speed begins to work for the organisation. No significant push can be identified as the one big push that makes a good company launch into greatness. Instead, it takes daily persistence and discipline.

The flywheel will only continue to move when your retail company:

  • Recruits the right people to help keep pushing
  • Engages in Level 5 Leadership
  • Understands your Hedgehog Concept
  • Stays focused on a disciplined culture
  • Faces the brutal facts
  • Provokes thought and action
  • Refuses to stop the momentum from building slowly

It’s all about every member of your organisation wanting to be on a winning team while contributing to producing sustainable results that keep them motivated and excited because their hard efforts pay off. When your co-workers see that you have a plan developed from understanding, they’re more likely to want to be involved and help you achieve great things over time.

Companies that fall into the doom loop try and skip all the key steps to achieving the breakthrough moment and jump in blind. All quick fixes result in is a forward and backward movement that can’t deliver and last. Ultimately, you need the right people on your bus to begin with and the discipline to follow the flywheel approach to set a path for greatness – and stay on the right track.

The Retail Technology Trap

Never Succumb To the Technology Trap

The experience most consumers will have with a digital retail service is a self-service check-out (like many major supermarkets); however, over the past couple of years, there have been a number of amazing technologies for retail businesses. This could include anything from the collaboration of Myer and eBay to launch the first virtual reality department store, Neiman Marcus’ “Memory Mirror”, Afterpay’s online payment instalments or Temando’s intelligent fulfilment solutions.

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That said, when you hear about a new technology that claims to be the latest and greatest ever made, do you rush out and invest in it in the hope that it may add value to your retail business? If you’re the type of company with a habit of investing in technology for the sake of it, then you need a reality check. It’s time to turn your back on the technology trap and start using your common sense.

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins it wasn’t a surprise that more than 80% of great companies do not rank technology as one of their top five reasons for making a great company. So, unless a technology fits squarely in with your Hedgehog Concept, you should ignore it.

Does the technology you use fit in with your Hedgehog concept?

Good retail companies often look to technologies to help take them to the next level, whereas great companies always use technologies as an accelerator to enhance their Hedgehog Concept. When a technology aligns with your Hedgehog Concept, you need to act like a great company and become a pioneer of it. If your Hedgehog Concept doesn’t drive the use of a technology, you either have to settle for parity or ignore it completely.

I’ve seen leading edge technologies that have been pioneered by great companies. However, I’ve also seen the same technologies in “comparison organisations” and witnessed them fail to produce the same results.

Before jumping on the technology bandwagon, you need to ask yourself:

  • How does this technology connect with our Hedgehog Concept?
  • Can we be pioneers in the technology?

If you answered no to both questions, just forget the bloody technology and move on. It’s so easy to panic in fear of being left behind, but you need to stop worrying about what technologies your competitors may or may not be using, as they will never be the answer to making you great.

The bottom line

Technology should only be used as an accelerator, rather than a creator of momentum. While I understand that it can be hard to dismiss the hype of current technologies, you need to have absolute discipline and steer clear of any technology trends that don’t support your Hedgehog Concept.

As Norwegian politician, Christian Lous Lange once said, “Technology is a useful servant, but a dangerous master.” Never use technology as a primary means of igniting transformation – but if you can, always become a pioneer in the application of carefully selected technologies.

A Culture of Discipline

Why You Should Create A Strong Culture Of Discipline

Have you ever worked for an organisation and wondered if it’s the lack of leader and worker discipline that has prevented it from rising to the next level? I have – and I’m not alone in my thoughts. Business expert and author of Good to Great, Jim Collins has stated: “a culture of discipline is not a principle of business; it is a principle of greatness.” After all, great retail companies that grow and continue to succeed are led by self-disciplined leaders who encourage a deeper culture of discipline.

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I’m not talking about dictatorship or forcing behaviours and rules. No one likes a tyrant. It’s about creating processes and systems within your company that keep your workers motivated and focussed on ensuring you build a strong foundation of discipline as a team.

However, the breakthrough point can only be reached when you achieve a seamless culture of disciplined people, disciplined thought, and disciplined action.

Disciplined people

Regardless of how small or large your organisation and your management structure, discipline must start at the top of your retail chain. If there’s a lack of discipline at the head of your team, problems among staff can easily escalate. It’s always up to leaders and CEOs to set the right tone and culture of a business – which is why it’s crucial for you to adopt Level 5 leadership qualities.

Level 5 leaders are humble with huge ambition for their organisation rather than themselves. Not only are great leaders proven to be better at creating a culture of discipline, but they also praise their workers and take personal responsibility when the shit hits the fan.

As a leader, it’s up to you to build discipline in both thought and action by setting clear expectations, reviewing performance, and rewarding disciplined behaviour. You also need to provide those who are unwilling or even unable to help you sustain such a culture of discipline with a one-way ticket off your bus.

Disciplined thought

In my last article, I talked about the Hedgehog Concept – and how retail businesses who are like hedgehogs are able to transform the complexities of a business into simple and profound solutions. The Hedgehog Concept also involves setting a simple business strategy to ensure accelerated growth through three key questions including:

  • What can you be the best at?
  • What drives your economic engine?
  • What are you deeply passionate about?

You need to be honest and disciplined in answering all three questions without being distracted by outside opportunities to find your Hedgehog Concept and stay within the three circles. It takes disciplined thought to understand the three circles and say no to anything that doesn’t fit within them. Without disciplined thought, you won’t create anything great at all.

Disciplined action

To ensure you successfully execute your main business focus and strategy, it’s essential that you take disciplined action. Be sure not to confuse reactive action for proactive action, though, or you’ll end up like many good and average companies that struggle to see long-term growth plans succeed. Start with a ‘to do’ list and a ‘stop doing’ list.

Ask yourself – which actions best support the Hedgehog Concept and which ones don’t? It’s up to you to figure out and strengthen the discipline to do the right things and eliminate anything that falls outside of the Hedgehog Concept’s three intersecting circles.

Essentially, you need to stop:

  • Making rash decisions
  • Trying to expand your business without the right strategy
  • Trying to rival your competitors for the sake of it
  • Hiring people that don’t fit with your disciplined culture
  • Undertaking anything that doesn’t meet your long-term growth plan

You’ll initially need to do some experimenting to build a culture of discipline and responsibility, as well as define specific goals. On-going analysis of your strategy is also key to ensuring your retail business stays on track and you can establish any minor problems before they become too big to rectify.

Ultimately, in order for your business to work, all three concepts must pull in the same direction. But remember – a culture of discipline is not just about action. It’s about building a culture and team of self-disciplined and passionate individuals who engage in disciplined thought and ignore opportunities that fall outside the three circles. Only then can you take disciplined action to ensure the flywheel (your retail business) can really take off.

The Hedgehog Concept

What really is The Hedgehog Concept all about?

That’s a very good question, and one I often get asked. The Hedgehog Concept comes from the book Good to Great, by Jim Collins, and it outlines three questions for organisations to ask themselves.

From understanding what drives your business, what you’re great at and where your passion lies, the Hedgehog Concept should be used to help keep everyone on your business focused and grounded. I also use the same principle to simplify my very challenging and complex work life.

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Like the philosopher, Isaiah Berlin, Collins sees the world’s leaders as either hedgehogs or foxes. Hedgehogs only know how to roll up into a spikey ball – and do so without fail time and time again. Foxes try all sorts of tricks to attack hedgehogs, without success – meaning hedgehogs always come out on top. Let’s take a look at the traits of foxes and hedgehogs in more detail.

Foxes vs. hedgehogs

Firstly, you need to ask yourself if your company is a hedgehog or a fox. For example, a retail enterprise that is like a fox tends to pursue many things at the same time, try to be all things to all people and view the world as a complex place. Conversely, businesses that resemble a hedgehog focus on the one thing they are great at and simplify the world’s complexities into a basic concept to ensure they achieve the desired results.

Which one do you think makes you a great retail business? I really hoped you guessed the hedgehog. It’s ok if you’re a fox, though, as every good retail organisation has the ability to become a great business.

The three circles

By now, you’re probably wondering what differentiates a good hedgehog and a great one. The quick answer – a fully developed Hedgehog Concept. Every company has a strategy – but you should focus your efforts on one thing and doing that one thing well to increase your chances of success.

Let’s take a look at the questions from the three circles of the Hedgehog Concept and see how you can apply them to your retail business.

  1. What can you be the best at?

When it comes to the retail industry, everyone wants their products to be the very best of their kind. The truth is that there’s a huge difference in wanting to be great at something and actually being great at it. Remember, you’re not going to offer things that appeal to every individual – and that’s perfectly fine. It’s about defining the areas that aren’t working well and have little success, as well as understanding what makes your business thrive.

  1. What drives your economic engine?

You have to determine the single denominator such as profit or robust cash flow and pick the one thing that has the most sustainable impact on your economic engine. I’m not talking about quick profit or fast cash here. You need to identify the bread-and-butter of your business and make it as solid and sustainable as possible and keep it that way in the long-term to ensure you stay truly great.

  1. What are you deeply passionate about?

Without passion, you will not last in the retail industry, nor will you make a great retail company. Ask yourself if you would still go to work where you are now if you had already earned all the money you need to live till your dying day. If you answered yes because you think of yourself as the luckiest person in the world to do what you do and believe you have something that’s the best it can possibly be (and greater than your competitors), then you have winning passion.

Your Hedgehog Concept

Once you’ve answered all three questions, you need to turn your attention to where your answers overlap. Two out of three isn’t enough. Perhaps you are passionate about your business and your company is the best in what it does but you aren’t making any money from what you sell. Maybe you make lots of money from delivering great products but feel your passion lies elsewhere. Either way, it’s not worth it.

In the business, all three circles have to intersect if you want to succeed in being great. Take note of the great success of top retailer, Lululemon. Not only are they passionate about fitnesswear and make money at it, but they are also the best they can be in it.

You’ve got to have it all – including something you can be great at, the right fuel to drive your economic engine and passion about your work. Your Hedgehog Concept lies at the intersection of the three circles and fulfils all three principles. It may take some time and research, but I can assure you that greatness is only achieved by being consistent and taking a disciplined,  yet simple approach.

 

Don’t Ignore the Brutal Facts!

Never ignore the brutal facts surrounding your organisation

How do you usually react when one of your team tells you that they think there’s something wrong with your business? Are you the type of leader with a tendency to react badly to criticism? Or the type who wouldn’t think twice about brushing off your staff member? If you answered yes – then quite frankly, you’re a bloody idiot.

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Your employee could be right, and you should want to know about any issues that reflect badly on your company. After all, you aren’t always going to know everything. You need to face the brutal facts, instead of ignoring or brushing off the people who try and help improve your business.

The Harvard Business Review presents a good case study in which the COO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? ignored the advice of his VP of Finance who was cautioning their growth, because the VP was a quiet man and seen as “meek”. As a result, the CEO and COO ignored his warnings, the company expanded too quickly and eventually ran out of cash.

In Good to Great, Jim Collins suggests that successful organisations are built on an open communication culture. I’ve shared the four key ways to confront the facts of your current reality and determine corrective action without being confrontational.

  1. Lead by asking questions

It is impossible to make great decisions and change when you only push your thoughts and ideas on to others. If you want to be respected as a leader, you must encourage open and effective communication by asking probing questions at the right time. Show your team that you care about their opinion and throw questions at them that require careful thought and focus. The aim is to get honest answers that may highlight any obstacles and problems with your company.

That said, nothing positive can come from someone who is unwilling to listen to answers they do not want to hear. Remember, most of your workers will be nervous about speaking up and sharing the brutal facts with you. Regardless of your opinion, you must work collaboratively as a team and concentrate on where you need to be rather than what got you to where you are now.

  1. Create an environment where honesty is valued

Being heard is very different from being confident enough to say what you think. Every person that works for you should be comfortable to share their honest thoughts – which is why you need to encourage healthy debates. I’m not talking about arguments and differences of opinions that will put your team in a bad mood.

Just because you’re a manager, it doesn’t give you licence to boss people around. Your job is to demonstrate control when confronted with the brutal facts and guide your workers in a productive environment where conclusions can be reached – and you can all move on. Nothing shows authority more than motivating your people to engage in debate and dialogue without coercion.

  1. Investigate problems without pointing the finger

When things go wrong, most managers like to assign blame to protect themselves from being seen as a failure. Pointing the finger and embarrassing others is why these people will never become great leaders. No one can expect to honestly learn from blunders and avoid repeating the same mistakes when they are in denial about how they came about in the first place.

In the words of Dale Carnegie – “Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.” Whatever the situation, take responsibility for mistakes, analyse failures, and learn from them to ensure success further on down the road. One of the most effective ways to deal with a problem is to openly discuss with your team and decide, together, what needs to happen next.

  1. Create invaluable mechanisms

The greatest thing about creating an environment that allows colleagues to communicate problems without repercussions is finding out metrics and facts that can’t be ignored. Did you know that 54% of employees feel like they don’t regularly get respect from their employers? When you invite all the members of your organisation to raise a red flag when something is about to go wrong, it makes everyone feel valued and respected – and helps you identify potential stumbling blocks.

It’s crucial for every member of your group to feel like they are part of a team and can contribute to solutions – and never want to give up. When you know what you’re fighting, you can stand up to it and take action. Whatever the truth, you can still retain faith in your ability to succeed and have the edge over your competitors when you embrace a climate that energises people to communicate.

Get the right people on the bus!

Only Hire People Who Fit Your Business and Culture For A Smooth Ride

If you’re a leader of a retail company that’s at a standstill, you should focus your attention on the people around you – and especially those with the right talent. It’s a harsh fact of life that most companies hire individuals without the abilities and strengths to make a great impact on their business strategy. The most important question to ask yourself is “are you struggling with teamwork and results?”

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By comparing companies to buses and the leaders to bus drivers, Jim Collins found that those who hire people for experience and qualifications over talent just end up with a bus full of underperforming staff.

In my experience, people truly are your best asset. All great leaders of retail businesses ask: “first who and then what?” Here’s how to ensure you adopt great hiring decisions and retain the right people on your bus for the long-term.

  1. Fill your bus with the right people

As a retail leader, it’s your job to be extremely careful when selecting the right people for your team. Thorough evaluations are key, so make sure you invest plenty of time in interviews, evaluating references and making background checks on each candidate. After all, you don’t want to end up in the same boat as Myer back in 2014 when they discovered that the man they hired as their General Manager of Strategy and Business Development had faked his resume. If you have any doubts about a potential employee, don’t hand them a golden ticket onto your bus.

Unless you’re confident that you’ve found the right people to take your company from good to great performance, let the seats go unfilled. It’s always better to take on extra work if necessary until you have found exceptional talent that can take your bus further on down the successful retail road.

  1. Get the right people in the right seats

Every bus will have key seats that represent the biggest opportunities, and yours is no exception. You can’t just overcrowd your bus with superior talent and wait for the magic to happen. You need to be sure that you give the right people the right seats and only keep them there if they prove they are going to drive your business in the right direction.

If at any time you feel someone isn’t pulling their weight in a key spot on the bus, give them the chance to prove themselves in a back seat. It’s perfectly ok to give them the boot from a prime seat if they are underachieving – or even a one-way ticket off the bus if they don’t appear to be great in any specific role.

  1. Kick the wrong people off the bus

Harsh, but true. At the end of the day, you want a highly successful team and business – without the hassle of babysitting and tightly managing the wrong people. You don’t have to be ruthless in chucking individuals off your bus, though. Try to be rigorous in the decision and implementation to ensure any of those who have left your bus can exit with dignity and still feel positive about your company.

When you eliminate the wrong people and have a bus filled with the right potential, it will become less a question of where you are headed – and more of how far your team can take your business. Plus, you’ll learn not to make the same hiring mistakes in the future.

  1. Maintain the right people on the bus

It’s crucial to give your hand-picked bus crew the opportunity to shine and exercise their talent and skills. The right people need to be self-motivated by an inner drive to produce great results and be part of a great team, which comes only with having the right people aboard. You also need to put your best people on your biggest opportunities, rather than on your biggest problems.

Regardless of where the bus goes, Jim Collins says that those who build and maintain a great company can also build a great life. For this to happen, you must build respect and empower your team by making sure they receive the recognition and rewards they deserve.

 

 

 

Why you need a cranky old bastard on your board

There are too many boards with soft inexperienced directors. You know who I’m talking about – the ones who are more concerned with keeping people happy than making the hard decisions; the ones who avoid confrontation; the ones who think they always know best (when they don’t); the ones who think that if they ignore a problem, it’ll go away.

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The simple fact is that many retail failures can be avoided if you have tough, experienced leaders asking the hard questions. You need to solve problems together as a team, and that means embracing confrontation.

Look, I understand that no one likes conflict but you’re no longer children, so it should be easy to remain civil during a conversation and avoid this. Confrontation and conflict are two very different things, and board meetings need to be a bit confrontational in order to be productive.

That said, you need to tread carefully to make confrontation work for you and your business. Here’s how you can do it.

Choose the right time to ask questions

Bad timing can prevent effective confrontation and communication. When emotions are high, people have a tendency to act without thinking. Negative feelings may provoke anger, and that isn’t what you’re trying to achieve. Choose a time when you can prevent interruptions and a private place where everyone can state their opinions freely. Lead others by asking open-ended and probing questions.

Stick to the facts

I don’t care what John in sales or Lucy in marketing told you on the grapevine. Stick only to the things you know are true. State facts. I’ve witnessed too many incidents where co-workers have gone at one another like bulls in a china shop as a result of hearsay. Always ensure your board focus on real issues from the start and have evidence to substantiate what you’re stating.

Tell your board what you want

Be upfront and honest from the word go. Don’t beat around the bush, or you’ll provoke angst and waste time. Whether you’re looking for a change, commitment, or whatever, tell your board and allow time to let emotion settle. When declaring what you want, it’s also crucial that you state what you are going to do to make it happen. You’ll often find others want the exact same outcome as you.

Remain cool and confident

We all feel a bit touchy when told something we don’t want to hear, but it isn’t an excuse to act like a child. You’re allowed to have emotions, but you need to remain in control of them, regardless of what the other person says. Out-of-control reactions and outbursts will fuel negative emotions, as well as add to your own. Go into your board meetings with a positive attitude and keep your cool.

Listen, listen and listen

Most people like to be heard, especially senior level executives and management. While it’s essential to know what you want and put your point across, you must also be prepared to listen to different viewpoints. Someone may even suggest or state something that you weren’t previously aware of and that may or may not change your opinion or desired outcome. Never argue. Confront and listen.