Rick was very frustrated with his business. Despite the fact he was working harder than ever, the business growth has stalled or plateaued. The business is wildly dependent on him and he couldn’t seem to get free.
Jennifer had a good business. Money was decent. She could take a little time off from time to time. But she knew deep down that the business wasn’t great. The business was far from its full potential. Her dream of building something extraordinary seemed more and more elusive to her. The business hasn’t clearly defined or differentiated itself.
The one thing Rick and Jennifer have in common is they are both stuck. They are intelligent and hard-working. Both were on a journey to build a great business. Although in different places in their businesses they are both on the continuum.
We all are on a continuum to move our business from perhaps barely surviving to modestly performing to performing well but yet highly people dependent to a growing and profitable, professionally managed, scalable, differentiated, system driven business that really matters with a powerful and compelling culture that genuinely serves the lives of the owners, customers and contributors to the business.
We have our own definition of greatness and I believe we all want to get there. If not, why bother?
The Level 7 System started with the premise – How to help entrepreneurs build great businesses that serve their lives.
We developed a set of Level 7 Core Principles; productive ways of thinking about business if you will. The idea is that if we embrace the RIGHT thoughts it will lead to the RIGHT actions.
Then came the Level 7 Implementation Program. We need to help business owners and entrepreneurs to apply the right thoughts in the most productive and effective manner. I am happy to say, my team and I have done a pretty good job of helping our clients accomplish that goal.
Everything changes. Innovation Happens (oh…that could be a t-shirt)
Not too long ago, at one of our Annual Level 7 Roundtables, a client asked me about the key activities of a Level 7 Business. I gave it some thought, did some research and concluded that there are 10 Absolutely Essential Activities Business Must Do to Become Great.
Here they are:
1- Get Your People Fired Up and Enthusiastically Engaged. Great businesses engage in consistent, intentional and varied leadership directed communication with the purpose of creating an enthusiastic collective focus with the people in the organization. Through these communication forums, leadership communicates goals, vision and values in a way to will inspire and get people bought in an on-board with the direction of the business.
2- Pay Attention and Listen. Great businesses expecting people to take an interest in the vision, goals and values of the organization, must demonstrate an interest in the concerns, ideas, frustrations and issues of their employees. These forums, or one on one meetings, with individuals are not intended for mentoring, performance reviews or providing team members direction, they are simply to listen to their people and appropriately respond. Most Level 7 Business conduct 15-20 minute One on One Meetings once per month. Calvin Cummings of Valbridge Property Advisors in Los Angeles, California suggested that implementing One on One Meetings in his business was one of the most important and valuable things he has done for the health, employee satisfaction, engagement and growth of his business.
3- Review Your Systemization Report once a week. Great businesses are systems driven. There seems to be a lot of confusion about what it means to be a systems driven business however. Some people believe that once they have a set of written and documented systems in a three-ringed binder on a bookshelf means they have systemized their business. Or they think that just because they have identified some process or workflow in an area of their business, even though it’s in their people’s heads, they have a systemized business. Well not to burst anyone’s bubble, but this is not systemized or systems driven. Read more about becoming systemize driven here.
Essentially being systems driven means your business has effectively orchestrated the process of documentation, testing, training and implementing your systems. In other words, creating great, high performing, results focused processes that your people are actually USING. Once you’ve done that, your business will be then be engaged in the process of evaluating and innovating your systems to continually make your systems better. The cycle repeats and your business continues to improve.
The Systemization Report is your reference to the current status of every system in your business as it relates to the systems development cycle. The Systemization Report serves as the catalyst that keeps the process of developing, implementing and innovating your systems.
4- A Commitment Standard is in place. If you have a systems driven business, you can trust and have confidence that your business will perform. Why? Because great systems produce great results. However, most systems are operated by people and, as such, you much trust your people to operate the systems according to the way they have been written and developed. If they don’t, then you will not get the results you are expecting or counting on.
A Commitment Standard simply clarifies the company’s expectations when it comes to commitments and follow-through. It establishes an environment of trust between management and staff and employee to employee. Although we assume people will consistently keep all their promises, things frequently slip through the cracks, people don’t always do what they say they are going to do.
This impacting results and business performance. The details matter. And one small slip can cost a company dearly. But the fact is people don’t always complete tasks on time or do things the way they are supposed to be done but it rarely addressed.
The Commitment Standard provides clarity of expectations when it comes to accountability and follow-though.
5- Stop Firefighting and Solve and Eliminate Your Problems Well. Most business owners are effective at solving problems. We are great firefighters. But to build a great business, we need to permanently eliminate reoccurring problems and frustrations. We need a systematic and effective approach to identifying the core source of the problem and in a step by step manner eliminate it. The Level 7 Problem Resolution System is a tool that our clients and their employees regularly use to deal with frustrations and challenges. Not only does it give the business owner and effective approach to solving problems and frustrations but it helps employees to effectively resolve problems too.
6- Monitor and Report Your Employee Performance. Great businesses have clearly defined, objective and measurable goals and expectations for each employee in their organization. These goals are communicated and reported to each team member on a monthly basis. Great businesses are on the same page with their people. When people are meeting or exceeding expectations they get high fives and acknowledgement. For those that are falling short; time and energy is invested to help them improve performance so they can start succeeding. If your people are succeeding across the board, your business is succeeding.
7- Be the Conductor and Orchestrate Correct Behavior. Great businesses understand that we must get things done. If it doesn’t need to be done, then eliminate it. We create Work Prioritizers. Work Prioritizers are essentially check or task list of reoccurring activities your employees are responsible for doing. This is not micromanagement just in case that thought went through your mind. It’s actually empowerment. You are setting your people up to succeed by providing them a resource that keeps them on track. Sales people are reminded to make 5 outbound calls per day. Bookkeepers are reminded to generate month-end reports by the 5th of the month. Front desk people are reminded to purge old files every month. Managers are reminded to review their Systemization Report weekly and take appropriate business improvement action as required.
8- Don’t Take Any Chances and Thread Your Culture. Great businesses are intentional about their culture. Threading or embedding a set of values in an organization requires a lot more than posting a list of values on a wall someplace on your premises. A well-crafted and threaded culture differentiates an organization among its employees and consumers. Level 7 Businesses employ a wide variety of strategies to establish and maintain a powerful and compelling culture. The most notable and effective is to create a Culture Development Team.
Having a Culture Development Team that meets regularly to develop strategies to communicate and engage people in the culture transfers the ownership of threading the culture to employees.
9- Know Your Numbers. I’m not talking about the occasional monthly P&L you might be getting. I am suggesting a set of key indicators that monitor performance for each department and area throughout the business. You could be looking at client acquisition numbers, lead conversion performance, closing ratios, employee productivity, brand development, quality control, client retention etc. The numbers for each business is unique to each business. Getting the numbers however is not enough. It also requires a clear and specific approach to responding when an area of the business is falling short.
10- Get Your Best Minds Together. Innovation is vital to any growing enterprise. Great businesses engage their key people in the business to participate in specific forums designed to initiate and encourage improvement in areas of concern in the business. The Level 7 Brainbank Process brings people together, they look at areas or systems that require improvement and then discuss and implement changes to their current systems to improve the business performance. Innovation and improvement goes from random and haphazard and business owner dependent to systematic, intentional, purposeful and engaging that includes people within the organization.
Once a business effectively and consistent engages in these key activities, they will see and experience massive improvement in all the areas of performance, revenue, profitability, capacity to scale and replicate, employee morale and customer satisfaction while improving your quality of life and connection to your organization.
Rob (not his real name), asked me to help him develop his sales systems and train his sales people. He was stuck and simply couldn’t break past his sales ceiling. Revenue had hit a plateau.
I was pretty confident I could help him and the business. But I was concerned.
A business is an interconnected or interdependent organism. I was worried that we would encounter issues unrelated to the sales department, and their current systems, that were impacting the sales.
He assured me that if we encountered a problem, he would resolve it.
The company at the time had three sales people. Between the three of them they were generating about 2.1 million in sales per year.
I began to ask some questions to determine how the guys were spending their time.
Lesson #1 – We have to know if we are doing the right work.
As we drilled down to discover the truth, I uncovered that the sales people were spending about 25% of their time doing work totally unrelated to sales.
Specifically, they were driving around delivering printing to their customers. (The company was a commercial printer. That is real).
I inquired, “Don’t you have a delivery driver who does that for you guys?”
“Yup!” They replied.
“I don’t understand. Why are you guys spending your time doing $10.00 per hour work?” I asked.
The room was silent for a moment. They sales reps looked at each other assessing who was going to spill the beans.
Finally, Don (not his real name) spoke up. “Um…he’s terrible. He is rude to the clients. Very unprofessional. He doesn’t even bother making sure the printing gets to the right person or department. He has been know to literally walk in the door and drop the stuff off and just leave.”
Don (still not his real name) continued. “We’ve talked to the Rob (still not his real name either) and he hasn’t really done anything with it.”
At that point I clarified and confirmed that they simply don’t have the time to follow-up on new prospects because they are too busy.
They were too busy doing $10.00 an hour work and wasting 25% of their time doing it.
Do the math. That equates to approximately $750,000 in lost potential annual revenue.
Lesson #2 – One poor performing employee could be costing a company thousands of dollars per year.
Lesson #3 – Our job as business owners and managers is to create an environment where EVERYONE is performing at the highest possible level. Rob obviously didn’t know how to do it. I had to show him (that is true).
Do you really know how to do create an environment where your people are performing at exceptional levels?
I’ve had something on my mind lately. Actually walking through some of my own personal growth challenges and I have come face to face with something I haven’t paid much attention to in the past. Not that the problem or challenge didn’t exist, I guess I just wasn’t conscious of it.
Oh…but I am now.
I believe for some, you might be able to relate and learn from my own challenges and what I am going through.
I’ve made some important decisions regarding my business lately. Expansion and growth kind of stuff. You know…the kind of stuff you probably think about all the time as a business owner. (By the way, some of the things I am doing WILL be of interest to some of my wonderful followers. Perhaps YOU! So be on the lookout. If you can’t wait to hear about it, shoot me an email or give me a call).
The trouble all started when I stopped thinking about moving forward and started taking action.
The fact is I was experiencing the problem before I took action but it went to a whole new level once I started moving.
The problem was tension. Now I know you know what tension is.
It’s the feeling you get when you are standing still but KNOW you should be moving. It’s that uncomfortable feeling of knowing where you are is not where you would like to be.
It’s also the feeling you get when you start moving and you are experiencing uncharted waters. You know. Pressing beyond what feels comfortable. Taking chances.
So I had tension before I started moving. Then I experienced a whole new level of tension once I started moving.
Reality #1 – Unless you’ve achieved a level of complacency or ambivalence to your business and life, you are going to experience some tension when you aren’t taking action. Something inside will be prompting you. Always! Accepting and acknowledging this truth is the first step in managing it.
Now once I started moving, in addition to the tension, I encountered a whole new problem.
It was almost as if the forces of the universe, an enemy, had decided to come against me and my pursuits and oppose me.
I was clearly being challenged. Every time I took a step forward, I was getting knocked back two steps.
I was suddenly faced with a choice. Retreat or advance.
I knew if I retreated, I wouldn’t be feeling the resistance anymore. Just the tension and knowing that I didn’t want to go back to where I was.
If I continue to advance, I knew I was going to have to do something different. I was going to have to apply a level of effort, intelligence or approach things in a new way.
Choice made. Advance!
Doing things differently; adopting a new approach includes one or more of these three points.
1- Get you mind right and in the game.
It really comes down to commitment. A choice. A resolve.
Successful people – business owners – set a goal, establish a vision and decide that they won’t quit or give up.
Over the years of working with business owners, quite frankly, this is the primary reason why I see so many fail to accomplish the things they set out to accomplish. They run into resistance and their personal resolve and commitment isn’t strong enough to deal with the resistance.
They will blame outside circumstances and others. But the problem is between their ears.
Lesson 1: Learn to stick with “it” no matter what. But you have to know what “it” is first. Set a goal you are firmly committed to achieving. Then decide there are no other options other than to make it happen.
It also helps to rally people around you who will encourage, support and fight with you…even when you encounter extreme resistance.
2 – Engage in the right work.
In order to accomplish your goal you have to know what the right work and actions to take. I’ve discovered that in order to break through barriers, I can’t do the same things the same way.
In business, the right work is strategic work. It means asking the right questions. Asking and answering the questions IS THE WORK.
The book Art of War by Sun Tsu, which according to some people is the greatest military strategy book of all time, offers great examples of the responses that come from asking the right questions first.
“Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril” – Sun Tzu
In business it’s like saying, study yourself and your competition before engaging in advertising activities. The appropriate strategic questions might be:
What strengths do we have over our competition? What can we do better than anyone else? What are their strengths and weaknesses? How can we position ourselves to capture the market we can serve best.
Asking and answering these things IS strategic work.
If you are not engaging in asking the right question, you might not be doing the right work in the business.
Lesson 2: Have the guts to do the right work, to change your approach, to stop doing the same things you have done every day. You might lose a battle or two along the way but you will win the war in the end.
3- Do work the right way.
This is tricky because there are so many different approaches that could achieve the results you want. One of the ways to maximize your odds to find the best approach is to understand this very important philosophy:
The key to success of any business is dependent on the quality of its systems. Improve your systems improve your business.
With that in mind, doing the work the right way means that you are always looking to create and innovate the best system.
There are four elements that will help you develop great systems.
1- Define the goal of the system. You must know the purpose of the system and how it is performing. If I place an ad in a publication, my goal might be to maximize the number of qualified prospects that call my company to set an appointment.
2- Then create the system itself. In the example above, create a great ad. If you don’t have a system to create an ad that will produce the result, find someone that has a track record for creating ads that convert.
3- Engage the system and track. You have to make sure the system is working. In the case of the advertisement, I would then need to track how many calls I get from the ad I placed.
4- Innovate as needed. Based on the performance of the system, you may need to make a strategic decision to improve the system. Sometimes the best decision is to leave it alone and work on a system or area of the business that isn’t performing as well.
I started this whole conversation around the subject of tension and resistance.
I’ve concluded that we are going to experience tension and resistance when we advance towards any goal or endeavor. I also know that we can minimize the tension and resistance by managing our mindset, engaging in the right work and developing the best systems.
Business owners have trust issues. It’s true! If you feel trapped in someway by your business or don’t believe your business can work without you – you have trust issues.
What exactly do we need to trust in order to establish freedom? What do we need to trust so we can feel confident in our business and our people?
In a typical people dependent business model, answering those questions can be quite difficult. Most of the time a business owner in that environment has to trust their people on many different levels. They have to trust their knowledge and ability to perform specific tasks and functions in the business.
They have to trust their people’s judgment and decision making ability. They have to be able to count on their people. They have to trust in their own ability to innovate and create a model for business that will work. Just to name a few.
In a Level 7 Business, the business owner only has to trust 2 things.
They have to trust that they have systems, procedures and processes for doing business that will produce the optimal or desired results. In The Level 7 System we call this The Principle of Creating Replication.
They also have to trust their people to follow the systems. In The Level 7 System we call this The Principle of Facilitating Compliance.
You can’t have one without the other.
Want to get over your trust issues, build an amazing business and establish freedom? Focus on building a business based on creating the best possible systems that produce results and establishing an environment of accountability with your people.
I've concluded that the single most important thing a business can do to improve itself is to become a systems driven organization. This simply means that the key to successful execution of every activity, and subsequent result, is a system, process or procedure.
It doesn't matter what a business is or what it does. It doesn't even matter what the activity is. Every action has an underlying system or procedure behind it. The better the system, the better the result. If you don't believe me than either you haven't tried it in your business or you tried it but didn't execute correctly or effectively.
Within the Level 7 System we have a principle called Creating Replication. The Principle of Creating Replication suggests that a business must have a system or process in place to get their systems, processes and procedures developed and installed into the business. In other words, we have a system for successfully developing systems.
Well, Jennifer Maggoire and Heather Long and the team at MCM took me up on a challenge the other day to see how fast they could get all the systems in their business documented, tested and implemented. "The faster, the better," I suggested. (They are using the Level 7 System for Creating Replication as their system for getting the job done, fast.)
"Not only will it be good for employee morale to get a project like this completed as fast as possible but the improvements you will see in your business will blow your mind," I told them. "Your revenues will increase, profits should soar, customer's will be happier and you will have a lot less frustrations and challenges in the business. Just watch what happens!"
They took me up on the challenge and agreed they would get this phase of the Level 7 Implementation Process completed in 90 days. I believe that Jenn offered then team a night out on the town including margaritas once they complete the process. So for fun, we will call this 'The Great MCM Margarita Race'. I will be giving you regular updates on their progress and their results along the way too.