How to dramatically increase employee engagement with one question

enagagement (funny)

For those who have team members reporting to them, ask yourself this simple question every day.

What can I do today to make the employee experience better than it was yesterday?

Make a plaque, create a screensaver with this question, or just put a stickie where you can see it.  Find a way to keep this top of mind every day.  When your team knows that you sincerely care about them, are thinking of them and how to improve their day, their lives, their jobs, you should see a marked improvement in productivity, creativity, and engagement.  Plus it feels great to help others!

Here is a Forbes article (3 min read) for those of you, like me, who appreciate a few suggestions on how to help improve the employee experience.

Set up a 15-minute conversation to talk about how you can implement a proven system to take the guesswork out of growth (Click here to see a sample one page strategic plan).

Be Exceptional!

Bill  – Certified Premium Scaling Up/Gravitas Impact Coach

For MA companies ONLY, as an approved Training and Development provider, Catalyst Growth Advisors can offer you 50% off program fees.  Click here to see if you qualify.

Does running your business sometimes feel like this?

This will be my last post of 2018.  Happy New Year to everyone!  I thought I would end the year on a humorous note. Enjoy!

Have you ever had one of these days?

The optimal way to avoid this tragic business metaphor is to build your company as if you are going to get, at any moment, an offer to sell that you cannot refuse.  Building for exit value optimization is a great way to build a highly valuable business regardless of your interest in selling it someday.  Here is a pretty comprehensive list of areas to address in priority order (at least the top four in bold) to optimize exit value and, by default, build a healthy and thriving organization.

Increased exit value drivers:

  1. Reduce the risk for the buyer
    • The entrepreneur/CEO/Owner is redundant in the business
    • Powerful, healthy Management Team/Bench for key positions
  2. “Rembrandts in the attic” – Value beyond the financial returns – Value over discounted cash value
  3. Healthy culture/High engagement organization
  4. Revenue predictability and quality over several years, consistent growth in Revenue, Profit and Cash
  5. Show significant growth potential in current, adjacent and/or new markets
  6. Bring multiple buyers to the table
  7. Documented Systems
  8. Customer diversification
    • Have no one customer that is more than 10% of total revenue/profit
  9. Protect IP
  10. Dashboards and KPI visibility
  11. Make books squeaky clean – Taxes, receivables, short and long-term debt, etc.
  12. Clean records/good data
  13. Clean up facilities if applicable
  14. HR compliance
  15. Tighten up ALL Agreements
    • Solid employee agreements,
    • Solid vendor/supplier/technology/customer agreements,
    • Partner legal agreement,
    • Real Estate agreements, etc.
  16. Address any pending/active lawsuits, etc.

If these things (and possibly others based on your industry, etc.) are not in place, a savvy buyer will chip away at the original offer and may cause you to inadvertently sell at a much lower price than you would like.

Please see the two-minute video below for an overview of how to systematically and deliberately address many of these issues.

Set up a 15-minute conversation to talk about how you can optimize your exit value and take the guesswork out of growth (Click here to see a sample one page strategic plan).

Be Exceptional!

Bill  – Certified Premium Scaling Up/Gravitas Impact Coach

For MA companies ONLY, as an approved Training and Development provider, Catalyst Growth Advisors can offer you 50% off program fees.  Click here to see if you qualify.

Want to keep your best employees?  Stop doing this.

pissed off

About 30 years ago, I worked for an organization that I can now see was poorly run.  At 22, I did not know any better.  The zeitgeist was passive-aggressive, authoritarian management.  For instance, one day, out of the blue, we were all told that from now on we had to be in the office by 8:30am or we were at risk of losing our jobs.   I lived about an hour away from the office and left about the same time every day getting to work at or before 8:15.   One morning there was an accident on the way to work.  I was at risk of making it in on time and had to weave in and out of traffic at high speed to make up time.  Although I am a decent driver having been taught by my dad who, for a time, raced cars, it was a harrowing and unsafe ride. I arrived with no time to spare; a bit hyped up.

Quite shaken and full of piss and vinegar, I strode into the VPs office who originally informed us all of the new policy and let him know that I had to drive like a madman to make it in.  He told me, in confidence, not to worry because the policy was aimed at one guy they were trying to fire who regularly came in late.  This was their way of finding a “legitimate” way of getting rid of him instead of the real reasons they wanted to fire him. I was beside myself.  They had created a rule for 400 people so they could get rid of 1 person!

I have since learned that this is not an isolated incident,  Many companies create numerous policies to manage the margins.

Please see the short video below from John Ratliffe, former CEO of Appletree Answers, with a tip on how to eliminate one of the most popular ways companies do this inadvertently – the employee handbook.  His advice is to eliminate all the one-off policies that were created to address the behavior of your worst employees but are an affront to the other 90%.

I strongly believe that you can find other ways to address the problem(s).

  1. Hire for and then reinforce your core values every day
  2. Focus your hiring to build great teams versus hiring great individual contributors
  3. Put people in jobs that maximize strengths/minimize weaknesses
  4. Create an environment where the preferred behavior is recognized and rewarded regularly

First and foremost, eliminate short-sighted policies and procedures that provide unnecessary reasons for your best employees to think about leaving.

Your A players are 2-3 times more productive than everyone else. They hate working with marginal employees and are least tolerant of the BS rules created to manage them.  Your job will be much easier if you can find a way to manage marginal employees into the culture or out of the company.  It is my experience that the former happens much less often than the latter but, unfortunately, most of the time, we do neither.  This is sometimes called the Ostrich Effect.

I recommend that you pick your head up and give the employee handbook review a go. Your best and brightest will be happy you did.

Here is another article I wrote regarding how to recognize an A Player that also provides access to a Talent Assessment tool I modified for my clients and others.

Feel free to contact me with any questions.

Be Exceptional!

Bill  – Certified Premium Scaling Up/Gravitas Impact Coach

* Ask me how MA (and other states) may help pay for my leadership coaching services.  For MA companies, as an approved Training and Development provider, Catalyst Growth Advisors can offer you 50% off program fees.  Click here to see if you qualify.

3 Secrets of Highly Successful Groups

New England Patriots
1980 Men’s Olympic Hockey Team
Golden State Warriors
US Navy Seals
UCLA Bruins under John Wooden

All of these organizations have one thing in common – Great Team Cultures.  In his latest book, Culture Code, Dan Coyle connects the dots around how to build and nurture a great culture.  Coyle researched some of the best cultures around the globe in many different domains and found three main skills they all had in common that I go into more depth below.  Also, when observing how these organizations interacted, here is what he noticed:

  • Close physical proximity, often in circles
  • Profuse amounts of eye contact
  • Physical touch (handshakes, fist bumps, hugs)
  • Lots of short, energetic exchanges (no long speeches)
  • High levels of mixing; everyone talks to everyone
  • Few interruptions
  • Lots of questions
  • Intensive, active listening
  • Humor, laughter
  • Small, attentive courtesies (thank-yous, opening doors, etc.)

He deftly describes three skills that each of these great cultures had developed.  I talk a lot about these three items when I work with my coaching clients and during my Vistage talks. They are:

1.  Build Safety— signals of connection – generate bonds of belonging and identity.  Here is a great question to test if you have built safety into your organization.“How confident are you that you won’t receive retaliation or criticism if you admit an error or make a mistake?”

Why should this be important to you?  When employees feel safe, they are much more likely to be actively engaged (and inspired) in the business which translates to higher productivity and creativity.

According to Paul Krugman’s research from an HBR article of last year, An inspired employee is more than twice as productive as a satisfied employee and more than three times as productive as a dissatisfied employee.  Yet, only one in eight employees is inspired and more than half are dissatisfied.

2.  Share Vulnerability— Developing habits of mutual risk drives trusting cooperation.

Unfortunately, you hired human beings.  Human beings are inherently flawed. They make mistakes. They sometimes do not know exactly the right thing to do or say, get tired, get hungry, etc.  When leaders share vulnerability by saying “I’m sorry” or admitting they need a little help or in any way that shows their team and organization that they too are human, it gives permission to others to do the same. If you are working in an organization that is growing, there are myriad opportunities to screw up and show that you are human.  Letting your team know through your own shared vulnerability that it is okay and that you and the other team members have each other’s backs are critical factors in building a strong and winning culture.

3.  Establish Purpose— Telling stories creates shared goals and values.

People want a compelling reason to get out of bed each morning and go to work.  People want to be part of something larger than themselves.

If you do not have a Core Purpose, create one. If you have one, repeat it every day, recognize and reward it when it is demonstrated. Celebrate and live your Core Purpose every day. Tell stories about how someone demonstrated the Core Purpose and/or Values.  Be specific with the details; name names. Doing this regularly over time will act as a magnet for potential customers and employees. It also acts as an immune system to toxic and disengaged employees.

Quick personal story

I had lunch with a CEO the other day who shared a story of how a long time, highly productive but tremendously toxic salesperson finally left the organization. The CEO and his leadership team were loath to fire him even though almost everyone did not like working with him.  They were afraid of the impact on the business’ top line.  He finally left as the new culture did not fit his style.

Time has passed, the business has survived and is actually thriving due to this culture shift.  One of the main reasons this salesperson left was that he was not getting his way anymore.  The new management team reinforced their values and culture which acted as an “immune system” for toxic employees like this salesperson.

Here are some suggestions to begin this transformation in your company:

  1. If not established, create and publish your core purpose and set of core values
  2. Keep them alive every day by “catching people doing something right”
  3. Use them in all aspects of the people side of the business – attracting, interviewing, onboarding, growing and exiting employees
  4. Demonstrate the three skills above when running your meetings and interacting with all employees

For further info on this topic, please find another useful HBR article – How to Create a Growth Culture, Not a Performance Obsessed One.

Please contact me if you want to learn more about how to hire the right people, put them in the right jobs doing the right things and scaling your organization.

Be Exceptional!

Bill  – Certified Premium Scaling Up/Gravitas Impact Coach


* Ask me how MA (and other states) may help pay for my leadership coaching services.  For MA companies, as an approved Training and Development provider, Catalyst Growth Advisors can offer you 50% off program fees.  Click here to see if you qualify.

Ideas, Ideas, and more Ideas

Your team may have some of the best ideas to move the company forward – some big, some not so big – but forward nonetheless.

Have you ever done or said something like the 3 items below to help foster new ideas?

  1. Set up a process to submit ideas that prove an economic advantage to the company
  2. “Come to me with a problem AND a proposed solution
  3. Put up a suggestion box
These are just a few of the ways I have come across in my 30 years of management and coaching.  They all have good intentions but, usually, have unintended consequences.  The process created to submit new ideas can be lengthy and complicated thus discouraging participation.  The Problem/Solution approach can cause problems to fester if the proposer cannot think of a viable alternative and stays silent.  The suggestion box has failed time and again without proper feedback to all submitted suggestions.  Even though you may have moved ahead with some of the suggestions, everyone must be acknowledged to keep the ideas flowing.

Not there yet

Ari Weinzweig and his team at Zingerman’s have crafted a well thought out process over a number of years that has allowed them to grow the company, a team of leaders and idea generators.

In 1982, Zingerman’s started as a tiny bakery in Ann Arbor, MI and is now a ~$60M food conglomerate. A process that helped accelerate growth, generate ideas and grow leaders is called Bottom Line Change (BLC).  There are webinars to attend, classes to take and books you can read to get the full picture (link to the site at the end of article), but here are the highlights of the process:

Bottom Line Change (BLC) -> 5 steps

Premise: Any change relates to fixing a problem or creating an opportunity.  Everyone should be invited to participate in the change process. All change creates resistance. The way to affect change is to overcome resistance. 

Their formula for change is:

Dissatisfaction x Vision x First Steps > Resistance

If any of the factors on the left of the equation are zero, you will not overcome the resistance and change will either not happen or will wither and die soon after implemented.

A way to overcome resistance is the following proven, 5-step process:

1.  Write up a clear and compelling purpose for the change. Share this proposed change DRAFT with a few people (don’t ask the senior team) who will be impacted to ask for feedback.  This helps the change leader get really clear about why he or she believes the change is beneficial and how badly it’s needed. It also gets others clear on why the change is a good idea (or not). If you cannot excite enough impacted people then the change may not yet be compelling enough.

2.  Write up a positive vision for the change and get leadership buy-in.  Share this positive vision DRAFT with a few people who will be impacted to ask for feedback. To be effective, regardless of content, the vision must be:

  1. Inspiring
  2. Strategically sound
  3. Documented
  4. Well communicated.

Present this to the senior team or similar body that would review for the four factors above.

TIP: Line up your ACEs: ACE stands for Advisory Content Experts. These are people who might have valuable insights and contributions and who can help craft the vision early on in the change process. They are people who have some content expertise to contribute.

3.  Engage a microcosm of people to manage the way you share the change.  That is, the microcosm will determine who needs to know and what is the best way to tell them.

This group doesn’t need to have any expertise on the topic at all – it only needs to have some smarts.  You are looking to create communication strategies that build positive energy within each possible subgroup that will be affected by the change.

Over the course of a couple of minutes or a couple of days, the champion will ask the same two questions of the microcosm:

  1. Who needs to know about the impending change?
  2. What’s the best way to get them on board?

4.  Inform everyone impacted by the change and have THEM (or a subset) draw up an action plan to implement it.  I think this is the most powerful step in the process.  There is a saying that “People do not like change”.  I think this is untrue.  Change happens every day in everyone’s lives. What we dislike most about change is having it foisted upon us.  This step helps to increase the likelihood that the change will stick.

5.  Implement the change.  The shorthand for this step is as follows:

  • Plan
  • Do
  • Check
  • Adjust
  • Celebrate success – VERY IMPORTANT!

For more on this, please visit the Zingerman Training website – ZingTrain – for the BLC pamphlet. There are many other resources on the site as well.

Be Exceptional!

Bill  – Certified Premium Scaling Up Coach


* Ask me how your state may help pay for my leadership coaching services.  For MA companies, click here to see if you qualify for 50% (or more) off my fees.

Leaders – Stop giving advice. Even if they ask for it.

What is the most efficient way to go from impasse to insight to action?  We too often mistakenly think it is to tell people what to do.  Here are a few reasons why neuroscience says that does not work in the long run and sometimes even in the short run:

  1. We almost always give advice to the wrong problem.
  2. The brain rejects new things out of hand so most of the time our advice goes unheeded. Often nothing happens.
  3. Everyone’s brain is wired differently so the advice we give even if we solve for #1 and #2 above, it is still very likely wrong.
  4. Even if our advice is heeded in the short term, there is rarely lasting change.

Here is a proven alternative according to David Rock in his book Quiet Leadership, Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work which he wrote after 10 years of neuroscience research and observatioits-funny-how-im-good-at-giving-advice-to-othersn in the field.

When we are trying to help a colleague think anything through, we make the unconscious assumption that the other person’s brain works the same as ours. So we input their problem into our brain, see the connections our brain would make to solve this problem, and spit out the solution that would work for us. We then tell people what we would do and are convinced it’s what they should do.” David Rock

Below are six steps you can take to avoid this from happening.  The overall concept is to give “advice” on their thinking versus providing them a solution.*  That is, help them to explore how they are thinking about the problem so they can, as often as possible, come up with their own solution.  Many times, they will come to a better solution on their own and follow through versus you telling them what to do. Here are the six steps:

1.  Think about thinking;  Let people do all the thinking, keep them focused on solutions, stretch their thinking, accentuate the positive, and follow good process. Here is an example dialogue from the book:

Paul: (Sales Manager. has just said to Sally, his VP)“I really don’t know how to lift our sales right now.”
Sally: How can I best help you with this?
Paul: I’m not sure…I just feel incredibly stretched by the budgets.
Sally: Do you want to think this issue through with me right now?
Paul: Sure.
Sally: What’s going to be the best way to do that—what would work for you?
Paul: I’d like to use you as a sounding board and see what happens.
Sally: Great.
Notice that she does not jump in and tell him what to do or berate him to make sure he figures it our or threaten him if he does not.  Sally remembers that she hired him because she thought he could do the job but may need a bit of help to get through this current downturn.

2. Listen for potential, and to not get too close. Try to find the positive in every challenge.  If someone is unhappy at work, highlight that this could be an opportunity for an exciting change. If someone comes to you after they have made a mess of something, you could empathize and ask what they have learned from the situation so far. How might they apply that moving forward?

For instance, Paul (from above) may discover a better way to manage his team or the process – either being an important and significant breakthrough.

3.  Speak with intent. Be succinct, specific, and generous.  Succinctness starts with a picture or a vision in your mind then go about describing what you see in that picture. Specificity is about making sure people know exactly what we mean.  Instead of saying “great job”  you could say “You did a great job with your presentation. It was clear to me that you did your homework and clearly and concisely made your case as to why we should move ahead.”   Generosity is about giving of yourself, letting the other person know where you are coming from and focusing on their needs in the conversation.

4.  Dance toward insight – This is Rock’s metaphor for being in sync with the conversation. He sees it as a dance where you get clues on how to move together toward a breakthrough. You can do this by following the four steps – Permission, Placement, Questioning, and Clarifying.  Here is more detail on these four interconnected steps:

  • Permission – Ask permission to have the conversation and when.  Ask to probe a little deeper or more personally. Ask to provide your own thoughts once the other person is out of ideas.  This can remove initial defensiveness, especially with a delicate topic.
  • Placement – Anchor the conversation – Define where you are in the conversation and what’s about to happen next.  For example (permission and placement) – I would like to have a conversation with you that may be a delicate subject.  Can you talk now or would another time be better? We will need about 15-20 minutes.  It is about this month’s sales.
  • Questioning – The key is to ask questions from the perspective that they have the answers and you are helping them to find them.  Avoid asking questions that lead them to what you think is best.  Easy to say. Hard to do. Here is a short list of “thinking” questions you could ask (Rock offers a much longer list):
  1. “How long have you been thinking about this?”
  2. “How often do you think about this?”
  3. “How important is this issue to you, on a scale of one to ten?”
  4. “How clear are you about this issue?”
  5. “What priority is this issue for you in your work or life right now, top five, three, or top one?”
  6. “What priority do you think it should be?”
  7. “How can I best help you further?”
  • Clarifying – Get to the bottom line – the essence of what is being said. Many folks do this by repeating back what is said in their own words to make sure both parties are talking about the same thing but also by making sure that the essence of the conversation is captured.

5.  Create new thinking – Now that you have established the current problem or reality, the next step is to help them with insight if they have not already come to one.  Following this is to have them explore alternatives and choose the best possible option.  Here are some questions that might help:


  1. “What are some possible paths we could take from here?”
  2. “Do you want to explore a few different ideas for how to move this forward?”
  3. “How could I best help you from here?”
  4. “How do you think we might move this insight forward?”
  5. “What are some different ways we could tackle this?”
  6. “Can you see some different angles we could look at this from?”

Best Option

  1. “Shall we focus on x and get more detailed on that?”
  2. “How can I best help you think through how to make this work?”
  3. “Do you want to think through how to make this happen?”
  4. “What specifically would you do in this situation?”
  5. “When do you think you might do this by?”
  6. “How can I best support you to turn this insight into a habit?”
  7. “Do you want to take some kind of specific action around this?”

6.  Follow up – All of this work will come to nothing if you do not check back in.  Follow up can make a big difference to the emergence of new wiring in the brain.  It also shows that you are invested in their success.

* Please note that Rock recommends that you provide suggestions but ONLY if you are asked or AFTER you ask permission and feel they have gone as far as they can on their own without coming to a viable solution.

This process is a bit involved at the beginning and is hard to summarize in short post.  I encourage you to pick up Rock’s book for more details. Here is a short video of Rock talking about the book.

Bill  – Certified Scaling Up Coach

Be Exceptional!


* MA companies interested in hiring a leadership coach.  Click here to see if you qualify for 50% off my fees.

How to develop a culture of trust

According to many in the neuroscience field including the NeuroLeadership Institute, our brains sometimes fool us into thinking we are in a high threat (life or death) situation for the least likely reasons.

For instance, I was asked to speak in front of a cadre of coaches many of whom were more experienced than I. To show what I had learned, I had to “teach” something many of them already knew very well.  Even though it was a friendly and supportive crowd, as soon as I got out of my chair, my mouth went dry, I began to sweat and my head was in a fog.  It was like I was outside my body and had little to no control.

Have you ever felt like this?

I fumbled through my 5-minute presentation, not remembering exactly what I said.  The feedback was kind but I knew I could have done much better. After all, I had practiced dozens of times and knew how it should have gone. Here is why it didn’t:

My brain put me in a threat state.  It was priming the rest of me for “fight, flight or freeze”.  My brain was doing what all brains do thousands of times/second.  It was monitoring my internal and external environment to assess threats and rewards.  When the brain believes there is a threat, it immediately releases “survival” chemicals.  When it senses a reward, it releases different chemicals that make us feel happy and/or content  These chemical releases help to remind us when it is okay to experience something and when it is safer to avoid it.

My story is not an unusual example.  Most situations are less dramatic but nevertheless, it happens quite often.  David Rock, Founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, in his book, Your Brain at Work, provides a detailed explanation of why this is.  He has created an acronym called SCARF to highlight the main states that can be positively or negatively affected by our brain’s threat assessment mechanisms.  It goes as follows:

  • Status – Less than or better than others – Am I valued, does my opinion matter
  • Certainty – Ability to predict outcomes – Need for clarity and to predict what is going to happen next. Am I clear on the agenda of the current conversation/interaction?
  • Autonomy – Sense of Control.  Do I have the ability to produce results I am accountable for?
  • Relatedness – In-Group or Out-Group. Friend or Foe. Am I trusted and to what degree?  If I am in the outgroup, I may resist different and new perspectives. I am not invested.  If I am in the Ingroup where I feel liked, known and trusted, I have higher productivity and interactivity.
  • Fairness – Perception of fair exchange.  Am I getting the same as others? What are the rules of this relationship?SCARF


Rock shares some useful examples of what you can do to move yourself and your team toward the “Reward State” which will develop a culture of trust over time.  As you get better at this, you will notice more engagement, creativity, and productivity from yourself and your team.

One suggestion to support your team members at your next weekly meeting is to make sure that everyone is heard especially when meeting on a significant matter.  According to the Google’s Teamwork study, making sure that everyone is heard an equal amount of time during the meeting will generate the best ideas, a feeling of safety and a better team dynamic.  Some people are natural contributors and others need a little encouragement as they are introverted or may have had a memorably bad experience in the past.  It is the job of the leader to make sure everyone gets equal time.  I will share another practical example in my next post – “Poker Chips and Paper Clips”.

The leader’s job is to assemble the best teams and help them to continue to improve together as a unit as well as individuals.    With this understanding of how our brains can sometimes work against us, you can help to create a more empathetic, collegial and productive place to work.  Give it a try!

Here is a short video from Rock talking in more depth about his SCARF model.

Lastly, please join me at my upcoming workshop on April 12 to learn more about how to improve your team and team alignment. Details below.

Bill – Certified Scaling Up Coach

Be Exceptional!


Scaling Up Workshop II

One Day ScalingUp Workshop – 4/12/17 – Special discount for Massachusetts companies*

The world-renowned Scaling Up Business Growth Workshop empowers you to accelerate profitable growth using a time-tested and results-driven methodology. Through this exclusive learning experience, Gazelles Coaches has empowered more than 40,000 executives and their leadership teams with proven tools and strategies to scale up smarter.

Register here.

* Receive 50% of the fees for this workshop paid for by the state of MA.  Click here to see if you qualify.

“Like many good coaches, Bill knows that buy-in, follow through and confidence are enhanced when ideas and priorities are generated from within the organization. Bill will motivate and guide you to do the work and make progress producing alignment and results” – Global Educators’ Office of the President


How Alan Mulally saved Ford Motor Company with four simple decisions

Alan Mulally

How Alan Mulally saved Ford

It was the summer of 2006, Alan Mulally was knee deep in getting the Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” designed and built when Bill Ford asked him to take over his role as President and CEO of his eponymous company.  Ford Motor was slowly going out of business, as were the other major car companies, due to years of hubris and poor management practices.  Bill Ford was over his head and needed help.  Mulally was tasked to come in and save the embattled company.

Ford knew that Mulally was his best and last chance as he had pulled off a similar miracle of sorts years ago at Boeing. In the 90s and early 2000s, Boeing was getting its butt kicked by Airbus and needed to do a better job of designing and building competitive aircraft.  It took several years, under difficult circumstances (9/11 being one of them) for Alan Mulally to lead the process that successfully turned Boeing around.  Ford wanted him to do it again. This time in Dearborn, Michigan.

Mulally did not want to leave Boeing. It was the only place he had ever worked since graduating college.  He loved the company. He loved designing and building airplanes.  He and his family loved the Seattle area where Boeing was based. However, it was too tempting to be asked to run an American institution such as Ford. Moreover, his aerospace engineering background favored solving difficult problems such as the one laid out by Bill Ford.

Once he finally agreed, Mulally spent time learning as much as he could about the business and the industry. He was a quick study and became confident that he could fix the ailing Ford.

Ford had a toxic, macho culture that was ruthless to outsiders, had forgotten its customers, and had an outdated and bloated product lineup of vehicles that fewer and fewer customers wanted. On top of this, they were running out of money. His task would not be an easy one.

Mulally quickly won over the company and its board of directors.  In 8 years, he took a company from the brink of collapse to dominate the industry.

How did he do it?

Mulally focused on the basics. He had a list Core Values of how to run organizations. He honed them over 20+ years.  They were the bases for his success at Boeing. When he came to Ford, these simple rules were the foundation of this unprecedented turnaround.

I was fortunate enough to hear him speak last year at a Vistage event as he described in some detail the incredible story.  Mulally used just ONE slide for the entire hour-plus talk as he walked us through his 10 Core Values and the parts they played. Here they are:

  1. People first
  2. Everyone is included
  3. Compelling vision
  4. Clear performance goals
  5. One plan
  6. Facts and data
  7. Propose a plan, “find-a-way” attitude
  8. Respect, listen, help, and appreciate each other
  9. Emotional resilience … trust the process
  10. Have fun … enjoy the journey and each other

He also came up with four decisions below that he knew Ford had to get right in order to climb out of its tailspin.  Coincidentally, these decisions line up well with the framework of People, Strategy, Execution, and Cash that I use as a foundation for the work I do with my clients.

(American Icon book excerpt) On November 14, (2006) as he was finalizing his presentation for the board, Mulally finally managed to distill everything down to four simple points:

1 Aggressively restructure to operate profitably at the current demand and changing model mix. (EXECUTION)

2 Accelerate development of new products our customers want and value. (STRATEGY)

3 Finance our plan and improve our balance sheet. (CASH)

4 Work together effectively as one team. (PEOPLE)

Not only did Mullaly and the team from Ford execute an improbable turnaround over the next several years by relentlessly executing a strategy focused on the customer by a cohesive team, they did it during the Great Recession.  GM and Chrysler needed taxpayer money to bail them out.  Ford did not take a dime.

Suggestion: Write down your four simple yet impactful decisions to drive your company over the next few years.  Can you distill them down to one sentence each?

I encourage you to read the entire fascinating story as told by Bryce G. Hoffman: American Icon: Alan Mullally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company.


Be Exceptional!


* Receive 50% of the fees for this workshop paid for by the state of MA.  Click here to see if you qualify.

“Like many good coaches, Bill knows that buy-in, follow through and confidence are enhanced when ideas and priorities are generated from within the organization. Bill will motivate and guide you to do the work and make progress producing alignment and results” – Global Educators’ Office of the President

Three ways to create a Growth Mindset Culture

Do you work in a Growth Mindset Culture?

If you hear these types of statements…..

  1. “In this company, there’s a lot of cheating, taking shortcuts, and cutting corners.”
  2. “In this company, people often hide information and keep secrets.”
  3. “Everyone wants to be the superstar by any means possible.”
  4. “We will never figure this out.”

…you do NOT have a growth mindset culture. These are more fixed mindset statements.

Bottom line – Corner cutting, problems with ethics, siloing, individual improvement/success at the expense of others happen too often.

If you more often hear the following:

  1. The company generally supports me even if I fail
  2. People are encouraged to be innovative in this company – creativity is welcomed
  3. We have not figured this out…but, we will

Congratulations! You have and should continue to cultivate a growth mindset within your organization.

Bottom Line – Greater trust, greater belief in innovation, greater risk-taking, greater engagement are the norm.

You possess a growth mindset if:

  • You have faith in the ability to develop through learning
  • You continually find ways to help team members develop
  • You believe in teamwork
  • You believe that you can’t do it…yet

growth mindset
How to foster a growth mindset culture

1. Recognize the value of improvement

  • Always be on the lookout for opportunities to recognize when someone improves.
  • Encourage improvement whenever possible.
  • Apprenticeships, workshops, coaching sessions are generously available to all.
  • Well-placed support and growth-promoting feedback offered on a regular basis; during 1:1s, weekly meetings, and ad hoc.

2. Focus your team on performance over time

  • Think about how you can start seeing and treating your employees as your collaborators – make offering help a two-way street. For example, ask how they would handle something that you are working on.
  • Make a list of growth possibilities and try them out. Do this even if you already think of yourself as a growth-mindset boss.
  • Create ways to foster alternative views and constructive criticism. Assign people to play the devil’s advocate, taking opposing viewpoints so you can see the holes in your position. Get people to wage debates that argue different sides of the issue.

3. Share stories of mistakes and learning

  • Start your weekly meetings off with good news AND a learning story.

IMPORTANT – The leader goes first and often until the team members feel safe to offer their own stories on a consistent basis. IMPORTANT: Your personal stories will have the most impact as they will see that you are vulnerable and recognize that you make a habit of continual improvement.

Here is a four-minute, Carol Dweck video on Mindset, Motivation, and Leadership

Be Exceptional!


One Day ScalingUp Workshop – 4/12/17 – Special offer for Massachusetts companies*

Scaling Up Workshop II

The world-renowned Scaling Up Business Growth Workshop empowers you to accelerate profitable growth using a time-tested and results-driven methodology. Through this exclusive learning experience, Gazelles Coaches has empowered more than 40,000 executives and their leadership teams with proven tools and strategies to scale up smarter.

Register here.

* Receive 50% of the fees for this workshop paid for by the state of MA.  Click here to see if you qualify.

3 ways to avoid losing millions in revenue and profit

leaky bucket - funny.pngFrom Howard Shore’s new book Your Business is a Leaky Bucket, there are many ways that businesses lose revenue and profit such as the following:

  1. Mediocre hiring practices:
    • Hiring and Keeping B and C players in critical positions
    • Leaving critical positions vacant
    • Lacking a standard interview process
    • Excessive turnover/Regrettable turnover
  2. Lack of alignment
  3. Chasing revenue anywhere and everywhere
    • Lack of targeted, differentiating strategy
    • No or ineffective Sales playbook and process
    • Inability to say “No” to the wrong customers/deals
    • Lack of financial transparency
If you want to grow, you need cash.  Plugging leaks is a simple way to find cash within the organization avoiding the need to borrow and/or give away ownership.
The three ways to avoid these three critical leaks (among many more) in your business is the following:
  1. Create a system to find and evaluate all the leaks. I recommend the CFO be in charge of this effort and part of his/her job description. You can start with the aforementioned list. Your P&L and B/S are also excellent places to look for leaks.
  2. Institute an action plan to plug the leaks you find.  President/COO is the best likely candidate to lead this process.  Every leak should have an owner that comes up with a plan and date for completion.
  3. Create a weekly meeting to hold everyone accountable and offer assistance to anyone who needs it.  I recommend that the CFO run this meeting. Spend time celebrating progress but spend most of the time completing the action plan on time.  This is a team effort with everyone pitching in when others ask for help.
Once you knock out all of these leaks, “rinse and repeat”.  If you are growing and moving forward, you will always have leaks.  It is part of the process.
Certified Scaling Up Coach
Scaling Up Workshop II

One Day ScalingUp Workshop – 4/12/17 – Special offer for Massachusetts companies*

The world-renowned Scaling Up Business Growth Workshop empowers you to accelerate profitable growth using a time-tested and results-driven methodology. Through this exclusive learning experience, Gazelles Coaches has empowered more than 40,000 executives and their leadership teams with proven tools and strategies to scale up smarter.

Register here.

* Receive 50% of the fees for this workshop paid for by the state of MA.  Click here to see if you qualify.

“Like many good coaches, Bill knows that buy-in, follow through and confidence are enhanced when ideas and priorities are generated from within the organization. Bill will motivate and guide you to do the work and make progress producing alignment and results” – Global Educators Office of the President

Bill (;

Be Exceptional!