Who’s in your way?

Imagine a football team that tackled its own ball carriers. Imagine a baseball team that tagged its own men out at the plate. Imagine a basketball team that blocked its own teammate’s shots.

What kind of performance-improving advice would you give these teams?

Does your company ever need similar advice?

I spoke with a senior executive the other day, with whom I hadn’t spoken for about two years. “Things aren’t going so well,” he told me. I was expecting to hear a litany of woes about the economy, the competition and of unfaithful customers. But he didn’t mention any of these external forces. Instead he lamented, “Our senior team doesn’t know where it is headed. We do a ton of planning, but then we don’t act. Our employees are starting to think management is a joke. We look like a bunch of bees flying around in every direction, but at least real bees actually get something done. We’re just creating chaos.”

I’m an advisor to companies in many different industries, with a focus on improving revenue and profits. This vantage point gives me the opportunity to speak with lots of people who have the responsibility for improving their company’s performance, including C-level executives, marketing and sales professionals, operations executives, customer service people, etc.

When talking with these people, I hear stories about the obstacles that prevent them from helping their companies be more successful. So what do I hear most frequently? What is the most common impediment people face, as they try to drive revenue and profits for their companies?

Is it price-sensitive customers?

Aggressive competitors, trashing the marketplace?

Economic factors, especially in times of economic mayhem like these?

No. None of these are the biggest obstacles standing in executives’ ways. Yes, they are obstacles but not the most formidable obstacles.

Almost without exception, people tell me that the biggest obstacles preventing them from increasing their companies’ sales and profits can be found right within the companies themselves.

I hear different versions of this story every week.:

“We can’t get out of our own way.”

“We start a project; everybody weighs in with their opinion, but there is no consensus, so the project just stalls and never goes anywhere.”

“Our projects move along just fine, until the Executive Suite figures out what we’re doing… then the micro-management starts, and progress stops.”

“If I could just do my job without the company owners swooping in like dive-bombers a few times a week to butt into my projects, I’d be able to make them a lot of money.”

“We are a company of silos. Everyone has their own perspective, their own goals, and their own priorities, so nobody cooperates with each other.”

“Everyone is more concerned with protecting their own turf than with helping the company succeed. They may not admit it, but I can see how often other departments prevent me from doing my job.”

“We start projects and never finish them because our company has a really short attention span.”

Do you see your company reflected in this list? If you do, don’t be depressed. After all, you can’t change external factors, such as the economy and the effects of your competitors, but you can fix yourself.

What are some ways your company can get out of its own way and stop limiting its success?

Well, of course, it depends on the particular ways your company erects barriers to its own success. As Tolstoy wrote,“Every happy family is alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” But here are a few solutions I have seen work in many different situations:

  • Get agreement on intended results before you focus on action steps.
    • This is the first thing I do when I start working with a company whose management team is not unified. I have the team agree on what an optimal future looks like before we discuss any sorts of action steps or internal challenges. Once executives agree on the same overall results, they are more likely to collaborate in reaching those results.
  • Turn your BHAG’s into CCAG’s.
    • The concept of creating “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” (“BHAG’s”) has one major problem: The “Big Hairy” part. Many people need “Clear Compelling Audacious Goals” to help them understand what the company is trying to achieve.
  • Focus on customer behaviors before you focus on your own behaviors.
    • This may seem counter-intuitive, but it really works. As I’ve written and spoken about many times, you don’t create your company’s results; your customers do. Focus first on what actions you want customers to take, directly connecting those actions to desired business results. Then, it will be easier to identify ways your company discourages those customer actions.
  • Start worrying about your company’s internal brand.
    • Most thinking about brands is focused on creating strong customer beliefs. Turn some attention to what you want your fellow team members to believe about your company.
  • Encourage a culture where it is accepted, and encouraged, for people to point out your company’s self-imposed obstacles.
    • My first boss after business school, Jim Noyes, president of MTI Vacations, was rabid about this. Every hourly employee in the company knew that it was safe to go straight to Jim’s office to point out something stupid the company was doing. We were very good at looking in the mirror and saying, “Why the hell are we doing that?”

So what are the ways your company gets in the way of its own success? (If, on the other hand, you believe your company does not get in its own way, please call me at 847-686-0400. With the interest of a zoologist who just found a flying lion, I would like to speak with you and learn from you.)

In your efforts to enhance business performance, try to worry less about competitors and the economy and focus on how your company is an obstacle to its own success. I’m very confident that you will rapidly discover opportunities to improve your business results. Yes, eradicating these obstacles will be difficult, but the first step to healing is identifying the disease.

Take Notice

Look at the companies you do business with as a customer, vendor or partner. What have you observed? Is it easy to see when they get in the way of their own progress? What do they do that impedes their own success? What don’t they do? Has the thought, “I want to do more business with this company, but they make it so difficult,” ever crossed your mind?

How do you compare?

Now, look at your own company. What are the ways your organization blocks its own success? Be self-critical– don’t hold back as you list problems. And, don’t think only from your own, personal perspective. What might people in other departments say? What might customers or vendors say?

As you look at this list, estimate the dollar-value of each of these obstacles. For example, if you are a $5 million company, and you believe that your company’s own self-imposed obstacles are costing the company 25% of its sales, that’s worth $1.25 million in revenue. Or, if your company spends $1 million on marketing and sales, and you believe that 30% of marketing and sales efforts are wasted due to barriers the company throws up in the way of customers and sales people, that’s worth $300,000.

Try this

Look at the list you’ve made of the ways your company impedes its own success. Pick out one obstacle. Choose one that has the following two characteristics: 1) It’s costing us quite a bit of money, and, 2) it’s really stupid that we do this.

Now, describe a scenario, six months from now, where this obstacle has been removed, and the company is enjoying improved success. Describe this scenario, in writing, very clearly. Consider it from many angles. Resist the temptation to say, “Oh, we could never fix that.”

At that point, ask yourself, “What can I do differently to reduce this impediment? Am I contributing to it? Can I navigate around this obstacle more effectively?”

Then, take a deep breath, and share your description of this scenario with one of the people in your organization who is a contributor to this obstruction. Don’t accuse. Don’t point a finger. Take this approach: “I believe that one of the quickest ways for us to improve results is…” and share your perspective.

You, of course, need to be the judge of how you handle this interaction; I’m not telling you to commit career suicide or make an enemy in another department. What I am telling you, however, is that 1) Change won’t happen unless people like you instigate it, and 2) Most people are willing to hear criticism. They may not be happy about it, but, if it’s presented well, they will listen.

Nearly every day I see evidence of companies who are their own worst competitors. Even the best companies are guilty.

Go for it– be an exception.

Steve Yastrow

Tagged with:
Posted in Brand Harmony, Invent Your Future, Newsletters

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

Subscribe to the Blog
Email:  

On Steve's Mind
Get Steve's newsletter featuring his ideas and practical advice delivered to your email inbox.
* = required field
Latest Tweets
Testimonials
Jennifer Whelan
Our work with Yastrow and Company yielded the best long-term value of any consulting engagement we’ve ever had. As we grow and expand internationally, Acuative continues to depend on the branding approach and marketing tools Steve and his team developed. Yastrow and Company genuinely partnered with us, were exceptionally responsive and remain committed to our success.

Jennifer Whelan

Vice President of Marketing, Acuative
Doug Ducey
In one morning, Steve re-energized the way we look at marketing. The only question we had at the end of the session was, ‘When can we get him back?'

Doug Ducey

CEO & Chairman, Cold Stone Creamery, Governor of Arizona
Chris Tucker
Steve is a creative and collaborative speaker who communicates his ideas clearly and concisely. He immediately understood our business needs and provided a better perspective on how our customers see us as a company. I have referred Steve to our customers in the past and I will continue to do so. He’s intuitive and has a unique way of looking at business. Steve has the experience to turn a project into something extremely valuable for any organization. I strongly recommend working with Yastrow and Company.

Chris Tucker

Director of Business Development, MBX Systems
Tom Peters
When Steve Yastrow writes, I pay close attention.

Tom Peters

Founder, Tom Peters Company
David Sank
I highly recommend Yastrow and Company to any business that is intent on enhancing their customer experience. Prior to working with Steve, we were communicating various messages to customers. Steve and his team helped us achieve a cohesive brand message that we as a company live daily. Steve is an incredible listener and learned the nuances of our business rapidly. I can’t imagine anyone Yastrow and Company couldn’t help.

David Sank

President and CEO, Calico Cottage
Craig Dwight
Steve’s approach to integrating all customer contacts into a comprehensive marketing message is a must in today’s information age. We have partnered with Steve to develop our integrated and comprehensive marketing message, and as a result of his excellent work, his new book is required reading for all of our employees.

Craig Dwight

Chairman & CEO, Horizon Bancorp
Marc Allen
We are absolutely better off after engaging Yastrow and Company. They helped us look at our business from our clients’ perspective, resulting in a cultural shift throughout our organization. These changes have made a big impact - we’ve gained new clients and strengthened relationships with existing clients. The investment was well worth it.

Marc Allen

Vice President of Sales, AMD Industries
Mike Depatie
Steve Yastrow is at the forefront of the next evolution in marketing. We have implemented many of his innovative ideas... and have seen very positive results.

Mike Depatie

CEO, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants
Rhoda Olsen
Steve Yastrow has clearly described the emotional reality of customer relationships and their impact on profitable business growth.

Rhoda Olsen

President, Great Clips for Hair
roma-maxwell
Rancho La Puerta has enjoyed continued success because of the work we did with Yastrow and Company. Together, we implemented business strategies that have contributed to our success. Steve and his team truly believe in our brand, and our experience with them was empowering, fun and a great learning opportunity. I highly recommend Yastrow and Company to any business that needs help building the bottom line

Roma Maxwell

Roma Maxwell, Director of Sales and Marketing, Rancho La Puerta
Alex von Bidder
Steve Yastrow's teachings are applicable to any business that values long-standing success based on personal relationships.

Alex von Bidder

Managing Partner, The Four Seasons Restaurant, New York
american-licorice-logo
We have seen huge benefits from Steve's input. Steve is unlike any other consultant I've ever worked with. He takes a genuine, deep-seated interest in our business. He is intuitive and able to identify problem issues quickly. We wouldn't be as far along in acheiving of our long-term growth strategy if we hadn't actively and aggressively pursued Steve's Brand Harmony.

Michael MacDonald

Executive VP Sales and Marketing, American Licorice Co.
roma-maxwell
Rancho La Puerta has enjoyed continued success because of the work we did with Yastrow and Company. Together, we implemented business strategies that have contributed to our success. Steve and his team truly believe in our brand. I highly recommend Yastrow and Company to any business that needs help building the bottom line.

Roma Maxwell

Director of Sales and Marketing, Rancho La Puerta
Jennifer Whelan
“Steve’s workshops helped bring out what is best at Acuative. His insights were fresh and long-lasting—we continue to use his tools and approach years later.”

Jennifer Whelan

Vice President of Marketing, Acuative
jim-winter
Steve put together a program that produced spectacular results, and the quality of our communication and customer satisfaction is vastly improved. I’ve been in business for 40 years, and Steve’s the first consultant that I’ve gotten my money’s worth from. We’re going to continue to work with Steve and the bright, energetic people that are on his team.

Jim Winter

COO, Dimension Design
Ditch the Pitch is a great read-- interesting, fun, and easy to follow. And I’ve already seen the concepts work. Just yesterday, I called a client and had a conversation that was 95% about the client, as the book suggests. At the end of the call, he sent a new matter my way. I ditched the pitch and it resulted in new business.

Attorney

Chicago, IL
Ward Alles
Steve Yastrow knows his stuff. That's why our management team has read all of his books. And that's why we've had him as a keynote speaker at both client and employee events. From creating brand alignment, to selling more effectively, to providing top-notch customer service, Steve offers words of wisdom based on real-life experiences. He always engages his audiences with questions, interactive exercises and great storytelling that keep you coming back for more. Read Steve's books. Then book Steve. You'll be glad you did.

Ward Alles

CEO, Core Creative
Alex von Bidder
In these high pressure times of bite-size communications we all hunger to be listened to and cared for individually. Our customers know great hospitality, the kind that is not about selling but treating their needs as our highest priority. Steve Yastrow’s teachings are applicable to any business that values long-standing success based on personal relationships.

Alex von Bidder

Managing Partner, The Four Seasons Restaurant, New York
jim-evans
Yastrow and Company introduced Brand Harmony and their Be the Brand concept to our team at Jenny Craig.  I believe these new ideas contributed in helping us triple the company's revenue during my years as CEO.

Jim Evans

former President and CEO, Jenny Craig
roma-maxwell
I give Steve two thumbs up—five thumbs up, if I had that many!

Roma Maxwell

Roma Maxwell, Director of Sales and Marketing, Rancho La Puerta
Chris Miller
I rarely book speakers more than once. But I’ve used Steve four times! Steve has our association’s interest at heart and works tirelessly to deliver customized programs. He always ranks highly with our affiliates because he is outcome-focused, fast-paced and highly engaging. Anyone looking for insight and understanding into marketing, branding and sales should book Steve!

Chris Miller

Executive Director, Professional Systems Network International
Kathleen Phillips
Not only is Steve's content sound, but the energy he displays in delivering it will knock your socks off.

Kathleen Phillips

Ernst & Young, Chicago, IL