A Roadmap for Pivoting a Business Towards Future Growth

In times of turmoil, we hear the inevitable cry to pivot your business into a new set of products or services. Exactly how is that done? What are the steps? 

 Do we need a crisis to pivot our business?

Shouldn’t we always be looking to pivot our business?

And, if pivoting is so easy, why doesn’t everyone do it? 

These questions were explored at the Executive Forums Silicon Valley Top Executive Forum this month through a presentation and discussion led by Beatrice Stonebanks (Stonebanks Sales Management Teams). 

The discussion explored both the impact of the current COVID 19 environment as well as general long-term industry and buyer trends. After all, no one wanted to be like BlockBuster Video who missed the trend and technology of HOW consumers wanted to procure and engage, even though they knew all along about consumer demand for video content. Same goes with many taxi companies who did not innovate and pivot towards new ways of meeting customers’ needs for transportation and missed the trend and technology of HOW consumers wanted to procure and engage.

Ms. Stonebanks walked the members through some specifics on how to use industry reports to answer the following types of questions, as a roadmap to focus on:

  • What are the trends in your market? 
  • Exactly why are your best customers buying from you? 
  • What technology will be used to buy your products and services?
  • Where are the growth sectors that value similar characteristics?
  • What happens in your target markets if a Black Swan event happens?
  • How must you embrace technology to stay relevant to your customers?

This is a concise and straightforward method using just a few key questions to determine why your best customers value your product, service or company and what additional value you can provide.

The members were led through the “Stonebanks Sales Management 10 Step Process” that acts as a roadmap to help companies work through this process. A summary of the ten steps of this process are:

  1. Access 2020 Tech Trends Report 
  2. Research Your Sector (or the sector you might pivot into)
  3. Keyword Search a Term or a Specific Niche
  4. Conduct an Ideal Client Summary
  5. Create a Decision Matrix for Your Company
  6. Choose your Preferred Target Niche(s) 
  7. Review the Top Ten Fastest Growing Sectors – Match with Your Niche
  8. Analyze Optimistic and Pessimistic Trends in Selected Sectors
  9. Adjust Your Products or Services Accordingly
  10. Create Your Business Development Game Plan

Each specific member company was presented with a quick summary of the results of this process. For example, for one member who runs a full-service printing company, the following trends were identified. Although these types of trends are just the tip of the iceberg, consider how valuable this type of data-derived information can be in developing business growth plans. These trends were  identified for the printing company:

  • print on packaging is a growth area – flexography, gravure
  • professional services to other printers 
  • geographic collaboration (FTD model) are applicable
  • sector growing by 12% through 2024

This short article cannot do justice to the richness of the discussion around this process, and how it is relevant at all times, beyond COVID 19.

So pivoting is not that easy, however, there is a process that can be used. If you are looking to skate your company to where the puck will be (or how to use the puck in a completely new game), I recommend that you contact Beatrice Stonebanks (510 338-0896 www.stonebanks.net). 

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At Executive Forums Silicon Valley, selected business owners and leaders work together to gain clarity, insight and accountability to ignite their leadership engines, grow their businesses and improve their lives. If you are interested in learning more about Business Owner Advisory Boards, Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) or The Seven Stages of Growth, contact gperkins@executiveforums.com or call 408-901-0321. For more information visit http://www.execforumssv.com/.

Justification for Your Next Vacation

Perhaps the best way to succeed in your business, is to work yourself out of your business.

The better your company runs on autopilot, the more valuable it will be when you’re ready to sell or transition. 

A recent survey by The Value Builder Score found companies that would perform well without their owner for a period of three months are 50 percent more likely to get an offer to be acquired when compared to more owner-dependent businesses. 

Let your vacation be a detective

There is no better justification for taking a blissful, uninterrupted holiday than to see how your company performs in your absence. To gauge your company’s ability to handle your absence, start by taking a vacation. Leave your computer at home and switch off your mobile. Upon your return, you’ll probably discover that your employees got resourceful and found answers to a lot of the questions they would have asked you if you had been in the building or on the end of an email or telephone call. That’s a good thing and a sign you should start planning an even longer vacation.

You’ll also likely come back to an inbox full of issues that need your personal attention. Instead of busily finding answers to each problem in a frenzied attempt to clean up your inbox, slow down and look at each issue through the lens of a possible problem with your people, systems or authorizations

People – start with your people and answer the following questions:

  • Why did this issue or problem end up on my desk?
  • Who else is qualified to answer this question?
  • Why did the organization not contact and consult that person?
  • If nobody is qualified, who can be trained for the future?

In my many years of leading and working with companies, growing the capability of the team is the most important role of the leader. 

Systems – next, look at your systems and procedures: 

  • Could the issue have been dealt with if you had a system or a set of rules in place?
  • Whose department or area should be accountable for developing that system?
  • Can this issue be solved with system automation to remove the human element? 

The best systems are hardwired and do not require human interpretation; but if you’re not able to lock down a technical fix, then at least give employees a set of rules to follow in the future.

Authorizations – You may be a bottleneck in your own company if you’re trying to control all the spending too much. 

  • Did the employees know what to do but did not have any means of paying for the fix?
  • Can you put in customer service rules with financial limits of authority?

You might empower (and encourage) an employee to spend a specific amount with a specific supplier each month without coming to you first for authorizing every payment.  Or you might give an employee an annual budget, an amount they can spend without seeking your approval. 

Let your vacation strengthen your company

Given the fires that may need to be extinguished after the fact, taking a holiday may seem more of a hassle than it’s worth. But don’t be fooled – if you transform the aftermath of a vacation into systems and training that allow employees to act on their own, you’ll find the vacation is worth what you paid for it many times over. Your company will increase in value as it becomes less dependent on you personally. 

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At Executive Forums Silicon Valley, selected business owners and leaders work together to gain clarity, insight and accountability to ignite their leadership engines, grow their businesses and improve their lives. If you are interested in learning more about Business Owner Advisory Boards, Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), Stages of Growth, Value Builder System or becoming a member at Executive Forum Silicon Valley, please contact gperkins@executiveforums.com or call 408-901-0321. For more information visit http://www.execforumssv.com/.

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5 Ways To Get Your Business To Run Without You

Have you ever considered making it your primary goal to set up your business so that it can thrive and grow without you?

A business not dependent on its owner is the ultimate asset to own. It allows you to have complete control over your time so that you can choose the projects you get involved in and the vacations you take. When it comes to exit, a business independent of its owner is worth a lot more than an owner-dependent company. 

Here are five ways to set up your business so that it can succeed without you.

1. Give Them A Stake In The Outcome

Jack Stack, the author of The Great Game of Business and A Stake In The Outcome wrote the book on creating an ownership culture inside your company: you are transparent about your financial results and you allow employees to participate in your financial success. This results in employees who act like owners when you’re not around.

2. Get Them To Walk In Your Shoes

If you’re not quite comfortable opening up the books to your employees, consider a simple management technique where you respond to every question your staff brings you with the same answer, “If you owned the company, what would you do?” By forcing your employees to walk in your shoes, you get them thinking about their question as you would and it builds the habit of starting to think like an owner. Pretty soon, employees are able to solve their own problems. 

3. Vet Your Offerings

Identify the products and services which require your personal involvement in either making, delivering or selling them. Make a list of everything you sell and score each on a scale of 0 to 10 on how easy they are to teach an employee to handle. Assign a 10 to offerings that are easy to teach employees and give a lower score to anything that requires your personal attention. Commit to stopping to sell the lowest scoring product or service on your list. Repeat this exercise every quarter. 

4. Create Automatic Customers

Are you the company’s best salesperson? If so, you’ll need to fire yourself as your company’s rainmaker in order to get it to run without you. One way to do this is to create a recurring revenue business model where customers buy from you automatically. Consider creating a service contract with your customers that offers to fulfill one of their ongoing needs on a regular basis. 

5. Write An Instruction Manual For Your Business

Finally, make sure your company comes with instructions included. Write an employee manual or what MBA-types called Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). These are a set of rules employees can follow for repetitive tasks in your company. This will ensure employees have a rulebook they can follow when you’re not around, and, when an employee leaves, you can quickly swap them out with a replacement to take on duties of the job. 

You-proofing your business has enormous benefits. It will allow you to create a company and have a life. Your business will be free to scale up because it is no longer dependent on you, its bottleneck. Best of all, it will be worth a lot more to a buyer whenever you are ready to sell. 

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At Executive Forums Silicon Valley, selected business owners and leaders work together to gain clarity, insight and accountability to ignite their leadership engines, grow their businesses and improve their lives. If you are interested in learning more about Business Owner Advisory Boards, Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), Stages of Growth, Value Builder System or becoming a member at Executive Forum Silicon Valley, please contact gperkins@executiveforums.com or call 408-901-0321. For more information visit http://www.execforumssv.com/ .

Avoid the Mile-Wide Trap in Your Business COVID 19 Response

What is the difference between a mile-wide versus a mile-deep approach to building your business? And why does it matter?

As many companies’ growth has stalled due to Covid-19’s shelter-in-place, unemployment, reduced consumption, workplace protection and other changes and limitations, some are looking everywhere for new businesses, even scrambling to diversify by adding new products and services to sell.

However, before a necessary pivot, it is important to make sure that you don’t fall into the “Mile Wide Trap” as you look to diversify your business.

The Mile Wide Trap

The Mile Wide Trap first starts to ensnare you when you do an excellent job serving a small number of great customers and they ask you to handle more of their DIFFERENT TYPES of work. You keep delivering, and they keep broadening the list of products and services they want you to supply. Your company is wildly profitable serving the expanding needs of this small list of “great customers” so you keep falling deeper and deeper into what eventually becomes “the mile wide but an inch deep” trap. 

Pretty soon, you’re an inch deep and a mile wide in offerings and the only person in your company with the depth of industry experience to deliver all of the services is you. But you’re trapped because your expenses have crept up as your revenue has increased – leaving you dependent on the sales you get from a small group of demanding customers. And the chase never ends.

Another example of the Mile Wide Trap is when there is a disruption in the market, and you look to capitalize by doing something your company has not done before. This may be particularly attractive during this time of economic upheaval caused by Coronavirus.

A Mile Deep is Better Than a Mile Wide

Instead of selling more things to a few customers, first concentrate on understanding your company’s core focus – the intersection of your passion and your expertise, then sell a few things to a lot of customers. 

In order to scale up a company, employees, not owners, need to be able to execute work with quality and speed. This is much easier to accomplish repeatedly when the company operates within its core focus where everyone is already trained to do their best. 

As an extreme example, Ferrari represents a high-performance racing type automobile. Ferrari’s core focus is: “We build cars, symbols of Italian excellence the world over, and we do so to win on both road and track.” They are a mile deep in what they do – high performance Italian cars. They know that the gold is buried deep. One might think they could go wide and diversify into high performance motorcycles, snowmobiles or even airplanes, however, they stay close to their core focus and avoid the Mile Wide Trap.

When the markets seem to be in turmoil, it is easy to fall into The Mile Wide Trap that will eventually choke off your growth.   Do pivot when necessary, but more often than not, doubling down on your core focus will provide the long term, scalable growth you are looking for.

If you’re curious to benchmark your company on growth potential and the other seven factors that drive your company’s value, take 13 minutes and get your Value Builder Score here:   https://bit.ly/36nPCKn

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At Executive Forums Silicon Valley, selected business owners and leaders work together to gain clarity, insight and accountability to ignite their leadership engines, grow their businesses and improve their lives. If you are interested in learning more about Business Owner Advisory Boards, Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), Stages of Growth, Value Builder System or becoming a member at Executive Forum Silicon Valley, please contact gperkins@executiveforums.com or call 408-901-0321. For more information visit http://www.execforumssv.com/ .

Trademarks for Small and Mid-sized Businesses

Importance of trademarks

Why do trademarks matter to small and mid-sized businesses? 

The best companies are those whose brands are easy to remember and instantly recognizable,” said Dana Brody-Brown, Counsel at Hoge-Fenton during a recent interactive workshop at the Executive Forums Silicon Valley (EFSV) Advisory Board. Trademarks can serve to differentiate your products from others and efficiently deliver your marketing messages, in addition to providing competitive advantage, investment protection, product or process validation and business valuation.

Trademarks can also be important for operations, revenues and the ability to sell and ship into primary markets. For consumer facing goods, trademarks are especially important, according to Ms. Brody-Brown.

Business owners and key executives at SVEF learned about intellectual property’s value, importance, nuances and best practices during this workshop. Those who were not aware of the importance of intellectual property in their markets found the discussions extremely beneficial. This article will focus on trademarks.

Types of trademarks

There are many types of trademarks associated with traditional concepts such as words, symbols, slogans, pictures, emblems and packaging design as shown in this graphic below:

Additionally, trademarks can be associated with less traditional and more creative concepts such as sound, color, shape, business design or motion, as shown in the following graphic:

Distinctiveness and frequent use are two key factors

In selecting your marks, think distinctiveness. I often wonder about the effectiveness of the LIMU Ostrich for Liberty Mutual Insurance, the Smile on Amazon packaging, or the Peace Symbol of Mercedes. However, it is the distinctiveness of the mark along with the frequency of use that allows the product, service or company to be etched into the mind of the customer. The spectrum of distinctiveness and how it can be used is demonstrated in the following graphic:

In addition to the specific education around the topic of intellectual property and trademarks, several case studies were used to demonstrate the power and value of proper (and improper) application of these techniques. 

Best Practices for using trademarks

The discussion closed with some best practices for using your marks in building strong brands including 

  • Select Strong and Creative Marks
  • Search Well Before Use
  • Register – in the US (and Internationally)
  • Enforce Your Rights
  • Consistently Use in Messaging, Marketing, and Advertising

Other best practices include following your mark with the generic product category such as Kleenex® tissue or Ford® truck, maintaining use of the registered spelling or font such as MONTBLANC® fountain pen or Hershey Kisses® chocolate and always using the appropriate symbol ® or ™. There is also an ACID test for using a trademark which requires you establish

  • A – Adjective
  • C – Consistency
  • I – Identification
  • D – Distinguished from Other Text

The business owners and top executives of Executive Forums Silicon Valley learned a lot during the workshop and have practical techniques they can use in their business. I would highly recommend that you contact Dana Brody-Brown (dana.brody-brown@hogefenton.com , 408 947-2433, www.linkedin.com/in/dbrodybrown) to learn more about her background and expertise on this topic and to help you use intellectual property concepts for your company and business advantage.

  1. Forbes- Feb. 21, 2012- “How Important is Small Business Branding Really?”, Jessica Bosari Contributor

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At Executive Forums Silicon Valley, selected business owners and leaders work together to gain clarity, insight and accountability to ignite their leadership engines, grow their businesses and improve their lives. If you are interested in learning more about Business Owner Advisory Boards, Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), Stages of Growth, Value Builder System or becoming a member at Executive Forum Silicon Valley, please contact gperkins@executiveforums.com or call 408-901-0321. For more information please visit http://www.execforumssv.com/ .

Your Business’ “Grey Wolf” (Part 3 of 3, Organization Rewilding)

The grey wolf metaphor comes from the success in the revitalization of the Yellowstone Park’s complex ecosystem in the 1990s. Through the introduction of a Key Systemic Element (grey wolves), a complete transformation occurred to bring back vitality, life and growth of the park. Similarly, businesses are a complex ecosystem and through the identification and introduction of Key Systemic Elements, in short amounts of time, vitality, life and growth can be accomplished. An expanded version of the Yellowstone Park story is provided at the end of this blog.

In February 2020, Executive Forum Silicon Valley (“EFSV”) members feasted on the insights and wisdom from the book “Navigating the Growth Curve” and Organizational Rewilding concepts that helped them understand, predict and solve the increasing complexity at every stage of company growth. 

In Part 1 of this series, 7 Stages of Growth, we discussed that the different stages of growth are based on the complexity of a company (in proportion to the total number of people) and require different “Gates of Focus” – people, profits and process – at different times. 

In Part 2 of this series, “3 Faces of a Leader,” we discussed “Hidden Agents” that can derail a company’s growth. These Hidden Agents such as the 27 Classic Challenges, the Builder Protector Ratio (confidence to caution) and the 3 Faces of a Leader (visionary, manager, specialist) must be optimized at each stage of a company’s growth. Also discussed were transitions between stages such as the Flood Zone (overwhelmed by work) and the Wind Tunnel (new systems required).

Here in Part 3, we will be looking at the “Key Building Blocks” and “Non-Negotiable Rules” for growth companies. It is through the analysis of these elements and the previous stages of growth principles – Gates of Focus, Hidden Agents and Transition Zones – that the key systemic element (grey wolf) can be identified to revitalize any company.

First, let’s explore the similarity between the situations that frequently occur in small and medium sized businesses with the challenges faced in the Yellowstone Park. The key point is the first – businesses are complex ecosystems (people, products, processes, places and projects) and as the number of people increases so does the complexity of the ecosystem.

Additionally, in complex ecosystems symptoms may be obvious, however, solutions are not. And because there are unseen forces at work, the situation may not appear that bad (impacting growth) and their ecosystem is not self-repairing. The correlation and similarities are detailed in the table below:

System ElementYellowstone ParkSmall Businesses
Featured a complex ecosystemYellowstone’s ecological system is comprised of complex relationships between flora and fauna.Businesses feature a complex system of interrelated, dynamic, and living resources. The level of complexity is impacted by the number of employees.
May not have appeared that badAn untrained eye may not have considered the situation in Yellowstone that dire. The lack of vegetation and animal species mirrored other places in the U.S.You might not even see areas that are unhealthy or lack vitality. “That’s how it’s always been” or “It’s still better than the last place I worked” are common justifications.
Obvious symptoms, unclear solutionsThe obvious problem was the overpopulation of elk. The reintroduction of elk hunting reduced the population, but did not have a dramatic impact.What is obvious is the surface symptom. Leaders are often too busy or lacking the tools necessary to identify root causes and are stuck playing “whack-a-mole.”
Not self-repairingThe Park could not solve its imbalance without the involvement of humans, because it was the human eradication of wolves that started the decline.Leaders must be intentional to identify the missing elements and actively infuse them into the business ecosystem.
Unseen forces at workThe decrease in wolf population had an Instinctive relationshipwith deterioration of the ecosystem. Upon spontaneously communicating the new reality the environment responded.You don’t have to fix everything. Instead, infuse the right elements and the unseen forces often resolve the other challenges on their own.
Depth of impact unexpectedInserting a keystone predator had the intended results of reducing elk population. Experts were amazed by the transformation; the breadth, depth, and speed of change was totally unexpected.When any key systemic element of a business is absent, the entire organization suffers. Infusing the right elements does achieve the expected improvement and the ripple effect will go beyond your expectationin ways you could not anticipate.

Non-Negotiable Rules and Building Blocks

Regardless of the type of a business there are several areas of competency that must be developed, nurtured and mastered at each stage of company growth. These business competencies (non-negotiable rules) fall into six key disciplines – business development, business model, financial systems, operations, leadership values and workplace community and three broad areas (building blocks) – Infrastructure, leadership and culture. 

Let’s take an example of how this shows up for a Stage 4 company (35 – 57 employees). With respect to the six key disciplines or non-negotiable rules, a Stage 4 company should be focused on the following items: 

Stage 4 Company – Non-Negotiable Rules
Business DevelopmentEffective marketing campaign management system, repeatable sales process and a customer care program.
Business ModelScrub the business plan annually with quarterly reviews.
Financial SystemsEstablished departmental budgets and advanced weekly and monthly key performance indicators.
OperationsImplement master processes and allocate 5% of revenue to build and automate systems.
Leadership ValuesHire or train professional level managers who are accountable and proactive.
Workplace CommunityShare project management and foster competition between department teams.

Similarly, with respect to the three broad areas or building blocks, a Stage 4 company should have in place or be working on the following:

Stage 4 Company – Building Blocks
InfrastructureAccountability Charts, basic Key Performance Indicators, Position Role Descriptions should be in place. The Stage 4 company should be working to improve Process Systemization and Weekly Personnel Check-ins.
LeadershipThe Business Model and annual business plan should be in place and the Stage 4 company should be working to train and improve managers.
CultureOne on One Discussions, Vision, Mission, Core Values, Brand Values and New Hire Onboarding should be in place. 

What Doesn’t Get Done at One Stage Will Hold a Company Back 

A complete visual of the non-negotiable rules and building blocks for all 7 Stages of Growth is shown in the following graphic. Be aware, what doesn’t get done at one stage will hold a company back from growing to full potential. 

ReWild Key Elements (“Grey Wolves”)

How does a company establish the missing element that is holding back growth? How do you identify your grey wolf? The Rewild Group (www.rewildgroup.com) has established a business assessment that uses all of the elements we have discussed in this blog (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) to establish a prioritized set of grey wolves for individual companies. This assessment is primarily driven by data from the 650 companies researched by James Fisher in “Navigating the Growth Curve” and with additional analytical tools that examine relationships between Gates of Focus, 27 Challenges and Non-Negotiable Rules.

The types of grey wolves that are impactful for small and medium sized business are shown in the following graphic. As an example of how this works, Stage 3 and Stage 4 companies that may have low profits (symptom) may benefit most by establishing Master Processes. This grey wolf has the impact of operational efficiency, employee productivity, and speed of product or service delivery which all positively impact profits.  

A Stage 5 or Stage 6 company experiencing employee turnover and lost expertise (symptom) may benefit most by an Exceptional Manager Program that builds across functional teams, reinforces company values and addresses needs of lower level employees. This grey wolf better aligns the workforce, improves accountability and engages employees to reduce labor churn.

As shown in Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of this blog, the Stages of Growth and Organizational Rewilding are powerful analysis and solution tools to help a company grow and revitalize companies where growth has stalled. Understanding all of the analytical tools – Gates of Focus, Hidden Agents, Transition Zones, Non-Negotiable Rules and Building Blocks – and what is most important at each stage of growth, will help a business leader focus AND help a leader anticipate what is coming down the line. Wouldn’t you feel better if you knew what to do now and what to do next?

Find Your Own “Grey Wolves”, Clarify, Insight and Accountability at EFSV

Reach out directly if you are interested in learning more about the Stages of Growth or Organizational Rewilding, or if you would like to brainstorm about what kind of “grey wolves” are needed to revitalize your company’s ecosystem.

Executive Forum Silicon Valley (“EFSV”) is a platform where successful business owners, CEOs and executives act as their fellow collaborators, co-inventors, partners and even “co-conspirators”, in getting a clear picture of where they want to go, what stands in the way, and how to achieve their respective growth goals. Forum members share resources, conduct self-assessment and identify opportunities. Upon getting clarity in the way forward and strategic insights and the illumination of leadership blind spots, members hold each other accountable with support and encouragement. If you are interested in learning more about the Stages of Growth or becoming a member at Executive Forum Silicon Valley, please contact gperkins@executiveforums.com or call 408-901-0321. For more information visit http://www.execforumssv.com/ 

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The Yellowstone Story of a Threatened Ecosystem

In 1995, Yellowstone National Park’s ecosystem was rapidly disintegrating. The expanding elk population was defoliating the park at an alarming rate. Yellowstone Park was on the verge of becoming a barren landscape, where many of its resident species could not survive. The solution to this issue wasn’t clear, but the U.S. Forest Service Rangers and a team of scientists knew they needed to act soon. 

Grey Wolves Rebalanced Ecosystem

They chose to reintroduce several packs of grey wolves, who had been missing from the park for 70 years, into the ecosystem. Amazingly, within a short six-year span, the park dramatically transformed.

As one might expect, the elk population was reduced, creating smaller but healthier herds. Additionally, the remaining elk population avoided open valley areas so as not to be easily trapped by the new predators. Saplings sprouted in the once barren meadows, providing material for beavers to create new dams. Berry bushes and underbrush created shelter for small mammals. These in turn provided more food for growing populations of badgers, foxes, and birds of prey. Rapid tree growth gave homes to an increased population of songbirds. The river banks were reinforced with wild grasses that were no longer over-grazed. Every level of the trophic chain (food chain) began to flourish again.

Balance had returned to Yellowstone’s ecosystem through one simple change – the reintroduction of packs of wolves. The insertion of the wolf packs as a “Key Systemic Element” rippled all the way down to how the rivers and streams flowed through the park. 

Business Organizations Need “Grey Wolves” as Key Systemic Element 

We realized that there are powerful parallels between nature’s ecosystems and human business organizations. Many of the businesses we have encountered exhibit the same loss of vitality that Yellowstone was experiencing in the mid-1990‘s. Inserting a keystone predator had the intended results of reducing elk population. Experts were amazed by the transformation; the breadth, depth, and speed of change was totally unexpected.

7 Stages of Growth and Hidden Agents (Pt 2 of 3, Organization Rewilding)

Do you ever feel like there are times in your business that you keep bumping up against an invisible force field?  Something that holds you back regardless of how hard you try to grow or move forward?  What you may be experiencing is something James Fischer, in his book Navigating the Growth Curve, calls Hidden Agents or growth Transition Zones. Hidden Agents are obstacles to growth that were not easy for a leader to identify. Additionally, as companies move from stage-to-stage, they experience Transition Zones that complicate growth and can create business chaos.

In this blog, we will continue to reveal insights and wisdom from the book “Navigating the Growth Curve” that help leaders understand and manage the increasing complexity at every level of business growth. These materials were reviewed, discussed, learned and made actionable in the February 2020 Executive Forums Silicon Valley mastermind sessions. 

 

Hidden Agents

Sometimes on the surface, issues look unclear and may only really show symptoms or side effects which can make it difficult to identify the real cause and design and implement the correct solutions. The three hidden agents identified by Fisher are shown in the graphic below and are obstacles to growth, hidden below the surface and difficult to diagnose.

 

27 Classic Challenges

One of the hidden agents identified in James Fischer’s research are the 27 Classic Challenges that companies face at one time or the other.  Many times, several of these Classic Challenges were critical for business to address at a specific point in time – related to the company’s current stage of growth.  The successful companies took the time and energy to focus on a critical few at any one time.  They addressed the most critical challenge for their stage of growth and moved on.  Take a look at the graphic below and identify your company’s stage and assess the challenges you might want to address. The key is for the leader and team is to stay focused on the right things at the right time.

 

Builder Protector Ratio

A second hidden agent identified in James Fischer’s research is the builder protector ratio. The B/P Ratio can be explained by understanding that in every company there are Builders (risk takers) and there are Protectors (risk averse).  The Builder/Protector aspect of the Stages of Growth is a measurement within a company of confidence vs. caution.  

  • Builders (risk takers) create new ideas and take new initiatives, find ways to expand revenue and profits, challenge the way things are done, and are highly confident.
  • Protectors (risk averse) are cautious and slow-paced, seek stability, may not feel confident in company’s financial strength, and tend to be suspicious of new markets.

As navigating the growth curve materials are about growth companies, you can see in the graphic below that the ratio of Builders to Protectors is greater than one for all of the stages except for the Delegation – Stage 3. Are you hiring enough Builders to achieve the right ratio at your stage of growth?

 

Three Faces of a Leader

The third hidden agent is called the Three Faces of a Leader Blend and is reflective of the leader within an organization. Depending on a company’s stage of growth, the leader must deliver a different blend (mix) of leadership attributes to make the company successful and keep the company growing. The three leadership attributes that must be blended in each stage are being a Visionary, a Manager and a Specialist.

  • Visionary Leader – makes sure the company knows where it wants to go.  
  • Manager Leader – grows company through managing the work and the people.
  • Specialist Leader – delivers work to make sure the product meets clients’ needs.

As seen in the graphic below, the Visionary Leader is extremely important in a company’s early and late stages while the Manager Leader is dominated in a company’s middle stages. Note that the Specialist Leader decreases continually as a company grows.

 

 

Transition Zones

Finally, let’s look at what happens as a company transitions from one stage to another. A Transition Zone is a phase of chaos that the organization goes through to prepare for the next Stage of Growth. Rarely does it go smoothly, however, it does always go predictably. You can expect confusion and some chaos with your staff as you work through these zones, but if you aren’t prepared for them, they can take a toll on you and your leadership team.

Transitions between stages occur as either predictably as Flood Zones or Wind Tunnel. A Transition Zone is a phase of chaos that the organization goes through to prepare for the next Stage of Growth. Without this chaos, the organization would not be able to sustain itself or be able to compete in the next Stage of Growth.  These zones can sometimes be identified by the mumbled complaints at leadership for putting the company in this ‘mess’. In truth most often the chaos couldn’t have been avoided and was a natural result of the company preparing for its next Stage of Growth.

 

  • Flood Transition Zone – a transition where the organization experiences a FLOOD of activity. It is being overwhelmed. The feeling inside a company is that you don’t have enough people to handle all the work. You feel like you can barely keep your head above water.

 

To address the chaos during a flood transition zone, you must

    • Communicate to people the upcoming increase in workload
    • Avoid the temptation to add new staff (hire at last resort)
    • Focus on the WAY your company manages workload

 

  • Wind Tunnel Transition Zone – is defined by a condition where the company needs to let go of ideas and processes that no longer work and create new ones that do. Often times the leadership of a company will have a difficult time realizing that what worked in the past is not going to work any longer.

 

To address the chaos during a wind tunnel transition zone, you must

    • Communicate growth and processes must change
    • Evaluate (measure) which processes must change
    • Don’t blame people for issues that require new processes
    • Consider the use and implementation of technology

 

As you can see in the graphic below, the Flood Transition Zone occurs leaving Stages 1, 3 while the Wind Tunnel Transition Zone occurs leaving Stages 2, 4 and 6.

 

The Stages of Growth material is very rich and challenged each leader in the Executive Forums Silicon Valley community to think deeply about the current state of their business and how to shore up the foundations for future growth.  Having the knowledge to predict what is coming next and be able to align leadership and company focus to address these challenges can keep growth on track. We have discussed in pars 1 and Part 2 of this blog the following concepts.

  • Stages of Growth – the number of people drive complexity and growth stage
  • Gates of Focus – profit, process, people – where to focus and when
  • Four Key Messages – if you are not growing, you are dying
  • Hidden Agents – Classic Challenges, Builder Protector, 3 Faces of a Leader
  • Transition Zones – how to address the Flood or Wind Tunnel transitions

 

Part 3 of this blog, we will discuss the “Building Blocks of infrastructure, Culture and Leadership” and how to “Rewild” your business to get it back onto a high growth trajectory.

Here is the link to Part 1 of this Blog – 7 Stages of Growth and the 3 Gates of Focus.

 

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At EFSV, selected business owners and leaders work together to gain clarity, insight and accountability to ignite their leadership engines, grow their businesses and improve their lives. If you are interested in learning more about the Stages of Growth or becoming a member at Executive Forum Silicon Valley, please contact gperkins@executiveforums.com or call 408-901-0321. For more information visit https://execforumssv.com/ 

7 Stages of Growth and 3 Gates of Focus (Pt 1 of 3, organization rewilding)

In February 2020, Executive Forum Silicon Valley (“EFSV”) members feasted on the insights and wisdom from the book “Navigating the Growth Curve” that helps understand and manage the increasing complexity at every level of growth. They each take back to their own organization the tools acquired at the Forum for engaging the people in their own company to deal with challenges at their particular stage of growth.

EFSV is a platform where business owners, CEOs and executives act as their fellow collaborators, co-inventors, partners and even “co-conspirators”, in getting clear picture of where they want to go, what stands in the way, and how to achieve their respective business growth goals. Forum members share resources, conduct self-assessment and identify opportunities. Upon getting clarity and insights, they hold each other accountable with support and encouragement.

Based on the research of over 650 successful companies with up to 500 employees, “Navigating the Growth Curve”, by James Fischer, describes a model for successful growth and identifies insights, behaviors, and focus areas that the leader needs to manage and balance. 

People, Profit, Process “3 Ps” for Successful Growth Companies

Fischer found in his research that successful growth companies are light, agile and intelligent, and throw out the old model of “business as a machine”. These companies flourish by using the lens of the following “Three Gates of Focus” in addressing challenges as they arise:

  • Growing people
  • Growing profit and revenue
  • Growing processes

Conversely, unsuccessful Companies often share these three traits:

  • work environment without staff satisfaction
  • lack of a sustainable profit model
  • cannot understand, predict, and manage their growth

Understanding Where You and Your Company Are Today: The 7 Stages of Growth

You can identify your appropriate Stage of Growth from the graphic below. As shown a company’s Stage of Growth is directly proportional to the numbers of employees as that drives complexity into every phase of the business. As a company grows throughout the 7 stages, the complexity level of that company increases based on the most challenging aspect of managing any organization – people. Not profits, not processes – but people.  The higher the number of people in a company, the more complexity.

A description of the what the company needs from the CEO, the typical priority challenges and the personnel balance needed, and the lenses of focus to keep a company growing in each Stage of Growth are as follows.

Stage 1 – Startup (1 – 10 employees)

  • 3 Gates of Focus Priorities – Profit, People, Process
  • 3 Faces of the Leader – 40 % Visionary, 10% Manager, 50 % Specialist
  • Classic Challenges – Chaos, Inadequate Sales, Limited Capital to Grow
  • Personnel Type Ratio – 4 Builders to 1 Protector

Stage 2 – Ramp Up (11 – 19 employees)

  • 3 Gates of Focus Priorities – Profit, Process, People
  • 3 Faces of the Leader – 40 % Visionary, 20 % Manager, 40 % Specialist
  • Classic Challenges – Hiring Quality People, Inadequate Sales, Leadership – Staff Gaps
  • Personnel Type Ratio – 3 Builders to 1 Protector

Stage 3 – Delegation (20 – 34 employees)

  • 3 Gates of Focus Priorities – People, Profit, Process
  • 3 Faces of the Leader – 10 % Visionary, 60 % Manager, 30 % Specialist
  • Classic Challenges – Core Values Unclear, Culture Change Resistant, Lack of Staff Buy In
  • Personnel Type Ratio – 1 Builders to 1 Protector

Stage 4 – Professional (35 – 57 employees)

  • 3 Gates of Focus Priorities – Process, Profit, People
  • 3 Faces of the Leader – 10 % Visionary, 70 % Manager, 20 % Specialist
  • Classic Challenges – Diagnosing Problems, Employee Turnover, Lack of Systems
  • Personnel Type Ratio – 3 Builders to 2 Protectors

Stage 5 – Integration (58 – 95 employees)

  • 3 Gates of Focus Priorities – Profit, People, Process
  • 3 Faces of the Leader – 30 % Visionary, 60 % Manager, 10 % Specialist
  • Classic Challenges – Cost of Lost Expertise, Difficulty Diagnosing Problems, Inadequate Sales
  • Personnel Type Ratio – 2 Builders to 1 Protector

Stage 6 – Strategic (96 – 160 employees)

  • 3 Gates of Focus Priorities – People, Profit, Process
  • 3 Faces of the Leader – 45 % Visionary, 50 % Manager, 5 % Specialist
  • Classic Challenges – Hiring Quality People, New Staff Onboarding, Lack of Staff Buy-In
  • Personnel Type Ratio – 3 Builders to 1 Protector

Stage 7 – Visionary (161 – 500 employees)

  • 3 Gates of Focus Priorities – People, Process, Profit
  • 3 Faces of the Leader – 75 % Visionary, 20 % Manager, 5 % Specialist
  • Classic Challenges – Inadequate Profits, Changing Marketplace, Differentiating Products
  • Personnel Type Ratio – 2 Builders to 1 Protector

There are four key messages associated with growth principles that a leader needs to understand as your company progresses from one stage to another:

Message 1 – Movement from stage to stage is not clear-cut.  In business, there is no black and white, there is only gray. You don’t simply BECOME a Stage 2 company overnight. You begin to be a Stage 2 company as soon as you enter Stage 1. Preparation for the next stage begins as you enter the current stage.

Message 2 – What’s left undone from prior stages must be dealt-with. What you don’t get done in a specific stage of growth DOES NOT GO AWAY.  -Not solving People, Process and Profits challenges during your current stage will simply put harder demands on you as a leader in the next stage of growth.

Message 3 – Length of time a business has been around can make a difference. Slower growth is usually easier to manage. Many companies choose to stay at a certain size (usually for the lower stages). They prefer to grow in other dimensions, not in employees. Simply assuming that you have “taken care of business” because you have been doing business as usual for some time isn’t the same thing as addressing your current stage challenges.

Messages 4 – If you are not growing, you’re dying. Stagnation will not allow you to be successful in an ever-changing competitive world. Something has to continue to grow and change for your organization to thrive. However, humans tend to gravitate toward a state of equilibrium because it is safe and understandable. But if we stay in that state too long it leads to slow decay and death, just like in nature.

More on the Three Gates of Focus: People, Profits, Process

Every issue found within a growing enterprise can be understood through one or more of these Three Gates. When looking for clarification with an issue, ask yourself:  is it a Profit problem? People problem? or Process problem?

Then you can FOCUS on the right thing at the right time. To that end, the Three Gates of Focus shift priorities based on your stage of growth. 

At the Executive Forum Silicon Valley, members first determine which of the Three Gates of Focus they most focus on today, by list and assessing priorities. Next, they compare with the following chart, “Three Gates of Focus and Stages”, to find the IDEAL Gates of Focus priorities to line up with each of their companies’ stage of growth. The members discussed how to get their focus back in alignment with their particular stage’s priority and identified a set of initiatives focused on each member’s key areas of concern. 

The above Gates of Focus are always stacked in order of the most important focus for that particular stage of growth. For example, Stage 1, the Profit Gate is the primary focus, with the next focus being the People Gate and the last is the Process Gate. 

Different stages of growth require different types of focus. Once you’ve identified your own stage of growth, the model below helps you do the right things at the right time by shifting among these three key focuses: people, profits and process

In Part 2 and Part 3 of this blog, we will discuss the Hidden Agents that can hinder and hold back your growth. Three Faces of a Leader, the Builder Protector Ratio, the Classic Challenges will be discussed as well as how to “Rewild” your business to get it back onto a high growth trajectory.

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At EFSV, selected business owners and leaders work together to gain clarity, insight and accountability to ignite their leadership engines, grow their businesses and improve their lives. If you are interested in learning more about the Stages of Growth or becoming a member at Executive Forum Silicon Valley, please contact gperkins@executiveforums.com or call 408-901-0321. For more information visit https://execforumssv.com/ 

Ray Dalio’s Four Guiding Principles for Business and Life (Part 2 of 2)

In Part 1 last week, we shared about Ray Dalio’s first two principles: 1) Embrace reality and deal with it, 2) Practice radical open-mindedness. Today in Part 2, we are continuing with Dalio’s 3rd and 4th principles, all of which have provided clarity and insight to members of the Executive Forum Silicon Valley (EFSV.)   

Principle #3: Use the 5-step process to evolve

Dalio´s third Principle is a 5-step process that he uses to evolve both personally and in his company. Some of these may seem obvious to you but according to Dalio, what inhibits most people´s growth and evolution is the flawed execution of one or more of these steps.

Let’s look at each in greater detail:

1. Have clear goals

  • Prioritize
  • Be audacious
  • Great expectations create great capabilities

2. Identify and don’t tolerate problems

Identify the biggest problems first
Don’t avoid them because they are rooted in the harsh realities of your business. Once we identify a problem, don’t tolerate it

3. Diagnose problems to get at their root causes

  • Focus on “what is” before deciding “what to do about it”
  • Distinguish symptoms from the true root cause
  • Root causes can be found with honest effort

4. Design plans to get around them

  • There are typically many paths to achieve a goal
  • See the plan as a movie script and be creative
  • It may not take a lot of time to design a good plan

5. Do what’s necessary to push through results – Push through to completion

  • Great planners who can’t execute go nowhere
  • Good work habits are vastly underrated
  • Establish clear metrics to follow your progress

The 5 steps must be completed in order. To evolve, we need to do them fast and continuously. Weaknesses don’t matter if we find solutions by either getting better at it yourself, or finding others to cover your weakness.

Principle #4: Understand how people are wired

Both genetics and environment make people think and act in very different ways. Everyone is unique and people often are not aware of which type of person they truly are. People end up not understanding each other and ignoring others’ points of views and values. Our brains are unique in the way they work. Some of the different ways people are wired are:

Big picture vs Detail-oriented

• Big picture thinkers think detail-oriented people have no imagination

• Detail-oriented people think big-picture people are dreamers

Extroverts vs Introverts

• Extroverts love talking out ideas

• Introverts prefer thinking privately and sharing after they’ve grappled with a problem

Planners vs Doers

• Planners stick with a plan and are rigid to adapt

• Doers change direction often based on new information

Left brained vs. Right brained

• Left-brained people reason sequentially, analyze details and excel in linear analysis

• Right-brained or lateral thinkers think across categories, recognize themes and synthesize

The power of knowing how you and others are wired.  Be curious to understand how people who see things differently came to see them that way, try to understand where they came from. Then, seek to understand our and others’ strengths and weaknesses to get the best results out of everyone. One of the ways is using behavior and personality assessments to get a clearer and more objective reading of people and yourself.

The Power of Habit. Habit is inertia, the strong tendency to keep doing what you have been doing. It can take time to change a habit, yet habit is the easiest way to change our behavior. In nurturing new habits, be patient with yourself and others, provide incentives that are tailored to the individual, and celebrate small wins to create positive momentum.

Putting it all together: “Evolution is life’s greatest accomplishment and reward.”

EFSV members’ insights

Members at the EFSV found the above four guiding principles for business and life tremendously inspiring and helpful. They shared with each other their own new insights and discussed the value of establishing, recognizing and evolving key principles as leaders of organizations. 

Some principles of leaders of the Executive Forums Silicon Valley Forum that have contributed to their business and personal success include: 

  • “Do Right by Others”, 
  • “Be Open to Perspectives that Questions Your Assumptions”, “
  • “Care About People”, 
  • “We Don’t Win Alone”, 
  • “Be Comfortable Holding Multiple Conflicting Points of View”, 
  • “Be Grounded in Reality and Discover Others Points of View”, and 
  • “Never Be Outworked by Others.”

Through learning to specifically identify and declare our principles, we as leaders can respond to the challenges of the day in a consistent and principled manner to help our companies thrive. 

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If you are interested in participating or learning more about becoming a member at Executive Forum Silicon Valley, please contact @GlennPerkins at gperkins@executiveforums.com or call 408-901-0321. For more information visit https://execforumssv.com/