By Dan Schneider – The Rawls Group
A couple of generations ago, a group called The Lovin’ Spoonful had a hit record called “Do you believe in magic?” If you listen to “oldies” radio stations, you may have heard it; and, if you’re not into magic or 60’s music, you may hope to never hear it again. But I like it; and I’m into magic.
Magic fascinates me. In fact, I’ve read several books about it and I see quite a connection between magic and business. If you treat MAGIC as an acronym, you’ll see the connection too. MAGIC actually means “Must Always Get In Close.” And that, to me, is the secret characteristic of successful leaders and the organizations they lead – they must always get in close with their team, their vendors, their customers, and their communities.
So how do you make that happen? Here’s an eight-step process that consistently delivers all the magic you’ll ever need to be successful. Use it, and you’ll be a business wizard!
Step 1: Focus on your Guiding Principles.
We’re talking about your mission or purpose, your vision, and your values. Share these early and often. From the early perspective, include them in preliminary interviews, selection interviews, and the on-boarding process. Make sure that position descriptions are written in a way that draws attention to how the job contributes to accomplishing the mission/purpose – here’s why we hired you in the first place – and not just on how many times the person hired might have to bend, stoop, or lift heavy objects. Focus on performance expectations more than on risk management cautions intended to keep you out of legal problems.
As for the “often”, take every advantage to repeat the purpose of the job and cover again performance expectations. Use weekly training sessions and quarterly “state of the company” meetings to talk about how the company is doing with respect to the guiding principles.
Remember that engagement of your people is based on marketing, so the time-honored approach of repetition, relevance, intensity, and duration is critical to keeping people in close. You are selling your culture, so tell a compelling message in a compelling way. Relevance is critical because no matter how many times you repeat an irrelevant message, the message is still irrelevant.
Step 2: Develop a strategic plan.
Strategic planning is very fruitful when done properly. That means you confirm your guiding principles; identify the internal and external factors that move you toward or keep you from achieving your mission/purpose; prioritize your business strategies (customer needs, market needs, method of sale, method of distribution, human resources, profit/return, size/growth, natural resources, and technology); create a directional shift if necessary; set long term objectives; lay out the action steps necessary to accomplish those objectives; and budget to achieve your goals. Keep the plan in front of your management team and review it at least quarterly. Keep everyone close to the plan.
Step 3: Identify the characteristics of the people you want to recruit.
Some time ago, I realized that there’s a difference between hiring and recruiting. Hiring basically is sifting through applications and, on a bad day, results in hiring the best of the worst available. On a good day, you might get the worst of the best. In any case, you’re probably not really getting the kind of people in your organization that you would like to have.
So, switch to recruiting rather than hiring. Take the time to identify the behaviors, attitudes, skills, knowledge, experience, and talent that will drive your organization to the mythical next level. And then, don’t settle for less. On occasion, I used the “somebody is better than nobody” logic to fill a position; and I regretted having done so. By gaining a reputation as a company that only goes after excellent performers, you increase the likelihood that one of them will show up on your door step.
Step 4: Check your culture.
Use periodic (18 – 24 months) engagement surveys to see if the people are buying into your message and adjust accordingly. The survey results should give you information about how the staff views leadership, communications, growth opportunities, working conditions, and compensation.
The most important question you can ask is this: Is there a clear connection between our mission, vision, and values and the way we operate on a daily basis? If you don’t get a strong favorable response to this question, you’re going to have a difficult report card to take home with you. To understand why people answered as they did, use internal focus groups to gain some unfiltered feedback about what’s causing the disconnect and possible solutions.
Step 5: Operational planning.
Get granular based on the feedback from the engagement survey. Regardless of the results, look at your processes and procedures from this vantage point: Do we make it easy for people to be successful? Since the market place – in this case your employees – doesn’t lie pay attention to the feedback and review the policies and procedures that are getting in the way of operational excellence. Generally, this brings about significant improvement in efficiencies and profitability.
Step 6: Develop integrated action plans.
In organizations struggling to find their way, turf wars are prevalent. Generally, these come about because there is no clear sense of direction and each key manager is competing for the scarce resources of people, time, and money. When action plans support an aligned growth strategy, these wars go away.
When creating these plans, this format often works well: State the goal; identify the action steps needed to reach the goal; identify the person responsible; agree on a realistic due date; describe the resources available to reach the goal; and identify the feedback that allows you to say mission accomplished.
Step 7: Measure your performance.
The primary areas important to most businesses are these: Market penetration and retention; Productivity; Profitability; and Relationships. What you’re looking for here is the “box score” that tells you if you’re getting close to what you want to have happen. As part of your strategic planning process, take the time to identify a level of profitability that is more specific than “all we can make”. When you think about it, that doesn’t even sound as precise as “more than we made last year”.
People want clear and unmistakable direction. A vague response or direction from you, no matter how artfully stated, won’t help people know what you want. If it’s misty from the pulpit, it’s going to be foggy in the pews. People can and will read between the lines, but it’s generally the message they want and not the one you thought you sent.
Step 8: Give people feedback.
This is vital if you want the magic to work. It’s another way of making sure that you get in close. Just as they want direction, people also want to know how they’re doing. And the closer to the event the feedback comes, the more powerful and – when delivered correctly – the more inspirational and instructional it will be going forward.
Motivation comes from the inside, so you can really motivate anyone. Inspiration, however, comes from the outside; so you have a decent chance of inspiring people to new heights. Don’t let it get away from you. Said a little differently, motivation is what others would rather do than not do at any given point in time. Inspiration is getting what you would like them to do all the time.
As a closing thought, remember that as a leader your job is to use power and influence to produce desirable results. If you rely exclusively on power, you can get compliance with necessarily getting commitment. If you use influence, you can get both. That’s when the MAGIC shows up!
Dan Schneider is a Partner/Director of The Rawls Group, a business succession planning firm, and a Board member of the International Succession Planning Association (ISPA®.) Dan specializes in dealing with the issues that must be resolved by multi-unit franchisee owners to implement succession strategies geared towards building business value. For additional information, visit www.rawlsgroup.com or call 407-578-4455.