Stretch...Really Stretch

Stretch…Really Stretch

In May of 2010, I was on the way home from delivering the executive presentation to wrap up Springhead’s first project — a global business and technology strategy for a $16 Billion manufacturing company. I had the consultant’s “high” after successfully closing out the engagement when I received a life-changing call.

“Hey Greg. We are in Haiti leading disaster relief efforts and we need your help.”

Earthquake Destruction in Haiti

Earthquake Destruction in Haiti

My first thought was: The need is so great with many Haitians lives hanging in the balance. I have to go help!  That thought was immediately followed by another: I’m a business/technology strategy guy. What could I possibly do to help?!

My first thought won out; I was on a plane to Haiti four days later. If the task at hand wasn’t difficult enough, we had to deal with corrupt government officials, food and water safety issues, and transportation/logistics nightmares…not to mention the language and cultural barriers. Did I mention the brutal heat?!

During our six weeks in Haiti, our team was able to provide work and purpose to the several hundred Haitians we hired as they removed rubble and built shelters in their towns and villages…resulting in over 600 families having a home to lay their heads. This work was life-changing:

  • For the men and women we employed, they had work for the first time in years. They had purpose and a sense of accomplishment. They had hope.
  • For the families that received a shelter, they had protection from the elements. They had a place to call home. They had peace.
  • For me, the experience brought the lowest of valleys as I witnessed suffering and a suffocating lack of hope. It also brought the mountaintops as lives were transformed and ministry took root.

Inside a family's shelter

Inside a family’s shelter.

Good for you, but why should I stretch myself?

I’ve learned to seek out opportunities that will stretch me. The bigger and more difficult, the better! When you choose to do the same, you will find that:

  1. You will learn — You learn how to apply your skills, talents, and abilities across multiple areas in your life. You find that lessons learned in one area can be applied in many different ways.
  2. You will grow — Things that you once felt were impossible or were afraid to do will become part of your everyday skill set.
  3. You will be more confident — When you break through your limits, you will have a tremendous sense of accomplishment and understand that you are capable of achieving so much more than you ever thought possible.
  4. You will lead others — You will learn to stretch those that you lead. You will become a better leader as you provide opportunities for your people to learn and grow.

So, what about you? Are you stretching, I mean really stretching yourself and those around you? How are you using your skills, talents and abilities to make an impact in our world?


The Secret to Leadership Part 2: Simplicity is Sticky

Early in my career, it became apparent that I needed to change my communication style to grow as a leader. I started as a software engineer, a role that is focused on details and accuracy. My communication style followed suit — I would engage in lengthy discussions about binary marshalling vs. xml service calls, the timing of object instantiation, garbage collection, threading, and all of the “-abilities” (scalability, maintainability, extensibility, etc.). Within months, I had become fluent in the language of software engineering.

In addition to my “engineering speak” I was also becoming quite proficient with “consultanese”. For example, “I would assert that we could quickly ascertain the ability to achieve synergistic efficiencies as our disparate teams pursue their deliverables…all while focused on the realization of stakeholder goals while achieving KPI’s…”

Clear and concise, right?!

Let’s look at a musical analogy

I first heard this story from Doug Keely (The Mark of a Leader). It struck a chord with me, so I want to share it with you as well.

In the 1940s, Charlie “Bird” Parker was pioneering a new Jazz style called bebop. This new style pushed the limits of technique and speed beyond what others had imagined. Bird became known for playing blisteringly fast tempos and complex chord changes that would quickly sort out the real players from the wannabes.

Turn up your speakers and have a listen as “Bird” plays “Kim”.

Wow! It is a technical masterpiece…but can you hum it? Is it memorable or sticky?

Four Distinct Notes
What if I told you that you could identify a song that had only four distinct notes? Listen to the bass line (answer is at the end of this post):

Did you get it?

One Distinct Note
How about a song that begins with only one distinct note?

One note played an octave apart. Good luck getting that one out of your mind today!

Simplicity is Sticky

Similar to Birds technical masterpiece, my communication was technically right on. But it wasn’t memorable or inspirational. I realized that leaders need to distill complex ideas into concepts that are memorable and repeatable. We must create clarity from ambiguity; simplicity from complexity. Leaders need to make the idea sticky.

We must not “dumb down” the idea. On the contrary, our communication needs to convey the full scope of the complex idea. However, it must be delivered as a simple, memorable and sticky message. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry understood this concept as he said “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Evaluate how you are communicating and remember, Simplicity is Sticky!

If you need help making your communication simple and sticky, please contact us. We can help you transform your leadership communication!


Four distinct notes: With Or Without You (U2)
One distinct note: My Sharona (the Knack)


The Secret to Leadership Part 1: Rock Star vs. Roadie

When you were younger, what did you dream of being?
A teacher, a fireman, a pro athlete, or a doctor saving countless lives? At the core of that dream was the idea that you wanted to be the very best in the world at it too. Right?

After college you entered the workforce and wanted to be the very best as quickly as possible. For me, I was working for a consulting firm in Chicago. I had quickly risen through the ranks and become a rock star (at least in my mind). Here I was, a cocky 26 year old being given the opportunity to lead the largest project our company had ever attempted — a multi-million dollar fixed bid project for a Fortune 200 client. As the project was about to commence, the owner of our firm asked me what my goals were for the project. I told him that, through this project, I wanted to be in the top 1% of consultants in our firm. He looked at me thoughtfully as he reminded me that there were only 100 people in the firm. I just smiled back at him.

Up through that point in my career, it was all about my individual performance. Sure, I was leading teams, but my leadership philosophy was:

It’s All About You
Leadership is about creating an environment where you are the rock star and everyone else wishes that they were as good as you

Right? Um…no! That cocky 26 year old had much to learn.

Through the course of the large project, I quickly realized that it wasn’t about me at all. It was about creating an environment where the other people on the project could thrive. It was about setting other people up for success, enabling them to stretch their wings, and challenging them to accomplish what they thought was impossible.

Leadership Lesson 1: It’s NOT All About You
Leadership is about creating an environment where others can thrive.

Leadership isn’t about being the rock star. It isn’t about being in the limelight. Instead, leadership is like being the roadie. This roadie is someone so dedicated to the music that they travel with the band. They are someone who sets up the stage, who rigs the lights, who restrings the guitars. It’s the roadie who enables the band to create their sonic landscape and allows the audience to experience the event…they create an environment where others can thrive.

Take this leadership lesson to heart and you will build an army of strong leaders through your life…and you will see the impact that these leaders have on our world.

Where are You Going

Where are You Going?

Leaders focus on getting our organizations to the next level. That’s just what we do. We need to conquer the next Everest — the next product launch, our China expansion, or the next comma in our revenue report. But what’s more important? Achieving those goals? Or the manner in which we achieve them?

Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing!
~UCLA football coach Red Sanders (the great Vince Lombardi also used this quote after hearing it from Red).

Wait a minute. Is that right?
The NFL’s Deflategate has pushed this topic to national prominence. Do we care so much about hitting our achievements (winning) that everything else doesn’t matter? Even how we go about winning?

Deflategate aside, here’s the deal: Leaders need to see a picture that’s much larger than “achievements.” Don’t get me wrong, achievements are important. But we have people following us, looking up to us and learning from our every move. Each moment of the journey to our achievement is an opportunity to teach, to coach and to impart wisdom. Great leaders realize that building the next generation of leaders is more important than the “achievements”. To them:

The journey is the destination.

The Journey is the Destination

Doughnuts and Software

Doughnuts and Software

Warning:  reading this article may result in a substantial craving for doughnuts!

I can’t think of many things better than taking a bite of a hot, fresh Krispy Kreme doughnut! The corners of your mouth can’t help but curl to a smile as the first bite melts in your mouth. You’ve polished off the first one and are well into the second before you realize that you’re going to have to run an extra couple of miles today to make up for this!

The Analogy

So, what can we learn about software development from a batch of delicious Krispy Kremes? Let’s shift from thinking about how good the doughnuts taste to looking at how they are made.

The Mixing

Step 1:  The Mixing.  The process begins as the dry ingredients are mixed with the liquids to make the dough according to their secret recipe.  At this point, significant cost has been expended to put all of the ingredients together; and the ingredients, now mixed, have a shortened shelf life and need to be pushed through the process quickly.  But what if the dough wasn’t mixed correctly?  The team needs to quickly identify the problem and pull the batch as early as possible.  Otherwise, each step in the process will continue to add time and cost, but will result in a bad final product.

Do you see where the analogy with software development is headed?  This stage is akin to the your business product development team investing time into a new product idea or enhancement.  Once the idea is in place, tech teams need to act on it quickly – either to get it implemented or to help them determine that it is a “bad batch of dough.”

The Rising

Step 2:  The Rising.  As you walk into a Krispy Kreme, you see one of their famous machines – including the “elevator” section where trays full of doughnuts spend about an hour traveling up and down as the dough is “proofed” to perfection.  This part of the process doesn’t add much cost.  It simply takes time for the dough to rise.

Similar to software requirements gathering, this stage isn’t too costly, it takes time.  It also gives us an opportunity to look at the individual doughnuts (or software requirements), see which are misshapen or not rising, and pull out the bad ones before they go the next stage.

The Shortening

Step 3:  The Shortening.  On the next step of their journey, the doughnuts are dropped from the elevator tray into the hot shortening where they cook.  The doughnuts slowly float forward until, halfway through the river of shortening, they are flipped so that the other side will cook.  If you watch the process for long, you will notice that every once in a while a doughnut doesn’t get flipped over and only one side is cooked.

What you may not realize is that the moment they hit the shortening, the cost of the doughnut goes up substantially – they absorb some of the expensive shortening as they cook.  In software development, it is much easier and less expensive to make changes on paper or in a prototype than it is to make changes once coding has been started.  It is important for our tech teams to quickly identify the doughnuts that aren’t cooking properly.

The Glazing

Step 4:  The Glazing.  This step is my favorite part.  The doughnuts are lifted from the shortening and continue down a conveyor system and go through a waterfall of glaze.  The sugary, sweetness coats them as they continue on down the production line as the glaze cools and dries.

The glaze is another expensive part of the process.  It doesn’t make sense to glaze a doughnut that wasn’t properly cooked or is misshaped.  Again, these need to be identified and addressed early…before more time and cost is wasted on them.

The Boxing

Step 5: The Boxing.  This is the final check point before the finished product hits the shelves.  At this point, all of the cost for making the doughnuts has been incurred.  This is simply the final check before the doughnut is sold to the customer.

Too often, we rely on the “boxing” process (Software QA) to identify the issues.  Instead, we need to create an environment where the entire tech team takes ownership of identifying issues…and prides itself in identifying and resolving these issues as early in the process as possible!

The Krispy Kreme Principle

One of my customers had 1,674 items that had been partially developed then set aside to be addressed later.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t because they were applying the Krispy Kreme Principle.  Instead, it was because they didn’t realize how much cost had gone into requirements, development and testing before they realized that the product was bad.

The Krispy Kreme Principle is about defining and understanding your critical cost points.  Similar to the shortening and glaze stages, each organization has specific points at which the cost goes up substantially.  Identify where these points fall in your process.  Then build in checkpoints before these critical cost points and focus your teams are identifying and addressing the issues.

Use the Krispy Kreme principle to stop wasting money and time!


Lead with Gratitude

As leaders find ourselves striving for what’s next. We are working to achieve the next goal, pushing to summit the next mountain, or volunteering time to change some of this world’s injustices. It’s that drive that has made us effective leaders. At times, it seems that there is hardly time to sleep! Our days are filled from start to finish — work, school, church, spouses, friends, kids…the list goes on. (As a father of 4 daughters, don’t get me started on all of the activities/programming that the kids are involved in!)

In the midst of all of that activity, we don’t have time for someone’s list of the 50 things that leaders need to be doing now. But, what if there was one simple thing that we could do that enabled us to be more effective leaders?

Lead with some gratitude

The vast majority of leadership material focuses on driving a group to achieve a common goal. However, outstanding leaders also take time to step back, reflect and express gratitude. Here’s how.

Step 1 — Reflection.
Spend a few minutes to reflect on:

  • A manager who has had a positive impact in your life/career over the last month.
  • An employee or direct report who has accomplished something extraordinary.
  • A family member or friend that that you appreciate.

As you think about these things, realize how blessed you are to have these relationships.

Step 2 — Say “thanks”. Jot down some notes and make a point to, within 24 hours, say thank you to the people who came to mind.

Gratitude make leaders more effective

At this point, you are likely asking “how does gratitude make leaders more effective?” Thanks for asking. Here’s how:

  1. The power of reflection — the process of reflecting helps leaders to think through what has had an impact on them…and they can use these things to have an impact on those whom they lead.
  2. The power of a “thank you” — I am consistently amazed at the impact of a simple, heart-felt “thank you”. I have seen toxic corporate cultures transformed into thriving environments as leaders began reflecting and thanking employees. People are wired to desire recognition and a pat on the back for the things they are doing well. Tap into that!
  3. The power to strengthen relationships — Gratitude creates more transparency in relationships. Pay close attention as you embrace the practice of gratitude. You will see your relationships deepen.

Gratitude starts today

Start by taking 5 minutes right now. See the impact that gratitude has on you…but more importantly, look for the impact it has on others. Then make sure that you build time into your schedule to regularly step back, reflect and be thankful!

Shut Up and Listen

Shut up and listen!

Excuse me…what did you just say? That’s right. I said “shut up and listen.” Let me explain what I mean.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with many businesses from Fortune 100 to small startups. Some have had thriving technology organizations, while others were less than stellar. But when projects go off-track, regardless of how good or bad the tech organization, I consistently observe the same behavior: Tech teams start making excuses and hiding behind tech speak.

Excuse: “Well, the business never told me that users might actually have to be able to successfully log in.” Lame excuse, right? There are some things that are assumed as part of a project. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t bring them up…we must, but they should be articulated and discussed early in the project.

Hiding behind tech speak: “As packets are passed between the firewalls and the load balancers, the session is not properly preserved and the user state is not persisted.” At least in this example, the tech speak could have been accurate, but the problem is that the business doesn’t understand what we are saying. In some cases, I’ve heard tech speak thrown out that doesn’t make sense…just to create a cloud of confusion so that the business won’t understand what’s going on. This is kind of like a mechanic telling you “we’re gonna need to change the muffler fluid and replace the blinker belts.” The last time I checked, a muffler didn’t need fluid and blinkers are powered by electricity, not belts.

We need to stop the excuses. We need to seek first to understand. We need to shut up and listen. Listen to what the business needs. Understand what the users need to accomplish. Accept responsibility where you fell short…and learn from it. Then collaborate and truly partner with the business.

Granted, the problem described in this post is not as prevalent in some organizations. However, if this describes your organization, you’ve got work to do. So, join with me and let’s “shut up and listen” together!

How far will you go for your customers...even to Baku?

How far will you go for your customers…even to Baku?

The Story

Fresh out of college, I went to work for a small technology consulting firm in Chicago. One of my first customer meetings proved to be one of the most memorable! I found myself sitting in with the customer’s technology executive, our business development guy, and another one of our consultants. Here’s where the fun began. The executive had both a unique look and quite a bit of personality. Picture a sharp-dressed gentlemen, likely in his early fifties, his chiseled face surrounded by slightly graying hair, slicked back into a shoulder length pony tail. Every movement he made was fluid yet dramatic. As he welcomed us into his office, the combination of his deep, accented voice and his unique look brought images of Transylvania to mind. The initial part of the conversation was not too memorable…that is until our business development guy started playing with a little metal box on the executive’s desk.

“What” he started (pronounced more like “Vhut”), “What are you doing?”

“Just checking out your business card holder,” Mr. Business Development replied.

The other consultant and I shared a look…oh boy…it’s about to get interesting…

To make a long story short, after a severe scolding we found what the “business cards” actually were. He slowly opened the container, pulled out a very expensive cigarette, and placed it in a silver cigarette holder. In a single motion, his hand glided to the drawer and pulled out a custom Zippo lighter. With a flick of his wrist, the lighter ignited. He turned his head to the side and slowly (and dramatically) lit up.

“So…[inhale]…I understand you can help me” he continued as he leaned back in his chair holding his cigarette over his shoulder, turned his head, and exhaled toward some strange vent-like machine in his window. Yeah…that’s right. This guy had an iron-lung ventilator thing installed in his office so that he could smoke indoors. This was starting to feel more like James Bond than Transylvania.

So we gave him our pitch and explained how we could help, all the while making sure our business development guy didn’t touch anything else. As we finished our pitch, we could tell that our client was very excited about our offering.

Silence. A dramatic drag on the cigarette as his eyes bore into us. Pause. Head turned to the side and an equally dramatic exhale into the iron lung. He repeated this another time as he continued to measure us.

Finally he broke the silence. “Others have failed, but this…this is exactly what I need (don’t forget his accent). Very good.”

We were about to break into our celebratory dance when he asked another key question, “So, you will travel?”

Picturing a fun international trip for himself, our business development guy jumped right in. “Absolutely! We do work around the world: Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Paris…this time of year, Hawaii would be nice. We’d be more than happy to go wherever we are needed.”

The exec: “This is good.” His lips formed a mischievous and somewhat frightening grin as he continued, “Will you travel…[toking on the cigarette]…[exhale]…even to Baku?”

Picturing an exotic destination, our business development guy didn’t miss a beat. “Absolutely. Our bags are already packed.”

The execs smile was no longer mischievous; it had shifted and was now menacing as he gave the classic bad-guy laugh. Then he said, “Interesting. Do you know where Baku is?”

The other consultant and I, well…our eyes bored into our business development guy trying to communicate “ix-nay on the travel.” Too late. Our business development guy didn’t quite get the message and jumped in before I could stop him, “We’ll go wherever you need us. Like I said, we are ready and willing to travel the globe.”

Looking delighted with himself, the exec replied, “This is good. My people, they will not even go to Baku. But you will go? This is very good.”

Baku bullet holes

The side entrance to the office in Baku. Its nice that the planters are virtually unscathed.

Well, it turns out that Baku (which, as a side note, was actually featured in a James Bond movie) had been under Russian control, but has been highly contested as it has quite a bit of oil under its soil. The client’s local offices were riddled with bullet holes and no sane person would voluntarily travel there…especially to do a technology upgrade.

As this was explained to us, our business development guy quickly changed his story. “Yeah, these guys love to travel. Me? Not so much. But, these guys are ready to go…”

The Point

From the moment we stepped into his office, what did our team convey? Did we leave the customer with a sense that we wanted to help them? Or did we come across as being more interested in a personal trip? We had a superior product that completely met his need, but we lost the business. Simply put, he didn’t trust us.

That day, I learned an important lesson: It takes a lot to build trust, but a few actions of just one employee can destroy it. To build trust, we need to focus on the customer’s best interests. We need to make sure that they are poised for success.

At the same time, remember that your customers are smart…it’s blatantly obvious to them when they work with an employee who isn’t focused on them. To avoid losing that hard fought trust, we’ve got to foster a culture where each employee’s words and actions convey that they have the customer’s best interests in mind. Invest in your employees so that they really get this.

Does your entire organization have your customers’ interests at the forefront? Would your customers agree with your answer?


The Four Laws of Customer Experience

What does “improving customer experience” mean? If you ask 3 people, you’ll probably get 3 different answers, such as:

  • Building customer loyalty
  • Creating advocates, evangelists and raving fans
  • Generating great word of mouth exposure

Ultimately, it is our customers who define our success — our job is to create a relationship with our customers and drive them toward success. We need to focus our business on creating and delivering experiences that are relevant, meaningful and memorable to our customers. A good place to start is with the four laws of customer experience.

The Four Laws of Customer Experience

Personal reaction

    1. Every interaction creates a personal reaction — Avoid the trap of viewing every customer as a rational, logical actor. Remember: Mr. Spock is a fictional character! Keep in mind that in addition to their logical side, people are have a very strong emotional side — in fact, over 50% of all purchase decisions are emotional! Therefore, we need to understand our customers holistically. They are influenced by the same things that we are — the economy, family, faith, success at work, etc. Every interaction with customers leaves an impression…be sure that you are making an emotional connection with them!


    1. Don’t blindly follow the “HiPPO” (by the way HiPPO stands for the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) — We’ve all been there, discussing a product or service, when the HiPPO appears. Whether the focus is on product feature, packaging, functionality, or something else, the HiPPO appears. That’s what the boss is paid to do, right? To give their opinion on what those customers really need. Often times, these HiPPOs make it into the final product simply because that’s what the boss wanted. HiPPOs aren’t always right or wrong, but they should not be the sole guiding principle. Don’t sit around some table gathering opinions. Break outside your four walls to truly understand the customer. Go out into the market to the customers in their natural habitat! What do they find fascinating and desireable? Remember: the customer isn’t buying your opinions…they are buying the product/service that they want/desire.

Unengaged employees

    1. Unengaged employees don’t create engaged customers – While avoiding the HiPPO requires an external focus, delivering a great customer experience first require an internal focus on your employees. Customer experience is the result of a fully-engaged employee. Don’t blame the employees for a sub-par customer experience…fix the environment. What is the best place to start? Make it easy for employees to do the right thing! Empower employees to make decisions. Not only will they be more engaged and take on more responsibility,but your customers will have a much better experience.

You can't fake it

  1. You can’t fake it – Customer experience is about a developing, maintaining, and leveraging a relationship with your customers. You could craft a great experience strategy, but if your employees— from senior management to front-line employees — aren’t completely bought in, you will fail. Customer experience isn’t just an outward facing facade. It is a pervasive mindset that looks at everything you do with a focus first on the customer — from sales & marketing to operations to finance to HR, your primary focus should be to delight your customers.

80% of companies believe that they deliver a superior customer experience…only 8% of customers agree. What do your customers say?