Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Best Run Companies are the Sustainable Companies

Guest post from Sam Hua and Nan Hua:

Business people talk all the time about wanting to build ‘hundred-year companies’. But a   hundred years of what? A hundred years of growth? A hundred years of development? Or a hundred years of survival?

The key should be survival, so the company will be alive and kicking in a hundred years, passed on across generations. This is the ultimate achievement in business. As for a hundred years of growth – well, no company has yet managed to do that.

Most public companies see their strategy as being entirely dictated by growth. Balance sheets, income statements and cash flow statements are
cranked out every year. And so, we’ve gotten to the point where public companies can’t even look beyond the current year in their ‘strategic vision’.

Now let’s talk about development.

What is development? Growth means more money; development means more capabilities. Development is the process of gaining the capability to survive in the future.

When a company’s revenues reach a peak, it could very well be the eve of its destruction. Why? Because this year’s success is the result of inertia from the past. If you don’t develop the ability to continue to survive next year, you might be gone by then. If you have piles of cash on hand but your company faces the risk of failure, that shows you don’t have a scientific outlook on development – all you’re focusing on is growth. This was Nokia’s problem.

Many business people, the most successful ones, often say that their companies are 6-18 months away from failure. These people are said to be ‘always focusing on the next crisis’. Sometimes they’re accused of faking it to keep their employees in line. But it’s really none of these things. They are not guarding against sudden crises, they just have a clear understanding of how companies survive and develop – everything a company has today is the result of good decisions yesterday. But if good decisions aren’t being made today, then the company won’t survive tomorrow. It’s a cause and effect dynamic.

What’s an even higher achievement than development? Survival. When we talk about building a 100-year company, we don’t mean the company is going to grow for 100 years, we mean the company will still be around in 100 years. The ultimate achievement in business is sustainable operation – the company always survives and never disappears. How do you do this? By always having new cards in hand. If you never want to be left behind by society, you need to be always useful to it so that it keeps you around. You have to always think about your killer products, authoritative expertise and dreams come true for the next year, next five years, next decade. This is the foundation of our strategy.

Sam Hua and Nan Hua are  founding partners of Shanghai H&H Marketing Consulting
Company and the authors of SUPER SIGNS: Taking Your Brand To The Ultimate Level.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

A Strategy Story That Works

Guest post from Paul Smith:

Every great leader tells stories. But which stories are the most important ones to tell?

That’s a question I’ve thought a lot about. And after interviewing over 300 CEOs, leaders, and executives in 25 countries around the world about their use of storytelling in business, I finally have an answer. I discuss all of my conclusions in the new book The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell. But in this article, let me lay out the first four and give you an example of one of them.

Four of the stories I think every leader needs to be able to tell are about setting the direction for the organization. Here they are:

1.    Where we came from (our founding story)
2.    Why we can’t stay here (a case-for-change story)
3.    Where we’re going (a vision story)
4.    How we’re going to get there (a strategy story)

Every leader, regardless of what functional discipline they represent, needs to be able to tell those four stories. If you can, you have a much better chance of being able to get the organization to go where you want them to go.

But telling these stories doesn’t just mean having a clearly articulated set of talking points on those four topics. Of course, you should have a clear set of talking point on those four topics. But telling a compelling story about those four ideas is not the same as just having good talking points.

A story is something special. A story is a narrative about something that happened to someone. Human beings are far more interested in – and compelled to act because of – stories than they are from slides or bullet points or talking points or memos.

Here’s an example of #4 – a strategy story.

The cough/cold industry is obviously a seasonal business. The overwhelming majority of cold medicines, cough syrups, decongestants, and facial tissues are sold in either the winter cold season or spring allergy season. And like many other businesses, there’s usually one dominant brand in each of those categories, and then distant second and third place brands.

One year, all the employees at one of those second-place brands arrived at work to find something unexpected on their desks—a copy of what looked like an article from The Wall Street Journal. Except it wasn’t really a Journal article. It was just a memo designed to look like one. Oddly, the date at the top was six years into the future. And the byline identified the author as one of the executives who worked in their business unit. So, while nobody was fooled, it was all strange enough to convince everyone to read it. The title was “How David Beat Goliath.”

Here’s a synopsis of what it said:

What’s the best strategy to win a basketball game if you know your opponent is better than you?

Answer: don’t let them play the game the way their way. Change the game. One strategy that’s worked for a lot of out-classed teams is this – play a full-court press the entire game. Your opponents have probably had very little practice against a full-court press. And when they do finally get the ball on their side of the court to make a play, they’ll be too exhausted to execute it.

And that’s exactly what this second-tier brand in the cough/cold category did that year. Instead of only running advertisements during cold and allergy season, they started advertising twelve months a year. The ground they gained in off-peak time gave them a head start the next peak season.

Their next unconventional move was to stop marketing their brand as only good for colds and allergies. For example, you can use facial tissues to remove makeup or wipe away tears, not just blow your nose. And while most brands market their products exclusively to women (who still make about 80 percent of the purchase decisions), they started advertising to men also. Those new uses and new buyers grew their market share even more.

But they didn’t stop with just marketing changes. They started innovating with their product as well: Self-dosing lids, designer boxes, and packaging so soft you could curl up with it in bed when you’re sick. Each new idea brought new sales.

The article went on to describe equally radical changes the brand had made to retail shelf strategies, promotional strategies, and new places to use the product nobody had ever thought of before. The final line of the article said that after five years of executing these strategies, this distant little second-place brand had just overtaken the dominant brand in market share for the first time in its fifty-year history. “David 37%. Goliath 36%.”

At the bottom of the article was a handwritten note that said, “Thanks for everything you did to achieve these amazing results! —the boss.”

Notice this was a story, but it clearly explained each piece of the brand’s strategy and why each one would work, using layman’s terms, a brilliant analogy, and an inspiring story. By the afternoon, people all over the office had pinned that article to their cubicle walls. And for weeks, the author was stopped in the hallway by people he’d never met before thanking him for writing such an inspiring article, and for explaining the strategy in a way they could understand, appreciate, and most importantly, execute.

A well-crafted strategy story like that can do the same for you.

Paul Smith is one of the world's leading experts on business storytelling. He's a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell, Lead with a Story, Sell with a Story, and Parenting with a Story. You can find Paul at

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Leaders: Where Are Your Best Ideas Born? The Power Of Incubation

Guest post by Roger L. Firestien, PhD:

I’d bet you a hundred dollars that you don’t get your best ideas at work. Most people in my seminars and classes tell me that they get their best ideas while driving a car, exercising, taking a bath or shower, or as they fall asleep at night.

At work, most of us are in implementation mode. Action mode. Make-it-happen mode. When we get away from work and are able to pay attention to something in a relaxed way, new ideas begin to surface. Activities like driving, bathing or falling asleep are so automatic that we relax the judgmental part of our thinking, thus allowing new ideas to surface.

A classic tenet of creative problem solving is that often breakthrough ideas come to us when we step away from the problem and incubate. You’ve likely experienced it yourself. You’ve been working on a problem for a long time, haven’t made progress, and you back off to do something else. After your period of incubation — eureka! The idea hits you.

Several times in my life I’ve woken up in the middle of the night with a breakthrough idea for a project I am working on. As a matter of fact, my first book came to me at 3 a.m. in Washington D.C. in 1986. I was finishing up my doctoral dissertation and took the weekend off to visit some friends. I still remember the meal we had that evening, Thai food with white wine. In the middle of the night, I woke up with the characters and the plot line for the book. I grabbed my pocket tape recorder and dictated almost the entire book. The next morning, I needed a new tape because I had filled one with my early morning epiphany. Now, here is the kicker. I went to D.C. to get away from my work. I almost did not take the recorder with me because I thought I was mentally exhausted. However, if I had left the recorder behind, I am sure that book would not exist today.

Recently, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel of entrepreneurs for one of my clients. Each member of the panel agreed that their best ideas don’t come at work. All of them had their best ideas “off the grid.” One entrepreneur goes to his cottage on the lake, another goes to his property in the desert, another works on a friend’s cattle ranch outside of the city. (Confession: I'm the guy at the ranch.) Several of them keep their phones near their beds so they can dictate a voice memo if they wake with an idea during the night.

My friend Michelle Miller-Levitt was on the panel. She owned Buffalo, NY’s first podcast studio, Too Much Neon. Michelle told me where she goes to find great ideas, and it's one of the most unusual "places" I've ever heard. When Michelle is stuck on a problem, she hangs upside down on a medicine ball. She says that by doing this, she sees the world a little differently. After a few minutes, she has cleared her mind and a new idea usually surfaces.

The key? Being ready to catch those ideas when they appear. Keep a notepad or your smart phone with you to record new insights when you’re in the mode.

Dr. Roger Firestien has taught more people to lead the creative process than anyone else
in the world. He is senior faculty and an associate professor at the Center for Creativity and Change Leadership at SUNY Buffalo, author of Create in A Flash:  A Leader’s Recipe For Breakthrough Innovation and President of Innovation Resources, Inc. For more information please visit:

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Leaders Build Trust Through Conflict!

Guest post from Scott Warrick:

Trust. Leaders tell you how critical it is to building a team. But what exactly is “trust” and exactly how do you get it?

First, if any leader is going to implement a successful program, they have to define their terms. That is why there is no such thing as “soft skills.” If you cannot define what you are shooting for, how could you ever hit it? You can’t. 

So, how should you define “trust”? Is it safe?

And how do you prove to someone that it is safe to disagree with you? Verbal Jeet, or EPR Skills. (Empathic Listening, Parroting, and “Rewards”).     

We have all been there. We are sitting at our desks, doing our work, and we hear from our boss, Mr. Dithers, “Ah, Scott. I need to see you for a minute.”

Instantly, our gut tightens up and we imagine the worst kind of reasons why our boss wants to see us. “What did I do? Am I getting fired?” 

Rarely does it enter our minds that maybe this is good news. Maybe I was just named “Employee of the Month.” (Yeah, right.)

So, why do we think of the most negative scenarios in such situations? Because we are all hard-wired to have “ANTS,” or “Automatic Negative Thoughts.” This is how we have survived on this planet for so many years. 

Years ago, if Fred Flintstone, a human, saw a new animal that he did not recognize, was it a good idea to call it over to him and pet it? No! It was much safer for Fred to assume the animal was a killer. In short, Fred’s brain was keeping him safe by giving him a little bit of “anxiety” or “apprehension.”

Anxiety and apprehension are both essential to our survival.  This is why we tend to look both ways before crossing the street or pulling out into traffic, even if it is a one-way street.   

So, why do we have this negative reaction when our boss calls us into his office? Because we don’t know that it is “safe” to go into his office.  If there is not any trust in a relationship, our thoughts automatically go to the negative. 

So, how do you typically build “trust”?

Although it sounds contradictory, “trust” is actually built through “conflict,” that is, when conflict occurs in an honest respectful manner. This means you need to resolve conflict by using your Verbal Jeet Skills (EPR = Empathic Listening, Parroting, and “Rewards”).    

Let’s say that you are a new leader at your company and Fred Flintstone reports to you. 
However, you two have never met. There is no reason for Fred to believe that it is safe to talk to you, much less disagree with you.

So, you need to leave your office and talk to your employees. You need to find out about their likes and dislikes, their families and all little things that make them “them.” This does not build any trust at all. It builds familiarity.

At some point, you ask Fred’s opinion on some issue, such as his thoughts on the new health plan. You relax and use your Verbal Jeet (EPR) skills. Of course, you start with the “E,” which is Empathic Listening. You would say something like, “You know, I am not sure about this new health plan. What do you think?” You then shut up and listen from Fred’s perspective. 

So, you are asking Fred to take a risk. Is it safe for Fred to talk to you and give you his opinion? Will you attack Fred if I don’t like his answer?  Or will you be a passive aggressive and stab him in the back later, like most people do?

Fred then tells you what he thinks about the new health plan. You listen, nod your head and give him some “encouragers” or “Rewards” like, “OK,” “Yeah, I can see that” and so on.
When Fred is done explaining it all to you, you need to Parrot it all back to him. That means you have to repeat whatever he said to you back to him to his satisfaction before you move on. So, you would say something like, “Alright, let me make sure I’ve got this. You are saying …” If Fred disagrees with your interpretation, then he has to tell you again. You don’t move on until Fred agrees that you have it. This ensures a common understanding.

But let’s say you repeat everything back to Fred correctly. Great! If you agree with Fred, tell him so. If not, if you disagree with him, you have to give Fred a “Reward.” 

Whenever you disagree with another human and you are trying to build trust, you have to give that person a “Reward” to protect their self-esteem.  So, you would say something like, “I see what you are saying,“ or “I understand your point of view, but I am not so sure I agree with all of that.”

You are showing Fred that it is safe to disagree with you. The topic of conversation does not matter nearly as much as it matters that you prove to Fred that it is safe to disagree with you.  
That is how you built trust.

Over the next several months, you need to engage with Fred and continue to prove that whenever you disagree with him, it is safe. That is trust. You did not tell him to trust you. You showed him.  

Then suppose that after five or six months of having these types of conversations, you then called Fred and said, “Hey, I need you to come to my office. I found some papers in here and we need to talk about a few things.”

Is Fred nervous now? No, of course not. Why?  Because you have proven that it is safe to speak up and disagree with you by using your EPR skills. That is trust building and it proves that it is “safe.”

Scott Warrick,  author of "Solve Employee Problems Before they Happen: Resolving Conflict in the Real World." has been an employment and labor attorney, HR professional, and popular speaker for more than three decades. His clients range from small organizations to Fortune 500 companies to governmental institutions. He travels the country presenting seminars on such topics as Employment Law Resolving Conflict, Diversity, and General Differences. You can learn more about the book and Warrick by visiting