The Character Actor

the character actorIt was the end of the day. I sat down and turned on Murder She Wrote. Clearly not in first run, the episode was from 22 years ago. As with many episodes, the actors are recognizable today, even if they weren’t that many years ago. But, I couldn’t quite place one of the people. I know I had seen him in something else, but what? Thank goodness for imdb. Very quickly, I was able to locate the actor. He has been in many movies and tv shows over the years that I recognized. With the search results in mind, it was obvious. He had mastered his craft so well that I did not know his name. He was familiar. But only because of his face. His craft let him be who he needed to be at the time. A character actor. A jack of all trades.

The jack of all trades is crucial to many organizations. It is the glue that makes things work. They go from role to role and perform it well. But somehow the people aren’t recognizable. Only that they are a critical player in the show. The thing is, the show doesn’t go on without them. Who are your character actors? How do you celebrate their importance?


impressionsIt was more than a decade ago. I walked into the classroom only to be greeted by my name. The class was Mergers and Acquisitions at Rice University. One of the last on the way to my MBA. The professor was Jim Hackett. Only he wasn’t just a professor. He was the CEO and Chairman of Anadarko Petroleum, a Board Member/Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and Board Member of my employer, Fluor Corporation.

He was clearly a busy guy. But somehow, he managed to learn the name of every person in class before they walked in. When each person walked in, he greeted them by name. My classmate, Chris Doyle, was so impressed with his leadership that he lobbied for him to teach the class. And not only did Jim Hackett show up, but so did his key leaders to discuss the ins and outs of the M&A adventure his company was undertaking. His last session capped off with the importance of leadership.

It is not every day that you come across a person that not only takes the time to learn about the people, but also understands the impacts of business on the community. There were so many amazing lessons in business. The ones that lasted the longest, more than a decade now, are the ones about showing up as a leader. How are you leaving a lasting legacy with the people you meet?

Finding the Light

Finding the lightIt was eight or nine years ago. I was relatively new to the area and was at an event. I didn’t know anyone there and found myself in a conversation that sticks with me to this day. He was an oncologist and talked about how much he loved his job. There was a lightness to him and it was clear his work was very meaningful. It surprised me. Wouldn’t that be one of the toughest jobs out there? But, he talked about how he saw the best in humanity. People realized what really mattered. It was fascinating listening to him. He could have looked through the lens of negativity and seen everything that was bad. He chose to see and focus on the positive side of what he does and his ability to help people see the best in their relationships and life.

That lesson is a good one for every part of life. The lens you look through defines what you see. From a business perspective, you’ll run across all sorts of people and situations every day. It can be easy to write off a coworker, customer or supplier based on a perceived negative interaction. But if you look through and try to see their intent, it may cause you to change the lens you look through to see that the way a message was sent and the way it was received were entirely different. How can you make sure you are looking through the positive lens of good intentions every day?

Are You At An Impasse?

Are you at an impasse?It was 5:30 in the morning. Light enough to see clearly, but not yet at the point where the sun had fully emerged. My dog was quiet in the backyard. When I looked out to see what she was doing, I was surprised. She wasn’t sitting on her normal spot on the deck. She was locked in a standoff with an opossum. There they sat for twenty minutes, staring, not moving, undistracted by anything else going on around them. They were at an impasse.

How often do you find yourself in an impasse in business? It could be with a customer, different departments within your organization, or between individuals. Many times the resolution is either a loss of business, or one party being happy with the result and the other disappointed. The key to resolving the impasse is finding the motivating factor for each party, not what was initially asked for. It is possible to break through an impasse and find a win/win situation. How are you breaking through your impasse? And more importantly, what approaches are you putting in place to ensure you don’t wind up in an impasse again?

20 Tips for Making Your Business Hum

how to make your business hum


If you saw City Slickers, you’ll remember Curly holding up his finger and stating there is one thing and you need to stick with it. For a business, that one thing is being clear about your purpose. From there, there are a number of little things that are needed to make your business hum. Here are twenty tips to help you do just that:


Your purpose and how it shows up every day

  1. Be clear about who you are and what you do
  2. Make your values known and only hire people who are aligned with your values
  3. Find the balance between having a Taj Mahal and looking like you are going out of business. People need a decent environment to be productive and to be engaged
  4. Get rid of the things that are hard. Doing business for and with you should be easy
  5. Constantly innovate to stay relevant, provide value to customers and outperform the competition

You at your best

  1. Eat well, get enough sleep and exercise regularly. These are necessities for keeping your mind clear and focused, and managing stress
  2. Minimize meetings. There are typically only a few that have any real value
  3. Focus on return on your time. Spend it on things that matter and not just the things that pop up
  4. Surround yourself with people who inspire you, stretch you and bring out your best thinking

Teams that outperform their competition

  1. Hire the best people, align goals and allow them to make decisions. Be clear about responsibilities, accountabilities and decision making
  2. We vs. Them. Them is the competition, not coworkers
  3. Ensure you have all the skills and capabilities at the table so you are making informed decisions
  4. Engage with the best partners, whether investors, suppliers, bankers, etc. They will round out your knowledge and team with you to grow and innovate
  5. Meet with your customers to strengthen relationships, align on how you can best work together
  6. Walk around and talk to the people in your business every day and visit remote locations frequently

Keeping score and outperforming

  1. Set the bar high to cause people to think, stretch and achieve more. At some point, you’ll realize you actually set the bar too low
  2. Know the drivers of your business and how they are performing
  3. Understand your business cycles and how to adjust up and down as the market changes. Companies that outperform act before their competitors
  4. Know when, where and how to invest to grow the business
  5. Act quickly with good, but imperfect information. Speed is more important and course corrections can be made along the way


The Feather Pillow

the feather pillowThe sounds of thudding on the roof were loud and unexpected. After a moment, I realized the sounds were not coming from the roof, but the second story. What was she up to? And just then, my dog appeared. She was quite pleased, smiling broadly. With a feather in the corner of her eye. She had just shredded a feather pillow. Thousands of small feathers were scattered across my room. A mess to clean up, and, given the quantity of feathers, I’m sure they will continue to pop up over the coming weeks. She was just being a dog and enjoying herself while she shredded away. And while she has learned a lot about manners in the relatively short time I’ve had her, clearly there is more work to do to set the boundaries and expectations.

People in business do what they think is natural and right every day. They are proud of their work and eager to show it to you. And sometimes, as they stand there proudly, you will be shocked and dismayed. You know that like the feather pillow, there is a mess to clean up and there will be lasting effects. But before you go ballistic, think about whether you have set expectations. Your people are likely doing their best with good intentions, but may not be clear about expectations. How are you making sure you don’t have a feather pillow moment of your own?

Time is Your Most Precious Resource

Time is your most precious resourceIt is Monday. How often does this happen? You walk into work and look at your calendar to find a series of meetings, many of which you dread. Maybe they don’t have an objective designed to get to decisions. Maybe they are designed to share information that can be done via memo instead of a meeting. They are all time sucks that have a low return on your time. But, because they all appear urgent, you spend your time there instead of sitting back and determining whether the activity needs to be happen or can happen a different way. The reality is, you only have so much time in a day and it should be spent on in the highest impact areas.

Time is the one thing you can’t get more of. You can always find more money, equipment, etc. I don’t say that lightly, because finding more of those can be hard. But once time is gone, it is gone.   And we all have a finite clock that we work with, so where we spend our time matters. What actions are you taking to make sure you are spending your time wisely?

Knowing the levers

knowing the leversDo you know how much money you make on each of your products or services? Almost everyone I have worked with over the years says unequivocally yes! The only thing is, they really don’t. Over the years, a series of allocations and convoluted processes have been developed to try to understand better where money is being made, only to obscure the real profit drivers. Costs get divided into buckets, then divided again, and again so that the true cost is no longer understandable. As times changes, levers get pulled and the results are not as expected.

To regain control of the business, the first thing that needs to be done is peeling numbers apart and making them understandable. Getting away from allocations that distort the numbers is critical. Income statements should reflect the business with key drivers on separate lines. Most importantly though, is getting to profit by product or service. Getting as close to actuals as possible is important because if there are variances developing, that should be a signal to look at price, or that cost controls need to be put into place. The effort in going through this type of approach will highlight key levers in the business and provide information to make better decisions in how the business is run.

Creating a raving fan from a service hiccup

creating a raving fanIf you have a hiccup in service, this is the way to make a raving fan. We all know traveling isn’t what it used to be, breathing a sigh of relief upon arriving at the final destination. This time, the adventures weren’t quite over when I arrived ready to check in at 4:30. The receptionist advised me that my room wasn’t ready yet and would be in about an hour. Without any prompt or comment from me, she offered to buy me a cocktail in the bar for my inconvenience. By 5:00 my salad from lunch had worn off and I decided to have a few oysters to go along with my champagne. Not a bad way to pass the time. 6:00 rolled around and my room was ready. I stood up, asking the bartender for the check, expecting to pay for the oysters, etc. He said it was all taken care of. At the Four Seasons San Francisco, they know how to deliver top end service and turn what could be a frustrating situation into a pleasant one, creating a raving fan.

Service interruptions happen for one reason or another. Many times the response from the person delivering the bad news is “it’s not my fault” that you are not getting the service expected. And it is not. But the person on the receiving end doesn’t care whose fault it is, They just want what they believe they paid for. That is where the company has the ability make either a raving fan or a disgruntled customer. People on the front line have a tough job. Giving them the training, flexibility and authority to create a good experience is what differentiates companies with good customer experiences from those that you see in the news or on social media. How are you empowering your people to create raving fans?

Are You Good or Lucky?

Are you good or lucky?Do you ever drive down the freeway and see people driving at 60 miles per hour or more with less than three car lengths ahead of them? Not a day goes by that I don’t see this many times over. And, there are typically a number of people driving in blind spots. It is surprising that there aren’t more accidents. The reality is, there is not enough room to stop at that speed and that distance should the need arise. The drivers are lucky, not good. But, they think they are good drivers due to the absence of accidents.

Do you have this situation in your business? Is the measure of success the lack of something bad happening? If so, it is time to take a step back and look at the risk factors in your business. High performing companies know their risk factors and they know the levers in the business to pull at the appropriate times. Their measures of success are positive measures of their performance. How are you making sure you are good, not lucky.