December 1, 2010
It’s not who you might think it is.
How successful have you been in opening new markets and/or launching new opportunities?
Best Buy Co. has it down to a science. When I was working for them, we opened new markets in a “slow economy” several times a year for many years. At first we made some dumb mistakes.
(Like the time we were scheduled to open the St. Cloud, MN store and two hours before the quiet opening we realized that we had no money to put into the cash registers. But that’s a different story, for another post.)
Eventually, Best Buy learned how to open a new market efficiently and effectively. This series will share some of the things I learned in the process.
Once you have decided on a new market to enter, and have identified the value you bring to the community, you need to make sure the community recognizes the value and is supportive of your efforts.
So, Concept #2 is:
Know who makes the decisions.
Know who can say “Yes!” and who can only say “No!”
In almost every organization, or community, there are a few key people who really make the decisions. They are the ones who sign the checks, influence the community, and hold the real power. I have found that usually there are usually less than a dozen people, usually five or six, who control any organization. Even in large organizations, like a major city, if you want to get something done, there are only a few people who can approve your project. There are many people who are able to say no, but only a handful who can ultimately say yes.
Several years ago, I worked with a local builder. They are great people, who truly care about their clients and provide exceptional service and workmanship. They discovered a way to build new homes that are thirty (30) to forty (40) percent more energy efficient than a traditional stud-framed house. Because of the building method, these homes are also approximately thirty percent (30%) less expensive to build as well. The builder was willing to pass most of the savings on to their clients and began selling homes. Everything was going smoothly, until they bought some property within the city limits of a major city in Minnesota.
Suddenly, there were major hold-ups in the permit office. Engineers were called in to explain the math behind the unusual building method. Questions were asked. Answers were provided. Still, no permits were forthcoming.
Six months into the process, I was asked to help the builder.
We attended a meeting with the city engineers, who listened to the builders’ engineers explain (for the third time) how the engineering behind the house actually made it stronger than a traditional stud-framed home. I was there to observe and learn, not lead the meeting. The city’s engineers agreed with all of the explanations, verified the mathematics, and still did not issue a permit to build. A few days later, the builder received a letter from the permit office asking for explanations to more questions. Every question the city engineers were asking were ones that had already been answered by the builder.
I realized the engineers were only able to say no. We were not dealing with an engineering issue, it was a relational/political issue. We had to approach the issue differently than the builder had been.
I contacted someone who was intimately involved in the politics of the state of Minnesota and its major cities. He was connected with almost every politician in the state and understood how things worked in the city government where we wanted to build. I asked for his help and advice in dealing with this situation.
When we met for lunch, he told me that in the city there were five people who controlled the building and construction issues. Each one was in a different department or agency, but they were all friends and collectively made or broke every builder that wanted to build in the city. They covered Licensing and Inspections, Zoning, Planning, and Taxation/Revenues. My friend explained that if you made one of these individuals mad, you lost them all. If you had one as an advocate, you were almost assured of successfully building in the city. The builder had done or said something that upset one of the five.
My friend gave me the names and their contact information, then even arranged for a face-to-face meeting with the person (one of the five) who was at the permit office. (Not an engineer, one of their bosses!)
When I met with Aurthur, (not his real name) he talked about how the city wanted to grow, and the issues he was dealing with in his department because builders were not delivering what they promised. Aurthur had been in some of the early meetings, but like me, had not said a word during the meetings he attended. We both were there as observers. We had allowed others to hold center stage and lead the meetings. Since the builder had never dealt with a city as large as this one, he did not recognize Aurthur as someone he should connect with. Someone in one of those first meetings had given Aurthur the idea that we were potentially going to be a problem for him, so we were not going to get a chance to build there. He was not doing anything unethical, or illegal. Aurthur was doing his job to protect his city, and the people who lived there.
I listened to Aurthur’s concerns and assured him that the builder I was working with was a man of integrity and his people were a reflection of his values. I also gave him my word that I would personally deal with any issues he, or his people had with the builder, the homes they built, or any of the people related to the projects we were proposing. Because of my friend’s recommendation, my sincere commitment to work with Aurthur and his team, and my willingness to listen and address every concern they had, Aurthur stepped out of his office and told all of the engineers in the office to issue whatever permits the builder needed, if all of the engineering issues were handled. The entire meeting with Aurthur took less than twenty minutes. I walked out with the permits in hand.
The key issues are:
- There are usually a few key people who really are the decision makers.
- They are usually NOT the elected or appointed officials. Often, they are not the Department Head.
- They are the “Pillars” of the organization.
- When a new person is elected or appointed to run a department/agency they go to the people who are the career employees to gain an understanding of how things work in the agency/department they now lead. That gives the career employee the real power.
- It is about the relationships, not your offering!
The same can be said of a community. Usually there are key people within the community that care, have an vested interest in the success of the community, and see themselves as the protectors of the community. They may be in the government, or leading business people, owners of property, or owners of large farms in the area. They may, or may not be from one of the founding families in rural markets. Usually, the people within the agency, department, or community knows who these pillars are. They are the ones who everyone looks to for direction. They are the ones who effectively hold the real power. Do not make these people mad. Otherwise, you will end up not succeeding in that market.
How do you find these pillars? Ask. Ask the people who are in the community, people who are involved in the problems you want to help with. If you are sincerely there to help, approaching people with a servant attitude, and listen, you will hear who you need to work with.
Keep in mind, it’s their home, their department, their domain. Not yours. Nobody wants some outsider coming in and telling them what to do, how to do it, and changing everything. That’s true of you and me as well.
But, if you really offer a solution to their problem, are humble enough to work within their system, and bring true value to the market, they will usually help you succeed.
October 20, 2010
Here is someone who is reaching out and collaborating with other, like-minded people and making a truly transformational difference in the lives of people here and around the world.
How can we work with Jessica and also transform the lives of those we care about?
March 1, 2010
Simple little disciplines, done consistently over time,will add up to the very biggest accomplishments. - Jeff Olson, from the book – The Slight Edge
We are today, the sum total of all of the decisions we have made in our lives. The life we are now living is the logical result of the actions we have taken to date.
One of my mentors gave me a copy of The Slight Edge, by Jeff Olson. In it, he shows how both success and failure are made up of simple decisions compounded over time. We choose to eat right, or not, at every meal. We choose to make the time to exercise, as we should, or not. We choose to do, or not to do, the simple activities that seem insignificant, yet are the very bedrock of our future.
We must, as leaders, develop the habit of proactively examine the consequences of our decisions and actions. Not only our own, but the actions of those in our organization. Every decision, every action, affects the future.
Rather than choosing to do the expedient thing, choose to do the right thing. Eat the salad, not the burger. Walk a little more. Make the phone call. Write the note. Finish what you start. Do the maintenance. Say “Thank you.” Tell your spouse, “I love you.” Do it every day. Good days or bad. Rain or shine.
I have begun to pause at every decision/choice I come to and ask, “If I compounded the effect of this decision over the next twenty years, what would be the result?” If the compounded effect moves me towards my dreams, then I do it. If the effect, compounded, is to divert me from my goals, then I do not do it.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. However, its all the single steps after that, which bring you to your destination. Make the choice at the next step to move forward.
It took Thomas Edison over ten-thousand experiments before he perfected the incandescent light bulb. If he had stopped at fifty, we might still be reading by candle light rather than on the internet. What breakthrough, what discovery, what great accomplishment awaits you? Don’t wait for it to grab you and reveal itself, as if by magic. Take the next step towards your dreams, into your destiny. Then take the next one as well, ad infinitum!
A real-life quantum leap is not Superman leaping over a tall building. A real quantum leap is Edison perfecting the light bulb – and transforming the world with it. - Jeff Olson, from the book - The Slight Edge
February 16, 2010
It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends. – J.K. Rowling
Good friends are honest with you.
Most people would choose to avoid potential conflict rather than being truly honest with us. Unfortunately, that means when we are missing an important issue, or doing something that is counter-productive, most of our friends sit silently by and watch us crash and burn.
I have a friend, Alan Hill, who will look me in the eyes and say clearly, “You have lost your mind!” After I calm down, he has the ability to show me what I am missing, or where I have gotten off track, so I can correctly refocus myself. Alan is someone I can trust to be honest with me, in spite of my opinions. Many times Alan has brought me up short and kept me from running into the wall of failure.
Alan is a real master at the art of seeing your individual value. He helps people and organizations realize their value and how to optimize that value. He is often referred to as the “Miracle Worker” by those whose lives he touches.
Keith Ferrazzi writes about this in his book, Who’s Got Your Back? Keith recommends that you develop accountability partners. These are people who will hold you accountable, and will let you hold them accountable. His book is a ‘must read’ for anyone who wants to operate at their highest level of effectiveness.
However you frame it, if you want to be all you really can be, connect with a friend who will be brave enough to tell you the truth, even if it hurts.
Someone who cares about you too much to let you fail.
Someone brave enough to stand up to you.
Then, be that brave with someone too.
February 8, 2010
One bite at a time!
We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee. – Marian Wright Edelman
What should you be doing today? What one, or two things can you do today that will move you closer to your goals?
Chances are, you already know what to do. Rarely, do I meet people who do not know at least one thing they could do immediately that will move them forward. The issue usually isn’t knowing, it’s doing.
Without action, grand ideas, great causes, mighty missions, are only smoke and mirrors. Without action, we are deceiving ourselves that someday we might accomplish something. You know this.
Decide what action you can take today to improve your position. What one task, when done, will move you closer to your dream? What one thing can you do now, with the resources you have, that will be a step forward?
Start today. Start right now. Stop reading Twitter. Stop perusing your email. Do at least one thing right now that will move you forward in the pursuit of your real purpose, your true destiny, the reason you are on this planet. You can read all those emails after you have done something productive. We are all waiting to congratulate you! Get started now.
The problem in my life and other people’s lives is not the absence of knowing what to do, but the absence of doing it. - Peter F. Drucker
As Nike has said for years…Just do it!
Take that next bite! You may find it tastes better than you thought it would!