by Tim Sanders
Ask a strategic consultant about the value of a strong organizational culture and she’ll likely remark: “Culture eats strategy for lunch!” Her reasoning is usually based on the consistency of behavior that strong culture creates – enabling every associate to make “the right decision” even when the leader is not around. The name of the game in business growth is scalability, growing steadily without sacrificing consistency in quality (whatever that means to you.)
Org-culture is a conversation, led by leaders, about “how we do things here successfully.” It’s built up through hiring, on boarding and successions practices. It’s reinforced through rituals and stories, often shared at the group level. The more leaders punctuate the conversation with action, the more the followers march in lock step with them.
But here’s the problem: Every idea is based on an assumption, and similarly, every culture is based on a set of values. When transparency is a key value, the culture requires sharing information and avoiding secrecy. When someone violates it, they are shunned, punished or coached. The word ‘transparency’ is often embedded into internal communications and in some cases, the market facing branding. While few would argue against transparency, I would take issue with whether that value is a leader’s personal value or a business driver.
The purpose of an organization is to produce customer/member value, which in turn is captured in order to sustain and grow it. If culture drives consistency, then it should be based on values that drive the business by producing a unique value proposition. In other words, your culture-driving values should differentiate a company in a way your customers care about. That’s the real reason that culture has become a focal point of leadership development and corporate performance.
When Zappos put a supreme value on “Delivering Customer Happiness,” it separated them from other apparel e-commerce providers. They redesigned call center rules, adopting unconventional KPI’s to ensure that reps spend ample time with customers and display empathy and a sense of humor. They enforced the culture heavily throughout hiring an on boarding, famously offering briefcases of money to those who were willing to quit (and leave the Happiness Culture). In this case, the value drove the business.
But in too many cases, values are often created in a cramped conference room by over-worked founders or later in the life of the enterprise, by corporate communications during a turnaround. There is little or no formal training on how to vet a value for business output, it’s usually just a random process where words or phrases are thrown around until the group forms a consensus.
That’s why companies have chosen “Fun” or “Fair” or “Agile” as their values – making them the foundation of the culture they are building. And it’s hard to debate the value of fun, fairness or agility from a personal or even professional standpoint. Why not? That’s why they are often adopted. But what if the company is in the financial services market, where “Meticulous” is valued by the customer more than “Fun”? What if the company is in a risk-averse business, where customers value “Best-To-Market” instead of “First-To-Market”? In those cases, Fun and Agility are not business drivers, they are pet values, which are likely to build more of a cult than a strong corporate culture.
So here’s the prescription: Test the values that you base your culture on for business value. If you choose “Honesty” for example, ask yourself, “is this a market space where deceit is a customer concern? Is this a lead story in our industry?” If it is, then this value will drive the business through differentiation. If not, then you are basing your culture on a foundation that could lead to a me-too market position. If your competitors are honest, then why is this a business driver value and not just “good business practice”?
You might be thinking, “What’s the harm in including obviously good values in our culture mix? Why exclude “Fun” or “Honesty”? I thought that way too for a long time, but when I went to work in human resources, where values are a part of the talent lifecycle, I realized that you have to pick your battles, and limit yourself to a manageable group of norms you want to create.
Limit yourself to 3-5 values, the less the better. Much like phone numbers or login passwords, the longer the list, the harder it is to call up when you need them. Culture is all about living a set of values everyday, and if you throw in the kitchen sink, your associates will have to pick and choose, and that’s where a culture starts to get weak (read: inconsistent).
It’s never too late to go through the business driver value process with your team. If it leads to a new conversation about “how we do things around here moving forward,” it just may help your company jump out of the pile, and rise to the top of the customer’s mind. Just like a company can outgrow its founders, an organization can also outgrow its founding values.
Note: The recent holocracy movement at Zappos is based on the founder’s value of self-management. It’s yet to be seen as to whether that’s a pet value or a business driver (their relative customer experience levels will be lifted). In the long run, the fate of the company’s market position will be an acid test of my theory about picking personal or business centric values to base a culture on.
By Lior Arussy
Watching the World Cup unfold before our eyes in the last month has been exciting. As a customer strategy professional, I could not help but be jealous of the emotional loyalty fans demonstrated toward their favorite teams. If companies were able to generate such loyalty from their customers, their growth and profitability problems would evaporate overnight.
There are several lessons we can learn from the games and especially the Final between Germany and Argentina. This nerve-racking match brought the best teams in the world into the ultimate battle for the title of world champion. The tears in the eyes of Messi and his Argentinean team made it very clear that no. 2 was not an option. Rather it was an excuse for not becoming champions.
Here are some things to consider when your goal is to be no. 1:
Lesson 1 – You’re only as good as your next win
Both teams played their best games prior to reaching the Final but the amazing results they achieved in the previous matches were merely stepping-stones. As soon as the games were over, those accomplishments were taken for granted by the fans, who quickly shifted their attention to anticipating the next game. Where would the next win come from?
You’re only as good as your next act of customer delight. The past brought you here but will not take you any further. “What’s next?” is the ultimate question we all must ask ourselves – every day, in each and every customer interaction.
Lesson 2 – Team over starters, every time
The German team is known for its “well-oiled machine” that plays an integrated game with no starter more important than the other players. The team scored the most goals overall during the World Cup (7-1 against Brazil, still unimaginable) and ultimately won the title of champions. Argentina with its amazing star could not beat the great German team.
It’s time to break down the silos and lessen the dependency on the single heroes. You either have one hero-like team or nothing. Break the silos and develop a superior line-up. The days of the individual rainmaker are gone.
Lesson 3 – Every player matters
While Germany had veteran stars, it was Mario Gotze, a 22-year-old who subbed into the game, that scored the redeeming, title-winning shot. He did what many of his older, more experience teammates failed to do.
Talent is everywhere in your organization. Nurture it. Engage every employee and empower each one to score the winning goal.
Lesson 4 – You’re playing against the clock
No one has the patience to wait anymore. Time is now a product feature. You need to perform at your best in a limited timeframe. Who knows, Argentina may have scored had there been more time on the clock. But there wasn’t.
The same concept applies to your customers. Your timeframe to score is ever shrinking. Time is not working for you. Act fast.
Lesson 5 – Efforts don’t matter, results do
Argentina played well. They did try. But “trying” is simply an excuse for not scoring. No one rewards excuses. Get results or get eliminated. Such is the way of all World Cup games.
The same is true in business, efforts and meetings and PowerPoint decks will never substitute an amazing moment of customer delight. Either you drive results or your efforts do not matter.
Lesson 6 – Focus everyone on the measure that matters
In soccer, you measure various actions such as assists and fouls but only goals matter. Every player knows it and no one is excused from this single focus.
In organizations, the KPI’s are so complex that people forget the real measure that matters. It’s time to unify everyone around a single, clear measure and align everyone to achieve the ultimate goal within their specific role and position. Just as in soccer, a unified corporate team, clearly focused on a single goal, will get results.
These lessons, always true, are amplified during the World Cup Final where the stakes are high and every action matters. Thinking about it in the context of working with customers, the stakes have always been high and every action has always mattered. Competing for customers’ hearts every day is our World Cup. The lessons above should be a clear roadmap to our championship, one game at a time.
Strativity Group Inc. To Appear On the Inc. 5000 List For Third Consecutive Year Inc. Magazine Unveils 34th Annual Inc. 5000
Inc. magazine today ranked leading Customer Experience firm, Strativity Group Inc. on its 34th annual Inc. 5000, an exclusive ranking of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies. The list represents the most comprehensive look at the most important segment of the economy—America’s independent entrepreneurs. Companies such as Yelp, Pandora, Timberland, Dell, Domino’s Pizza, LinkedIn, Zillow, and many other well-known names gained early exposure as members of the Inc. 5000.
“Appearing on the list for the 3rd straight year is a testament to the value we deliver to clients seeking experts in customer experience transformation,” said Strativity President, Lior Arussy. “Our unparalleled growth in customer experience research and consulting places Strativity as the undisputed leader in this emerging and exciting space.”
The 2015 Inc. 5000, unveiled online at Inc.com and with the top 500 companies featured in the September issue of Inc. (available on newsstands August 18 to September 22) is the most competitive crop in the list’s history. The average company on the list achieved a mind-boggling three-year growth of 490%. The Inc. 5000’s aggregate revenue is $205 billion, generating 647,000 jobs over the past three years. Complete results of the Inc. 5000, including company profiles and an interactive database that can be sorted by industry, region, and other criteria, can be found at http://www.inc.com/inc5000.
“The story of this year’s Inc. 5000 is the story of great leadership. In an incredibly competitive business landscape, it takes something extraordinary to take your company to the top,” says Inc. President and Editor-In-Chief Eric Schurenberg. “You have to remember that the average company on the Inc. 5000 grew nearly six-fold since 2012. Business owners don’t achieve that kind of success by accident.”
The annual Inc. 5000 event honoring all the companies on the list will be held from October 21 through 23, 2015 in Orlando. Speakers include some of the greatest entrepreneurs of this and past generations, such as Marcus Lemonis, host of the CNBC show “The Profit,” Robert Herjavec, one of the main “sharks” on ABC-TV’s “Shark Tank,” KIND Founder and CEO Daniel Lubetzky, and Co-Founder of Goodshop.com JJ Ramberg.
Strativity Group – Passion, Expertise and Execution
The people at Strativity are united by passion and guided by a proprietary integrated methodology to unleash exceptional performance with employees and customers. With experience at leading organizations such as Bain, Deloitte, EY, Ipsos, Bulgari and HP, Strativity brings world-class experience combined with a focus on measurable results.
We measure success by a single word: Execution.
Strativity has had the privilege of working with exceptional brands such as Mercedes-Benz, MasterCard, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, Walmart, New York Times, FedEx, Clinton Foundation, American Management Association, SAP, Wyeth, Honeywell and Johnson & Johnson.
With over 160 completed projects in 21 countries impacting over 250 million customers and 400,000 employees, Strativity is ready to face your challenge. http://www.strativity.com
by Cromwell Schubarth Senior Technology Reporter Silicon Valley Business Journal
Yossi Ghinsberg was already famous long before he pitched the Blinq mobile app that his startup, Headbox Inc., developed at 500 Startups late last year.
That’s because a book he wrote about getting lost and nearly dying in the Bolivian jungle became a best-seller that in turn became a Discovery Channel docudrama and is reportedly now in the early stages of becoming a movie.
We caught up with Ghinsberg a few months after he was featured in The Pitch in February. Our conversation was edited for length.
Is it true that you always try to live in a tent, no matter where your home is?
Yes, yes. Although right now, I would call it a beach shack. It’s kind of like a fisherman’s hut. But for years, everywhere I lived, whether it’s Los Angeles or Sydney, Australia, and five years in Israel, I lived in a tent that was always pitched as part of my house. If it was an apartment, I would build it on the roof of the apartment building. If it was a house, I would build it outside. But my tents weren’t about roughing it. They were very lush and luxurious. I built them in a very beautiful way.
Why do you do that?
It was about living in a temporary dwelling with walls that are very thin that let you hear the elements. It was symbolic for me because I belong to the world. I’m a nomad and a traveler. The tent symbolizes all that, the impermanence of life, the respect for life, and also the joy to be really in communion with nature. When you step outside the tent, you step on the earth. You build a fire, and you sit by the fire with friends.
How does your wife feel about this?
My wife, luckily, is like me. So for her, it is a delight as well. But I want to stress that this is not about camping out. It’s about a certain notion and a symbol that attracts me. I really enjoy it. There’s no sacrifice there. It’s pure joy.
Are you living in Silicon Valley now?
I have been living in the Valley since we joined the 500 Startups acceleration program. I was in Mountain View, then moved to Palo Alto, and then to Menlo Park. For five months, the entire company living and working out of a nice house in Mountain View. It was like we had a hackathon for five months. It was five guys, fully dedicated. Once we finished that, I took the development and engineering part of the company back to Tel Aviv. I came back here to do the business, and the networking, and the investment, and the rest of it. I’m building a presence here, which I will maintain myself. I’m not relocating my family yet, but down the road I will relocate my family.
When was the last time you went 100 percent offline?
Only when my battery dies.
I mean intentionally.
That is a very painful question. I changed the name of my species. I don’t call myself a human being, anymore. I have become a human doing. I’m constantly building a lot of things, so I haven’t been a lot offline, you know? I don’t recall having even a rest day, you know? I have wife and four kids that in the last seven months I hardly have seen. It’s not the best lifestyle.
Is there anything that you’re never without?
Yeah. My mobile device. I’m never without it. My Kindle, too.
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
If there’s ice cream in the house, I wake up in the middle of the night and I go down and I eat it all. It’s not a sweet tooth. I don’t eat any candy, or chocolate, or cake, you know? But if there’s a good ice cream, I just cannot sleep until it’s done.
At any event Cary Mullen speaks at, he announces free access for all attendees to the resources below. He will send access info out to you, so you can get it to your customer – I’m sure you’ll want to blast it out to all your attendees after hearing Cary and seeing just how great his Secrets to Success are.
Have a super day!
Cary Mullen Audience Resources
Attendees will get access to:
An interactive, multi-media self-development program valued at $297 per person (online version only) – check it out at HowToWin.com
Mp3 download of his talk
Articles with tips for winning
Vinh Giang is a magician and entrepreneur who founded the online business Encyclopedia of Magic, which now has 48,000 users.
Giang was the keynote speaker at the launch of Victoria’s small business festival yesterday.
He told the audience how he came up with the idea for Encyclopedia of Magic while still at university and had difficulty telling his parents, who were Vietnamese refugees, of his plans.
He recalls telling his parents he wanted to quit uni and start an online business selling magic.
Giang recalls thinking: “I’ve just told my dad I want to become Harry Potter.”
However, Giang’s parents agreed to give him $100,000 to start the business.
“Please jump as high as you possibly can, as long as I’m alive I’ll always be your net,” Giang’s dad told him.
“So I tested the theory,” Giang said.
Giang says his dad also told him that in your life you should never put yourself on a pedestal, “put the lessons on the pedestal”.
These are the three lessons that Giang says have completely changed his life:
“People always ask me ‘Vinh, what is magic?’. Magic is just a problem that you cannot solve, ” Giang says.
“So often in my life… the reason I couldn’t solve it was I saw things from only one perspective.”
Giang says many magical tricks are all about perspective.
For small businesses Giang says networking can give you a different perspective that completely changes your business.
“So many times we get stuck in a silo mentality, but collaboration is power,” he says.
“My mentor once told me if you really want to reach your full potential, you cannot afford to have one negative person in your life,” Giang says.
“You are the direct reflection of the top five people you spend time with.
“If you ever wonder who you are, pick the top five people [you spend time with} and put them in front of you.”
If you don’t have a skill and you want it, Giang says you need to find someone who has it and bring them into your top five.
“Nobody says no to a free lunch,” he says.
Giang put this to the test after deciding he wanted author and entrepreneur Matthew Michalewicz as a mentor.
He wanted to get his attention and decided to do this by buying 1000 of Michalewicz’s books.
“He has opened up the entire world to me,” Giang says.
“I’m moving to the US next year. It’s incredible how he’s been able to influence my life.”
Giang says when he is trying to work on particularly difficult magic tricks he has to believe they will work.
“I was foolish enough to believe it was possible so I tried, because I tried I found a way,” he says.
“The simple lesson here is that your beliefs affect your actions.”
Giang says if you believe in your soul something is possible, then you can take the first step, and once you take the first step the second step becomes clear.
“Far too often we look at a challenge, it looks impossible, we give up and don’t even try,” he says.
Giang believed in himself while starting his business. After months spent building his site on the first day there were only 82 people on the website, which was built for traffic from thousands.
“It crushed my soul,” said Giang.
Instead of giving up Giang changed his business model by creating multiple different websites to see which one was the one most users were likely to sign up to.
“That is my business today,” he says.
“Adversity is the greatest competitive advantage in life. When things get hard it is the training to be great.”
An Article from The Metrognome
The fantastic story of how an Israeli traveler struggled against all odds alone in the Amazon and came back alive.
by Subhasis Chatterjee
There exists a man in the world, who gamely stuck on in the Amazon even after losing three companions, alone, hungry, without the means to light a fire and with no way to get in touch with the rest of the world.
That man is Israeli traveler Yossi Ghinsberg.
I met Yossi in a tech conclave at Kolkata recently, where he was invited as a motivational speaker. He described in graphic detail his doomed Amazon expedition of 1981, a story so unique and fantastic; it forces you to suspend disbelief. He spent three long weeks in extreme pain and starvation, survived venomous snakes and a near-drowning and even an encounter with a puma. His unbelievable story has now been made into a documentary, popular in near about 160 countries.
He says it was his continuous struggle to find a retreat that led to his eventual rescue. Today, he has gone back to the place that made a man out of the naïve 22-year-old youth, back to Madidi National Park – the largest biodiversity conserve for the Amazons. His thoughts on using unconventional thinking and living through unexpected circumstances have been documented in his new book, Laws of the Jungle – Jaguars Don’t Need Self Help Books.
But let’s hear his story.
Looking for romance in the jungle
As a young 22-year old man just out of the military service in the Israeli Navy, Yossi was idealistic and naïve. “I wanted to be like the heroes of the books I read. That’s why I wanted to go to the jungle. I wasn’t interested in the adrenaline rush of danger, I was more interested in the romance,” he explains.
His ventures took him to Bolivia, where he met a Swiss explorer called Markus Stamm. “It happened almost like a novel,” Yossi says, explaining that he met Marcus on an outing at a lake. “There was also Karl Ruprechter, an overwhelming Austrian who was overwhelming. He was knowledgeable about jungle adventures and told me about this incredible journey he was going to undertake through the rainforest to discover a hidden clan. I was hooked,” he says.
As they started for the Amazon, there were four of them- Yossi, an American named Kevin Gale, Karl and Marcus. The group pledged to stay united despite their distinct personalities, but a clash was inevitable. The situation took a turn for the worse after the group travelled through the jungle for a couple of weeks. Yossi recalls, “The environment was harsh. There were tensions, the food was basic – we shot and ate monkeys, among other things. I was cursing myself for my stupidity and wanted to go back, but I stuck on.”
The group ultimately broke due to disagreements. Earlier, they have built a raft to travel down the Amazon river, but Karl thought they should continue on foot as it was too dangerous to sail. “But then Kevin proposed that he and I could carry on in the raft on our own. I was shocked, but I agreed. But later, we failed to control the raft as it rushed towards a giant waterfall. Kevin somehow managed to scramble towards the shore, but I fell into the waterfall.”
He adds, “There were moments of great despair, but falling down the waterfall wasn’t one of them. That was just like a roller coaster ride that lasted for about 20 minutes. I just kept my head above the water. And though I was initially excited to be alive when I reached the shore, the feeling of despair soon gripped me again.”
Yossi felt he would reunite with Kevin after a few hours, but there was no sign of him. “That was the toughest moment – the realization that I was totally alone,” he remembers.
Yossi survived a late-night encounter with a puma by setting alight a bug repellent. Then he kept himself alive by eating leaves and eggs scrounged from the chicken homes in the jungle. “I strolled on for several days, thinking I was near San Jose,” he says. “I discovered my own power and then I didn’t even want to be rescued anymore. It was intoxicating.”
But fate was not done with him yet. He nearly drowned in a horrible flood and sank in a bog twice. By the end of the third week, he was completely exhausted and could walk no more on his bad foot. There was no food left. And then a miracle happened –Kevin arrived with a rescue team!
It turned out that Kevin had looked for him everywhere; but there was no news of Karl and Marcus – they probably perished in the jungle. But Yossi was found and he soon returned to the outside world, a changed man – born an American Catholic, he married an Israeli girl and became a Jew.
His ordeal in the jungle changed his life forever in many ways, and made him a humble person. “I now consider the smallest things in the world to be very special. I don’t ascribe much significance to the things I have now. That feeling of touching death has never left me,” he says.
Speaking.com Interview with Lior Arussy
The recipient of CRM Magazine’s “Influential Leader Award”, Lior Arussy is known as a man who gets results in the fields of customer experience and customer-centric transformation. His knowledge of how to help organizations stop focusing on the product and focus on the customer comes from his experience working with some of the most prestigious brands in the world, among them Capital One, Thomson Reuters, HSBC, E.ON, Nokia, SAP, University of Pennsylvania and Wyeth.
Passion and purpose will become differentiators of products and services; only vendors who are willing to rise up to that challenge will be able to command premium prices and customer loyalty.
SPEAKING.COM: What are some of the customer experience trends you see emerging within the next ten years?
ARUSSY: Customers are going to play a more integral role in the overall experience they receive and will no longer be passive in the experience that’s being delivered to them. Passion and purpose will become differentiators of products and services; only vendors who are willing to rise up to that challenge will be able to command premium prices and customer loyalty. Employee engagement and loyalty will become a critical factors for organizations looking to foster sustainable success.
SPEAKING.COM: How do you suggest people embrace customer-centric transformation?
ARUSSY: Here is the advice I would give:
- • Be honest with yourself about the true nature of your customer relationships.
- • Understand the financial impact of not embracing customer centric transformation.
- • Humanize your organization.
- • Empower your employees to delight.
- • Measure what matters.
- • Train your people to know how to delight. Don’t assume that they know already.
SPEAKING.COM: Can you give us three tips for improving customer service?
ARUSSY: First, start every day by calling a customer and saying thank you for the business. Second, surprise your customers with small acts of generosity, and third, ask your customers, “What else can I do for you?”
SPEAKING.COM:How can organizations foster customer experience innovation?
ARUSSY: An organization can foster customer experience innovation when they:
- • Create an environment in which everyone understands the customer on a human and emotional level.
- • Walk in the shoes of the customer and identify their pain points.
- • Foster an environment in which mistakes are acceptable so employees can experiment.
- • Celebrate the heroes who are trying new ways to delight customers.
- • Let go of all the cynics.
SPEAKING.COM: Are there any clients you have worked with that exemplify customer experience transformation? If so, how did they do it?
ARUSSY: All of our clients have achieved success in different ways. We have been a part of 160 transformations to date. The approach we are taking is a disciplined integrated approach that accelerates the transformation by combining data-driven research, innovating experimentation, employee engagement and training, metrics alignment, and a strong sustainability program.
The #1 obstacle to performance excellence is people thinking they are doing it already.
SPEAKING.COM: What are some of the main obstacles to performance excellence and how can an organization overcome them?
ARUSSY: The #1 obstacle to performance excellence is people thinking they are doing it already. Overcome this by setting clear goals on how do you measure excellence and who is the judge of it (the customer, not you). The #2 obstacle is companies operating in silos and as a result customers suffer and performance is less than optimal. Address this by journey mapping, aligning to the customer perspective, adopting measurements that unify the whole organization, and offering incentives to change. The #3 obstacle is that oftentimes it is assumed that employees know how to deliver exceptional experiences but we find that employees are operating on procedures and not customer-based guidelines. They need the time to learn and practice how to deliver exceptional experiences before we expect them to deliver it.
SPEAKING.COM: What are a few of the reasons why organizations fail to deliver excellence?
ARUSSY: Some of the reasons organizations fail to deliver excellence are:
- • Lack of consistency in leadership support
- • Assumption that the task of transformation is minor
- • Conflicting metrics
- • Lack of employee training
- • Lack of sustainability
- • Lack of rewards and recognition for those who are delivering exceptional results
- • Process vs. Customer Orientation
- • Lack of understanding of the true customer needs
It is only when we target exceeding customer expectations that we can provide the new performance standard that is constantly changing as customers are adopting and heightening their expectations.
SPEAKING.COM: How can excellence be redefined and a new performance standard set?
ARUSSY: Excellence can be redefined and a new performance standard set based on what will surprise the customer, not what will meet their expectations. It is only when we target exceeding customer expectations that we can provide the new performance standard that is constantly changing as customers are adopting and heightening their expectations.
SPEAKING.COM: What are your main professional passions?
ARUSSY: Making an impact on people’s lives and inspiring people to change and discover the exceptional within them.
SPEAKING.COM: What other projects are you working on currently?
ARUSSY: A day in my life includes working with a chain of dialysis centers, helping a car manufacturer delight their customers, helping a bank understand their customers better and developing the next research in the area of customer experience. It’s very diverse and I work with various industries with different customers and different challenges.
Speaking.com Interview with Robyn Benincasa
With a trio of Guinness World Records to her name, a CNN Hero designation and a world champion Eco-challenge Adventure Racer, few people are better placed than full-time firefighter Robyn Benincasa to talk about Human Synergy, the force which allows ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things. She brings her experience of leadership, teamwork and overcoming adversity to her inspiring presentations.
Since 1995, Robyn has been working with racing teams around the world to take on the most extreme challenges imaginable—from the jungles of Borneo to the Himalayas, from the rain forests of Ecuador to the deserts of Namibia. Racing against time to complete seemingly impossible challenges, Robyn has developed a unique knowledge of what it takes to develop a world-class team and to lead them through challenges and changes to success.
A “we thinking” leader inspires their team to not just walk side by side together, but to literally and figuratively carry one another when they need to. All problems are “ours,” and responsibility for success and failure is shared as one.
SPEAKING.COM: What are some of the main challenges and opportunities faced today in organizational team building and leadership?
BENINCASA: “We thinking” is probably the most overlooked aspect of team building. Most people think of a team as a group of individuals, moving forward together towards a common goal. But a “we thinking” leader inspires their team to not just walk side by side together, but to literally and figuratively carry one another when they need to. All problems are “ours,” and responsibility for success and failure is shared as one.
For example, when we race, every team at the front of the pack is utilizing tow lines that stretch from the back of a stronger team member’s pack to the chest strap of a team member who is slower at the moment, so that the slower person can be pulled along at a faster pace with less effort, and we can move faster as a team than the four individuals can move alone. We will all be that strong team member and we will all be that weaker team member at some point in the long run, so all egos must be focused on team success versus individual glory.
In our day-to-day life, “we thinking” is manifested in how we choose to lead our lives. Who is on your team? Is it just you? Is it just your family? Is it your clients? Everyone in your company? We all decide every day who is on our team and who is not.
For the most part, if we’re honest, we’re all pretty competitive and we tend to operate as soloists. But “we thinkers” make the conscious and important effort to leave their house every day and see a world full of potential teammates versus a world full of potential competitors. They capitalize on their strengths and barter their weaknesses to their “team”. And in doing so, they get a lot further, faster.
SPEAKING.COM: How do you suggest people embrace team building principles?
BENINCASA: You have to be a part of the right team. If you don’t feel motivated or productive in your team, you may not be in the right team, or in the right role. On a great team, all of the members bring something unique and valuable to the table that they share with the team; on this team, you are absolutely recognized and applauded for your contributions. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be there for very long!
It’s a common misconception that team building is a completely selfless endeavor. But while it is true that a great team member must wrap their ego around the team’s success instead of their own individual glory (egos must be left at the start line–but not confidence!), the whole point of “strategic team building” is to seek out people who have strengths that you don’t possess, and to share your core talents with them. All of this is for mutual gain.
For example, over a few years of ups and downs with teams, I formulated a recipe for success in my sport. The four team members who would travel together, day and night, non-stop for six to ten days had to be great teammates first. I needed two of the team members to be world-class navigators, two to be solid mountain bikers, two to be very strong paddlers, and one had to be a great strategic thinker who was great at interpreting the road rules we were given.
As you can imagine, everyone on the team got to be the hero when it came to their unique strength, and they were recognized and applauded by everyone on the team for their efforts. Then it would be another team member’s time to shine as we switched sports, took care of one another, navigated successfully through the dark of night, etc. We genuinely needed one another and openly appreciated and applauded individual effort, and we were on the podium race after race as a team.
We don’t inspire others by showing them how amazing we are; we inspire them by showing them how talented, smart and capable they are.
SPEAKING.COM: Can you give us five tips for building human synergy and peak performance?
1. Your ego is the heaviest thing in your backpack, so leave it at the start line.
2. Acting like a team is more important than feeling like a team.
3. We don’t inspire others by showing them how amazing we are; we inspire them by showing them how talented, smart and capable they are.
4. We work for people, not for companies. The best leaders always remember that
5. Great leaders change their leadership style like a golfer changes his clubs. Use the right style for the job: coach, visionary, friend, pacesetter, consensus builder, etc.
Are you consistently doing what it takes to win versus simply not losing? It’s a completely different mindset, leading to vastly different outcomes
SPEAKING.COM: What are some of the key leadership principles leaders should cultivate?
BENINCASA: Be ruled by the hope of success versus the fear of failure!
Are you consistently doing what it takes to win versus simply not losing? It’s a completely different mindset, leading to vastly different outcomes. Fortune favors the bold. Great leaders are shattering the norm, changing the game, and doing things that have never been done in an effort to propel their team to the next level. They are courageous–not only in terms of innovation, but in terms of perseverance: taking step after step, day after day, relentlessly pursuing excellence.
We’ve won many a race not only by slowing down less than the other teams, but also by coming up with some game changing solutions. Once, in a 100-mile whitewater canoeing leg to the finish, my teammate taught me the “be ruled by the hope of success” lesson through some tough love.
We were paddling our whitewater raft near the front of the race on day 6 and every couple of minutes, I looked behind us to see where our closest competitors were. That is, until the teammate sitting behind me grabbed the top of my head, spun it back around to face forward, pointed down the river and said, “Winning is THAT way!”. My other teammate overheard the admonishment and realized my teammate was right. We had to focus on winning versus not losing.
So in the next leg, when race organizers gave each team two separate inflatable canoes, my innovative teammates decided to tie our two canoes together with our climbing rope, end to end, creating one very long, rigid and FAST new boat, powered by every member of the team. We also switched out our canoe paddles (single blades) for kayak paddles (double blades), which was far outside the norm for canoe travel. With those visionary changes, we caught the team that was an hour ahead of us and went on to win the race by 2 hours on that final leg.
In another race, the Borneo Eco-Challenge, we took the lead halfway through the race by turning a proposed ‘hiking leg’ of the race into a swimming leg by jumping into the rising whitewater rapids, generated by a recent flash flood, and swimming for several hours downriver (just yards from the hiking trail). Much of this was in the dark. It was extremely risky, but also cutting-edge cunning. We never looked back, and lead the race all the way from there to the finish line.
We did what it took to win, and not to “not lose”. Leaders need to be working with their teams to build what is needed in innovation and teamwork to beat the competition continuously rather than being satisfied with being ahead of the competition only because the competition isn’t doing anything. Don’t be satisfied with being less than you can be because you’re afraid of failing. Let the need to win because you are the best rule your actions instead.
That’s another important leadership skill: when to inspire, when to instill tough love, when to coach, when to lay down the law, when to get out front and show your team the way, or when to let them lead… and when to cut bait.
SPEAKING.COM: What is “kinetic leadership” and how does it help advance teamwork?
BENINCASA: As an example, someone on your team may not be exceptional at face-to-face client meetings, but you discover they have a talent for writing great copy for graphic design, or they’re fantastic with strategy. Keep digging until you find the gold that that person can offer the team. Let them lead based on their strength versus their title.
If at the end of the day this person isn’t cutting it on any level, you have to do the rest of the team justice and move that person off of your team before overall team morale is diminished. That’s another important leadership skill: when to inspire, when to instill tough love, when to coach, when to lay down the law, when to get out front and show your team the way, or when to let them lead… and when to cut bait.
SPEAKING.COM: What are your main professional passions?
BENINCASA: My professional passion is speaking! And I enjoy inspiring others to find the powerful team-builder, teammate, and leader in themselves. I genuinely love connecting with corporate audiences and adventurers on our Project Athena events. I love sharing the incredible winning synergy that we learned while inspiring semi-exhausted people to a nearly impossible finish line for days on end in the sport of adventure racing.
My other professional passion is firefighting! I would love to say that becoming a firefighter was a mission I had as a child, but I was pretty sure I was going to be a garbage person. I really dug the way they hung off the back of the truck.
When I graduated from college with a B.S in Marketing, I worked as a hospital supply and pharmaceutical sales rep for about seven years, but I was still equally drawn to my athletic life. So in 1996 I ditched the panty hose and heels and picked up an application for the San Diego Fire Department. I passed all the tests, but there was an unfortunate three-year hiring freeze.
So I had some fun as a substitute teacher and semi-professional athlete (the nice way to say “lived with roommates or on friend’s couches”), until I got my shot at the fire academy. Being a firefighter allows me to be all of the things I love the most–an athlete, a rescuer, an emergency medical first responder, a teammate, and an adventurer. It’s never the same day twice!
For the last 4 years, my team of Athenas and I have taken cancer survivors and survivors of other medical or traumatic setbacks and trained them for some incredible endurance adventures.
SPEAKING.COM: What other projects are you working on currently?
BENINCASA:I founded Project Athena back in 2009, after my own personal experience battling my body. My mission behind Project Athena started when I was in the middle of the 2007 World Adventure Racing Championship in Scotland. I came to a point where I could no longer move forward on the course without literally picking up my leg and moving it forward. My teammates had to tow me to the finish line.
When I arrived home, I went to an orthopedic surgeon and discovered I had stage 4 osteoarthritis in both hips. I was in complete shock and didn’t want to believe it. That marked the beginning of what is now a total of four hip replacements in four years. (My first two failed). But it didn’t mark an end to my adventurous life. It just sparked a change of sports and a new beginning.
After my first hip replacement, I knew I would get my spirit back by planning new adventures and embracing new sports. Then it occurred to me that other women who have survived setbacks far worse than mine might really benefit from getting outside and inspiring and amazing themselves through adventurous and athletic goals. So for the last 4 years, my team of Athenas (all survivors helping survivors) and I have taken cancer survivors and survivors of other medical or traumatic setbacks and trained them for some incredible endurance adventures, surrounded by a cohesive and supportive team.
Our new Athenas have crossed the Grand Canyon twice on foot, ran a marathon on the Great Wall of China, completed their first triathlons, etc. It’s the best adventure of my life to combine a love of teamwork and inspiration, with elevating the people around us who need it the most.
Years ago, I discovered a technique for converting every meeting, conversation or interaction into a success-building opportunity. I followed a maxim, taught to me as a child: Everywhere you go, always bring a gift. It had long been a part of my social style, but when I applied this to my business life, success quickly followed.
Whether you are a leader, manager, sales professional or entrepreneur … gifting drives success.
You see, success is not a place you arrive at, but instead, a direction you traverse over your career. That direction is forward, where everyday brings new opportunities and produces incremental progress. During each day, most of us have several interactions with other people: Associates, customers, prospects, partners, suppliers and people we meet in transit or at events. Too often, we treat these transactionally, as opposed to looking at them as opportunities to give to others. If we instead inject a gift into each conversation, we deepen relationships, build our brand and create momentum.
There are two key gifts you can bring to every conversation, and both are intangible (and scalable):
- Knowledge – Look for insert points to share tips, useful reads or helpful perspectives. Be proactive in sharing a new hack you’ve found to solve a common problem. If you’ve read a book that can shift your conversational partner’s thinking for the better, highlight the point, and if he’s interested, unpack the core idea from the book. Whether it’s a small share or a mentor moment, he’ll be enthused about the learning. I’ve found that if I am patient, listen intently and do a little prep work prior to every interaction, there’s always a knowledge sharing opportunity.
- Encouragement – Validation is one of the most powerful psychological gifts we can give to another person. It starts with listening to your conversational partner talk about her most important project, and prodding her to share details about her strategy, efforts and goals. Listen like the person who’s on the receiving end of her efforts, which will turn up your noticing knob. Point out the effective or creative things she’s doing, and then expand on why that’s either important to the project or inspires you. By being sincere, you’ll find that your gift of encouragement provides a real shot in the arm, which only fuels the energy level of the entire encounter.
If you always bring a gift to conversations, you’ll deliver high Return on Attention to others. You’ll find that they value time with you, they want to introduce you to their connections as well. After all, you’ve differentiated yourself from the rest of the pack, which often brings needs, complaints or give-and-takism to their conversations. Besides standing out, you’ll find that in most cases, your gift is reciprocated with helpful advice and encouragement, just when you yourself needed it the most.
Video Clip: Everywhere You Go, Bring a Gift (from his BBST 2015 keynote)
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