All posts by Solamar Support

Are You Creating Customers for Life?

Think about the last 12 hours: how many times did you experience the push to buy a product or service? From television commercials, radio ads, newspaper and magazine ads, emails asking you to join their list, to your server at the restaurant trying to up sell you on dessert or that fancy coffee—I’m willing to bet that you’ve encountered a great deal of sales and marketing tactics in the past day. It’s no secret that acquiring customers is critical to the bottom line of organizations and they spend big bucks on customer acquisition. But what about customer success? In the past 12 hours, have any companies reached out to ensure that your use of their product or service has solved your problems?

I’ll bet you’d say no.

In his book, “Never Lose a Customer Again” author Joey Coleman asks a great question:

“How much time, money, and energy do you spend trying to keep your customers?”

In most industries the “stars’ are the salespeople who bring in the business, not the ones who keep clients happy after the sale. And what happens when you don’t take exceptional care of your customers?

They leave.

Some companies talk about customer retention rates (even that term sounds so unwelcome, more like detention). Enter the relatively new term of Customer Success. There was even a Customer Success Summit recently in Toronto.

In the words of Perry Monaco at LinkedIn, Customer Success is:

“Building a long term relationship with your customer and demonstrating ROI in a way that matters to them.”

Long term relationship, in a way that matters to them?

Refreshing.

But before we talk about customer success, let’s look at a few bad experiences I’ve recently had:

When my mortgage was up for renewal, I received a letter from the bank that began, Dear Mortgage Holder…

There was nothing personal in the letter—I mean, come on, there’s software that can generate a first name on correspondence with little more than a click of the mouse—their note said nothing more than “just sign the attached two pages and we’re good to go for another 3 years.”

And guess when the last time the bank reached out to me?

Yep, last time I was up for renewal.

Fifteen years of collecting interest on my mortgage and not one phone call, one thank you note, or one question about if I was satisfied with their service.

And now you can’t even bother to address the letter that will make you lots of money to my name?

So I moved my business elsewhere, and then got my first phone call from the bank.

It was a “why did you leave?” message.

Really?

My mechanic does a better job of thanking me and I only get my oil changes there—they provide free coffee and say thank you after every visit. And their profit is peanuts compared to how much money the bank made from holding my mortgage.

And…

I’ve lived with type one diabetes for over twenty years, and have spent well over $20,000 on blood glucose test strips. I have been loyal to one brand for over 10 years.

The only two times I hear from them are:

1) When they are pushing a new product

2) When there is a recall

Still waiting for the “I know you have options, and living with diabetes is challenging, but we appreciate your business” card or phone call.

Unfortunately, the abuse of customers is quite common, and worst, like me, we often put up with it.

The great news for companies is that the bar is so low; it doesn’t take much to stand out from the crowd and make your customer feel appreciated.

Three things I know for sure:

1) Customers have many choices

2) Treating your customer well, is not only a good thing to do, but is the fastest way to consistent and increasing profits.

3) Very happy customers spread the word and become your free marketing team, and unhappy customers carry a double whammy……they leave and the tell many others why they don’t do business with you.

 

1) Start Well

Out of all the products and services out there, they picked YOU!  That’s amazing.

Make sure you let them know how much you appreciate their support, reassure them that they made a great decision and decide how you are going to start this long term relationship on a high note.

The important thing is to commit to doing something, and the more unique and personal the better.

The Dollar Shave Club does a fantastic job of welcoming new customers.  Right after I signed up, I received a fun email message “Welcome to the Dollar Shave Club – You Will Fit Right In”

It answered all my potential questions, listed the benefits of joining their cool club, thanked me for the purchase and did so in a fun and playful way.

 

2) Focus on Their Needs

See the world through the lens of your customer.  What does a typical day look like to them? What challenges do they face?  How could you make their day a little easier?

Many companies just focus on their own needs.

The two examples that immediately come to mind are Amazon and Netflix.  The “People that read the book/movie you purchased, also liked……”

I know it’s a tactic to sell more, but you know what, it works.  I can’t tell you how many of the books I have purchased that Amazon suggested, and continue to do so.

 

3) Show Appreciation

The number one reason great employees leave their jobs in a lack of appreciation.

Same holds true for customers.  Could you reach out and thank them for being a loyal customer?  The methods of doing this are numerous, but you have to want to do it.

Thank you are two of the sweetest words anyone can hear.  How many companies thank their customers?

From the simple and fun message that WestJet flight attendants say when landing, something to the effect of “You know you have options and thanks for choosing us, makes us feel special”

It would have been nice for the bank manager to pick up the phone ONCE in 15 years to thank me for the interest I send them every month for my mortgage.

Like I said, the bar is pretty low.

We live in a time of sharing, and sometimes over sharing.  And the two types of experiences that people share are: 1) Those that made them feel great and 2) Those that made them angry.

So my question to you is, what are you doing today to make your customer experience so good that they can’t help but share it?

Put Away Your Cape: Why Leader as Hero Doesn’t Work

In my work as an executive coach, I work with a lot of senior leaders. Busy people who have reached new heights in their careers after many years of hard work, rising through the ranks of their organizations. I find this work to be incredibly rewarding—as a coach I am able to help people become happier, healthier, and more productive in their work and lives. In my years doing this work, I’ve started to notice some common themes in the challenges my clients are facing. Many of them think that they need to be heroes for their teams—always offering solutions, always having the right answers, always swooping in to save the day when things get tough. The problem is that the approach of leader as hero often backfires—creating disengaged teams, and stressed out leaders.

What’s worse is that almost every client I work with thinks that they are the only ones who have this problem. They think that something is wrong with them—that every other leader has it all figured out. It’s ironic that this incredibly common challenge is perceived as being unique.

You know when you see a movie that is based on a true story and the opening frame says something like, “based on a true story, some names and events have been changed”? The following story is “based on many true stories” from real people I have met. If it sounds familiar, don’t worry. You’re not alone. And I’ll offer some tips to help you get out of leader as hero mode, and start living a more balanced, and ultimately, more productive life.

* * * * *

Meet Kate. Her resume is impressive, filled with accomplishments that she is proud of. After graduating with her MBA she has followed a steady path of advancement to her current leadership position. And now even more is expected of her, and she wants to rise to the challenge.

She is excited and a little bit nervous. The demands to her schedule can be overwhelming, the targets set for her and her team are aggressive, and there never seem to be enough hours in the day to get everything done. Her days are filled with endless meetings, conference calls, and a never ending onslaught of emails. Some days she feels like she is drowning.

And that’s just at work.

Although her New Year’s goal was to eat healthy and exercise, she hasn’t worked out in weeks. And when she is at home, she often isn’t really present, with her energy and focus on her phone and messages from work. Her husband and kids miss their wife and mom.

And worst of all, she feels that she can’t share how she feels with anyone. It can be really lonely at the top. She tells herself, “That’s just the way it is in the corporate world.”

Sunday Morning

Kate and her husband are enjoying a cup of coffee while reading the The New York Times. They really treasure the quiet time to enjoy each other’s company and finally having time to read. Kate has always loved reading, from fiction to the latest business books and magazines, but finds she can never really make the time.

Kate picks up her phone—she has wanted to check her email since she got up. She opens her messages and sees three “urgent” messages that she “must” attend to right away.

She tells her husband that she just needs to take care of a work thing and will be right back. She leaves the comfort of the things she loves—her husband, reading and relaxing with a tasty coffee—and disappears into her home office.

Before she knows it two hours has flown by and a relaxing Sunday morning has turned into an afternoon filled with work.

She tells herself and her husband, “this is just a busy time. It won’t be like this much longer.” He rolls his eyes. He’s heard this for years.

Tuesday at 3pm

Kate exits the conference room after another frustrating meeting with her team. They are behind on their Q2 goals and she is beginning to lose hope.

“Why can’t they just roll up their sleeves and get things done? If HR wasn’t such a pain I would start the process of firing a few of them.”

She returns to her office and opens up her email. 27 new messages have arrived in the last 90 minutes. 10 of them start with “Re:” and have at least six other people copied on them. Four start with “Urgent,” and one from her immediate boss starts with “We need to talk.”

That’s never good, she thinks to herself.

As Q2 is coming to an end, Kate once again finds herself doing it all alone to make sure her team meets their targets. “Why can’t they just get it?”

The morale on her team is at an all time low, and Kate doesn’t want to hear about their complaints. She leaves the office at 10, grabs a slice of pizza on the way home and stays up to 2 am cleaning up other people’s messes.

The truth is that Kate’s team has exceptional skills, and really like and respect each other. They used to plan a weekly lunch together, but not anymore. This is a team that Kate recruited and built before she took on her current senior leadership role. Somewhere between all the changes, pressure from Kate’s boss, and even more demanding targets, something changed. Despite their considerable skills and expertise, Kate’s team has started to disengage from their work, no doubt contributing to the frustrating results.

It started slowly, but devolved into Kate being the leader as hero—the person who gets stuff done, has all the answers, and ploughs through the difficult times. The trust in her team has eroded, as has their happiness, engagement, and results.

Currently, no one is winning.

* * * * *

Sound Familiar?

In my coaching and consulting practice, I work with a lot of people like Kate. People who feel overwhelmed with the pressures of leadership and fall back on destructive habits. Leaders who think they “don’t have time” to coach or guide their teams, and instead feel like they have to have all the answers. Each of these people think that they are struggling with unique challenges that no one else could possibly understand.

Protect Your House

“The truth will set you free, but it will probably piss you off first.”
– Thomas Leonard

All positive change starts with telling the truth.

If Kate ever made the time to have lunch with her best friend, she would likely say: “I’m tired, stressed out, my health is declining, I’m not sleeping at night, my family life is falling apart, I’m on the road to divorce, and my team is not happy with me. But the money is great!”

I hear similar stories from business leaders every week. In my experience, one of two things happens to the people who decide to make positive change:

  1. They experience a traumatic life event – health scare, death of a loved one, get fired, etc. And it wakes them up and reconnects them to their vision for the future.
  2. They ask themselves the question “what is the cost of doing nothing?” When faced with answers like: family break up, health problems, getting fired, or death, it can inspire change quickly.

Many leaders feel that they must sacrifice their personal life in order to be successful—yet in my experience, the exact opposite is true. Great leaders are grounded by prioritizing the things that are truly important in their lives. They understand that if they are happy and healthy in their lives, that they are able to better show up for their teams. And they understand the difference between productivity and busyness—carving out the time they need for deep thinking, and undistracted time.

Leader as Hero Doesn’t Work—For You Or Your Team

Many of the leaders I work struggle to let go of control and trust their teams. They think they need to have all the answers, and feel that they are letting their team down if they can’t swoop in and be the hero.

The problem? It doesn’t work—and can even backfire. This approach to leadership often results in micromanagement (which leads to disengagement), low morale, and a lack of accountability. If your team members feel that you will always offer the solution, they will eventually stop offering their ideas and start waiting for you to save the day.

When faced with a challenge, stop yourself from jumping in with a solution, and ask your team to brainstorm potential solutions. Resist the urge to save the day, and ask some coaching questions to encourage your team to think for themselves, and unpack the challenge they are facing.

Not only will you build their confidence and demonstrate that you value their opinions, you will start to create independence and accountability, meaning that over time, there will be fewer and fewer urgent issues for you to attempt to solve on your own.

Show Them – Don’t Tell Them

Employee engagement is critical to the success of any team, and it is essential that the leader be a model of what they want their team to be.

A few essential elements to having a productive and engaged team are:

  • Having a shared vision
  • Trust and respect for each other
  • Recognizing each other
  • Having empathy for each other’s life

One thing that all of these elements have in common is that you simply can’t write a memo or declare that they are priorities. These elements must be demonstrated by leaders in order for them to be more widely adopted, and to create a positive impact on team culture.

If you tell your staff that they don’t need to answer emails on the weekend, but you bombard them with emails during their downtime, they will take their cue from your actions, not your words.

I get it. Being an effective leader is hard work. It can be stressful, and when you’re stressed out, it’s easy to fall back on old habits, or to think “I’ll just do it myself.” You’re not alone in this approach. The problem is that thinking of yourself as hero for your team leads to burnout and disengagement—which in turn has a negative impact on results. Whether you’re new to leadership, aspiring to a leadership role one day, or a seasoned executive feeling a bit frustrated by your team’s results, learning to protect your house, let go of the idea of leader as hero, and model the kind of behavior you want to see from your team will help you all become happier, healthier, and more productive. Go ahead and put away your cape.

Eight Signs It’s Time To Hire A Business Coach

As a leader, you might think you should have everything figured out already, but this simply isn’t true. While all of us have our own talents, leadership skills are often something we have to learn along the way.

Enter the business coach. A business coach oversees and guides a manager or founder in starting, growing or developing a business. Like a sports coach, a business coach’s job is to help you develop the skills and resources you need in order to be successful.

Whether you’re overwhelmed, in need of advice, or want to see better results — below, eight members from Forbes Coaches Council explain the No. 1 sign to seek out a business coach.

1. You Are Overwhelmed

The No. 1 sign that it’s time for a coach is when you hit that feeling of being overwhelmed. You are overwhelmed by feeling like there is too much to do and too little hours in the day. You are overwhelmed by not knowing how much profit you are making at the end of your month. And you are overwhelmed because you don’t feel like you have control of your business, your employees or your vendors. — Terra BohlmannBrightBound

2. You Need a Confidant to Talk About Your Business With

Standing center stage holds an expectation for excellence. Who can you trust to speak without feeling exposed, or impairing your credibility or reputation within the organization or its clients? How would it feel to have a safe sounding board for honest feedback on your ideas and a partner to support you in the process of design, implementation and evaluation? Time to hire a coach! — Donna SpinaCoaching InDeed Inc.

3. You Intellectually Know What to Do But Don’t Do It

You need a coach when you “know” what to do but don’t implement. Lack of change typically occurs because you need to experience some paradigm shifts that require someone with an outside perspective challenging your assumptions and because you need someone to help you translate general principles into specific steps that you can take in your own life. — Elizabeth SaundersReal Life E

4. You Aren’t Getting the Results You Want

Sometimes we think we know the right path to take in our career growth or business growth, but we come to find it isn’t working. In order to get results we want, we may need guidance from someone who can see things from a more objective view, not a subjective view. Turning to a business coach can increase ROI, surge active engagement, and allow one to remove obstacles that are precluding results. — Wendi Weiner, JD, NCRW, CPRW, CCMThe Writing Guru

5. You Want to Save Time and Money

If you’re business or thinking about starting a business and thinking, “Wow, I could really use someone to help me figure out the best way to do this,” you should be considering getting a coach. Going the “lone wolf” route can cost much more in wasted time and money, and that can all be avoided by working with an excellent coach. — Tina DietzStartSomething/Tina Dietz Business Development

6. You Find Yourself Listening Only To Your Own Ideas

The No. 1 sign you need to hire a business coach is when you find yourself only listening to your own ideas. The higher up the ladder you are, the more people tend not to be honest and just comply. The same thing can happen to entrepreneurs because they have a tendency to work alone; they have the tendency to only hear their own ideas. We all need checks and balances. A coach can help you. — Dr. Cherry Collier, Personality Matters, INC.

7. You’re Feeling Stuck and Frustrated by Others

My clients often have a similar story reappearing in their lives in different ways. A great time to work with an executive coach is when you find yourself repeatedly frustrated by others around you at work, or if you can see that you have some unhealthy workplace dynamics, but you’re not sure how to really shift them. The unbiased perspective of a coach can be just what that executive needs. — Jo Ilfeld, Success Reboot

8. You Want Your Company to Grow

If you’re alive and breathing as an entrepreneur, you need a coach. I’m not only a coach, I’m also the CEO of a company of 40 people. I’ve hired half a dozen coaches, been the beneficiary of a couple dozen mentors, and worked with multiple therapists. Your companies only expand at the rate of your own growth. Find a coach you can rely on and get to work. The ROI is ridiculous. — Corey Blake, Round Table Companies

Become a Better Leader—The Power of Coaching

I was listening to my favorite sports radio station when I heard: “Up next we will discuss Jon Gruden’s new $100 million contract to coach the Oakland Raiders.” Did I hear that right? Yes indeed, the Raiders are making a 10 year, $100 million commitment to their new head coach. Talk about a ringing endorsement for the coaching profession.

Sports teams are seeing the value in having great coaches lead them: in hockey the Toronto Maple Leafs made a long term investment in Mike Babcock, and Phil Jackson was also well compensated for his work building championship teams.

It’s not uncommon for coaches to be paid more than the players they are coaching. And this makes perfect business sense to me. If you invest a lot in building a strong a group of talented players, why wouldn’t you invest in a coach to lead them to success?

With the Olympics underway, can you imagine any world class athlete not having a coach, or a group of coaches?

The same rings true in the corporate world. Your company invests a tremendous amount of resources in finding, engaging and keeping strong employees. But do we invest in the leaders who will be coaching them? Famous leaders like Jeff Bezos, Barack Obama, and Steve Jobs all had great coaches in their corner.

Take a moment right now to think about someone who made you better. They could be a mentor, boss, friend, teacher, or coach. The truth is that your best chance at becoming the greatest version of yourself is to be supported, and pushed, by someone else.

Think of a great coach as Sherpa or guide, there with you every step of the way. Seeing new possibilities and moving you into action. It’s someone in your corner to be brutally honest with, that listens, and customizes a plan of action to meet your needs.

Now I know what you‘re thinking: “what a surprise, a business coach is telling me why I need a coach.” Fair enough, it’s a bit like a car salesman telling you that you’d look great in a new car.

But the truth is I didn’t always have this belief: there was a time when I was actually resistant to getting real, honest feedback. I often lied to myself and said things like “I’m doing well, I’m good at what I do.” Or the worst lie, “I don’t need any help.” Like asking for help was a sign of weakness.

I was hiding, and that was not only hurting me, but everyone around me—personally and professionally.

Being honest with yourself is not for the faint of heart: it exposes you and makes you vulnerable. But it’s also where all the growth is.

Whether you hire a coach or not, there is tremendous benefit to adopting a coaching mindset. Embracing coaching principles can help you make your future bigger than your past.

Listed below are what I have experienced as the top three benefits on having coach. And if hiring a coach is not an option for you right now, for each point I will offer an alternative to get you started.

1) Asking Questions that Bring You Closer to Your Vision

In a previous post I talked about the Dan Sullivan question. I typically start each client engagement by asking this question::

“If we were meeting here one year from today, and you were to look back over the year, what has to have happened during that period for you to feel happy about your progress?”

Your answer is your vision.

Of course, it’s one thing to answer a question thoughtfully, and another thing to turn that vision into reality. When you’re heads down in your day-to-day, juggling meetings, putting out fires, and responding to a barrage of emails/messages, it can be difficult to align your actions to your vision. A good coach will help guide you toward your goals.

Asking for help is an act of courage and true leadership. A great coach will help you support your vision, move you into action, and hold you accountable. They are in your corner every step of the way.

Three months into working with a new client, she told me: “My team keeps asking what’s different with me. I’m happier, more productive, and smashing our goals. That’s when I knew the value of having a great coach!

If you’d like to be a more effective coach for your team, or just learn more about coaching, two great books to get you started are:

  1. The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier
  2. The Dan Sullivan Question by Dan Sullivan

2) Real Feedback and Unbiased Opinions

The higher you climb in most organizations, the lonelier it is. Many leaders I work with feel they can’t share what keeps them up at night, or admit that they don’t know the answer to everything.

With a coach they have permission to cut the BS and be honest. The experienced and unbiased perspective of a coach can expose your blind spots, and open you up to new possibilities.

Part of my process involves asking the following questions:

  • What are your goals for the year and quarter?
  • Where are you spending your time daily?
  • What skills are you exceptional at?

Then I work with my client to create a plan to increase the amount of time invested in the areas where they excel.

I was once working with a sales rep, “Joe,” in the field. We were driving to a client meeting when the national boss called. Joe put the boss on speaker and let him know I was in the car.

I knew the boss well and asked him a few questions: “What does success look like for Joe at the end of the month?” He answered with a sales target—to be expected. “What’s the number one thing Joe needs to do to reach that goal?” More one-on-one meetings, the clients love Joe, and love meeting with him. Ok, so: “If that’s the case, why are you making him spend more than half of his day on conference calls, filling out forms and other activities that take him away from the real goal?”

Silence. Followed by the response, “Good point, I hadn’t thought of that.

We hung up and Joe thanked me. He didn’t feel that he could speak to his boss so frankly, which is a big part of the problem. A good coach can ask you the tough questions to help you find the highest value activities for you and your team.

If you’re not ready to hire a coach, schedule time with a co-worker or friend to ask each other about your goals, how you’re spending your time, and what you are exceptional at. Commit to making one small change as a result of your discussion, and follow up with them in a few weeks.

3) Move Out of Your Comfort Zone

It’s hard for most people to admit, but I’ve noticed that many people would rather stay stuck (or even miserable), than make the effort to change their circumstances. I call this phenomenon “comfortable misery.” Let me explain.

A few years back I was asked to speak to a team that worked together. Morale was at an all time low. The manager hoped I could help get them out of their funk.

I started the session by asking two questions:

  1. What’s working well right now?
  2. What’s not working well right now?

When I asked the first question, everyone in the room started studying their shoes. Silence. So I moved quickly to question #2.

27 minutes and 6 flip charts of grievances later, we stopped. No wonder there was low morale! We circled their top 5 concerns, and started to discuss some small changes they could make to improve. They had some really great ideas.

But then one member of the group, visibly concerned, pleaded with me loudly: “Don’t come in here and start changing things!” This was right after 27 minutes of sharing what was making them miserable.

The group, or at least that one person in the group, was choosing to be miserable over making change.

Change is uncomfortable. You have to move out of your comfort zone and be willing to confront the ways that you are contributing to your own circumstances. This principle can apply to any area of your life: work, fitness, relationships, etc. A good coach can help you recognize when you are getting too comfortable in your misery and help you get unstuck, back in motion toward pursuing your true vision.

“There’s just one way to radically change your behavior: radically change your environment.”
Dr. B.J. Fogg, Director of Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab

Everything is an environment. The people you hang out with, your thoughts, your physical space, the books you read—all affect how you perceive and react to the world. If you don’t have a coach to help push you out of your comfort zone, making a deliberate change to your environment can help you overcome the challenges of of change.

One of the most fun ways to change your environment is to host a dinner party or mastermind group with friends, and have each friend bring someone new to the party. Come with an open mind and ask some great questions, and let the fun and magic happen.

I’ve had a business coach for the last 8 years, and I admit there were times that I couldn’t afford it. But they have made me better, uncovered my blind spots, moved me into action, and played a huge part in helping me create a life I love.

A coach can help you get your life back, become an even more respected leader at work and home, achieve results like never before, and better enjoy free time. All while escaping the hamster wheel of day-to-day activities many of us are stuck on.

If hiring a coach is not in the cards for you right now, there is tremendous benefit in developing a coaching mindset and playing with the exercises above.

The most important investment we can make is in ourselves, and I can’t quite believe I am citing lyrics from Fifth Harmony as life advice, but “Baby, I’m Worth It.”

Relationships that Work — Align Values to Find Perfect Fit

Think about the most enjoyable business relationships you’ve had. I am going to bet that you shared similar values, expectations, and more.

I have been happily married for over 18 years, so I don’t know that much about online dating sites. About ten years ago my goalie in hockey starting dating someone and it quickly became serious (they have since married). Over drinks after a game I asked them where they met. They sheepishly exchanged glances and whispered “online,” like it was some dirty secret. Since then many of my friends have found their life partners online.

When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. People with similar interests, values, and expectations for the future have a much better chance at long term success. Using the tools available to screen potential partners for common values and interests before investing time in meeting them is more than reasonable.

When we start having honest conversations at the beginning of a relationship (and of course, throughout the partnership), I really believe it serves both parties. Let’s share our beliefs and values upfront and it will save everyone lots of future frustration.

When I started my journey as an entrepreneur, I was just so happy to find anyone that would actually pay me for my services. It was like, they are going to send a cheque? Whoo hoo, awesome. To extend the online dating metaphor, it was the equivalent of accepting a date with anyone who said yes, without reading their profile or thinking about what I hoped to get out of the relationship.

The problem was that I was not a good fit for many of my clients, and they were not a great fit for me. And what happens when you stay in a relationship that isn’t working for either side? Nobody wins.

Think about the instances in business where each side has a tendency to withhold information. In the hiring process, if both sides avoid big discussions like salary expectations or frank conversations about the company culture, it extends the process unnecessarily and nobody wins. Or when you are hiring vendors or consultants, not understanding how they work or how they bill, and having unclear expectations, can lead to disastrous results.

One of the most influential business books that had a major and immediate impact on my business many years ago was Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port. It was a real game changer for me. In it, Port talks about developing your “Red Velvet Rope Policy.” Simply put, as a business owner, who are the clients you love working with, and who in turn love working with you? What traits do they have that you absolutely love and make them a great fit to work with? What are the deal breakers that clearly indicate a bad fit?

My goal here is not to waste a potential client’s time or mine, and that starts with getting to know each other a lot better. If we are not a great fit, no problem at all, we can continue our search for a more suitable partner. If we are, fantastic. Let’s start a conversation.

With that in mind here are my business turn ons and turn offs. I use this list to help me evaluate fit for potential clients, but a similar list can help you to determine potential fit for any new (or ongoing) business relationships:

Turn Ons:

Willingness to Try New Things
If you want new results you have to be willing to try new things—which also means that you have to be willing to fail from time to time.

They Love Their Customers and SHOW It
They actually have a meaningful relationship with their customer after the sale and genuinely care about their customer’s success. And they show it through their actions (not just their words).

They Invest in Their Employees
They care about employees and invest in them. That could involve a professional and personal development plan or coaching.

Turn Offs:

Too Many “Experts”
Don’t get me wrong, experience in an industry is great. But relying too heavily on expertise, or being unwilling to bring in fresh eyes can lead to a serious lack of new ideas.

Bureaucracy 
Having too many card carrying members of the CYA Club, or overly rigid decision making processes is an innovation and creativity killer.

Arrogance & Abuse of The Customer
This is one that really gets my blood boiling. Treating customers like a line item in a budget, assuming that you always know what’s best for your partners, or acting as though you’re more important than others is a quick way to send me running for the door.

As you enter into new professional relationships and partnerships, whether it’s hiring a new team member, bringing on a coach or consultant, or working with a new vendor, I urge you to write your own list of must haves and deal breakers. And at the start of a new relationship, ask people to share their own ideas and lists as well. It’s a clarifying exercise that can save a lot of time and energy down the road, and build a foundation for more productive relationships.

What is really boils down to for me is the power of having honest conversations right from the beginning of the relationship. The cost of not being honest upfront is wasted time, energy, and money.

Whether you meet a new partner (in business or in life) the “old fashioned way,” or connect online, the power of laying your cards on the table right from the beginning cannot be overstated. Understanding how your values align (or don’t) right from the start means that you save time and energy down the road, and allows you to build relationships that work.

Change Isn’t Cheap—Why I Stopped Doing “Free Lunch” Coaching

It starts with a text message or email saying: “Can we meet for coffee or lunch? I want to pick your brain on something.”

What this message really means is: “I am stuck and would love to get professional coaching from someone I respect and is really good at solving business problems. I would like this for the price of a coffee or lunch, and after I get your advice I will have no idea how to implement it, and will likely go back to the same thinking as before.

Hmm, let me check my calendar and see if I can fit you in.

Let me be clear, I love going out for lunch, coffee, or drinks—and talking about what challenges friends and colleagues are facing at work. Love it, when the relationship is one of mutual respect.

Encounters like this remind me of the saying: “your actions are so loud, I can’t hear what you’re saying.” On the one hand you are saying you value my time and coaching, but your actions show that you don’t really care about creating meaningful change.

Imagine if I called a professional sales rep and said, “Hey can you sell for me, and instead of a salary or commission, I’ll buy you lunch?” I’d be (rightly) laughed off the phone.

The brutal truth is that for many years I allowed this. I take full responsibility for creating this monster. But no more.

I am proud to call myself a business coach, and a pretty damn good one. I love working with my clients and they love the results and experience they get working with me.  

Coaching is a profession I have worked really hard at. I have invested a tremendous amount of money hiring my own coaches, and I would not be where I am today without their amazing guidance, expertise, and support.

Look at any successful athlete or business leader, and you can guess they have had—and continue to have—coaches. Check out any professional team and look at how many coaches they have.

The problem with getting free lunch coaching is: it doesn’t get results.

We want the ideas for free, and for someone to help us out in the moment of crisis, but not to actually follow through. Contacts reach out to me at the moment they have a problem, but without a plan to follow through, they abandon new thinking the moment the problem loses its urgency. When you invest in something, you’re going to be a lot more likely to follow through.

A business leader I deeply respect once ended a presentation with this story:

“Imagine the traditional American breakfast served at a diner, it’s usually bacon and eggs.” He showed a picture on the screen and said, “the chicken is interested but the pig is invested.”

Are you invested in creating lasting change in your organization, or simply kind of of interested? If you want meaningful change, you need to invest a meaningful ways.

Now, before I agree to meet with someone, I ask them to spend some time answering the following questions:

  1. Why did you reach out to me?
  2. Do you have a clearly defined outcome for you and/or your team?
  3. What are you stuck on?
  4. Are you the chicken or the pig (are you interested, or invested)?  
  5. What, if anything, have you tried so far?
  6. Think of a time in your life when you successfully solved a problem. What steps did you take?
  7. Have you invested in reading books, looking for resources, etc. on the topic?
  8. Do you really want change?
  9. How do you define meaningful change?

Getting clear on the answers to these questions reveals how committed a contact is to change. The answer to question five is particularly telling: if the response is “nothing,” or “reaching out to you for advice,” I know that they probably aren’t truly invested.

If you’re serious about making a change, for your organization, your team, or yourself, make an investment of your time and your energy (and yes, of your cash) to make it happen.

Here are three ways to get started:

1) Return to A Beginner’s Mind

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.” -Shunryu Suzuki

Very often when people encounter a roadblock, they seek the input of the people closest to them. Have you ever been in a “brainstorming” session at your office? How did it go? Granted there is some value in these sessions, but putting a group of “experts” together rarely brings any breakthrough ideas. The main reason is that everyone is looking through the same lens.

Can you think of a time when you saw a product or service and thought to yourself “It’s so simple, why didn’t I think of that?

Dollar Shave Club, Airbnb, Amazon, and Netflix are just a few examples of hugely successful companies that created a new model by returning to a beginner’s mind.

The easy way to get started is to clearly define your challenge, and ask people outside of your industry for advice—make it a game for them.

2) Ask Better Questions

In my spare time I run a program for fourth graders that have never played hockey before (believe it or not 9 out of 10 Canadians do not play hockey). When I work with the children there is never a shortage of great questions. Kids love asking questions and are naturally curious. Adults, on the other hand, unfortunately don’t ask nearly enough questions, and the questions we avoid are the biggest ones.

There is a great book called A More Beautiful Question. I highly suggest reading it.

Some of the great questions listed in the book for businesses to ask are:

  • What if our company didn’t exist?
  • What if we became a cause and not just a company?
  • How might we create a culture of inquiry?
  • Should mission statements be mission questions?
  • Why do smart business people screw up?

Take time with your team to answer these questions. And keep them handy—they’re great networking conversation starters as well.

3) Identify the Gap

Where are you now and where are you stuck? Where do you want to go (or, what is the ideal outcome)? What is the gap between the answers to these two questions? What resources or people can you enlist to assist in bridging the gap? Call them immediately.

I have a coaching client that is a Senior Executive for a company in the US. On a coaching call she said “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I will never have you come here and work with my team. They love the new me, full of creativity and new action, and they love the results. Why mess with that?”

I loved that comment, as she had clearly identified the gap between where she was and where she wanted to go—and I felt fortunate to help her bridge that gap.

Free Doesn’t Work

Over the years I have been asked by a number of friends if I can coach them. I said yes to everyone, free of charge of course, that’s what friends are for.

Although they all experienced some progress, it was nowhere near the results that my paid clients achieved.

We value what we invest in.

If you are invested in making serious change, show me, I’m all ears.

Behavior Change That Sticks


I’m a behavior change expert. But I didn’t always know how to describe myself.

I often find myself in new situations, meeting new people. Whether it’s with a new client I am working with, at a conference, or at a cocktail party, I love meeting new people. But for years I have struggled with the first question many people ask, the dreaded “so what do you do for a living?”

I guess it’s a North American thing. I much prefer questions like: “what are you excited about right now?” What do you love doing on the weekends?” “What topic can you talk about endlessly?”

I guess the reason why I didn’t like the first question was I never knew how to answer it. I was always jealous of the people who could clearly answer the question in one word: I’m a banker, lawyer, teacher, nurse.

I usually tried to be witty and say something like “depends on the day.” One day I am a keynote speaker, another day a coach or advocate.

Recently, I was at a retreat for business owners, the 2nd Annual Actionable Partner Summit. In one of the sessions we were asked to define our superpowers, or put another way, to answer the question, why do clients hire you?

Fantastic question that really got me thinking. After writing down a few words like trust, problem solving, getting results—it came to me. The core of everything I do is: changing people’s behavior to get them (and their team) measurable results.

Damn it, I am a behavior change expert and I never even shared that with others.

It really is at the core of everything I do, whether it’s coaching a client and moving them into action, changing the thinking and actions of a corporate team, or working with the children’s hockey program I run.

With that in mind here are three ways to kickstart behavior change for you and your team:

1) Ask Yourself Big Questions to Get Clarity

I strongly believe that the answers we get in life are only as good as the questions we ask. We all want to be heard and understood, yet a cardinal rule that is often broken in sales conversations is “listen more, talk less.” That can be challenging for someone like me that speaks for a living.

I have experimented with asking a variety of questions to clients, and an all time favorite comes from Dan Sullivan. The question is:

“If we were meeting here 3 years from today and you were to look back over that time, what has to have happened during that period, both personally and professionally, for you to feel happy about your progress?”

Asking someone this question is a gift to them. Most often the immediate response I get is “that is a great question.” This question provides the person an opportunity to really focus on what they want in the future, and gives them a brief vacation from the now. Immediately they can get a sense of if they are on the right track, or need to recalculate.

Clarity is what we want for ourselves and our organizations, and it is the critical first step in behavior change. Resistance to change is often the result of unclear goals.

2) New Environments = New Results

If you have read my previous posts you have heard me rave about the importance of changing your environments to change your results. No different here.

One of the world’s leading authorities on behavior change and one of the top corporate coaches in the world is Marshall Goldsmith, author of Triggers.

Goldsmith suggests looking at our environment as if it was a person. Can you think of a co-worker, past or present that just seemed to rub you the wrong way? I know I can. If I was going to be in a meeting with this person in the morning, I noticed how I was reacting long before the meeting started. In the car on the way there I was already getting defensive, upset and thinking of what to say to them. This is far from me at my best. The problem was not the person, but my reactions to them. When prompted by a good friend to think about that person through a different lens—the things I respected about them, how they made our team better, etc.—my response immediately changed and so did the relationship.

Remember, everything from our thoughts, beliefs, people we hang out with, and the physical places we inhabit, are environments. Think back to the last time you were travelling to a city for the first time. Did you see things with a fresh pair of eyes? Did you get curious and start asking questions? Or how about the last time you were talking to people outside your industry? I bet you came up with new ideas and perspectives.

Being intentional about changing your environments is key to changing your behavior.

3) Learn Less, Apply More

For many years I have been an avid reader of business books. I love learning new ways to do business from leaders from around the world. I could sound “smart” at a cocktail party, showing off how much I knew.

Problem was for many years I “knew” a lot, but didn’t follow through with behavior change from the lessons I learned. Knowing and doing are two very different things. We don’t have a knowledge problem, we have a taking action problem.

My advice: read less, apply more. When I learn something new of interest, I immediately ask “how can I can apply this?

Two years ago a good friend of mine told me: “I love going to events you host, and meeting such interesting people. I always walk away inspired and with new ideas, I just wish you hosted more events”

Interesting. So I asked her a few more questions and found out that she loved sharing and learning from people in other industries. She liked that she was talking to people who had a relationship with me, as she felt an immediate trust and bond.

So what did I do? I invited 10 cool people to my first ever group leadership program. The first steps were scary as hell—but 18 months later my clients love it and get results.

It’s funny, the clarity I got about answering the question “what do you do for a living?” came as a direct result of these three takeaways (and I didn’t even realize it). The group leader of the superpowers exercise started by asking us great questions like: “why do clients hire you?” “what is the outcome you produce?” “how do they feel about working with you?”

My answers came as a direct result of those questions, not to mention that I was in new environment, at a super cool conference centre meeting new business leaders. And finally, if they gave us a book on defining our superpowers and asked us to read it, I can honestly say I would not have gotten the same result. Learning more was not the issue, the action was where the result was waiting for me.

So next time you see me at a reception, please come over and ask me what I do for a living. I’m ready for you.

Inspire Innovative Thinking — Get Creative to Get Results

One of my favorite ways to start a presentation to a team of employees, whether it’s sales, marketing, customer service, or just about any team seeking new ways to inspire innovative thinking, is with the following exercise:

I ask everyone to write down the name of a company or product that they absolutely love, and are loyal customers to that brand. It should be a product or company that they spread the word about even though they are not on the payroll.

Go ahead and play along! Take a second to write down the name of a company that you absolutely love.

In seconds, you see people smile as they jot down their answer. Immediately, they are in a better mood.

One of my favorite companies is Porter Airlines based here in Toronto. It’s a little regional airline that just gets it. Yes you read that correctly: an airline gets it.

In an industry known for poor customer service, Porter treats everyone like a first class customer. From the little things like having employees that actually smile, to the free newspapers, coffee, cookies, wifi and much more in their private lounges. And to top it all off, they serve free alcohol on their flights.

Compare that experience to how you usually feel about a trip to the airport.

OK, back to the group of employees I am presenting to. We go around the room, and people can’t wait to share their answer, and to tell the group why they are raving fans of their favorite companies.

I record their answers on flip chart paper:

  • Outstanding customer service
  • They make me feel special
  • Exceptional quality
  • They are always innovating
  • They go above and beyond
  • They get me
  • They are quirky
  • They take care of my problems quickly

And the list goes on. What all these companies have in common is that they are creative, innovative, and are always evolving to create a unique and memorable experience for their customers.

I then step back and look at the long list, and ask “how many of these thing do you do here at Company XYZ?”

Silence. Awkward silence, where everyone suddenly gets very interested in looking at their shoes, and definitely not interested in making eye contact with me.

People recognize great companies when they see them, but often get stuck when it comes to nurturing those qualities in their own business. Furthermore, with the rapid pace of constant change, they get bogged down in keeping up with daily operations, and lack the time and bandwidth to find innovative ways to create exceptional customer experiences, or inspire innovative thinking in their teams.

Here are my top tips to help you inspire innovation, and get better results:

Borrow Ideas from Other Industries

Often we hang out mostly with people from our own industry. The problem is we see the world through a very similar lens. Bankers think like bankers, lawyers think like lawyers, you get the idea.

To get started, simply copy the exercise that I shared in the introduction. Think through the answers in relation to a challenge you are currently facing. If you’re suffering from slow customer response times, look to businesses in other fields that excel in that area. A high customer churn rate? Figure out which businesses inspire loyalty, and look for inspiration in their services. Do some research and ask around. Make a list of your team’s five favorite companies (bonus points if they aren’t in your space), and brainstorm how you think they would handle your current challenges.

Start in a Small Way

There is a great book called The Spirit of Kaizen by Jakob Browning, that discusses the anxieties and challenges that often accompany change.

Often when we hear the words “innovation,” or “creativity,” our minds draw a blank. Maybe you think back to high school art class and think “I’ve never been creative,” or you just don’t know how to start the process of being innovative. I love how this is explained in the book:

“When you need to make a change, there are two basic strategies you can use: innovation and kaizen. Innovation calls for a radical, immediate rethink of the status quo. Kaizen, on the other hand, asks for nothing other than small, doable steps toward improvement.”

Sounds good, but how do we start with small steps? For example, in your next meeting, ask the group questions like: “What is one thing we can do today to make our customers feel special?” Or, “what is one bottleneck or roadblock that we can remove?”

“For reasons that nobody truly understands, the brain cannot reject small questions. Any small question, especially one you ask repeatedly, prompts your brain to begin its own Google search.”

One client I work with asked this question to his team: “What one thing we could eliminate today that would make your day?” Each of the six people on the team wrote down their answer on an index card. Five out of the six had a version of the same answer: “fewer meetings that require the entire team to be present.”

The team leader was surprised that nobody had ever mentioned this before. It opened up a real conversation with the team, and they started coming up with solutions. In a matter of ten minutes, they made a small change and piloted a program that only had one team member on each call. Six months later, the pilot is the new way of doing business for their team and everyone is loving it—and getting better results.

Only when we start asking the “small” questions can we experience BIG change.

Rethink the Lunch and Learn

Don’t get me wrong, two things I love are food and learning. Don’t ditch the concept, just rethink your approach. There are plenty of ways to combine eating and learning that don’t include listening to someone drone on from the front of the room. Here are a few ways to upgrade your next learning event. 

1) Host a TED Party

I am a big fan of TED talks, and talk about a library of choices. I just went on the site and found 215 talks on innovation! Best of all the talks are free to view, and are each less than 20 minutes.

Pick a talk, create an event (serving food helps), watch and have discussion questions ready for after the talk. Super easy, fun, and productive.

2) Take a Field Trip

Remember back in school how excited you were about taking a field trip? You got to leave behind your school and routines for a day. Changing your environments changes your thinking and opens you up to new possibilities.

Where you go is entirely up to you. I once worked with a team in NYC and suggested the idea of going to the American Girl Store on 5th Avenue, and brought some guiding questions like:

  • What was your first impression?
  • What do they do well?
  • What is one thing we could learn and apply immediately?

Even a short trip can inspire innovative thinking, and help you make connections that aren’t evident from your usual workspace.

3) Talk to Me About Having Better Conversations at Work

In just over an hour a month, I can help your team develop a learning culture that is embedded in the context of your daily operations, provides micro learning when you need it most, and results in sustainable behavior change. Sound too good to be true? Give me a call and I’ll tell you how.

We all want our organizations to succeed and thrive, and to inspire the kind of loyalty and enthusiasm that I see when I run my exercise discussing the companies that people love.

As the business landscape continues to undergo rapid and constant shifts, we can no longer rely on stability in the market (if we ever could), and need to be thinking creatively and strategically to stay ahead of the shifts.

Use these approaches to inspire innovative thinking with your team. What other creative tactics do you have for approaching problems with an innovative mindset?

Take Immediate Action, Or Get Left Behind

I’ve learned that the lunch invitations I receive are often in direct correlation to the challenges my clients are immediately facing. An urgent, challenging issue for my client, usually means an urgent lunch invitation for me.

Six months ago I received one of those “can we meet for lunch in the next few days” requests, followed almost immediately by “I will meet you wherever and whenever it works for you.” I sensed this must be a BIG urgent need.

Two days later we met, and my client shared that her team of eight people were feeling stuck, frustrated, and having a hard time meeting their numbers. The heat was on from their funder, and if they didn’t meet their numbers their pilot project was in danger of not getting renewed.  

Nothing moves people into immediate action quite like necessity. When the danger of NOT doing anything is strong, people are willing to try anything.

As I asked questions and listened, I thought there was great cause for hope. Her team was talented, they were just in a rut and feeling stuck.

My client was open and ready for change.

I developed a customized program to address their particular needs, get them excited again, and move them into immediate action.

In a few short sessions that focused on team communication and problem solving, they felt renewed hope, developed new ideas, followed up, and implemented several new initiatives. Within three months their numbers dramatically increased, their energy and enthusiasm returned, and yes, their funding got renewed.

This is the power of taking immediate action.

I recently read a fantastic book my Mel Robbins called The 5 Second Rule. I love the clarity and simplicity of her powerful message. In her words the 5 second rule is simply:

“The moment you have an instinct to act on a goal you must 5-4-3-2-1 and physically move or your brain will stop you.”

The book is based on extensive research, and includes lots of successful examples for why moving into immediate action is powerful. In my experience working with individual clients or corporate teams I’ve learned that nothing destroys goals and results like inaction. I feel so strongly that the tagline on my website (and even on my pens) is: “Talk is Good, Action Is Better.”

Yes, it is easier and more comfortable to not take action and keep doing what you have always done. And the biggest excuse—and by “excuse” I mean lie—is “it’s not a good time.”

It’s never a good time. Remember it’s your goal, and if you are not willing to take immediate action then I call BS.

Here are three tactics to help move you into immediate action:

Be Honest With Yourself

As Dan Sullivan famously says, “all progress begins with telling the truth.”

What is the real reason you are not taking action? If it’s fear, I totally get it—fear freezes most people. Be honest with yourself—is your goal something that you really want, or is it something you just like to say you want?

Is employee retention important to your company? How about developing a learning culture? Then it’s time to make a commitment to both. Show me it’s important, don’t tell me it’s important. Star employees leave when they feel there is no growth. Make a plan of action, identify the first step and take it.

In my experience, the only thing that scares people more than the prospect of failure is the prospect of success. Be 100% honest with yourself.

Take Immediate Action

That means right now, like stop reading this and take the first step. I will wait. Stop thinking about it and just do it.

Many years ago I was in an all day sales seminar with about 200 other people. Just before lunch, our instructor asked us if the group was up to a challenge. Most hands went up. He then said the challenge was to get at least 10 business cards from strangers on the street over the course of our lunch hour (and we weren’t allowed to get the cards of the people attending the seminar). He asked if everyone was clear on the challenge, then said…..off you go.

I made my way out of the room, having no idea how I was going to accomplish the task. I took a seat on a bench and spent 2 minutes to plot out a strategy. My strategy was:

  1. Don’t approach anyone who is alone (reducing the creep factor).
  2. Be honest and tell them why I was doing this.
  3. Ask for what I wanted, in this case their business card.

I got up and headed out of the conference center onto a busy downtown street. Lucky for me, it was lunch hour and there were lots of people out. Immediately, I spotted a group of four professional women on their lunch break, waiting to cross the street. Feeling a little nervous and unsure, I reminded myself that I only had 47 minutes left to complete the task (I so did not want to be the only one who didn’t succeed).

So I approached, was honest, and asked for their cards. Immediately two of the four started to reach into their purses, while the third mentioned that I should take a short walk with them to the restaurant, where they would be meeting thirty colleagues to celebrate a co-worker’s birthday.

Jackpot. I ended up getting 23 cards and had enough time to grab my own lunch.

If I had been given three days to accomplish the task, I would have retreated into “thinking” mode and missed a golden opportunity.

Define the Cost of Doing Nothing

If your goal is personal or professional, you have already made a decision that it is important to you. You likely already thought about the benefits of accomplishing your goal, but have you identified the cost of not taking action?

What are the risks of doing nothing? List them. For organizations and team leaders, the risks can be staggering—if you’re not adapting to shifts in the business landscape, you can be certain that your competitors will happily scoop up your market share.

One company I am very familiar with would host a semi-annual, week long meeting for their sales team. The agenda for each meeting was almost always the same, you know the drill: President’s Update, followed by reviews from each area of the country, followed by marketing updates, you get the idea. Having the same people give the same presentations yielded—yes, you guessed it—the same results (or declining results).

And this would go on for five days! Innovation, creativity, new strategies and follow up were dearly missing. Most meetings ended with everyone nursing new hangovers—what’s the ROI on that?

In the last six months this company has lost numerous key staff members and are struggling to fill the vacancies, while profits are declining and morale is at an all time low. It’s a steep price to pay for doing nothing new.

Far too often, I hear from clients and colleagues that they feel stuck—and yet without concrete steps to change their circumstances, they are certain to remain in their current state. If you’re feeling the effects of inaction, I challenge you to use the 5 second rule—in the moment that inspiration strikes, get up and take the first step toward achieving your goal.

One of my favorite quotes is by the great #99, Wayne Gretzky: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

What are you holding back? It’s time to take your shot.

Does Your Company Really Want to Build a Learning Culture?

Far too often, I work with clients who love the idea of building a learning culture, but who aren’t taking any steps to create one. They’ve seen the dismal reports on levels of employee engagement, accepted the prevailing wisdom that learning and development opportunities are key drivers of engagement and retention, and then… they get stuck.  

Before starting a relationship with a client I always arrange a discovery session, basically it’s a chance for me to ask questions, listen, and see if we are a good fit for each other.

It’s kind of like the business version of match making. I strongly believe it’s the best way to start a potential relationship. The questions I ask usually include:

  • What does your reality currently look like?
  • Where would you like to go? What does success look like?
  • What challenges are getting in the way of your vision?
  • What are the strengths of your team?

Very quickly I get a clear sense of their vision and challenges, and if there is a potential connection. If I feel that the client is a good fit for me, one of my follow up questions is:

“On a scale of one to ten, how important is it to your company to build a learning culture?”

I usually get answers ranging from seven all the way up to ten—well above average. Interesting. I follow up with something along the lines of: “That’s amazing. What are you doing to get that score?”

Awkward silence. I try to ride this out, and wait until they start speaking. Often, it’s some version of: “Well, we had a speaker at our annual sales meeting, bought everyone a copy of the book… that pretty much blew our budget and available time… so…” They clearly know that their efforts aren’t capable of making a meaningful change in their culture.

Sound familiar? While just about every executive I know agrees that learning is an important element of a strong culture, very few of them are taking actual concrete steps to ensure that continuous learning is happening within their organizations.

Here are my top three tips to start to build a learning culture, right now. Don’t wait for your next annual all-staff meeting, or for that big industry conference. Start today, and the results will roll in sooner than you think.

1) Begin With the End in Mind

Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People was one of the first business books I read, and it’s status as a classic is well-earned—the advice holds up almost 30 years later.

Get clear on what success looks like for you and your team at the end of the year or quarter. What does your team need to do to meet their targets? Are there any gaps in their skills or expertise that need to be addressed? Think about “soft skills” in addition to technical requirements—does your team need to improve their ability to collaborate, or increase their agility when responding to challenges? Do you think investing time on innovative thinking, communication or teamwork is important? Define what success looks like, and reverse engineer your goal, starting with the end in mind.

I use this principle when I have a potential client. I ask them to imagine we are meeting again a year from now, after we’ve achieved an unequivocal success, and resolved the issue they brought me in to address. What does that meeting look like? What has happened to make them feel that we’ve been successful? Their answer provides me with valuable information I can use to reverse engineer a learning and development program.

2) Define Your First Step

Ever been to a “brainstorming” meeting where a challenge is given to the group and everyone comes up with a list of ideas? What happens next? Usually nothing. Take that same meeting, add 10 minutes, and ask the team lead to select one item on the list. Assign a first step toward implementing your one item. Now you’re cooking.

Too often, people try to tackle big issues that are tricky to define. They want to improve employee engagement, or increase innovation, or become more agile. Those are excellent goals, but they are too big and too nebulous to really get started. Start with a small pilot to address a particular need your team faces. If your goal is to build a learning culture, your first step might be scheduling 15 minute 1:1 meetings with each member of your team to discuss their learning and development goals. It might be to circulate one article that is relevant to the team, and scheduling a time to bring everyone together for a discussion. Clearly define what the first step will be.

3) Make Learning a Regular Part of Your Schedule

One of the challenges of starting something new is making it a regular part of your schedule. Remember in January you said you were going to get up thirty minutes early to exercise every day? Are you still doing it?

Change is challenging, so make it as easy as possible. If you have a regularly scheduled weekly or monthly meeting, attach a learning component to it. Put it in your calendar and on the agenda. Too often, I see organizations rely on one-off training sessions to provide all of their learning for teams. But learning doesn’t happen that way. We learn best in small doses that can be immediately applied to our lives. Focus on incremental, consistent changes, and you’ll start to see lasting results.

You don’t need to be a learning and development expert to see positive impact—tap into the expertise of the team and encourage them to teach each other. Find out what people are reading, watching, and listening to, and use that content to spark a discussion that applies to the work your team does. Begin with a clear vision of what success looks like, clearly define your first steps, and put your calendar to work for you.

Last but certainly not least: model the behavior you want to see. How are you learning and growing as a leader? What steps are you taking in your own professional development? Share those actions with your team! You will signal that learning is a priority within your organization, and your team will follow suit.

Too often, leaders love the idea of improving their culture, but fall short of taking the required actions. It’s time to get unstuck, to take control of the changes we want in our organizations, and to build a learning culture that teams will need to keep pace with the rapid shifts in the business landscape.