Turning Your Employees Into Owners
Phone: 314.283.1589

As leaders I think there is very little we can do today to impact today’s results. I would submit that leadership is managing change and preparing for the future. Leaders need to be thinking one, two or more years into the future. Our job is to prepare the company for the future opportunities and challenges.

This, according to Steve Jobs, is the heart of his approach to making decisions:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path” – Stanford Commencement Address, 2005.

In succession planning, our goal is to create as many successful paths to accomplish our objectives. Teaching our leadership team to manage into the future is a critical skill. I suspect as a CEO you have a well-developed gut to anticipate the future. How are you transferring the gut to provide your leadership the ability to make knowledgeable decisions regarding the future? If you are not developing this skill set in them – do you have a horse only you can ride?

Like it or not, much of life is a negotiation. Living in a democracy as we do, many of us just assume that compromise is as natural to negotiation as it is to politics.  One master negotiator thinks otherwise. 

Chris Voss started off his career as a street cop in Kansas City, MO and became the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator.   In his line of work, “splitting the difference” and other forms of compromise mean you might get two hostages back alive instead of three.  Not a good outcome.   

Mr. Voss’ book Never Split the Difference” is a profound guide to the realities of negotiation based on the core idea that the situation is the adversary, not the person sitting across from you at the negotiating table and maintains that for most executives, “everything you’ve learned about negotiation is wrong.” 

If you don’t read anything else in the coming year to make you a better executive, be sure you read this book.   In addition to the book, check out this interview with Mr. Voss


NYU professor and marketing guru Scott Galloway has penned a book that explores the current and future impact of a group of companies that many call the “new four horsemen of the apocalypse” because of the cataclysmic effect they are having on many industries and many business models.


Galloway’s book The Four: The Hidden DNA of Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google is a well-researched, well written and well thought out book about the impact of these four players on the current and future economy and upon both B2C and B2B companies.  This book should be read by everyone because your business and personal lives will both surely be affected by the new Four Horsemen even more than they already have.


If you prefer movie to a book, this 48 minute video made by Mr. Galloway just before the book was published will convey much of its major points.


Required reading and required viewing!


Two of the most important decisions business leaders make are hiring and firing employees. Businesses succeed or fail largely because of their people, and the costs of having the wrong person in the job, or of having to hire and train for the same person over and over can be very high. So let’s take a look at how to make major personnel decisions intelligently and efficiently. We’ve already looked at hiring and educating, so now let’s look at the process for letting someone go.

In my career working with small businesses, I have seen many leaders make hiring and firing decisions based on emotion. Too often, I see people hire those they like and fire those they don’t without considering the employee’s actual value to the company. Conversely, many leaders delay letting go of unproductive employees for way too long because they feel bad for the employee. None of these mistakes are any good for anyone. Just as you need clearly defined hiring and educating processes, you need a clearly defined process for making an employee available to industry.

Define Success—and Failure–Clearly

A clearly defined metric of success makes it easier to get across to new employees exactly what you want. The other side of that principle is that you need to communicate your minimum standards clearly. What happens if someone fails to deliver? Under what circumstances will you let someone go? You want to avoid giving the impression of having fired someone for personal reasons. At the same time, you shouldn’t spend excessive time and money trying to turn around problem employees who are not going to get better. A clearly defined minimum standard and a consistent termination process ensure that any necessary changes proceed quickly and fairly.

Don’t Confuse Tolerance with Empathy

Empathy is good, even necessary, but putting up with unacceptable behavior because you feel sorry for the employee is not. Termination by a thousand cuts is not a gift. Delay often does more damage to the organization and prevents the individual from moving on and finding a more appropriate place to work.  When a change needs to be made, put a plan in place that focuses on the needs of the organization and stick to the plan.  Hope is not a strategy!

The truth is you can’t change anybody, but that does not keep most of us from trying. Occasionally, you can get someone to turn around, but it’s rare. On average, 17% of a supervisor’s time is spent managing poorly performing employees. Do you really want to spend that much of your time and energy with people who aren’t doing their jobs—and not supporting your champions? For the remedial employee, focus on accountability, with weekly standup meetings, for a maximum of 90 days. After that, if the situation hasn’t improved, it probably isn’t going to.

Act with Honor

Obviously, make sure you have the legal details covered and ready to go before you terminate someone’s employment. You do not want to be sued. But being ethically sound is just as important. Change needs to be implemented honorably, not emotionally. Use the golden rule; treat others as you would like to be treated.

At the end of the day, your business is not just a place of work, but also a community. Who belongs to your community is obviously critically important, but so are the processes by which people enter and exit the group. If your top employees are saddled with slackers who should have been fired long ago, or if they feel that people are let go capriciously or without due consideration, they won’t want to stay. You need the company to feel like a professional home, a place people feel comfortable, and that means making sure it is the kind of community you want to be part of, too.

Two of the most important decisions business leaders make are hiring and firing employees. Businesses succeed or fail largely because of their people, and the costs of having the wrong person in the job, or of having to hire and train for the same person over and over can be very high. So let’s take a look at how to make major personnel decisions intelligently and efficiently, starting with the hiring process.

Hiring the wrong person, or failing to properly train the right person, can be expensive; Bad hire costs can be 30% of annual compensation. And yet, 46% of new hires fail. Only 19% are outstanding successes.

A big part of the problem is that most people don’t really know how to hire the talent they need. In my experience, most hiring decisions are made based on knee-jerk reactions and assumptions, not through careful assessment of the candidate’s qualifications. The other issue is that most organizations lack an effective way of on-boarding new hires, so some people who could have been excellent employees don’t work out. You can bring in a consultant to take care of your hiring for you, or you can develop your own process. In either case, establishing, maintaining, and using a clearly defined hiring and training process can dramatically increase your success rate and reduce your costs.

Define Success First

When defining a position, go beyond the technical characteristics found on the resume. Do you want someone who is innovative, or someone who is happy to follow procedure? Do you need a gregarious leader or a self-motivated independent worker? Do you need someone who can think months or years into the future, or does this job require only planning for short timeframes?

It is these qualities, more than anything else that will determine the success or failure of the employee. There are a variety of assessment tools available that can help you quantify and measure behaviors that will align with your requirements for the position. If you have an exceptional individual in the role, use him or her as a guide in defining your expectations for the next hire.

Prepare for the Interview

Ahead of the interview, ask the candidate to complete an assessment questionnaire. Formal assessments don’t make the decision for you, but they do prepare you to ask better questions during the interview. For example, I once interviewed a woman who had years of experience with the financial software package we were using at the time. I was in seventh heaven, thinking she was perfect for the job. But her assessment showed that she loved social interaction and hated repetitive tasks. The job she was interviewing for was largely solitary and extremely repetitive. Based on the assessment, I was able to ask her focused questions about what kind of work she really wanted. Ultimately, we both agreed she wasn’t a good fit for the position.

Prepare the New Hire for Success

“Onboarding” is the process of bringing a new hire into the company and helping the person really become a member of the team. Onboarding includes formal education but goes beyond it, often lasting about a year. Many companies neglect onboarding and either leave new employees to figure it out on their own—which sets them up for failure—or assign someone to try to communicate everything verbally. Extensive verbal education is very time-consuming and many people do not learn well that way in any case.

Think about what information the new person needs and how it should be communicated. How will you introduce the culture of the organization, as well as the skills necessary for that particular position? Remember that not everyone learns or even thinks the same way and that the same training process may not work equally well for everyone; consider carefully where doing things your way is a job requirement and where you should really be willing to bend to accommodate an employee. When I used to travel a lot for business, I would usually take the new hire along. Very quickly I got a read on their work ethic, presentation, communication, and style, while they got the benefit of seeing me in front of clients and quickly learned the brand and value proposition.

Consider what the Candidates Are Looking for

Remember that just as you are thinking about which candidate will fit your business, the candidates are considering whether you will fit them. You need to make sure your business appeals to the kind of employee you want. If all you are offering is a job with a paycheck, your more talented people will leave when they get a better offer. You’ll get stuck with the folks who don’t have anything on the ball. It is in your best interest to create a company where people want to stay, a professional home, rather than just a job.

This is Part 1.  Part 2 shall be published shortly 4/30/2016

Ardent Group recently surveyed 134 small to medium sized companies throughout North America to determine the use of well-established business tools in operating a company.  63% reported having completed a strategic plan in the last 2 years.  42% have completed a customer survey and 48% have surveyed their employees in the last two years.  55% have a key metric dashboard.  Of those firms with a dashboard, 89% share budgets, 88% share quoting volume, 92% share sales, 93% share revenue and 88% share margin.  71% of firms responding report having a bonus program.  Of those with a bonus program 43% have a portion that is discretionary, 62% tie bonuses to individual performance and 67% tie bonuses to company performance.  63% of businesses report having a succession plan with 23% intending to sell to a third party and 41% intending to sell to an insider.  35% indicate a process is in place for business leaders to become owners.

If you have not participated in the survey, we encourage you to do so by clicking on the below link.


I have the privilege of knowing the leaders of many successful family businesses; I have also been one myself.  Passing down the leadership of a successful company can be a great opportunity for the next generation, and I’m glad I got a chance to work with and get to know my father in that way. But family businesses do not always work out well. Lines can get blurred, and sometimes people go to extremes, pushing children into or out of the business. A lot of people are understandably reluctant to mix family with work. I simply suggest that you take the time to discuss and consider all the issues before making your decision.

My father initially discouraged me from joining his company. He saw that I was finding success on my own and knew I could continue doing so. Many parents take the position that a family business is not an option—they feel that each generation should start from scratch and find its own way. Even those who want to give it a try find that family complicates business leadership.  How do you instill a strong work ethic, pride of accomplishment, and self-sufficiency in future generations?  How do you negotiate the boundaries between the professional and personal relationships? What do you do if the offspring you want to join the family business do not want to? What happens if the eager family member can’t or won’t do a good job? Is the business really a family asset to financially support current and future generations or is it simply your job?

Those who are ready to seriously address all these questions and more will be able to help their offspring avoid substantial startup risk. Joining a family business may allow the next generation to have more influence on their work schedules, location, and the team that they work with.  But it isn’t an easy path. Based on my experience, it often means working harder and longer that you would in any other company–for me, working with my father meant a lot of time spent in airplanes and hotel rooms. For a family business to be successful, the next generation must have the determination and sheer willpower to forge ahead—and the current generation will have to figure out how to pass on their institutional knowledge and business savvy. Together the family must find ways to maintain those characteristics that make the business a success while managing the changes that new leadership and new challenges will require going into the future.

Transitioning the family business to the next generation is a gift.  The family business can create opportunities and carve out destinies.  It can result in pride of authorship through creating and selling a product or service that makes a difference.  It allows you to stand up for what you believe in and lead through example.  It allows you to have a positive impact on yourself, your family, your team, your community and those around you.  91% of all American work for someone else—but the family business can provide your children a fast lane into the 9% that lead others.  This gift is not about joining a country club or getting things handed to you. It is about hard work, integrity, responsibility, and about making decisions that can impact hundreds of lives.

I would submit that building on the success of the current generation’s business and using it as a spring board may be the harder option, but can result in greater opportunity and accomplishment.  Neither generation should dismiss this opportunity. It is a viable option that can positively impact all involved.


Recently, Tom Foster introduced me to a tool based on the research of Eliot Jacques—whose premise was that people differ in the time spans across which they can anticipate and plan for change. A good definition of leadership is managing change, so these time spans have a big impact on the type of leadership role a person can occupy.

Like a lot of business leaders, I used to think I had some kind of God-given ability to identify which individuals would do well in the organization. But even at the best of times, only about 60% of my hires really worked out like I expected them to. Looking at resumes and doing interviews just wasn’t giving me the information I needed to accurately predict how people would perform in the job.

Eventually, I looked for ways to do hiring better. One popular approach was formal assessment tools so I could get a better idea of applicants’ skill-sets. Basically, I was trying to clone people. I’d look at the attributes of a person who was doing a really good job and then look for someone else with a similar profile.

For example, I remember interviewing an individual for a comptroller position. They had years of experience with this really unusual software we were using. I thought I’d won the lottery when I saw that resume come across my desk. How could it not be a perfect fit? Fortunately, I listened to good training and policy and dug a little deeper. Based on a profile assessment, I found out that they didn’t like repetitive tasks and didn’t like working all day in an office. This was contrary to what I had thought I knew about them and contrary to the needs of the position. This information allowed me to ask some new and better questions.

As it turned out, they hadn’t been a comptroller before. Instead, they had been training other people on the use of the software, always moving from location to location. So they didn’t really have the experience I was looking for–and when I told them more about the position, they admitted it didn’t sound appealing.

Hiring the right person often depends on asking the right questions. That in turn depends on finding new and insightful ways to think about what you actually need from an employee for a given position.

For example, some people can really only think a couple of weeks ahead. It’s not that they don’t know the future is coming, it’s not that they aren’t smart; it’s that they’re focused on the immediate. They might be very talented with production or customer service, any kind of position that involves responding quickly and well to the current situation. They may not be able to do as well with management tasks, such as hiring new personnel, that have to be initiated weeks or months ahead of time. For that, you need somebody who can look farther down the road and can anticipate the need for change.

Generally, the higher up the chain of command you are, the greater the time span you need. If you’re drafting business strategy for the entire company, you really need to be thinking about ten years ahead—or more. Very few people have the ability to do that.

This kind of planning ability is not related to experience or education. It’s part of a person’s thinking style. That doesn’t mean that someone with a very short time span for planning is doomed–it is possible to improve your planning ability to some extent, or to simply learn coping skills to get around the problem. But a person is just not going to be able to move from one end of the scale to the other. If you’re hiring for a leadership position, you need to look for a candidate who can demonstrate an ability to anticipate as much of the future as the position requires.

A job applicant is not going to be able to tell you straight out what their time-span is. It’s not the type of thing people are normally aware of. And, as with all other assessment tools, this isn’t something that can make the hiring decision all by itself. You still have to look at resumes and skill-sets and expectations for work-place culture and everything else. Each aspect of the process still has to be seen in context. Time spans are simply another lens, a way of looking at the requirements of a job and the abilities of an applicant.

But it’s a powerful lens, one that you need to make the right hiring decision reliably.

Four Requirements for Hiring:

  1. Capability: match level of work to time span
  2. Skill: technical, knowledge, practice
  3. Interest: passion, value
  4. Behavior: habits, attitudes








As a business leader are you working yourself into or out of a job?

In 1996, the CEO of Texas Instruments died on a business trip. The press reported after a dramatic, successful turnaround during his tenure, he left the company with a strong management team and a wealth of capable people. This CEO prepared his company for the unknown, and with his passing no significant change in stock price or operations was expected by the markets.

As a business leader, are you preparing your company for the future?  As a business leader you are responsible for the future of the organization even if you are not there. One CEO commented that he tries to make only 15 decisions a year and leave the rest to his management team. He chooses to focus intently on the strategic path with a 10 to 20 year horizon. While this may be considered unusual, it does illustrate the need not to confuse the urgent with the important.  The urgent is putting out today’s fires; the important is laying the foundation for tomorrow’s success.

These are your responsibilities as a business leader:

Vision:  Big Picture, Looks Ahead, Blue Ocean Thinking, Set Course

Mission:  Establishes Organizational Mission

  • Guides organization through leadership
  • Sets priorities
  • Drives tactical execution
  • Aligns corporate principles and values with tactics and tools
  • Head cheerleader

Organizational Values and Philosophy:

  • Sets values, tone, standards, culture and integrity of organization

Organizational DNA

  • Builds capacity through others
    • Gets the right people on the bus, gives them the best possible tools and information to execute their role in a timely, informed, and accurate manner
    • Everyone is paid to think
    • Coach / Team Builder: Celebrates and acknowledges successes
  • Restlessness:  Constantly focused on moving forward and accountability
  • Risk taker, eliminates road blocks, final decision maker
  • You can delegate authority but not responsibility. The business leader is ultimately responsible for the successes and failures of the business.

Captain of the Ship

  • Defines organizational structure, allocates resources and right sizes the organization.
  • Track business environment and trends
  • Has the pulse of investors, customers, and vital negotiations
  • Develops strategic relationships and alliances
  • Mediator, negotiator, judge, parent

The business leader does not do what another member of the organization should be doing. They should not get involved in the operational minutia, becoming the chief fire fighter or micromanager.  You should be doing only what you can do.

In a January 2015 article, Forbes outlined the premise that as we approach full employment, employees will have more options and employers will have fewer. The economic realities I discussed in a previous article have created a society of free agents. Millennials especially have adapted to an uncertain job market by becoming much more mobile; if today’s young people do not like their employer, they can and will vote with their feet.

As I have discussed before, Baby Boomers, like me, sometimes have trouble understanding how people in younger generations approach professional life—nevertheless, we, as business leaders, have to learn to adapt to the changing needs of the workforce. We have to focus on how we can create the work-place cultures we need to attract the best of the best.

Putting Our Knowledge to Work

So, now that we understand what many Millennials are looking for in an employer and how their perspective developed, how can we use that knowledge to keep our businesses successful? There are three main areas we can focus on when we think about attracting and retaining talent: work expectations; strong working relationships; and the cause.

  1. Work Expectations

In the old days, there was that 9-5, working five days a week, two-week vacation, a very ridged structure. That is no longer attractive. Millennials want to be trusted to meet their responsibilities at the time and place that works for them.

One of the things we can do is to stop thinking about blocks of vacation time and start thinking about flexible paid time off. We can also look for ways to give people even more time through unpaid time off, without hurting the company.

But with the blended lifestyle, it’s not uncommon for people to be Facebooking at work and sending professional emails from home at midnight. Now, I’m that Baby-Boomer, I’m used to looking for face-time, assessing productivity by how many hours I see somebody in the office–but with the rise of the Internet, that old time-card approach isn’t going to work anymore.

Now, obviously we need to maintain some kind of standard, we need to know who is actually pulling their weight. So we, as business leaders, need to be thinking about how we can measure output, not time. We need to redefine the metrics of a successful employee—we need to find ways to measure their contribution to the company directly.

  1. Strong Working Relationships

When younger professionals decide who they want to work for, they’re not necessarily thinking “which job will get me a McMansion.” No, many of them are thinking about which job will help most with their professional development.

Gen Xers and especially Millennials want to protect themselves against the downsizing they saw their parents go through—they want constant investment in their skillset so they can always land on their feet. They’re looking for that great boss who’s going to mentor them, help them continue to develop professionally, and they’re looking for a workplace culture where they can create networks both in the company and outside it.

Our challenge is to be the employer who can help the talented people we need to invest in themselves.

  1. The Cause

Millennials especially don’t just want to develop themselves. They also want to belong to something bigger, to help make the world a better place. There are a couple of things we can do to respond to that need.

We can think about ways to help our employees pursue their own causes, such as offering paid time off for volunteering. Or, we can think about how our company actually does make the world a better place—if we can’t think of anything, maybe it’s time to think about doing things a little differently.

Measuring Success                    

Are we getting this right? One way to find out is to measure retention rates and patterns—not just are people leaving, but are they following each other out? If one person leaves and their friends all quit at the same time, then we know we’ve got a problem—on the other hand, if a person leaves and everyone says “good riddance,” that’s not good, either. We can also look at the demographics of who is leaving and who is staying, make sure we’re not causing a problem for some specific group. Of course, you need to consult with someone on labor law before you use that kind of information, so you don’t get yourself in trouble.

In the end, as Baby Boomer managers, we don’t have to change—but we also don’t have to survive in business. So my challenge to you is to find ways to adapt to the ongoing changes in the workforce so you can continue to find success in the years to come.

Key Takeaways

  • Success in business depends on adapting to the changing needs of the workforce
  • Look for ways to measure employees’ output directly, rather than number of hours on the job
  • Look for ways to help employees develop themselves professionally
  • Consider whether your company makes the world a better place. Perhaps it should?
  • Assess how well you’re adapting to the needs of your workforce by looking at retention rates and patterns.

This is the third blog in a three part series.  The are links to the other posts:

I Practice Age Discrimination; I Don’t Hire Anyone Under 40

Why Millennials Work Differently