At C-Level #17: Embedding Transformations

Mike Sayre is a highly experienced and successful software, e-commerce, and manufacturing services CEO, COO, CFO, and Board Director. He is also the president & COO of Metcalf & Associates, a trusted partner inspiring and enabling perpetual innovation, evolution, and growth in leaders and their businesses. Mike was featured in Maureen Metcalf’s May 2017 Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations interview on VoiceAmerica entitled “7 Characteristics of Leadership 2020 In Practice: A CEO Story.”

 

In At C-Level #10-18, I write about three of the most successful transformations I’ve had the opportunity to lead in my career so far, following a seven-step transformation model like the Metcalf & Associates Innovative Leadership Transformation Model below.

 

 

 

 

 

Embed Transformation

 

Merriam-Webster defines embed, “to make something an integral part of,” and integral as “essential to completeness.”

 

Based on these definitions – and my experience – for a transformation to become embedded in the organization, its purpose and initiatives must be essential to achieving the organization’s mission and vision, and how it operates every day.

 

Embedding transformations requires a well-defined purpose and initiatives that clearly

  • support the organization’s mission and vision,
  • have the total commitment and support of the organization’s leadership,
  • improve the lives of those responsible for making and sustaining the changes (Why else would they support it?), and
  • include implementing enough structure or process to make the initiatives easily sustainable long-term, with feedback loops and action cycles built in to keep them relevant to the business of the organization as it changes over time.

 

Also, important to embedding transformations is maintaining consistency in leadership and purpose. I would not recommend investment in transformational change if the window of consistency in leadership and/or purpose is not expected to be long enough for your organization to see the positive return on its transformation investments.

 

Are major changes in your organization coming that could disrupt consistency in the leadership and purpose of your organization?

 

Let’s see how we did in the three transformations I outlined in At C-Level #10:

 

  • Large Manufacturing Company. In our transformation to upgrade basic financial reporting controllers into true financial business partners in a large and growing company (our vision), we had two major initiatives:
    • implementing new automated accounting and financial reporting systems; and
    • creating a “controller-in-training” program to prepare up-and-coming and new controllers for the growth of the business and being true financial business partners.

 

By all measures, both initiatives independently met the requirements for success and were successful in this company, embedding many great changes in its financial organization for several years.

 

The system was essential and integral to the controllers’ function and gave them more tools and time for the reporting, analysis and business partnering for which we had hoped.

 

And, over about five years, the controller-in-training program had 40-plus participants, with over 25 percent of them landing internal controllerships – several being chosen for financial leadership in new facilities each representing investments of $100M to $200M.

 

These two transformation initiatives completed, changes were embedded in the organization, and the returns on those investments were realized.

 

At the overall transformation level, we lacked deep definition of our purpose and vision and how that supported the overall vision of the organization. We had not taken the time to dive into the details of what the controllers being business partners would really look like with some measurement of on-going success and sustainability, and we did not have any initiatives specifically for that. That lack of definition and clarity around the vision resulted in the same effect as having our purpose change.

 

So, while I’d say we made great progress toward the vision and embedded change through our initiatives, we fell just short in achieving our vision and embedding the overall transformation in the organization. Over time, changes in leadership and purpose came and more transformation in different directions followed.

 

If you are planning a transformation within your organization, is its purpose and vision well defined, including how it directly supports the purpose and vision of the overall organization?

Can you complete the transformation and realize its return on investment before significant changes in purpose or leadership start a new transformation?

 

  • Mid-Size Electronics Manufacturing Services Company. In our transformation “to be the best in the world at what we do,” with our mission to improve the lives all our five stakeholder groups, we had three major initiatives:
    • implementing Lean Manufacturing,
    • putting repair operations in Europe and Asia, and
    • developing and implementing a strategy to better leverage our engineering and manufacturing capabilities, and earn higher margin work.

 

The company very successfully implemented Lean Manufacturing, driving major change and improvement throughout the business, and becoming a new a way of life, the very definition of “embedded.”

 

A repair operation was acquired and expanded in Europe and a new operation set up in Asia with a trusted joint venture partner, resulting in robust growth in the high-end electronics repair business.

 

The new strategy to better leverage our capabilities and increase our margins was in the process of being implemented.

 

Then a major economic downturn hit that resulted in our losing the funding to complete the third leg of our transformation. We were forced to downsize the company in the middle of implementing our higher-value strategy. We had not implemented that part of our strategy quickly enough. Our purpose changed from transformation – to survival.

 

However, our completion of the lean operational improvements, international expansion, and downsizing carried the day for the company, quickly returning it to profitability and ultimately resulting in a successful sale to a much larger global company that was able to put it back on a growth path again.

 

I left the company during this time, so leadership changed as did the purpose. Remember, when leadership changes, there is a new transformation that takes place, whether it is stated explicitly or not – and it did for this organization as well.

 

Have you ever tried to implement major changes in your organization, only to have a new leader come in and change the direction and/or goals of your organization requiring a dismantling or major change in the work you were in the middle of or had just completed?

 

For much more on how this transformation unfolded for the company and me, please see At C-Level #1-8, about being a first-time CEO.

 

  • Global Internet Payments Company. In our transformation journey to turn around the culture, improve the operational and financial performance of the company, and increase the company’s value, we had three major initiatives:
    • a company culture change driven by a stated mission and operating guidelines, and a change in leadership mindset, communications, and actions,
    • the implementation of Agile software development in our company, which requires the involvement of all major functional areas of the company, and
    • new strategy development and implementation in marketing and sales.

 

By all measures, the initiatives were successful, as were we, in achieving our mission and vision of increasing the value of the company for the ownership.

 

Then, majority ownership of the company was sold at a markedly increased valuation over pre-transformation and new leaders were brought in to take the company to the next level. As in the mid-sized electronics manufacturing company transformation story, the ensuing purpose and leadership changes began yet another totally new transformation.

 

Key takeaways from these transformations

 

In all three of the above organizations, much was embedded and achieved in these organizations, including how these organizations were prepared for and adapted to major change. However, the overall visions of these transformations, for the most part, were never completely realized, due to changes in leadership and/or purpose over time, and for a variety of reasons.

 

In fact, the rate of change in our world today is, and for the foreseeable future will be, exponentially increasing! So, it is even more likely that the time frames for large transformations will get shorter and shorter as we move forward. This makes the organization’s purpose, the leader, and that leader’s purpose in life ever more important in driving focused organizational change and transformation every day.

 

That increasing rate of change also makes the ability of your organization to adapt ongoing with continuous processes to evaluate and respond to near-constant changes in its environment an absolute necessity to transform, adapt, survive and thrive in the future!

 

Today, 5S/Lean/Six Sigma and other continuous improvement processes are used to continuously improve products, services and processes, while Agile methodologies are used to run software development that continuously evaluates changing needs to develop and maintain more relevant software products.

 

These are all transformative changes that become embedded in the organization. Just remember that they are all means to an end – that of carrying out your mission every day and achieving your vision.

 

In addition, our individual and collective knowledge sets are continuously updated and expanded every day through online content, customized automated news feeds, the use of search tools, webinars, social media, et. al.

 

But what are people doing, and what specifically are you doing, to continuously update their/your leadership skills today, when the environment in which we are trying to lead is constantly changing, and the people we are attempting to lead are as well? See “At C-Level #9: Evolving Leadership for an Evolving World.”

 

In “At C-Level #18: Three Successful Transformations – Common Threads,” we’ll look at the three transformations we’ve discussed in At C-Level #10-17 and the key takeaways that you may need to think about in your own organization’s transformative journey.

 

Thanks for following us! For more information or help, please visit us at www.Metcalf-Associates.com.

At C-Level #13: Pre-Transformation Analyses

 

Mike Sayre is a highly experienced and successful software, e-commerce, and manufacturing services CEO, COO, CFO, and Board Director. He is also the president & COO of Metcalf & Associates, a trusted partner inspiring and enabling perpetual innovation, evolution, and growth in leaders and their businesses. Mike was featured in Maureen Metcalf’s May 2017 Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations interview on VoiceAmerica entitled “7 Characteristics of Leadership 2020 In Practice: A CEO Story.”

 

In At C-Level #10-18, I write about three of the most successful transformations I’ve had the opportunity to lead in my career so far, following a seven-step transformation model like the Metcalf & Associates Innovative Leadership Transformation Model below.

 

Analyze Situation & Strengths

 

To plan your transformation journey, you really need to know where the organization is at the start. In planning a family trip from Atlanta to San Francisco, isn’t it important to know how much time you have for the trip, what your vacation budget is, if you can afford to go by plane, train, or automobile, and if all your family members can withstand the rigors of the transportation you choose?

 

I’ve always found that great SWOT analyses (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats), if done thoroughly, candidly, and by a knowledgeable team, are a good place to start to understand where your organization is today. Further, SWOTs of individuals in your organization (including yourself), competitors, and just about any other entity that could have a significant impact on your business round out that understanding even more. I’ve performed SWOTs on each of these entities at one time or another in transformation processes for the following reasons:

  • to help in idea generation and decision-making;
  • as a baseline to understand where the transformation is starting and what the priorities are coming out of the gate;
  • to help decide if the right people are in the right seats on the bus for our journey, and
  • for developing competitive strategies, both short and long term.

 

What is your vision? What are your company’s strengths and weaknesses? What opportunities could be most impactful for your organization? What are the threats?

Here is how we analyzed our situation and strengths in the three transformations I outlined in At C-Level #10:

 

  • Large Manufacturing Company. Leading a transformation to upgrade basic financial reporting controllers into true financial business partners began with a lot of analysis during my discussions with the plant controllers, general managers, and corporate people as well. The vision was a result of those informal interviews, discussions, research and analyses.

 

Early members of the transformation team then did a SWOT analysis on the company’s controllership function to help put the interview results into more of a framework and to help justify the project. Improving the skills and utilization of our controllers to reach our vision included the need to expand their training and upgrade their tools with a new integrated financial system. To properly evaluate software platforms, we needed an in-depth understanding of what we were getting out of the then current systems to understand the minimum functionality we needed the new platform to be able to provide, plus what new functionality we wanted. We used a standard template from a Big 4 accounting firm to do that evaluation.

 

With our vision clearly in mind, we also needed to take a forward look at our need for controllers in several large new steel processing facilities planned over the next several years (investments of $100M to over $200M in size). Evaluating our current controllers and up-and-comers and the development they needed for this transformation, as well as what we should be looking for in potential new controllers, was required as well.

 

These analyses of situation and strengths took around nine months to complete while still performing our regular jobs.

 

If you lead an organization within an organization, what are your internal customers telling you about your strengths, weaknesses and opportunities? Is your vision aligned with your internal customers’ needs and the company’s best interests?

 

  • Mid-Size Electronics Manufacturing Services Company. As a new CEO in this $75M electronics manufacturing company, leading a transformation “to be the best in the world at what we do” required evaluating literally everything we were doing, starting with a deep dive SWOT analysis on what we did as a business! Our engineering talent and capabilities were our biggest strength. Our good margin OEM electronics repair business having only one location, our recent focus on the growth of our low-to-no margin integration business, and our overall negative morale were weaknesses. The opportunities for international expansion of our OEM repair business and building high-value engineered products with higher margins were exceptional. But low-funding and our timing in the economic cycle for these kinds of changes were threats to our transformation journey.

 

On the other side of the equation, we also did a SWOT on our operations. Our strength was the desire for new leadership and change throughout the organization. Our weakness was our lack of structure, discipline, and processes for continuous improvement. Becoming our customers’ most trusted partner was a huge opportunity. Our biggest threat was turning all this around in a reasonable time frame before we started losing our much larger and more demanding customers.

 

Having this knowledge in a well-rounded framework, gave us the ability to develop new strategies and new priorities, and really get creative about how we were going to move into the future to become “the best in the world at what we do.”

 

Think about your vision for the organization and the transformation required to get it there. How long could it take? Will you have the needed resources and funding for this transformation? Look at your competition. Does your vision propel you ahead of the competition? What do you think they are working on?

 

  • Global Internet Payments Company. Our mission was providing the highest value to our clients (the sellers using our payment services), growing the company’s financial value, and getting everyone working in harmony and enjoying their jobs working toward those two goals.

 

This team of very talented individuals who had grown up with the company from its start-up roots were now encountering growing pains and industry changes they just didn’t have the background to effectively work with. The business model that the company was founded on was becoming outdated and less profitable, and significant changes in the model were required to remain competitive and increase profitability again. In addition, the global payment industry’s rules and its application of them were also changing rapidly. The company’s whole operating environment was in a constant state of change and what used to be strengths were now becoming weaknesses.

 

So, we did some, but a lot of group analysis on situation and strengths up front was a challenge. We had to prioritize and improve our capacity to collaborate, innovate, and change so we could start to figure out and do what we needed to do to keep the organization moving forward on its mission. Planning for the unknown was a little unsettling at first, but also exciting at the same time!

 

Is your business and industry in a constant state of flux? Welcome to the future! Is your organization prepared for perpetual innovation, evolution, and growth? If not, where will you start?

 

Key takeaways from these transformations

 

You need to know where you are to plan how to get to where you are going. That’s a very logical and structured approach to transformation (current state versus future state) that has worked very well in the past and is still relevant in larger, more complex, slower evolving and/or more mature environments today. I’ve used it many times and it has worked.

 

However, in cases where the organization is extremely challenged, the pace of change in the operating environment is extremely rapid, resources are scarce, and time is of the essence, there may not be enough time for long protracted analyses and planning before action.

 

In the case of the Global Internet Payments Company above, the pace of change in technology, global e-commerce, and the payment industry was so fast that we could not pin down the current situation and strengths fast enough to go into a traditional planning process. We had an idea of where we wanted to be, but we were running out of time! In many industries, more and more, we see strong high level missions and visions, more on-going analyses of situation and strengths, and more agile planning and execution becoming the norms.

 

To better understand how much of the world has gotten to this point and what it will take to lead in this kind of fast-paced environment going forward, please refer to At “C-Level #9 – Evolving Leadership for an Evolving World.” And I hope you’ll keep up with the rest of the At C-Level #10 through #18 series on transformation to see how these three very different transformation journeys played out.

 

What is the pace of change like in your organization and its environment today? What does that mean for its ability to assess its situation and strengths, as well as its capacity for perpetual innovation, evolution, and change going forward?

 

In “At C-Level #14: Transformation Planning,” we’ll look at how planning for the transformations of these same three organizations was approached and what the key takeaways are that you may need to think about in preparing for your own organization’s transformative journey.

 

Thanks for following us! For more information or help, please visit us at www.Metcalf-Associates.com.

At C-Level #11: Creating a Vision and Sense of Urgency

Mike Sayre is a highly experienced and successful software, e-commerce, and manufacturing services CEO, COO, CFO, and Board Director. He is also the president & COO of Metcalf & Associates, a trusted partner inspiring and enabling perpetual innovation, evolution, and growth in leaders and their businesses. Mike was featured in Maureen Metcalf’s May 2017 Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations interview on VoiceAmerica entitled “7 Characteristics of Leadership 2020 In Practice: A CEO Story.”

In At C-Level #10-18, I write about three of the most successful transformations I’ve had the opportunity to lead in my career so far, following a seven-step transformation model similar to the Metcalf & Associates Innovative Leadership Transformation Model below. This blog is about the first step in the process.

 

Create a Vision & Sense of Urgency

“Starting with the end in mind” is important when beginning any new transformation. However, having a vision of what is at the end of a transformation is not enough. The vision must be so compelling to those leading the transformation and those in the organization being transformed that all involved are impassioned and feel an intense sense of urgency to make it happen.

Do you and your team have a vision you are passionately working toward in your organization? How urgently is everyone working toward that vision? What drives that urgency, or lack thereof?

Here is how the visions were created and the sense of urgency developed in the three transformations I outlined in At C-Level #10:

  • Large Manufacturing Company. Early in my career as a new financial analyst at a $2B heavy manufacturer with over 60 operations worldwide, I wanted to learn all I could about the business and the people in it. I visited plants and met with plant controllers and general managers, I asked lots of questions to better understand their businesses and their needs. The controllers were still using antiquated accounting systems and spreadsheets to produce their monthly financials and had little time for much else. The general managers were anxious to better understand the financial aspects of their operations and the potential new investments they were proposing to Corporate. They wanted more resources, but didn’t understand that they had the right resources in their controllers—they just weren’t using them very efficiently.

The vision became clear to me and I began sharing it with everyone who would listen. The controllers spending most of their time in their offices working on accounting and financial reporting needed to be upgraded to financial business partners in their business units. That vision resonated with both controllers and general managers and catapulted me into leading a significant organizational transformation that affected a large part of the corporation and, up to that point, was the largest transformation project in my career.

What are the challenges in your organization that would have the greatest positive impact if things were changed? Do you have ideas on what those changes should be? Will people see the urgency in making those needed changes?

  • Mid-Size Electronics Manufacturing Services Company. As a new CFO in this company, I led a financial turnaround of an unprofitable $25M company to a $15M profitable one. Three years of significant revenue growth later, we had become a $75M company. However, we were making about the same profits as we did at $15M! I was then promoted to my first CEO job to “fix” it. I immediately jumped into talking with people across the company to get a sense of the challenges we were facing. We were still trying to run a $75M company like we ran the $15M company. Overall people liked the company, but they were lacking general direction, goals, motivation, processes—and more than a little structure. There was a lot of work to be done, but toward what? …and where should we start?

Having never been a CEO, I employed a leadership development coach who made me go deep into myself and define my personal purpose in life, as well as my own personal vision, that I could very closely link to a vision for the company. After much soul-searching, I also wrote draft missions and general operating philosophies for the whole leadership team to help me refine so that all could buy in. Knowing what we were doing was not working, and, with a downturn looming, we could be in serious trouble again, a very high sense of urgency drove us to a vision that was essentially “to be the best in the world at what we do.” As vague as that vision was, being the best in the world (not the biggest) mostly meant we needed to be a vastly different company than we were, in everything from leadership to strategy to execution. It opened people’s minds to substantial change.

The vision was a big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG) and it drew people in. Do you have a BHAG that could energize your organization?

  • Global Internet Payments Company. As a management consultant in this business, I could see that the company was vastly underperforming despite having some great talent and a significant global business opportunity. The business had grown to processing over $200M in payment transactions per year in 200+ countries and was still operating as startup with the same culture it started with for most of its ten years in existence. The organization was operating in silos and simply just tossing their problems over the wall for other departments to fix, which never seemed to happen. People were no longer as happy working there as they once were. A significant cultural transformation was needed to get the company back to higher levels of profitability and prepare it for a possible sale. But what would that look like? And where should we start?

After a few months, I was hired as COO. I immediately drafted missions, visions, and operating guidelines for the executive team to further develop and adopt. We eventually dropped the idea of a stated vision and adopted a mission of “We help our Sellers sell more!” That mission really helped the leadership team focus every day, week, and month. But frankly, it was the combination of the mission, improvement in leadership (we brought in a leadership development coach for the entire leadership team) and the operating guidelines that drove the entire organizational transformation. While not stated, the vision was of a company providing the highest value to its clients (the sellers using its payment services), growing in its financial value, with everyone working in harmony toward those reaching the first two goals. We talked about these three things all the time.

If your vision is not stated, what might be the “behind the scenes” vision for the company? Could it be stated to rally the troops and reach it faster together? Do you talk about your mission and goals on a regular basis?

Key takeaways from these transformations

The larger, more complex and/or faster-evolving an organization’s environment is, the higher the need for a stated vision that everyone can rally around and work toward in transforming the organization to get it to the next level. Does your organization need a stated vision?

To develop a great vision, you must know yourself, your organization, and what will stir deep passion and a sense of urgency within you, as well as the people you will be leading on this journey. Involve the leadership team in the process and get out and talk to others in the organization who have been, or will be, key to the success of the business. If you don’t know where you are going, what path do you follow? How will you know when you’ve arrived?

You don’t have to be a top leader of a large organization to start a transformation. If you can create a vision that…

  • you and others are passionate about,
  • is well thought out,
  • leverages your area(s) of expertise,
  • is widely recognized in the organization,
  • is supported by your leaders, and
  • is believed to be an urgent need with a real return on investment (in other words, a priority),

…and you have the confidence to step up, then you will have the opportunity to lead it. Is there a transformation in your organization waiting for someone to step forward and lead?

And lastly, if there is no sense of urgency, progress will be slow, at best. There is urgency as in a challenge that must be overcome, and urgency as in a destination everyone can’t wait to get too. What drives the urgency of your organization’s progress today? Can you combine the urgency of the challenges you face along the way with the urgency of getting to your destination to speed that progress up?

In “At C-Level #12: Building Transformation Teams,” we’ll look at how the teams were built in these same three organizations and what the key takeaways are that you may need to think about in building your transformation leadership team.

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills. You can download the first three chapters of the Innovative Leadership Workbook for Emerging Leaders and Managers for free.

Thanks for following us! To learn more about transforming organizations and/or get help, visit us at www.Metcalf-Associates.com.

At C-Level #9: Evolving Leadership for an Evolving World

Mike Sayre is a highly experienced and successful software, e-commerce, and manufacturing services CEO, COO, CFO, and Board Director. He is also the president & COO of Metcalf & Associates, a trusted partner inspiring and enabling perpetual innovation, evolution, and growth in leaders and their businesses. Mike was featured in Maureen Metcalf’s May 2017 Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations interview on VoiceAmerica entitled “7 Characteristics of Leadership 2020 In Practice: A CEO Story.”

Waves of change in technology are advancing at an exponential rate—20,000 times more than in the last century according to Google CTO and futurist Ray Kurzweil. So are waves of change in society, global and local economics, as well geopolitics. These incredible rates of ongoing change are driving…

  • the evolution of your customers’ needs and your competitors’ offerings faster than ever,
  • the obsolescence of technologies your offerings depend on today,
  • your most capable employees’ desires to leverage new technologies to innovate, grow, and evolve themselves, and
  • a vastly accelerated pace of change in your business.

Are you evolving the way you and your team lead to continue to ride these waves of change? If not, you may be swept beneath them.

Over the course of human history, there have been six major shifts in societal/cultural norms (eras) with corresponding leadership development and advancement. The first four were driven over tens of thousands of years by increasing populations, the continued need to feed and protect growing population centers, and a primal power base:

  • ARCHAIC: nomadic clans hunting and foraging for food
  • TRIBAL: the formation of tribes and villages and the developments of horticulture and shepherding
  • WARRIOR: the building of city-state empires using serf or slave labor to establish early agricultural practices
  • TRADITIONAL: the growth of city-state empires to wide-spread kingdoms and monarchies battling over turf and power

Next came the MODERN Industrial Scientific era where leadership spent more time and energy on perfecting tasks and processes (think assembly lines) to support mass production and distribution of traditional products, but also products based on new technologies, like automobiles, mostly in developing nation-states with access to the required resources. Commercial success translated into new power bases. The Modern era developed over a period of approximately two-hundred years and many people and organizations are still functioning at this level.

Then came the POST-MODERN era where leadership became much more introspective, thoughtful, and systems oriented, where the information age and the internet have spanned virtual transnational networks. This era has really only developed over the last 20-30 years with the advent of the internet.

Note that the first four eras developed over tens of thousands of years and that some parts of the third-world still may be functioning at some combination of the Tribal, Warrior and Traditional eras. They co-exist in close proximity to parts of the world where the Modern and Post-Modern eras developed over just the last couple of hundred years. Hence, it is reasonable to assume that the incredible rate of increasing technological advancement over time so far will only continue to increase exponentially going forward, and Kurzweil’s predictions are not so far-fetched as they may seem! It has become more and more difficult for leaders and organizations to keep up.

So now, we are beginning to experience the seventh societal/cultural/leadership shift into what we call the INTEGRAL era. In this era, technological change, economic change and geopolitical change outpace the abilities of most Modern and Post-Modern leaders who think in terms of tasks, processes, and systems. Integral era leadership must consider the constant evolution of entire ecosystems in which we operate, and evolve ahead of the curve—or at least with the curve—to just survive, let alone thrive.

When today’s foremost leadership experts were doing research for the book Leadership 2050, they looked at five recent global studies on organizational leadership needs for the future. All five studies generally concluded that there are not enough leaders in our current leadership pipeline that have the higher-ordered skills and capacities to meet the complexity of today’s challenges, not to mention those needed for 2050.

What are those higher-ordered skills?

  1. Being professionally humble – Astute leaders care more about doing the right thing than being right. Their focus is on the mission and they consistently give credit to their team and others when they succeed.
  2. Having an unwavering commitment to right action – A thoughtful leader consistently makes decisions based on what action will most effectively advance the organization’s mission, even if doing it is not the easiest path.
  3. Being a 360-degree thinker – A prudent leader consistently considers the industry, environment and trends driving future success, in addition to the organizations’ strategies, capabilities, and, most obvious, environmental factors.
  4. Being intellectually versatile – Creative leaders draw from a broad set of interests and involvement in activities outside their organization. Those activities also give them opportunities to recharge.
  5. Being highly authentic and reflective – Self-aware leaders who possess a strong sense of mission and are transparently guided by a set of consistently adhered-to principles build trust that promotes an environment of high performance.
  6. Inspire followership – Leaders strong in the previous competencies, with a sense of humor and mild self-deprecation, who are warm and empathetic, inspire a followership that appreciates the tough conversations required to maintain ever-higher performance and achievement, and are continually inspired to do more.
  7. Being innately collaborative – Exceptional leaders value input from experts and those impacted by key decisions, and promote the offering of differing points of view, knowing that multiple perspectives result in better outcomes, more support, and stronger execution.

How can you develop these higher-ordered skills?

These competencies generally take years to develop and are gained through both unplanned and planned life and career experiences.

Nick Petrie from the Center of Creative Leadership says what he calls “vertical ego-maturity development” is helping leaders move from one level of ego-maturity to the next (becoming less self-centered) to match leadership style with the demands of society. A similar leadership developmental process occurred to move between each of the societal levels referenced above, with the specifics varying according to life conditions. This transformation process occurs through:

  • Heat Experiences where a leader faces a complex situation that disrupts and disorients a habitual way of thinking. Through this experience there is a recognition that the current way of making sense of the world is inadequate. The leader opens up to different perspectives and starts searching for new and better ways to make sense of the situation.
  • Colliding Perspectives where a leader is exposed to people with different world views, opinions, backgrounds, and training that challenges existing mental models and increases the number of perspectives through which the world is viewed.
  • Elevated Sense-making where a leader uses a coach, or a self-developed process, to help integrate and make sense of these perspectives and experiences from more elevated stages of development. A larger more advanced worldview emerges and, with time, stablizie.

At Metcalf & Associates, we work with our clients to create perpetual innovation, evolution, and growth in their leadership and business by providing

  • Individual or group Innovative Leadership training
  • Team/organization innovative culture development
  • Organizational transformation engagement, and
  • Ongoing consulting, coaching and/or follow-up sessions to ensure:
  • Growth in perspectives when unplanned heat experiences or colliding perspectives “barge in,”
  • Development of elevated sense-making with new perspectives, and
  • Sustainability of developmental goal achievement and/or transformation.

For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills. You can download the first three chapters of the Innovative Leadership Workbook for Emerging Leaders and Managers for free.

Thanks for following us! Please look for more upcoming blogs and blog series at “C” level from Mike.

At C-Level #6: Unprofitable domestic sales, unsuccessful international sales, dwindling opportunities and turning lemons into lemonade

C Suite 6 Mike HardyAt C-Level #6 is the sixth blog of an eight-part series following a first time CEO’s educational journey in a very challenging business environment, and exploring global concepts in leadership theory and practice.

At the end of each blog are reflection questions for readers to consider as they navigate their own leadership journey.

This guest post by Mike Sayre — experienced software, e-commerce and manufacturing services CEO, COO, CFO and Board Director—is based on his first-hand experiences as a fledging CEO. Its intent is to provide additional insight or ideas to those in, close to, aspiring to, or trying to understand the top leadership role in any organization. Mike was also featured in the October 4, 2016 Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations interview with Maureen Metcalf on VoiceAmerica focusing on the importance of leader trustworthiness in driving organizational change.

At the time I took on my first CEO role, I hadn’t previously had responsibility for sales. Looking back with the experience I have now, I think we were facing some fairly daunting sales challenges, even for very experienced CEOs:

  • Our board and shareholders had demanded growth in sales – and we had increased sales over 400 percent – but had little increased profitability to show for it. We were winning large volume programs with little to no gross profit margin. It was largely domestic commodity service work, that we had to build a large and fairly expensive group of people and infrastructure to support.
  • Our bid opportunities for additional work for our core service business were dwindling because we were doing work for global electronics manufacturers who began requiring operations in both Europe and Asia, while we only had a presence in the U.S.
  • We had started an international sales initiative in Europe and Asia that we had hoped would help, but it was expensive, needed much more time to develop, and we weren’t sure that the margins would be any better (likely not with the Asian cost of labor being so much lower at the time).
  • We had a group of smart salespeople. However, they had come in under a sales leader who left the company simultaneous to my becoming CEO. They had come in under a different set of rules, and now we were changing them. And that does not happen overnight. They were unhappy, our transition was taking too long for them and many left the company before we stabilized.

Remember these tenets from Jim Collin’s Good to Great book written about in At C-Level #1 of this series?

  • The right people in the right seats on the bus make all the difference;
  • Find the truth and act on it by facing the brutal facts of reality while maintaining an unwavering faith that you will succeed; and
  • Greatness comes from sustained commitment to disciplined people, disciplined thinking, and disciplined action that creates breakthrough momentum.

Remember the Strategist Competency model from At C-Level #4? It said that Strategists are unstoppable and unflappable when on a mission.

My point here is that these were the qualities we needed during this challenging time. We were facing urgent issues on several fronts: we needed to identify the “right” people and get them in the right seats on the bus; address the brutal facts about our business strategy that was generating lower profit margins; address the lack of business process in qualifying “good” business for us; and I needed to have the courage to make some tough calls and stick to them when I met resistance. I’ve been told that my reactions were instinctively that of Level 5 and Strategist leaders, but not because I knew what those were and thought that I should emulate them. Rather, it seemed to me to be what we needed at the time, so I just moved in that direction, with the benefit of additional strong leadership and support from the rest of the team.

Here’s how we made lemonade out of the lemons we were handed with these challenges.

  • We did detailed cost analyses of large customer programs we believed might not be profitable as priced. We faced the brutal facts, took action and became a smaller revenue and higher gross margin company, with more discipline around our pricing and analysis of the business we committed to before we committed to it. That allowed us to weather a major economic downturn.
  • We stopped trying to sell internationally because there was plenty of global business that we could win right here in the U.S., if we had operations in Europe and Asia. However, we raised some capital and used relationships that were developed through our sales efforts in both areas to identify and work with partners. Those partners helped us acquire a small operation in Europe and start up an operation with a partner in Asia. Those two additional operations opened up new bidding opportunities for us and we grew annual sales 25 percent in the core part of our business in less than two years.
  • The salespeople who left had been selling business we were consciously now walking away from. They voluntarily helped us cut our sales cost, allowing us to rebuild a sales organization that could sell the new business that we wanted to target.
  • And, we were hit with a huge downturn in the economy that easily could’ve taken us under had we not made all of those changes in our business as early as we did. Unfortunately, we did need to make more cuts in our staffing levels to do that, but utilizing the Golden Rule (referred to in At C-Level #5) in doing so kept a lot of great people in the company that survived – a company that was eventually sold to a global giant in the industry.

Frankly, so far in my career, I have only seen a couple of leaders who exhibited many of these traits I am writing about. Maybe only one or two in CEO roles. So if you see these traits or even inklings of them in your own personal leadership style, I encourage you not to abandon them – instead nurture them! It’s easier to lead people in a style that fits you.

In their book Leadership 2050, Susan Cannon, Michael Morrow-Fox, and Maureen Metcalf, make a compelling case that these are actually the leadership models it will take for us to be successful in the future – relentlessly competitive, collaborative and caring, with a focus on the success of the company, not the leader. Business and leadership is evolving and we need more of these types of leaders to encourage and lead the innovation required for us to increase and maintain our strong competitive status in the world.

Reflection questions:

  • What are the two to three major strategic sales and/or marketing challenges in your business today? What are some of the brutal facts?
  • How is that information shared with your leadership team? Is it?
  • Does your team know the company mission and vision, what the company’s stakeholders want, and do you have a process for coming to terms with those brutal facts with the best collaborative solutions the team can come up with (understanding that you still have and reserve the right to override)?

If you identify with the leadership models I’ve been writing about in these blogs and need either

  • Leadership assessments and development for you and/or your team based on these models, or
  • Executive advisory services on how to implement strategic, financial, operational and/or cultural transformations in order to turnaround and/or grow your company, please contact Metcalf & Associates or me for further information on our services.

In At C-Level #7, Mike writes about operational improvement through consolidations, expansions, agile software development and lean manufacturing.

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.

About the Author

Mike Sayre, executive advisor and organizational transformation practice lead, has been a successful CEO, COO, CFO and board director for multiple organizations in technology (cybersecurity, ecommerce payments processing and engineered computer products) and manufacturing (electronics and steel products). He shares his expertise with client boards and C-Level leaders, and advises, designs, plans, and oversees the implementation of successful strategies for turnarounds, growth, profitability and sustainability.

Mike brings 25+ years of organizational and business leadership and hands-on implementation experience to his clients.  His teams have achieved significant increases in growth, profitability and valuation, as well as shareholder, customer, supplier and employee engagement and satisfaction.

At C-Level #5: The power of a few stated operating guidelines

C Level

At C-Level #5 is the fifth blog of an eight-part series following a first time CEO’s educational journey in a very challenging business environment, and exploring global concepts in leadership theory and practice.  

At the end of each blog are reflection questions for readers to consider as they navigate their own leadership journey.

This guest post by Mike Sayre — experienced software, e-commerce and manufacturing services CEO, COO, CFO and Board Director—is based on his first-hand experiences as a fledging CEO. Its intent is to provide additional insight or ideas to those in, close to, aspiring to, or trying to understand the top leadership role in any organization. Mike was also featured in the October 4, 2016 Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations interview with Maureen Metcalf on VoiceAmerica focusing on the importance of leader trustworthiness in driving organizational change. .

As you know from my previous At C-Level posts, as a first time CEO of a manufacturing services company that was lacking in leadership and focus, I created a leadership tool in the form of a “philosophy card” containing a company mission, vision and operating guidelines that aligned with my own personal mission, vision, and operating philosophies.

An operating philosophy like the “Golden Rule,” which says you should treat others as you would like them to treat you, has always been simple enough. Then came the “Platinum Rule,” which says you should treat others as they would like to be treated. Both can cover a lot of ground depending on how literally you take them. I prefer to give people some credit for understanding these general concepts and believe either is a good place to start. But, in addition, I also think giving a few more specific guidelines (but not too prescriptive) helps round out what you mean by stating your operating philosophy is based on the Golden, or Platinum, Rule.
Here are the operating guidelines we decided to put on “the card” as our mission and vision:

guidingphilosophyclevel5

There are many more you can probably think of that you might put on this card. The truth is, just as I wrote about mission and vision in At C-Level #4, you need to do what best serves the company’s and your purpose and circumstances. And I’d add that your guidelines need to be broad enough to cover a lot of ground, but narrow enough that you do not have to worry too much about others’ potential misinterpretations.

In selecting these operating guidelines, our purpose was to turn around a somewhat ego-centric culture where respect, direction and transparency were lacking, and ambiguity and mistrust were the norm, all negatively affecting our overall performance. To be fair, there are many leadership styles used to “successfully” run and grow companies, depending on your definition of “success,” and this culture had evolved in the company over a couple of years of high revenue growth. This culture was just not consistent with my leadership style, and it’s revenue growth based strategies were not growing value for it’s stakeholders.

Here are some examples of how these operating guidelines helped us change our culture and improve our performance with much more teamwork and transparency:

The Golden Rule – Things like loud distracting radios, inappropriate pictures at workstations and porn surfing were no longer tolerated. They showed a lack of respect for others, constituted sexual harassment, contributed to an unhealthy work environment, and lowered productivity. Stopping those practices set a new and more positive tone in our operations that contributed to overall happier and more productive associates, and showed we meant what we said in our operating guidelines. It was not easy and required significant courage on the part of the leadership team. But, when one of our top performers was let go for one of these practices – as painful as that was – we and our use of “the card” gained a lot of credibility.

“Every day our goal is TOTAL CUSTOMER SATISFACTION…delivered at a FAIR PRICE.” – All programs suspected of losing money were analyzed in detail, and if we were losing money for no strategic purpose, we raised the pricing and talked with our customers, sometimes losing the business, but improving our overall financial position and strength. Over a previous two- to three-year period, sales had grown about 400 percent and profits had not grown appreciably with an economic downturn looming. Commoditized low margin work can quickly deteriorate in a down economy, but scaling down the people and infrastructure at the same rate is not so easy.

“We do not lie, cheat or steal” – Instead of auditing customer-owned inventory counts for our largest customer, we discovered we were just giving them their own numbers back instead of verifying their counts! We were concerned about how the customer might react when we told them, but we told them quickly once when we found the problem. And we remedied it. Over time, the relationship actually grew and we won more business.

To be clear, I do not believe that any of the people involved in these situations were trying to hurt the company or anyone else. They did not understand the negative effects of what they were doing to the business and had never been told otherwise.

If you went back to the earlier installments in this series, I think you would find elements of all three leadership models presented so far (Good to Great, Conscious Capitalism and the Strategist Competency) in the formalization and following of those few operating guidelines we put in place. For us, the stated guidelines reduced distractions, took a number of variables out of our decision-making processes, allowed more decisions to be made by more associates in the organization, and increased the capacity of our leadership team by spreading out decision-making capability and authorization.

Reflection questions:

  • As you assess your current situation, what are the top two to three questions or problems that repetitively come up in your organization that today can only be handled by you or another member of your leadership team because no one else either knows how or is authorized to respond and/or resolve them?
  • For each of those, is there an operating guideline that could be formalized so that everyone would know the answer and could just respond or resolve it without having to come to you or your leadership team?

In At C-Level #6, Mike writes about his first significant sales challenges as a new CEO and how he and the team were able to turn lemons into lemonade.

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.

About the Author

Mike Sayre, executive advisor and organizational transformation practice lead, has been a successful CEO, COO, CFO and board director for multiple organizations in technology (cybersecurity, ecommerce payments processing and engineered computer products) and manufacturing (electronics and steel products). He shares his expertise with client boards and C-Level leaders, and advises, designs, plans, and oversees the implementation of successful strategies for turnarounds, growth, profitability and sustainability.

Mike brings 25+ years of organizational and business leadership and hands-on implementation experience to his clients.  His teams have achieved significant increases in growth, profitability and valuation, as well as shareholder, customer, supplier and employee engagement and satisfaction.

How to Drive Peak Customer Experience

Coffee cc Julie GibsonThe following blog is written by guest blogger Zachary Poll, also featured in Entrepreneur Magazine.

Daniel Kahneman, renowned psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, recently wrote Thinking, Fast and Slow. Currently, Thinking, Fast and Slow, is the #1 bestseller on Amazon under the section Business Decision Making. The book delivers groundbreaking research on counterintuitive ways humans interact with their environment that is unpredictable. If we apply these concepts into thinking about our customers, we can tap into incredibly valuable opportunities.

One opportunity in particular is easy to implement and can have an enormous effect; this is called the peak-end rule of memory

The peak-end rule describes that a customer remembers an event on almost only two factors: the most intense feeling they had at any point during the event, and the final feeling they had during the event. If we describe someone’s emotions on a 1-10 scale (1 being awful and intense, 5 being decent and low intensity, and 10 being wonderful and intense), they add those two feelings together, and divide by two.

Let’s go through a popular scenario with which most of us are familiar with Ordering Coffee at Starbucks:

Katherine walks into Starbucks for her favorite coffee, like she does every morning before work. She gets there, and as always there is a long line. She waits in line for a full 10 minutes just to order her coffee! At any time during this experience, she would rate her emotional level at around a 4 (not happy with a low intensity). Finally she gets up to the cashier; this transaction only lasts 30 seconds. However, the cashier called Katherine by her name! For those 20 seconds, Katherine’s emotional happiness was an 8 (very happy and intense).

Now, Katherine must wait for her coffee. She is bored, knows that she is going to be late to work, and has no one to talk to. Her emotional level is again a 4. For the next 9 minutes! Finally, her name is called, and her coffee is ready. She picks it up, and goes to the exit, excited to finally drink her coffee. During these 30 seconds, her emotional happiness is a 6 (moderately happy). Katherine was at Starbucks for 20 minutes in total.

So, if you asked Katherine how much she enjoyed getting Starbucks this morning, how do you think she would rate it? She spent 20 minutes not happy, and only 1 minute enjoying herself. She responds: “I had a great time, I would rate it a 7.5!” WHAT?!? WHY!?!

It is because, like most other humans, Katherine remembered her most intense feeling, which was an 8, when her name was remembered, and her last feeling (excited to drink her coffee, a 7). No wonder Starbucks puts such an emphasis on customer service and premium coffee with exciting names!

Starbucks has been profiting from this since its inception, and it is time your company can as well. Here are some of the most important questions you should ask about your customer’s experiences with your company:

  1. What is the most extreme feeling my customers are having during their experience with my company? Are we ruining their perception of us by one fast moment that is extremely painful?
  2. What is their emotional feeling at the last moment of an experience with our company? Are we skipping a friendly gesture that could dramatically increase this number?

Your company might be losing all of the hard work it has put into customer experience if it does poorly in these two tests. When we think about how much we like something, we think about intensity, not longevity. So an hour of above average service will become dramatically reduced in importance if we give a poor 30-second ending to the experience.

People choose when deciding if to repeat an experience by memory. So make sure your company always provides the following:

  1. An incredibly positive emotional feeling, if only for a short duration, sometime during the course of the interaction.
  2. The best positive emotional feeling possible when the interaction is ending.

If your company does these two things, your customers impression of your company will dramatically improve, and they will be much more likely to be repeat customers.

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.

If you are interested in receiving our ongoing blog series or other articles by email, please sign up in the box on the right labeled Get Email Updates From Us.

photo credit: www.flickr.com Julie Gibson

Manage Negative Thinking – Case Study

This blog post is written by guest blogger Gretchen Wright, Strategic Projects Manager at McGraw Hill.

I’ve been working on ways to manage my negative thinking in order to increase my personal resilience and improve my ability to lead. I have been using Maureen Metcalf’s “Six Steps to Manage Negative Thinking” as a tool to support my success.

When I am stressed, I tend to go into negative-thinking mode. This type of behavior causes me to become more easily stressed, starting a vicious cycle of negativity and more stress. In an effort to develop better positive coping strategies, I began following Metcalf’s video and model, and have been extremely happy with my results and the process.

This is how I’m applying her model:

  1. Awareness of negative thinking and trying to stop it takes continual effort. I work hard to recognize negative thinking as soon as possible and “attack” it by making myself look for a positive in the situation. By following Metcalf’s “Six Steps to Manage Negative Thinking,” I’ve made huge strides. I’m not “free” of negative thinking, but I am more adept at catching myself when I “go there” and reversing my thought process.
  2. I’ve found that I subconsciously take a deep breath when in negative or difficult situations. To persistently recognize and correct negative behavior, I am taking a deep breath as an automatic process in my reaction to negative situations; effectively allowing myself to take a step back before reacting.
  3. I have stopped treating everything as a crisis. By not stopping in my tracks and forgetting everything else to respond to a “problem” that someone brings to the table, I’m able to focus on the “what’s urgent.” Keeping perspective takes me out of reaction mode. In moving from reactive to proactive mode, I can gauge the severity of an issue and respond accordingly. I don’t allow another’s behavior to cause a knee-jerk reaction from me. This helps me focus on what needs attended to, what needs some guidance, and what can wait.
  4. While it can be difficult to find the positive in a troublesome situation, I’ve found that if a take a step back, and look at the situation as a challenge—and not a negative—I am more able to constructively approach the issue and move forward. Every morning, upon waking, I give myself three things to be grateful for. Those are my “happy thoughts” for the day. When I am ready to stress out over something, I review my happy thoughts, refocusing my mood to the positive, and then look for the positive, or at least the “we can do this” in the situation.
  5. Following these behaviors allows me to slowly move from a negative-thinking mind-set to a new level of gratitude. I am a happier person and have noticed a significant drop in my stress level. Of course I continue to encounter stressful situations, but following the steps that Maureen has charted allows me to better handle those situations in a positive and productive manner.

Thanks to the “Six Steps to Manage Negative Thinking.” I have found that this behavior is just as contagious as negative thinking. My positive reactions and mind-set encourages and models those around me to react in a similar manner, making for much healthier and happier work and home environments. I am very grateful for this tool to handle negative thinking, and with Maureen’s guidance and expertise, I have learned to be a more positive, happy, and grateful person.​

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.

If you are interested in receiving our ongoing blog series or other articles by email, please sign up in the box on the right labeled Get Email Updates From Us.

Embed Innovation Systematically – Eric’s Story

Michael Jordan TryI’m Eric Philippou, and I’m writing this blog as part of my college internship at Metcalf & Associates. Congratulations! We have arrived at the final step in innovative leadership development. In this post, we will complete the beginning of a Personal Transformation Log. With this, we will know how to track our actual behaviors toward our goals, measure progress, and compare them to expected behaviors and progress. As always, my responses are in italics, which you can use to strengthen your understanding of the question. The next part of this post will give you a real-world application suggestions.

Eric Transformation Actiity Log

Real World Application: Expect the Unexpected & Fail Fast

While it’s important to focus on what’s in front of you in the present, it’s also important to consider the future. As you make progress on your current goals, and you’re in a good rhythm, take a few moments occasionally to consider what goals you could set in the future. Consider upcoming events, such as job hunting or graduate school programs. What kind of skills and behaviors would you like to develop by then? Another important thing is to take unpredictable events into account.

One thing that is guaranteed is that some completely unexpected and uncontrollable events will happen in your life, and they could greatly impact your short- and long-term goals. Due to this, it may be worth considering strengthening your resilience and problem-solving skills/behaviors when setting goals in the future.

Remember, failure is natural and no one is perfect. View mistakes and failure as an opportunity to learn. After all, the only true failure is failure to try.  Remember to think like a scientist, and use experiments, or constant trial-and-error. We like to use the term “fail fast”, meaning the faster you figure out what does not work, the faster you can figure out what does work.

In the next post, we will answer reflection questions to strengthen your understanding of embedding innovation systematically.  

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.

If you are interested in receiving Eric’s ongoing blog series or our other articles by email, please sign up in the box on the right labeled Get Email Updates From Us.

Photo credit: www.flickr.com Celestine Chua

Take Action to Develop as a Leader, Reflection Questions Part 2 – Eric’s Story

I’m Eric Philippou, and I’m writing this blog as part of my college internship at Metcalf & Associates. In this post I will answer the second set of reflection questions involved with prepared to take action. As always, feel free to refer to my personal answers in italics to get a better sense of what we’re asking. I am answering these reflection questions to clarify my thoughts about my plan to overcome barriers and leverage enablers from my prior post.

Eric Taking Action Reflection questions

This marks the end of the Take Action part of the innovative leadership development process. In the next post, we will learn how to embed innovation systematically and maintain the mindset of an innovative leader throughout your life.

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.

If you are interested in receiving Eric’s ongoing blog series or our other articles by email, please sign up in the box on the right labeled Get Email Updates From Us.