How to Fix Professional Salon/Spa Retailing

January 22, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 9 Comments

The opportunity for a salon/spa to generate a quarter of its total revenue in retail is real.

It’s always been real.

But there’s something out of sync with the passion for using professional products vs. the actually “selling” of those products to salon/spa clients.

For the selling of professional products, it is the ultimate love/hate relationship.

When it comes to salon/spa professionals actually recommending the products they use and love, there are almost as many excuses for not selling, as there are products.

The excuses sound like:

  • I’m not a salesperson
  • I don’t have time to sell
  • The product we sell is widely diverted — so why bother
  • Clients can buy it cheaper at Ulta
  • My clients take a photo of the product and buy it on Amazon
  • I don’t want to be pushy

Excuses for not selling retail are just that — excuses.

In a recent interview on the retailing of professional products, I was asked seven questions. Here are my No-Compromise Leadership answers:... Read More

Leading Overall Salon & Spa Growth

December 11, 2017 | By Eric Ducoff | No Comments

Leading Overall Salon Spa Growth

The “fill columns on the appointment book” approach to growing a salon/spa has been around forever.

It’s a pretty straight forward process of feeding a service provider(s) new clients and building individual request rates until the column(s) is full. Then, start filling another column. It’s the business equivalent of spinning plates.

Obviously, it’s really nice when a service provider comes with a “following” to instantly fill his or her column.

But that column of business that now lives on your appointment book, left a hole on the previous employer’s appointment book.

Such is life in the salon/spa business.

FACT: Employee turnover has long been an industry challenge, but it’s the devastation of staff walkouts that owners fear most.... Read More

TIP Reporting: Salon & Spa Owners Cannot Make Up Their Own Rules

September 25, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

A thread in our Salon, Spa, Business Idea Exchange Discussion Group on Facebook prompted this post.

An owner posted, “I have a question about the cash that gets handed over to the service provider. Are you saying we are supposed to have all employees at the end of the day give back all their cash tips received and then I put that into their pay?”

What ensued was a barrage of back and forth posts that were divided into two groups:

Group One believes, as one owner stated, “Taxing tips is not your [the owner’s] problem, it’s the employees. Don’t worry about them. Educate your employees about claiming cash tips and let it go.”

Group Two believes, “Tips are income earned at work and subject to the same withholding tax as regular pay — and employers are responsible to report and pay those taxes.”

Which group is correct? Obviously, it’s Group Two.... Read More

Overcoming the BIG Salon & Spa Team Culture Disconnect

September 18, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Everyone talks about the importance of creating the right culture. It’s a no-brainer. Great salons and spas have great team cultures.

So why is creating a great team culture so inherently difficult in our industry? The answer is quite simple. But to understand that simple answer, you must allow yourself to see through the “what is” to reveal the “what can be.”

The “what is”:

Build “me” versus “we”: The most significant difference between an “I/me/mine” and a “team-based” culture can be summed up in two words – request rate. The historic and accepted industry benchmark for “individual success” is becoming “booked solid” with requests. It’s the classic case of “what gets measured – gets repeated.” By design, the culture is “me” based – not team based.... Read More

No-Compromise Rules for Salon & Spa Pay Raises

September 11, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

rules for salon and spa pay raises

When a service provider busts his or her butt for your salon/spa, for career advancement and to deliver the very best service experiences to customers – the reward could certainly be a pay raise.

Giving a service provider a pay raise seems like a rather straightforward process. However, the he or she “does a great job – give’m a pay raise” scenario barely scratches the surface.

There is a process that owners need to follow to ensure that raises are planned, affordable and done for the right reasons.

Salons and spas that pay commission on services are severely handicapped when it comes to raises. The so-called “raise tools” on commission are a commission increase, a price increase, or a combination of both.... Read More

Salon & Spa Leadership: More than Written Words

August 14, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Salons and spas aren’t the only businesses that struggle to get employees to consistently follow procedures, rules, read important information and vital internal communication. All businesses struggle.

That’s why I cringe when I hear owners say, “I’m writing an employee handbook to get my business organized.” No matter how big or small your business, handbooks and operations manuals are an absolute must.

FACT: Handbooks, manuals, emails, text messages, group text apps, group project management apps, and other non-verbal tools are merely words that scratch the surface of true leadership.

Reality Check: To ensure that every member of your team understands the game plan, rules, procedures and expectations, nothing surpasses verbal communication.

  • Leadership brings words to life
  • Leadership makes it important
  • Leadership creates the sense of urgency to get it done
  • Leadership reinforces the culture
  • Leadership implements change and sees it through until it sticks

Perfect Example: Posting “invisible” Scoreboards... Read More

Service Excellence IS Your Salon/Spa Brand

August 7, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Your brand is defined by service excellence … not the products on your shelves.

The simple truth is, because you’re a service business first, professional product manufacturers need you more than you need them. No disrespect to any manufacturer, it’s simply the truth.

Today, more than ever, every salon/spa owner must answer this question: Is your salon/spa consistently delivering service excellence to every client?

If your instant response is, “Yes, definitely,” you need a reality wake-up call.

  • “Consistently delivering service excellence” means that every system and every employee is dialed in and committed to your vision for your salon/spa.
  • It means the teamwork that goes into creating service excellence appears seamless and effortless … even though it required relentlessly hard work to achieve.

Here’s the truth that every owner must digest and respond to: No matter how damn good you think your business is today at creating those extraordinary customer service experiences, you can do better … a lot better.... Read More

How Navigate the Upheaval in Professional Product Retailing

July 31, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

how to handle professional product upheaval - mmwu 7-31-17

Virtually every professional-only product is now available for sale on Amazon.

It doesn’t matter if the manufacturers’ deal with Amazon is to buy from them and sell at salon/spa MSRP. (This essentially blocks unauthorized Amazon resellers from selling below MSRP.)

What does matter is that the once “professional only” products are even present on Amazon.

FACT: Professional products would have found their way to Amazon … no matter what.

If Shoemaker Birkenstock can battle Amazon … why aren’t professional product makers?

The chief executive of Birkenstock USA, David Kahan, has emerged as an unlikely crusader in a growing battle between smaller retailers and the ever-expanding Amazon online machine.... Read More

The State of Salon & Spa Retailing

July 24, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

the state of salon spa retailing

Professional product retailing was in its infancy in the early 1970s. The four- to six-week haircut and blow dry and the baby boomer generation were absolutely made for each other.

Redken was the first major player to take the retailing of professional products seriously. It was the first to offer basic signage and Redken branded retail displays.

It didn’t take long for competitors like Jerry Redding’s Jhirmack to jump in to stake its claim to a piece of the salon retail marketplace.

Then came Matrix, Paul Mitchell, Aveda and a seemingly endless parade of professional-only manufacturers.

Along with the success of professional product retailing came diversion. Just about every major professional product manufacturer touted their attempts to stop diversion … but diversion is as widespread today as ever.... Read More

Three Business Lessons from my Accident

July 17, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

3-lesson-accident-MMWU-7-17-17

This is my first Monday Morning Wake-Up since June 12th.

I’ve been writing my weekly Monday Morning Wake-Up (MMWU) non-stop for over ten years.

It’s a responsibility that I take seriously because leading and growing a successful salon/spa in these tumultuously changing times is tough … even for the most experienced leaders. And I take pride in doing my part to help you get there.

However, on Wednesday, June 7th, at 5:30pm, my life and world was turned upside down.

I am an avid cyclist. I left the office around 3:00pm to do a 20-mile training ride in preparation for my tenth MS Cape Cod Getaway Ride. I was looking forward to leading Team Strategies on the 150-mile ride from Boston to Provincetown that was coming up on June 24-25.... Read More

How to Be Prepared When Top Service Providers Leave

July 10, 2017 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

service-providers-leave-mmwu-7-10-17

As a leader of a company, you develop relationships with your team members.

They show up to work without fail for 5, 10, or 15+ years without missing a beat.

You can count on them.

You attended their weddings, went to their baby showers and paid your respect at the funerals of their loved ones. They have been to your house for holiday gatherings, and even babysat your kids.

Then, one day, they walk into your office and give their two-week notice — as if two weeks is really going to give you enough time to prepare for how this will impact the business.

Needless to say, the emotional impact is going to be troublesome, as well.

As the conversation continues, the employee swears they are not going to take any clients or formulas, and when asked, they vaguely explain that they are still unsure of where they are going.... Read More

How to Build Trust in Your Salon or Spa

July 2, 2017 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

how to build trust in your salon spa

Have you ever managed people who just didn’t trust one another?

We hear it all too often at Strategies …

  • The service providers don’t trust the front desk to book appointments correctly.
  • The front desk doesn’t trust the service providers to run on time.
  • The employees do not trust the manager to be fair to them.
  • The owners do not trust that the managers will hold the employees accountable.

…. and it goes on and on in a self-defeating, crazy circle of “NON-TRUST.”

This scenario is played out in salons and spas every day.

The fact is, a team without trust isn’t really a team. It’s just a group of individuals, working together, often making disappointing progress. When you have trust, it promotes creativity, empowerment, teamwork, and the leadership needed during times of uncertainty and change. What’s left is a culture of trust that is an asset for any salon or spa.... Read More

The Salon/Spa Owner’s Guide to Scaling Back Services

June 26, 2017 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

salon spa owners guide to scaling back services

You’ve built the most beautiful salon/spa in your town.

Clients love you.

You are really busy — like, 12-hour days busy — and plenty of cash is flowing into the register!

Great situation, RIGHT?

There’s just one minor problem…You’re the only one who is busy. 

Every week, we have multiple conversations with owners facing this exact situation, with each sharing their frustrations about looking up from their chairs, or emerging from their treatment rooms, to see staff hanging around with no clients.

Here is the far-too typical phone conversation we have with salon/spa owners:

Strategies: “How many hours per week do you perform services?”
Answer: “40+ hours.”... Read More

Is Your Salon or Spa Prepared for the Unknown?

June 19, 2017 | By Michael Yost | No Comments

is your salon or spa prepared for the unknown

The Unknown

Let that word sink in, because it can, and will, impact all of us at some point in our lives.

At Strategies, we encounter the Unknown everyday in our coaching work with salons and spas. Before you know it, the Unknown can rear its head with issues surrounding:

  • Staff leaving
  • Having enough cash
  • Low team performance
  • Lack of strong leadership
  • Suites opening down the block

Two weeks ago the Unknown hit close to home at Strategies. Our founder, Neil Ducoff, was injured in a bicycle accident just two blocks from our corporate offices. During the first few days after the accident, there were many Unknowns. But thanks to the systems and infrastructure we’ve worked so hard to create here at Strategies, business was able to continue on as usual. (We’re happy to report that Neil is on the mend and a full recovery is expected.)... Read More

Salon & Spa Scoreboard Mania! Inspiring Team Engagement

June 12, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Salon Spa Scoreboards Team Engagement

In last week’s Monday Morning Wake-Up I stressed the importance of Financial Literacy training for employees.

This week, I want to stress the importance of focusing on the total salon/spa goal and keeping team engagement high through scoreboards and huddles.

FACT #1: If you want teamwork and team culture, leaders must unite employees around the salon/spa service and retail goal.

Why?

Because that’s the goal that covers payroll, pays the bills and provides growth opportunity for all. And yes, profit too.

FACT #2: If your approach to goal setting is by individual service provider, the result is employees competing against each other, not beating the competition. More importantly, you’re “building columns on the appointment book” … not a team-based effort or culture.... Read More

Where the Money REALLY Goes in a Salon or Spa

June 5, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

In an industry almost entirely driven by skilled, creative and passionate professionals, it’s easy to understand that there is a significant lack of interest in “the numbers” side of business.

So much so, that it’s not unusual to hear service providers say, “I don’t care about the numbers, I just want to do my work,” when owners and managers try to share financial and critical numbers with staff.

At Strategies, our business is coaching owners of employee-based salons and spas to grow successful and sustainable companies. For a business to be “successful and sustainable,” it must not only be profitable, it must have sufficient cash reserves. Remember, “Profit is not cash.”

FACT #1: Financial literacy — understanding financial reports and financial management — is a non-negotiable for ALL businesses – large and small.

FACT #2: There are many “busy” salons and spas that bring in a lot of money that are barely profitable and are tight for cash.... Read More

How to Use Information Flow to Maximize Customer Loyalty

May 29, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

The challenge of delivering consistently high levels of customer loyalty and retention is the subjective nature of exactly what customer loyalty is and looks like.

What one customer regards as quality service may be completely different to another.

At salons and spas, that same subjectivity exists with employees. Owners and managers must define, communicate and train all employees to deliver customer experiences to maximize the loyalty factor as the salon/spa envisions it.

Without this absolute level of clarity, individual employee interpretations will lead to inconsistent service experiences that compromise customer loyalty.

Information-flow systems are vital to keeping your critical numbers for customer loyalty in front of employees. It doesn’t make sense to complain about low customer retention rates if employees can’t see and monitor the same numbers that are frustrating you.

I’ve done countless staff meetings where, for the first time, I introduced the company’s first-time customer retention rates. In utter disbelief, their responses are, “No way we’re losing that many first-time clients.” ... Read More

How Salon & Spa Teamwork Drives Customer Loyalty

May 22, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

MMWU - Teamwork drives salon and spa customer loyalty 5.22.17

This is NOT just another article on “teamwork.”

This IS an article that gives a very different spin on what teamwork truly needs to look like in salons and spas, and how teamwork is the engine that powers customer loyalty.

Customer Loyalty is a Business Outcome.

Customer Loyalty is all about delivering extraordinary service, quality and value to achieve maximum client retention … and doing so with a no-compromise passion to be nothing less than world-class.

As an owner or manager, you must take special care to monitor, inspire, coach and lead employees to do whatever it takes to drive customer loyalty … and to do it as a team.

FACT: Anytime an employee or team loses the vital connection between their work and customer loyalty, there will be a measurable drop in customer retention.... Read More

How to Make Money in an Employee-Based Salon or Spa

May 15, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

How to Make Money in Employee-Based Salon Spa - MMWUWhy would anyone open a salon, spa or medspa if it can’t make money? Especially when they’re notorious for operating at low single digit profits, or losing money … and plagued by staff walkouts.

It’s also true that many service provider owners wouldn’t get a paycheck if they weren’t working behind the chair or in the treatment room.

In fact, many owners realize they could make more money as employees in their business, working on the very compensation system they designed.

The true, but sobering, news is that when any business struggles to pay bills and create profit, it’s because their owners design and operate them that way.

The top four culprits are:

  • Compensation systems that are financially unsustainable
  • Undisciplined spending behaviors
  • Excessive borrowing and credit card debt
  • Excessive employee turnover

IMPORTANT: Throwing in the towel to go booth rental or suite is a knee-jerk reaction to a bad situation.... Read More

The Secret to Salon/Spa Success Hasn’t Changed

May 8, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

I’ve been training and coaching salon/spa owners since the mid 1970’s. I’ve coached wildly successful businesses and I’ve coached more than my share of owners out of the fiery pits of hell.

Sadly, I’ve coached salons/spas that just couldn’t figure success out and closed their doors.

In almost every case, no matter how accurately I pointed them toward daylight, they would find a way to sabotage their own recovery.

Through it all, I’ve acquired a keen perspective of the thinking and behaviors that drive success … and those that lead to business nightmares.

There are no shortcuts to success.

There are no quick fixes.

Just the other day, a former coaching client called me seeking guidance. Her business has been struggling for a long time. She was at the point of making that really tough decision … close it or fight.

She decided to fight. However, the decision to fight, as admirable as it sounds, is very different from actually fighting to save a business.... Read More

Making Tough Salon and Spa Decisions

May 1, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Making tough decisions is just another responsibility of being a salon/spa owner. You don’t have to like them, but you absolutely do have to make them.

The tough decisions I’m referring to are the ones that rip at your core, keep you awake at night and refuse to give your mind a few moments of peace.

The problem with making tough decisions is that when you finally make them, the relief is only momentary. The weight on your shoulders simply shifts to the execution phase.

A really tough decision

A coaching client recently asked for my guidance on a really tough decision regarding a long-term, full-time employee’s health challenges. Eight months ago, this busy and popular stylist began having life-threatening health issues that required surgery and extended time off of work.

The owner did her best to support the employee through her health challenge. The team also stepped up by chipping in to pay the employee’s half of her health insurance until she could resume full-time work, which was supposed to happen four months ago.... Read More

Brand Building for Team-Based Pay Salons & Spas

April 24, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Brand Building for Team-Based Pay Salons Spas

Being busy doesn’t create a brand.

Filling chairs and treatment rooms doesn’t build a brand.

Building client loyalty to “stylists/estheticians/massage tech/etc.” is more anti-brand building than anything.

There are amazing ways to “build” career opportunities for service providers far beyond “building their book.”

Building a brand means building a “company” that delivers something unique and special to its customers that competitors just can’t match.

Here are TWO significant brand-building strategies for salons and spas that fit perfectly into the Team-Based Pay Business Model:

Strategy #1: Sell “TIME” … not “services”

Your salon/spa sells time in exchange for your professional services. The old business model is about filling up individual service providers’ columns on the appointment book with haircuts, color, skin care, etc. A “seize the moment” business model could easily be about selling clients blocks of time to receive multiple services and professional guidance from a team.... Read More

Salon & Spa Owners: Seize this Moment!

April 17, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Salon Spa Owners Seize the Moment

The more owners I talk to, the more I hear them saying how tough business is these days.

Topping the list is the fear of losing staff to the lure of suites.

Then it’s rising costs.

Then it’s hearing clients say they can buy the same professional products cheaper from Amazon and other internet sites.

And on and on it goes.

Over the last forty years, I’ve written countless articles that included the statement, “These are tough times to be a salon/spa owner.”

Guess what? Growing a successful business IS tough. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking forty, ten, five years or one day ago, business has always been described by one word: Tough.

When the universal word to describe business is “tough,” the worst strategy is to stay in the same boat with owners that refuse to change. They’re all hoping things will get better. Guess what? “Hope” is not a strategy. Hope doesn’t stop a boat from sinking.... Read More

Change, Suites and the Four Salon & Spa Success Absolutes

April 10, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Change-Suites-MMWU

The pace of change doesn’t care about the current state of your salon/spa. It doesn’t care how young or old, energetic or tired you are. It doesn’t care how much you think you know or what keeps you up at night.

The pace of change doesn’t care if you want to play the business game fast, slow or not at all.

The pace of change is the relationship of time and innovation. It’s relentless. It’s disruptive. It can be exciting for some and be intimidating for others.

As an employee-based salon/spa owner, you have four choices:

  1. Be at the forefront of change.
  2. Try to keep up.
  3. Fall behind.
  4. Give up.

There is a disturbing level of fear among employee-based salons/spa owners. Much of it is centered on the growth of independents and suites. The rest is the usual financial stress of running a salon/spa in today’s business environment.... Read More

Are You an Obsessive Compulsive Salon or Spa Owner?

April 3, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Obsessive Compulsive Salon Spa Owner

One of the traits of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is the need for “everything” to be a certain way or done just right.

At a salon or spa, the traits of OCD are manifested in an owner or manager in the form of micromanaging damn near everything…

Like getting involved in everyone’s work to the point where your hands are doing the work.

Or…

Taking a project you assigned to an employee and completely redoing it.

Or…

Redoing retail displays, refolding towels, organizing employees’ work areas, rewriting promos, training manuals, presentations and more.

If this describes your approach to leadership…

You’re driving your employees, especially your leadership team, crazy!!!... Read More

Cinderella’s Glass Slipper Only Fits JCPenney Salons

March 27, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

The last time I checked, there were still only one hundred pennies in a dollar.

In business, if you spend less than one hundred pennies of every dollar, you have profit. If you spend more than one hundred pennies you have negative profit and lose money.

At salons and spas, the largest single expense will always be service payroll. And like any expense, payroll costs must be controlled in order to be sustainable.

About fifty years ago, the professional beauty industry got itself into trouble when creative stylists began opening salons without the know how to design compensation systems or manage finances and cash flow.

Commission was the no-brainer go-to compensation system of choice.

What could be simpler than paying a stylist a percentage of what they bring in? Commission will motivate them to build their clientele. And what could be more super simpler than a 50/50 commission split? No one gets paid unless they ring up a sale.

But going with super-simple commission had a downside that has manifested itself into the business nightmares that have plagued salons, and now spas, for decades.... Read More

The Salon & Spa Business Acid Test

March 13, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Salon & Spa Business Acid TestIn so many ways, a business is a living functional being.

It has emotions, behaviors and vital signs.

Your business can be disciplined and in amazing shape. It can be lethargic, disorganized and in terrible shape.

A salon/spa business can be financially healthy. It can also be cash-starved, burdened with debt making it just plain sick.

A business can outlive its owners … and a business can die.

A salon/spa business can “appear” successful … but one look behind the curtain can reveal toxic conditions that cannot be hidden indefinitely.

So how does YOUR salon/spa stack up?

Let’s find out!

I put together this salon/spa business acid test to help you identify what’s working right and what needs attention and fixing.... Read More

Social Media Must-Do’s for Salons & Spas

March 6, 2017 | By Eric Ducoff | No Comments

Social Media Must-Dos for Salons & Spas

Facebook, Instagram or Twitter?

One post a day or 10 posts a day?

How do I get more Likes?

From “InstaStylists” to live technical videos, social media has literally reinvented the way salons, spas and service providers advertise and communicate with their clients and prospects.

But as working salon, spa and medspa owners, finding the time to keep up with the rapid-fire changes in social media and digital marketing can be daunting. Just as we think we’ve got one platform figured out, another one comes along.

So let’s get you on track!

The following is a list of social media questions that come up regularly in our Facebook group, the Strategies Salon & Spa Business Idea Exchange.... Read More

Who Pays for Salon & Spa Education?

February 6, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

I have a reputation for telling salon/spa owners what they need to hear … not what they want to hear.

What you are going to read here is sure to open a massive can of worms.

But you need to read it.

How we got here:

For over 40+ years, I’ve been saying that the old commission business model feeds the thinking and behaviors that you don’t want in your salon/spa.

Many listen, learn, implement and believe in my Team-Based Pay business model and know what true next level success is all about.

Of course, there are those so imbedded in the old business model that say, “It won’t work.” But the TBP business model does work.

Commission is simply a “you get a piece – I get a piece” pay system. Do more, make more. Sell more, make more. Hustle more, make more. Learn more, make more.... Read More

The Bitter Side of Salon & Spa Suites

January 16, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | 8 Comments

Bitter Side of Salon Suites MMWU 1.16.17

The suite phenomenon is the equivalent of a modern day gold rush. More and more suite franchises are popping up everywhere. All the suite franchises are advertising heavily to acquire both new franchisees and service provider tenants.

NOTE: This MMWU is about the recruitment tactics of suites companies and franchises.

The suite pitch to salon/spa service providers is quite simple, and easily hits all the hot buttons:

  • Grow your “own” business … not someone else’s
  • Make more money … a lot more
  • Freedom over your own schedule
  • Escape the drama
  • Use the products you want
  • Make your own rules
  • No more non-compete contracts

In reality, the suite pitch is an attack on anything and everything about employee-based salons/spas. It’s like every day is a “lets beat up on owners” day.... Read More

The Aging Salon/Spa Business Model

January 9, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

The aging salon/spa business model

The closing of The Ted Gibson Salon in New York City just days before Christmas has fueled the debate that the salon/spa industry has officially entered an era of dramatic change.

Ted Gibson is a GREAT stylist … one I have admired for years.

Gibson said in the Modern Salon interview, “We were open for six years before we had our first walkout, then we had one four years later, then another two years later and one back in September.”

That’s four walkouts over thirteen years.

Clearly, Ted Gibson’s celebrity work, the Ted Gibson Artistic Team, the Ted Gibson Academy and his new product company pulled his attention away from the salon.... Read More

Non-Compete Agreements for Salons & Spas… Yes or no?

November 28, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

Non-Compete Agreements for Salons & Spas

Some salon/spa owners swear by non-compete agreements…

Some want nothing to do with them…

Many just aren’t sure if they are right for their company – or if they can stand up in court.

This Monday Morning Wake-Up will help you decide or possibly rethink your current non-compete agreement.

Pro’s for Non-Compete Agreements

  • Protect your salon/spa’s proprietary and confidential information: This includes client lists, client files, client service data, including color formulas and treatments. This also includes training and skill certification programs, policy and operations manuals. Essentially, any information or documented knowledge created by your company that supports your brand and competitive advantage.
  • Protect your investment in developing and growing employees: Cosmetology school gets them a license. In order to create real career opportunities, salons and spas must invest time and money developing new talent. A non-compete agreement can include provisions for employees to reimburse the company for the value of that training should they leave within a specific (and realistic) period of time.
  • Serves as a deterrent: By signing a non-compete agreement, the intent is that employees will think twice about leaving and avoid the legal consequences.
  • Non-solicitation of clients and staff: A non-compete agreement can include a provision to restrict former employees from contacting and/or marketing to clients they serviced while employed at your salon/spa. The provision can extend to prevent the employee from soliciting other employees to leave and join them.
  • Go far enough away: A non-compete agreement can include a provision that prevents an employee from working within a specific mile radius of the company. This provision should be realistic based on your marketplace. For example, a judge will rule in favor of the employee if your non-compete radius is excessive and restricts the employee’s right to work. One to five miles is realistic. Twenty miles is not.
  • The bottom line: Owners implement non-compete agreements to prevent or limit the damage of employees leaving with “their” clients.

Con’s against Non-Compete Agreements

  • New hire buzz kill: No matter how logical and well understood they are, non-compete agreements can rub potential and existing employees the wrong way. Just like signing a marriage pre-nup, a non-compete agreement defines the consequences should the employee end his or her employment … or get fired. The “sign this if you want to work here” condition could cause a qualified new hire to decline the offer.
  • Implementation with existing employees: So, you decide it’s time to protect your company from being ravaged by departing employees and present a non-compete agreement that all employees must sign. It’s a bold move and you must be prepared for one or more employees to refuse to sign. Now you’re stuck in a power play. If you allow some employees not to sign, a judge could rule in favor of the employee because of the unfairness that you allowed some employees to stay without signing.
  • Changing the nature of employment: If you decide to implement non-compete agreements with existing staff, you are “changing the nature of employment.” This means they were originally hired without a non-compete … and now they must sign one to stay. Employees can sign, eventually leave … and challenge the fairness of having to sign a non-compete for doing the same job. A promotion to a new role in the company or a raise … in conjunction with signing a non-compete can add a degree of fairness to the requirement to sign.
  • If you don’t enforce it: An employee leaves and willfully violates one or more of the provisions of your non-compete. You decide not to enforce the non-compete agreement with this employee. No matter how valid your reason is for not enforcing it with this former employee … you just put the future validity of all non-compete agreements into question. An employee’s attorney can argue that your history of not enforcing non-compete agreements with some employees and not others is biased to this employee. Rule: Don’t implement non-compete agreements if you are not committed to enforcing them.
  • Don’t get your non-compete agreement on Facebook: “Can anyone share their non-complete with me?” We see this question on Facebook all the time … and it’s outrageously foolish. It’s just as foolish to download a generic non-compete agreement from any internet source. If you want a non-compete agreement that has the best chance of being upheld in your state … have it prepared by an attorney that specializes in labor law.
  • Only a judge can decide if your non-compete agreement will protect you: The one absolute about non-compete agreements is that they are open to judicial interpretation. Just because you hear owner’s talk about how their non-compete stood up in court … doesn’t mean yours will … especially if the provisions and restrictions are viewed as unfair to the employee.
  • Clients of the dearly departed may follow anyway: If a service provider’s success at your salon/spa is based on building “their” clientele … a non-compete cannot prevent a client from going to a competing salon/spa or independent booth or suite. Social media, especially Facebook and Instagram, give employees direct access to “their” clients. A non-compete agreement cannot fix what was already compromised.

Please consider this …

There are two primary reasons to implement a non-compete in a salon/spa.... Read More

Honoring Employee-Based Salon and Spa Owners

November 21, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Honoring Employee-Based Salons, Spa and Medspas

This Monday Morning Wake-Up is for the dreamers…

The visionaries and brave souls that ventured into salon/spa ownership.

You are the unsung heroes willing to risk it all for an opportunity to test your ability to turn your vision, ideas and concepts into something special – something of value.

You signed and personally guaranteed the leases and loans. You put your home up as collateral. Family members backed you.

Because YOU believed in you … others believed in you.

Many of you were successful service providers. Your busy chair or treatment room was undeniable proof of your technical and customer service skills. Yes, you were the classic E-Myth entrepreneur technician who became an unprepared business owner.... Read More

The Heart of a Salon or Spa Owner

November 7, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Never let go of that unique dream that compelled you to become a salon or spa owner.

If it was that lifelong dream of building a company that stands above all others … 

Never let go of that dream.

If it was building and leading a team of extraordinary, like-minded and talented individuals

Never let go of that dream.

If it was finding financial success and the freedom to do the work you love

Never let go of that dream.

If it was simply your ambition to challenge yourself to build something great

Never let go of that dream.

Choosing the path of becoming an entrepreneur in the salon/spa industry is as exciting as it is challenging.

  • Building out your space is exciting.
  • Hiring that initial team is exciting.
  • The joy of seeing young talent mature into true professionals is fulfilling.
  • Experiencing your first cash-flow crisis is not so exciting.
  • Getting stuck in a cash-flow crisis is a living nightmare.
  • Building up staff only to see them leave with a chunk of your business is gut wrenching.

Through it all, it is the heart of a salon/spa owner that gives your business life, meaning and purpose. It is the heart of the owner that empowers employees to follow and share the dream. It is the heart of the owner that keeps the business strong through tough times. And when the heart of the owner loses sight of the dream … the business wanders dangerously off course.... Read More

Controlling Salon & Spa Employee Turnover

October 31, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Controlling Salon Spa Staff Turnover

We all know that employees come and go. Every business has employee turnover and attrition. For salons and spas, turnover is an ongoing issue.

Getting stuck in the “employees just don’t stay with salons/spas very long” thinking can lead business cultures down a dangerous path…where employees are regarded as commodities, rather than the precious resources they are.

Too many owners are saying, “Why train them and build them if they’re just going to leave?”

Why?

Because in order to deliver quality service and technical skill … and build a viable brand … investing in training and developing employees is a non-negotiable.

Today, owners should be fighting to change this thinking – not feed it.... Read More

Making Salon/Spa Revenue Goals the Goal of Everyone

October 24, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Making Salon/Spa Revenue Goals ... Everyone’s Goal

Salon/spa service providers easily relate to their individual weekly and monthly goals. They do the work. They watch their numbers. Some push hard to meet and exceed their goals. Others aren’t so numbers driven and don’t push so hard.

In business, there is only one score that supersedes all others … did the salon/spa hit its revenue goal? It may be great that some individuals hit their personal goal, but if the salon/spa … the company … comes up short of its revenue goal, there are real consequences.

  • Because revenue goals represent break even plus profit, missing goal puts stress on the company’s ability to pay its expenses, debt obligations and fund growth initiatives.
  • Everyone likes to get a raise, advanced education and better benefits. That can’t happen if the salon/spa misses its monthly revenue goals more than it makes goal.
  • Missed monthly goals ultimately force owners to cut back on expenses. The longer missing goal continues … the deeper the cut backs need to go.

In team sports, the ultimate goal is to have a winning season, make it to the playoffs … and win the championship. The better the level and intensity of teamwork … the better the chance of having a winning season and winning it all.... Read More

How to Eliminate No-shows in Your Salon or Spa

October 17, 2016 | By Bruce Hourigan | 1 Comment

How to Eliminate No-shows in Your Salon or Spa

Guest contributor: Stan Bialecki, Strategies Director of Business Development … and salon owner

Has this ever happened in your salon or spa?

You’re excited about this Saturday…

A quick check of the appointment book on Friday night shows an amazing 87% booked. You sleep well assured that Saturday is going to be a great day.

The team arrives and they are excited for a busy Saturday. Then at 7:30am, things start to fall apart…

The first two clients don’t show up for their appointments.... Read More

The Truth About Salon/Spa Product Cost Deductions

October 10, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | 7 Comments

The Truth About Salon/Spa Product Cost Deductions

I first heard about product cost deductions in the early 1970s. Over forty years later, the product cost deduction pitch to staff hasn’t changed … but the industry most definitely has.

The pitch typically sounds like: “We’re going to raise service prices ten percent. The increase will be deducted from your service total before your commission is applied. The increase is to cover professional product cost. You will still make the same money.”

This is what service providers typically hear: “We’re doing the work. We’re not making commission on the price increase. We got a pay cut. Product cost is the salon/spa’s problem … not ours.”... Read More

Client Situations: Own Them Before They Own You

October 3, 2016 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

Client Situations: Own Them Before They Own You

By Stan Bialecki, Guest Monday Morning Wake-Up Contributor

Has this ever happened in your salon or spa?

A client states that she’s not happy with her service or experience at your salon/spa. The service provider tells the client, “I gave you what you asked for … live with it for a few days … see if you like it.”

At checkout, a guest care team member completely dismisses the client’s concerns.

They think they handled the situation well.

That is…

…until the bad online review pops up twenty minutes after the client leaves your business.

Poorly addressing client situations happens far too often in our industry. It’s one of the reasons why the industry’s average first-time client retention rate continues to hover around a disconcerting thirty percent.... Read More

Are You Willing to Go for Excellence in Your Salon/Spa?

September 26, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Are You Willing to Go for "Excellence" in Your Salon/Spa?

When it comes to customer service and technical excellence, how great do you want your salon/spa to be? You probably answered something like, “Pretty darn great.” Now, describe in detail what that “pretty darn great” looks like.

Now … how does your current level of customer service and technical excellence of your salon/spa compare to your vision of “pretty darn great”?

Most likely, there’s going to be a gap between where you are now and that pretty darn great.

So … what is it truly going to take to consistently deliver great customer service and technical excellence to your clients?... Read More

Working Owners: Why You Must Work More ON than In Your Salon/Spa

September 19, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Why You Must Work More "ON" than "In" Your Salon/Spa

As a working owner, when you say, “I love doing [hair/skin/nails/massage]” … it is a true expression of your passion and commitment for the technical and creative work that got you into business.

Your work defines and fulfills you. And it should.

But the day you become a salon/spa owner … what defines you changes. Like it or not, your focus, determination, responsibilities and accountabilities are forever changed.

  • It’s no longer about what your hands can create … it’s about what you can envision, execute, organize, systematize, innovate and inspire.
  • More than anything, it’s about your ability to be a leader.

Doing great work is a very different career path than leading great work. Doing great work is a personal expression of your creative and technical talent.... Read More

Salon & Spa Interviewing and the PAY Conversation

September 12, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

A phone call comes in for a position you want to fill. The prospective employee says, “I’m interested in the [service provider] position you have open. What commission rate do you pay?”

I have never understood why, in the salon/spa industry, the pay conversation can begin before an owner has a chance to say, “Tell me a little about your experience.”

Hiring a stylist, colorist, esthetician, massage therapist, nail tech or any other technical position, is all about finding the right fit in terms of skill, personality and culture. It’s an investment of time, energy and resources to create the right opportunity for the right individual.

It’s imperative to ensure that these pieces fit before the pay conversation begins.

The intricacies of hiring an employee is diametrically opposed to renting a booth or suite where the service provider’s ability to pay rent is paramount.... Read More

Success, Paying Attention and Avoiding the Business Rollercoaster

September 5, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

The dreaded rollercoaster ride is almost always traceable to owners that dialed back how intently they payed attention to their salon/spa business.

The salon/spa business has a funny way of sneaking up behind you and smacking you in the head. Almost always, owners get smacked because they weren’t paying attention to what is going on around them … and ahead of them.

  • All it takes is a little staff turnover, some overspending, a system breakdown, or a momentary lack of focus to push your business off course.

Success has a way of making owners feel safe, comfortable and content. They dial back their state of awareness and connectedness to the business. The days of hard work and relentlessly pushing forward fade away.

The ride to the top of the success rollercoaster took enormous effort and tenacity. When you get distracted and disconnected, the ride down can be an out-of-control, white-knuckle, thrill ride into cultural, operational and financial issues.... Read More

Salon/Spa Scoreboards: Getting Everyone on the Same Page

August 29, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

At the top of every salon/spa owner’s wish list is, “how do I get everyone on the same page?” The only truly effective way to get everyone on that elusive same page is to have them all looking at that same page … at the same time.

For years, I’ve listened to owners say, “scoreboards and huddles won’t work.” The excuses range from work schedules that are all over the place to an outright fear and/or refusal to share the salon/spa’s true revenue goal for the month.

  • It’s like they want everyone to work really hard together for a goal that’s hidden behind a curtain.
  • Others only want to give individual goals in hopes that it all adds up to a company win. But that’s nothing more than growing columns on the appointment book … not growing a dynamic team-based company.

A simple information-flow acid test... Read More

Salon & Spa Performance Reviews: Addressing the tough stuff

August 22, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

You’re getting ready to do a performance evaluation with a key service provider. There have been behavior and performance issues that you had hoped would just fade away. But, as they often do, the issues continued and now they are beginning to impact other members of your team.

You know this employee is highly sensitive to constructive feedback. Almost always, it spins off all kinds of drama, emotions and funk. Because of this, getting into the “tough stuff” with this employee always produces a knot in your stomach.

So, the evaluation begins. You navigate through the process until you reach that point where all that remains to be said is the tough stuff. You feel like you’ve cornered a wild beast and you’re just trying to find the best moment to capture it without getting mauled.

And then it happens…

…you ask the employee if she has any questions and you end the evaluation.

You hesitated.

You left essential things unsaid.... Read More

Is Your Salon or Spa FIVE STAR or Something Less?

August 15, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Is your salon or spa five star

Go to a Five Star hotel or restaurant and you expect the very best in every way.

A Five Star rating is all about no compromise.

A Five Star rating is beyond a status symbol.

It is a commitment by an entire organization to flawlessly execute the highest levels of customer service and expertise every time … all the time.

No salon/spa owner sets out to be less than the best. No stylist, esthetician, massage or nail technician wants to intentionally be less than the best. Life and circumstances have a way of pushing the best intentions off course.

But, being the best is hard work … and it’s always worth the effort to get there.

The Ultimate Salon/Spa Team Meeting

When it comes to the execution of customer service systems and technical work, salons and spas can be notoriously inconsistent. So, to consider your salon/spa a Five Star organization, the inconsistencies have to go away. For most, that means it’s time to rock the boat.... Read More

Inspiring Millennials in the Salon or Spa

August 8, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Millennials in the salon or spa

I am not a researcher or demographics expert. I’m simply a life-long student of business, an observer and entrepreneur.

There is so much “labeling” of the thinking and behavior of a broad range of generations, that false assumptions are being made that directly conflict with the most basic rule of success.

Success is about working hard to achieve your goals and dreams. Achieving success has nothing to do with the year a person was born.

I respect and celebrate generational diversity. However, I really take issue with all this generation profiling of Baby Boomers, Gen X and now, Millennials. I don’t do it with people based on the color of their skin or ethnicity. I don’t do it with people seeking to start a career.... Read More

Overcoming the Fear of Change in Your Salon or Spa

August 1, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Overcoming the Fear of Change - 8.1.16

Change.

Can it be a scary endeavor for salon and spa leaders?

It sure can.

But the more important question to ask is this: What’s better for the long-term health of your business…avoiding change because you’re afraid of the unknown, or succumbing to your broken/outdated systems and not taking any action at all?

Let’s look at some facts that we’ve proven through our years of coaching and educating salon and spa owners…

FACT #1: The fundamental fear of implementing change in a salon/spa is almost always tied to one…or both…of the following:

  • Staff resistance
  • Loss of business should one or more employees leave with “their” clientele.

Yes, walk-outs can be devastating.... Read More

12 Crucial Facts about First-Time Client Retention

July 25, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

salon spa first-time client retention

DEFINITION – First-Time Client Retention Rate: The percentage of first-time clients that return for a second visit within a specified period of time, usually ninety days.

Converting first-time clients into repeating loyal customers is the undisputed growth driver for salons and spas. In fact, it’s the undisputed growth driver for all businesses.

Here are my 12 No-Compromise Leadership crucial facts about first-time client retention (FTCR):

  1. FTCR is NOT about Request Rate: Request tracking is an old measurement system. It only measures “who asks for who” – not how many first-time clients return to the salon/spa for a second visit. FACT: Request rate measures if “a column on your appointment book” is building a following. At Strategies, we refer to “Request Rate” as a salon/spa’s “Walk-Out Factor.If you want to know how much damage will be inflicted on your business if a “column on your appointment book” leaves … track individual request rates. If you want a “team-based culture” … never track individual request rates.
  2. FTCR is teamwork driven: Growing a successful salon/spa isn’t about how busy certain individuals are, it’s about how your entire team works in concert to create the highest levels of customer satisfaction. No matter how technically excellent the service is, indifference, attitude, lack of professionalism, appearance and other factors by one or more employees can degrade FTCR. That first visit is your one shot at making a great impression.
  3. FTCR is the prime factor for pay raises: Strategies’ prime issue with commission is that it is compensation based entirely on an individual’s service revenue. If you keep feeding new clients to a service provider with a low FTCR … you’re paying that service provider commission on every new client that he or she fails to retain. On Team-Based Pay, the first critical number that measures performance is FTCR. Low retention … no raise. TBP puts your payroll dollars where the performance is.
  4. FTCR measures if your systems are working: You go to a fine restaurant. The meal was amazing, but the service was horrible and it took forever for your meal to come out. You don’t return. The systems in the kitchen were malfunctioning. The wait staff was short-handed. It’s exactly the same at a salon/spa. A new client’s hair or spa service may have been wonderful, but if the elements surrounding and supporting it were not … the client may be lost. FTCR is a measurement of how thorough your systems are designed and executed. You cannot achieve impressive first-time client retention rates if your systems are misfiring.
  5. FTCR is your salon/spa’s Quality Score: If your salon/spa’s FTCR is 40 percent, that means 60 percent of the first-time clients you fight hard to attract are not returning. You can “believe” all you want that your salon/spa delivers on its promise to the customer, but if half or more of all first-time clients do not return … you and your team are talking quality more than delivering it.
  6. FTCR tells you truth about your brand: Building on the fact that FTCR is your Quality Score, FTCR also tells you if your brand image is rock solid or cracked and breaking up. FTCR is a powerful indicator of brand strength because it measures your salon/spa’s ability to satisfy and WOW new clients that were attracted via marketing, reputation and word of mouth. Converting a first-time client to an existing/retained client is the ultimate brand acid test.
  7. FTCR doesn’t care who a client returns to: FTCR is about building a company … not building a column on the appointment book. If a first-time client returns to the original service provider … great. If a first-time client returns to different service provider … great. Owners need to communicate to every employee that when a client returns to the business … it ensures the sustainability of the business and the growth opportunities for all employees. The higher the FTCR … the higher the salon/spa’s productivity rate. The FTCR battle cry is, “The skills of the entire team are available to each and every client.”
  8. FTCR and pre-book rate are interdependent: There is a direct correlation between pre-book rate and FTCR. The higher your salon/spa’s pre-book rate, the higher the client satisfaction rate … the higher your first-time and existing client retention rate. Hair grows back. One facial doesn’t fix a skin issue. Failure for a service provider to communicate the maintenance cycle for a service is a failure of professionalism. Allowing clients to walk out of your business without engaging your pre-book system is simply squandering the client retention and frequency of visit opportunity.
  9. FTCR is NOT about that “third visit”: Where the heck did the … “A client is not retained until the third visit”…come from? Guess what? If a first-time client doesn’t return for a second – there is nothing to track or retain. The first visit is the acid test. Pass it with flying colors.
  10. FTCR measures consistency: Is your salon/spa’s service experience truly consistent? Consistency creates predictability. Delivering great service every time, across all columns on the appointment book requires systems, training, coaching, measuring, etc. The lower your FTCR, the more inconsistent the customer experience is. If your vision is to deliver world-class service experiences … consistency is a non-negotiable.
  11. FTCR reflects your culture: Culture is the collective thinking and behavior of your salon/spa. The tighter and more disciplined your culture – the higher your FTCR. The more committed your team is to delivering the extraordinary service – the higher your FTCR. Likewise, the more country club and unstructured your salon/spa is, the more it springs leaks in revenue opportunity and its ability to attract and retain first-time clients.
  12. FTCR defines your leadership ability: The previous eleven crucial facts about FTCR all require a level of leadership that may be uncomfortable for many owners. Leadership is about taking a company and its team to a better place. The more you develop your leadership skills … the more impressive your FTCR. No compromise.

Quiz time! Let’s see how you score: Use these twelve crucial FTCR facts to rate your salon/spa. For each fact, rank how your business rates on a scale of one to ten (ten being extraordinary). Be brutally honest. Have staff members rank the salon/spa too. If you score a 90 to 120, your company is pretty extraordinary. The lower that score goes … the more work you need to do.... Read More

Owning an Employee-Based Salon or Spa

July 18, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Owning an Employee-Based Salon or Spa

There are many voices that say, “Commission salon/spas are a thing of the past.”

What I don’t understand is why “commission” … a method of compensation … is used to describe an employee-based business.

The voices predicting the demise of commission salon/spas mostly come from those involved in booth rental and suites (independents that rent and those that need to rent space). Ads for suites all tout the same theme …

“Be your own boss.”

Yes, suites are the new shiny thing and getting lots of attention, but they target the talent at employee-based salons/spas to fill those suites.

Commission salon/spas are easy targets because the hook is: “Why make 40% or 50% when you can keep it all?”... Read More

Career, Professionalism & Success in the Beauty Industry

July 11, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Career, Professionalism & Success in the Beauty Industry

If you’re going to do something with your life and career … do it to the best of your ability.

And if your ability comes up short, study and practice harder until you get it right. Work at it until you master it.

You get one shot at life. I don’t know about you, but I set out to make a difference in the world around me…

I wanted to succeed in business.

I wanted to be the leader of my own company.

I wanted to teach and coach. ... Read More

How to Overcome Being Overwhelmed

July 4, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

How to Overcome Being Overwhelmed

People are not computers.

You can’t just install an upgrade or a new app to scale up problem solving capabilities. People have emotions that surround life and work challenges.

When challenges exceed your capacity to manage the stress, feelings of “overwhelmed” take over. And when you’re overwhelmed … your ability to lead and make the best decisions is severely compromised.

As a salon/spa owner, you are especially prone to high levels of stress simply because you are the…

  • Leader
  • Coach/motivator
  • Decision maker
  • Marketer
  • Financial controller
  • Purchaser
  • Disciplinarian

… and the one with everything on the line. ... Read More

How to Spot the Warning Signs of Salon & Spa Employee Turnover

June 27, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

We all know that employees come and go.

Every salon/spa has employee turnover and attrition.

When it happens, here’s what not to do: Don’t get stuck in “employees just don’t stay with salon/spas very long anymore” thinking.

That type of thinking is self-defeating.

“They’re just going to leave” thinking can cause you to regard employees more as commodities than the precious resources they are. Today’s salon/spa leaders should be fighting to change that thinking – not feeding it.

Salon/spa leaders cannot justify unacceptable employee turnover as a cost of doing business. That’s the easy way – the compromise way.

If an employee quits your salon/spa for any reason other than… ... Read More

Everyone is Accountable for Salon & Spa Customer Loyalty

June 20, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Everyone is accountable for customer loyalty.

Everyone.

No-compromise.

Yes, customer loyalty begins with leadership and that’s where the problem can begin.

Leaders are notorious for going on those infamous rampages when a customer quits the salon/spa or when customer retention rates go critical. The no-compromise question to ask is, “Where is the accountability and how far down in the salon/spa does that accountability go?” Playing the blame game is a compromise and totally unacceptable.

The no-compromise leader places accountability for customer loyalty in the hands of every company employee.

It cannot be any other way.

For this level of accountability to exist, employees need to understand just how accountable they are. What I’m talking about here is a team-based business culture.

In a team-based business culture, ALL employees feel the pain of a lost customer. They feel the pain when a customer has a problem that could have been avoided.... Read More

How to Keep Your Passion for Business Burning Bright

June 13, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Owning a salon/spa business can be an emotional roller-coaster ride with plenty of incredible highs…and crushing lows.

It’s a service business with non-stop interaction with the clients… …some that can be very demanding.

Leading and managing stylists, estheticians, massage therapists, nail techs, assistants and guest services staff can often feel like herding cats. Just when you think everyone is heading in the right direction … they scatter.

Delivering the best customer experiences and services requires constant training and continuous refinement of your operating systems.

And then there are the financial demands of the business to drive revenues and manage expenses:... Read More

The Dirty Truth About Salon & Spa Service Payroll Costs

June 6, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Warning: The following may be a tough pill for many salon and spa owners to swallow… but it’s one that needs to be swallowed nonetheless.

Ready? Let’s talk salon and spa service payroll costs:

The Strategies benchmark for service payroll (not commission rate) is 30 to 35 percent of total revenue (Service Sales + Retail Sales = Total Revenue) … as it appears on a Profit and Loss Statement.

Each and every time we post this benchmark on the Strategies Salon/Spa Idea Exchange Facebook discussion group, owners say, “No one will work for that commission rate.”

And of course, stylists and other service providers post high attitude comments like, “I would NEVER give 65 percent of what I bring in to the owner.” Others say, “Based on my skill and experience, I would be insulted to be offered such a low commission rate.”

Disconnect on Service Payroll Percent

No matter how many times we clarify that our benchmark of 30 to 35 percent of total revenue has nothing to do with commission rates … it is clear that many owners and service providers are have difficulty understanding that we are referring to the total payroll cost for all service providers to the business.... Read More

Overcoming the Fear of Discussing Salon & Spa Service Prices

May 30, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Why is it such a challenge for owners and staff to discuss service pricing with clients?

Why do owners have so much anxiety about doing a necessary and justified price increase?

The cost reality

There is a value to all of the training, experience and dedication to deliver the services salons and spas provide to clients … none of which is free of charge to the business.

  • First and foremost, there is the cost of service payroll.
  • There are guest services and administrative payroll costs.
  • There is the cost of continuing technical and business education.
  • There is a cost to using the finest professional products.
  • There are overhead costs in the form of rent, utilities, insurance, maintenance, advertising, etc.
  • There is the cost to build out and equip an attractive facility.
  • There is the cost and repayment of debt that financed the start-up and/or periodic upgrading.
  • There is the need for the business to generate a fair profit on revenues.
  • Finally, there are the ever-increasing costs of doing business that eat away at profit.

Salons and spas sell time in exchange for services. Every hour that is sold … or unsold … has a cost. That means every service hour MUST be priced according to its “cost per hour + desired profit margin.”... Read More

Why Quick-Fix Decisions Can Wreck Your Salon or Spa

May 23, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

ImageHeader-QuickFix-1200x628

Quick-fixes are often never fixes at all.

How, you ask?

Here are three examples I’ve recently run across…

A salon owner calls asking for help to comply with California’s new AB 1513 law requiring that employees be paid for down time and rest time. That was Friday.

By the time we talked that Monday, the owner says, “I fixed the problem. Over the weekend, I put all employees on booth rental.” Wrong!

  • What his quick-fix actually did was slash his salon’s revenue capability, wrecked its culture and gave away his company’s most valuable asset … its customer list.
  • Converting to booth rental, or any other compensation system, does not eliminate the part California AB 1513 that requires “piece-rate” businesses (California’s Department of Labor has always classified salon/spa commission as piece rate) to pay employees for down time and rest time going back to 2012.

An owner hears me do a presentation on Team-Based Pay (TBP) and gets excited over what it can do for the future of her salon/spa. She keeps asking me how to calculate an employee’s pay from commission to TBP. I could see her entrepreneurial quick-fix seizure getting ready to flip the switch from commission to TBP. Wrong!... Read More

How to Dial-Up Team Effort in the Salon or Spa

May 16, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

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This is the tale…of the Salon/Spa Effort-O-Meter!

Every salon/spa leader knows what it’s like to launch a new system or procedure.

They see positive results spike…

…then within days…

…the gains fizzle.

Any new system or procedure that requires changing a team’s thinking and behavior pattern is destined to fail if not supported with relentless information flow and coaching.

Over time, thinking and behavior patterns become embedded habits that are tough to change. That’s why the odds of getting a new system or procedure to stick long term are against you … that is, unless you focus on cranking up the “effort level” of your team.... Read More

Grading Your Salon/Spa Retail & Pre-book Efforts

May 9, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments


Salon/spa owners: Are you flunking “Happiness”?

If the pre-book and retail recommendation is the undisputed professional conclusion to a salon/spa service … why isn’t every client receiving this essential professional advice?

  • Why the persistent push-back and indifference from service providers?
  • Why the disconnect between service providers and guest services staff at checkout?

“Happiness” is a super-simple system that Strategies introduced a number of years ago. It’s a system that connects service providers to guest services at checkout. It consists of a scripted “here’s what we did today recap,” a pre-book/recommended maintenance cycle and the recommended products for home use.

Simple? Yes.

Consistently executed? Not even close.

Related: Get instant access to our Happiness training video and cheat sheet here.... Read More

10 Ways Every Salon/Spa Employee Can Start Stepping Up

May 2, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

You see a client in the retail area that needs help

…but “it’s not my job to help.”

The lone guest-services staff is slammed with the phone ringing, clients needing to checkout and clients waiting to check in. You know how to check clients in … but you walk away.

There’s a pile of dirty towels that need to get washed … but “someone else will do it.”

You use a coffee mug, leave it in the sink and walk away … when the dish soap and sponge are right there. You didn’t have 15 seconds to clean your own coffee mug? Who was going to clean that for you? Your mom?

The trash can is visibly full … but you jam your handful of trash in and walk away. How much effort does it take to empty a trash can?... Read More

Why Salon/Spa Owners Wait Too Long to Take Action

April 25, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Why Salon/Spa Owners Wait Too Long to Take Action

I was recently honored to be the opening keynote speaker at the two-day Art of Business seminar in Philadelphia.

One of the benefits of being the opening speaker is that attendees get to hear my content and have the rest of the event to discuss their challenges with me. My keynote was on “Creating Profit.”

Rather than putting 450 people to sleep with the mechanics of financial statements, I focused on the thinking, behavior and decision-making that create profit.

  • I addressed the belief that getting busier and driving top-line revenue is no guarantee that profit will occur.
  • I addressed how to accurately forecast monthly revenue and expense budgets.
  • I addressed the monumental task of controlling payroll costs.
  • I drove home how sloppy spending decisions chew away at profit … and add debt.
  • I emphasized the need for building cash reserves.

After my keynote, I spent the remainder of the seminar at a table talking to owners and answering questions. Keynotes are fun, but one-on-one conversations bring out the real issues.... Read More

When You Fall Out of Love with Your Salon/Spa

April 18, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Growing a successful salon/spa is not a blissful fun ride from opening day to extraordinary success.

Quite the contrary. It is a journey of wins and losses, highs and lows, pure elation and excruciating stress.

The labor-intensive nature of running a salon/spa can, and will, test the tenacity and leadership skills of all owners. But sometimes, the testing and challenges can become overwhelming.

When it becomes too overwhelming, some owners simply fall out of love with their business. It doesn’t mean they throw in the towel … it just means they stop trying so hard and just go through the motions of dealing with day-to-day operations.

Red warning lights start flashing when an owner falls out of love with his or her business. Why? Because when the owner hates showing up for work … so do their employees.

Here are some No-Compromise Leadership thoughts on what to do when you stop feeling the love for your business:... Read More

When Salon & Spa Employees Choose to Leave

April 11, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

When service providers decide to quit a salon/spa, it is anything but, “Go gently into that good night.”

All too often, the process plays out with clandestine plotting and close teammates swearing secrecy. The easy part is quitting the salon/spa.

The difficult part is figuring out how to get the clients they serviced to follow them to a new location. The presumption is that all clients that requested them “belong to them.” And why not, they did the work.

Owners have a very different perspective. Owners look at their investment in training, coaching and filling the service provider’s appointment books with new clients. Owners look at the collective effort that is required to “build” a successful service provider.

Most importantly, owners regard their customer database, client history, formulas and other data as an asset and company property.

There are many voices in the industry that say, “no one owns the client” and that clients are free to go wherever they choose. Yes, clients are free to go wherever they choose. But, when the departing employee actively solicits those clients … often times through unauthorized use of client data … that’s when things get ugly.... Read More

It Takes 100%+ Team Effort To Hit Goal

April 4, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Nothing saps the energy, moral and confidence of a team than repeatedly falling short of goal.

Leaders get frustrated and, too often, the blame game and finger pointing spirals an already bad situation deeper into the fiery pit of hell.

An easy solution is to lower goal to make it easier to hit. But lowering goal to match current lackluster effort only reinforces more lackluster effort.

It’s not where the goal bar is set … it’s setting the level of effort to meet or exceed goal.

Service and retail goals are revenue targets that your spending budgets are based on. (Revenue goals and spending budgets are non-negotiable. Got it?) Repeatedly coming up short of goal means fewer dollars to fund operations. It doesn’t take long for cash flow to become tight and eventual financial panic to set in.

At Strategies, we coach the importance of having realistic monthly and annual goals. Monthly service revenue goals are based on the following formula:... Read More

6 Reasons It is Great to Be a Salon or Spa Owner

March 28, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

I’ve been a business owner for almost my entire working life. I know that succeeding in business is more than just working hard. It’s more than budgeting and cash-flow management. It’s more than hiring and firing people. It’s more than just making money.

Succeeding in business isn’t one big happy dance along the way. Shit happens. One bad decision can lead to a cash crisis leaving no alternative but to surrender your paycheck so your employees can get theirs.

There’s the crush of broken trust…

Loyal employees quit and become competitors…

Still believing in others even when your generosity is unappreciated…

Dealing with stress levels you never knew existed…

Business is tough.

Being a business owner is like running a gauntlet intent on testing your limits. Success goes to those with the tenacity to survive, adapt and endure. The weak and faint of heart always get weeded out.... Read More

Why Retail Commission Does Not Work in Salons & Spas

March 21, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

why retail commission doesn't work in salons and spas

For an industry that is so dependent on professional products, we still haven’t broken the secret code to get professional service providers to sell.

Even with the advancement and sophistication of salon and spa retail space, service provider engagement in retail selling is disappointing at best, and frustratingly indifferent at worse.

We’ve all heard the infamous, “I’m not a salesperson,” statement from service providers. Yet, the predominant reward for selling retail at salons and spas is a salesperson commission rate. If the process of selling retail is distasteful … will a retail commission rate make selling retail taste better?... Read More

There is no “Easy Button” for salons & spas

March 14, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

there is no easy button for salons & spas

There are salon and spa owners and employees that truly think the Easy Button is real, because they keep smacking it expecting things to get easier.

The formula for success never changes. If you want to be successful, you need to work hard.

For salon and spa owners,  you must want success ten times more than those you lead.

Why?

Because people step up, push harder and work harder for leaders that want success so bad they can taste it. If there’s a hurdle … find a way to get over it. If there’s a problem … solve it. If there’s an opportunity … go for it.

For employees, you must deliver results to the full extent of your capabilities. If your intent is to coast along and only deliver 75 percent of what you’re capable of … step up and ask for a 25 percent pay reduction. You’re not earning it so why keep taking it when other team members do the work you avoid.... Read More

Why Salon & Spa Owners Should Not Fear Change

March 7, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

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Fear sucks.

Fear is debilitating.

Fear magnifies stress.

Fear kills momentum.

Fear typically leads to more bad decisions or no decision at all.

Fear, and nothing else, is the final hurdle between you and taking that first positive step toward change.

FACT: Fear of change and inaction will always lead to the very outcomes you fear most … or worse.

So what do salon/spa owners fear most about implementing change? They fear that productive service providers will quit and take their clients with them. In essence, they fear that implementing change could potentially result in a significant financial setback.... Read More

Rethinking Your Salon or Spa Appointment Book Strategy

February 29, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Rethinking your salon or spa appointment book strategy

Are you scheduling appointments or just filling orders?

Whenever a salesperson is referred to as an “order taker,” it means that salesperson lacks the initiative and experience to truly engage, discover and understand the needs of the customer.

The order taker goes after the “what do you need today” low hanging fruit and moves on.

A true salesperson, on the other hand, asks questions, listens intently, identifies problems, provides solutions, educates and builds relationships.

I’m not suggesting that order takers don’t work hard, because they do. They cover a lot of ground and talk to a lot of customers. It’s hard work collecting all that low hanging fruit.... Read More

Booth Rental & Suites Are Not a Cancer, They Are an Outcome

February 22, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

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Owners of employee-based salons often refer to booth rental and suites as the cancer of the industry.

I used to think that way too, but not anymore.

For owners, it’s an emotional subject because they invest time and resources in training, developing and building the clientele of their service providers. When a busy employee leaves and takes their clients with them … the hole it leaves in the business and its cash flow really hurts.

In many ways, building up service providers only to have them leave with “their” clients seems like the definition of insanity. Yet, just like a duck shoot at a carnival, the process continues to repeat itself.... Read More

Who Owns the Salon/Spa Client?

February 15, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Everyone knows about the “walls,” though few openly speak of them. These are the invisible barriers that stand between stations, between technical and guest services, between staff and ownership.

  • Everyone agrees the walls should come down, but few know where to begin. The fact is, many of these barriers can be circumvented, and eventually torn down, by a new approach to client service.

The question of who “owns” the client is central to the thinking of most stylists and technicians, because they want to own as many as possible. This is especially prevalent in commission salons/spas where income is based solely on individual service and retail sales. In such circumstances, more clients equal more money. But this mentality builds those infamous invisible barriers within the salon.

Everyone who works does so, at least partly, in the pursuit of money. Working long hours in order to live well is a common endeavor. But at what point do customer relations begin to suffer?... Read More

Why Salon & Spa Owners Must Be Relentlessly Persistent

February 8, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Can you feel the burn?

Leading a salon or spa business to extraordinary success is no different than working out.

If you have not done it in a while, that first effort is going to hurt. But after a couple of workouts, your body adapts to the effort and you push harder.

You’ve gotta push hard, recover and push hard again.

Getting to that elusive next level is the process of persistently applying positive stress in ways that inspire your team to adapt to higher and more refined levels of performance. If you’re afraid to apply positive stress for fear of push back from staff – you, your business and your staff are stuck.

  • Applying positive stress only works when the goal is worthy of the extra effort. When a leader’s relentless persistence detaches from the goal … it devolves into just doing the work.

A leader is like a throttle and your team is the engine. The leader instinctively knows how hard to push the engine based on current conditions. Just like an engine needs a throttle … a team needs its leader to set the pace and direction.... Read More

A Salon Owner Story: Never Give Up

February 1, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

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Lisa Cochran is a true Southern original who tells it like it is…

She speaks from her heart and helps others find the courage they lost on their entrepreneurial journey.

About ten years ago, Lisa showed up at a Strategies Incubator Seminar stressed, burnt out and on the verge of losing everything. The second salon she opened turned into a disaster.

Things got ugly and Lisa was left with the pile of debt, unpaid payroll taxes, landlords and angry creditors.

Like many Incubator attendees before her, Lisa learned the skills and disciplines of…... Read More

How Employee-Based Salons Will Endure Rental & Suites

January 25, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

There are those in our industry who believe that the popularity of booth rental and suites is going to mark the end of days for employee-based salons. Sorry, but this is not the case. Is there a decline in the number of salons? Yes … a few percentage points … but nothing worthy of saying employee-based salons are done for. Still, this kind of fear-based rhetoric is certainly enough to send needless chills down a salon owner’s spine and have them questioning the viability of their once predominant business model.

Booth rental has been around for decades and has most definitely penetrated almost every market. The emergence of salon suites and suite franchises solidifies the booth rental model’s place in the salon industry. However, with all due respect, much of the mass advertising for the “suite opportunity” is half-baked and misleading. Why? Because the suite business model is about getting stylists to sign multi-year leases.

Markets change, business models come and go … but to survive and thrive, independent salons must adapt. To truly succeed and endure – salons must become innovative and distinctive brands that deliver truly extraordinary technical skills and customer service at a level that’s often discussed, but rarely delivered.... Read More

How to Find Your Best Leadership Voice

January 18, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

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As the leader, you are, and always will be, a focal point. You are the final decision maker. You are the protector of your salon/spa’s vision. You give, or hold back on, raises. You have the power to hire and fire. You are the voice of the salon/spa. And, because you are a focal point, your employees learn to read you like a book. They can tell when you’re happy, and they can certainly tell when you’re upset. All you need to do is walk into your salon/spa with “that look” on your face, and your team knows to stand clear.

All that you are … and are not … communicates through your leadership voice. Your leadership voice is uniquely yours because it embodies who you are, how you think and how you behave. It’s heard in many ways beyond verbal expression. Your demeanor speaks. Your written words speak. Your voice, inflection and tone speak. Sometimes your leadership voice communicates perfectly. And then there are those times when your leadership voice communicates in ways that can be damaging.... Read More

Why Set It and Forget It Does Not Work in Salons and Spas

January 11, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

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The single most dangerous mode of business thinking is that you can just set it and forget it. You can’t do one performance review and expect exemplary behavior and performance for years to come. You can’t do one sales forecast or cash-flow budget and expect growth and profits every year. You can’t give an employee one raise and expect that raise to permanently satisfy that employee’s future income expectations. Likewise, you can’t pay a fixed or sliding-scale commission rate and expect it to perpetually motivate employees to do more and sell more.

The prevailing quest of many salon/spa owners and leaders is to find that magical “set it and forget it” setting. FACT: It just doesn’t exist. In business, that one strategy, that one plan, that one approach and that one system setting is always going to be short lived. The only permanent setting in business, life and nature is that “everything changes.” Before you start hyperventilating over the fact that everything about your business model is methodically becoming ineffective and obsolete … with some minor tweaks to your leadership thinking, it’s not that difficult to stay ahead of the change curve.... Read More

Ten Salon and Spa Leadership Resolutions for 2016

December 28, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

As I processed my thoughts for writing this final Monday Morning Wake-Up of 2015, I had to remind myself that this also wraps up eight full years of sharing my No-Compromise Leadership thoughts with you. That’s over 400 continuous Monday mornings that we’ve shared. And if you’ve been a follower of mine from the beginning of Strategies, we need to add the 14 years and 168 issues of Strategies Magazine we published from January 1994 until December 2007. Add all the written content to my books, Strategies business courses, coaching and our annual Team-Based Pay Conference … and you’ve got 22 years of the best salon/spa business and leadership content in the industry.

The best way to bid farewell to 2015 is to offer you my TOP TEN New Year’s Resolutions for 2016. I wrote this list for the salon/spa owners and entrepreneurs that were bold enough … and crazy enough … to put everything on the line for their vision of building a business.... Read More

Salon & Spa Employee Paychecks vs. Buying a Car

December 21, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Consider the annual income of three salon/spa employees from entry-level to senior service provider. If the-entry-level employee is making $10 an hour and working 40 hours per week, the annual gross income will be $20,800. A mid level service provider at a rate of $20 an hour, working 40 hours per week, will earn $41,600. A master level service provider at $45 an hour, working 40 hours per week, will earn $93,600. (Tip income is not included.)

Now, let’s go shopping for a new car in the $20,800 price range. There is a wide selection of economy-priced cars on the market today. From an expectation point of view, you want a decent level of quality, performance, comfort and some nice features like Bluetooth phone connectivity. You know your expectations must be in line with your budget – but you also will not accept any car that doesn’t meet your minimum expectations. QUESTION: When paying an entry-level service provider $20,800, why would you accept anything less than your minimum expectations?... Read More

Why Teamwork Is Your Salon or Spa Best Staff Retention Tool

December 14, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Everyone wants to be part of something – to belong. Team momentum and excitement are infectious. Teamwork pulls people together in the most positive and inspiring way. When your salon/spa’s team spirit is strong enough, even your self-proclaimed diehard loners and change resisters will find themselves subtly seeking a way to align with the team. Call it teamwork, camaraderie, or your family at work, the effect teamwork has on staff retention is the magic that every company can, and must, strive to achieve.

Throughout my working years, I’ve been part of three teams that stand out. With two of those teams, I was an employee. Of those two, one was a salon and the other was a publishing company. We were truly tight as co-workers, and relentlessly focused on goals and vision. Both companies had inspiring leaders who kept us on task and totally accountable for our actions and results. We were proud and WOW, were we ever productive. In both cases, when our teams’ fearless leaders moved on (one was promoted and the other turned into a jerk) the team energy and focus left with them. For me personally, I yearned for the involvement, camaraderie and growth I experienced on those teams. So much so, that without the team connectedness, I found myself looking for other opportunities beyond the company. In both instances, my searching led me to start my own companies.... Read More

Salon/Spa Walkouts: Devastation & Rebuilding

December 7, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

For a salon/spa, walkouts are the ultimate “destroy from within” scenario. What could be worse than once trusted employees clandestinely plotting to inflict severe damage on your business? What could be worse than having years of training and developing staff, loyal clients – and cash flow – relocate up the street?

In the walkout aftermath, owners are left feeling violated, scared and overwhelmed by the task of rebuilding. The stress and spinning scenarios of surviving a walkout can wreak havoc on an owner’s confidence and determination to rebuild. What will clients think when they return to a near empty business? Will you be able to meet payroll? How will the bills and rent get paid? Will you have to stop taking your paycheck? Will you ever be able to trust employees again? Many begin to question if business ownership is worth all the stress and hard work.

FACT: Walkouts happen for many reasons. Most often, the seeds of a walkout are unknowingly planted by the very owners and leaders that feel so victimized in the aftermath. Because of their labor intensive nature, a salon/spa is a leadership intensive business. Dialing back on any aspect of leadership, systems, accountability, employee development, appreciation and culture building assures the planting of walkout seeds.... Read More

How to Fix the Leaks in Your Salon or Spa Service Pricing

November 30, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Any discussion on salon/spa service pricing can quickly turn into a debate based on historic practices, entitlement, ego and emotions. That being said, what follows is sure to open a “can of worms” debate.

A debate is a formal discussion of opposing viewpoints where the best debater is crowned the winner. My intent is not to win a debate, but to create an awareness of the issues and practices that do more to compromise and complicate salon/spa pricing than help it.

But, if anyone wants to debate, sound business practices will beat entitlement, ego and emotional arguments every time.

As you will read, most of the service pricing issues are more salon related than spa. Why? Because there is a heck of a lot more entitlement, ego and emotional stuff that exists on the salon side of the industry. Spa pricing is more consistent across service providers … even those with many years of experience. That’s so not true on the salon side where many price levels can exist within the same salon and are justified by the size of stylist’s clientele and years of experience.... Read More

Finding Your Salon/Spa Profit Sweet Spot: PART THREE

November 23, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Getting busier and working harder can drive top-line revenue, but more revenue is no guarantee that profit will occur. The process of creating profit is far more complex than selling more services and products and then checking that last line on your Profit & Loss Statement to see if Net Profit is positive or negative. Unfortunately, too many owners leave profit to hope, good luck and a favorable nod from the business gods. Of course, creating profit takes hard work, but it takes hard work and focus on the right things at the right time. Only then do you have the best chance of finding your salon/spa’s profit sweet spot.

Profit is the end result of a number of critical operational and financial disciplines. Think of it as an on going dialing in of systems, performance, information flow and a relentless commitment to paying attention to your numbers.

Here is a 7-point No-Compromise Leadership hit list that will help you dial-in and lock-in your salon/spa’s profit sweet spot:... Read More

How Systems Drive Salon/Spa Profit: PART TWO

November 16, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Systems bring structure and discipline to the profit creation process. Accuracy and extreme attention to detail is nothing short of non-negotiable. As a business coach, I’ve seen more than my share of “garbage in, garbage out” accounting and financial reports. Blatant errors, improperly posted or categorized entries, expense line items that no one can explain, and huge miscellaneous accounts, are just a sampling of the financial nightmares that regularly occur when poorly designed systems exist. The end result is totally useless financial reports. You just can’t make the best financial decisions with bad data. And with all due respect, sloppiness in the bookkeeping office is a darn good signal that compromise exists at the leadership level. Otherwise, such nonsense would never be tolerated for even a nanosecond.

 

Profitability systems extend far beyond general bookkeeping. When revenues are generated, there needs to be financial systems in place to ensure proper reporting. And wherever money is spent and purchases made, financial systems must be in place. Checks and balances, there is no other way to control and drive profitability.... Read More

Disciplines of Creating Salon/Spa Profit: PART ONE

November 9, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

Profit is simply a measurement of business performance. It’s the reward for generating revenues, doing great work and staying within budget. Job security, advancement, better benefits, being able to invest in the best training, getting the best equipment, etc., are all part of profitability. Realizing all of the amazing opportunities that profitability can deliver will require a no-compromise sense of urgency. Urgency is paramount to achieving profitability.

When a salon/spa business culture takes a lethargic, lack-of-urgency approach to profitability, it gets in its own way. It’s akin to letting go of the controls that allow leadership to guide business activities toward its profitability goals. The cash-flow plan is demoted to the “optional task list,” or evolves into nothing more than an annual ritual that is rarely, if ever, looked at or put into play. Reviewing financial reports or having cash-flow planning meetings happens when it happens, if at all. Financial discipline and consistency is out the window.... Read More

Success vs. Greatness In Your Salon/Spa Business

November 2, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

There is a huge difference between having the desire for success and actually achieving your definition of it. Desire is a longing for something; success is an outcome. Greatness is something else entirely. Success, based on your interpretation, is earned, while greatness is bestowed. Greatness is how your peers and the world around you define your success and that of your company.

What does greatness looks like? For a company to enter the coveted realm of greatness, its values, thinking and actions must synchronize to create an unyielding gravitational pull that draws it through levels of success to greatness. The only thing that can disrupt this gravitational pull is a compromise in the company’s values, thinking and/or actions.

Let’s explore what this gravitational pull looks like in a successful company versus a great company. Yes, there is a huge gap between success and greatness.... Read More

Grow Your Business, Not Columns On The Appointment Book

October 26, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

I just read in the New York Post that salon industry icon Nick Arrojo is suing former stylist Paul Fox from his Varick Street salon for $3.5 million in damages for stealing five employees and his confidential client list, and opening a competing salon just 13 blocks away. The article states that Arrojo spent years training the former staffers, a fact that is touted in the former staffer’s bios at the new Paul Fox Salon. The suit states that the ex-staffers violated confidentiality and non-compete agreements.

Arrojo had a walkout … no different than the countless walkouts experienced by salon owners since the birth of the professional salon industry. Ask any gathering of salon owners if they have experienced a walk-out and all but a fortunate few will confirm they have. Like Nick Arrojo, the stories are like rubber-stamped accounts of broken trust, lost investment, plotting, collusion, stealing, lost revenue, bad-mouthing and the arduous task of rebuilding. All are stories of a business that took years to build that were blown up with their once employees, clients and cash flow relocated down the street.... Read More

The TEN Worst Salon/Spa Leadership Behaviors

October 19, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

All leaders want their companies to perform flawlessly, but flawless performance is a rare occurrence. All leaders want their employees to believe in and support their company’s vision, but employees can find it hard to keep believing. All leaders want employees to be loyal and respectful, but loyalty and respect are something leaders earn rather than an expectation that can be controlled. All leaders want profitability and positive cash flow, but profitability and cash flow is an outcome of the leader’s financial discipline.

What happens on a leader’s watch is the leader’s responsibility. When things don’t go right, when mistakes happen, goals are missed, company cultures become contaminated and toxic, profits turn to loss, and debt increases … all these are connected to the leader’s thinking and behavior.

Here are ten of the worst leadership behaviors that, when combined, keep otherwise extraordinary companies stuck in extremely ordinary:... Read More

FIVE Growth Drivers That Can Transform Your Salon/Spa

October 12, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Growth doesn’t happen by accident or good luck. In business, there are Outcomes and Drivers. Outcomes are measurements and scores of the company’s ability to execute. Drivers are the mini-engines that work in unison to deliver the energy to produce the desired outcomes. The better you dial in the Drivers the more impressive the Growth Outcomes.

Here are the top five Growth Drivers that, when dialed in, can deliver next level growth beyond your wildest dreams:

Driver 1 … Productivity Rate:
In a service business, you sell time. You buy that time in the form of payroll hours. The more hours you buy from employees, the more inventory of hours you have to sell. The total of all salable hours for a day, week or month represents 100 percent of your inventory. The more focused and strategic you are at buying and selling hours, the higher your productivity rate. The optimum productivity rate target is +/-85 percent. If your total productivity rate is running below 70 percent, you’re buying too many hours because you’re operating inefficiently and not producing enough demand.... Read More

No-Compromise Leadership Choices Drive Consistency

October 5, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

No-compromise leadership = Consistency across all four business outcomes (Productivity, Profitability, Staff Retention and Customer Loyalty). It’s such a simple equation. Yet, within its simplicity is a profound message to all who lead, or seek to lead others. The rich word for me here is consistency. Consistency is perhaps the most challenging aspect of no-compromise leadership to comprehend and live, because how one leads is influenced by the leader’s collective abilities, beliefs, behavior styles, perceptions and life experiences.

How long your voyage to no-compromise leadership will take depends on current behavior patterns. Some people are natural achievers while others are procrastinators. There are those who obsess over every minor detail in their quest for perfection. In leadership positions they can bog things down by micro-managing everything. At the other end of the spectrum are those who hate the details and do all they can to avoid them. In leadership positions, they can wreak havoc by communicating in such broad brush stokes that the outcomes they desire are vague and open to broad interpretation … if achieved at all. For a company’s performance and culture to be consistent, its leader must be a model of consistency. This is non-negotiable. It is one’s commitment and ability to be consistent that defines the no-compromise leader.... Read More

How To Keep Long-Term Staff Engaged

September 28, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Employee turnover is the age-old nemesis for all business owners. Recruiting, the hiring process, training and skill development are time consuming and costly. The real wildcard in the recruitment process is hoping that the new hires will adapt and fit into the company’s unique culture. At the other end of the spectrum are your long-term staff members. These employees have been with you through the good times and the not so good times. They’ve seen you at your best and, most certainly, they have seen you at your worst. They know the game, get their work done and represent the heart and soul of your company.

Like any long-term relationship, long-term staff members can present a unique set of potential challenges for leaders. At the top of the list is resistance to change. Because senior staff members typically require less oversight, they tend to settle into their routines and their own modified methods of getting their work done … better known as settling into their comfort zones. Once their comfort zones are furnished and landscaped to their liking, very often, even minor changes to workflow, work schedules or the introduction of new systems, is met with resistance.... Read More

Ten Must-Dos To Eliminate Salon/Spa Owner Stress

September 21, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

There are many reasons we entrepreneurs decide to set out on our own and start our own companies. We are driven by a vision to build something special and create our own destinies. We do it to create growth opportunities for ourselves and for those that choose to follow us and believe in our vision. Of course we do it for a financial reward and return on investment. We are willing to assume financial risks in the form of debt and obligations that require our signature to personally guaranty that, no matter what, all will be paid in full. We are the visionaries, the dreamers, the relentlessly passionate ones crazy enough to try and beat the odds of building a successful company.

Of all the reasons we start our own companies, one that is not on the list is to be stressed out. As we all know, there are times when the stress of ownership can be overwhelming and debilitating. There is the stress of making both big and tough decisions. There is the financial stress of paying bills, meeting payroll, making loan payments and being current on taxes. There is that crushing stress of debt that gets out of control. And then there’s the stress of leading and managing people. Heck … you’re probably getting stressed just reading about the things that get you stressed out.... Read More

How to Dial-In Your Salon/Spa Business Performance

September 14, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

You have expectations for how your business performs. You want to maintain an optimal productivity rate while delivering extraordinary customer service. You want a great culture that inspires your team to go above and beyond. You want predictable revenue growth, a manageable payroll, controlled expenses, a cash reserve and a respectable net profit. Most of all, you want to enjoy being the leader of your own company and not be stressed out putting out fires, dealing with problem employees and struggling to pay bills.

The difference between achieving your performance expectations and being stressed out and struggling is the attention you give to “dialing in” the operational functions of your business. “Dialing in” means finding that optimal setting that achieves the desired performance. Think of leading your business like being at the control panel of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. There are multiple data screens, throttles, flight controls, dials, switches, levers and gauges. Each one needs to be set just right for takeoff, cruising altitude and landing. However, like in business, there are variables like wind speed, wind direction, temperature, the weight of the plane with passengers, baggage, cargo, fuel and more … that require a host of settings to be dialed in for current and future conditions.... Read More

Six Secrets to Hitting Monthly Salon/Spa Goals

September 7, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Business is about driving growth and making progress. The only way to measure that growth and to know if your company is making progress is to have monthly goals. Interestingly, no matter how scientific or mathematically savvy you are at goal setting, a goal is simply your best guess. If you’re overly optimistic, your goal guesses will tend to be more aggressive and require high levels of coordination and effort. If you’re overly conservative, your goal guesses will be conservatively middle of the road. If your overly pessimistic, your goal guesses will typically reflect the lethargic state of your company under your leadership. If you don’t set monthly revenue goals, you are leaving the fate of your company up to the powers of the universe which translates into, “If you don’t care, neither will the universe.”

Given that a goal is simply a best guess, the secrets to achieving monthly goals have everything to do with how you position, approach and apply effort to achieving those goals. If you want to lose weight and get fit, the first step is to make an unwavering commitment to losing weight and getting fit. I use the word “unwavering” because anything less leaves room for that rogue Twinkie and too many naps. Then comes the diet and fitness plan. Once the plan is set, it’s all about effort and execution. The more focused, intense and flawless the execution, the better the results and the closer you get to your weight and fitness goal. It’s the same in business.... Read More

Five Perspectives on Being a Salon/Spa Leader

August 31, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

You cannot be the leader you are capable of without overcoming your own insecurities, fears and blockages. Every leader has stuff behind the curtain that gets in the way and holds you back, stuff you’d prefer to leave behind the curtain. Some leaders have issues with confrontational situations. Some leaders absolutely hate the disciplines of budgeting and cash-flow management. Some leaders obsess over big decisions and make them too late, or never make them at all. Some leaders want people to “just do their jobs” without having to lead, manage, coach or evaluate them. Some leaders know that their company is stuck, but fear what can happen if they rock the boat. Some leaders are great at the visionary stuff and pretty much suck when it comes to execution. Chances are, you are one or more of the “some leaders” I just described.

There is nothing simple about being a leader. You don’t get a crystal ball that allows you to see the future … yet you need to predict the future. You don’t have unlimited cash reserves. You will not hit every goal. People will do dumb things … including you. People will amaze you and people will frustrate and disappoint you. You will earn trust and you will feel the pain when trust is broken. You will hire many of the right people and some of the wrong people. You will fire some people because their work and behavior could no longer be tolerated. Likewise, you will have to fire good people that just couldn’t do the work. You will feel elation in your victories and agony in your defeats. Like I said, there is nothing easy about being a leader.... Read More

Dynamics of Salon & Spa Productivity Rates

August 24, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

Productivity is about a consistent, efficient and proficient output rate in a specified time. If it needs to be accomplished – its productivity rate can be measured. In a service business, achieving and maintaining an optimal productivity rate can mean operating in the glow of profitability or the stress of mounting losses. The challenge is that creating those extraordinary customer service experiences at the optimal productivity rate requires a level of leadership, coordination and systemization that many leaders don’t fully comprehend. Dialing in an automated production line and dialing in a team of people are two extremely different processes.

You may be able to “set and forget” a machine’s productivity rate … but you simply cannot “set and forget” the productivity rate of people. Machines are built to be task specific … people, even those with natural abilities, require training and skill development. Machines can run 24/7 … people need breaks and have limits to their workday. Machines live at work … people can be late for work, have absentee issues, and some actually forget to show up. Machines don’t procrastinate or avoid doing their work … some people do. There are some similarities; Machines age and break down … so do people. Machines quit working … so do people. All things considered, leading a team of people to be productive is, and always will be, an ongoing process.... Read More

When You Want It Bad Enough

August 17, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Everything changes when you want it bad enough. It doesn’t matter if it’s advancing in your career, starting and growing your own business, achieving a once unthinkable goal, or mastering new skills and abilities. When you want it bad enough, it exists with absolute clarity in your mind. When you want it bad enough, the path reveals itself. And when the path is uncertain or brutally challenging, you push forward because lowering your expectations and quitting is not an option.

I started Strategies 22 years ago with nothing but a credit card, a couple of computers, the ability to effectively write and speak about business concepts, and an unrelenting desire to teach others about leadership and what it truly takes to grow a profitable company. For the two years prior to Strategies, I became part owner of a commercial printing company. (Yes, it was an odd path for a former hairdresser and multi-salon owner.) I knew all about graphic design and pre-press, but very little about running the production floor of a printing company. My grand plan was to print Strategies magazine on my own presses. The short story is, that path became brutally challenging. Aging presses, broken machinery, a bad partnership and no cash required tough decisions before I lost everything.... Read More

Making Peace with Performance Reviews

August 10, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Do you do quarterly performance reviews at least once a year? That’s a line from my No-Compromise Leadership book that always gets an unsettled chuckle. Why? Because there’s something about conducting performance reviews that causes them to be avoided, conveniently forgotten or dreaded. For many leaders, the thought of scheduling performance reviews is the equivalent of sentencing themselves to hour after hour after hour in purgatory. If you regard once a year as bad enough, quarterly performance reviews are going to be pure torture. But no matter how you view the process, avoiding performance reviews is a massive leadership compromise.

All leaders want to have a dynamic, efficient and productive business with a culture dedicated to delivering relentless quality. They want engaged employees who believe in the vision and purpose of the business. And more than anything … they just want employees that do their job. But what leaders want, requires that leaders also do the most essential part of their job – to coach and inspire employees. Performance reviews are simply part of the work of leadership to bring out the best in those they lead.... Read More

Anatomy of Payroll Expense

August 3, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

If you have a business, you have payroll expense. Even if you work alone, after all the expenses are paid, you are the payroll expense. Machines and computers may automate, speed and simplify many aspects of work, but a business is still about people. And when a business has people, payroll is and always will be the largest expense category.

Payroll buys a complex array of talent, thinking and behavior. People have ideas, dreams, passion, skills, courage, imagination and other purely human qualities that give a business life and meaning. People are also the most challenging aspect to leading and growing a successful company – especially in a service business where quality and excellence is dependent on how well the service experience is executed.

Here is my No-Compromise Leadership anatomy of payroll expense:... Read More

The High Cost of Leadership Indecision

July 27, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

For leaders, indecision is choosing inaction over taking action. Indecision is a choice that allows a problem to become a crisis, poor performance to become tolerated performance and potential obstacles to become concrete road blocks. Indecision also has a unique way of turning seize-the-moment opportunities into missed opportunities. No matter how you look at it, indecision stalls all forward progress.

When a problem exists in a business, just about everyone sees it. And the longer the problem persists, the deeper and uglier it gets. One of the fundamental principles of No-Compromise Leadership is: When a problem is identified … engage and resolve it. The “compromise” is when a leader acknowledges the problem and then avoids, ignores or procrastinates in addressing it. Employees then become indifferent because they figure if you don’t care … why should they. Leadership indecision feeds complacency and culture contamination throughout a company at a level that far surpasses the originating problem.... Read More

Choosing Your Business Model: Employee or Independent Contractor

July 20, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

A business model is best described as a schematic that defines all of the working features, components and capabilities that will drive the business. If you want your business to deliver consistent quality and growth potential, those elements must be built into its business model. If you want your business to deliver flexibility with minimal management oversight, those elements must be built into that business model. Just like a Ford F-150 truck will never perform like a Ferrari 488 GTB, a business model can only perform the functions it was designed to deliver. A McDonalds will never perform to the standards of a Chef Gordon Ramsey restaurant.

An independent contractor (booth rental or suite) business model will never perform like an employee-based business model. The two business models are diametrically opposed and, by design, conflict with each other. The employee-based model generates revenues through a coordinated process of delivering services and products to the company’s customers. The independent contractor model generates revenues through rental fees collected from independent contractors that service their own customers, add-on services for independent contractors and potential retail sales.... Read More

Customer Service Is All About Sense of Urgency

July 13, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Sense of urgency takes on new meaning and purpose when discussing the Customer Satisfaction Business Outcome. Think about the times you walked into a business and waited for someone to notice and take care of you. OK, now think about the times you waited while watching employees talk to one another and were totally oblivious to your presence. How about those times you sat in a restaurant watching other tables being served that were seated after you? What about that customer service representative that promised to call you back in an hour … and never did? These are all symptoms of a breakdown in sense of urgency.

Sense of urgency and customer satisfaction are inseparable. If your business fails to deliver on a customer expectation, it will show in your first-time and existing client retention rates. It’s that black and white. Nothing infuriates clients more than shoddy or substandard service. If a business fails to deliver on its quality and experience promise, it must be regarded as a breach of contract. Likewise, attention to detail, amazing service and the efforts any business makes to exceed the ordinary and deliver the extraordinary is what truly defines world-class brand.... Read More

Five Ways to Lead Through Push Back

July 6, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Your business seems stuck and just can’t muster the collective energy to shift into a faster gear. Monthly goals have become a string of near misses. Your team is getting complacent and you know all too well what can happen when average infects your culture. It’s time to shake things up and that’s exactly what you do. You introduce some new and exciting initiatives that you thought your team would embrace with open arms. Instead, you get push back. Push back to growth. Push back to opportunity. Push back to step into the unknown, because known became too comfortable.

Every leader eventually encounters push back to new ideas and change initiatives that require new thinking, new behaviors, new skills and new levels of effort and team engagement. And when encountering push back, leaders can either cave in and accept that status quo is their fate, or, leaders can lead through the push back and take their company to a better place. Leading through push back is like threading a needle. You can’t thread a needle using a hammer. It requires focus and a steady hand. Leading through push back is where No-Compromise Leaders take center stage and shine.... Read More

Ten GOTTA DOs to be the BEST company

June 29, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

When someone says, “I want to be the best at what I do,” what does it really mean? When a leader says, “We are going to be the best,” what exactly does that mean? On an effort scale of one to ten, is this commitment to be the best a no-compromise, whatever it takes, TEN, or something less? If it’s a ten, then it’s a done deal. You, or your company, will be on a quest to be the best. If it’s a seven, eight or nine, it is not a done deal. There are conditions and self-imposed restrictions on the level of effort and commitment that will be expended to be the best.

Here are my TEN, No-Compromise Leadership GOTTA DO’S, to be the best:

  1. Gotta set the bar: The quest to be the best is a destination. It’s that mental picture of yourself and your company that you see and feel every day. It’s a relentless vision that you can’t shake off. It’s not only out there waiting for you; it’s beckoning you … almost daring you … to seize it. Call it manifestation, vision or whatever you prefer, it’s where you want to be – where you want your company to be. Define it. Describe it. Set that bar high enough and bold enough for all to see. Then go for it. Anything less is a compromise.
  2. Gotta want it bad: There’s just no reason to give something your best all-out effort if you kinda-sorta-feel like you want it. That’s when OK is good enough. When being the best at what you do … when owning, leading or being part of the best company ever … is what you want, that’s what fuels the fire to give it a level ten effort. You become the embodiment of words like tenacious, relentless, passionate and achiever. Anything less is a compromise.
  3. Gotta be authentic: Anything less than an effort of ten allows you to “talk” about being the best, without authentically having to “walk the talk.” Why bother if you, your team and your company are not willing to play at ten? The quest to be the best means pushing and exceeding the limits of your ability. If you’re not willing to break a sweat, feel the burn and discover breakthroughs, then don’t tout or advertise that you’re “the best” when you’re really committed to being something less. Sooner or later, your employees and your customers will figure it, and you, out. Be authentic, because anything less is a compromise.
  4. Gotta live it every day: It’s easy to give lip service to being the best, but it’s something entirely different when you “live” being the best every day. When you live it every day, it shows in your demeanor and how you approach everything you do. There’s an intensity of purpose in everything you do that sets the tone for the entire company. More importantly, how you live, being the best every day, continually reinforces the foundation of your company culture. In so many ways, it is you, the leader, that establishes the thinking and behavior of the entire company. If you don’t live it every day, why should anyone else? Anything less is a compromise.
  5. Gotta preach it: I always remind owners and leaders that they are the voice of their company. And as the voice of the company, the task of relentless communication rests on your shoulders. Relentless communication keeps the vision intact. Relentless communication keeps everyone on the all-important same page. Relentless communication is the steady drumbeat that maintains company momentum. Relentless communication persistently clarifies expectations. Being a leader is very much about being the company’s preacher. Anything less is a compromise.
  6. Gotta coach it: Great leaders bring out the best in those they lead by coaching them … not reprimanding them. The more a leader stays in coaching mode, the more productive, consistent and self-correcting the team becomes. And the more a leader coaches, the more that leader is set free to plan and look down range to seek out new opportunities. Command and control leaders may drive some pretty impressive numbers… but those numbers often come at the expense of being the best. You are your company’s most important coach on its journey to be the best. Anything less is a compromise.
  7. Gotta keep it pure: When the quest is to be the best, good is never good enough. Indifference and mediocrity will quickly contaminate every facet of the company. Being the best is about keeping the company’s performance, standards, values and integrity pure. Simply put, it’s about keeping the company’s culture pure. This requires leaders to make tough decisions about people, systems, quality, brand identity – everything and anything that represents and embodies what the company stands for. You can’t be the best if you allow B players on your A team. You can’t be the best when you see a problem and do nothing about it. You can’t allow a double-standard that allows special privileges or get-out-of-jail cards for some and not all. Anything less is a compromise.
  8. Gotta measure it: You can’t tell how much closer you are to being the best if you don’t measure your progress during the journey. Being the best is both qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative means you can “experience” what being the best feels like in terms of shared pride and camaraderie. Quantitative means precise measurements and gains in critical numbers. To be the best, you can’t just “feel” it … you must measure it. Anything less is a compromise.
  9. Gotta fail: The road to success is never a straight line. There will be setbacks, speed bumps and failures along the way. You know the drill … learn and grow from your failures. If you lead your company into the fiery pit of hell, you can certainly lead it back to daylight … if you maintain the perspective that failure and setbacks are inevitable. Being the best is really about how you react when things go sideways. Yes, it’s fine to beat yourself up. Besides, no one can beat you up as well as you can. The only way to stop feeling like crap is to re-engage, take control of what’s in your control … and start the rebuilding process. Anything less is a compromise.
  10. Gotta keep it going: Congratulations! You and your company have become “the best.” Enjoy. Celebrate. Remember the moment. Then it’s on to the next level. Too many leaders and company’s buy into their own “we’re the best” hype, become complacent and begin the long slow slide to average. The true test of being the best is the ability to sustain it. Anything less is a compromise.

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Being the best team member

June 22, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Being the best means that every team member is committed to doing “whatever it takes.” Once the performance bar to be the best is set … it becomes every team member’s performance bar. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that fellow team members hold up their portion of the bar – even if it means holding up more than your share when another team member can’t. There is nothing idealistic about what it takes for a team to be the best. “No compromise” is the team mantra.

Here are my ten No-Compromise Leadership tenets for being the best team member:

  1. Be your best: You made it on the team because the team believed in your potential. Now it’s time to show up and perform. Now it’s time to deliver. The team didn’t hire you to be late, to procrastinate, to give excuses, to test the rules, to avoid work or create drama. The team doesn’t care if you’re a Millennial, Gen Y, Baby Boomer, black, white, gay, straight or transgender … the team wants to be the best and expects you to be, and bring, your best everyday. And if your current best is not enough, the team will help you, train you and coach you. Anything less than your best is a compromise.
  2. Help others be their best: Everyone brings special talents and skills to the team. When another team member is struggling, it is your responsibility to reach out your hand and help in any way you can. If it’s a skill or performance challenge, coach and train your fellow team members. If it’s a confidence issue, help them find their strength and belief in their abilities. Teams that want to be the best excel at helping and supporting each other. Anything less is a compromise.
  3. Step up or step out: No compromise means, “If it needs to be done – get it done.” Being the best team member means stepping up without hesitation. It means putting yourself out there to take on a challenge or fix a problem. When an individual continually steps back to let others carry the load, it’s time for that individual to step out. When a team wants to be the best, it cannot tolerate any weak links. Anything less is a compromise.
  4. Ask for help sooner: Being the best means the pace is fast and the focus is on the road ahead. If you’re struggling and falling behind, ask for help sooner rather than later. The team will adjust, support you and get you up to speed. On a great team, asking for help is an expectation, not a sign of weakness. In fact, asking for help sooner is the key to maintaining a fast pace. Ask too late and the team has to decide to stop or drop you. Anything less is a compromise.
  5. Respect and trust: It is every team member’s responsibility to honor and respect, not only their team members … but what the team stands for as well. Lack of respect, in any form, is a compromise. Lack of respect to the rules, policies and standards is a compromise. And nothing wrecks teamwork faster than distrust. The moment one team member has reason not to trust another; the team begins to self-destruct. It is your responsibility to earn trust everyday by delivering what you promise, by doing your job and by protecting the integrity of the team. Anything less is a compromise.
  6. Say something: People are people and sometimes they drift outside the rules or accepted behavior of the team. It is everyone’s responsibility to respectfully call out another team member when his or her actions or behavior compromise the integrity of the team. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “This isn’t how we do things here.” Too often, team members wait for the leader to address it. Teamwork is about shared accountability and stepping up. Say something. Anything less is a compromise.
  7. Live your role: Everyone brings unique talents, skills, thinking and behavior to the team and their role and position on the team. It is your responsibility to live your role to the best of your ability each day. Not everything can be defined on a job description. Living your role means being passionate and committed about your work. Living your role is about ensuring that your personal link in the team’s chain is strong and can be counted on when put under heavy load and stress. Anything less is a compromise.
  8. Oldies and newbies: Senior members on the team have a responsibility to each and every newbie’s success. Senior members are the keepers of the vision and protectors of the culture. Senior members’ skills and processes are finely honed and time tested. Senior members are the essential “pay it forward” part of the team. Newbies are the future and newbies bring energy and fresh thinking to the team. Yes, senior members learn from newbies too. For a company and a team to endure, getting the oldie/newbie dynamic right is a non-negotiable. Anything less is a compromise.
  9. Loners should be alone: Some people are loners and don’t play well with others … especially on teams. Some loners can adapt and find their place on a team. Loners can be talented and amazingly high achievers, but when their performance is achieved at the expense of teamwork, team performance will suffer. Loners that are allowed to occupy a place on a team will always be the elephant in the living room. Allowing a loner to continue on a team will create a double standard that will degrade the performance of the entire team. Team players belong on your team. Anything less is a compromise.
  10. Beyond your wildest dreams: The very nature of a team that is striving to be the best lifts everyone to a place of extraordinary opportunity. One of the major benefits to individuals that play on dynamic teams is how quickly they can progress to achieving their full potential. Career paths expand rapidly. Income potential increases. New skills and responsibilities are within reach. It is all possible because the team that wants to be the best is really a group of individuals that discovered the power of shared accountability. Anything less is a compromise.

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What if the accepted way is flawed?

June 15, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

There is a way things are done. Industries have their way of doing things. Businesses have a way of doing things. People have a way of doing things. This “way” is the accepted way. Deviate from the accepted “way “and you risk being labeled a renegade, troublemaker or just a plain old nutcase. But what if the tried and true “way” lost its potency? What if the “way” is flawed? What if there was a “different” way that was more effective, efficient, productive, stimulating, motivating, exciting and revolutionary? What if this different way was the breakthrough you’ve been hoping and searching for? And what if your response to this breakthrough way was, “This isn’t the way things are done.”? Poof … you watched opportunity pass you by.

In business, traditional ways of doing things are merely proven and accepted habits. When time, circumstance and new thinking merge, those habits are challenged. The flaws are revealed. A different way … a better way … emerges. The early adaptors are the pioneers. They question what is and challenge status quo. They figure it out. They make it work. Eventually, other leaders take notice. People take notice. Buyers take notice. Yet, competitors and naysayers label the new way a fad. They don’t “believe” in it. Well, fire wasn’t a fad. The internal combustion engine wasn’t a fad. The Apple I computer wasn’t a fad … nor was the iPod, iPhone or iPad. Total Quality Management wasn’t a fad. Open-Book Management wasn’t a fad.... Read More

Of course it is your company, but

June 8, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

myway-highwayAs a leadership coach, the best way to gain insight into how a company is run is to talk to employees. They willingly share the good, the bad, and the ugly about the culture of the company, its structure and its leader. Because the purpose of venting is to clear the air, I always get an earful of all the stuff that owners do that drives their employees crazy. Business owners are entrepreneurs that believe enough in their vision to put everything on the line to make it a reality. Owners are passionate. Owners can be intense. Owners are often stressed. And when under stress, some owners play the “it’s my company” card to get their way.... Read More

Pride is an Outcome

June 1, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

pride2In order to experience a profound feeling of pride, it must be preceded by an accomplishment. To feel pride in your new car or new home, you had to earn the financial wherewithal first. To earn the financial wherewithal, you had to build your career and establish yourself in the business world. To feel pride in your business, you had to work hard, take financial risks, make tough decisions and learn how to recover from the not-so-good decisions. In every way, to experience that profound feeling of pride, you must earn it every step of the way.

There is a difference between feeling grateful and feeling pride. When you give an employee a promotion with new levels of responsibility, the employee may feel grateful for the opportunity … but it’s that feeling of pride for all the hard work that went into earning that promotion – and your trust – that is most profound. When the line between gratitude and pride becomes blurred, raises, promotions, incentives and special privileges can easily degrade into entitlement thinking and behavior. Pride is an outcome because it can only be earned through hard work and a commitment to go the distance. It is the leaders responsibility to never allow a culture of entitlement to contaminate a culture built on pride of accomplishment.... Read More

Testing your limits and lessons learned

May 25, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Bear-Mountain-FinishComfort zones are boring. Status quo is ordinary. “Doing OK,” means satisfactory but not exceptional. “Playing it safe” is a commitment to never pursue your full potential. When it comes to our potential to achieve great things, we all have our limits. Some people are just built to run or swim fast. Some people have high IQs. Some people are great with math. The point is, you will never know just how good you are, what your true potential is until you are willing to test your limits. And every time you test your limits at something, you gain experience. You learn. You get better.... Read More

Your business. Your creation. Your dream.

May 18, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

business_dreamWhat you read in these Monday Morning Wake-Ups is about real life entrepreneurial leadership. I write for you, the small business owner, because you were crazy enough and bold enough to risk everything for the dream of building a company your way. I write for you because tough challenges come along with building a company that test your tenacity and capacity to manage stress. I write for you because you are wise enough to know that the decisions and business disciplines you avoid and procrastinate on the most are the ones that always get you into trouble. I write for you because I know all too well that an entrepreneurial dream can quickly turn into sleepless nights and get scary as hell. Lastly, I write for you because I respect and honor the level of responsibility that rests on your shoulders. Like you, I too am an entrepreneur.... Read More

Time to remix and drink your Kool-Aid

May 11, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

kool-aidAs kids, we loved to drink Kool-Aid. Just water sweetened with sugar, tart fruit flavors, artificial coloring and absolutely no nutritional value, it was just fun to drink. Maybe that’s why “drink the Kool-Aid” became a metaphor for a group’s shared belief in some intangible thing. If you drink the Kool-Aid, you believe and instantly become a group member. If you don’t drink the Kool-Aid, you’re with the non-believers.

When we were kids, mom mixed the Kool-Aid … and it tasted good. In business, leaders mix their own Kool-Aid for their followers to drink … and that first sip tastes so good. It tastes so good because the mixture embodies the leader’s vision, passion and drive to create a company that stands for something special and unique. That Kool-Aid captures the imagination of like-minded people. A dynamic culture evolves that is innovative, energizing and seemingly invincible. To be part of such a company, or group culture, is a privilege and a life experience that resets and raises your belief in your own potential. And it all started with a sip of Kool-Aid.... Read More

The Choice: Take control or make excuses

May 4, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

take_controlThings happen for a reason. There is always an explanation for an outcome … whether it is good or bad. It can be an inspiring story of a leader stepping up and taking control of his or her reality to create the best possible outcome. In contrast, it can be a docudrama describing all of the real, and perceived, obstacles and hurdles that prevented the most desirable outcome. Before the elements of the inspiring story or docudrama explanations begin to unfold, the leader makes a choice to take control or begin manufacturing excuses. It’s a choice to take control your own destiny or abdicate control and mask the outcome with excuses.... Read More

Tapping into Salon & Spa Team Bonuses

April 27, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

In every conceivable way, business is a competitive endeavor. You compete against other companies for market share. You compete to beat last year’s numbers. You compete to hit monthly and quarterly goals. You compete to improve productivity, efficiency and to reduce costs. You compete twelve times a year to drive profit to the bottom line on your monthly Profit and Loss Statements. As a leader, you compete to maximize your strengths and overcome your weaknesses. And … you compete to keep your team engaged, motivated and inspired to deliver their best every day, because excuses, apathy and indifference relentlessly test the strength of your culture. Business is about teamwork and winning because, in every conceivable way … losing sucks.

In business, there are no trophies for winning. Winning simply means your company survived to fight another day. A track record of winning adds meaning to the term “sustainability” but by no means assures it. Winning is also tied directly to your company’s payroll. When you’re winning, you can reward employee performance with pay raises. Winning also gives you the funds to hire the right talent to strengthen your team. However, no matter how you pay your employees … their personal incomes are about the individual’s performance and contribution. Personal incomes are not about teamwork.... Read More

Because it is about The Cause

April 20, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Businessman demonstrationCall me crazy, but I have never gone to work for the money. If the work I do is meaningful to others, the money will come. If the work I do is specialized and addresses urgent issues, the money will come. If I do my work with passion, integrity, respect and a profound sense of caring, the money will come. If the work I do is for a worthy cause with higher purpose, the money will come. To me, money is an outcome. Money is a measurement of the effort, results and quality I put into the work I do.

My work has always been about a very personal cause. The cause is about helping entrepreneurs to grow truly amazing companies with amazing cultures that are emotionally and financially sustainable. It is the “cause” that created my company, Strategies, and kept it thriving for over 21 years. It is the “cause” that attracts clients and talented and passionate staff to Strategies. It is the “cause” that provides a living and security for my company’s employees and my family.... Read More

When your business does not feel well, you do not feel well

April 13, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

sickLike humans, businesses can have serious health issues too, like being cash starved, burdened with crushing debt, and a toxic culture. I always say, “My heart beats along with my business.” When it’s healthy, profitable and fun, I feel great. When it’s sick, I feel sick. If you’re a business owner, you know exactly what I mean.

If your business hasn’t been feeling well lately, then you’re feeling it too. Maybe your business is just out of shape and lethargic because it’s carrying too much baggage. You feel concerned, a bit stressed and perhaps even frustrated. If your business is sick, the concern, stress and frustration are magnified. And if your business is seriously sick … perhaps life-threatening sick … the stress and sleepless nights can be debilitating.... Read More

Are you working harder for less?

April 6, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

work_hard_for_lessThis Monday Morning Wake-Up is for all the owners and leaders that are stuck in survival mode and growing weary of being in a state of working harder for less.

Owning and leading a successful business has always been about giving it all you’ve got. You willfully give your time to the point where working a forty-hour week would feel like a vacation. You give your personal resources in terms of money, taking on debt and using personal assets as collateral. More than any other factor, you give your passion, energy and emotional capacities to pursue your business vision. In so many profound ways, what you give … and sacrifice … for your business is a commitment to perpetually live at or beyond the brink of your comfort zone.... Read More

Are you a control freak leader?

March 30, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

control_freakIf you want it done right, do it yourself. That’s the motto of a control freak leader. You oversee everything. You need to approve everything. You come up with the ideas that everyone else needs to execute. Your definition of delegating is allowing others the freedom to get things started, then stepping in, taking over and doing it the way you want. You’ve got your tentacles embedded into every nook and cranny of your company. Yes, you are a proud and worthy control freak leader. You are also the most frustrating, smothering and energy sapping leader to work for.

There are varying degrees of control freak leaders. Some are project and turf selective where everyone knows it’s best to keep their hands off. Some are pouncers that, like a wild tiger tracking its prey, hold back until they’re about to explode … then pounce on a project and rip it to shreds. And as described in the opening paragraph, there is the certified obsessive-compulsive control freak that meddles in everything to the point where nothing gets done.... Read More

Do not be a business maintenance man

March 23, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

maintenanceMan2When I was a young man starting out on my first job, I thought to myself, “I want to be the manager.” I was always fascinated with business and what made it work. I love the energy that comes from a team of people working together and believed that I had the ability to “manage” a team. From the beginning, I worked closely with the manager to learn everything I could about being a “manager.” I learned about handling money, scheduling for productivity, setting goals, inventory control, filling out reports, performance evaluations and keeping everyone on task.

Holy crap … I wasn’t learning how to be a leader – I was learning how to become a business “maintenance” man. I mean no disrespect to managers, nor am I suggesting that managers do not lead people. My point is that the primary role of a manager is to ensure the successful operation of a business or department and to make sure that the work gets done. Yes, a manager is responsible for hitting goal and ensuring growth … but the work of leadership is something different – something uniquely special. FACT #1: A leader in maintenance mode is stuck. FACT #2: An enlightened manager can rise to become an extraordinary leader.... Read More

Consistency is a choice

March 16, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

consistencyJust how good do you want to be? What level of the game do you want to play? How important is that vision of yours? How passionate are you about the work you do? How committed are you to achieving excellence? If you were an aspiring athlete with your sights set on winning Olympic gold, your coach would tell you in extreme detail what that road map to winning would look like. The coach would explain the relentless hours of training and the pain of pushing through your perceived physical limits. The coach would simply detail the process of achieving consistency in execution at a world-class level. Then, it would be your choice to choose the path to consistency.

Consistency is about repeatability and the achievement of incremental performance gains. In the beginning, the gains can be significant and impressive. However, at the higher levels of consistency, the gains are hard earned through continuous refinement and practice. And it is when the going gets tough that your answers to the five opening questions are put to the test. Winning your version of Olympic gold may be the ultimate prize … but achieving your personal best level of consistency is what matters most. It is also what separates those that are committed more by words, from those that are committed by deeds and hard work.... Read More

You feel stuck because (?)

March 9, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

stuckSooner or later, all leaders have symptoms of being stuck. It’s when you feel like you’re working really hard and making excruciatingly slow progress, or no progress at all. It’s when a few setbacks turn into major hurdles. It’s when getting things done seems to take more work and more time. It’s when problems begin to multiply faster than you can fix them. It’s when current reality feels like permanent reality. It’s when there is no doubt that you are officially running on the hamster wheel and getting nowhere. Simply put, feeling stuck sucks.

Maybe you had a few tough years financially. Maybe you had to rebuild your business. Maybe you lost some key staff. Maybe you made some decisions that really backfired. Maybe this “leadership” thing is too much for you. Maybe you’re bored. Maybe you’re just tired. The fact is, if you feel stuck … you are stuck. And as the owner or leader of a company, if you’re stuck – those you lead are stuck and, most importantly, your company is stuck. Stuck sucks.... Read More

TOP TEN Worst Leadership Behaviors

March 2, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

bad_leadershipFor 40 years I have devoted my career to teaching, writing and coaching on entrepreneurial business growth and leadership. I included the term “entrepreneurial” because I am also a life-long entrepreneur. I just love all aspects of what makes a small business great. I especially love the passion that drives individuals to turn a vision into a functioning, dynamic and profitable enterprise.

On the flip side of all the stuff I love, is all the stuff that turns visions into nightmares, profit into losses, and passion into toxic waste. When a business drifts into dysfunctional behavior, it rarely has anything to do with the economy or stiff competition … it has everything to do with leadership behaviors that “destroy from within.”... Read More

Culture shifts live or die with clarity and information flow

February 23, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

I’ve witnessed more attempted culture shifts during which the leader charges off in a new direction only to discover that his culture is still locked on the old heading. That occurs when employees lack the clarity on why the company changed course. There was no detailed mission plan or map to follow. There was no information flow to share progress or challenges. In such cases, it doesn’t take long for the change initiative and culture shift to sputter and fizzle out. Yes, culture shifts can collapse in an instant.

It is vital that you understand the complexities of the task ahead. Rest assured, a culture shift will occur in your company. It will require tremendous energy and relentless focus from you and your leadership team, most being expended in the early implementation stages. It’s the equivalent of turning a massive aircraft carrier around. All of the forward momentum of the ship must be shifted in a new direction … and maintained until it aligns on the new course heading. More importantly, that wide turn and new heading must be free of any navigational hazards. Yes, in business you must be prepared for the unexpected, but plotting the best course that is free of hazards certainly improves the odds of achieving your goals.... Read More

Death, Taxes and 1099

February 16, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 9 Comments

death-taxesThere was a “lively” thread on Strategies Idea Exchange forum on Facebook. A group member posted, “I just spoke to an owner who files a 1099 for her staff, but doesn’t call it ‘rental’. She lets stylists make their own schedules, she provides products and all services are booked through the receptionist. She pays commission. Does this make sense? I’ve never heard of classifying someone as an “Independent Contractor” while paying commission.” The thread quickly grew to over 65 comments, became quite heated … and one poster that resorted to profanity got booted and blocked from Strategies Idea Exchange.

I have been involved in the independent contractor versus employee debate for what seems like forever. The debate is about two diametrically opposed business models – Employee Based or Independent Contractor (classified as 1099). One business model employs individuals to do the work. The other model leases, or rents space to individuals to do their own work. Seems pretty easy, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not. The IRS has very clear and specific guidelines to classify workers as independent contractors or employees.... Read More

How to get employees to embrace ownership thinking

February 9, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 5 Comments

Some owners are happy when employees just do their job well. Get the work done. Follow the rules. Make clients happy. Don’t waste resources. Be on time. Take initiative within the confines of the “employee box”. This “just do your job well” approach is the traditional owner/manager/supervisor/worker hierarchy where people and groups are ranked according to status or authority. Each group or level places people in a “box” with set levels of authority. There’s nothing wrong with this approach and very successful companies have and will continue to emerge from this most traditional approach.

The limitation of the box level approach is that it constrains and contains the creative thinking of people within their designated box. At the worker level, the box is all about output and productivity and very little about creative thinking and decision making to do the work more efficiently. Creative thinking and decision making is reserved for the uppermost boxes that are often the most distant from the work. This approach leaves a vast resource of untapped brain power at the most critical level … where the work is actually being done.... Read More

Into the heart of Compensation Systems design

February 2, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

compensation_designIn its most simplistic state, a compensation system buys time from an individual performing work. That’s the easy part; everything beyond this point becomes progressively more complicated. Can the individual perform the work and deliver on expectations? Can the individual fit the company’s unique culture? Does the individual have the desire and drive to grow and excel? Is the individual coachable and adaptable to change? Will the individual show up on time … or show up at all? Will you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth every time you hand over a paycheck?

As previously stated, buying time from individuals is the easy part. Designing the components of a compensation system that drive the right outcomes is the tough part. There is a “layering effect” that begins with the actual dollars to be paid for the work and compounds all the way up to a career and income growth path. Every layer is a joint effort that links the thinking and behavior of employees and leadership in order to create the right outcomes. The concept of “pay for performance” is seriously shortsighted. It sets both employees and leaders up for frustration and failure because just paying for performance – handing out a paycheck – is no guarantee that genuine work will occur.... Read More

When you are committed to going for it

January 26, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

committedIt starts as a “what if” vision of the possibilities awaiting you … if you commit to go for it. What is “it”? “It” could be your career, your company or an accomplishment that is profoundly personal and meaningful to you. The “what if” vision may take years to achieve, or it can live in your mind’s eye only for as long as you can remember, but the big question remains the same: when will you decide to go for it? When will you flip the switch from “I want to” to “I’m going to”? The “I want to” setting doesn’t get you anywhere. It holds your vision captive, untested and always out of reach. The “I’m going for it” setting, on the other hand, is all about taking action to step into the unknown and transform your vision into reality.... Read More

The damned if you do, damned if you do not hiring decision

January 19, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

hiring_dilemma2The situation: Revenues are falling flat and the company is missing its monthly goal more often than not. It’s not that the company is doing poorly; it’s just stretched financially. Your company has reached an awkward stage where it needs to hire someone with a specific skill set, but the financials to support adding on a new team member simply do not exist. As the leader, you’re frustrated with the feeling of being stuck because you know what needs to be done but you also know that making an expensive hiring decision can convert that frustration into some ugly financial stress.

The opportunity: Even though you weren’t actively searching, you happen to meet an individual with just the right credentials and experience. It’s like the universe heard your request and delivered a seemingly perfect candidate. You do the interview and the fit looks even better. Sure … there were just a couple super teeny-tiny red flags, but you wrote them off as interview jitters. The fact is you really like what you see; you want to close the deal and hire this perfect candidate.... Read More

The ultimate leadership wish list

January 12, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

leadership_definedIn its most distilled state, leadership is about getting to a better place. It is about leadership of the self, leadership of other people, leadership of processes, and leadership of resources. At a deeper, cerebral level, leadership is purely about shaping the disciplines of thinking and behavior. So what does this all mean? It means that being a truly effective leader capable of achieving and sustaining forward progress and growth is more a journey of self-discovery than a destination.

Leaders come in many styles. Some are great communicators while others are abrasive. Some are disciplined and organized while others are inconsistent train wrecks. Some courageously lead through various crises while others struggle with daily stressors, like making tough decisions and finding a light at the end of the tunnel. Some are compassionate and appreciative while others are … well … buttheads.... Read More

When the unthinkable happens

January 5, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

lightning_strikeBeing in the coaching business for over 22 years, distress calls from owners are all too commonplace. They come by phone, email, text message, Facebook Messenger … and at presentations and seminars with a conversation that begins with, “Can I talk to you privately?” Most often, it’s about a financial crisis, employee challenges and the proverbial “staff walkout”. Next are the fires, floods and acts of god. And then there are the unthinkable crises like life-threatening or fatal diseases, accidents, and partner/employee suicides.

Life and business is about dealing effectively and courageously when the unexpected … and the unthinkable … rock your world. When engulfed in crisis, the best strategies and decisions are difficult to see and can quickly overwhelm and overstress even the most experienced leaders.... Read More

Twelve No-Compromise Resolutions for 2015

December 29, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

fresh_startAs we wrap up 2014, it’s the perfect time for business leaders to reflect on the year’s accomplishments, ponder the lessons from challenges overcome, and look to the New Year with anticipation, confidence and determination. It’s also a time to address those patterns of behavior that, much like a minefield of your own making, routinely cause things to blow up.

The annual practice of making New Year’s resolutions can lead to a lot of empty promises that you make to yourself. However, if you add a potent dose of No-Compromise Leadership thinking and behavior into the mix, you could enter 2015 on a road free of behavior minefields … but only if you are committed to the process.... Read More

80% of your 100% is still 80%

December 22, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

comfort_zoneWhat does “giving it your all” really mean? When you ask your team to give 110% effort, do you really get that 110% … or do you get 100%, 80% or less? When you tell an employee, “Do your best,” are you setting yourself up for disappointment? When you say, “I’ll do my best,” are you really saying, “I’ll give it 80% of my 100%?” No doubt, defining what the 100% effort bar means on both sides of the conversation is highly subjective and open to interpretation.

This Monday Morning Wake Up is about perceived effort. When my cycling coach gives me a workout with a perceived effort of 9.5 (on a scale from 1 to 10, where a 10 is maximum effort), I know it’s going to hurt. If I just give it a 7, I’m intentionally avoiding the hard work and the measurable gains that come from it. As a leader, there are times when 100% effort is a non-negotiable. If your behavior pattern is to intentionally dial it back to 80%, don’t be surprised when the expected outcome falls short too. Giving 100% is a choice … as is giving 80%.... Read More

Delivering excellence is more than a choice

December 15, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

excellence_choiceExcellence is a beautiful thing to behold, but what is it? It is that rare state when all things converge flawlessly into a product, service or experience. It is the culmination of innovation, fierce attention to detail, finely honed systems, discipline and accountability to a desired end result. And once achieved, that state of excellence is admired, respected and sought after.

In business, excellence is coveted by many but only earned by few. It is much like the Lexus tagline, “The relentless pursuit of excellence,” where the word “relentless” defines the extent of the company’s commitment to chasing the extraordinary. Without “relentless”, the word “pursuit” becomes highly suspect in its meaning and intent. A company can easily give lip service to its pursuit of excellence without ever channeling the resources, commitment and leadership necessary to achieve it. Simply put, you may want excellence … but how far are you willing to go, and what are you prepared to sacrifice to get it?... Read More

Anatomy of a cash crisis

December 8, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

hurricaneFor entrepreneurs, there is nothing more dreaded and stressful then going through a cash crisis. Much like the “battle stations” siren on a warship under attack, a company experiencing a cash crisis instantly goes into reaction mode to batten down the hatches and plug the leaks. The truly tough work is keeping a “business as usual” demeanor to avoid freaking out employees and exposing customers to the crisis that is occurring just behind the curtain. Unfortunately, the more critical a cash crisis gets, the more it impacts employees and the company’s ability to deliver its standard of excellence to its customers.... Read More

2014: Home-stretch thoughts

December 1, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

home_stretchToday is the first day of the last month of 2014. So far, you have eleven months of business in the history book this year. You’ve eaten your Thanksgiving feast. The craziness of the Holiday season is officially underway. The time for implementing change and course corrections is behind you. Your company is either prepared to make the most of this final month, or it is not. All you can see ahead of you is the mad dash to New Year’s Eve and the welcoming of a fresh new year of opportunity called 2015.

This is a transitional time of year, good for both reflection and forward thinking. At this point, you’ve had your successes and failures. You’ve had initiatives that went sideways. You’ve said “good bye” to some old employees and welcomed in some new ones. You’ve hit your goals and missed your goals. You’ve loved your job … and there were times when you’ve hated your job. And on January 1, 2015, your Profit & Loss Statement revenues will revert back to zero and the endless process of leading your business will start all over again. The question to ponder now is … what do you want to change in 2015?... Read More

My BIG No-Compromise Project

November 24, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

Command_Center_Marquee2This Monday Morning Wake Up is a little departure from my usual rants on leadership and more about sharing a very special project that I’ve spent almost a year building. I’m very proud of the results and hope you appreciate what it took to make my BIG no-compromise project a reality.

The idea had been kicking around in my head for years. It was one of those infamous “game changing” projects that act as the missing link in connecting accountability to application, urgency to strategy and focus to vision. This is high-level leadership strategy distilled down to no-compromise, “If it needs to be done, get it done” leadership thinking, behavior and execution. It is 21+ years of Strategies’ training, systems and methodology at your fingertips 24/7/365. In the early days of 2014, it was time to bring my idea to life, and we began building what we now call the “Strategies Command Center.”... Read More

When your Financials speak

November 17, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

ListeningIf you were your company’s financial reports, would you feel ignored and disrespected? Or even worse, would you feel irrelevant? This may sound weird, but your financial reports have “feelings” too. They can feel strong, healthy and full of vitality. Likewise, they can feel sick, anemic, and in extreme cases, near death. And just as when your child is not feeling well, all you have to do is pay attention, understand the signs, and “listen” to what your financials are telling you about their past, current and probable future condition.

Entrepreneurs tend to view themselves as visionaries with the passion and drive to chase their dreams and build a company. It doesn’t matter if that company is a one-person enterprise or a multi-location behemoth with hundreds (or even thousands) of employees … all financials speak the same language and share the same vital signs.... Read More

If there were nothing but green lights

November 10, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

green_lights-#1There are specific milestones in our lives when vision, determination, ambition, self-confidence and opportunity collide in ways that explode all the fears and obstacles that seemingly lay before you. These are the transformative moments when you step willingly into the unknown and take responsibility for your own success. It’s like driving to a destination with nothing but green lights before you. You become so positively charged that you overcome and break through the negative resistance that accompanies all bold journeys. And when you encounter the inevitable setbacks, you simply push harder until you’re back on your intended course.

The truth about these milestones is that you have total control over when and how often they occur in your life. Your current reality … better known as your life … is what keeps milestone moments at bay. You don’t have the time or money. You give the risks more energy than they deserve. The goal you want to chase will meet resistance from those you lead so you discount its value. The confidence busting “what if it doesn’t work?” question eventually starts changing all of your green lights red.... Read More

Leaders are always a work in progress

November 3, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

work_in_progressOver twenty-one years ago, I founded Strategies to coach and train business owners in the disciplines of leadership, performance and growth. I am proud beyond words of my company. In 2008, I wrote a book called No-Compromise Leadership. It won the 2010 IPPY Award for business and leadership. I am also proud beyond words of that book. Guess what? After 40+ years of doing classes, keynotes, countless articles, three books, and coaching leaders … not to mention writing 354 Monday Morning Wake-Ups … I am proud to say that as a leader, I am still a work in progress. I still have much to learn and many disciplines to master.... Read More

Founders Fatigue Epilogue: To become reinvigorated

October 27, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

invigorateMy Founders Fatigue MMWU of a few weeks ago not only hit its mark, it pushed some owners to recognize that they have Founder’s Fatigue and inspired them to do something about it. I was glowing as I read one such email from a husband and wife team that own a wildly successful, six million dollar company. They attended a Strategies Incubator prior to opening in 2003 and have grown a model Team-Based Pay company ever since. Their words were inspiring because no matter how successful a company may be, owners and leaders are always susceptible to Founder’s Fatigue.

Their email said, “We were suffering from Founder’s Fatigue and badly needed the shot in the arm we received at your recent Team-Based Pay Conference. We returned reinvigorated and ready to improve our company’s culture. Yes, we have drifted over the past few years … but now we are working hard at getting back on track. It’s amazing how liberating it feels when you finally make the tough decisions and move forward. Almost feels like it did when we first set out on our entrepreneurial journey – only we’re much more profitable. :)”... Read More

The Conversation

October 20, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

conversation#1As a business coach, much of my work centers on guiding leaders through the wonderful, wacky world of human thinking and behavior, both of those they lead and their own. Dealing with financial stuff is easy. It’s math. Spend less than you bring in and there will be profit. Revenue projections and budgets are mathematical assumptions that we fondly refer to as “wild-ass guesses.” But it’s the leader’s thinking and behavior that brings the numbers and profits to life. System and procedure design is easy too, but it’s getting people to buy into and live the change that tests one’s ability to lead. And to truly become a No-Compromise Leader, you must master and engage in “the conversation.”... Read More

Founders Fatigue and what to do about it

October 13, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

fatigueI was doing a coaching call with an owner. We were discussing strategic changes he would like to implement that could dramatically increase revenues, address customer needs more quickly and efficiently, improve customer retention rates and provide his employees with significant income growth. His company was already quite successful and actively encouraged employee engagement through open-book management, team bonuses and profit sharing. His proposed strategic changes made perfect sense. I could hear the commitment and passion in his voice – until he began talking about his people and their reaction to his ideas. His tone changed as he shared employee resistance to expanding roles and new opportunities. And then he said, “I have owner’s fatigue.”... Read More

Reigniting your leadership passion

October 6, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

passionLast July I completed the 77-mile Prouty Ride in New Hampshire. There were hills-a-plenty and I turned in an average speed that was so slow I don’t even want to share it. I have a top-of-the-line Specialized S-Works road bike, so it wasn’t my equipment that was lacking. What was lacking was the ability of the bike’s engine – me. My growing frustration with my slow performance finally got to me. I may be 64 years old, but I know I’m physically capable of developing more power and speed – and reigniting my passion for cycling. So I hired Tracey Drews, a Carmichael Training Systems (CTS) coach, to kick my butt into shape. In two months, I increased my average speed almost two miles per hour and lost 10 pounds in the process. I feel great. I’m proud of my improvements. I got my passion for cycling back.
... Read More

The Team-Based business model ROCKS

September 29, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

TBPC_groupOn September 21st-22nd, Strategies held our first annual Team-Based Pay (TBP) Conference in Chicago, IL. It’s amazing that 158 business owners and leaders gathered to learn, to be inspired and to celebrate this thing called “Team-Based Pay.” Heck, it’s just a pay system. But labeling it “just a pay system” is a shortsighted conclusion that discounts what a company can achieve by rewarding the right overall individual and team performance. Team-Based Pay isn’t about the “pay” … it’s about achieving excellence by defining and rewarding excellence. It’s about building a team-based business model that is void of the “I/me/mine” commission mindset.... Read More

Keeping your business in balance

September 22, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

in-balanceI was boarding a 20-seat commuter plane with six other passengers. We took our assigned seats, most of which were toward the front of the plane. Just before the captain started up the engines, he came into the cabin and asked a few of us to take seats further to the rear. “We need to balance out the plane,” he explained. Given the explanation, I was happy to move to an aft seat. In the process, I found it interesting how immune we frequent flyers on commercial jets have become to flight dynamics. I know I never give it a thought.

But on that tiny plane, I was reminded how performance and safety depend on the proper balance. That captain knew that had he not balanced the weight, he would have had to over-compensate on the controls to keep the plane flying straight and true – especially during takeoff and landing. As captain of your business, how often do you find yourself trying to overcompensate when things are out of balance? You know exactly what I’m talking about.... Read More

What you need to know but do not know

September 15, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

need_to_know2Being a truly effective leader means being in the know about everything that is going on in and around your company. But being in the know about “everything” is impossible and would probably cause your head to explode. Yet, every day there are forces at work that could impede growth, hinder productivity, drain cash flow, degrade your brand or cause you to miss a major opportunity. By forces, I’m referring to the people side of your company where decisions are made and where thinking and behavior deviates from the company’s vision and core values. This is where personal or collective compromise can throw a wrench in what should be your well-oiled machine.

In business, believing in the old adage, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you,” is like avoiding reality by sticking your head in the sand. If you’re having cash-flow problems and you’re not paying attention to – or can’t read – your financial reports, and you don’t have a cash-flow plan/budget … then you don’t know what you need to know. If you’re having productivity issues and pushback on much needed changes, but do little to change your “I don’t like structure” leadership style … then what you don’t know – you need to know. If you’ve ever discovered a major problem and uttered the words, “How was this happening right under my nose?” … then you don’t know what you need to know. Got it?... Read More

Perfect teams are like fuzzy benchmarks

September 8, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

fuzzy_numbers2Every leader has a story of that “perfect team” of people. The stories are always about a shared passion to achieve the near impossible – to overcome all obstacles. There’s camaraderie, mutual support and knowing that everyone has your back. And then there’s that sprinkle of magic that gives each and every team member the belief that, together, they are unstoppable. But gradually over time, members of the team move on and replacements are brought in. The legacy of greatness remains, but that magic and electricity is different … or else absent entirely.

For leaders, it is a privilege to lead such a perfect team. But how does such a team come together? Is it by chance or by design? Perhaps the real question is, can such a team be persistently and consistently replicated? Perfect teams are like fuzzy benchmarks. You know the stats they’re capable of producing. You know the required skills and can articulate how all the players should seamlessly interact. You think you know all the ingredients … but it’s getting that mixture just right that eludes you.... Read More

How to lead through numbers. Not by them

September 1, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Numbers_collageIt is true that numbers don’t lie, but they don’t tell the complete story either. The best example is “Net Profit” on a Profit & Loss Statement. You can get all excited when you see a nice net profit – but having net profit doesn’t mean you have cash in the bank. You can check your bank balance – but that balance doesn’t reflect checks that were written but have yet to clear. If you understand how to read your Profit & Loss Statement, Balance Sheet and Statement of Cash Flows…and how all three reports work together…then you know they will tell you a more complete story. If you don’t, you’ll be making decisions on very incomplete data.

Numbers speak to people in different ways according to their depth of understanding about what those numbers mean. There are those “left brain”, analytical people that love to process every morsel of the story numbers tell – but this doesn’t guarantee that the story will be interpreted correctly. Likewise, there are those creative, “right brain” folks that just can’t stop their eyes from rolling back in their heads when looking at financial or analytical reports. For them, the story is a painful documentary on the origins of Algebra.... Read More

TEN No-Compromise Leadership Disciplines

August 25, 2014 | By Eric Ducoff | 1 Comment

leadership_disciplines2No leader is a complete package of thinking and behavior disciplines. For most leaders, being that complete package is best defined as a quest to becoming as near complete as one can get. Just how hard are you willing to work at it? Just how open are you to making profound changes in your own thinking and behavior? If you’re truly committed to becoming an authentic No-Compromise Leader, you will need to embrace the following ten No-Compromise Leadership disciplines:

  1. It’s not about you: Being a leader is innately personal. It’s about achieving your full potential by coaching others to achieve theirs … all in a singular effort to achieve the company’s vision. People fight for and are loyal to a leader’s fairness, integrity, compassion and courage in accomplishing something great and worthy. But a leader is simply a guide to a better place. When a leader devolves into “all about me” thinking, an egotistical and selfish dictator takes over. No-Compromise Leadership is never about you. It’s about the people you lead and where you are taking the company.
  2. Strive for absolute clarity: It’s hard for people to put their best efforts into an abstraction they don’t understand. No-Compromise Leaders take extreme care to communicate the company’s vision, objectives and tasks with absolute clarity. I use the term “absolute clarity” because it eliminates the wiggle room that gets many leaders into trouble and pushes leaders to thoroughly define their desired outcomes. Make a practice of embedding “absolute clarity” into your approach to communication.
  3. Orchestra leader: This discipline is for all those leaders that meddle and attempt to micro-manage just about everything. It’s an exhausting leadership pattern that fuels frustration in everyone – including the leader doing it. The role of a leader is like that of an orchestra conductor. The conductor leads the way through the musical score, keeping all the musicians and sections in sync. The conductor creates urgency, boldness and order to bring emotion to the score. But … the conductor never touches an instrument. Leadership means guiding and coaching others – and never touching their work. It’s about achieving the right outcomes through others.
  4. Respect levels of authority: This means that each member of your leadership team should be prepared and empowered to make decisions and guide operations that adhere to the company’s objectives and visions. The moment you bypass levels of authority by making or overriding the decisions of your leaders, you de-power that leader. Work with and through your leaders by providing the training, coaching and resources they need to fulfill the requirements of their position.
  5. Brain and heart balance: It’s great to be compassionate. It’s prudent to make decisions based on facts, analysis and probabilities. However, both brain and heart decisions must be properly balanced. Too much heart can have you tolerating intolerable behavior and performance, which often leads to double standards and contamination of your company’s culture. Too much brain and people become numbers and statistics. No-compromise Leaders strive to have a balance of both.
  6. Voice of the company: Companies have vital signs just like humans do. When a company is sick or encounters challenges, it needs its leader to speak on its behalf. That’s why No-Compromise Leaders always speak as “we” … not “me.” Leaders monitor their company’s vital signs and performance. Leaders plot the future of the company. Leaders address challenges with decisive action. In every way, the leader must always be the voice of the company.
  7. Measure what matters: There’s a reason they call “critical numbers” critical. If they’re not heading in the right direction, there’s a problem. No-Compromise Leaders have a set of critical numbers that are relentlessly monitored; numbers like gross profit margin, net profit, cash, client retention and productivity rate, among others. Leaders get into trouble when they don’t pay attention to their critical numbers – and even more serious trouble arises when they don’t know what the critical numbers mean. The most important part of monitoring critical numbers is in how they shape the company’s performance and culture. “What gets measured gets repeated” isn’t just some clever saying … it communicates how people and teams improve performance in order to push critical numbers in the right direction. What critical numbers are you measuring?
  8. Lift or drag: This is such a simple and powerful leadership process. If a person, system or project isn’t creating lift…then it’s creating drag. There is no middle ground. Lift is good. Drag is bad. Lift is fast. Drag is slow. Got it? No-Compromise Leaders have little tolerance for drag. If they can’t find a way to turn drag into lift – they eliminate the drag. For example: If you have a team of “A” players, allowing a “C” player to remain on that team is drag and will eventually degrade one or more of the “A” players into “B” players. That’s how cultures become contaminated.
  9. Urgency of the unknown: No-Compromise Leaders know all too well that comfort zones are merely “rest stops.” Getting trapped in a comfort zone means all forward progress stops and status quo officially becomes the accepted normal. The future is going to happen no matter what; leaders can either prepare and control as much of the future as possible … or allow the future to render them irrelevant. The future is an exciting place that is full of opportunity. It is the leader’s job to create a sense of urgency to embrace the future – not to fear it.
  10. Let go of the reins: This is the most difficult part of leadership. No-Compromise Leaders surround themselves with an inner circle of leaders that are in total sync with the objectives and vision of the company. Letting go of the reins is a natural and necessary part of leadership that ensures the company can live beyond its leader’s lifespan. Simply put, leaders that can’t let go of the reins by preparing and empowering emerging leaders are essentially forcing the company to live and die with the leader. Got it?

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The No-Compromise approach to building and protecting your BRAND

August 18, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

brand-1Every company has a vision of what it will become. That vision defines how big a company will grow, the markets it will serve, its commitment to excellence, its core values, its growth opportunities, its potential financial rewards and all those other lofty and worthy things that represent a well-crafted vision. Company visions are supposed to be enticing and empowering because they define the quest. But within those visions resides one of the most essential components to achieving any goal – your “brand.”

Envision a large funnel with an incredibly tiny opening at the bottom. You pour all those precious elements of your vision into the top of the funnel and stir it up a bit. What emerges from that tiny opening is a little encapsulated entity that represents the uniqueness, qualities, abilities, reputation and purpose of your company. It is simply called your brand. If you mix in all the right vision elements, your brand will be extremely valuable and precious. But what many leaders fail to realize is that their company brand is also extremely delicate and susceptible to damage from just about everything. Just as leaders are responsible for protecting a company’s culture, so too are they responsible for protecting the company’s brand.... Read More

A NO-COMPROMISE LESSON: When it is time to shake things up

August 11, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

shake#1The body language of the employees I was about to address oozed negativity and resistance. You could cut the tension in the meeting room with a knife. As the business owner prepared to introduce me, my mind was in rapid creativity mode, crafting my opening for this launch of a major change initiative that included a new compensation system.

It was show time. “Good morning,” I began. “As your consultant, I have examined every conceivable aspect of your company, and I’m happy to announce that absolutely nothing needs to change.”

As I stood silently, allowing my words to sink in, almost in unison the employees responded with, “You’ve got to be kidding. Everything here needs to change!” With the ice broken and everyone in agreement that significant changes were needed, I was able to proceed.... Read More

Controlling your own chaos

August 4, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

chaos2In many ways, the work of leadership is the work of controlling chaos. It’s a given that change is relentless, but to embrace change is to embrace chaos. Likewise, if you resist and avoid change, you feed chaos, because holding on to status quo is unsustainable, short-term thinking, as current strategies and systems will wither over time.

It’s also a given that problems will occur, equipment will break, seemingly good decisions will backfire, and employees will come and go. For this discussion, I’m simply going to define chaos as a state of varying degrees of disorder and confusion.

Chaos may be inevitable, but to a large degree, it is also controllable. Why? Because much of the chaos that surrounds and stresses leaders is self-inflected. Avoid a problem too long and it spins off waves of chaos. Over-commit yourself and chaos ensues. Hit the launch button on a new initiative or project before it’s ready and there will be chaos. Give incomplete instructions and poorly defined expectations and rest assured, there will be chaos. Keep a toxic employee on payroll too long and there will be chaos. I’m sure you get what I’m saying here.... Read More

Teamwork: Hard to get, easy to lose

July 28, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

teamwork3Business leaders toss the word “teamwork” around like some boundless, renewable resource. Well, it’s not. In fact, teamwork is a precious commodity revered by those who have achieved it and envied by those who want it. You can refer to employees as team members, use scoreboards and do huddles every day, but these exercises are no guarantee that teamwork will follow.

FACT: Teamwork is an outcome. It is the culmination of a multitude of complex forces, systems and accountabilities that merge into one truly dynamic state of being called teamwork. In this teamwork state of being, the collective energy of individuals harmoniously synchronizes to achieve the extraordinary. 
It’s much like achieving a true meditative state. One must learn to quiet the mind until a “oneness” with the world is achieved. This meditative state is difficult enough for individuals to master. Consider the added complexity of groups of individuals – all possessing unique personalities, ambitions and job functions – coming together to achieve that state of being we call teamwork.... Read More

How to Control Your Time Bandits

July 21, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

You worked hard all day on a bunch of stuff. There were emails, phone calls, tasks, interruptions – and some fires that would have burned out of control had you not stepped up to play fireman.

You’ve had a busy day, but what meaningful work did you truly accomplish? How much progress did you make on those gotta-do projects scattered all over your plate?

Fact: being “busy” does not translate into being productive and making forward progress.

Being busy can mean you’re procrastinating on work you should be doing.

Being busy can mean that you’re doing work that others can and should be doing.

Lastly, being busy can mean that you’ve set yourself up to be an easy target for time bandits.... Read More

How Thinking & Behavior Patterns Shape Your Culture

July 14, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

A person’s thinking and behavior patterns make them extremely predictable. That’s how you know certain employees are going to be late for work, that their projects will miss deadlines, and how they will react during a tough conversation. It’s why some people are detail oriented and highly organized while others are “big picture” and all over the place. It’s why some people work for a paycheck while others work to build a career and make a difference. It’s why some people fit your company culture and others do not.

For leaders, the challenge is to harness all those patterns of thinking and behavior into one highly functional and impressive tapestry. That tapestry is your company’s culture. Some patterns fit. Others don’t. Some patterns fade over time and need to be replaced. Some patterns act as support, holding things together. Some patterns lose their integrity causing the patterns that surround them to also lose theirs – that is, if you’re not paying attention.... Read More

When it is personal, it matters

July 7, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

MS-TeamStrategies-v2aOn June 28-29, five riders on Team Strategies departed the UMass Campus in Boston and began a 155-mile, two-day ride to Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod. This was the sixth time I did the MS Cape Cod Getaway Ride. As in past years, I managed to convince two new riders to join our team. I tell them it is an experience of a lifetime that they will never forget. I tell them the hills aren’t too bad on Cape Cod. And I tell them that we’re riding to raise money for a worthy cause. One of the new riders was Ronit Enos, a salon owner from Hingham, MA. The other new rider was my nephew, Adam Ducoff from New Jersey. Rounding out our team were Sonny Rapozo of East Falmouth, MA, and Robert Korpak, my neighbor from Old Saybrook, CT – both of whom I introduced to distance cycling a number of years ago.... Read More

Why the best business fix is rarely the first choice

June 30, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

potholeThe road to success is rarely a freshly paved superhighway. It’s more like an off-road trail that contrasts the easy stretches with obstacles, steep cliffs and, of course – lions and tigers and bears. Surviving the obstacles and hazards demands a good plan and the ability to adapt quickly should the plan go awry. And depending on the severity of the danger, sometimes the best plan is the toughest to execute. In do or die situations, you have to go with the best plan – no matter how tough it appears.

When things go wrong in business, decisions need to be made. Maybe it’s a crisis that’s been thrown at you, or a problem that has manifested over time into something big and ugly like excessive debt or payroll costs. The good news is that there is a fix for just about every business problem no matter how big and ugly it is. The bad news is that leaders often avoid the best and most thorough fix and run with the second best fix because it’s easier, faster, less controversial, will upset fewer people and will require less sacrifice. Translation: The second best fix is a quick fix that lacks the depth and potency to thoroughly rid the company of its big ugly problem. As a result, the problem resurfaces time and time again, as big and as ugly as ever.... Read More

Why some succeed and others do not

June 23, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

loserI’ve been coaching business owners and leaders for 40 years. I’ve written four books, one of which is an award-winner, on No-Compromise Leadership and business growth. It is a joy and deeply fulfilling to see leaders transform their companies from “OK” to being productive, efficient, and profitable – and vision/purpose driven. It’s even more rewarding to see leaders tenaciously and courageously leading their companies out of the fiery pits of cultural and financial hell to the daylight of teamwork, profits and cash reserves.

But yet… there are those that just can’t seem to find success – even when provided with a map and directions.... Read More

Consistency begins when Blown Plays stop

June 16, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

broken-play4In football, a “blown play” occurs when the original planned play fails to execute properly. The business equivalent of a “blown play” is when a system or procedure designed to create a specific outcome fails to come about the way it was planned. On the surface, blown plays are the result of inadequate training, preparation and communication. Go a little deeper and things like weak leadership, fragmented company culture and employee indifference add to the frequency and likelihood of blown plays.

The prime objective of leadership is consistency in execution. In my No-Compromise Leadership book, I give the following sequence:... Read More

Success in business is . . .

June 9, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

success_isWe dream about it. We fight for it. We put everything on the line for it. But what exactly is this thing called “success”? Success is often referred to as a destination, but if that is correct, how does one know if he or she has arrived? There aren’t any quantitative measurements that define success. There isn’t a GPS destination called success. And if success is so amazing, why are there people happy as could be that are barely getting by, while others have all the trappings of success and are miserable?

Business success is the ultimate enigma simply because you never know if it has truly been achieved. If you believe you have achieved success, there is always uncertainty as to its sustainability. A few miscalculations, distractions or bad decisions and your “success” can disappear in a heartbeat.... Read More

How to Get Unstuck

June 2, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 5 Comments

Todays MMWU is for all the leaders that keep wondering what opportunities exist over the horizon but never move toward it. Its for all the leaders that choose to tread water and are realizing that their arms are getting tired. Its for all the companies that are waiting for their leader to snap out of it and lead the way.

Being and feeling stuck sucks. You want to move forward, but you’re unsure where forward is. Moving backward isn’t a great option either. The only thing remotely appealing about moving backward is that you know what’s there and what to expect. But moving backward means retreating and giving up – and that’s not who you are. So you remain stuck in the middle of a crossroad, and the longer you remain stuck, the more frustrated, bored and confused you become.

Yes, being stuck sucksbut being stuck is a choice. Rather than moving forward (no matter where forward leads) you actively choose to be stuck over some very viable options open to you. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of change and “what if-ing” things to death are the imaginary walls that keep people feeling stuck. The key to getting unstuck is recognizing that those walls aren’t real and can be vaporized by you at any time. Simply put, the first step to getting unstuck is choosing to be unstuck.... Read More

Time’s influence on change

May 26, 2014 | By Eric Ducoff | 2 Comments

When I started Strategies in September 1993, there was no Internet, email or Facebook. We marketed Strategies magazine and our business courses almost entirely by direct mail. It worked then…but that type of marketing doesn’t work in today’s digital marketplace. In fact, after publishing Strategies magazine for fourteen years, I had to come to terms with the fact that the magazine was not part of Strategies future. I made the tough (but right) decision for the December 2007 issue to be our last. Although I miss my magazine, Strategies is a better company today without it because we can focus our resources on our core business of training and coaching.

Yesterday’s success does not assure success today or tomorrow. Yesterday’s success enhances your stature and reputation, but not indefinitely. A company must evolve and change as the reality that surrounds it evolves and changes. There is an inherent danger to holding on to yesterday’s successes for too long. It dials back a company’s sense of urgency to innovate and discover new opportunities. It makes a leader lazy and a company lethargic.... Read More

Leaders think and speak as WE

May 19, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

scullingIt doesn’t matter if your title is owner, president, CEO or fearless leader – you are responsible for the wellbeing, performance and growth of your company. Just like we humans, companies are born. Healthy ones grow and prosper creating opportunities for leaders, employees and stakeholders. Likewise, unhealthy companies can suffer and die. And, like humans, companies have vital signs that can be read in the form of Profit & Loss Statements, Balance Sheets and Statements of Cash Flows. Physically fit companies are disciplined, accountable and purpose driven. Weak and sickly companies are undisciplined, rarely get things done, and wander around aimlessly hoping to trip over success.... Read More

Shields Up, Thinking Closed

May 12, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Woman-making-stop-signYou can study, train and be coached to become a better leader. But that’s just the beginning. Here’s a non-negotiable Neilism: “Without a personal mandate to change your thinking and behavior, no-compromise leadership will elude you.” All of that newfound knowledge might allow you to impress others with your ability to recite the latest buzzwords and concepts, but if you fail to change your thinking and behavior at a core level, you’re merely cloaking compromise. Leaders are measured by deed and performance.

Many leaders selectively decide to lower their shields or not, based on how willing they are to understand their own thinking. It’s no different than an obese person lowering his shields to see that he must change the thinking that governs his eating behaviors. Take my father, for example – obese for his entire life (I’m talking a cruising weight of 350 pounds), his name was Harry but everyone called him “Duke” because it just seemed to fit better. Being obese, and the eating behaviors that drive that lifestyle, can be humiliating and embarrassing. When my father would buy a new car, he had to have the seat tracks moved back just so he could fit behind the wheel. At one point he was so heavy, the doctor’s scale didn’t go high enough to weigh him. The only scale the doctor could find to weigh him was at the meat market. Humiliated, Duke hung on the meat scale like a side of beef.... Read More

Challenging your own conventional wisdom

May 5, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

challenge_wisdomMany of today’s most powerful strategies and systems were derived from leadership thinking that challenged conventional wisdom. But empowerment, systemization, process management, open-book management, Team-Based Pay and other contemporary approaches to achieving breakthrough results will surely fail if the leader’s beliefs and thinking conflict in any way. Here’s a Neilism to drive that point home: “Leadership beliefs and thinking must align with strategies for measurable results to occur.”

For leaders, few challenges eclipse the need to objectively examine one’s basic beliefs about leading people. Leaders must do this in order to harness and organize your team’s collective efforts and achieve the right outcomes. The issue is that beliefs about leading people can work for or against you. For example, if your belief is that people cannot be trusted, it is unlikely that those you lead will trust you in return.... Read More

When doing it right is wrong

April 28, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

right_is_wrongSomething went “oops” in your company and one employee immediately stepped up to save the day. It wasn’t just any employee – it was that one amazing employee who always seems to step up when things go wrong or when a volunteer is needed to go above and beyond. This employee did the right thing … but a number of team members label the employee as a “show off” or so-called “teacher’s pet.” The company has been in a funk lately and there’s grumbling within the employee ranks. Yet there’s one employee who consistently steps up and kicks butt by producing numbers and results that are off the charts. This employee is doing the right thing … but a number of team members shun and bad-mouth the employee for making them look bad.
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On words written and spoken, and the passing of a mentor

April 21, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 7 Comments

Public_speaking-v2I have been a public speaker and writer for most of my working life, but never had any formal training in either discipline. In late 2005, I came across an ad in the Delta Airline’s magazine for The Buckley School of Public Speaking in Camden, SC. I did some research and was impressed to know that its founder and author of numerous books on public speaking, Reid Buckley, was a hands-on instructor. Since I had just begun writing No-Compromise Leadership, I decided the timing was right, and in February 2006, I headed off to Reid’s school to get my butt kicked by the master.... Read More

Thirteen No-Compromise Leadership Beliefs

April 14, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

trustWe have all seen leaders with diverse leadership styles who are successful at inspiring and creating dynamic team cultures. Some have charisma; some do not. Some seek consensus; some do not. Some have quick tempers, while others have great patience. However, what they all have in common are similar beliefs about people and what they can achieve given the right environment and culture. They recognize that the difference between ordinary people doing ordinary work and ordinary people doing extraordinary work is contingent on their leadership. They have a genuine commitment to the success and wellbeing of those they lead. Most important of all, people trust that the behavior they see in their leader is truly authentic because everything he does is consistent with his beliefs.... Read More

Understanding Drivers & Outcomes in Your Salon/Spa

April 7, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

At Strategies, every aspect of our business training and coaching is focused on what we call The Four Business Outcomes: productivity, profitability, staff retention and customer loyalty. Business success, and your success as a leader, is defined not only by the proficiency and mastery of each outcome, but by how equally you balance and synchronize The Four Business Outcomes. Think of each Outcome as one of the four powerful jet engines on a Boeing 747. Maximum efficiency and thrust to lift the 875,000 pound jetliner with over 500 passengers and cargo requires all four engines to be in sync. Should one engine underperform or fail, the performance and safety of the entire jetliner is compromised.

Outcomes are an end result. High productivity rates are an outcome. Impressive Balance Sheets and Profit & Loss Statements are outcomes. A unified and cohesive company culture with little employee turnover is an outcome. Fiercely loyal customers and high client retention rates are outcomes. In order to produce extraordinary outcomes, you’ve got to get the drivers right.... Read More

Tuning up your profitability outcome

March 31, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

profitabilityWhen no-compromise leadership targets the profitability business outcome, it does so with a by-the-book discipline. That means that fiscal responsibility is practiced at every level of the business, from the leader and the leadership team to every salesperson, service provider, assistant, guest services representative and maintenance worker. Everyone pushes the numbers in the right direction. This becomes a culture in which everyone is responsible – everyone is accountable. Waste or cost without purpose is unacceptable.

Just as you can see, feel and measure a business with a high-performance productivity culture, so too you can see, feel and measure a business with a high-fiscally responsible culture. It doesn’t mean the company is “tight” or “penny-pinching”; it simply means that purpose and discipline are the rule with regard to how it deals with money, spending and cash-flow management.... Read More

Ten Characteristics of a Successful Salon/Spa Business

March 24, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

The best-of-the-best are committed to doing the “work” of business. They don’t avoid the stuff they don’t like or the tough stuff that defines a leader’s determination to win. Just like profitability, success is an outcome. Leaders and companies that master the disciplines of success stand out from their competition.

Using a simple grading system of 1 to 10 (10 being truly outstanding), each characteristic listed below establishes a benchmark that you can use to quickly assess the viability of any business … including yours. Using this approach, a score of 10 for each characteristic will yield a perfect score of 100.

Characteristic Number 1 – Leadership: First and foremost, the owner of a successful business functions as a businessperson. This means that the owner is engaged, accountable and drives performance by paying attention to the business. That being said, it’s easy to identify owners that are so engrossed in their non-leadership work that the business is essentially free-floating without direction, structure or systems. This is the equivalent of trying to run a business by remote control. It just doesn’t work.... Read More

Lesson of the extraordinary oil change

March 17, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

GrahamGraham Kenny of Edmonton, Alberta, brought his car to the local Lexus dealer for an oil change. There is nothing exciting about getting an oil change. Your car needs it; you sit and wait in a plastic chair; you get it over with. But little did Graham know his mundane oil change would turn into a truly remarkable VIP experience. The waiting room at this Lexus dealer offered complimentary wine, a selection of Keurig coffee, sodas, bottled water, and snacks, and even one of those massage chair recliners with a built-in iPad. Graham was so impressed that he posted pictures and described his VIP oil change experience on Facebook.

The last thing Graham wanted to hear was, “Mr. Kenny, your car is ready.” He wanted his VIP experience to last. But wait a minute … we’re talking about an oil change here, not a fine dining experience! Lexus of Edmonton simply transformed the process of waiting for your car to be serviced into a VIP experience by giving attention to the otherwise boring waiting room. All it took was a little wine, a beverage selection, some snacks … and that wonderful massage chair with an iPad for surfing the web (conveniently set to lexus.com). Graham now looks forward to an oil change.... Read More

Leading today into the unknown future

March 10, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

into_the_unknownThe one and only accurate prediction about the future is that it will happen. Exactly how it will happen is the unknown. You can create the most detailed plan for tomorrow, next week and the next few months, and reality may or may not play out precisely as you designed it. But it’s not supposed to. That’s the beauty of the future. You can shape it and influence it, but you can never control it. The key words here are “shape” and “influence.” The best leaders shape and influence the future. They adapt to and maneuver around the twists, turns and surprises they encounter along the way.... Read More

Why leaders drive them crazy

March 3, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 5 Comments

Last week I did a No-Compromise Leadership talk for the Princeton Merchant’s Association. In attendance were bankers, restaurant owners, retailers, dry cleaners, non-profit associations, local media and others, all representing this prestigious university town. The response to my opening line, “Business leaders exist to drive their employees crazy,” earned the style of laughter that confirmed I was speaking to a group of worthy offenders. They laughed because in so many ways, my opening line is true.

Aboard ships there are mutinies. In countries there are protests and revolutions. In corporations there are work slowdowns and labor strikes. In hair salons there are walkouts. And everyday, in businesses all over the world, there are employees quitting leaders … not companies. Yes, leaders can be jerks, insensitive, overbearing, dictatorial, self-absorbed and egotistical. The more accurate description is that most leaders are a perpetual work in progress to get better at this job called “leader.”... Read More

A Case for Leadership Humility

February 27, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

humility2I have always regarded any leadership role as an honor and a testament to the trust others have in an individual to take them to a place of opportunity. They trust the leader’s judgment. They trust the leader will respect their contributions to the organization. They trust the leader will be fair, honest and open. They trust the leader will reach out his or her hand to lift them up when they trip or fall. They also know that leaders are not infallible, that inevitably mistakes will occur … and that mutual loyalty and respect is about standing alongside their leader in tough times.

What I just described is placing humility over pride – when a leader places the company’s goals and people above his or her own desires. When a leader places personal goals and self-pride before everything else, people become expendable and the company becomes one individual’s magic carpet to success, wealth and self-indulgence. No one wants to follow an egotistical, self-absorbed jerk. No one brings their best game and desire to win for a leader that devours all the glory, accolades and rewards – and lacks the decency to offer up a simple “thank you” to those that did the work.... Read More

Why I write the way I do and why it is important

February 17, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 36 Comments

your_success_typewriterMy demeanor has always leaned toward the more serious end of the spectrum. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been intrigued by business, leadership and the multitude of elements that make it work. That being said, it makes sense that I’ve been an entrepreneur for almost my entire working career. In the mid 70s, my passion for business found three powerful vehicles that allowed me to reach and interact with other business owners – public speaking, coaching and writing. I started my first coaching company in 1978 and never looked back.... Read More

Is it time to hit the reset button?

February 10, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

reset_button1Achieving success is never a straight line. Mixed in with all the wins, leaps and bounds are setbacks, distractions and disappointments – perhaps even a crisis or two. Companies, and people, evolve over time into a collection of thinking and behavior that directly influences and impacts performance and quality. Even the most extraordinary leaders can only keep a company’s thinking and behavior in sync with its vision, mission and purpose for just so long.

Companies mature. Systems age. People and talent move on. Indifference finds its way into your culture. Sometimes, after being on your game for so long, you just want to say, “I’m tired.” It’s the simple process of evolution and time where the one absolute is that life and business are in states of perpetual change. You have to go with it, lead it and manage it. And every now and then, when change gets too far ahead of you and your company…you need to hit the “Reset” button.... Read More

Finding your leadership voice

February 3, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

There are a multitude of personality and leadership style assessments you can consult to provide insights into how you process information and react in various situations. Some leaders are open and direct – they take command, solve problems and fix things. They’re comfortable being in control. But none of this guarantees that these leaders can build dynamic cultures, inspire others and earn loyalty and respect. Open and direct can easily translate into “command and control” leadership and micromanagement. Other leaders are closed and indirect – they share little and struggle with leadership communication. They avoid confrontation. In stressful situations, they retreat.

Between open and direct, and closed and indirect, there are endless combinations of thinking and behaviors. There are leaders that lead with their hearts and emotions. There are leaders that are relentless taskmasters. There are leaders that capture the imaginations of those they lead. There are coaching leaders, hands-off leaders, trusting leaders and distrusting leaders. At the other end of this conglomeration of thinking and behavior emerges your leadership voice. It’s what others hear and react to either positively or negatively.... Read More

Your version of success

January 27, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

your_success_version3There are many interpretations and opinions of the meaning of success. It’s such a simple little word – success – yet it can represent the entirety of one’s life-long quest to achieve it. It’s like a thirst that cannot be quenched and a hunger that can rarely, if ever, be satisfied. Be it wealth, independence, status or the right to control your own destiny, true success is very personal and therefore, very complex. Only you can decide where and how high to set your bar for success … and how committed you are to achieving it.

I believe success is the desire to achieve something that you’re intensely passionate about and emotionally invested in. Something you are willing to sacrifice for. Something so worthy that you are willing to put yourself into the most uncomfortable situations to develop, test and hone your abilities. I pity those that have “success” handed to them because it is the journey that defines you, builds character and allows you to truly appreciate what you’ve earned.... Read More

True business success … or just an illusion

January 20, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

success_illusionI’ve worked with businesses that, by all outward appearances, were enjoying great success. They possess good brand identities, impressive customer lists, great looking facilities, cool equipment (gotta have cool stuff) and all of the other trappings of an otherwise successful business. Their owners drive fine cars and live in impressive houses in just the right neighborhoods. But one look behind the curtain at their financial realities reveals that these companies’ successes are more illusion than fact.

I’ve seen too many of these outwardly successful businesses that are starved for cash or on the brink of financial collapse. The most desperate are financially insolvent – they don’t have the cash to meet payroll, pay the bills or make payments on their bank loans. The emotional stress can be crushing. Sadly, almost every one of these dire and stressful situations can be attributed to leadership’s detachment from the financial reality of the business. A leader who is not fiscally responsible permits that thinking and behavior to infect and define the very culture of the company. That “just keep selling – we’ll be OK” rationale is pure denial at its best. It’s like announcing that the train won’t crash while not knowing what track you’re on, where it’s going or where it ends. Only your financials tell you if the light at the end of the tunnel is daylight or an oncoming train.... Read More

How to keep long-term employees from becoming change resisters

January 13, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Just as every leader understands the cost of employee turnover, they understand the challenges of keeping long-term employees engaged, positive and supportive of change initiatives. New employees are easier to train, coach and mold into your company culture. It’s an entirely different story with long-term employees. Like a marriage, long-term employees have been with you through the good and bad times. They’ve seen it all, and they know your strengths and weaknesses just as well as you know theirs.

When it comes to embracing change, new procedures and systems, long-term employees can either be your biggest advocates – or your most hardened change resisters. But resistance doesn’t mean they’re “not on the bus”; it just means they really like their seat. They’re comfortable in it … and everyone knows not to sit in or mess with their spot. Everything else can change as long as their seat – and their work – is left alone. The problem is that “the bus” is the company and it can’t remain competitive, innovative and fast if it cannot collectively adapt and change – including long-term employees.... Read More

Be prepared to be uncomfortable

January 6, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 8 Comments

gorillaI receive Chris Carmichael’s “Weekend Reading” cycling coaching email. (Chris Carmichael is a retired professional cyclist, cycling coach, author and founder of Carmichael Training Systems … www.trainright.com.) Writing about long-distance endurance cycling, Chris lead off his latest “Weekend Reading” with this kick-ass statement: “Endurance sports are about suffering. If you want to get better, you have to be prepared to be uncomfortable.” This statement resonated with me because of how it correlates not only with cycling, but with business too. I asked Chris if I could use the quote in my MMWU and he said, “Yes.”... Read More

Ten No-Compromise Resolutions for 2014

December 30, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 9 Comments

2014_resolution2Here we are at the end of 2013. The New Year is a time for reflection on what was and looking forward to what will be. For Strategies, 2013 was an amazing and record-breaking year. It was also our 20th anniversary that we celebrated with parties in Chicago, Austin and at Strategies Business Academy in Centerbrook, CT – all at the same time. Using Skype video, I thanked my amazing team and Coaches for helping me change the lives of business owners around the country. And what better way to wrap up our 20th year than having the honor to be on the cover of Salon Today magazine with a feature story on Strategies? It was truly an amazing year.... Read More

The blessing and curse of superstar employees

December 23, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

vipMagic happens when all the ingredients of talent, determination, integrity, relationship building, innovation and team player blend perfectly into one individual. What emerges is a powerhouse employee that routinely shatters performance benchmarks with ease. Perhaps you were once one of these powerhouse employees before striking out to build your own company and chase your own dreams.

Superstars emerge in business, sales, sports, medicine, education, science, politics, religion, and in all aspects of work and life. They break records. They inspire and mentor others. They set new standards. They create and maintain a sense of urgency. More than anything, it’s fun – even a privilege – to work on the same team as a superstar. That is, as long as the superstar is a team player and doesn’t fall victim to self-perceived delusions of royalty and privilege. That’s when a superstar performer goes from a blessing to a curse.... Read More

Six cures and preventions for the I lost my passion flu bug

December 16, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

cure-bugMy Monday Morning Wake-Ups are seeded by the challenges and issues of leaders I encounter in my work. Maybe it’s the shorter days of the winter solstice, the stress of the Holiday Season, or the wrapping up of 2013, but there is definitely an “I lost my passion” flu bug going around. It’s turning up in calls and emails coming into Strategies offices, in classes, and in coaching calls. I’m even getting Facebook messages from exasperated leaders and owners seeking hope for a cure. The common theme of this flu bug is simply a loss of passion for leadership and business.... Read More

How to dream big and not get in your own way

December 9, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

dream_bigAs kids, we dream about what we will be when we grow up without restriction. Our imaginations are free to explore whatever excites us and feels right. We dream of being cowboys, astronauts, movie stars, doctors, action heroes and more. As we age, our dreams narrow in focus to career and life goals. Reality and life have a funny and most efficient way of taking dreams off the table – or filtering how big and how bold our new dreams can be. As leader of your own company, allowing your dreams to be stifled or snuffed out is the precursor to stagnation and, even worse, becoming irrelevant.

Dreams are your BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) for you and your company. Dreams fuel your curiosity about the opportunities that exist beyond the horizon. Dreams keep you innovating and perfecting. Dreams feed your passion to stand out in a crowded marketplace of ordinary and they keep you striving to achieve your full potential. Why would anyone want to dream less – or not at all? (more…)... Read More

Are you managing your legacy?

December 2, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

legacyA box I had been waiting for arrived at Strategies. It contained a hundred copies of the November/December issue of Salon Today magazine. And there I was – on the cover of each and every issue. It was great to finally see which photo the editors selected for the cover. I was delighted with the choice and the layout. I’ve never been on the cover of a magazine or the focus of a feature article. Gazing at this pile of magazines on the conference room table created a strange mixture of pride, accomplishment and a deep sense of humbleness as 40+ years of hard work flashed through my mind. Through an array of emotions, one word kept surfacing – “legacy.”... Read More

Daily Huddles, Scoreboards & Information Flow

November 25, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

ImageHeader-HuddlesThe worst assumption a salon/spa leader can make is that every team member is on the same page. That elusive “same page” lists gotta-get-it-done stats, including: the company’s percentage to goal for the month, productivity rate, pre-book rate, orders shipped, etc. Simply put, that “same page” is pure team progress – not individual progress. It’s what the team needs to achieve collectively. This “same page” data is so critical that it is the centerpiece of daily huddles. And yes, daily huddles are a non-negotiable in all companies.... Read More

Salon/Spa Financial Literacy: Why I Am Concerned

November 18, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

This blog post is for all leaders.

It doesn’t matter how new, old, small or large your salon/spa is, financial literacy matters.

Why?

Because too many leaders think they can run profitable companies without paying attention to their financial reports.

As a company that is coaching and teaching salon/spa owners every day, we are consistently finding that owners and leaders cannot answer the most critical … and simple … financial questions.

And this is not a new phenomenon. But this consistent exposure through our coaching and training work, and over hundreds of complimentary coaching sessions by Strategies coaches and myself has us seeing red flags flying all over the place. ... Read More

12 No-Compromise Leadership defining moments

November 4, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

In my book, No-Compromise Leadership, I make the case that leadership is defined by one’s thinking and behavior. It’s about how leaders react to uncomfortable and challenging situations. It’s about personal commitment to do whatever it takes to grow and protect the company, its culture and its brand. More than anything, leadership is about personal growth and achieving one’s full potential so that the company can achieve the same.

There are no absolutes in leadership. Great leaders can crumble under stress. Great leaders can make questionable choices that jeopardize the security of the company and its employees. Simply put, all leaders are susceptible to human emotions, fears and self-doubt. By getting their thinking and behavior right, a leader stands the best chance of working through challenges and going the distance. Self-awareness and self-governance are cherished qualities of the No-Compromise Leader.... Read More

Behavior Patterns and Performance

October 28, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Cookie JarYou don’t have to be a psychic to read a person’s body language. In most cases, it’s pretty darn easy to tell if someone is upset, frustrated, or just got caught with his or her hand in the cookie jar. Likewise, you don’t need to be an FBI profiler to understand a person’s thinking and behavior patterns. You just need to process what you observe without your emotions and preconceived conclusions filtering out what you really need to see.

When observing patterns of behavior, you want to hear everything that wise little voice in your head has to say. Think about all those employees you hired that didn’t work out. I bet you observed behavior patterns early on that were true indicators of soon-to-be performance issues. I bet you even remember ignoring or discounting those early behavior warning signs. Sometimes, leaders just see what they want to see – or accept flaws with the hope that they’re just anomalies.... Read More

Chasing Consistency

October 21, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

consistencyConsistency is a beautiful thing. It’s what makes great companies truly great. It’s about a company’s commitment to getting it right not just some of the time, but all of the time. Going for consistency means that, as a leader, you are prepared to do what others will not. You are prepared to do whatever it takes and define yourself as a true No-Compromise Leader.

Consistency is about the execution of work and systems to exacting standards. It’s what defines world-class service. It’s embedded in the thinking and behavior of a company’s culture. Anything less than total consistency is a compromise. But it’s the journey to consistency that most leaders underestimate in terms of degree of difficulty and time. Consistency is something a company chases for a long time, and only those committed for the long haul stand a chance of catching it. (more…)... Read More

What does BUT WE ARE DOING OKAY really mean?

October 14, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

ambivalentGrowing a business and achieving extraordinary results is inherently dependent on the leader’s current state of mind, sense of urgency, level of confidence, and willingness to step out of his or her comfort zone. As a leadership coach and business trainer, my job is to serve as a guide for implementing change and, most importantly, to push leaders out of their comfy-cozy comfort zones. But when business problems are identified and the leader’s response is a wimpy, “But we’re doing OK,” compromise wins and growth opportunities move further beyond reach.... Read More

Compromise spreads through a company like a virus

October 7, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

virus_alert2The impact of compromise is not merely subjective. It can be measured in extreme detail by a host of performance and operating reports, and most definitely in financial reports. Compromise is real and it’s costly. It infects and degrades everything, everywhere. It burrows in fast and deep and hunkers down for the long haul. It can kill change initiatives and be resistant to efforts to weed it out.

Still not convinced that compromise exists in your business? Well, think again. Perhaps the compromise isn’t severe, but rest assured, compromise is lurking in your company. And you don’t have to look very far to find it. So buckle your seat belt and get ready for a reality check. Here is a hit list of compromising behavior that is as common as employees surfing the Internet and sending personal e-mails on company time.... Read More

Culture and destroy from within

September 30, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

implodeIf you trace the origin of most business challenges, crises, and missed opportunities, you will undoubtedly discover that most (if not all) were created internally. Someone wasn’t paying attention or being held accountable and the blame game began. Destruction from within has everything to do with behavior and how negative behavior contaminates a business culture. To be a no-compromise leader, you must strengthen, nurture, and protect your business culture from contamination.

Your business culture is…

  • A truly dynamic entity that embodies the heart and soul of your company.
  • The energy source that not only powers your business, but links all behaviors and thinking to a common purpose.
  • What attracts and retains the best employees.
  • That which rallies the collective energy of the business to achieve breakthrough goals and drive growth.
  • What carries the business through inevitable tough times.
  • What touches customers in that special way that keeps them coming back for more.
  • What communicates the who, what, and why of your business to every employee and the world around it.

Just as computers are vulnerable to virus attacks, so too are business cultures. Culture contamination can be devastating to a business. Consider it a poison that can seep in at any time from any direction – internally or externally. Contamination reveals itself in the form of negative behavior, meaningless drama, and decreased productivity. However, unlike computers in which you can install firewalls and virus protection, your business culture is always exposed. Always. Economic challenges, fierce competition, headhunters preying on your best talent, and even the weather can seed contamination into your culture. But those external attacks on your culture are nothing compared to attacks that destroy from within.... Read More

Six steps to winning and getting things done

September 23, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

winning-strategyIf winning in business feels so great, why does it take so much work to get people to play the game to win? If getting things done is the only way to make forward progress, why is it so difficult for us to tackle the tasks on our To-Do lists? Procrastination, resistance to change, leadership compromise, lack of clarity, and indifference exist at varying levels in all companies. But when one or more of these detractors gets out of hand, the contamination spreads throughout a company’s culture, wins turn to losses, and getting anything done becomes a struggle.

Like anything worthy of pursuit, winning and getting things done is a process. Many leaders think it’s about pushing people harder. Some think “better consequences” stimulate better performance. Winning and the collective ability to get things done rest in the leader’s ability to conduct a complex orchestra of people, resources, and systems to achieve clearly defined goals and outcomes. Pushing people to work harder and do more without the right training, systems, and understanding of the goals and outcomes is a recipe for stress and dysfunction. Throw in some really cool consequences and you have the perfect cocktail for demoralizing people and wrecking a culture.... Read More

Twenty lessons from 20 years of Strategies

September 16, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

kick-butt2It was twenty years ago on September 13, 1993 that I started Strategies. It’s amazing how memories and flashbacks come rushing back at these milestones. And that’s exactly how I view Strategies’ 20th anniversary… as a milestone. It’s time to look back at the accomplishments, enlightenments, wins, losses, and of course, the lessons I have learned as the founder and CEO of my own company.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve had a passion for understanding how business works and what it truly means to be a leader. In many ways, I started Strategies to create the perfect job that would allow me to achieve my full potential by feeding the passions that drive me. It’s been one hell of a ride and just so we’re all clear, my ride is far from over. Yes, I am proud of what I have accomplished at Strategies, but I have yet to achieve my full potential. There are a few more books to write, a ton of classes to teach, and many more leaders to coach. (more…)... Read More

Six reasons to go Open Book

September 9, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

company_financesI’m writing this Monday Morning Wake Up on September 6th in St. Louis, MO. I’m here to speak at Jack Stack’s 21st Annual Gathering of Games. It’s my fifth time speaking at this conference, which is the only one devoted entirely to the open-book business model. The first edition of Jack’s book, The Great Game of Business, was published in May 1992, one year before I started Strategies. To this day, it is my all-time favorite business book. To me, open-book management just makes sense. It’s how I run Strategies, it’s what we teach in our courses, and it’s what we coach our clients to do.... Read More

Why owners have 360˚ vision – and others don’t

September 2, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

360_vision2Call it a blessing or a curse that owners can walk into their companies and instantaneously – like some futuristic omnidirectional science probe – identify a hit list of issues that need fixing NOW. They see items where they shouldn’t be, employees doing what they shouldn’t be doing, clients waiting for attention, and dirt that is clearly invisible to everyone else’s eyes but their own. While some owners truly believe that they possess supernatural 360˚ vision, most simply wish that others could see obvious issues and take action without being told.

There is a deep emotional component to 360˚ vision that is both good and bad. From a pride, quality, and leadership standpoint, it just makes sense that owners pay more attention to the details. The process keeps everyone awake and engaged while maintaining a healthy sense of urgency. But when 360˚ vision begins to feed obsessive-compulsive behavior, things can get ugly. It’s no longer about instilling pride and quality thinking and behavior; it’s about looking for everything that’s wrong. It’s about catching people doing something wrong, and that’s not leadership.... Read More

The three rules of implementing change

August 26, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

make_happenIn business and life, it is a given that change is relentless – that adapting to change is not only the key to success but essential for survival. Yet, implementing change, even minor change, is seldom met with open arms. The constant companion of change is resistance. Let’s face it – it can be difficult to let go of what has become comfortable, familiar, and predictable and step out into the unknown. We humans are simply creatures of habit. We love our routines. When we encounter change, we get uncomfortable and begin working as quickly as possible to adapt to change so that it becomes routine and comfortable again.... Read More

Why are you buying behavior and performance you do not like?

August 19, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

stop_making_excuses2Every time you distribute paychecks, you are “buying” all of the behavior and performance your employees delivered for that pay period. You’re buying positive attitudes, initiative, accountability, trustworthiness, creative thinking, follow through, and other characteristics of a great employee. But at the same time, you’re also buying missed deadlines, chronic lateness, resistance to change, negative attitudes, broken commitments, low productivity, and a bunch of other stuff that drives leaders crazy. The question is; why do you continue to buy behavior and performance that is unacceptable?

Managers that don’t manage… service and sales staff that don’t deliver service or sell… employees that spend more time texting and on Facebook than working. We’ve all encountered these employees, the ones that put more effort into innovating excuses than into innovating breakthroughs. It’s entitlement thinking as opposed to engagement thinking; they are quick to say, “It’s not my job,” instead of stepping up, taking responsibility, and getting work done. This thinking and behavior exists to some degree in every company. The problem is that most leaders receive very little training or coaching to address the thinking and behavior issues that contaminate company cultures. That’s why the question we hear most in leadership coaching is, “Can’t they just do their job?” The answer is yes… if you stop buying the thinking and behavior you don’t want. (more…)... Read More

Five things to know about Job Descriptions

August 5, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

job_descriptions2Job descriptions are one of those business tools, like policy manuals, that belong in every company. It simply makes sense that every job comes with a written description of expectations of what success in that specific position looks like. But job descriptions are nothing more than an outline or an overview – not a complete reference guide with step-by-step instructions. Still, as a leader you cannot underestimate the importance of having job descriptions, nor can you overestimate their functionality.

Interestingly, the only job description I have ever had is the one I wrote for myself as president of Strategies. It was an enlightening exercise because it forced me to compartmentalize my work into functional areas like leadership, financial, sales, curriculum development, writing, training, and coaching. The process made me zoom out and take a 30,000-foot view of my job and the work that I do. I recommend that every leader go through this process – and not just once, but regularly over the years.... Read More

How to Handle a Price Salon or Spa Increase

July 29, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

If you manage a gas station, price increases are about as frequent as changes in the weather.

But for the majority of business owners and leaders, increasing prices on goods and services can be an emotional ride through “what if’s” on everything from negative client reaction to protecting your precious profit margins. The truth of the matter is, there is nothing nonchalant about figuring out if your current pricing strategy has reached the end of its lifespan, how much of an increase the market will bear, and just how and when to implement a price increase.

Here are some no-compromise insights on the inner workings of price increases:

  • Insights on retail pricing: Retail is a seemingly easy area to set pricing because the basic formula is based on a desired profit margin. Buy it for $20 and sell it for $40 … that’s a 50% profit margin. If the manufacturer raises the price to $22, you raise your selling price to $44, and so on. But if you can keep your overhead costs low, you can undersell your competitors by holding the old price and profit on volume. And if you have more exclusive products and the right clientele, you can increase your margins even higher without a care in the world. Insight: Don’t get stuck in the wholesale mentality that the cost and standard profit margins are the final formula.
  • Insights on service pricing: This is where pricing strategy really gets interesting. Where retail has a product cost, service has a labor cost. But labor cost is a moving target – a low productivity rate drives up costs while a high productivity rate lowers costs. Services also require products, materials, or equipment. How well are you managing those costs? Don’t blame the manufacturer’s price increase for your profit woes if your productivity rate, client retention rates, and pre-book rates are really the problem. Insight: Service pricing should always be based on your company’s “cost per hour” for each hour it sells. Once you know your cost per hour, you can apply a desired profit margin – just like with retail. Contact Strategies if you want some coaching on calculating your company’s cost per hour.
  • Your price may already be right: It’s always easy to play the price increase card when cash is tight and profit is screaming at you to do something. But as I stated earlier, there are forces at play that can leak cash and sap profit. If your payroll is too high and productivity too low – that’s where your problem is. Maybe those high commission rates are killing you and you’re afraid to step into the dicey process of installing a new pay system. And if you raise prices on commission – service providers get an automatic raise when it’s the business that truly needs financial relief. Low productivity rates are also a profit killer. A price increase in a business running as fast as a turtle doesn’t make sense. Insight: Before you play the price increase card, take a hard look at your systems and critical numbers. Get your company moving in the right direction before messing with price increases. You raise prices when you’re fast and strong.
  • Just do it: Some businesses raise prices every year or two. That’s their company’s rhythm and if it works well, they keep doing it. Other businesses agonize over how and when to increase prices. They want to give customers plenty of advanced notice. They want to hang signs announcing the price increase so the poor sign can be the bad guy and not them. You buy from companies and businesses that raise their prices all the time. They don’t beg for forgiveness or apologize – they just raise their prices. All it takes is a simple, “We had a price increase so we can continue to deliver the great service you expect.” Insight: Just do the price increase if that’s what your company needs. No signs. No months of advanced warning. You work hard. You’ve earned it. Your financial reality says you have to. Just do it.
  • Worst tactic ever: Trying to compete on price alone is just plain nuts. Competing on price kills your brand. If the cheapest price is all you’ve got, you’ve got nothing. Same goes for Groupon. Groupons wreck cash flow.

Relationships: We all love our loyal customers. They’ve been with our companies for years. They believe in us. We appreciate them. They even feel like family. But these wonderful people are still our customers. They buy our services and products because we’re the best at what we do. Insight: Don’t let relationships cloud your business thinking. Your most loyal customers may feel offended that you are charging them more, but this is business. They know that, and they will support you. Always keep it about business.... Read More

Revenue projections will always be a best guess

July 22, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

When it comes to projecting revenues, there are only two absolutes: first, when you hit or exceed your revenue goal, you’re a business genius. And Revenue projections will always be a best guesssecond, when you miss your revenue goal, you’re overly optimistic and pinning too much hope on help from the business gods. Nevertheless, no matter how frustrating, every business must do revenue projections.

The key is to remember that revenue projections, no matter how scientific, will always be a best guess of how your company will perform in the future. I’ve seen leaders create elaborate spreadsheets with formulas that incorporate every contingency and operational scenario only to discover that reality didn’t cooperate and they fell short of their goal. In contrast, I’ve seen leaders take “wild-ass guesses” (called WAGs) and achieve the same hit or miss results.... Read More

What are you doing now that’s extraordinary?

July 15, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Extraordinary always stands out in a sea of ordinary. Where ordinary requires minimal commitment, achieving extraordinary demands 100% dedication to doing whatever it takes to get to the top. Many people, and companies, are OK with being ordinary and performing just good enough to get by. Ordinary doesn’t take that much effort and it’s certainly less stressful than the alternative; it’s like fast food served in a culture of minimal expectation. Conversely, extraordinary is like a fine-dining experience served in a culture of the most demanding expectations.

In business, achieving extraordinary is one thing – but maintaining it is where the real work of leadership, accountability, systems, culture building, and refinement are put to the test. It’s comparable to an Olympic athlete who trains for years to achieve peak performance for that one moment on the world stage. Once training stops, peak performance diminishes. Being the best and staying the best demands discipline, commitment, and tenacity.... Read More

Twelve characteristics of a great employee

July 8, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 7 Comments

great_employeeLeadership is about growing a company into something extraordinary. It’s about getting results, hitting goals, taking calculated risks, and creating profit. It’s about structure, discipline, making tough decisions, and, when necessary, leading your company out of a crisis. Leadership is many things, but it’s really about people. And it’s that people thing that gives leaders a true sense of fulfillment … or drives them crazy.

Imagine what it would be like to lead a team of perfect employees. Everyone would show up motivated and on time. Customers would be delighted beyond belief. Change initiatives would be as easy as flipping a switch. Competitors would be in awe. Of course, this scenario is pure fantasy. Even if you had a team of “A” employees, the combination of skills, personalities, thinking, and behaviors would still require a leader capable of bringing them all together to achieve a common goal. (more…)... Read More

When employees quit you

July 1, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

quitI did two breakout sessions at the Harms Experience last week in Scottsdale, AZ. Sunday’s class was on “Plugging Opportunity Leaks in Your Company,” and Monday’s session covered “How to Get Employees to do Great Things.” Both sessions are elements of my No-Compromise Leadership training. As always, my mission is to get leaders to examine their leadership thinking and behavior and how it shapes their company’s culture.

Near the end of Sunday’s session, I was asked a very familiar yet unsettling question: “As an employee, what do you do when it’s your leader that’s doing damage to the culture?” Instantly, a few more attendees chimed in, their hands shooting up with elaborations on that same question. In all cases, these employees were passionate about their work and their companies. They loved the team they worked with, and…despite what their leaders have put them through… they remain fiercely loyal. However, the bottom line in these cases is always the same: working for leaders that fail to see the damage they inflict on their own companies eventually drives amazing employees to quit. (more…)... Read More

Ten fixes to plug the opportunity leaks in your company

June 24, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

leaksbEvery company suffers those annoying leaks that sap momentum and energy. Anemic productivity, poorly designed systems, product waste, attitude issues, and uncontrolled spending can keep your company from achieving its full potential. Opportunity leaks won’t necessarily kill your company…but they will keep it frustrating to lead and grow, cash starved, and performing at or below average.

If you’re in business, you’re in business to win. That means being on your game as a leader. It means understanding the rules and disciplines of business. Otherwise, you’re playing to be average and that just doesn’t make sense. This isn’t rocket science. You can tell when a business is winning and profitable. Likewise, you tell when a business is struggling, constantly springing leaks, and getting in its own way. Like a ship, a business can’t get up to cruising speed when it’s taking on water. Winning businesses seize opportunities for improvement. When leaks do occur, they’re quickly identified and effectively sealed. (more…)... Read More

How to manage time like money

June 17, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

I was in Livermore, CA, last week doing a private No-Compromise Leadership training session for a client and friend. I stayed over an extra day so we could do a bike ride through the beautiful vineyards and countryside. While riding, we got into a discussion about time management. I said, “Manage time like money. Think of all the stuff you need to accomplish as if they are line items on a Profit and Loss Statement. Income is your time. Now, what would you do differently?”

Time truly is like money. We only have so much of it and always wish we had more. If we are frugal with it, we can maximize our time, invest it wisely, and be incredibly productive. We can squander our time by being disorganized, lazy, and a master of procrastination. Lastly, we can allow our time to be stolen by others simply because we let them. Like money, time will disappear if you don’t pay attention and budget it like the precious resource it is. (more…)... Read More

How to retire from your own company

June 10, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 9 Comments

retirement_planEvery entrepreneur is a unique mixture of passion, vision, innovation, gambler, salesman, and dreamer. The mixture may vary from one entrepreneur to another, but the common bond they all share is being crazy enough to chase their dreams and test their abilities to lead others. The failure rate of start-up businesses is staggering, but the entrepreneurial warriors that do succeed get to live their dreams and become captains of their own ships for many years to come.

The problem for successful entrepreneurs is finding a way to retire from their own companies. Many have that, “I’ll sell it and cash out one day,” thought tucked way back in their brain. Others have children working in the company and think, “My kids will run the company when I retire.” Still others maintain that, “My employees will run and own the company one day,” thought that allows them to fall asleep at night. These are all great thoughts, but in reality, most entrepreneurs are so caught up in running their companies that they do a pretty lousy job of building a solid exit strategy. Many just avoid it altogether. (more…)... Read More

Why individual incentives compromise team performance

June 3, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

As a leader, you are responsible for harnessing and orchestrating the talents and capabilities of employees into a high performance team. To do so requires an ongoing commitment to training, coaching, evaluating, mentoring, and inspiring individuals to achieve their full potential – so in turn, your team can achieve its full potential. Yes, people work for money, but studies consistently show that money is not the prime motivator for job satisfaction and impressive performance.

Individual financial incentives motivate employees in the short-term picture, but emphasizing financial rewards leads employees to focus on personal gain at the expense of teamwork. Avoiding the short-term and producing the right outcomes over the long-term requires preparation. This means planning, discipline, and execution. Preparation shapes and defines your company’s culture. Preparation pulls a team together into a cohesive entity capable of achieving the extraordinary. It’s about the team, pride, quality, and winning. (more…)... Read More

What it really takes to be the best

May 27, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

the_bestGrowing a great company has nothing to do with luck. It has to do with your leadership ability to surround yourself with the best players; to innovate, execute, and make good decisions; and to manage cash while capitalizing on opportunities. Throw in a healthy dose of accountability and being the best just may be within your reach. And if you do become the best, you’ll quickly discover that it takes just as much hard work to stay at the top of the game as it did to get there in the first place.

Every company starts out wanting to be the best, but things happen along the way that keep pushing that coveted title further and further beyond your reach. A few years of bad decisions, cash-flow challenges, and dealing with toxic employees can sap a leader’s mojo and self-confidence. When a company’s thinking and behavior is stuck on average – i.e. not actively pursuing the extraordinary – the outcome, as expected, will continue to be average. (more…)... Read More

When trusted employees steal

May 20, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 5 Comments

theft_000016530240XSmallA coaching client just informed us of their discovery that a trusted employee has been stealing from the company by manipulating and creating false transactions in the company’s business software. Luckily, another employee saw something questionable and informed the owners. After hours of examining and comparing transaction logs, it was clear who the culprit was, how it was done, and for how long it’s been happening. Damn…isn’t running a business difficult enough without having your own employees stealing from you – especially one from your trusted inner circle?

The owners were shocked and devastated to discover just how extensive their trust was violated by this key employee. To learn that thousands of dollars had been siphoned out of much needed cash flow is one thing, but to learn that someone you trusted intentionally stole from the company right under your nose is where the real and lasting damage is done. (more…)... Read More

Six Strategies to Find More Time

May 6, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Our lives are consumed with deadlines, “to do” lists, emails, deleting spam, meetings, interruptions, urgent problems, family … and that spectacular bucket list of things you want to check off before you check out. We all know that time is precious. It simply ticks by and cannot be recaptured. Nothing drives this reality home better than remembering that our time in this world is finite – not infinite.

It’s virtually impossible for leaders to be immune from time management challenges. Stuff happens and you need to lead in the moment. The world around you relentlessly tries to invade and capture bits and pieces of your time. Guess what? You do the same to those around you. It’s what leaders do. All it takes is for someone to say, “I need to speak to you for a minute,” and before you know it, half a day has passed and you are thrown completely off schedule.... Read More

Taking responsibility for your actions

April 29, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

finger_pointingA coaching client asked me for advice regarding an issue with a team leader that had been using the company credit card for personal expenses. By the time the abuse of the card was discovered, the charge totals were quite sizable. There were repeated warnings when minor personal charges continued to show up on the monthly statements. The company has a “three strikes, you’re out” rule, and this team leader had used them all. My client said, “This leader is really good at aspects of the job, is valued, and an asset to the company overall. What would you do if you were me?”... Read More

Six strategies to create a culture of accountability

April 22, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

This Monday Morning Wake-Up is for everyone – not just leaders. In its simplest form, accountability means taking ownership. You take ownership as a leader to grow your company, create opportunities for others, and ensure fiscal health. You take ownership of projects, situations, and outcomes. You take ownership in your behavior and the behavior of others. You take ownership when the wrong outcomes occur – even if not directly involved – because it happened on your watch. Accountability is about getting the right stuff done when it needs to get done. No blame. No excuses.

Take a moment to imagine what your company’s performance would be like if it was built on a culture of accountability. What would productivity look like? What would profitability look like? What would staff retention look like? Most important, what would client loyalty look like? Without a doubt, your company would be leaner, faster, and fiercely competitive. That’s the good news. The bad news is that too many companies give a lot of lip service to accountability but fall short of the level of commitment and execution needed to create a culture of ownership in their companies. As a result, creating distance between status quo and extraordinary performance is painfully and incrementally slow. (more…)... Read More

Six reasons projects and change initiatives fail

April 15, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

arrow_crashThere is nothing more common in business than launching a new project or change initiative. That’s how companies strive to remain competitive and adapt to changing market conditions. It’s how companies tweak current systems and build new ones to improve productivity and maximize resources. New projects and change initiatives must occur for a company to remain vital and relevant. However, the other most common occurrence in business is the number of new projects and change initiatives that fail.

As a coach and consultant, my job is to help companies achieve the right outcomes in what I call “The Four Business Outcomes”: Productivity, Profitability, Employee Retention, and Customer Loyalty. To achieve different and more desirable outcomes, new projects and change initiatives must occur. If the company is in dire straights, its ability to execute change with a high sense of urgency is put to the test. Unfortunately, it is the company’s inability to execute change combined with a low sense of urgency that causes it to be in dire straights in the first place. (more…)... Read More

Six simple questions to test the health of your company

April 8, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

stethoscopeCompanies are very much like people. They are born from a union of ideas; they experience all of the awkward phases of learning to walk and develop basic skills; and hopefully, they grow up with much success. Like people, companies can catch colds – they face obstacles in health when it comes to performance issues, cash-flow challenges, and other problems that surface unexpectedly. Companies need to work out to stay strong and lean rather than heavy and lethargic. Companies can get sick and die.

As a leader, it is your responsibility to protect and ensure the health and vitality of your company. That being said, you are also the one who is ultimately responsible for making your company sick through bad decision-making, procrastination, allowing the company’s culture to deteriorate, poor cash management, and a host of other faux pas that leaders notoriously self-inflict.... Read More

Set employees up to win – not fail

April 1, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 5 Comments

simplifyEmployees get set up to fail more often than you think. It’s never done intentionally – it just happens. Tasks are poorly defined. Desired results are sketchy. The chain of command looks like a pile of broken links. Training is inconsistent and inadequate. There are leaders that actually expect employees to know what they’re thinking … and to execute their nonverbal commands perfectly.

Some employees try their best to deliver what they perceive they were charged to do and get chewed out when their performance doesn’t match unspoken expectations. Others give it half an effort knowing they can’t win. The end result is always a demoralized team and de-powered culture that is capable of so much more. Once a pattern of getting set up to fail settles into a company’s culture, getting things done takes more time, money, and resources. The company springs leaks that it cannot plug up fast enough.... Read More

How to avoid inconsistency in the workplace

March 25, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

You design systems to ensure predictable outcomes. Most systems are rather straightforward, requiring employees to be aware, engaged, and paying attention. On the other hand, complex systems require intense concentration on procedures, measurements, timing, and other factors that cannot be compromised. World-class companies are defined by their consistent ability to execute their systems flawlessly. Discipline is embedded into their cultures.

When systems of any kind are compromised, inconsistent results occur. Material waste, labor cost, missed deadlines, upset customers, and stress all impedes forward progress. When inconsistencies get out of control, media coverage can do major damage to a company’s product, service, and reputation. Anyone taking a Carnival cruise anytime soon? I think not.... Read More

Dealing with change resisters

March 18, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Every moment of every day, change is all around us. Seasons change. Weather changes. Our bodies change. Our lives change. Likewise, business changes. Every day, new businesses are born – some grow, prosper, and endure for a long, healthy life, while others stumble and die. The one constant we can be sure of is that change is relentless. Some embrace it with open arms. Some wait to see what the new reality looks like and then jump onboard. And then there are the change resisters that hold onto the status quo with a white-knuckled grip.

Contrary to popular belief, change resisters don’t exist to drive you crazy – even though they can and do. Change resisters simply deal with change differently than most. They lock into patterns of thinking, behavior, systems, and cultures that become their “normal.” They get good at functioning in their “normal.” They know everything about their “normal.” And then change comes along, often with a wrecking ball, and starts knocking down their “normal” to replace it with something new and foreign. Their natural response is to protect their “normal” by resisting change. (more…)... Read More

Late is late

March 11, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 7 Comments

late2You’re reading my Monday Morning Wake Up. About 10,000 readers trust that it will be in their in-box every Monday morning. If it arrived on Monday afternoon, or sometime on Tuesday, it would be irrelevant – and so would I. Being on time is about honor and respect for those you work with, those you serve, and, more importantly, yourself. Lateness is not world class. Lateness is not professional. Lateness is living below the line.

I don’t like being late. I prefer to be early for work, appointments, and commitments. That’s how I’m wired. People that are habitually late are clearly wired differently. Some even take pride in their lateness, which is really nothing more than a feeble attempt get others to deal with their behavior and not hold them accountable. (more…)... Read More

Leading with blinders on

March 4, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

blindersLeaders have a unique ability to see what they want to see in their companies. They see their people working away yet never see the mounting frustration their approach to leadership is causing. As a result, trust erodes. Fiercely loyal employees begin to lose hope. Contamination spreads through the company’s culture. In coaching, the most difficult task of all is getting a leader to see that he or she is the root cause of what ails the company.

It’s not unusual for me to receive emails from employees reaching out for help with a leader who has run amuck. The following email typifies how quietly destructive a leader with blinders on can be to the very company they and their employees love.... Read More

Chasing Freedom

February 25, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 9 Comments

If you think about it, it’s a fascinating dichotomy how entrepreneurs throw their blood sweat, tears, and pretty much everything else into building their dream company – all while chasing the ultimate goal of freedom. Lets do a little reality check here: you work an insane numbers of hours, take on inhuman levels of stress, and bet your ASSets, all to be free to do the things you want to do – if you can ever find the time. Sounds pretty crazy when you really look at it, but I’m right there with you chasing my version of freedom.

Contrary to popular belief, this “chasing freedom” thing really isn’t about escaping your company to travel the world, live in a cabin by a lake, pursue your hobbies, or be with family. It’s about the freedom to chase your dreams and reach your full potential. It’s about the freedom to truly test the limits of your abilities – and to do it on your own terms. Yes, this chasing freedom thing is as profound as it is life changing. (more…)... Read More

There is no app for leadership

February 18, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 7 Comments

no_appThere’s an app for just about everything, so wouldn’t it be nice if there was an app for leadership? It could tell when you’re not paying attention, make decisions for you, handle your fierce conversations, and play a special ring tone when you should stop talking and listen. It could negotiate contracts, leases, and other deals for you. It could keep you from overspending so you stay on budget. It could even motivate your team to achieve extraordinary levels of productivity and excellence. An app for leadership would certainly have its advantages, but would you really discipline yourself to use it?... Read More

How to turn profit into cash

February 11, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

cash_machineOne of the great mysteries in business is why profit isn’t cash. Well, it’s not really a mystery – profit is more like an abstraction that requires further interpretation to fully understand its meaning. We can all agree that creating profit is a good thing and that negative profit (loss) is a bad thing. However, the mind games begin when there is profit but no money in the checking account. And why don’t you go out of business when your profit and loss statements keep showing negative profit? The answer is simple: profit isn’t cash. Hmmm … perhaps it is a mystery after all.... Read More

The quest for the right decision

February 4, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

decisionAs a leader, it’s your job to make decisions – the right decisions. The problem with this statement is that it is inherently flawed. If leaders are supposed to make the right decisions, why are so many decisions bad or riddled with consequences? The process of leadership decision making is subject to a complex array of fears, perceptions, opinions, relationships, egos, bad data, misinterpretations, and other factors. In the end, most leadership decisions fall into a category known as “WAGs” – wild-ass guesses.

Some leaders spew out decisions like a general leading an army while others obsess over every decision to the point where, should a decision ever come, it’s too little too late. Your approach to decision making is unique to you and how you process situations, data, opportunities, threats, and the world around you. Make more of the right decisions and you’ll be recognized as a great leader and businessperson. Make too many bad decisions and you’re out of a job and/or out of business. (more…)... Read More

Feed the Passion – Feed the Numbers

January 28, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 8 Comments

passion“When you’re in business, the numbers are everything.” Well, that statement is not exactly accurate. True, a business needs to generate sales to survive and thrive. Also true, a business must manage cash flow and drive its critical numbers. The problem is that numbers are cold hard facts – and leaders that are all about driving numbers can be pretty cold too. If all that employees hear is the daily hammering away at “hitting the numbers,” those very numbers can and will become a point of contention that demotivate staff, rather than encourage them to perform in the best way they can. Numbers are simply goals, measurements, and outcomes. Something else gives the numbers life. It’s simply called passion.... Read More

Do not be an Undercover Boss

January 21, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

I’ve watched the television show “Undercover Boss” a few times. It’s entertaining proof that most leaders are afflicted with the same form of tunnel vision. They get so wrapped up in “their work” they disconnect from what’s most important – their employees. The story line is always the same; the boss goes undercover by assuming the identity of someone looking to start a new career, works alongside employees, discovers things are wrong, bonds with some employees, gifts employees thousands of dollars and/or training they should have had to do their jobs. The show ends with the leader vowing to maintain the connection with employees.

Every MMWU is a reminder that leading and growing a company is tough work and that keeping your finger on the pulse of your company isn’t as easy as it sounds. As Undercover Bosses discover, to truly feel the pulse of your company means monitoring its pulse from the corporate office to the front line. The bigger your company gets, the easier it is for you to get disconnected from your people and the quality of their work. Even if you have a small company with just a few employees, it’s easy to get disconnected because you’re so busy working and generating sales. (more…)... Read More

Grow your company first, not individuals

January 14, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

growthMy premise is simple: a company cannot offer growth opportunities for its employees if it isn’t growing strongly and competitively itself – or at least heading with intent in a growth direction. As a leader, your focus must always be on growing the company. To do so, you must assemble a dynamic team that is likewise locked into growing the company. Of course, you must recruit and cultivate new talent as well, but your job is not to grow individuals in ways that compromise the culture and integrity of the company. (See last week’s MMWU on “Hostage Management.”)

One could argue that if you grow individuals, you grow the company. Although I agree that growing individuals grows the company, the question is how a leader approaches this process. There is an inherent problem when systems focus an individual’s effort to grow at the expense of the company, the team and the culture. It is for this very reason that I have never been a fan of commission compensation based on “individual sales” rather than overall performance and behaviors. Damn if I’d ever pay for a bad attitude, resistance to change, ignoring rules, lack of teamwork, poor client retention and other issues that commission pay can’t address. (more…)... Read More

How to prevent hostage management

January 7, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

hostageWhen you admire a great company, you’re actually admiring the collective work of the people that made it great. Your responsibility as the leader is to establish where the company is going (vision/goals) and do everything in your power to help your people get there (coaching/training/mentoring/inspiring). Growing a company is about building something so extraordinary that it attracts the hearts and minds of like-minded individuals to join your quest. It’s about growing a company.

I am all about developing talent and helping individuals achieve their full potential. That’s what leaders do. You want the best talent and the brightest minds on your team. You want to surround yourself with individuals that are committed to pushing and driving the company forward. It’s about growing a company. (more…)... Read More

Ten Leadership Resolutions for 2013

December 31, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 8 Comments

2013_ResolutionsWell, here’s your final MMWU for 2012. It’s hard to believe that I’ve written five years of MMWUs – that’s a grand total of 260 fast-read strategies to help you stay in the No-Compromise Leadership zone. It is an honor and privilege to know that over 9,000 leaders from around the world start their week off with a little kick in the butt from me.

To keep you from dragging the wrong stuff from 2012 into a brand new year, I went back into the MMWU archives and pulled ten topics that touched the right leadership nerve with readers. Read them. Digest them. Use them. Make each and every resolution stick. (more…)... Read More

How to avoid becoming irrelevant

December 24, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

In business, becoming irrelevant means that your company is indistinguishable from the bulk of your competition. It means that your service or product is easily replaceable. It means that you are competing on price rather than value, expertise, innovation or exclusivity. I don’t know about you, but anything remotely connecting my company, my work or my life to the term “irrelevant” sends shivers up and down my spine. I’d rather throw in the towel than go to work every day knowing that what I do doesn’t make a difference.

All leaders must fear irrelevance. It’s the difference between leading a company to achieve the extraordinary and leading a company to mediocrity. As a leader, your job is to achieve the extraordinary. Yet, if you wander around your company, you’ll see signs of thinking and behavior that feed mediocrity. It could be something as simple as an employee who comes to work with an “I don’t care” attitude. Again, I don’t know about you, but I don’t care to sign paychecks for employees that don’t care. (more…)... Read More

A daily workout program for leaders

December 17, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

Like all great personal accomplishments, leadership is something you must work on relentlessly to get better at. Even then, the gains are incremental at best and always subject to setbacks. Just when you think you’ve figured out the leadership puzzle, you do something kind of dumb like compromise one of your own rules, rip into one of your employees in public, or launch a new project and then tell everyone about it. There may be no limit to the number of faux pas a leader can commit, but with determination and a commitment to personal change, all leaders can find that elusive path to integrity, improved communication and good judgment.

As a coaching company, Strategies works with leaders with all levels of experience, personalities, phobias, egos, good habits and bad habits. We refer to this conglomeration as “leadership thinking and behavior.” Collectively, it is the leader’s thinking and behavior that defines a company and its culture. The challenge is getting a leader to shed the stuff that detracts and interferes with a company’s ability to perform at optimum levels of consistency. (more…)... Read More

Change begins with a spark

December 10, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

Your business has been performing in a pretty lackluster way for too long. You’ve been getting increasingly frustrated until – ZAP – you’ve had enough. You’ve been bored and not fully engaged in your business. Because you can’t figure out what you want to do, your business doesn’t know what to do, and it’s showing – ZAP – you’ve had enough. These are just two common scenarios where unacceptable situations generate enough energy to ZAP you with the spark that initiates the need to change.

Change shakes things up. Change is like a blast of fresh cold air that grabs everyone’s attention. Change is new, exciting, and scary because the outcome is uncertain. It doesn’t matter how detailed the plan is, stuff happens on the road of change that cannot be predicted. It is for this very reason that change begins with a spark. In order to get you to move into the unknown, to push you out of your comfort zone, you need a spark – a ZAP. The question is, how much of a ZAP does it take to get you to initiate change?... Read More

Five critical elements to create employee loyalty

December 3, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

employee_loyalty

Every leader and company wants loyal employees. But what exactly is a loyal employee? The ultimate description is an employee who would, metaphorically speaking, “take a bullet for their leader.” Of course, I’m not necessarily talking about taking an actual gunshot – there are plenty of other ways employees sacrifice themselves for the leaders and companies they fiercely believe in.  These employees work insanely long hours; take on all of the “dirty” jobs that nobody else wants (not even the leader); clean up the messes that their leaders make; and fight alongside their leader in both the best and worst of times. Employees who work like this make great leaders appear even greater.... Read More

Five reasons why some projects fly and others crash

November 26, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

New projects or initiatives are interesting little devils. I refer to them as devils because you never know when they are going to turn on you and bite you in the butt. You can plan them out until every “i” is dotted and every “t” is crossed and still have them blow up on you. In contrast, there are those projects that went from their entrepreneurial epiphany to their launch, and beyond, in what seemed like a nanosecond with no glitches whatsoever. There are reasons why some projects fly and others crash and burn. In the tradition of every MMWU I write, the reason has everything to do with leadership. (more…)... Read More

Understanding the dreaded ‘Entrepreneurial Curse’

November 19, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 7 Comments

Chances are the dreaded entrepreneurial curse has already found you. You can shake it off without much effort in its early stages, but over time, it finds its way into your thinking and behavior. It makes you question why you do what you do — if all the work and stress are really worth it. As the curse digs in, it saps your energy, motivation, and enthusiasm for those things that once fired you up and made the business game fun. It’s not that you fell out of love with your work and your company; you just have this overwhelming feeling of being “stuck.”... Read More

Going No Compromise means living it

November 12, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

Ever since my No-Compromise Leadership book was published in 2009, it has been both impressive and humbling when I realize the extent to which leaders have embraced its thinking, behavior and methodology. No-Compromise Leadership is about doing what’s best and right for the company, its employees and its customers. It is about clarity, purpose and mutual respect. It is about taking ownership in what goes right and wrong in the company. Most of all, it means, “If it needs to be done – get it done.”

I recently received an anonymous “Contact Us” from our website written by a demoralized employee. The message read, “How does one begin to follow a leader who believes in your No-Compromise Leadership strategies and work ethic yet does not live by them – unless it suits him? Examples: The leader overpowers or shuts down employee comments or suggestions. The leader routinely denigrates associates on (the) sales floor, during meetings, and makes unprofessional comments about certain customers in meetings.” (more…)... Read More

Mother Nature empowers No-Compromise Leadership

November 5, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 5 Comments

I’ve lived in Old Saybrook, CT, for over 32 years. It is a small town bordered on the east by the Connecticut River and the south by Long Island Sound. When Nor’Easters or hurricanes come barreling through here, the wind, rain and high tides take a terrible toll. Just before Labor Day 2011, Hurricane Irene inflicted severe damage on shoreline homes and businesses. One in particular was the Dock and Dine Restaurant at Saybrook Point.

Dock and Dine is a local landmark situated right on the Connecticut River; they have been offering fine seafood and magnificent water views for over 70 years. Irene’s heavy wind gusts, turrets of rain and storm surges destroyed the popular docks in front of the building, ripped off the roof and swamped the eatery with 18 inches of water. After 12 months of extensive renovations, Dock and Dine reopened two months ago on August 24th. Last Monday, Hurricane Sandy flooded and pounded the restaurant once again. The owner had work crews in the next day cleaning up the mess. That’s determination. That’s no-compromise leadership. (more…)... Read More

Do what you say you are going to do

October 29, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

A leader’s role is to see everything. You look for the right thinking, behavior and performance that will lift your company to its desired outcomes and vision. You make more tough decisions than fun decisions. You coach people to achieve their full potential. You keep projects on task. You look to the future to ensure the company prospers and endures. Through all the twists and turns that embody the role of leader, nothing matters more than your ability to establish a culture of integrity and trust.

Integrity and trust are earned one day at a time – one deed at a time. The title of leader is nothing more than an opportunity for you to demonstrate your ability to lead with integrity and trust or confirm that you are just a lot of talk – perhaps even a jerk. What many leaders fail to recognize is that they too are in the fish bowl under the constant scrutiny of employees, customers, vendors and the community. Simply put, all that you do and say is being evaluated and judged in real time.... Read More

Simple is better

October 22, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

I was flying home from Chicago last Wednesday enjoying my first-class upgrade. Across the aisle and one row up, was a sharp looking businessman working away on a PowerPoint presentation. I’m not in the habit of watching other people’s computer screens, but this one grabbed my attention. I could not read the words, but the slide layouts are what got me. Every slide was loaded with details in boxes with arrows and callouts. There were multiple slides exploding on each level of a massive organization chart. There were complex graphs loaded with text. And as he scrolled through the slide deck, that presentation had to be at least 80 slides long. I thought to myself, “This guy is methodically preparing to bore a room full of innocent people to death.”... Read More

Success is about showing up

October 15, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

One thing I’ve learned in my 62 years is that success never seeks you out. Success is about as indifferent and unemotional as it gets. It doesn’t give a hoot about your dreams and vision of what success means to you. It doesn’t care if you’re wildly successful today and lose it all tomorrow. Success is never in a rush. Success is just this extraordinary state that allows people, companies and organizations to bask in its glow and glory for as long or as little as they choose. There’s only one rule; show up and play to win. Otherwise, get out of the way.

I’ve been teaching, writing and coaching business and leadership for 40 years. I’ve had my share of successes and failures – but I keep showing up and keep trying to get better. When I look at my calendar and see keynotes, classes and consulting dates, I know that each and every one of them happens because of showing up and working hard. Speaker inquiries and coaching requests don’t happen by sitting around and hoping the phone rings. (more…)... Read More

Six critical lessons for creating profit

October 8, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

Profit is a strange little beast. Leaders fight for it – and obsess over it – but profit doesn’t mean cash in the bank. It’s like profit is some sort of sick mind game where you can be profitable and broke at the same time. Even crazier is that profit can be negative for extended periods and you’re still in business. And the ultimate body blow is when you have to pay taxes profit even though there’s little or no cash. Clearly it’s better to show a profit than a loss, but wouldn’t it be nice if you could get some control over that little beast?

The good news is that you can control that little beast if you follow these six no-compromise lessons: (more…)... Read More

Success and the Factor of TEN

October 1, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

In last week’s installment I wrote, “A leader must want to succeed ten times more than those they lead.” Take a moment to really feel the meaning and depth of those words. Wanting success to the Factor of TEN is the energy that transforms a leader doing a job into a No-Compromise Leader. It transcends ordinary to extraordinary. It’s that level of leadership that captivates followers and lifts them all to that elusive next level. It’s when action and results replace words and promises. It’s all in the Factor of TEN.

As leaders, we all want to succeed, but by a factor of what? Would you feel inspired and empowered following a leader with a factor of two? How clear and precise would the vision be? Would there a shared determination to achieve breakthroughs, or would average be good enough? During a coaching call with a client, I asked, “What is your biggest concern?” He responded, “Motivating my team.” I then explained my Factor of TEN concept. The conversation quickly shifted from productivity and sales to creating extraordinary customer service experiences – about lighting up each and every customer’s day. (more…)... Read More

How to get employees to do great things

September 24, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 9 Comments

It’s one thing to be a great individual achiever by outperforming and outselling everyone around you, innovating the coolest breakthrough ideas, mastering the work that feeds your passion – perhaps even leaping tall buildings in a single bound. Yup, there’s nothing like being at the top of your personal game and being recognized as a rock star in your chosen field. It’s what’s possible when you have the courage and tenacity to relentlessly push yourself beyond the comfort zone of “ordinary” to “extraordinary.”

It’s something completely different to lead and inspire an entire company of people to do great things. It doesn’t matter if there are five, 500 or 5,000 people looking to you for direction and inspiration; it’s just not that easy to get that fire in your gut to burn bright in others. As a leader or entrepreneur, your dream was to grow a company – not be a cheerleader, disciplinarian, or babysitter. Heck, just getting employees to show up on time for a meeting or follow a new policy can be a Herculean task. It’s that “people thing” that keeps getting in the way. It wears you down and takes all the fun out of growing a company. (more…)... Read More

The personal cost of success

September 17, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 21 Comments

As leaders and entrepreneurs, we have an insatiable desire to experience what the view is like at the next rung on the success ladder. And it never fails, the moment we establish our footing, we look up and begin wondering about getting to that next rung. It’s our personal quest to achieve our full potential. We may – and in all probability will – have failures along the way or drop a few rungs, but we always get up and get back in the game. It’s who we are and how we’re wired.

But it’s that, “Who we are and how we’re wired,” factor that leaders and entrepreneurs need a deeper understanding of. This is the area where personal sacrifice, at the expense of success, takes its toll physically and mentally, on personal relationships and family. It’s why finding “life balance” receives a lot of lip service but, like everything else personal, it too takes a back seat to career and business. I remember all those baseball games my son played that I had to leave after a few innings to catch a plane to some speaking gig. I remember the vacations we didn’t take and all those, “We’ll do it next year” good intentions. (more…)... Read More

Why your chaos becomes everyone’s chaos

September 10, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Much like a bag of mixed nuts and dried fruit, leaders are a mixed bag of thinking and behaviors. Some leader’s bags have more organization and discipline nuts, while others have an abundance of high vision/low detail raisons and dried bananas. Still others have an amazing assortment of complex nuts, fruit and yogurt-coated goodies making it so impossible to select just one that executing a handful of everything just makes sense. In the end, the leadership thinking and behaviors in your bag are unique to you – and that’s why leaders can drive those they lead nuts.... Read More

How to get rid of the elephant

September 3, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

All leaders have elephants to deal with in their companies. Some are baby elephants that just get in the way while others evolve into huge obstacles that block all forward progress. Of course, the elephants I’m referring to are the large and small problems that leaders have to deal with. So while your kicking back this Labor Day, enjoying your adult beverages and BBQ, take a few minutes to ponder the size and extent of that herd of elephants waiting for your return on Tuesday morning. More importantly, ponder what you’re going to do to get rid of them.

No, I’m not trying to ruin your Labor Day by reminding you that there are elephants stomping around your company doing damage. My intent is to give you some strategies to get your elephants under control – or even better – to get them back on the game preserve where they belong. (more…)... Read More

Where’s that fire in your gut?

August 27, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 10 Comments

No. I’m not referring to heartburn. I’m referring to that deepest level of passion that pushes you to fight for what you believe in, to achieve your wildest dreams – to captivate the imagination and spirit of those around you. If quantum physics is about manifesting thoughts into things, passion is about personal conviction and energy to achieve the extraordinary. Without passion, manifesting is nothing more than daydreaming. When I get an idea that ignites and feeds my deepest passion, get out of my way because something big is going happen. You can join me on my journey if you’re committed to work hard and go the distance. Stay home if you’re looking for an easy ride.... Read More

What if you went No Compromise?

August 20, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

As many readers of my Monday Morning Wake Ups know, I am an avid cyclist. I ride to stay fit – but deep down inside, I ride to challenge my endurance by riding harder and faster. And when training for a long ride, I head for the local hills that make my legs burn, my heart rate soar and lungs gasp for air. Riding is about pushing your body to its limits to achieve incremental gains in performance. Sports physiologist Allen Lim says, “Suffering is essential to the beauty and mystery of the sport. It gives the ride meaning. The greatest racers have a love of suffering that goes beyond any ratio of sacrifice to payoff.”... Read More

Six things to know about 2013

August 13, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

This summer will surely be remembered for its record heat, widespread drought, and the over two weeks of excitement and thrills of the London Summer Olympics. Here in Connecticut, we’re just a few weeks away from those first crisp mornings signaling the transition to fall. Eight weeks from now, the maple trees outside my office window will be at peak foliage. Three months from now, we’ll be taking in the aroma of Thanksgiving turkey. Four months from now, we’ll be consumed by the Holiday Season and will be preparing to sing Auld Lang Syne to welcome in 2013. Time seems to be speeding by faster than ever.... Read More

How leaders lead to win

August 6, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 9 Comments

There is a wealth of leadership knowledge to be gleaned from the London Olympics. We’re watching the best-of-the-best athletes at the culmination of years of training and personal sacrifice. It’s their defining moment to win an Olympic medal or return home empty handed. It’s all about winning. And then there are the coaches who push, inspire, console and accept nothing less than perfection up to and through that final competition. It’s the coach’s job to find performance gains and levels of consistency that athletes cannot find on their own. The combination is a true testament to the power and potential of a single, shared vision.... Read More

How to make change initiatives stick

July 30, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

One of my favorite questions to ask in my No-Compromise Leadership workshops is, “What’s your hang time on change initiatives?” When I say, “hang time,” I’m referring to how long the change initiative remains in play before it fizzles or crashes and burns. At many companies, change initiatives resemble amateur rocket launches. There’s the heart-pounding and powerful rumble, fire and smoke plumes as the rocket lifts off the launch pad and rises into the sky. Leaders watch in awe as their shiny new rocket arches down range toward the heavens. But rather than breaking free of earth’s gravity, it continues its arch until it gracefully heads back to earth where it ends its journey in a distant thud.... Read More

The six plagues of leadership

July 23, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Just as leaders tend to fall into different leadership styles – like command and control, visionary, democratic, and of course whimpy – there are behavior patterns that tend to persistently plague leaders. When present, these behavior patterns can be anything from annoyances that chip away at a leader’s effectiveness, or they can be truly destructive to a leader’s authority, trust and honor.

I have devoted the better part of my working life studying, training and coaching leaders and leadership. Much of what I learned and believe in I documented in my award-winning book, No-Compromise Leadership. The overriding theme of the book is quite simple; If it needs to be done – get it done. However, it’s this presence of the leadership plagues listed below that interfere, degrade or derail a leader’s ability to get things done. The plagues are pure compromise.... Read More

Why problems never fix themselves

July 16, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Leading a company in these crazy economic times is like riding a roller coaster complete with exhilarating highs and hang-on-for-your-life lows. There are even moments when you realize that there are things going on in your company that are out of your control. The larger your company, the more moving parts it has that can break down, shut down or spin out of control. Those moving parts that don’t function according to plan are called problems. And the dirty little secret about problems is that they never cooperate or help you out by fixing themselves.

Problems come in all shapes and sizes from simple quick fixes to nuclear meltdowns. They can be caused by mechanical failure, human error, or both. They can be caused by cash-flow challenges, disgruntled or indifferent employees, poor information flow, lack of inspiration and by leaders that have disengaged and checked out. Outside sources, like competitors, market conditions, and bad weather, can also throw a wrench into your operations. The simple truth is that problems are like viruses – once they attach themselves to some part of your company, they spread like wildfire.... Read More

Six strategies to control cash flow

July 9, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 10 Comments

You can lead a company that delivers extraordinary customer service, generates impressive sales, and from all outward appearances appears wildly successful – but if your company is fighting cash flow, it’s functioning under extreme financial stress. Cash is the fuel of business. If the business is starved for cash and running on fumes, it is officially in survival mode and begging for relief. It is the toughest position for any leader to be in because it is often unclear and complicated which path to take to lead the company back to daylight and fiscal stability.

Fact: Cash is king – but you knew that. Cash gives a company power and options that cash-starved companies just don’t have. Cash is “sleep good at night money” because it creates a sense of security. Cash is truly precious. So, with all the upsides to building cash reserves, why do so many leaders focus on driving everything but cash flow?... Read More

Four ways you create what you do not like in your company

July 2, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 9 Comments

Leaders have this innate ability to see all the little things that are wrong in their companies. Call it a blessing or a curse, leaders see what many employees do not. From employees taking shortcuts and not following the system or rules, to lackluster customer service, dress code issues, bad attitudes, and poor follow through, it all shows up like blips on your leadership radar. It’s all the little stuff drives you crazy. And just when you think you’ve fixed one issue, another one pops up in its place. What’s that all about?

Your job is to be working on the big stuff that drives growth, performance and profits, so when your leadership radar screen gets overrun with little-stuff blips, you do what many frustrated leaders do – you hold a meeting. You prepare for the meeting by writing bullet after bullet of little stuff that needs to stop and go away. Just writing them down seems to relieve the frustration because for some strange and mystical reason, you believe that firing off each bullet in the meeting will kill off the unacceptable behaviors and performance. Guess that’s why they call them bullets.... Read More

Anatomy of a Team-Based Pay conversion

June 25, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 8 Comments

I just returned from Oklahoma City where I converted Richard and Jan Hill’s three Eden Salon & Spas from commission to Team-Based Pay. I’ve been doing TBP conversions for over 35 years. I have done them for salons, spas, manufacturing companies and high-end retail stores. And for over 35 years, I have been at the epicenter of the often heated debate between commission and non-commission believers. My usual response to, “I don’t believe in TBP,” is, “It’s not a religion – it’s a compensation system.” Then again, if I’m perceived as some “TBP Guru” on a global crusade converting commission companies to TBP, then perhaps their perception is somewhat true. Commission believers see their method as a prime motivator to perform. TBP believers see their method as a means to create a dynamic culture.... Read More

Five reasons information flow needs to be better and faster

June 18, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Think of “information flow” as the signals your brain sends and receives to engage in a conversation, drive a car, process data to solve a problem or to respond to a threat. Millions of bits of information and instructions are processed every second to create the coordinated ability to multitask and get results. Any disruption in the flow of information can be life-threatening. A company functions very much the same. The objective is to get results through the coordinated efforts of teams of people. Just like your brain, your company needs massive amounts of information flow to deliver consistently excellent results. Extraordinary results require even more.... Read More

Six ways to know what is really going on

June 11, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Scenario One: A key employee leaves your company. As you begin to assess the work and status of various projects the individual was responsible for, you begin to discover things that are disturbing and quite different from what you thought was being done. Projects were far from complete. You learn of conversations that undermined your leadership and created division within your team. You scratch your head and wonder how all this was happening under your nose.

Scenario Two: You have some long-term employees who have become increasingly and openly resistant to change. In fact, they’re outright ignoring change initiatives. You see it. Everyone sees it. It’s been going on for some time and has become the norm. You feel as though they’re holding you hostage. Your frustration hovers near the breaking point. Then, they quit without notice and open a competing business. You feel blindsided and as you discover the elements of their plot, you wonder how all of this was happening under your nose. (more…)... Read More

How much is your company worth today?

June 4, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

If you were leading a publicly held company, your ultimate job responsibility would be to create value for the stockholders. Run an innovative, efficient, fiscally responsible, customer-service driven company with a strong brand identity, on a consistent manageable growth track, and the stockholders love you – and you get to keep your job. Wow, in one big sentence I just encapsulated the primary objective of a successful CEO who reports to the Board of Directors that represent the stockholders. At the end of the day, business and leadership is about growing the value of the company.... Read More

How to achieve your extraordinary

May 28, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

As a business owner, leader and entrepreneur, there is one coveted goal I continue to strive for. I simply call it “extraordinary.” It is my definition of success as a leader and for my company. My vision for achieving extraordinary is both my inspiration and my ever-present nemesis. When I see it within my reach, it inspires me to push harder. And when it slips further away, it frustrates the hell out of me because I know, somehow, I allowed it to slip away.

Achieving extraordinary is not to be confused with company vision. It’s infinitely more individual. It is purely about breakthroughs on a personal, leadership and business level in ways that positively and profoundly impact the lives of many. That’s what achieving extraordinary means to me. The question is, what does it mean to you?... Read More

Six strategies to get the team your company needs

May 21, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

There is something different about an individual who plays to be indispensable. There is an unmistakable level of engagement and tenacity that keeps such people at the forefront of darn near everything in their sphere of influence. They give it their all, play hard, and play to win. More importantly, they play hard because they want to. They take ownership in creating the right outcomes – without being asked. “Indispensable” means that you wouldn’t want to run your company without them.

On the flipside, there are players on your team who are dispensable. They occasionally, rarely or never step up. They show up, do their job and go home. They expect more for doing the same average performance, and even for doing less. In more deteriorated cases, their view and relationship with the company becomes adversarial, or at best, indifferent. It’s a scary question: How many dispensable players do you have on your team? (more…)... Read More

How to harness the power of momentum

May 14, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

True forward momentum pushes through any obstacle. It has an implied efficiency because once an object achieves a certain level of forward momentum, it requires less energy to maintain that speed. By connecting the physics of an object in motion (a piece of matter) to a business in motion (an idea/concept), you gain a unique perspective on how momentum can work for a business.

A start-up business requires massive amounts of energy to gain enough forward momentum to sustain itself. Once it achieves a level of sustainable momentum, you can dial back the throttle a bit and allow “physics” to work for you. In essence, the leader is “piloting” the business by adjusting throttle to maintain its forward momentum. Achieve a certain level and the company can easily break through obstacles such as competitors, cash crises, loss of key employees, bad decisions and other issues. However, every obstacle the company breaks through chips away at its momentum. If the leader fails to throttle up the company’s sense of urgency to overcome the obstacles in its way, it will lose its energy and eventually stall. (more…)... Read More

When employees fall off track

May 7, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

It’s something that happens slowly over time and is often barely perceptible as a growing problem. You hire or promote someone into a specific job in your company. It’s a suitable fit, and you feel good that a key position in your company is producing the intended results. But as time passes, subtle changes occur. Certain areas where the employee once paid close attention appear to be less of a priority. Work patterns are showing telltale signs of inconsistency. Projects or responsibilities that the employee once sought out are now avoided. Finally, that little voice in your head asks, “What happened? How did this person’s job turn into this?”... Read More

How to ensure policies are followed

April 30, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

Companies evolve over time and so do their policies and procedures. New policies are written to prevent certain issues from reoccurring, to fend off potential problems before they happen, and to maintain a semblance of organizational order and efficiency. For the sake of this discussion, I’ll just call them the laws of the land. There are laws for performance, attendance, compensated and uncompensated time off, customer service, execution of work, chain of command, performance reviews – you name it, there’s a way to create a law to control it.

But as your book of laws gets thicker, keeping watch over and holding everyone accountable to your laws grows in complexity. That’s why companies need managers and HR departments. Without a control mechanism, even the most commonsense laws will fade, allowing problems to spring up like weeds in an unattended garden. To succeed, laws need an accountability factor. It doesn’t matter what size a company is, someone must be accountable to protecting the laws of your company land. Even if it’s a simple reminder to someone that keeps ignoring a basic law like what time work begins, accountability must be ever present. (more…)... Read More

Five strategies to find and keep your strength

April 23, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Let’s face it, it’s hard to be on your leadership game every day. In fact, it’s shortsighted to even think it’s possible. The work of leading a company is a constantly moving and shifting target. It’s supposed to be that way because “current reality” is something you only have partial control over. That’s why you often find yourself fighting those inevitable fires. Put one fire out over here and another ignites over there. Such is the work of leadership.

Even in the best-run companies, there are times when the fires seem to ignite faster than you can stomp them out. You feel like Davy Crockett at the Alamo hopelessly outnumbered and fighting off Santa Ana’s Mexican army using your rifle as a club. Leadership battles wear you down. Too much current reality wears you down. The question is: What are you going to do to find your strength? If you continue to forge ahead when your batteries are warning that “10% remaining until shutdown,” you will find yourself making bad decisions, communicating in ways that tear down rather than lift up, and most likely being the source of new fires. (more…)... Read More

Five strategies for staying focused on customer service

April 16, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

You’re in a restaurant, waiting for someone to take your drink order. Scanning the room, you see plenty of employees. Finally, the waiter arrives and takes your order. You’re hungry and would like some of that bread that the party at the next table, who were seated after you, is enjoying. After a long wait the drinks arrive, and you order dinner (still no bread). The long wait and empty water glasses are in stark contrast to this restaurant’s reputation. You finish your meal and just want to go home. Now you’re waving your napkin trying to catch your waiter’s eye for the check. To avoid having to wait a minute longer, you have your credit card out to give the waiter when you ask for the check. Great food. Bad service. Zero peripheral vision.... Read More

Six strategies to building your dream team

April 9, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

If you agree with the statement, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” then you understand that even the slightest imperfection can result in catastrophic failure. Under intense loads, the integrity of every chain link is tested. Just one flaw, just one microscopic crack, and ships run aground, property is damaged, momentum stops, lives are lost. We trust that every link will do its job and perform to expectations.

I used two powerful words to describe the expectations of a chain: integrity and trust. If the integrity of one link is compromised, we cannot trust that the chain will hold. If the integrity of multiple links is compromised, the chain will never perform to its full potential – the chain cannot be trusted. From outward appearances, the chain may appear perfectly fine, but the flaws and imperfections are there. Eventually, the chain will fail.... Read More

Five tips to get the most out of new ideas

April 2, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

You get that little seed of an idea in your head that keeps growing and developing into something you just can’t seem to ignore. You keep drifting back to it to add detail and definition. Eventually your seedling of an idea becomes so real that its begging, daring, even taunting you to manifest it from thought to the physical world. And the more it pushes, the more you obsess over it. Is this idea of yours really a breakthrough capable of delivering extraordinary outcomes, or is it just a brain fart that certifiably stinks?

I am a lifelong entrepreneur who has experienced the exhilaration and reward of nurturing seeds of an idea into something that is truly extraordinary. And rest assured, I have an impressive list of “brain fart” ideas that never should have seen the light of day. More importantly, I know without question that I’ve had ideas that I should have nurtured and brought to life, but I just let them drift away. Maybe the timing wasn’t right. Maybe I didn’t have the resources to make it work. Maybe I just didn’t get off my butt and an opportunity was lost. (more…)... Read More

When your inner circle of trust is broken

March 26, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

All leaders have an inner circle of people they trust, depend upon and feel secure letting their guard down with. It is this inner circle that allows leaders to focus on company growth rather than managing day-to-day operations. In many cases, it’s their inner circle that allows some semblance of life balance. But all other factors pale when it comes to covenant of trust. Trust is the sacred bond that forms the foundation of a dynamic inner circle capable of achieving the extraordinary. Trust is the essence of no-compromise leadership. Trust is everything.

But trust can be compromised. Time, priorities, feelings of entitlement, lack of appreciation and a host of other emotional sensitivities can cause a member of your inner circle to do the unthinkable – deceive and undermine. There is nothing more gut-wrenching than when a leader discovers betrayal by a trusted member of the inner circle. It doesn’t matter if it’s the sharing of confidential conversations or information, or stirring controversy by criticizing leadership decisions and initiatives. (more…)... Read More

Keeping it positive

March 19, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 8 Comments

Imagine what would happen to the attitude, spirit and culture of your company if its leaders were going at each other like the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. I used to enjoy the political process, but, these days, the name calling, twisting of facts and negativity spew like toxic waste. Well, the same thing happens in a company when its leaders clash and go negative. It’s like parents fighting in front of the kids. Sometimes the wounds never heal.

Opposing views, differences of opinion, even radically bold ideas, are the foundation for healthy debate. For leaders, especially business partners, keeping the debate open, free spirited and positive is vital – it’s the essence of no-compromise leadership thinking and behavior. When the debate turns negative, it’s more about ego, control and power. While the leaders are self-absorbed in their battle, the company, its employees and customers become nothing more than pawns in the game. (more…)... Read More

More than 30 years of carrying the Team-Based Pay torch

March 12, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

Some people called me a pioneer – others thought I was crazy – to suggest that traditional commission-based businesses could convert to a non-commission system. “They won’t be motivated. They’ll quit. What if sales drop? I can’t afford it.” These are the basic responses I’ve patiently listened to and responded to for years. I didn’t create the Team-Based Pay (TBP) system to create controversy; I created it as a business model capable of building dynamic world-class companies.

The challenge with commission is its simplicity. “You earn a piece of whatever you sell.” It’s an “I/me/mine” pay system. Creating extraordinary customer experiences requires systemized and coordinated team effort. It’s virtually impossible to get “team” without rewarding team effort. Commission is used as the prime motivator for performance, while countless studies have proven that money is not the prime motivator. If commission is a motivator, why do you have employees who you’re constantly pushing to perform and achieve “average”? The 80/20 rule is in play with commission, which means that 20% will be motivated to perform. The 80% require extensive leadership engagement, performance systems and accountability. Commission, even with sliding scales, lacks the horsepower to achieve the extraordinary. (more…)... Read More

Let’s WAKE everyone UP

March 5, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 9 Comments

I’ve been writing these Monday Morning Wake Ups for more than three years. Call it a gift or a curse, I seem to have this ability to write about issues that cut to the heart of leadership thinking and behavior. I try to write MMWUs that lift you up, challenge you and inspire you to be a no-compromise leader, to rally your team to do great things and to make the tough decisions that we all have to make as leaders. And I write those infamous MMWUs that make you look in the mirror to confront the stuff you do that compromises the health and vitality of your company’s performance and its precious culture.... Read More

When leaders go on a tear

February 27, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

It happens to you. It happens to me. It happens to all leaders. Think of it as a pressure cooker building up steam until the relief valve lets loose with an ear-piercing whistle and a spew of steam. The same thing happens to leaders when frustration, stress, impatience, boredom, disbelief, being blindsided, broken trust, blown opportunities, missed goals/deadlines, quality issues, staff indifference, senseless waste of time/money/resources, or just about anything else you can think of that can ruin a leader’s vision of a perfect day. Stuff builds up until the relief valve blows, sending leaders on a tear through every nook and cranny of the company.... Read More

No-Compromise Excellence

February 20, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 5 Comments

In the last paragraph of my February 6th MMWU, I referenced a new business approach that I’m introducing called “No-Compromise Excellence.” I wrote, “Merging ‘no compromise’ with ‘excellence’ instantly communicates a commitment and a promise to break through the vagueness of ‘exceed expectations’ to deliver experiences, results and outcomes that are extraordinary by design and intent.” By the number of inquiries I received, this new approach clearly resonated with MMWU readers.

PERSONAL NOTE: My intention was to follow that MMWU with more on what No-Compromise Excellence entails, but I was sidelined with the sad news that my brother, Ron, passed away at 3 a.m. on February 6th after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. Thank you for the outpouring of thoughts and prayers.... Read More

Leadership’s complex mixture

February 13, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 8 Comments

This is going to get deep fast, so here we go. Leadership is a complex mixture of vision, ambition, drive, accountability, inspiration, emotions and, without question, fear and trepidation. How this mixture comes together is unique for every leader. This mixture is in a state of constant flux as it’s stirred by the ever-changing nature of business. And just to keep this interesting, it’s the leadership mixture itself that keeps business in a constant state of flux. Are you still with me?

When heavy doses of visionary thinking are added to the leadership mixture, a world of infinite possibilities is revealed. Visionary mode gets a company’s creative juices flowing. It can lift a struggling company out of the fiery pit of hell or take an already successful company to extraordinary new levels. In contrast, when fear and trepidation oversaturate the mixture, a company begins to destroy itself from within. It can’t move forward, so it begins to slide into the unknown until the leadership mixture is adjusted. Are you still with me?... Read More

The problem with meeting expectations

February 6, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

The concept of meeting expectations has been bandied around the business world for years – and the concept is flawed. The problem with meeting expectations is that with anything less – just one degree less – the experience is mediocre and rapidly degrades from there. Here’s a simple example: If you’re on time for an appointment, you meet expectations. If you’re one minute late, you blew it. Meeting expectations is about delivering on your promise – to everyone including yourself. It’s delivering to your full potential as a leader, employee and company. It’s that basic and that profound.... Read More

Getting everyone on that infamous ‘same page’

January 30, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 5 Comments

“We need to get everyone on the same page.” I’m fairly certain that you’ve uttered that phrase at least once. The most revealing question? How often do you make that statement in your company? Let’s probe deeper into what conditions prompt the need to feel that way. The prevailing conditions typically center on inconsistency in the execution of tasks, poorly defined expectations, conflicting agendas, indifference and general frustration – whose origin can be traced directly back to compromise at the leadership level.... Read More

What is it about these Wake Ups?

January 23, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

I’ve been writing the Monday Morning Wake Up (MMWU) for more than three years. My mission is to have every MMWU tap into the thinking and behavior at the core of a true no-compromise leader. While other leadership experts write about the “what to do,” I write, teach and coach about the thinking and behavior that must exist in order for each “what to do” to work. What’s the sense of implementing a new system, structure or approach if the leader’s wiring (his or her current thinking and behavior) is contaminated with procrastination, inconsistent accountability, lack of follow-through, inflated ego, time-management issues, poor communication and listening skills, and self-entitlement?... Read More

When good isn’t good enough

January 16, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

You run a good company. You built a good brand identity. Your sales are good. You have a good team and a good culture. So if everything is so good, why are you frustrated? Why do you feel like your company’s engine isn’t firing on all cylinders? Congratulations! You and your company have finally arrived at the pivotal point where good is no longer good enough. Good got you to where you are. Good doesn’t have the horsepower to take your company to the next level. Good is status quo.

Good simply means that you’re executing a lot of things well. Good is certainly something to be proud of, but competitors will methodically nip and chip away at your good until it becomes average. The gap between good and average is small. The gap between average and irrelevant is even smaller, and the decline can be rapid. (more…)... Read More

Earning Predictability

January 9, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Your long-range plan is clear. You build projections, budgets and cash-flow plans. You narrow your focus to 10 major initiatives to complete this year. You create organization charts to establish chain of command. You have job descriptions nailed down. Your information-flow systems are up and running. You’re screening job applicants better than ever. Employee training is thorough and weeds out the misfits. You have a system for damn near everything. Then why the heck are fires still erupting in your company? If you have all this stuff in place, why are things going off in the wrong direction? Where’s the predictability?... Read More

Ten NCL Resolutions for 2012

January 2, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 11 Comments

The start of a new year is a great time to re-evaluate where you’ve been, and what you want your business to look like going forward. Reflecting on four years of writing Monday Morning Wake-Ups, I offer you the following no-compromise resolutions for 2012.

  1. Stop tolerating the intolerable: Period. There’s funky stuff going on in your company that needs to go away – and it’s your job to get rid of it. The funky stuff has to do with behaviors, thinking, entitlements, double standards, cliques, missed opportunities, procrastination, missing or failing systems, inconsistent customer experiences, indifference and so on. You complain about it all the time, but you continue to tolerate it every day. Do you want to drag all that stuff into this beautiful new year? It’s time to go no compromise.
  2. Leave nothing unsaid: You’re wrapping up a performance review. You discussed a whole bunch of stuff and hit on some important issues. But there’s one big elephant in the living room that’s been driving you crazy – and you end the review without mentioning it. You blew it. Leaving things unsaid enables inconsistent and unacceptable behaviors and performance. It’s the leader’s job to leave nothing unsaid because that’s the only way to coach an employee to reach his or her full potential. Do it with respect, integrity and commitment to achieving the right outcomes. It’s time to go no compromise.
  3. Everyone is responsible: “They” isn’t on your payroll. The instant someone on your team says or thinks, “It’s not my job,” that employee has made the choice to be dispensable. It takes commitment, tenacity and courage to be indispensable. Build a culture based on “everyone is responsible,” and you’ll redefine your definition of efficiency, productivity, sense of urgency and teamwork. It’s time to go no compromise. (more…)

Why leaders obsess – and what to do about it

December 26, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 7 Comments

It’s our job as leaders to obsess. In fact, if we weren’t obsessing about something, we’d obsess that we have nothing to obsess over. If you think about it, obsessing is much like your shadow: It follows you everywhere. We obsess about all kinds of stuff, some of which is actually worthy, even critical, to obsess over. And then there’s all that low-level interference stuff you obsess over even though you’d be hard-pressed to explain why.

I am proud to admit that right now I’m obsessing over a few big projects I have on my plate: sales, cash flow, challenges coaching clients are having, ramping up new coaches, and a few other worthy issues. Yup, I always like to have my “things I’m obsessing over plate” nice and full. You’re probably thinking, “Hey, my obsessing plate is just like Neil’s.”... Read More

When leaders have epiphanies

December 19, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 7 Comments

Bam! In a gush of mental processing, you figured out the puzzle pieces and achieved a breakthrough of extraordinary, life-altering magnitude. Not only has your epiphany enlightened you, it has illuminated the path before you. You are in a different place where you see everything clearly. As a business trainer and coach, I witness leaders having epiphanies all the time. Heck, it’s my job to guide leaders to have those epiphanies.

The good news is that when leaders have epiphanies, they are massively empowering and ignite a sense of urgency to innovate something new, do things differently and just get the change train out of the station. The bad news about leaders having epiphanies is that people around them often don’t have a clue what’s going on or where the train is going. How could they, with the leader up front in the engine flailing his engineer hat around, shouting “woo hoo” and pushing the throttle to full speed ahead? (more…)... Read More

Why current reality is never good enough

December 12, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 8 Comments

As a consultant and business coach, I often wish I could have my clients lie on a couch while I sit in a big leather chair asking deep questions and taking notes. I’m not a psychologist nor do I want to be one. But just as a psychologist’s job is to help patients seek understanding and clarity, my job is to help leaders navigate the unpredictable waters of leadership, business, finance and human dynamics.

In many ways, it’s the leader’s job to obsess over darn near everything. It’s the leader’s job to constantly move the company forward. If the company is stuck or in the fiery pits of hell, it’s the leader’s job to unstick it and get the company on the path to daylight. When the company hits goal or has any sort of a big win, it’s only a short respite to celebrate, and then it’s back to the game of business.... Read More

To build a company that endures

December 5, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Imagine a business law that stated, “If you start a company, it must endure for generations.” As an entrepreneur myself, I must admit that when starting a company, even Strategies, the last thing on my mind was designing it to endure for generations. The sense of urgency is to get the doors open, start generating cash and push through the crazy, exciting and scary start-up phase. When you bet everything you have on the vision of your new company, your attention is on the here and now – not on what your company should look like long after you’re gone. But what if it was mandatory that you build a company to endure for generations? How would that change your thinking?... Read More

The ‘New Normal’ Org Chart

November 28, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

The “New Normal” is how I describe the state of doing business today. Think of it as a tidal wave of change that is relentless and moving at high speed. The pace is so fast that it has rendered many tried-and-true leadership approaches and systems grossly underpowered or totally ineffective. To survive and thrive in a change-on-steroids economy, leaders need to rethink everything quickly or drown in the wake of change. I’m not being overly dramatic – just stating what every leader knows to be true.

It’s hard for a company to be fast, responsive and innovative when its organizational structure is complicated and, in many ways, designed to be territorial. This is exactly what happens when org charts are built around titles and functions. In the New Normal, organizational structures must be streamlined, simplified and focused on what’s truly important: the outcomes. (more…)... Read More

Cynicism: forever your nemesis

November 21, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 5 Comments

The role of leader can be a solitary existence. You are the ultimate decision maker. You are the creator and protector of the company vision. You shape and nurture the company culture. You inspire individuals to achieve extraordinary things through the power of teamwork. You are responsible for the livelihoods and wellbeing of your employees and their families. You revel in your successes and pummel yourself with every failure. You cherish your strengths and, deep down inside, you are aware of your shortcomings. If accountability is your leadership watchword – cynicism is forever your nemesis.... Read More

Truth prevails in crisis

November 14, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 8 Comments

A few years ago, I got stuck in travel hell. It was early evening when my US Airways flight landed in Charlotte, NC. As I deplaned, I was handed a piece of paper stating that my connecting flight home to Connecticut was cancelled due to weather conditions in the Northeast and to expect extended wait times when calling reservations. I tried calling multiple times and all I got were busy signals. Recommended hotels were sold out. My Marriott Silver Elite status finally got me a room 30 minutes from the airport. I left for the hotel without luggage or any idea when I’d get a flight home.

I got to the airport at 6:00 a.m. and waited in line for eight and half hours only to get a standby seat. After getting bumped twice, I finally boarded a flight home at midnight. Throughout the entire ordeal, all we customers were asking for was the truth from US Airways. The truth came out later that the problem was more US Airways’ switch to a new reservations and operating system rather than the bad weather.... Read More

Feed on solutions not problems

November 7, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

Leaders deal with problems every day, all day. It’s your job. Big, small and in between, problems will seek you out like metal to a magnet. Here’s the good news: You have a choice as to how to deal with them. You can let them get the best of you, or you can accept them for what they are – unplanned occurrences that require correction. When you let them get the best of you, they will almost always take you and your company off course by injecting drama, conflict, excuses, blame, hurt feelings and even witch hunts to find a fall guy to pin the problem on.... Read More

Surviving and thriving in the ‘New Normal’

October 31, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

The “old normal” died in the closing days of 2008. Its passing received no headlines, not even a somber obituary. It just died and took with it many of our most trusted tried-and-true business tools. We all felt its passing but few understood its significance. All we knew was that the items in our business toolbox were rendered grossly inadequate or completely ineffective. We waited for everything to calm down and return to “normal.”

But things never returned to normal. The global economy and your current reality transitioned to the “New Normal.” I describe “normal” as a naturally occurring standard or state where functions, occurrences and outcomes are highly predictable. So what is this New Normal? At its core, it’s driven by three absolutes: Adapt, overcome or die. The New Normal is change on steroids. And while most leaders recognize that the business game is different, they haven’t adjusted how they lead, their tactics or their systems. Until you adjust and dial in your thinking, tactics and systems to meet the demands of the New Normal, your business will continue to sputter and struggle. (more…)... Read More

Why do we do it?

October 24, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 5 Comments

Why do we want to be leaders? What pushes us to start our own companies? We must be crazy to subject ourselves to the intense stress and strain of leading others and betting everything on an idea when the odds of success are against us. But we do it. We throw ourselves into our ideas and charge forward. We knowingly write business plans that rarely, if ever, play out according to plan. We get on our soapboxes and relentlessly pontificate our vision to all who will listen. We find followers to lead. We build and launch. We work insane hours. We routinely confront our worst fears during what I call “owner’s nights,” which usually occur between 2 and 4 a.m. Yup, we sure are crazy, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.... Read More

Every leader’s internal battle

October 17, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 10 Comments

As leader, it’s your job to achieve the right outcomes in every part of the company. I call them the Four Business Outcomes: productivity, profitability, staff retention and customer loyalty. In just a few words, I defined the role of leader. If only being a leader was that simple. It’s not. Leadership is hard. Leadership is a roller coaster of emotional highs and lows, wins and losses, joy and tears. And within every leader, a battle rages between heart and mind. The heart represents emotions. The mind represents clarity and logic. Together, they mix about as well as oil and water.

To understand the complexity of the battle between heart and mind, consider what happens when you need to make a tough decision. Tough decisions (mind) always impact the lives of others (heart). Consider how you feel when your mind is telling you that the performance of someone you really like just isn’t where it needs to be – and there are no signs that it ever will be. Your mind is telling you exactly what to do. Your heart is fighting back with all of the emotions of a potential lost friendship, how it may break his or her spirit, the financial hardship of a loss of income – and all the drama and negativity that may surround your decision. To ignore the situation is a compromise. To go no-compromise is hard.... Read More

‘Think different’ changed everything

October 10, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 7 Comments

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a fanatical diehard Apple fan. I got my first Apple computer in 1984. It was a compact and clunky Apple IIc that had one lone floppy drive, no hard drive and green text. That’s a far cry from the MacBook Pro I’m writing this on with my iPhone 4 to my left and my newest love, an iPad2, on my right. The Strategies office is full of Macs, iPods, Airport wireless base stations – and even a retired blue original iMac in our storage room. Not only do I buy anything Apple, I do my best to convert PC users to Apple. My only regret is not buying Apple stock along the way; those early shares are worth a bundle today. Oh well, I’ll just play with my iPad.... Read More

You’re not perfect

October 3, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 16 Comments

That’s right, you’re not perfect. Deal with it and stop beating yourself up. Leaders have to be a bit imperfect or they wouldn’t survive the pressures of the job. I’ve devoted my career to working with leaders and, being one myself, we’re all more or less imperfect – perhaps even a bit crazy – given the challenges we willingly take on. I’ve coached leaders off the edge when they were ready to jump. I’ve wiped tears from their eyes when they’ve been beaten down and needed a little hope. I’ve coached leaders with egos so big their heads could barely fit through the front door of their own companies. I’ve coached leaders with communication skills so crude and abrasive, they sandblasted their employees every time they spoke. And I’ve coached leaders obsessed with finding everything that’s wrong in their companies and never show appreciation for jobs well done. I have yet to find the perfect leader and I hope never to be accused of being one.... Read More

Growth and shifting accountability

September 26, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 9 Comments

You start a company and knight yourself fearless leader. With grit and tenacity you lead it through the exciting and sometimes terrifying start-up phase. It’s like a Boeing 747 at the foot of the runway. The captain pushes the throttle to full power and the massive plane begins roaring down the runway. The commitment is made to get airborne, and in less than a minute, it defies gravity and takes hundreds of passengers on a journey to some faraway land. At cruising altitude the captain’s role shifts from taking off to leading, managing and monitoring the journey. Accountabilities shift to the co-pilot, crew and the sophisticated air traffic control network. To have passengers, crew and equipment arrive at their destination safely, the captain must shift accountabilities to others during the journey.... Read More

Compete on extraordinary value – not price

September 15, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 8 Comments

Everyone likes and appreciates a good deal. There are buyers who just aren’t happy unless they beat you down on price. But there are buyers who are willing to pay a premium price to experience and enjoy the best their money can buy. There’s just something special about extraordinary value that supersedes price. So why is it that so many leaders are quick to whip out their machetes and slash price? Does slashing price make you stand out from the competition? If you believe it does, what’s the hang time on that differentiation? Yes, for that nanosecond, you’ve got the spotlight – until your competitor trumps you with a better price.... Read More

Impatient for profit; patient for growth

September 12, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 12 Comments

The relentless pursuit of business growth can kill your company. There are countless examples of companies that found themselves in dire straits – or have completely imploded – because they were hell-bent on driving revenues and expansion at the expense of profit. Groupon is the latest poster child for “growth at all cost” addiction. The company lost $113.9 million in the first quarter of 2011. It needs another $750 million just to pay the bills while trying to get through yet another round of venture funding. Groupon wowed investors with staggering growth, but failed to build a profitable business model. By all indications, it’s too late for Groupon to change its business model or thinking.... Read More

Good night, Irene: Adapt and overcome

September 5, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 5 Comments

While I was in Sacramento, California, doing a No-Compromise Leadership workshop, Hurricane Irene was barreling toward the East Coast on a track that would take it right through my hometown in Connecticut and the rest of New England. I had about 24 hours to make it home. I kept checking the status of my red-eye flight as thousands of flights were already being cancelled.

I live in the shoreline town of Old Saybrook, which is bordered by Long Island Sound to the south and the Connecticut River to the east. Known for its scenic beauty, this tree-laden area doesn’t respond well to high winds, torrential rain and tidal surges. I remember all too well the devastation when the eye of Hurricane Gloria ripped right up the Connecticut River in 1985, tearing apart trees and cutting off power for more than a week. I had to get home.... Read More

Frustration and trusting that the dots will connect

August 29, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 12 Comments

Frustration over an extended period of time influences your leadership thinking and behavior in a not-so-favorable way. Your temper can flare over low-level or non-issue occurrences. Feelings of self-doubt and ineffectiveness build and surface in your demeanor for all to see. You hesitate, second-guess and avoid decisions, large and small, hoping that they will wash away. You say, “We’ve tried everything and nothing seems to work,” knowing you’re avoiding solutions that will pull you out of your comfort zone and rock the boat – when rocking the boat is just what’s needed.... Read More

Getting off the hamster wheel

August 22, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

While presenting one of my No-Compromise Leadership workshops, it was obvious I touched a nerve when I hit the subject of leaders being stuck on the proverbial hamster wheel. When leaders are stuck on the hamster wheel, they are essentially running at high speed, burning lots of energy – and getting nowhere fast. It’s being stuck in that daily rut of driving revenues, fighting cash flow, motivating unmotivated employees, and trying to push projects across the finish line. It’s working harder and gaining little, if any, ground. It’s when that little voice in your head keeps asking, “How long can you keep going like this?”

Fact: Getting off the hamster wheel is not easy. By the time you realize you’re on it, you’re already spinning so fast that jumping off seems outright dangerous. And if you slow down, all the fears, concerns and what-ifs may catch up to you. Well, here’s another fact to chew on: Spinning on the hamster wheel is exhausting and unsustainable. You found a way to get on it, and now it’s time to get off and regain control of your life and your company. The good news is that being stuck on the hamster wheel is one dilemma you can find a solution for. (more…)... Read More

Don’t allow it to get all over you

August 15, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 11 Comments

Last week I worked with my team at an Incubator seminar in our business academy, next door to our corporate offices. Incubator is four days of non-stop training, one-on-one sessions with owners and evenings at my home, debriefing with my team over dinner and adult beverages. A side benefit to being immersed in working the Incubator is being cut off from the news about the economy and the stock market.

Nevertheless, the state of the economy at home and abroad is on our minds. For me, I was unsettled by the weeks of political wrangling in Washington over the debt ceiling. The daily barrage of bickering over the nation’s massive debt is not what any of us needed while we focus on leading our companies through to something that resembles an “economic recovery.” And as predicted, the debt ceiling raised cataclysmic “what if’s” of America defaulting on its debt.... Read More

It’s the thinking and behavior

August 8, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

I just completed a tour of the Zappos corporate headquarters just outside Las Vegas. It was fun and enlightening to actually experience how a billion-dollar “.com” company can live the “Delivering Happiness” culture that Tony Hsieh, the company’s CEO, described in his book of the same name. From the outside, Zappos looks like any other corporate building. But on the inside, it’s a perpetual party atmosphere that not only delivers happiness to employees and customers – it delivers truly extraordinary business results. That’s why Amazon acquired the company for $1.2 billion in 2009 and wouldn’t dare tamper with its culture. In the same year, Fortune magazine listed Zappos as one of the top 25 companies to work for.... Read More

Leadership and Happiness

August 1, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 10 Comments

Along with being the leader of a company comes a whirlwind of feelings, and somewhere intertwined in those feelings is happiness. By happiness, I’m referring to the joy one experiences serving as the leader of a company or organization. And the reason I’m focusing on happiness is simple. In the daily process of leadership, happiness can easily get relegated to a “wish I had it” rather than “I gotta have it” feeling. Why be a leader if it doesn’t make you happy? Why put yourself into situations that cause stress, and even extreme distress? Why subject yourself to criticism from those who don’t agree with how you lead?

So where exactly is the happiness part of leadership? The answer is basic: It’s all around you. You’re just too caught up in the decisions, frustrations, challenges, misfires and backfires to see it. You may be questioning your own leadership abilities, or style of leadership, or battling your own leadership blockages, such as fear of confrontation, or the all-time favorite – procrastination. Yes, it’s hard to find happiness in leadership with all this stuff going on around you and inside you.... Read More

An Entrepreneurial Manifesto – Part Two

July 25, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 8 Comments

Based on the volume of blog comments, last week’s MMWU clearly hit home with readers. My intent was to reinforce the one sacred and magnificent absolute that every entrepreneur owns – they are in control of their destinies. I presented a no-compromise entrepreneurial manifesto that included such noteworthy points as: Don’t squander the opportunity, stop whining, never get too full of yourself, surround yourself with talent, honor and respect your followers, and that it’s all about the dream.

Entrepreneurs do control their own destinies. But too often, their thinking and behavior get in the way. They hold back when charging forward is the best and logical option. They fail to manage the inevitable stress that accompanies business ownership that leads to self-doubt and feelings of isolation. They get too engrossed in emotional attachments that cloud their thinking and ability to make and execute the best decisions for the company – their dream.... Read More

An Entrepreneurial Manifesto

July 18, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 17 Comments

I have been an entrepreneur for almost my entire working life. I have experienced first hand the elation of success and the crush of failure. My chosen path as a speaker, writer and consultant keeps me hardwired into the thinking and behavior of entrepreneurial leaders. Just as I marvel at their innovations and tenacity, I cringe at their self-inflicted damage when their thinking and behavior runs amuck. Through it all, there is one sacred and magnificent absolute that every entrepreneur owns – they are in control of their destinies.

A recent segment on the evening news focused on the dismal unemployment statistics. It detailed how tens of thousands of government employees are experiencing the unthinkable – they’re getting laid off. A fireman who thought he had a career for life is now figuring out how to care for his family. At a center for writing resumes and honing interview skills, a dozen white-collar executives and engineers – all in their mid-fifties – are trying to comprehend the reality that no one wants to hire people their age. NASA workers celebrating the final flight of the Space Shuttle know that pink slips will follow the Shuttle’s return to earth. Anyone have an opening for a space suit designer? It’s been five days since I watched that news segment and there’s still a knot in my stomach. (more…)... Read More

Believing

July 11, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

There is extraordinary power in the simple act of believing. In and of itself, believing is the process of weighing the pros and cons, and all the possible outcomes, to draw a conclusion of what is and what can be. Believing is not an absolute but rather a state of mind. It’s your perception of who you are and the world around you. In every way, believing serves as your internal compass.

As a leader, what you believe, and how completely you believe, is critical to establishing the accuracy of your internal compass. Believe a little and your compass will waiver. Believe a lot and your compass will guide you to the desired outcome. When you don’t believe at all, your compass is useless – and you are lost. (more…)... Read More

The will to win – Robbi’s story

July 4, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 14 Comments

Robbi Grayson joined Strategies as president five months ago today. Robbi was aware of my passion for road biking and the annual fund-raising rides I like to challenge myself to do. Since I began riding in 2007, at the age of 57, I have personally raised a total of $15,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund (JDFR) and Multiple Sclerosis (MS). I do the MS rides for my niece Carrie who has MS.

When I’m passionate about something I share it. I guess it would be more accurate to say I preach about those things I’m passionate about. I do that as a leader, writer, trainer and speaker. And I do this with biking. When you’re passionate, you speak from the heart just as much as from the mind. (more…)... Read More

What triggers your procrastination bug?

June 27, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Everyone procrastinates. Even those people you admire for their tenacity, high productivity and accomplishments are afflicted with the procrastination bug. I know that I procrastinate. I have an alarm that goes off every Tuesday morning at 7:30 to remind me to write my Monday Morning Wake-Up. I’m writing this at 6:11 a.m. on Friday, which is fairly typical for me. I could say that I allow the ideas to bake a few days, which they sort of do, but it’s much more accurate to say that I procrastinate when it comes to writing. Would I write a better MMWU on Tuesday morning than the ones I write on Friday? Absolutely not. It’s just me giving in to my procrastination bug. (more…)... Read More

When ‘inner circle’ trust is compromised

June 20, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

At a recent congressional hearing on U.S. relations with Pakistan, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was asked, “How can we trust a country that lies to us?” Gates responded, “Governments lie to each other … that’s how business is done.” Gates’ statement sent a chill up my spine because it captured just how fragile “trusting” the words, decisions and actions of others can be – especially in your own company.

All leaders have what can be described as an “inner circle” of people who they trust, depend upon and confide in. They are members of their leadership team, advisors, peers and others they do business with. By design, your inner circle is a safe place for you to share confidential information, seek counsel and to vent when necessary. Your inner circle is built entirely on trust, respect and confidentiality. That’s why you feel comfortable letting your guard down. (more…)... Read More

Neil’s China Adventure

June 13, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

My last visit to this part of the world was in 2006 when I traveled to Taipei, Taiwan, to lead a multi-day business course for Canmeng International. The people were wonderful, and the culture and sights were so inspiring, I vowed to return to the Pacific Rim. Well, here I am writing this week’s Monday Morning Wake-Up from my hotel room in Beijing – right across the street from the site of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the swim cube and massive “Birds Nest” stadium.

I’m in Beijing to deliver the opening keynote at the very first Esthetics China Exhibition and Congress. The event is produced by IIR Expositions, a global company that produces more than 10,000 events and training courses, 45,000 book titles, 2,000 subscription-based information services including academic journals, magazines, newsletters, real-time information and news services, unparalleled performance improvement solutions, and hundreds of exceptional brands in 80 countries. (more…)... Read More

The secret to getting less of what you don’t want

June 6, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

Make a quick mental list of all that stuff you would like less of in business and as a leader. I bet you’d like less aggravation and stress, fewer employee problems, lower payroll costs, less waste, less debt, less on your plate … the list goes on. It can be pretty freaky how quickly your “I want less of” list can morph into one big knot in your stomach. But fear not, like Speedy Alka Seltzer, I bring you the secret to instant relief.

Before I share the secret to getting less of what you don’t want, I need to warn you of some potential known side effects of use. You may experience feelings of anxiety that can dissipate rapidly by taking action. You may feel the desire to cast blame on others until you figure out who really needs to take ownership. You may experience intense euphoria when you realize that you create all of the stuff you don’t like – and have the power to make most of it go away. (more…)... Read More

Question your ‘Old Faithfuls’

May 30, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 9 Comments

Do anything in business long enough and It becomes much like Yellowstone’s famous geyser, Old Faithful, that erupts every 35 to 120 minutes – it becomes normal and predictable. The problem is, nothing in business is as predictable as an Old Faithful. Your tried-and-true systems, products, services, behaviors, strategies, business model, leadership approach – even your company vision – can throw you a curve when you least expect it.

Trusting your “Old Faithfuls” to keep on keeping on is inherently dangerous. No business is immune to change or challenges from competitors that are more innovative and hungrier than you. Your trusted “secret sauce” will age and be challenged by one that’s new and improved. Entirely new service and product categories will emerge making your “Old Faithful” look, well, old. It may not be in our lifetime, but someday even Yellowstone’s Old Faithful will show up late, gurgle a bit and fizz out. The tourist crowds will fizz out too. (more…)... Read More

How ‘big’ is your decision?

May 23, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 7 Comments

A Webinar speaker did a long-winded buildup to what he guaranteed was “the one question no one ever asked you.” Finally, he asked the question: “What is the name of the person who gave you permission to think and go big?” He said it was his wife. And after getting permission, he took his already successful career and skyrocketed as an author and speaker in the areas of sales and Internet marketing.

At 30 minutes into this Webinar, I found myself desperately seeking something of value when it hit me. The speaker’s big question was wrong. No has to give you permission to think and go big. It’s your decision – and yours alone. (more…)... Read More

Your company’s biggest roadblock

May 13, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Roadblocks hinder or bring all progress to a grinding halt. They exist to get in the way, interrupt normal flow, and force a change of plan. When approached as challenges, roadblocks can become the catalyst for innovative thinking that lead to discoveries and breakthroughs. Breakthroughs are exciting and almost always lead to new opportunities and accelerated growth. But what happens when the leader is the roadblock? What do you do when the leader doesn’t have a clue he or she is the roadblock?

I’ve spent the better part of my career studying leadership thinking and how it can both lift and hinder company growth. That’s why the essence of my “no-compromise leadership” process begins with how leaders think and behave. The tenets of no-compromise leadership (NCL) are designed to prevent the roadblocks that leaders create themselves. Adhering to the NCL tenets takes discipline and patience – and an extraordinary level of self-awareness. Without that self-awareness, a leader can perceive that roadblocks are emanating from situations or conditions created by other individuals or external factors, such as the economy or competition. (more…)... Read More

That getting-everyone-on-the-same-page thing

May 9, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

Getting everyone on the same page is what leadership is all about. So, why is it that leaders often feel that team members are taking plays from the wrong playbook? And why is it that team members often feel that their playbook is missing critical pages, or even worse, wish they were given a playbook before the game began? Clearly, that getting-everyone-on-the-same-page thing is more complicated and perplexing than most leaders realize.

Here’s the downside: When teams are NOT on the same page, things go wrong. Time, money and resources are wasted. Frustration builds and spreads throughout the team, and everything slows down. Mistakes are made. Quality takes a nosedive. Customer loyalty is compromised. Blame, finger pointing, justification and throwing people under the bus emerge as a new skill set. Yes, we have all lived what I just described – and most of us prefer never to live it again. (more…)... Read More

Confronting confrontation

May 2, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

I would never want to encounter a leader frothing at the mouth, wandering around like a mad dog looking confrontational. “Yeah, I just can’t wait to rip into an employee.” And if by chance I did, I would never tolerate or subject myself to such demeaning and abusive behavior. Confrontation just isn’t something that most people seek out. There isn’t anything about confrontation that feels good. Yet, it’s something that leaders have to deal with. The question is: How do you confront confrontation?... Read More

Raises: When you want to – but can’t

April 25, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to survive a tough economy or a challenging business period, when cash flow is painfully tight, payroll is one of the first expense line items that leaders red flag. And in tough times, leadership’s focus and sense of urgency must shift to driving revenues and finding ways to contain and cut costs. It’s the leader’s responsibility to lead the company safely through to better times. To do so, leaders need every employee to bring their best game to work every day. Because the first thing on the leader’s mind is survival, the last thing is issuing pay raises. ... Read More

Quality’s Biggest Flaw

April 18, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 8 Comments

Quality is a beautiful thing to experience. In a product or service, quality is evident in its innovative design, attention to detail and flawless performance. From iPhones and iPads, to fine hotels and restaurants, to automobiles and jetliners, the presence of quality is evident – even expected and demanded. The pursuit of quality has been at the forefront of business thinking since post-World War II and the work of W. Edwards Deming. Systems, processes and measurements eliminate flaws to deliver consistent quality. The strides have been extraordinary. I heard Tom Peters once say, “Total quality is no longer optional; it’s simply a ticket to play in the game.”... Read More

54 days of doing work I love

April 11, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

I’m writing this Monday Morning Wake-Up on April 8th. Last night I returned home from six days on the road. It began in Fort Worth, Texas, with our second annual Recharge event. About 90 business owners and key staff gathered for two days in a minor league baseball park called La Grave Field. For all of you that know Strategies, holding a learning event in a baseball park rather than a classroom is truly a game changer. Although we had plenty of sunshine, we unexpectedly had plenty of wind. Tablecloths were anchored down with giant paper clamps. We quickly gave up on using flipcharts.... Read More

Commitments: Easy to make – Hard to keep

April 4, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

“I’ll get back to you with an answer before the end of the day.” “We’re going to have huddles every day.” “Your first performance review will be in 90 days.” “From now on, I’m going to live and follow my budget.” “I’m going to start working out and eating right.” “I will stop hesitating on tough decisions.” “I will be on time.” While the list of commitments you can make is endless, there is no question that commitments, even the simple ones, are at the mercy of your thinking and behavior.

Commitments are more than “soft” promises. Commitments are an expression and an extension of your character and honoring what you have given your word to do. Most often, commitments are made with the best intentions. But commitments that are not scheduled and supported by a plan of action will fall through the cracks. And when commitments are broken, the level of trust in your ability to keep commitments is compromised and degraded. Break enough commitments, and you’ll lose the trust, support and cooperation of those around you. More importantly, you will lose trust in yourself. (more…)... Read More

What part do you own?

March 28, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 5 Comments

The natural human reaction to a threat or attack is “fight or flight.” We step courageously into the fray, or we run for cover. As leaders, problems and challenges are drawn to us like pieces of metal to a magnet. Our job is to address those problems and challenges. But somewhere between our natural tendency of “fight or flight” when threatened, attacked or confronted with problems and challenges, exists another natural human response. It’s called “blame, justify and defend.” And it’s nothing more than the easy way to “blame, justify and defend” problems and challenges on everyone and everything – other than you.

The title of my last book is “No-Compromise Leadership: A higher standard of leadership thinking and behavior.” A key element in “a higher standard of leadership thinking and behavior” is the discipline to replace the tendency to “blame, justify and defend” with this simple question, “What part do I own in this problem or challenge?” To immediately blame, justify and defend simply triggers the fight or flight response in those you are pointing the finger at or attempting to throw under the bus. (Does anyone know why it’s always a bus?)... Read More

Attitudes, black holes and the dark side

March 21, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

In time, it occurs in every business. It’s when an individual seemingly succumbs to the dark side where negativity, resistance and defensiveness become the predominant traits. Think of it as a force field that extends about ten feet in all directions – and the last thing you want to do is to be sucked inside it. Once you’re sucked in, it can take the better part of the day to purge the negativity that got all over you. The real problem is that it’s not just you who’s getting hit with toxic waste; it’s getting all over everyone else in your company, including your customers.... Read More

Stop. Breathe. Appreciate.

March 14, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 14 Comments

Leading a company is tough work. You’re where the buck stops. You make the big (often tough) decisions. You mentally take your business home with you at night and wake up with it in the morning. You’re a perpetual problem solver, motivator, disciplinarian, mentor, policy maker, cash-flow manager, innovator, friend, strategist and more. Yup, you’re a leader, and you probably wouldn’t have it any other way.

One of the seldom-discussed issues of leadership is how the “business of leadership” can consume your thoughts, emotions and energy. You know what I’m referring to – it’s that feeling of being hard-wired into your business. It’s that need to keep pressing forward – to find those keys that unlock doors to new opportunities. I’m not trying to stress you out here. I’m just describing what all leaders internalize.... Read More

My personal challenge to you

March 7, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

It has always been my passion and life’s work to teach and speak about business. It’s been about 35 years since that day I stood before a small group of business owners and fumbled my way through a three-hour presentation. I could barely sleep the night before as fear and insecurity did their best to chip away at my confidence and determination. In the moments just before the class, that little voice in my head was screaming, “You’ve got nothing to teach these people – you’re not a public speaker.” But I did it. I found a way to get all the butterflies in my gut to at least fly in formation, went to the front of the room, and began what was to become my chosen career as a public speaker and trainer.... Read More

Guest Wake-Up: Weather offers opportunity for no-compromise moment

February 28, 2011 | By Michael Yost | 5 Comments

As a Certified Strategies Coach and educator for Strategies, I’ve had a chance to see and experience a lot of different leaders and cultures, but the team at Haven Salon & Spa takes the cake.

I am writing this from Fort Wayne International Airport in Indiana. I have been trapped here for 24 hours at this point, but the trials and tribulations of travel aren’t the focus of this story. Leadership and culture are.

Fort Wayne International Airport is approximately 6.5 hours of driving time from Green Bay, Wisconsin, which is my final destination. A quick flight. However, the weather has had other ideas about getting to that location as it relates to airline travel. ... Read More

Synching your company’s sense of urgency

February 21, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

Situation: You’re freaking out over payroll costs and know darn well that your team is not playing to its full potential. On a scale of one to ten, your sense-of-urgency dial is slammed against the red line at ten. In contrast, your team’s sense-of-urgency dial is set at the 6.5 mark; they’re barely breaking a sweat. You’re getting frustrated because they just don’t seem to “get it.” They’re getting frustrated because they don’t understand why you’re freaking or what you want them to do. It seems the harder you push, the more stressed everyone gets. The company’s sense of urgency is out of synch.... Read More

Ensuring ‘quality of life’ for your business

February 14, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

As a leader, you are responsible for everything – especially the “quality of life” that you create in your business. As individuals, we make choices regarding how we choose to live our lives. As spouses and parents, we make choices regarding family, lifestyle and how to raise our children. But leading a company is an entirely different responsibility. As the leader, every action you take, every decision you make, how you show up at work every day, how you praise, how you discipline and how you step up and lead your company through the inevitable challenges it will encounter, dictate the quality of life of your business.... Read More

Is your information flowing?

February 7, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

We live in an age where information literally flows at the speed of light. From e-mails and text messages, to Twitter tweets and live satellite feeds from anyplace in the world where news is happening. Yet, in business, even for those blessed with the latest technology, information flow can be excruciatingly inconsistent. And that means your company ship is springing leaks, taking on water, diverting precious resources and slowing down.

The problem with poor information flow is that you probably have no clue how inconsistent it really is – at least until you do some exploring. The most obvious indicators of information-flow leaks sound like, “I didn’t know,” “Why didn’t I know?”, “I thought this is what you wanted,” and, “Why didn’t I see that coming?” Even if you think information is flowing well throughout your company, there are leaks and you need to find them. (more…)... Read More

What’s lurking behind your company’s curtain?

January 31, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

I call it “the curtain,” and every company has one. It’s that secret place where leaders stash problems, deficiencies, toxic situations, compromising behaviors, poor business practices, spending habits, procrastination and residue from bad decisions. The sole purpose of the curtain is to conceal what’s not right with a company from employees, customers, peers, vendors and others. What’s behind the curtain is a dark and scary place, a place that saps energy and resources.

While the curtain allows a company to put on its best face by concealing its flaws, sooner or later what’s been festering behind the curtain eventually leaks out. When the curtain is breached, the company shifts into damage-control mode. Explanations no longer suffice; only decisive leadership action can finally fix what should have been fixed long ago. (more…)... Read More

Watching opportunities pass you by

January 24, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

You watch a client check out who did not receive product recommendations and pre-book options. You watch an employee take a shortcut in a process that will create problems down the line. Your company just implemented major, and much-needed, customer-service standards, but some of your key employees are outright ignoring them. You’re afraid that if you hold them accountable they’ll leave. How many opportunities to get better and grow your company do you watch pass by every day? It’s most likely infinitely more than you think – and it’s costing you big time.... Read More

Beware of ‘sound bite’ solutions

January 17, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

Having performance issues with an employee? Just Google a solution. Still stuck on that tough business decision? Just post a question on a zillion different discussion groups. Looking for some insights on a particular topic? Just attend a 60-minute Webinar – or a breakout class at a trade show – rather than attend a multi-day seminar where you’ll get all the information and hands-on learning you really need.

My sound-bite warning applies to book summaries too. As an author myself, I can tell you that it’s impossible to get the full meaning, message and essence of a book through a CliffNotes summary. It’s like comparing a Twitter Tweet to a comprehensive White Paper. One is a thought. The other is detailed research. Would you consider making a business decision based on 140-character Tweet? I hope not – even if that Tweet leads you to another “sound bite” of information. (more…)... Read More

The problem with accountability

January 10, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 5 Comments

To hold one’s self accountable. It’s such a simple concept. Do what you say you’re going to do. Follow the rules. Be committed to the system or process. Fulfill your obligations. Do the right thing. Step up when situations need you to step up. Never avoid or ignore what you are responsible to or for. In just a few short sentences, I’ve described the qualities and characteristics of a leader. I’ve also described what leaders hope and pray for in those they lead.

If the concept of accountability is so easy to describe and comprehend, why is it something that leaders struggle with? Take a moment to speed-write a list of companies that you perceive as impressive in the way they perform and conduct business – companies whose thinking, behaviors and systems you would like to emulate in your own company. What you just created is your personal list of organizations that you admire for their accountability to do what needs to be done. I call them no-compromise companies. (more…)... Read More

Your business model: facelift or overhaul?

January 3, 2011 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

In a recent MMWU, I wrote, “The economy has created a new reality that requires your business model to adapt at a faster pace: The moment you think you have your business model just right – start questioning it and exploring what needs to change. … If you and your company are resistant to change today, your business model is already behind the curve.” On my blog, I received a number of comments asking me to explain my statement in more detail.

About 12 years ago a mentor of mine suggested that I consider publishing a version of Strategies magazine for travel agencies and agents. Initially it sounded like a good fit; mostly entrepreneurial businesses in need of business guidance and advice. There was only one issue to consider – how was the Internet going to impact the travel agent industry? At the time, Expedia and Travelocity were just ramping up. After some consideration, I told my mentor that the title of the first issue would be, “The Internet: Kiss your ass goodbye.” The travel agency business model crumbled as consumers and business travelers began booking travel at their convenience online. (more…)... Read More

Reflections of 2010

December 27, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

As I write this final Monday Morning Wake-Up for 2010, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude for reading my weekly insights, inspirations and no-compromise rants. I’ve been teaching, writing and coaching for almost 40 years. To those loyal fans from my Cutter Magazine days in the early 80s, thank you for honoring, trusting and believing in me all these years. We’ve been through a lot together. For all my fans who have followed me these 17 years at Strategies, I promise to continue sharing the top business and leadership growth thinking and strategies you can find anywhere. I also promise that the best is yet to come in 2011 and beyond. So, buckle your seatbelt and get ready for an amazing ride.... Read More

Let’s give this recession a new name

December 20, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | 19 Comments

If Las Vegas had been taking bets on how long this recession would last, any bet would have been a bad bet. We all knew we were in it long before economists made it official. In the spring economists announced that the recession was over. Huh? Well, if the recession is over, then we really need to give this “thing” we’re in a new name.

Personally, I think “Fred” has a nice ring to it. Like an unwanted houseguest, Fred showed up, moved in, and now we can’t figure out how to get him out. Yup, let’s just rename the recession “Fred.” (I bet I could make Fred into an action figure that says stupid things, such as, “It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings.” This could be huge. I could make millions off of Fred. Wanna invest?) Clearly, our buddy Fred has settled into your favorite chair, is drinking your beer and working his way through your vintage wine collection. The burning question we all keep asking is, “When and how do we get Fred to leave?” (more…)... Read More

Is it time to find your replacement?

December 13, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | 11 Comments

Many articles have been written about the lifecycle of a business. It begins with the exhilaration of the start-up phase and pushing your way through survival mode, achieving self-sustainability, and ultimately, becoming a mature and enduring company. Yes, many businesses never make it through survival mode, but for those that do, their founders also journey through their own leadership lifecycle. And one of the most perplexing challenges of that leadership lifecycle is when founders recognize that, in order for their company to endure, it’s time to find their replacement. Here begins a period of working through complex emotions and perhaps the most important decision a founder will ever make. The only way to bypass this period is to sell your company or discover the fountain of youth and become immortal.... Read More

WikiLeaks = Wiki-Compromise

December 6, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | 24 Comments

The WikiLeaks website has been shut down – and not necessarily by choice of its founder Julian Assange. Just last week, Amazon stopped hosting WikiLeaks on its web servers citing the whistleblower website had violated its terms of service that content “will not cause injury to any person or entity.” Today, Assange is in hiding, not only because Interpol placed him on its “red notice” list of wanted persons, but also because he leaked secret documents that have severely embarrassed and compromised the integrity of just about every world leader.

With what began last July with the mass disclosure of 91,731 U.S. military documents on the Afghan war, most of them classified as “secret,” followed by the October release of 400,000 documents on the Iraqi war, WikiLeaks and Julian Assange have introduced a new and deadly form of cyber-terrorism. The November 28th release of 250,000 United States diplomatic cables that describe international affairs from 274 embassies dated from 1966-2010 included approximately 100,000 that are labeled “confidential” and about 15,000 documents have the higher classification of “secret.” (more…)... Read More

If it needs to be done, why aren’t you getting it done?

November 29, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | 9 Comments

We all have projects and tasks that we can’t wait to dig into. We tackle them with vengeance and immerse ourselves in their complexity. We are truly in our element and feeding our desire to reach our full potential. You know exactly the projects and tasks I’m referring to because they play to our strong points. For me, it’s digging into the inner workings of an organization and discovering what makes it tick and addressing what factors may be holding it back. I love to teach workshops that focus on leadership thinking and behavior. I love speaking to large audiences and touching their hearts and minds with my leadership message and business concepts. (OK, I get a kick out of entertaining my audiences, too.) And, I love to coach leaders.... Read More

Chasing your passion

November 19, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | 5 Comments

While speaking at a trade show, I ran into a friend that I hadn’t seen in quite some time. When I asked what she was up to, she told me that she was chasing her passion – that she wanted to build something great. During my flight home, I reflected on that conversation. My immediate recollections were the fire in her eyes, the determination in her words and the tone of her voice. This very successful entrepreneur was on a mission, and nothing was going to stand in her way.

I feel something uplifting when listening to someone who is chasing the work that he or she is passionate about. Simply put, their excitement is infectious. It’s as though they are going on the voyage of a lifetime to some extraordinary places. So much so, you feel that yearning to join them or just help them with your insights, contacts or encouragement. Yes, you may even feel a tinge of jealousy.... Read More

How to Motivate your Employees

November 15, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

You’re working hard to drive your company forward. You have customers to keep happy, vendors to maintain relationships with, a myriad of financial pressures, and you have all the thrills and chills of leading employees. Perhaps, even better is to view employees as a dynamic yet unstable mass of energy that requires constant attention to produce the desired outcomes. Just when you think you’ve got everything dialed in just right, something simple can disturb the balance and cause things to go haywire.

Sometimes that mass of energy can become so slow and lifeless that progress grinds to a halt. That’s when leaders begin scratching their heads and praying to the leadership gods for the answer to the ultimate business question – how do you motivate employees? Why is the answer so elusive and complex? Easy; we’re dealing with an extraordinary concoction of personalities, thinking and behaviors. Motivators that work for some never work for all. And, just when you think you have the balance and energy right, the slightest lack of attention, appreciation, drama or loss of focus can throw a motivated team into a whining and grumbling funk.... Read More

It’s time to stretch and fly high

November 8, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

I often talk about company culture shifts. If you strip away all the business jargon, culture shifts are nothing more than an upgrading of a company’s behaviors. It’s quite natural for behaviors to settle in after an upgrade. And that’s exactly the problem with culture shifts. As the leader, you inspire, train, mentor and push your team up to that coveted next level. Getting there is the goal – that’s what everyone is focused on. As new behaviors become the norm, the culture shift winds down. The goal has now become the accomplishment. But then what? It starts all over again because maintaining status quo leaves your company vulnerable to competitors that are aggressively pushing forward.... Read More

Guest Wake-Up: How much is in your glass?

November 1, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | 7 Comments

This recession is an economic storm that just doesn’t seem to pass. We keep hearing and reading about in the news. Most of us have never experienced anything like it. Pay close attention to those around you and you’ll observe some interesting behaviors. Tough times bring out conduct indicative of the dominant dispositions that we possess. What is your dominant disposition? Are you naturally a pessimist or an optimist?

What is optimism? Webster’s dictionary defines optimism as a disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome. On the contrary, Webster’s defines pessimism as the tendency to see, anticipate, or emphasize only bad or undesirable outcomes, results, conditions, problems, etc.... Read More

The Pressure Test: Manage or Meltdown

October 25, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Every business goes through periods of high stress. It’s when varying combinations of sluggish sales, tight cash flow, employee problems, productivity issues, customer complaints, and the like, merge together like the weather systems in The Perfect Storm. Business stress can lead to what I fondly call “owners’ nights” – waking up at 3:00 a.m. in a cold sweat. High-stress situations can lead to a further degrading of the issues that initiated the pressure in the first place. The inherent danger is allowing such situations to spiral out of control.... Read More

Every system has an “On/Off” switch

October 18, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

I hate when stuff doesn’t work. When I open my computer, I expect it to work – I need it to work. When I get into my car, I expect it to start – I need it to start. If you think about all the machines and other gizmos we depend on, each and every one has an “On/Off” switch. Flip the switch to “On” and we expect them to perform as designed.

In business, we design systems to produce specific, predictable and consistent outcomes. If you want your business to deliver world-class customer service, you need a system capable of producing that outcome. If you want to create predictable profits, you need a system capable of producing that outcome. Simply put, the systems we depend on have “On/Off” switches, too.... Read More

A humbling no-compromise decision

October 11, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

This is a story of courage and extreme generosity – of a leader willing to step up to help another. This is the story of giving the gift of life to a friend and fellow business owner. This is the story of Lisa Cochran, a business owner from Mississippi, and Domenic Cicala, a fellow business owner from Maryland.

Lisa came to Strategies a number of years ago when her business was in the fiery pit of financial hell. When others would yield to the extreme stress and apparent hopelessness of a business in such dire straits, Lisa found that rare inner strength to dig and claw her way back to financial daylight. Through coaching, training and many tough conversations and tears, Lisa not only saved her company, she made it profitable, has paid off most of her debt, and built a “sleep-well-at-night” cash reserve. She has an extraordinary team and a business culture that is worthy of being called “world class.” So much so that Lisa is now one of our distinguished Certified Strategies Coaches and trainers. (more…)... Read More

Making the most of your ‘time slot’

October 4, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Time is the most precious thing in our lives. Although time itself will continue to tick away indefinitely, for us mere mortals, our time is finite. We have a beginning and an end – like our own personal “time slot.” Some choose to do great things with their time slot, while others talk about what they’re going to do but never seem to gain much ground.

We never seem to have enough time to accomplish all the things we want to do. That’s what it usually feels like these days. We’re living in extraordinary times. Things move fast. Every day, all day, information comes at us in massive quantities. Business moves at a relentless pace. And in these economic times, being on your game every day isn’t just the way it is – it’s the way it has to be. (more…)... Read More

Standing ovations are earned – every day

September 27, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

As a public speaker, I can assure you, there’s nothing more fulfilling than earning a standing ovation. It’s not just acknowledgment of a job well done, it’s recognition for performing at a level that truly touches the hearts and minds of the audience in a most memorable way. When you go to a Broadway show, the performers know that the only way to earn that coveted standing ovation is to play their parts full out from curtain up to curtain down. Standing ovations are earned by giving it all you’ve got.

A few years ago, we were having dinner at one of my favorite restaurants. The meal was so extraordinarily wonderful that we gave our rave reviews to our waiter. Delighted to hear the accolades, he said, “The praise should really go the chef – it’s his first night with us.” I replied, “Can we go into the kitchen and deliver the praise personally?” Clearly taken by surprise, he escorted us into the kitchen where the four of us said, “Bravo.” There were smiles all around. I bet that chef still remembers how his opening night earned him a standing ovation. (more…)... Read More

The 100-day dash to the holidays

September 20, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Wednesday is the first day of fall. Yup, the kids are back in school and summer is coming to an end. Before you get lost in memories of those warm lazy days, consider this: Tuesday, September 22, marks the beginning of the 100-day dash to New Year’s Eve. Thanksgiving is just two months away and the holidays are three months. Your scoreboard for the third quarter is about to become a historical record of a win or a loss. All that remains is the final quarter of the business game.

Will you lead your company to wrap up 2010 with a major win? I’m not talking a “big” win. I’m talking about a major win. Think of a major win as the last game of the World Series where the players on the winning team are jumping all over themselves, high-fiving and generally acting like kids. There’s nothing like a major win to ignite the collective passion of an organization.... Read More

Why success in leadership is a moving target

September 13, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Consider for a moment that you’re exploring a new career opportunity. The job description reads something like this… “Candidates must be prepared to accept relentless change, succeed in areas outside his or her comfort zones, make decisions that will impact the livelihoods of others, work as many hours as necessary to produce measurable results, accept responsibility for the mistakes of others, be able to handle high levels of stress, know how to manage cash flow, and be held personally accountable for the success or failure of the business.” Wow, I bet you’re saying to yourself, “This sounds like the job opportunity of a lifetime!” Actually, I bet you’re thinking that only a nut case would take a job like that. Guess what? You’re a leader and that job description is yours. (Hey, it’s mine too.)... Read More

There’s an excuse for that!

September 6, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Thought of something you’d like to do on your iPhone? Voila, “there’s an app for that.” Yup, there are apps for just about everything and more are on the way that will do things you never dreamed possible. And like iPhone apps, when a project doesn’t get done on time, when a procedure isn’t followed, when a mess is left for someone else to clean up, “there’s an excuse for that.” There’s an excuse for almost anything that gets done wrong, gets done late or doesn’t get done at all.

We humans have been perfecting our excuse-making skills since childhood. While playing with other kids and losing a play, remember the, “I wasn’t ready,” or, “My shoe was untied,” excuses? By the time we get to high school, excuses have evolved to a more creative and imaginative level such as, “My dog ate my homework.” By the time we enter the workforce, the art of excuse-making reaches the pinnacle of refinement. Here, excuses sound like, “My alarm didn’t go off,” or, “I didn’t know,” or, “I thought so-and-so was going to do it,” and let’s not forget the ever-popular, “It’s not my job.” (more…)... Read More

Stuck in the vortex of ‘low-level interference’

August 30, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

It’s just lying in wait to suck you in and pull you away from the leadership work that makes great business achievements happen. And when it does get you, you’ll be oblivious to the fact that you’ve been sucked into the vortex of “low-level interference.” You’ll be working full out all day like a superhero slaying dragons. You might feel as though you’re in your performance zone.

Does this scenario sound familiar? You arrive at work ready and determined to dig into your project or task list. You’re ready to take that first sip of your morning cup of coffee. A member of your leadership team charges up to you with a frazzled look on her face and says, “Our supply order didn’t arrive yesterday and we’re slammed with work today. Without those supplies, we’re going to have a ton of upset customers. What are we going to do?” You take a deep breath, take that sip of your coffee while it’s still hot, and start making calls to find out where the shipment is and how to get your hands on it – fast. You just blew two precious hours. (more…)... Read More

Guest Wake-Up by Sarah McGee: Turmoil to triumph, a personal story

August 23, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

What a week it was for the newest round of Certified Strategies Coaches (CSCs)! I need to introduce myself before we move forward, and I tell my story. My name is Sarah McGee and I am one of the newest CSCs.

My story is like that of many other small business owners. I’ve seen most things, dealt with the craziest things. I had an entrepreneurial seizure and decided it was time to join and expand my family business. Little did I know what I was getting myself into! Since that day I have learned many lessons, more than I could ever wish on my worst enemy. This among other things has given me the passion to be here today and talk with you about my journey. ... Read More

When your ‘square peg’ can’t fit your ’round hole’

August 16, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

This is about performance expectations that are out of sync with capabilities and strengths. It sounds like this: “He knows what to do, so why can’t he just do it?” You’ve said it. I’ve said it. Leaders are notorious for falling into the quagmire of misreading what an individual is capable of executing and achieving. As a result, you place otherwise competent people into positions and situations where they struggle and flounder. In time, your frustration and dissatisfaction morphs a once confident and contributing employee into a demoralized and indifferent anchor whose weight is becoming increasingly difficult to drag along. The question is: When will you recognize that you just can’t get your square peg to fit in your round hole? Will you do something about it?... Read More

It’s time for the No-Compromise Leadership road trip

August 9, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Mid-term elections are in full swing with candidates stomping around the countryside pontificating how their versions of change are best. Well, I too have a message that I need to share with as many leaders as I can reach.

Businesses survive and thrive, or struggle and die, based on the thinking, behaviors and decisions of their leaders. Leaders must find the extra 20% that exists in most areas of their businesses, from profitability to productivity. Execution is non-negotiable. Things don’t get better by waiting. Problems don’t solve themselves. Are you ready to act? Are you ready to become a no-compromise leader?... Read More

An accountant’s view: What owners do to make their accountants lazy

August 2, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

I’ve reviewed thousands of financial statements over my 40 years as a business consultant. I confess that I have become cynical when it comes to accountants. It seems that accountants fall into three groups: those who simply “account” for any info they receive and offer no advice or guidance, those who work diligently to collect, decipher and ensure that the data is correct, and those who truly engage and interact with their clients to help them run financially efficient companies and guide them to prosperous futures.

I’m writing this while on my No-Compromise Leadership Vermont Bike Tour. I was delighted when long-time fellow speaker Larry Kopsa, a Certified Public Accountant, joined the tour. I’ve known Larry for many years and have always been impressed with his passion to help entrepreneurs understand their financials and achieve their financial dreams. Since Larry is a rare find in the accounting world, I sat down with him after a day’s bike ride for an interview. Our objective was to have an open conversation about how the thinking and behaviors of entrepreneurs can result in inferior service from their accountants. (more…)... Read More

Sometimes, it’s good to get “mad”

July 26, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

The most memorable line in the 1976 hit film Network is, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” That line is one powerful declaration of “enough is enough” that you could attach to a situation that has become intolerable and must go away. As a business leader, I’m sure you’ve found yourself in situations where getting “mad as hell” was your way of drawing a line in the sand to end the status quo. For you, getting “mad as hell” was liberating and signaled the beginning of a new era of opportunity, prosperity and fun.

I’ve been an entrepreneur for almost 40 years. And, I proudly admit to employing the “mad as hell” approach of kicking my own ass into implementing seriously needed change. For whatever reason, we entrepreneurs get stuck in intolerable situations – mostly of our own making. Maybe we were off working on a new project that shifted our focus away from essential leadership responsibilities. Our business veers slightly off course. Maybe we weren’t paying attention to cash flow and slowly drifted into a cash crisis. Maybe we were just avoiding some tough decisions that would force us out of our comfort zones and seriously shake things up. It doesn’t matter what you’re “mad as hell” about, what matters is your understanding of how you got into the mess and finally taking bold action to get out of it. (more…)... Read More

A week of tough phone calls

July 19, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

Last week’s Monday Morning Wake-up was clearly a “wake-up” for many. It was aimed squarely at addressing the epidemic of “owners’ nights” that has spread throughout the entrepreneurial world. The root cause of owners’ nights is financial distress, or what I prefer to label, “living on the financial edge.” It’s the worry and the stress of having too little cash flow to keep up with payroll, credit card and loan payments, rent and other expenses. Yes, living on the financial edge is stressful. It sucks. And I decided to do something about it.

At the end of last week’s MMWU, I offered to take as many coaching calls as possible for the entire week – at no cost. The only condition was for owners to be committed to going “no compromise” and engage in the tough stuff that success and profitability demand. I requested recent Balance Sheets and Profit and Loss Statements because they tell the story of the leader’s financial decision-making and behavior.... Read More

Living on the financial edge isn’t living … It’s surviving!

July 12, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Put your seatbelt on because this Monday Morning Wake-Up is a wake-up every leader needs to digest and take action on. OK, here goes…

Many years ago, I coined a phrase called “owner’s nights.” (Yeah, it was one of my first Neilisms.) An owner’s night occurs around 2:30 in the morning. Urgent thoughts are spinning around your brain – meeting payroll, the rent or mortgage payment, those looming invoices and credit card balances. You feel as though you’re a hamster running at high speed chasing cash flow and getting nowhere. Tossing and turning, you finally wake up in a cold sweat and wish the business gods would save you from this madness. ... Read More

How hard are you playing the game of business?

July 5, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Here are the facts: Business is a game. You play to win. There are owners, managers, coaches and players. The “season” is 12 months – one game per month. You have the option to draft young, talented players for your team or hire experienced free agents. Competitive teams are always attempting to recruit your best players. You have game strategies and action plans. Customers are your fans. Some fans are fiercely loyal and will stick with your business in good times and bad. Other fans will shift their loyalty to a team that’s winning should you disappoint. Financial reports are the scorecards.
To have a winning season, your Profit and Loss Statement scorecard must show a profit that is equal to or better than what you projected. Your Balance Sheet scorecard must show that your business is healthy. Your Statement of Cash Flows scorecard must show sufficient cash reserves to fund growth and ensure that the business can weather a severe financial storm.
Yes, business IS a game – a very serious game. Careers, livelihoods, family security, retirement and more all rely on you and your abilities to lead your business to win. There’s nothing like winning. Winning lights everyone up. Winning makes you feel and act strong. Winning fuels a sense of urgency and keeps your business on the offensive rather than the defensive.

“Someday, I’m gonna …”

June 28, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Since my No-Compromise Leadership book was published at the end of 2008, the one question I’m asked most is: How long did it take you to write it? (Not really sure I want to know exactly how long it took.) This question is most often followed by, “Someday, I’m gonna write a book.” These days, it seems lots of people have a book inside them that they would like to write. Truth is, their book will never reach their fingertips on a keyboard. Their books get stuck in, “Someday, I’m gonna …”

My book was stuck in someday for a long time. Then, one day, I removed the “someday” and locked onto, “I’m gonna write my book.” I knew it was a daunting project, and today, I have a newfound respect for the term “daunting.” My question for you is, what could you accomplish if you removed the “someday” from all those “someday, I’m gonna …” things you want to do? Could you write that book? I bet you could. Could you transform your company into that “beyond-your-wildest-dreams something you want it to be”? I bet you could – or at least get pretty darn close. It begins by ditching the “someday” and locking into the “I’m gonna …” (more…)... Read More

Does your company have an attitude?

June 21, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

It seems everyone is talking about how to create dynamic business cultures – me included. While doing a Webinar recently on indifference and how “I don’t care” thinking can slow a company down, I substituted the term “business culture” with “business attitude.” Wham, the light bulbs not only turned on, they threw out some major wattage. Clearly, you understand the consequences of having employees with bad attitudes spewing toxic waste inside your company. But while you’re fighting in the leadership trenches, it’s easy to miss the bigger picture of what happens when customers encounter the “attitude” of your company.... Read More

When the most significant breakthroughs occur

June 14, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

I just completed teaching a four-day Strategies Incubator course. I’ve been doing Incubators for more than 16 years and still find them to be the perfect blend of grueling and fulfilling. “Grueling” because the intent of Incubator is to break through the barriers of “status quo” and fear of change – to challenge the limitations of traditional business thinking and behavior. “Fulfilling” because helping others achieve their own breakthroughs to new and extraordinary possibilities is an honor and a privilege that I respect and cherish. It doesn’t matter if you’re the guide or the traveler, achieving breakthroughs takes courage, patience and the determination to not only begin the voyage – but to reach the destinations you set out to achieve.... Read More

Where do your change resisters come from?

June 7, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

They slow things down. They stir the pot. They wear you down. They pull your attention away from what’s important. The distractions they create cause opportunities to slip by. And, just like ducks in a shooting gallery, when you finally get rid of one, another seems to pop up to take his or place. You screen applicants, have well-defined systems, and believe you’re a decent leader. So how the heck do these change resisters keep finding their way into your company?

Change resisters are a product of the environment they work in. Allow that statement to sink in. As the leader, you create and are responsible for maintaining a work environment that supports your company vision, purpose and values. Your level of leadership experience doesn’t matter because nurturing your company’s work environment is a never-ending process. (more…)... Read More

What’s shaping your leadership style?

May 31, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

You are not the leader want to be, can be, or should be. That’s an in-your-face statement. I wrote it to make sure that I would have your attention. So, you’re a leader. You have strengths, abilities and unique qualities that brought you to this point in your career. Yet, most of your success can be narrowed down to just a couple of strengths where you really excel and shine – where you’re in your groove and at your best. Maybe it’s how you communicate and inspire others. Maybe it’s your attention to detail and accountability. Maybe it’s that tenacious nature of yours that keeps you going, overcoming obstacles in your way. Maybe it’s your honesty, compassion for others and trustworthiness. All are essential attributes, but in the real world, there are forces at work that can dial down your strengths and even cause them to diminish.... Read More

You can’t lead a company walking on eggshells

May 24, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Whenever you bring a group of people together, a natural leader emerges. You’ve seen it played out on shows, such as “Survivor.” One player steps up and takes control of the game, becoming a de facto leader. In business it’s different. One might assume that the leader of an organization is the entrepreneur with the courage and resources to start the business and turn a vision into reality. Is this entrepreneur a natural leader? Only time will tell. An employee may stand out from the pack and change the course of the business. Is this person a natural leader? Again, only time will tell.

Leaders get “things” across the finish line. They know how to define and communicate the destination. They rally their teams for the cause. They challenge and inspire people to stretch to be the best. Their integrity and accountability create and maintain trust. Great leaders come in all sorts of packages from gregarious and demanding to reserved and nurturing. But the common denominator is their ability to make decisions and get things done. (more…)... Read More

“I thought I’d be further along by now.”

May 17, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

You may have uttered or thought these words. Achieving your dreams and reaching your full potential is a personal and sensitive subject. As kids, we had grand visions of what we wanted to achieve in our lives. This is especially so for the brave entrepreneurs and leaders who set out to build a business, to build something special – to chase their vision and make it real. I certainly regard myself as one of these brave souls. And I often find myself measuring where I am now against where I thought I’d be. Not surprisingly, there is always a gap. Sometimes it’s pretty wide and other times it’s gratifyingly small.... Read More

Recharge your business every 90 days — or more often

May 10, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

As a true Aquarian, I often find myself dreaming about doing great things. By great things, I’m talking about endeavors that make a difference in the lives of others. My lifelong passion is teaching, coaching and writing about leadership and growing dynamic companies. One key observation is that every significant gain in business performance can be narrowed down to a concentrated period of vision refinement followed by leadership decision-making and intense implementation. I’m talking about change initiatives big enough to grab the attention of every team member, an all-hands-on-deck, company-wide call to action.... Read More

Are you keeping your promise to the customer?

May 3, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Terms like “brand promise,” “exceeding customer expectations” and “the customer is always right” are so overused that their message is barely audible. Of course you and the rest of your team know how essential it is to deliver amazing customer experiences. In fact, strategically placed at the core of your business thinking, there is a promise you’ve made to your customer. That promise is something special and unique that only your business can deliver. That promise says your business is committed to delivering extreme value with extraordinary consistency. It doesn’t matter what your price point is or what segment of the market you cater to, it just matters that you deliver on your promise to the customer to be your best.... Read More

Lions and tigers and bears – Oh my!

April 26, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

What are you afraid of? How do I know you’re afraid? It’s because I know how entrepreneurs and leaders get stuck when confronted with tough decisions. If you say, “I’m not afraid of anything,” then answer this question: Why haven’t you made that tough decision that’s been waiting months for you to make? You know, the decision that will have a profound impact on your company. A decision that will stop the bleeding or eliminate obstacles to success. One that will result in significant breakthroughs.

So, what are you really afraid of? What’s the absolute worst thing that can happen if you make those tough decisions? Maybe you’ll be unpopular and upset some people – but you won’t upset everyone. Maybe you’ll lose some customers. Maybe you’ll lose some employees – but was that going to happen anyway? Maybe the extent of your financial crisis will come out in the open – but chances are that most already know. Maybe you’ll blow up the company – but is it headed in that direction already? (more…)... Read More

Are you indispensible?

April 19, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Playing to be indispensable is a choice you make. “One-hundred percent commitment is a breeze, 99 percent is a bitch. If you’re 100-percent committed, you never have to re-decide. It’s a done deal. If you commit 99 percent, every day you have to re-decide.” This quote by Jack Canfield captures the thinking and behavior at the heart of playing to be indispensable – or playing to be something less. I don’t know about you, but being “dispensable” is not in my genetic coding. Setting myself up to be a victim of a budget cut and saying, “Guess it was my turn,” runs contrary to everything I believe about being successful and achieving my full potential. To me, dispensable just means, “I don’t care enough.” No way. Not me. Not my employees. Not on my watch.... Read More

Communicating without words

April 12, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

You’re really engrossed in your work and an employee interrupts and asks, “You have a minute?” You look away from your work, make eye contact and acknowledge the request with an affirmative nod. The employee launches off into a story that rabbit-trails down so many paths that you become frustrated and stop listening. You roll your eyes, tighten your lips and sigh deeply. The employee sees that you’re annoyed and not interested in what she has to say. The conversation ends. The employee now feels unimportant and insignificant – like a discarded possession. She heads over to some co-worker friends and says, “He just didn’t care about what I had to say – he didn’t even listen.” You didn’t utter a word, but you spoke volumes. It’s the oldest form of communication. It’s called body language.... Read More

The importance of emptying your bucket

April 5, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

I had a conversation last week with a business owner and long-time Strategies customer. She called to share her voyage during the past few years. She told me about how toxic her company’s culture was and that no matter how she tried to fix it, it just got worse. She told me about the painful exodus of key staff and how that left her feeling ineffective as a leader – and resentful. She worked hard on systems and structure; she just couldn’t figure out why these setbacks kept happening. ... Read More

What’s your hang time?

March 29, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

You knew it was time to change some things in your business. In fact, you have known this for quite some time. You researched and studied until you felt confident in exactly what you needed to do. You laid out your plan, engaged your leadership team, and hit the launch button to roll out the new program. Your most loyal employees – those who truly believe in your vision – get right to work adapting to the program. They need occasional guidance, support and encouragement, but they’re engaged and making progress. You’re feeling pretty good.

With every change initiative come change resisters. From the moment you hit that launch button, they start popping up. You know they’re productive and otherwise loyal employees, they just seem to have difficulty adapting to new procedures, systems and business designs. You keep pressing forward even while fighting fires caused by those change resisters. It’s not that the change resisters are openly trying to mutiny, far from it. They’re just not playing, and you’re concerned that if you start pushing hard on accountability, you’ll only make matters worse by creating more tension. (more…)... Read More

The ‘bottom line’ to growing ‘top line’

March 22, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

The one question being asked by every business leader is, “What can I do to grow the top line?” It’s not just the question that’s important; it’s the sense of urgency with which it’s being asked. After a long winter of freezing temperatures that descended well into Florida, massive snowstorms on the East Coast – it even snowed in Dallas – and storms up and down the West Coast, everyone is ready for sales to start sprouting along with the first flowers of spring. Yet, the question remains; what can you do now to kick top-line sales in the right direction?

So what’s the bottom line on growing your top line? Let’s start with a quote from sales guru Jeffrey Gitomer, “Kick your own ass.” A very good customer of Strategies recently told me that we’re great at teaching companies how to build no-compromise cultures, managing cash flow and how to systematize just about everything, but we don’t teach how to grow that big nasty top line. During the conversation, he said that we helped him grow his average sales ticket by $15, that his service pre-book ratio has jumped well over 50% and a number of other key ratios are up as well. So, with key ratios up, I’m scratching my head trying to figure out why his top line isn’t growing. Something isn’t happening. And it’s not cranking up social networking efforts or investing in some kind of marketing campaign. It’s internal. (more…)... Read More

You can’t dance with the elephant in your business

March 15, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

It’s time to acknowledge that there is an elephant in your business. More importantly, no matter how hard you try, it is impossible to dance with that elephant. Reading this, you’re probably asking, “What’s up with Neil and this elephant stuff?” Well, this elephant stuff is all about that “thing” that’s been eating away at you and your business. The elephant is that big issue or problem you’ve been trying to maneuver around but not touch. It’s there, and no matter how hard you try to move around your elephant, it just won’t go away.

Still confused? Then you’re still refusing to acknowledge your elephant’s presence. So much so that you’ve gotten used to moving around it. Having your elephant in the way for so long feels almost normal. Yet, it’s a source of great stress. All that maneuvering wears you down and drains resources. The elephant needs to go away. And its removal falls squarely on your shoulders. (more…)... Read More

Random success stories and thoughts for these crazy times

March 8, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

I was in San Francisco recently to lead a Strategies Incubator. Attendees at the intense four-day seminar for the beauty industry ranged from independent contractors seeking a business model that offers structure and growth, to larger companies trying to figure out how to get their payroll and finances under control – and how to create a no-compromise company. During the Incubator, I received the following e-mail from Lisa Cochran, owner of The Studio in Hattiesburg, MS. The timing and the message couldn’t have been better.

“Last year, the thought of ever having $10,000 in cash reserves seemed like an unattainable goal. Today, I hit that goal. My company now has a cushion of $10,000 in our cash reserves account. For me, I finally have that ‘I sleep better at night’ money. I know you always meet owners that are stuck in that ‘How will I ever get out of this mess?’ thinking. Well, I am a living success story of a business that fought its way out of the ‘fiery pits of financial hell.’ I used the knowledge and tools that Strategies gave me. As always, I am forever grateful for you and Strategies.” (more…)... Read More

The Recession: No, it’s not over!

March 1, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

This Monday Morning Wake-Up is just that – a wake up. For months economists have been stating that the recession has bottomed out. Yes, there have been glimmers of hope in the housing market. Consumer spending rose at a lackluster 1.7% annual rate, compared with the previously estimated 2.0% gain.

So here’s the wake-up call: The economy isn’t that much better off in the first quarter 2010 than it was in the first quarter of 2009. Thank goodness, the news media is busy covering the winter storms and the worst bipartisan divisions and bickering in Washington I have ever seen. (Maybe I was mistaken, but I thought our elected officials in Washington are there to serve the People – not the special interests of their political parties.) (more…)... Read More

Do you have “deer-in-the-headlights” syndrome?

February 22, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Without question, these are challenging times for everyone in business. It doesn’t matter if you’re an owner, manager or employee; it takes more energy and hard work to live in the warm glow of success. Succeeding today means you have to take some risks. Playing it safe means you’re hunkered down waiting for the storm to pass. And while you’re hunkered down, your competition is pushing forward. Your employees are asking, “When are we going to get back in the game?”

I recently had the pleasure of hosting an Internet radio show. My guests were friends Jack Stack, CEO of SRC Holdings and author of The Great Game of Business, and John DiJulius, author of Secret Service. The show’s theme was “Survival in the new business paradigm.” Jack talked about how the last quarter of 2008 and first quarter of 2009 were pretty ugly at SRC. “If there was a land mine, we managed to step on it,” explained Jack. “We needed something to help us focus on surviving the recession and all the heartache that comes with a downturn. We came up with something we called the Four Ps: people, positive cash flow, profits and positioning.”... Read More

Respect your investment

February 15, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

To be an entrepreneur means that you are willing to bet the ranch on your vision. You are betting on your abilities to create, lead and grow a viable business enterprise. It doesn’t matter if you started your company years ago or if you’re about the press the launch button – being an entrepreneur is most certainly a form of gambling. It doesn’t matter if your style is to play it safe and bet in measured doses or let it all ride on one big heart-thumping hand, you are responsible for your company’s success or failure.

In the coaching and consulting business, we work with all sorts of leaders. We work with wild cowboys who like to live on the edge and avoid any semblance of structure, discipline and accountability to the non-negotiable rules of business. These cowboys luck out for bit, but always seem to struggle over the long haul. At the other end of the spectrum, we work with highly structured, detail-oriented and disciplined leaders who often find their companies stifled by their inability to adapt to change and innovate. In the middle, we meet leaders who avoid responsibilities, procrastinate and get stuck in their own quagmire of compromise, resulting in contaminated cultures and one crisis after another. (more…)... Read More

An entrepreneur’s story of courage

February 8, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Kristin Stutz is a business owner in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. She’s been a client of mine for many years and is a graduate of our Certified Strategies Coach training. Just last fall, Kristin moved her business into a bright, shiny new location. The last time I saw her was at a seminar last October in Chicago where she told me she was not feeling well and dealing with some health issues. Kristin told me in January that she was just diagnosed with leukemia.

While speaking with Kristin last week, she told me how she felt about being pulled away from her business, about her faith and pride in her team, and about the stress of not knowing what the future holds. What she was saying was so inspiring, I asked her to write about it. This is what she sent: (more…)... Read More

Tick tock, tick tock: What are you doing different today?

February 1, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Remember the opening scene from the movie Cast Away?

Tom Hanks’ character is teaching the Moscow FedEx office about the urgency of time. With passion, he says…

“Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock. Time rules over us without mercy. It’s like a fire; it can either destroy us or keep us warm. That’s why every FedEx office has a clock – because we live or die by the clock. We never turn our back on it or allow the sin of losing track of time.” ... Read More

So, you want to take your business to the next level?

January 25, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Here’s one of my favorite questions to ask seminar audiences: “How many here want to take their business to the next level?” As if shot from cannons, hands reach to the heavens. Since this “next level” must be a pretty special place, I ask people to describe it. Interestingly, when put on the spot, most answers are vague. Descriptions sound like, “to be profitable, expand, market dominance, brand recognition, debt free, and financial freedom.” I like to tease and say, “So you’re not really sure. It just has to be better than where you are at now.” Everyone uncomfortably chuckles in agreement. ... Read More

Passion and heart drive the numbers you want

January 18, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

The numbers of your business measure its performance and efficiency. The numbers measure the collective determination of the team you lead to not only achieve your goal – but to surpass it. The numbers measure your ability to inspire and ignite the passion that exists within every employee. The numbers measure your resolve to lead your company through a crisis. The numbers tell you when you’re winning or losing the business game. Yes, the numbers speak volumes about your business and your qualities as a leader.

In the end, the numbers are nothing more than numbers. Yet, because business is about money and success, leaders can become “all about the numbers.” They obsess over scoreboards, daily reports, critical numbers and financial reports. Their words sound like, “We’re behind goal. Productivity is down. You didn’t make your numbers. Sell more. We’re over-budget.” The downside of being “all about the numbers” is forgetting that numbers are simply lifeless digits. (more…)... Read More

How long do you wait until you fire someone?

January 11, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

I’m asked this question more times than I care to remember. It usually surfaces when a leader’s frustration with an employee’s performance and/or behavior has been tolerated far too long. More importantly, the question often means that the leader has been avoiding a fierce conversation or tough decision at the expense of the company and its culture.

The firing of an employee should never be taken lightly. Leaders must accept a high degree of ownership in the failure of an employee to perform up to expectations. When a leader observes sub-par performance and behaviors and avoids engaging in open, honest and direct conversation with the employee, the situation becomes more toxic. And, as stress levels rise, the leader’s attention is diverted away from the work that really matters. (more…)... Read More

Stop standing in your own way!

January 4, 2010 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

Most often, your most intelligent business advisor is that little voice inside your head. It’s that little voice telling you it’s time to make that tough decision you’ve been avoiding, to have that fierce conversation, to pay attention to your numbers and all those other things that you know need doing. It’s almost comedic how that little voice inside your head knows the right thing to do. It’s not so funny when you ignore it and get yourself and your company into difficult and compromising situations.

That little voice is so smart because you already know the best decisions, projects and tasks to be done. You may not know all the details, but you know and understand the basic framework. When your little voice doesn’t have a specific answer, it will guide you to it. And yes, your little voice will even coach you to be accountable, trustworthy, tenacious and consistent. What more could you ask for than to have a brilliant advisor and coach residing in your own cranium and at your beck and call 24/7? (more…)... Read More

Farewell to a decade of lessons

December 28, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

This New Year’s Eve marks more than the end of a tumultuous year for the economy and for business – it marks the end of the first decade of the 21st century. And the very first lesson was learned as the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve 2000. The computers that run everything, from the world’s financial systems, operations and security to our personal computers, didn’t stop working. Y2K doomsday concerns didn’t happen. Yes, this decade was about surviving, beginning with the Y2K computer clock scare to the worst global economic crisis/depression of our times. There was 9/11 that taught us that America is vulnerable to terrorist attack and how one horrific act can instill lasting fear and uncertainty across a nation. America went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. There were major lessons to learn.... Read More

It’s hard to grow dragging yesterday’s debt

December 21, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Debt is easy to accumulate. The simple act of turning on a light creates debt to your power company. When you purchase products to sell or materials and supplies to run your company, an invoice will be heading your way. The moment an employee shows up for work, you owe that employee a paycheck. Anything you purchase without paying cash creates debt. But operating expenses, payroll, payroll taxes and the like represent debt that you clear up before it accumulates. If you don’t, the weight of that debt gets heavy fast. Add the weight of big loan payments, high-interest debt and credit-card debt, and you have all the ingredients to keep your company on the financial brink.... Read More

What don’t you want following you in 2010?

December 14, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Congratulations! You survived 2009. Without question, 2009 was a scary and challenging year. Other than the government, everyone put a lid on spending and took a meat cleaver to trim expenses. Businesses and consumers alike shifted into “find the best deal” mode. Clearly, the final days of 2009 are ending on a more optimistic note than the gloom and doom this time last year. So, take a deep breath. 2009 is almost in the history books.

It’s delightful how a new year inspires feelings of hope. But creating a wonderful 2010 means that you must make some big decisions and back them up with your commitment to go the distance. ... Read More

It’s about delivering on your promise to your customer

December 7, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Seems the recent full moon has been bringing out those annoying behaviors that drive leaders crazy. I’m talking about things like lateness, absenteeism, missing daily huddles, not following procedures, right up to the ever-present “it’s good enough/it’s not my job” mentality. Yes, it’s all that behavior stuff that ultimately leads to one dramatic and sad conclusion – breaking the company’s promise to the customer.

What’s this big promise I’m referring to? The answer is pretty simple. You promise quality, personal attention, reliability, consistency, fast resolutions to problems, going above and beyond, integrity, team service and so on. Your promise contains all of those lofty and inspiring experiences you want the company you lead to deliver in mass quantities to your customers. (more…)... Read More

A Year of No-Compromise Leadership

November 30, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

It’s hard to believe that it’s been one year since my book, No-Compromise Leadership, was released. From the pride I felt the first time I held a printed copy of the book in my hands to the many speaking engagements I’ve done since, what an amazing learning experience it has been. The real reward is how the book and the concept of no-compromise leadership is changing the lives of leaders and their companies. I’d like to share some insights from the first year of No-Compromise Leadership.

  • “You wrote Part One about me.” I wrote about the decisions leaders make every day and how those compromises degrade and chip away their company culture. Procrastination, double standards and leadership blockages, such as confusing fierce conversations with confrontation. It was interesting how many leaders saw themselves in the examples and stories. I knew the “reflection in the mirror” approach worked when I heard leaders using the no-compromise mantra to begin the change process. (more…)

When long-time top performers drop

November 23, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

It’s a reality that every leader must face. Top performers are those exceptional employees that get the work done. They’re self-starters. They’re loyal. They’re mentors and role models for their teammates. They have stood by you in both the good times and bad. Simply put, trust and appreciation flow both ways. But time, business evolution, the economy, and shifts in personal behaviors and priorities, bring leaders face to face with the toughest of business dilemmas: what to do when top performers begin to drop?

A dilemma is a situation where the possible solutions are undesirable, difficult and challenging. Long-time top performers were a joy during their quest to reach the top. They established new performance benchmarks for others to strive for. They brought consistency and predictability to the company. In the process, top performers become top income earners. The dilemma for leaders is what to do when the performance of top performers drops and/or the company can no longer afford or sustain their high incomes. Like it or not, you need to find a solution. In these economic times, avoiding or procrastinating can and will jeopardize the financial integrity of the entire company. (more…)... Read More

Leadership and creating great sculptures

November 16, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

sculpting-1bImagine taking a massive block of granite and turning it into a magnificent sculpture for all to admire. For hours you stand and stare at that granite and the possibilities of what it can become. Finally, a vision of your sculpture crystallizes in your mind. You pick up your hammer and chisel and begin to chip away. What you’re actually doing is chipping away all of the granite that doesn’t belong until all that remains is your work of art. The sculpture existed in the granite, but only you knew what needed to be meticulously removed to reveal it.

As a leader, you are a sculptor of great company culture. Like the massive granite block, you take individuals with diverse backgrounds, personalities, ambitions and levels of determination and shape them into a highly functional company culture. You know that not all individuals will fit into your culture. In essence, you need to chip them away. If you don’t, you compromise your culture. It will never become the “work of art” culture you envisioned at the start. It’s hard and painstaking work. (more…)... Read More

Countdown to December 31, 2009

November 9, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

countdown-12009 will be remembered as the year the rules of business changed. The year began with the economy in the throes of the worst global recession on record. Business leaders were being pummeled by one ugly piece of economic news after another. Unemployment was soaring, financial institutions were crashing, automakers were on life support, and the government was doling out bailout and stimulus money like Halloween candy. Simply put, consumers and businesses alike initiated a lock-down on spending.

As we approach mid-November and officially enter the mad dash from Thanksgiving to the New Year’s holiday season, we are clearly in different economic times. Bad recession news is giving way to encouraging recovery news. Consumer spending is up just a notch. The housing market is actually showing signs that it has a pulse. Ford is reporting a profit. A leaner GM is making a comeback. Chrysler, now owned by Fiat, still can’t find the on-switch to its business GPS. Yes, unemployment just hit 10.2%, the highest since April 1983, but with “run lean” as the mandate, this was expected. In fact, it would take explosive economic growth to drive down unemployment and that’s just not on the horizon. (more…)... Read More

INDIFFERENCE: When “I don’t care” infects your company

November 2, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Every company suffers from indifference. Without question, it is the single most toxic behavior that wreaks havoc on company cultures and performance. It can be as subtle as someone saying, “Why should I do that?” or “That’s not my job – I’m not paid to do that.” In contrast, indifference can be as blatant as people collectively refusing to follow new company procedures or systems and sounds like, “If they’re not doing it, why should I?” No matter how you view it, indifference is a toxic behavior that can spread rapidly throughout an organization.

In business, there are two areas of indifference. The first is leadership indifference that can be observed in many forms. It can be a leader who lacks compassion and respect for his or her employees. Leaders who talk down to people or reprimand in public. When a leader refuses to follow the same rules and procedures that employees are held accountable to. It is indifference when a leader lacks concern for budgets, employee feedback systems and other essential responsibilities. Yes, indifference begins at the leadership level and the trickle down quickly becomes a raging river.
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LEADERSHIP: To be everything (including what you’re not)

October 26, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

superhero-3If you had to describe what your role as a leader is, what would you say? What’s interesting about this question is that every leader will offer a slightly different perspective that is unique to his or her leadership abilities and experiences. Some revel in the thrill of leading a start-up or turnaround, only to find boredom and frustration in the day-to-day running of the business. Some leaders are innovative visionaries who can see opportunities where others do not. There are leaders who can communicate with extreme clarity and purpose while others struggle to find the right words. There are leaders who master the process of having fierce conversations while others dread and avoid them. And there are leaders who love data, numbers, systems and structure while others find them confusing and confining. The list goes on.... Read More

Business is really about connecting with customers

October 19, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

customers“A place where everybody knows your name.” That’s the famous line from the TV show Cheers. Every time Norm entered the bar, in unison, everyone would shout, “Norm!” He even had his own bar stool right next to mailman Cliff Clavin. Cheers may have been just a TV show, but it demonstrated the power of a business making connections with its customers. There’s something special about being treated as a valued customer – to be greeted by name and to have your preferences remembered. But in these systematize everything days, it’s easy for a business to rush by that most precious of business behaviors – connecting with customers.... Read More

Is it time to take back control of your company?

October 12, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

take-controlCompanies evolve. At any given time there are forces at work that influence the speed, performance and direction of your company – not to mention your effectiveness as a leader. The current players on your team may be just the right mix of personalities and abilities. They are a dynamic and determined group that keeps the company energized and its culture pristine. (Every leader remembers that perfect team and how it performed.) Likewise, your current players may not represent the best mix of personalities and abilities. Things move agonizingly slow, drama is a daily occurrence, and your job as leader just isn’t fun anymore. The economy is an ever-present force that either works for you or against you. As a leader, how do you capitalize on the opportunities and respond to the threats?... Read More

What does “working on your business” really mean?

October 5, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

working-on2“Are you working on your business, or in your business?” This working “on or in” your business statement has been bandied around for years. For the leader of a business, it just makes sense. If you’re spending the majority of your time doing “the work” of the business, who’s plotting the course for growth and continued success? Who’s making sure the business has the resources, money, talent, systems and a rock-solid culture to ensure continued success? Who’s ensuring that everyone is focused and accountable? When all these “who’s” have a leader’s name attached to them, the result is what I call “the No-Compromise Company.”... Read More

When broken commitments compromise trust

September 28, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

broken-commitment1If you’re in leadership, there is no avoiding the quagmire that results from broken commitments. I’ll get the easy part of this discussion out of the way first. As a leader, you must view every commitment you make as a sacred contract to perform and deliver. If you promise to return a call before the end of the day – do it. If you commit to a meeting – be there on time and be prepared. If you promise to complete a project – get it done. Every broken commitment chips away at the level of trust others have in you. If you don’t earn and maintain the trust of those you lead – you cannot effectively be their leader. It’s that simple.... Read More

A long walk in the right direction

September 21, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

long-walkA few days ago, I did a No-Compromise Leadership talk for a Chicago area Chamber of Commerce. The group was a mix of entrepreneurs and executives. Since I only had about 45 minutes, I decided to grab their attention with the following no-compromise reality check: Do you want to keep doing what you’re doing for another five years? By “doing what you’re doing,” I was referring to the way their companies and cultures function now under their leadership. By the looks on their faces, it was clear that the breakfast they had just eaten wasn’t going to digest that well.... Read More

Employee Challenges: When do they end?

September 14, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

challenges1While discussing leadership responses to employee challenges at a recent Strategies seminar, a business owner asked, “When does it end?” The entire room could feel the frustration and anguish in her voice. “It’s like a battle that never ends,” she continued. “You nurture, coach, inspire and discipline, and just when you think you’ve got everyone on the same page, it starts all over again. Doesn’t it ever end?” These statements were not coming from a naive business owner. She clearly understood that the answer to her question was, “No, it doesn’t end.” ... Read More

Giving it all you’ve got!

September 7, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

bike-a-thon1It was a cold December night that I asked Bruce Hourigan, Strategies vice president of business development, to attend a special meeting with me in a small restaurant in Old Saybrook, Conn. I had been encouraging Bruce for some time to get a road bike and start riding with me. When he asked what the meeting was about, I just told him it was for some charity bike ride.

When we got to the meeting, people were asking Bruce what kind of bike he rides. He replied, “I don’t have a bike.” The meeting started and the presenter had a beautiful PowerPoint presentation on the ride and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund that we would be raising money for. Bruce was clearly being a good sport as he took in the experience. At the end of the presentation, I signed us both up for the August 29th 100-mile JDRF ride in Killington, Vt., complete with hills and thrills – and a commitment for each of us to raise $3,000. We both got some nice looking jerseys and we left. Bruce was still being a good sport as he tried to comprehend exactly what I signed him up for.... Read More

After the recession, ask the right questions now!

August 31, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

recovery2The question most often asked during a recession is: When will it end? It’s the natural tendency for a return to normal – to business as usual. But as the economy continues to show signs of recovery, prudent leaders are asking very different and extremely tough questions. Rather than slipping back into old leadership patterns, they’re asking how they must change as leaders to adapt to what will clearly be a new and challenging economic reality. Simply put, if you think business will return to “normal,” that stress levels will dial down, you’re thinking is going to lead you down a dangerous path that doesn’t end in the “happy days” of yesteryear.... Read More

Entitlement behavior is pure compromise

August 24, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

entitlement-2This may be one painful “wake-up” because I’m going to give a culture contaminating behavior that exists in your business a full broadside. It’s called “entitlement behavior” and you need to purge it from your company. In extremely embedded cases, the purging may even require a total leadership makeover. The problem is, most leaders refuse to acknowledge the problem even exists and that they – and their egos – are fueling it.

At the leadership level, entitlement behavior is best described as “do as I say, not as I do” behavior patterns. It’s when leaders come in late, fail to follow procedures they themselves established, and generally do what they want – simply because they are the leader. But entitlement behavior goes critical when leaders begin sapping the company by using the company checkbook as if it were their own. I’ve seen exotic cars, vacations, mortgage payments, college tuition – even home landscaping – run through the business. And I’ve seen trust issues and resentment contaminate otherwise great companies when leaders tell employees there’s no money for raises, benefits, training and upgrading equipment and facility. It doesn’t matter if the leader is the owner of the company or not, it is his or her responsibility and duty to protect the integrity of the company – not sap the company at the expense of others. (more…)
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Is your approach to “empowerment” a setup?

August 17, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

bowling-pins-1“Empowerment” is one of those overused terms that achieved pre-eminent status in the world of business jargon. Without question, every leader strives to achieve that seemingly elusive state where leadership teams and employees actually think, behave and make decisions like a business owner. So why is it that in all my years of coaching leaders and companies, only a handful of companies can truly proclaim that they have an empowered workforce? The answer is simple and may even be tough for some leaders to swallow.... Read More

Present a “State of Your Company” address

August 10, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Every January, the president of the United States does a State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress. The address not only reports on the condition of the nation, but also allows the president to outline his legislative agenda and national priorities to the United States Congress. Given the economic turmoil that began in earnest last year, and the now early indications that the economy is showing signs of recovery, this may be the opportune time for you to present a “State of Your Company” address.
If your initial response is, “Huh?” consider this: Every business and employee has been affected in some way by the recession. As a leader, it is likely that you made some tough decisions to ensure the wellbeing of your company. Expenses were cut, certain projects were put on hold – and employees may have been laid off. Even on a limited scale, such decisions send unsettling vibrations throughout a company culture as employees contemplate that most fundamental question: How will the recession affect me?
Strategically, presenting a State of Your Company address has the potential to reinvigorate your company’s performance by sharing with all employees exactly what the state of the company is and how making tough decisions allowed it to weather this economic storm. Most of all, it provides you with the perfect platform to share your vision and leadership agenda for growing the company. This is all about information flow and allowing your team to have absolute clarity on where the company is going. A Neilism: Absolute clarity is like business GPS. It sets the where and the how.
Here are some no-compromise strategies to present a State of Your Company address:
* Find the right setting for the address: Do not hold the address where you normally hold meetings. The president has the distinguished podium in the House of Representatives. You need to select a site that communicates the importance of this address. Is there a meeting hall at City Hall that you can rent. Does your local college or high school have an auditorium you can use? Is there a company in your area that has a training facility available? If all else fails and you have to use your facility, hang red, white and blue banners around the space. Don’t forget to get a podium.
* The announcement to employees: Send or hand every employee an invitation to attend your State of Your Company address. Design and print a folded invitation that looks official. You can even put one of those gold foil stickers imprinted with your corporate seal on it. (You rarely get to use that seal so now’s your chance.)
* Prepare your speech: The president has speechwriters and edits it until the address is perfect. If you’re not good at writing speeches, ask for help. You will find accomplished speechwriters at colleges and acting schools. Work on your speech and keep refining it. If it doesn’t go through at least six revisions – it’s not done. Rehearse and rehearse some more.
* Dress “presidential”: You want to look like a leader. Put a lot of thought into how you want to appear to your employees for what could be the most important address to all of your employees.
* Keep the entire event “official”: This isn’t a party. No food. No music. No fan fare. Keep the entire evening official. Don’t forget to have someone introduce you.
* Have some fun: This is all about nurturing and reinforcing your company culture.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

podium-2Every January, the president of the United States does a State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress. The address not only reports on the condition of the nation, but also allows the president to outline his legislative agenda and national priorities to the United States Congress. Given the economic turmoil that began in earnest last year, and the now early indications that the economy is showing signs of recovery, this may be the opportune time for you to present a “State of Your Company” address.... Read More

Can you really implement change?

July 27, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

change-exit-signCompanies are like people; they develop habits and patterns of behavior that impede productivity, slow growth and create useless drama. And just like people, replacing bad habits and behaviors in a business with new and more efficient ones can be a daunting task. Leaders routinely discover that their best intentions to change behaviors create new challenges. So much so, leaders run smack dab into their culture’s natural resistance to change. It’s tough enough to change one’s own habits and behaviors – changing the deeply embedded habits and behaviors of teams of people is an entirely different undertaking. They’re called “culture shifts,” and successfully completing one is hallmark of the no-compromise leader.
Culture shifts are much like the Venus Flytrap. They entice you in with the promise better times, growth and profits until you’re so engaged – it then slams shut and devours you. I’m sure that any leader that attempted a full-blown culture shift will agree with this analogy.
Don’t despair. You can successfully navigate a culture shift – if you’re prepared and understand the dynamics that are involved.
Here are some no-compromise strategies to help you successfully complete a culture shift:
* Culture shifts take time – a lot of time: The amount of time your culture shift will take is based on on three factors:
1. You: Your ability to relentlessly communicate, stay focused and stay the course.
2. The size and complexity of your company: This includes layers of management, departments, divisions and the geographical nature of your company, such as multiple locations or multinational operations.
3. The current state of your company and its culture: Specifically, the more out of balance your business is with respect to The Four Business Outcomes, the more energy and time it will take to move it through a culture shift to no compromise.
* You must be committed to go the distance: It could take 12 to 24 months to completely shift a culture. Repeat: 12 to 24 months. If you’re looking for a quick-fix culture shift strategy, forget it – it doesn’t exist. You must be committed 100% to see this through. A 99% commitment is enough wiggle room to cause it to fail.
* Not everyone is going to survive the shift: Change resisters will get on board, quit or be relieved of their obligation to work for your company. If you allow them to stay, you’re compromising and compromise at the leadership level kills culture shifts.
* Small wins add up: Lots of small wins build momentum and unity in a culture. Celebrate even the smallest of wins. The more you celebrate, the faster the shift.
* Sense of urgency: You can’t shift a culture without it. Find it. Fuel it. Relentlessly drive it.
Caution: I’ve seen companies make wonderful culture-shift strides in a matter of months. However, too many leaders misinterpret these rapid and positive “strides” as being farther along in the culture shift than they actually are. Such misinterpretations can cause you to ease up on the urgency factor far too soon, causing the culture shift to stall. Once stalled, it’s extremely difficult to get a culture shift moving again. It’s simply human nature for old, comfortable behaviors to snap back in a heartbeat when discipline and focus are compromised.
Recommendation: In my book, No-Compromise Leadership, I devote an entire section to “navigating the culture shift to no compromise.” It even includes an 18-month timeline of “must do’s” and “what you should see.” Read it before you hit the launch button.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

change-exit-signCompanies are like people; they develop habits and patterns of behavior that impede productivity, slow growth and create useless drama. And just like people, replacing bad habits and behaviors in a business with new and more efficient ones can be a daunting task. Leaders routinely discover that their best intentions to change behaviors create new challenges. So much so, leaders run smack dab into their culture’s natural resistance to change. It’s tough enough to change one’s own habits and behaviors – changing the deeply embedded habits and behaviors of teams of people is an entirely different undertaking. They’re called “culture shifts,” and successfully completing one is hallmark of the no-compromise leader.... Read More

Ten tips for business survival in these crazy times

July 13, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

surviving-2009There is only one word that accurately describes doing business in today’s economy. That word is “unforgiving.” The competition is relentless. Customers are more cautious, calculating and demanding with their buying decisions as well as their expectations. But it’s not the threats from the world around you that could throw your business into a tailspin. It’s what’s occurring inside your business that makes you vulnerable.
The key to surviving and thriving in these crazy times begins with leadership and its determination to win the business game. The mandate is simple: if it needs to be done, get it done.
Here are ten tips to help you win the business game:
1. No hesitation, procrastination, blame or excuses: Ignore even the smallest problem today and a bigger problem will be waiting for you tomorrow.
2. All lift – no drag: A business cannot maintain or gain momentum if it’s dragging anchors. Profit-draining projects, departments, services, products, locations and any other business function or entity that’s not performing needs to be fixed or cut. Unproductive employees – get them into the game or cut them loose. You get the picture.
3. Live your cash-flow plan: If you don’t have a cash-flow plan, you and your company are flying financially blind. If you have one, it only works if you’re accountable to it.
4. Have the tough conversations: Every leader has a number of tough conversations that have been waiting too long to happen. Employees need to know where they stand even if it’s not what they want to hear. If you’ve been fighting harder to protect an employee’s paycheck then the employee, it’s time for you and the employee to make a decision.
5. Innovate to grow: A crisis always seems to inspire innovative thinking. But why wait until there’s a crisis? Get you and your team’s creative juices flowing now. Create an environment and culture of innovation by creating think tanks and special project teams. The next new opportunity for your company is waiting to be discovered. Go for it.
6. Inspire a sense of urgency: Urgency is the energy that drives business growth. Urgency pushes leaders, employees and companies out of their lethargic comfort zones. Huddles, scoreboards, deadlines, goals, rewards, celebrations and more are all simple tools to keep urgency levels high. Yes, urgency comes from leadership. It rarely happens on its own.
7. Finish what you start: “We’ve tried that before and it didn’t work.” If this statement describes your company’s track record for getting things done, compromise is alive and well in your culture. This is all about accountability… and it begins with you.
8. Keep commitments: Broken promises or commitments compromise trust and contaminates business cultures. If you say you’re going to do something, do it.
9. Find that 20% growth: I absolutely believe that every company has 20% more growth waiting to happen – if it goes after it. There are new customers and opportunities for growth everywhere. The only question is, are you willing to do whatever it takes to go for it? Get out of your comfort zone. Make those extra 10 sales calls. It may even be as basic as holding everyone accountable to existing systems and procedures.
10. Lead with passion: If you truly believe in your company, its people and its mission, then let it show. Leaders that live in fear or feel like a hostage in their own company allowed their passion to fade away. If necessary, fall in love with your company again. Get fired up about the opportunities and rewards that await you. Let your passion out and your people will follow you.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

surviving-2009bThere is only one word that accurately describes doing business in today’s economy. That word is “unforgiving.” The competition is relentless. Customers are more cautious, calculating and demanding with their buying decisions as well as their expectations. But it’s not the threats from the world around you that could throw your business into a tailspin. It’s what’s occurring inside your business that makes you vulnerable.... Read More

ACCOUNTABILITY: If it’s what you need, why do you avoid it?

July 6, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

One of the core tenets of no-compromise leadership is, “if it needs to get done – get it done.” It’s truly a simple concept that cannot be argued. Yet, the term “accountability” is tossed around like a hot potato that few want to take ownership of. Everyone wants it. Everyone expects it. The question is, why is accountability such a challenge for leaders and the cultures they are “accountable” for? Why is it that things that need to be done, don’t get done?
In Part One of my No-Compromise Leadership book, I wrote extensively about “leadership blockages” and internal operating systems. Leadership blockages are best described as those situations that trigger discomfort levels that ultimately lead to procrastination. Be it fear, insecurity, self-esteem issues or the need to break out of your comfort zone, leadership blockages ensure compromising behaviors in leaders. Internal operating systems represent your collective thinking and beliefs that autopilot your behaviors as a leader. Just like you upgrade your computer’s operating system to gain more power and capabilities, leaders must upgrade their operating systems with new thinking and higher-level beliefs in people and what’s required to achieve their full potential.
No compromise is a 100% commitment to getting things done. Compromise is something less, much less. Compromise thinking and behavior are the self-imposed speed bumps and stuck-in-your-box constraints that keep you in your current “box” of limited opportunity. Accountability to get things done, no matter how challenging, is the foundation that no-compromise leaders stand on. Accountability is unwavering. Accountability distinguishes world class from average.
Here are some no-compromise thoughts to keep accountability embedded in your thinking and behavior:
* Every commitment is a contract: Breaking commitments breaks trust. If you say you’re going to do something, do it – and do it on schedule. If situations will cause delay, communicate with those on the receiving end of the contract. Accountability and trust only exist when both are present.
* Identify what triggers you to compromise: When you encounter situations that trigger avoidance and procrastination, shift into no-compromise mode and engage. The longer you avoid or procrastinate on decisions, tasks or situations that cause you discomfort, the more difficult it is to engage.
* Manage your time: It’s hard to be accountable when your plate is overloaded. More importantly, focus on priority issues first. It’s amazing how many leaders can get real busy working on low-level projects and tasks. Knock off the big stuff first.
* Get an accountability coach: Getting a coach or mentor that is committed to helping you stay accountable is actually a huge step to becoming a no-compromise leader. If you have a track record of dropping the ball and being inconsistent, you need a coach or mentor. If you just felt a “trigger” of discomfort, that little voice inside you just told you to find an accountability coach.
Accountability is a practiced behavior that gets better the longer and harder you work at it. As a leader, accountability is a non-negotiable.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

avoidance2One of the core tenets of no-compromise leadership is, “if it needs to get done – get it done.” It’s truly a simple concept that cannot be argued. Yet, the term “accountability” is tossed around like a hot potato that few want to take ownership of. Everyone wants it. Everyone expects it. The question is, why is accountability such a challenge for leaders and the cultures they are “accountable” for? Why is it that things that need to be done, don’t get done?... Read More

Do you have absolute clarity on where you’re taking your company?

June 29, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

No-compromise leaders must be grounded in their understanding of where they are taking the company. Absolute clarity ensures that the company doesn’t wander off course or make decisions that are not in alignment with its vision, such as expanding too fast or entering unknown markets. Decisions or
course changes remain true to the vision and mission. I must drive this point home because entrepreneurial leaders are notorious for justifying whatever it is they want to do. Compromise resides within that justifying behavior. Absolute clarity deters this behavior. If it’s not taking the company toward its intended vision, it doesn’t happen.
I just completed teaching a No-Compromise Leadership Boot Camp course. On day one I introduced leaders to the ten tenets of no-compromise leadership. The very first tenet is, “Have absolute clarity on where you’re taking your company.” I then challenged leaders to construct their own statement of clarity for their companies. I’m not talking about the construction of standard vision or mission statement. I want leaders, in their own words, to craft a detailed statement that defines their company’s quest for greatness. This clarifying statement must encompass what their company will look like when it reaches the top of the success mountain. As in all previous courses, these leaders found this seemingly simple challenge quite daunting.
On the morning of the second day, each leader presented their statement of clarity to the group. In every case, it was determined that their statements of clarity were far from complete. What they learned from this exercise is that their own lack of clarity, or inability to communicate that clarity, creates uncertainty and confusion throughout the company. Simply put, the vague and unclear destination of the company is open to all sorts of interpretation based on each employee’s perspective. Without clarity, a company can wander off course and get lost, or find itself on a long and inefficient course that may or may not reach its intended destination in time.
Here are some no-compromise thoughts to achieve and communicate clarity:
* Take a 30,000-foot view of your company:  Taking a high altitude view allows you to objectively assess where your company is, what’s working and what needs to change. The point is to get “out of your box” and explore all the possibilities – and do so without limitations.
* Think small – stay small. Think big – inspire change! Having absolute clarity on where you’re taking your company should be framed around a lofty goal. Lofty goals will get you and your team’s innovative juices flowing, build momentum and create excitement. You’re not going to capture the imagination of your team if your intent is to be average. What the heck, think big and go for the grand prize.
* Sell your clarity statement to yourself first: If you can’t get excited about your company’s potential and ability to achieve great things, don’t expect others to get excited. Furthermore, if you’re not committed to go the distance, those you intend to lead will know it. People follow leaders that are committed and passionate about achieving great things. They quit leaders that fear the work true success requires.
* Relentlessly communicate: Here’s a simple formula I use to illustrate how vital information flow is to the growth process. Increase your current level of information flow 100 fold. That’s right, dial up the intensity your communication systems 100 times. Everyone needs to know where the company is going. Everyone needs to be on the same page. Everyone needs to know the score.
In these crazy economic times, having absolute clarity where you’re taking your company is a non-negotiable. To be considered a no-compromise leader, you must have clarity. Otherwise, you may find that you’re leading your company to mediocrity.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

clarity3No-compromise leaders must be grounded in their understanding of where they are taking the company. Absolute clarity ensures that the company doesn’t wander off course or make decisions that are not in alignment with its vision, such as expanding too fast or entering unknown markets. Decisions or course changes remain true to the vision and mission. I must drive this point home because entrepreneurial leaders are notorious for justifying whatever it is they want to do. Compromise resides within that justifying behavior. Absolute clarity deters this behavior. If it’s not taking the company toward its intended vision, it doesn’t happen.... Read More

What are you going to do about it?

June 23, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Let’s face it, there’s stuff going on in your business that’s getting in the way of growth – possibly even doing severe damage. You know what I’m talking about. Things like excessive credit card debt, dependence on gift card revenues, top producers that are working their agenda not yours, employees that don’t retail, high commission payrolls, or there’s just no time for you to lead. It’s even likely that you have an employee on payroll that should have been fired a long time ago.
Unchecked or chronic business problems never cure themselves. They fester and get worse until you break through the leadership blockages that are holding you hostage. So, the question remains, what are you going to do about it? When are you going to reclaim your leadership role and fight for the success of your company? Remember, you’re the one who has everything riding on its success. Your personal guarantee and your assets that are on the line. Your family and your employees are waiting for you to step up.
If you’re ready for change, here’s a red-hot set of strategies:
* Tackle the big stuff: The sooner you fix your payroll, address debt, have that fierce conversation or give that non-performing/toxic employee a “career opportunity,” the sooner you’ll be taking back control of your business and your life.
* Change comes with an opportunity cost: Change shakes things up. It’s supposed to. Most will like the change and stay. A few may not and leave. If you worry about the cost of losing staff, think about the long-term cost of doing nothing.
* Gotta have a plan: Charging into the great unknown without a plan is inviting more problems on top of what you already have. No time to build a plan? Strategies has an online coaching and performance tool that can build a comprehensive plan in less than 90 minutes. Click here to find out more.
* Commitment 100%: Nothing creates more stress than second guessing yourself or having to constantly re-decide if you’re going to do what you set out to do. Jack Canfield says, “100% commitment is easy. 99% is a bitch.” Yoda says, “Do or do not, there is no try.” Pick one – both quotes work.
It’s your business and only you can make the tough decisions that lead to leadership and financial success. Go for it.
And please pass this email on to your friends. They’ll appreciate it.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies Founder & CEO

40Let’s face it, there’s stuff going on in your business that’s getting in the way of growth – possibly even doing severe damage. You know what I’m talking about. Things like excessive credit card debt, dependence on gift card revenues, top producers that are working their agenda not yours, employees that don’t retail, high commission payrolls, or there’s just no time for you to lead. It’s even likely that you have an employee on payroll that should have been fired a long time ago.... Read More

How to deal with difficult employees

June 22, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

There’s no escaping it. As a leader you will have to deal with difficult employees. By “difficult,” I’m referring to the myriad of attitudes ranging from egotistic, entitled and self-absorbed, to disrespectful, combative and just plain old arrogant. And then there’s the behavior issues such as resistance to change, ignoring rules and standards and lack of accountability. I’m sure you know exactly what I mean because it’s likely you have difficult employees on your team right now. The question is, what are you going to do about it – and when?
Difficult employees create drag and impede progress. It’s like a ship trying to gain speed while dragging an anchor. And the longer a leader allows the situation to continue, the more contamination spreads in the company culture. Difficult employees sap energy and divert attention away from work thereby adding unnecessary costs. Although leaders know they must engage and deal with difficult employees, too many allow these situations to continue until they go critical.
How much pain can you and your company endure? That’s my response to leaders that ask me how and when to deal with difficult employees. I’m not suggesting that leaders pounce on any employee at the first sign of negative behaviors. I am suggesting that leaders engage difficult employees with a measured response that begins by acknowledging behaviors as unacceptable with the employee and provide coaching. Should the behaviors continue, leaders must ratchet up the intensity of their response. This means specific coaching with timelines for improvement. This process continues with clearly defined consequences until termination becomes the only solution.
Here is a hit list of leadership blockages that prevent leaders from engaging and dealing with difficult employees:
* Fear confrontational situations: Get over it. You’re confusing “confrontation” with “coaching.” As leader, it’s your responsibility to help employees achieve their full potential so the company can achieve its full potential. Engage, be respectful and coach difficult employees early. The longer you procrastinate, the more contamination you allow into your culture.
* Don’t want to rock the boat: The boat is already rocking. More importantly, your team sees it and they’re waiting for you to engage. Your leadership credibility is on the line.
* Employee is a high producer and you can’t afford to lose revenue now: I hear this argument all the time. It’s simply an excuse not to engage. It doesn’t matter how productive an employee, it’s your responsibility to protect the integrity of company and its culture – even if that requires you to terminate that high producer. Your business will recover rapidly simply because you eliminated a major source of drag and contamination.
* Previous attempts to correct the problem haven’t worked: This one is interesting because it says the leader gave up and decided to tolerate the difficult employee. What it actually means is that the leader failed to ratchet up coaching process to achieve resolution.
* Procrastination: It’s an excuse. You’re the leader. Engage.
* You’re just stuck: You’ll remain stuck until you sit down with your difficult employee and have that crucial conversation that’s long overdue.
Remember, when it gets to the point where you are fighting harder to protect a difficult employee’s paycheck then the employee, it’s time to make a leadership decision and eliminate the drag from your culture. Allowing the situation to continue is compromise.
If you want to learn more about how you can transition to a no-compromise leader, email me at [email protected]
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends. They’ll appreciate it.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO, and author of No-Compromise Leadership

difficult-employee-2There’s no escaping it. As a leader you will have to deal with difficult employees. By “difficult,” I’m referring to the myriad of attitudes ranging from egotistic, entitled and self-absorbed, to disrespectful, combative and just plain old arrogant. And then there’s the behavior issues such as resistance to change, ignoring rules and standards and lack of accountability. I’m sure you know exactly what I mean because it’s likely you have difficult employees on your team right now. The question is, what are you going to do about it – and when?... Read More

What does “GOING NO COMPROMISE” really mean?

June 16, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

questioning 1In my travels promoting and doing keynotes for my No-Compromise Leadership book, the one comment I hear most from attendees is, “This book was definitely written about me.” They’re referring to Part One of the book where I identify the cost of compromise and what it really takes to become a no-compromise leader. I’m also amazed at how quickly “no compromise” becomes part of a leader’s vocabulary. It’s like listening to my speech, reading the book and using “no compromise” as punctuation is all that’s needed. It would be nice if the transition to no compromise were so easy. It’s not.
Going no compromise will no doubt be the most significant personal change a leader can make in his or her leadership thinking and behavior. Why? The answer is simple: no compromise requires a leader to break through all of the emotional blockages that impede personal and business growth. It establishes the highest standards of performance and execution supported by a solid foundation of integrity and trust. Procrastination and blame are replaced with sense of urgency and accountability. By design, no compromise turns problems and obstacles into innovative solutions and growth opportunities.
If you’re serious about going no compromise, consider the following commitments that no compromise requires:
* I will get it done: Procrastinating is pure compromise. If you’re committed to going no compromise, you’re committing to getting things done. No compromise.
* I will be accountable: Accountability is the essence of trust. Delivering results, fulfilling commitments and demonstrating, through your actions and deeds, that you can be counted on by those you serve and lead. No compromise.
* I will not avoid the tough stuff: Sooner or later, every business encounters rough waters. As leader, you must engage and make the tough decisions that ensure the integrity of the company you lead. No compromise.
* I will not be dictatorial and inflexible: Going no compromise means leading with purpose and compassion – not heavy-handed tactics. Lead with passion and resolve. No compromise.
* I will nurture and protect my company’s culture: The ultimate responsibility of the no-compromise leader is to create, maintain and protect the company’s culture. It’s the culture that attracts and keeps the best talent. It’s the culture that builds customer loyalty. Never allow contamination to infect the culture. No compromise.
Strive to live these five little bullet points and you will see a transformation not only in yourself, but the company you lead. Just remember, once you commit to them, no compromise means there’s no going back.
If you want to learn more about how you can transition to a no-compromise leader, email me at [email protected]
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends. They’ll appreciate it.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO, and author of No-Compromise Leadership

QuestioningIn my travels promoting and doing keynotes for my No-Compromise Leadership book, the one comment I hear most from attendees is, “This book was definitely written about me.” They’re referring to Part One of the book where I identify the cost of compromise and what it really takes to become a no-compromise leader. I’m also amazed at how quickly “no compromise” becomes part of a leader’s vocabulary. It’s like listening to my speech, reading the book and using “no compromise” as punctuation is all that’s needed. It would be nice if the transition to no compromise were so easy. It’s not.... Read More

Creating the culture you want has a cost

June 9, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Doing a culture shift to no compromise is not only a worthy undertaking; it’s a non-negotiable requirement for success in these economic times. No one knows this better than Bill Chrismer. He acquired the upscale chain of Gentlemen’s Quarters salons a few years ago. As with any acquisition, he not only purchased the brand name and assets – he acquired the culture of Gentlemen’s Quarters as well. Although there was nothing inherently wrong with the culture, Bill’s vision of what his company’s true potential was required that he lead it through a culture shift to no compromise.
I received the following email from Bill Chrismer. He so eloquently describes what few leaders realize when embarking on a culture from what is to what can be.
“The cost of building the culture you want is high. Tony Robbins says, “You get what you want by doing the things you don’t want to do.” You work through your leadership blockages. You step up and lead.
Yesterday we launched a nametag program and, after a thorough reengineering, re-launched daily Huddles and Scoreboards with no compromise as the mandate. All have been very successful. Many of the systems we’ve been compromising on are getting turned on. But it doesn’t stop simply by flipping on the switch. You have to keep at, time after time. Discipline, accountability and no compromise must prevail.
Rest assured, a culture shift to no compromise can lead to unpleasant things, like an incident that occurred today. During our daily huddle, we had a little outburst from a new employee. No compromise says that we cannot tolerate that kind of behavior. In the past we would have. I am committed to building and preserving our new culture – even though we may have lost a new employee today. I feel good about the changes, the new disciplines, and the new culture that we have been building.
Yes, the cost of building a new business culture is high. However, in the end, the company will appreciate in value because of the quality of construction.”
The lesson in Bill’s email is that all leaders need to be tenacious and courageous enough to see their culture shift through to completion. As Bill and many others have learned, not everyone wants to make the voyage with you. Some employees will quit, and most certainly, others will need to be let go simply because they were a bad fit to begin with.
In these crazy economic times, a culture shift to no compromise may be just what your company needs to survive and thrive. Just be sure you’re willing to go the distance before you hit the culture shift switch.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends. They’ll appreciate it.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO, and author of No-Compromise Leadership

Doing a culture shift to no compromise is not only a worthy undertaking, it’s a non-negotiable requirement for success in these economic times. No one knows this better than Bill Chrismer. He acquired the upscale chain of Gentlemen’s Quarters salons a few years ago. As with any acquisition, he not only purchased the brand name and assets – he acquired the culture of Gentlemen’s Quarters as well. Although there was nothing inherently wrong with the culture, Bill’s vision of what his company’s true potential was required that he lead it through a culture shift to no compromise.... Read More

The recession storm passes

June 1, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

passing-stormLike every major hurricane that slowly and methodically unleashes its devastation on everything in its path, the recession of 2008 and 2009 is beginning to blow itself out. We went through the fear of impending doom as the media frenzy sapped consumer confidence. We survived the eye of the storm as banking institutions were saved by government bailouts. And we realized the American economy would not collapse when mismanaged auto giants Chrysler and General Motors filed for bankruptcy protection.

Today, the recession skies are beginning to clear and the process of assessing the damage begins. Consumer confidence is rapidly making its comeback. Economists now project that the recession will be over by year’s end. Even though they warn that unemployment will remain near or at 10%, the rebuilding of our economy has begun – just like the rebuilding of New Orleans after Katrina.
In an odd way, it’s like people got tired of the recession and talking about it and decided it was time to move on. Even the news media is moving on to stir things up like the controversy of Obama’s pick of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court and North Korea’s moronic atomic tests, missile firings and threats of war. Storms pass and rebuilding begins. Forests burn and new life grows from the ashes. This recession is rapidly becoming part of history. We survived.
For all business leaders and politicians the question is, what was learned from this recession? What compromises occurred to assure that the recession would hit the economy hard? Was it profit over values, integrity and accountability? Was it laziness or avoiding the tough decisions that allow a business to run lean and mean even in good times? Was it resistance to change, or evolve and innovate? Was it allowing business cultures to remain contaminated with entitlement thinking and behavior?
Yes, this recession taught leaders what leadership is all about. Those no-compromise leaders that were playing the game of business hard and fast by the rules going into the recession will emerge relatively unscathed. Those that ignored some of the rules most likely took some hits and will take time to recover. For those that pranced into the recession undisciplined and avoiding accountability are either already out of business or their survival is doubtful – which in essence is what their compromising behaviors asked for.
Now we get to look to the future and dream again. We get to build on lessons learned. We get to grow stronger and more dynamic businesses because we must be prepared for that next storm that will surely come. No compromise.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEOLike every major hurricane that slowly and methodically unleashes its devastation on everything in its path, the recession of 2008 and 2009 is beginning to blow itself out. We went through the fear of impending doom as the media frenzy sapped consumer confidence. We survived the eye of the storm as banking institutions were saved by government bailouts. And we realized the American economy would not collapse when mismanaged auto giants Chrysler and General Motors filed for bankruptcy protection.
Today, the recession skies are beginning to clear and the process of assessing the damage begins. Consumer confidence is rapidly making its comeback. Economists now project that the recession will be over by year’s end. Even though they warn that unemployment will remain near or at 10%, the rebuilding of our economy has begun – just like the rebuilding of New Orleans after Katrina.
In an odd way, it’s like people got tired of the recession and talking about it and decided it was time to move on. Even the news media is moving on to stir things up like the controversy of Obama’s pick of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court and North Korea’s moronic atomic tests, missile firings and threats of war. Storms pass and rebuilding begins. Forests burn and new life grows from the ashes. This recession is rapidly becoming part of history. We survived.
For all business leaders and politicians the question is, what was learned from this recession? What compromises occurred to assure that the recession would hit the economy hard? Was it profit over values, integrity and accountability? Was it laziness or avoiding the tough decisions that allow a business to run lean and mean even in good times? Was it resistance to change, or evolve and innovate? Was it allowing business cultures to remain contaminated with entitlement thinking and behavior?
Yes, this recession taught leaders what leadership is all about. Those no-compromise leaders that were playing the game of business hard and fast by the rules going into the recession will emerge relatively unscathed. Those that ignored some of the rules most likely took some hits and will take time to recover. For those that pranced into the recession undisciplined and avoiding accountability are either already out of business or their survival is doubtful – which in essence is what their compromising behaviors asked for.
Now we get to look to the future and dream again. We get to build on lessons learned. We get to grow stronger and more dynamic businesses because we must be prepared for that next storm that will surely come. No compromise.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEOLike every major hurricane that slowly and methodically unleashes its devastation on everything in its path, the recession of 2008 and 2009 is beginning to blow itself out. We went through the fear of impending doom as the media frenzy sapped consumer confidence. We survived the eye of the storm as banking institutions were saved by government bailouts. And we realized the American economy would not collapse when mismanaged auto giants Chrysler and General Motors filed for bankruptcy protection.
Today, the recession skies are beginning to clear and the process of assessing the damage begins. Consumer confidence is rapidly making its comeback. Economists now project that the recession will be over by year’s end. Even though they warn that unemployment will remain near or at 10%, the rebuilding of our economy has begun – just like the rebuilding of New Orleans after Katrina.
In an odd way, it’s like people got tired of the recession and talking about it and decided it was time to move on. Even the news media is moving on to stir things up like the controversy of Obama’s pick of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court and North Korea’s moronic atomic tests, missile firings and threats of war. Storms pass and rebuilding begins. Forests burn and new life grows from the ashes. This recession is rapidly becoming part of history. We survived.
For all business leaders and politicians the question is, what was learned from this recession? What compromises occurred to assure that the recession would hit the economy hard? Was it profit over values, integrity and accountability? Was it laziness or avoiding the tough decisions that allow a business to run lean and mean even in good times? Was it resistance to change, or evolve and innovate? Was it allowing business cultures to remain contaminated with entitlement thinking and behavior?
Yes, this recession taught leaders what leadership is all about. Those no-compromise leaders that were playing the game of business hard and fast by the rules going into the recession will emerge relatively unscathed. Those that ignored some of the rules most likely took some hits and will take time to recover. For those that pranced into the recession undisciplined and avoiding accountability are either already out of business or their survival is doubtful – which in essence is what their compromising behaviors asked for.
Now we get to look to the future and dream again. We get to build on lessons learned. We get to grow stronger and more dynamic businesses because we must be prepared for that next storm that will surely come. No compromise.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEOLike every major hurricane that slowly and methodically unleashes its devastation on everything in its path, the recession of 2008 and 2009 is beginning to blow itself out. We went through the fear of impending doom as the media frenzy sapped consumer confidence. We survived the eye of the storm as banking institutions were saved by government bailouts. And we realized the American economy would not collapse when mismanaged auto giants Chrysler and General Motors filed for bankruptcy protection.
Today, the recession skies are beginning to clear and the process of assessing the damage begins. Consumer confidence is rapidly making its comeback. Economists now project that the recession will be over by year’s end. Even though they warn that unemployment will remain near or at 10%, the rebuilding of our economy has begun – just like the rebuilding of New Orleans after Katrina.
In an odd way, it’s like people got tired of the recession and talking about it and decided it was time to move on. Even the news media is moving on to stir things up like the controversy of Obama’s pick of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court and North Korea’s moronic atomic tests, missile firings and threats of war. Storms pass and rebuilding begins. Forests burn and new life grows from the ashes. This recession is rapidly becoming part of history. We survived.
For all business leaders and politicians the question is, what was learned from this recession? What compromises occurred to assure that the recession would hit the economy hard? Was it profit over values, integrity and accountability? Was it laziness or avoiding the tough decisions that allow a business to run lean and mean even in good times? Was it resistance to change, or evolve and innovate? Was it allowing business cultures to remain contaminated with entitlement thinking and behavior?
Yes, this recession taught leaders what leadership is all about. Those no-compromise leaders that were playing the game of business hard and fast by the rules going into the recession will emerge relatively unscathed. Those that ignored some of the rules most likely took some hits and will take time to recover. For those that pranced into the recession undisciplined and avoiding accountability are either already out of business or their survival is doubtful – which in essence is what their compromising behaviors asked for.
Now we get to look to the future and dream again. We get to build on lessons learned. We get to grow stronger and more dynamic businesses because we must be prepared for that next storm that will surely come. No compromise.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

Today, the recession skies are beginning to clear and the process of assessing the damage begins. Consumer confidence is rapidly making its comeback. Economists now project that the recession will be over by year’s end. Even though they warn that unemployment will remain near or at 10%, the rebuilding of our economy has begun – just like the rebuilding of New Orleans after Katrina. ... Read More

When “not good enough” becomes the norm

May 28, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

good-enough3

Every business has imbedded patterns of behavior that interfere with performance, quality and growth. And yes, these patterns of behavior often cause the business to wander from one challenge or crisis to another. It’s when projects never get completed, goals are routinely missed and that grand vision of a world-class company slips quietly into an elusive dream. To help leaders understand why their businesses are stuck, I respectfully tell them, “You have accepted ‘not good enough” to become the norm in your company.” For some reason, this statement seems to hit the right chord. It’s like defining a company’s mission as “the relentless pursuit of mediocrity.”
What leader would want mediocrity as a goal? The sad truth is … many do – not by stated intent, but through their behavior and thinking. Addressing “not good enough” means taking action and holding everyone, including the leader, accountable for functioning as a world-class company. Complacency, procrastination and fear of rocking the boat set a high tolerance for “not good enough.” And just like failure to stick to a diet or fitness routine, “not good enough” becomes the norm. It becomes an accepted behavior pattern. And it kills companies.
If your business has the telltale signs that “not good enough” has become the norm, consider these no-compromise strategies to make “being the best” your company’s battle cry:
    *
      You must change first: Leaders set the behaviors, thinking, pace and rhythm of a company culture. Don’t expect others to lift up the company and rise to the challenge if you don’t change first. You need to set the example first. You must demonstrate your determination first. No more excuses. No more procrastination.
    *
      Identify what you’ve been tolerating or avoiding: Chances are it’s a rather short list that includes holding yourself and others accountable, lack of planning and communication. And don’t forget those infamous crucial conversations that are long overdue. You never rid your company of mediocrity by avoiding the tough conversations.
    *
      Cheerlead your “be-the-best” change initiative: You can’t change a lethargic culture with one grand announcement at a meeting. Change initiatives require an enormous flow of information and performance data. Daily huddles, victory rallies, one-on-one reviews, coaching and mentoring – all systems must be fully tuned and functioning.
    *
      Set a six-month Phase One target: Most culture shifts crash and burn in the first three to four months. By making the first six months your focus for pushing major change, you’ll be pushing your company through the hazardous “crash and burn” period. Phase Two will be the lock-in phase for new behaviors and higher levels of performance.
It’s so easy to become accustomed to mediocre performance because taking action requires you and your company to get “uncomfortable.” As the old saying goes, “no pain – no gain.” Be the best. NoEvery business has imbedded patterns of behavior that interfere with performance, quality and growth. And yes, these patterns of behavior often cause the business to wander from one challenge or crisis to another. It’s when projects never get completed, goals are routinely missed and that grand vision of a world-class company slips quietly into an elusive dream. To help leaders understand why their businesses are stuck, I respectfully tell them, “You have accepted ‘not good enough” to become the norm in your company.” For some reason, this statement seems to hit the right chord. It’s like defining a company’s mission as “the relentless pursuit of mediocrity.”

What leader would want mediocrity as a goal? The sad truth is … many do – not by stated intent, but through their behavior and thinking. Addressing “not good enough” means taking action and holding everyone, including the leader, accountable for functioning as a world-class company. Complacency, procrastination and fear of rocking the boat set a high tolerance for “not good enough.” And just like failure to stick to a diet or fitness routine, “not good enough” becomes the norm. It becomes an accepted behavior pattern. And it kills companies.

If your business has the telltale signs that “not good enough” has become the norm, consider these no-compromise strategies to make “being the best” your company’s battle cry:

    *
      You must change first: Leaders set the behaviors, thinking, pace and rhythm of a company culture. Don’t expect others to lift up the company and rise to the challenge if you don’t change first. You need to set the example first. You must demonstrate your determination first. No more excuses. No more procrastination.
    *
      Identify what you’ve been tolerating or avoiding: Chances are it’s a rather short list that includes holding yourself and others accountable, lack of planning and communication. And don’t forget those infamous crucial conversations that are long overdue. You never rid your company of mediocrity by avoiding the tough conversations.
    *
      Cheerlead your “be-the-best” change initiative: You can’t change a lethargic culture with one grand announcement at a meeting. Change initiatives require an enormous flow of information and performance data. Daily huddles, victory rallies, one-on-one reviews, coaching and mentoring – all systems must be fully tuned and functioning.
    *
      Set a six-month Phase One target: Most culture shifts crash and burn in the first three to four months. By making the first six months your focus for pushing major change, you’ll be pushing your company through the hazardous “crash and burn” period. Phase Two will be the lock-in phase for new behaviors and higher levels of performance.

It’s so easy to become accustomed to mediocre performance because taking action requires you and your company to get “uncomfortable.” As the old saying goes, “no pain – no gain.” Be the best. No compromise.”
 compromise.”

Every business has imbedded patterns of behavior that interfere with performance, quality and growth. And yes, these patterns of behavior often cause the business to wander from one challenge or crisis to another. It’s when projects never get completed, goals are routinely missed and that grand vision of a world-class company slips quietly into an elusive dream. To help leaders understand why their businesses are stuck, I respectfully tell them, “You have accepted ‘not good enough” to become the norm in your company.” For some reason, this statement seems to hit the right chord. It’s like defining a company’s mission as “the relentless pursuit of mediocrity.”... Read More

Overcoming leadership stress

May 20, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

leadership-stressAlong with leading a company through these challenging economic times comes stress. Stress from driving sales. Stress from managing expenses. Stress from keeping employees motivated and productive – not getting caught up in the constant barrage of bad economic news. Stress from making more tough decisions and hoping they’re the right ones. Yes, leadership has its privileges, but leadership can also be a pressure cooker if you don’t manage your stress levels.

Stress can wear you down. Not only does it negatively impact your performance as a leader, it takes a toll on your attitude. It saps your ability to think positively. Most of all, it changes your demeanor in ways that you cannot hide from your leadership team, employees and customers. Simply put: if you don’t manage stress, it will manage you.
Here are some no-compromise strategies to keep you positive and focused by keeping stress levels under control:
* Focus on the positive signs of recovery: Every recession has a recovery. It’s easy to get caught up in the gloom and doom of bad times. But this recession is already showing the telltale signs that it has bottomed out. Economists report that April showed a surge in consumer confidence. All it takes is a trickle of good economic news to begin pulling the recovery tide back in.
* Target the next 18 months: The heck with five-year plans – concentrate on where you want your company to be 18 months from now. Simply put: what do you want your company to look like on the other side of this recession? Set short-range goals and strategies to achieve them. You’ll be defining your stepping-stones to growth.
* Lighten up: There’s no better cure for stress than laughter and having some fun. Have a pizza party for lunch or company barbeque. Heck, dress up like a clown. Lead an impromptu company cheer. Take your leadership bowling or to a ball game. No contests here – we want everyone to be winners and laugh a bit.
* Get up and move that body: I go to spin class, lift weights and ride my road bike about 100+ a week. I feel great. It keeps my stress under control and that keeps everyone around me happy.
* Work with a coach: It’s well documented that the best leaders use a coach. A good business coach will keep you sharp, focused and hold you accountable for making progress. You’ll have a sounding board for your ideas and that ever-important outlet when you need to vent. If you don’t have a coach, call me.
* Take time to appreciate your achievements: If you’re in business today, you’re doing something right. Step back and personally acknowledge the things you did well and the things you did right. Don’t give energy to the bad decisions. Doing so fuels stress.
So there you have it. A rather simple collection of diverse no-compromise strategies to overcome the stress that comes with every leadership position. Like everything else, it takes work to keep stress at bay. So, what’s your company going to look like in 18 months?
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO
Along with leading a company through these challenging economic times comes stress. Stress from driving sales. Stress from managing expenses. Stress from keeping employees motivated and productive – not getting caught up in the constant barrage of bad economic news. Stress from making more tough decisions and hoping they’re the right ones. Yes, leadership has its privileges, but leadership can also be a pressure cooker if you don’t manage your stress levels.
Stress can wear you down. Not only does it negatively impact your performance as a leader, it takes a toll on your attitude. It saps your ability to think positively. Most of all, it changes your demeanor in ways that you cannot hide from your leadership team, employees and customers. Simply put: if you don’t manage stress, it will manage you. (more…)

The wonderful, whacky world of “pitching” the media

May 20, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

whacky-media

As I write this Monday Morning Wake-Up, I’m in New York City attending the National Publicity Summit. This is a venue for authors to receive training on that most worthy of pursuits – getting press coverage in the media. The pre-event coaching concentrated on creating a two and a half minute media pitch. But the real focus of this Summit is to actually deliver your pitch to over 100 media producers and editors over three days. (It’s Friday morning and I’ll be starting day two in about two hours.)
When I say, “pitch over 100 media producers and editors,” here’s what that looks like. Over the three days, there are five “meet the media” sessions each lasting a couple of hours. We get to pre-select which media producers and editors we want to meet with beginning with our number one pick. When a “meet the media” session begins, the authors enter a ballroom where each media is set up with a table and stool. We’re given schedules with our media picks and our numbered slot. When it’s our turn, we get our two and a half minutes to make our pitch, answer questions and, hopefully, get told we will be contacted or to follow up.
Here’s a sampling of the media I pitched on my first day: “The Today Show,” “ABC News,” “Fortune Small Business,” “Good Morning America,” “Now” on PBS, plus writers for Entrepreneur, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, business radio shows and more.
Now, I’ve gotten myself into some pretty interesting situations over my career, but doing the equivalent of speed dating with the major media sent my stress level soaring and my nerves in hyper drive. In fact, every author in the house fumbled through their first few pitches like kids auditioning for a part in the school play. But we all quickly calmed down and got into our groove.
There are two lessons I want to share from this experience. First, the only way we can grow and reach our full potential is to place ourselves in situations that make us stretch and challenge our abilities. This was one of those experiences that truly pushed me forward.
The second lesson is the hit list the media gave us for getting their attention. Here are the key points:
* Get to the point: The media receives thousands of email pitches a day. Picture yourself on deadline and your email box overflowing with mail. You blow through the list looking for nuggets of gold – with your finger on the “delete” button. Multi-paragraph pitches that ramble get deleted. The subject line is your story pitch line – make it sell your story. Keep your story pitch to one paragraph consisting of three or four sentences. No attachments of any kind if you want your email to make it past the spam filters.
* Be relevant to current events: The better you tie your pitch to current events the more likely your story will be noticed. The media game is all about getting a story that no one else has – getting the scoop. That sells advertising.
* Study the media you’re pitching: Every TV show, newspaper, radio and magazine has it’s own style. Study the media you’re pitching and try to match your pitch to their style of reporting. Remember, the producer or reporter has their finger on the delete button.
* Be persistent – but not annoying: None of the media really clarified what this means, but suffice it to say that if you’re emailing and calling a producer or reporter a lot, you’ll get tagged as spam or simply ignored. All gave examples of stories that were eventually done simply because the pitch hit at the right time. Use good judgment.
I attended the National Publicity Summit with my publisher. The first evening he warned me that I will likely meet authors “who speak to the dead.” Yeah, sure. First evening I met a criminal attorney that was a medium. Later, I met an author who said, “My book was written by my dead husband.” Who wants to listen to such stuff? Well, the next morning while watching “The Today Show,” they had a guest who talked to the dead relatives of four people from the audience.
Gotta go pitch “The Early Show” and Time magazine.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

As I write this Monday Morning Wake-Up, I’m in New York City attending the National Publicity Summit. This is a venue for authors to receive training on that most worthy of pursuits – getting press coverage in the media. The pre-event coaching concentrated on creating a two and a half minute media pitch. But the real focus of this Summit is to actually deliver your pitch to over 100 media producers and editors over three days. (It’s Friday morning and I’ll be starting day two in about two hours.)... Read More

No-compromise decisions are the toughest for a reason

May 20, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

tough-decisionsLeaders make decisions all day long. It’s simply a requirement of the job. Much of that decision-making occurs naturally and continuously without skipping a beat. But as all leaders know, there are those decisions where all of the options are less then desirable – or downright gut wrenching. Decisions in this category are best described as solving a dilemma rather than a problem. Problems have solutions. Dilemmas present a murky roadmap where all paths lead to uncertain outcomes – or the carrying out of necessary but unpopular plans.

The worst thing a leader can do is label a dilemma as a problem and pull the trigger before understanding all of the potential hazards. Even worse is to avoid pushing for an innovative solution and allowing the dilemma to drone on. This is the turbulent territory where leaders earn their no-compromise stripes. No matter how painful, stressful or unpopular, a decision must be made. As a leader, it’s your job. No compromise.
Here are some no-compromise strategies to navigate your way through those tough decisions:
* Understand what delaying a decision does to you: The longer you delay a tough decision, the heavier the weight you carry. You must respect your own wellbeing by taking action rather then delaying it. That means innovating the best solution must become a top priority for you and your team. Procrastinating fuels stress.
* Your demeanor is always communicating: When stress levels soar, your demeanor becomes vividly apparent to those around you. You become unapproachable, irritable and short. Your business now has both a dilemma and a stressed-out leader. Eventually your reluctance to make a decision will add more drag to a situation that could or has already gone critical. It’s time to engage and lead. Just as exercise reduces stress, so does making those tough decisions.
* You can’t please everyone: Tough decisions always have supporters and naysayers. Try as you might, tough decisions will rarely please everyone. And the more you try to please everyone, the more watered down and impotent your decision will be. Keep tough decisions tough.
* Communicate with extreme clarity: Tough decisions need to be hi-definition clear to everyone. Communicate your reasoning, potential outcomes and the possible hazards. Clarify your expectations and hold yourself and your team accountable to produce the right outcomes.
* Not as tough as you thought: By going no compromise with tough decision-making, you will likely discover that working through tough decisions isn’t so tough after all. It’s the procrastination and obsessing that makes them tough.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

Leaders make decisions all day long. It’s simply a requirement of the job. Much of that decision-making occurs naturally and continuously without skipping a beat. But as all leaders know, there are those decisions where all of the options are less then desirable – or downright gut wrenching. Decisions in this category are best described as solving a dilemma rather than a problem. Problems have solutions. Dilemmas present a murky roadmap where all paths lead to uncertain outcomes – or the carrying out of necessary but unpopular plans.... Read More

When great performance masks compromise

May 20, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

compromised-performance

During a seminar on staff retention, the discussion focused on how to address performance and/or behavior issues with top employees. I could quickly see everyone’s discomfort meter red lining because all leaders have a tendency to take the easier compromise route than seek no-compromise solutions. The reason for the discomfort meter red lining is the fear that a top employee may quit if pushed to follow the same rules and standards other employees must adhere to. It’s even more difficult when personal relationships come into play.
The challenge is simple: a “top employee” means that he or she truly excels in his or her area of responsibility and contribution to the company. But what happens if some seemingly minor performance or behavior issues surface and tend to linger? During the discussion, one leader said, “I have an employee who is simply stellar – but is habitually late for work.” In this case, the top performer was a major revenue producer. After discussing the “stellar” employee’s lateness and why it needs to be addressed, the leader reluctantly added, “This stellar employee is our general manager – and she’s taking care of our dog while we’re gone.” So, we have a “stellar” employee who is a top producer, the general manager and has become a personal friend. These facts certainly grease the skids for compromise.
Here are some no-compromise strategies to address double-standard behaviors with top employees:
* Own your role in allowing “entitlement” behavior: Yes, there was a point when the issues in question could have been addressed – but weren’t. You allowed it to continue and now you’re the only one that can fix it. This is not all your “stellar” employee’s fault. This instantly removes the “blame game” from the conversation.
* Level the playing field: Your “stellar” employee fully realizes that he or she has been practicing entitlement behavior. Since top employees are typically mentors or role models for others, they also fully realize they have been enjoying a double standard at the expense of their fellow teammates. As leader, you must engage their support to level the playing field. Loyal employees, most likely with some coaching, will support you. If not, do they really belong on your team? Have they ever belonged on your team?
* Accountability and clarifying expectations: When leveling the playing field, you must clarify in detail your expectations. Your top employees must understand what they must change, what they must do, how you will support them – and how you will hold them accountable. Most of all, they must understand the consequences for not rising to the challenge. Yes, something as elementary as a leader afflicted with chronic lateness should know that continuing to be late could result in a demotion. Continued behavior issues could also be grounds for termination. Heck, if a “stellar” employee in a leadership role is willing to lose her job because she cannot get to work on time, grant her wish.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

During a seminar on staff retention, the discussion focused on how to address performance and/or behavior issues with top employees. I could quickly see everyone’s discomfort meter red lining because all leaders have a tendency to take the easier compromise route than seek no-compromise solutions. The reason for the discomfort meter red lining is the fear that a top employee may quit if pushed to follow the same rules and standards other employees must adhere to. It’s even more difficult when personal relationships come into play.... Read More

Are double standards… your standard?

May 19, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

double-standard-2Double standards communicate that there are “entitlement” rules and acceptable behaviors for some while others must adhere to more rigid rules. Fact: Double standards compromise the values of a company. Double standards create performance drag and contaminate the culture of a company. Most importantly, even the slightest existence of double standards perpetuates entitlement thinking and behavior. And who is the originating source of double standards? You guessed it, the leader – and that means you.

Double standards for leaders: This is the classic “do as I say, not as I do” thinking. It’s when leaders use their positions of power to compromise what they hold others accountable for doing. For example, consider how the integrity and trust of a company can be compromised when the leader orders expense reductions and pulls up in a new company car or takes a vacation cleverly disguised as a business trip. Even seemingly little behaviors like always being late for meetings while others are held accountable can contaminate a company culture. (more…)... Read More

What are you building?

May 19, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

building-2

Stop what you’re doing for a few minutes. Stop thinking about what your day is going to look like, what you need to accomplish, and what challenges you need to deal with. Trust me, all that stuff will be waiting for you. What I would like you to imagine is taking a look at your business from 30,000 feet. It’s an interesting perspective because this high altitude view gets you above the fray where it’s quiet and all the surrounding landscape, complete with opportunities and threats, is visible for you to study. This vantage point provides an unobstructed view of where you’re taking your company. Most of all, it allows you to see if what you’re building is capable of getting you there.
You see, too often leaders get bogged down in the daily minutia of their work. It’s something akin to trying to drive the bus while keeping the kids under control and fixing the sputtering engine all at the same time. It doesn’t matter if you love this kind of chaotic excitement or not, it pulls your attention away from your ultimate no-compromise leader responsibility – to build an enduring company.
So while I have your attention up here at 30,000 feet for these few Monday Morning Wake-Up minutes, ask yourself this question: What are you building? Describe with absolute clarity where you are taking your company. Describe what the company looks like in terms of revenue and profit. Describe what makes your company so unique that it stands alone from its competition. Describe the career and growth opportunities for all those employees who got on your bus and believe in your vision. Describe the culture you’re building and how trust, integrity and respect form its foundation. Now, how do your descriptions match what you have built so far?
Too often it takes a nice big crisis to snap you out of your daily routine so you can step back and look at what you’re building. It’s also interesting how many leaders struggle to answer with passion and clarity the question, “What are you building?” And in that moment of discomfort and struggle to find words and clarity, the solution to a multitude of problems is revealed. Revisit what you’re building and make sure everyone on your bus gets it.
I’ll conclude with this wonderful story: A gentleman saw three men laying bricks. He approached the first and asked, “What are you doing?” Annoyed, the first man answered, “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m laying bricks!” He walked over to the second bricklayer and asked the same question. The second man responded, “Oh, I’m making a living.” He asked the third bricklayer the same question, “What are you doing?” The third looked up, smiled and said, “I’m building a cathedral.”
What are you building?
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends. They’ll appreciate it.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO, and author of No-Compromise Leadership

Stop what you’re doing for a few minutes. Stop thinking about what your day is going to look like, what you need to accomplish, and what challenges you need to deal with. Trust me, all that stuff will be waiting for you. What I would like you to imagine is taking a look at your business from 30,000 feet. It’s an interesting perspective because this high altitude view gets you above the fray where it’s quiet and all the surrounding landscape, complete with opportunities and threats, is visible for you to study. This vantage point provides an unobstructed view of where you’re taking your company. Most of all, it allows you to see if what you’re building is capable of getting you there.... Read More

These days… it’s great to be a leader

May 14, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

What a great time it is to be a leader. We’re in a recession. Money and cash flow is on everyone’s mind. Employees are nervous. The stock market tanked. Customers are cautious, delaying purchases and looking for better deals. And… you’ve probably made some of your toughest leadership decisions in years. So why is this a great time to be a leader? The answer is extraordinarily simple – you are in control of your own destiny.
In these unprecedented and uncertain economic times, I cherish, respect and thrive in my role as the leader of my own company. I find solace knowing that my business experience, innovativeness, ability to identify and react to real and potential hazards, allows me to guide my company through tough times. I’m energized by the trust and support of my team. I am a leader and I wouldn’t trade my job or my responsibilities for anything.
Yes, we leaders must deal with stress and make decisions that thrust us out of our comfort zones. We can feel overwhelmed and overloaded. And yes, at times we may even feel unprepared, insecure and fearful. But as leaders, we know it’s all part of the job. We persevere. We overcome. We lead.
Here are some simple reminders why it’s great to be a leader:
* If it is to be, it’s up to me: That’s the essence of leadership. We control our own destinies. We can take our companies to any goal we set our minds on. We wait for no one. We can seize the moment. What greater freedom, growth and success could you ask for?
* You have followers that trust and believe in you: What an honor and privilege it is to be a leader – to have loyal followers that believe in and work to achieve a vision that’s your creation. What more could you ask for?
* You inspire others to reach their full potential: As a leader, you help others achieve their dreams. You bring out the best in people. You take people to levels of success that even they didn’t realize they could achieve. You make the lives of those around you better. What more could you ask for?
* Today is your time to be your best: Good times can cause leaders to get off their game and become content and lazy. Uncertain times bring out the best in leaders. Uncertain times challenge you to prove that you’ve got the right stuff. Uncertain times shift you into no-compromise leadership mode. It’s your opportunity to fix what’s wrong in your business. It’s your opportunity to innovate and lift your company to that next level you’ve always talked about. What more could you ask for?
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CE

leadership-compassWhat a great time it is to be a leader. We’re in a recession. Money and cash flow is on everyone’s mind. Employees are nervous. The stock market tanked. Customers are cautious, delaying purchases and looking for better deals. And… you’ve probably made some of your toughest leadership decisions in years. So why is this a great time to be a leader? The answer is extraordinarily simple – you are in control of your own destiny.
... Read More

What’s on your “compromise” list?

May 12, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

to-do

Every leader has one. It’s that list of leadership projects, tasks and responsibilities that you prefer to avoid, ignore or bestow with your highest level of procrastination.

It is truly amazing how you can find a zillion other low level things to do rather than tackle your compromise list and check a few items off. Call it human nature, fear of the unknown, insecurity, lack of knowledge or skill, just plain laziness, it’s a sure bet that items lingering on your compromise list are creating drag, inefficiency, lost opportunities and increased costs in your company. Even with the knowledge of the consequences, you just can’t seem to convert your compromise list into a no-compromise list of must-do’s that get done. (more…)... Read More

Your “passion” for business and leadership will see you through

May 12, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

There is a dividing line that separates leaders from no-compromise leaders. On one side, “leader” is something that describes a title or job. It’s simply the work you do. This leader says, “I lead.” On the other side of the dividing line is an inherent and unmistakable emotional intensity radiating from the no-compromise leader. It’s like a gravitational pull to a higher calling that converges on the vision and greater purpose of the company. It’s intense passion and it’s impossible to be a no-compromise leader without it. Why? If you don’t have passion for what you do, it’s just too easy to give in – to compromise. The no-compromise leader says, “We’re going to make the world a better place for all,” and believes this with every fiber of his or her being.
Passion fuels a higher calling and a natural enthusiasm for all that you do. So much so that others can sense and capture that same passion. The no-compromise leader’s passion attracts and engages others in the most positive way. That shared passion then lifts the performance of the entire company. Consider any great leader in history, business or otherwise, and you will find an innate passion as the driving force behind his or her accomplishments.
Here are a few no-compromise strategies to ensure that your passion is shining bright:
    * What will your company look like on the other side of this recession? These are crazy and tense times for all leaders. To avoid getting consumed and dragged down by today’s challenges and bad economic news, raise your sights and target what you want your company to look like on the other side of this recession. Paint a bold picture of success and opportunity. Make it so cool and enticing that you’ll want to lead your team there.
    * What does your company flag look like? Yes, I said, “flag.” If you’re going to lead your team to victory, you’ll need a flag. Assemble a “flag design team” and charge them with the mission of creating a flag that your company will carry through this recession to that cool place you defined in your vision. There’s no better way to lift the spirits of your team than getting them fired up for a journey back to good times.
    * Flip your switch from reactive to proactive: It’s hard to keep your passion for business and leadership burning bright when you’re stuck reacting to situations. Going proactive puts you on the offensive. Going proactive lifts you up so you can lift your team up. Going proactive means innovative new strategies and 100% execution. 
If you have the fire in your gut to achieve your dreams against all odds, you have passion. If you get excited and light up when you tell others about your work, you have passion. When you hear your employees talking about their work and the company with the same passion as you – your passion for success has created a company-wide mojo that’s virtually unstoppable.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO
passionate2There is a dividing line that separates leaders from no-compromise leaders. On one side, “leader” is something that describes a title or job. It’s simply the work you do. This leader says, “I lead.” On the other side of the dividing line is an inherent and unmistakable emotional intensity radiating from the no-compromise leader. It’s like a gravitational pull to a higher calling that converges on the vision and greater purpose of the company. It’s intense passion and it’s impossible to be a no-compromise leader without it. Why? If you don’t have passion for what you do, it’s just too easy to give in – to compromise. The no-compromise leader says, “We’re going to make the world a better place for all,” and believes this with every fiber of his or her being.
Passion fuels a higher calling and a natural enthusiasm for all that you do. So much so that others can sense and capture that same passion. The no-compromise leader’s passion attracts and engages others in the most positive way. That shared passion then lifts the performance of the entire company. Consider any great leader in history, business or otherwise, and you will find an innate passion as the driving force behind his or her accomplishments. (more…)

Dictatorial & Inflexible vs Determined & Resolute

May 12, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

resolute2

I just completed teaching a “No-Compromise Leadership Boot Camp” course. While discussing leadership blockages (those situations and accountabilities where procrastination and avoidance surface), the group got stuck on the fine line that separates a dictatorial and inflexible mode versus being determined and resolute. Simply put, if a leader says, “This is the way it needs to be done,” which mode is she leading in? Interestingly, it all depends on the thinking and behavior of individual leaders – and the situation in question.

If a leader is implementing a new system to dramatically fix and improve the customer service experience – and is holding team members accountable – is this being dictatorial or resolute? If it’s a system that everyone was trained on, agreed to and is good for the customer, the answer is resolute. If an employee is violating a standard of performance, quality procedure or something as basic as dress code, is holding the employee accountable being dictatorial or resolute? Again, the answer is resolute. (more…)... Read More

What’s not being said at performance reviews?

May 12, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

What’s not being said
during performance reviews?
One of my favorite Neilisms is, “Do you do quarterly performance reviews at least once a year?” When I use it during my presentations, there’s a reason why it always gets a chuckle. No matter how you view the process of performance reviews, there exists an inherent confrontational element. The intent of performance reviews is not only for issuing praise for outstanding work, it’s to discuss behaviors and skills that need improvement. And lets not forget the most uncomfortable part – to communicate performance and behavior that is unacceptable and must stop. Issuing praise and accolades is the joyous reward of leadership. Dispensing the not-so-fun corrective and disciplinary stuff is where vital information gets stuck in the leadership blockage muck of emotions and fear of confrontation.
Performance reviews are formal opportunities to guide and coach employees to reach their full potential. The perspective that reviews are “confrontational” is created entirely by the leader responsible for conducting the reviews. And until the leader can shift his or her thinking back to the healthier “guide and coach” aspect, the process of conducting performance reviews will continue to be painful, ineffective and without question, detrimental to the employee, the company and its culture.
Here are some no-compromise strategies to keep performance reviews in the proper perspective:
    * Properly set the table: Take the drama and uncertainty out of your performance reviews by informing employees how they will be evaluated and what topics, performance and issues will be discussed. Detail how the review will be conducted – that it will be open, respectful and allow both parties to express their views safely. The “not knowing” is what fuels stress. Given this, you may want to re-introduce performance reviews to your employees.
    * Use evaluation tools that allow the right conversations to occur: At Strategies, we encourage the use of Broadbands and evaluation tools to serve as a checklist of talking points. For example, under the heading of “dependability and accountability,” you can ask employee how he would rate himself on a scale of one to ten. If he rates himself higher than you would, you instantly have the basis to open dialog where you can say, “That’s interesting because I rated you a bit lower because of …”  Tools keep you on course and allow the right conversations to occur.
    * Keep the focus on the desired outcome: Without question, one-on-one performance reviews are stressful and emotional. But consider this: the intention is to establish and clarify the mutual accountabilities and next-steps for employee and company success. Sensitive issues may need to be addressed, but with success as the desired outcome, performance reviews should be embraced as positive and necessary course adjustments, not dreaded confrontations to be avoided.
    * Record keeping and accountability: These are two of the most common post-performance review pitfalls. First, you must maintain accurate records of each and every performance review detailing what was discussed, what the next steps and expectations are – complete with timelines. Second, too many leaders expect all to be right with the world after a performance review. It’s the leader’s responsibility to hold the employee accountable – to check in and see if the employee is making progress or is stuck and in need of coaching, guidance and support. 
Performance reviews are essential elements to employee growth, retention and nurturing of the company culture. If your reviews are incomplete and don’t address essential performance issues, it’s called compromise and your company’s performance is paying a price.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends. They’ll appreciate it.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO, and author of No-Compromise LeadershipWhat’s not being said
during performance reviews?
One of my favorite Neilisms is, “Do you do quarterly performance reviews at least once a year?” When I use it during my presentations, there’s a reason why it always gets a chuckle. No matter how you view the process of performance reviews, there exists an inherent confrontational element. The intent of performance reviews is not only for issuing praise for outstanding work, it’s to discuss behaviors and skills that need improvement. And lets not forget the most uncomfortable part – to communicate performance and behavior that is unacceptable and must stop. Issuing praise and accolades is the joyous reward of leadership. Dispensing the not-so-fun corrective and disciplinary stuff is where vital information gets stuck in the leadership blockage muck of emotions and fear of confrontation.
Performance reviews are formal opportunities to guide and coach employees to reach their full potential. The perspective that reviews are “confrontational” is created entirely by the leader responsible for conducting the reviews. And until the leader can shift his or her thinking back to the healthier “guide and coach” aspect, the process of conducting performance reviews will continue to be painful, ineffective and without question, detrimental to the employee, the company and its culture.
Here are some no-compromise strategies to keep performance reviews in the proper perspective:
    * Properly set the table: Take the drama and uncertainty out of your performance reviews by informing employees how they will be evaluated and what topics, performance and issues will be discussed. Detail how the review will be conducted – that it will be open, respectful and allow both parties to express their views safely. The “not knowing” is what fuels stress. Given this, you may want to re-introduce performance reviews to your employees.
    * Use evaluation tools that allow the right conversations to occur: At Strategies, we encourage the use of Broadbands and evaluation tools to serve as a checklist of talking points. For example, under the heading of “dependability and accountability,” you can ask employee how he would rate himself on a scale of one to ten. If he rates himself higher than you would, you instantly have the basis to open dialog where you can say, “That’s interesting because I rated you a bit lower because of …”  Tools keep you on course and allow the right conversations to occur.
    * Keep the focus on the desired outcome: Without question, one-on-one performance reviews are stressful and emotional. But consider this: the intention is to establish and clarify the mutual accountabilities and next-steps for employee and company success. Sensitive issues may need to be addressed, but with success as the desired outcome, performance reviews should be embraced as positive and necessary course adjustments, not dreaded confrontations to be avoided.
    * Record keeping and accountability: These are two of the most common post-performance review pitfalls. First, you must maintain accurate records of each and every performance review detailing what was discussed, what the next steps and expectations are – complete with timelines. Second, too many leaders expect all to be right with the world after a performance review. It’s the leader’s responsibility to hold the employee accountable – to check in and see if the employee is making progress or is stuck and in need of coaching, guidance and support. 
Performance reviews are essential elements to employee growth, retention and nurturing of the company culture. If your reviews are incomplete and don’t address essential performance issues, it’s called compromise and your company’s performance is paying a price.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends. They’ll appreciate it.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO, and author of No-Compromise Leadership

performance-reviews
... Read More

No compromise decisions are now in play

May 12, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

man-labrynth

I’ve been traveling a lot lately and talking to leaders across the U.S. and Canada. The trend is clear; leaders are rising to the occasion and making some of the toughest and most gut-wrenching decisions in years. Never before have I seen such widespread and aggressive corrective measures taken to counteract the effects of the recession.... Read More

The wonderful and wacky world of online social networking

February 23, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Since my new book, No-Compromise Leadership, was released last October, I’ve been actively engaged in a number of social networking websites. Why? The answer is simple: It’s the new way to meet, connect and reconnect with people, and in the process, discover new opportunities. Most of all, it’s fun – there’s always the unexpected surprise. Just two weeks ago on Facebook.com, a good friend I grew up and went through high school with reconnected with me. We hadn’t seen each other since we went off to college. After connecting, he called me and we spoke for over an hour about old times and our lives over the past 30 years. It was amazing.
Lately on Facebook.com, there’s been an explosion of new groups for just about everything you can image. Individuals, businesses and organizations set up groups. Group organizers send invitations to their Facebook.com friends – and ask friends to invite their friends. Before you know it, the viral nature of the Internet takes over giving groups the potential to expand rapidly. Group members can post comments or questions and even invite members to special online functions like webinars, teleconferences or actual events at the company’s physical location. It’s all pretty amazing.
I pay a lot attention to Linkedin.com because it’s a social networking site for business professionals – and it’s all business. Last Fall, I had a modest 260 contacts. After giving it some effort and joining some open networking groups, I now have almost 3,000 contacts. If you factor in my contact’s connections, my actual network swells to 13,592,600. I’ve connected with leaders from all over the world in every kind of industry imaginable. I’ve been invited to do Podcasts, seminars and even connections to buy my book and share their comments. I even started a “No-Compromise Leadership” group on Linkedin where people can post their no-compromise stories and discuss the topics. If you’re a member of Linkedin, please join my NCL group.
Here are a few no-compromise strategies to social networking:
* Find networks that match your interests: You’ve got to invest the time in social networking to reap the rewards. Do your research to find the networks with the kind of members you want to connect with. Facebook is very social and just a great place to meet people and stay in touch. Linkedin is where you’ll find professionals. Speakersite.com is where speakers network and share.
* You need to work at it: All social network sites allow you to build your personal profile so others can learn about you, your interests and your expertise. Invest the time to build your profile and add content like your bio, professional recommendations of your work, photos and videos. It’s easy to identify serious social networkers because their profile pages are rich with information.
* Sharing is where it’s at: Joining a social network and building lots of contacts only to “sell” them something is a big no no. The opportunities come from interacting with your contacts and participating in groups. Ask a legitimate question in a group discussion and you’ll get plenty of answers. Answer questions to help others and in the process you’ll be demonstrating your expertise. That’s when someone may ask you about your services or products. Share. Be respectful. Participate.
Lastly, there’s the amazing world of Twitter where devotees regularly answer the simple question, “What are you doing now?” You’re limited to 140 characters so you’ve got to keep your answers short. I followed Lance Armstrong for a bit on Twitter and quickly learned just how tenacious and disciplined he is. Lance posted “Tweets” all day long – after training, during a race, when he dropped his kids off for soccer – when he was with Bill Clinton in New York. Twitter is truly a social networking phenomenon.
So, expand your horizons and embrace the world of social networking. While you’re at it, you can follow me at http://twitter.com/nducoff.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

starfish-networkingSince my new book, No-Compromise Leadership, was released last October, I’ve been actively engaged in a number of social networking websites. Why? The answer is simple: It’s the new way to meet, connect and reconnect with people, and in the process, discover new opportunities. Most of all, it’s fun – there’s always the unexpected surprise. Just two weeks ago on Facebook.com, a good friend I grew up and went through high school with reconnected with me. We hadn’t seen each other since we went off to college. After connecting, he called me and we spoke for over an hour about old times and our lives over the past 30 years. It was amazing.... Read More

Are you taking your long-term employees for granted?

February 16, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

The passing of time does interesting things to long-term relationships. A comfort level settles in as both you and the employee get to know and understand each other’s personalities and behaviors. More importantly, all those little quirks – the positive and those annoying ones – become familiar and even anticipated. And this higher level of familiarity can, and often does, cause the leader to dial-down the leadership attention that long-term employees still need, require and most of all, expect.
Here are a few no-compromise strategies to ensure that you’re not taking long-term employees for granted:
* Low maintenance doesn’t mean “No Maintenance”: Loyal, productive and trusted long-term employees are truly a blessing for any business, but they cannot run on autopilot. Formal, thorough and scheduled performance reviews are a must. Like any employee, they need and want to know how they’re doing and where they can improve. Most of all, they need your attention and affirmation that they’re appreciated. Here, a little regular maintenance goes a very long way.
* Maintain your leadership perspective: Your comfort level, familiarity and relationship with long-term employees can interfere with your ability to communicate what needs to be communicated. Simply put, allowing the line between leadership and friendship to become blurred can make fierce conversations even more difficult on both sides of the relationship. It is essential for no-compromise leaders to say what needs to be said – and hear what needs to be heard.
* Avoid the double-standard trap: This one is simple. Allowing favoritism, special privileges and different standards for select employees is an invitation for contamination to infect your culture. And you’re probably compromising this most basic leadership discipline now. There can only be one standard that all employees, including you, adhere to.
* Tap their brainpower: Long-term employees know your business and they work from a different vantage point then you. Share responsibility with them in their area of expertise. Give them projects to work on. Assign them as mentors for new team members. This quote by Jack Stack says it all, “With every pair of hands you get a free brain.”
These simple no-compromise strategies can ensure a more fulfilling and productive relationship with long-term employees. They will also prevent contamination from infecting your culture because you’ll never take any employee for granted. Everyone wins.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

complacencyThe passing of time does interesting things to long-term relationships. A comfort level settles in as both you and the employee get to know and understand each other’s personalities and behaviors. More importantly, all those little quirks – the positive and those annoying ones – become familiar and even anticipated. And this higher level of familiarity can, and often does, cause the leader to dial-down the leadership attention that long-term employees still need, require and most of all, expect.... Read More

The Economy: Managing Pay Expectations

February 9, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

One of the highly sensitive and emotional challenges of working through this economic recession is dealing with the stress associated with managing pay expectations. For leaders, it’s the stress of confronting the reality that cash flow may not only call for a pay freeze – but may likely demand decisions to make payroll reductions. For employees, it’s the stress of not knowing exactly how the recession will impact their paychecks. Will the pay raises even occur this year? Will there be pay reviews? Will my pay be reduced? And the biggest worry of all – will I join the ranks of the unemployed?
In times like these, pay becomes one of those icky issues capable of creating a low-level funk that interferes with morale and productivity. Moreover, it can cause contamination in your company culture as questions and concerns about pay fester.
No-compromise leaders step up in these critically emotional times to build trust. And they do this by managing expectations about pay. They step up and defuse the emotional stress about pay and job security by eliminating as many question marks as possible. The one thing the no-compromise leader doesn’t do is avoid these tough conversations.
Here are a few no-compromise strategies to manage pay expectations in your company:
* Get it all out in the open: Talk openly about how the company is doing and its financial condition. If the company is encountering cash-flow challenges, engage all employees in the process of innovating new revenue opportunities and cost-cutting measures. Getting them engaged in protecting the company – and their paychecks – is a more efficient and productive use of brainpower.
* Uncertainty yields to understanding: If you need to initiate a pay freeze, deliver this news yourself and surround it with the highest level of clarity so everyone understands why you made this decision. If you need to lay people off, this too must be done with extreme clarity. Employees will support what they understand – even if the news is not what they want to hear.
* Be the confident leader: You are the keeper of your company’s vision, and making the necessary tough decisions required in tough times means that you cannot and will not please everyone. Confidence and compassion must meld with no-compromise leadership.
In recent weeks, I’ve talked to many leaders who have adopted the no-compromise mantra and are working through their payroll challenges. Without exception, they relay how difficult it is to be a business leader right now. However, each and every leader demonstrates a resolve to lead their companies successfully through this recession and back to better times.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

payrollOne of the highly sensitive and emotional challenges of working through this economic recession is dealing with the stress associated with managing pay expectations. For leaders, it’s the stress of confronting the reality that cash flow may not only call for a pay freeze – but may likely demand decisions to make payroll reductions. For employees, it’s the stress of not knowing exactly how the recession will impact their paychecks. Will the pay raises even occur this year? Will there be pay reviews? Will my pay be reduced? And the biggest worry of all – will I join the ranks of the unemployed?... Read More

“THEY” is not on your payroll

February 2, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Who exactly is THEY? Ponder the number of times in a day that THEY is identified as the individual that must do it, should do it, should have done it, will do it, or failed to do it. THEY must be the busiest person on earth. But if you really dig into the thinking behind THEY, two distinct patterns emerge. First, every day, everywhere and in every language, THEY is expected to take care of “it.” It doesn’t matter what the “it” is, THEY should or will take care of “it.” The second pattern is that every day, everywhere and in every language, THEY is blamed for not getting “it” done.
You can always trust that THEY will be there to handle “it” or to blame when “it” doesn’t get done. Even better, THEY never seeks credit when “it” gets done. Better yet, THEY simply and silently accepts blame when “it” doesn’t get done. THEY is the perfect scapegoat. THEY is convenient.
THEY makes compromising behavior easy. Here’s the kicker: THEY is used so often by you and your employees, it’s almost like THEY is on your payroll. Problem is, THEY never gets anything done. THEY never even shows up.
It’s time to fire THEY and recruit mega-doses of sense-of-urgency and individual accountability. The days of pushing things off or blaming THEY is over. THEY never has and never will be on your payroll.
Here are a few no-compromise strategies to ponder and share with your team:
* Just engage and get it done: The cost of procrastination is no longer in the budget. If something needs to be fixed – fix it. If a task is identified – do it. If a need exists – fill it. THEY isn’t on your payroll anymore.
* Ask THEY to stand up: Next time someone pushes something off or blames THEY, ask THEY to stand up. This instantly creates a no-compromise moment of clarity that keeps accountability where it belongs, on you and your team.
* Have a retirement party for THEY: What could be more fun than throwing a formal farewell party for THEY? Life without THEY shifts the thinking and focus on individual and team accountability. New accountabilities can be discussed and assigned. Yes, live without THEY means more work for everyone.
Have fun with this Monday Morning Wake-Up. It delivers a powerful no-compromise message for all the procrastinators in the world. Today, we can’t afford to have THEY hanging around our companies another day. There’s work to be done. No Compromise!
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

THEYWho exactly is THEY? Ponder the number of times in a day that THEY is identified as the individual that must do it, should do it, should have done it, will do it, or failed to do it. THEY must be the busiest person on earth. But if you really dig into the thinking behind THEY, two distinct patterns emerge. First, every day, everywhere and in every language, THEY is expected to take care of “it.” It doesn’t matter what the “it” is, THEY should or will take care of “it.” The second pattern is that every day, everywhere and in every language, THEY is blamed for not getting “it” done.... Read More

Is “No-Compromise” the new American keyword?

January 26, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

As we move into a new administration with hopes high for positive change, Americans are paying the hefty price of leadership compromise – by our elected officials, banking and financial institutions, oil companies, automakers and Wall Street itself. With millions out of work, and the crisis showing no signs of letting up, what can business leaders and owners – whether of large corporations or small mom-and-pop enterprises – do to save their companies and survive?
In this new, challenging landscape, taking any company (or government) to the highest level of success and profitability while creating a positive, rewarding workplace environment will require a game-changing paradigm shift.
No-Compromise Leadership can make the difference between championing a successful, profitable and meaningful company that matters to its customers and its team, from one that is contaminated by compromise. Given this, is “No-Compromise” the new American keyword? The answer is, YES!
What is compromise? It is a mode of thinking and behavior. Compromise occurs when leaders see and even acknowledge that a problem exists, but fail to engage, or at best, take the easier path of self-interest. And that is what we’ve been seeing around us, every day. Until now. At this historic juncture, new president Barak Obama speaks of the need for a new sense of responsibility and accountability by all Americans, as we begin to make our way back to financial and societal health. So too does former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in speaking of the need for “no compromise” in relation to preventing Iran from gaining nuclear capabilities.
As a result of adopting no-compromise leadership, business owners and leaders will:
* Experience a sharper, more focused sense of purpose.
* Realize what needs to be done – and do it.
* Tackle pressing issues that are often kept on the back burner where they fester and grow.
* Be a more decisive communicator, especially in relation to employees and associates.
* Make better decisions, because no compromise demands thorough attention to detail.
Leaders and employees will both be more engaged in growth – feeling empowered because they have been empowered. And that kind of empowerment translates to greater job satisfaction and staff retention; an ability to conduct business better, faster and more efficiently; and even enables change initiatives to move smoothly without the once-common internal resistance.
This is the time for no-compromise leadership. This is the time to make “No-Compromise” the keyword for you and your company. If you haven’t read my new book, I urge you to do so. You’ll not only get the no-compromise wake-up call, you’ll get the systems and disciplines to elevate you and your company to a new standard of leadership thinking and behavior.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

hi-lighter2bAs we move into a new administration with hopes high for positive change, Americans are paying the hefty price of leadership compromise – by our elected officials, banking and financial institutions, oil companies, automakers and Wall Street itself. With millions out of work, and the crisis showing no signs of letting up, what can business leaders and owners – whether of large corporations or small mom-and-pop enterprises – do to save their companies and survive?... Read More

Critical time for critical numbers

January 19, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Every business leader needs to be on his or her game in 2009. The reason is simple: the state of the economy has removed virtually all margin for error. Today, even those little mistakes that in the past you would chalk up as business lessons, can and will cost you dearly. And for all of us, ensuring and protecting cash flow must be front and center in all activities – especially in your daily decision-making.
Identifying and driving key critical numbers are the two best ways to ensure that you and your team are playing your best game. Critical numbers are like laser pointers. You can’t help but focus on them to move them in the right direction. The problem is, too many leaders don’t unleash the power of critical numbers to create a sense of urgency to achieve the best business outcomes possible. Even if you’re using critical numbers now, there is definitely more energy waiting to be unleashed.
Here are some get-it-done strategies to use critical numbers to play your best game:
* Target just a few critical numbers at a time: Attempting to drive a laundry list of critical numbers is a sure way to waste energy and focus. Pick the two or three absolutely key numbers that will make a difference in your business performance. By channeling your team’s energy and focus on driving select critical numbers you create an unstoppable brut force. Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Keep it moving in the right direction.
* Clarify what the numbers mean: Trust me, there are members of your team that won’t get what the critical numbers mean and why it’s vital to move them in the right direction. More importantly, everyone needs to understand what behaviors actually move the numbers. Put the clarity up front and you’ll see positive results sooner rather than later.
* Fix a problem: At least one of your critical numbers should be targeting a problem that needs fixing. If your payroll percentage is too high, make it a critical number. If supply costs are too high, make it a critical number. Heck, if huddle attendance is a problem, make it a critical number.
* Scoreboard the heck out of them: Don’t say you’re on your game in 2009 if you don’t have a scoreboard to track the action. And if you’re not doing huddles around scoreboard updates, the scoreboard will become “invisible” and meaningless to many.
* Change critical numbers as needed: If a current critical number is doing fine and there is another number in your company that needs attention, change it up. It’s just another way to keep the game interesting and to continuously fine-tune performance.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

critical_numbersEvery business leader needs to be on his or her game in 2009. The reason is simple: the state of the economy has removed virtually all margin for error. Today, even those little mistakes that in the past you would chalk up as business lessons, can and will cost you dearly. And for all of us, ensuring and protecting cash flow must be front and center in all activities – especially in your daily decision-making.... Read More

You need to hear it and they’re afraid to tell you

January 12, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

The usual conversation among leaders is about needed conversations with employees regarding behavior and performance issues. And for those conversations that are guaranteed to raise your blood pressure, there are some fine books available such as Fierce Conversations and Crucial Conversations to help you through. But what happens when employees need to tell you about issues with your behavior and performance as their leader?
This communication blockage is more common than you think. In fact, there’s a darn good chance that you have employees in your own company that need to tell you things that you need to hear – but can’t. Even your most trusted and loyal employees are probably holding back. Why? The answer is summed up in one word…fear. Fear for their jobs. Fear of retribution if you are offended. Fear that it could send you off on one of your tirades. Fear that your feelings will be hurt.
It is imperative that owners create an environment where open communication on sensitive issues can occur without fear. More importantly, to be an authentic no-compromise leader, you need to be open to constructive feedback from employees. That’s how you get better. That’s how you mature as leader and build trust.
Here are some get-it-done strategies to hear what you need to hear:
* Leadership team meetings: Put feedback on your performance on the agenda. Let team members know that you need their feedback in order to be the best leader for them and the company.
* Performance reviews: Make “Where can I improve to support you better?” part of every employee performance review.
* Cool your jets: A leader’s instant defensive posturing to employee feedback is the most cited reason employees give to avoid initiating a conversation with their leaders. Rather than going defensive and shutting down the dialog, acknowledge how much you value the employee’s willingness to share feedback with you.
* Listen. Don’t talk…just listen: Allow the employee to speak. Encourage them to go deeper with statements like, “This is important for me to hear, please explain more.”
* Get it all out: Before the conversation ends, ask, “Is there anything left unsaid?” This is one powerful question that ensures that everything has been placed on the table for discussion.
* Change: The worst thing you can do is listen, encourage, give hope – then do nothing to change your own behavior and performance. Compromising leaders live in a world of entitlement and denial. No-compromise leaders adapt, grow and build a culture of trust.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

329The usual conversation among leaders is about needed conversations with employees regarding behavior and performance issues. And for those conversations that are guaranteed to raise your blood pressure, there are some fine books available such as Fierce Conversations and Crucial Conversations to help you through. But what happens when employees need to tell you about issues with your behavior and performance as their leader?... Read More

What’s tolerable in good times is intolerable in bad

January 5, 2009 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

As we begin 2009, there are some new absolutes being thrown into the mix. First, 2009 is going be an economic rollercoaster ride as the realities of the recession settle in. Surely the retail sector is going to take it on the chin with a parade of bankruptcies and closings. Manufacturing will need to reinvent itself to take efficiency and corporate responsibility to an entirely new level. Likewise, the service sector will need to adjust to a much more conservative, value conscious and cautious consumer. Simply put, 2009 is going to be the year of not only fixing what’s wrong in business, but evolving quickly into significantly more disciplined no-compromise entities. And here’s the catch – doing so is not an option.
Success in 2009 and beyond is for those that can change and adapt. Hang on to “business as usual” thinking and behaviors and the odds are against you. It’s true the “good times” are behind us. But it’s also true that very good times lay ahead. In fact, for those riding the crest of change and reinvention, the good times are that much closer.
Here’s your first mission in 2009: Get real about what you’ve been dragging along … and get rid of it. There is no other way to explain it other than, “What’s tolerable in good times is intolerable in bad.” Here’s a quick no-compromise hit list:
* Employees: Every business seems to accumulate its share of employees that consistently fall below the line of acceptable performance and behavior. These employees may have been tolerable in good times, but you’ll never make it to the good times dragging them along. Make the no-compromise personnel decisions now.
* Spending: Good times can cause compromising spending behaviors. Benefits, bonuses, generous pay raises, equipment, programs, assistants, and all the other stuff that was tolerable in good times is now intolerable in bad. Make the no-compromise spending cuts now. In fact, use a meat cleaver to trim every bit of fat.
* Accountability: This encompasses every quality standard, policy, system, job responsibility, client need, problem solution – every darn thing that has “get it done – get it done right” attached to it. All those behaviors that you were tolerating in good times are nothing more than the drag of compromise. If you want to make it to the other side of this recession and the good times that await you, become the no-compromise leader your business needs now more than ever. Everything is riding on your decision to engage at the no-compromise level.
Rest assured, in 2009 your competition is going to thin out. They’ll pay the price for continuing to tolerate the intolerable. By taking decisive action now, you’ll ensure that you’re not one of them.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

ball&chainAs we begin 2009, there are some new absolutes being thrown into the mix. First, 2009 is going be an economic rollercoaster ride as the realities of the recession settle in. Surely the retail sector is going to take it on the chin with a parade of bankruptcies and closings. Manufacturing will need to reinvent itself to take efficiency and corporate responsibility to an entirely new level. Likewise, the service sector will need to adjust to a much more conservative, value conscious and cautious consumer. Simply put, 2009 is going to be the year of not only fixing what’s wrong in business, but evolving quickly into significantly more disciplined no-compromise entities. And here’s the catch – doing so is not an option.... Read More

10 No-Compromise New Year’s Resolutions

December 29, 2008 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

As we approach the end of the year, it’s a great time to re-evaluate where you’ve been for the past year and where and what you want your business to look like going forward. To that end, here are 10 No-Compromise New Year’s Resolutions to help you lead your company and your team toward success in 2009 from the strongest position possible – the position of No-Compromise Leadership.
1. Always put people before profit. Period. Do that, lead them with passion, trust them to do the right thing, give them the freedom to do it, help them have fun and the profit will come.
2. Listen and really hear what employees have to say. They are the front line of your business that customers see and hold the insights to make things better. Respond to their suggestions and make them feel valuable.
3. Always clarify expectations. People need to know where they stand and where they are going. Paint a high-definition picture of your desired outcome, then establish progress checkpoint dates and times. Start each day or shift with a huddle. Provide positive and constructive feedback at every turn. Share the information they need to do their jobs.
4. Create equality and fairness by eliminating double standards. This means the same rules that apply to your team apply to you – that all team members are treated the same. It also means you and all your team members will roll up your sleeves and pitch in when needed and that you never talk about, gossip or degrade an employee to others.
5. Tackle the tough stuff before it gets out of hand. Right now, you know exactly what’s on that short list of problems and issues your company needs to address. Address and fix them now because it’s easier to stamp out a matchstick than a blazing forest fire.
6. Never put off a crucial conversation, even if it’s outside of your comfort zone. When you avoid or fail to act on an issue or problem, you are dealing with a leadership blockage. Acting from emotions can interfere with your ability to see and confront reality and lead to great frustration on both sides. Once you do, you’ll wonder why you waited so long.
7. Raise the bar on customer service to the highest rung. Customer loyalty comes from delivering extraordinary service, quality and value with a no-compromise passion. No matter what business you are in, customer loyalty drives the true growth leaders. It starts by listening to your customers and your front-line team. Never accept inferior performance or poor quality service. Your customers will notice, whether or not they tell you.
8. Protect the financial integrity of the company. Accountability at all levels of the company to adhere to its financial control systems is the determining factor of your company’s profitability performance. You need to create a cash-flow projection, to live your plan, to pay attention to all your financial reports, to understand your financials, build cash reserves and manage debt.
9. Achieve maximum consistency through accountability to your systems. Systems give your business predictability. They reduce the chances of things going awry, spinning out of control or otherwise becoming more stressful than necessary.
10. Create a no-compromise culture that is pure world class. Strengthen, nurture and protect your business culture from contamination at all costs. Great leaders aren’t great because they’re innovative, understand numbers or have good communication skills. They’re great because they design, build and fiercely protect the cultures they are empowered to lead.
Happy New Year!
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

316As we approach the end of the year, it’s a great time to re-evaluate where you’ve been for the past year and where and what you want your business to look like going forward. To that end, here are 10 No-Compromise New Year’s Resolutions to help you lead your company and your team toward success in 2009 from the strongest position possible – the position of No-Compromise Leadership.... Read More

Doesn’t want to mess up her “8”

December 22, 2008 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

I recently spent a day with a business owner who needed some help getting her business “unstuck.” All things considered, this was a successful business. It has a great location, impressive revenues, decent systems and a team of loyal employees. So, why is this business stuck? The answer is simple – the owner is stuck. It’s a classic case of a “reluctant leader.” And this reluctant leader’s affliction is more prevalent than most leaders would care to admit.
To gain a thorough understanding of where the challenges were, I met with members of the leadership team. In the true spirit of teamwork, they openly shared their concerns and recommendations for change. By mid-afternoon, the common denominator for all the challenges and frustrations was revealed. You guessed it, the owner needed to change first. As if in perfect unison, these caring and supportive managers were saying, “We want our leader to lead us.” I could see the owner’s discomfort level grow as her pattern of reluctant leadership was brought out into the open.
At one point, I asked all the managers and the owner to rate the business on a scale of one to ten, with ten representing excellent. Unanimously, they all said, “We’re an eight.” “Interesting,” I responded. “So what’s keeping you from moving up the two final points to be truly world class?” We all looked to the owner awaiting her response. After a few minutes of deep contemplation, she said, “I don’t want to mess up my 8.” Wow … this was a profound breakthrough to removing the roadblocks to achieving extraordinary success.
What was finally revealed here was the owner’s reluctance to become a no-compromise leader. Her settling for that “8” was keeping all of her hopes and dreams just out of reach. Her settling for that “8” assured inconsistencies in the execution of work and customer service. Her settling for that “8” chipped away at accountability and dialed down the sense of urgency in the entire company. It was a commitment to being something less than the true potential of an otherwise great company.
To move from that 8 to a 10 means that the boat will be rocked. It means that change will occur and everyone will be accountable. Yes, some may not like it and fall off the boat. Chances are, they should have walked the plank a long time ago. And since this business has been stuck at an 8 for so long, it’s going to require some extra rocking to get it moving again.
Yes, it was a day of breakthroughs. A loyal leadership team got to tell their leader how much they needed her to engage as their leader. An owner revealed her reluctance to lead and close the gap between something less and achieving true excellence. Together, they focused their energies on change and what it means to live the no-compromise mantra every day.
Are you afraid to mess up your “8” and be the no-compromise leader your business needs you to be? Chances are, it’s time for you to stand up and rock your boat before someone else does it for you.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

inactionI recently spent a day with a business owner who needed some help getting her business “unstuck.” All things considered, this was a successful business. It has a great location, impressive revenues, decent systems and a team of loyal employees. So, why is this business stuck? The answer is simple – the owner is stuck. It’s a classic case of a “reluctant leader.” And this reluctant leader’s affliction is more prevalent than most leaders would care to admit.... Read More

Recession throws open the window for change

December 15, 2008 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

In recent months I’ve been referring to the recession as a new and more complicated jigsaw puzzle that leaders need to figure out – and just to keep it interesting, the puzzle is picture-side down. I’ve also been encouraging leaders to get clarity on what they want their company to look like on the other side of this recession. The message is simple: change, adapt and fix what isn’t working. Everything is on the table and subject to the “if it’s not creating lift, it’s creating drag” acid test. No-compromise leaders are ridding their companies of drag and they’re doing it quickly.
The only upside to the recession is that it has everyone’s attention. People understand the uncertainty of these times. They get it that tough decisions – unpopular decisions – must be made for the companies they work for to make it safely and strong to the other side of the recession. A little sacrifice today to ensure a secure tomorrow is the rule of the day.
I received an e-mail from a coaching client last week who was agonizing over her employees’ expectation for their annual Christmas bonus. It was a challenging year and deep down, this leader knew she had to make a no-compromise decision. Here’s what she wrote:
“There was a buzz going around for the last couple weeks if I would distribute the annual cash bonuses at the holiday party. Rather than waiting until the party for them to find out, I brought a TYD summary of last year’s numbers and this year’s to our Friday morning huddle. There were 25 employees at this huddle. I knew that those who were not working on that day would find out within minutes.
I asked them if they thought it would be a good business decision to hand out cash when we need it right now to get our business healthy again. I asked them if they wanted me to jeopardize losing their health care benefits and vacation pay by not running a lean ship right now. I told them that our ‘bonus’ this year is that we all still have jobs, myself included. Not a word was spoken – no questions asked. Staff came up to me following the huddle and thanked me.”
“Bravo,” I said. “This is a perfect example of the open, accountable and respectful strength of a no-compromise leader who is doing what needs to be done.”
The recession has certainly thrown open the window for positive change. More importantly, to fix all of those problems, issues, behaviors, practices and “entitlements” that have been waiting to be fixed. For many, it’s time to confront the elephant in the living room because you won’t make it through this recession dragging that elephant along.
I end this Wake-Up with a Neilism that is so right for these times: “No compromise has only one setting – whatever it takes.”
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

window-of-opportunity1In recent months I’ve been referring to the recession as a new and more complicated jigsaw puzzle that leaders need to figure out – and just to keep it interesting, the puzzle is picture-side down. I’ve also been encouraging leaders to get clarity on what they want their company to look like on the other side of this recession. The message is simple: change, adapt and fix what isn’t working. Everything is on the table and subject to the “if it’s not creating lift, it’s creating drag” acid test. No-compromise leaders are ridding their companies of drag and they’re doing it quickly.... Read More

In these crazy times, there is “More Than Money”

December 8, 2008 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

It was July 2006 and I was just leaving my office to catch a flight. Wanting a book to read on the flight, I reach for True to Yourself: Leading a Values-Based Business by Mark Albion. Throughout that two-hour flight, Mark’s words and thinking touched me so deeply, that as soon as I entered my hotel room, I emailed Mark requesting an interview. (Click this link to read the entire interview.)
Albion’s message focuses on the importance of aligning one’s values with growing a business. Too often in the pursuit of profit, leaders disconnect with their values and forget why they got into business in the first place. Albion reconnects profit with the passion that fuels business growth.
More Than Money
Mark’s new book, More Than Money: Questions Every MBA Needs to Answer, is the perfect sequel because, in less than 100 pages, it asks the right questions to isolate what’s truly important to you. He puts a megaphone on that little voice inside you and gives you the courage to listen, understand and respond to its meaning.
Mark says, “Your passion will allow you to get lost in something bigger than yourself, as it is that passion – your will, not your skills – that will define you and make you great. That’s how you find yourself: by getting lost in something you feel has importance beyond yourself. It may be addressing a social challenge, building a company, or collaborating with colleagues to meet a deadline. And when you can meet a business need and a social need, especially if it is personal, the feeling is priceless.
When you get good at something you don’t want to do, you feel as if you’re dying a little bit each day – that your soul is being sucked out of you. Worse yet, it takes time to realize what’s going on. Maybe you don’t enjoy your work as much as you used to, or you aren’t performing as well as you know you can. Maybe Sunday nights are a misery, causing you to wake with a knot in your stomach Monday morning. Maybe you’re wondering, ‘How did I get here?’ That’s why I agree with the late George Burns: ‘I’d rather be a failure at something I love than a success at something I hate.'”
Here’s a cool way to experience his new book. Watch this 3-minute animated movie telling the story of a cocky MBA graduate trying to educate a fisherman in a small village. In the end, it’s the MBA who gets the education. Please give it a try, and if you like it, pass it on to friends, family and colleagues. (YouTube video.)
With all the stress and uncertainty of tough economic times, More Than Money is a needed and timely prescription to find and stay connected with your passion for life and work. I know you’ll enjoy and benefit from it as much as I have.
To purchase More Than Money on Amazon.com, click this link.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

It was July 2006 and I was just leaving my office to catch a flight. Wanting a book to read on the flight, I reach for True to Yourself: Leading a Values-Based Business by Mark Albion. Throughout that two-hour flight, Mark’s words and thinking touched me so deeply, that as soon as I entered my hotel room, I emailed Mark requesting an interview.... Read More

Delivering the no-compromise personal touch

December 1, 2008 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

I just read a news release about a small suburban Chicago retailer whose strategy is to defy the forecasts for a gloomy holiday season by delivering that special personal touch to customers. Sue Opeka is the owner of The Present Moment that sells affirmational and motivational gifts such as placards celebrating family and friends. Opeka has focused on making her store a place where customers can come for a free cup of coffee, a cookie and a break from all the bad news on television and in the papers. Does her personal-touch strategy work? It sure does. Sales at her store have been up 15 percent for the past four months.
At a time when a lot of customers seem to be holding back and wondering what the financial crisis is going to mean for them, savvy business players are on the offensive and rethinking new ways to compete and thrive through tough times. And when the strategy is targeting the heart of the customer service experience, it can be just what salons and spas need to create that needed lift through the holidays and beyond. What’s even more enticing about this strategy is that it costs little to implement.
If you’re thinking, “We already do the personal-touch thing,” think again. If you and every employee in your business were given the ultimatum to deliver true and authentic no-compromise personal-touch experiences or lose every customer to a competitor, how much better would everyone perform? What level of personal touch would your clients experience now? Describe it. Define it. Systematize it. Then, hold everyone accountable for delivering it all day, every day.
Indifference is the nemesis of customer service. That’s right, indifference – that “attitude” clients encounter every day from employees that take their needs, time, money and loyalty for granted. Indifference may be present a lot or a little, but it’s a sure bet that it’s lurking somewhere in your business – and you need to find it and fix it fast.
Delivering the no-compromise personal touch to every client is a game changer. It ups the ante and channels your team’s energy around the single most important asset your business has, your clients. It turns a visit to your salon/spa into something significantly more special and meaningful. It “serves” clients in the most nurturing way possible by anticipating their needs and delivering the unexpected. And what environment is more suited to be a haven from the stress of the world than a salon/spa where touch is everything?
I know I’m preaching the obvious here. I also know you can do better – a lot better – delivering the personal touch if only you and your team take it on with no compromise as your one and only standard.
The Holidays are only weeks away. If delivering the no-compromise personal touch to your clients is just one puzzle piece to making it through these tough times unscathed, go for it. If it generates just $1 more in sales, go for it. If it sells one more gift card, go for it. If it puts a smile on a client’s face, no compromise says, “If it needs to be done, get it done.”
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

midas-touch-1I just read a news release about a small suburban Chicago retailer whose strategy is to defy the forecasts for a gloomy holiday season by delivering that special personal touch to customers. Sue Opeka is the owner of The Present Moment that sells affirmational and motivational gifts such as placards celebrating family and friends. Opeka has focused on making her store a place where customers can come for a free cup of coffee, a cookie and a break from all the bad news on television and in the papers. Does her personal-touch strategy work? It sure does. Sales at her store have been up 15 percent for the past four months.... Read More

When the leader steps up

November 24, 2008 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

These are truly uncertain times where the relentless barrage of bad economic news can rattle even the most steadfast of leaders. I’m hearing it every day, in every class and in every coaching call. The stress all leaders are feeling is real and it’s becoming more obvious. Well, I figured it was time to offer you a change of perspective – a kick in the butt to get you back in the leadership game.
My friend, Dr. Lew Losoncy, has the perfect philosophy for these times – and he says it in only three words: “What is, is?” Relax. Take a moment to digest these words. Think about the profound meaning these words have today. Think about how these words have helped people to overcome the worst things life can throw at them. Now, think about your business and all that’s right with it. Think about all the clients who depend on your services and products for their sense of well being. Think about those employees that in good times and bad continue to believe in you.
What is, is? It may or may not be the reality or situation you want to be in, but what is, is? The past is the past. It’s locked and archived and can never be altered. The only control you have is to begin at “What is, is?” and move forward with resolute determination to lead your business through these uncertain times to reach the good times that are waiting for you to arrive. It’s time to shake off the funk and fear, and step up to lead like you’ve never done before. There is nothing standing in your way to prevent you from doing this except your determination to create a new and better “What is, is?” tomorrow … and the day after … and the day after that.
Last week, I did an online course called “How to Kick Butt in an Uncertain Economy.” My message was solid and straightforward: engage as the leader, turn your systems on and focus on only those key drivers that will have the most immediate and greatest impact on driving your business forward. I also drove home how vital it is to make tough decisions targeted at trimming costs and eliminating any and all drag that’s slowing your business down. The next day I received an e-mail from one of the attendees that said, “I did not know that when I signed up for your online “Kick Butt” course that it was not about kicking butt as in increasing sales and doing well, rather, it was about you kicking me in the butt to turn intentions into actions.” Bingo! He got it. It’s time to step up and lead.
I urge you to talk to every one of your employees and communicate Dr. Lew’s “What is, is?” philosophy. Talk about what needs to be done, and everyone – including you – must be accountable for creating a new “What is, is?” Address the tough stuff head on. Step up and lead your company. You’re the only one that can. That’s what no-compromise leadership is all about.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO8

step-upThese are truly uncertain times where the relentless barrage of bad economic news can rattle even the most steadfast of leaders. I’m hearing it every day, in every class and in every coaching call. The stress all leaders are feeling is real and it’s becoming more obvious. Well, I figured it was time to offer you a change of perspective – a kick in the butt to get you back in the leadership game.... Read More

The Holidays: Lead your team to victory

November 10, 2008 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

I just completed a Podcast with John DiJulius, author of What’s the Secret: To Providing a World-Class Customer Experience. The first point John made was about the economy and how he avoids watching, reading and getting wrapped up in today’s gloomy economic news. “I need to stay positive so I can deliver my best to my company and employees.” At no other time does John’s message ring true than this Holiday Season that the news media and analysts are already projecting to be one of the weakest in years. The question is: what are you going to do to make this the best Holiday Season possible?
It doesn’t matter what kind of business you’re in – now is the time to shake off the funk of negative thinking, shift into no-compromise leadership mode and lead your team to a fourth-quarter win. The key words here are, “lead your team.” You’ve got seven weeks to play the business game like you’ve never done before.
Here are some red-hot strategies to make this Holiday Season a winner:
* Chaos yields to vision: When one voice rises above the noise with clarity, purpose and direction, others listen. There’s no doubt that achieving a win this Holiday Season is going to take more leadership and focus then ever. Now is the time to ratchet up information flow, set incremental daily and weekly targets … and cheerlead your team like you’ve never done before.
* Systems rule: Too often I hear leaders say, “We already do that,” Unfortunately, their critical numbers tell the truth. Many businesses have systems but fail to turn them on. Accountability and the relentless quest for consistency must be inherently bonded into every system if the desired results are to be achieved. For example, if you have a system for product recommendations and pre-booking, is it “turned on” and running with the precision of a Swiss watch? If not, confront reality, flip the switch and get to work.
* Go for that 20%: I’ve seen my “20%” theory proven time and time again. It’s simple: there is another 20% in sales and growth waiting for you and your team, so go for it. When you put the excuses, blame, insecurity and blockages aside, you’ll see it and achieve it. You’ve got seven weeks to take it and prove me right. You’ve got nothing to lose by trying. No compromise.
* Bring your game face: If you’re intent on ending 2008 with a win, you’ll need to bring your game face to work every day. The demeanor of the leader sets the tone for the team. If the leader is energized, determined, positive and focused, the team will be too. The leader creates lift or drag. You’ve got seven weeks to lift your team to the mountaintop. No compromise.
So there you have it – a seven-week leadership game plan for winning this Holiday Season. The question again is: what are you going to do to make this the best Holiday Season possible?
A PERSONAL NOTE: My new book, No-Compromise Leadership, has been among Amazon.com’s top 25 “Leadership” books for over a week. It’s been as low as #7 … right behind Marcus Buckingham’s First Break All the Rules. I am both excited and honored to have my book in such esteemed company. Yeah, it’s that cool.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

gingerbreadman1I just completed a Podcast with John DiJulius, author of What’s the Secret: To Providing a World-Class Customer Experience. The first point John made was about the economy and how he avoids watching, reading and getting wrapped up in today’s gloomy economic news. “I need to stay positive so I can deliver my best to my company and employees.” At no other time does John’s message ring true than this Holiday Season that the news media and analysts are already projecting to be one of the weakest in years. The question is: what are you going to do to make this the best Holiday Season possible?... Read More

Everyone is responsible for business growth

November 3, 2008 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

In my new book, No-Compromise Leadership, one of my favorite Neilisms is, “If I can’t sleep at night, no one sleeps at night.” It’s not intended to be a message for leaders to stress out their employees, it’s simply a thought-provoking and rather amusing quote to drive home the fact that leaders don’t have to shoulder the burden of growing a business alone. Leaders define the destination and keep the business on a steady course. That’s the real work of leadership and that work includes inspiring great performance as well as making tough decisions.
Leadership is a delicate concoction of foresight, focus, tenacity, trust building and accountability that produces measureable results. When this concoction gets out of whack, those measureable results can head in the wrong direction, signaling that indifference has contaminated the business culture. Indifference sounds like, “Why should I work hard or care about the performance of the business. I’ll get paid no matter what?” Indifference is another word for apathy and apathy can kill a business.
When the funk of apathy slows a business down, leaders typically identify employees as the problem. They reason that employees just don’t get it or care, or that they’re simply lazy. Well, my fearless leaders, I bet you know where this is going. Bingo! It’s not them – it’s that delicate leadership concoction of yours that’s out of whack. You’re enabling the very behavior that’s slowing your business down by not engaging as the leader.
Everyone is responsible for business growth. It’s such a simple statement that resonates with good stuff like teamwork, empowerment and progress. But that “everyone is responsible” thinking begins with the leader creating a culture where clarity, openness, trust and shared accountability are the rule rather than the exception. In such a culture, the only way indifference and apathy can set in is when the leader is distracted or just not paying attention.
Sense of urgency is a key business driver. It’s the business equivalent of a throttle on a jet. Take the pressure off for only a second and it begins a steady decent. If you’re dealing with lackluster performance, indifference and apathy in your business – if you want everyone to be responsible for business growth – it’s time to take the pilot’s seat, push forward on the throttle and communicate to your team what the destination is and what it’s going to take to get there. In these crazy economic times, it’s what no-compromise leaders do.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

biz-growthIn my new book, No-Compromise Leadership, one of my favorite Neilisms is, “If I can’t sleep at night, no one sleeps at night.” It’s not intended to be a message for leaders to stress out their employees, it’s simply a thought-provoking and rather amusing quote to drive home the fact that leaders don’t have to shoulder the burden of growing a business alone. Leaders define the destination and keep the business on a steady course. That’s the real work of leadership and that work includes inspiring great performance as well as making tough decisions.... Read More

No-compromise leadership is an either/or proposition

October 27, 2008 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

I received the following in an email from Dr. Lew Losoncy, “Clearly stated in the title, your book is the right concept for our times. No compromise is an either/or proposition that forces leaders to act decisively or accept the alternative – fear of compromising themselves and their companies.”
Either/or. Compromise or no compromise. Get it done or procrastinate. Address the problem or allow it to fester and grow. Take control of your business or be a “hostage.” Be tenacious and courageous or live in fear. Experience the fulfillment of racking up wins or the anxiety of allowing time and opportunities to slip away.
Going no compromise is tough work. It doesn’t matter if your business is wildly successful or confronting major challenges, no compromise is the work of leadership.
Since my No-Compromise Leadership book was released a few weeks ago, I’ve had some pretty interesting reactions from readers. One reader said, “I’m into Chapter 3 and suffering acute anxiety. I’ve been seriously compromising. Do you ever feel this way?” My response was a simple, “Yes, I feel the pressure of living no compromise every day. Ultimately, I’m responsible for the success or failure of my company.”
What I’m learning is that Part One of the book really hit its mark. It calls leaders on their compromising thinking and behaviors. So if it’s tough reading for some, it’s precisely what they need to read because compromise destroys businesses from within. Just a hint of compromise is toxic enough to create drag in a company.
Here are three simple rules to keep you in the no-compromise leadership zone.
1. Stay engaged in the business of your business: Don’t get lost in projects or distractions. Disconnecting from customers, your employees and what drives the bottom line is a compromise. Simply put, be where the action is.
2. Priorities rule: Getting stuck in busy work is a compromise. Identify and tackle priorities with determination. Heck, attack them with a vengeance.
3. Information flow never flows fast enough: Communication and the flow of information is fast and furious in the no-compromise zone. Information flow keeps everyone on the same page. It’s like glue, the more you drive information flow, the more locked into the no-compromise zone you get.
Either/or … compromise or no compromise. Which path will you take?
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

yes-noI received the following in an email from Dr. Lew Losoncy, “Clearly stated in the title, your book is the right concept for our times. No compromise is an either/or proposition that forces leaders to act decisively or accept the alternative – fear of compromising themselves and their companies.”... Read More

Are you throwing Alka-Seltzer in your St. Helens?

October 20, 2008 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

‘ve been teaching a lot of seminars and doing a considerable amount of coaching these past few months. If I had to use one word to describe the emotional state most often encountered, I’d have to use the word “stress.” In these crazy economic times, it just seems like owners are stressed to some degree over the uncertainty of how their business will fair. The constant barrage of bad news doesn’t help much either. The question is, what are you going to do right now to ensure that your business will weather the storm and emerge rock-solid? If there is any cure for stress, it’s taking action, being proactive and kicking some business butt. There’s little or no time for stress when you’re taking action. Sitting around worrying or obsessing over what to do and doing nothing, feeds and deepens stress.
I’ve spent the better part of my career teaching and helping entrepreneurs work through their challenges and grow successful businesses. Just about every business owner knows what the problems are in his or her business. They know who the unproductive employees are. They know what’s undermining teamwork and fueling all that senseless drama. They know payroll is too high and which expenses need to be contained. They know that cash-flow plans either don’t exist, and if they do, they’re not living their plans. Simply put, they know. You know.
If owners know what the problems are, why don’t they – why don’t you – fix them? The answer is actually quite simple. It’s the fear of making big changes and how badly those big changes will rock the boat. Productive employees may leave. The changes will be unpopular and create discontent. Maybe the changes won’t work. So, rather than implement a cure that may rock the boat, owners create some short-term discomfort or require the learning of new business skills, and small, largely ineffective solutions are attempted instead. It’s like throwing an Alka-Seltzer in Mount St. Helens. Plop, plop, fizz, fizz – the eruption rages on.
I received the following email from an owner who just returned from a Strategies course on no-compromise leadership. The business has been struggling financially and she just completed performance reviews that she described as “crucial conversations.” She wrote:
“I feel empowered and I keep these words in mind. At night when I tuck my son into bed, how will I explain that he won’t have his bedroom in the house that he loves, in the neighborhood he feels safe in, or go to the school where he feels confident and loved? The likelihood of loosing it all is a respected fear that I am no longer willing to ignore or sweep under the rug. Going no compromise is really hard, but the alternative is much more uncomfortable and scary. Neil, I finally get it.”
Those are some pretty powerful words from an owner who traded in her bottle of Alka-Seltzer to do the tough work of a no-compromise leader. She gets it that rocking the boat is part of change. She knows that her decisions may not be popular with her team and some may leave, but she has the respect and loyalty of those that want to build something special together.
In these times, never forget that business problems are like icebergs. You see only a small piece of the problem while the real danger looms large below the surface. As the leader, you must not only be strategic, you must be decisive. If you need to cut expenses, cut decisively. If you need to address performance issues, address them decisively. If you need to give certain toxic employees a career opportunity, do so decisively.
Becoming a no-compromise leader is truly a road less traveled. Not because it’s necessarily long or difficult, but because of the unwavering commitment and perseverance to be such a leader. Is it time for you to allow the no-compromise leader in you to emerge?
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

st-helens-1I’ve been teaching a lot of seminars and doing a considerable amount of coaching these past few months. If I had to use one word to describe the emotional state most often encountered, I’d have to use the word “stress.” In these crazy economic times, it just seems like owners are stressed to some degree over the uncertainty of how their business will fair. The constant barrage of bad news doesn’t help much either. The question is, what are you going to do right now to ensure that your business will weather the storm and emerge rock-solid? If there is any cure for stress, it’s taking action, being proactive and kicking some business butt. There’s little or no time for stress when you’re taking action. Sitting around worrying or obsessing over what to do and doing nothing, feeds and deepens stress.... Read More

Accountability (No Compromise!)

October 13, 2008 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Greetings fellow entrepreneurs. Did you receive your government bailout check yet? I’m talking about the bailout check that will cover all those questionable and utterly bad business decisions you’ve made. All kidding aside, there are no bailout checks for entrepreneurs.
Unlike AIG and the other investment banks that failed to be accountable and knowingly compromised their financial integrity, there is one absolute that we entrepreneurs live by; when we mess up, we’re on our own and can lose everything. And unlike chief executives at major corporations that continue to receive million-dollar paychecks as their companies crumble beneath them, we entrepreneurs surrender our paychecks so our employees can get theirs. For entrepreneurs, when the well is dry – it’s over. No bailouts. No Lone Ranger to the rescue.
Am I angry at the events of recent weeks? You bet I am. I’m angry because the leaders of our banking system, major corporations and especially our leaders in Washington, DC, don’t get it. They don’t get what accountability and no compromise is all about. They don’t get that doing what’s right is the tough stuff of leadership – that respect for people comes before profit. Moreover, the bailout doesn’t fix the fundamental fact that compromise created this mess; it “forgives” it and enables compromising thinking and behavior to continue.
Roseanne Klementisz, one of our Certified Strategies Coaches, emailed me after last week’s presidential debate. McCain’s frequent use of the word “transparency” inspired her to write the following words:
“Given the current economic crisis, there is a renewed urgency for fierce, effective leadership at all levels of our financial lives. Leadership at the corporate and political levels can no longer preside with mediocrity and deceit.
The curtain is rising and employees, shareholders and citizens alike are demanding a revolutionary transparency. It’s essential to restore the massive degree of lost trust.
Entrepreneurs can no longer avoid the challenges that their companies are facing and neither can the average Americans that are accountable for the financial well-being of their families.
Compromise at the leadership level equals failure at best and devastation at worst. Safety nets have deteriorated and the call for no compromise must be heeded to restore the strength of our country’s economy.”
Roseanne’s words are a powerful call to action for everyone in business and government. In my new book, No-Compromise Leadership, I wrote, “When leaders compromise, or look the other way when compromise occurs, it’s the equivalent of a captain drilling holes in the bottom of a ship. A business can sink just as quickly as a ship.” Now is the time for all leaders to practice accountability and to live the no-compromise mantra.
Salons and spas touch and communicate with millions of people every day. Let’s show America and the world what no-compromise leadership looks like. Let’s spread the word that no compromise and accountability is a non-negotiable in business and government. By doing so, we can all emerge from this mess as strong and vibrant businesses.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

accountability1Greetings fellow entrepreneurs. Did you receive your government bailout check yet? I’m talking about the bailout check that will cover all those questionable and utterly bad business decisions you’ve made. All kidding aside, there are no bailout checks for entrepreneurs.... Read More

Now is the time for No-Compromise Leadership

October 6, 2008 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

We are all getting a real-time and sobering lesson in compromise. The economic events of this past week on Wall Street and Washington DC have been fed by compromise at every step. In what seems like a heartbeat, the economy went from sluggish to serious talk of recession. The question we’ve been asking, “Can it get any worse?” now has an answer, “Yes it can.” Compromise in Washington and Wall Street has driven America to the lowest point I have ever witnessed in my lifetime.
As entrepreneurs, we risk it all for our businesses. And when we make bad decisions and compromise, we know that the government will not step in and write an insanely massive check to bail us out. Simply put, we pay a price to play the business game. When we win, there’s no better feeling of personal pride and accomplishment. When we lose, it hurts in every conceivable way imaginable.
It is in economic times like these that our entrepreneurial grit is put to the test. From all indications, this economic mess will get worse before it gets better. And if it hasn’t already, it is going to impact your business. The question is, will the no-compromise leader in you rise to the challenge? The best mindset is to prepare for what is shaping up to be an extended period of economic uncertainty.
No-compromise leadership means doing what needs to be done. No excuses. No procrastination. To get you going, here are some do-it-now no-compromise strategies:
* Forget “Salons are recession proof” thinking: These are different and extremely complex times. That old “recession proof” thinking enables inaction. It creates a mindset that nothing needs to change. Today, salons are NOT recession proof. Many can already attest to that.
* Turn your systems on: This simply means, everyone on your team plays according to the rules. Our coaching clients that are reporting growing or steady sales and profits are the ones that have a no-compromise culture where everyone is accountable. From up-selling on the phones and adhering to service procedures, to consultations, recommendations and pre-booking, they execute their systems.
* Lift or drag: Do you have employees on your team that live by their own rules? That’s compromise. Absenteeism, lateness, missing huddles, avoiding retail recommendations, not pre-booking, no teamwork, always an excuse… you get the picture. If an employee is not creating lift, he or she is creating drag. The no-compromise leader doesn’t tolerate drag of any kind.
* Information flow: In times like these, information flow throughout the business is crucial. The no-compromise leader is a communicator. Huddles, scoreboards, one-on-ones, constant cheerleading – that’s how to maintain urgency, consistency and focus.
* Cash-flow planning: I know I beat this topic to death. I do so because too many entrepreneurs don’t pay attention to their financial reports. Even more fail to create and live a cash-flow plan. Today, and most certainly in the months ahead, there is no margin for error when it comes to cash flow. Most certainly, there is no bailout waiting for you should you run out of cash. The no-compromise leader is engaged in cash-flow planning.
You need to go no compromise. America needs to go no compromise. No doubt we are in uncertain and fearful economic times. It’s time for no-compromise leadership. Heck, I wrote the book on it and I need to adhere to no-compromise thinking and behavior, too. Let’s weather this storm by doing what needs to be done. Like all storms, there is sunshine and blue skies on the other side.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

bailoutWe are all getting a real-time and sobering lesson in compromise. The economic events of this past week on Wall Street and Washington DC have been fed by compromise at every step. In what seems like a heartbeat, the economy went from sluggish to serious talk of recession. The question we’ve been asking, “Can it get any worse?” now has an answer, “Yes it can.” Compromise in Washington and Wall Street has driven America to the lowest point I have ever witnessed in my lifetime.... Read More

Pricing in today’s uncertain economy

September 22, 2008 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Pricing services at salons and spas is a topic that’s always steeped in controversy. At one extreme, owners take an artistic and emotional approach that relies heavily on what the market will bear. At the other extreme, owners take a more strategic approach that factors in costs, profit margins and competitor pricing. In the middle resides a mixed bag consisting of multi-level pricing, incentive pricing, service packaging and other similar strategies with the intention of appealing to the broadest range of consumer price preferences.
Suffice it to say, pricing strategies at salons and spas are clearly more art than science. Yet, while the debate rages on, only one line item on your profit and loss statement truly matters – net profit. Did your business generate enough revenue and control its expenses to make a profit? And, at the end of the day, was that profit significant enough to be worth all the effort? In these uncertain economic times, these two simple questions must guide any and all pricing decisions and strategies.
To keep your thinking clear on your pricing strategies, consider the following:
* The problem may be your spending – not your pricing: Before you rush into a price increase or a discount strategy, get real about your spending habits. I’ve seen more owners crying the blues about profits while refusing to confront their spending and avoidance of cash-flow planning disciplines. If this describes you, it’s time to confront reality and take accountability for managing expense. Messing with pricing is not going to fix a spending behavior problem.
* The problem may be “not up-selling” – not your pricing: It’s a safe bet that you’re letting sales walk out the door simply because your front desk and service providers are not up-selling. Does your front desk and call center staff have scripts for up-selling? If not, why not? If they do, are they using those scripts? The same goes for service providers. Scripts make up-selling easier and more natural. Too many salons and spas have the systems but fail to train and hold employees accountable for using them.
* Know your cost-per-hour: You cannot effectively price a service without knowing your cost-per-hour that includes labor, product cost and overhead. Knowing your cost-per-hour is like knowing the cost of a retail product. It allows you to effectively “mark-up” that cost sufficiently to ensure a profit. Without knowing cost-per-hour, you’re simply guessing. You can read more about cost-per-hour in the Strategies’ archive by clicking this link: Service Pricing
* Discounting has its place – or not: Discounts do help influence buying decisions. Discounts allow you to focus attention on new services or time slots that need attention. Used strategically, discounting can and should boost revenues. And if the term “discount” brings shivers to your artistic and professional demeanor, you can easily package services into one attractive price and avoid the use of the term entirely. Needless to say, overusing discounts can create customer expectations to seek incentives.
* If you must raise prices: If you’ve managed your selling efforts and expenses to where a price increase is now warranted, go for it. Applying a viable and justified price increase is part of business. No need for apologies or detailed explanations. Just be honest with clients and say, “It was necessary to raise our prices.” I also suggest just doing it. Attempts to inform all clients of the impending increase just delays the inevitable. Some will complain, many will not and a few may decide to go elsewhere. That’s business.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

pricing2Pricing services at salons and spas is a topic that’s always steeped in controversy. At one extreme, owners take an artistic and emotional approach that relies heavily on what the market will bear. At the other extreme, owners take a more strategic approach that factors in costs, profit margins and competitor pricing. In the middle resides a mixed bag consisting of multi-level pricing, incentive pricing, service packaging and other similar strategies with the intention of appealing to the broadest range of consumer price preferences.... Read More

When learning and camaraderie bond

September 15, 2008 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Many of you are familiar with our Strategies Business Series/4.0. Better known around here as SBS/4.0, this learning experience is comprised of four training sessions, three days each, held at our Business Academy in Connecticut. But, when we started our tenth SBS/4.0 group earlier this year, little did we realize how dynamic this group of 45 owners and managers would become. The structure of SBS/4.0 spreads its four training sessions out over ten months with e-mail updates every Tuesday to the entire group. This progressive learning and interaction naturally creates camaraderie and sharing – but Group 10 rapidly took it to a no-compromise level.
From the start, there was something unique about Group 10. They shared business information, manuals and successful strategies freely. But things really got interesting when they began leaning on each other for support. The Tuesday e-mail updates quickly became their lifeline. When a couple of owners encountered some serious and unexpected problems, group members rallied with encouragement and solid strategies. As entrepreneurs, we all know how vital it is to have fellow business owners bring their strength and belief in your ability to succeed when the road ahead is dark and uncertain. Over the past seven months, I’ve watched with pride as this group collectively advanced their no-compromise leadership thinking and behavior.
In three weeks, Group 10 will reconvene at the Strategies Business Academy for their third session. This time, a number of owners are bringing partners and key staff members to share the experience and energy of the group. One spa owner actually had four key employees request that they too attend SBS/4.0 with her. When she said, “Let me figure out how we’re going to pay for the added expense and travel,” they replied, “We already paid for our own tickets.” That’s what I call inspiring.
Lisa Cochran, who we fondly refer to as Miss Mississippi, called me to ask if the town allows campfires on the local beaches to do a New England clambake. When I told her fires aren’t allowed, undaunted, Miss Mississippi called the local Chamber of Commerce. On her own, she organized a clambake through a local caterer to be held on Captain Mark’s charter boat, RiverQuest, on the beautiful Connecticut River just a mile from Strategies headquarters. Now we’ve got husbands, wives and children joining the group.
The point of this story is to express how essential it is for all business owners to come together every three months to learn, share and inspire each other. We designed SBS/4.0 as a venue for just that purpose. Over the years, we’ve refined the course content to achieve that special balance of learning and interaction. With Group 10, we perfected our “secret sauce” to teach no-compromise leadership both in the classroom and in between sessions.
We have another SBS/4.0 beginning on October 12th. If you want to truly raise the bar and learn what no-compromise leadership is all about, consider joining Group 11. Click on this link for more details.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

camaraderieMany of you are familiar with our Strategies Business Series/4.0. Better known around here as SBS/4.0, this learning experience is comprised of four training sessions, three days each, held at our Business Academy in Connecticut. But, when we started our tenth SBS/4.0 group earlier this year, little did we realize how dynamic this group of 45 owners and managers would become. The structure of SBS/4.0 spreads its four training sessions out over ten months with e-mail updates every Tuesday to the entire group. This progressive learning and interaction naturally creates camaraderie and sharing – but Group 10 rapidly took it to a no-compromise level.... Read More

What does “working on your business” really mean?

September 1, 2008 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

“Are you working on your business, or in your business?” This working “on or in” your business statement has been bandied around for years. For the leader of a business, it just makes sense. If you’re spending the majority of your time doing “the work” of the business, who’s plotting the course for growth and continued success? Who’s making sure the business has the resources, money, talent, systems and a rock-solid culture to ensure continued success? Who’s ensuring that everyone is focused and accountable? When all these “who’s” have a leader’s name attached to it, the result is what I call “the No-Compromise Company.”
For salon and spa owners, this “working on your business” typically means, “not doing services on clients.” For non-technician owners, it typically means, “being able to work in the office.” No matter what your interpretation of “working on your business” is, the big question is, what are you actually working on? Furthermore, does what you’re working on really qualify as “high-value stuff.”
To help clarify what working on your business really means, my friend Jack Stack says, “If you’re making decisions today that will affect your business in the next 30 days, you’re making the wrong decisions.” As leader, working on your business means that you are not getting bogged down in the day-to-day running of the business. Your focus must be on the opportunities and potential dangers down the road – not on the immediate activities.
When your systems are well designed and there is company-wide accountability to execute those systems with consistency, you are free to work on your business. You’ve got a leadership team and other staff that are much closer to the details of the work. Given this, your leadership team and staff should be capable of making the best operational decisions – if you let them.
Here is a hit list of do-it-now strategies you can use to ensure that you truly are working on your business:
* Redefine your role as leader. If you’re the leader of the company and you’re spending the bulk of your time servicing customers and stuck in the day-to-day operations, it’s the perfect recipe for stagnation. Start with a clean slate and redefine your role with a focus on vision and creating organization excellence. Plot your company’s course on a journey worth taking – and lead it there.
* Let go of the controls: If it’s only done right when you do it, you’re stifling the growth of others in your company. Owners that refuse to let go of the controls are forever bound to their companies, as they only function well when they’re present.
* Levels of authority: Design a system that clarifies levels of authority. This means that clear guidelines for decision-making exist at all levels of the company – and keep it there. For example, a front desk manager is responsible for all daily operational decisions that involve the front desk. The leader or general manager is not called in to solve the “double-booking error.” If the computers blow up, then they’re called in.
* You can’t be the main sales engine: If the revenues you personally generate are so vital to the financial integrity of your company, you’re stuck. You’ll never be able to work on your business. Working on your business means creating the right environment and culture that inspires all team members to contribute and grow.
* Build value to your company: As leader, your prime responsibility is to build value in your company. That means leading a finely-tuned company that adheres to no-compromise thinking and behavior. You can only build value by working on your business.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

working-on“Are you working on your business, or in your business?” This working “on or in” your business statement has been bandied around for years. For the leader of a business, it just makes sense. If you’re spending the majority of your time doing “the work” of the business, who’s plotting the course for growth and continued success? Who’s making sure the business has the resources, money, talent, systems and a rock-solid culture to ensure continued success? Who’s ensuring that everyone is focused and accountable? When all these “who’s” have a leader’s name attached to it, the result is what I call “the No-Compromise Company.”... Read More

Simple systems drive customer loyalty

August 25, 2008 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

customer-loyalty2A quick Neilism: “Systems set leaders free.” If you want consistency in customer service, satisfaction and retention, you must use systems. A football coach has his playbook – a collection of systems