The Employee-Based Salon & Spa Owner’s Manifesto

December 19, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Employee-Based Salon Spa Owner Manifesto

As the owner of an employee-based salon/spa company … you control your own destiny.

At Strategies, we believe in and support your dream to own and grow an employee-based salon/spa.

We believe that a team of skilled professionals working in a structured, team-based culture can provide the best career and income growth opportunities … opportunities that booth rental and suites promise but cannot deliver.

We believe that a team-based salon/spa can consistently deliver that complete customer service experience that many talk about but rarely deliver.

But owning an employee-based salon/spa isn’t all blue skies and popcorn clouds.

  • There will be good times and bad.
  • Employees will come and go.
  • The economy can work for you and against you.
  • You will love your company and you will fall out of love with your company.
  • You will make brilliant decisions and you will make dumb decisions.

In order to help you truly control your own destiny, here is Strategies’ Employee-Based Salon/Spa Owner Manifesto:... 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

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

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

Everyone is Accountable for Salon & Spa Customer Loyalty

June 20, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Everyone is accountable for customer loyalty.



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


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

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

Why Salon & Spa Owners Should Not Fear Change

March 7, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments


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

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


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 to Find Your Best Leadership Voice

January 18, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

– – – – – – – – –... Read More

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

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

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.
... Read More

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 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 … 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

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.


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

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

12 Characteristics of the Ideal Salon/Spa Manager

August 12, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 14 Comments

Savvy leaders surround themselves with great managers.

It’s the simple theory of divide and conquer…As a company grows, the leader’s job and responsibilities must evolve, too. Leading a start-up often has the leader working in the trenches to push the company to financial sustainability.

In contrast, leading a mature company with all the various departments and functionalities requires organizational charts and levels of management.

The leader of a multi-million dollar company has a very different set of issues to contend with than an entrepreneurial start-up.

The bigger your company gets, the more your role changes – the more you need to depend on your inner circle of managers to keep things moving in the right direction.

The problem with hiring a manager is that you’re not always sure what you’re getting. Some are good taskmasters but lack people skills. Some managers love the title more than the work. Others procrastinate, avoid problems, and lack initiative. So what exactly do the characteristics of the ideal manager look like?... 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

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 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

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

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 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

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

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

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

Are you leaving a legacy as a salon or spa leader?

July 5, 2012 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

What legacy will you leave behind as an owner or leader?

I have been pondering this thought lately. I am in my 28th year in the beauty industry, and I am starting to think about handing over the torch in the next 10 years.  But what got me to really thinking about my legacy was reflecting on my former boss Allen Queen. Allen hired me to work at Chick-fil-A when I was 15 years old. (I am 47 now.) I worked for him for a little over two years.

Allen always taught me that “sales chase service.” He knows this to be true. A five-time winner of the coveted Symbols of Success award by Chick-fil-A, he operates a store that will do $6 million. Yes, a $6 million store. That’s a lot of chicken!

Allen will be retiring soon, and I was asked to speak of the legacy that Allen will be leaving following his 31 years with the company. More than one thousand people came out to wish Allen farewell at his retirement party. Even Elvis made an appearance.

I heard the same comments over and over again. “Allen was always present.” “Allen set the standard in servant leadership.” “Allen taught me to make a difference in the lives of others through charity and service.”... 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

How to avoid negative behavior

June 7, 2012 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

How many times have you found yourself justifying a decision by saying, “We can’t do that or they’ll leave.” Or, “The last time we did that, we had two people quit.”

Many times we make decisions influenced by fear. As a result, we end up not taking action, perpetuating a problem that clearly needs to go away.

Here’s the deal. So much of our time and energy is wasted on negative behavior and implementing command-and-control initiatives that don’t get us anywhere. Instead, why not try a different approach?

As my coach Daryl Jenkins (a Certified Strategies Coach) once told me years ago: “Instead of worrying about whether or not team members will leave, why not use that same energy to focus on creating an environment where people want to stay?” Now that’s some good advice!

What have you done to show appreciation for your team’s accomplishments lately? As much as we all have room for improvement, there is definitely a lot of good that is happening right now in your company. Shine the light on that and watch what happens. Just like negative energy spreads like wildfire, so does positive energy.... Read More

How to get the most out of your negotiations

May 31, 2012 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

From the time we first tried to wheedle a later bedtime from our folks, we’ve all been negotiating in one way or another.

Salon, spa and medspa owners and managers do a lot of negotiating — with employees, customers, vendors, landlords, family members, other businesses — well, you get the picture.

Life may not be a cabaret, but it certainly can feel like one negotiation after another. While not every negotiation is about closing a big deal, similar techniques apply, whether an employee wants an extra day off or you’re working on a multi-year lease.

Keep these tips in mind to ensure you’re getting the most out of your negotiations:

  1. Everybody wants something. That’s what gives each of us leverage in a negotiation. Knowing not just what you want, but what the other person wants, helps both parties reach a mutual understanding. Clarify goals; don’t make assumptions.
  1. Try to understand the other person’s mindset. It’s sometimes not enough just to know that Mary wants Saturday off. It’s often important to understand the “why” behind the “what.” There’s often more to the situation than what’s visible. Ask questions to uncover what might be going on behind a request. Walk a mile (or at least around the block) in the other person’s shoes. Two people may want the same outcome but have different motivations. You’ll be a better negotiator if you take the extra time to understand why someone wants what he or she does.
  1. Think win-win. Negotiation implies a winner and a loser. When you reframe that to “give a little, get a little,” you might get exactly what you need to get, while the other person (not your “opponent”) also gets what he or she needs. Try to leave all parties feeling good, even when certain aspects of a negotiation don’t go their way. Help the other person see why you’re making the decisions you are. Make it a positive experience all around. Watch your body language and tone of voice.
  1. Know what’s most important to you. Because it’s no longer about winning and losing, you can give in on things that don’t matter so much to you. Perhaps you need someone to work late, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be Kate. Or maybe you can change a promotional deal so that it works better for a customer. It’s not about always being “right.”
  1. Don’t be stubborn for the sake of being stubborn. Sometimes we just dig in our heels and forget to listen to what’s being said. It’s not a sign of weakness to change your mind if a well-reasoned argument is made, or if you decide something simply isn’t that crucial. Knowing when to bend is the sign of an experienced leader. Of course, it’s all right to stand your ground, too. Just remember, though, ceding on a small point will often get you the majority of what you want.

Negotiation is a big part of the life of any business owner or manager. Keep in mind mutual goals and stay positive. That will go a long way toward negotiations that are upbeat and helpful, and that will get the results you need.... 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

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

Why fundamentals matter in your salon or spa

May 10, 2012 | By Daryl Jenkins | 2 Comments

I am a big baseball fan. One of the reasons why is because of the great lessons the game teaches us. For example, when a team isn’t playing well for an extended period of time, the manager focuses on the fundamentals of the game. These are the basics such as batting, fielding and throwing. He doesn’t try to get them to do fancier plays or hit only homeruns because that usually makes matters worse. Without the essentials, the great plays don’t happen with consistency, and homeruns, if they occur, can be meaningless. It’s the fundamentals that win games.

The same holds true in business. As a salon and spa consultant, I can’t tell you how many ads, plans and promos I hear about from companies that are looking to increase the number of new customers to their businesses. At the same time, their new customer-retention rates are dismal. So let’s get this straight: They want to spend huge amounts of money to ask new customers to come in to see how ineffective they are at retaining them for the long term? That’s expensive and crazy!... Read More

Creating a foundation for salon and spa growth

May 3, 2012 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

You’d never open a salon without the proper tools — state-of-the-art scissors, top-of-the-line blow dryers and, of course, fabulous, effective products. Similarly, no one would try to run a spa without massage tables, pedi chairs and wonderful scrubs and lotions.

Unfortunately, many owners do try to run their salons and spas without the proper business tools needed to be profitable and successful.

Many salons and spas struggle with cash-flow and figuring out what’s coming in (and going out). Without a clear financial picture, it’s impossible to plan for steady growth, as expenses always pop up. Many owners (maybe even you) start using their personal credit cards to pay the bills — even to cover payroll. It’s impossible to build a strong business without a realistic cash-flow plan.

Numerous other owners and managers grapple with staff concerns, from hiring to pay design to performance evaluations. Some owners have leadership issues, uncertain how to translate their vision to their employees so that everyone is working toward the same goals. Proper communication is one of the first steps in building a successful business, yet it is one of the basics that many salon and spa owners believe they don’t have time for. A culture where employees want to do their best, stay and grow is one of the hallmarks of a thriving, profitable business.... 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 ways to stay energized in your business

April 19, 2012 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

Feeling a little blue? First-quarter sales not quite what you were hoping for? Just a little worn out by the day-to-day routine? Try these tips to recharge your batteries and get reinspired about being a leader:

  1. Know it’s not always going to be easy. There are going to be tough days, difficult decisions, cash-flow challenges, people who call in sick. Have a plan for how to deal with the days when you’re frustrated, angry, sad or aggravated. Start now by making a list of “Things I Love About My Salon/Spa.” Add to it regularly; revisit it often.
  2. Plan for the long term. Identifying where you’re going in a few months or years can help you keep your eye on the prize. Staying focused on your ultimate goals for your business will remind you of the big picture. Take time to review where you’ve come from, too. We can get bogged down in the everyday grind and forget how we’ve grown, how much better we’ve gotten.
  3. Involve your team. Your business can never grow without the energy of your staff members. Look to them for ideas, support and suggestions. And be sure to offer lots of appreciation. Your staff has lots of options about where they work. They chose you. Doesn’t that make you feel good?
  4. Don’t put off tough decisions. The mental drain from not doing is far greater than what’s involved when you make a decision and act. Thinking everything over and over and over (and over) before making decisions is exhausting and sure to sap your energy. Gather the facts, follow your heart, and take action.

Find the joy. Every day. Think about what went right, who went beyond the usual call of duty, which customer was especially happy. Can’t think of anything? Try harder. Ask your staff for the highlights of their days too. Jot down notes as you move through your day, just so you won’t forget. Laugh together with your team, share stories, do things just for fun.  Take a few minutes for yourself – even on the busiest days – to take a walk, breathe deeply, read the cartoons or watch a funny online video. Don’t underestimate the importance of self-care – exercising, eating well, getting sufficient sleep, connecting with friends and family.... 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

Is your salon or spa culture delivering happiness?

April 11, 2012 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

Business culture imageI am a huge fan of shoes and an even bigger fan of Therefore, it’s hard to believe that it took me until two weeks ago to read Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.

I’m in the process of hiring a slew of new employees and figured that now was a good time to review ways to keep my culture strong and vibrant in the midst of change. Boy, did I not know how it would affect my company in the following week!

It took me just a few days to read the book. I loved it, of course, and was inspired to initiate a culture-oriented project for my staff. The timing was perfect with all our new hires and our 29th anniversary in business. At our April team meeting, I told my staff about a project they needed to complete in four days, in order to present to the entire company. The project? In one page or less, describe the Visual Changes culture.... 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

How to run a great salon or spa and still “have a life”

April 5, 2012 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

Does this sound familiar? “I just work, work, work. It feels as though I can never get away from work. How can I make sure that things get done at my company and still manage to have a life?”

I hear this all the time. Owners feel consumed by their businesses. But finding balance between your business and your personal life is necessary to avoid burnout.

When you need to handle every aspect of your business, there will only be one outcome: exhaustion!

Here are five tips to run a great salon or spa and still “have a life”:

  • First, divide your company into departments. Think marketing, education, human resources, hair, spa, medspa, customer service, staff retention, budgets, etc.
  • Now, assign a person in each department to be the department head.
  • Work with your department heads to develop systems for every area of your business. Think about the most common services and situations. Ask department heads to solicit input from all staff, so there’s buy-in from the start and a sense of inclusion.
  • Have department heads write down the steps involved with each system. After reviewing them and making necessary changes, include the processes in one place, such as a binder.
  • Now you have a how-to manual for every area of your company. Work with your key staff to ensure team members are properly trained on each system. (You may want to develop skill certification for primary skill areas. Strategies can help you with this.) The end result? You can take time off knowing that your systems will guarantee impressive customer experiences and the business will operate efficiently.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m in business to maximize profits or if there’s a bigger purpose. Having a family and a business, I believe that the purpose is making the money and having time to spend it. There are times when I pursue a little less money and a bit more free time. Other times, I devote myself full-on to the company. The point is that I’m making a conscious choice.... Read More


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