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Business Well Done™

On the challenges faced by leaders of established businesses.

Break Through

For leaders, relationships are not always easy.  When people are genuinely striving together, friction happens.  And it often seems that you, the leader, are the cause of the friction.

You push for change.  You push for better.  You push for faster.  In general, you can be associated with discomfort, because most folks are most comfortable where they are today.  And to lead, you're trying to take them to a new place: tomorrow.

In the striving, sometimes distrust develops.  Your people may wonder whether you actually care about them, or see them as simply a means to an end.  This week is a good time to counteract that.

In the US and Canada, we have this handy little holiday called Thanksgiving.  (It's a minor blip that must be a nuisance for retailers hellbent on making the second half of the year into one big Hallow-Christmas.)  But it's the perfect excuse to break through. 

It gives us a reason to talk about things we're thankful for... without seeming too weird.  And what if one of those "things" was a person you work with?  Who works for you?

It's a powerful thing to be told, "Hey, I don't say it much, but I really am grateful for the chance to work with you." And it allows for all kinds of deeper connection without necessarily resolving the friction.

"I know we really can rub each other the wrong way, but I see how much you care about this stuff, and I'm glad for it."

"I was thinking about how much you do that we don't have to worry about, and I'm grateful for that."

"You're pushing me to be better, you're pushing us all to be better.  I'm thankful for that."

If you're elsewhere in the world, there are other days for giving thanks.  Take advantage.  In fact, any day could be the right day to make that connection with someone.  It might just carry you both through the next year of striving.

Paul SchwadaComment
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Three Circumstances

Let me tell you about three leaders who find themselves in three different places.   All are real leaders; all are current circumstances.  I will offer no commentary.  Take from their stories what you will.

The first leader is feeling very good.  Not so long ago, she recognized that her successful business needed to change, to grow and mature.  She undertook a process that helped her organization make this change, and it wasn't necessarily fun.  While there were signs of hope along the way, and she believed in what she was doing, much of it was uncomfortable.  It often alternated between nerve-wracking and just plain boring.  But she persevered, and she's glad she did.  Today the business is vastly improved.

The second leader is not feeling very good.  He recognizes that his successful business needs to change, to grow and mature.  He is starting a process designed to help his organization make this change, and it is painful.  The company's methods and expectations, some long-cherished, are under the microscope.  The team has identified some things as areas for improvement, which means some current practices are now implicitly labeled "inferior."  New practices - logical and hopeful but unproven, and therefore scary - will have to take their place.

The third leader is a bit apprehensive.  Every year his organization delivers superior results.  The line on the chart just keeps going up.  But he wonders if they're doing the best they can... or just better than they did.  He is concerned that they could be complacent in their success, and underperform relative to their potential.  He plans to undertake a process to stretch the organization further, to evaluate their practices and expectations in order to identify greater opportunities.  He is aware that discomfort lies ahead.  He believes that any significant change - no matter how good the intent - will feel threatening, or exhausting, or frustrating, or even boring somewhere along the way.

In which of these three circumstances do you find yourself today?  And if you're feeling good, how long until you begin the cycle again?

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8 Blocks: The Critical Realities For Growing Any Business

This is about a new book.  The book is about growth.

First, though, a reminder of the second law of thermodynamics: the natural state of everything is decay.  That includes business.  So we shouldn't be surprised when our processes get sloppy, our products look old, and our enthusiasm for doing more of the same dims.  But we can't allow it - we have to keep advancing, renewing, rebuilding.  The only way for a business to thrive long term is to keep pressing uphill.  And the goal that forces us holistically uphill is Growth.

That is reason enough.  But many of us have additional reasons to strive for growth: expectant investors, unprofitable operations, poor cash flow, a boss who Says So, or just the compelling belief that we can do better.  The net effect is that the fundamental challenge for most leaders in business is to achieve profitable, sustainable growth.

I've had the chance to work - both from the inside and the outside - with a diverse range of businesses.  Whether they were publicly-traded or private, young or old, conservative or aggressive, they were pursuing growth.  They had the core objective in common, but not much else.  They had different cultures, employed different models, served different markets, used different strategies and tactics... and experienced different levels of success and failure.

As I watched and worked with such companies, two things became clear:

  1. Just doing something was no guarantee of growth.
  2. Doing what had worked for someone else was no guarantee of growth.

You have your own examples of businesses that spin their wheels trying to grow.  They're trying, but their effort is wasted.  And you also know companies - maybe your own - that can't replicate some other organization's success.  You're working with different context, so you can't just do what Steve Jobs did.

Every business has its own unique reality, I realized, and that reality is comprised of invisible but powerful forces that define the unique shape of its opportunities.  The better we understand our reality, the more we align our efforts with that reality, the more effective our actions.  Now how can we go about doing that?

We need some kind of tool or framework that helps us figure it out.  And since our goal is to grow, not to think about growth, it needs to make sense, promptly, so we can get from thinking about our unique situation to taking action.  Enter 8 Blocks: The Critical Realities For Growing Any Business.

8 Blocks, which arrives December 7th from GamePlan Press (Arlington, VA), is based on a very pragmatic framework that I developed and use with my clients.  Four of the realities are internal - they're about the business.  Four are external - they're about the markets we serve.  Looking at our unique reality in these eight ways allows us to identify our best opportunities, and define actions that give us our best shot at growth.

8 Blocks also gives us tools to figure out how we're doing along the way.  When we understand why we chose the actions we did, and how we expect them to work, we can better evaluate our progress.  If our efforts haven't paid off yet, we know whether they deserve more time, or that it's time to change course.  When a course change is necessary, we can evaluate the moving parts in our assumptions and plans to figure out how to adapt our efforts.

The book is new, but the concepts stand the tests of time and diversity of application.  Over and over I've seen businesses fail to grow because their efforts are incongruent with one or more of these critical realities.  Those that succeed do so because they work - whether by luck or design - within the unique shape of their constraints and opportunities.

If you're striving for growth, I hope you find 8 Blocks to be a powerful resource.  To find out more:

Watch the 8 Blocks trailer

Get a sneak peek at the upcoming companion site:

Pre-order a copy of 8 Blocks at Amazon or GamePlan Press


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