Monday, December 30, 2013

Prof’s hit 10,000 golf balls to get to their level. What are you doing to get to the Pro levels of leading your company?

A large number of aspiring executives and owners are working toward their MBA’s.  Like most professional training (doctors, lawyers, etc.), you come out of a program with technical knowledge and almost no trained skills to practice the professional training. This is why doctors go through internships and residencies.  As a young attorney, I learned a good deal in my first couple of years of practice, from secretaries who really knew their stuff (this is the informal legal residency and while most attorneys don’t talk about it, it is for real). 

Back to business types… two questions: What are your strengths and where are you going to get your training?  At Excell, we believe in practicing with frequency, regularity and consistency the skills required to lead a company.  Whether you think of leadership as soft skills or not; whether you are a whiz at inspiring people; whether your planning skills let you see around corners, there is always a next level to achieve. 

So, let me ask you the ultimate question…. How are you going to get your 10,000 practice swings, in order to achieve mastery?  If you do not plan on how you will get mentoring, feedback or accountable practice, then an MBA won’t do you much good.  A high school graduate with a disciplined program, desire and commitment to practice will outshine you any day, whether on the golf course or in business. 

What is your plan? 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Reading List for 2014

Excell Puget Sound has compiled a reading list  for entrepreneurs and business owners.   Our Recommended Book List provides tools and insight for a strong and successful 2014.

 Shannon Bruce, Executive Coach and Group Leader of Excell Puget Sound Kitsap has reviewed her top three all-time books on leadership.


Shift: A Guide-book to Above-the-Line Positive Thinking—Cathy & Gary Hawk

I highly recommend this book as a must read resource to create a culture of positivity among leaders and teams. Because this book is based on how to improve your engagement with self and others, it’s applicable for all types of ecosystems and will benefit individuals, families and companies. You will learn a new operating system for interacting with yourself and others that shifts the focus away from negative thinking and drained energy to positive thoughts that restore well-being, vitality and results. The book is both context and content rich, providing the brain science behind the work, while providing instructions on how to use the tool to support ongoing and sustainable behavior change. The greatest impact of this book is that it will support you in taking ownership of your own thoughts and energy to increase your vitality, deepen your relationships with individuals and teams and improve the quality of your outcomes in both life and work. 

Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization Dave Logan, John King, Halee Fischer-Wright

People are wired to be in relationship and as a result automatically form tribes. Each tribe has a unique culture that thinks, feels and acts a particular way. This book provides a solid framework for understanding the culture of the five tribal cultures, as named by the authors, to supports leaders in expanding their own leadership capacity as well as understanding how to engage and interact with others at the stage of culture they are operating. The natural result is teams and organizations thrive as you learn now to leverage the culture of the tribes you are interacting, either at home or at work.

The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything—Stephen M.R. Covey

Trust acts as an exponential dividend that accelerates results. This book is a comprehensive resource that looks at trust through multiple lenses starting with self-trust, relationship trust and stakeholder trust (organizational, market and stakeholder trust). It also explores how to develop a solid foundation of trust by strengthening the four cores of credibility which include integrity and intent (character) along with capabilities and results (competencies). As the title suggests, this book will change everything.

Lauren Owen Co-founder and Partner, Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching,  and Group Leader of Excell Puget Sound SouthSound Group reviews her top 3 books of all times:

Every Family’s Business, by Tom Deans, PhD

I like this book because Deans takes a different approach to family business. Dean’s view? If the majority of your wealth is tied up in your family business, treat it like the important investment it is. Don’t assume that the best thing for your kids (or the business) is having them work in it (and eventually lead it in the future). Deans advocates having yearly tough conversations between you and your successors about what each wants out of the business, including if and when the business should be sold. He includes a list of the questions that should be asked and answered by both parties. Told in a story format, it’s an easy read.

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, by Chip and Dan Heath

The Heath brothers have taken the best of existing research on decisions-making and boiled it down into a four step process. I liked this book so much that I bought it for all my Excell group members, who now incorporate many of the points from the book into how they make decisions (and how they coach each other).

Land on Your Feet, Not on Your Face: A Guide to Building Your Leadership Platform, by Jim Hessler with Steve Motenko

Written by former Excell facilitator and current Boss Show Host, Jim Hessler, this book is entertaining, inspirational and practical. Each chapter, or Plank, starts with a case study and incorporates real life stories from the author’s background in corporate leadership with key points from the best of current psychological studies in leadership effectiveness. The reader is challenged in each plank to apply the principals into his or her leadership practice with assignments called “Making It Real.”

Monday, December 16, 2013

3 Marketing Myths that are Stifling your Company’s Growth

Today we have a guest blog from: Elizabeth Andreini

When talking to CEOs I often find that there is confusion about marketing, which is often not the CEO’s core area of expertise.  Sometimes I hear statements that are misconceptions about marketing, so I thought I would highlight a few, leaving you something to think about as you plan for the coming year.

Myth #1: We don’t really do marketing.
The follow-up question I ask when I hear this statement is: “When you say you don’t do marketing, how to you tell prospective customers about your company?” I may hear the response, “We just focus on building relationships, we don’t advertise.” What is marketing? According to the Oxford dictionary: Marketing is defined as “the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.” And what is promoting? Promoting is simply publicizing a product to increase public awareness and sales. The fact that you don’t advertise in magazines, newspapers or online doesn’t mean that you don’t do marketing. You just don’t advertise. Advertising isn’t marketing; it is only part of how you can communicate when marketing. Building a relationship with potential customers and communicating with them to create awareness and preference for your company is another way of saying that you are indeed marketing. 

Myth #2: I know what our customers want.
Really?! Are you exactly the same as your target audience? A 45 year old male product manager planning to expand his product line to include an offering more targeted to women once explained to me that he knew his sales would increase because now he was going to offer it in pink…and even purple. I was so stunned at his assumptions that I was speechless. (Yes, this really happened!) What CEOs need to keep in mind – and ensure other decision makers remember is: Your opinion while interesting, may not be relevant. That sounds harsh, but remember that you probably aren’t your target audience, may not match the profile, have the same needs and your level of product or service knowledge is different from your potential customers.  Reach out to those that are a closer fit to your target audience in the company or friends/colleagues outside the company to better understand what prospective customers values and perceptions are. You might be surprised at what you find out!

Myth #3: I don’t understand this frenzy over social media; we don’t need to do anything with those sites since that’s not how customers buy from us (today). 
Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Yelp, Pinterest…the list goes on and on. It seems there is always a frenzied rush to jump on the latest social media trend – or completely ignore it. Companies can easily devote too much time and energy to social media because they want to be seen as innovators that get there first: “We have to get a presence on the new “FaceYouYelpterest” site before our competitors!”  But companies are more likely to ignore these sites because they don’t think their customers interact much using social media. Social media is just a vehicle for communication, and is ONE component in a carefully considered communication strategy. However what does get overlooked and why this is Myth #3, is that the changing demographics of your customers may mean that your future prospective customers will use social media sites to gather product/services information and learn about businesses, even if your current prospects aren’t. Older decision makers are being replaced with younger more internet savvy, smartphone-carrying decision makers. And employee demographics are changing as well. Participating in social media should be a well-considered strategy that plans not just for today’s customers but to attract future customers as well as key employees based on changing demographics.

Here are some myth busting questions you should be thinking about:

1.     How do prospective customers learn about our company and our products or services? How does that align with our “marketing” activities? How can we better communicate to build more awareness?
2.     When we think about our prospective customers, are we assuming we know what they really want because we know the product and service so well? Are we really the same demographic or psychographic profile and how can we get broader feedback which might better inform and improve our perspective?
3.     Are our potential customers looking at and using social media now and which sites are they looking at for information? Which social media sites might future employees be using? How might mobile phones be used to accessed information on our company and its products?


As the President of Accelerate Marketing, LLC, Elizabeth Andreini, is the “secret weapon”
CEOs turn to at key growth points when they need to transform marketing and product
management to grow their customer base, increase revenue & scale their business. In
addition to providing experienced executive insight and guidance, Elizabeth often works
as an interim CMO or VP to provide the hands-on leadership needed to rearchitect
marketing and product management and improve execution from the inside.

Elizabeth Andreini, founder & president of Accelerate Marketing, LLC 
Accelerate Marketing, LLC
Twitter: @acceler8mkting

Monday, December 9, 2013

Are You A Leader Who Wants to Improve? Learn to Get (and Give) Feedback

Today we have a guest blog from Lauren Owen:

Chances are most people who are really, really good at what they do have gotten a lot of feedback along the way, not all of it good.  Recent research confirms that while beginners benefit from the motivation that comes from positive feedback, people with greater expertise gain more from the negative kind.

If you've ever played a competitive sport, I am sure you had a coach or
trainer who didn't just praise you for the good stuff but was especially
adept at pointing out your deficiencies, and sometimes in not an especially diplomatic way.  The better we get the more critical the feedback should be and the harder praise should be to come by.

We know that while some leaders are born, most good leaders didn't start out
that way. As in any other proficiency, there was skill development, practice, training, mentoring, coaching, and yes, some less than positive feedback, welcomed or not, that they received along the way that molded their professional development.

So why is it then that as leaders who profess to want to improve our leadership abilities, do we not actively seek out the very thing that would help us be better: feedback, both positive and negative?

For example, I'm guessing that none of us got up this this morning and said to the heavens, "Please bring a heaping boat load of negative feedback my way today AND KEEP IT COMING."

From my personal experience and my work with leaders of closely-held companies, here's my list of what stops us from seeking feedback:

I am afraid of what I might hear. We're afraid, we're very, very afraid of what we might hear. We are especially afraid to learn something new about ourselves; something that does not fit with what we already know about ourselves. We fear discovering our blind spots; the things that bother others that we didn't even knew we did.

I am content with how things are. We might not feel that we really want to take action and change. We might feel obliged to act on the feedback if we invite it and we either don't want to do anything or we don't know what to do about it.

Ego. We don't want to show our weaknesses. Doesn't being a leader mean being
strong and invulnerable? People won't want to follow me if they think I don't know what I'm doing.

I am the way I am. It's worked well for me in the past and will keep working for me in the future.

If I ask my people for feedback on my performance, it would mean I would have to provide it to them in the future as well and I don't want to do that.

Personality Type. The highly detailed, AKA Perfectionist-types, don't just dislike negative feedback, it's actually their worst fear. They are their own worst critic, so what's to be gained for asking for more? Nothing good,surely.

The highly sensitive, AKA Why Can't We All Just Get Along-types, don't like to risk offending people by giving straightforward feedback and we don't especially like getting it either.

So, there are lots of reasons why we need it and lots of reasons why we'd rather not get it. It's like trying to get more chard in our diet.  We know chard is really, really good for us but it's rather an acquired taste for most. Like negative feedback, does anyone wake up craving it?

How to get more feedback Here are some ideas to get more feedback in your

Like chard, find ways to sneak a little into your daily diet. Pick one thing you'd like to get better at. For example, if one of your goals is to be a better listener, ask your co-workers to tell you after every meeting how you did guessed it. listening.  Ask them for specific suggestions of how to improve next time. When they give you this feedback and ideas for how you can do better in the future, just listen, be open, say thank you and use their suggestions to get better next time. 

And then keep asking!

Giving and receiving honest feedback is a skill like any other. You can and will improve with practice.

Get over yourself! The world will not come to an end if we hear some suggestions on how we can improve (or give some to others.)

Realize the some of the skills and behaviors that got you to your current place of success might, in fact, be the very things that will hold you back in the future. For more insights on this, read top executive coach (and our mentor) Marshall Goldsmith's insightful book, What Got You Here Won't Get You There. (This type of feedback, because it focuses on how we can improve in the future, is called feedforward. Doesn't that sound just a little more

Get help/Reach out! Admit you have challenges that are holding you back from being as successful as you could be and call in a professional coach with a plan and a measureable process. Make it someone you enjoy working with.

Instilling a culture of open feedback and feedforward is like injecting a good virus into your organization. Be a good role model and show your own vulnerability by encouraging feedback/feedfoward on your performance as the leader. Your people will see you making positive changes as a result, and it will have an incredibly positive impact on your entire organization. We have seen this process go viral in some of our client's organizations. It becomes all about continuously improving yourself, your company, and everyone in it.


Lauren Owen, Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching

Lauren works with businesses leaders who want to develop and execute succession plans, sharpen their business practices, strengthen their leadership, and create long-lasting value in their businesses. She is a certified Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Leadership Coach. She is also a leader of the Excell Puget Sound Southend Group.

(206) 427-2856, (253) 245.3518

Monday, December 2, 2013

Strong Companies Possess Financial Powers

Today we have a guest blog from Julie Eisenhauer:

When I was organizing my thoughts to write an article about the factors that demonstrate financial power within a company, I was reminded about the extraordinary powers of Superman.  He was described as “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.”  Similar to Superman, your company can possess the power to prevent unexpected surprises.  Can your company be described as “audit ready”? Does management understand the financial statements, and are results monitored?  These are key indicators that demonstrate the financial power of a company. 
“Audit ready” all the time
I know the term “audit” causes anxiety by many, but being “audit ready” all the time demonstrates your company’s strength to produce accurate and timely financial reports that allow management, owners and outside users to trust the results when evaluating your company’s performance.  Can a potential investor walk into your accounting office today and perform due diligence on your financial reports?  Would you be able to produce the account reconciliations and documentation supporting the balances? Are you confident that your company is in compliance with all laws and regulations?

Understand what your financial statements are telling you
Financial statements tell a story about the financial strength and performance of a company on a certain date and during a specific period of time.   Management needs to understand what the story is telling them to identify strengths, weaknesses and opportunities in the company’s financial performance. 

For example, an increase in the balance of accounts receivable at a rate higher than revenue may be the result of slow paying customers.  The company may be at risk for collecting on these receivables, requiring prompt action by management to investigate.  A slowing in the turnover in accounts receivable reduces the ability of the company to turn the receivables into cash to pay its current obligations timely.

Monitoring budget against results
The budget is a measureable tool that can provide visibility into the company’s performance and can also be a means to hold management accountable in achieving financial goals.  Unusual variations between actual results and budgeted expectations should be investigated.  A timely review of these variations enable management to recognize and respond to unusual trends that may indicate fraud, unwise use of resources, operational inefficiencies, poor decision-making, missed business opportunities, and other threats that can negatively impact companies. 

How would you rate your company’s financial power?  Is it more powerful than a locomotive?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Test Your Marketing IQ

Today we have a guest blog from Andrew Ballard

Webster’s definition of marketing is “An aggregate of functions involved in moving goods from producer to consumer.” That definition encompasses a very broad set of operations. Marketing, and the process of growing your business, is multi-faceted. Within this complex process, are you aware of your knowledge gaps?

This short test will help you assess your marketing intelligence quotient. Objectively rating your company, from zero to 10, on each of the eight questions (0 is low, 10 is high). After you have rated all eight questions add up your total score.

1.     Northstar: Have you developed and published a mission statement that guides your business and helps your team stay on course?

2.     Business Analysis: Do you review your business’ strengths and weaknesses (internally) and opportunities and threats (externally) at least once a year?

3.     Customer Research: Do you regularly survey customers to understand their preferences and perceptions regarding their experience with your organization?

4.     Competitor Comparison: Do you study your key competitors to understand their strengths, weakness and market position relative to your own?

5.     Market Niche: Have you developed a customer profile to better understand and target your most responsive and profitable market segment?

6.     Market Position: Have you developed a competitive distinction that your target market segment values as a means of differentiating your brand?

7.     Promotional Alignment: Do you have a marketing communications plan that aligns your promotional activities with your market position?

8.     Optimal Results: Do you have and maintain a tracking system to evaluate the results of your marketing activities so you can make informed adjustments?

If your total score is over 70 (a perfect score is 80), you should stop reading this Blog post and start teaching a class. If your total score is below 40, take heart, you are among the majority of business leaders. The good news is that you have plenty of opportunities to improve the results of your marketing investments.

More important than your total score are the individual ratings for each question. Reviewing your individual ratings will help identify your best opportunities to improve. Focus on the areas you scored yourself four or less. You’ve heard the adage: a chain is only as strong as its weakest link…that same premise holds true for a business.

  • What is your company’s greatest strength, and what can you do to leverage that asset?
  •  Based on your score, what are your company’s most significant weak points?
  • Based on your customers’ experiences, which weaknesses should you focus your improvements? 

You don’t have to be a “marketing genius” to grow your business; you just need to take stock of your current business situation, and then take action to strengthen your weak links. 


Andrew Ballard is the president of Marketing Solutions, a Seattle area agency that developsresearch-based growth strategies for small to midsize businesses.  He has over 30 years experience specializing in marketing research, strategic planning, brand development and revenue generation.  Ballard has helped hundreds of organizations (from startups through Fortune 500 companies) realize significant growth.

Andrew is a graduate of the Ford Marketing Institute and Certified in Six Sigma.  He is also a respected author and educator.  His articles on marketing strategy have been published in business journals through all 50 States.  His first book, entitled Your Opinion Doesn’t Matter, recently released to rave reviews in both corporate and academic circles.  In addition, he is adjunct faculty at the University of Washington.

 He can be reached at 425-337-1100 or

Monday, November 18, 2013

Meaning does not lie in the work. Meaning lies in us and we must bring it to our work!

If you are doing something at work, it should have a purpose and the purpose ought to be pretty important.  I often times show up at a client’s office for a consultation and because I am a “ten minute early guy”, I chat for a few minutes with the receptionist or whoever else crosses my path. 

Most of the time, I ask a litmus set of questions.  At one company, I found myself in front of the receptionist and asked her what were the three most important goals the company had for that year.  Some of you may be smiling…., “Oh she’s just the receptionist!”  When she did not know, I asked the next two people who came out to the reception area (one was a senior partner) and they could not tell me. 

My client had a rather rough consultation that day.  The next time I showed up for a consultation at that company, the receptionist recited for me the top three goals for that company.  I then asked her what she was doing and which of those goals she was furthering by her actions. 

Over a six month period, I experienced a growing awareness, focus and direction by those working in this company.  That is a good thing. 

What I next raised, as an issue, was meaning.  The meaning we bring to our work can be a powerful leadership tool or an extraordinary gap between us and our work.  Many people love their work.  Enjoying what you do is different than understanding that your work has meaning (is important) to you. 

Meaning is a fundamental issue for companies that want to grow and sustainably prosper.  There are corporate examples of those who brought meaning to their work.  Steve Jobs stamped his mission of meaning in to every concept, product and practice that Apple developed.  At one point, Bill Gates did the same.  It is powerful to see what happens when vision (one form of meaning) is gone. 

What I would like you to consider is that even your smallest actions should have meaning.  Your company is filled with people who are either doing their work with a sense of meaning/purpose or they are getting a paycheck.  Which do you want in your company? 

If you want zealots and advocates, don’t try and copy what has worked for other companies on a visionary level.  Start with your own sense of meaning.  Then communicate your meaning to others and help them find theirs.  Notice, I did not suggest you have them adopt yours. 

It is not realistic to think that everyone will get jazzed by the same thing you do.  Figure out how you can unearth what they are, or could be jazzed about, and then support them in brining that to work. 

What do you think works to find out a persons meaning?  How do you help your employees bring meaning in to their every action?  

Monday, November 11, 2013

Curiosity is Key to Innovation

Today we have a guest blog from Earl Bell:

To win in the game of business, begin by asking the right questions while replacing fear of the unknown with curiosity and a desire to innovate.  The value of an insatiable intellectual curiosity is immeasurable if you want to stay ahead of competitors.  

To get you started on creating game-changing activity at work, begin by asking questions like these during the annual strategic planning and budgeting process:

  • What changes can be made to increase the value provided to customers?  What investments in people, process or equipment are required to achieve this goal?
  • What is currently being done that needs to stop?  Why not stop immediately?
  • Applying the 80/20 rule, which 20% of customers, products, or services produce 80% of profits?   Why not sell more of the profitable stuff and less of the non-profitable stuff? 
  • What strategic investments in training, coaching or consulting will be made next year to increase leadership and management capacity, employee retention, or product/service innovation?
  • What can be done to increase effective two-way communication so that employees are more aligned with mission and vision while leaders are quickly made aware of problems that can stop a company in its tracks?
  • What is the “pink elephant” in the room that no one wants to talk about?  What is the cost of doing nothing about it?

Key principles to remember are that: (1) there is huge value in asking the right questions, (2) not asking the right questions is akin to business negligence and (3) knowing what to focus on greatly increases probability of success.

By the way, listed above is only a partial compilation of what I believe are essential questions that must be asked each year.  What else would you recommend be included on this list?  Will you commit to ensuring that your leaders, managers and other employees will be given opportunity to ask the right questions during the annual strategic planning and budgeting process?  If not, what’s holding you back?


EARL BELL is the author of, Winning in Baseball and Business, Transforming Little League Principles into Major League Profits for Your Company, which provides a roadmap to success for leaders that desire to build thriving companies in a very competitive 21stcentury business environment.  Earl believes that “everything you need to know about business, leadership and team building can be learned from Little League baseball.”

Earl conducts workshops, coaches and consults with owners, business leaders and their teams, teaching them how to dramatically reduce the time it takes to improve profitability, customer experience, employee engagement and company value, while simultaneously increasing discretionary time and reducing both stress/employee burnout.  He believes the secret to winning in baseball, business and life can be summarized in a simple formula:  Winning = Service + Humility. His motto is that Winning in Business is a Team Sport!

Earl has served in the Chief Financial Officer role for numerous companies throughout North America. His personal passion is youth sports and he has coached 28 teams since 2002.  Earl is a CPA, graduated from SU (Seattle University) with a BA in Accounting and from the MILL (Mercer Island Little League) with a Master’s in Youth Baseball.

Earl Bell can be reached at and 206-420-5946