The Beauty of Adversity

adversity

Losing sucks. I don’t want to spend time with anyone who enjoys losing, and I can’t say I would want to spend much time with someone who tolerates losing either. Failing, losing, sucking at something (be it golf, tennis, or baking; all of which I do suck at) – I hate them all.

So why title a blog post “the beauty of adversity”? Well my friends, it’s really quite simple. Whether you believe in God, Allah, the Divine power of the Universe, or any other holy deity or power larger than ourselves – the fact is there is something greater at work than the ecosystem of home, work, family, friends, play, and volunteerism that we see every day. I believe that most people, given a decent upbringing and a fair shot- can become intelligent and hard-working and that they can go on to contribute something to the world. And I also believe that 100% of us will stumble along the way, fail (more than once), be tempted to quit, and be frustrated many times throughout the journey.

I know that some of us will chase the wrong dream; either because we’re afraid to chase what we are truly passionate about, or because we think that following the yellow brick road is what we are supposed to do.

Whether due to our relative naiveté (in the grand scheme of things), or due to our stubbornness that results from working so hard, I believe that we sometimes need a gentle shove to see a different perspective. Other times, we need a massive kick in the ass.

Vernon Law said it best, “experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward.”
Law’s brilliant quote is at the heart of why I say there is beauty in adversity.

If you can take the challenge, the adversity, the ass-kicking that life is handing you…
If you can do that and not quit…
If you can look in the mirror and be honest with yourself about whether or not you gave your best shot, and then look in your heart to find the strength to give it one more shot…
If you can struggle through the ups and downs and the ugliness (if not terror) that is the process…

THEN YOU DESERVE THE BEAUTIFUL RESULTS!

In my life, being bullied as a youth led me to the strength to stand up for myself and for others.
Nearly breaking my neck in football led me away from a path that didn’t have much of a future left and into a career I was passionate about for 18 years.
Failing in my job at the end of those 18 years led me to rethink what I was passionate about which led me into a whole new career I am even MORE passionate about!
Hitting rock bottom, being broke, homeless for a month, and having no goals to look forward to led me to set some goals and eventually a full blown encyclopedia of a bucket list, a portion of which was published through newspapers nationally to inspire others to write theirs!
Being dumped by a girl I was set on marrying made me re-evaluate what a relationship should be, what I put into it, and what I should expect from the other person; all of which I needed to learn or I wouldn’t have the wonderful wife that I do today.

In short, all of my greatest failures and most trying challenges in life have led me to my greatest victories.

Is it fair? No. Does that matter? No. Your challenge – the very thing you are hating and wishing would go away at the snap of your fingers – is trying to teach you something, and it is trying to shape you into who and what you need to be.

Human nature is such that we will tend to get comfortable which is a stone’s throw from complacent and lazy.
I know that you are smart enough to realize that a life of leisure and laziness will not produce profound abundance for you, nor will it help others. From that very simple understanding, it isn’t much of a stretch to realize that the more you put into life, the more you get out of it. Have you ever considered that there may be a flip side to that coin? That the more life puts into you, the more life gets out of you?

Well there, my friends, is the kicker. Life wants you to show up big and make the world a better place through your gifts. You may not be playing on a big enough scale, and so life is going to hammer away until you are chiseled into the tool that life [God/ Universe/ etc] needs you to be.

It is a beautiful concept, and while we may not sign up for the process willingly, we never regret the results of self-betterment.

I hope that your life has at least enough adversity to create as much beauty as you can handle. And if you’re going through that beauty right now, what are you learning? How are you being shaped, and what are you supposed to be shaped into? Those are much more useful questions than ‘why me?’ or ‘when will this end?’

The Elevator Pitch

elevator

We’ve all heard the term ‘elevator pitch’. Just 17 years ago, Tom Peters described the ‘elevator spiel’ as your 2-minute opportunity to pitch your company’s CEO on why your project matters as you rode to the top floor. By 2015, according to Business News Daily that window had shrunk to 30 seconds, and I am going to go out on a limb and suggest 10. Ten seconds or less to tell the world what you do.

Is that fair? No.

Is it enough time to adequately summarize a lifetime of experiences, education, knowledge and wisdom? No.

Does it still surprise you, in 2016, that life isn’t fair sometimes? I doubt it.

Then it would seem we all have 2 choices – lament and wish the world was more fair, where people took the time to read the book cover to cover before judging it…
…or we adapt and we sharpen our axes and go to work being as concise and as precise as we can be about how we offer unique value to the world.

It takes (a lot of) practice, and it takes (at least some) creativity, but ANYONE can come up with a positioning statement; a clever elevator pitch; that informs and intrigues those we encounter in a way that helps them remember us, if not want to learn more.

The first tip I usually recommend is to get real up close and personal with your purpose. Why do you think you’re here? Why were you born where and when you were born, to the parents you were born to? Our life’s story has a tremendous impact on how we think, how we see the world, and what we value. Parents who grew up poor tend to either spoil their kids or place enormous emphasis on teaching them the value of a dollar. Leaders who had authoritative, even abusive bosses often end up creating company cultures that place employees as high on the priority ladder as profits. Our parents or grandparents who survived a world war and the Great Depression valued security more than the ability to pursue their passion in the workplace, and for very understandable reasons.

Once you know your purpose, the next step is to take an inventory of your most valuable skills. Be specific – are you skilled with numbers, or is your true skill budgeting, or being able to uncover the trends that are going on in your business and relate them to strategic direction? Are you good at selling, or are you actually best at reading people and creative problem solving (in a way that manifests as a natural at sales)?
Once you know what you’re great at, and why it matters (how it relates to your purpose), the next piece is to uncover your target market. Who, specifically, do you most enjoy helping, or are best suited to help based on your purpose and skills? This is important because the right skill driven by a deep purpose can still be the wrong fit. Imagine Warren Buffet, with all of his financial wisdom, trying to give advice to a group of 14 year olds who’ve just earned their first paycheck. Could he give them great advice? No doubt. Would they listen, or understand his valuable wisdom? Maybe, maybe not. Would he enjoy working with this particular demographic? Only Mr. Buffett would know, but I think you can see the potential disconnect.
So it is for the rest of us…

Why are we are? What are we (or what could we be) great at?
Who do we most want to help?
After you answer these 3 questions, it’s time to put your marketing/ creative hat on. Instead of “I’m a real estate professional with 30 years of experience specializing in suburban starter homes right up to estate homes”, one might consider, “I’ve been helping families find the next home they’ll cherish at every stage of life for 3 decades”.
You might also opt for an even simpler version. Taken right from the elevator pitch exercise I give my clients, “I’m in the paper business” is a lot less intriguing than “I help people’s ideas come to life”.

It’s also important to remember that your pitch might not be “one size fits all”. Networking expert and headhunting guru Catherine Brownlee recommends customizing your elevator pitch for a few common scenarios, whether it be searching for a job, meeting a potential client, or possibly even while selecting key vendors or suppliers for your business who you need to really ‘get’ you. Catherine adds that the best way to position your pitch – is to ask more than you talk and find out as much as you can about the person you are talking to (and if you have advanced notice – do your homework!). The better you know the person you are talking to – the better you’ll know how to position yourself.

The last 2 points I urge clients to remember are that A) it has to be authentic. I can give you a pitch piece that would look great on a billboard, but if it doesn’t feel like you when you’re delivering it, you can’t truly own it and it won’t be genuine. Your pitch must be in your own words and feel like something you can own and be proud of and excited by.
Lastly, if it’s too polished, you may risk coming across as inauthentic, and as the prototypical cheesy used car salesman. Authentic, genuine, polished, but not so rehearsed your pitch stands out as a verbal business card in the middle of an otherwise normal conversation. It’s an art, after all, not a precise science.

What’s my elevator pitch, you ask?
I help values-based leaders sleep better at night and wake up in the morning more excited to make their dreams a reality. “What’s a values-based leader you ask?” “How do I do this, you wonder?” Glad you asked… that’s the point of the elevator pitch in today’s business world – 10 seconds that earns you the 2 minutes Tom Peters described.

Good luck in your pitches everybody!

Transferable Skills

Have you ever felt that you’d be lost without your current job?
Have you ever heard yourself say “this is all I’ve ever been good at?”

I hear those sentiments a lot, especially in today’s tough economic times. The great news, and the hope, that I have to share today; is that these limiting statements are not true. Every vocation, every trade, every job – has a set of core competencies and demands that must be mastered. Once mastered, especially if plied over decades, the tradesman (ie skilled worker) often defines themselves by the work. Their very identity becomes tied to the currency they provide through their work. I use the term ‘they’, however I really should use ‘we’, as we all can fall victim to this sort of thinking.

The silver lining in this mind trap is that most of us are good at more than we even know. Over the years, I’ve loved seeing the light bulbs go off as clients or former coworkers I’ve coached became aware of skills and talents they never knew they had.

A job title in and of itself is far too limiting to describe the type, variety, or even quality of work that the complex and layered person holding said title performs on a daily basis. A sales professional, for instance, might judge themselves (and likely be hired and promoted) based on their abilities to connect with potential leads, extol the features and benefits of their companies product or service to prospective customers, foster and maintain relationships, and link customer problems or needs to solutions that their firm can provide. These are all crucial skills and directly correlated to the value that the key account rep or sales leader provides to the organization in terms of new leads, new customers, and increasing current customer spending. But they do so much more!

In Alberta a lot of professionals refer to the 80s and 90s, and to some degree even the early 2000’s as the ‘wild west’, as in, “we used to wine and dine clients on much bigger expense accounts back in the wild west”. Often referred to as the ‘good old days’ as well, the selling environment of decades past was characterized by sales pro’s who were very knowledgeable and experienced, and often also very high on the extrovert spectrum. I’ve heard at more than one management conference that you can always tell where the sales reps are commiserating by volume well before you actually see them. These days you can’t judge a book by its’ cover, as sales professionals come in all shapes, sizes, and approaches.

This is where the notion of transferrable skills comes in, as to truly land a customer, you do a lot more than sell.
• You might uncover their true needs (through effective listening).
• You might narrow a list of programs or services for a potential client based on above (a form of problem solving)
• Sales executives or senior sales reps might also use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software to uncover data trends within their business or within their potential prospects (ie business analysis and strategic planning)
• Business development teams may also look at underperforming business units or products and look at ways to increase sales or even improve the product or service itself (which is a combination of operations, leadership, financial analysis, and executive-level decision-making).
• As the ‘feet on the street’, sales professionals also provide customer feedback to the executive team (failure to do so can lead to major product flops if the boardroom isn’t connected to the voice of the customer)

Each of the above are relatively common examples pulled from everyday tasks a business development professional must execute, yet the skills they employ to do so might not show up anywhere on their resume or LinkedIn profile.

Whether looking to land your next job, add more value to your employer, shore up your resume, or even boost your confidence as it relates to the value your bring to the workplace every day, it might be beneficial to take a step back and look at your role, and the larger ecosystem within which you perform your job. Have you ‘pigeon-holed’ yourself by labelling your skills or your career prospects using tunnel vision?

Give yourself credit for all the skills you have, not just the ones that conveniently and obviously go along with your job title. Most people take a lot more with them into their next venture, even if it’s in a completely different industry [spoiler alert: watch out for our upcoming post on reinvention soon!]

Who wins in a downturn?

It’s no secret in late May, 2016 that Calgary’s, Alberta’s, and even Canada’s economy is not doing all that well. Beyond typical ‘feast or famine’ economic cycles that accompany a resource-based economy like Alberta’s, this is as bad as we’ve seen it in more than 30 years. But you don’t need more depressing news, and this blog is not supposed to be a downer!
The reason I highlight the misery is to point out that even in a down economy, there are winners. Even more so, I want to explore WHY some people win when the economy itself is in a state of atrophy.

Let us start by acknowledging that some businesses are A) nearly recession proof, and B) positioned to benefit in an economic downturn. While we’ll touch on both of the above points, few among us stand to benefit from these advantage points, so we will mostly explore how any company can better position themselves.

In terms of recession proof businesses, basic needs stand out, as do vices. We still need to eat, though we may change our spending patterns. In a strong economy, we may opt for nicer restaurants, more expensive cuts of meat from the butcher or grocery store, or we may dine out more frequently. In a downturn, we may be forced to choose pizza or a sub sandwich over steak, and fine dining might turn into fast food or diners. Depending on economic sector, the total spend can remain relatively constant, though there may be a significant shift among vendors. Many entrepreneurs have adapted to this, by diversifying their portfolio, and within a master brand offering multiple sub-brands (ie Cara Operations which owns Harveys, Swiss Chalet, Montana’s, Milestones, Kelseys, East Side Marios, and St. Hubert).

Another example, perhaps one even benefiting from a recession, is our favorite vices.
People are still going to drink (or gamble), but they may choose to do so less frequently, or whenever possibly, more affordably (ie at home, or less expensive brands, see this article).
Other winners in this recession range from pawn shops, repossession businesses, and even benefit providers (as employers look to stretch their benefits dollars and get more creative in their coverage).

At first glance, it’s easy to attribute these businesses and industries’ success to ‘luck’ or to being positioned to win by unpredictable, uncontrollable market forces.
There are a few things that businesses can do to be more agile and more opportunistic during a recession however, as follows;
1. Gain market intelligence: rather than waiting for mass trends to emerge as customers ‘vote with their feet’, meet with current customers, analyze early shifts in spend patterns, and develop analytic processes and/or tools to give your business a predictive advantage that can help you be more proactive- and less reactive- in your decision-making and strategy.
2. Focus on your current customers: low-cost and even no cost initiatives such as thank you cards, emails, phone calls, and coffees, or even networking events – all remind your current customers that you value them and that you haven’t forgotten about them. This is actually one of the fastest ways to improve your bottom line – research by Queens University (2015) shows that improving customer loyalty even 1% can improve profitability by 11% – profound!
3. Cut back on costs: rather than waiting for your net income to dwindle from healthy returns into bleeding into the red, reduce discretionary spending (both corporately and personally), and delay optional and non-essential projects. Even if you spend the same amount, but can delay your expenses (without pissing off suppliers or acting unethically), you can improve your cash flow.
4. Balance your balance sheet: for business who have investments, inventory, equipment or machinery, and anything else that has a financial value or cost associated with it that could affect your liquidity, do the math, and see what can be done to improve solvency early rather than waiting for desperation mode to set in when you’ll need to sell off remaining assets at a fraction of their value.
5. Get back to the basics: challenging times bring out our creative and operational bests. Sometimes it takes a financial crisis for us to sharpen our axes and refine and improve the efficiency of our operations. With strong discipline, and keen strategic focus, companies can identify (or recapture) their profitable ‘core’; that which they do better than their competitors.
6. Innovate: by staying disciplined to your profitable core, you uncover your strengths, as well as the target market you serve. These are great pillars to innovate around, for example customer loyalty programs born in the business to consumer (B2C) world might have fewer hurdles to profitability by entering to B2B (business to business) realm than by trying to sell new products they are not experienced producing to their existing customer base.
7. Gain market share: well-positioned companies who are disciplined with their cash flow management heading into a recession often find themselves in a position to target their competitions’ customers, or even acquire smaller companies at a fraction of their market value to gain a higher portion of their given market share.
8. Continue (prudent) advertising: According to research by Queens (2015), companies that maintain a reasonable spend on advertising during a recession recover faster and gain more market share than companies that strip this expense. This is due (according to professor Ken Wong) to the notion ‘share of mind’. When customers are spend-averse, they sit on their wallets. When their consumer confidence returns, they go with who they trust (which is largely tied to who is top of mind).

Thanks for sticking with me this far – a long read today, but very relevant based on what a lot of companies are facing in Alberta (and even Canada) right now. I’d love to hear your comments & suggestions for other topics as well, leave a comment!

Keep healthy, keep inspired, keep livin’ the dream, and let me know how InSite can help!

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Values based leader interview: Tony Spoletini, Spolumbos

As you hopefully read already, InSite is about developing and celebrating a new wave of leadership; leaders who intentionally focus on both profit and purpose, strategy and sustainability. In short, we can call them Values-Based Leaders. These are leaders you can trust, whose mission it is to build great businesses, and build up the great people within them.

Today we are profiling one of Calgary’s great businesses, and one of its favorite sons, Tony Spoletini of Spolumbos.

 

 

Values based leaders interview: Tony Spoletini

As a Calgary native who played football for the St. Francis Browns and Calgary Dinos, I had many heroes I looked up to on the football field, and Tony Spoletini was near the top. Every kid has heroes and role models, and nothing inspires the everyday blue-collar kid more than someone who has walked the path before them and made it big time. Why else would the city of Philadelphia erect a statue of a fictitious boxer? Who do you think kids in Cole Harbour, NS (or Canada, in general) think of the first time they lace up their skates?

At any rate, Tony Spoletini was a great person to look up to because he had attended the same schools I had, and he had a brilliant football career. To be the hometown kid who was an all-star and then a university standout and then play for the hometown team (after a year playing for that green & gold wearing team up north), was an enviable path that most athletes would love to emulate.

What makes Tony Spoletini special, however, is not just that he was talented and worked and earned his way into the rare air as a professional athlete. Even after a 4 year professional football career Tony (with his co-founders Tom Spoletini and Mike Palumbo) set new goals and took the entrepreneurial risk to try and make great sausages. Enter Spolumbos Fine Food & Deli (www.spolumbos.com). Back then, in Tony’s words, “No one marketed high-quality, gluten-free sausages”. They wanted to change the image of sausages from “lips and ears” to their high-quality vision. Even finding success in professional athletics and business is still not quite why I asked Tony to sit for an interview.

I wanted an interview because Tony Spoletini exemplifies the qualities of values based leadership, as so few leaders in business do today. Tony credits the founding trio’s football background for the foundation of their value of team, “everyone is treated equally with integrity”. This is immediately apparent when one sits down in Spolumbos and watches the way Tony interacts with his customers. At the time of our interview, the place was packed and everybody wanted to talk to Tony. He came over right away and offered me a cappuccino, then when he could sit down, was very apologetic about starting our meeting 3 minutes late despite people approaching him left, right and center needing something.

When asked how Spolumbos invests in their team of 40, to try and mimic the sort of excellent customer service that one of their founders gives, Tony cited “proper training and support” and “no degrading. What happens on the field stays on the field”. Tony went on to say that although he had coaches who had to ‘lay the law down’ at times, he always respected those coaches who could do so respectfully, and wanted to emulate their leadership one day. Tony elaborated in that although discipline is an everyday part of business and leadership, there is never a reason to ridicule a team member in public, and even if things aren’t going to work out, “there are dignified ways of letting people go”.

“Leading by example” is one of the keys for Tony to get the best effort from the team daily. He also adds “treating people with respect, and demanding respect for each other” as integral to the team success. That success in business is dependent on “service, quality, and corporate responsibility” according to Spoletini. Tony credits his partners with being able to juggle these potentially competitive tasks, as “one of us can be handling the business while another is working with our people”. Delegation is kay, remarks Tony, to this formula.

Spolumbos corporate responsibility is rooted in youth athletics, and health initiatives such as kids cancer treatment & research. To Tony, youth sport “gave us our start” and so he, Tom, and Mike want to help other future leaders get their start.

As for the future, Tony suggests “you’ve always got to be getting better”. After 20 years of success and building a reliable, trustworthy, household name of a brand, the key is to innovate around service and quality, and to “look for new opportunities without overextending”.

His advice for other leaders of future entrepreneurs? “It may sound cliché, but keep things simple, and treat others how you’d want to be treated”.

My experience is that these words are not cliché, but authentic and stemming from genuine care. As I was leaving, Tony was emphatically gracious and thankful for me taking the time to meet with him, despite the fact he had to run off right after to a waiting meeting, and despite the fact that I was the one who asked him for the meeting.

Spolumbos truly is a great example of a business that you can feel good about what you are buying, and who you are buying it from.

INSITE-welcome2

Welcome to Insite!

Welcome to InSite Business and Performance Coaching! Like any start up, what you see here is the sum of a lot of hard work, blood, sweat, tears, and lessons learned over a lifetime.  As you may have noticed if you’ve spent any time on our site, my passion is connecting with, coaching, and teaching others. You can read more about that in the ‘about us’ or ‘services’ page, but for now I want to thank you for visiting, and for reading our blog!

I hope you are able to learn something, and find value in what we have to share. For today’s post, as InSite’s founder, I am kicking things off with a personal message of thanks, and some quick perspective.

My mentor, Matt Young used to tell me, “The hardest part of any race is getting to the start line”.  He was right.  As InSite goes live, what will feel like a new business to everybody else has been more than 2 years of studying and gaining additional credentials, building the business model, populating resources and tools, testing the business model with our initial clients, and all the legal and administrative aspects of building a coaching practice. Challenges aside, it’s all worth it, as stated in our top Core Value at InSite,

Livin’ the Dream: Life’s too short not to be doing what you love, and it’s too long to be unhappy. We believe it’s better to be scared & uncomfortable passionately chasing your dream than it is to be comfortable but not fulfilled. In fact, we named it InSite Performance Coaching LTD rather than Inc. because to us, LTD stands for Livin’ The Dream!

As we approach the start line and begin the marathon that is building and scaling our coaching practice, I thought I’d share the Iceberg analogy that is our approach to helping our business clients. Developed with Lindsay Jeans from Olive West Design Co. (who is amazing by the way), the Iceberg was chosen for a reason;

(see below)

ICEBURG

  1. Like success, there is a very small visible component, but most substance remains beneath the surface. To create a healthy bottom line, a positive balance sheet, and to have any strong financial or performance indicator moving in the right direction (which is measurable), there must be a tremendous amount of substance when it comes to the ‘intangibles’ (the unseen part of the Iceberg) such as vision, a strong mission and purpose, great people and great leadership. In short, an amazing culture becomes the foundation upon which great processes can be built in order to create amazing results and a multi-layered competitive advantage.
  2. The ocean can both drive us (via strong currents) and fascinate us (it can be hypnotizing to stare off into the horizon where the sea meets the sky; or at the waves lapping at the shore). The same is true for a strong purpose: it should stir us emotionally, often at the same time exciting and scaring us; as well as compel us into action bringing into the fray all of our faculties, the very best version of ourselves. This is why the ocean (purpose) represents the ‘irresistible force’.
  3. The immovable object that is the majority of the Iceberg represents the people in any organization. If they are not bound together by a strong purpose, common values and shared objectives, cracks form and the ice can chip away. When everybody is working together, the team is unstoppable and even warships dare not take an Iceberg head on.
  4. The tangible or visible parts of a business are those things that can be reported, measured, inventoried, bought, or sold. Profit and loss statements, KPI reports, balance sheets, and even a business valuation readying your business for sale – all depend on your team to execute in order to produce the results your business wants and needs. Very few can appreciate the tireless, unseen efforts of the many to produce tangible results.
  5. The ‘blue sky view’ is analogous to optimism, having a dream, and having the vision to picture an ideal desired state. Using the Iceberg analogy, at InSite we work with you to identify the ‘blue sky view’. The color blue is also associated with opportunity (ie blue water strategy is akin to market domination or even new market creation whereas ‘red water’ refers to an overcrowded, highly competitive marketplace). We identify the results you want and need, then reverse engineer how to get there knowing it’s a complex and dynamic process.

Thank you for bearing with a rather long read to kick off our blog, but we are proud of our comprehensive and unique approach, and we wanted you to understand what makes us different to help you find the best advice you can as you scale your business and ink what will become your legacy.

Thanks for reading, and come back often for updates, resources, and offers from InSite Performance Coaching!

Stan Peake