Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thank You & Happy New Year!

It was exactly one year ago that I started this blog, at the request and urging of many. Honestly, for the longest time I resisted the idea of blogging, thinking what in the world would I write about, fear of running out of topics, and so on.

I finally decided to give it a go, do it for a year and then revisit. Well, 89 posts later, topics continue to emerge and readership continues to rise. So today I wanted to say THANKS to all of you for being part of my community and for subscribing to my blog. I do hope you have gotten some value from it. I certainly have enjoyed writing each and every post and in each post I have tried to share something practical that will be of use. Atleast that was my intent.

Of course, if you have any feedback for me, I would love to hear. This is a new experience for me and I am learning as I go. So any and all feedback is much desired and welcomed. Please write to me at

In the meantime, through these blog writings, 3 ebooks emerged this year. They are:

1. 51 Ways to Love Your Customers
2. Race Pace: The Winning Formula to Achieve Maximum Growth & Profits
3. Why Don't Some People Get Along? (This one was written with my good friend Kara Scanlon Mckinn

If you would like copies, send me an email and I'll be happy to forward them to you. It's another way for me to say thanks.

I am now in the process of writing my 4th ebook roughly entitled "Thrive", with my long-time close friend Joe Isaacs. Joe is an association executive so this one will be targeted specifically to associations. I'll post something here on that when it's ready.

Well, that's all for now. Thanks again for everything and wishing each and every one of you and your loved ones much success, good health and happiness in the year ahead, and beyond.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Getting Aligned!

To win the race, members of the crew team must row in sync, towards the same destination, utilizing and leveraging each others inherent strengths as much as possible. As in sports, those in family businesses (owners, family members, and employees) must similarly align and work together to ensure family and business success.

Yet alignment is frequently questionable in family businesses. This leads to further conflict and ultimate decline, even death of the business. Additional impacts over time from this include increased tension and distance within the family relationships.

The root cause for much of this in my experience has to do with lack of "real and open" conversations, for balancing family and business needs is not always easy. One is constantly pulled in two different, often opposing, directions. Each member has different ideas on how to run the business, it's direction, it's purpose, and so on.

Rather then talk about such "hot" issues, they are often pushed aside, hoping they'll go away, which of course they never do. Secondly, even if the members were to communicate, it's also lack of understanding what exactly they would discuss, to achieve such alignment.

Having given much thought, I believe there are 7 key areas that contribute to achieving alignment, which can be effectively meaningfully discussed, once more effective open communication is established. And it is alignment that leads to long-term success, of both business and family relationships, both of which are so intertwined in a family business.

These key factors include:
  1. Within
  2. Purpose (Internal and External)
  3. Vision
  4. Values
  5. Strategic Focus
  6. Goals
  7. Role
In my upcoming posts, I will expand on each of these areas. As you read this post, as well others, I would most welcome your thoughts, your input.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How Healthy is Your Family Business?

Following my recent post "Getting Along, Getting Aligned, Getting Ahead", I just finished writing series of posts on behaviors and motivators. The better that is understood and applied, the better we do at getting along with others, which in turn contributes to more effective communication and to then more effective alignment. But what do we exactly mean by alignment? What does that include? How do we make that happen? I'll be writing on this topic in my upcoming posts.

Before moving onto that topic however, as we're about to enter the new year and therefore thinking this will be a great time to do a heath check on your family business, I wanted to share with you the "Family Business Health Check" that I just designed. See below. Go ahead, give your family business a physical and determine it's health. From this, you'll a sense of where additional work is needed to improve the health of your business, and the health with family members who are directly and indirectly related to your business.

To start, please answer the following questions to the best of your knowledge. Then follow explanation below.

1. All of the family members involved in the business, directly and indirectly, understand and are aligned with the business’ purpose, vision, mission, values, and goals?

2. Everyone knows what each family members wants?

3. You are able to openly share concerns, differences of opinions, and issues with your family members and we are able to resolve our differences?

4. Your business is run professionally, without family issues or dynamics negatively impacting or complicating business matters?

5. Family members, and non-family members in key positions, challenge each other, in a productive way, to build healthier business and stronger relationship, with family members and non-family members?

6. Your family has regular meetings and retreats to deal with family business issues, in a safe environment?

7. Your family has clear guidelines for family members and their conduct within the business?

8. The senior generation in your business shares their philosophy their plans for succession and is open to new ideas and ways?

9. Family members inside and outside of your business communicate openly and bring up issues so that they can be discussed and resolved without any animosity?

10. Family members are clear about their roles and responsibilities and those are aligned with each individual’ inherent strengths and intrinsic motivations?

11. Family members hold themselves and each other accountable?

12. Family participates in long-range planning and is aligned with the direction, strategic focus and base strategy?

13. Family members are kept informed of business performance, challenges being faced, and other matters?

14. Family members are in the business by choice, not out of obligation, guilt and other related feelings?

15. Family members effectively communicate and manage & leverage each other’ differences for greater individual and joint success?

16. Family members are continuously learning and growing?

17. Family members genuinely care for, support, trust and respect each other?

18. Family members maintain healthy boundaries between home and business?

19. Family members understand and respect what each contributes to the business?

20. Family members participate in both shared activities as well as activities that give them their own space?

21. Family members understand and respect family values and traditions?

22. Family members feel they are treated fairly, heard and appreciated?

23. Family members are encouraged to seek experience outside of the family business for their further development and growth?

24. You have a clear process for making different types of decisions, especially as it involves family?

25. Family members effectively manage boundaries between family roles and business roles?

So, how did you do? How many no's? Yes's? The more no's, the greater the chances of your business failing, and most likely when you least expect it. Don't let this happen to you and your business.


P.S. To get even greater value from this Family Business Health Check, do the following:

For each question, instead of yes and no answers, assign a numerical range. For example, for each question, ask them to respond on scale of 1-10, with 1 being strongly disagree to 10 being strongly agree. On questions where there is a wide gap between some answering say as opposed to 10, or where you have consistently high scores, they may give you insights into potential issues that need/must be addressed.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Motivator #6: Passion for Tradition

The other day, I was at a gathering of retired army officers, which took place at the home of my brother-in-law who himself is retired from Army. I observed that many came proudly wearing their uniforms and they continue to follow army traditions, protocols, even after retirement. Their language consists of topics related to ranks, operating procedures, strong values and believe in the cause.

These army officers were exhibiting passion for tradition.

Folks who score high on this passion work hard, and many even giving their lives, for causes they strongly believe in. For example, they are say either Republicans or Democrats, Prolife or Prochoice, vegetation or non-vegetarian, and so on. And if you share beliefs, it's great. If not, it can be challenging.

Who do you know who shares this passion? Where and how do you see them adding value? And knowing what you now know, how would you motivate them, so you get the best out of them?

Motivation #5: Passion to Lead

I have a dear friend, whose nickname at home is "The General". At her family gatherings, no matter what the event, she takes charge.

Another friend of mine loves to sell. She is Type A, driven to achieve. I one day asked her why is all that achievement important to her because I know internally she is not driven by money. Her reply, I like being #1. Pretty clear.

These people share the passion to lead.

Who do you know who has this passion? Where and how do you see them adding value? And knowing what you now know, how would you motivate them, so you get the best out of them?

Motivation #4: Passion to Serve

Do know those who love to volunteer, to help others, to teach, coach and mentor? They just can't resist not helping someone in need? They are caring souls who want to make the world a better place.

The other day I was a Rotary Club gathering . Rotarian's mission is service - in the community and throughout the world. Rotarians build goodwill and peace, provide humanitarian service and encourage high ethical standards in all vocations. The Rotary motto is "Service Above Self". For me personally also, this speaks to my heart and when I am with such people, I feel so much at home.

Clearly, Rotarians, as well as I, share a strong passion to serve, motivator #4.
  • Who do you know who has this passion?
  • Where and how do you see them adding value?
  • How would you motivate them, so you get the best out of them?

Motivator #3: Passion for Beauty and Balance

Do you know people who have a deep appreciation for nature, beauty and harmony? Who absolutely need down time to re-energize? They crave work/life balance--as opposed to workaholics?

They are also very protective of our natural resources, our environment. For example, to save trees you'll find them printing documents 2-sided and they are big into recycling, etc. They also tend to be creative, artistic. You'll find them in the arts, decorating, designing, and other creative endeavors.

These folks have a passion for beauty and balance.
  • Who do you know who has this passion?
  • Where and how do you see them adding value?
  • How would you motivate them, so you get the best out of them?

Motivator #2: Passion for Results

Do you know folks who are internally driven to achieve? Bottom line oriented? Want to squeeze the most out of every resource they have? They think in-terms of ROI? They love to invest, to earn, and are very conscious of how they use their time?

These folks have a passion for results.
  • Who do you know who has this passion?
  • Where and how do you see them adding value?
  • How would you motivate them, so you get the best out of them?
  • How would you sell to someone who has this passion as their top driver?

Motivator #1: Passion for Learning

Do you know people who love learn? They are continuously reading about variety of subjects, participating in webinars, taking courses, and so on?

They are curious, they seek to understand, to gain deeper knowledge. These people have a passion for learning. Afterall, as the famous saying goes, "a mind is a terrible thing to waste".

Who do you know who has this passion? Where and how do you see them adding value? And knowing what you now know, how would you motivate them, so you get the best out of them?

Or let's say you had a prospect, or customer, who is high on this passion. How would you sell to them? What words would you use? How would you craft your offering, etc.?

As you read about motivations, in this post above as well as upcoming 5 more posts on these motivations, after reading the description of each, reflect on the questions above.

Why Do You Work? What Moves You?

  • What gets you pumped, energized, jumping into action?
  • What gets you out of bed each morning?
  • What gets your team members out of bed each morning?
  • What would it be like if you and each your team members knew and each were doing more work that is aligned with the inner passions?
Sure, we need to earn, to pay bills, and so on. Very simplistically speaking, we are born, we get an education, we get a job, we earn, we pay bills, and then bang, one day we're done. But is that it? I think not.

In my recent posts, I have written about the 4 behavior styles, which are important for that understanding, and application, significantly contributes to:
  • Improved communication
  • Improved personal and professional relationships
  • Higher levels of workplace engagement
  • Greater productivity and performance
To further strengthen relationships as well as live more fulfilled lives, it's also important to understand what at our core moves us. Then when we do work that is more in alignment with that deeper passion, work and life become more enjoyable and we're more successful too. With that in mind, over the next 6 posts, as promised, I'll share with you some insights into each of the 6 workplace motivators.

Of course, as with behaviors, please note that each of these motivators which you are about to learn are present within every individual. Only the degree of each varys and that they all interact in various ways to move people into action. Therefore, in a nutshell, it's important to understand these behaviors and motivations in totality rather then each in isolation of the other.

So what I am sharing with you is a very simplistic overview of each of the motivators. To better understand what moves you and your team members into action, and how they then carry out those actions, it's important to take the assessment and have it professionally interpreted.

In the meantime, my hope is by your gaining these basic insights alone will start to help you in various ways. Of course, if you have any questions, please just ask.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pop Quiz on Behaviors :)

OK gang, you just finished learning about the 4 behavioral styles. Let's practice applying what you have learned over the last 4 days.

Here are 4 different scenarios. Can you identify the style of each of these individuals?

1. John is a successful engineer. He is very precise, patient, logical. Great with details and can communicate them clearly and exactly. He avoids conflicts and functions best when working alone. In his field, he is an expert.

2. Sally is strong-willed, results focused, tries her best to get everyone to focus on achieving her goals. Hates taking care of details. She took a huge risk to start her own business in a very competitive industry. She is determined to succeed.

3. Jimmy is very social, loves to talk, and glad to help people, and enjoys getting attention. He is the one who loves to go to social gatherings, pays lot of attention to how he looks and is great to cheering people on. When it comes to details however, that can be a problem for he missed on critical details.

4. Suzie is a calm, logical person who does not like sudden changes. She likes clear instructions and what's expected from her. While she can work alone, she does like being part of a team, around people and values honesty and a logical well thought out approach. Before starting any project, she likes to plan it out in details step by step before diving in. She is loyal and hard working and is able to also focus on details of the task while also being at the same time sensitive to the people around.

Behavior Style #4: Compliar

Think Al Gore, Monica Geller on Friends, Accountants, Auditors.

These folks are critical thinkers, direct and to the point in their communications, very detail and fact oriented, precise, accurate, compliant, logical and meticulous. They see the holes before the net, they fear being wrong, they tend to avoid conflict and they love to ask questions.

On the other hand, by some they are viewed pessimistic, cold, distant, picky, fussy, hard-to-please. But hey, you want them on your team for they'll catch potential critical mistakes before they happen, so they can be prevented.

For them a famous saying could be "In God we Trust, All Others Use Data". They like to test things out for they want proof. And if High Cs are reading this, I am sure they must have found my typos in this post already and that they already have long list of questions on what I have written, and on this topic in general.

Oh, one critical piece of data. This style in particular is not comfortable with physical contact, specially from strangers. So when you come into "contact" with them, I recommend you keep some distance, giving them their space.

Can you visualize those within your circle who fit these characteristics?

Behavior Style #3: Steady

Think Laura Bush, Mr. Rogers.

These folks are absolutely wonderful for they serve as a calming force when it seems all hell is breaking loose. Plus they are extremely loyal and very dependable, getting done what they commit to. They are the rock you can count on to be there when you need them. But don't let the calm easy going nature fool you. They have strong opinions but they just don't express them vocally.

In addition, they are great listeners, consistent, patient, quietly persistent, highly sensitive, tolerant, friendly, tactful, diplomatic, amiable, stable, understanding and team players. They love to build long-term relationships.

They are also great at reconciling factions, and they serve as a stabilizing force. Before they start on a project, they love to plan it out, draw it, and then think and act step wise. Start one task, finish and then move onto next. For example, they'll read a book start to finish before staring another one.

By some though, they can be viewed as unconcerned, as if they are not with the program, hesitant, inflexible, stubborn, detached, indecisive, resistant change, overly sensitive. It's just that they time to ponder alternatives and make decisions.

For these people, they do fear personal rejection and loss of stability so be sensitive to this when dealing with them. As for emotions, they are pretty good at hiding their emotions so you gotta be very attuned and sensitive to know what they are really feeling and thinking under that cool calm collected surface. For they'll quietly tolerate conflict, till one day it builds to a level that it can erupt like a volcano, leaving everyone stunned and surprised.

Can you visualize those within your circle who fit these characteristics?

Behavior Style #2: Influencer

Think Bill Clinton, Robin Williams, Cheerleaders.

Without these people, life would be dull. They bring fun, high energy, cheerfulness where ever they go. They are people people, life of the party, friendly, excited, enthusiastic, persuasive, optimistic, trusting, entertaining, talkative, lively, confident, inspiring, to name just a few.

They are comfortable with touch, with physical contact, and they tend to make decisions very quickly. Sometimes they appear disorganized and they have a tendency to throw around names. It's just how they are wired.

By some though, they can be viewed as say unrealistic, poor listeners, self-promoting, chatterboxes, scattered.

Yet when you need someone who is great at networking, to liven things up, to promote an idea, make connections, get your message out to lots of people, these are great people to have on the team. If they like you and what you have to offer, they will actively promote you.

With these folks though, make sure you make time to socialize first and then get to business, stay away from hard facts and don't focus too much on details. Details is not their thing. As for their fear , it is social rejection and when it comes to conflict, they run from it.

Can you visualize those within your circle who fit these characteristics?

Behavior Style #1: Dominance

Think Donald Trump, George W. Bush, Hiliary Clinton, Michael Jordon, Barbara Walters.
  • Cut to the chase
  • Get it done, now
  • Move on

If you're a high D, you got the gist and are ready to log off this post at this point I am sure. No problem. All other types, I am sure will continue reading.

This style shows up as very competitive, independent, decisive, direct, results oriented, take charge, loves big challenges, fearless, blunt, head strong, impatient. Many times they are labeled as Type A, Alpha Males (applies to women too). This is how they are naturally wired.

While it's not High Ds intent, some view them as demanding, pushy, aggressive, egotistical, abrasive and other similar choice words. In the right role and situation though, they add tremendous value to the team for they are not afraid to take on tough challenges. In fact, they thrive on them.

These individuals are forward looking, great in situations where quick decisions are needed, where one needs to say take on a tough competitor, make the impossible possible. And they love change and in conflicts, they'll fight back. So never back them into a corner for they don't like to loose control or to loose.

Can you visualize those within your circle who fit these characteristics?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Don't Judge a Book By It's...

Yes, you said it...cover.

Yesterday I mentioned I'll be writing over the next 10 days about 4 different behavior styles and 6 different workplace motivators. Before I dive into that, I want to bring up two additional very important points.

First is human beings are way to complex to define by any one label. So while the information I will share with you will help you in gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation of yourself as well as others, please be mindful that there is so much more to each of us. Secondly, recognize that behaviors and motivators interplay.

For example, let's look at Joe (a real person, a dear friend of mine, whose name I have changed here as I don't share personal information about anyone on these blogs, aside from my own).

Joe on the surface (behavior) comes across as a pushy, dominating, aggressive individual. For those who are turned off by such behavior, as I too was at first, they often miss out by what he has to offer for deep in his heart, he has a heart of gold. You see, he has a strong drive to serve, to help others succeed. So if you get Joe in your corner, you have someone who will go to great lengths to help you get what you want.

Then there is Jane. On the surface she comes across as friendly, as charming, as someone who is there to help you. Yet on the inside she is driven very little by need to help others and instead her real drivers are power and prestige. In the right situation and role, she is a huge asset.

Therefore, as you gain greater insights into behaviors and motivators through my upcoming posts, please recognize that they do interplay, and therefore avoid the tendency to "judge a book by it's cover" alone.

Getting Along, Getting Aligned, Getting Ahead

As we're about to enter the holidays when there will be many gatherings, I wanted to continue on the post "Why Can't People Get Along", that I had written back in January of this year.

In my experience, a big reason for disagreements, distance between people, lost productivity, low engagement, turnover, etc. is simply because people can't get along. That often happens when people don't understand each other.

When they do get along and enjoy being with each other, they more effectively align, and it's simply amazing what they then can achieve. This is true not just in business but also in our lives outside of work as well. In fact, here's the formula to achieve nearly anything in life:

Simple Strategy + Systems/Processes + People + Action ===> Success

So no matter how good the strategy and systems and processes you have, nothing happens till people make it happen. And that doesn't happen 'till they are engaged in their work and with each other.

Therefore over the next 10 days, I am going to share with you, one each day, key pieces of information on each of the 4 basic personality styles and 6 key workplace motivators. Personality is what you can observe and motivators are what "internally" moves one into action. As you gain a deeper understanding of these and begin to apply this knowledge in your various personal and professional relationships, I am confident you're going to experience stronger connections, better results and greater joy.

One point to note though is that as you learn about these styles and motivators, it's important to recognize that there is no one style or motivator that is better then the other. Each style is important for everyone adds value. In addition, majority of individuals while they tend to exhibit one primary style, we're all complex beings and therefore we each have a mix of all styles generally and which one shows up more often depends on a given situation.

In any event, as you gain deeper understanding and apply of this knowledge, my hope is it will help you in numerous ways, as it has helped me. So for the next 10 days, I'll send you one post each day. (I'll do my best to keep 'em short and to the point.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Five Ways to Fight Your Fear of Sales

My dear friend Kara S. McKinn and I recently published another article in the September/October 2010 issue of Association Now, publication of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). The article is entitled Five Ways to Fight Your Fear of Sales. For my blog readers, it is reposted below. Enjoy!

Many association executives have a secret: They don't like to sell. Stereotyped images of slick salespeople backing customers into the proverbial corner or dreaded repeat phone calls from someone who considers you a "hot lead" come to mind when we hear the word "sales."

In the "good old days," those of us who didn't like sales could often avoid it. But in today's economic reality, products and programs that used to almost sell themselves are hurting, and staff in departments as disparate as membership, certification, professional development, and conventions have added sales to their burgeoning to-do lists.

Selling in our experience can actually be a satisfyingly enriching experience. Making the switch from dread to success is often simply a matter of realigning your thoughts and actions. Here are some ideas to help you get started.

1. Understand what selling really is. Selling is simply fulfilling your members' needs with products and services that will help them meet their needs. It's matching problems to solutions.

2. Think in terms of connections and networks. As association professionals, we know how to connect with our members, nurturing helpful networks of like-minded people. This action of catalyzing connection and sharing is just selling by another name.

3. Ask and listen. In associations, we know how to ask great questions, to probe, and to listen to what members really need. We possess a thorough understanding of our products and services that will help our members achieve their desired outcomes. All we need to do is make the connection between members' needs and our solutions.

4. Invite and ask. Once you've asked probing questions, listened to members' or customers' answers, and discovered the connection between their needs and your offerings, it's time to invite and ask them to make the purchase—"invite" and "ask" being the key words. We can't really sell anyone what they don't need, at least not if we want to establish long-term relationships, which are essential to associations. We care about our members' success. And that's what professional selling is all about—helping others succeed.

5. Leverage your personal strengths. There is no one right way to do sales, so just be your authentic, natural self. Some people become subject-matter experts. Others enjoy picking up the phone and initiating conversations. Leverage your unique strengths to drive sales in a way that's comfortable for you. Otherwise, it can be hard to generate internal energy, which often leads to inaction. When you leverage your unique strengths and motivations, the inner energy naturally flows to provide the fuel necessary to do sales.

Once you make this mental shift, you can see that selling is really about establishing and enriching long-term relationships that help others succeed. Even the most sales averse among us can find that process to be fulfilling, deeply satisfying, and even joyous.


To view the article on ASAE's site, go to:

When Do You Need an Outside Facilitator?

In my recent posts, I have emphasized the need for regular communication between business partners, and even more so in businesses where family members are involved. I have also written much about the need to have an outside facilitator, someone who is objective and neutral. But how do you know when such a person is necessary, even crucial, and what do you look for in such a person?

Here are some key signs indicating you need external help:
  • Emotions run hot;
  • Some dominate the conversations, stalling participation from others;
  • Conversely, people remain quiet, saying very little;
  • People appear to be walking on egg shells, dancing around sensitive yet critical issues, which never seem to get resolved;
  • When healthy dialogue is missing. People roll their eyes, looking here and there, and appear to agree readily;
  • You know you need to communicate but you just can't seem to get to it, or are not sure what to do, or are uncomfortable for whatever reason;
  • You need greater objectivity in the conversations.
Here are some key elements to look for in the facilitator:
  • Must have deep understanding, preferably through real experience, of both business AND family/partnership dynamics;
  • Is sensitive to group dynamics, not only among partners and among family business owners, but also dynamics that occur between owners and non-owners, non-owners and non-owner family members--yes, it's very complex;
  • Strong at picking up undercurrents, the unspoken;
  • Is an excellent listener, observer and has good communication skills;
  • Can keep the conversation focused and on track;
  • Can manage conflict and emotional vulnerability;
  • Is objective and neutral while being respectful and understanding of various inputs.
If you are experiencing any of the signs above, get some help, NOW. Don't brush issues under the carpet, hoping they'll go away and all will work out just fine. If people are walking on egg shells, it's only a matter of time before stress fractures occur and the eggs crack. It's not a question of if, but when. Speaking from experience, before it's too late, get some help. You'll be thankful.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sherpa Passang, From Tragedy to Triumph

On our way to Everest Base Camp, we stayed overnight at a tea house in Thamol. As we were sitting around, a man approached me, selling paintings he claimed to have painted himself. What caught my attention though were his hands. On his left hand, all fingers were gone and on the right, only small stubs of his fingers remained.

Having traveled enough in that region, I was skeptical. I "assumed" he had purchased them from some group and was selling them to tourists, capitalizing on their sympathy. While I sent him away, without a sale, something kept nagging me, telling me he was sincere. Unable to put him behind me, I inquired about him and came to know his story.

He was once a Climbing Sherpa, which means he would help climbers get to top of various mountains in the region. And on one of the treks, he had met with an accident and lost his fingers. His story touched my heart so deeply that I requested one of the local men to find his home and take me there, which he did early following morning.

To be perfectly honest, in someway I was looking for answers for myself, for I know all too well the inner struggle one faces when restarting oneself after having a successful career. I wanted to learn from his story, e.g. what he went through after the accident, of all possible careers how did he decide to paint, and how and from where did he find the inner strength to push forth to reestablish himself.

At his home, I met his wonderful family and saw where he lives and works. Given the language challenges, I got some sense of his story over a wonderful cup of tea his wife made for us. At the end of the conversation, I happily purchased one of his largest paintings for to me it's a testimony to the human spirit, how with the right frame of mind one can overcome great adversity.

Today, whenever I look upon my own journey and I feel the emotional ups and downs given the challenges of restarting, I find great strength when I see his painting and when I think of him. Sherpa Passang, you're my hero. Thank you.

Friday, October 29, 2010

First Who, Then What!

I recently received an email from an old friend saying "Vinay, help. No matter what I do, I seem to constantly feel dissatisfied in my work. What's wrong with me? What do I do?".

To be completely honest, this question hit me right between eyes for it so resonated with me since I have been in a similar state myself for the last 2-1/2 years. No matter what I do, something doesn't feel right. I keep thinking if I did something else, I would be happy but that never seems to happen.

When I reflect back, my most successful, happiest work days were when I was in business. I used to work 50-60 hours weeks, doing variety of things, and used to love every minute of it. In fact, each and every day, I could hardly wait to get out of bed and get to work. Even when I would be on vacation, I would be thinking of work and when I would return, I would run straight to office.

So I been asking myself, what's changed? I am still the same person, same brain, same heart, and so on. Well, I found the answer on my trek to Everest Base Camp, that I want to share it with you in case it's helpful to you or to someone you know.

You see, very simplistically speaking, there are 3 types of people. Those who are primarily task oriented, those who are mainly people oriented, and those who are somewhere in between.

For the primarily task oriented, it tends to be much more about what they are doing, tasks they are performing. For example, I know of a place where nearly every day people come to office, go straight to their desks, work all day-with very little people interaction-and then go home at end of the day. They are nicest people I know but they are still hardly interact among themselves during work days. They are clearly very task oriented.

Then there are those who are people oriented. They have to be around people. As flowers need sunlight, they need people for without, they wither.

Then there are those who are in the middle, both task and people oriented. I am one of these types. When I have some structure, have a sense of what needs to be achieved, have the creative freedom to achieve it, and am around and working with and helping people, I am extremely engaged and happy. In many cases, it doesn't even truly matter what I am doing. It's more that I am creating, within a structure, and am around and helping/working with people. In fact, nothing makes me come more alive then when I hear the words "Vinay, I need your help with something".

So for example, on the Everest Trek, there were 11 of us. We had somewhat of a daily structure for we had to make certain amount of daily progress to reach our destination on schedule. There were days we would hike up grueling steep paths for 6-8 hours daily. Yet what I remember is that along the way, had lot of great conversations, enjoyed each others company, and just loved being together. Though trekking was hard, it didn't feel like it, cause we were a great team. There were times we pushed each other, when we just sat around quietly reading, or sharing meals, and so on. Frankly, for me, I was around people, I was part of a team that knew what had to be done and we were doing it together. Come to think of it, we could have been cleaning bathrooms for all that matter, and I would have been OK.

Therefore, when people are unhappy in work, their first tendency is to want to do something else. If my experience holds true, dissatisfaction often has less to do with what one does and more to do with workplace relationships (with colleagues, boss, and so on), lack of clarity on expectations, etc.

So next time you experience dissatisfaction, or know someone who is, dig deeper. Ask probing questions and then guide them accordingly. Before changing the "what", find out the real cause and address that first.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I am off to Base Camp at Mt. Everest

First, I want to thank you for reading my blog posts. I hope you find them useful. If ever you have suggestions on what I can do to make this blog more useful to you, please do share your thoughts with me. I really want to know and I welcome your suggestions. This is my first time at having a blog, which I started as many of you had encouraged me to start one and therefore I want this to be of use to you.

Secondly, I wanted to mention that most likely you will not see any posts from me this coming month of October. I am off to Nepal, trekking to Base Camp and there I will have very limited access to the net. I'll be back end of October and will resume at that time.

Till then, take care everyone and thanks again for subscribing and for being part of my community.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

How to Make More Money, with Less Time and Effort

  • Are you feeling stretched, and stressed?
  • Are you feeling stuck, want to earn more but not sure what to do?
  • Are you sick and tired of working long hours, saying to yourself, this is not why you went into business for yourself?
Through my own experience, as well as what I have learned through the process of helping others develop their business plans (a MUST, if you don't have one for yourself), the problem I find is not that they are not doing enough, but rather they are trying to do too much for too many people. In essence, they lack focus. They are generic, a small fish in a big pond.

So if you answered yes to the above questions, then I have a suggestion for you. Over the next 4 weeks, do the following.

1. Determine the profile of your ideal client. This is the person with whom you enjoy doing business and it allows you to generate your desired revenue with relative minimal effort (in doing the work and marketing wise, as couple of factors to take into account). This includes profiling both the organization as well as the individual client. Once you know who this is, then you can actively spend time in a more focused way.

For example, let's say you're an executive coach offering leadership development. While this is nice, imagine being an executive coach to introverted engineers within the aerospace industry. By focusing and niching, you just went from being a small fish in a big pond to a big fish in a small pond. From being a general "generic" surgeon to a heart surgeon specializing in repairing damaged aortic valves. Now more of the clients will seek you out, paying you more $$$ per unit of time for now you're a specialist.

2. Review what products and services are giving you the greatest revenue and profits. Indirectly you'll get a sense of what's in demand, and what are the biggest challenges your clients are facing, and therefore buying what they are buying from you.

If you like to see how we applied this to the business I was a co-owner in, that we grew 28 folds, while at the same time increasing profitability, client retention, and having better quality of life, read my post entitled Sweet Spot: Maximizing Business Growth and Profitability.

Taking the time to determine your Ideal Client Profile (ICP) and narrowing your offerings down to say 2-3 key offerings will help you get focused. From that will emerge list of action items and where to spend your valuable time. You'll not only make more money, you'll also find you have more time for things you love to do.

Work Smart, Not Hard!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Don't Let this Tear Your Business Apart

In business, after some initial success, partners and family members who are in business together at times start to go in different directions. It's not intentional. Just that each has their own vision of the future. If this is not brought to surface and resolved, it can turn into a tug-of-war, wasting precious resources. It can even tear apart the business. Everyone looses.

Let's dig deeper and look at what happens.

In business, according to Bradford, Duncan and Tarcy, authors of Simplified Strategic Planning (an excellent read) there are six different strategic focus areas by which one can lead the business. These include:

1. Product/Service
2. Market/Customers
3. Technology
4. Raw Materials
5. Distribution Channel
6. Capabilities

For the business to be successful, while it may contain elements of more then one of these, only one can be the primary driver. If the primary driver/focus is not chosen and agreed upon, significant resources end up being wasted in the tug-of-war that follows. For the purposes of this post, I want to focus on two of the six:

1. Market/Customer Focus
2. Product/Service Focus

In market/customer focus, the focus is more on serving the target market. If say one partner feels really connected with a specific space, s/he will want to go deeper into this space. For example, let's assume a partner serves the dental market, supplying tooth brushes. Given the excellent relationships she experiences with those she serves, she may choose to also sell other products to this market, such as floss, tooth paste, x-ray film, office equipment, and so on. She simply loves her clients and want to do more for them. It's more about the market then what is sold.

In product/service focus, say for the other partner, it's not about the dental market but that he just loves brushes. His view is if dental offices buy brushes, then he can expand his product line to include other kinds of brushes and expand into for other markets. For example, this could include selling brushes to auto repair shops, to manufacturing facilities, and so on. He simply loves brushes regardless of type of brushes and who they are sold to. It's more about what is sold then the market.

When this difference surfaces, if partners are not aware of what's happening here, they may conclude something like that the other is just stubborn, just doesn't get it, and so on. Before you know it, wedge has been driven, going deeper and deeper overtime, and eventually leading to the partnership being split. Alternatively, they continue to have this tug-of-war, wasting precious resources and experiencing stress as well.

If you are experiencing this situation or know of business partners who are, it's important to discuss this objectively and settle on one strategic focus, for the sake of the business and the partnership.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

10 Tips for Making The Family Business Work

(I had written this prior to leaving for vacation, but in rush of things forgot to post. Anyways, posting it now).

Many when they hear of a family business, they imagine family members happily working side by side singing songs, floating through the days, happily ever after. While are there certainly numerous benefits of being in a family business, families in business together also experience tremendous stress, something those on the "outside" don't see nor experience.

It's hard enough to exist peacefully in a family. Add to that a successful yet very demanding business, things get really complicated. Business meetings at work turn into family meeting and home gathering become business discussions, often leaving those who are not involved feeling left out. And home tensions go into the workplace and tough decision made at work leads to feeling isolated at home with one getting "the stares, glares, the looks". It never stops. At time it can feel as if walking on a mine field.

If you're experiencing stress being in the family business (or partnership), here are 10 tips, to keep you and the business healthy:

1. Get involved in some group that nourishes your soul, something that has nothing to do with business and something in which you can participate without other family members involved. Some separation and break is healthy.

2. Exercise regularly and eat healthy. It'll relieve the stress and keep you healthy. You must stay in shape for family business is not for the weak.

3. Have a sounding board, a thought partner. In such a business setting, it's easy for one to feel isolated. I know I used to feel that very often, isolated and frustrated, wondering who to talk to freely, without causing waves. Have someone in your corner with whom you can have on-going conversations, to help you think through your challenges, help you see things from a different perspective, help you stay focused and sane, listen to you without judging and trying to fix you. This person must be someone who understands family business dynamics and is an "outsider", is objective, neutral, and has nothing to gain or loose.

4. Have regular meetings. You can never have too much communication. If you think regular meetings aren't needed, and you assume everyone is on the same page, you're wrong. Many business problems in family businesses find their roots in lack of communication.

5. Hold at least once every year an off-site retreat, preferably facilitated by an outside moderator, who can keep the conversation moving forward while keeping everyone together.

6. Be always watchful of unexpressed expectations, mood changes, issues brewing under the surface. When you detect them, resolve them before they turn into volcanoes for if situations reach that stage, it becomes very difficult to resolve even the seemingly simplest issues.

7. Run personality profiles on each family involved in the business and have the results discussed among the members, with the discussion being led by someone who is an expert in this. This leads to structured conversations and then the better everyone understands each other, the more effectively everyone can appreciate and leverage each others differences rather then have those differences tear the group apart.

8. Take the necessary time to establish clear roles, responsibilities and accountability for each family member who is involved in the business. While these may not be set in stone, it will lead to greater clarity for everyone.

9. Separate as much as possible, family roles from business roles. While this is far easier said then done, it's an important element to lasting success and peace. For example, if you're a couple in business, be the couple at home but when you're at work, be the professionals you are supposed be, doing what your roles require of you.

10. Last but not least. As business changes and grows, so do the family members. While they may have started with a similar vision and goals, overtime their own visions and desires change. To keep everyone on the same page, once each year, set aside time away from the office for business planning. Such planning is not only important for business success, it provides a forum for having structured conversations, which are vital to keeping everyone together, focused and aligned.

2 Ways to Minimize Costly Hiring Mistakes

No matter how solid the business plan, it's simply hard to execute it without good people. Yet one of the biggest challenges we faced in our family business was in the area of hiring, in particular hiring sales and customer service reps. Literally we lost hundreds of thousands over the years due to bad hires, let alone the mental stress we experienced due to it.

Many of the candidates looked good, sounded good, seemed to have the right skills and experience, yet didn't work out. Not only was it costly in-terms of money lost, it was also tiring because of all the hours lost that went into training and getting them up to speed. Over the years, I gained important insights which I'll share with you here, to help you make better hiring decisions.

While we can't bat 100%, though we like to, I like to share two suggestions that will help you increase your batting average.

1. Use Personality Profiles

The one I use is called TriMetrix and it looks at individuals through 3 different lenses. The assessment identifies, objectively and neutrally, behavioral strengths and blind spots, what the individual focuses on, as well as what moves 'em into action. If you find there is a significant gap between what you need and what this individual has to offer, inspite of their experience and skills, I would think seriously before making the hire. This small investment upfront can save you literally thousands of dollars, as well as your valuable time and energy. Not using this in my judgment is penny wise, pound foolish.

2. Ask These 4 Essential Questions

In the interview, questions often revolve around skills and experience. While these are important, they alone are not enough. For example, just because someone was successful in sales at another organization doesn't mean they'll succeed in yours. There are many factors that lead to success. Therefore, in addition to the usual questions, I would also ask the following types of questions:

A. What are some of your values, guiding principals? You want to look for a reasonably close match to ensure their values match to your organizations.

B. What's your vision for your own life? In other words, probe to learn what matters to them, what do they want to create, how do they enjoy spending their time, what motivates them, what their dreams are.

C. How do you see this job, this role, helping you live the life you want, helping you make your dreams come true?

D. Share with them your vision, your values, who you serve, why your clients do business with you. Also share openly some of the challenges people in your company currently face. Then ask the interviewee this question: Given what I have shared with you, how do you see yourself fitting into this organization?

It's important to hire people who get excited by your vision and connect with your values. The greater the match, the greater the chances of success. And it's not just for your own benefit but also the benefit of candidates. When bad hiring happens, both suffer. By investing time upfront to ensure good fit, everyone wins.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Getting Along with Your Business Partners

In my experience, majority of business problems, especially in partnership based businesses find their roots in communication breakdowns. When business partners don't get along or are not working effectively, and this is even more true for businesses involving family members, you'll find gaps in communication. What then takes place is "I said, you said...I thought, you thought...". Moles turn into mountains, no one wins.

The solution is very clear - communicate, communicate, communicate! Communicate expectations, roles & responsibilities, vision, values, purpose, base strategy and strategic focus, critical success factors, and so on.

Sounds pretty easy, right? Yeah. Sounds easy but tough to do.

In today's fast pace, we get so caught up in day-to-day tasks that we don't make time for such important conversations. This is even more true for family businesses where they don't incorporate regular meetings. It also happens because sometime we don't know how to start and have such conversations. And the more delicate the issue, the tougher and therefore even more critical to have communication.

Otherwise, while everyone may think everything is progressing smoothly and that everyone is on the same page, likely there are unresolved issues stewing underneath that hamper future business and relations. Furthermore, when such dialogue is missing, "grapevine" runs rampant, organization lacks focus and alignment, valuable resources are split into multiple directions, to name just a few.

If you want your business to last, on-going communications are vital. If you are at a point where emotions run hot during your meetings, make the investment in an outside moderator, a facilitator, someone who understands the unique challenges associated with partnership and family based businesses. They, being neutral and objective, can help you manage conflicts and keep conversations on track.

On-going communication is one of the best investments any partnership and family business can make to ensure lasting success. Whatever you do, please make time to regularly communicate. It's vital to your success.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

How to Rebuild Business Relationships

Do you know couples, siblings, friends, families who are in business together? And in spite of having achieved business success, now they can't seem to get along and they are constantly going at each other?

I grew up in a family business environment as well as have been in one. In addition to having experienced the joys of partnership and family business, I also have experienced the struggles and the pain. I have seen up close way too many relationships fall apart, among those who are otherwise good kind loving individuals, each doing their very best. It's painful to watch and to experience it.

It doesn't have to be that way.

Business relationships can fall apart for many reasons: miscommunication, lack of communication, lack of understanding, behavioral differences, apathy, separate schedules, busy schedules, or disagreements. Sometimes blow ups happen and other times the relationship just slowly falls apart.

The challenge becomes even greater in family businesses where members are unable to communicate about sensitive or heated subjects without ending up in some kind of an argument. One person may yell while another may shut down, and yet a third may storm out of the room. Each reacts differently, and no one understands why the others don't see the situation his or her way.

While it's true that every family and every business group has disagreements, when you mix family members with business issues, the conflicts are more intense and more frequent. Specially since family members know how to push each other's buttons, and they do can do so, and do, freely.

I know when I was in business, I yearned for a way of addressing heated topics with family members in a manner that does not impede on the company's success, and vice versa. Not knowing how at the time, I used to often feel very isolated and frustrated.

As they say, if I knew then what I know now.

When my own business relationship fell apart, after being together for nearly 20 years, I silently wowed to figure out how this happens and how it can be fixed, or prevented in the first place. After spending nearly 3 years delving into this, I believe through real life application, that nearly every business relationship can be repaired, or reinstated. While there are many ways of doing that, I will discuss one of those ways here.

When a relationship has gone south, one of the biggest challenges is how to open up the dialogue. One of ways to open up and restart the conversation, first step to repair, is via the use of personality profiles. The one I myself use with business partners and business teams is called The Trimetrix, and it's one of the most powerful instruments I have come to use.

What's valuable is not just what the reports provide, and do so in an objective neutral way, it's that they provide a means through which conversation can begin. As the results from these profiles are discussed, first individually and then as a group, I have experienced over and over that conversation once again begins to flow, people start to open up, misunderstandings start to turn into understandings, conflicts begin to turn into synergy, participants start to release long held thoughts, their perspectives start to shift, to name just a few of the many benefits.

Key to make this work is to have an outside expert administer the assessments and conduct the debriefs individually as well as facilitate the group conversation when conducting the group debrief. In addition to the expertise, they are neutral and objective and keep the group together and moving forward. Also, as an added benefit, these profiles also provide a common language for communication and that's often very helpful.

If you are experiencing tensions, communication breakdowns, cold war, or open heated arguments, I urge you to seriously consider the use of personality profiles and follow what I am suggesting. It's one of the best investments you'll make. In addition to getting your relationships back on track, you'll begin to also notice the very positive impact this will have on your business as well as other aspects of your life.

If you have any questions, please just ask. I wish you the very best.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

11 Keys to Building Strong Partnerships

Have you ever gone on a vacation with someone who is very different from you? One wants to experience everything under the sun while the other wants to just chill out. One wants to plan the day down to the minute while the other likes to figure out what to do as the day goes by. One wants to go left, the other right. One wants window down and put the peddle to the metal while the other likes the windows up and keeps tapping the break peddle. Now just imagine, being in partnership with this person who has very different preferences. What would that be like?

I am sure you get the picture.

Therefore, in choosing your business partner(s) it's crucial to, for both long-term success and to having an enjoyable experience, here are 11 key factors of consider:

1. Shared Vision. Metaphorically speaking, what will happen if one wants to go to California while the other Florida? One envisions a chain of big box stores while the other a small boutique? It's important to share common definition of success, your desired destination, what you want to sell, and to whom. Otherwise, it'll be a constant push-n-pull, tug-of-war.

2. Shared Values. Do you share values that will guide you in your decision making, in your day to day activities? For example, how will you function say if one views employees as those who can be easily hired and fired at will while you view them as family? One has no problem taking on debt while you are terrified by it?

3. Shared Work Ethic. Will you both put in your best efforts or is one a slacker while the other carries the load?

4. Shared Base Strategy. Of the 4 types, do you both share where you want to be ultimately?
  • Small Fish, Small Pond
  • Small Fish, Big Pond
  • Big Fish, Small Pond
  • Big Fish, Big Pond
Similar to example given in #1 above, what will happen if one wants to build a business say selling commodities in high volume low margins and the other wants to pursue a strategy of a specialty selling low volume high margins?

5. Aligned in what you lead with. What happens say if one wants to be the low cost supplier while the one wants to be known for outstanding quality, customer service and charge high prices?
  • Innovation, Cutting Edge
  • Customer Service
  • Quality, Tried and True
  • Low Price Seller
For example, what will happen if one wants to be known for high quality, outstanding service while the other wants to sell on price and quality isn't as important?

6. Leveraging Strengths. Here, differences are actually healthy. If say one is outgoing, aggressive and quick to act, it's important to have someone who is reflective, more thoughtful and reserved. Or one is more task focused, it's important to have the other be most people focused. It's the Ying and Yang, left brain and right brain. Both are needed.

7. Complimentary Skills. Overall, to run a successful business, skills in administration (e.g, HR, IT, Accounting), Sales/Marketing, and Operations are needed. Do the partners bring a mix of skill sets? Here again, you need to ensure everyone brings something to the mix so all bases are covered. You want someone who will fill in for your weaknesses and you do the same for the other. No one is good at everything. It takes all types to make business work.

8. Do you enjoy being together. In business, you will spend lots of time together and therefore it's very important you enjoy each others company, and have the ability to have open honest conversations, no matter how tough the issues.

9. Commitment: There will be good times, there will be rough times. Are all of you committed to the partnership, to see it through, no matter what you all face. One for all, all for one.

10. Personal Responsibility: When something goes wrong, will you play the blame game or are you strong enough to also look within and see how you contribute to the situation. This was a lesson for me. It took me a long time to accept that in my own partnership coming apart, I too had a huge role. Until we are willing to looking within ourselves also, we'll play the victim game and that doesn't contribute to healthy partnerships.

11. Trust & Respect: Last but not least, do you trust and respect each other. You want someone on whom you can count on, completely trust, someone who has your back covered as you have theirs, someone you respect. All successful lasting relationships are built on foundation of trust and mutual respect.

Having said all this, I want to stress that there is no one right or wrong, better or worse. There is a place for everyone. Important thing in partnerships is that there be alignment. If it's missing, your partnership is destined to difficulties. Therefore, when choosing your business partner(s), be sure to pay critical attention to these factors.

Also, as a final word for now, it's important to note that it's unlikely to ever find a perfect match. We are humans afterall and we each have our uniqueness's. What's important is to be aware of where you align, where you don't, and to work through those differences, and to recognize that there is always some benefits in those differences.

What Leads to Partnerships Breaking Up?

Do you know couples, siblings, friends who went into business together with great hopes and excitement but now they are constantly going at each other? Being in business together can tear apart not only relationships, but also their business.

Same happens in corporations where executives aren't aligned, each member rowing in a different direction, following his/her own agenda, leaving others confused and drained.

Do you ever wonder what's the cause? And more importantly, how can this be prevented, for there is tremendous power in partnerships, when leadership teams are aligned, all rowing together in the same direction?

To use a metaphor, effective partnerships are like the hand. When five digits work together, they are exponentially more powerful then the sum of each individual digit. As my uncle says, when it comes to partnerships, 1 + 1 = 11.

After many years of reflection, observation, and self-study, I believe I finally have the answers to the questions I raise above, which I will share with you here.

First, what leads to the breaking.

Loss of Collective Vision: Everything in life, manifested by humans, originates in thought and those thoughts are ever changing. At some point in time, thoughts of two or more individuals come together and partnership is formed. Overtime, however, thoughts change, they shift, resulting in partners slowly drifting apart. And due to lack of effective on-going communication, either due to being so caught up in day to day operations or more likely that in many cases hey don't know how to have such conversations, the impact of such drifting apart does not surface, 'till it's too late, leaving everyone asking "what happened?". Or their is constant fighting and those observing watch helplessly wanting to help but not sure what to do.

Lack of Human Understanding: Human beings are complex beings with ever changing thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and motivations. In the absence of such understanding, what ultimately happens to the unaware, these small differences end up driving a big wedge into the relationships. Friction takes place, communication breaks down, moles become mountains. Rather then understanding and leveraging differences for greater individual and joint success, they are often misinterpreted (intention vs. impact), only leading to further divisions.

So, what's the solution?

I have come to believe the solution resides in two actions, both of which must take on an on-going basis. They are:

Executive Alignment: Just as tires need realignment from time to time, so do executive teams. In the executive suite, this is done via regularly schedule meetings that must be facilitated by someone from the outside, who is neutral and objective, has nothing to gain or loose. Goal in these meetings is to have both strategic conversations as well as cover other materials to ensure everyone stays on the same page so that everyone continues to row together in the same direction.

Executive Tune Up: Via use of personality assessments, which provide deep insights into each individual's strengths and blind spots, in an objective and neutral way, understanding and therefore communication improves, misunderstanding begin to get flushed out, leading to less friction and greater performance. When these assessment results are presented by an expert who is an outsider, these "debriefings" of results lead to powerful conversations, partners come to better and more effectively understand of each other, as well as understand how to leverage each others differences for greater joint success.

Net result being acceleration of business performance AND strengthening of the partnership. It's one of the best investment any partnership and executive leadership team can make, to ensure long-term success and enjoy the many benefits partnerships offer.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What's Possible When Everyone Shares a Collective Vision?

How in sync is your team? Is everyone moving together smoothly in the same direction? Or does it feel more like a constant tug-of-war, push-n-pull, each tripping over the other? Do you experience conflicting goals, conflicting agendas, constantly changing priorities, flavors of the day, feeling stretched and confused?

In my experience, businesses, specially business partners and families who are in business together, they start off with a fairly a clear focus, direction and desired outcome. As times goes on however, individuals begin to drift apart. Each focusing on their own thing, they are busy and less and less communication. In the absence of on-going communications about vision, desired outcomes, planning, etc. misunderstandings, friction, breakdowns, inefficiencies begin to take place, all negatively impacting overall performance.

If you like to find out what the situation is in your organization, here's a simple test. Results will show you how well aligned is your team, to what degree they share a collective vision, and if they are all working towards the same desired outcome.

Have one person, preferably someone from the outside who is neutral and objective, and someone who has nothing to gain or loose by the findings, start interviewing, individually, key members of your team. Have this person, who should be good in asking questions, listening and probing, ask each interviewee the following 7 questions:

1. What business is your company in and why does it exist (purpose)?
2. What does your company sell?
3. Who are your target customers?
4. Who are your top 10 clients?
5. Why do they do business with your company?
6. What do your clients most appreciate about doing business with your company?
7. How is success defined and measured at your company?

Of course, before diving into these questions listed above, the interviewer will have to first set the stage as well as warm up the conversation by asking couple of other questions, to get the conversation flowing and putting the interviewee at ease.

When asking these 7 questions, go in depth. For example, for the question "who are your target customers?" don't just accept for example, our customers are associations. Probe and dig deeper. Never settle for the first response. Ask each interviewee to share for example, what does the "optimum" customer "look" like, e.g. approximate age, gender, title, size and type of organization, location, and so on.

As a suggestion, start these interviews first with your leadership team. Often misalignment starts right there. If you find they aren't aligned, then what do you think are the chances rest of your team members being aligned and moving in the same direction? And if they aren't, what impact is that having on the organization? Then imagine, if they were all aligned and shared a collective vision, working together towards the same destination, what would be possible?

Go ahead, give this simple yet powerful exercise a try and see what you find out. I can guarantee you'll be glad to have done this.