5 Lessons to Inspire Your Business Growth Plans

Despite the bitter Chicago cold, wind, ice, and snow (sounds appealing doesn’t it!?), there is something energizing about this time of year. January is a fresh start. A blank slate. But also a time to apply lessons learned. It’s easy to jump back into the daily grind without first reflecting on what actually happened the previous year to set a strong foundation for growth in the year ahead.

There were a lot of moving parts that made up our year at the Association of Interim Executives. Thousands of conversations with owners and executives, further development of the Rapid Executive Deployment program, our first interim executive annual conference and more. While those developments were visible signs of progress, there were underlying themes that helped serve as a driving force.

Here are 5 things I learned from owners, entrepreneurs and other brilliant minds:

1. Find Your Why. Simon Sinek gives a brilliant talk on how great leaders inspire action. Most people and organizations know what they do and how they do it. But how many know why they do it? Sinek says the most inspiring leaders and organizations know what their purpose, cause or belief is. He challenges organizations to ask themselves: why do you exist? And why should anyone care?

When we asked ourselves why we do what we do, we realized it went beyond matching companies with interim executives or serving as home base for interims, many whom are solo operators. It went much deeper. We came to realize that the team of elite executives we had built could change the world. That vision for a better future inspires us to deploy brilliant leaders where needed, to tackle challenges around the globe and enable growth in people and organizations. A rallying cry began to form around that mission and continues to focus and drive our actions. Now it’s your turn: what gets you up in the morning.

2. Plant a Seed and Watch It Grow. In 1984, Joe Mansueto, founder of Morningstar, was working as a stock analyst when he was introduced to mutual funds, then an obscure corner of the financial markets. There was very little information available to investors, so he created a database of funds, slowly but steadily growing Morningstar into a major publisher of financial information with thousands of employees operating around the world.

Sometimes it feels like the sprint you began, somehow turns into a marathon. Like the nascent mutual fund market of the 80s, we started working with interims years ago when most of the business world had no clue that interim was a specialty or career. In his interview in How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America, Mansueto’s most important advice is to be patient. “Growing a business is a process, like planting a seedling. It takes a while to develop, and you have to water it and nurture it.”

3. Set Aside Make Time. You could go a little crazy spending time struggling to get better at managing your time. Yet the vicious cycle of email overload and endless to-do lists is, well, endless. So check out this article on time management by Jeremiah Dillon, head of products marketing at Google Apps for Work.

Dillon says that as time managers we cut our days into blocks, changing focus every 30 minutes. A maker, however, needs to make, to create, to build, and to think. Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates were known for taking time to think – whole weeks of dedicated make time. But thinking shouldn’t just be confined to getaways. Makers should plan half-day or full-day blocks, and get specific on where and what they are making. I now see some of my best breakthroughs came during impromptu periods of make time. So this year make time is not only going to be part of our vocab, but a protected part of every week.

4. Get Rid of the Non-Believers. At the 2015 Web Summit, About.com CEO Neil Vogel shared about the company’s two-year turnaround. When IAC bought About.com from the New York Times in 2012, users and revenue had fallen to half the preceding year and nothing had been invested in technology in six years. Vogel said everything was on the table to be questioned and he decided to focus on first fixing culture and then fixing product. Everything else would follow.

Why was culture at the top of the list? Vogel said there was a hard-wired fear of change within the company. In order to free up people to be happy, they had to get rid of the non-believers. How much time and energy do we spend trying to justify ourselves to the naysayers? We need to be challenged – that’s essential – but in order to be effective, your team has to be running the race together.

After spending years building up a network of thousands of executives, we decided to start all over again. Go back to zero. It was a scary move, but we realized that to build to the highest standard of excellence for career interims, culture was just as important as track record. Today the Association of Interim Executives is exclusive, self-selecting and very hard to get into. Everyone holds to the same standards of providing value, upholding integrity, taking action, and being held accountable. We call it the League of Extraordinary Interims.

5. Make the Commitment. Dan Sullivan, founder of Strategic Coach, has spent 30 years studying and coaching entrepreneurs. Watching a colleague go from fear to confidence mastering a new skill, Sullivan developed the 4 Cs formula to explain how we make progress. He says that everything starts with (1) commitment, where you must commit to achieving a measurable result by a specific date. Next comes (2) courage to take action then (3) capability, which is only created because of your commitment and courage. Finally, (4) confidence emerges.

As I listened to Dan, I thought of how often I found myself hesitating to jump in because I didn’t yet feel confident in the end result. Sullivan says “you can’t have confidence until you create a capability and you can’t make the capability until you make a commitment”. I started looking at the interim executives I talk to every day as inspiration. There is no user manual for cleaning up corporate messes or creating billion dollar success from scratch. Interims jump between industries always with excellence, from plastics to paper, Internet to inverters, or financial services to food.

Even veteran interims are not exempt from the 4 Cs. They make a commitment to take action and achieve a certain result, and the rest follows. What are you hesitating to do because you don’t yet have the capability?

About the Author

Olivia Wolak

Olivia Wolak Olivia Wolak co-founded the Association of Interim Executives and directs the organization. Olivia previously built the interimCEOinterimCFO network from a home-grown website to a robust social network with thousands of members. She directed publication of various ebook, website, and marketing initiatives and edited How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America. In conjunction with the book Olivia led a national event series, the Entrepreneurial Bash, which drew hundreds of attendees and over 30 co-hosting organizations.