Think Growth! Blog

The Most Important Part of Accountability

08 Jul
by Bridget DiCello

Your team is not being held accountable if they are not the ones doing the talking.

I followed up.

I asked them if they did it.

I told them they needed to get it done.

Still, they didn’t do it.


Let’s revise that scenario.

You: Mike, it’s important to make those sales calls. What are your targets for this week?

Mike: 20 calls per day, 5 appointments set this week.

You: Great, touch base with me before you leave on Friday, hand me a copy of your sales report and let me know how you did. Will you be in the office on Friday afternoon?

Mike: I have a golf game with our largest prospect in the afternoon.

You: Okay, come see me before you leave for that game.

On Friday at 11:15am, Mike stops by your office.

Mike: Just leaving for that game. Here is my sales report.

You: Tell me about your week, and how you did on your goals.

Mike: Mike tells you about some of the calls he made, and talks through the challenging calls. I just got too busy to make more calls. I was out much of the week at events.

You: How many calls did you make each day? Mike responds. And how many appointments did you set? Mike responds. And, what did you accomplish at the events?

Mike: I met some people I think could be good prospects.

You: Great, tell me about them. Mike responds. So what will you do differently next week to fit in your calls each day?

Mike: I might have to make them in the morning.

You: Good idea, what time will you arrive in order to do that? Mike responds. Based on how the calls you made this week, what else could you do differently next week? Mike responds. Okay, sounds like a plan. Touch base with me before you leave next Friday, hand me a copy of your sales report and let me know how you did. Will you be in the office next Friday afternoon?

The sales example above is about a struggling sales person who needs accountability to perform the basic sales activities. He would be perfectly happy to take your criticism and consternation as he sits quietly and listens because it requires no energy on his part. But, we have to get him engaged and talking if we expect him to do anything differently. This same conversation could occur due to a lack of performance in operations, customer service, finance or marketing. Accountability must include the employee’s participation in the conversation where they are thinking about what they will do and do differently.


What Candid Conversations have you had recently?

07 Jul
by Bridget DiCello

- Have you ever told a customer “No”?

- Have you fired a customer?

- Have you successfully communicated to your employees your honest assessment of their performance?

- Have you told employees what you really think they are capable of accomplishing?

When it comes to customers, we often hear the phrase, “Under promise and over deliver.” While the concept is strong, that phrase always strikes me the wrong way to approach things because any time you test the limits of honesty, you have more to keep track of.

What if you had candid conversations with your customers ahead of time and promised honestly and intelligently (challenging their expectations as necessary), delivered as promised, and left room in your time and budget to pleasantly surprise your customers by meeting their special requests, unusual concerns and unspoken needs?

With employees, candid conversations about their performance are crucial. If you honestly believe they are incapable of doing the job, fire them now, and edit your hiring practice to not hire the wrong person next time.

If you believe they can do the job, tell them that and push them to succeed with routine and candid conversations about the goals they need to accomplish (14-30 days into the future – not only yearly goals), their obstacles and how they will overcome them, and your confidence in their ability to proceed. Simple cheerleading never works if you do not help them to uncover their own solutions to the obstacles to progress that they face.

If you see a problem, address it with a candid conversation. Sometimes that means standing up for an employee in their interactions with customers or supervisors, albeit strategically; or standing up for your customers if your employees have not delivered well.

When you think about candid conversations, you may think about the toughest conversation you have had or need to have this week or month. But candid conversations do not occur only once in a blue moon. In reality, they are conversations that build over time, are punctuated by activity and are matured by reality.

Innovation – Radical and Incremental

26 Jun
by Bridget DiCello

In what area of your business have you innovated so far this year? How about last year – what was your main innovative accomplishment? Sometimes innovation is organic, and you improve your current product or service. And sometimes innovation comes in the form of buying something that improves or transforms the way you do business.

Incremental innovation is the type that smart companies will do every week – based on feedback from customers, challenges they face and employee input and suggestions. Daily processes and systems are reviewed for opportunities to increase efficiency and productivity, and the product or service offerings are continually improved based on a desire to do things better, be more profitable and stay competitive. Radical innovation is the type that transforms a business, requires the willingness of the company to go beyond incremental improvements, is most often based on the dream goals of a visionary leader or entrepreneur, and is discovered through the work and input of the team.

It’s very important for leaders and entrepreneurs to stay in touch with their dream goals, even if they might not be realized in the near future. Revisiting them, sharing them with the team, and every once in a while, spending an afternoon researching and working on them, all brings them one step closer to realization. These goals are the basis for radical innovation.

Yearly goals, even if they are ambitious, often do not push the leader or the team members to move outside their current comfort zone, and beyond the incremental improvements that are routinely accomplished by dedicated employees.

Challenge your current processes based on your dream goals. If you haven’t identified those dream goals, spend some time doing that – what do you really want your company to accomplish? If you haven’t shared your dream goals – share them with your team: “Someday, we are going to…” – and they will start thinking and strategizing with you. Set aside a half day once a month to work on the goals – no matter how distant they may seem amid daily fires and challenges.

How have you come up with your greatest innovations?


11 Jun
by Bridget DiCello

All businesses set out to make money, but many don’t watch their profitability closely.

At the risk of covering the basics, humor me for a moment. Have you ever gotten so busy doing business, working with customers, getting new customers, paying bills, delivering your product or service or putting out fires that you don’t pay attention to whether or not you are making any money doing what you are doing?

What was your profit margin in May? What were your profit margins on each type of product or service, or by job or client? What do you want or need your profit to be able to invest back into the business and still retain some profit for the owner?

Even if your profit margins were good, your total dollars of profit may not be enough if your sales are not high enough to cover your overhead costs.

Increasing your margin comes from setting your prices correctly and decreasing what it costs you to produce and deliver your product or service. If your teams are killing themselves and you still struggle with profit margin, maybe you have to look at your pricing. If your pricing cannot go any higher based on the market, you need to ensure you have talented people doing the job well the first time, effective communication with customers, tools and equipment that work well, and systems and processes that are efficient and eliminate waste.

If your bottom line profits are not enough, often you have to ask yourself if you have created a company that running at its best, will produce a profit? If your current team is productive, efficient and running at capacity, and your profits are still not what you want them to be, then maybe your ‘machine’ is broken.

If either your profit margin or profitability are not where you want them to be, don’t just work harder; stop and determine exactly where the problem lies, and work deliberately towards a solution. Too often, hard working people will work their tails off doing some of the right things, but also some of the wrong things to improve profitability. For example, taking care of customers may always seem like the right thing to do, but if you are doing it because an error was made by someone on your team, or you are spending time on a far less than ideal client (based on your niche), then you are not contributing to an increase in profitability.

What are you working on in June to increase your profit margins? What initiatives are you working on in June to increase your overall profits?


Leaders Engage!

04 Jun
by Bridget DiCello

Leadership is so much more than doing tasks; and so much more than being a charismatic cheerleader.  It’s about leading people to Greatness – regardless of your specific goals, and in order to meet those specific goals.

Have you had someone who has pushed you to Greatness?  Who has helped you become a better or stronger person personally or professionally?

School was always easy for me and I greatly appreciated the professor who pushed me to not only take a full credit load my senior year in college, but to add a few more classes, including an independent project, work with him to publish two papers, present at a conference as the only undergraduate, and network actively with alumni in my field.  And the hardest part of the tasks was not the considerable time I spent, but the fears and shortcomings I had to overcome to do those things – most of those activities were well outside my comfort zone.

Do you have a comprehensive strategy for pushing your team members out of their comfort zone, supporting them in the process, holding them accountable for taking the first step, persisting through obstacles and growing into new areas of skill and ability?

With a good team, you can run a company successfully, make a profit, minimize turnover and keep customers happy without ever achieving Greatness in your team.  But, people on your team, and your company, are capable of so much more!  Typically, we will not move outside our comfort zone without prodding from someone.

If you find yourself saying that you don’t need prodding and that you are always looking for the next way to challenge yourself – realize that that may be true because you are the entrepreneur or business owner.  Even business owners who thrive on new opportunities have comfort zones.  Maybe sitting down to connect with employees in curious conversations is outside your comfort zone because it doesn’t move fast enough for you.

Based on your goals, what do you really want your individual employees to be able to do or do better?  Are you ready to set some ambitious individual goals for employees, get them talking about how they will reach them, and help them determine the first and next steps?  Then are you ready to walk with them on a journey of professional improvement with a series of accountability coaching conversations?

This requires a level of engagement form you as the leader that many leaders will never display for one of a few reasons:

  1. Their drive to move the company forward and seize new opportunities is so strong, the thought of employee development, especially at the deliberate pace it takes to connect with someone in order to be able to lead them to Greatness, is not appealing.
  2. They delegate the task to a middle/front line manager who doesn’t know how to coach the employees.
  3. It can be exhausting.  People don’t change easily, even in exciting, new and upward directions.  Overcoming fears and areas where one lacks confidence are tough things to do and not all leaders can stomach those conversations.
  4. The leader thinks the employees should do it on their own.  They probably will do some professional development, but I may never have thought of publishing the two books I did if I hadn’t published papers in college – pushed by my professor.
  5. Sadly, some leaders do not have a genuine interest in the professional development of their individual employees.  They can create good companies, but never great ones.
  6. They just don’t know how.  It’s a very specific set of skills that very few people are just born with.  I certainly wasn’t.  If you want to develop these skills further, give me a call and let’s talk.

The First Step

29 May
by Bridget DiCello

Whether you want to increase sales, become more efficient, improve processes, make better decisions, empower employees, or increase profitability, all these changes include the need for many people to make changes in how they do things. When you want people to change, the first step is to create the plan, and then realize that the specific first step is the most difficult to determine and to take.

As a company leader you might think a change will be easy. But, you can’t just mention it, and assume others will take the ball and run with it. They are busy, just like you are. Too often, as a leader, you will lose credibility if a decision is not made quickly, and a reasonable plan put into place to achieve that change with the input of those involved. The detailed plan is quite often not the fun part of improving company performance for the visionary leader.

Company change happens one person at a time. The leader must talk to team members and learn what challenges they face, what’s important to them and how that connects to the change they wish to make. Notice I did not say to find out what’s important to them to determine the direction the company should take. We each look at our own myopic view and for good reason, determine what we consider to be best for us. The role of the leadership team is to have a view of the company overall, in the long term, and be making decisions that move the company forward – which does benefit each employee – although many will not see that big picture, especially if that is not inherent in their personality.

The ability to see the big picture is often seen as a reflection of intelligence, when really it is more common in those in leadership roles – and is often a reason why they are promoted – but has no correlation to intelligence. It can be very difficult, if you are a big-picture, results-oriented person, to have to paint the picture and outline the steps with an employee without thinking they just don’t get it. You may be tempted to overlook their intelligence and wisdom if you are pushing too hard to achieve an end goal and not engaging them in conversation.

Think of something you’d really like to be different or better in your company. Clarify that goal, and add details of how things will look different in the future. Then create the plan of how to get there, including time frames. As you delegate and involve others in the process, realize that for each person the first step is the most difficult to determine and to take. Hold conversations to connect with the employee and lead them through the change. Their engagement and excitement will be far higher when they have had a chance to weigh in on the role they will play in achieving what is important for company growth.

Finding a Mentor

21 May
by Bridget DiCello

You may have many successful people who inspire you, share insights and who you learn from.  But, how do you find a mentor with whom to build a more concrete relationship?

A mentor is successful – let’s look at what other qualities are important:

1 – They have accomplished what you want to accomplish such as position, certifications, wealth, social stature, and also life balance, spiritual or emotional growth.  In order to identify this person, your goals must be clear.  You must focus on more than just one goal –  we are all much more complicated than that.  Make a list of 50 things you want to accomplish this year and 50 more you want to accomplish in ten years.  Think beyond immediate goals to what you really want  to accomplish.

2 – Have you ever had a successful person offer to help but none of their advice seems to apply to you?  Equally as important as their success, a mentor needs to be someone who has overcome similar obstacles and struggles that you currently face.  To achieve any goal, people take many different paths and you utilize a mentor to successfully navigate your path and overcome your challenges.

3 – An effective mentor is also a coach.  A good coach is interested in helping you access your potential and your greatness – and pushes you to do so.  They care enough about your success to learn about you – your strengths and weaknesses, hopes and dreams.  You build a relationship of trust based on their focus on you and your best interests and your appreciation of them and diligent hard work and putting forth your best efforts.  It goes well beyond getting and giving advice.

As you look for mentors in your life, look for someone who:

1 – embodies the success you want to achieve, both professionally and personally

2 – has overcome the struggles you face

3 – cares about you enough to focus on the success you desire more than the success their believe you should achieve based on their experiences and success

What other qualities do your mentors have?

Missing the Boat on Leadership Skills

16 May
by Bridget DiCello

When you promote your best performer to a leadership position:

  1. Good things happen if they have been ready for the next challenge and maybe even a  little bored or burned out by the routine work they are so good at doing
  2. Bad things happen if they love the work they have been doing and you just added much work (the management) they do not like
  3. Negative repercussions occur when they have no desire to coordinate and lead the efforts of others and/or have no leadership experience, inherent skills or desire to work directly with employees
  4. The biggest challenges occur in the form of company stagnation and mediocrity when they do not possess the inner desire to develop other people and access their potential

Here are some skills that are very often missing as you promote or hire someone to management that you may need to purposefully work to develop:

  1. Communicate expectations effectively.  A manager must clearly formulate their expectations, and verbalize them in a way that makes sense to the employee.  The employee needs to be paying attention, and verbalize back what they have heard.  A head nod means the expectations may not even have made it to their ears, much less their brain to process, voice concerns and in the end – agree to do their best.
  2. Accountability – You can’t hold people accountable to what they didn’t agree to.  You must find a way to measure what you hope to hold people accountable for.  And then you must have the tough, but effective conversations when expectations are not met.
  3. Delegation – In order to effectively delegate, the manager must transfer ownership of the task.  This requires setting the expectation (see above), obtaining genuine agreement from the employee, setting a timetable and following up (see accountability).
  4. Engage in productive conflict –  ‘“Yes” employees’ appear agreeable, yet don’t produce.  Silent employees hope you will go away so they can continue doing things as they always have.  Strong, solid performers honestly believe they know better.  Quiet, undiscovered employees require conversations that push them, and probably the manager, outside their comfort zone.
  5. Setting goals – Managers are often good at accepting the goals set for them.  However, it is never as powerful to work towards something you feel you must do to keep your job than it is to engage the manager in conversation about their goals for their department or area, match those with the company goals, and include goals to help them professionally develop.  And, write them down.  What do your managers see as possibilities in their department?
  6. Project completion – Getting from where you are to where you want to be cannot be accomplished simply by working really hard and wanting to get there.  Ambitious goals require a plan that takes into account where we want to be in three months, and counting back to what we need to do each of the three months, this week and today; and do that daily.
  7. Coaching team members – probably the critical skill most often lacking – but assumed to exist in charismatic and inspirational leaders.  Coaching is having a series of conversations with an individual in order to connect with them, assist them to engage in their professional development, and to be able to discover their potential and accomplish more that they or you thought they could.

What professional development do your managers need from you?

Enthusiasm is not Engagement

05 May
by Bridget DiCello

If your team members are nodding their heads as you speak, and appear to clearly understand what you are saying with their response, “Yes, I understand,” you are very possibly on the road to doing it all yourself.

If you want to get someone to engage, which typically means that they are taking initiative, getting things done, coming up with ideas and playing a key role in reaching goals, you must get them talking and taking action.

There is a definite difference between enthusiasm and engagement. Enthusiasm can be displayed nonverbally, and with words of little substance – and can be a great trait to display at many times in the workplace. However, enthusiasm often includes you speaking and being the center of attention in order to share that excitement and movement and on its own does not get anything done.

Get them to talk. People think, engage and learn when they are talking, not when you ‘explain it again.’ As a leader, you may feel you need to have all the answers and come into a conversation prepared to address a team member’s challenges and objections. When really, what you need to walk into the conversation with is:

1. a clear picture of what you are trying to achieve, coupled with your expertise and experience

2. a strong desire to understand their view of the situation

3. a genuine interest in determining where the holes are in their picture, and

4. a determination to get them talking about the situation to hear their fears, beliefs and planned approach.

Get them to act. Often the first step is the hardest to determine and to take. When you think someone knows what to do, and how to get started, take a moment to test their understanding in a supportive way. You may ask, “What is the first step? What do you think will be the most difficult part? When will you have that first step done?” Then, schedule a time to check in on progress. A definite deadline for the first step will ensure the ball gets rolling, and once it does, it often easier to keep rolling, especially with your assistance as necessary and accountability to agreed upon actions.

Be enthusiastic! And be determined to drive real engagement with the way you engage your team members in conversation where they are thinking, talkingn getting prepared to act and taking action.


Objectives-Based Communication – Are you good at it?

24 Apr
by Bridget DiCello

What do you really want to accomplish?

Earlier this week, I was told, “No!” when I made a request for an exception to a leader a group of which I am a part, through his conflict-avoiding right hand person. And there was no reason for him to say no.

So, I asked politely to speak directly with him. The conversation that followed required my patience and persistent focus on my objective. It started with:

Me: “I’m not sure if your assistant has shared all the details of my situation with you.”

Leader: “Doesn’t matter, I won’t do what you asked.”

However, as I proceeded to offer the additional information, piece by piece, and let him process, fight it, and say no, I could hear him starting to soften, as he more fully understood my situation. I was very careful not to tell him that the protests he presented were not good reasons to say no.

In response to each of us, “I can’t because…” I moved on to the next point, knowing he was also hearing how his protests were relatively weak. I let go of my frustration with him and desire to have him admit he was wrong, and stayed laser focused on my objective: Get the Yes. And, finally, I did.

What are the key components of Objectives-Based Communication?

1. Be extremely clear about your objective and be okay with accomplishing only that.
2. Avoid being selfish about anything other than that objective you are focused on. Let go of things like:
a. Having someone admit they are wrong
b. Finding out why they did/are doing or saying what they did/are doing or saying
3. Have a clear list in your head of the reasons for doing it your way and present them systematically and patiently. Listen to their response in order to understand them better. Being understood often helps people to soften their stance.
4. Empathize with the person separate from the impact they are having on you. A person with power can appear to have little sympathy for your position, but that may not be the case. In my situation, he was frustrated and didn’t want to disrupt his schedule.
5. Answer their questions unemotionally and factually, without sarcasm.
Leader: “When did you find out about this?”
Me: “Yesterday.”

Conversations feel successful to different people for different reasons. However, when you have clear objectives, put your emotions aside and stay focused on that objective.

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