Perspective

Most of the posts included on this page were published in The Bromberg LLC perspective, a bi-monthly (as in, every other) email newsletter, but some are original thought-pieces.
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Jan2014
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If You Thought Me Authentic Before…

I recently had the opportunity to attend a 3-day training program on “Finding Your True North,” sponsored by the Authentic Leadership Institute. Those of you who know me well are probably already staring at the screen in disbelief. You’re thinking, “JB, you’ve historically turned up your nose at “system” training on management and the interpersonal stuff. You went to a class on authenticity? Did Lori (wife) make you go? Is hell freezing over?”

It was truly an amazing and powerful experience. Probably life-changing.

The program was developed to help leaders dig deep and understand their true purpose – the “key” that unlocks the door to the “magical room” where we are happiest and do our best work.

(It’s also quite different from Navin’s (Steve Martin) special purpose in “The Jerk,” but I digress.)

If the idea of the magical room still sounds goofy to you, ask yourself:

  • How well am I focusing on the work I like and do best?
  • Do I even know what that work is?
  • Do I have the courage to live my purpose and the life I truly want?

The program began by removing all pretension from participants. Each of us had to answer, publicly, “What does the rest of the world not see or know about you? Where does that come from?” This exercise was really cool, because as soon as the first person answered the question out loud, we all felt a combination of liberated, compelled to do likewise, and connected.

From there we went on to identify and discuss our extrinsic and intrinsic motivations, our abilities as leaders, when and where we are at our best, and our core values. This deliberate, highly reflective, and challenging process led us eventually to define our purpose and how we plan to move ourselves into that space where we are truly at our best, are most impactful as leaders, and happiest.

As a manager and as a contract COO, I have often spoken of the critical importance of aligning employee skills and interests with company needs. Think about it, when all colleagues are doing what they like and do best, what happens to:

  • Work quality?
  • Company culture?
  • Continuous growth and improvement?
  • Our loyalty to the company?

When we achieve this alignment for our employees, we get a collaborative, cohesive, and high-performing team. It’s the best way I know to generate steady growth for the company and more opportunity for employees. Management gets to spend their time driving progress instead of grappling with whiny employees.

When we achieve this alignment for ourselves, we get a much happier way to spend those 40-60 hours each week.

I did not know most of the people in the room when I began the three days. By the end, I had developed new friends with whom I’ll stay close probably for the rest of my life (may it be a long time).

One week after completing the course I took a deep breath and said something to a potential client that I would never have dared prior (very politely, of course). The response I got back was a very clear statement of appreciation and respect, and the identification of a possible new and very appealing role.

Knowing and living purpose works.

So what’s my leadership purpose? Before I tell you I’ll add this is not intended as a marketing tool, but as my own internal guide.

Be a force that inspires optimism, promotes connectivity, and delivers success.

P.S. The program is not yet widely available, but we’re working on it!

Dec2013
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Growing Success

When it comes to business, I love growth. I love the challenge of constantly finding ways to improve company performance and results.

What does growth mean to me?

  • Growth is the means by which businesses and owners create jobs and wealth, and support elements of human fulfillment
  • Growth means raises, bonuses, training, and improved benefits
  • Growth yields rewarding career development paths for employees
  • Growth is what happens when businesses stay attentive to (potential) customers
  • Growth is less of a strain when there is clear alignment of employee skills and interests with company needs
  • Growth happens faster and for longer time periods when there are employees responsible for and focused on managing
  • Growth is even more fun when staying true to the small-company culture and personality
  • Growth often scares longer-term employees; while they speak to losing culture their greater concern is often their own potential loss of influence and standing
  • Growth accelerates in a culture of collaboration, innovation, and improvement
  • Growth is validation of what and how the business is doing

What does growth mean to you?

Sep2013
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Remember Goofus and Gallant?

The town I live in is best known as a fine place to begin a Revolutionary War – 240 years ago. These days we maintain our national profile with our first-in-the-US ban on selling single-serve plastic water bottles, and failed attempts to get a leash law for cats enacted.

Two weeks ago, we again made the news owing to a screw-up at our high school. On 9/11 of all days, there was neither a public recital of the Pledge of Allegiance nor a moment of silence. There was, however, a poem about Muslim and American cultural understanding and tolerance read over the school intercom. It was not, as reported in some national publications, a depraved act trading off the poem for the Pledge. It was plain and simple, an operational screw-up and arguably poor judgment for reading that poem on 9/11, but nothing more.

The Principal, although not directly involved in either the omission or commission, promptly took responsibility and publicly apologized, repeatedly. As the hysterics – probably more from outside the town – continued unabated, a public meeting was convened to enable dialogue and explanation.

At around the same time, and admittedly far less serious, our high school football team played their first game of the season. Two years ago our team won the state championship for its division, so we’re pretty good. But this time, our opponent dominated the first half and was leading 22-0, before our boys kicked it into gear and staged a great comeback to win.

Both events were reported in our weekly town newspaper, and from the different articles two quotes stood out.

“I would like to apologize for the poor judgment shown by [our HS Principal] and his administrative team during this year’s remembrance of 9/11…” (School Superintendent, aka “Goofus”)

“We came out in a fog in the first half. That was my fault for not getting them ready.” (Head Coach, aka “Gallant”)

Which leader do you think is more likely to inspire loyalty and best efforts from others?

As a boss, exactly when is publicly throwing an employee under the bus a good idea? (Not the first time the Superintendent has done this.)

Personally, I’m still stunned and freakin’ nuts (at least more so) about the Superintendent’s comment, and consider that conscious act far more heinous than the errors leading to it.

The point here is obvious. In any organization, business or otherwise, great results come from people who feel engaged, appreciated, directed, and supported. Leaders who play the blame game (click here for a past article on this topic) set an awful example, put others on the defensive, and create an environment of fear and loathing. In other words, those “leaders” are making sure the folks around them are distracted and demotivated – focusing less on doing their best and more on how they’ll be judged.

I’m not religious, but the quote that leaps to mind is, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone….”

Casting stones and/or acting like Goofus aren’t going to produce great results. Go Gallant!

Jul2013
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Culture-Based Growth

Over the nearly 14 years I worked at Eidetics, our annual revenues increased by an average of 20% and employee attrition was always under 10%.

For those of you unfamiliar with such metrics, those are pretty darn good numbers. Sure, some companies see growth greater than 20%, but incredibly few do so for a dozen years in a row. And that sub-10% attrition? Bureau of Labor Statistics data show average annual turnover percentages for professional and business services during that same period running in the mid 20’s. (Attrition: lower is better!)

There’s a pretty compelling argument that low attrition among a group of carefully-selected high performers, will drive growth. So how is that achieved?

Executing on the fundamentals of hiring well, defining roles and responsibilities so that each employee is applying a focused set of skills (i.e., wearing fewer hats), having managers dedicated to company oversight and development, and monitoring / measuring performance is a good start. But doing those activities mechanically can still result in a soulless environment where folks just come to do a job and get a paycheck. In this environment, it’s likely that the folks who stick around a long time aren’t setting the world on fire or contributing substantially to company growth.

Bringing greater depth and focus to those four activities will result in greater employee engagement, better processes and quality, and ultimately better performance at both the individual and company level. Here’s how:

Hiring. It isn’t all that difficult to determine technical skill, but at least as important (more, in my opinion) is whether a candidate is someone existing employees want on the team and see as a good fit. I’m a believer in binary hiring: a candidate is either 100% right for the job, or they’re wrong and you need to keep interviewing.

Job descriptions. For a company to grow, the work has to be specified and divided up so that for each position, one human can reasonably be expected to handle the full variety of tasks routinely, happily, and really well. Very early-stage companies tend to need generalists who are comfortable with ambiguity and the absence of structure. Growing companies need greater division of labor, to control costs, make it easier to hire, and drive quality.

Management. There have to be people who see the big picture, are always thinking about how the work can be done better, and are attentive to employee development and needs. When employees have the dual role of managing and doing, managing will almost always take a back seat. Leadership and management are more frequently about support than direction – especially when you’ve hired well.

Metrics. Revenue and profitability are always paramount, but those numbers are typically considered after the fact. Process / trend metrics quickly highlight how well the work is done and yield valuable data for management, enabling faster correction and improvement.

So now you’re thinking, this article is titled Culture-Based Growth – where’s the culture?

Creating culture-based growth means building a cohesive and focused group of employees who feel cared-for, directed, supported, and inspired to bring their best every day. When this is your foundation, the odds of success increase dramatically.

That’s what we had at Eidetics, and that’s why our numbers were so good.

May2013
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Focus, Passion, & Determination

Sixteen years ago, when her kids were two and four, Sara (real person, real name) was given the distressing diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Sara turned to her to oncologist, looked him in the eyes, and demanded, “You HAVE to keep me alive to see my kids graduate from high school.”

The doctor responded, “That’ll be our goal.”

Following a tough treatment regimen, Sara regained her health, and her lively, loving, funny, and outrageous personality. She’s what many of us would call “a pistol.” Sara was not about to let her illness derail her life.

Ten years after the first diagnosis, Sara suffered a relapse. Once again she lectured her oncologist, “You HAVE to keep me alive to see my kids graduate from high school.”

The doctor responded, “That’ll be our goal.”

Once again, Sara recovered and resumed her energetic and riotous ways. She volunteered at school, attended her kids’ sporting events, and kept her friends and family laughing.

Three months ago, with her younger child three months from graduating high school, Sara received a new diagnosis, this time of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She pleaded with her doctor, “I need to stay alive until my daughter graduates from high school.”

The doctor responded, “Oh, you’ll see her graduate from high school and college.”

It’s now two weeks until graduation, and with several months of treatment still to go, Sara will achieve her original goal.

Sara’s story is real, emotional, and a testimonial to her unwavering focus, passion, and determination. What’s also incredibly impressive to all around her is to see how, even with this sword hanging above her head, she maintains her humor, her opinions, and her love of life. No question, she’s still very much Sara.

For business owners, while hopefully not facing the same life and death struggle, the idea and approach are the same. Set your definition of meaningful success, and then keep pile-driving toward it. Know that the route to the goal will include setbacks, distractions, perhaps redefinition, and definitely many other unexpected challenges.

But so what? Keep your eyes on the prize – on what matters most to you – while addressing that which would derail you.

Message to Sara: There are a great many out here who love you, who are rooting for you, who will help any way we can. We are in awe of, and inspired by, your performance. Thank you for being such an impressive role model, and for entertaining us along the way.

We’ll see you at graduation.

P.S. My wife showed this write-up to Sara (her real name), to offer total editorial freedom / right to block publication. At the time, I had used a “not her real name” moniker. Sara’s only edit? Use her real name. I told you she’s a pistol.

Mar2013
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Networking Survey Results

Wayyy back in November I invited readers of this newsletter to participate in a brief survey about their networking practices. Over 40 people responded (thank you!), and here’s what we learned.

  • People are far more likely to make an introduction because they want to help their friends and colleagues.
  • Very few have expectations of payment or quid pro quo for introductions, but many cite receiving introductions as a great way to inspire in-kind behavior!
  • Referrals are far more likely to come from an established relationship.

In respondents’ own words:

“[Getting introductions] is mostly driven by the strength of the relationships established and staying top of mind. But sometimes you do have to be more direct and “remind” your colleagues that they can be a great help to you by making introductions and providing referrals.”

“Give referrals to get referrals.”

“To make a referral, it’s got to be positioned as a likely win-win-win situation…for my colleague, the potential client I’m referring needing the service, and myself (trust that the engagement will be successful).”

If you’d like to discuss survey results in greater detail, please let me know.

Mar2013
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A Spring In Your Step

When I worked as a company employee for lo those many years, my view of the professional world was restricted to colleagues, customers, a select group of vendors, and job candidates. I did no networking, and in fact, I usually had to be dragged kicking and screaming to vendor-sponsored lunches, drinks, etc. (I love to work, but when work intersects with social, well, let’s just say something in my DNA renders those situations challenging.)

Now, working independently, I am routinely meeting folks for breakfast, coffee, lunch, in-office introductions, and at various group events. I’m somewhat happier going to a party where it is perfectly acceptable for the first question out of my mouth to be, “What do you do for work?” These meetings, while still not natural to me, are central to my sales process.

Business owners buried under a mountain of work and worrying about the next sale and company financials will ask, where am I going to get the time to experience this wondrous professional world happening steps away from my office? Who else should I be talking to? How do I know where to go to advance my thinking and everyone else’s awareness of my company and me?

Let’s take ‘em one at a time.

How to clear time? Book networking activities in advance, and once booked, commit to it. Each week, at a minimum do two networking-related activities: attend a group or one-on-one meeting, and book another one (different person/group) for four weeks out. To make time for this, delegate one of the things you’ve been doing to someone else.

Who should you be talking to? Anyone who shares your interests as it relates to the work you do. Inspiration, ideas, and customers come from everywhere. I’ve learned my potential clients are the folks presently holed up in their offices. To get to those individuals, I’ve had to think about who does talk with the out-of-sight owners, and then look to build relationships with those first-level advisors.

Where do you go? For those of us in/around Boston, there are, um, abundant choices. Step one: think about whom (by profession) you’d like to talk to – for any reason. Don’t overthink this. Your objectives in attending are to enjoy the conversation, learn stuff, and get to know people whom you can help and who can help you. Step two: ask where those folks go to learn or mingle.

Networking can be an eye-roller, but it’s also a great way to build and maintain more connections out into the world, to open ourselves up to new ideas and opportunities, and to have more human interaction in an increasingly computer-based world. It will be time and money well spent.

So now, when you ultimately find yourself actually standing at an event, uncomfortable, feeling like you have a huge pimple on the end of your nose, just go ask someone, “What do you do for work?”

Jan2013
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Reflecting on 5 Years in Business

As this Friday, Feb 1, is the 5th anniversary of the founding of Bromberg LLC, I thought I’d reflect upon my somewhat surreal experience.

Going out on my own was never part of the master plan. Now that’s either because I never had a master plan, or I had already accomplished what I set out to do. Somehow, early in my career I felt my pinnacle would be as the #2 in an organization. I believed I wasn’t the one to be the face and voice of an organization, but instead would be best standing next to the leader, the person to whom the leader would turn and whisper things like, “Do we do this? How do we do this? Make sure we do this.”

Now I’m the chief cook and bottle washer. I’m the leader of an organization (even if it is just a one-man band), and the #2 to multiple leaders. And I’m having a blast.

The first and longest-lasting challenge I faced in building this practice was in describing what I do. Contract Chief Operating Officer (COO) is, um, a less common offering. I know of two other people in the Boston area doing it. A frequent response to my introduction was, “Oh, you do finance?” No. I’m great with Excel, and I can spell “GAAP,” but I’m not a CFO.

As a contract COO, I work with businesses to achieve steadily growing revenues and strong profitability by helping clarify the vision, getting the best from employees, improving internal processes, and protecting the entrepreneur from feeling overwhelmed and alone.

This ongoing search for the compelling elevator pitch was just the tip of the sales and marketing iceberg. As a long-time ops guy, I was never directly responsible for those two disciplines. I’ve had a lot to learn.

I give a ton of credit to John Doerr and RAIN Group for teaching me that sales means being myself, promoting an aspirational viewpoint to the people I talk to, and simply delivering my service (i.e., value) in all communications. I’ve learned to emphasize what clients get over what I do, how marketing really is the new sales (owing to online tools and practices, and our reliance on computer-based interaction), and what Woody Allen meant when he said, “90% of life is just showing up.”

I think Woody was talking about networking.

Back in early 2008 I had 30-40 contacts on LinkedIn. Today I’m in the 500+ club, every one of whom I’ve talked with long enough to be able to tell you something about them. And let me tell you, there are a lot of really impressive and committed professionals out there. Through the ongoing (and sometimes pervasive) networking efforts, I’ve built some great relationships with clients and potential clients, advisors, other service providers, and generally cool people.

It’s also enabled me to do a lot of connecting.

Where has this all led me? Here’s what clients are asking of me today:

  • Help a foreign manufacturer of technology-based equipment define and execute, in their words, “how to do business in the US,” by advising them on the requirements and process for building a company, presence, and market share.
  • Work with the owner of a fast-growing construction-related business to figure out “how to run his business smarter,” by helping extricate him from all the detail work and instead focus on the big picture and leadership.
  • Support a start-up that is developing very promising products for medical diagnostic equipment and hospitals.
  • Collaborate with a biotech service provider on how to evaluate and develop commercial partnerships.

The above projects, like the others I’ve worked on over the past 5 years, are fun, exciting, and challenging. I get to work with really smart, nice people, and love it when they tell me how they appreciate my commitment to their success. I believe my responsibility is to maintain an unwavering focus on my clients’ goals and getting results because that’s what a great COO brings to any organization.

The readers of this post have all made meaningful contributions to my education and success. Thank you very much – it is well noted and appreciated. I hope I’ve done the same for you, or will be given the opportunity to do so. That’s what’ll make the next five years even better.

Thanks for reading, and for your continued support.

Dec2012
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A Podcast: I’m interviewed by RainToday about generating referrals

The link below contains words I’ve spoken, not written. The good folks at RainToday, an industry-leading online publication providing sales and marketing resources for service businesses, interviewed me about my approach to generating referrals. My mellifluous tone and deeply insightful words are sure to inspire you to great heights. Maybe.

Actually, I was honored to be asked, enjoyed the conversation, and believe it turned out well. Enjoy.

Click here.

Nov2012
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Getting Squeezed Isn’t Always Fun

An obvious key objective in running any business is to increase revenues at a rate faster than expenses. But dealing with clients who want lower prices while employees and vendors expect more money makes achieving this goal challenging.

For nearly 20 years, I worked in or with companies supporting big Pharma / Biotech. Over time, we saw these clients demanding similar or better services at a lower cost to them. By increasingly applying purchasing department muscle, detailed cost breakout reports, and stringent master agreement or preferred vendor contracts, the threat was clear: “drop prices or you’re out.”

On top of pushing for lowing pricing for products / services, these clients were also insisting on longer payment terms. Net 30 used to be the rule, but the big companies were insisting on 60, 75, and sometimes even 90 days (and often still paid late!).

While wrestling with this downward pressure on revenues, there was upward pressure on expenses. Medical insurance providers mandated increased premiums for the same level of coverage. Landlords, utilities, and myriad subcontractors had their hands outstretched, insisting on more substantial payments (and paid net 30). And of course, wanting to retain our great employees meant increasing their comp. (The free soda just wasn’t enough.)

Well, as painful as this situation feels / sounds – and we all experience it, it’s really just the siren’s call for improving what we do and how we do it. As we look across our businesses, there are great questions we can ask to figure out how to respond. For starters:

1. Can we quantify how our new products / services are more cost-effective (for the client)?
2. Can we define or refine our work so we can use lower-cost labor, automation, or outsourcing?
3. What output are clients really looking for, and how else can we deliver it? Do clients really need the best solution, or “good enough?”
4. Why do we believe we’ll lose the order if we don’t lower our price? Is the purchasing rep really the decision maker?
5. How else can we manage employee expense and incentive? Can we get creative with compensation?
6. Can we make greater use of digital marketing for selling products / services, so we don’t need lots of feet on the street?

Managing these situations is challenging, frustrating, and/or infuriating at times. But the reality should motivate us to always think about how we can improve, challenge the status quo, and create better solutions. As with solving any problem, start by defining the current situation versus the end goal, and then brainstorm options to bridge the gap. Believe you can get there, and keep fighting until you do.

Remember, getting squeezed doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

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