Engage With Us – 12 Books Group

Thursday 26 April 2012 @ 11:31 am

 

I am excited to be a part of the 12 Books Group this next month as their featured author during the month of May. Please come join us as we dig deeper into The Zigzag Principle. You won’t want to miss the exclusive giveaways, bonus materials, and excellent discussion with me and other readers.

This really is a unique opportunity because you are going to get a chance to glean knowledge from 8 different business authors from May through December. This will load you with great information to add to your zigzag strategy. 

Go to www.12booksgroup.com to sign up for a free account and keep checking in for reader discussion, video tips from me, and a live Q&A webinar at the end of the month. 

 

I hope you will come join us! 

 

 

 

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Zigzag to Success – Zig Zag Principle #71

Thursday 19 April 2012 @ 10:47 am

 

The Zig Zag Principle is a disciplined approach to business and life.  It is not an “easy” approach; in fact, it requires incredible effort to traverse the mountain before you as you make your way to your destination. But being willing to zigzag—and then doing it with control—will help you build a business and a life that will be stable and strong. As we wrap up this journey we’ve taken together, I want to reiterate the underpinnings of the Zigzag Principle:

You must begin by creating a foundation. 

First, you need to look deep into you pockets and see what resources you have right now.  Second, you must determine what your beacon in the fog is going to be.  Third, you must identify and hold to the values you are going to follow in pursuit that particular goal.  And, finally, you must fuel your efforts with passion and determination. 

Once your foundation is set, you can begin to zig and zag toward your goal.  

The first zig is always to get to profitability.  If you do not meet this goal, then you must try something different and keep trying until you get your business or your life profitable.  The second zag is to use the cash from the previous zig to add resources. This requires that you to let go just a little bit and teach other people how to pursue your dream.  The next zig is to scale your business.  This is the part when you are working on your business, not in your business. 

There will be more zigs and zags as you work toward your final beacon in the fog. 

Just look forward and plan three zigs ahead.  The third zig out can be adjusted and changed to match the terrain of the trail you are following.  All of the zigs and zags need to be bound by guardrails.  These guardrails are the things that will keep you away from the trees, the weeds, and the cliffs.  They are aligned closely with your values.   Each zig and zag is bound by how much money, time, and personal resources you have pre-determined to put toward your goal.  In each case, there is a financial target you need to achieve before you can turn toward the next zig, and this target is always bound by your knowing what you can and can’t afford to lose.

As you hit each zig there will be a planned reward.

The rewards are the motivation that will make you and those around you chose to make that turn toward your next zag.

I set some very ambitious goals for myself when I was a rather ordinary young man living in rural Utah. At the time, I was determined to achieve success in life, and I considered a straight line to be the path to follow in achieving those goals. When I mowed lawns to save for college, I loved to finish a job and look back at those straight lines I had created. If there was a door in my way, I didn’t see any need to open it to get to the other side. If there was a cinderblock wall between me and my goal, I was generally smart enough to recognize my need to go around it, but not without considerable resentment and a consideration of the odds of my crashing straight through. 

Given all of the skiing and mountain climbing I’ve done, coupled with my wife’s insistence that we not chart our course to Disneyland as the crow flies, it’s curious to me that it took me as long as it did to realize that zigzagging really is both a law of nature and (with few exceptions) the most effective way of getting to where we’re headed. But I finally did come to that realization, and by adopting a philosophy that was once antithetical to my very nature, I have achieved considerably more success, even as I have maintained my sanity and my sense of balance and control over those things in my life that matter most. 

While this book has, at times, focused on business settings and practices, the Zigzag Principle can be used in any part of your life. It changes the rules from “one strike and you’re out” or “it’s all or nothing” to principles that help you navigate toward your beacon in the fog. 

You may miss the mark sometimes. That’s fine, as long as you take a minute to get your head above the fog and pinpoint once again where you’re headed. And as long as your zigs and zags are guided by your catalyzing statments. There is nothing more satisfying to me than standing with a son at the bottom of a ski slope and examining the tracks we’ve made in getting down a seemingly impossible slope. Or standing on a jagged mountain summit with my wife and children and retracing our steps to the top. Both are remarkable views – ones that I hope you too will enjoy.  

 

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The Pattern of Success – Zig Zag Principle #70

Thursday 12 April 2012 @ 8:23 pm

In the end, we will avoid the “all or nothing trap” if we adhere to the principles we’ve established for ourselves as we zigzag toward our beacons in the fog.  I once listened to Jeff Sandefer, a university professor and Harvard MBA who BusinessWeek named as one of the top entrepreneurship professors in the United States.  Jeff spoke of a final exam he gave his MBA students, who were required to speak with ten seasoned and successful executives.  Jeff further specified that the first three executives they interviewed needed to be highly successful, but under the age of thirty-five.  The next three successful executives were to be in their mid-forties and fifties.  The final four interviews were to be with successful executives who were in the final stages of their careers.  In each of the interviews, Jeff’s students were to elicit information on how these executives pursued and viewed success.

Invariably, the young bucks were beating their chests and chasing after the brass ring, often in ways that put them at risk of losing their balance.  The middle-aged executives were beginning to figure life out.  Some of them had regrets and others had chosen to add some balance to their lives.

Of course, it was the older executives who gave the real insight.  It did not matter what type of business these men or women were involved with.  In each case, they described a pattern of pursuing success that was guided by these three questions:

1)    Was it honorable?

2)    Did it leave an impact?

3)    Who loves me and who do I love?

Many of these older executives were billionaires.  And yet they talked very little about money.  What mattered to them was how their business helped others and whether their business mattered.  They wanted to leave a legacy. And most importantly, they talked about the people who loved them and the people they loved.  Of course, there were those who did not have loved ones, and they talked about that absence with regret.  They were honest and open and direct about their successes and their mistakes. 

Whatever our goals are, whatever our beacon in the fog is, it is critical that we do what we do for the proper reasons and that we stay within the guardrails and values that we have set for ourselves.  If we do, we will get to the end of our lives—which will inevitably come—and have no regrets.

 

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Avoiding the All-Or-Nothing Trap – Zig Zag Principle #68

Thursday 29 March 2012 @ 12:15 pm

I grew up in a rural community.  My father was completely blind.  I am the oldest of four sons, and as long as I can remember I have had entrepreneurial desires.  Despite some lofty ambitions, I was never any kind of a standout kid.  I was one of those boys who was often overlooked, and I spent a lot of time hoping I wasn’t the last kid picked on the basketball team. Nonetheless, I had this incredible and deep desire to do something of significance with my life.

I remember when I was eighteen years old and just finishing up high school, I wrote down some personal goals. I had always been goal-oriented, and my mother encouraged me to write down my goals. One of those goals was to become the CEO of a major company. Even though I wrote it down, I knew that was as far off a goal as I could have set.  I didn’t think that there was any chance or any possibility in the world of actually ever reaching that goal at that time; in fact, I might as well have written that I was going to sprout wings and flap my way to the moon.  But that became a powerful goal. It was my beacon in the fog.

I was very fortunate to have been able to get a good education.  After graduating, I worked hard and had some incredible opportunities.  And I ended up having the opportunity to work as a CEO and a general manager at some large and well-known companies.  Midway through my career in corporate America, I was given a leadership role in a large, international organization.  I was eager and determined to earn my stripes, and I basically committed to do so at all costs. I was a very young general manager of the U.S. division, and I was determined to do anything that was necessary to succeed. My commitment bordered on insane. I had a young family, but I was traveling hundreds of thousands of miles every year.  There were nights I would stay at the office all night long to do what I felt needed to be done.  I was going to succeed, and I didn’t care about the costs.  Then I learned the lesson that it is not worth risking everything of importance in your life to achieve success. The division I was over became very successful.  In the middle of our run, my mentor and boss, Dr. Peter Horne, called my secretary and said, “I need to have a visit with Rich.”  That meant jumping on a plane, flying to Atlanta, then from Atlanta to Amsterdam, and from Amsterdam across the channel to Birmingham, England.  Door-to-door, this was a twenty-hour trip. When I arrived, Dr. Horne pulled me into his office and sat me down.   He then said, “Rich, we’re really delighted with the progress you’ve made in the business. Things are coming along rather nicely.” And then he made this comment, which has stuck with me: “I want you to remember one thing though, Rich. You can replace almost anything in this world. You can replace a car. You can replace a job. You can replace money. But you can’t replace your health, you can’t replace your trust relationships, and, most importantly, you can’t replace your family.” Then he shooed me out of his office, and I began the long journey home. 

Those twenty hours, which I spent alone on a very crowded airplane, gave me plenty of time to think about what Dr. Horne had just said.  Most of my thoughts centered on my wife and children.  For years I had been telling my wife, “This next project is a big one for me.  I am going to give it my all for six months, so don’t plan on seeing much of me.  But once I finish it, things will be different.”   The six months would pass.  I would complete the project, and then a new project would come along and I would start the cycle all over again.  Those six months had turned into years as I kept promising, “If I give my all to this for six months, then we will have it made.” As we crossed the Alantic, I reflected on a trip I had taken to India some months before.  When I got home, all of my sons and I came down with whooping cough, or pertussis.  We had all been immunized, but somehow we contracted this miserable illness.  It was terrible.  I remember coughing so hard one day that I literally vomited, but I lacked the discipline to take some time off from my work to get better and help my wife with our sons.  My youngest son at the time was Nathan.  He was less than a year old when we all got sick, and it was life-threatening for him.  In fact, he ended up in the hospital, where my wife took care of him because I was too busy.

Flying home, I realized I was falling into the “all or nothing trap,” and I resolved that I was going to do better as a father and husband, and when I got home I made it a point to gather my young sons together, give them each a hug, and tell them I love them.  But when I went to pick up Nathan, he hollered and screamed.  As he pushed me away, I realized he did not even know who I was.  At that moment, I realized that achieving my goal of being a CEO was not worth losing the love of my family.  And I began to change both my priorities and how I actually lived my life.

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Achieve Goals Through Rewards – Zig Zag Principle #67

Thursday 22 March 2012 @ 1:13 pm


When you are planning out rewards, you need to very specifically tie each reward to the zig or the zag you are heading toward.  I always establish timeframes, often in the form of quarterly goals.  When we make our quarterly goals, we sit down
as a team and decide what we want to accomplish.  Once we have established the go
al, we spend almost as much time discussing what reward we will get when we achieve the goal.  Then we make signs and post them all over the office, with the goal written out over a picture of the reward.  

One of the signs I used in our office had a picture of people snowmobiling.  We titled it, “Plowing our Way to Victory.”  Around the picture were listed the goals of getting three new clients and having a financial target of monthly recurring profit.  Another goal was to hire one more engineer and to retain another engineering client. 

For the business my son and his friends work on, they helped me develop a very specific goal if we hit certain targets. They then posted pictures of the cruise ship we would all board if they met their goals, and also the ports we would visit.  Sure enough, each of then achieved their goal, and we went for a one-week cruise. 

As you set long-term goals, don’t overlook the need to reward yourself and your team along the way.  These in-between rewards are ones I like to keep random.  Then, when I see a team member doing a particularly good job at something, I will hand them a pair of movie tickets or a gift card. The other day, we sent one of our contract employees a special “thank you” that he was not expecting.  Ever since then, he has gone over and above on the work that he does for us because that little reward meant so much to him.  Sometimes, random rewards will actually mean more than guaranteeing a treat when you push the same button over and over. 

The work you’re doing is challenging and difficult, and as you hit each zig you take a break from the intensity, celebrate, and enjoy the fruits of your labors.  Then you can do a little jump and turn your skis in the other direction toward the next goal.  We humans do have some things in common with my little salivating dog.  When we align our efforts with little treats along the way, our resulting behaviors will lead to the achieving of our goals.  The rewards make all of the effort worthwhile.

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A Vegas Getaway – Zig Zag Principle #66

Thursday 15 March 2012 @ 10:26 am

Eating Own Cooking:

Last year my wife and I went on a little getaway to Las Vegas.  We had booked our hotel online, and we got a great rate on your normal room at one of the nicest hotels in Vegas.  When we checked in, the woman at the front desk took a liking to us.  She saw that we were on a romantic getaway, and she mentioned that most of the regular rooms were booked for a business convention.  As she handed us our key cards, she mentioned she had upgraded our room, adding, “I am not going to tell you about the room now.  You can thank me later when you see it.”

When we opened the door to our room, we gasped.  She had upgraded our $69 room to one of the presidential suites.  It was on the twenty-seventh floor and had a 180-degree view of Las Vegas.  The suite was 2,200 square feet.  It came with an entryway, a formal dining area, a living area, a huge bedroom, and two bathrooms.  My favorite part was the master bath suite.  It had an all-glass shower and a huge hot tub that overlooked the city.  And we did, indeed, thank this very kind front-end manager.

When I came back after this spectacular vacation with my wife, I was describing to Curtis this hotel we stayed in.  At this point in our business, Curtis was still working full time in his other job, and we were not making the progress we wanted in this new partnership.  As we chatted, it hit me that I knew what would motivate Curtis.  He wanted to take his wife on a vacation and stay at the same hotel my wife and I had just enjoyed—and in the same room!

I told him I had a reward in mind, and we made a list of four or five things that needed to happen.  We posted this list in the hall of our office, along with a picture of this fantastic resort.  The goal was that when those five steps were achieved and our business was stabilized, Curtis could quit his job and come into the business full time.  But equally rewarding to him was that he could also take his wife on an all expense paid trip to stay in this same hotel.  I found a picture of this hotel and drew stick figures of Curtis and his wife staying on the twenty-seventh floor and enjoying the view.  I even added a picture of its world-renowned restaurant because I knew his wife likes to dine at exclusive restaurants.  On the bottom of my artwork, I added a deadline of thirty-five days to earn this reward.  Curtis was salivating, even though we were not sure how this was going to happen.  But we did reach each of our goals, and Curtis and his wife did get to have a fantastic vacation.  And my reward was that I now had him working with me in our business full time.  

 

 

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Reward Yourself – Zig Zag Principle #65

Thursday 8 March 2012 @ 1:21 pm

Reward Yourself 

Some people are good about rewarding team members and employees, but they’re not so good at rewarding themselves. I’ve fallen into that trap myself more than once; but I think I’ve finally learned that if I have an emotional meltdown, it’s usually because I haven’t followed through on feeding my inner-self. 

Just as I was taking the frightening leap from being employed at a full-time job to being a full-time entrepreneur, I was playing basketball and blew out my Achilles tendon, which had to be repaired surgically.  Six weeks later, while pushing too hard at my physical therapy, I blew it out again.  This was a tough time.  It’s not in my nature to sit around, but all I could do was sit in my bed and work on my computer.  I had started a small business, but there was very little I could do to move it forward. I knew that I had the choice to either sink or swim, but I felt myself sinking—and fast. 

I finally called my partners into my bedroom, where we talked about our predicament.  In mapping out what we could do to salvage the situation, I proposed that if we achieved the success we had our sights on, we would reward ourselves, together with our wives, by going on a cruise.  We went to work, and as I lay in bed day after day, I pictured success as sitting with my partners and our wives on an upper deck, toasting our success as we watched the sun set.  That image drove me to achieve my goals, even though the odds were stacked against me. 

We did indeed hit our goal, and I cannot convey the depth of my joy and satisfaction as we sat around that table and I offered this simple toast, “We did it.  We made it.”  

With that lesson in mind, consider what would have happened had we not taken the celebratory trip?  All too often, people intend to give themselves rewards, but then they become martyrs.  They start thinking, “I am just too busy,” or “I should put this money back into the business.”  I know that had I not taken that dreamed-about cruise, my subconscious would have revolted, which would have damaged my desire to dig deep and sacrifice in the future.

I use little rewards throughout the day to motivate myself, particularly when I’m really having a tough day. When I’m dealing with difficult issues, I might tell myself something like, “When I get through this, I’m going to go outside and smell the air and I’m going to watch the ducks for ten minutes.” There are all kinds of ways we can reward ourselves quietly throughout the day, and they can help us keep our head above water. 

 

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Rewards Must Be Earned – Zig Zag Principle #64

Thursday 1 March 2012 @ 8:51 am

Don’t Give Out Rewards Until They are Actually Earned

Being a fundamentally nice guy, I have made the mistake multiple times of giving a reward when the performance didn’t warrant it.  Every time that I have done this, I have ended up regretting it.  Even though you may feel for a minute that you’ve done the right thing, you’ve likely created a pattern and behavior system that will bite you in the end.  In some cases, being “nice” has been the death knell of my businesses. 

My family and I have traveled to Nepal several times, and I am always overwhelmed by the rampant poverty.  Like anyone who has traveled there, I have been approached countless times by small children who must beg in the streets for what little they have, and I always ponder what I—as one person with limited means—can do to help. 

The last time we were there, several young beggars followed my sons, our two Sherpas, and me everywhere we went.  They were filthy, and their ragged clothes were soaked with urine.  They approached us repeatedly, gesturing to their mouth and then their stomach to show us they were hungry. 

I believe that giving a person a handout does little to change his or her circumstances, but it broke my heart to see these small boys, who were about the ages of my younger boys.  Then I hit upon an idea.

We were in the middle of a central square where countless people gather each day to worship and shop.  While there are numerous trash cans in the square, no one seems to use them, and the area is covered with what looks like years of debris.  I decided I could solve two problems at once, so I offered one of the beggars 100 rupees (about $1.40) for every bag of trash he picked up and put in a trash can.  Given that the daily income for an adult in Nepal is about $2, that seemed like a powerful incentive.

What I was asking would have taken a couple of minutes, but this little boy looked at me like I was nuts and ran off.  Another little boy approached me, and I made the same offer.  He indicated he would do it, but wanted payment up front.  Now, I may be a soft touch, but I’m not stupid, so I told him he would get paid upon completion of the work.  He, too, ran off.

The third boy who approached me was the dirtiest and scrawniest of the bunch.  I really thought my plan had merit, so I upped the offer to 500 rupees.  His initial reaction was to give me a look that said, “No one picks up trash.  Not even beggars.  What kind of crazy American are you?”  But this time, I grabbed a bag and started picking up trash myself.  He soon joined in, and was stuffing trash into his bag as quickly as he could.  There was so much trash that our efforts were like trying to drain a pond using a teaspoon, but we were at least doing something to make a dent.  And soon others were joining in, including a gentleman who runs a humanitarian organization who saw my impetuous project as having some potential.

When we finished working and I paid the boy, he couldn’t have been more proud.  And several shopkeepers around the square began making similar offers to other boys who clearly were in need.

I realize that we made a very small dent in the problems of world hunger and cleaning up the environment that day.  But I also know that those who watched, including my sons, learned that rewards need be based on our efforts, not our wishes—and that the right reward system can provide the motivation to get to work and make a difference.

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The Role of Discipline and Rewards – Zig Zag Principle #63

Thursday 23 February 2012 @ 12:23 pm

The Whip

I’ve had partners who used the whip.  There certainly are times when you have to discipline. However, my contention is that the whip needs to be used very sparingly—and never as an immediate reaction.  If you whip someone (verbally, of course), you may get a burst of incredible performance.  But you will inevitably lose your long-term productivity (and your top performers) if you punish too often. 

I have seen people who use the whip over and over.  Soon the people around them reach the breaking point and basically say,  “I don’t care. Whip me to death. I am done.”  They check out, and apathy sets in.  I know a young, up-and-coming executive who was a master with the whip.  Unfortunately, he was so hungry to prove himself that he burned through all the people around him.  Now, no one in our area will work for him. 

There is a fine balance between knowing when to reward and knowing when to discipline.  When there is an out-of-bounds problem, discipline needs to be meted out.  In our home, we do not have the long lists of rules I have seen some parents enforce.  Instead, the rules we do have are rules that fit with our core values, and we are very strict with these few rules.  I often say to my kids.  “You will make some mistakes.  That is how you learn.  Just don’t make the big mistakes!”  Too many little rules can create confusion and can actually undermine the more important rules. 

Seeing the Value in Failure

In my current company, we have set four sets of quarterly goals this year.  Honestly, I hope we miss one of these goals.  I do not want to miss the first set or the second, but if we miss the third goal it gives me a opportunity to point out that this is what a little failure feels like, and your success is not guaranteed.  I’ve managed teams that developed a bit too much ego.  That can lead to arrogance and missed goals.  If you handle such situations well, it will bring your team back to where they’re hungry and want to win again. 

 

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Designing A Good Rewards System – Zig Zag Principle #62

Thursday 16 February 2012 @ 10:44 am

Keep Your System Simple

It’s important to not overcomplicate your system of goals and rewards.  In one of my early ventures, I created a chart that had eighteen different targets to hit and a simple “REWARD” written across the top.   My employees were unclear as to what the priorities were and what the reward would be.  I have found it’s best to have three or four target goals to hit, with a very specific reward at the end.  The goals we typically fail to achieve are the ones that are complex and unclear.

Employees should also feel free to devise their own systems (within reason, of course).  My son and his friends came up with their own motivating reward.  They had a Burger King crown they kept in the office.  They were all highly competitive, and they would have contests to see which one could create the most web links on a given day.  The winner then got to wear the crown.  The reward didn’t cost me anything, and it was fun to see these seventeen-year-old boys engage in an all-out push to optimize their web sites, just for the reward of wearing a paper crown. 

One of the benefits of having a team set its own goals and rewards is that the members learn to govern their own behavior.  That way I don’t have to micromanage my teams.  

Avoid the Entitlement Mentality

When I was managing Mitsubishi Electric, I was still young and not completely financially stable myself.  I had an awesome killer team that was also young and hungry.  I began the practice of taking them out to lunch every Friday.  I would pay for their lunch myself because I didn’t feel the company should have that expense.  This was my personal way of showing my appreciation.  A few months into this, I ended up in a tough stretch where I was traveling almost nonstop.  As a result, there were a few Fridays where we didn’t make it to lunch.  Soon, there was muttering and complaining.  Morale dropped.  These employees had become so accustomed to going to lunch each Friday that they felt they were entitled to this perk.  What started as a good intention led to my being the bad guy because I did not consistently provide them with their expected lunch.

I had a similar experience with my crew of teenagers.  I would stock the fridge with food and soda pops so they could grab something to eat after they finished school and before they started to work.  A few times we got so busy I failed to replenish the quickly consumed food items.  Almost immediately, some of the boys started murmuring, “I can’t believe it, there aren’t any burritos or Hot Pockets in the fridge.”  If I have erred, it is because sometimes I have rewarded too quickly or too often.

Allow For Some Flexibility

Situations change, and sometimes you need to change with them.  I’ve lived through shifts in markets where even though my team gave an incredible effort, they fell a bit short of the original goal.  In those situations I still gave the reward so the team didn’t lose steam.  However, be careful not to reward when the reward is not merited.

I employ a group of mothers who work for me from their homes.  They are motivated and hard working.  I told them once that if they had ten consecutive days of making $500 in profit, I would give each of them a large bonus.  These women worked their hearts out.  At the end of the period, I saw that while they were only clearing $300 to $400 on the weekdays, on the weekend their profits were $800 to $1,000.  Even though they did not have the ten consecutive days, on an average they were well over the target I had set.  I told them that in this instance, average really does count for something, and they earned their reward.

 

 

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Rich Christiansen