Sustainability—The Impossible Dream

Posted by WABC

By Jeffrey L. Balash

All of us are attempting to fight one of the key laws of nature in both our business and personal lives: its life cycle. This process of birthing, growing, maturing, and dying applies to everything in the universe-including our own sun. So when our leaders, in both business and government, refer to "sustainability," they are to be applauded for attempting to lengthen the life cycle. However, they still can't repeal this essential law of nature. This note explores the reasons why these life cycles occur as well as some brief thoughts about how to extend them.1

1. Inability to Persevere in Doing Things That We Don't Want to Do

We all talk about staying in shape and watching our weight to enjoy and to extend a healthy lifespan. However, obesity is epidemic in America. As a Hall of Fame tennis player explained to me: "I've trained hard for 20 years. I'm done and going to enjoy life." This world-class athlete had become obese and completely out of shape.

Similarly, as corporations grow and become successful, complacency sets in. The culture changes from the quick, lean culture of the initial employees to a much larger group who are attracted because the firm is a successful enterprise that offers potential for wealth and security and an "easy" job with an "entitlement" to all of the associated benefits.

So the "tough stuff" of watching costs, changing the business model to preserve market leadership, and being "paranoid", in the words of Andy Grove, are no longer done—or acceptable.

Potential solutions: The CEO and his/her team need to concentrate on maintaining the culture of the company through A) hiring only those people who will adapt to the culture and embrace it, and B) structuring the proper incentives to motivate employees to maintain that culture. They must recognize that employees who excelled at a particular position may not have the skills to operate optimally in that same position as the company grows and matures.

2. Inability to Recognize That the Game Has Changed

Andy Grove also observed that he was the last to know things as the CEO. Because senior management and government leaders are typically far removed from the "front lines," it's difficult for them to identify critical changes as early as possible. Similarly, many employees aren't creative thinkers. They merely carry out orders. Those who sound the early warning alarm are frequently "shot" as messengers of bad news.

Potential Solutions: Structure a fairly flat organization where information can flow to the top quickly. Establish a separate email address for each member of the senior management team that is different from his/her primary email address, so that rank-and-file employees can send emails directly and allow the sender to screen his/her email address, if desired. In this way, the sender will know that no reprisals will occur. An intranet employee chat room, once again allowing for anonymity, will let employees interact quickly on line so that new ideas can be exchanged and issues can come to the surface quickly. It will also allow the senior management team to learn how the company and themselves are viewed by employees.

3. Inability to Change Strategy Tactics Even Though the Change Has Been Recognized

Professor Clayton Christiansen of Harvard Business School has done exhaustive research in this area and in the area described above.2 Organizations are typically a prisoner of their own business models. To effect the necessary change is painful, requiring the adoption of an entirely new paradigm, which may entail reengineering, retraining, and restructuring (including layoffs). Most firms don't have the will to do this.

Potential Solutions: Accept the fact that "you need to do it to yourself-or it will be done to you." A company can either be a victim (as in the Big Three automakers) or a survivor (as IBM has expanded its business into the services area instead of continuing to concentrate primarily on hardware manufacturing). This not only demands a tough "look in the mirror" on a periodic basis and the will to do what has to be done; it also requires significantly different management talents and styles to maximize the profits of declining businesses. (These can remain high for a long period, if appropriately operated). These talents and styles are different than those operating in growth businesses or mature businesses. A company needs to have all three types of managers on its "pitching staff" (e.g., starter, middle relief, and closer) and to establish the appropriate incentives for each group.

4. Loss of Flexibility and Nimbleness as the Bureaucracy Grows

As a firm achieves ever greater success, it grows larger, less nimble, and more bureaucratic. Rules and procedures tend to be inflexible rather than adaptive. The behemoth can't move as quickly as the fox. When Intel switched from DRAM (dynamic random access memory) as its principal product to microprocessors, it took a year for Gordon Moore and Andy Grove to gain managerial acceptance of the new strategy.

Possible solutions: Organize the company to operate in smaller units, allowing it to be more nimble in its responses to challenges and change, as well as to attract and retain entrepreneurial managers. Delegate decision making downward, so that the decision chain is shortened and response time is improved. An interesting example is Johnson and Johnson, which permits its key managers to run their businesses on their own, except that they must get all significant capital expenditures approved by the CFO.

This note is brief of necessity. It can't possibly address all of the issues and potential solutions. I also don't have a monopoly on knowledge. Therefore, I would encourage comments, suggestions, and criticisms by the reader, which is how I learn and adapt to the changing environment as well.

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (June Issue 2010, Volume 6, Issue 1). Copyright © 2012 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.

1 For a very thoughtful discussion of how our human "health span" can be maximized, please consider: Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy Until You're 80 and Beyond by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge and the successor book: Younger Next Year for Women: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy - Until You're 80 and Beyond by Chris Crowley, Henry S. Lodge, and Gail Sheehy (both, Workman, 2007). The strategies and tactics articulated in these books can frequently be mapped into business situations.

2 Christensen, Clayton M. The Innovator's Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business. Collins Business Essentials: 2003 (1997).

 Jeffrey L. Balash has created over $4 billion in value across five continents in different industries as an investment banker, strategist, operating executive, and investor. His experience includes seven startups. Contact Jeffrey.

If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.

The Power of Partnerships: Partnerships with Your Employees and Contractors, by Denise Trifiletti

Posted by Denise Trifiletti

My last column discussed how strategic business partnerships can increase client satisfaction, client referrals, and long-term client retention. This article explains how forging strong partnerships with your employees and/or contractors can also grow your business.

Most business owners don't consider their employees to be their strategic and tactical business partners. This is unfortunate. Most of the time, your employees have a closer relationship with your customers than you do. Your employees also have a vested interest in the success of your business. You need to recognize these realities.

Appreciate the fact that your employees are human beings. Their feelings about you and your customers run the full gamut. Some days they will be up, some days down. Some days they will come to work energized and focused, some days they won't. By treating them as your partners, you will be able to work with them, and they with you. They will be more considerate of your needs and more willing to 'go the extra mile' to help your business grow. Their strong sense of ownership will be reflected in their work.

The key here is that you must reciprocate. Work with your people. Help them by showing consideration for their situations, both professional and personal. Get to know them and learn what makes them tick. What are their interests? What are their needs? Think of ways to recognize them and the work they do. The old axiom, "Reward in public; reprimand in private," is as valuable as the Golden Rule.

Help your employees to understand and internalize the relationship between their financial well-being and the success of your business. Make sure they have the tools necessary to do the job—and to do it well. If possible, base a portion of their compensation on the success of the business.

Give your employee partners ample opportunities to give you advice - yes, advice. An employee whose expertise is solicited by the boss is grateful for the opportunity to contribute. Remember, however, that if you accept input with a polite expression of thanks, and then fail to consider it, you are closing the door on great ideas in the future. You may not choose to follow every suggestion that you receive, but you should always give your employees recognition for their efforts and interest. Be sure to let them know what action, if any, you plan to take. If you implement one of your employee's ideas, make sure everyone understands how that idea meshes with your overall business strategies.

Speaking of business strategies, do you share yours with your employees? If not, the time to start doing so is now. You know from personal experience that in order to be the best you can be, you must know why you're doing what you're doing. You can't be committed if you're not connected, and neither can your employees.

Now, let's consider your contractors.

As with their employees, most business owners fail to regard their contractors as partners—viewing them only as sources of products or services. This is a mistake. Your contractors are businesses as well, run by business people who work with their own clients and suppliers. If your suppliers become your partners, you will have many opportunities to improve each other's bottom lines.

You can establish a mutually beneficial business-to-business partnership with a service provider, such as an attorney or an accountant. Your attorney, for example, has other clients, as well as a variety of business relationships within and outside the profession. It is likely that he or she will be familiar with those individuals' needs. If you can meet those needs, your attorney will be comfortable making introductions and providing referrals, since the two of you have already built a relationship based on mutual trust. You, in turn, can reciprocate by confidently referring your attorney to your clients and business contacts.

These partnerships with your employees and your contractors are not only excellent partnerships to have. In my view, they are essential. Failing to recognize the possibilities inherent in these partnerships leaves countless opportunities untapped—something you don't want to do!

Consider this: If your employees and contractors were your raving fans, providing you with quality referrals, how much business could you handle?

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (Winter Issue 2006, Volume 2, Issue 3). Copyright © 2012 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.

Denise Trifiletti, a business coach and an accomplished leader in the fields of sales and training, is the co-founder of Dynamic Destiny Partnerships, LLC and the founder of Women's Community, LLC. She is the author of Create the Business Breakthrough You Want: Secrets and Strategies of the World's Greatest Mentors (Mission Publishing, 2004). Denise can be reached by email at denise@womenscommunity.com.

If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.

Coaching to Clarity, by Luda Kopeikina

Posted by Luda Kopeikina

Just as the quality and clarity of our decisions shape our lives, leadership decisions mold business success. Major strategic decisions carry tremendous business consequences. When your client is wrestling with making just such a decision, helping him or her reach clarity can present a significant executive coaching challenge.

Good decisions hinge on mental clarity, which is the product of mental concentration, focused thoughts and attentive awareness. Clarity is reached by training the mind to be precise and accurate in its definitions, assumptions and evaluations. The following strategies will help your clients with the challenges associated with effective decision making.

Foster the Clarity State

Working with dozens of CEOs of various-sized companies in different industries convinced me that the key to reaching clarity in the decision-making process is the ability to focus physical, mental and emotional resources on an issue with laser-beam intensity. The best leaders attain such focus quickly and easily. It is a skill, and it can be learned. Once learned, it can be leveraged. I call this state of mind a Clarity State. It is a balanced state in which an individual is:

  • Physically relaxed;
  • Emotionally positive, happy, and free of fear and anxiety;
  • Charged with power, self-confidence, and energy;
  • Totally in the present; and
  • Mentally focused on the task at hand.

Studies show that entering this Clarity State several times a day dramatically impacts our performance. For example, a study conducted by The Institute of HeartMath (2000) reported that after practicing the Clarity State three times a day for three months, test scores for a group of high school students improved by 75%. By entering the Clarity State, 93% of the CEOs in my sample of 115 were able to reach clear decisions regarding issues which had been pending for weeks or months.

Within five to ten minutes, such simple methods as deep breathing, mind focusing, and visualization of happy past events can produce this Clarity State. It can be measured by the individual's level of physical, mental and emotional coherence, based on data obtained from a simple measuring device, such as a pulse rate sensor. Off-the-shelf software that measures coherence ratios is available to help your clients discover their Clarity State and their most effective methods of attaining it. This powerful state helps to eliminate indecision and elicit better choices.

Build a Decision Map

Attaining the Clarity State will not, of itself, ensure a clear decision. The decision-maker must also correctly frame the decision—define the objective, constraints and options, and align the decision with desirable outcomes. This can be a difficult task, even for the best leaders, due to the tendency to get so wrapped up in the problem that the brain gets 'stuck' and can't move forward. This occurs when the parameters surrounding the decision are fuzzy.

A one-page graphical 'decision map' that clarifies the objective, spells out concerns, and describes available options and other critical parameters can create a surprising level of clarity in identifying the right choice. While this process takes only a couple of minutes, it can speed your client to clarity.

Encourage Perspective Shifts

Upbringing, education and life experiences render each person unique. As a result, every individual views a particular decision from a different perspective. This personal 'frame' focuses on certain decision parameters and diminishes the rest. Any frame may limit options and inhibit the development of a good solution. Therefore, the ability to shift perspectives is vital to effective decision making. Unfortunately, humans rarely reframe voluntarily. Reframing requires a focused effort. In addition, identifying framing factors is difficult, so skilled coaching assistance in this area can be invaluable.

What determines framing factors for your client? There are two sources: The way the problem is presented (the motivations of those involved), and your client's own biases, based on his or her personal history.

Unrecognized assumptions tend to frame as well. For example, one company's leader rejected the opportunity to enter a particular market because his team considered the market a 'niche.' With a competitor's subsequent success in this niche, the executive realized that he had based his decision on an erroneous assumption regarding the actual size and profitability of a niche market (i.e., that 'niche' equated to 'too small for a serious business venture').

Armed with specific techniques for identifying framing factors, a skilled coach can ask probing questions to expose underlying biases and unrecognized assumptions. Listing assumptions, defining the motivations of those involved in the problem, and identifying expectations can facilitate the client's shift to clarity.

Reach for Internal Alignment

A conventionalist judges a decision by its consequences. Leaders are paid to select strategies that increase value to shareholders, increase sales and improve effectiveness. Business decisions are usually made with these major objectives in mind. However, effective leaders judge decisions by different criteria.

No one can fully foresee the consequences of a decision at the moment he or she is making it. Market shifts or other environmental factors can interfere and negatively affect the results. Therefore, effective leaders define how right a decision is by the degree to which it is aligned with their vision. In order to reach clarity, they focus on the three components over which they have control: The quality of the decision-making process, the quality of data involved in the decision, and the level of internal alignment with the choice.

While this does not guarantee good consequences, it does guarantee that the decision maker will do whatever is in his or her power to deliver the intended result. This internal alignment with the choice—the clarity, excitement, and certainty that the decision is the right one—cannot be faked, and effective leaders know that they cannot lead without it. Without internal alignment, it's difficult to clearly communicate the intent behind the decision and engage a team in its implementation. Coaches can play a crucial role in providing feedback, encouraging the leader to persist until that deep alignment point is reached.

Business executives are paid for the quality and clarity of their decision making. Those who are able to make clear choices excel, and their value in the marketplace increases. Managers are rarely innately skilled in this area. For most executives, this is a continuous process of improvement that is crucial to overall business success. The most powerful recipe for improvement is the combination of the four strategies described above. Using these powerful tools, an executive coach can help clients make clear decisions in moments of crisis and excel at the decision-making process over the long term.

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (Fall Issue 2006, Volume 2, Issue 3). Copyright © 2012 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.


McCraty, Rollin, et al.  2000. "Improving Test-Taking Skills & Academic Performance in High School Students Using HartMath Learning Enhancement Tools." HeartMath Research Center, Institute of HeartMath, Publication No. 00-010. Available at http://www.heartmath.org/research/research-papers/improving-test-taking.html.

Luda Kopeikina is CEO of Noventra Corporation, an innovation commercialization firm. She is the author of The Right Decision Every Time: How to Reach Perfect Clarity on Tough Decisions (Prentice Hall, 2005). For more information about Luda, visit www.ludakopeikina.com. Luda can be reached by email at luda@noventra.com.

If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.

Traditional Sales Calls Don’t Work for Coaches, But What Does? By Kerri Salls

Posted by WABC

In classic sales training, we learn that there are five simple steps to selling. If you follow the steps, you get the sale. They are:

  • Opening the call
  • Investigating needs
  • Giving benefits
  • Handling objections
  • Closing the sale

But as some coaches have been so vocal to bemoan, they aren't getting sales using this approach. So what's happening? If coaches are selling a big ticket item, like an executive coaching program or an assessment program for a corporate management team, the selling cycle no longer fits the traditional model.

The selling cycle for business coaching has four characteristics that make traditional selling techniques ineffective:

  1. Length of Selling Cycle
    The selling cycle may require many calls or connections. Multiple sales calls have a completely different psychology from a simple single-call product sale.
  2. Size of Customer Commitment
    Large purchases involve bigger decisions. This alters the psychology of the sale. As the size of the sale increases, successful salespeople must build the perceived value of the service.
  3. Relationships
    Most large sales involve an ongoing relationship with the customer. This is where multiple offerings that represent different pricing levels, what some call your "marketing funnel," come in handy. Why? They must get to know, like and trust you before they will invest greater time and money in your offer.
  4. Risk/Return/Resistance
    In small sales, customers can afford to take more risks and try something new on the spot. Consider offering something of value, like an e-book or teleclass, for less than $50 on your Web site. The consequence of that risk is relatively low. Each larger purchase represents a bigger decision and a more significant risk. The perceived value of a $250 program package and the pain it will solve must be more explicit, it must be targeted and it must promise greater results. When you expand that to a $999 package or a contracted fee for $5,000 to $10,000, the customer becomes more cautious with each increase in the size of the decision you are asking them to make.

You Need Different Selling Skills For Major Coaching Sales

There are four distinct stages of a sales call when dealing with the large sale. This simple model was developed by Neil Rackham in the book SPIN Selling and became the foundation for the Huthwaite Corporation's research and training services.

In large sales, preliminaries do NOT have the influence on success that they do in small sales. The more senior the people you are selling your coaching to, the more they feel their time is at a premium. So your objective in the preliminaries is simply to get the customer's permission to move to the next stage.

This involves asking lots of questions, collecting data, uncovering needs, and understanding the customer and their organization. In fact, for higher value selling, investigating is the most important of all selling skills and can increase the overall sales volume by more than 20%.

Success in larger sales like coaching depends on how you handle this stage. Successful calls entail asking a lot more questions than we were trained to ask in traditional selling. Uncovering implicit and explicit needs is the sole objective of the Investigating stage of the call. This is where you build the relationship before the sale is made.

Demonstrating Capability
There is no surprise here--you must demonstrate to each prospect that you have something worthwhile to offer. You must prove that your solution will address each customer's unique problems. Selling a solution is not the same as rattling off a list of features and benefits. Connect with their pain and offer a solution that makes you exceptionally qualified to meet their need.

Obtaining Commitment
Obtaining commitment is not the same as your classic closing script. Remember, the bigger the decision and the more sophisticated the buyer, the more negatively they generally react to pressure and closing techniques.

In larger sales, there may be a whole range of other commitments you must obtain before you reach the order stage for your coaching program. Your call objective may be to get the customer's agreement to attend a teleclass or workshop. Larger sales contain a number of intermediate steps. Rackham calls these steps "Advances": they advance the customer's commitment toward the final decision.

Next Steps to Get it Right

What I've described is only theory until you put it into practice. Here are four rules for learning any new sales skills:

  1. Practice Only One Behavior at a Time
    Focus on one new thing at a time.
    For example, work on asking more and better questions of prospects.
  2. Try the New Behavior at Least Three Times
    Never judge whether a new behavior is effective until you've tried it at least three times.
    For example, focus on a specific Advance (e.g., subscribing to your newsletter, attending a teleclass, working with a specific assessment tool) you want as an outcome from your calls.
  3. Quantity before Quality
    When you are practicing, concentrate on quantity and you'll get the results you're looking for. Use a lot of the new behavior. Don't worry about how smooth it is; use it often enough and the quality will look after itself.
    For example, if you are learning to connect with the client's pain to offer a solution you may get tongue-tied as you develop the conversation down new unscripted paths. Do it anyway.
  4. Practice in Safe Situations
    Always try out new behaviors in safe situations until they feel comfortable. Don't use important prospects to practice new skills.

Try just one of these ideas and see if it improves your prospecting results and lead conversion for your high end offerings. My experience has been that if you apply this unique selling cycle strategy in your coaching practice, you will see more doors open and more clients moving deeper into your marketing funnel.

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (Spring Issue 2005, Volume 1, Issue 3). Copyright 2011 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.


Lee, Andrea. Multiple Streams of Coaching Income. (2005).

Rackham, Neil. SPIN Selling. (1988). McGraw-Hill.
Kerri Salls, MBA, founded Breakthrough Business Enterprise to train, consult, and coach business owners, CEOs and sole proprietors on how to create more profit in less time. She publishes Breakthrough Success, a weekly e-zine that provides tips, tools and ideas for leadership. Kerri may be reached by email at kerri@breakthrough-business-school.com.

If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.