Why Are There Snowblowers in Miami?: Transform Your Business Using the Five Principles of Engagement

Why Are There Snowblowers in Miami?: Transform Your Business Using the Five Principles of Engagement

by Steven D. Goldstein


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626343238
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press
Publication date: 09/06/2016
Pages: 200
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)

About the Author

Steven D. Goldstein helps improve companies’ performance through renewed engagement and laser like focus. He has over thirty-five years of experience working as an operating executive at both global Fortune 500 corporations (including as Chairman and CEO of American Express Bank) and midsize companies, as well as advising private equity firms with their portfolio companies. His special talent lies in unleashing companies’ hidden assets, transforming employee and customer engagement, and accelerating the pace of decision-making and change.

He currently serves as Chairman of US Auto Sales, as Senior Advisor to Milestone Partners, and as an Industrial Advisor to EQT Partners. Goldstein also advises leaders about engagement and performance improvement, and is a sought-after public speaker.

Steve earned his BA from City College of New York and his MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business. He lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

Why Are There Snowblowers in Miami?

Transform Your Business Using the Five Principles of Engagement

By Steven D. Goldstein

Greenleaf Book Group Press

Copyright © 2016 Steven Goldstein
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62634-323-8



"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

— Albert Einstein

We all hear the same excuses every day. "That's just the way things work here." "Some day we'll have to look into that." "We're just too big to change quickly." But why does it take so long to accomplish things in large companies? Why aren't leaders more courageous, and why is just sitting back and waiting a common strategy? Why is no one demanding more of themselves and others? The answer to these questions is complicated, but I believe that a big part of it has to do with a lack of engagement — on one or on multiple levels.

Obviously, the term "engagement" can mean many different things. So what do I mean by engagement in the context of leadership and running a company? Engagement, in my experience, means adopting an active, roll-up-your-sleeves style that fundamentally takes an outside-in view of everything in the organization. It means being totally present; it means looking in places where it's easier not to look. It means being aware of what's really going on — not only looking but also seeing. An engaged leader is one who is interested in finding out what employees think about the business instead of solely relying on the management team and reports. An engaged leader interacts in an authentic way with customers to see what their buying experience is like and if they buy out of habit or out of conscious choice. An engaged leader has the confidence and courage to admit that everything is not working perfectly. Engagement also means being hyperinquisitive — asking questions, and then asking more questions. It means redefining how you see problems. It means being comfortable with constantly creating and leading change. It means communicating well and motivating everyone to win. It means acting like an owner in every sense of the word.

Several years ago, a consulting firm I was working with was hired to help a company that was experiencing performance problems in several areas. This company was in the business of providing customer contact services to companies that outsourced their sales, customer service, and other routine functions. At the time they hired us, they were at risk of losing clients faster than they could replace them.

My team and I met individually with each member of the management team and listened to their concerns, and to their ideas about what they were planning to do to address the problems — that is, the problems as they had identified them. Their assessment was completely insular. In many cases, they were oblivious to many of the important issues — not unlike Sears had been to the snowblowers in Miami situation. Predictably, their recommendations were that costs should be further reduced to make up for the shortfall in lost revenue. On the face of it, that's not an unreasonable course of action, in that it would help profitability in the short term. But it fails to attack the problems at their source.

I knew that we needed to get another perspective; we needed to see how the company's clients perceived the company and why those clients were jumping ship — because the leadership team either didn't know, or didn't want to tell us at that point. We spoke with several of these clients, who were more than willing to tell us why they were unhappy with both the service levels and lack of responsiveness in dealing with their problems, and who also informed us that they were actively considering choosing another provider as soon as their contracts expired.

Joe, one client I spoke to, was a vice president of a large wireless carrier. "We outsource a big portion of our customer service functions," he said, "so that we could have predictability about service levels and cost, and also to get critical information about what is on our customers' minds. The cost portion is fine, since we negotiated a fixed price contract, but everything else is not working as expected." When I asked Joe to be more specific, he said, "Service levels are below expectations, it takes too long to address problems, and I keep hearing about technology glitches to explain their service level problems — but isn't technology supposed to be what their business is all about?"

Joe had an excellent point. How does a company whose core business is servicing have technology "glitches" that are so bad they cause customers to leave? I knew we needed to see firsthand what was going on in these call centers, so we organized a field trip to visit one. When we arrived at this location, the management team — while very welcoming to us — appeared somewhat uneasy. They were obviously wondering exactly why we were there.

The call center was a cubicle-filled room about the size of a football field. As we entered, we were struck by the sight of old-fashioned computer monitors — the big beige ones that occupy most of a desk and had not been on the market for at least ten years — as well as desk chairs and desks that were missing an arm here, a leg there ... I was stunned. Several people were actually wearing headsets with duct tape on them! After walking no more than twenty-five feet, I was barely able to speak; I was so shocked by the conditions.

We spent the better part of a day at the center. We stopped at individual workstations and watched and listened to how people did their jobs, and saw how difficult the company made it for them to be responsive to customers. It was as if they were running a race uphill wearing fifty-pound backpacks, while someone on top of the mountain was throwing rocks at them. It certainly was not a work environment that was conducive to being on the phone for eight hours per day and dealing with individual customer issues.

I sat next to an agent named Judy and put on a headset so that I could listen in on her calls. I immediately noticed that simple questions from a customer required complicated actions on her part. So, after a few calls, I asked her why her responses were so hard to formulate. Judy explained that the old computers and software applications they were using made things that should be easy much more difficult. "I have to look at one screen, write down the information on a post-it, then go to another screen to see something else, make a note of that, and then go to a third screen. After I figure it out, then I can give the customer an answer." When I asked her how she would change things, Judy immediately listed six things that would eliminate most of the problems. She had the solutions — but had never been asked for her opinion.

We organized some of the staff into discussion groups in a conference room. As I often do, I asked pretty basic questions to encourage people to open up, like "How's it going?" "What's it like to work here?" "What do you need to do your job better?" "What are your customers saying?" At the end of the day, we had pages of notes and a very good idea about (1) what was wrong; (2) how to fix it; (3) what the employees needed to do a better job; and (4) most important, why the employee turnover of this unit was almost 100 percent.

That night I had dinner with the CEO. He wanted to know how the field trip had gone. Because it was my understanding that he traveled extensively around the world to visit his company's call centers, I asked him what his impressions of this particular one were, and he said, "I don't think I've been to that one in quite some time." I told him who we had met with and what we had learned, and I gave him some initial ideas as to how to dramatically change the situation. It was not a question of fixing one or two simple issues; this was a systemic problem created over a period of years that required a total rethink of how the business was conducted. I suggested that he select a great young leader, put him or her in charge of this center, and provide the money to create a workplace and environment that would enable the new leader to hire, motivate, and retain great staff. I bet him that within twelve months, this center would outperform every other one in the system and that they could then use what they learned here to address their underlying business issues and apply those changes throughout their network.

Ultimately, while the company implemented a number of other recommendations we made, they decided they could not afford to implement the "new call center project" we outlined for them; they felt it was too much change to undergo. But the question is, could they really afford not to implement this? Things cannot change unless you confront the dysfunction at its source.

In most organizations the only people dealing with customers are at the lower levels, like Judy, the call center operator. These employees often feel disenfranchised, because leadership does not know them, nor do they appear interested in their opinions and suggestions — much less the feedback from customers these frontline employees receive daily. The leaders they report to have no idea what they are thinking, and therefore cannot bring their valuable knowledge to the table. Judy and her colleagues were never involved in the decision-making process, even though they were the ones who had all the right questions and many of the answers. If only they had been asked.

This was a case of company-wide disengagement. The CEO was disengaged from what actually was going on in the company; he and other leaders were focusing on financial issues and were essentially disengaged from the call centers, and their employees. And their clients were dissatisfied and looking to leave at their first opportunity — so they were disengaged as well.

So how do leaders become more engaged? It almost always has to start with a change in perspective, which isn't easy. It's not as though you can just turn a switch inside your head. One of the most challenging things for leaders is to learn how to look at things in a new light. When you are inside the system, doing the same thing day after day, year after year, it can be extremely difficult to change your perception about how you and your company are operating. You actually, in some ways, have become part of the problem.

When I interviewed Don Gogel, the CEO of Clayton Dubilier & Rice (CD&R), one of the country's oldest and most successful private equity firms, he told me, "When I visit with a CEO, the first thing I always tell them is that I have an unfair advantage over them — because I am able to look at their company with fresh eyes. I have no biases, no history of the company's past decisions or issues to cloud my vision. Therefore I can see what they don't see. That's how I am able to perceive the inherent value of these companies."

Gogel offered me a great example of this fresh eyes phenomenon. In 1991, CD&R acquired the impact and laser printer business from IBM, which was starting a period of restructuring. They named this business Lexmark. "IBM's vaunted and well-deserved reputation was established through its extraordinary mainframe technology," Gogel said. "IBM product development teams operated with great discipline. For example, because the IBM mainframes needed to have exceptionally high reliability, its product developers had backup systems and redundancy for everything. They had to dual-source every component and so had to qualify two vendors. Product testing could take up to a year. Of course, when you are making mainframe computers that is the right way to do it. But when you begin making laser printers, that's another story."

Gogel explained that at the time, the printer business looked more like consumer electronics. "Hewlett Packard and several Japanese manufacturers were very strong, competing on both price and broad distribution. They were introducing new models twice a year. The nature of this competition created two very big issues for IBM. The first was cost — because IBM had been designing very reliable printers in a market that was more interested in low cost. The second was the product innovation cycle. Hewlett Packard was basically innovating two products a year, while Lexmark was on an eighteen-month cycle of new product introductions."

CD&R bought the printer business from IBM because the firm believed that it could dramatically transform the way the company operated. CD&R partners were convinced the company had great technology but needed to change the way it developed products and went to market. "Fortunately," Gogel said, "we managed to persuade Paul Curlander, the IBM vice president who designed IBM's first laser printer, to join the new company as our chief engineer. We also recruited Marvin Mann, a seasoned IBM executive who knew the business, as our first CEO. In addition, a CD&R operating partner, Chuck Ames, assumed the chairman's role and brought a great deal of industrial marketing and sales force management experience to the company. Together, they transformed Lexmark.

"Now Paul," Gogel continued, "who in 1998 became Lexmark's CEO, understood that he would have to dramatically change the product development process. He said that he would have to take the IBM product manual and encase it in a Lucite cube and put it on display. He wanted to show how important it was to avoid the 'old' playbook. Under Paul's leadership, Lexmark competed with the best manufacturers in the world on price and performance and rolled out several new products each year for both laser and then ink-jet printers. Paul became the CEO of Lexmark in 1998 and held that position until 2010.

"Notwithstanding his deep IBM roots, Marvin immediately started to change the style and culture at Lexmark, emphasizing speed and customer responsiveness. And Chuck, with his deep marketing experience, developed an industry- specific sales force that became a major competitive edge in an industry where competitors sold largely through dealers."

Although it took five years to get things right, Lexmark was a great success, going public and growing to have a market capitalization of $10 billion by 2004. For a variety of reasons, IBM had not seen that the printer business required different principles, strategies, and cost structures from the computer business. CD&R and the new management team were able to look at the situation in a new way. Together, they brought new insights to develop a new strategy and organization to transform the slow-moving typewriter and impact printer into an agile and fast-moving technology company.

In this case, CD&R, looking with fresh eyes, was able to see why this different approach was necessary. They made a number of changes during their years of ownership, and as a result Lexmark became a more valuable enterprise. But almost more impressive was the way the longtime IBM engineer and the other leaders rose to the challenge. Fairly quickly, they were able to overcome years of training, change their "corporate DNA," and see the problem objectively.

What prevents leaders inside a company from doing the same thing as Gogel — and the Lexmark management team? If a private equity firm can buy a company, make fundamental changes to its operations, and sell the company for three to five times its original value in five years, why can't the leaders who are already at that company make those same changes? Do companies need to wait until they are purchased to be able to address their fundamental issues? Do they need a serious crisis in order to create the urgency to make decisions and act aggressively?

My answer is a resounding and unequivocal "No." I have seen far too many cases, both in my own personal experience and from observing businesses in general, where companies whose leaders are truly engaged generate great results.

Especially in large organizations, certain systems and programs tend to become deeply entrenched; there are things that were set in motion years ago to which no one ever gives a thought. They just become set in stone. We have to remind ourselves they are not set in stone — it only looks like stone. Learning how to see with objectivity is the essential first step, because becoming aware of the underlying disengagement within your organization is the only way to begin eliminating the many blockages — blockages that not only get in the way of you and your leaders' ability to address fundamental operational issues but also hinder their ability to carry out important, bold new strategies.

It's staggering how much of what goes on in a company usually remains unnoticed. If you could somehow place your company into an MRI machine and slice through it in three-dimensional detail, what do you think you would find? How do people in your organization actually spend their time, how do they set priorities, allocate resources, and make decisions? Almost certainly, this virtual "corporate MRI" would reveal many areas where the absolutely vital element of engagement is missing, the same way doctors can see vital connective tissue missing in the ligaments of your knee. They can't discern exactly why you are experiencing pain until they have a different, better way of looking at the body — a different approach to the ailment.


Excerpted from Why Are There Snowblowers in Miami? by Steven D. Goldstein. Copyright © 2016 Steven Goldstein. Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1 Fresh Eyes: How Engagement Begins 7

2 Stopping the Meeting Madness 23

3 Out of the Mouths of Window Washers 43

4 The Importance of Focus: Hot Buttons and the Quick Win 55

5 Unleashing Your Team: Engaging Your Employees 69

6 Connecting Where It Counts: Making Love to Your Customers 101

7 Do Ask, Do Tell-and Do Share: Real and Accessible Information for All 119

8 Adopting the MO of Start-Ups 143

9 Why Playing Not to Lose Is Not the Same as Winning 157

10 Engagement in Action 171

Notes 181

About the Author 187

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