It won’t come as a big surprise that I love Les McKeown’s new book, ‘Predictable Success.’ A book that puts business life stages into perspective, it enables not just business owners, but also employees to manage through the tough times in order to get to the stage that every business wants – success.
The book was published on Monday and I had the opportunity to discuss some of the highlights of it with Les. My only regret is that I thought to do this interview via video Skype before yesterday so you could not only see how charismatic and charming he is in person, but also so you could hear his very cool accent. I’m buying the equipment to make that happen so soon you’ll see him live and in person!
Gini: You wrote Predictable Success because you saw a trend in the lifecycles of business. Is there one red flag business leaders should watch for as they move toward predictable success?
Les: The role of systems and processes.
Younger, growing businesses tend to be under-systematized: Rightly so in the early stages of growth, but eventually they need to introduce a modicum of process to ensure consistent quality in what they do and get to the scalable level of profitable growth that I call ‘Predictable Success.’
Larger organizations have a tendency to become over-systematized, which in turn makes them arthritic and unresponsive, and they need to reverse that process by re-introducing the visionary, creative risk-taking that systems and processes drive out.
Getting the balance right between highly flexible entrepreneurial zeal on the one hand, and systems and processes on the other, is the heart of Predictable Success.
Gini: Can all businesses achieve predictable success?
Les: Yes. There’s no reason any business cannot get to Predictable Success.
Gini: I work with a lot of executives who have companies in, what you call, the whitewater phase – combining operations and sales into a cohesive business. What is one thing they should be thinking about as they go through this phase in order to achieve predictable success?
Les: If I can be bold, I’d like to mention two things, because they’re heavily intertwined.
The first is that the leaders of a business in Whitewater need to insist their managers (re-)discover how to work laterally. Usually when a business hits the growing pains of Whitewater the managers have begun to hunker down in their silos – sales, ops and admin facing off at each other, getting defensive, blaming each other (however politely or passive-aggressively) for the increasing amount of mistakes and unimplemented decisions that begin to litter the landscape. I show in the book why it is so important – and how – to change this dynamic and get the managers to start handing the baton off seamlessly to each other again, laterally, across functions.
The second thing – and it’s connected to the first point – is that at some point one or more of the ‘big dogs’ who built the business to where it is now – people who are close to the organization’s leadership, who have sweat equity and a lot of the institutional knowledge in their head – will have to go. They need to leave the business. The reason for this is that they so rankle at the loss of authority and autonomy that adherence to new systems and processes brings with it, that they become disruptive, cynical and (at worst) bitter, and cause internal dissension, preventing the organization from getting to Predictable Success.
This is perhaps the toughest thing any leader has to do – let go a loyal, hard-working, veteran superstar who just won’t accept that the business is changing – but at some point, to get to Predictable Success, it’ll have to happen.
Gini: Your preface talks about reading the book from beginning to end, and not skipping to the parts you want to read. Why is that?
Les: There’s an inbuilt pattern – a DNA if you will – of business and organizational growth that’s much easier to understand if you see it as a whole and understand how it morphs and changes over time. You’ll understand much more about an adult if you know how they were impacted by adolescence, and you’ll never really comprehend the impact of adolescence unless you know what it was like to be an infant and a child. It’s the same with growing business – knowing what got you to were you are today is crucial in understanding how to get to the next stage.
I know this is the antithesis of how business books are meant to be written these days – more like haikus that can be dipped in and out of. I’m pretty much unabashed about the fact that ‘Predictable Success’ isn’t such a book – there’s a development from chapter to chapter that enriches the reader’s understanding of how business really works.
Gini: Once a business is in predictable success, how do they stay there?
Les: Essentially by institutionalizing what I term the ‘visionary’ aspect of leadership: Creativity, risk-taking, showing initiative, entrepreneurial spirit. To stay in Predictable Success, the organization’s leaders need to work hard at pushing those skills and attitudes down through the organization, so that the business is not dependent on them as individuals to be the personification of the organization’s vision and values. I show how to do this in Part 2 of the book.
It’s tough for a leader to do this – especially if their sense of identity or ego is wrapped up in being seen as the ‘visionary’, and not wanting to share that mantle with others in the organization.
Gini: If you were not the author, why would you read this book?
Les: If I owned or worked in a business, I’d buy ‘Predictable Success’ for the opportunity to see the patterns of business growth – and how business really works – from somebody who’s launched over 40 businesses themselves and helped literally hundreds more. I’m personally always looking to learn from anyone who has trod the path I’m on many more times than me, and I think that’s the unique perspective I bring to ‘Predictable Success’ – pattern recognition based on having been down the road of business growth so often.
Gini: Where can people buy Predictable Success?
Les: All good bookstores, online and off – we have links to all the various online stores (including eBook versions) on the ‘Predictable Success’ website.
Gini: And for fun…give me your top three business books to read, other than yours, of course.
Les: My all-time favorite business book isn’t a book, and it isn’t about business. It is a series of books called “The Nature of Order” by Christopher Alexander. He talks (and illustrates) about pattern recognition in architecture, town planning, living – in a way that impacted my view of business more than anything else I’ve ever read. It’s hard to describe without cracking open one of the books in the series – which I recommend everyone interested in patterns in business should do.
Secondly, anything Peter Drucker has ever written. He’s the uber-guru of business, organizational and leadership development and just about anything of value written about business since since 1970 owes much to him.
Third, a relatively little-known book called “Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play” by Mahan Khalsa. When I first read this it was as if every fear I had about the sales and marketing process was stripped bare, deconstructed to basic common sense, and rebuilt as a way to be in the marketing world that I could live with.