Recently, we recognized our five-year anniversary as a company and Hope, Rachel, Joni and I (our original team) celebrated over a Friday lunch “Mad Men” style. Last year after being recognized by INC Magazine as an INC 5000 company, I wrote a post reflecting on our first four years and some of my experiences growing a business . I sincerely appreciate and am grateful for the well-wishes that post generated.
While the lessons learned from the initial four years still ring true, I’ve garnered some additional perspectives over the past year:
- Creating Something from Nothing – it’s been rewarding for us to build an incredible team, set of services/solutions, and a wonderful group of clients from the bottom-up. In the past year we’ve extended and stretched our creativity, as Michael Perla and I are becoming first-time authors. We launched a project to define what works and what doesn’t on the topic of sales transformations and have captured these findings in a book titled 7 Steps to Sales Force Transformation: Driving Sustainable Change in Your Organization, which will be published by Palgrave Macmillan this fall. While admittedly this has required more man-hours than we originally thought, the process of creating the book from scratch has been immensely rewarding (Thanks to Michael for the nights and weekends it took to finish this project!). It’s a reminder to keep challenging ourselves to grow as individuals and as an organization.
- Defining Values – while our company has always had its own culture and values, we’ve embarked on an interesting exercise to formally document these over the past few months. We’re circling around themes of commitment to our clients and each other, focus in terms of maximizing our time and energies, having a passion for sales, fostering a collaborative work environment, and driving impact and growth for our clients and each other. Many of us feel like Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer who famously said, “I know it when I see it.” For us, this has been a thought provoking exercise as we each know it (our culture), but haven’t been able to succinctly describe it. As Thomas Jefferson, Mark Twain and others supposedly said, “if I’d had more time, I would have written less,” so stay tuned for a defined list on our website.
- Firing a Friend – a lesson learned in the past year is that if you’re going to hire personal friends, you have to be prepared to fire them, as well. This, of course, is obvious, but it wasn’t to me initially – and it’s been a hard lesson to learn. Like most entrepreneurs, you assume it will all work out (optimism on overdrive), but when it doesn’t, it’s painful for all involved. In five years, it seems that I still haven’t learned that lesson, but mainly because it’s worked out more often than not.
- Growth – Clients, Team, Company – Heskett, Sasser, and Schelsinger authored a popular business book in the late 1990’s called The Service Profit Chain, which explored the virtuous link between happy and loyal customers, employees, and investors. We are seeing a version of this play out in our business, as it does for most businesses, where successful clients and referrals lead to more clients, a satisfied team, and growth for the company. We have been fortunate to work with more than 40 companies across different industries and selling models in the past five years, 73% of which have worked with us over multiple years. We thank them for their continued support and loyalty.
- Talent Pipeline – I’ve heard this from many sources, but the importance of building a pipeline of talented team members is as important as one for projects/clients, especially in a professional services business. Working with full-time recruiters has helped us expand our reach and hire outside of our networks, which will be critical for us as we continue to grow and expand. It’s amazing how much time and energy this requires but also how rewarding it is when you get it right.
- Diversity of Thought – Mo Bunnell introduced me to a Thinking Preferences™ tool called HBDI® years ago – thank you, Mo! We’ve used this extensively with our team and with our clients to provide a framework and language for understanding how people think, make decisions, and communicate. This tool has given us the ability to know ourselves, pick up the clues of others, and adapt – and also strive to develop a balanced, whole-brained™ team, which helps us deliver better results for our clients while learning from and challenging each other.
There are many books on leadership, entrepreneurship, and growing a business that expand on these topics and many more. Three of my favorites include:
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things – after reading the first chapter of this book, you quickly realize that Ben “gets it.” Ben Horowitz had started a blog and used those posts to form the basis of this book, which is exceptional and comes from his experience with Netscape, Loudcloud, and Andreesen-Horowitz. If there’s one book to read on building a business, this is the best I’ve seen.
- Second Stage Entrepreneurship – penned by another highly successful entrepreneur, Daniel Weinfurter, I was really impressed with Dan’s book and the chapters on Board of Directors (Chapter 3) and Hiring Smart! (5). As Dan says, “The real challenge, and the opportunity, is to find people who have the right combination of skills, experience, and passion to success that is needed to help you grow your business.” I really like his focus on “always be recruiting” and having a long-term perspective.
- What Got You Here, Won’t Get You there – a perennial business best seller by leadership guru and executive coach Marshall Goldsmith. From both personal and consulting experience, Goldsmith’s observation that “the higher you go, the more your problems are behavioral” really resonates. It’s not only about IQ but also EQ.
Thanks again to our clients, team, advisors, and friends of the firm for a great five years. We are all looking forward to the next five and beyond.
 Checkout www.hermanninternational.com for information on the HBDI® assessment