How leaders behave directly impact the course of the business. They are the ones that lead the people in the team to work towards a common goal and succeed. As we know it, everyone has the capacity to become a leader. The only thing therefore is to be good at it and not the judging critique that blames others. One of the world’s leading business strategists and catalyst for leadership and organizational transformation, Marcia Daszko, talks about how leaders beat the odds and survive with her book, Pivot, Disrupt, and Transform. Marcia gives the three-step process that tells people to stop focusing on the bottom line and performance appraisals, and shares how leaders should ask the right questions. On top of that, she talks about the foundational business strategies that will soon work towards improving and innovating to ultimately serve the customers.
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Pivot, Disrupt And Transform with Marcia Daszko
Our guest is Marcia Daszko and she’s one of the world’s leading business strategists and catalyst for leadership and organizational transformation. She’s got over 25 years of proven success running her own consulting firm and workshops for executives. She’s also a researcher, a graduate level teacher, a keynote speaker, and an award-winning writer. She’s been an adviser to Fortune 500 companies, government agencies including the Pentagon. Marcia, welcome to the show.
Thank you for having me.
Your book is fantastic it’s called Pivot, Disrupt, Transform: How Leaders Beat the Odds and Survive. You’ve got some great testimonials from authors like Ken Blanchard who wrote The One Minute Manager, which is one of my all-time favorite books. Before we double click and do a deep dive into this great book of yours, can you take us back to your story of origin? You can go back as far as you want. Your childhood, high school or college. Where did you start getting interested in leadership?
I never thought of myself as a leader because I was so excruciatingly shy. Although my friends when they hear me say that they laugh and roll their eyes and wonder. They see something maybe I don’t see. I grew up in the Midwest in Iowa. My family moved to California when I was in college. I transferred out here. I attended Santa Clara University and San Jose State University and ended up getting my master’s in mass communication. I worked for various companies in corporate communications and marketing. Then one of the organizations that I worked with was owned by Dr. Perry Gluckman a statistician who had a group of colleagues’ consultants who worked with organizations to help them learn and apply Dr. Deming’s philosophy of leadership and management. For those who don’t know, Dr. Deming was a man who went to Japan at the invitation of General MacArthur after World War II to help turn around Japan and help them become a global competitor. In the 1980s, he came back to the US and worked with the CEOs of General Motors and Ford to help save our auto industry.
That’s an impressive background that’s certainly a huge impact and now that changing with Korea and China. I was looking at how China’s overtaken Japan lately in gross national product and all that good stuff. What made you want to write this book?
Once I had begun working with Dr. Perry and Dr. Deming they became my mentors. I learned from them that everyone within them has natural leadership. How I learned that is because my two mentors pulled it out of me. Over time, they taught me how to consult and that’s how I got into consulting years ago. We worked from small organizations to companies like the Fortune 500. I wrote the book because in my 25 years plus of consulting, I had seen the fork in the road for leaders. Some leaders struggle and fail and others succeed wildly. It’s like, “Why does this happen and why are some struggling so much? Why is it that we have 6,000 startup companies in the Silicon Valley Bay Area and probably 90% of them won’t go out of business? Why is it that there was a list of Fortune 500 companies that came out in the in 1955 and more than 60% of those Fortune 500 corporations do not exist anymore?” Some were merged in, but many went out of business. When we think about Montgomery Ward, Pan Am, Circuit City, and Blockbuster, they disappeared pretty fast. Does that mean that companies like IBM, Walmart or Shell Oil like we’ve seen with Sears or Target, will they go out of business? I wrote the book because I wanted to help leaders who have so many challenges see that there’s a better way. There’s a different way. There’s a bold way. There’s a courageous way to lead and it’s not that hard.
What would you say would be the one takeaway? Let’s give some great insights right off the bat. If someone is saying to themselves, “If everyone has natural leadership within them, how do I find that? What is it that I can do to discover that if I don’t have a mentor?”
I would ask people to follow their own strategic compass. If they’re thinking about their own leadership and/or they’re thinking about leading their team or their organization, even at home. That they think about what are we trying to accomplish. What am I trying to accomplish and getting people together. Knowing nobody works alone. How do we learn, work, and improve together? That is key. If you don’t have that question answered well, then everything else following it, you’ll struggle and eventually fail.Everyone has natural leadership within them. Click To Tweet
You’ve got a three-step process here where you tell people to stop focusing on the bottom line and performance appraisals. They need to start doing something new, which is asking some questions and seeing what they can do to encourage an environment of change. Finally, the transformation part of being more resilient. What do you mean stop giving performance appraisals? What do you mean stop looking at the bottom line? How else would we run a company? What do you say to that question?
We need to go back to the aim. What are you trying to accomplish? If you say, “We’ve started this company and now we have 200 employees. We need to start implementing performance appraisals,” I would ask again, “What are you trying to accomplish?” “We want to we want to coach people. We want to give people feedback. We want to help and so on.” That is usually the answer that I get around performance appraisals. What has happened is performance appraisals end up being in practice what people use to judge, rate, rank, criticize, and blame people for. The problem is the people worked in the system. They didn’t create the system. They can’t change the system. Yet, people want to hold them accountable for the system’s results. If they don’t like the results they blame and judging criticize the people, but it wasn’t the people. People come to work to do a good job. They want to be proud of their work. They want to contribute. They want to serve customers. They want to work together. Yet we saw the performance appraisals that we rank and rate the people which creates internal competition. Then we tie it to a compensation system that again is more limiting. Then we say, “Our corporate values are teamwork, collaboration, and integrity.” Yet they don’t see that there’s a huge gap between the two in the practice of even using performance appraisals which is a total waste of time. They are in direct conflict with what they say their values are.
Having been in the corporate world myself and selling advertising for Condé Nast for a number of years and selling my multi-million-dollar mainframe computers, nobody likes them. I have managers who used to dread doing that. It was a huge amount of time and they were under a lot of pressure from top management to not give anybody perfect scores. You must find something to ding somebody on so that there’s something for them to improve on. Otherwise, if you tell them they’re doing a great job, they will stop working so hard. Like, “Next year, hopefully, my three will go up to four on creative ideas or some weird category that they create.” There’s a great quote in your book from Dr. Myron Tribus, “Looking at results is like driving the car by looking in the rear-view mirror.”
That summarizes what you’re saying here. That you can’t motivate or even come up with an inspiring vision of what the future could be if all you’re doing is evaluating someone’s past performance. This concept of teamwork, I always found so amusing, especially in a sales department. They do rank you and yet they want you to all work together. Oftentimes, you would split accounts. Like if Lexus is based here and there are agency is based here, but that wasn’t always the case. Sometimes I’d have a client that the agency was in LA and the client was in New York. The rep in New York and I had to work together and split the commissions if we got the business or we grew the business, but it was still a competition of who’s the top sales person this week and this month, this year. It’s a very bizarre compete, work together, and you’re going to get paid on how you perform, not so much how the magazine performs.
That’s why another thing that I suggest is that not only does a company get rid of the performance appraisals, but they also get rid of incentives, arbitrary, numerical goals, and commissions. That’s a unique, bold, radical revolutionary thinking for most organizations because it’s not best practices. That’s what part of the book is saying too is stop best practices and management fads. If you step back and think, what are you trying to accomplish those don’t help you?
You also talked about helping people understand why they lose customers to the competition. That’s a fascinating topic for me particularly because I had to win back a client at one point. Then I’ve helped other companies put a strategy together on how to win back a client. A lot of people don’t have a clue that winning back a client is very different than getting them in the first place. Can you expand on your insights on what companies can do to prevent losing clients and what they might do to get them back?
I have beautiful examples of that. Personal examples that’s what brings everybody to heart. If leaders think about what they are passionate about and get their whole organization focused on supporting each other to serve customers. Doing what they love to do to serve customers, they tap in on being close to their customer. It’s not by surveys and focus groups. It’s by talking to their customer. What do you like? What do you want? What do you need? It is beyond that because it’s not the customer’s job to tell you that they want the fax machine or that they want the iPhone. It’s the companies, the leader’s job to create the future. To create new products and services that are innovative and will serve and satisfy new customers and new markets. For example, for me, I was a very loyal customer of American Airlines years ago. I had more than three million miles on American Airlines. Whenever I would fly with colleagues I would say, “Come on my flight.” Even though there are tickets generally on average worth $50 more than the competition, I would stay loyal. Then their service over time drastically changed. It was a change of CEOs that was part of it. There were mergers after that and then they pulled out the San Jose market as a hub. That drastically impacted our ability to have as many routes and so forth.
The point being, their customer service drastically went down. One time, I got on 40 flights with American Airlines. On those flights, 39 out of 40 I didn’t get a hello, a thank you or a goodbye. As a premier flyer, I wrote them a letter. Months later, I got a wrinkled form letter back justifying their behavior. That’s when I said, “That’s it. I’m done.” I fly American Airlines only if I absolutely have to. I would say they’re a little bit better, but they still have so far to go. I have no interest in flying them. Plus, their seats are the tightest together. You could starve on their flights. I love JetBlue, I love Southwest Airlines. The point being that it didn’t cost them anything to say hello, thank you, and goodbye. It cost nothing for that customer service. I knew that leadership had changed because when leadership doesn’t have the mindset to serve customers, it’s for them maybe all about the bottom line or they’re competing with their peers or whatever it is, it shows up in the people who are touching the customers.
Let’s dive into the second part of the book, which is if we’re going to stop focusing on the bottom line and giving people these performance evaluations, we should be doing something new. That’s the first thing you start talking about, which is also fascinating to me. I also believe that salespeople are successful if they ask the best questions. You were talking about leaders asking questions. Can you expand on that?
What we need to help leaders do then is yes let go of the old because otherwise, if you are trying to start something new but you don’t get rid of the old, I always say it’s like trying to put strawberry jam on moldy green bread. Let’s get rid of the old is essential. Leaders need to start thinking and asking different questions. These are not questions like, “Why did you do this and why did you do that?” Instead, the questions of, “What are we trying to accomplish?” It’s a strategic compass, which I have in the book. “What are we trying to accomplish together? By what method will we achieve it together? What are the values that we’re going to stand for with our customers, with our markets in our community and with our colleagues? Who are our customers? What do they need and how do we know?”Looking at results is like driving by looking at your rearview mirror. Click To Tweet
That’s significant because that means we’re going to collect data and look at that data over time and not react to it. Based on what we see about that data over time, what are the trends? Is it stable? Are we serving customers or not? Then we ask the final questions which are, how do we measure progress? How do we measure success? Most management teams and executive teams, when they have management team meetings, most of them are focusing on and that might be a day or two at a time. You’ve been in the sales team meetings where you spent a day or two or three talking about the numbers and the quotas and goals. You kept manipulating the numbers. I’ve seen those meetings and they’re a sad use of time. I share with my clients that we focus on discussions about the aim, about quality, and about the customer. About serving customers, about the systems, the processes that we need to create and improve, and enable to flow so that we can then get the results that we want.
The last thing in a management team meeting that we need to talk about if we have time are the results or the goals or the numbers. Everything that you do before that are the things that create the numbers. If you don’t like the results, if you don’t like the bottom line, if you don’t like the profit margin or the profits you need to go back. Leaders need to go back and spend 90% plus of their time thinking about, “How do I create an organization where everyone understands what the aim is and how we create the systems and processes so that we have these strategies?” Quality is a business strategy. Improvement is a business strategy and innovation is a business strategy. We need to have those three as foundational business strategies. Then we can go through the organization, work together and see how we improve and innovate to serve our customers.
It sounds like a very different use of time than what I used to have to do, which was once a week all sales reps from around the world will be on this long conference call. We have to say, “For this upcoming issue, I’m going to bring in ten ads. I have five of them who verbally said yes. Another ten that are 50/50 and maybe another seven or so that are less than 50%. Then they say, “We take 90% of the verbals, 50% of the 50/50 and then 10% of all the others. You still are short a couple of pages. Where are you going to get them from?” Then you’d have to listen to everybody else’s story. Then they go, “If we add up all the numbers that everyone says they’re promising and committing to bring in, here’s the number for the month. That’s not high enough for what our goal is.” We will do that for three months out. Tedious, painful, and unproductive. Everywhere I work, that’s what it was. That was the given way of doing it.
It’s the best practice, it’s the management bat. It’s the way we always do things even though the way we always do things isn’t helpful, isn’t innovative, isn’t serving customers, isn’t fun and isn’t motivating. That process you described is demotivating. It doesn’t make me feel good. I’m not happy when it’s over, it’s like, “I’m so relieved.” It’s all about the numbers. It’s not about things that you can get passionate about like serving customers and being creative. It sucks the life out of people.
Then they would add a layer on to it where it’s like, “You promised that you bring in as many ads.” Something fell out. You promised to the whole room as if getting people to commit to something makes them do it. If they don’t feel bad enough that something fell out.
One of my friends had 1,200 sales people in his corporation. He had sales of $500 million. He was constantly competing for his share of the pie. He was frustrated with it and looked for a better way. That’s when he decided to transform his organization. He spent a year transforming his own thinking about leadership. Then he decided to change his system. He made the plan to do it. He communicated both to his key executives, his key salespeople, his employees, and his customers what he was going to do before he did it, then took all of his 1,200 salespeople off of commission and off of incentives. No more performance appraisals. He did many things to transform his organization and then he took it from $500 million to $2 billion in six years.
People think that salespeople aren’t motivated unless they’re tied to a performance and that’s not the case. I love this concept where you have here on how we transform as leaders, the old way and a better way. The biggest level is the high level of fear, anxiety, and stress or in the old way of, “If you don’t make your numbers, after three months you’re going to be fired.” There’s a constant fear-based culture. This is multiple companies, this is not unique to one. The better way you propose is to reduce the fear and build trust that if you have a bad month or two, we’re going to look at you your attitude and your work ethic. All other things besides just the numbers deciding whether or not you keep your job. Is that a fair summary of what you’re saying on the better way?You can’t motivate or even come up with an inspiring vision of what the future could be if all you’re doing is evaluating the past. Click To Tweet
The better way is that the leader is finally going to lead instead of being judge and critique and blame the king or queen. Their job as a leader is to create an environment where everyone understands and contributes to the aim of the organization, and people support each other. That means that it’s up to the leader to communicate effectively, to build trust and they do that through communication. I’m not saying to put out a memo or an email or anything saying, “Here are our mission, vision, and objectives.” That old static document has to go away anyway. Instead, the leaders are the people that are communicating a hundred times a day but they’re asking questions. They see that their job is to develop all of the people’s natural leadership in the organization. Not just the top ten people or the management team, it’s everyone. Their job is to reduce fear and build trust. Over and over again, they have to be asking questions, listening and then responding to find out what are the barriers for you in doing your job. For you personally, for your team, for this department for this division, what are the barriers getting in the way of them supporting each other? In them learning, in them developing as a team, and in them serving customers. We have to ask more questions.
One of my clients, I was sitting down with him one day. It was one of the first meetings and I had a feeling that he would get value out of seeing that list of the old way and the better way. I went over it with him and he looked at it and he said, “I’ve been doing the old way. Can I change and start doing the better way?” I said, “Yes.” Overnight he transformed. He scared the wits out of his management team. His executive assistant asked me, “What did you do to him?” I said, “What are you talking about?” She said, “He’s changed so much. It’s great, but will he change back?” I said, “When he’s under stress, he might change back but that’s why I’m here. Until he’s not wobbling on that bicycle, but he’s riding that bicycle and that’s then who he is. He’ll transform. He transformed his thinking overnight and said to me, “Marcia, over the 30 years that I’ve been managing this organization, I wish I would have known that I had a different option than the one that I was never taught in school. That I’ve never learned from anyone else before.” He felt a huge sigh of relief being able to lead, coach and develop his people and create an amazing organization versus being the critic he used to be.
That’s one of my favorite takeaways from a book. Once you make the decision to pivot and start trusting your people, you cannot go back and start trying to manage from fear again. Your final words in the book are, “Think different, act different, and be different.” Thank you so much for being on the show. The name of the book is Pivot, Disrupt, Transform: How Leaders Beat the Odds and Survive. How can people find you? If people want to hire you as a consultant, what’s the best way to find you?
They can go to my website via MDaszko.com. Through the book, my contact information is in there. They can call, email or reach out. I look forward to helping leaders however I can.
- Marcia Daszko
- Pivot, Disrupt, Transform: How Leaders Beat the Odds and Survive
- The One Minute Manager
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