Why Entrepreneurs Love when Big Companies Don’t Care

ct-why-airlines-get-away-with-terrible-customer-service-20170418The world was shocked to see a viral video of a paying customer being dragged from a United Airlines flight. It was unthinkable to believe a big company could treat a customer that way.

You know who wasn’t surprised? Business travelers. Those of us who travel frequently have been dealing with delayed flights, shrinking seats, reduced rewards, increased fees, crowded airports, long lines and disinterested employees for a long time. There seems to be little effort or desire for excellent customer service in the airline industry. Even so, we keep flying.

I was thinking about this while I waited 30 minutes in a checkout line at Wal-Mart the other night. There were about 40 checkout stations but only four cashiers working. Our cashier was actually a manager. He was friendly but he didn’t seem to care that we waited longer to checkout than it took us to find the items we were buying. He didn’t care because he knew we would likely come back.

The truth is, big companies don’t care when they know they will get repeat business regardless of service. It’s also true that industries don’t care when they know all the competitors offer the same poor level of service.

While this is bad news for customers, it’s great news for entrepreneurs. Rob Biederman points this out in his article, Ugly is the New Beautiful: 4 Ways to Create an Innovative Company in an Antiquated Industry. He explains that industries with poor customer satisfaction and high repeat business are ripe for disruption. New businesses that can offer a viable alternative to the industry giants without the hassle have an opportunity to change the industry landscape.

“Simply put, if your [customer satisfaction] score is low but repeat purchase is high, your industry is probably ripe for disruption.”  ~Rob Biederman

Think about what Amazon is doing to the retail industry. As I stood waiting in the Wal-Mart checkout line, I realized everything in my cart could be purchased now (or soon) from Amazon without the hassle. So, why should I ever go back to Wal-Mart?

Entrepreneurs have an amazing opportunity to create value for frustrated customers. The question is, how can you identify these opportunities? How can you recognize an industry that’s ready to be disrupted?

In an article called, Shake It Up: How to Identify Industries That are Ready for Disruption, Anna Johansson suggests looking for these three tell-tale signs.

Industry Complacency. When the existing companies in an industry stop innovating, stop caring and begin to take their customers for granted, it’s an indicator that the industry has become complacent.

Customer Frustration. Chronic customer frustration with no end in sight is another indicator. As customers continue to be dissatisfied with the performance of existing companies in an industry, they will “voice their opinions, tighten their wallets, and look for alternatives.”

Tension Points. More subtle than major pain points, tension points are those areas of customer dissatisfaction that, once an alternative solution is presented, will cause customers to move away from existing companies.

When big companies don’t care, opportunities open for entrepreneurs. In fact, this was a leading reason I co-founded Peak Demand. After working nearly 20 years for big companies in the electrical transmission and distribution products industry, I realized the industry had all the signs for disruption. Customers were frustrated with the performance of the existing big companies in the industry but had no place else to turn. Utility and OEM customers were looking for alternatives. They wanted a hassle-free way to buy high-quality products that could be delivered in days not weeks. They wanted on-line ordering system that were easy and reliable. Our team is filling those needs.

There are many industries that are ripe for disruption. Smart entrepreneurs can create viable alternatives to the industry giants and have an opportunity to change the industry landscape. Complacency, frustration and tension are tell-tale signs that an opportunity exists. Entrepreneurs that can identify and exploit these opportunities will be the winners.

What do you think? Are there other signs an industry is ripe for disruption? Can incumbent companies disrupt their own industries? What causes big companies to stop caring? Let me know your thoughts.

The Man in the Arena – 107 Years Later


107 years ago today, Theodore Roosevelt delivered a speech called “Citizenship In A Republic” at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France. In that speech, he included a section known as “The Man in the Arena.”

To this day, it remains my favorite Roosevelt speech because it reminds me of my time in the military and the years I spent improving manufacturing businesses. As a leader, I’ve always felt like the man in the arena and not the critic in the stands. Take a look and let me know what you think.

The Man in the Arena

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Six Reasons You Need to Hire a Veteran Today

USZ MarinesHiring is tough. Finding the right person who will make a great employee is one of the hardest jobs we do as leaders. We are searching for that rare individual who will come into our organization and make a difference quickly. If only there was an easier way. If only there was a pool of potential employees who were eager, motivated, intelligent, quick-to-learn, team-oriented, mission-focused, and proven under pressure.

The truth is, companies like Amazon, General Electric, Uber, Starbucks, General Motors, Toyota, Dow, Merck, and Wal-Mart, have found that pool. They have discovered something I’ve known for years; military veterans can get the job done and hiring veterans is good for business.

What these and many other highly successful companies have recognized is they are gaining higher quality employees by seeking out candidates with military experience. Veterans are bringing much needed experience, energy, and leadership to their organizations.

Amazon, for example, discovered military veterans are ideally suited for the high-paced, demanding work environment in their fulfillment centers. They found veterans, with their “leadership skills and problem-solving abilities,” were able to quickly make a difference in the performance of those centers. In fact, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has set a goal to hire 25,000 veterans and military spouses over the next five years. The company that is dominating retail knows veterans can improve their bottom-line.

These companies are validating exactly what I have observed over the past 20 years as a business leader. Hiring veterans is good for business. In my experience, military veterans are high value candidates who make outstanding employees. They possess numerous traits like loyalty, dependability, resilience, adaptability, integrity and discipline that are needed in the workplace. Their extensive training, leadership experiences, mission-focus and team-orientation allow them to add immediate impact to any organization.

So why aren’t more companies seeking out veterans? It’s simple. Most recruiters have both a lack of understanding as well as severe misconceptions about veterans. Hiring managers have a hard time understanding how military experience translates to the needed skills in the civilian workforce. Recruiters often don’t understand the work history and military terminology on the resumes of veterans, especially when they are looking for candidates with specific work experience at competitors. They simply overlook military veterans.

The other side of the problem is misconceptions. The knowledge gap among civilians about the military is significant. Companies often have grossly misinformed assumptions of what veterans are like based on popular culture. They assume veterans can’t work with women. They assume veterans will have PTSD. They assume veterans can only lead by barking orders or making people do push-ups. They assume veterans are rigid and can only be successful in a command-and-control environment and that veterans can’t think on their feet. These assumptions are flat-out wrong and jade the opinion of recruiters causing them to miss out on landing top-notch talent.

As a veteran myself, I don’t have these misconceptions. I have been hiring military veterans for over 20 years. In every case, these veterans have quickly become significant contributors to the success of my business. They are some of the best employees I have ever hired. In my experience, here are six reasons why veterans make outstanding employees:

Veterans know how to lead AND how to follow. Whether serving as a platoon leader, squad leader, junior officer, team leader, tank commander, or hundreds of other military leadership roles, veterans have deep experience leading people, often in tough conditions. Because the military grows its leaders in-house, veterans also know how to follow. The military is a mission-focused, team-oriented organization that requires precision. Following directions and guidance is critical to accomplishing the mission.

Veterans are high performers and results-focusedKirkland Murray, CEO of Anne Arundel Workforce Development says, “Veterans have a great work ethic; they take on challenges with a singular focus and can be counted on to show-up on time ready to work. Veterans aren’t wasteful; they have honed skills which give them the ability to work with limited available options.”

Veterans are good under pressure. The military provides unique, high-stress experiences where soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen must perform at a high level. Whether repairing a vehicle under fire, landing a damaged aircraft, or bringing a submarine to periscope depth in rough seas, veterans are trained to excel in tough situations.

Veterans know how to work as a team. From boot camp to combat, veterans have been trained to work as a team to complete the mission. Military veterans know each member of the team must do their job to perfection for the team to succeed. In the case of combat or dangerous exercises, failure to perform as a team can lead to serious consequences. Numerous employee studies point to the fact that veterans are excellent at teamwork. If you are looking to build an unstoppable team, veterans can provide an unselfish, team-oriented, mission-first mindset.

Veterans are quick to learn. As I recently wrote in an article called 10 Leadership Lessons I Learned Living on a Nuclear Submarine, the volume of information the military expects you to know is significant. Veterans understand the quicker you learn, the faster you get qualified and start making a difference. There is positive peer pressure in a military unit and nobody wants to be unqualified.

Veterans understand self-sacrifice. Many new hires are focused only on themselves, their careers, and what they can get from a company. Veterans know what it means to put their country, their mission, and their team ahead of themselves and their families. It is one of the core reasons for their success in teams and why they perform so well in civilian organizations. They are willing to fight for a cause that is greater than themselves.

As a leader, your job is to build a strong team of the best people which can accomplish big things. Military veterans bring unique attributes, skills, and experiences that will enhance any organization. They are loyal, dependable, hard-working employees who know how to lead, how to follow, and can get things done in tough circumstances. Successful companies like Amazon have recognized this and are seeking out veterans in large numbers. If your recruiting strategy does not include adding veterans to your team, you’re missing out on some of the best talent available.

If you are unsure of how to implement a veteran recruiting strategy, let me suggest one resource. The Foundation for Veteran Employment Transition Support (AKA Foundation for VETS) is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) public charity dedicated to helping veterans, employers, and the country by reducing and removing barriers to civilian employment. One of their programs, VETS Connect Employers (VCE), connects employers with high value military applicants. It is designed to facilitate access to veteran candidates. It is a free service for both the employer and the veteran.

Have you hired a veteran or do you work with one? What has that experience been like? Are there other attributes of veterans that I missed? Why do you think so many recruiters pass over veterans? Let me know your thoughts.

The Joy of Middle Management

21492542_mSo, you’ve finally made it to middle management. You’ve arrived at that magical place where you are responsible and accountable for the performance of a team but you still have limited authority and influence in your organization. Welcome to the Danger Zone!

Why is it so dangerous? Because, if you are not careful, this is where careers come to die. At least that’s the conclusion of Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman. In a 2014 Harvard Business Review article called Why Middle Managers Are So Unhappy, they discovered the unhappiest employees are, in fact, middle managers.

“Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right. Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.” ~ Gerry Rafferty and Joe Egan, Stealers Wheel

They looked at data from 320,000 of the most unengaged and uncommitted employees from a variety of organizations and focused on the bottom 5%. They wanted to understand the driving factors behind the most disgruntled employees. What they found were frustrated employees “stuck in the middle of everything.”

The most common profile for employees in the bottom 5% was:

  • They work as middle managers
  • They earned a college degree, but not a graduate degree
  • They have 5 to 10 years of tenure
  • They receive a good (as opposed to a superior or a terrible) performance rating

The truth is, it can be tough if you find yourself “stuck” in middle management. It can lead to frustration and disillusionment, but it doesn’t have to be this way. If you have made it to middle management, it’s because someone thinks you have what it takes to lead people and that’s one of the greatest honors bestowed upon any individual. So how do you avoid getting “stuck” in the middle?

Let me suggest five things you can do as a middle manager to avoid becoming an unengaged, uncommitted, unhappy employee:

Contentment. One of the biggest causes for frustration for middle managers is the desire to be promoted to the next job. I’ve seen many managers so focused on trying to get to their next position that they never actually do their current job. Be content. You’ve been asked to lead people, lead them well. Enjoy your time as a middle manager.

“If you want to be happy, do not dwell in the past, do not worry about the future, focus on living fully in the present.” ~ Roy T. Bennett

Excellence. While you are in middle management, be excellent in everything you do. Instead of focusing on your next job, set your sights on mastering this one. If you can build a reputation for performing at a high level with a smaller organization, you will likely be considered for larger role.

Education. Mastering your job means learning everything you can about being a valuable leader in your company. Use your time as a middle manager to continue to educate yourself. Read business books, take courses that will strengthen your weaknesses, complete an advanced degree, complete an industry certification, join industry groups, volunteer for challenging assignments, or find a mentor in your company to learn from. Most companies offer a variety of ways to continue your education. Take advantage of them all. The more you know, the more valuable you will be for your company.

Commitments. Become a trusted performer in your organization. Senior managers are looking for people who get things done. They are looking for leaders who do what they say they are going to do. Build a reputation for meeting your commitments and honoring your promises.

Exploration. Use your time in middle management to figure out where you get the most satisfaction out of your work. Is it executing a large project or landing a significant order? Is it leading a kaizen event or executing a new marketing strategy? Is it becoming a functional expert or focusing more on general management? Expose yourself to as many diverse opportunities as you can to learn what you enjoy doing. This will help prepare you for what you want to do in your next assignment.

Middle management doesn’t have to be a place where careers go to die. With the right attitude and focus, your time in middle management can be the best years of your work life. It’s a time where you can master the art of leading people, learn to perform at a high level, continue your education, build a reputation for meeting commitments, and explore what you enjoy doing. The key is to become a trusted and valuable asset to senior management. Does it mean that doing these things will get you promoted to the next level? Maybe or maybe not. What it will do is give you a lot more satisfaction in your job and keep you away from that bottom 5% of unengaged, uncommitted, unhappy employees.

What do think? Is it possible to avoid getting “stuck?” Are there other things that can be done to avoid the middle management trap? How much does your boss or company influence your ability to continue to grow? What options do you have if you find yourself stuck? Let me know your thoughts.

Author’s note: An earlier version of this article was published on jonsrennie.com and LinkedIn.com on January 20, 2015. It has been view over 115,000 times.

A leader is best when people barely know he exists

Leadership Lao Tzu

This is one of my favorite leadership quotes. The idea that a team would be so intrinsically motivated to complete a goal they forget where the objective actually came from.  To build and motivate a team to this level is difficult. To me, this is the definition of true leadership.

What do you think?