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Is Your Company Truly Winning?

By AICC Staff

April 6, 2016

Failure to plan means planning to fail” is a centuries-old business motto. However, many companies have discovered that a plan, in itself, doesn’t get you very far.

Each year, businesses plan to sell more, earn more, satisfy customers better, and boost employee morale. Yet most plans are little more than hopes based on incremental improvements to past performance, with no specific guidelines in place for reaching them. Without actionable specifics, it is easy to become sidetracked by the challenges of managing day-to-day business. In the end, long-term goals get set aside, even forgotten. Another year’s plan gathers dust on the shelf.

No business wants to operate like this. No one wants to “plan to fail.” If anything, you want to plan to win. To do that, businesses not only need specific goals, they need specific steps for achieving those goals, companywide commitment, and accountability.

AICC understands that. That is why the association recently teamed up with consultant and author Holly Green to offer members “Ready, Aim… Win!”—an intensive, yearlong program that empowers companies to focus on success—winning, to use Green’s term—in today’s fast-moving, highly competitive marketplace.

‘Ready, Aim… Win!’

As CEO and managing director of The Human Factor, Inc., Green has established herself as a leader in helping business leaders and their companies understand what winning looks like and create a quantifiable plan for success.

“I work so much with strategic planning,” Green says, “and I was finding that the traditional ways just don’t apply in today’s world. People used to plan five, 10 years out. But we can’t begin to imagine what the world will be like in 10 years. So, I started researching and developing programs that would address the current situation. Because I have a background in neurophysiology, my approach was to ask, ‘How does the brain function in a work environment?’ That got me playing around with new approaches to strategic planning, which I now call strategic agility. I’m constantly trying to make sure the things we’re doing to help people be successful actually work in this changing world.” Green began putting these concepts to work for clients six years ago. Ready, Aim… Win! represents the latest approach, tailored to the unique needs of independents in the packaging industry.

“The underlying concept of the ‘Ready, Aim… Win!’ process is that success can happen only when every single employee knows the company’s values and goals and is committed to them—and everyone is held accountable.”

“Five years ago, American Packaging merged with a paper company,” says American Packaging President Tony Schleich. “It’s been a great relationship. But after going through a merger like that, we lost our way a little bit. That’s not anyone’s fault but mine. I wasn’t constantly reminding employees that we’re still American Packaging; we haven’t changed who we are. Ready, Aim… Win! has reignited that. Before, we never had a mission statement on the wall or circulated one. But now it’s all over the place. It’s in our face. And we’re talking about it.”

For Kim Nelson, president of Royal Containers, complacency was the issue that led her to invest in Ready, Aim… Win!

“I heard about it at the AICC spring meeting in 2015,” she recalls. “Holly spoke at a general session meeting, then she led a small workshop where she described her program. At the time, it was ‘business as usual’ at Royal Containers. We weren’t looking to make changes. So I didn’t think there was any compelling reason for us to get involved. Our growth was low, but I wasn’t overly concerned because of where the economy and the market were. But as Holly was speaking, it hit me that my complacency was a compelling reason to change. I was too comfortable.”

Greg Tucker, CEO of Bay Cities, has spent the last three years working with Green to develop and implement a customized version of Ready, Aim… Win! He believes complacency is the leading threat to independent converters today, who should, by definition, be agile and entrepreneurial in their approach. “There’s this temptation to sit back and trust, say, that your top five accounts will always be there. But if the top two accounts move to another state, go bankrupt, or get bought, then you’ve got three top accounts. And then you start drowning.”

“Being great is hard work. But most people are already working hard. So why not work hard at being great?” — Holly Green

Tucker credits Green’s approach for helping him keep Bay Cities’ head above water—and focused on their goals—in 2015, when several major accounts simply vanished. “Our goal was to grow by $12 million last year,” he says. “But then we lost about $12 million in business, including one $3.5 million account. There was nothing we could do about it. Yet, because we were focused on our destination model, we were able to pick up $14 million of business! That enabled us to move the business like a snake. We got set back, but the process we had in place enabled us to adapt to a new environment.”

Culture Shift

The underlying concept of the Ready, Aim… Win! process is that success can happen only when every single employee knows the company’s values and goals and is committed to them—and everyone is held accountable. It requires constant and clear communication, frequent meetings at every staff level, and a serious commitment of time and energy on the part of presidents/CEOs and managers over the course of a year. That time and energy is concentrated on receiving master coaching from Holly Green (and her associates) and putting that coaching into constant, daily practice, for which Green holds leaders accountable.

Specifically, over the course of the year, you will create a destination model for your business and develop specific, measureable steps for getting there. In addition, according to the Ready, Aim… Win! literature, “You’ll explore how and why you and others think the way they do at work and how you can leverage all the brains in your organization to win. You’ll determine the key areas of focus for your organization and how to keep everyone on track. You will practice giving feedback and enable accountability throughout your organization.”

All of this is done through the guidance of at least six webinars, ongoing conference calls, personal coaching, workbooks, in-person meetings with Green, online surveys, assessments, and email check-ins. Internally, regular team meetings are required for managers/leaders—which may occur as often as biweekly—as well as regularly scheduled one-on-ones with every employee. The result is an approach to strategic planning that focuses not on long-range hopes, but on a series of short-term goals that are clearly defined and for which the entire company is held responsible.

“Holly’s approach is to focus on taking little steps,” notes Schleich, “making certain along the way that you know who you are and where you’re going. We’re constantly checking in to make sure we’re moving toward those goals.” Short-range goals accompanied by constant assessments mean companies are not locked into a year-old strategy should the marketplace shift. Yet because every goal is based on serving a long-term mission statement as well as enhancing an agreed-upon corporate culture, small adjustments can happen quickly without requiring leaders to take their eyes off of the big picture. “It’s a more intensely focused process than anything I’ve ever been involved in,” Schleich says, echoing the sentiments of most participants.

“When it started, the time commitment was maybe more than we had anticipated,” admits Tonya Kowa-Morelli, president of Huston Patterson, a commercial printer. “But we really wanted to reap the benefits, so we took it seriously and put a lot of time into it.”

Depending on the company, the result of the Ready, Aim… Win! process is likely to be a complete corporate culture shift that is both rewarding and challenging.

“Changing people’s mindset has been our biggest challenge,” Kowa-Morelli says. “When you’ve been in business for so long, and so many employees have done the same thing for their entire career, changing the mindset to do something different has probably been our biggest struggle.”

“We think we’re so open to change, but we really aren’t,” Nelson says. “It’s difficult to change daily routines—how we speak to one another, how we recognize or don’t recognize employees, how we speak on the phone, our body language. It’s way more difficult than any of us realized. We’re practicing it, we’re embracing it, but it’s a challenge against the natural instinct.

“Maybe our biggest challenge, though, is accountability,” she adds. “When employees are doing even subtle things that go against our values, we have to address them immediately, which is a challenge. A sales rep might come into the office and say openly, ‘These new goals are ridiculous. Why are we doing this?’—undermining what the company’s trying to do. Employees might say, ‘Oh, what are we trying this year?’ You can’t ignore that. Every time we hear things like that, we have to address it.”

Green herself acknowledges that there are going to be frustrations along the way. “Being great is hard work. But most people are already working hard. So why not work hard at being great?”

What Winning Looks Like

Part of the hard work that goes into Ready, Aim… Win! involves simply nailing down what “winning” means for a given company.

“People are stunned by how hard it is to get really clear on winning,” Green points out. “Most don’t have a way to specifically define it.”

“Winning sounds easy,” says Nelson, “but figuring it out was actually hard. We had to take a lot of time writing down our goals and then getting everyone to understand that this is what winning looks like for Royal Containers.”

At Huston Patterson, Kowa-Morelli says, “Winning is staying ahead of everyone else and being the most sought-after package printer in the United States.” But it goes further than that. “For us, winning also means we’re really focused on our employees, on creating an environment where people want to come to work every day, and where we’re making our values and expectations known.”

Schleich agrees. “At American Packaging, winning goes beyond just hitting a metric. We’ve learned that it’s also very important that you’re checking into the intangible side: valuing people and managing the work-life balance that we’ve identified as a value here. Yes, we have a job to do. But if your kid has a ballgame, that’s important, too. We make sure we’re winning with our employees, too.

“You can see the difference it makes. When you have happy employees, efficiency improves. If you take care of the people, the numbers start to take care of themselves.”

Of course, it is possible that, despite every effort, a winning-focused company will fall short of expectations at the end of its first year with the program.

“Sometimes we don’t hit all the numbers or achieve all the goals,” Green admits. “However, focusing on winning likely means you did much better than if you had not had a focused plan to begin with. Even elite athletes and military teams sometimes don’t achieve the complete mission. They regroup, refocus, and go after it again. Winners know that being the best requires constant practice and persistence.”

Tucker goes even further: “I honestly don’t believe you can change your culture in one year. You have to look at it as an ongoing process, not a one-year program.”

Ready to Win?

Is Ready, Aim… Win! the transformative approach for your company? “We have a core set of questions to help people decide that for themselves,” Green says. “One that I talk a lot about is, ‘Are you performing as an elite team, or are you just playing hard not to lose?’ Because there are significant differences between the two. I also ask, ‘Is everyone in your organization crystal clear on what winning looks like? Does everyone understand your strategic goals?’

“My perfect client is a company and a group of leaders who know they can be even more incredible, but just don’t know how to do it.”

“If you’re at any type of turning point, and you’re willing to put in the time and money to be successful, then I think it’s worth it,” says Kowa-Morelli. Tucker agrees: “I recommend this strongly to anyone and everyone who wants to transform their company.”

“I would absolutely recommend it,” Nelson adds. “I think it’s something that especially works well with an entrepreneurial-spirited company.”

Finally, Schleich suggests, “If you’re wondering whether you should do this, I’d encourage a little introspection to really understand where you’re at, where you want to go, and whether you can give up who you are. If you can check your ego at the door, if you can set that aside for a while and just listen, some pretty remarkable things will happen.”

PortraitRobert Bittner is a Michigan-based freelance writer. He is a frequent contributor to BoxScore.