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Nancy Eberhardt is Chief Executive Officer and owner of Pathwise Partners LLC. She is an executive coach and leadership development consultant, assisting senior executives with achieving breakthrough results they are committed to causing in their organizations. She is an innovative and creative advisor who is focused on accelerating productivity and increasing profitability among the businesses she serves. She is a former regional bank president, who was responsible for growing a $1billion portfolio of customer relationships, both organically and through acquisitions.
MO: What’s the biggest risk that you’ve ever taken and how did it turn out?
Nancy: I was the head of Product Development and Distribution in a rapidly growing bank and had always worked in sales support, strategies for revenue generation and research and development, all back room staff positions. I was called into the office of the CEO, where he proceeded to tell me that they would like me to move to another market and head up the retail effort – 50 locations with 400 employees who spoke 26 different languages. I was unfamiliar with the market, most of our associates and all of the customers. I would be moving from a staff to a line position, from my days filled with long-term enterprise-wide growth strategies, to one of daily sales management, employee coaching and dozens of client interactions. It would mean moving my home and my office to do something I had never done before with people I had never worked with. My company and its CEO were very kind – they said it was really my choice. If I wanted to continue to grow in the area of my expertise, I was able to remain and follow that career path.
I took the move to the radically different job in an unknown market. Within three years we had accomplished the key goals we had in that market, contributing substantially to our company becoming one of the most profitable in our industry and one of the hottest targets for acquisition.
MO: Can you talk a bit about your customized services and how they help clients to accelerate results, clarify purpose, and achieve goals?
Nancy: In the moment that I was offered this job as regional president for the bank, I realized that while I had been a university professor, a researcher, a product developer and marketer, my real skill had been was getting results through others. And in this new job, as well as the real estate developer work and the coaching and consulting work that has followed, it is all about leading well. Leading well is the main skill when we don’t have time, when we are doing things we have never done, when our world and markets have changed, when everything is in constant transition. So, my firm does work with entrepreneurs, boards of directors and family-owned and private businesses to identify their next steps and help them focused on what matters most for their success.
One particular strength of our work is creating more candid conversations among leaders to gain velocity in their results and relationships. We find many business leaders, their boards and their partners and associates are often not being as direct as possible to engage all these bright minds to make the best decisions and take the best actions for the company. Lack of candor often also results in strained or at best superficial relationships in organizations, resulting in a lack of clarity and unproductive thinking and actions. Clients frequently remark that we always tell them the truth.
MO: What are some of the most common mistakes that see small businesses make and how can they be avoided?
Nancy: I would say two related items are most common and not difficult to address:
Many small and private businesses are led by people who are driven by new ideas, and what they can learn today for the betterment of the business. All of these are great strengths and are to be valued and celebrated. As with other strengths, they can also be our weakness. Because these owners/founders are driven by greater understanding and new learning, some may be distracted by every new idea and attracted by every new consultant’s and advisor’s thinking on what they need to do next. Often the main thing to do for success in small companies is to identify the 1-3 (no more!) actions they must do in the next near horizon of time and then, no kidding, do them.
#2. Stick to your highest and best use
Because many business leaders are very smart, accomplished and naturally curious people, there is not much we can’t do, or don’t enjoy doing. That doesn’t mean we should do it. Just because their talents permit them to crowd source a logo, assist a colleague with a technology glitch on his system, close a deal, or fill-in for their assistant on maternity leave, (all real examples) does not mean that is where the leaders should spend their time. The C-suite and their boards should be focused on those jobs that only they can do – often duties more in line with setting strategy. meeting capital needs, finding the right key hires and partners to grow the business and ensuring that sales and operations managers are driving results.
MO: You’re in the process of publishing “Uncommon Candor: Building Leadership and Velocity in Organizations” in early 2013. Can you talk a bit about the inspiration behind the book, your creative process and what you hope the average reader walks away with?
Nancy: For a lifetime of working in organizations, I have been asking leaders, managers, and boards of directors: “What is it you want?”, “If you could wave a magic wand what would you wish for?” and “What would you like in your company and among your colleagues that you don’t have now?”
Consistently, I hear these three responses:
1. Faster, better results.
2. Enhanced connections (communications/teamwork/relationships) with clients, boards, investors, management or associates.
3. People telling the truth – to me, about me, about what needs changing in the organization, etc.
The first two items seem obvious. The third one, “people telling the truth” warrants more clarification. Exploration with these leaders generated the following questions they want answers to daily:
• What is really going on in that division?
• What matters most to my board/employees/senior management (fill in the blank with the group of your choice)?
• What is broken and what are your suggestions for fixing it?
• Why are you upset about the changes?
• Why are desired results not happening?
• Am I delivering on your expectations?
• Why are you not delivering on my expectations?
Oh, and one more thing, these leaders want the unvarnished truth. Not wrapped in nice words or softened. Many report that a direct, forthright conversation would be a breath of fresh air in the workplace and at home.
So, I have launched a blog called Uncommon Candor (and am working on a book scheduled for 2013) to explore stories of when frank discussions accelerate results and deepen relationships for organizations, individuals and groups. I am highlighting successful leaders from a diverse range of disciplines who reveal how forthright conversation has made a positive difference.
MO: What advice would you give to the management team of a company undergoing a merger where many of the employees are anxious about the possibility of losing their job or having to relocate? What are some ways that organizations can make this kind of transition easier for its staff?
Nancy: First, it is extremely helpful to enlist the leadership of both the acquiring and acquired companies to agree to a code of standards for the transition, as part of the deal. Most company integrations fail to succeed because the cultures of the organizations are so different. Hopefully, if an objective of the merger is to retain clients and key employees, then a major part of the due diligence has been the culture match. If the culture match is good, then a code of standards for the transition will likely help everyone envision a good launch to the merger. This code of transition should include things like:
- Tell the truth about the changes. To say “nothing will change” just makes you look uninformed, not to be trusted or delusional. If there are details that are not worked out, say that and then tell the affected employees when you expect to know. If you don’t know, say you don’t know.
- Build a resulting company that takes the best of both cultures and operating principles.
- Remember that stating the reasons for doing the merger (synergies and cost savings, increased market share) provide helpful information for the investors and some employees and customers. For most employees and customers the best thing you can do it tell them how this will affect them, or when you will know.
- Treat employees and customers as the fine people they are. We all appreciate the respect and honor managers bestow when providing the facts with clarity and speed.
MO: What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for you personally or professionally?
Nancy: I am combining my love of travel, professional development, growing my business and causing more conversation in organizational candor. As a Gazelles coach, I will meet with 60 coaches from around the world and over 500 entrepreneurs in Phoenix this October at the Fortune Growth Summit. I am writing furiously on Uncommon Candor: Building Leadership and Velocity in Organizations to meet my deadline of early 2013. And, to meet my restorative needs, my next pleasure travel is to the Galapagos.