Every month I log in for a zoom meeting with the board of a growing company and we kick it off with hot topics – these are things that pop up in between meetings that we want to chat about first. Today’s super-hot topic, our client is asking us to expand rapidly for outside of our comfort zone…do we do it?
The tone of the conversation was a shade ominous with lots of short bursts of random statements – “this client could consume the whole company, who has the time to lead this opportunity, it’s different than our other clients, they really want us to do a lot more for them, this may be too big for us”.
After a few minutes of watching fear bubble up, uncertainty take hold and doubt begin to defeat the team, I jumped in with a long positive statement – “Congratulations, this is the opportunity we have been working towards for the last three years. Your strategic direction has taken root. Your hard work has paid off. This new client appreciates your superior service levels. You have the opportunity to double the size of your company in under two years. My recommendation is that Susan, as CEO, this is your client to lead and be the executive sponsor, and let’s put our best people on this project. Once again, congratulations.”
I find that in these types of situations of extreme growth, fear, uncertainty and doubt creep into nearly every room in the world, and quite often these feelings curl up like a sleeping baby in board rooms across the globe. On the biggest of stages, the board room, comes the biggest of fears. CXOs are not immune. Board rooms are where decisions are made that separate Netflix from Blockbuster, Zoom from Skype, Amazon from Sears. If we choose the path of Netflix, Zoom and Amazon, then we must learn to channel fear into motivation, doubt into possibility and uncertainty into understanding.
After the initial hot topics, we re-purposed the next hour of the board agenda to focus on our new client, WorldPharmaceuticals and to seek to understand the opportunity. We took a systematic approach to problem solving to develop a plan for seizing this opportunity. We asked and answered a few key questions.
- Who is the client?
- WorldPharmaceuticals was one of the nation’s largest distributors of medicine with reach into virtually every city and town across the country.
2. What is the opportunity?
- To become their local “on-the-ground” partner in 5 states. WorldPharmaceuticals had determined they wanted to outsource part of their supply chain to local vendors.
3. What is unique about us?
- We had tremendous local knowledge in 5 states that we had been doing business for nearly 50 years. We serviced nearly 20 industries, so we had become very flexible and nimble to different client requirements. We care so much about clients, that we really deliver superior service levels. So in short, local knowledge, flexibility and service.
4. Who will lead?
- Susan, the CEO, now willingly jumped in and said she would.
5. Who is on the team?
- We started from the client to the back office – we need a relationship manager to manage the client, we need an operations leader to deliver the work, we need a recruiter to hire the additional team members, we need a marketing person to put our communications together. And most importantly, we needed our best person in each category.
6. What are next steps?
- We outlined the next three actions – pricing model, proposal and pilot.
Within 6 months of the launch of WorldPharmceuticals, we had become their preferred partner in 3 states and were well on our way to increasing that number to all 5 states. And who knows, with the momentum that is building, maybe in a few months I will ask the company’s leadership team what their thoughts are on national expansion. That will certainly create some healthy dialogue, perhaps a jolt of fear, but I am confident with the momentum that is building, the team will see the world of opportunities in front of them and seize the moment.
Whether it be a text, phone call, meeting or zoom, I continue to be delighted watching fear get beaten, and fearless leadership be developed. It’s human nature to see obstacles, speed bumps and challenges, and so often the difference between first place and no place is simply one leader overcoming their own human nature and digging deeper to understand the situation and realize it is only a speed bump and not a mountain. Seeking to understand in a simple systems way brings calm to most situations. As questions are brought to the surface, groups start to realize how many of the answers they have which in turn breeds confidence. As confidence grows, momentum begins to build and that is where the magic starts to happen.