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By: Stephan Spencer

Introduction

Business is a game, and any game you want to win needs a scoreboard. But what are you keeping score of? That, dear listener, is a really important question.

Once you’ve identified your company’s most critical metric, that most important number, you can align everyone to it and everyone will be on the same page. This will then guide future decision making and bring about accountability.

Lee Benson
“There’s no end to how well you can improve alignment, decisions, and accountability.”
Lee Benson

Joining me on today’s show is Lee Benson, the founder and CEO of Execute to Win, or ETW. He’ll be sharing his MIND Methodology. MIND is an acronym which stands for Most Important Number and Drivers. It’s a simple, sustainable system that improves a business results through better alignment, decision making, and accountability. And you’re about to learn all about it!

If you want to accelerate your company’s growth, then this episode is for you!

In this Episode

  • [00:09]Stephan introduces his next guest, Lee Benson, founder and CEO of Execute to Win (ETW), who helps organizations improve results through better alignment, decisions and accountability.
  • [01:25]Stephan wants to know Lee’s origin story of building a successful and large business and pivoting at some point to what he is doing now.
  • [03:32]Lee shares the scope and benefits of his MIND methodology for growing and selling a business.
  • [07:02]Stephan wants to hear the difference between Execute to Win and Entrepreneurial Operating System.
  • [12:54]Lee says that with the MIND Methodology, there is a number for the company so that it could be cash flow and profit.
  • [19:15]Lee emphasizes that the most important number in any organization is cash flow and gives examples.
  • [20:41]Lee discusses Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA).
  • [25:09]Stephan is curious to hear stories and hindsight about metaphorical getting hit by a bus moment.
  • [28:41]Stephan wants some advice from Lee about future-proofing business by having enough capital available so that you can seize opportunities.
  • [30:30]Lee discusses the importance of pouring everything into proving what will have scalable traction before you do other steps.
  • [34:45]Stephan asks Lee for examples of an incredible pedigree team, which turns out to be a spectacular failure.
  • [35:59]Lee answers the things that drive him to build, grow and sell a business with consistent excitement.
  • [38:19]Stephan wants Lee to elaborate on spiritual impact and being that positive from a spiritual standpoint.
  • [40:41]Lee and Stephan discuss culture and culture of accountability.
  • [46:23]Check out Lee Benson’s website to know more and work with him. For more information about Mind Methodology and the entire ETW, visit etw.com and download the high-level mind methodology playbook.

Jump to Links and Resources

Transcript

Lee, it’s so great to have you on the show. 

It’s great to be here. Thank you. 

I would love to start hearing a bit about your origin story because you’ve built a really successful, pretty large business, and then you ended up pivoting at some point to what you’re doing now. I’d love to hear what that trajectory involved. 

Sure. My first business actually was in the ’80s. I was in a rock and roll band so I employed a sound crew, light crew. We had a manager booking us constantly. We played over 300 nights a year in different clubs. A lot of originals but also covers that paid the bills. It was a full-blown business if you will.

From there, I had the opportunity from the early ’90s to buy this small electroplating shop that was servicing aerospace companies. I took that thing from three employees and I bought it for just its debt—it was about $600,000 in debt—assumed the debt personally, and then grew that to a pretty big global aerospace aftermarket business. We repaired and overhauled manufacturer aircraft parts for about 2000 customers in 60 countries around the world. 

I think the biggest challenge for any business out there is how do you get everybody fully aligned, organized, and going in the same direction.

Along the way, I think the biggest challenge for any business out there is how do you get everybody fully aligned, organized, and going in the same direction. So many different gurus and leaders will talk about this out there. Really easy to say, super hard to do. Like how do you get everybody fully aligned around the work they can do to improve what’s most important, how do they make the best decisions about doing the right work at the right time and at the right order, then how do you build that culture of accountability where everybody’s doing what they said they would when they said they would, and then just strengthening that over time. 

My experience is there is no end to how well you can do that. My first business was a band, but I’m on my seventh company now and I started from scratch. All the way along, I just see there’s no end to how well you can improve alignment, decisions and accountability.

So you ended up creating a methodology for growing and eventually selling a business. What would be the before and after examples that you can share, maybe give some numbers to it and allow our listeners to understand a bit more about the scope and the benefits?

It’s a really big question. I remember getting to 50 employees and thinking wow, this is great. I’m having a lot of fun, but I’m working 80 hours a week or more and I’m doing this years on end. There has to be a better way. Over time, I got much better at aligning all the employees to quality cost, delivery, safety, whatever the metrics were. What I realize is that the right leader can make just about anything work. 

I remember fast-forward to about 2011, I had two or three dozen of my CEO friends and different peer advisors group say, “We want your results because we’re knocking it out of the park and we’re growing really fast.” I said, “Sure, I’ll show you what we are doing.” They came in and I walked them through and they said, “We want to do this.” Great. I met with their leadership teams, and I even had a software company at the time so they can use our software, this is how we’re aligning the employees, this is what we’re doing. 

After a couple of years, there were two left standing still doing it but not nearly as well as they should have. The ones where it didn’t work, they didn’t say it was the process. They felt bad. They didn’t have the drive, the initiative to keep this thing going. It just takes a lot of discipline. That’s where I realized the right leader can make anything work with that person in the room, it always works. 

There's no end to how well you can improve alignment, decisions, and accountability. Click To Tweet

Every time you read a book—could be a book that Jack Welch wrote, or any star out there that got amazing results—the reason they got the results is because it was that leader that was doing it. I said, “On this journey, if this works for me, that won’t work for everybody else because they don’t seem to have the discipline and drive to do it, what will work for 80% of teams even when a star isn’t in the room?”

That’s where I set out on this journey to figure out what is the solution for that. I believe with the MIND Methodology, we’ve actually come up with it. Most operating systems and there are a lot of popular ones out there, I applaud any honest effort to improve or accelerate the value that organization creates, whether you use scaling up, or 40X, or OKRs, or EOS, or any of the popular operating systems out there.

The challenge with most of them, when a star isn’t in the room, they make process more important than what is most important. I met with a gentleman that has about 25 companies in his portfolio, a pretty wealthy private investor, and he just said, it’s interesting. We use a lot of those different operating systems. 

What ends up happening is everybody in the company is winning, but the company isn’t going anywhere because they made it about the process and setting goals a certain way that they were assured that they would look good with their goals, but it didn’t really for the company. 

That’s where the MIND methodology came from. How do we get everybody making decisions and taking actions 100% designed to improve what’s most important for the organization?

The Great Game of Business by Jack Stack and Bo Burlingham

You mentioned a number of these operating systems or methodologies that compete with Execute to Win. Several of the folks that you’ve mentioned, their methodologies have been guests on this podcast. I want to just bring one example forward and I’d love to hear—kind of a compare and contrast, not to throw anybody under the bus—so that we can, as the outsider, understand a bit more about EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) and how it differs from Execute to Win.

For example, I can’t give the name of the organization, but it’s one that we both know. I didn’t get permission to share the name, but they switched from EOS to ETW this year. That really piqued my interest because I think very highly of this organization and I was curious to hear why they did that. Maybe from your perspective, which I know is biased but it’s a very informed perspective, I’d love to hear what are the differences and why ETW over EOS?

I would say our competition—I think this is true for EOS if you want to use this example—is any honest effort to accelerate the value organization creates. EOS can work. They all can work if a star is in the room driving it making the decisions. 

Again, I don’t feel like I’m biased here. I love everybody going after trying to improve how organizations perform. I’m really fascinated by all of this and I believe I’m a real student of it. But one of the fundamental challenges with most operating systems is they use some form of traditional goal setting.

We’ll say, at the top we want to make X amount of profit, or if you’re a nonprofit, it could be having a certain amount of impact on the world because we exist. Then we want to cascade that down all the way to the front line, so everybody creates goals that’s going to be in support of that. 

Traditional goal setting has a really hard time standing the test of time. I’ve audited hundreds and hundreds of organizations and their goals. As you start going from the top and getting closer to the front line, I’ve never seen a case where even 10% of the total goals were really thoughtful goals that made a lot of sense to support what’s going on at the top. That’s the challenge with it. 

Every quarter come up with one or three goals that’s going to move the needle and then get it approved by your manager. Rinse and repeat. Think about how that feels for everybody after six months, a year, five years going through it. Really painful. Most of them don’t understand it. EOS is at least a little bit easier to get your head around than something like OKRs. 

I think one of the biggest fundamental challenges is traditional goal setting.

I see a lot of leaders, they get really excited about the concepts, the objectives, and key results, and this is how it works. But ask anybody else as you go down through the organization exactly what does that mean and how does it all thread together and you don’t get very good answers. I think one of the biggest fundamental challenges is traditional goal setting. 

When we go over the MIND (Most Important Number Drivers) Methodology, I believe teams like to work as a team. If we’re playing a football game, there’s the score, we know whether we’re winning or losing the game, there are tons of other measures that we’ll look at, that will lead up to it, but there’s no question as to whether we’re winning or losing and everybody’s focused on that number. 

With the MIND Methodology, the top of the organization will come up with a most important number. Could be net positive cash flow, could be net profit, whatever you call that. Then as you go down towards the front line, every senior leader will have a team. It could be HR, finance, supply chain, operations, et cetera. Each of those teams will actually come up with a most important number above all others that says we’re creating the value we were designed to create, and tells us again above all others whether we’re winning or losing the game. 

We might measure 15 or 20 other things because they’re important. They all lead to improving that number but we all agreed that’s the number and we’re focused on improving it. The team comes up with it and then the team comes up with categories of work that they should be really good at in order to improve that number. Then they rank how good they are today at it and then they constantly take actions around certain of these categories, which I’ll call drivers, constantly taking actions there to improve how well they leverage it to improve their most important number. 

Now you created a team sport. You’ve helped them do something they already want to do. You’ve made them feel successful because it actually works really well and now it’s a team sport. Everybody isn’t constantly setting a bunch of individual goals, the team gets together, there’s a number, we’re going after it, we’re hitting it. Definitely making it easy with the software that we put together to help them organize all of it. 

I think that’s one of the other challenges and I’ve heard this with EOS clients maintaining all of this stuff. If you’ve got to just working well with a senior team, that’s one thing. They’re maintaining it in Google Docs and Microsoft documents and it’s all over the place. It’s in emails and Slack, it’s everywhere. As you start to cascade it down, it’s hard enough to hold it together at the top. It becomes virtually impossible from a discipline standpoint to keep this thing going. 

The MIND Methodology really makes it a team sport and doesn’t allow for people to run off and make decisions to do things that don’t improve what’s most important.

When the leader isn't in the room, they make the process more important than what is most important. Click To Tweet

This is something I’m not quite clear about, because I have not implemented the MIND Methodology in my own business yet, but is that most important number a companywide single number? Or does each department have their own most important number that they have identified as the needle that they can most move being in that department? 

It seems like there are some overarching numbers that give visibility to the entire company on whether the company is being successful or not. I’m thinking of the term Open-Book Management and The Great Game of Business, a book by Jack Stack where he popularizes that methodology or approach. 

I remember they had a number that was on a big billboard or LED display or something that was on the shop floor. It was everywhere that everyone could see from the janitor all the way up. That number, I think, was maybe the number of remanufactured engines or machines or something that they had to build that month in order to hit profitability, something like that. He took that company, turned it around, made it hugely successful, and came up with the whole methodology and everything in this process.

That was a company-wide number. I’m not sure if what you’re proposing is a company-wide number, or it’s a departmental number, or team-based number and there are of course different teams inside of an organization. How does that work?

I believe Springfield Renew Center was the name of the company in the book. It’s been a while since I’ve read it. There was a number for the company at the top, and every team would have a number as well as you went through it. He made it really granular as he went through. With the MIND Methodology, there is a number for the company, so it could be cash flow and profit. Let’s just stay in the for-profit world for this example. 

Then if you go down, every other team below the senior team that has that one number for the overall organization, they will come up with their own number and most of the time is different from the number of the top. If you were to say HR, finance, or supply chain, what would be their most important number? As you went to teams that were continually cascading to the frontline from there, what would their most important number be?

Having less money makes you way smarter and faster. You’ll do things without really thinking it through when you have the money.

For HR what would that number be? My favorite number for HR and this is assuming you’ve got 50 or more employees. Our clients range from four employees to 40,000 employees and we map these most important numbers from the top all the way to the frontline. Within seconds, you can see what their number is, the work they’re doing to improve it, the decisions that they’re making, and all of it. And it all maps together. 

For HR, my favorite most important number is percent seats filled with capable people. If you have 100 employees, 10 seats are vacant, and 10 seats have people in it that aren’t achieving the outcome-based responsibilities they signed up for, then you’re running at 80%. 

It’s interesting to listen to departments come up with initial most important number guesses. HR would say retention. Okay, let’s keep everybody forever and we’ll have a company with 50% or 60% of the folks that shouldn’t be here and our competitors will run us over. Coming up with that ideal most important number for each of the teams is really important, and they have to go through that process of coming up with it. 

If I went to finance, I would argue that their most important number most of the time would be net positive cash flow because their job is to provide information to everybody in the organization to help them make better decisions to drive profitability, cash flow, and improve that. 

Most of the time, senior leaders in finance will have these amazing reports that go out to everybody. The first thing I’ll do when we work with a new client—and the CFO be really proud of these amazing reports that nobody understands—I go talk to all the senior leaders and then I talk to each of the other leaders throughout the organization within reason and ask them how are you using that information to make better decisions to improve profitability and/or cash flow? 

Every single team has a most important number, even the teams that will often say we’re different.

Most of the time, they don’t have anything. That’s a pretty epic failure for the finance department. Their job is to have these discussions with leaders to help them discover what the numbers are that will allow them to make better decisions to drive that kind of stuff. 

Every single team has a most important number, even the teams that will often say we’re different. We can’t have one number. You might have 50 numbers, but there is one that says above all others. You are winning or losing the game, and if you were to put all of your family’s retirement money into it, you would be comfortable knowing you’re getting a return or not.

This makes me think about how I learned there are really two ways that a business can go out of business. One is the heart attack and the other is the slow death, essentially a cancer. Running a business that has (let’s say) not enough cash in the bank so not enough net positive cash flow is the heart attack, and profitability being not where it should be, that’s the slow death, that’s the cancer. 

If you run a business where it’s profitable but you have these swings in cash flow, you don’t have enough money to pay your team, they get nervous and they leave. That’s the end. That’s something that stuck with me. 

I don’t want my business to die of a surprise heart attack so I’ve got to watch the cash flow, but I also need to watch the profitability of the business, and they’re pretty different from each other. Profit (I think) is something that is given way too much attention in comparison to cash flow. I’m curious if that’s also your take on it?

I think the most important number in any organization—probably any organization even the nonprofit side—is cash flow. If you can’t payroll and pay your bills, you’ve got a real problem. You have to think about the type of business. 

I think the most important number in any organization—probably any organization even the nonprofit side—is cash flow.

When I was in the aerospace business, it was wildly capital-intensive. Tens of millions of dollars in new equipment we’re buying each year, and inventory supporting aircraft systems globally. Had inventory actually prepositioned all over the planet. There was a lot of money tied up in it and that’s cash, so it would be really easy in that scenario for us to be wildly profitable and then go out of business because there was no cash to pay for any of it. You really have to watch it. 

In a pure service business and let’s just say a consulting business, your net profit pretty much follows cash flow going through. It just depends are you capital intensive? Yes or no, and you have to watch it. Cash flow (I think) is the only number that can’t be gained and if you run out, you’re in big trouble. 

If you go to sell the company, often EBITDA is what you would be going after, so we want to optimize that as we go forward, too. I’ve got a number of friends that optimized EBITDA but they had so much debt when they sold the company. Once you satisfy the debt, there wasn’t a whole lot of money left over for the founders to get that reward.

For our listeners who are unfamiliar with the term EBITDA, can you describe that?

Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization.

That’s the number that you take a multiple of and that’s what the company’s worth if you go to sell it typically, right?

Yeah, and every industry is different. If you had a million dollars in EBITDA, it could be eight times that, it could be 12 times that. My biggest sale was north of 20 times that number which is awesome.

That’s another (I think) great point. If someday you’re positioning the organization to sell, what are the conditions that will cause the highest multiple of EBITDA or whatever that number is that you’re going to be selling it based on. When I sold my aerospace company—actually combined three into one and sold it—we were positioned incredibly well, great leadership team, strong record of growth, positioned to grow into the future, could leverage the strategic buyers channels, all of that, how well are your runs? 

We’re talking about getting optimized, organized, with some kind of an operating system that’s intentional, the better you can demonstrate that the higher the multiple. At the time that I sold the aerospace company, most strong aerospace companies that were in the aftermarket similar in size to us, we’re getting maybe an 8X multiple and we went way above and beyond that. I would say it’s because of the operating system that we had and how that positioned us for future success. 

The MIND Methodology is a team sport. It doesn't allow your team to run off and make decisions to do things that don't improve what's most important. Click To Tweet

An equally good, if not better, option for me at the time would have been keeping the company. I own a majority stock and I controlled all of it. If anybody were to leave the company, they’d have to sell it back to the company. A lot of the folks wanted to get an exit and I said great, we’ll do this. Then I’m going to go this other direction, which I’m really fascinated by, which is Execute to Win or ETW right now.

There’s a methodology called Value Builder by John Warrillow. He’s the author of Built to Sell. He was a guest a while back on this podcast. The metrics and drivers that grow the value of the business, allowing it to sell for a higher multiple and for ultimately a much bigger number is the basis for his system. I’m curious how does a system like that compare to an everyday kind of I just need to grow and scale the business whether I decide to sell it or to hand it over to my kid someday or whatever?

I think the goal should be and I think it’s great that there are people doing the work that you’re describing out there. It’s so important and so many people miss it. But I think at any point in time, we should be positioning our companies to sell for the highest possible amount of money and real value, not just sort of a bunch of bandaid on something to make it look like it’s pretty good. At any point in time, we should be doing that because we don’t know what could happen in our lives. 

There are a lot of things that could happen. I could get hit by a bus tomorrow and then what do you do with all that? What is it worth? What about all of the team members that helped you get there, et cetera? I think no matter what, we should be focused on that. 

Built to Sell by John Warrillow and Bo Burlingham

A big part of that in my view, is thinking about strategic buyers, and that’s what we were doing. I had my eye on a number of folks out there for quite a few years before we ended up selling the company that if they were to buy us even at 20X, it would literally be like they bought us for 4X because of how they can leverage us and their channels.

A strategic buyer sees so much more value in acquiring the company than just the numbers that would appeal to (let’s say) a private equity firm.

Yeah. If I’m a private equity buyer and I see something that’s got a nice growth rate, they’ve got this return going on and I buy them, that’s all I really have. I hope I can build on that. I’m a strategic buyer. I look at it and say, all I have to do is add that product, or service, or lines, whatever it is to my channels, and it can grow 5X within three years or something like that. Then it becomes a win-win for both parties in a big way.

You mentioned getting hit by a bus analogy. What happened in your life and your businesses that was getting hit by a bus moment that ended up being actually a great blessing in hindsight?

There are sort of metaphorical buses for the business itself, which is what we’re talking about. I was talking about what if something happened to me. 

There are probably some overlaps there where it’s a key person in your business who ended up getting sick, or dying, or having to leave for personal reasons, or just got bored, or tired, and chose a different path and you weren’t ready for it. There are different kinds of, as you say, metaphorical getting hit by a bus moments. Some of them, we can see how in hindsight, they were hugely beneficial for us. I’m curious to hear any stories.

I’ve always thought that we should position our companies that have something happen to us, the founder. It could keep going. We could come back three years later and look at it and be really surprised at how well they’re doing. I think that’s really important. 

As I built my aerospace company, which was the largest so far—north of 500 employees, fairly large, good size, midsize business—I changed the leadership team out literally five times along the way. We just sort of outgrew their capability, et cetera. 

In the early days with 50 employees, I’m spending 80 hours a week doing this, having a blast. In the end, I’m spending maybe 15 hours a week running this thing, and it’s growing faster than ever. It’s because of how the whole thing was set up. What’s that saying? You want to be important, but not necessary. I think that’s important just from a positioning standpoint. 

One of the fundamental challenges with most operating systems is using some form of traditional goal setting. Click To Tweet

I’d say one of the biggest metaphorical hit-by-the-bus business situation we ran into is when 9/11 happened. We’re repairing and overhauling aircraft parts for aircraft operators globally, both helicopter and fixed-wing, all commercial, and now everybody’s grounded. 

That following year, there were some flights going on, but any aircraft that needed maintenance, they parked the aircraft. There were hundreds and hundreds of competitors going out of business right and left. We had a month where there was virtually no business. Everybody shut, everything has canceled purchase orders, all of it was quite a shock. 

How do we get through this? We sat back and said okay, well, what’s the best way to, to leverage it? We went to some of the aircraft operators, primarily helicopter operators and they were significantly down, some of the oil and gas folks flying out to the rigs. We said how about we take over your maintenance department? You don’t have to maintain all of the people, equipment, and everything in there, and we’ll hire some of your folks. We ended up picking up all these different programs and grew that year where most of our competitors shrank significantly or went out of business. 

There’s always a way if you’re positioned for it and you’re being really smart, strategically. I’ve always thought that even if the available business were to be cut in half, at any point in time we could still figure out a way to grow crazy because there is still a lot of work out there. You just have to be very creative about how you do it. Does that make sense? 

Yeah. One thing that is important for future-proofing your business is having enough capital available so that you can seize opportunities like that instead of just being on the brunt of it like all the competition who wasn’t prepared. Having capital available before you need it is really important. What sort of advice do you have around that?

Customers aren’t buying the pedigree of the people that work at the companies. Instead, they’re buying products or services from their perceived value.

Like they say, when you can borrow money, you should. Having the credit lines in place and everything else is super important. At that time, that kind of freaked the banks out, too, because when you’re going to borrow a bunch of money, what’s going to happen here is it’s just a lifeline until it goes away in six months or something like that. 

So I agree, super important. I also believe there are a lot of ways to do things that don’t require a ton of capital. As I grew that aerospace business, never once did I take outside investment money ever. The first year, our CapEx budget was $175,000. We did $330,000 in sales, and almost went out of business 15 times. Then the last year, our CapEx was $36 million. We did all of that, cashing ourselves never with any outside investment. 

You can be really smart about it, especially early on. Everybody wanted to barter and work with us. We had people that would give us facilities to use if we just tried to do some work for them. There’s always a way to figure it out working with suppliers and customers out there to make it work. It doesn’t have to be. Here’s a pile of cash. If you have it, you’re going to be great. If you don’t, you’re not going to be great. There’s always a way. I think our job as leaders is to find that way even if we don’t know what it is today.

In some cases, having that cash available, like let’s say you take out an SBA loan or something like that, is detrimental to the health of the business because then you get complacent and you’re not running a lean machine. You’re just putting off the inevitable because you’re not motivated enough, you’re not hungry enough to make sure there’s enough new business coming in the door.

Do you have any examples of that where somebody you know perhaps wasn’t hungry enough because they had too much capital available and then they ended up running aground?

Having less money makes you way smarter and faster.

Having less money makes you way smarter and faster. When you have the money, you’ll do things without really thinking it through. I see a lot of early-stage companies make this mistake. Those are my favorite companies to work with for ETW. The mistake that they typically make is doing things required to scale before they have something that will actually scale. We just got all this money, let’s put in a big marketing team, let’s put all this other stuff in place, and they don’t have a product or services proven yet. 

I would say in those cases, pour everything into proving what will actually have scalable traction before you do steps three, four, and five going in. That can be huge. I’ve watched companies just blow through millions and millions of dollars and could have done it completely differently with a whole different outcome.

In a case like that, what would be the most important number for marketing? Let’s say they haven’t honed in on the right product that is scalable, or service, so they’re just throwing more money into a fire perhaps. What would be the most important number for marketing that would help to right the ship? What would that be?

The question here would be, what am I marketing if I don’t have anything yet they can scale? There is no number for marketing in my view and you’re in a scenario that you’re throwing out. The most important number for the organization would be what’s the measure of the thing we’re trying to observe to get traction having something that will actually scale? 

That example could be weekly active users if it’s a software tech company for a service. But if we have a product, who are the focus groups or test groups that we’re working with to determine whether or not this thing is going to go?

The most important number has to be what’s happening right there and getting it to that next step. Then once you figure out what works, you can pour some fuel on it and keep going but always iterating to improve the perceived value of the product or service. 

You need to figure out what’s going to get scalable traction before you do all that other stuff.

But everything has to be there and that’s really hard work to live right there. It’s way easier just to (as they say) play house, set up the marketing team, hire the CFO, do all of this stuff, and be perceived like you’re playing this game, like all the people that made it did at some point. But I would say all those that made it would come back and say what are you doing? You need to figure out what’s going to get scalable traction or before you do all that other stuff.

Yeah. But then conventional wisdom is that you get the right people and the right team and you can turn anything around. You could have a terrible product and still win, but if you have a great product and a mediocre team, you’re doomed to failure.

Yeah. Arguably, if you get the right team in place, they’ll do the right work. They’ll surround it. But if I hired a CFO, marketing leader, and all of these really strong pedigree leaders on the team, and they all start doing their thing in their area of expertise without zeroing in on what’s the thing that we’re supporting and how do we make sure that’s right so everything else grows, then it will fail. I’ve seen some pretty high-end pedigree teams put together, and the companies fail. They burn through tens of millions of dollars because they didn’t solve for what will actually scale.

At the end of the day, if the product or service is terrible, you could have a great team that looks like a short term win because they are positioned and have the relationships, but then it always tanks. You have to get the proper service right at some point.

Yeah. Do you have an example of that where it was an incredible pedigree team and was a spectacular failure?

There are a few that I can’t quite think of, but there’ve been some pretty public examples of that where here’s a new darling of Wall Street and then it just completely crashes. What was the blood testing company? I forgot their CEO’s name.

Yeah. Theranos or something like that.

It shouldn’t be about how much money they made. It should be about how much value we are creating in the world.

Yeah. I think that was it, Theranos. Examples like that, look at all this hype. Look how amazing it’s going to be. We did a great job marketing and then there was nothing there.

Elizabeth Holmes, that’s her name.

That’s right.

Some cautionary tales from the dot-com eras of food.com and pets.com, the sock puppet and all that. There are lots of those kinds of case studies.

It shouldn’t be about how much money they made. It should be about how much value we are creating the world. If we’re passionate about creating value in the world, great. The money and all the other stuff will follow. Let’s keep building on that and not idolize folks because they just made a ton of money.

Speaking of that endgame of creating value or doing something that leaves the world better than we found it, what’s your Massively Transformative Purpose or MTP? I’m using this term from Peter Diamandis. What drives you to build businesses, grow them, sell them, do the stuff that excites you every day?

I believe in the work that we’re doing that we’re really strengthening communities by improving workplace cultures. People are having more fun. They’re more engaged. These great things are permeating out into their families and their communities. I believe that if you’re part of a healthy community that has your back, we don’t even need government because no matter what we’re going to take care of each other and make it go. I think that’s wildly important to get it right. What would be different at the end of everybody’s lives if from a value creation standpoint, they were net positive from a material, emotional, and spiritual standpoint. One more dollar, one more unit of each of the others. What would this world be like? It would be incredible.

To me, it’s like what’s the purpose of education? It’s to create value in the world. I go back to material, emotional, and spiritual. And that’s not how we talk about it. Getting your diploma, and then getting your degree, and then taking this next step. Back to the process is more important than what’s most important. 

What’s the purpose of education? It’s to create value in the world.

We’re learning to be able to create value in the world, not be some part of some special elite class that has this particular degree or part of whatever club. What do they say? Our customers aren’t buying pedigree of the people that work at the companies. They’re buying products or services from their buying perceived value. I think we should really be focusing on that. 

I realized that as I was building my largest company just watching the community and how they had each other’s backs, never once did I ever have the leader quit ever. Retention is really high. All the people we wanted always stayed. Stars wanted to come work for us. But why was that? We weren’t out there trying to win all the awards to be the best company to work for in the valley, or the state, or whatever. We just work and then you watch all that stuff happens.

Amazing. I’m familiar with the concept called triple bottom line and how that’s about not just the financial impact that you’re creating and the value of creation that you’re doing but also environmental impact, externalities that are oftentimes ignored by some of the more ruthless CEOs, and social impacts as well. But you mentioned something that I really want to hone in, which is the spiritual impact and being that positive from a spiritual standpoint. Could you elaborate more on that?

For me I’m not very religious, but I would say I’m spiritual. I feel connected to something. I think there’s only up or down and you want to go in a positive direction. More love, higher level of consciousness, all of that. Grow that over time. Don’t go the other direction. It’s pretty easy to go the other direction for a lot of folks. Just watch the mainstream media and how it just takes people down the swirl. 

Just watch the mainstream media and how it just takes people down the swirl.

From an emotional standpoint, it’s when you’re in the room, be the person that gives everybody energy. From a spiritual standpoint, set the example of always trying to raise your level of consciousness if you will. Get other people to think about that and move in that direction.

Did you have some sort of spiritual epiphany, or awakening, or some sort of without a doubt sign, pivotal events in your life that made you reevaluate the physical reality of this life?

There wasn’t any one thing. It was just sort of starting down the road and then realizing that’s the only road to be on. When I’m not intentionally working on it, I don’t feel nearly as good as when I actually am. I don’t even feel like we can get to a level one stay there. I think we’re either sliding back a little bit over going forward. That’s why we have to keep working on it.

As Tony Robbins says, you’re either growing or dying. I believe that’s the case not just for people but for businesses, for economies, for cultures, for communities, everything.

I agree with you. I agree with Tony.

Let’s talk about culture. There’s this idea of a culture of accountability that you spoke about briefly earlier in this conversation and I’d love to hear more about that. What’s a culture of accountability feel like? Not just look like, because they’ve got their most important numbers and they’re hitting their numbers and people are holding themselves accountable, being accountable, or being held accountable. What does that feel like to be in that kind of an organization? 

Maybe the best organization example I could give comes to mind of an incredible culture is Zappos. It just permeates the company to the point where they even have culture books that people contribute to, employees put their stories and so forth, and there are themed conference rooms that are really cute, funny, and clever. It feels like a family. I am curious about your take on all that.

Culture to me is interesting.

Culture to me is interesting. Most folks when they talk about the culture they just say it feels good. We have a great culture. It feels amazing. It feels like family. What’s the purpose of having a really healthy culture inside of an organization and how do you intentionally design it? I think culture is basically the value that comes from the core beliefs, the decisions, the practices, and accountability. Foundationally, in any organization out there, those are the things for which they create value.

When I think in particular about accountability, I think about organizational trust. What does that really mean? There are a number of folks out there that we would say we trust them. They can come watch our kids. But I don’t trust them in the company to do what they said they would. When everybody’s doing what they said they would, when they said they would and if they can’t, they’re giving you plenty of notice and workarounds before the deadline. Now, we completely trust them. Culture accountability is a culture of organizational trust.

That reminds me of a question that I learned to ask in interviews. I learned it from my friend Sam Czertok. I will tell you what the name of the test is afterwards because otherwise, it would give it away. The question goes something like this: Given your understanding of the role, what do you consider to be the most important attribute of the five that I’m going to give you? Let’s say dedication, technical acumen, creativity, honesty, attention to detail. To put yourself in the shoes of somebody who’s being interviewed, what would be your answer?

Culture accountability is a culture of organizational trust.

That’s a tough one because for me what’s most important is the end result that we want to get. Sometimes it might require creativity. It could require a number of things. But at the end of the day, what are the outcomes this role is responsible for, and that’s going to be what’s most important. Depending on the scenario, I would pick one of the five.

It’s interesting because my friend Sam told me there’s only one right answer and it’s always the same and it’s honesty. He calls it the honesty test because you can’t train honesty into somebody. It’s an innate value or virtue. 

If somebody is all about telling you what they think you want to hear and it’s attention to detail, that’s for sure going to be the number one attribute for this role because of X, Y, and Z. They think that that’s what I want to hear. But I actually want to hear honesty. I want to hear in the context of that’s truly their answer, not because they’re trying to look good or not look bad but because that’s who they are. That’s how they show up in the world.

A lot of folks I’ve passed over because I’ve interviewed them and asked them the question and then they gave that answer that was not the honest answer. It doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel genuine. It doesn’t feel like there’s a vibrational match.

Honesty just feels like a ticket to play.

It’s table stakes. I remember so many times where different staff over the years and I have employed many, many staff over the years, not like thousands but hundreds, I guess. I walk up to somebody and she would not realize that her computer monitor’s reflection was shining through the window behind her. I could see what she was doing as I was walking up to her and she was zipping up windows as I’m waking up every time. 

Culture is the value that comes from core beliefs, decisions, practices, and accountability.

I never challenged her on that or anything because that wasn’t really something I wanted to do at the time to shake things up. I had a general manager who is in charge of the culture and the team and everything and he really should have done something about it I thought. But he didn’t. He chose not to, to look the other way. I ended up doing the same thing.

But that gets noticed not just by the upper management but by the person’s peers, and that creates a culture of complacency, a culture of I’m going to cut corners or not act in integrity. That’s one of the things that the honesty test is looking to avoid having those people in the organization in the first place.

Makes a lot of sense.

I know we’re running up to time here, so if our listener wanted to implement the mind methodology, Most Important Number Drivers or just overall the entire ETW (Execute to Win) system, what would be a good first step? Would they work with your organization? Would they just pick up a book or an online training? What would be a good next step? For those who want to work directly with you, is that even an option?

It is. I would say go to etw.com. You can learn a lot about this. If you want to download a high-level mind methodology playbook, you can go to maxyourmin.com and download that playbook. This is designed to where any team can do it. Like I said in the beginning, I designed it to where I wanted at least 80% of all teams anywhere to be able to do this, even when there are stars in the room. You can DIY for sure, but it always goes faster with one of our certified consultants working with you.

Culture accountability is a culture of organizational trust. Click To Tweet

Awesome. How expensive is the investment to work with the consultant on this?

It depends on what the organization wants, but we typically engage for a full year with the senior leadership team and then it can cascade out from there. We’re in the room usually virtually for the first eight meetings and then once a month for the remainder of the year. Then there are lots of configuration and training and development stuff going on between the meetings. But depending on the size of the company, that price can move around a bit, but we typically engage by team and work with the senior team, then a few additional teams at some point, and very quickly they can self-serve their own teams.

Your personal website, follow you and maybe hire you to speak or something like that would be the leejbenson.com?

That’s correct.

All right. Awesome. Lee, this was a real pleasure, very enlightening and inspiring, and what a great mission you’ve been on and you continue to be on. Thank you for all the light you reveal in the world.

All right. Thanks, Stephan. I really appreciate you taking the time with me today.

Awesome. Thank you, listeners, for taking the time to listen and to play full out. Not just use this as entertainment or edutainment but to actually listen with the intention of applying it in your life. We’ll catch you in the next episode. I’m your host, Stephan Spencer, signing off.

Important Links

Checklist of Actionable Takeaways


?Identify the most important number of my organization. This number will align everyone to a common outcome and guide every team’s decision.


?Come up with the ideal most important number for each of the teams in the organization.


?Decide where to focus the resources. Identify the more impactful drivers for my number and concentrate my team’s efforts on that.


?Know what to measure and create a scoreboard. Define the most critical metrics to guide decision-making and provide an accurate snapshot of progress.


?Position my company to sell for the highest possible amount of money and real value.


?Futureproof my company. Make sure that the company can keep going and growing even if I’m not working on it.


?Always have enough capital in place to seize opportunities to scale the company. Make sure that my credit lines are available.


?Always create value. Customers aren’t buying the pedigree of the people that work at companies. They’re buying products or services from their perceived buying value.


?Visit Execute to Win’s website to learn more about the MIND Methodology. Also, download the MIND Methodology™ Playbook at maxyourmin.com.


?Check out Lee Benson’s website to get to know him better and hire him for a speaking engagement.

About Lee Benson

Lee Benson, the founder and CEO of Execute to Win (ETW), helps organizations improve results through better alignment, decisions and accountability. Over his 40 years as a successful entrepreneur, Lee developed his powerful yet practical approach called the most important number and drivers or MIND methodology.

Disclaimer: The medical, fitness, psychological, mindset, lifestyle, and nutritional information provided on this website and through any materials, downloads, videos, webinars, podcasts, or emails is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical/fitness/nutritional advice, diagnoses, or treatment. Always seek the help of your physician, psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, certified trainer, or dietitian with any questions regarding starting any new programs or treatments, or stopping any current programs or treatments. This website is for information purposes only, and the creators and editors, including Stephan Spencer, accept no liability for any injury or illness arising out of the use of the material contained herein, and make no warranty, express or implied, with respect to the contents of this website and affiliated materials.

 

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