It is a given that entrepreneurs already have their goals and motivation set even before jumping into the business stage. And for those who do not know how to apply these into their day-to-day life to actually get results, Jeff Standridge believes what they need is just one good consulting offer. Michael Zipursky sits down with the Managing Director of Innovation Junkie, talking about how their team helps businesses of all sizes create concrete plans that work and pinpoint areas that need improvement. Jeff also shares an effective way to realign goals and the right time to get mentorship and additional team members.
I’m with Jeff Standridge. Jeff, welcome.
It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Back in the day, you are a former VP of Acxiom Corporation. You’ve also established startup businesses in multiple continents. You’ve been interviewed and quoted in places like The Wall Street Journal, HR Magazine, many other publications in the media. Before starting your business, you served in the National Guard, and you were a paramedic. You lead multiple teams in different businesses that you’re involved in, you’re a consultant, an investor, a professor and an author. Were you always a high-performer and focused on getting a lot done?
I’m a middle child, and middle children tend to be high-performers because they always aspire to live up to the legend set by their older sibling and want to outpace their younger siblings. There’s some psychology somewhere in that.
If you look back at when you were growing up, were you always putting the work in to get stuff done?Fail fast, fail inexpensively, fail often, and you'll ultimately get to success. Click To Tweet
Putting the work in, yes. I was a good student, but I wasn’t the top of my class. I started working in the third grade, mowing yards. By the sixth grade, I was riding my bicycle into town and pumping gas at the local gas station. By the ninth grade, I was running a full-service gas station by myself, welding mufflers on the vehicles, changing brakes, servicing the oil and fixing flats. I’ve worked my entire life. Spring break and Christmas vacation and summer vacation for me growing up was an opportunity to work more. I never heard of a spring break trip until I had my own kids, and the peer pressure set in. I always had the work ethic and always went after, it was not always the top academically. I tell people I crammed a four-year degree in almost six years. I’ve always worked hard, loved working hard, and it wasn’t until I became an early adult that I started accomplishing things outside the academic environment.
Where did that come from? Does that come from your parents? Did that come from someone that you met?
I grew up in the country and most of my family lived on farms. My dad worked for the power company but I was quoted in a magazine, and I said that my mother is someone to whom I’ve always aspired because she has the work ethic of a US Marine. She is 76 years old and up until a few years ago, she had three jobs and still has two. She works for a bank here in town and she is a realtor part-time and cooked Sunday lunch every Sunday for 12 to 15 kids, grandkids and great-grandkids. My parents instilled this sense of work ethic in me and not to mention the military, I did spend twenty years in the US Army, the Army National Guard branch. All those things conspired.
What’s one mindset or belief that you learned that maybe you didn’t always have, but when you embraced it, you feel that it made a positive difference for you both as a human being on the personal side, but as well in your business? It can be two different ones.
The first one is failure is only failure if you quit, otherwise it’s feedback. Take what you learned from that temporary setback and adjust your course slightly and keep going, take the next feedback. Fail fast, fail inexpensively, fail often, and you’ll ultimately get to success. The second one is I believe everybody has a calling. I believe everyone was uniquely created to do something great in the world. For some people, their vocation is their calling. My wife was a nurse practitioner. My father-in-law was a pastor. My daughters are neonatal nurses. My son-in-law is a physician. They get to go to work every day and achieve their purpose in life, fulfill their calling and earn their living at the same time.
Other people, I put myself in this category, their vocation supports their calling if they can figure out the connection. I was probably 40, 42 before I realized that connection. I was working as a Senior VP in a large marketing data technology company. I was sure that my God-given calling was not to sell data to marketers, trying to better target their consumers, but it wasn’t until I started spending some time thinking about it, hearing what people would say to me when I would speak on leadership, or I would speak on organizational change, or what have you team building. I had about 500 people across five different continents that reported in through my organization. I realized that because of the feedback that I received from people that I was fairly uniquely gifted in helping people look at their situation differently, at provoking them to look at things differently.
Someone even told me once, “Jeff, you’re a revealer. It doesn’t matter if I’m sitting in a meeting with you, I’m in one of your training classes or my husband and I are out with you and Lori for dinner. You say things that provoked me to look at my situation differently.” I came to understand that this calling that I had, or this sense of purpose that I had, was to create new insights that inspire people to live and work better. When I realized that being the SVP in the marketing firm was a platform for me to fulfill that calling, the work I did every day was not my calling, but the platform that gave me the opportunity to create new insights that inspired people to live and work better, when I was doing that, when I was teaching leadership, when I was facilitating a meeting, a team-building exercise, I could fulfill that calling. When I realized that connection between those two things, it was a complete and total game-changer for me. I’d say that one has had even a greater impact on me than the failure’s only failure if you quit.
A lot of people, Jeff, what they might do some deep thinking or studying, try and identify that passion or that type of connection, but they don’t necessarily act on it. What did you do? If you go back, can you take us through, how did you go from recognizing that connection to starting to bring that to life in your day-to-day actions? What were some concrete steps that you took that you feel made a difference?
You mentioned about me being a paramedic. I like to separate the word “passion” from “calling” because I was a paramedic and a respiratory therapist. I was on the helicopter team at one of the top ten children’s hospitals in the country called Arkansas Children’s Hospital. I received an award from a national organization as the Flight Respiratory Therapist of the Year. I was good at it, but what about my calling? For a while, I was passionate about it because I loved being in the back of an ambulance, being on a helicopter, high stress, critical scenarios. I loved it, but it wasn’t my calling. Even though I was passionate about it for a period of time, it ultimately wasn’t what I was created to do.
I was asked to step into an instructor position at a medical university because they needed the experience that I had as a pediatric perinatal specialist and trauma specialist. I began to realize teaching, I didn’t know it at the time, but when I reflect back on that, I was only in my early 30s, I began to recognize that I had a gift and I enjoyed that and people responded to that, even though I didn’t know it at the time. I went on to get a couple of graduate degrees. I got a Master’s of Education. I got a Doctorate in leadership and organizational development. In doing that Doctorate, I started being asked to do some consulting where I had the opportunity to do that as well. It was more of an evolution than a revolution, and it wasn’t until I was 40, 42 that I began to put the pieces together. From that point forward, I only want to be in situations where I can have the opportunity to influence and impact people on a wide scale by provoking them to behave, respond or act differently than what has gotten them to where they are.
I appreciate that distinction. What would you suggest? What have you found as the best practice for those who go, “Jeff, that makes a lot of sense. I’d like to find my calling as well. I’d like to better identify and understand that?” What would you offer to them in terms of maybe some concrete actions or things that we could let seep in that they could then use to try and identify that themselves?Business all boils down to balancing two things: results and relationships. Click To Tweet
Go get a piece of paper and a pen, once they’ve got that, draw a vertical line from the top of the page to the bottom of the page and a horizontal line in the middle of the page from the left margin to the right margin. Write “I am great at” in the upper left-hand corner, upper right write “I love to.” In the lower left-hand corner write “Deep in my heart, I should be,” in the lower right-hand corner write “If I only have five years left to live, I would.” Answer those questions. “I am great at” and list all the things that you’re great at. “I love doing” and list all the things you love doing, or “I’m passionate about” could be one of the things that you’d call it a love or passionate about. In the lower left-hand corner, “Deep in my heart, I should be doing.” List all those things and then answer the question if there are only five years left to live and then go back and begin to circle things that appear in multiple quadrants. Circle, highlight them, identify the things and pull all of those themes out onto another page and think about them, meditate on them, pray about them, whatever your particular orientation is.
Think about what they’re telling you, because chances are there’s something in there. If you love to do it, if you’re great at it, if you feel deeply in your heart you should be, and if you only had five years left to do you would, there’s something there. Ask for feedback, spend some time meditating on those, thinking about those, ask other people for feedback, share the notes with them, share the themes, ask them what they think it’s telling you about yourself. Over time, you’ll begin to see where that calling or that sense of purpose comes into play.
We can get one from you a one-pager with that exercise diagram or on your website, we can direct them over there. That’s a powerful exercise for people to go through. The other thing that I noticed, Jeff, is that you’re involved in multiple different types of businesses and you have been over the years, but one thing that it seems quite often, it’s not just you, you build a team around you. For a lot of consultants, getting started, or even at the later stages, they try and do a lot of things themselves and don’t build team. What are your thoughts or the principles and beliefs that you have around building a team and as you’ve created businesses, do you start to think about adding team members?
Let’s answer the second question first when you start thinking about adding team members. I have every entrepreneur that I work with and even executives many times that I work with, but particularly entrepreneurs. They all come to me and they want to do one of two things they want to earn $100,000 a year in personal income or they want their company to hit $1 million a year. I’ve developed what I called the 50 and 500 rule. If you go to work on a salary position, the Acxiom Corporation where I used to work, they’re going to plug in 2,080 hours for you for a year’s worth of work, that’s the normal full-time equivalent.
Let’s take it to 2,000 because it’s easier to calculate. If we don’t use 2,000, it screws up my 50 and 500 analogy. If someone wants to make $100,000 a year, that’s $50 an hour. If they want their company to make $1 million a year, that’s $500 an hour. Their time is worth $500 an hour to their company and their time is worth $50 an hour to their family or to their household. If they find themselves routinely doing tasks that are significantly below $50 an hour, they need to find someone, either an outsourced partner or a team member, to take that over. If they find themselves spending a significant amount of time doing less than $500 an hour tasks, when they are working in their business, then they need to find someone to help them do that.
That’s when I start thinking about when you need to bring someone on board or the parallel to that is when you start finding that you can’t keep up with it all and you start missing meetings, or you start making mistakes and your quality of life suffers. You don’t get the downtime that you need and what have you to go hunting or cycling or whatever it is that you love to do. In terms of the philosophy around building a team, what I have found and one thing that we didn’t talk about is the reason that I went from the world of healthcare over into business. My Doctoral dissertation was in studying the differences between the top 1% of performers and the middle 50%. What is it that differentiates those top rock star performers from the masses, the people who we have to have at work every day but are not going to blow the ceiling off?
The interesting thing about it is if you take those things and I’ve built models in multiple businesses where we looked at high-performers in those businesses, and we look at what they do differently, I’ve done it in the military, I’ve done it in higher education institutions, I’ve done it in professions, and I’ve done it in businesses. It all boils down to how well we balance two things, results and relationships. Some of us are more results-oriented. I would be that person. If we focus on results at the expense of relationships, we’ll be wildly successful quickly until we alienate everyone around us whom we are responsible for helping us maintain those results. If we focus on relationships at the expense of results, people will love us, “That Standridge is a great guy,” until they lose respect for us because we can’t do what we say we’re going to do when we say we’re going to do it
In both instances, we lose them both. It’s a constant walking of this tight rope. There are competencies and behaviors that if we’re a relationship-oriented person, we need to develop to be more results-oriented. If we’re a results-oriented person, there are skills, disciplines and competencies that we need to develop to be more relational. Going back to the team building, I hired someone early in my days as an executive to be the eyes and ears because I wasn’t empathetic. On a scale of 1 to 99 on a scale of empathy, I scored a six, and my wife congratulated me because she thought it was much higher than what she thought it was going to come in at.
My point is until I developed those skills and those capabilities, I needed someone to hold me accountable. I had a woman who worked for me, and I said she was the reason I wasn’t fired the first five years I was there. Her name was Brenda, we called her Bren, and she would come in and she would say, “You know that town hall you had today?” I’d say, “Yes.” She’d say, “When you said this, this is what some people heard.” I’d go, “That’s not what I wanted them to hear at all.” She would help me work through some of those issues until I developed that emotional intelligence and emotional maturity to be able to do those things myself.
Jeff, you opened enough to identify that that was a weakness of yours. A lot of people wouldn’t even see that as a weakness, they would keep blazing forward. Where did that come from? Will that come as a result of people telling you that you weren’t good at it, or is it you knew deep down inside? For many of us, when we’re looking to grow or to improve, the people who tend to see the greatest results in overall success recognize they can’t do it all themselves and they look for mentors, coaches, whatever it might be to support them. That’s what you were doing in that situation. What are your thoughts on that? Where did that come from?
First of all, I had the good fortune of working in an Acxiom Corporation, which was a high-performance team-based culture. It was one of Fortune’s best places to work perennially for years. I had a great leader who would effectively put the mirror up in front of me. When I would fail, she would put that mirror up in front of me and helped me walk through why I failed when I would alienate someone or I would be results-focused that I might drive a wedge relationally between me and someone else. She would help me recognize that. She’d say, “What are you going to do about it?” She would talk me through how to do that. She invested a ton in me, her name is Cindy Childer. She had a huge impact on me.The responsibility of mentorship is on the mentee, not on the mentor. Click To Tweet
Even other coworkers, I believe that the responsibility of mentorship is on the mentee, not on the mentor. In my experience, companies do a much better job of mentorship programs when they teach employees how to go and find mentors, how to engage those mentors, how to leverage the knowledge and wisdom that they gain, and how to then be a mentor themselves when asked. Most likely, it never results in a conversation or a question of, “Will you be my mentor?” It’s going and buying somebody a cup of coffee and saying, “I noticed how you did so-and-so. Would you mind if I picked your brain about that?” That’s mentoring. I had a number of other folks whom I reached out to, and I had a number of other folks that came to me and said, “Can I give you a little feedback on the meeting that we had today?” In that instance, they mentored me as well. I had the great culture to grow up as a business executive coming from an academic health sciences center when I went over to Acxiom Corporation and that played a lot. Leadership is about being vulnerable, and I’ve watched that over time.
You’ve worked with many companies across multiple industries. When it comes to growth, to innovation to improve in which are areas that you do a lot of work in, what have you seen across all these different industries and companies that tend to be the most common amongst all of them? If there is typically low hanging fruit, when you go into working with a new organization, what do you keep seeing over and over that typically is a great area to focus on for quick wins and improvements that people who might be reading and taking this in could benefit from analyzing their own situation?
The majority of our practice and our company is called Innovation Junkie, and the majority of our practice focuses on strategic, sustainable growth, not just rapid burst growth that you can’t sustain, but strategic and sustainable growth. It may be explosive, but it’s explosive in a strategic and sustainable way. We find the two pillars that shore that up are, number one, the effectiveness of your leadership, all the way up to the CEO and all the down to the lowest level leader who has hiring, firing and compensation responsibilities. The effectiveness of your leadership and the organizational culture that you have, I’m talking about the culture of how success is rewarded, how feedback is rewarded, how vulnerability is rewarded, how mistakes are rewarded, all of those things. Those are the pillars that shore up this strategic, sustainable growth.
When you start thinking about the tactics under those strategic girders, do you have a plan? What is your plan for growth? Does that plan have a specific destination somewhere in the future, 3 to 5 years out at which you aspire to arrive? Do you know what you’ve got to do over those five years to get there? What do you have to do in the next twelve months to get 20% of the way there? What are you looking at on a daily, weekly basis in order to get there to monitor your progress, to keep it between the ditches? That is a fundamental element. It’s not a three-ring binder, 4-inch plan that someone spends months putting together, they stick it on the shelf and dust it off every two years.
It is a cogent plan that says, “This is where we’re going, and this is precisely how we’re going to get there. This is how we’re going to monitor our progress. Here’s who’s responsible for what.” We’re talking 3 to 4 pages generally. The other thing that I see is the willingness to innovate. The only requirement for innovation to occur is some form of constraint. Without a constraint, there’s no need to innovate. We do what we’ve always done, but the constraint of a global pandemic, the constraint of a down market, the constraint of a new competitor moving into town. Something happens that changes the status quo that forces us to think about innovation. Innovation is new ideas that change either the transaction cost of doing business or that pursue a more pleasant way of doing things than in the past or present.
We need to look at those constraints around us and say, “What’s it telling us about our business? What are the game-changers that we can employ?” Having a systematic process to innovate and to ask yourself those difficult questions, having that strategic growth plan, being willing to ask yourself the tough questions and to recognize constraints so that you can innovate. Finally, having a methodology for execution and being willing to assign accountabilities to have a monitoring process, have a cadence, and follow up on that cadence religiously even when the building may be on fire.
Does innovation have any size where it doesn’t work? A lot of consultants hear the word “innovation” and they think about their clients. They think about larger, more established organizations, but the innovation that you’re talking about is applicable for a company of 1, 5 or 10 people as it could be to a company of 5,500 or 5,000. Any thoughts or experiences in terms of how innovation can be applied to either the independent or small consulting firm?
There are three levels of innovation. There’s incremental innovation, and that’s where you take an existing process, existing product, existing service, and you make it incrementally better by questioning the status quo, questioning how it’s performing and measuring how it’s performing. That’s incremental innovation and over time that can yield phenomenal results. We’ve heard the stories of the airlines that took one French fry off of their plates and saved hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a year. There’s breakthrough innovation where we have a new product or technology within an existing business model or a new business model around an existing technology. You think about product extensions of Coke, Coke Lime, Coke Vanilla, Coke Zero. You think about Gillette, it started off with a one-bladed razor then it went to two blades, then three blades then the swivel head then the ergonomic handle. Those are making improvements within an existing business model, newer technologies. Think about the iPhone. Mobile phones had existed for years, but Apple built a new technology within an existing business model. You think about Dollar Shave Club, they took existing technology and razors and shaving cream, and they put a new business model around it. That’s breakthrough technology.
What about in professional services? I know you have clients and you’re fueling network who run agencies or other consultancies accounting firms. For the professional service firm that doesn’t have a product, but more their product is their expertise, what innovation examples come to mind there, or where do you think people should be looking to create more innovation and better results?
I should only fall back on personal example and think about the work that we’ve done over the course of the last year and working with you guys in the Clarity Coaching Program. I’ve shown this slide with starburst all over the slide of all of the things that my partners and I are good at because we have years and years of experience. The fact of the matter is, it was not scalable, it was not sustainable, and it was not strategic. We stepped back and we innovated our business model, and we innovated our product packaging. We built a strategic growth diagnostic that we can administer to companies at a relatively low discovery offer level, and it’s producing some significant results or potential results and we’re able to come in and say, “Here’s our solution stack that matches the results that you want to deliver.” We’re not quite there yet, we’re continuing to innovate it or continuing to refine it. Looking at the way you deliver service and asking yourself, how can you generate sustainable strategic growth in your organization without having to add hours to your calendar or without having to add people every time you want to add $1 of revenue.
It’s been a real honor and pleasure working with you in the Clarity Coaching Program. You gave an amazing presentation to the community about your process of how you’ve done that. It resonated. A lot of people have reached out to you as a result. The feedback was tremendous. It resonated because a lot of people have that exact same challenge. They show up with a lot of expertise and experience and skills, a lot of things that they could offer in the marketplace, but they’re not as focused as they could be because they’re concerned about, “Am I not going to lose some opportunity if I get focused? I could do all these other things.” Could you talk a bit more about that process of what you did within your business? Any resistance that you faced or felt as you went through that? Compare what things look a little bit more before and how they look now in terms of your offerings.
Before, we had everything from innovation training and executive coaching and innovation program management and leadership development and strategic growth planning and fractional innovation officer and even more, all of those things that we love to do that we’re good at but in the end, none of them were connected to the other. There was no logical client journey, so we had to step back and think about it from the client’s perspective and how they would want to engage with us. We built a stairstep model that says, “Here’s generally where clients come in.” They say, “I need a strategic growth plan, I need an innovation sprint, I need you to help us think about innovation.” We can do that, and we can get you some results there, but how about we back down to the start and let’s do like a physician would do, rather than walking in and saying, “I need an antibiotic because I’ve got a runny nose.” The physician is going to say, “Let me step back and take a look at a few things.” We step them back or try to step them back and have them go through this diagnostic, that’s a fairly intensive diagnostic. It only takes about 30 minutes, and we usually have the C-Suite, 5 to 7 executives in the company, or 3 to 5 if it’s a smaller company.The only requirement for innovation to occur is some form of constraint. Click To Tweet
It produces some rich results for us to then sit down with them and say, “Here’s what the diagnostic said. This was not us diagnosing your business, this was you diagnosing your business against a set of best practices in six different areas.” Based upon what the consensus of your own executive team says, here’s what you need to do in these areas and here’s the potential financial return back to you. If we were in your shoes, here’s the way we would stack a solution in there to solve the issues that you have. That stacked solution that we provide them is our solution stack. We might plug them in at different levels in that solution stack, but we know where to plug them in, in a way that’s going to create the greatest result with the least amount of human expenditure and fanfare.
The presentation is available to all clients in the recording section of the coaching site. It’s amazing how you demonstrated the value to that client through the information they provided you and comparing that to benchmarks in the industry, it becomes a compelling reason to move forward. I appreciate you sharing that again and giving us so much detail around it. Jeff, where can people go? Where should they go to learn more about you, your work, and everything that you guys have going on? Not only are you involved in teaching, you’re an active investor, you work with companies in your community as a mentor and take them through the program, you work with entrepreneurs, CEOs and leaders. You’ve got a lot going on, but where’s the best place to go to learn some of that Jeff Standridge?
Two places would be, number one, InnovationJunkie.com or JeffStandridge.com. They can get my books there, The Innovator’s Field Guide, The Top Performer’s Field Guide, and reach out to me directly. I would love to talk to them. I’m on LinkedIn and I’d love nothing more than to connect on LinkedIn. I communicate with a lot of people there as well.
As you can likely pick up from this conversation, not only does Jeff know what he’s doing. I got his books, you send them over when we started working together and I appreciate you send those books over. Those are great, but he’s also a heck of a great guy, a lot of fun. Thanks, Jeff, for coming out here. I appreciate it.
It’s my pleasure. I hope people to reach out and I look forward to talking with them.
- Jeff Standridge
- Clarity Coaching Program
- The Innovator’s Field Guide
- The Top Performer’s Field Guide
About Dr. Jeff Standridge
Dr. Jeff D. Standridge helps organizations and their leaders generate sustained results in the areas of innovation, strategy, profit growth, organizational effectiveness and leadership.
Formerly a Vice President for Acxiom Corporation, he has led established and startup businesses in North & South America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Jeff serves as Managing Director for the Conductor, Co-founder of Cadron Capital Partners, and teaches Entrepreneurial Finance & Innovation Leadership in the College of Business at the University of Central Arkansas.
Dr. Standridge has been an invited speaker, trainer, and consultant for numerous companies, institutions, and organizations across five continents. He is also a two-time best-selling author of “The Innovator’s Field Guide: Accelerators for Entrepreneurs, Innovators & Change Agents” and “The Top Performer’s Field Guide: Catalysts for Leaders, Innovators & All Who Aspire to Be.”
Prior to his business career, Jeff spent more than a decade in healthcare, serving as an Assistant Professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and as a member of the Angel Flight Helicopter Transport Team at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. He is also retired from the U.S. Army – Arkansas Army National Guard. Jeff holds the Doctor of Education with special work in Leadership & Organizational Development, as well as a Master of Education with special work in Human Resource Development.