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Your Packaging Can be Your Most Effective Advertising

Posted By Ron Sidman, Thursday, August 31, 2017


With all the hype about social media, online reviews, and other mechanisms for getting the word out about your brand and products, it’s easy to overlook the importance and power of your packaging communication.


Even in this era of the rapidly increasing importance of online communication and growing e-tail sales, when asked by my mentor clients about marketing strategy, the advice I often give is, “Get your packaging right first.”  If you think about it, it’s the one messaging vehicle that every target consumer will see. So why not leverage it to the hilt. You also have total control of the message delivered. And it’s your most cost-effective communication channel. Obviously you need a container for your product anyway and it costs a relatively small amount to use it to deliver your complete product and brand message. You just have to be smart about what you’re printing on it.


Like most of my blog topics, you could write a book about this subject and still not cover all the important information. However, here are a few hopefully thought-provoking ideas about what your packaging can and ought to do for you:


Here we are!

Chances are that the dominant share of your sales is still going to be of the brick and mortar variety for at least a while (even Amazon realizes this). So one of the things you absolutely need to do is make a brand statement at retail. In the chaotic retail display mosaic, your piece of retail real estate needs to say “look at me” so customers know you exist and will stop to take a closer look. To do this well, it helps to have listed multiple products with the retailer. At my company, we emphasized what we called “program selling”—i.e. don’t ever sell individual products, always present multiple products together in “families.” The packages need to be designed in such a way that they look great together in a grouping and have color and graphics that grab attention. You should have a store fixture set up in your offices on which you can test how prototype packages will look amongst the competition.


Who we are.

Once customers have found you, you’ll need to quickly communicate who you are and what you stand for as a company—i.e. your “brand identity.” Some packages do a good job of explaining and selling the product (see below) but not the company. It’s critical you do both—especially in juvenile products where safety and reliability are so important. A number of package elements can combine to deliver this “corporate elevator speech”—brand name, tag line or positioning statement, structure, graphics, brief company description, guarantee, etc. The goal is to establish the positive uniqueness (a.k.a. competitive advantage) of your company.


What this is and why you need it.

You then need to deliver the “product elevator speech”—what you are selling and why parents and children can’t live without it. You might be surprised how often companies do a poor job of explaining what the heck is inside the package! They personally know what it is so they assume everyone else will. Assume you are talking to someone who just landed from Mars (parents often feel they have). Be careful about the product name and description. In almost all cases, you’ll need an explanatory picture or drawing as well. But your job isn’t done until you’ve made the case for indispensability. The unique benefits this product delivers that you have to have and you can’t get anywhere else need to be spelled out.


What else you need.

You’d be missing a huge opportunity if somewhere on or inside the package you didn’t cross sell other relevant products of yours, with or without coupons. No advertising could be more targeted and hyper-efficient than telling someone who just bought one of your products (and is hopefully loving it) what other goodies you have to offer.


Join the club.

In or on your packaging is also a great place to encourage customers to sign up for your loyalty club. At my company, we recruited thousands of “Parents’ Council” members via an in-package offer. The Council became a great resource for market research input and a mechanism for economically promoting new products.


Keep it simple.

After all that, now you’re going to think I’m crazy. Because I’m going to tell you that you have to deliver all these messages without overwhelming the poor customer with a mish-mush of words, pictures, and logos. It’s like that old saying, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” Take the time to prioritize the messages and get them across with the fewest possible words and pictures. Visual complexity will drive customers away.


Test, test, test.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of testing communication effectiveness. Again, you and your staff are too close to the product to understand how your average consumer will interpret what’s on your package. Show prototype packages one-on-one to objective target consumers who will tell you the truth. Keep revising until all the key messages are instantly and accurately communicated.  


Next Steps

I’d suggest you make a checklist of things in this blog and elsewhere that you think are important to accomplish on every package. Do a review of all your current products and see if some changes might pay dividends. Then apply the same checklist to all new products you develop.


As always, if you’d like more information or assistance from me regarding your unique challenges, consider taking advantage of JPMA’s Executive Mentor Program. Check the JPMA web site for more information or contact Sam Adams at 

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What You Can Learn About Management from the NFL

Posted By Ron Sidman, Wednesday, August 2, 2017


Another National Football League season is about to begin and sports fans across the country are bristling with excitement. Besides being entertained by the on and off field exploits and drama, you can actually learn a lot about how to build a successful organization from the teams that have been perennial powerhouses.


Maybe it’s because of the simplicity of their mission (to win football games) and the incredible visibility of everything that goes into that effort on a moment by moment basis under extreme pressure. Whatever the reason, the organizational structures and management methods in top-level professional football are often, in my opinion, more progressive and effective than those in many companies. Here are a few examples of what you can learn from football.


1.    Define and Enforce Your Culture

The best NFL teams have a well-defined and consistently enforced culture. So much so that when players change teams, the first thing they often comment on is the different atmosphere in the locker room and the unique attitude and behaviors of the players on their new team. Some common NFL team values are (1) team first ahead of personal interests, (2) knowing and doing your job, (3) focusing on winning, (4) not dwelling in the past but continuously improving, and (5) supporting the community. On the best teams, players who undermine the culture are quickly disciplined or gone.

Culture is just as important in a business but often not clearly defined or consistently enforced. Compare the company-wide understanding and strength of your company’s culture to that of your favorite (successful) NFL team. 


2.    Organize and Manage Both Horizontally and Vertically

Businesses are most often managed vertically—by function. Reporting to the CEO are typically heads of functional departments (sales, marketing, finance, operations, etc.) who in turn manage their staff members. NFL teams too have functional coaches for each player grouping—offensive line, defensive line, wide receivers, linebackers, and so on. But in addition they have “process owners” who coach across positions—offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, special teams coordinator. The functional coaches develop the positional skills of the players, the coordinators coach the cross-functional interactions that produce the desired end results—the “core processes” of football.


I believe that businesses too need both functional management and process management. We combined the two successfully in my company, The First Years. Our department heads developed their staff’s functional skills like sales techniques, consumer communication, purchasing negotiation, financial analysis, etc. But we had process owners who oversaw from start to finish the critical cross-functional processes of the business—product development, customer creation and retention, order fulfillment, and so on. In smaller companies, individual managers may simultaneously oversee one or more departments and one or more processes. But, what’s important is to make sure both types of “coaching” are taking place on an ongoing basis.    


3.    Constantly Search for New Talent

One of the most important roles of successful NFL coaches is to be constantly searching for and acquiring talent suited to the team. Yes, there are directors of player personnel who are the HR directors of professional sports teams. But the best coaches are personally active all year round visiting colleges, watching other teams’ players, bringing in prospects for tryouts.

Especially today where employees change companies more frequently than in the past, business CEOs and other managers need to be constantly looking for the next candidates to fill key positions—before the need arises. Like a football team, you can’t afford to have vacancies for very long.


4.    Teach, Teach, Teach

NFL coaches inherently recognize that it’s their job to enable the players to be successful. They are very clear about roles--coaches coach and players play. In practices and during games, head coaches, position coaches and the coordinators are continuously teaching techniques, guiding actions, and motivating performance.

Some business managers mistakenly believe their job is to hire the right people and get out of their way. Wrong! Managers need to manage just like coaches need to coach. And management is about doing what’s necessary to enable the “players” in your company to be successful.


Next Steps

While enjoying the NFL season this year, watch how the head coaches and the rest of the coaching staff on the various teams perform their jobs. See if there’s anything about what they do that you could adopt for your company. And be thankful that you don’t have a camera watching your every move and reporters second-guessing every decision you make.

If you’d like more information or assistance from me regarding your unique challenges, consider taking advantage of JPMA’s Executive Mentor Program. Check the JPMA web site for more information or contact Steve Clark at

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The Enormous Power of Carefully Worded Open-ended Questions

Posted By JPMA, Monday, June 26, 2017
Updated: Tuesday, June 27, 2017

By Ron Sidman 


Possibly the most under-appreciated and under-utilized tool for gaining knowledge and insight in any situation is the carefully crafted question. Yet too often we don’t put enough thought into what to ask . . . or maybe we’re just afraid to. 

Let’s face it. Communication between people in general, even those who speak the same language, is often outrageously poor leading to misunderstanding, inefficiency, potential grief and even harm. We so often never get the whole truth when we talk to or work with someone. This can be due to many factors including social convention, reluctance to reveal inner thoughts, differing mindsets or simply because we didn’t ask. Yet all of these obstacles can be overcome just by recognizing that open-ended (as opposed to yes or no) questions are the power tools of interpersonal communication.


Here are some common business situations where you can use clever question crafting to generate superior outcomes:


Conducting Consumer Satisfaction Surveys

No doubt you’ve had a restaurant manager come to your table with a question like, “How was your dinner tonight.” Unless your steak tasted like shoe leather you probably said, “Good.” But what if they followed up with a question like, “Is there anything we could have done or done differently that would have made your experience even better?” That question gives you “permission” to mention things that you were reluctant to mention because they weren’t earth shattering complaints but that would be very useful to restaurant management.

When you conduct in-person or online surveys in your company, don’t just ask the obvious. Include open-ended questions that really probe the otherwise unspoken concerns and desires of your customers.


Interviewing Prospective Employees

Hiring selection failure rates are higher than they need to be because it’s very easy for applicants to be very good at interviewing even if they’re not qualified to do the job. Instead of the stock questions like, “What would you say are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?” try something like this—“What was your most successful (sales effort, product launch, project, etc.) and describe in detail how you accomplished it.” No one can fake this and you can verify the accuracy further via subsequent reference checks.    

Providing Performance Feedback

If you’re trying to change someone’s behavior, you could simply tell them that their performance is not satisfactory. That’s likely to prompt a defensive response and uncomfortable conversation. But look what happens when you phrase it as a question like, “What do you think you could do to speed up progress on the web site development?” You’ve changed the focus from looking backward and finding fault to looking forward and generating improvement.



At my company, The First Years, we learned a brainstorming technique from a company called Synectics. What they taught us was when throwing out ideas in a brainstorming session, always phrase them as “How to . . .” or “What if . . .” questions. That type of phrasing stimulates the thinking of the rest of the group and blows open the possibilities. For example, instead of saying “collapsible high chair” say “How to create a high chair that is easy to travel with?” “What if . . .” questions encourage solving seemingly unsolvable problems. For example, “What if baby monitors didn’t need batteries?”  


Strategic Planning

Carefully crafted questions can break through mental barriers. To encourage out of the box thinking when creating strategy, ask your senior team questions like, “If we were starting this company today, how would we design it?” Or, “What could we do that would make us indispensable to our customers?”


Monitoring Employee Satisfaction

Retaining your star employees is critical to the success of your company. Too often managers assume that if an employee is not complaining they’re happy. I was blind-sided a few times in my management career by key employees suddenly departing and this may have happened to you. You might prevent this by making it a practice to ask questions like, “Is there anything about your job that you wish was different?” Or, “Where do you see yourself going in this company over the next few years?”


Identifying New Product Opportunities

One of the best ways to get new product ideas is to spend time observing your customers do what they do relative to your product category and then ask them open-ended questions like, “Why did you do it that way?” “What were you thinking when you did that?” “What was that experience like?”  



The temptation when providing someone with advice is to provide solutions. Much better is to ask questions that cause the mentee to think through the issue and come up with their own solution. For example, rather than advising someone to verify their new business idea by conducting 1:1 consumer interviews, you’d be a more effective teacher asking, “How do you think you could verify that consumers will want to buy your product?” 



The most successful negotiations result in win-win solutions for both sides. Quite often you can get what you want by offering something the other side wants that you’re happy to provide but you just weren’t aware of. But you won’t uncover that opportunity without asking something like, “What is it that you’re looking to accomplish in this negotiation and why?”


Planning Your Life

Stephen Covey famously encouraged everyone to think about listening to the speakers at your own funeral and asking yourself, “What would you like each of these speakers to say about you and your life?” What a powerful way to create a “life vision” that can guide your decisions and behaviors.


Next Steps

Take advantage of the power of open-ended questions by learning to have a “question bias.” Practice this whenever you have the opportunity and you’ll be amazed what you can accomplish. It’s like having a magic key to unlock information, ideas, and even relationships.

If you’d like more information or assistance from me regarding your unique challenges, consider taking advantage of JPMA’s Executive Mentor Program. Check the JPMA website for more information or contact Steve Clark at 


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The Case Against International Sales

Posted By JPMA, Tuesday, June 13, 2017


By Ron Sidman

Early stage JP companies eager to grow often look at international distribution as an easy solution. Don’t be tempted to take this route prematurely. I suggest you saturate the US market before you venture off to foreign lands.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for companies going global—when the time is right. However, the low hanging sales-enhancing fruit will be in the good ol’ USA until just about all your products are available just about everywhere you want them to be in this country. Even so, quite often companies that are still struggling to establish market share domestically believe that starting to establish international distribution is a solid growth strategy. Here’s why it should not necessarily be a priority:


It will take more of your precious time than you think it will.

The tendency is to think that all you have to do is find a good distributor in each country and then just wait for the orders. The reality is that the potential sales volume in foreign markets is typically quite small compared to the amount of time you and your key people will need to spend getting yourself up the learning curve and catering to the special requirements. Add potential “lost in translation” communication complications and you can see how time spent may add up. The payoff from spending that same amount of time on domestic sales expansion is probably much higher.


It’s likely to be less profitable than domestic sales.

There will be sneaky added costs that you might not be anticipating. Most likely you’ll need multi-lingual or local language packaging if you want your products to sell which will require smaller, more costly production runs. Unless you hedge the local currency, you may suffer from currency value fluctuations. Claims of defective merchandise can also be problematic and costly to resolve. And, product design customization may be required (see below)


Consumer tastes and behaviors may not be the same as in the US.

When my company first started selling in Japan, we learned the hard way that some of our most popular products simply were not appealing there whether due to aesthetic tastes, different parenting practices, or even extreme quality sensitivities (even though we made a quality product). So foreign rates of sale may not parallel what you’re used to in the States.


Competition may be tougher.

There are likely to be fierce local competitors in each country with potential price and retail relationship advantages and an eagerness to retain their distribution regardless what it might take.


Legal and regulatory requirements and processes are likely different.

You may need to comply with safety regulations that go beyond or are in conflict with US regulations. And violations may be handled without the due process you’re used to in the US. We once had a parent in the UK who complained that our booties left a red mark on her son’s legs. We ended up having to appear in a local UK court to defend ourselves—and lost.


Oversight is much more difficult.

We take for granted that we can easily visit stores to see how our products are being displayed, what the competition is up to, and how consumers are making buying decisions. But much of what is happening in foreign countries will be invisible to you unless you’re in a position to globe hop regularly. This makes it more difficult to anticipate and diagnose sales issues and opportunities.


Next Steps

Expanding internationally should definitely be a part of every JP company’s long-term vision. But don’t jump across the pond until you’ve accomplished your US distribution goals or you’ll be slowing down your sales and profit growth rather than speeding it up.

If you’d like more information or assistance from me regarding your unique challenges, consider taking advantage of JPMA’s Executive Mentor Program. Check the JPMA web site for more information or contact Steve Clark at 


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Are You in It for the Long Haul?

Posted By JPMA, Thursday, May 4, 2017


By Ron Sidman


How long you see yourself being involved with your company can have a significant impact on the degree of your business success. Long-term thinking and commitment can lead to superior short-term and long-term results.


I suppose one thing I can claim to be an authority on is how to run a business over an extended period of time. I created my company, The First Years, in 1972 and managed it for 32 years. It didn’t ever become the biggest company in the industry but we were always profitable and earned, I believe, a solid reputation for being progressive and innovative. At the time of our sale in 2004 to the RC2 Corporation, sales were around $140 million.


I don’t know the statistics but my guess is continuity of leadership like that is very rare and not just in the juvenile product industry. It might not surprise you to hear that I attribute a lot of my company’s success to the fact that I always had a long-term mindset. From the outset, I expected the company to exist indefinitely and I expected to be the guy running it for as long into the future as I could imagine. As a result, my dreams for the company were bold. And my commitment to riding out the inevitable ups and downs was very strong.


On the other hand, there are entrepreneurs that start companies with the clear intent to get the company established and then sell it for a pretty penny within a few years. This does happen to some degree in the high tech world where the market is huge and things can go viral quickly but rarely in our industry. The problem is that if you’re thinking is short term, your vision of success will likely be tame and conservative. And if things don’t go well in the early stages—which they usually don’t—it can be very discouraging to see your imagined time frame become less and less realistic.

If you are a serial entrepreneur, this post is not for you. If however, you think of your business as your career or at least a multi-year proposition, here are some suggestions for how to sustain it for a long length of time based on what worked for me.


1. Have a Clear Vision

Having an exciting dream that is shared by your key employees is what creates the direction and generates the energy that will propel your company year after year. Especially when times are tough, it’s that exciting vision that will keep everyone going. At The First Years (TFY), updating our long-term and medium-term visions was always the first step in the strategic planning process.


 2. Document and Enforce a Set of Core Values

The most successful and long-lived companies usually have a very clear set of values that are consistently espoused and enforced by leadership. It’s those values that allow them to establish and sustain a solid reputation that attracts the top talent, customers, and partners. At TFY, we established early on a set of core values related to customers, employees, and commitment to excellence that allowed us to align our daily behaviors in a positive and consistent way.


 3. Stay Vigilant

You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken. You can’t cope well with changes that catch you by surprise. You need a feedback system in place to make sure you are always aware of everything going on inside and outside the company that could impact your future. At TFY, one of the first things we did was to establish a “Parents Council” that started as meetings with local groups of moms but eventually became a nationwide internet-connected network that was a significant competitive advantage for us. We also had a data reporting system called “Vital Signs” that generated weekly and monthly performance charts.


 4. Appreciate Your Employees

People leave bosses not companies. Hiring and retaining talented people is critical to long term success. Employees need to know you recognize and appreciate the role they play in the company’s success and that management is there to help them be successful in their jobs. At TFY we taught our managers that there job was to enable their direct reports to be successful. We also maintained open support and communication through company-wide meetings, “lunches with the President”, and employee appreciation special events.


 5. Always be Recruiting

Speaking of hiring, as you grow you will need more people and people with higher skill levels. Think like a pro football team general manager. You need to always be on the lookout for talent so that when you need someone you know where to find them. As CEO, I did many things to learn about and meet potential new employees via networking at industry events and through other contacts.


 6. Live Within Your Means

I admit to being fiscally conservative. I’m not a proponent of living in an atmosphere of high debt or wondering where the money will be coming to meet the next payroll. I like to sleep at night. As soon as possible, you want to be able to finance your business via profits. At TFY, we always operated within our means and ended up when the company was sold with no debt and almost $30 million in cash on hand.


 7. Be Obsessed with Improvement

You simply have to keep getting better at the key components of your business model because you can be sure your competitors will. At TFY, we were a process-centered organization that used Six Sigma techniques to drive continuous measurable improvement. Every senior manager was expected to improve their department’s quality and efficiency every year.


 8. Leverage Processes to Maintain Consistency

Designing and continuously improving your key processes (e.g. product development, production, marketing, customer service, etc.) makes managing a company infinitely easier because it allows employees to manage themselves. A key is to make sure that process participants understand the purpose of the process and don’t just blindly follow the steps.


 9. Know Your Costs

We once had a new competitor that rose up quickly and undercut our prices by a considerable margin. We couldn’t figure out how they could do it. There was a reason we couldn’t figure it out. Turns out they had no idea what their costs were and had to announce about a $100 million loss at the end of the year. At TFY, on the other hand, we were meticulous about monitoring costs by product, by account, by department, etc. And we were quick to act if we found we weren’t making money in some aspect of the business.


Next Steps

Do some soul searching about what your time frame is and what you want it to be. If you’re thinking short-term, get out as quickly as you can and work on something else that you can really build over time. If you’re in it for the long haul, consider implementing some of my suggestions. They worked for me!


If you’d like more information or assistance from me regarding your unique challenges, consider taking advantage of JPMA’s Executive Mentor Program. Check the JPMA web site for more information or contact Steve Clark at 





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The Only Thing You Can Really Control

Posted By Ron Sidman, Friday, March 31, 2017

The ancient concept of “living in the moment” or “mindfulness” is coming more and more into the mainstream with respect to stress reduction and even medical treatment of chronic illnesses. But there’s also a huge benefit to embracing this concept in the everyday running of your business. 


Today more than ever, we are living in a world where the pace of change is almost so rapid that human brains can’t keep up with it. Strategic planning in business was always based on the fact that you could predict to some reasonable degree what the world will be like 3 years or 5 years in the future. Now it seems that we have no idea what will be happening tomorrow let alone months and years from now. The world was caught by surprise in this last US election. I’m suggesting you better get used to being caught by surprise because now it’s going to be an ongoing occurrence.

This new reality can be disorienting and discouraging unless you remember these three simple mindfulness-related lessons:


  1. Embrace Current Reality.
    The only thing you can really know for sure about the environment in which your business is operating is not what might happen in the future but what’s happening RIGHT NOW—i.e. “current reality.” Proactively understand and embrace it on an ongoing basis without fearing the problems you’ll uncover, complaining about it, or wishing it were different. This includes your company’s internal strengths and weaknesses as well as external opportunities and threats. Boldly acknowledge the good, the bad, and the ugly.

  2. Create a “Next Level” Vision
    To know what needs to be done to keep making an adequate amount of evolutionary progress, it helps to have both a long-term vision for your company but even more importantly a clear and specific vision of the desired “next level” on the way to the ultimate vision—say 3 years from now. Given that you can’t accurately predict the future, this is just a dream. But it’s a stake in the ground that guides your direction, dictates the required amount of urgency, and acts as a motivator for everyone in the company.  

  3. Work On the Next Step
    Since, the fact is that the only thing you can really control is what YOU are doing RIGHT NOW, to create that new desired reality you personally should be working RIGHT NOW on the most important next step towards making your vision a reality. There’s always one most important next step at any point in time. Constantly ask yourself, “Am I working right now on the most important thing I can do to get us to the next level?” This is a very powerful habit to cultivate.

When you embrace these three “truths”—especially #3—knowing how to cope and in fact thrive in business today without being overwhelmed becomes much simpler. The single most important and maybe the only important decision you have to make at any point in time is what to work on RIGHT NOW. That’s it! Everything else is for all intents and purposes not worth thinking about because there’s nothing you can really do about it.


Of course, easier said than done. When you learn how to meditate, you discover that staying in the moment is hard work. Your mind incessantly wants to wander off into thinking about the past or the future and you literally have to gradually rewire your cranial circuits by continually coming back to present moment body sensations over and over again. As meditation gurus will tell you, if your brain wanders off a million times, you have to bring it back to the present a million times. The more you practice meditation, the easier it gets to stay in the present.


So too can you benefit by learning how to run your business (and your life for that matter) mindfully. Not only your own brain but the world around you is trying to distract you. And, once you learn how to “work in the moment,” like any skill you have to keep practicing or your ability to stay focused will dwindle. How often have you driven home from the office feeling that you didn’t really accomplish anything worthwhile? Not a good feeling. On the other hand, it’s exhilarating and motivating when you know you’ve taken one more step, even if small, towards accomplishing your goals.


If you’d like more information or assistance from me regarding your unique challenges, consider taking advantage of JPMA’s CEO Mentor Program. Check the JPMA web site for more information or contact Steve Clark at 


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Whatever Happened to Honesty?

Posted By Ron Sidman, Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Somehow it seems that disregarding the truth has become more commonplace and even acceptable in the world today. The problem is that when leaders lie they destroy trust. And, by the way, trust is what makes leaders successful.

I stay away from taking political positions in this blog and this post is no exception. While the recent election makes this topic relevant, the veracity vacuum epidemic I’m talking about is commonplace on both sides of the aisle and rampant in business today as well.

Now let me be clear. There are times when leaders do not tell the entire truth because they legally can’t or it would cause unnecessary harm. There are also times when leaders think something is true when they state it but it turns out to be false (e.g. weapons of mass destruction in Iraq). These are not the pernicious lies I’m talking about. For the most part, people understand why the whole truth can’t always be told. The self-destructive sin to me is when a leader purposely distorts, grossly exaggerates, or fabricates information for personal gain.

Why Leaders Lie

Because sometimes it seems to work—at least in the short term! Human nature steers us to avoid immediate pain even if we know we’ll pay for it down the road. And in some business situations, it’s a leader’s survival instincts kicking in. As president of Takata, you don’t want to reveal that you have a serious product safety problem with your airbags because your company’s performance or your personal survival might be put in jeopardy. Or, as head of Enron you paint a rosy picture for investors and employees even when you know reported profits area fabrication because you’re afraid of setting off a downward spiral. In these cases and with someone like Bernie Madoff, there’s also probably a feeling that if I could only buy some time, I’ll be able to fix it.

Dishonesty is not always of headline scale. Managers promise employees future opportunities to move up in the company even though they know it’s highly unlikely. Business leaders may fabricate facts to support their decisions when they run into resistance from their board or employees. And the beat goes on.

The Power of Credibility

What happens when anyone becomes known for playing fast and loose with the truth is they lose a very valuable attribute—credibility. And, once lost it can never, ever be regained. Credibility is the quintessential core of effective leadership. If you can’t trust that what you’re being told is true, you are simply not going to act on it. On the other hand, when someone with a reputation for a having a firm grasp of reality gives you guidance, you’re all over it. As a result, people with credibility wield enormous power with others. They can readily get things done through other people which is the very definition of leadership. They can create devoted followers.

Practical Applications

Some might argue that sales is the art of creatively crafting a positive truth. Or that to be a successful negotiator, you need to deceive the person you are negotiating with up front to get the best possible deal. To me that’s old school thinking as well as very short-sighted. Ultimately, facts always win out. If you’re not truly improving the lives of your customers in some meaningful way, no amount of marketing obfuscation is going to help you in the long run. If a negotiation does not have a truly win-win outcome, it’s going to come back to bite you at some point.

Next Steps

The starting point for getting on the right path is being honest with yourself. What often happens is that a path of deception starts with someone hiding from reality because it’s too painful or not compatible with what they want to accomplish. As a mentor and consultant I can tell you that this is very often the number one obstacle to success. Whether you want to improve your personal life, start a business, build your business, or improve your golf game, the first step is always the same—understand the current reality with all of its positives and negatives! You have to start from there and then be willing to share that reality with anyone you want on your team. That’s the key to long-term, not just short-term, success and satisfaction.

If you’d like more information or assistance with your unique challenges, consider taking advantage of JPMA’s CEO Mentor Program. Check the web site for more information or contact Kyle Schaller at  




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You Get What You Reward

Posted By Ron Sidman, Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Your compensation and rewards program can be at its best an extremely powerful motivator and attention focusing tool or at its worst a devastating morale destroyer. You choose.


The intense competition for talent in the high tech world has caused companies like Google to be very progressive when it comes to understanding and catering to the needs of their employees. “Googlers” enjoy an astounding array of perks that few companies can match including on-site free cafes and mini-kitchens serving healthy food options, on-site fitness centers and daycare, 100% company paid health insurance, generous parental leave, corporate bonuses, peer bonuses, stock options, retirement plan, in-house courses, visiting speakers, career planning, death benefits, and even more.


Now, no company in the juvenile product industry has the level of profitability that would allow them to follow Google’s lead. And it’s not necessary or even desirable to do so. However, crafting a compensation, benefits, and rewards program that makes it crystal clear that you truly value your employees is something every company can and should do. Here are a few suggestions:

Adhere to the Principles of Fairness and Transparency

These principles go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. A business has to be a meritocracy and your employees have to be able to trust you. Few things disturb and demotivate employees more than feeling that someone else in the company that is not contributing as much as they are is getting paid more. In fact, a person’s pay relative to others is as important as the amount itself. Establish a clear, fair, and visible policy about how pay levels are determined and you’ll avoid a lot of angst and wasted time as well as have more success retaining good employees.

Make Compensation Variable Based on Results

The purpose of a business is to create and keep customers and nothing will deliver this message better than a compensation system that provides extra rewards when this is being done well and fewer rewards when it’s not. While the percentage of compensation that’s fixed or variable should vary based on level in the company (e.g. executives more variable than non-executives) and role (e.g. sales force is typically more variable), ideally everyone should have some variability built in.


The best programs have multiple types of variable compensation that are based on a combination of corporate, team, and individual performance. Depending on the job, periodic bonus payments could be calculated based on a combination of corporate and team performance. In addition, discretionary bonuses could be paid for special individual accomplishments (make the criteria clear). Learning or travel opportunities could be other types of individual rewards. Stock options can be effective long-term incentives in public companies.


Whatever approach is used, it’s most effective to have the reward come as close as possible to the results. For example, consider paying bonuses quarterly rather than annually. The annual performance review is pretty much obsolete replaced by either more frequent reviews or even ongoing feedback and rewards.

Be Careful What You Incentivize

What’s tricky about compensation and reward systems is that if you’re not careful, they can backfire. You will absolutely always get what you reward as Wells Fargo and its customers recently learned. As you may recall, aggressive sales quotas there led to the creation of a large number of fake accounts.


How do you avoid this kind of result? First, make sure your compensation program totally supports the elements of your long-term, customer-focused mission. If instead you’re actually incentivizing anti-customer behavior as a way to drive short-term financial performance, something is dreadfully wrong. Second, create and continually enforce a culture of teamwork and integrity. It should not be an every man or woman for himself atmosphere. Make it all about working together to accomplish company goals. Finally, base your bonus system on profit not sales. Driving up the top line by giving away the store is not a sound strategy.

Next Steps

Do an assessment of all of the elements of your current compensation and rewards program. Include candid discussions with employees at all levels of your company regarding which elements they value, which they don’t, and what they’d like to see. You might be surprised by what you hear. Think through what behaviors are really being encouraged and discouraged and then consider what changes might improve results as well as employee morale and retention. Before you implement any changes, go back to your employees and get their reactions to multiple possible alternatives so they won’t be blind-sided. Regardless of what you do or don’t change, make a practice of reviewing your entire program at least once a year.


If you’d like more information or assistance, consider taking advantage of JPMA’s CEO Mentor Program. Check the web site for more information or contact Kyle Schaller at         

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Thinking Like a Designer

Posted By Ron Sidman, Thursday, October 27, 2016

Turns out we would all be better off if we could adopt the mindset that comes naturally to people who design things for a living. So-called “design thinking” is now pervading every aspect of not only business management but life management as well.


In their best-selling new book, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life, Stanford professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans describe how thinking like a designer can enable you to take a broad view of your life as a whole and create an optimized balance between your work life and personal life. Interestingly, the methodology they advocate follows the same principles that I’ve talked about in previous blog posts about the development of new products in your company and the design of your business itself. In other words, design thinking is kind of the all-purpose philosophy for creating or improving anything.


Taking a holistic view of your life rather than making work life and personal life decisions in isolation is highly desirable but too rarely practiced. I’ve seen so many situations where people jump into a new job or start a new company only to find that they’re day to day lives consist of more pain than gain. So, I highly recommend the book to you because it provides some helpful life-planning tools and insights. The overall message is that life is a process not an outcome. And that you can systematically evolve your life in a direction that will optimize satisfaction and fulfillment no matter what your starting point is.


Here are some thoughts about how the core principles of design thinking can be applied to help you create products, new businesses or business improvements, and even a better life:


Designing is Best Done by a Team

We’re all used to the fact that you need a multi-disciplined team to develop a new product. In fact there’s no way to create products without successfully integrating the talents of marketers, designers, engineers, QC specialists, and production people. Same is true for business design and development. It takes a diverse senior management team to move a company forward. Interestingly, Burnett and Evans feel the same applies to life development. In one of the most novel aspects of their approach, they believe “live design is a communal effort” and recommend that you put together your own personal life development team to help you generate the best possible result.

It’s Never Too Early or Too Late to Start

Life design is a life skill and the earlier you learn it the better but it’s never too late. It’s something equally beneficial to high school and college students as it is to recent retirees looking for a meaningful way to spend their remaining years. Similarly designing your business properly from the outset would be ideal but it’s never too late to start getting it on a better track.

It’s a Lifelong Process

Designing is not a one and done proposition. If you want to maintain market share in the juvenile industry, you need to keep improving the performance of your products and your company over time. Life design too is a process of continuous evolution. There are always new problems to solve and new opportunities to address. And just like with products and businesses, it’s best done via a repeating process cycle.

It Always Starts with Truly Understanding How Things Are Going

The first step in any improvement effort is a thorough understanding of current reality. For product development, that’s done by talking to and observing customers to try to identify an unsatisfied need. For a business, you conduct an environmental scan or SWOT analysis. To improve your life, Burnett and Evans recommend assessing your current satisfaction with work, your health, what you do for fun, and your relationships as well as creating a “Good Time Journal” to help you identify what kinds of activities truly engage and excite you.

Then You Dream about the Way Things Could Be

In product development at my company, we used to call this a “Design Goal Definition” which outlined the requirements the new concept had to meet to be acceptable. For business development it’s your ambitious 3 year and 10 year objectives. In Designing Your Life, the authors ask you to create multiple hypothetical job descriptions that incorporate the fulfilling activities you identified in your journal.

Next You Develop the Best Way to Make Your Dream a Reality

In all realms, this involves creating prototypes that can be reviewed with little risk or investment to identify what resonates and what doesn’t. For products, you would be showing prototypes to consumers. For business models, you would test concepts in the real world via small scale simulations. For your life design, the authors suggest you create alternative 5 year “Odyssey Plans” and, with the help of your development team, imagine what it would be like to live those life styles.

Finally You Implement and Move On

Tool up, produce, and ship the product. Start up the new or improved business. Start down your new life path. But in all cases, don’t agonize over whether you made the right decision. Recognize you made the best decision you could with the information you had at the time. And realize that if it doesn’t work the way you hoped, you can learn from it and repeat the cycle again.


As self-development guru Jim Rohn once said, “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you. Not much!” If you’d like me to be part of your life or business development team, take advantage of JPMA’s CEO Mentor Program. Contact Kyle Schaller at for more information.

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Don’t Be Afraid to Set Objectives

Posted By Ron Sidman, Sunday, September 11, 2016


Having the courage to be specific about what you want to accomplish and in what period of time is a highly underrated characteristic of high performing companies and people. Too often managers think it’s safer to be vague and noncommittal.

At some level, we all are reluctant to set targets for future results. After all, it’s impossible to accurately predict the future, no one wants to fall short of expectations, and some things are difficult to measure. However, the very act of setting targets can enable us to accomplish more than we ever thought possible. It can have almost a magical positive effect on our behavior and results.


The Benefits of Objective Setting

Without specific, reasonable but aggressive, measurable objectives, we tend to slip into a generalized “best efforts” mentality. It would be like going bowling without keeping score. At the end of the game, you’d have little sense of whether you did well or not—whether you’re getting better or getting worse. In business, there would be a tendency to just react to immediate events with performance that gradually drifts backwards over time. Think about trying to maintain a healthy weight as an example. What would happen to most of us if we never stepped on a scale or didn’t have a healthy weight level in mind? On the other hand, watch what happens when you really commit to losing 10 pounds over the next three months and weigh yourself regularly. You are forced to understand why you’re overweight and exactly what you need to do day by day to accomplish your objective. Plus you have something to celebrate if you succeed.

Objective setting in business also plays another critical role. It aligns the efforts of everyone in the company. Without common clear objectives, people tend to focus on their own personal interests. On the other hand, corporate objectives can be trickled down level by level so that everyone is moving in the same direction with the same intensity.


The Importance of Corporate Culture

The key to making it work lies in your company’s culture. Let’s compare two companies. Company A is a company where mistakes or failures usually lead to negative personal consequences. Employees tell newcomers about so and so who was fired for promoting a new program that didn’t pan out. Non-conforming job applicants are rejected as too weird. Critics of the status quo quickly find themselves being penalized or ushered to the door. Little financial information is shared with the workforce in an effort to avoid poor morale in bad times or requests for raises in good times. Challenging tasks are avoided in favor of easy projects where success is ensured.

Company B on the other hand believes that the more employees know about current reality, the more aligned they will be in the pursuit of company goals. Problems are accepted as being inevitable. Uncovering problems and weaknesses is encouraged and rewarded as the way for the company to keep improving. When things go wrong, managers first look to the process as the reason rather than the people. Job applicants are rated based on character and what results they’ll be able to produce rather than how they appear or what they appear to know. Trying new things and failing is looked at as a necessary part of learning. Good failures are celebrated and rewarded.

I don’t have to tell you which company is more likely to successfully embrace objective setting and in turn is more likely to improve and grow. It’s also a given which company is more likely to be able to retain their best employees. Company culture is created by the company’s leaders by what they do (not so much by what they say should be done). You get what you reward and what you tolerate. You’ll stop getting what you punish. Very simple! A company’s culture is one of the most powerful determinants of a company’s performance. So design it consciously and wisely and then maintain it. 


Objective Setting Systems

There many options available for implementing objective setting in your company but one of the best I’ve seen is the one used by Intel, Google, LinkedIn, and many other companies. It’s called Objectives and Key Results or OKRs. It’s both very easy to implement and very effective. The objectives are descriptions of expected accomplishments within a specific time frame (for example, “Improve our customer service”) and for each objective you set numerical targets called key results (for example, “Minimum 9.0 customer survey rating”). You start by setting company-wide 3 year OKRs which are then broken down and rolled out to every department and every employee to the extent that you ultimately end up with current quarter OKRs for each individual. Here’s a link to a video that explains the concept in detail very well.  


Next Steps

If you don’t already have an effective objective setting process in place, watch the video and see what you think. Take the plunge and start getting in the habit of setting some ambitious objectives. You’ll be surprised by how much more you’ll accomplish. And if you don’t meet some of your objectives, the process of reviewing what didn’t go as planned is how you learn and improve. As always, I’m available to assist you through JPMA’s CEO Mentor program. Contact Kyle Schaller ( if you’d like to set up a session. 

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