“Just Get To The Road!”

Just get to the road!  When I was interviewing Mike Birch, CEO of Action Target Inc, he shared with me a story that is a perfect metaphor for how he leads.  We were talking about the difficulty in writing a book.  He shared that he tells his kids he is going to write a book.  I asked what it would be about and he stated that he didn’t know the content, but he knew the title.  “Just Get to the Road!”  

Mike has been at the helm of Private Equity owned ATI for 5 years.  In that time frame, they have taken EBITA to record levels.  They are in a high growth mode in a fascinating business.  They build turnkey shooting ranges.  They work in the commercial, law enforcement, international and military markets.  They build the facilities for their customers to train, practice and prepare, as well as for entertainment.  They are world class facilities.  They are global in scope.  

Mike has a physical presence.  He is a strong outdoorsman, both as a hunter and as a cyclist.  The motto of “Just get to the Road” came from his competition in the latter.  The Leadville 100 is a mountain bike race of endurance and strength.  The race challenges competitors with 12,000-feet of elevation gain over the course of the race in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.  This 100-mile event rewards the individual that finishes in less than 12 hours, with a large belt buckle.  It’s an honor earned through hard work and smart execution.  

It took four attempts for Mike to finish under the 12 hours and earn his buckle.  His story is captivating in how it mirrors his leadership.  The first year he competed he trained hard, and finished at 12:42.  Out of the buckle, but admirable.  He told his wife the next day that he was starting his training for the next race.  

That year he trained harder and worked on nutrition.  His reward was a 12:39 minute finish.  Still out of the Buckle, and frustrated with only a marginal improvement.  Again, he told his wife that training for the following year started the next day.  And it did.  And again, he trained hard, ate well, and still finished out of the buckle.

Mike used his own discovery and analysis to make judgments on where he needed to improve.  He realized he needed a coach and hired one.  They analyzed his results.  He wore a heart monitor and it showed his heart rate of 150-155 beats a minute was consistent throughout the race.  For those who have run marathons or have participated in long bouts of physical activity, you know that your muscles build up lactic acid.  That can prove very detrimental to your performance.  Mike and his coach determined that he was on a strong pace to finish at the 9:30-hour mark for the first 80 miles of the race, but fell off dramatically for the last 20 miles.  Each year, he struggled on a dirt road that lead to the last paved road into the finish line.  The lactic acids made it almost impossible for him to finish.  The road looked flat, but had an incline and he needed to walk his bike up part of the dirt road.  His mantra to get through the dirt road to the pavement became “Just get to the road!”

Mike shared the mantra with his kids.  One of his daughters called him about a challenge in a class she was taking and she ended the conversation about the class challenge by stating back to Mike, “I know Dad, just get to the road.”  It became that engrained in his whole family.

Mike has taken that philosophy to Action Target.  He shared that he doesn’t believe in the first 100 days’ metric that has become so popular in politics and business.  Instead of driving a hard agenda of change in the first 100 days he listens, observes, asks lots of questions and learns.  In fact, he would tell you his first decision at Action Target was to change the chairs in the conference room.  Although not very impressive he knew it mattered to employees and sent a message to the employees that details matter.  Previous leadership had purchased used chairs off Craigslist at a low price, but they were broken and very uncomfortable.  The staff was distracted by them in meetings.  Nothing gets accomplished when you are distracted.  Mike was building trust with his team.

Mike shared his second “major” business decision was to put in a companywide calendaring software system.   It was driven by a need to set a meeting with his staff.  His prior experience was with large, well established companies.  Small details like using a common calendaring system were already well-established processes in these companies.  He asked his assistant how he should set up meetings and she shared that he should send an email to attendees.  He did, and 3 people couldn’t make the meeting time.  It went back and forth several times on email before they could settle on a time and day that they all could meet.  The productivity gain from putting a shared calendar in was small, but extremely helpful.  He also created standing meetings and calendarized them annually.  There wasn’t any more email tag to set meetings. They became very efficient in sharing information. He set strong expectations of participation.  His staff makes the meetings a priority.  

The lactic acids were a distraction for Mike in the Leadville 100.  He had to overcome that distraction to reach his commitment to finishing under 12 hours and earning the Buckle.  He trusted his coach and he trusted himself, and his processes.  Mike trained hard, ate the right foods, and monitored his metrics.  He and his coach determined if he held his heart rate at 145 beats per minute instead of 155 he would be able to reach his goals.  A slight, incremental change, that would provide a huge reward.

In the fourth race, Mike monitored his heart rate and kept it at 145.  If it climbed to 150 he simply slowed his pace and dropped his heart rate.  He kept at it through a disciplined process.  He kept tracking his heart rate (discovery) and made decisions (judgment) on when to push and when to slow down his pace.  He trusted his process and pushed forward (trust).  Mike knew he was psychically capable.  He had the talent and strength.  He has trained physically, and mentally.  He was ready to ride.  He was ready to use his talent in the most efficient way possible to reach his commitment that he had made to himself.

When he reached the dirt road, he said to himself, “Just get to the road”, referring to the paved road into the finish line.  He said it over, and over again.  Then he realized that he was passing people in a stretch that he had to walk in past races.  He began to say it out loud.  “Just get to the road!”  Then he started to shout it, “Just get to the road!”  Looking back on it, he is certain others thought he was crazy, but he succeeded.  He made it to the road and cruised into the finish, earning his buckle with a couple hours to spare.

The set up for the interview with Mike was meant to capture inflection points in his life and how relationships had impacted those moments. My intent was to share specifics of his story to point to one or two of the inputs that had helped him. When he shared the story of “Just get to the Road!” I knew I had to change the narrative of the article.  He used all inputs in his personal life, as well as his business life.  I realized that there is no difference.  What Mike does in his non-work life is the same as he does in his work life.  His commitments are as strong in his non-work life and to himself, as they are to his business life.  

Action Target continues to grow based on a great team of people under Mike Birch’s brilliant but humble leadership.  When they make a commitment, they accomplish it.  “Just get to the road!”

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It’s tough finding talent, so what do you do when you find it?

While there are many things that can affect a company’s ability to reach its financial goals, fewer things affect it more than the performance of their sales team.  As a company leader, you can invest in technology, additional products, and new equipment to profitably grow your revenue, but if your sales team isn’t able to sell the benefits, it doesn’t guarantee that you will see the return on the investment.  

Sales training events may not be the answer either.  A recent study found that 55% of the people with a sales title, don’t have the aptitude for selling.  Another 25% have the aptitude but are not positioned in the right role to capitalize on it.  That leaves 20% who have the aptitude, and who are positioned in the right role. These are your “Rock Stars” that produce for you.  It all starts with hiring the right individual.

We are not perfect at interviewing, even if we think we are…

Studies show that most decisions to hire a person are made in 4.5 minutes into the interview and based on “how I feel about the candidate fit.”  Have you ever done this?  Other common mistakes are haloing the candidate based on how they look or act in the interview, talking too much, not enough listening, jumping to conclusions instead of asking deeper questions, and allowing personal bias to influence the decision.  If you aren’t enamored with the performance of your sales team, do you see any of these practices that have affected your company?  It’s expensive to miss on hiring. The cost of recruiting, hiring, and onboarding a bad hire can be as much as $240,000. That doesn’t include the broken relationships with customers that a poor hire can produce.

There is no Silver Bullet, but you can improve your odds!

There are steps you can take to make sure you are giving you and your team the best chance for success in hiring the right person for your company:

  • Build consistency in the profile and your interview process 
  • Identify the competencies that a sales person needs to be successful in your company
  • Create “must have values” for your company- if the candidate doesn’t have these traits, they don’t work here- no exceptions
  • Train your team on how to use the recruiting and interviewing processes and always be identifying possible candidates
  • Successfully on board and develop your Rock Star Sellers

While it may sound complex and sound like a lot of work, once you develop your process, it is a simple, productive venture.  Your return on the investment is outstanding.  Is there anything more important than your associates?  People are the lifeblood of a company.  Find the right fit for your company.  

NineRuns has a proprietary process for developing competencies and solutions for recruiting, interviewing and hiring Rock Stars.  

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Have You Ever Hired Someone You Wish You Had Never Met?

I was having coffee with a friend of mine who is the CEO of an early stage software company.  I asked him how much it cost him to hire the wrong individual.  I was expecting something like the $240,000 figure quoted in recent Forbes article.  He shocked me with his answer- “$2,500,000”.  I asked how he came up with that figure.  He said in selling enterprise software, it takes 12-18 months to close business.  If the individual fails, it costs the company the compensation for the individual and expenses for recruiting, but also the $2.5mm that they were expected to produce. I believe that it a more accurate understanding of the cost of a poor hire than I had ever heard.  He had just had an experience with a seller he wished he had never met.

In your business, a poor hire may not cost $2.5mm, but they may cost you much more in customer loyalty than the money you spend on recruiting, hiring and training the individual.  Take a moment to think about how much damage a poor hire can affect your business, whether in a sales role or any other role.  It might inspire a different way of thinking about how you recruit, interview and hire.  

In a hiring process there are four things to seek.  Does the candidate have the skills, the values, the aptitude, and the drive to do the job you are hiring them to do?  

There are mistakes that can be made in a hiring process:

  • Not having a clear understanding of the competencies that the individual needs to possess to do the job
  • Not having a well-defined set of values that you are looking for, and all your interviewers understand
  • Not utilizing some sort of aptitude test that measures if the candidate will have success, based on their preferences for a type of work

In an interview, if you have a well-defined set of competencies and values you can increase your odds of finding the right individual for your role.  You can also determine if someone has the right drive with an interview group that understands behavioral interviewing techniques.  But determining aptitude is not something you can determine in an interview process.  You must use an assessment tool and there are a several that are validated and accurate, however you should never use them for more than 25% of your decision.  It is only one of four factors.  

Having a rigorous, disciplined process for recruiting, interviewing and hiring has a positive impact on your business, your customers and your profitability.  

NineRuns has a proprietary process for developing solutions for recruiting, interviewing and hiring of Rock Stars.  

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