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All posts in the Growth Strategies category

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Playing the Infinite Game in a Healthy Organization Reaching for the Desired Future

At the EntreLeadership Summit (@EntreLeadership) of 2019, three of the speakers, Dr. Henry Cloud, Patrick Lencioni, and Simon Sinek spoke and their messages really coalesced into a unified message. As I listened and reflected to each of them, they were some of the best times that I’d heard them speak. Each presentation was excellent in its own right but I knew there was something more. I felt that put together, they would form part of a larger better message.

Below I’ve laid out a brief of each main point of each presentation. At the end, I then put together a matrix of how they all inter-related.

Dr. Henry Cloud (@DrHenryCloud)

I’ve heard Henry Cloud speak a number of times. This was, by far, the best presentation that I’ve heard him deliver. His topic was Desired Future:Vision or Fantasy.

The desired future of an organization is the compelling vision that the leader of the organization lays out for the team. There are Five Elements of a Desired Future:

1. A Strong Vision
2. Engaging the Talent
3. Executing a Strategy
4. Measurement and Accountability
5. Fix and Adapt to What I Find

To accomplish the desired future, there are several questions that must be asked:

  • Does everyone understand why we are here? (How compelling is our vision?)
  • Who is around the table who doesn’t fit the future?
  • How far do I let people stretch versus letting them down with the vision?

Patrick Lencioni (@patricklencioni)

Patrick Lencioni is one of my absolute favorite speakers. For my money, I would like to hear him speak at every leadership event I attend. He always brings something fresh for his audience. This session was no exception as he spoke on the four disciplines of a healthy organization which include:

1. Build a Cohesive Leadership Team
2. Create Clarity
3. Over-communicate Clarity
4. Reinforce Clarity

As you can see, clarity is important.

Simon Sinek

This was the first time that I had really heard Simon Sinek speak beyond a clip here or there on social media. He spoke on the concept of the Infinite Game. In the infinite game, the goal is to outlast your competition. He shared that the Vietnam war was an example of the infinite game where the U.S. lost the will to keep playing. In the infinite game, we consider how people achieve not just that they achieve. The infinite game has these characteristics:

  • known and unknown players
  • rules can change
  • new players can join
  • play to stay playing

The Infinite Game is what we do in our businesses, educational institutions, non-profits, etc. We “play to stay playing” and “outlast our competition.”
To lead within the Infinite Game, Sinek related that we must have the following things:

1. Just Cause: A cause so just you’d be willing to sacrifice your own interests to advance it.
2. Trusting Teams: Companies must trust their employees/team.
3. Worthy Rival: A worthy rival is one that shows you your weaknesses.
4. Capacity for Existential Flexibility: Flexibility to profoundly affect your organization (a profound shift in strategy and course).5. Courage to Lead: Willingness to recognize that the rules to win and the game we play are not necessarily aligned.

When you put all three of these addresses together, there are some interesting interactions. A Courageous Leader with a Just Cause in hand enters the Infinite Game yielding a Strong Vision supported by Clear Strategy. As a next logical step, the Courageous Leader Engages the Talent, Builds a Cohesive Leadership Team which yields Trusting Teams. With a Trusting and Trustworthy Team, Clear Strategy is implemented, over-communicated, reinforced, measured, made accountable, and updated (sometimes drastically) based on the measurement and the Worthy Rival showing improvements needed.

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Towards a Growth Organization

For a number of years now, the term Growth President has been in the vernacular of college boards, C-Suite leaders in academia, general administration, and faculty. In large part, the term is meant to reflect that leader who is leading the charge to gain students. That leader should be reaching new student populations, developing initiates, and engaging the existing donor base and adding to it. It should be clear that the effective Growth President will create the vision, the team, and the culture.

What a Growth Organization Needs

As most educational institutions at least understand what a vision is, even when they do not use one well, the concept of a vision should be fairly understandable. The vision is developed to show where an institution intends to go. If growth is a goal (and it should be), the vision must reflect the ability to grow. It must speak to what that growth looks like and how the institution intends to get there. Certainly, the President (the Growth President) develops the vision with their own flavor and zest along with the executive team.

While these steps are not necessarily sequential, the next aspect that must be put together is the team that will carry out the vision for growth. Usually there is a team in place. As Jim Collins notes though, the right people have to be in the right seats on the bus. So the Growth President must make sure the team, from the board down through the C-Suite Leaders, through the administration, staff, and faculty are all in the right place on the bus. . .or get them to the right place or on a different bus.

This leads to creating the culture for growth. Peter Drucker, Mark Fields, and Bill Aulet have noted that, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast, technology for lunch, and products for dinner, and soon thereafter everything else too.” In other words, establishing the culture is the quintessential thing that the Growth President must doculture-eats-strategy for growth to be sustained. Every team member, regardless of their area, must be focused on growth. No one can say “growing the school isn’t my job,” or “recruiting students is not my job.” Everyone is a recruiter. Everyone is a public relations specialist. Everyone is an innovator for growth. Everyone must have an attitude of looking for new things, new ways of operating, and a sense of personal responsibility for growth. Those who will not be a believer in this culture need to find someplace else to belong.

As I’ve worked with colleges around the U.S. and internationally, I’ve seen some institutions who think the President (the Growth President) is the answer to growing. They are part of the answer. . .but not the only answer. They are just a start. The entire culture must be about growth for growth to be sustained.

What Growth Organizations Have Done

As I’ve watched colleges become Growth Organizations, I’ve noted examples of successful methods and techniques for growth. Here are a few examples:

So many institutions have looked at their programming and determined that they needed to reach new student populations. As a result, the implemented adult and online programming, they added more programs that were needed in the market, and they have seen exceptional growth. One of InterLearn’s clients went from 0 to 500+ students in their adult programs in five years. That has changed their financial status from being in debt and ready to close to excess revenue in the millions.

One college in the U.S. Southwest had identified that one of their growth strategies needed to be adult and online programming. When some faculty pushed back and would not support it, those faculty found themselves “put off the bus.” Today, that college is a leader in the area as a result of that move.

Another institution in the U.S. Midwest implemented a staff contest to generate student leads for its programs. A challenge goal of certain number of leads was set. If they reached that goal, the entire college staff would receive additional days off (with pay, of course) at Christmas. Everyone was encouraged to reach out to people they knew through social media, e-mail, telephone, and in person to help gather leads. They made the goal as an entire organization and had some extra time off at Christmas as a reward.

One president has dinners for community members at his home on a monthly basis to tell the story of his institution. Additionally, weekly he meets with potential donors who can financially support the vision.

One president so recognizes his central role in recruiting that he is regularly giving out his business card with his personal mobile telephone number on it. He talks to people in his community about starting a program at his institution in restaurants, grocery stores, etc.

One institution, in order to raise the initial funds for marketing, cut an already dilapidated budget and worked its fledgling donor base (none of which could give more than $5000). Those efforts allowed them to gather the amount that they needed to really push their adult and online programming to grow.

Each of these examples show the dedication that is needed by the entire organization to be a growth organization. Yes, the President must be a growth-minded President who really LEADS. However, everyone is part of the growth process.

How is your organization working to be a growth organization? Send me your stories and I’ll try to feature you on our blog.

If you need some help working towards being a Growth Organization, let InterLearn help you in your endeavors. Contact me today at (918) 895-1185 or

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People Like Us Do Things Like This: Marketing in Christian Higher Education

I had the pleasure of attending “Business Gets Personal,” a one-day conference with Seth Godin (@ThisIsSethsBlog), Dave Ramsey (@DaveRamsey), and Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee). The conference was designed to be a way to connect us (business owners) to our clients in a personal way based on the expertise of the three speakers who put the conference together because “they just liked each other.”

If you know me well, you probably have heard me espouse a Dave Ramsey-ism or two (or twenty). Dave was his usual great self. However, it was the other two speakers, neither of which I had really followed, that really surprised me in a great way.

To start the day, I arrived to find that my seats were front and center in the venue. We were in the “spit zone” of those who spoke at the front of the stage. GREAT seats!

Then Seth Godin got up to speak. I’d heard OF Seth but really didn’t know much about him. I found him to be a keen intellect (and not just because he had a similar hair style and an appreciation for the finer cult movies of the 80s. . .I’m looking at you Buckaroo Bonzai). He began describing how we had changed from an Industrial Economy to a Connection Economy. We used to go with a mass marketing appeal to our potential clients. Now we are going with a more coordinated, trust-and-permission-based exchange of ideas based on generosity and art. He shared how we used think of the two standard deviations from the norm as our marketing target because it contains 95% of the population.

Seth shared, though, that when marketing is in play, we are seeing a flattening of the curve and more of the population is going to the niches. Therefore, we are not getting the same bang for the buck by appealing to the masses. Instead, Seth reflected, “People like us do things like this” to represent the idea of how marketing needs to be done. That is, we as consumers like to be around people that do things that we like to do. If you’re familiar with the construct of the tribe (people like us), the tribe is our marketing target, Seth noted.

Gary Vaynerchuk was up third for the day. Instead of doing a traditional presentation/lecture, he decided that he wanted to have audience members line up and come to the stage to ask him questions that he would 1) attempt to answer individually and 2) attempt to answer in a way that had meaning to all (or at least the majority) in the auditorium. (On a side note, if you are new to Gary, as I was, and particularly if you are in the conservative circles that I am in, Gary may be. . .how to say this. . .a little bit “salty.” That is, his vocabulary tends to be laced with heavier profanity. It’s part of who he is, to the point that he addressed it given the Dave Ramsey audience which is often pretty conservative. However, don’t let that scare you away from the points that he makes. While I won’t be using his same phraseology, I greatly appreciate what he shared and will continue to follow his information. Thanks Gary!) While Gary answered a number of questions from the audience, there was a theme that emerged that tied in very well with Seth’s points: You must become a media company. Instead of paying attention to being heavily involved in “social media,” we must think in terms of just being involved in “media.” Gary noted that the “second that people understand that they are a media company around their product, they begin to own the field.” Use social media but use it as a company providing information of value that you own.

So, coupled together, the two main points that I took from the conference really hit home for me in relation to Bible and Christian Colleges and Universities. First, we need to realize that our market is not going to be everyone and their dog. Yes, we can have a wide range of people that are going to be part of our tribe and we can attempt to continue to expand our adherents. However, a mass marketing appeal doesn’t work the same way it used to. We need to be strategic in our marketing to get people to our institutions. Part of the way we do that is by providing value to people with whom we come in contact. One way we provide value is through media (social, traditional, technology, etc.). Our attitude needs to go from trying to be a good sales person to caring well for the people with whom we connect giving them resources and information to help them (and not just “get our message out”). As Seth noted, we need to capture the art of our work and have generosity as our center.

As leaders of Christian institutions, we sometimes expect the value of our product (education) to speak for itself and we expect students to flock to our buildings, our classes, our perspective. We forget that the Great Commission told us to GO. In Matthew 28:18-20, we hear Jesus say:

18 I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,[a] baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

In the same setting (right before His ascension), Jesus said this (as recorded in Acts 1:8):

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

If we are to follow the Great Commission and go into the uttermost parts of the world to make disciples of all nations, we should recognize that there is a world that needs to hear the care and value we bring them.

How will you do that through the institution in which God has placed you?

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Overnight Success

If you ever have had the opportunity to attend a Dave Ramsey EntreLeadership Event (and if you haven’t, and you’re leading an organization, you should), you may have heard about how they were an “overnight success.” They were a sensation on Oprah, with a best-selling book on the market, great products for consumers, etc. The theme song “Fame” echoed in the background, I’m sure. From an outsider’s perspective, I’m sure it did seem that they were suddenly everywhere.

The truth of the matter is, though, that getting to be a household name and achieving the notoriety was hard work. Dave talks about how they worked hard for 20 years and, “suddenly, they were an overnight success.” If you meet Dave in a work setting, you better be prepared to step up your game because his is already “over 9000.”

As I work with clients, I often refer to successful institutions like Ohio Christian University. In fact, in the attached article (OCU Biz First Article), the great success they’ve had in enrollment and economic growth are highlighted. Their president, Dr. Mark Smith was also just given an award by the State Board of Education of Ohio Department of Education for his excellent service on the State Board of Education. They have been working very hard at OCU under the direction of Mark Smith and are seeing the fruit of their labor. They, too, seem like an overnight success to the casual observer. Mark is intensely working at every moment to increase. You may have killed it yesterday, but what have you done to kill it today.

Neither the Lampo Group (Dave Ramsey’s organization) nor Ohio Christian University were “overnight success” stories. The success for both organizations took long and hard work, intensity, commitment to the goals, and bringing it every day. It took guts they weren’t sure they had. The leaders in both organization sweat blood and tears sometimes to make them go and grow. . .

When they both reached levels of success, it was not time to sit on their laurels. They continued to grow, develop, refine, re-imagine. . .and add to their “overnight success”. . .more success. They did so by working just as hard to continue accomplishing their call as organizations. They continue to impact their arenas.

Their “overnight” success is really the story of sustained, daily, and focused intensity. The obstacles and problems that loomed large, they put them in their rear-view mirror as they worked past them so they could find the new ones to conquer. Their “overnight success” status is ongoing.

How will you find your “overnight success” story? What are you tenaciously doing that will make you the heralded name around the water cooler, around the city, region, state, nation, world, or in your field?