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The Ingredients of Success

terryblogPick up a business magazine, or a book, and you can find endless articles on leadership, management, business plan execution and numerous variations on these themes. But let’s quickly look at the areas that really need executive attention. There are four areas that I will review:

Talent          Mission          Coaching          Culture


The talent you need for your business success depends entirely on your goals. Here’s my point. Want to achieve a goal such as playing professional golf? Talent comes first. All the coaching and practice will not get anyone to that goal without the talent. Number one golfer in the world right now is 23-year-old Rory McIlroy. Ask yourself, how much has practice helped his game? I’m sure he had great coaching. We know his mission is to be number 1, and the professional golf culture is well established. This enterprise is talent driven.

Success in the digital printing world isn’t deeply shaped by mission, but that doesn’t mean that in the right enterprise mission is not the most important factor. Look, for example, at Habitat for Humanity. Habitat builds homes, yet because of its mission, it receives free labor and materials. Quite a business model, right? Well, it’s mission driven. The talent and coaching is often amateur, but success is driven almost entirely by mission.

I use the term coaching as a sweeping term to sum up both leadership and management. Read about them in the thousands of books written on this subject, but know in some businesses they are the most important factor, just as we have seen that talent and mission can be the most important factor in success. My favorite sports coach has a unique record, in that when given 6 days to prepare for a game, his record is 26 wins and 2 losses. The 2 losses were NCAA national championship games. This coach is a great leader, and given time, can come up with great game plans. In many enterprises the critical factor is coaching.

But as a business leader, I believe that the most important factor for success is culture. It is also the least understood or developed for business success.

Talented people can be hired, and then leave. But in a great culture they stay.

Business models (Mission) can change and business plans can be altered, but in a great culture everyone pulls together to get through the change and the challenges.

Leadership and management (Coaching) can be weak in areas, or ebb and flow, but in great cultures coaches at every level improve with years of additional experience.

Some endeavors demand talent first and foremost. Others must put mission first. Some demand great coaching. But in the crucible of a great culture, outstanding results and talented people will develop over time and that brings the most value to the endeavor.

How do you create a great culture? Stay tuned for a future message on culture building.


Terry Corman
Firehouse CEO

On Small Business Management

terryblogIn a very famous book on business, the author argued through his research that the most important action that a business executive could do is get the right people on the bus. Initially, it’s far more important than where the bus is going. With the right people, you will get excellence whatever the destination. From my experience, that is terrific advice. However, getting the right people on the bus is the (relatively) easy part of the job. You interview, take referrals, talk to references and make the best hires. The very difficult part is getting the wrong people off the bus. And this difficulty, this reluctance to terminate employees, is often the root cause of poor performing businesses. And the root cause of all the other related bad news that comes with poor performance. Here’s why.

There may be little that is more important to the productivity and success of a business, school, or not-for-profit than the culture of that enterprise. Culture can be constantly improving, or it can wane and become a problem. Poor performing employees, negative employees and cynical employees destroy successful business culture in thought, word and deed every day. A business executive that fails to immediately deal with that situation is leading the rest of the business to poor performance or worse. It can mean reassigning their seat on the bus to a better match, dealing with the root cause of the negativity, or, ultimately, termination.

FirehouseBusStudies show that one negative comment from what we call ‘saboteurs’ will lower the emotions and productivity of a normal employee until they have had six positive interactions during a day. Constant negativity from one ‘saboteur’ in a department will lower everyone’s expectations and work performance. Yet, executives everywhere tend to gloss over, put up with and bargain with the wrong people on the bus.

Business culture is supremely important. Negative people ruin good culture. And the reality of people and personal interaction is that it’s simply easier to leave them on the bus.

Only the truly great companies get the right people on the bus and handle the very difficult and painful work of dropping the wrong ones off at the next stop.


Terry Corman
Firehouse CEO

Your Own Final Four

terryblogWatching college basketball at a very small, local university has become a welcome routine over the years. A couple of years ago, at the start of the season, the basketball coaches of all the teams put out their predictions. Our team was expected to finish sixth in the league that year. Ours is not a very strong or well-known league in college basketball.

As expected, our local college basketball team started the season like a second-rate team in a second-tier league. The wins were few, and the losses mounted until one particularly awful defeat against the worst team in the league. Our team was beaten badly, and the five-hour ride back from Detroit, I am told, was in total silence. That night, after the silent bus ride, one of the sophomore players stood on a chair in the locker room and offered up his appraisal of the team and the players.

By the post-season, our little team was on national TV facing Duke University in the final game for the NCAA National Championship in front of 70,000 fans!

YourOwnFinalFourHow could such an enormous change happen? What could transform a nondescript, losing basketball team into a powerhouse that beat every major university it faced in its trip to the Final Four? The truth is that the little basketball team had a lot of hidden talent. The starting center on the team went on to play professional basketball in Europe. Two of the other starting players are now enjoying careers in the NBA. The other truth is that the individual players didn’t recognize their own hidden talents. They didn’t know how good they were until they fully committed themselves to being the best basketball players and the best teammates they could be.

And so it is with so many teams and organizations and businesses. There is an incredible amount of hidden and untapped talent in this world. Most people are capable of so much more in life than they know. It’s just that they have never worked hard enough and long enough and with concentrated effort to see just how good they are.

Imagine now your own teammate standing on a chair in your locker room. Imagine that right now. He’s saying to you quietly, “I know we just lost to Detroit. I know they beat us bad, but get over it. We are going to the Final Four if you will just commit to it and work like never before.”

Your Final Four can happen! It can happen this season. You have to commit.


Terry Corman
Firehouse CEO