From Thin Air: Creating Success Out of a Shared Vision

Ex nihilo is a Latin phrase that means “out of nothing.” There are leaders who create great enterprises out of nothing; nothing that is, but vision, commitment and focused follow through.

Vision is the fuel that drives all start ups. For leaders, developing vision for another company can be more difficult than building from scratch. Michelangelo turned a ceiling into a masterpiece by reimagining the Sistine Chapel. Adding what seem like the intangibles of talent, skill and unique perspective adds real material value.

starbucks mcdonaldsBusiness icons like Howard Schultz of Starbucks or Ray Croc of McDonald’s before him come to mind. They envisioned systems and models that didn’t yet exist. Schultz joined Starbucks in 1982 when the chain sold beans and operated a few stores. Today he is chief executive officer of a company with over 23,000 locations in 67 countries.  Ray Croc bought the McDonald Brothers’ small franchise for $2.7 million and turned it into a multi-billion-dollar enterprise. Today there are over 36,000 locations. How do growth-oriented companies like Starbucks and McDonalds come about?

Starbucks’ Schulz credits focusing on hiring the right people: “You can’t teach heart. I love to surround myself with people who have heart and conscience.” Kroc famously said, “You’re only as good as the people you hire.” And those people should be given latitude in working with clients. In short, it’s about making sure everyone is on board with the vision and values, then comes a process of “letting go.”

One of those leaders comBruess 1fortable with letting go is SecurityNational Mortgage Companies’ Todd Bruess. In two years, Bruess has established a growth track nothing short of phenomenal.  Starting with one small office, Bruess and his team have built a regional network of four offices, with four more scheduled for 2016.

So how did he do it? Bruess asserts, “It’s all about hiring the right independent-minded people, then giving them all the tools they need to be successful.”

For Bruess, a big part of being the “right person” is ability to take initiative and own shared values versus blindly repeating company mantras. This deep commitment to personal growth matters in uncertain times.

Some companies like SNMC have been able to find the balance between the restraint to not micromanage (caging the inner control freak) while attracting managers comfortable with letting loan officers run their own operation.

The key is identifying people who think like entrepreneurs and are hardwired to be in business on their own. But it is a Catch 22. A company wants growth-minded, entrepreneurial managers to apply their instincts and innate skills, but also needs to maintain consistency and alignment.

One of the big complaints of employees is manager dependence; bosses who are unable to let go of certain decisions and responsibilities as the business grows. Empowerment is easy to teach but challenging to implement.

Starting or expanding a business in a favorable economic climate is challenging. Doing it in the months and years after a financial crisis is even more difficult. The financial crisis of 2007-2008 is considered by many to have been the worst since the Great Depression. “The key to forward momentum is in knowing that each employee is a growth engine, a power cell.” Bruess said.

“There is no secret sauce to our recipe, but that does not mean it is easy to do.  We focus on finding the most client-focused loan officers and consultants who want to work with clients, then give them compelling reasons to join our group and stay with us.”

“Loan officers who focus on client needs and act as a consultant, not a sales person is key,” Bruess said. He credits SNMC for buying into this philosophy: “It comes from the top down for sure, we collectively see this the same way.”

Research shows relationships trump even compensation when employee satisfaction is measured. HNW, Inc. conducted a survey of top performing sales people at leading firms. In their survey, the number one reason (56%) people said they enjoyed their jobs was focus on client interaction. Compensation was a distant second at 27%, and tied with brand reputation.

HNW states in their study summary: “In a competitive market, forward-thinking companies constantly look for new ways to improve relationships with customers.”

Most of the top sales people in the study, surprisingly, did not lean on their companies well-established brand.  Most believed their personal brand and reputation resonated with clients.

What about social media? According to HNW, “Nearly half of high-touch salespeople use social media for marketing purposes, and more than a third use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for prospecting. And a quarter of those in financial services also use social media to build their personal brand. Yet among those who don’t use social media, the number one reason stated was that their company doesn’t allow it.”

“Social media is not only a reality in todays business market, it is a huge opportunity to maintain customer relations as well as collect valuable feedback, testimonials and reviews,” says Bruess.  “That’s why we encourage it as well as invest in marketing our loan officers to make sure they are able to use past successes to attract new clients and referrals.”

Bruess concludes: “You cannot grow if you have turnover, and you do not have turnover if your people have no reason to leave.”