How Companies Achieve Business Success, with Jason Jennings
Jason Jennings is one of the most successful and prolific business and leadership authors in the world. He has spent twenty years founding and leading successful businesses and teaching other companies how to achieve their full economic potential.
SPEAKING.COM: Why are you so interested in helping leaders improve?
JENNINGS: Each day, I receive an average of 85-100 emails from people who have read one of my books or attended a speech I have given. I have read and personally answered every email since my first book was released fifteen years ago. Reading and responding to those hundreds of thousands of emails has made me realize that my calling in life is to help people and leaders achieve their full potential. That sounds kind of schmaltzy, but the response comes from the bottom of my heart. I am driven to help others achieve what they want to achieve. It is my life’s work!
SPEAKING.COM: You were the youngest radio station group owner and are credited with revolutionizing many parts of the broadcasting industry. How did you change radio, and what inspired you to initiate those changes?
JENNINGS: When I was 21 and just out of school I begged, borrowed and scraped together a down payment to purchase my first radio station – in Flagstaff, Arizona. When you’re 21 you don’t know what you don’t know, so we threw away the book and proceeded to build the nation’s second highest revenue small market radio station.
The typical radio station at the time had three or four salespeople, but local newspapers had sales staffs of ten to fifteen, so we copied them. We stopped selling radio commercials or ‘spots’ and began custom crafting large dollar advertising solutions designed to solve our clients’ big problems and take advantage of new opportunities.
One of the fun things we did was launch the nation’s first two-hour weekly program titled, “MoneyTalk,” with a financial expert. It became so successful that, in short order, we filled the weekend with twenty-four, two-hour talk shows ranging from “Garden Talk” to “Horoscope Talk” to “Cooking Talk.” They were highly targeted programs; we charged premium rates and before long our weekends were making more money than our weekdays.
Owning that first radio station (and there were more that followed) taught me a valuable lesson that I still write and talk about today: be prepared to let go of yesterday’s breadwinners because what brought you to where you are won’t get you to where you want to go. Let go of ego where the boss has to be the smartest person in the room. Let go of same old-same old and the belief that if something isn’t broken it doesn’t need fixing, and let go of conventional wisdom because all it’ll ever get you are conventional results.
Constantly embracing change helps you avoid falling victim to the “Immutable Law of Suckage” (which I write about in my most recent book), which says, “By the time you figure out you suck, you have sucked for a very long time.” Any organization or company that isn’t changing faster on the inside than the world is changing on the outside is doomed to irrelevance.
SPEAKING.COM: In your latest book, The High-Speed Company, you say that urgency and speed are the keys to the growth of any business. How can leaders create a sense of urgency in organizations that have been around a long time and are more set in their ways?
JENNINGS: Speed for speed’s sake is dangerous and will send you careening out of control. So first, let’s define speed. Speed is solving problems the first time rather than revisiting them again and again. It’s keeping good customers from defecting, and it’s gaining the engagement of the more than 70% of American workers who, according to the most recent Gallup Poll, are either disengaged or actively disengaged. It’s also reducing resistance to new ideas and doing all these things simultaneously.
What I’ve learned by studying more than 220,000 companies for my past eight books is that in order to create a culture of urgency and growth, the company or organization must have a single sense of purpose built around doing something good, whether it’s serving rural America (CoBank), existing to end social injustice (Henry Schein), helping the many have better lives (IKEA) or existing to help people get their jobs done safely (Grainger).
SPEAKING.COM: Which industries are already tuned into the need for urgency and speed? Which ones seem to be lagging behind the most?
JENNINGS: I’ve studied many companies in very old industries who are very fast. O’Reilly Automotive has grown double digits for 55 of the past 57 years, and that’s a very old industry. I’ve also studied companies in the high tech space where all they could do was burn through money and never get anything to market. So, it’s not industries, but instead companies that create cultures of growth and urgency. That being said, forced to choose, I’d suggest that companies like Tesla and Uber in the tech space are fast, but it’s because they have a unifying sense of purpose that is shared by everyone. They are truly trying to make the world a better place.
SPEAKING.COM: Why do you think people resist the need to change?
JENNINGS: Everyone says, “Change is great,” but when change comes knocking on their door they shriek, “OMG not today! I’ve got too many things on my plate.” Change isn’t easy. It takes us out of our comfort zones and the way things have always been done. As I said earlier, if you want to create a successful organization, you must constantly fight (it isn’t easy) the urge to rely on yesterday’s breadwinners; you must not let egos get in the way of the right decisions or let same old –same old take hold and/or follow conventional wisdom. Great companies also find ways to get rid of the CAVE people: the Citizens Against Virtually Everything.
SPEAKING.COM: Can you provide an example from your own experience of how you adapted to the changing demands of the marketplace?
JENNINGS: When my first book, It’s Not The Big That Eat The Small –It’s The Fast That Eat The Slow, debuted as a New York Times bestseller, suddenly there was a huge demand for keynote speeches. And between producing a successful new book every two years and doing all the research for every speech I delivered, life and business were terrific. When the US entered the Great Recession in 2008, I knew that the days of being paid huge money just to show up and give a speech and then leave were over; We had to redefine what we offered.
Now we view each speech as an event, and the value added we bring to the party includes an interview with the CEO and ten other interviews with company executives in order to assure that the customization is spot on. We show up early to attend a welcome receptions, shake hands and greet people during breakfasts or lunch before or after my speech. We are willing to host a private breakfast for top performers or top customers, sign books – whatever is required to ensure the client’s expectations are exceeded.
As a result of changing from a ‘speech’ mentality to an ‘event’ mentality, the Great Recession were two of the biggest years I’ve ever had. Now, more than ever, people are seeking value in everything, and that includes in the speakers they hire.
SPEAKING.COM: You’ve conducted enormous amounts of research on companies and business leaders. Which, if any, of your results have completely surprised you?
JENNINGS: My research teams and I have screened 220,000 companies, and closely studied more than 50,000; have interviewed more than 12,000 CEO’s, entrepreneurs and company owners; and generated more than 600,000 pages of interview transcripts for my books.
Out of all that study, I believe the most important observation is as follows: business is very simple, and the most successful and enduring companies keep their business proposition, their model and their business operations very simple. It’s the secret keepers, egos, senses of self-importance and entitlement, greed and avarice that lead eventually to the floundering and failure that upend once great companies like Sears, Blockbuster, Budweiser, Blackberry, Borders, Circuit City, and the list goes on and on. One of my favorite lines is that, “business is simple common sense, but sadly, the most common thing about common sense is how uncommon common sense is.”
SPEAKING.COM: Are there any subjects or issues you haven’t yet studied that you would like to? What are they?
JENNINGS: This Spring I was hired to do a keynote for a major, several billion dollar American company for their annual leadership conference being held in Milwaukee. The audience was the firm’s 300 top leaders. The moment I took the stage, I looked out at the audience and was so taken aback that it almost knocked me off my game. I’m not making up the following sentence; it is absolute truth. As I surveyed the room, moving my gaze from face to face, I was struck by the realization that there wasn’t a single female, African- American, Hispanic or Asian face in the room. Every face was white, male and on the far side of being middle-aged! What kind of future will they have?
There have only been a few instances where I’ve stood on a stage, looked at the audience and stood frozen, almost unable to begin my speech. A few years ago, I was doing a big keynote in New Jersey for Johnson & Johnson Consumer Products at a time when the company was really hitting on all cylinders and doing extraordinarily well. I recall gazing out at a sea of people gathered in the atrium of the headquarters’ building and seeing white, black, brown and yellow faces in equal numbers, village elders, physically challenged people, young interns. Someone in the back row was waving a rainbow flag, and I damn near started to cry. I could feel goose bumps all over my body as I thought to myself, “OMG, this company looks likes their customers.”
I have a working theory that companies that look like their customers are not only doing the right thing, but are more profitable and successful in the long term than companies that don’t. That’s one possible book.
I’m also at work on a piece that I suspect will become multi-media in the form of a book, long form video, keynote speech and online teaching that is about the power of purpose. Much has been written about purpose from a military, religious and self-fulfillment perspective, but not a single work has ever been devoted to the power of purpose in business.
My publisher tells me that your next book comes from a discovery you made for your last book, but didn’t have the opportunity to fully explore it. I believe in the first chapter of my newest book The High Speed Company are the most important words I’ve ever written. And I really want to explore and write more about purpose.
To bring Jason Jennings to your organization to help your organization embrace and implement change and successful leadership practices in your organization, please contact Michael Frick at: Mike@Speaking.com.
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