Cracking the Focus Code with James Burgess

James BurgessJames Burgess is the author of CHAOS; How Business Leaders Can Master The Power Of Focus and “No Problem” Is The Problem; How to Attract and Retain Raving Fans. He is a speaker, business plan expert and leading business management consultant leveraging a unique business planning program that is EASY, FAST, SUSTAINABLEand entirely PRACTICAL, the FOCUS Chaos CoverAccountability Business Plan Solution that leads into any corrective action by a business, large or small. James is the Founder of FOCUS31 and Synergen-X Management Consulting Inc.

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Hugh Ballou: Greetings, this is Hugh Ballou and Russell David Dennis. Russell, how are you today?

Russell Dennis: Greetings and salutations. It’s a beautiful day here out in the mountain west.

Hugh: And in Virginia, it’s lovely. Our guest is from the Toronto, Canada area. Lovely place. I just love Toronto. It’s like a clean New York City. It’s got all of the great stuff, and it’s clean. It’s got great people there. I love going north of the border. Russell, why don’t you tell people who our guest is and what his sweet spot is? He is going to introduce himself.

Russell: Greetings. Today, we have a real treat. We have imported some brilliance from our neighbors to the north up in Canada. We have James Burgess, founder of Focus 31. He is a master business strategist who works with small companies, from start-ups to under $25 million in revenue, who tries to help them get out of their own way by focusing on the right things, creating the right systems. He has done all sorts of work with both businesses, profit-making businesses, not-for-profit entities and is well known throughout the Canada. Many associations he has made presentations to. James, welcome. Why don’t you tell our friends on Facebook a little bit about yourself?

James: Thank you, gentlemen. It is absolutely delightful to be with you this afternoon or this morning, depending on how far west your audience reaches. I would like to start before I introduce myself to dispel rumors that Canadians all live in igloos. It is equally gorgeous without the thin air that Denver has. It is about 77 degrees, clear, blue skies, and we are headed probably for about 82 by the weekend. Yes, I live in a house as you can see by the walls behind me. I say that all in fun. But every time I get to educate on what Canada is all about, I take the opportunity.

It’s a pleasure to meet all of your listeners, virtually of course. My name is James Burgess. I am a speaker. I am the author of the international best-selling book Chaos: How Business Leaders Can Master the Power of Focus. I’ll give everyone an opportunity to get a free copy of this book at the end of the podcast, so stay on. I am the founder of Focus 31, a business that sells a service that no business owner wants, and yet we do it extremely successfully. Every business owner I sit down with or passes the table where my book is sitting says, “Yep, this is me. My business is in chaos, and I need focus.” Whenever they say “focus,” I know what they also need to be saying is I need accountability. That is entirely what Focus 31 does. I act, or my team acts as virtual CEOs for small businesses, as you indicated, from start-up to up to $25 million in revenue. In the past, we have worked often with not-for-profits to get them understanding just what it is they want to do, where they want to get to, how they are going to get there, and hold their feet to the fire, not in Tony Robbins’ way, but holding their feet to the fire to ensure they in fact act and implement their game plan that will get them to that new platform of success.

Russell: Brilliant. I have to get you guys up here to huff some of this thin air. It will keep you laughing and smiling. You talked about focus. You work not only with business leaders, but in nonprofits. What are some of the ways that a lack of focus has held nonprofits and businesses back that you have observed?

James: Great question. I will share with everybody that I do speak at extremes to make a point. Something is never as bad as I make it sound, but neither is it as good as I may make it sound. The majority of businesses or nonprofits are right down the middle, but I do make a point by exaggerating my point. I will start with that as my premise with everything I say here today.

What is the impact of chaos on nonprofits? I have to believe that typically if they aren’t clearly in control of their organization, if they don’t have a clear understanding of where they want to get to and how they’re going to get there and have a system in place to actually and act on the game plan, then they go nowhere. They remain stuck. They don’t build more contribution or revenues, however you want to refer to it. They’re not able to serve their clientele more than they did yesterday. Typically, there is a lot of disappointment within the organization, wondering why, why is this happening, what is it about what we’re doing that isn’t getting us what we want to do? There’s lofty goals, but the thing is, I meet a lot of, especially in the small business, I meet a lot of coaches and naturopathic doctors. They hold the same kind of mindset that nonprofits do. We don’t want to talk about money. We want to save- I’m exaggerating. We want to save the world. That’s all well and good, but at the end of the day, Bill Gates can save the world far better than the rest of us can because he got focused on money first, made incredible strides in building an incredible company so that now he has the financial resources to give it all away where he chooses to. The nonprofits I have spoken to, and I have done it a number of times, when I get in front of them, and I start talking about setting a set of objectives, financial targets for the year, I just feel the shudder, the absolute shudder in the room because nobody wants to talk about getting money. But at the end of the day, it’s the money that allows you to expand your services and to serve more people. You have to get down to understanding that businesses are successful because at the core, yes, customers and employees, but we serve our customers and pay our employees better when we are earning revenue, not when we are thinking about saving the world. With all love and affection for every single nonprofit association that is out there.

Russell: Saving the world costs a little bit of money. It takes an investment. Our good friend Dr. David Gruder, Hugh’s twin out on the West Coast, talks a lot about our relationships with money. You worked with countless business owners and nonprofit leaders. What are some of the most common features that you find with their relationships with money when you start a conversation with them?

James: The core of our system to get focused and accountable is as I said something no business owner or nonprofit wants. That’s a business plan. Everybody starts walking out of the room when I start talking about business planning. The really cool thing about our system is it’s not 25 pages. It won’t cost you $25,000 to create a marketing document to share with your constituency. It’s to celebrate what you did well and a couple of pages to show financial results and talk about strategy upon strategy that takes five pages each to express a single strategy. Our system for business planning is really easy. It’s really fast. Therefore, it makes it practical for the managing directors to actually put into use day in and day out. We write strategies not in five pages, but in 100 characters. We write a strategy in less content than it takes a tweet, if you can believe that. An entire strategy in less than 100 characters. It’s phenomenal, and it gets you tight on what you are proposing to do and how you are going to do it. It gives you something you can actually implement. In that background, I apologize because I lost sight of the actual full question that you had for me. If you won’t mind repeating it for me.

Russell: A lot of nonprofit leaders and business executives come in, and they have a relationship with money that is not the best. What is the typical type of relationship with the average person that comes to talk to you, whether it’s a for-profit leader or nonprofit leader, what are you finding that their relationship with money is, when they walk through your door for the first time?

James: I guess in quotations, it’s a “necessary evil.” Again, just because of the mindset, this overwhelming desire to serve more people, which I think is absolutely fantastic. Until you connect with where the money is coming from, how you are spending it, what your marketing plan is, every business has a marketing plan, it may be social media, it may be print, it may be site, whatever it is, it has to be linked and consistent. You have to be prepared to spend money on the resources to make money. Businesses have a hard time to understand to spend money to make money. Nonprofits is tenfold that much more difficult to understand that I will get more contribution by spending money on making sure people know who we are and where we are. If you’re not investing in the systems needed for a strong marketing implementation, then your business is effectively a billboard in the middle of the desert beside a gas station that has been closed down for 100 years and nobody is going past you. They don’t know you exist. Again, I exaggerate to make a point that obviously your nonprofits are operational, they have clients, they have contributors, but we have to be focused in on day after day, week after week after week, how are we going to get more contributions and more contributors? How are we going to use those funds cost-effectively to draw in more people that we can serve with those monies? It’s generally a failure to connect with what’s needed to move the business forward instead of remaining in the status quo. If you remain in status quo, you’re already in decline, you just don’t know it. Businesses and nonprofits cannot stand still. You must be moving forward every single week, developing new ideas, implementing, testing, measuring, determining what’s working. If you’re standing still, thinking everything’s okay, you’re wrong. You’re already losing market share. You just don’t know it yet because it hasn’t showed up.

Russell: It takes planning to come up with money. It takes planning to figure out how to deliver those services. I have a feeling about it, but I was wondering what your feeling is. Is there a natural resistance to planning? What are the top three reasons for that resistance?

James: Absolutely. As I said, we sell something nobody wants. The school system does not teach us about starting a business. Colleges don’t do much of a job around entrepreneurship; universities, definitely not. At the end of the day, it’s the school of hard knocks as we are all very familiar with as entrepreneurs. The same applies for nonprofits. Managing directors have grown up in the education system that doesn’t talk about how I grow my business. Along the way somehow we get influenced by the people around us. I’ll call them the ninjas in our lives. Professional or otherwise. You start talking about a business plan. Somebody will tell you it takes too long. Somebody will tell you it costs too much. Somebody will tell you that you will never implement it, don’t bother. For nonprofits, I’ll suggest to you that for the managing directors, the executive board, the board of directors will dump all their ideas on you at an annual convention, expect you to go do something without giving you any more resources to implement with. Here is my answer.

It doesn’t take too long. Is ten hours to get your initial business plan done, plus 30 minutes once a month, and another 45 minutes once a quarter, but don’t add in the 30 because that quarter is also a month, so it’s just 45 minutes, and annually, an hour. Is that too much time to invest in the future by conquering the chaos and getting focused and accountable on what has to happen. Is that too much time to spend, to lay out the future of your organization? I’ll suggest to you it isn’t.

At Focus 31 last year, planning for 2018, it took me 25.4 minutes to do our annual business plan. Why? Because I keep it current all the time. 25.4 minutes. I kid you not. Ours is a very involved business plan. No more or less involved than a nonprofit’s would be. I think that’s time worth investing in your organization.

Hugh: James? We get that all the time. I don’t have time to do this, so I say, “Wait a minute.” In nonprofits, we have a board of directors. Theoretically, those are important people. I say, “You have time to bring all these important people together and waste their time, and you have time to go back and do it over again. You have time to waste money and spin your wheels.” Really it’s about thinking about process. I was a musical conductor for 40 years. We wouldn’t dream of stepping on a podium without a score. We have different documents. At SynerVision, a business plan is exactly what you said. It’s a financial document for an investor or a grant. Strategy, it’s how we’re going to implement. That’s our music. We are constantly amazed that people don’t have either. That’s a real big. There are objections, which is a request for information. We give them information. Then there is excuses. How many times do you run across those who have excuses, and people are so ingrained they don’t want to change?

James: Sorry, was that a question?

Hugh: Yeah. Do you find people use excuses? Usually an objection is something you can answer like a question. But an excuse, what do you do?

James: The key to a successful nonprofit is a clear joining of understanding between a managing director (I am using this term as the typical title of the operational leader of a nonprofit) and the board. You said something interesting, and I want to touch on it first before I answer this. You said the business plan is for grants and investors. That is exactly the kind of plan I think puts organizations in jeopardy because they will cost $25,000. They will be 50 pages long. They will be very colorful. They will tell a wonderful story, but they don’t give the managing director anything to do day in and day out to advance the organization. The planning process I was speaking about earlier is an operational business plan. Sure, take that five-year vision. Let’s make it three years because we want to be emotionally connected to the outcome we want to create and operationalize the ideas the board has given us to move forward on. But the issue with implementing the business plan between the board and the managing director is the board has lots of ideas, and the managing director has no additional resources. Their head, not intentionally, is like an ostrich buried in the sand dealing with the day-to-day working in the nonprofit, never on the nonprofit. Where a decision is made to work on a business plan together as a board and a managing director, there has to be a strategic approach to it. We have these great ideas. Let’s get them tabled out. But then ask the question, How do we help Jack or Susan implement this? What resources do we reasonably need, or what can the board do by committee to take some of the workload off so the plan can in fact be implemented? If you change nothing, I don’t believe it’s because the managing director doesn’t want to move the business forward, I just believe they can’t without resources to get them out of the business and every single week spend a little bit of time working on the nonprofit.

Hugh: That’s a huge sound bite, Russ. Hey, Russ, are you hearing his vowels? We hear the Canadian.

James: I thought you guys were distinctive.

Hugh: We are. We say y’all, but there is a bunch of y’all, we say all y’all.

We spend a lot of time with our tribe educating people. We have developed in SynerVision, just to your point, what you do is brilliant. I want to clarify for people. We spend a lot of time clarifying strategy. What we have in SynerVision is what we call a solution map. We do have it on one page. We are not as efficient as you are, but we summarize it in one page. It’s a road map for where you are going to go. We do have people who write business plans that have no tactical part to them. Yours has a strategic part to it. I want to make a distinction that we are on the same page. Don’t get confused by words. That’s why we did solution map. Sometimes nonprofit leaders say, “That’s a business thing. It will inhibit my creativity.” We say, No, your strategy is your container for your creativity. Now you can fully access it. We are on the same page. I want to get some terms out that people don’t get confused and think we are preaching two sides. We create a road map to go forward. That’s what I hear you saying.

James: Effectively, I like the idea of road map, a journey. If I want to get from Toronto to Denver, I am going to take the highways because they’re faster. A vision statement, in a business plan, our approach is the vision statement is defining the destination. I want to get to Denver. I want to get to Denver because I want to go skiing, and I want to experience the lifestyle of the thin air and laughing more than I laugh now. That is my destination three years from now.

The mission statement defines the guard rails on those highways. It keeps me true to running my business the way I said I would run my business, the way I committed, and the way I communicate running my business to my clients.

The objectives are the mile markers along the way. The signs that say I have 4,222 miles to go until I get to Denver.” The next one, I have 4,000 miles until I get to Denver. The targets are the mile markers on that highway.

The strategies define the infrastructure of that highway. The strength to carry the business. The smoother the highway is, with less bumps, the faster and safer with less hiccups we are going to be able to get to Denver by.

The action plans are the decisions for braking and accelerating and steering that we do to implement getting us through those mile markers, measuring our success against the time it’s taken to get us to Denver. I thank you for using the road map. We actually look at it as the journey in terms of how each part of the business plan is on the highway.

Hugh: Regardless of what our wives say, men occasionally do use maps.

James: Absolutely.

Russell: It’s even scarier when we actually stop and ask for directions.

James: Just not with them in the car with us.

Hugh: Before I give Russell back the interview I just hijacked from him, talk a minute. We are talking around this, but SynerVision is about equipping leaders. What you’re talking about is a leader making an effective decision to raise the whole capacity of the whole team. We talk about capacity-building in nonprofits as generating the ability to do what you want to do in a more efficient way. This is a very clear leadership choice is to have somebody like you come in and work with me because I’m really good at what I do, but I’m not really good at creating the map. So speak about what’s the challenge you see of leadership, and what’s the benefit of a leader stepping up to this trough and doing it?

James: Awareness. In one word, it’s awareness. You have to be aware. The leader needs to be aware that something is broken. Then decide that they are in enough pain to care that something is broken and have the awareness that where they want to get to isn’t where it is now. They are so stuck in the quicksand and drowning with the spouse ready to leave, and the kids not getting the attention they should get.

I had a client just two weeks ago. We found each other on LinkedIn. I sent him a copy of my downloadable version of my book. He operates a $20 million home renovation business. He started it from start-up. You can well imagine somebody from a start-up to $25 million has probably had to make some crazy decisions along the way because of the absence of knowledge on how to move from 0 to $5 million or $5 million to $10, but to go all the way to $25 million, man, his head has to be hurting from hitting that glass ceiling so many times because he was guessing at what he should do next. And we had a 30-minute discussion about it all. He had the awareness. It was broken. He had the awareness he was in pain. He gets into the hospital every two weeks with anxiety attacks because of cash flow, personnel issues, and he said, “I had no idea somebody like you was out there that could be my virtual CEO and just plain give me somebody else to talk to to make me feel good about what I am doing, but kick me in the butt and get me moving on things that I don’t know how to do properly.” He came to the awareness.

By the way, I will share it. Please do not take this as a sexist comment, ladies. You are brilliant. You’re nurturing. Your family responsibility, as business leaders, you will own the world because you accept far more readily than men do what is broken and understand you need resources around you. You have spent your life keeping family resources and networking resources close to you. When you are in business, you draw the right people in. Men have got the stupid hormone. It’s called testosterone. It’s the No hormone. It’s the “I am not in pain” hormone. It’s the “I am fine just the way I am” hormone. It’s the nonsense hormone. So men have got to- We’re losing it. We’re losing ground if we don’t come to terms with the fact that we know what we know, and we may know a couple of other things. We have our core capabilities, but that is not enough to move a business from $5-$25 million. You have to have help to do that, especially if you want to franchise like my client wants to do. Nonprofit, same thing. The women get it much better than we do that resources are needed to help support them being stronger. The guys will spin and spin and spin and they will finally get it, but imagine getting it sooner how much more effective the nonprofit could be.

Russell: I think more women leaders in nonprofit circles would be helpful. A lot of what you’re talking about is just wiring. We guys are like make a list, 1, 2, 3, 4, get it done, get it done, get it done, get it done. Women work around building relationships. They understand that relationships are valuable. Whatever you’re doing. We do one thing at a time. We can’t seem to focus on more than one thing at a time. There’s just that difference in style. Women in general are better listeners, too.

James: Absolutely.

Russell: Those are really pluses in leadership. Good leaders listen. There is a leader that we come across. They are brilliant in every way, male or female, but you run into some situations where people approach you and say, “I need better results” and start talking about some of their problems. They just don’t connect the dots. There are some things within them that for some reason they just don’t seem to want to entertain change. How do you approach a leader that is actually in his or her own way so to speak when they are lining out these problems? That may be clear to you there is something they may or may not be doing. How do you approach them when they are laying things out and they don’t actually see it?

James: I’ll share that some of my other training I don’t rely on often, but it fits so well because it came into my head. I am also a master practitioner of neurolinguistic programming, hypnotherapy, timeline therapy, and that kind of thing. There are, in very general terms, two kinds of people: those who are in cause and those who are in effect. Those who are in effect are the ones who blame everything around them about why they can’t be successful. People in cause go out and recognize their responsibility, they take action, they’ll fix anything they want to fix. When I’m on stage, I don’t speak in those terms. I talk about being a business warrior. The difference between a warrior, and I am not talking currently, I have all the respect for Canadian and U.S. military and the job soldiers have to do, but there is a difference between a soldier and a warrior in ancient Seng-Zu’s time frame. There is a big difference. I talk in my seminars about the difference.

The answers are the warrior is leading. The warrior knows what the objective is and will give up nothing to get to that objective or frankly die trying. They are prepared to think through moves necessary to get to the objective and be flexible. If you think about a warrior, they welcome barriers and challenges because every barrier they break down, they will go over, go under, go around, or go straight through means they have moved that much closer to the objective. They say bring on another barrier, and I will overcome that one as well. They are ready for the next and the next. It’s the passion for what you’re doing, the passion for the journey or the objective at the end of the journey that is needed in business leaders to say, “I don’t give a rat’s ass quite frankly about barriers. I want them because it means I’m growing and I am improving and managing my business better, giving it longevity and giving it a destination to get to.”

People in effect don’t have the passion for change. They don’t have the passion for barriers. They are squeamish at barriers. They want somebody else to break it down, to answer how I do this. Give them all the answers. These are employment decisions that have to be carefully considered because involuntarily your team can come to a grinding halt if you haven’t got the passion at the top of the house to just say, “Give me anything. Put anything you want in front of me.”

The Washington Capitals, holy cow. The Vegas Knights. Who would have expected those teams to play in the National Hockey League Stanley Cup, leaving all the Canadian teams completely out of the ball game? Changing sports there. What did they do? They said, “Come hell or high water, they are going to win,” and they did. They came back against incredible odds. It was an amazing series of games. Washington played brilliantly as if their lives depended upon it. When we take that approach in business, nothing can stop us.

Russell: And that really starts with us and knowing that we can do it and making why and what so important that nothing stops us. One of the things that the foundation of a lot of the workshops that we do is Hugh’s Transformational Leader Accelerator, which was something that is the foundation of the work that we do. Transformational leaders do all of those things that you’re talking about. They are so focused on the prize, they will just get in there. But the thing is they know they don’t have to do everything themselves. They build exceptional teams around them to lift themselves up. That is a really key feature. There are a lot of leaders that sometimes get in their own way. They are not taking advantage of all the brilliance that is around them. It blocks their productivity and everything that they do. A lot rests with the leaders. That is why that emphasis is there with all of the leaders coming together and driving that common vision. But you get people around them, the tools that they need. It’s all about growing. To do more, we have to become more. It’s simple mathematics. A lot of people get stuck. Stuck is a very common word, but stuck means different things to different people. That could be around productivity. It could be around where you are. How would you define stuck, and what are some of the most common ways that you see that show up with the nonprofit and even the business leaders that you work with?

James: Another terrific question. How best to answer it. I sat on our local Chamber of Commerce board for a number of years. And I was the committee head of our business excellence award, which was the most powerful evening of fundraising that the chamber had. So I have the experience of being on the inside as well as on the outside looking in. The biggest stuck that I think I, the best way of putting it is I can’t, it’s too big to change, there isn’t enough money to change it, and I don’t have, the organization doesn’t have enough time to make the changes nor the innovation of ideas in its circle of influence so why bother? I’ve got a job. I’ll be in this job. I love the constituents that I serve. I love them. I will love whoever we can pull in here, and I will take as much money as I can. But I just don’t see how to change, and therefore, I don’t understand why I should change.

Russell: That’s quite a place to be. A lot of people are in that. That sort of thought process comes to mind because I have been involved with organizations. I was in one of my old jobs with the Rooster Band of Knick Knacks. We work with the communities around us. I was on some regional planning boards which covered the whole northern half of the state. People would sit down. You’d get these types of efforts that as groups and as individual organizations alone, all we have another planning process or a visioning. Half the eyeballs in the room roll up into people’s heads. Oh, here we go again. We did this three years ago, and nothing changed. Why do you think that nonprofits and other organizations that take the time to do these plans struggle to implement them?

James: Really good. I am collecting my thoughts on this. The challenge every organization faces, and this goes from start-up to multi-nationals and includes every organization imaginable, the planning process becomes a brain dump. I’m sure many of your listeners annually have a gathering of the minds. Call it what you will. A convention, a planning session, a strategic meeting. Anybody in the circle of influence is welcome to come in, and they plop. I use the word “plop” because it is the sound these ideas make, a plopping sound on the board table because there is nothing to go with it. Everybody brain dumps, plops it down, and they leave, and it’s the director’s responsibility to take a scraper, pull all that plop off the table, and figure out what to do with it. There are some great ideas in here. Boy, I wish I knew to go about doing them. I wonder who is going to help me get the resources so I can dedicate just an hour a week to get some of this going forward, but I don’t know where that hour is coming from.

We have to learn that business planning is a strategy unto itself. Don’t start with it as a tactic. We need a business plan. “I heard James Burgess speak on this podcast, and he said everybody has a business plan. He said it’s easy and fast.” Even the fast and easy business plan that sits on the Internet or in the cloud or on a piece of paper or in the credenza as a 25-page document that doesn’t get enacted is a complete and total waste of time and energy and resources. Don’t do it. Save the money, invest it in your constituents, and give them the money for the programs that you have rather than invest in a business plan.

When you think about it strategically, you talk not just about having the plan, but what are we going to do about it, and how do we make sure it stays alive? That is my program of weekly holding my clients accountable to do the work necessary by giving them that high level of responsibility to plan out their week. Knowing that I am watching what they are going to be planning out to do and giving them weekly feedback elevates the responsibility to actually do it so we have something to celebrate the next week far more powerful, and work starts to get done. A three-year vision is nothing more than 156 weeks of a little bit of work on the business. But if it’s just a brain dump and a plop, hey, great ideas, who’s doing something with it?

Is that committee going to do it? No. Committees don’t do work. What are you talking about? It’s all on you, dude. You can’t take that approach. The team starts with the chairman of the board and goes down to the volunteers. You gotta link them all together. When you don’t, then your organization will begin to create this perspective. You’ve heard this all in corporate and in nonprofits. The CEO says something or the senior executive and the staff say, “Oh, don’t worry about that. Wait 30 days. It will go away. It won’t matter.” We as leaders create that environment of employees just saying, “That’s not going to last. They will stop focus with the next kneejerk reaction.” You can’t do that. You have to have the strategy and the intensity to stay on the important decisions that you’re making.

Russell: At SynerVision, we lay out a road map that really empowers the leaders to do just that and to create responsibilities and accountabilities where everybody inputs to the plan and takes some ownership in it. I would say that with these plans, even in a common situation when somebody says, “Okay, things are not really going very well,” it takes some courage to step up and say, “We need to do something different. This is not working well.” It takes courage to do that. But going from that to actually getting a working plan that is implemented and shared is another matter. That is what the WayFinder process that we use at SynerVision is designed to eliminate and to help with. That is very important.

James: There are very powerful organizations out there that have been quoted by a ton of speakers from the stage, motivational speakers, that say within the organization, decisions are based not on, “No, it can’t be done,” but rather how will it be done. We may not have the answer today, but let’s ask the first question: What would be our first next step if we think this is important? And start to work at things that way, rather than saying no. Well, yes, this is important, so what’s our first next step? What’s our first next step after that? Then you really start to create incredible momentum and momentum in the staff, in the leadership team, and lo and behold, these are companies that are blowing the roof off of financial results. The Dow Jones recognizes their success. Huh, big surprise. Right. You gotta move away from the No and move into the Yes, but how?

Russell: It is the possibility thinking when you build that around. I like to think of myself to be a possibility engineer and keep asking questions. A lot of people get stuck in thinking, “It’s always been this way. We can’t really change it.” A good question to ask is, “Okay, if I believe what it is that I want to try to do is possible, what is the next thing I would do in this very instance?” Keeping that type of thought process flowing. It’s an internal job, and I think there are a lot of things internally, which is why the Transformational Leader Accelerator is so important. The more of these principles that are incorporated to open the leader’s thinking is something the leader passes on to the team. It’s getting into that possibility thinking. People that think they are enlightened enough to create a plan have a knowledge inside them somewhere that they have enough brilliance on their team to come up with something. There is lots of brilliance under that roof. If somebody has been sitting there for years and they have made suggestion after suggestion, nothing was done with it or they weren’t encouraged to own the process, they just start to say, “I am going to sit back here, relax, and get my paycheck. Hope it doesn’t bounce.”

James: Have my bagel and cream cheese. Exactly.

Russell: I gotta have my bagel and cream cheese with my coffee in the morning. Productivity suffers. All sorts of things suffer. Chaos ensues. In your experience, what are some of the signs that chaos is crippling the nonprofits in what they’re doing?

James: I think the very first and obvious one is contributions, revenue aren’t growing. If you’re a nonprofit supporting an orchestra and shows of some sort or a theater, the first sign that things are broken is you set financial goals, you apply a marketing plan, and it’s moving in the wrong direction or it’s simply stagnating. That is the first indication that something is wrong.

I certainly see this next one in larger organizations: a revolving door on employees. I had a client say to me, “I don’t understand. The longest-standing employee I have is 25 years, but she is 65 and retiring next year, and she has always been just an administrator. All of my key people are under 18 months employed with me. What’s their problem?” I said, “Hang on a second. You just went into effect, dude. You’re not in cause. In effect, you say it’s their problem. In cause, you say, No, you’re the one who thought you needed the role. You’re the one who, oh, wait, didn’t define a job description for them. You’re the one who posted a job for them but didn’t consider the attributes or the skills needed for the job; you simply went out in the street and shook somebody’s hand and brought them in. You didn’t have an orientation program. You didn’t pay the market rate. You haven’t supported them. You haven’t coached them. Whose fault is this again? Help me understand.” Those are two areas, certainly revenue and employee satisfaction.

The third one will always be customer satisfaction. If you are not serving your customers or the people you serve, you have no idea whether or not you are gaining more or losing them, whether they are satisfied or not. There are good ways to survey and bad ways. I’d be happy to talk to anybody listening about what I think are the right ways to survey. You need to have an understanding about where your customers are at. Customers don’t drive revenue. Employee satisfaction drives customer satisfaction drives revenue. All three have to be going. One will only be in sync when the other two are completely aligned with each other. When you don’t understand that connection and innovatively work at strategies to improve employee satisfaction and understanding the customer and making sure that how your employees are improving is fitting with what your customers want from them. Typically, we just look at services and our product, but let’s look at who is delivering them and how they are delivering it. Get that linkage between employee and client and then our revenues will improve.

Hugh: James? That is so key. That is so key. Our customers are our donors. Sometimes, people come to our events. The orchestra, the constituents pay for tickets and attend concerts. That is a big piece. I am going to give you a chance to have the last word in this interview. Russell has done a great job of grilling you. I was hoping he would stump you with something really tough and make you sweat. Not only are you a master of your content, but you are really good at the analogies and teaching people about the concepts. I find that to be extremely helpful. This is really timeless content. You are going to have an offer about your Chaos book and some other things. I have been thinking and making notes for myself. This is really useful stuff. Thank you for being here.

The pieces that you’re talking about today, I believe, are key components for employee and volunteer and board engagement. People know what to do and when to do it.

We are going to give you the last word. You are graciously giving us that Chaos book. And what’s a closing tip before Russell closes this off?

James: Sure. Thank you so much for including me in this podcast. In my enthusiasm, I regrettably tend to speak very negatively about what’s wrong. The good news is the resources I have for you today, because I couldn’t speak long enough about what the resources are to resolve the issues, I have them all for you. My book Chaos: How Business Leaders Can Master the Power of Focus, I want to offer all of you a free downloadable version. Please get a pen and paper out. The website is It’s free. It’s not a free registration. The book is free to be clear. In this book, I give you all the answers about how to do a business plan fast and easily. We talked a bit about one of the confusions within the nonprofits is the power of delegation. There is a chapter on delegation. There are chapters on mindset, measurement, accountability, and chapter eight is the powerful one. It’s a workbook style. Mark it up. Make the most use of it.

You can send me an email at I’ll even send you a workbook that you can use along with the book to create your business plan easily, fast so that it’s sustainable and entirely relevant because it is easy, fast, and sustainable. Entirely relevant to your organization.

Better yet, we have a home study program. It is completely free. I give everything I can for free when it comes to business planning. You can go to our website and register for, again it’s not a free registration, like you sometimes see, but the program is free. What we do is we have a home study program. It’s seven modules. It’s delivered by way of 15 emails over a time sequence to give you time to work on each component of your business plan along with some additional resources that will enable your success. If you’d like to get that program, it’s called Focus Yourself. Get it at I apologize. I didn’t have time to set up a tiny URL for this call. I should have. You can register for Focus Yourself, and we will immediately start sending the content to you.

Hugh: James, good news. We will put this in the notes for the podcast. You have about two minutes. What is your closing wish, challenge, or tip for people?

James: This is so easy. I say this all the time. Get it down, then get it right. The typical reason business plans never get done is because you are looking to create the perfect plan. It doesn’t exist. Even with my help, the perfect plan will never exist because you will learn tomorrow, and you will learn again more about what to do tomorrow after that, and after that. Get it down, get it under way, and with each learning, improve upon it by making it the leading document that prescribes where you are going and how you’re going to get there.

Then I rely on the most powerful management consultant, not just that the world has ever known, but that the universe has ever known. In his words, no, there is no tribe, just do or do not. You will recognize that as being Yoda from Star Wars 5. Stop trying. Remove “try” from your vocabulary. It’s a message to your unconscious mind that it’s okay to fail and to justify it in a way. Do it, or don’t do it. Make the choice. Not doing it is just fine. As Tony Robbins says, “That’s a decision unto itself.” I’d like to see everybody do it, register for the book, register for our home study program, but do things, don’t try to do things. Get your kids to stop using that stupid word because it is just so self-defeating. I love you all. It’s been an absolute pleasure. Russ, over to you, buddy. Thank you so much for meeting me on LinkedIn. It’s been a tremendous pleasure.

Russell: Well then, thank you again, James. Thank you very much for coming and tithing with us. We tithe our time, talent, and treasure. That is what nonprofit leaders do. We don’t have to do this by ourselves. There are people out here who help us do it. I know that you’re brilliant. We are in alignment on this type of thinking. Once again, thank you to all you nonprofit leaders who are out there on the front line making a difference every day. This is Russell Dennis and Hugh Ballou thanking James Burgess again, signing off for now. Do it. You don’t have to do it alone. Thank you again.

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