Blaze Performance Solutions
September 16, 2019 Issue
Blaze Performance Solutions is focused on helping Organizations and Leaders Get Better Results by executing on their Goals and Strategic Initiatives and Engaging with Millennial Employees
Chief Executive Officer
Blaze Performance Solutions
Interview conducted by:
Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor
CEOCFO: Mr. Vaughn, would you tell us the idea behind Blaze Performance Solutions?
Mr. Vaughn: We (Brian Cox, David Williams and myself) focus on how to help organizations and leaders get better results. We started as a micro-learning gamification company. Leaders always say everyone wants to develop their people, everyone wants to get better that is why we all read. There is an old adage that leaders are readers, but who has time? We started in that space and we have played for twenty years in that space of execution and how to help businesses execute on their most important goal, their most important strategy priority.
After starting this micro-learning and gaming space, we quickly moved to what we have done for so long. We have had so many clients and prospective clients telling us that they needed our help and they wanted to focus on results. Our main focus is how to help organizations execute on their goals and strategic initiatives, but along the way create better engagements with their employees and particularly with millennials being the largest generation in the workforce now, they will give you three to five years if you are great at what you do, but if you don’t they will give you three to five months.
CEOCFO: On a fundamental level, what do you know about how to do this?
Mr. Vaughn: There are four basic pillars of engagement that really everybody wants, and millennials in particular want it. The truth is I have been telling the baby boomers that I want those things as well and those things are I want to feel valued, I need to feel connected to others and not the lone woman or man on an island and I need to be connected to a team. I want to feel like I am contributing and making a difference, I want to grow personally and professionally year after year. Those are the basics that everybody wants.
Many generations says they do not really care and that they just do their job. We say you need more than that if you are going to attract and retain great talent, if you do not do that the best one leaves first, then you are left with the middle-of-the-roaders that do not help you get where you want to be. We say you can absolutely buy people’s back, you can buy their hands, you can buy a portion of their brain, but you cannot buy the brain that is thinking on the way home how they can improve or make something better.
On the weekend between all the fun things they are doing they are thinking how to improve their job and the resources. That is what we are trying to connect to, that deep seated brain power and engagement power that so often we do not get.
CEOCFO: Who is turning to you for services?
Mr. Vaughn: A lot of times where we work with organizations that have outgrown their flow, they have gotten bigger or grown fast or they have grown through organic growth or through acquisitions and they are trying to now deal with this new universe, this new place in time that they are in. Or, they have had other changes in their organization or the industry.
Where we see a lot of organizations raise their hand for help is when the status quo is not the status quo anymore, change has been foisted upon them through the market or through acquisition or growth and they now have to deal with this new way, what they had to deal with is no longer working anymore. The worst thing we have run into is a CEO or COO or CFO, who, if they are happy, they do not want to talk to us, because they are content. If they are not netting the same results anymore, then they are asking questions. If they want to keep getting better even though they are getting strong results, they will talk to us.
We have worked with organizations in the Fortune 50 well as small firms of twenty-five people and everything in-between. It is always when there is some change going on where what they were doing before is no longer working or they want to go from good to great. There is a genuine desire to improve results.
CEOCFO: Would you walk us through a typical engagement?
Mr. Vaughn: A longtime client of ours is an organization in the hospitality space. They were the oldest property in this company’s portfolio, and they had the poorest results. For years they had said they didn’t have the latest equipment that everyone else had so that is why they were not performing. The CEO went to that leader and that leader had four or five thousand employees in the organization and the CEO of the portfolio told him it was no longer an excuse, he told him to get his performance up with everyone else or he would replace him. They continually focused on what they called the Top 10, which are the ten strategic goals that they were trying to accomplish every year. There was no way they could move the needle on ten consistently. The CEO of that property had been doing that for two years and said it was not working. We told them we would help them identify the overarching goal that they wanted people to maniacally focus on. They chose one and it was to improve guest satisfaction. They felt that they would improve occupancy rate, revenues, and all kinds of things by improving guest satisfaction. That was a day-and-a-half of work to get them to come down to one.
It was then about working with them to help every employee understand the goal and why it was important and their piece of the goal. The actions, behaviors and commitments had to be made visible. We have a tool called Execution in Your Pocket which allows you in real-time to see what everyone is doing from any web enabled device. People see the competition between teams and people and they can see people improving as it is happening.
Organizations have plenty of data; the problem is that most data happens after the fact and then the other problem is trying to understand what the data is telling us. We give people visibility into what is happening real-time. We also help them translate the data.
Our hospitality partner had more than twenty-one things across the organization employees thought they were supposed to be doing. The top goal was there but they were lost in all the other things that they were telling people to do. It is not that they do not know the importance of guest sat scores, it just got lost with all the other things.
By having the data real time and then correctly interpreting the data, within ninety days the company went from worst to first. You see the data was giving them insights on where they were not living the four pillars of engagement as well as what were some of the best practices and employee breakthroughs of improving guest sat scores.
CEOCFO: How do you help a company stay on course?
That is the most difficult piece. We find that with every strategic
initiative or goal, executives tend to underestimate that piece. They
underestimate the lift required to get it up off the ground and they
underestimate the ongoing guidance that people are going to need. In a great
play or musical, that director is constantly giving guidance to the actor or
singer. Finally, the underestimate the energy that is going to be required
month two, quarter two, year two, or year three. We believe you have to have
a system in place and we use a text system to do that, where we are
continually giving to people every day a little inspiration, education and
motivation through positive reinforcement.
CEOCFO: What about the third part of Learn, Execute, Achieve?
Mr. Vaughn: Yes achieve, achieve is that you have to continue to get results and if you are not getting results, then you need to be looking at why are we not getting results. You have organizations where their own success in the past keeps them from changing to make it better. I love what Alvin Toffler said when he said, “The illiterates of the 21st century will not be those that cannot read, but the ones who haven’t learnt to unlearn.” We are constantly pushing leaders to unlearn and question everything, and whether there are new and better ways to do it.
Success actually breeds what we call the art of mediocrity. You get so complacent with your results, you begin to believe in the status quo. This is dangerous. If you are a publicly traded company, you are one quarter away from being a failure. It is constantly assessing what we are doing and how we are doing it. It is in fact helping us to achieve and get better.
The story of Blockbuster and Netflix is a classic. The fact is Netflix tried to sell themselves to Blockbuster in the mid-nineties for $200 million bucks and Blockbuster said no and now Blockbuster does not exist anymore and Netflix’ market cap is almost $2 billion. Blockbuster was opening a new store at more than store a day and had a tremendous success but was not looking to the future or when they did, they said we did this so we can do that. Just because you did this, does not mean you can do that.
Now with Netflix, we are waiting to see what they will do to remain relevant. They are in a similar position as Blockbuster was in the 1990’s. Time will tell.
CEOCFO: Who is turning to you for services?
Mr. Vaughn: There are some that come to us. Inc. Magazine just rated our new book, “The Three Keys of Execution” as one of the books to read to change your life and help you get better results. We are actively out working and finding people on LinkedIn so we have a busy business development arm which is continually looking. We find the problem is getting people’s attention, so if we can get someone’s attention we have a shot of at least discussing an engagement.
Often leaders are swimming in change and problems. Michael Hammer in 99 said, “So often leaders don’t do things because they don’t know”. They do not know there is a tool or resource that can help them. We are very focused on getting peoples’ attention through webinars, online connections, books, and things out there.
CEOCFO: What have you learned at Blaze; what is different from a few years ago?
Mr. Vaughn: You cannot micromanage. We used to teach things that devolved into micromanagement, but it will never work with the newer generation, they just will not stand for it. You have to give people boundaries and parameters or direction. The old “How can I know what hill to climb if I do not know what mountain to climb,” you have to keep the mountain in front of them and then tell them they have to figure out how to get there.
I was just on the phone with our GlobalExecution leader, David Williams, and he said to me that he hoped he was not making me crazy with all his ideas and I told him that is why he is the best at what he does when it comes to the world of organizational execution. He is constantly pushing the boundaries and is never satisfied. Some divine discontent is good. It is the pushing of the boundaries which is leading to our success today. Organizations need to push the boundaries.
Also, you have to continue to point out to people the failure paths that we see again and again in organizations. They underestimate how hard it is going to be to get it off the ground, how hard it is going to be to create. So often leaders say their managers should be doing that but are they? No they are not, because they have a million things going on every day. It is constantly coming back to lift, guidance and energy and how to give people energy over time to do the thing you need them to do and then connect those to engagement. Those are big changes and we thought if you present the ideas of accountability people would get it and think it was fantastic but what we found was you had to point out why those were an issue for you. It reminds me of a story, John Covey who was Steven Covey’s brother, he would keep, The 7 Habits of Highly Effects People, Steven Covey’s training and people would say, I’ve been proactive, I think win/win, but what he was saying is, “Do you ever put things off for last-minute”? Do you ever say, “I’m right, you’re wrong, so listen to me”? In other words he would teach the opposite of the 7 Habits. Sort of the anti-habits, and people would respond saying this is more of the way I am. We have had to throw out the opposite, the problems, and people say, “Oh yea, I do deal with that”. It has become a different approach for us in the last year.
CEOCFO: Why pay attention to Blaze Performance Solutions?
Mr. Vaughn: There is not an organization that we ever worked with that did not want to improve results or performance. We would say that if you want to improve your results, your performance, whatever those results were that you wanted, that you have to focus on one or two of those things that you are trying to do and simplify the message so everyone understands what you are trying to do and why. Then you need to understand their piece of it and you need to make the performance of those things very visible so everyone can see what everyone else is doing and not just top-down.
Accountability we tend to think of as negative or derisive but we need to make it a positive thing where people are given a chance to show-off what they are doing and the results of what they are getting and not looking at the half-empty box but the half-full part. As we look at that, it tends to breed success. Remember if people do not feel valued and connected or that they are not contributing, they will go somewhere else. We have worked with companies in the last few years that have had over 150% turnover and we worked with some that had 20% turnover. In both those cases, the companies wanted to improve but you have to be aware and focused on that or you will never help your organization get to the next level.
“Organizations have plenty of data; the problem is that most data happens after the fact and then the other problem is trying to understand what the data is telling us. We give people visibility into what is happening real-time. We also help them translate the data.”- Kent Vaughn
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