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Why the most successful companies set ambitious long-term goals with guest, Herb Cogliano

Business Coach and Scaling Up Practitioner Herb Cogliano joins Graham to discuss why the most successful companies set ambitious long-term goals. Herb is passionate about working with leaders to achieve more freedom by helping them create industry-leading strategies, a culture of accountability and flawless execution.

Herb Cogliano

International Business Growth Advisor &

Certified Scaling Up Coach



Graham: I'm really excited to say I'm joined this time by a great international coach, Herb Cogliano, and he's going to talk to us about why the most successful businesses set ambitious long-term goals. Welcome, Herb; Your LinkedIn profile is just full. It says an international executive business coach, an experienced scale-up CEO, an entrepreneur, and a certified scaling-up strategic planning facilitator. What does that add up to? What does being a scaling facilitator really mean for you?

Herb: During my entrepreneurial career, we built and grew and ultimately sold several of the family businesses that we ran. During that journey, I had two amazing mentors. One was my father and the other one was a business coach who really helped us see through the complexity of growth and helped us achieve some wonderful things as a company. We read an amazing book Scaling Up by Vern Harnish that gave us the methods on how to grow.

What I learned was during that journey, I enjoyed the work so much that when our family exited our companies, I wanted to also become a coach. My coach had passed away, unfortunately, and I wanted to carry on his work of helping business owners. and their leadership team grow with purpose and profit to help their companies get to the next level.

Graham: That's a really interesting definition of purpose and profit. You're based in Massachusetts in the US and you work around the world with clients literally everywhere. What was your journey? You mentioned the family businesses and selling and deciding that's what you wanted to do. Give us a bit more colour about your background and how you got to where you are now.

Herb: When you're in a family business, or any business, for five decades, which our company, our founding company was 54 years history, you go through a lot of ups and downs. You navigate many challenges from the family and then separate challenges with the business. And we learn some things the hard way by making a bunch of mistakes.

And then we learn some things the real productive way by learning scaling up methods to do it right the 1st time. But it was very clear to me that there were millions of other companies, business owners and teams around the world that were feeling the same thing that we were, and my journey was really how do I make it easier for companies to scale up, be financially capable to sustain their company, but also do good in the communities they serve in the people that work with them. And that balance was so critical for me to bring that to the world.

Graham: That's fascinating and there'll be a lot of people tuned into this today who are going to relate exactly to the family business issue when you, you talked about the family issues you talked about the business issues and that will be for a lot of people that real world, they'll understand that. So, focusing in on exactly what we've invited people to learn about today is why do, in your opinion, the most successful businesses set ambitious long-term goals? What's the thinking behind that?

Herb: So Jim Collins had coined the phrase 'Big, hairy, audacious goal' - but if you think about it, why do people stay with a company? Because they align with their values. The people working with them behave in value. Certain important things like teamwork, integrity or innovation. But they also get inspired by their purpose and their purpose is their reason for being in business.

Our 1st company was an employment agency where we got people jobs. There was a purpose behind helping people put a roof over their heads, contribute to the community, and put food on the table for their families. We were very inspired by helping more and more people do that. But here's the BHAG - the 10 to 25-year goal is the number 1 strategic KPI that measures your progress. To deliver on your purpose. So if my purpose is meaningful employment, and 10 years from now, I can create over 10 million paychecks in the world. That's how I'm measuring that I'm delivering on helping people be employed - and getting paid and doing a great job. So that's really the benefit, inspiration and strategic direction for measuring your progress.

Graham: If you break up the phrase long-term ambitious goals, there are two pieces to that, isn't there? There's long-term and ambitious. And you talked about audacious goals as well. If we just look at the long term, when, when you're working with clients, what is long-term?

Herb: So in our framework, we look at quarterly, annually, 3 to 5 years, which is a midpoint, and then we look at 10 to 25 years - longer term, 25 years. Most of my clients work on 10-year plans. I'm sure Graham, you've seen this in your travels and experience. Most people. underestimate what their company can do in a decade, and they overestimate what they can do in a year. The three to five years are these milestones midpoints that make sure that we're keeping the company on track to achieve that 10-year audacious goal.

Graham: And when you look at 'ambitious' or 'audacious' - what kind of yardstick would you use to say to a client, I don't think that's audacious enough or I don't think that's ambitious enough? How would you quantify that or value that?

Herb: I think minimally it's a 10x. And I see people going for a hundred X, but if our company was finding employment for a thousand people a year today, my minimum audacious goal would be 10,000 people a year employment and building a company of scale that could deliver that goal.

Graham: Okay. And if your client had a different kind of KPI, like a financial KPI. Would the same sort of thinking apply?

Herb: I've had clients that wanted to do a hundred million in top line or turnover. And for the owner, that may sound compelling, but for most of the employees, what's in it for them? So what I like to do is help a client uncover what would be a purpose-driven audacious goal if you were 100,000,000 dollars. And if you were 100,000,000 euros or pounds. What would that mean for the number of people you served? How many people would you need to serve to be 100 million pounds a year?

And what type of impact would serve those amount of people make in the community based on your work? And when we reverse engineer that from purely a financial target to a purpose, emotionally inspired target. You get more of your stakeholders to join in to help.

Graham: I can see that. And I love the way you talk about purpose and distilling it into realities for everybody in the organisation, almost tangible in many ways. You've used the phrase purpose-driven and there are lots of management gurus talking about being purpose-driven. We can talk about lots and lots of people who talk about being purpose-driven. For you, what does that actually become when you're working with your clients? What is a real purpose-driven goal or ambition?

Herb: For me personally, most people think of our work as scaling up your company. What I really see is my work scaling up the leaders who actually scale up the company. So, I'm very much about unleashing the potential within the leadership team, the owner and their top team, and by their development, by their transformation, they therefore do so for the people working with them in the company. And that ultimately results in the company scaling with it.

Graham: So, when it comes to a purpose, then what you're trying to unlock, I'm guessing, is in that leadership team, the things that are at the core of what that organisation is all about, or even what that leadership team is all about Do you have any examples to share?

Herb: Yes. I have a company that has several brands, and products. They're in the Philippines and their purpose is to bring joy and delight, whether it's with diapers. feeding bottles for infants, suntan lotion, or insect repellent. They only want to bring those products to the market in a way that brings joy and delight to the people who use them - taking care of their baby, protecting their children from the sun from insects.

And they want to do it in the way they interact with each other in the office when they do their work. It's very, very clear when you speak to the co-owners of that firm - every conversation has a tone of not heavy business work, work, sales, sales, sales. It's joy and delight in how we're helping and how the brands bring that to the market.

Graham: That absolutely explains what you're talking about. You can see how the management dynamic is driven by that, can't you? You can almost mentally imagine how those conversations go on. Other things you're doing today, bringing joy and delight. And if not, you're doing the wrong stuff. It's really, really interesting.

You mentioned earlier about working not only with the leader but with the whole leadership team. Is that a typical program for you? You would be working across the board?

Herb: That's ideally where we get to Graham, I find in smaller companies, 5 Million or less in turnover or revenue. I typically work with the CEO, the owner, and maybe their second in command. Because they don't really have a large enough team to be a senior team, but as we develop and add people to the team, they'll grow into a senior team of between 5 and 8 people. And they ultimately the CEO is saying to me. I want to spend more time working on the company. Can you do executive coaching with scaling-up methods so that they're more capable to be helping me with strategy, but really executing and delivering results with the teams in the company.

Graham: You've given a good example of a smaller business, say 5 million, give or take, but what is a typical client for you? What is the range of clients types of clients that you have?

Herb: It's between 5 and 150 million or between as low as 10 to a thousand employees is kind of where they range from. It's a big range. And that's why I have programs for the smaller range and then programs with really the senior teams and senior teams are critical when you're growing a hundred million dollar company trying to get to half a billion.

The senior teams are crucial and then helping them develop the next level of senior leader below them is a very important part of that journey.

Graham: So, when you first get introduced to a potential client, and they've got some kind of aspiration around scaling up, how does that early interaction work? How do you work out whether they're ideal for you, and whether you can help them? How does that conversation unfold?

Herb: For me, Graham, I need to be inspired and connected to what the vision is they have for their company and I'll ask them, tell me a little bit about your current state and where do you want to get to? Why an executive coach now? What difference do you think it will make? And I've heard some amazing answers about scaling their purpose in terms of employing more people, and providing more services, but in different territories, they never covered before to help more people. And if I can get connected to the vision, then I want to be a part of that journey. And I want to be a guide; helping them with the road map to get there.

The second part, if that goes well, like a doctor, you wouldn't take medicine unless a doctor checked all the different important parts of your health. So we do an assessment on their business, scaling up, readiness, and then I do an assessment of their current leadership impact. And based upon the findings from those assessments, we then determine a roadmap of where we're going to begin with scaling up methods to help them grow. And then we do these over and over. every year to make sure we're progressing with their results.

Graham: This is interesting because the two things I've got burning in my mind that I just said that the first was you never mentioned anywhere about people building to exit and become very rich or very important or something on the stock exchange. You never mentioned that once so far, it doesn't appear to be the kind of business you get involved with. Did I get that right?

Herb: You did. I do not have one single client that currently or ever came to me looking just to sell.

Graham: Well, that's extraordinary. So, their main objective is to build something obviously bigger, but build something that's going to last. Is that right?

Herb: Yeah, they're legacy companies. And if somebody came to me five years down the road, something happened in their personal life. And they really felt an exit was the right thing - I have a couple of clients that now have ESOPs, so they didn't sell, they sold the companies to the employees and they're still involved in work their day to day and they love that, but nobody's come to me and say, I want, you know, £10,000,000 and I'm leaving tomorrow because they have a commitment to their purpose and they have a commitment to leaving a legacy of the people when they do retire or finish.

Graham: Just, just for the audience, an ESOP in the UK would be called an EOT, it'd be called an Employee Owned Trust. It's a big thing in the UK. It's getting bigger. There are lots of good reasons for doing it. And we had one or two really high profile, well-known Organisations that are owned by their employees. So it's a very familiar thing and it's definitely, as you just mentioned, it's a thing of the future rather than the past. I'm fairly certain, particularly with purpose-driven businesses.

The second thing that was burning away in my mind when you were talking a minute ago was you talked about these assessments. Tell me about the team assessment. How does that work - The people assessment?

Herb: We look at four major decisions in the company that need to be the right types of decisions around people, strategy, execution and cash. The questions are a series of questions under each of those important categories that help us identify, do you have the right people practices in place? The right strategy formation, market positioning in place, the right execution that you don't need to work 100 hours a week? Do you have industry-level profitability or higher and do you have enough cash to fund your growth - because growth sucks cash and without the right funding, you can't take advantage of a great market opportunity?

So those are the types of questions under each area and based upon your result, we can tell you what your scaling readiness is and where we should go next.

Graham: So if an organisation, if a team are full of good intent, but the organisation or that skill sets aren't what they need to be, is that where you start? Or do you just say go away and pay some attention to this. I'll talk to you later. How does that work for you?

Herb: Let's say I'm talking with somebody and they're experiencing a lot of employee turnover and they have a lot of job openings. We need to get to the heart of their hiring and selection methods because if we can't bring the right people on the bus, that company is not going to run. You can work hard. You can be smart. You can be a well-intentioned owner, but if you don't have the right hiring methods to attract good employees, hire them and then be able to keep them. I don't care what your strategy is. It's not going to help.

So I've had a few clients where their hiring method was their gut, their intuition, and we needed to formalise; are we hiring towards the values of the company? Do people fit believe in our values and what are the productivity requirements for this role? And do they have a track record of experience to deliver that? So, looking at these multiple hiring elements and helping them refine them will turn that around to start now having an A-player team that can work on the right strategy and good execution.

Graham: It's interesting, as you're talking, Herb, and you're giving insight to the way that you work, the question that comes to my mind then is, is your intervention a diagnostic, or is it much longer term? What is the typical timeframe that you're working with them?

Herb: I want to help you achieve your audacious goal. So, I have a long-term horizon of partnering with an owner in their leadership team to bring that audacious goal to reality. The assessment really helps - you don't want a coach or a consultant coming in and turning your company over. Having you shrink, lose more people, lose revenue or turnover. So we need to be very thoughtful about the way we begin the scaling up implementation.

And then as you journey forward, things change. A senior leader may leave. Market dynamics like COVID-19 could hit you in the face. And so we need to be able to be adaptable during the journey using the scaling-up platform to help you ultimately get to that audacious goal, whether it's five years, 10 years, or 20 years down the road.

Graham: When you're setting out and picking the clients that you think you can work with, you've got a seriously long-term perspective on the way that relationship's going to last. Minimum multiple years, but probably a decade. That's the kind of lens that you're looking at at that relationship through. Is that right?

Herb: Let me talk about the method, scaling up methods. Scaling up methods are a compilation of what I believe are just good business practices put in a simple roadmap and guide to implement them. Now for any company new to scaling up methods, It takes anywhere from 12 to 36 months for adoption to really become foundational in your company. It's not a quick fix. Overnight doesn't work that way. Once we get towards the 12 to 36 months. Then the owner in the senior leadership team can see that it's working and they want it to work even more. So we go from adoption to mastery.

I spent 23 years as a CEO practicing scaling-up methods that I ultimately knew it so well, that I could become a coach. All my clients do not desire to be a coach, but if I do my job right, they've mastered it well enough that they could if they wanted.

Graham: I can't help feeling that this transformational journey that you're describing not only impacts the leadership team, and CEO, it's like a cultural shift for almost top to bottom of the whole organisation. Is that right?

Herb: Yes. What, what you're going to find out, Graham, even that company in the Philippines I mentioned, they became a best places to work because the employees feel the transformation. They feel valued. They're hiring people, sharing the same values and they're inspired by the same purpose. And so it filters from the top. through the company and that's what takes time - the filtering from the top to bottom.

Graham: Right. I can understand that now. When you're working with your clients and you've mentioned that things like COVID, you know, the world catches up with you, life moves on. Do you find that's when they turn to you for more help, or how does that work with the relationship you have with them?

Herb: First of all, COVID-19 was such a unique and deep market shift. A lot of CEOs, I mean, a lot of my clients have been in business for 15 years or longer when they come to me. These are not startups that typically come to me. But I think why they leaned on me even more in COVID-19, because most of them never experienced something like this in their entire career. So that was definitely a lean-in to their coach.

The other time I see the lean-in is when they go through different levels of growth. In the beginning, they lean in a lot because of the methods and where they're at. How do I say it? They're looking to make a dramatic transformation and so they lean in in the beginning and then they lean in even more when our 20 Million dollar company and now we're trying to be 50 Million, and now they're leaning into Well, I never ran a 50 million or 100 million dollar company or a division, 100 million dollar division and a large corporation, a new leader. What does that look like? And so. They'll look to me for what they don't know because they've never been there before.

Graham: And do you find that they, as a team and as individuals, end up owning the whole of these processes? They don't see it as something Herb has taught them to do or something they rely on Herb for - it's their process, they know what they're doing and you're there just to support them as they go along. Is that, is that how it works?

Herb: That is the ideal Graham. I'm going to tell you some leadership teams are better than others at their level of adoption and engagement. Some take longer before they have the 'aha' moment. and get it. But that is the ideal goal - to get everybody from adoption to mastery to hitting their vision of their long-term goal.

Graham: This has been a fabulous conversation. We've certainly got to hear more about why long-term ambitious goals are important for successful businesses. I really, really love your spin around the purpose-driven goals, as opposed to the financially driven, or the exit-driven goals, which is the much more normal way we would talk about business growth and development - it has been really, really interesting and our audience is going to definitely warm to that I'm sure.

If clients or the audience want to talk to you, want to reach out to you, how can they find you?

Herb: Thank you. Simply go to my website where you'll see some of the complimentary assessments to look at your leadership impact and to look at your business scaling-up readiness. Also, with the leadership impact, there's a report on locking the high-impact leader within. You're welcome to have a read, and if anybody has any questions, let me know through my website. I'm happy to help or have a conversation with any of the listeners who would like.

Graham: Thank you for your time. Thanks for joining us on The Coaching Conversation. It's been absolutely fascinating. I really liked everything you had to say today. It's been refreshing and enjoyable.


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