by Michelle Royal
This talk was delivered on October 2 in Jacksonville, FL at the Digital Mastermind Conference.
My name is Michele Royal and I am the CEO/founder of RIDG, a group of creative consultants that exclusively works with executives to help them align their teams for growth.
Our tools and principles have been highly effective with our clients, who are probably very similar to yours. We are a B2B services company, the consultant’s consultant. A lot of the work we do will never see the public eye.
I want to share my personal story and how it transformed my own business. I believe in the power of sharing our experience, strength and hope with other business leaders.
On August 5, 2017, my team and I had just got our largest client to date: we worked with Blue Cross Blue Shield to codify their innovation process. Their 2017 conference, which we helped facilitate, was a great success. Mental health and counseling professionals with 30 years of experience said it was the deepest, most empathetic, and personal conference experience they have ever had.
To reward the team for this stellar success, I gave them a day off. I walked into the empty office that Friday with one meeting on the schedule: my Director of Operations and I were going to review a P&L. Simple enough.
Her big project that year was to clean up our books. We realized there was a discrepancy in January and met with the IRS, who gave us a very simple action plan. Her job was to clean up the books so that we would have a clear line of sight on the lifeblood of the business: the finances.
Believe it or not, in all the years that I have been running my business, I haven’t really had a clear sense of the finances. If money was coming in, things were good. If I was able to pay my employees, things were great. If I was able to hire someone new or got a new client, things were awesome.
Iceberg Right Ahead!
Maybe not awesome. We looked at the PNL and saw $40,000 in monthly expenses, $20,000 in the bank, and only $15,000 of opportunity in my pipeline. It hit me like the iceberg hitting the Titanic: my amazing, magical, successful ship was sinking.
I was numb from the shock, and it became a crisis of leadership. I thought “How did this happen? I counsel and consult executives at the largest companies in the world. We work on projects that are touching the lives of millions. How did I get into this place?”
How Did I Get Here?
There were three reasons.
First, all the business potential was dependent upon me. Every lead, every sale, everything was dependent upon me. All the business knowledge was within me. I had a hugely talented team of 10 people yet I was the only one who really knew everything that was going on. Second, I clearly had a very strong hand on the dial of denial, controlling what everyone was and wasn’t seeing. Third, all the business delivery was dependent upon me. I was the only one that could deliver at the level that I felt was going to be competent enough for our clients. That’s a sure-fire three-ingredient recipe for failure.
Stop, Reset, Recalibrate
I went home that weekend and did a lot of thinking. Over the course of the next 2 months I took two life-changing actions. First, I met with 60 different mentors, all of whom I thought were going to tell me to sell more.
Instead, they all said, “Can you take a break? Can you stop, reset, and recalibrate?”
I was able to do those things…on life support. I could have closed the business, could have filed bankruptcy, there were a lot of things I could have done. What I did, because I was able to share vulnerably everything that was going on with me, was recommit to my true passion and purpose, to why I went into business in the first place.
I also immediately let go of the two most expensive team members. Over the course of 2 months everyone else left the company. In the effort of aligning expenses properly in the company, everything else was gone too. I became a lean, mean running machine. Finally, it was just me, and it stayed just me from the beginning of 2018 through the summer of 2018.
One Year Later
This year, my company will double the highest amount of revenue that it’s ever done. Through the reset process, we’ve been able to grow in scale so the business isn’t dependent upon me. I’ve been able to take vacations. I just took a 4-day motorcycle vacation in Ecuador where I didn’t even have to open a single email.
To get to these massive changes, I had to walk my own talk. I had to eat my own dog food. I had to apply what I was teaching my clients. That’s what I want to share with you: the power of a vision — a vision of an identity, of clarity in communication and of action through innovation.
The Vision of Identity
The first part of this vision, the vision of an identity, comes from my core belief in the power of human potential. Here’s how I came to that vision, and what it means for you:
In 2006, I was newly divorced and broke. My power had been turned off a few weeks before. I was going through a career change, working in business development in a creative firm, and I was searching for a way to realize my dream of fusing art, psychology and business.
I looked for inspiration at the Sarasota International Design Summit. I volunteered so I could attend the $1,500 conference for free. My room at the Ritz Carlton cost me my last $200.
I was sitting beneath a beautiful crystal chandelier, listening to a panel with the chief innovation officer of BMW, the chief innovation officer of Phillips, and Tom Wujcik, the chief evangelist of Autodesk. He was talking about design thinking when I had a moment — that moment. That moment that we all hope to have. It was like an idea knocked on the door of my heart, a question: “What if everyone in the world knew how to do this translation of value creation? What if everyone knew that they had the possibility?”
That moment, that question, has ignited every single action in my life since. I asked Tom Wujcik to mentor me and I stalked him around the world for 2 years.
He told me, “Get into visual thinking. Use that as your process for innovation.”
I did; within 2 years I was the innovation coach for the European Union and I started HDYI which was a freelance consultancy. RIDG was born in 2006 as the fulfillment of the bigger dream: to help create 1billion innovators by loving out loud.
I see each and every one of you as an innovator. I know the innovation process. We have a challenge in the United States: there’s a religiosity of entrepreneurship. It puts a lot of pressure on the individual entrepreneur. That’s one of the failures I lived by and it’s one of the reasons I got into the state that I was in. I believed the mythology that somehow I had to be responsible for everything. But innovation is the realized value of an idea, which means it has to go through not only what I create, but it must also be developed by someone else, and then it comes into the hands of the customer. An idea’s only purpose is to serve as many people as possible. I and my company are there to serve the idea so it becomes something real. I believe in our potential as humans to use our different skill sets to bring our ideas to life.
We use that process with companies today. We recently worked with a billion dollar company to help them with their core story. Their global brand was from the UK. The US branch wanted American stories, so it was all about the great frontier, mining for gold, and becoming something greater than who they were. The CEO was going over the story and he said, “You know, I’m just not sure. I don’t want to promise something more than what we can do.”
His team said, “Let us show you. Let us prove to you. Let us show up in our greatest self and show you this is possible.”
They wanted the challenge.
The power of human potential is a great gift. When we are clear as leaders — when we know who we are, when we can delegate that power to our team and inspire them — they will show up. It is our responsibility as leaders in order to provide them the opportunity to do purposeful work. We spend too much time in this work for it to not be meaningful.
A Vision of Clarity and Communication
A core identity and who you can become together requires the second major tool we’ve incorporated into our company: Zone of Certainty (ZOC). ZOC embodies the vision of clarity and communication.
The origin of the word company, companis, means to eat bread together. It’s about nourishment. It’s about feeding each other so we can brave the waters of change together. In our company we created the zone of certainty by communicating every single failure and success with each-other. There’s something very deep and powerful in that. The people in my ZOC know everything that is happening in the business and they know everything that is happening in my personal life because I don’t have a filter for either. When something big happens in my life or the business, they know about it. I am not alone. I am no longer the purveyor of all knowledge. And the more successful they are the more successful I am.
We call our team meetings “ZOC meetings.” We say when we are in ZOC or out of ZOC. We have celebrations where we honor what everyone has done. All of this helps us meet each other’s needs.
Within the ZOC, we all have personas that we’ve derived from our deep dive into personal development. I am The Prismatic Magic Maker. Joran, our Creative Director, is The Compassionate Commander and Teacher of Teachers. Jen, our head of Operations, is The Mystical Web Weaver of Nurturing Support. We reiterate these personae whenever we meet, reminding each other of who we are and how we’re going to show up for one another.
By creating our ZOC, we’ve scaled out one part of the business. This happened within a year; I was doing all the work 12 months ago and now I am doing probably 50% of the business fulfillment. By this time next year, I can be doing anywhere from 25-10%.
This is how this structured communications and persona development works with our clients:
We were hired by an $800 million company that was trying to turn in its next $250 million acquisition strategy. They were charged by their board to come up with something within a month. This executive leadership team had been meeting for over two years. They had conversations but no decisions. They were afraid to step into their future identities.
We took them through a core identity process in which we allowed them to have those core tension conversations to get to a decision. In our facilitated sessions, we helped them get into a Zone of Certainty through visualization and conversation, leveraging all of the tools we had to give them. By the end, they were committed to transforming from the hardware company that they had been into the services and IP development company that they knew they needed to be. They presented the new strategy to their board, it was accepted and then the $250 million acquisition strategy was ignited. We were able to guide them into their future because my team and I stayed in ZOC, allowing us to move quickly, have clarity, pivot, and meet the needs of our clients.
At the end of the day, my team is in the firing line fighting with me and I want to make sure they are taken care of as much as my clients are taken care of. This creates a huge zone of certainty for the team where they can act boldly and decisively.
A Vision of Innovation in Action
In addition to ZOC, we committed to innovation in action. Another of my pre-ZOC failures was that I was the only one in my business that could act with total confidence. I worked with a mentor who taught me how to focus on what is vital: the value that only I can bring to the company that makes the company most valuable. If I know who I am and what I am best at, then I can delegate the rest to others who can focus on their own vital contributions. Once I was focused on the vital, we could apply the tools that we use with our customers to ourselves. We evaluated our overall service experience. We evaluated our business model. We hyper-focused on making one line of business — graphic recording — as stellar as we possibly could.
Graphic recording is the live recording of events through drawing. It’s a creative translation of the meeting content in mural form. Focusing on this one line of business helped us constantly evaluate our trajectory and allows for total freedom within that trajectory. We put innovation in action by reviewing all our business structures and applying our tools to those structures, resulting in our great success.
Another example of innovation in action — applying these frameworks and principles to drive change — comes from a client who asked us for help closing their business. They were being acquired, they had an offer on the table, and they were confident it was the best decision. We showed them a simple framework: the lifecycle of a business. Through the course of working with us, we helped them see where they fit in the life cycle, where the industry was, and the person was who made the offer. Through the application of the framework, they realized they had been asking the wrong question. Sometimes new action comes from new questions. They decided they were going to reinvest in their value creation for their clients. They’re calling every single one of their customers and they’re rebuilding their value as an organization. They have a six month Hail Mary that we’ve helped them implement. Putting innovation in action gave them fresh energy and a new business direction.
I believe innovation provides ROI. It is all about growing the value of a company. It is all about the realized value of an idea. It is all about legacy. The structures of believing in the power of human potential, providing a zone of certainty, and putting innovation in action all build towards the one big thing.
So…Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?
You can’t do it alone. You don’t have to do it alone. I didn’t do it alone. Still, you must ask yourself: why should anyone be led by you? You, your clients, your team, yourself, why should anyone be led by you?
The answer is that in this world of massive change, only you know what you can do and only you can do it. My hope for you, my dream for you, is that you are able to ignite the human potential of those who surround you, that you are able to create a zone of certainty within this very uncertain world for yourself, your team and your clients, and that you can act upon innovation to realize all the value that is possible in your company. You are here for a greater purpose and your business is a fulfilment of that purpose. Your team, your clients, the work you do is an expression of that purpose. You have risked everything, overcome obstacles, and been able to challenge the status quo. You want to win big and you want to win with others. You can lead them because you are all that you think you are, yes, and you are something more. Be brave and bold as you embark on your greatest human adventure.