Interview: Josh Rovner, Best-Selling Author

For over twenty years, Josh Rovner has worked with corporations of all sizes, from small to large-scale enterprises, and helped them realize their goals of growing their revenues and improving their performance. Currently, he is a business consultant and a best-selling author. As a consultant, he “leads change and transforms businesses by communicating clearly about complex subjects, designing effective processes, and developing and coaching people.”

Throughout his career, Josh Rovner has held numerous positions in different companies at all levels. He has gone all the way from being an unpaid intern, to joining middle management, and then climbing toward senior leadership.

Josh Rovner has also received a number of professional certifications, which include certifications as Emergenetics Associate, Ken Blanchard Situational Leadership Facilitator, Franklin Covey Instructor of the “5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity” and “Four Imperatives of Great Leadership,” as well as certifications in the DISC Behavioral and Communication Styles, Tableau 10, and Cognos.

For his Amazon #1 best-selling book, “Unbreak the System: Diagnosing and Curing the Ten Critical Flaws in Your Company,” Josh Rovner uses his background as a son of parents in medicine to help companies of all sizes diagnose their issues and fix them immediately. He identifies 10 flaws that executives should diagnose and fix so that they can achieve their business goals.

Check out more interviews with smart business leaders here. You can also buy Josh Rovner’s book here.


Jerome Knyszewski: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Josh Rovner: What makes me stand out is the way I approach a company’s problems. I do it in a holistic way that looks at all the different parts of the work environment that contribute to it. That’s how I came up with the ten critical flaws I talk about in my book.

I’ve learned from the work I’ve done over the course of my career that most companies’ struggles — financial and otherwise — come from a variety of factors in the work environment that work together to create a problem. And yet most people — especially executives and leaders — make the mistake of assuming the problems are related to the people in the company alone.

I have heard so many leaders say they think their problems stem from not having the right people in the job. But when we step back and look at it, that’s the last thing they should be worried about!

Jerome Knyszewski: Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Josh Rovner: I have a lot of tips for my colleagues who are top executives and leaders to help them in this area.

The first tip is actually a combination of treating two of the critical flaws I talk about in my book. The flaws are “doing too much” and “chasing shiny objects”.

The critical flaw of doing too much happens when leaders try to do huge numbers of initiatives at the same time, thinking that’s what will drive company performance. In reality, though, it doesn’t work that way. It actually tends to slow everything down, and it definitely causes burnout.

So instead of trying to do it all, focus on the “vital few” initiatives — no more than 3 to 5 — that will really make an impact. That focus will not only help you (and everyone in your company) avoid burning out; it will also be much better for your bottom line.

A lot of times leaders try to do too much because company performance isn’t what it should be. So they wind up chasing shiny objects — meaning, they scramble around trying to figure out the best way to react to whatever the competition is doing or make the numbers for the next month or quarter.

Chasing shiny objects at the strategic or operational level is the corporate equivalent of spending a large portion of your day answering emails without working on your goals. Although there are a lot of shiny objects and noisy forces that may seem important and necessary to chase, they really aren’t. They’re just distractions that are causing you to do too much and burn yourself out.

As you work to prioritize the vital few, like I just talked about, take time to identify the shiny objects you’re chasing that aren’t making an impact but that are keeping you overly busy and contributing to burning you out. Then, make a plan to stop chasing them, so you can focus all your efforts on the vital few.

Now, in order to prioritize the vital few, you’ll need to listen to another tip I have for avoiding burnout, which is: block time on your calendar for strategic planning and thinking. You need to block this time just like you would a meeting with a client, so no one takes it over. If you don’t block definite time on your calendar for strategic planning and thinking, you will inevitably wind up chasing shiny objects, doing too much, and burning out.

While you’re blocking time on your calendar, make sure you block some time for doing the things you love to do, whatever they are. Doing things you love and being with people you love is critical for avoiding burnout. But it’s often hard to get that time unless you’re intentional about it.

Along those lines, taking time away from work and taking vacation are also critical for avoiding burnout. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve felt stuck trying to think through a work problem only to have the solution pop into my head at a time when I’m not sitting at my desk and actively working.

Taking vacation and time away from work allows your brain to rest and process. You need that to avoid burnout and bring your best every day.

My final tip for avoiding burnout is to spend time and put forth effort to get healthy. By getting healthy, I mean eating right, getting reasonable exercise, sleeping well, and, perhaps most importantly, getting help if you’re stressed. I’ve truly found, after a long journey of not doing it, that the more I’ve focused on taking care of my health, the better I feel, and less burned out I am.

Jerome Knyszewski: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Josh Rovner: There are so many people that have helped me and believed in me along the way. Of course, I wouldn’t be who I am without the support of my family and friends.

But, apart from that, one person I always talk about when I get asked this question is Paul Elliott. He is the author of a book called Exemplary Performance: Driving Business Results by Benchmarking Your Star Performers. He and I have worked together several times over the years. He’s been a great mentor to me in the organizational effectiveness space.

When I mentioned my book idea to him, he was extremely enthusiastic about it and strongly encouraged me to pursue it. That was really the spark that drove me to become an author.

Jerome Knyszewski: Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?

Josh Rovner: There are a lot of good companies out there. To me, a good company is one that offers products and services people like, makes a reasonable amount of profit from doing so, and has employees who like working for the company.

A great company is one whose products and services are so helpful for life that people can’t live without them. Because of its great products and services, the company makes a significant amount of profit over a long period of time. And its employees are so passionate about working for the company that they couldn’t imagine working anywhere else.

Jerome Knyszewski: What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?

Josh Rovner: I’d say you have to take a step back and examine a few key things. To do that, there are a couple of questions you have to ask.

First, ask your employees and your customers what you and your company do that sucks and that people hate. It sounds harsh, but you need to hear it. Once you learn the answers, then focus hard on fixing those things over anything else.

A second, related question you should ask, which always reveals great opportunities, is: What are our competitors doing that sucks and that we could do better?

A third thing to do is revisit your company’s purpose, mission, or vision statement. Ask yourself and your team if your current mission statement clearly states, in simple language, the pain you want to eliminate in your customers’ lives and/or the joy you want to bring in their lives. Chances are, it doesn’t.

And if it doesn’t, take the opportunity to change it. Revising and aligning around a clarified mission is a great way to “restart” your company’s “engine,” as you say.

The last piece of advice I’ll share on this is to intentionally look outward. Ask yourself, your team, and even your customers, if there are products or services your customers would love to see outside of your core offerings. Ask who else besides your target customers could use your products and services.

There may be other consumers or companies in other industries that could be a great fit that you’ve never thought of. Also, look to see if there are opportunities to buy or be acquired by other companies that would make your products and services more valuable or provide greater distribution or reach.

Jerome Knyszewski: Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

Josh Rovner: A lot of what I said in response to the previous question applies to this one as well. Looking outward is really key to see if you can find other target customers or industries that could use your products and services.

You also need to re-look at the market to see how people’s buying patterns have changed and why. Those insights can lead you to ideas for how to evolve your products and services to be more appealing to customers that may not have a lot of money to spend or may not be able to buy your existing products and services for whatever reason.

Along those lines, I’d recommend looking at your pricing. If you only have one or two products or services that are priced high, look to see what it would take to add a cheaper option with fewer features or something like that.

Try to create products and services at a variety of price points to help you attract more customers. This can be really beneficial because customers you may bring in with a cheap, simple product during a down economy could turn into much bigger customers once the economy comes back. There are a lot of examples of companies that have products and services at different price points in order to broaden their reach.

Lastly, make sure you do what you can to get cash if you need it, whether that’s borrowing money from somewhere or working with your customers to get payments faster or something like that. Again, there are a lot of options for that.

Jerome Knyszewski: In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

Josh Rovner: I’d say it’s the connection of how to engineer the infrastructure of the company to be aligned so that employees meet the needs of the business and the market.

Leaders spend a lot of time on strategy and new initiatives and thinking of ways to do new and different things. That’s great, and it’s important. But often, when they get an idea, they want it to just be done, and they don’t think about whether their organizational infrastructure is designed to support that. They forget that there is a whole infrastructure in place that either enables or disables that idea from being implemented effectively.

What usually happens then is that the leaders blame the people and say things like, “our people just don’t like change” or “I’m not sure if we have the right people in the right roles”. Usually, though, there is a much deeper situation than just that.

For example, the people may still be compensated and recognized for doing things the old way. Different silos of the organization may have too many different goals such that they can’t handle another one at their current capacity. It could be that the technology and tools the people have are old or not set up to do things the new way. It could even be that the people know the new idea that seems so brilliant to the leader will actually make customers leave if certain processes or standards aren’t changed.

Great leaders understand that they need to help engineer the work environment to enable change, not just dump the change in their team’s lap and walk away to let the team figure it out. Engineering the environment often means intervening to remove obstacles to change.

I once worked with an executive who would ask her employees, “if I could wave my magic wand to make things easier for you, what would you want me to do?” That’s a great approach.

Jerome Knyszewski: Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?

Josh Rovner: I have developed a five-part framework for creating great a customer experience and great customer service. The five parts are:

  1. Listen, recover, reflect
  2. Ask “what sucks”?
  3. Anticipate needs
  4. Create personalized surprise and delight
  5. Use details

I’ll tell you more about each one now.

Listen, recover, reflect

Listen means you need to listen to your customers, especially the ones who are complaining. It may be annoying and uncomfortable to listen to them, but the complainers will give you the keys to the kingdom if you let them because they’ll tell you what you need to fix that will make them loyal to you.

Recover means you need to do something very special and unexpected to get the complaining customer back. I talked about this a moment ago when we were talking about building a trusted brand. It’s definitely part of the framework for creating a great customer experience as well.

Reflect means do reflection for yourself and with your team about what you could do better to prevent the customer service issues from happening in the future and recover even better if they do.

Ask what sucks

This one we talked about earlier as well. It’s about asking what your company and your competitors are doing that sucks and that everyone hates — and then focusing hard on fixing that over anything else.

Anticipate needs

Once again, we just talked about this in the context of increasing conversion and building a trusted brand, so you can see there’s a lot of overlap and a common theme here. I learned a long time ago that anticipating customers’ needs is the key to great service, above and beyond anything else. That still holds true today.

Create personalized surprise and delight

This is something that, in the past, was extraordinary if you could pull off, but now it’s starting to become more the norm given all the data companies have on their customers. If you can personalize something for someone in the context of your customer journey and give it to them without them knowing in advance, it shows you really care and that you’re paying attention to who they are. That creates real loyalty because that customer feels connected to you in a deeper way.

The personalized surprise doesn’t have to be complicated. It could be something as simple as you know their favorite color, so you provide them with something that is that color. You tell them that you gave it to them because it reminds you of them. It’s less about what you give them and more about the thought that you care enough to be concerned about what they like — and you want to make them happy.

There’s a lot of information your company probably already has on your customers — or you can easily find out. If you take advantage of that and use it in a genuine way, that’s very powerful — and rare. It’s worth having people in your company who do this in an intentional way as part of their job.

Use details

Details about your customers, of course, help you create personalized surprise and delight. But, in this case, I’m not talking about personalized details. I’m talking about all the details of your customer journey — or a particular process, product, or service in your company.

You need those details because they prevent problems. The more details you know about your products, services, processes, and so on, the better you will be able to modify the customer journey to provide a great experience at every step.

Jerome Knyszewski: What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

Josh Rovner: I think social media are certainly complicated. There are definitely risks associated with them. But there’s no denying that they are wildly popular in the world. I don’t see that changing.

In spite of their challenges (some of which are large), social media fill an important need in society and help people stay connected to people they love and things they’re passionate about. That’s a good thing.

Because of the increasing prevalence of social media in this day and age, companies need to be on them in some form. Many look at it as a necessary evil, but I think it represents a great opportunity.

The great thing about social media is that they are great places to connect with your customers, hear what they love and what they hate, and respond to that effectively, such that you build even more loyalty with them.

Not to mention all the things you can do through social media to build awareness and engagement around your company. You can get great ideas for new products and services from what your customers are saying on social media as well, so there’s a lot of opportunity to do well and help your business through it.

Talking about the negative side, the reality is that if your company does something inappropriate, you will probably be called out on social media in some form. So you need to have people (either in your company or external advisors) who can help you with that. But if you’re running your company in a sincere way, with integrity, then you generally don’t need to worry.

If something happens, as long as you respond in an appropriate way, with genuine caring and integrity, your company’s reputation will be ok. But honestly, that’s true, and has been true, forever in business — long before social media.

In that regard, social media are just media, so it’s honestly not that different from before. It’s just that the cycle is faster and the reach is potentially broader now. But, again, that can often be a good thing for your business, too.

Jerome Knyszewski: What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Josh Rovner: There are so many mistakes CEOs and founders can make when they start a business.

I think one of the biggest I’ve seen is that they wing it and take control too much. They don’t take the time to formalize and document the best practices, processes, and decision models that are clear in their heads but are not clear to others in the company.

If you want to scale your company, you can’t be the only one capable of making important decisions. You have to formalize your thought process for how you make decisions, document it, and teach others how to use it. That way, there will be a common understanding, everyone will be aligned, and everyone can help the company scale in the right way.

Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Josh Rovner: The movement I’m trying to inspire is for top executives and business leaders to lead their companies in a way that’s better not just for the bottom line but also for the people in the organization and for humanity as a whole.

The way they can do that is by learning about the critical flaws that exist in their companies and working intentionally to treat and prevent them. That’s what I talk about in my book Unbreak the System: Diagnosing and Curing the Ten Critical Flaws in Your Company.

Treating those ten critical flaws is what will create an amazing company culture with happy, engaged employees. It’s what will drive increased customer satisfaction and loyalty. It’s what will create efficient, effective operations. It’s what will drive extraordinary business results; and it’s what will lead to scalable, sustainable growth.

I would urge all executives to cure the critical flaws in their companies as soon as possible. Whether it’s individually or, hopefully, as part of a new movement, that’s the best way for them to make the world a better place!

Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?

Josh Rovner: They can go to my website and also connect with me on LinkedIn.

Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

Josh Rovner: You’re very welcome! I really enjoyed speaking with you!





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