4 min read

Aim For Better

Oct 10, 2014 6:30:00 AM

Today we’re sharing insight from guest blogger Ron Kitchens, chief executive officer of the Southwest Michigan First Group of Companies. Tim Leman is taking time off from writing his weekly blog to work on an exciting project focused on culture and leadership. We hope you enjoy Ron’s wisdom and perspective.

Aim_For_BetterAlways take a chance on better, even if it seems threatening. - Ed Catmull

Success is one of the most dangerous things that any organization can experience because once you’ve tasted success, you become more risk averse. You don’t want to give that up. You don’t want to risk failing anymore because now you know how awesome it feels to be successful. So, what do you do about it? You have to create systems that constantly challenge the status quo.

Success today (as they would say on financial TV commercials) is not an indicator of future success. That’s clearly demonstrated by the fact that out of the Fortune 100 companies from the 1960s, something like only 6 still exist today. We have to constantly challenge the norms, but we also have to understand that we are trying to grow to a new scale. The systems in place for how you do things when you are one size don’t necessarily work when you grow to the next size.

For example, when I first started out in business, I literally kept the receipts for my business in a JC Penney’s shoe box under my desk. After a couple of years and growing to multiple locations, my accountant sat me down and said, “You can’t keep your receipts in a shoe box anymore, you have to have better systems in place.” My system was working, but eventually, if I didn’t change, it would have stunted my growth. To scale to the next level, you have to sometimes acknowledge that the old ways may no longer be efficient, and they may not serve your current audience.

What we do today that is amazing will be the “standard” tomorrow. This is especially true in customer relations because human expectations change. We have to continue to over-serve and always increase our level of value to keep the same customers we pleased yesterday.

To do this, to continue to improve at the levels required of us, teams must do things like strategic planning and creative brainstorming. At Southwest Michigan First, I am the leader, so I could easily make all of the decisions on my own and force the rest of the team to just implement them, but that’s never going to yield the best results. Having team members with different ideas and perspectives at the table is what also keeps us moving forward.

A couple of months ago, we sat down with a group from the team to brainstorm Catalyst University, our annual leadership un-conference taking place on January 29, 2015 with more than 2,000 game changers in attendance. I laid down a couple of simple ground rules that led to a really great discussion. These were simple things like, nothing that we’ve done before is sacred, no idea is a bad idea because it may lead to the next great thought and here’s the big one, everyone must participate because everyone at the table was invited for a reason.

There’s a book on my desk that I recommend to every leader called, “The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive,” by Patrick Lencioni who just happens to be headlining Catalyst University in January. In my words, not his, one of the book’s premises is about stealing in a meeting by not participating in open and honest dialogue. Those people who don’t speak their minds at the table but want to have a meeting after the meeting to tell someone that they didn’t agree are damaging the organization. They stole from the whole group where that conversation might have gone if they had spoken up. Or, they allowed the group to make a decision that they didn’t agree with, and they may have been right, thus hurting the organization.

What’s The Risk?

The sum of all parts, or in this case, all thoughts, is what makes us better. That is simply about participating and innovating, otherwise you are just running up the coffee or lunch bill. If you don’t know why you were invited to a certain meeting, ask someone or if you don’t feel the need to participate, then invite yourself out.

Continuous improvement largely results from open dialogue. And it’s up to the leader to set these kinds of expectations in each organization. We must always aim for better.

Always Forward.


This content was written and shared by guest blogger, Ron Kitchens.

Ron_Kitchens_HeadshotRon Kitchens learned the power of a job at an early age and has endeavored to share this revelation in the best way that he knows how since — by creating jobs. With more than three decades of experience in economic development, Ron serves as chief executive officer of the Southwest Michigan First Group of Companies, an award-winning cluster of privately funded economic development advisors who act as the catalyst for economic growth in Southwest Michigan.

Ron is also a nationally sought-after speaker and best-selling author whose works include Community Capitalism: Lessons from Kalamazoo and Beyond. Ron publishes a weekly leadership blog and bi-monthly podcast, Always Forward, which can be found at
www.ronkitchens.com and on iTunes. Connect with Ron on Twitter @ronkitchens.


Topics: Executive

Written by Gibson

Gibson is a team of risk management and employee benefits professionals with a passion for helping leaders look beyond what others see and get to the proactive side of insurance. As an employee-owned company, Gibson is driven by close relationships with their clients, employees, and the communities they serve. The first Gibson office opened in 1933 in Northern Indiana, and as the company’s reach grew, so did their team. Today, Gibson serves clients across the country from offices in Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Utah.