In this episode, we talk with Julie Littlechild about her new book Absolute Engagement. It’s one of the more important books that you’re going to read this year.
Julie is one of the experts in the country at doing customer surveys in a way that actually provide value to companies doing them. Julie has gone from understanding that the most successful business owners don’t just focus on client engagement, they also focus on personal and team engagement as well. A fully engaged owner will run rings around those who aren’t as engaged.
In today’s episode you’ll learn:
- What absolute engagement is and how you can use it in your business.
- Why the most successful business owners are fully engaged in all areas of their business.
- Why personal vision when used well drives success in all of the best companies.
- How values and vision work together to create a great company.
- How to tailor your client and team experience to support your business vision.
Narrator: Welcome to The Sustainable Business Radio Show podcast where you’ll learn not only how to create a sustainable business but you’ll also learn the secrets of creating extraordinary value within your business and your life. In The Sustainable Business, we focus on what it’s going to take for you to take your successful business and make it economically and personally successful.
Your host, Josh Patrick, is going to help us through finding great thought leaders as well as providing insights he’s learned through his 40 years of owning, running, planning and thinking about what it takes to make a successful business sustainable.
Josh: Hey, how are you today? This is Josh Patrick. You’re at The Sustainable Business.
Today, you’re in for a really big treat. We have Julie Littlechild with us today. First, I became aware of Julie, I don’t know, about a zillion years ago when she was doing client audits and client surveys for people in the financial services business. And she’s done tons of research on client engagement. And she is now the founder of absoluteengagement.com. And she has a brand new book that’s just come out and that’s what we’re going to talk about today. So, instead of me yammering on about Julie, let’s have her talk for herself.
Hey Julie, how are you today?
Julie: I’m great. Thanks so much for having me.
Josh: Oh, it’s my pleasure. It’s my pleasure. So, let’s talk about absolute engagement for a while. First of all, what is absolute engagement?
Julie: Well, that’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? The context for this –I’ll take just a moment, is that for many years, I focused all of my efforts on client engagement, as you said. But the more I looked at people who I considered successful. And by that, I mean, they not only had successful businesses but they seemed fulfilled. They seemed to be happy and energized and all of those good things.
The more I studied those folks, I realized it wasn’t just about client engagements. In fact, it was more the combination of personal engagement, client engagement and team engagement. And the way all those three things seemed to work together. So, absolute engagement really is when all three things are firing in the same direction.
Josh: Well, that’s pretty cool.
So, I see that you have three main principles. And your principle #1, which is “personal vision drives business vision”. I can’t tell you how much I agree with that. It is the piece that I think way too many private business owners miss and without it I am absolutely convinced that you can’t create a sustainable business. So, would you talk a little bit with us about why personal vision is so important in driving what the business vision is?
Julie: Yeah. It’s been an interesting journey on that one. And we did some research on this to prove, in a way, what I had witnessed. And you’ve obviously witnessed and probably experienced yourself.
You know, I looked at business and I thought, “You can be successful and you can grow a business, and you can generate some financial success. But, again, really when I looked at those people who seemed to have it all, they had this deep level of personal engagement. And what I discovered, the more I looked at it is, when your personal vision is driving the business instead of the other way around, you create this extraordinary momentum – momentum, in terms of financial success, momentum in terms of your own life – your own sense of well-being.
That at the root of that principle, which is something that we saw which was quite common across those whom we identified as absolutely engaged was, they started with a vision. I’ll just sort of digress slightly. They don’t always start out with the vision.
Like, for a lot of us and I can tell you, for me personally, this kicked in a lot of years later, when I finally sat back and said, “What is it that truly want to be doing with my life?” And when you can build a business that supports that, you know, you’re [inaudible 00:04:09] in the morning. People are attracted to it. You’re doing the right things. And it just feeds on itself and it creates this extraordinary momentum that is very hard to get any other way.
Josh: So, I’m going to assume that vision is derived from personal values which become corporate values?
Julie: Yeah. So, I think values is a big, big part of personal vision. I think it also relates to just the work that you do, day in and day out. So, I think if the business vision is in conflict with your personal values at all, you don’t even get out of the gates. I mean, you really have created intense friction.
And then, on a more–I don’t know practical level, perhaps. It’s also about the clients with whom you choose to work. You know, are you energized and inspired by them? The actual work that you’re doing. And we all have a lot of choice in exactly the way we spend our days. And the role that we play in our business. And so, there’s this practically element of personal vision as well that I think we need to really think about in the early stages of this process.
Josh: So, one of the things I’ve noticed over the years, is that when I start talking about with these folks, after their eyes stopped glazing over and they actually do understand how important this is—
Josh: So, this is great but how do I go about finding out what my values are?
Josh: Do you have any recommendations there?
Julie: Well, again, the way we focus on is a bit of self-reflection. But self-reflection with some teeth – not just navel gazing but really going deep on the work that you’re doing and the way that you’re doing it, and what you’ve created without editing yourself.
So, one of the first steps I always talk about is, “how do you think about what you truly want?” whether it’s values or work, and not think about all the reasons you can’t change what you’re doing. You know, we are great at self-editing, I think, as human beings. So before we can even get the thought out, we’re thinking of a million reasons why it couldn’t possibly change.
And so, that first step, I think, is just about really going deep on thinking about the clients that you love to work with. The work you love to do. The role you love to play. When all of those things are going really well, what does it look like? And just leave it there, is the first step to really think it through.
Josh: So, we’ve got the personal vision which drives the business vision. And I get that. And I hope the folks listening understand what we’re talking about.
Point #2, I find really interesting. Your client and team experience should be tailored to actively support your businesses vision. That is so true. Can you spend a little bit of time helping us understand what that is and why it’s so important?
Julie: Yeah. It’s an interesting—because this is really where the rubber hits the road, right? This is when we start to get very practical about what does it mean to have a business that is led by a personal vision? And often—I know what you see, but I see almost a -disconnect between the two, right? So, if all things are going, you know, as they should and if you’re heading toward absolute engagement – in our language, then we need to ensure that the way we build that client experience, for example, supports the vision.
So, let’s assume for a moment, part of my personal vision is to work with small business owners. I’m a professional service provider. I’m an accountant and I want to work with small business owners, for example. Well then, the entire client experience needs to support the small business owner. It can’t be watered down to be nice for everyone. It’s got to be ideal for that target group. So, that’s just one example of the way I think we need to tailor those things.
On team, we need to find the right people. So, using the same example, as an accountant, I need to surround myself with a team who is equally fired up about working with small business owners.
Josh: And there’s a whole bunch of other stuff, I’m sure, that has to be there as well.
Julie: Yeah. You can go down into a lot of detail about what drives engagement, what drives team engagement and client engagement – which we do in the book. But it takes it from that high level of just “What am I trying to accomplish?”, right down into, “How do I create something that’s truly engaging for all of the stakeholders and not just myself.”
Josh: So, my suspicion is, there’s a bit of trial and error that goes along with putting all of this stuff together which means you’re likely to have a few mistakes that happen along the way?
Josh: And that sort of fits in with principle #3 is, “You’re human, don’t forget it.”
Julie: That took me a while to accept that one.
Josh: In what way?
Julie: I think a lot of us who kind of fall into the type-A, just-get-her-done kind of mentality, don’t give ourselves a break – quite often enough, and whether it’s physical or emotional or what have you. And yeah, there’s a big messy middle in here that we need to tackle and it’s not going to happen overnight and we’ll probably go back and forth. And I think we just need to give ourselves a bit of a break. Not only, so we succeed but so that we actually have the capacity to do this hard work, right? We need the rest. We need the creativity. We need to feed ourselves in that way to be able to succeed.
Josh: You know, about 32 or 33 years ago, I ran across a guy named Buckminster Fuller, which I’m hoping some of our listeners have actually heard of, And he has two statements which I just truly love, which fit in your “Don’t forget you’re human.” And they’re both around mistakes. The first is, “mistakes are a learning opportunities.”
Josh: And the second is, “You don’t learn less.”
Julie: Well, that’s a good point. Yes.
Josh: I was already, almost 10 years into my business career that long ago and both of those absolutely switched my mind around on how I live because it used to be “no mistakes could ever be made around me until I started celebrating mistakes.
Julie: Yeah. Yeah.
Josh: Which is a really kind of a cool place to be.
Julie: I mean, it’s so freeing, frankly, to get to that point. I’ll tell you what, I’ve been so struck by—since I began to research this and write about it, I keep having these conversations with people who are like, “Oh yeah, I’m just—I’m feeling stuck. I need to change. I’m struggling with this.” So, it’s like this human condition and until we just breath into it a little and say, “Alright, I’m going to open myself up to the possibility that things could actually be different.” Until we take that step, nothing happens. But it seems like so many people are battling these issues, right?
Josh: To me, it feels like – at least, this is true with my clients. I don’t know about yours, but there’s an awful lot of fear.
Josh: And the fear is often falsely placed because it really isn’t. I mean, there aren’t that many really bad things that are going to happen.
Josh: We’re just scared they’re going to happen.
Josh: And that keeps us from taking action.
Julie: It does. And I tell you, I think that there’s all of the self-imposed issues. For me, for example, it was all about responsibility. So, you know, I was the person responsible for everything. Like, the family, the business , you know? And I almost got to that point where I thought, “I’m on this treadmill and I don’t know where the off button is or the pause button is” because I put all of this on my own shoulder and I don’t think it was until I sort of realized that if I could be happier doing what I’m doing, I’m actually a far better model for my son and for my family and for everyone around me anyway so.
But that’s not easy, right? That takes a – certainly, it’s like jumping off a cliff and hoping there is a mattress at the bottom to land on.
Josh: Well, you happen to just hit on another one of my favorite. Actually, it’s my #1 value.
Julie: Oh, yes.
Josh: Which is personal responsibility.
Josh: I will not tolerate people around me not exhibiting personal responsibility nor will I not tolerate me exhibiting personal responsibility.
Julie: And it’s interesting because I’m going to guess, by that, you don’t mean. And just like you said, It doesn’t mean getting everything perfect. It just means accepting responsibility and keep trying.
Josh: Yeah. It’s just accepting, “I’m willing to take personal responsibility for whatever result comes down the pike.”
Julie: Yeah, I like that.
Josh: And if there’s a mistake, I’ll own it.
Josh: If it’s good, I’ll own it. I like small experiments so we can make little errors and rapidly change.
Josh: That way, we stay away from my “sunk cost syndrome” which is one of my least favorite things in the world, I coach people on.
Julie: Very well, I experienced that.
Josh: Yeah. Which is why the surveys are so important is that it allows you to do a small experiment before you go all in on something.
Josh: And that makes sense. So, step 2, in your 5-step thing, is another one of my favorites. You have a lot of my favorite words by the way in your book so I have to let you know that. And that’s the word audacity.
Josh: And if you know Steve Farber who wrote a book called The Radical Leap.
Josh: The A stands for Audacity. So, what is audacious in your world? And what do you mean by audacity?
Julie: The words I use like audacity is just – this is where courage lives because awareness, which is the first step, is really about possibility. But we can get through the possibility stage and do absolutely nothing with it, right? We can dream. And there’s a lot of dreamers out there. So, audacity is really then about drawing a line in the sand.
And to me, it does take a lot of personal courage to do that because it usually means there’s going to be some change. Whether that’s to how you do business, or some tweaks here and there, or changes to the team. So, yeah, that’s what audacity means to me. It’s going to come with some difficulty and it’s going to require some courage and that’s a big deal.
Josh: It’s a hugely big deal.
And let’s say we get through step 1 and step 2, then we get to step 3 where I find people often get stuck.
Josh: Which is step 3, is action. I mean, obviously, we all know action is important. Why don’t people take action?
Julie: Oh, gosh. And it’s interesting because I think different people get stuck in different places, right? Some people get stuck on step 1 because they don’t have an imagination for what’s possible. Some on step 2 because they’re too scared. But I think you’re right. I think the majority of us are going to get stuck on step 3 where, “It’s okay, I’ve got this goal. And now I actually have to make some significant changes.”
So, we try to walk through it step by step so that you can see what that means. I think a lot of us don’t take action because it seems overwhelming. We don’t know what to do first. We don’t know how to hit those small goals. It’s tiring. It’s just—it’s a lot of work. It requires some potentially uncomfortable decisions.
And this, in a way, there’s a lot stacked against us that we’re taking action on things. And that’s why I feel those first two steps are so important because they kind of create your motivation, right? Your “why, you’re going to do all of this.”
So yeah, we walk through really a process of looking at clients, at your team, at your role and just step, by step, by step thinking about what extraordinary looks like, how we can invite input from our stakeholders and how we can just walk through the process.
Josh: So one of the things you just said which I think is a key is small experiments.
Josh: Too often, people go do this gigantic plan and it becomes overwhelming. It’s so big, so it’s even hard to take the first step.
Julie: It is.
Josh: If you just take a little step to start moving in that direction.
Julie: You know, I was talking to a client recently who wanted to—he didn’t want to change. Like I always joke in the book, “It’s not like you go through this and suddenly discover you want to be a yoga instructor, right?” I mean, some people do. Some people are like, “I’m in completely the wrong industry. I don’t know what got me here.” You blame your parents and run off somewhere. But most of us just need to tweak where we are to get it right.
Again, I was talking to a guy who was in the professional services and they discovered they wanted to really focus on legacy building. So they wanted to work with clients on the messaging of multigenerational work and legacy. And so, the first thing he did was just talk to some clients about it. Kind of, float the idea out there. Get some perspective on it. One little thing that led to one bigger thing and so on. But we still have to have the courage to do that first thing, I suppose. And so, to want it badly enough.
Josh: You have to start.
Julie: You have to start, yeah.
Josh: Then we get to step 4 which is the least foul step of any manager in the world.
Josh: Which you call accountability. I call inspect.
Julie: Yes, there you go.
Josh: Is that, we’re all really good at saying “go this way, do this” but then we never hold anybody accountable including ourselves.
Josh: So, why is that true, do you think?
Julie: Well, I wrote this for people who run businesses, right? So, there’s two different ways, I think, to look at accountability and you just mentioned both of them. (1) One is “How do I keep others accountable?” And that’s just being a leader, to me. And I think that’s just hard for some entrepreneurs because it’s like stepping into the shoes of a true leader, coaching, mentoring, creating structure around what you’re trying to accomplish.
I actually wrote a little bit more about personal accountability because I find and have always found that being an entrepreneur is a lonely business. You don’t necessarily have a huge management team. And so, accountability was also just reaching outside your little world and finding a team of people who could push you and hold you accountable. So, I talk about mastermind groups and study groups and different things like that.
Josh: Which are all incredibly useful. I mean, I’m going to—and since you brought up mastermind groups or peer-to-peer groups, if you’re listening and you’re not in one, get yourself in one.
Josh: They are the most important thing I have ever done for my business development and I’ve been in over 20 in my lifetime.
Julie: Is that right?
Julie: Did you find them? Di you create them? How did you actually go about it?
Josh: All over the place. We created one which lasted for 25 years.
Josh: I used to be a member of Young Presidents Organization and they have peer‑to‑peer groups as part of what they are. I’ve been in [inaudible 00:18:34] speaker. I’ve been involved in study groups in the financial services world. And some worked, some didn’t work. Some were fabulous but I will tell you that my ability not to have gone bankrupt was because of my peer-to-peer group.
Julie: That’s pretty important.
Josh: It was really important.
Josh: So, let’s get to step 5 which is renewal. And I find that really interesting because it sort of [inaudible 00:19:00] you back to the start and you start the loop over again?
Julie: It’s a little bit like that, right? I find that the first step and the last step are the hardest for a lot of people because this is about getting real with yourself and what you want to do. So, renewal again is just recognizing that unless you can maintain your creativity and energy, all of this is not going to work. It won’t matter. We’re talking about big goals here.
And so, yeah, in renewal, I really went out and looked at other research that had been done in this area and I’m fascinated by it. But I looked at, you know, sleep research. A lot of what Jim Loehr wrote on the Power of Full Engagements, about the way in which we need to kind of stress different parts of our lives. We can’t be 100% focused on work. And I just thought, “You know, if we don’t do this. If we don’t give ourselves this gift of renewal, a lot of this is for naught. We’re just not going to succeed.”
Josh: So, Julie, we could go on for hours with this conversation because you’ve hit on so many of my favorite topics. There’s so many topics that our listeners really need to get their arms around but unfortunately we’re out of time.
Julie: Well, it’s been great.
Thank you so much.
Josh: So, I’m assuming that a lot of our listeners are going to want to get more information from you or at least buy your book, so how do they go about doing all that sort of stuff?
Julie: Well, you know, I think the best place is to go to the website which is absoluteengagement.com. I have a blog. I do a weekly blog there. The book is available on a pre-sale basis. So, that can be—you know, you can access that there as well. It’s the central hub for all the information and research.
Josh: Because I know you’re a great speaker and I’m assuming they could book you to speak at that site or at least give you an inquiry at that time?
Julie: Yeah, absolutely. Reach out.
Doing a lot of speaking on this topic these days.
Josh: Well, that’s great.
Well, Julie, thanks so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.
And I have an offer for you also, is that I did a one-hour audio CD course. It’s called Success to Sustainability. It’s how you take a successful business and make it personally and economically sustainable. And to get this, it’s really easy. It’s a one-hour course. I mail it to you. It’s a physical CD, you can actually put in your car and play, if you still have a CD player in your car. And to get it, all you have to do is text the word SUSTAINABLE to 44222. That’s the word SUSTAINABLE to 44222.
This is Josh Patrick and you’ve been at The Sustainable Business. Thanks so much for stopping by today. I hope to see back here really soon.
Narrator: You’ve been listening to The Sustainable Business podcast where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around 100 years from now?” If you like what you’ve heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802‑846‑1264 ext 2, or visit us on our website at www.askjoshpatrick.com, or you can send Josh an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for listening. We hope to see you at The Sustainable Business in the near future.