David Gruder and Mark S. A. Smith Want To Help Your Company Become Nimble

David Gruder and Mark S. A. Smith

The world has been through six major economic phases; the one that began to emerge in 2018, the Transformational Economy, thrives on customers who want meaningful and authentic products, services, and experiences, according to consultants and authors David Gruder and Mark S. A. Smith.

David Gruder and Mark S. A. Smith advise entrepreneurs that it is not enough to be agile; they need to be nimble, which means taking innovation and adaptability to the next level for customers and workers.

Gruder and Smith are well-known consultants for organizations of all sizes and draw on their diverse backgrounds to serve their clients. They have just authored a pair of very timely books which summarize what they have learned from all this experience:

“Small-to-medium size companies and startup entrepreneurs clearly have a much better ability to be nimble, to anticipate demand for better products and services because they are in very close touch with customers and can pivot fast to provide them,” Gruder told Startup Savant. “To be nimble goes way beyond what large bureaucracies call being agile. A big mindset shift is required to see the emerging Transformational Economy as something not based on the traditional competitive focus of producing what is scarce, but sees the world as one of abundance because more resources become available.”

The two authors speak from having very different and complicated resumes, resulting in a wide range of experiences that led to their combined insights.

Gruder earned his BA magna cum laude in psychology and music from Alfred University in 1975 and his Ph.D. in clinical psychology and organizational development from Alliant University in 1982. He was a trainer for the San Diego County Office of Education’s Management Academy and founded Willingness Works, through which he also provided business consulting, psychotherapy, audio seminars, and his first book, “Sensible Self-Help,” which received the 1996 Colliers Mental Health Book of the Year.

He became the founding president of the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology in 1999, a nonprofit that supports mind-body cognitive interventions to reduce stress and trauma, while increasing calm. He and other practitioners found that their clients in business, education, sports, and the arts improved their performance and he remains a senior trainer for the ACEP’s certification program. 

In 2003, Gruder started teaching graduate courses in energy psychology and human development at the California Institute for Human Science. The following year, he was brought to Geneva, Switzerland, to provide a training program for the World Trade Organization Ambassadors.

Throughout his career, he has also taught organizations practical skills to make integrity and transparency central to their operations. In 2010, he became co-head of the faculty for CEOSpace, a business incubator for socially responsible startups. In 2019, he began providing training for two other organizations to help executives have the right mindset and skills to succeed.

Smith graduated with a BS in electrical engineering from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in 1982. He worked as a sales support engineer for Hewlett Packard/Agilent’s oscilloscopes division for six years, then managed sales for a software startup before becoming a partner at Jay Conrad Levinson’s legendary marketing organization, The Guerrilla Group. 

Smith co-founded Outsource Channel Executives in 2003 to sell disruptive technology and its implementation for channel research and marketing. In 2014, he became a business growth strategist, offering a wide range of services, including to Fortune 100 companies. 

In 2019, he added his expertise in customer acquisition and executive skills development as part of the Internal Consulting Group, and in 2020, began marketing consulting for clients of DiGo Brands. He has also delivered over 2,000 speeches in 54 countries.

Gruder and Smith formed NimbilityWorks LLC with two other partners in July 2020, to help companies flourish in the rapidly evolving Transformation Economy.

Becoming a Nimble Leader

“The Nimble C-Suite,” according to the foreword by Mark Hewitt, co-founder of NuGen Development, “provides practical strategies for navigating fundamental differences among executives to lead to healthy outcomes, support innovation, and empower management and staff through effective communication.”

If you’re a solo entrepreneur, you might feel this is way too early to think about these things. But envisioning the big company you want to build will inform your hiring decisions every step of the way and the tips they provide apply to everyone involved in your business from the start. 

Gruder and Smith address a wide range of issues, including the types of temperament you need for each member of the leadership team, when you need to upgrade aspects of the business to reach the next level, and how to operate with integrity and yet be profitable.

“Unknown to most leaders, the secret source of the common power struggles is what psychologists call archetypal blindness,” said Gruder. “Archetypes describe universal human strengths, lenses, and preferences in common sense ways and what to expect from someone of a specific archetype, so this is invaluable for leader development. Hundreds of archetypes have been described since psychologist Carl Jung first introduced them in the early 20th century.”

The shadow of an archetype shows up when it is overemphasized. This aspect produces temporary results, which may be attractive, along with undesirable outcomes. Someone who likes to take action can become a workaholic. A leader who likes to see change can overdo it and cause chaos.

Archetypal wisdom explains why the human resources department typically flounders: it wears two hats, talent development and compliance, and the result is typically confusion. “Nimble businesses have an elegant solution: they split HR into two separate functions, so each can excel,” Smith explained.

Gruder and Smith conclude that as businesses grow, they should rethink organizing in a conventional way, with four strategic leaders reporting to the CEO (which they have implemented with some clients):

  • Chief Sustainability Officer would oversee business functions related to stability and standards, such as finances, legal compliance, and protection of data and physical assets.
  • Chief Revenue Officer would be responsible for sales, new product development, and accounts receivable (“since it’s not revenue until you’re paid,” Smith noted).
  • Chief Operations Officer ensures that what is sold is built and delivered on time with superb quality that delights the customers.
  • Chief Integrity Officer is responsible for strategy and business functions related to the company’s culture and social commitments. “Done right, this brings unbeatable non-product-based brand differentiation that competitors can’t easily duplicate,” Smith said. “The I.O. is the CEO’s secret weapon to market domination in a Transformational Economy.”

Gruder and Smith highlight the critical skills leaders must have to make a company nimble:

  • Presence: A combination of emotional intelligence and personal integrity that enables someone to lead.
  • Personal Control: Self-discipline when it comes to personal and professional routines. That includes getting enough sleep, healthy eating, and exercising. 
  • Foresight: “A central part of a nimble executive’s role is to predict the future to be able to lead through upheavals,” said Smith.
  • Business Acumen: Most leaders are experts in one area, but they need to also understand something about how all the elements of their business fit together, including products, marketing, sales, service, operations, finance, and culture. 
  • Communication and Collaboration Skills: “We’ve found that most leadership breakdowns are rooted in under-developed communication skills, especially in adjusting to the style of the person and issue at hand,” they wrote. 
  • Persuasion Skills: “You must persuade your team to align their priorities with yours and take action they might have not taken on their own, which requires negotiating skills so agreements are kept.”
  • Resourceful Decision-Making: Nimble leaders are comfortable with uncertainty, using knowledge and intuition to make decisions about allocation of everything from people to money that minimize the downside if they are wrong.

Creating a Nimble Company

“’The Nimble Company’ is the first book I’ve read that hits execution risk head on and gives me the full range of tools to help my company and others thrive in change,” wrote Mark DiMassimo, founder and Creative Chief at DiGo, with whom Smith works on a contract basis.

The fundamental problem plaguing most organizations is mixing strategic and tactical roles, Smith and Gruder wrote, which is why they recommend reorganizing the responsibilities for strategic leaders, their five C-suite officers. Those who work at the tactical level are in the T-Suite.

This volume also covers a wide range of challenges, such as how to create a blindspotting culture to be able to anticipate coming industry upheavals and the impact of the increasing number of customers and employees who are “neurodiverse” (on the spectrum of having autistic characteristics, ADHD, etc.).

The chapter entitled “Business Essentials That Bring Nimbility” acknowledges that successful leaders already know these basics, but they are stated here to be sure that everyone on the team understands them and to give each issue the authors’ spin. It starts with the vision and mission statements.

“Vision is the destiny the company hopes to manifest, the mission is what leaders provide to make that happen,” said Smith. “But most vision statements are fuzzy and could be matched with any company. The nimble solution is to make both into customer-centric action statements that include the desired attitudes, behaviors, and goals and what happens when things go wrong. If your team can’t articulate the vision and mission without referring to the written statements, redo them to be more memorable, inspiring, and actionable.”

Many of the other keys to success focus on IT, without requiring top leaders to be tech experts:

Utilize Advanced, Appropriate, and Audited Artificial Intelligence

Current tools require 70,000 encounters to determine rules and recommendations for a business, so study competitors and industry media for your initial choices and leaders should monitor the result to ensure they comply with your ethics and culture.

Adjust the Business Model to Customer and Worker Behavior

Your original model may have depended largely on customers visiting a retail location and is now more dependent on shopping online or delivery of orders. That can expand the customer base, but don’t forget to continue to serve those who show up to a location and may not pay attention to digital marketing. The model also needs to be matched to your employees’ preferences, since they may prefer to do some or all their work remotely.

Establish and Pay Attention to the Right KPIs

The Key Performance Indicators dashboard needs to monitor the priority issues for management attention and there are often so many that they get ignored or require excessive time and overhead to report. Concentrate on the most meaningful ones, such as sales pipeline details, fee renewals, cash flow, customer feedback, and employee satisfaction. And be sure they can’t be faked or manipulated. 

Harmonize the Conflicting Requirements of Data Creation, Storage, and Usage

Data creators collect and generate data for all departments, often preferring quick-and-easy tools like Intuit’s QuickBooks or HubSpot over internal IT options. Chief Information Officers are responsible for data security and making it available to leaders. They may resist innovations such as big data, mobile devices, and cloud-based Everything-as-a-Service. Managers need secure and quick access to the latest reliable data. Top leaders need to make sure the data priorities of each group do not conflict. 

“Sales is the lifeblood of any organization and we have determined that in most cases, half of sales success depends on customer motivation, 40% is based on your relationship with the customer, and just 10% is really based on the product or service you provide,” said Smith. “It isn’t going to matter how good your product or service is or how incredible the deal is if the customer doesn’t feel she or he really needs it, all things considered.”

Customers buy when they feel confident they can trust your company to deliver the desired outcome and fix any problems that arise. “You need to map your customer’s role in the organization and his or her temperament to know how to market and communicate with them in their language so they believe you are authentically aligned with their needs,” he explained. “You can shorten the sales cycle without bashing competitors, which could insult the customer who chose them.” 

Your next step to becoming a nimble leader is to actually study both books and check out their support and services.

headshot of Scott S. Smith

Scott S. Smith

Scott S. Smith has had over 2,000 articles and interviews published in nearly 200 media, including Los Angeles Magazine, American Airlines’ American Way, and Investor’s Business Daily. His interview subjects have included Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Meg Whitman, Reed Hastings, Howard Schultz, Larry Ellison, Kathy Ireland, and Quincy Jones.

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