Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Colorado success stories: Regis Learning Solutions

From the Front Lines - Colorado success stories. We are interviewing Mead Consulting clients and friends whose companies have thrived during the economic recession through disruptive innovation, new business models or superior execution.

Colorado success stories: Regis Learning Solutions

Changing the Way Organizations Learn and Train

Editor's note: This is the third in a series of Colorado company success stories as told by CEOs and business owners. This article was published in ColoradoBiz magazine on February 21, 2011 - DPM

Recently Chris Carosella and I spoke with Michael Vaughan, CEO of Regis Learning Solutions to discuss their strategy for disruptive innovation in training and education.

Regis Learning Solutions (RLS) has a unique approach to training and learning. How is it different?

We started RLS because we wanted to change education. The traditional model is to teach people what to think: accepting what they are told, processing information as segmented fragments, doing the tasks assigned to them without understanding the full picture. However, in a world that changes as rapidly as ours, where opportunities are complex and shifting, success relies on individuals and organizations knowing how to think.

We believe that an organization’s future success rests on its ability to adapt, to help employees tune out the noise and to tune in critical thinking skills that allow for wider perspective, smarter decisions, and deeper understanding. Regis Learning Solutions was created with the goal of helping our clients use simulations to become better decision makers and problem solvers.

How did RLS get started?

The momentum behind RLS came from Regis University's desire to bring a new educational approach to business and government. RLS co-founder, Peggy Steele, created the business plan in 2003. Today we have over 50 employees and offices in Colorado, Illinois, and Washington, DC.

Our focus on simulation evolved as we worked with Regis University on research about what changes behavior. There are four fears people have about using simulations: (1) How much will it cost? (2) How much time will it take to develop? (3) How will we deploy it throughout our company? (4) How will we maintain the simulation? We built the simulation platform first for Regis University, then reduced the development time and launched.

How does RLS compete?

We're not just about training; we are about “human performance improvement.” We differentiate ourselves by how we address the “four fears” previously mentioned. We work within different budget constraints and can build simulations at the same cost of a high-end eLearning course. Our processes quickly gather and analyze the inputs and develop the simulation. Our simulations are web-based, designed to be easily updated and repurposed with reusable elements that can be reorganized for a new simulation without incurring significant development costs. RLS customers can continue to use their simulations for many years and revitalize them to address new business concerns. RLS designs deployment with an eye on the cost/benefit of delivery methods for each element of learning with roadmaps and leader’s guides to assist in the deployment. We build simulations for clients such as UPS, Hyatt Corporation, McDonald’s, Ernst & Young, Deloitte, and the Air Force.

What have been your biggest challenges?

We have two major challenges: Educating our target market about simulation and promoting the RLS brand. When some potential clients hear "simulation" they think of flight simulators or video games. It’s difficult for them to understand thatRLS is able to build simulations that require critical thinking and problem solving skills that can be applied in real world situations. They may be unaware that our simulations are based on a systems model that allows a rich, integrated approach to measuring the impact of decisions across many key performance indicators. We have learned that our sales approach has to be different – a client needs to experience a simulation to see that it can model any aspect of their business.

As for branding, we speak at events, publish articles and books, and develop robust relationships with channel partners.We have won awards that enhance our brand, including a Brandon Hall Gold Award for a simulation designed for Ernst and Young called Engagement Economics.

What are the challenges to current growth?

Managing our growth. We need people who understand business and education, preferably with experience in developing training or building simulations. They also need to have the balance of discipline and agility. We can grow faster if we have more of the right people.

What are the keys to continued growth over the next 5-10 years?

We merged with another company that was focused on the government side so our business is 50% government and 50% commercial. We’ll accelerate the government growth through our D.C. office in the areas of emergency response, the intelligence community, senior executive services, and the professional military university. Additional growth will come from productizing 40 types of simulations and creating a multi-year licensing model.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Colorado success stories: GolfTEC

Changes in strategic focus help GolfTEC thrive and grow

By David P. Mead

Editor's note: This is the second in a series of Colorado company success stories as told by CEOs and business owners that we are writing for ColoradoBiz Magazine. We are interviewing clients and friends whose companies have thrived during the economic recession through disruptive innovation, new business models or superior execution. (This article was originally published in ColoradoBiz on Feb 7th)

Recently I sat down with Joe Assell, co-founder and CEO of GolfTEC to review the strategies and approaches that the company has taken to reach its current level of success.

Mead: How did you decide to get into the business?

Assell: I was a golf pro and in 1994-95, co-founders Mike Clinton, Clayton Cole and I could see new technologies emerging (PC’s, the internet, etc.). Golf lessons essentially had been conducted the same way by golf professionals for years. We decided to find a better way to give a golf lesson, utilizing technology. In 1995 we opened our first location - as an experiment. It booked quickly and we added a second location.

Mead: What is your differentiation?

Assell: We have capitalized on a “first to market” advantage. We offer proprietary software platforms: g- SWING where we match your swing to our database which includes the motions of 150 top tour players. So the lesson is based on facts and data about your swing, rather than opinion; CaddyMaster (our ERP system) provides business intelligence about customers, location performance, on-line scheduling. It allows us to run golf instruction as a sophisticated business.

Mead: Has the growth path always been smooth?

Assell: In 1997-98 technology was “hot” and we were talking to venture capitalists. To please them, we “foolishly” started trying to become a tech company and developed technology to deliver lessons over the internet and added expensive, experienced management. When the tech bubble burst, we could not get investors, and had to reverse direction and retool back to our original profitable model – but not until we had burned through $3 Million in capital. We were very close to the edge – within 1-2 months of folding. We were able to secure a bridge loan which saved us.

Mead: Weren’t there some good things that came from this expensive lesson?

Assell: Yes, we had the technology which has become a key to our success. Also, three things happened, starting in 2001.Gart Capital Partners invested in GolfTEC. They had a fabulous history of success in sports retail and helped us stabilize the business. We also started partnering with GolfSmith (we are now co-located in 56 of their stores). Third, we started franchising. Over the next five years, we had steady consistent growth - from 18 locations to 140 locations.

Mead: Joe, how did the current recession impact your business?

Assell: We are in the retail and recreation business and we could see that retail was taking a big hit, especially specialty and luxury retail. Some retailers were reporting 35% to 50% reductions in sales. We put a strategic plan in place to respond to these dynamics. Our team did a terrific job. We were fortunate that even in our worst period (Sept ’08 through August ’09), our sales were down only 7.7%.

Mead: What are some of the actions and new programs you took to sustain growth?

Assell: First, we adjusted our strategy to focus on equipment sales. Our IT team developed proprietary club-fitting software and we partnered with Golf Magazine and Second, we started offering monthly payment plans that spread the annual cost of lessons and helped our customers manage their cash flow. It was amazing that 18% of our customers adopted these plans. Third, we rewarded our loyal customers by offering discounts for renewals. We offered two different months during the year when renewing customers could sign on for another year at discounted rates. Not only did this build great goodwill, but these two months have become GolfTEC's two largest cash sales months. Our results have continued to steadily improve. In 2010, our business was up 15% over 2009.

Mead: What are the keys to continued growth over the next 5-10 years?

Assell: There is significant opportunity for growth, both in same location sales as well as new locations. The “TEC” in GolfTEC stands for Technique, Equipment, Conditioning. In technique (golf lessons), we are number one on the world. In equipment, we started focusing more attention. Our equipment sales were up 70% in 2010 and there is plenty of room for growth. Conditioning is a great opportunity and one that we really haven’t touched yet. As far as the market is concerned, we see the global market as having capacity for 750 GolfTEC locations and we are currently at 145 so we are only at about 20% penetration. We still have a long way to grow!

Monday, February 14, 2011

SPECIAL: Entire Adaptable Leadership Series

Many of you have requested that we send the complete 9-part series on "Adaptable Leadership." We have provided links to all of the article entries below. We hope you find it useful. If you would like more information about our Creating Adaptable Leadership and Culture process, please contact me.


"... Executives see change as a way to strengthen the business. Employees don't.They see change as unwelcome, disruptive, and intrusive. Employees focus too much on what they think they will lose from change rather than what they will gain in the end..."

"... Given that people are attached to how things are, there is a sense of loss and emotional upheaval if that certainty, and the security it provides, is threatened..."

"...Adapting is the ability to adjust to a variety of situations as needed. There's no beginning and end. It's a constant process that can move in any direction as desired. It includes everyone, not just change leaders. Everyone becomes responsible for results..."

Part 1 - The Long, Slow, Hard Economic Slog

Part 2 - Companies Don"t Need to Change. They Need to Adapt

Part 3 - 'Adapt' is New Thinking

Part 4 - How to Create an Adaptable Culture

Part 5 - Create an Adapting Culture: When It Can Go Wrong

Part 6 - Do You have the Leaders to Drive an Adaptive Culture?

Part 7 – Characteristics of Adaptive Leaders

Part 8 - Creating an Adapting Company Is Not Complicated

Part 9 - From Ignorance to Results: Understanding Stages of Change from the CEO Perspective

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

From the Front Lines: Colorado Success Stories -Qualvu Grows by Making Every Consumer's Opinion Count

From the Front Lines: Colorado Success Stories

This series of interviews with clients and friends focuses on companies that have succeeded during the recession. The stories are told by the CEOs and business owners themselves.

Qualvu Grows by Making Every Consumer’s Opinion Count!

Recently I spoke with John Williamson, CEO of Golden-based Qualvu which has introduced disruptive innovation to the world of consumer focus groups, surveys and qualitative consumer market research. Qualvu was recognized as a 2010 Colorado Company to Watch.

Mead: How did you decide to get into the business?

Williamson: Every Fortune 1000 consumer-focused company in the world uses qualitative research extensively. The industry offered interesting opportunities for a startup: the chance to disrupt a market largely untouched by web-based innovation, to introduce self-serve methods, and importantly to make qualitative research accessible to thousands of companies beyond the Fortune 1000.

Qualvu, founded in early 2008, pioneered a breakthrough online experience for conducting web-based consumer feedback, allowing businesses to take their qualitative research online without losing the face-to-face connections crucial to understanding customers. By connecting companies with their customers around the globe via webcams, flip cams and even consumers’ smart phones, Qualvu delivers more compelling and actionable business intelligence than focus groups, and because of cost efficiencies, it’s available to any business. We call it “finding your truth” – and it’s a really empowering Do-It-Yourself experience.

Mead: How do you compete and achieve differentiation?

Williamson: Qualvu was first to market with an innovative process that allows any user with an Internet connection – either PC or video mobile phone - to provide video-based feedback at the press of a button. Clients realize speed, cost and global reach advantages. Our clients can set up projects at any time day or night, and gain access to their consumers at home, at work, while shopping, or anywhere they interact with the client’s products. Over the past 3 years, we have developed a proprietary process and technology to convert the data to highlight reels of key insights as well as online video reports too.

Mead: What have been your biggest challenges?

Williamson: We have constantly fine-tuned every aspect of the experience – from a self-serve project portal, to finding better participants, to delivering online reports within hours complete with video highlight reels of the most relevant and compelling consumer feedback, to creating completely searchable video. Every day is a new breakthrough in our refinement.

Our biggest challenge is getting the word out! We’re just now starting to really pop on the industry radar, as we’ve attracted a who’s who of clients, such as Chrysler, Procter & Gamble, eBay, Yahoo!, T-Mobile, Disney, Adidas, Pfizer, just to name a few. We’ll start expanding our penetration beyond these larger companies as people begin to realize we’re a site for any business that needs deep insights to make better decisions.

Mead: What are the keys to continued growth over the next 5-10 years?

Williamson: Relentless innovation to keep our technical and process advantages. A lot of that has to do with enabling breakthroughs in data mining video content, so our clients can increase the value of every project over time as they consolidate and re-assess consumer video data, trends, and insights. The beauty is that the more you use Qualvu, the better it gets.

Mead: How do you maintain the culture and still build the management team required to grow?

Williamson: We find great people and promote from within. We find smart, creative people who have a positive attitude and a strong work ethic who want to be a part of what Qualvu is accomplishing. One of our mantras to every new hire is, “Welcome to Qualvu. You’ll do the best work of your career here.” People see career paths because Qualvu is a meritocracy. We try to reward effort, talent, initiative, and values.

Mead: How do global factors influence your growth?

Williamson: Anyone with an Internet connection around the world can provide information vital to our clients’ products and services. Certainly given the economic conditions globally the past couple of years, more brands are trying to do more research with less – and that’s helped Qualvu gain traction more quickly I believe, as these types of conditions have the tendency to spawn new models that break through because buyers are more open to innovation to solve their business problems.

We opened an office in Dublin this year to expand our global reach. Dublin is accessible, has a multi-national workforce, and is cost efficient. Interestingly more money is spent on qualitative research today in Europe than in the US, and we intend to support our global client base with expansion to other markets too.

NOTE: John Williamson announced on February 7, 2011 the following new product: "Qualvu releases world's first mobile app for video-based qualitative research. Come see how it works via Qualvu webinar:

Friday, February 4, 2011

Are 'doing what you say you'll do' and 'flawless execution' passé values

The Mead Consulting Group has been focused on execution and getting results for businesses for many years. It is the key to our success as a business and has become essential component of our brand. Execution is not only important to the business, but also very important to me personally in everything I do. People who have worked alongside me in nonprofits, community, or public service areas certainly understand this.

At a recent gathering of the Leadership 20 alumni – a group of top emerging professional services leaders in the Colorado community - the question was raised: “Is meeting your commitments and ‘doing what you say you’ll do’ as important today as it was 20 years ago?

It’s an interesting question. I was quick to respond that “Absolutely! Meeting your commitments is just as important today as it was a couple of decades ago.”

However, as I thought more about it, I have had reason to question whether that is really true. Is it really as important today? In the last few months, I have been faced with a number of iterations of businesses and people not executing, not meeting their commitments, not doing what they say they will.

Do what you say you’ll do. Business on a handshake. Mead Consulting has numerous marketplace partnerships with the better providers of a wide array of services that our clients need (training, recruiting, managed IT services, investment banking, etc.). We have had mutual agreements for many years with these providers – virtually all on a handshake agreement. We have had only one negative issue with a partner over 20+ years with this program… Until recently.

In the past two months, we have had two new partners (one a Managed IT Services firm, the other a marketing firm) not live up to their word. It has given me pause to question why. Is this a sign of desperation due to tough economic times? If that is true, does integrity only apply to good times? Did we compromise our standards with these firms? Or, was it just the luck of the draw over time?

Don’t over-commit and under-deliver. There have always been situations of over-committing and under-delivering in business and community. Sometimes it is a miscalculation or unintentional. Sometimes people can’t say NO and get overloaded. However, recently I have begun to see a pattern with people who routinely accept more and more roles and then can’t perform. The same people repeat this in organization after organization. For a number of years my mantra for nonprofit and public service organizations has been “alignment, commitment, flawless execution.” In other words, do something that is well-aligned to your business, personal, professional interests, bite off a manageable amount, and then execute flawlessly. If you then find you can take on more tasks and responsibilities, that’s great, but meet your commitments first.

As a board member and leader of several organizations, I have been forced to have tough conversations with people who love to add titles and items to their resume, yet don’t deliver or meet even the minimal standards of performance or execution.

Don’t accept mediocre performance. Hold yourself and others to high standards. I have had occasion to work on a program which is a government - private industry collaboration. The program which has tremendous potential to assist companies and create jobs has unfortunately been sub-optimized. Even as it has been falling short of its potential, it has been very instructional to watch the self-congratulatory behavior of the committee and board. Committee members who have repeatedly failed to meet their commitments cheer each other as “awesome” and “fabulous” while rejecting or ignoring suggestions for improvement. I certainly understand that government entities have never been shining examples of stellar performance or accountability, but it is disappointing none-the-less. We see the same applauding of mediocrity in the school system as well as we seek to promote high self esteem for every student and teacher regardless of achievement or effort. Has acceptance of mediocrity become the norm? Is it old-fashioned to set high standards and expect strong performance or yourself and others?

Don’t find excuses or blame others for substandard performance. When I was a young boy growing up, my father would say, “Be a man! Own your mistakes.” I wonder what he would think if he were alive today to observe the business and government scene as people look for anyone they can to blame when they fail.

Some may say that I may just be getting cranky. But, I ask you to think about this: Is ‘meeting your commitments’ passé? Is ‘doing what you say you’ll do’ your grandfather’s mantra? Is ‘flawless execution’ an old fashioned concept?

Let me know your thoughts?