Join us as we sit down with Carl Jay Cox, a remarkable figure in the world of strategic planning and entrepreneurship. He's the mastermind behind Forty Strategy Inc. and has penned the bestselling book "Lost at CEO: An Entrepreneur's Guide to Strategy." Carl shares his unique journey from mid-career professional to inspiring entrepreneur, shedding light on his moment of revelation and how he embraced his fears to create something impactful. As a bonus, stick around till the end for a chance to win a free copy of his insightful book.
Venturing deeper into the conversation, we delve into the paradigm shift of how adopting a strategic mindset can propel mid-career professionals to new heights of success. We talk about the importance of setting ambitious goals and securing team buy-in to cultivate a strategic approach to work. We also explore the role of expectation management in accomplishing goals without the daunting shadow of failure. Together, we reflect on how striving for these objectives can earn you recognition and fuel your career advancement.
In the final leg of the conversation, we discuss the critical question every mid-career professional should be asking - how can I add value and stay relevant? We bring you real-life examples and talk about how to leverage new tools for higher productivity. We discuss the Gallup poll's findings on workforce engagement, the implications of automation and offshoring, and what it means for mid-career professionals in terms of relevance and value addition. So, join us and discover how the way you show up can make a world of difference. Don't miss out!
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Your leadership and career development most likely includes you shifting from being less tactical to being more strategic. I virtually met Carl Jay Cox in mid-2020, shortly after the pandemic began. During that conversation, carl shared that anyone who had a strategic plan at the beginning of 2020 has now thrown that plan in the trash. It made complete sense, given what we were all living and dealing with then. In this episode, carl and I discussed how your mid-career professional development includes shifting to being more strategic so that you can be a bigger part of the solution in your organization and career, and that's just one of the reasons why I want you to meet him. Let's get started. Hello, my friends, this is episode 172 of the Mid-Career GPS Podcast. I'm your Jo hn Neral. I help mid-career professionals who feel stuck, undervalued and underutilized show up to find a job they love, or love the job they have, by using my proven four-step formula. Now, if you're looking for some help in navigating your mid-career transition, I've got a free resource on my website to help you. My guide Five Mistakes Mid-Career Professionals Make and Need to Stop Doing will help you focus on what matters in your job search and career progression. Right now. You can check the show notes or visit my website at https://johnneral. com to download your free guide today and let me help you figure out whatever is next for you and your career. Carl J Cox is the CEO and founder of Forty Strategy Inc. Throughout his career, carl has been an executive leader and board member with seven different organizations that have grown 2X to 7X, with operations in four continents. He hosts the Measure Success Podcast, where he talks with CEOs, authors and extraordinary achievers about effective strategies that inspire success in business and their personal life. Carl's been married for over 25 years and they have four children. Now. Pay close attention. Carl is the author of the bestselling book Lost at CEO An Entrepreneur's Guide to Strategy. This applies to many people and can help them throughout their leadership and career journey, even if you don't have the CEO in your title yet, and we hope that you're going to stay tuned to the end of the episode, as Carl has an incredible offer for you to get a free copy of his book. So, without any further ado, it is my pleasure to introduce you to Carl J.Carl J. Cox:
My name is Carl J Cox. I'm the CEO of Forty Strategy, author of Lost at CEO and host of the Measure Success Podcast.John Neral:
Carl, I've been waiting to have this conversation with you for a while. We're going to dig into a bunch of things, but before we even get into that, I have to congratulate you on your book. Your book again is called Lost at CEO An Entrepreneur's Guide to Strategy. I've had a chance to read it. I love it and, for everybody who's listening today, I want them to absolutely stick around, because if you are a reader and you like really really good business books that are tangible and relevant, stick to the end of this podcast, because Carl is going to share with you how you can get a free copy of the book.Carl J. Cox:
All right, perfect. Thank you so much, john.John Neral:
All right, You've got a mid-career moment. We all do. I'm curious from you what was that mid-career moment that kind of shifted the path for you in your career?Carl J. Cox:
You know, john, I've actually had multiple of those events, significant amount of events. I'm one of these perhaps you could call it modern brain of the Gen X group of individuals who have I've had like 15 different jobs throughout my life, starting out as strawberry picking when I was 12 years old. So it depends when you divide mid, you start when you're 12 years old or you go to where I'm nearly 50 today. But the biggest event was leading into 40 strategy. Really fortunate to be with seven different companies. I've tripled in size for my career and so I've had a lot of success within organizations and I had this opportunity. I was asked hey, carl, why don't you launch a global consulting organization? And they said and I had this question I was like do I want to do that or should I do it on my own? And it was a big, big question because my significant other, who I've been married for over 25 years and we have four kids together, was like that was the last thing she wanted me to do was to get involved in another entrepreneurial spin. And so that was my midlife crisis. Do I battle the one? I love to make this decision? That was fear rights fear when people go on their own. You know this jumping entrepreneur right, there's a lot of fear, trepidation. I'm not getting the steady paycheck of, you know, abc company, fortune 100, 500 company, and but I knew I had something that I could create value in the world. So that for me was a key decision in my life to end up starting 40 strategy. And, however, since making the decision, I couldn't think of doing anything else but what I'm doing today.John Neral:
Well, how wonderful is that, to be able to sit here and have that kind of satisfaction and just fulfillment in terms of what it is that you do Find me again when you started 40 strategy.Carl J. Cox:
January 2020, right before that little thing called COVID decided to start.John Neral:
Yeah, and so I'm glad you brought that up, because you and I first connected in April of 2020. We connected on LinkedIn and, carl, I vividly remember us having a conversation and we were a few weeks into the pandemic and you said this thing to me that I shared in multiple places and you'll be happy to know I referenced you when I did. But you made this comment and you said right after the pandemic began, it was like everybody took their strategic plan and they threw it in the trash. And you refer to the pandemic as a black swan event and I'm wondering if you can tell us a little bit more specifically about what you mean by a black swan event and why people took their strategic plans and threw them away.Carl J. Cox:
So a Black Swan event is typically referring to an event that is, on the scale of likelihood, is way beyond the likelihood. It's so remote you don't think it's ever going to occur and so people don't plan for them. It's sort of like your house burning down. It's always a remote possibility, but until your house burns down you don't know it. And I would say that was the case for the pandemic. You know, everyone knew that someday the virus that struck the world in the early 1900s right, you know that could potentially hit us again, but we really didn't believe. And even when it was in China and Wuhan, we didn't believe because there was the bird flu and there was other things that was contained. But when all of a sudden it hopped over to the US and to Europe, all of a sudden everything we knew had changed. And there was and when you and I met John, there was complete uncertainty, right, people didn't know what to do, they didn't know what they'd go outside, they didn't know where they could shake people's hands, they didn't know, they didn't know. And so that uncertainty ultimately did what people wanted to do. When you said, there, they threw away, they didn't even think about, because it was all about survival. When you get in survival mode, you're just thinking about sleeping, eating, getting enough food to eat, right. The last thing you're thinking about is that pretty strategic plan that you developed to help move forward. And so what I try to do, john, because what happens with most people is they get paralyzed when these strategic events happen. They get paralyzed and they don't know what to do next. And so I started working with people saying, okay, let's forget about the things we can't control, because there was too many of them. What things can we control over the next 90 days? The purpose behind that was to start creating some short-term wins so they could literally start celebrating again their success, because everything in that point of time did not feel successful, depending on where you lived. You couldn't, potentially, go outside anymore. You couldn't go to the grocery store without a mask. You were perhaps wiping down your groceries if you brought them in. There was so much change that happened to take place. So that's what I started to get people to try to think strategically again is hey, we might not think about three years, because we don't even know what's going to happen two months from now, but I think we could start planning something that we know we need to get in place for the next 90 days and that helped. It helped a lot of my clients. It helped a lot of people we were talking with, we were doing webinars and things of that nature. How do you start moving? Because being paralyzed always brings you backwards.John Neral:
Yeah, it's such a great point and, as I'm listening to you, of course I'm going back to all the things I remember from a little more than three years ago and it seems far away and at the same time it doesn't, but it's without question. It's impacted so much about how we work and the work that we get to do. Your expertise is in strategy and it's about helping people be more strategic. For the mid-level leader that's listening to this conversation right now, that's sitting at a manager to senior director type role and they've gotten feedback from their supervisor that is, you need to be more strategic, but they haven't had the benefit of, say, a 360 assessment, or they work for somebody who isn't great at giving them robust feedback. Define for us, from your lens, what it means for a mid-level leader to be more strategic.Carl J. Cox:
That's such a good question, and why here? I'm 49, and I would consider myself now an expert in strategy, but it took me 19 years to get here. And when I say that when I was a 30-year-old CFO for a company that I grew in three and a half times in size, my CEO was one of the top strategic performers that I ever met. Matter of fact, if you go into good to great, if they evaluated smaller companies, he would be considered one of those servant-based level five leaders, extraordinary person, really high in strategic value. And he would say to me sometimes, carl, I need to be more strategic. Now, john, my background we didn't share is I was a CPA at one point in my career. I started out at Cooper's and Library, which is now Pricewaterhouse Cooper's, one of the now big four firms, and what I learned about is staying focused on the now, the budget and maybe, if we're lucky, well, it was almost always about the past. We were just getting information out the door, and so I was all tactics, tactics, tactics, tactics, just getting things done, and I was really good at it. But when my CEO would put me outside and he said, carl, we need to be more strategic, it took me a while to figure out what strategy meant. And what strategy means is. Let's really simplify this. You are at a certain position, point. We'll call it point A. Today, your goal is to get to point B, a new place. Strategy is how you get to that new place, which typically means you have to change your habits to get there, and that's what people miss doing the same thing. Going back to being that bean county, there's a little joke, john, and it's only half funny, but it's why did the chicken? Oh, I'm going to ask you, john, maybe you know this. Do you know why? You know there's like why the chicken crossed the road? Do you know why the CPA crossed the road? No, it's because he did it last year. Okay, so so that's, that's the bean counter joke. And but that is often how we work in business is we're just learning for what the people told us in the past and we're just repeating, because that's what success is based on. But strategies about changing what you do to get there faster, smarter, more effective, and that's what, ultimately, what drives you to help be more successful is changing what you do to get to a better result.John Neral:
We know that change is difficult for some more than others, and when I think about the mid-level leader, who one of the things that may be holding them back is their fear of making a mistake. Amen, absolutely, we've all been there, right, okay, so what are some things you could share with us that would help that mid-level leader be more willing to play a little more boldly, or be a little more fearless, or to be more strategic in the way that they've been told, but feel like they are truly stepping toward that point B? What are some immediate wins you can offer them today?Carl J. Cox:
So first I'm going to start with and I'm going to go back to that, but it's leading up to it McKenzie is considered one of the top strategic firms in the world. There's Bain and there's several others, right, but there's these top players. People will spend half a million dollars minimum just working with them minimum. Typically they're multi-million dollar projects and this is the fascinating thing Only 20% of their strategies actually get done. So think of that. The smartest people in the world are only able to influence the companies they're working for. To get 20%. The data shows typically that only 10% of strategic initiatives overall actually get completed. So now let's think about that, john, why would you take on something that only has a 10% to 20% chance of success? Sticking your neck out? You know what happens, right, it gets cut off. That's that mid-level manager's fear. But I'll also say this those who are willing to be strategic are the ones who end up getting the CEO positions. They're the ones that get the VP positions. They're the ones who, yes, you can sit back and sit back and sit back, but if you aren't willing to have a plan and show a plan, so let's go into some things that you think about. To help somebody out be more strategic. Number one you have to think about the future, and the future doesn't have to be five to 10 years, right? If you're in a position that's, let's say, more tactical in nature, start talking to your team about what can we do over the next two years to transform our department or our group or the person with? So that's number one Ask, facilitate. What's really fascinating is often within teams, you have the answers To set goals that are stretch. The wide behind this is if you don't set stretch goals, you're going to set five to 10% improvements that you don't have to change your behavior, you're just going to work a little bit harder. We actually don't want to work harder. We actually want to change our behaviors once again to get to these significant incremental improvements. And that forces that touch. Now, john, this is important you have to communicate differently to the board, and what you can communicate internally and I talk about this and lost to CEO the board wants you to succeed. So you need to set a low bar for the board or whoever the higher level management team is, but internally you set this target and saying we're going to hit 10x or 5x or 3x or whatever the big number is something that feels almost ridiculous. But this is the fun thing. When you get, let's say I'll just give an example A typical company, a small company, 10 million dollar company I'm using easy numbers here, john they grow 5%, that means they're going to be 10 million, 10.5 million. You're probably not going to have to change your habits to do that. You could probably raise your prices and get to 10.5 million without changing any units. That is not strategic, that's just changing your pricing. But you might say, hey, we want to hit 14 million next year and you're still a ways out to get to that point, or in two years. That requires change. Now let's say this if you only end up doing 13.5 million, is that a failure?John Neral:
I wouldn't think so.Carl J. Cox:
It's not. It's not If you don't set that at the budget number right. Life is about expectations and why people are unwilling to be strategic about their goal setting. Once again set low bar on the higher level personnel, but internally set these crazy high objectives. If you slightly fail those, it's OK, so so that helps people be more successful. It's just that concept alone that, no, we're really going to support you, we're going to help you be successful. The next point here is you have to get buy in Right. If you don't get buy in with your teams, they're not going to do it, and this is the really hard part. Often their incentives are to do what you're already doing, and so you have to find ways to give them incentive that, yeah, no, this change or this new system or this new process or putting in gender AI is going to really simplify our life and you're not going to lose your job as a result. You want to give that security right to people that this change is going to be to the benefit to all of us. That's what helps create the buy in and ideally, they help figure out the how we're going to get it done. That's also important that there's other pieces, but I think those few right there, John, are critical steps to helping a mid-level manager start being seen as strategic versus just a reliable person who's getting done when I asked them to do.John Neral:
Well, as I'm listening to you, carl, there's a couple of things that come up for me, because that whole example was so good. But, like, the first thing is there needs to be a shift from being the one who's executing all the time and just do it, being the one that's doing it, to kind of shift and have that broader lens in terms of here's how I lead my team, essentially being more strategic. The big aha that I had as I was listening to you was this whole idea about changing habits right, and that if we keep doing the same thing over and over again, we're not being strategic. Right, we can work harder, but that doesn't necessarily mean we're going to get better results. Right, that's right. So when I think about what it takes to change a habit, especially a workplace habit or a workflow habit, can you give me an example of what changing that habit to be a stretch goal might be, just so we can make it a little bit clearer for the listeners today?Carl J. Cox:
Yeah, yeah, so, yeah, so One of the key challenges of strategy this is where strategy fails again is maybe you only review it quarterly. If anybody listening has been a part of any type of strategic initiative, that's pretty common. We're going to review and update our goals on a quarterly basis. What happens for the majority is people get excited when they get the review and get the initiative, and then they'll work on it for a couple of days and then they'll go back to their job. Within about a week. Before the board meeting or the management meeting, they'll go oh boy, or put in your expletive if they prefer. Next thing, you know they're rushing to get done something and they don't do it with the appropriate amount of effort, they don't do it with the appropriate amount of quality and they're just trying to check a box. How we change that, how we help change habits, is we start going to weekly Performance measures. How we do this is two things. See, once again, people are so busy and they're in the business. One of the first things we do is what's one of the first things you do when you start the day from a business perspective?John Neral:
I look at how I planned my day the night before I go back and just look through what I've got planned for the day and what absolutely needs to get done.Carl J. Cox:
That's very good, by the way, that was a good thing you just mentioned right there. How early in the day do you look at your email?John Neral:
Oh, I'm bad. I mean, it's one of the first things I do when I wake up in the morning.Carl J. Cox:
So you described what probably 99.9% of people in this universe do who are working, when they look at their email and what happens is the email drives their day, not what you had planned for the day before, right? So what I encourage when people are doing strategic initiatives, to have power hours or a 90-minute power session, so before they start in their normal work, before they start in their regular thing to do, they set aside 60 minutes. They do not open their email, they make sure all their other browser things are closed out, they do not have you name, your operating system, slack or whatever, giving them warnings, they turn off their phone and they focus on that change that they need to make. So that's how you help change habits. And then, b as the manager, you want to set like 10-week strategic initiative execution items, and what this means is every week there is a key initiative that has to get done and the manager reviews it with them. Now, john, this is where the change is for most managers that they don't do Week three I'm just making something up here, but week three, somebody's going to say, hey, I couldn't get it done because we had that trade show last week and during the trade show and then the snow came down and I couldn't, I was having challenges and my daughter got sick. So all these excuses get brought up and as the manager, you have to have empathy and say I understand, and that was bad, I agree, and the snowstorm I understand. But then what you have to say changes the game. Is you say so, what are you going to do next week to catch up? Because the expectation, you understand how important this is. You understand your role within this organization to help change this strategy, this initiative. So, as a result of that, are you going to catch up? When you do that, john, all of a sudden everyone understands how serious it is and you start getting traction on these strategic initiatives. Now, what are some examples of strategic initiatives? The list is endless, but I'll just do a simple example. Perhaps let's use a writer. Let's say you have a group this is kind of a little cruel right now in the current generate high part. But let's say you have a writer and they write, they are one of their jobs to get a 500 word blog out each week. Okay, the strategic. And let's say, for example, it takes them a half a day a week to get done. The strategic initiative is we want you to get that to be a half hour week, got it? How are we going to do that? Today, john, we're going to learn how to use generative AI to help automate the majority of that process, and they're going to spend the next 30 minutes editing, auditing, personalizing it, making it human, and so that's the strategic change is that four hour event turns into a 30 minute event, and then they now have three and a half more hours to be more productive. To lay out in the sun I'm just kidding. It's not so likely if you're working with any company, but you're going to have the ability to be more productive as a result of that, and so that's what strategy is. It's changing that habit of I have to spend four hours on this 500 word blog versus. I'm going to use a new tool now to help this be more effective.John Neral:
Well, and I truly hope, Carl, that for anyone who is listening to this, that's in that kind of managerial role that they're starting to think about, where they can change the habits of their team and if somebody is an individual contributor, they don't have direct reports. I want to offer the same kind of thing to them. Where can you change the habit that allows you to be more productive, more efficient, save some time along the way, but then free that up to let you do some other things that may have more ROI or even return on your energy ROE, being able to do that.Carl J. Cox:
I think that's great advice, john, and I think the thing that we get caught up and I mentioned here earlier I've been running a couple of people who have, for two plus decades they've been worked with large Fortune 100 companies and are no longer working for them for multiple different reasons, and they're trying to go off and be entrepreneurs. Okay, so it's a little bit off, but what they've found is and I just saw the Gallup poll just today, so Gallup just released the greatest numbers 23% of the workforce is highly engaged, so 19 to 20% of the people are actively disengaged and everybody else is quietly quitting. They're not putting in their all to be the best. They're not A players, even though they have the talent to be an A player. So what we need to ask ourselves as a mid-level manager is every day we should be asked ourselves, regardless of the belief that they have a salary and a paycheck that's going to come every day how am I going to add value? There should be this appropriate fear today, more than in a long time. I don't think we've had this much fear in quite a while when you combine the layoffs that are happening at the large corporations, combine with general AI and what we need to turn now to is automation and offshoring. Let's not forget those, right, that's really honestly, more likely the things that are going to take out roles and opportunities. What we should be asking today is Is my job today going to be the same tomorrow, or three months or nine months or 18 months? And how do I make sure I'm continuously adding value six months, 12 months, 18 months? Or am I going to be offshore to somebody in India or in the Philippines? Or I talked to somebody the other day and I won't mention the firm I came from, public accounting, right. This one wasn't my previous firm, just clarify, but this actually was a publicly traded company and they said I have a $7,000 CPA equivalent staff accountant. That's as good as anybody I have here in the United States, okay, and his biggest concern is them leaving for get $7,500 per year, yes, okay. So, folks, these are the things we should keep us up at night is how do we stay relevant? How do we add value when, in that equivalent perhaps 80 to 100 to $120,000 paying job can be paid for $7,000 a year? Yeah, and that's where it comes again once again. How do we add value? How do we change the things? How do we be a part of the solution rather than being potentially something that becomes a no-brainer for an organization to make that change?John Neral:
Carl, in those last few minutes you hit on so many things. First and foremost, I agree with you. I think the things that you called out that we need to be worried about and focused on is spot on. But the other part is that one of the biggest continuing themes on this podcast is how do we add value and how do we show up from that place of value and service and to never forget that in terms of how we strategically position ourselves within the businesses, the corporations, the organizations where the listeners are employed, or even if they're branching out on their own, they still have to have that strategic component in there as well. So I just want to thank you for all of the great pieces of information and everything that you shared with us today. We do have to start wrapping up, but I'm kind of sorry to have to say that because you and I could keep talking and talking, and talking. I'll have to have you back on at some point, but for this particular episode, carl, what advice would you give the listeners to help them build their mid-career GPS?Carl J. Cox:
So, regardless if you're a Fortune 500 company or you're an individual at any size company, you should have your own strategic plan, and it really means that where are you planning to be? I like to go further out when do you want to be 10 years from now? Drive back to then a three-year plan and that three-year plan is going to get you to 10. And then drive back to one year of what am I going to try to accomplish one year from now. That's going to differentiate me in the market. And then you come up with a plan how to get there. And if you can't do that on your own, this is when you hire somebody like John is to help you get to there. In my business, I've hired four different coaches John to help me get to where I'm at, because one of the things I learned back in public accounting a long time ago is if you don't have somebody audit your work and give you new insights, you don't get the best answer. You send an email off with an error, you make these small little adjustments, but when you have somebody else who's looking over your work, giving you confidence, helping you see the right things, that vision starts to get there faster, and that's what we want for your audience, right? How do we get to our next level faster, great advice.John Neral:
Thank you so very much, carl. Well, look, I'm going to turn the mic over to you now, because you've got some great things to share with us. I want you to tell us about your book, your podcast, where people can follow and connect. So, my friend, the mic's yours.Carl J. Cox:
Thank you so much. So, first of all, once again, if you connect with us on 40strategycom, we have a fun little strategy for Saturday email. It's about a three to five minute read each Saturday. Feel free to sign up for that, but that's free. Second thing that's free. I do offer this very often, John, and that's what we said. Hey, wait till the end. We just came out, as we said, with Lost at CEO and Entrepreneurs Guide to Strategy. This applies no matter where you're at. This is a leadership book. It's not just being a CEO of an organization, and I believe and I'm giving this to you for those who listen all the way through if they send me an email directly to Carl J Cox it's once again carljcoxat40strategycom Give me their address for free. I'll give them a signed copy of the book and it's only going to last through this podcast, through 2023. It's not going to forever an evergreen type status. But anybody who says hey, I heard on the John Neryl on the podcast, just let me know. I'll send them a free book and I'm just hoping that that book is going to give you some guidance along the way. And then, finally, you can listen to us on the Measures Assess podcast every week on Tuesday mornings, we come up with new podcasts talking with great people, and I hope you enjoy that as well. So those are the best ways to get connected with us and the free offer we have for you.John Neral:
Carl, that is extremely generous and I want to thank you for that. And, most importantly, it's a pleasure to know you. I am just honored to be part of your network and I just have so enjoyed our time talking today. You added so much value, so thank you for being an incredible guest on the mid-career GPS podcast.Carl J. Cox:
John, it's an absolute pleasure to be on and you do a wonderful job with the podcast, so thank you so much.John Neral:
Thank you. Well, look, my friends, if there's one takeaway to have from my conversation with Carl today, it's this If you want to be more strategic, you have an opportunity in front of you right now to look at your habits and find a way to change them. Change it up, do something different and, as Carl said just a few minutes ago, think about what your three-year plan and your 10-year plan are and be bold to be strategic as you build your mid-career GPS to whatever is next for you and your career. So until next time, my friends, remember this we build our mid-career GPS one mile or one step at a time, and how we show up matters. Make it a great rest of your day. Thank you for listening to the Mid-Career GPS podcast. Make sure to follow on your favorite listening platform and, if you have a moment, I'd love to hear your comments on Apple podcasts. Visit JohnNarrowcom for more information about how I can help you build your mid-career GPS or how I can help you and your organization with your next workshop or public speaking event. Don't forget to connect with me on LinkedIn and follow me on social at JohnNarrowCoaching. I look forward to being back with you next week. Until then, take care and remember how we show up matters.