7 Key Plays from Our Middle Market Strategic CEO Playbook

By Liz McBride

7 Key Plays from Our CEO Playbook

dateTue, Apr 12, 2022 @ 11:00 AM

One of the top 10 moments of my life was the Predictable Results book launch party at our Breakthrough Conference last October. To sweeten this moment, the MVP subject to one of my chapters was co-presenting a breakout session with me. I was incredibly proud to showcase Randy Carr, the CEO of World Emblem who is featured in chapter 11. Yes, that’s right - chapter 11. Such an unfortunate number for a chapter regarding a CEO. As Randy said, “Dude! Chapter 11? That’s bad juju! What are you doing to me?” Randy describes his chapter in his bi-weekly letters to his employees at World Emblem as: “The chapter after 10.”

All juju aside, Randy’s story was the perfect ending to the book because this playbook rings true to many CEOs in different points of their reign. CEOs may naturally revert to the skills and backgrounds that got them where they are today - and there may be more they need to do. Perhaps, like Randy, they inherited the company and don’t automatically feel the love and Core Purpose of the family business, perhaps the organization is hitting a growth plateau and what worked before just ain’t cutting it anymore, and, more commonly, CEOs feel they are being crystal clear on the expectations and are baffled when seeing the chaos and missed goals.

“World Emblem was doing fine, but revenue was stagnating. When leaders are overwhelmed with the fires of day-to-day work and the fear of making a misstep, focus on growth suffers. And so does the leader’s confidence. What most are missing is an operating system that offers a clear definition of the critical role they should play and a path to fulfilling it effectively.”

Everyone needs a playbook. Some are beaten and worn around the edges with scribbles everywhere, and others are tidy and color-coded with adjustments along the way. What does your playbook have in it? Does it have the following key plays?

7 Key Plays from Our CEO Playbook

    1. A Core Strategy - When Randy inherited his family's apparel emblem business at the young age of 25, he didn't know the difference between a vision and mission, let alone align with the Core Purpose. What’s sexy and exciting about apparel decorations when you’re 25? Sometimes we don’t naturally inherit the love of the business, so, it’s the CEO’s job to start from the beginning: how do you want to build your culture? Why do you get up every day and do what you do - and why should your employees care? What are you inherently good at in your business and can capitalize from?
    2. An Inspiring Vision - World Emblem has an inspiring 10-year BHAG to “see our brands everywhere,” complete with a roadmap of how they will diversify with their 3-5 year Winning Moves to get there. In his 20’s, however, Randy would rather stay behind a closed door to tackle his Inbox. There was no time for a vivid vision when you have fires to put out and 50 employees counting on you to keep the lights on. Fast forward to today, Randy is everywhere! He would rather be in an open setting, traveling with his team, touring his operations than behind a desk. World Emblem has a vivid vision in documented in Rhythm software, beautifully laid out in presentation and print form, and echoed in letters from Randy to his entire company. It’s human nature to sometimes keep things closely to the chest - not wanting to worry or stress out the team. That’s just not Randy’s style today, and research supports this case. Will the vivid vision disrupt the way work is done today? Of course it will; however,  the stories we create in our heads tend to be worse than reality. Randy knows World Emblem won’t be seen everywhere if his entire team isn’t marching toward that goal. Inspiring? Check.  See BHAG Examples here.
    3. Strategic Change - In order to reach the BHAG, the playbook should include three 3-5 year growth and profit strategies that will get you to the top of the mountain. What’s working today will expire years before you see that it has. Therefore, it’s critical to keep 3 Winning Moves in play every year. At every quarterly and annual planning at World Emblem, we look at the Winning Moves and status our assumptions on what’s working as expected or not working, where we should add clarity, where we should accelerate or stop. It’s a concerted effort to change and diversify. You can’t see your brands everywhere if you’re not...everywhere.
    4. A cadence of thinking, planning and doing:  When Randy and his team first embraced the Rhythm methodology of Think, Plan, and Do, it was “clunky...not perfect.” With each quarter, the team got better and better in going from 50+ priorities to 5. They work every quarter on their strategy. They meet weekly on their progress and hold each other accountable to get back on track. Today, they’re a well-oiled machine and will invite me to their first weekly adjustment meeting of the quarter to make sure they’re having the right conversations. They’ll say things like, “That KPI doesn’t work. It’s depressing as it will be Red all quarter the way the criteria is written. The better conversation is if we compared it year over year, or created realistic projected numbers each week…” They’ll discuss and make adjustments early in the quarter for meaningful weekly discussions.
    5. An Execution-Ready Plan: World Emblem’s plan every quarter goes through the 4 tests: Is the plan focused around a single theme? Will the plan hit its financial targets? Do we have enough energy to get the top priorities accomplished, and do we have detailed success criteria to hold each other accountable properly? Again, this was a process, not an event in order to make each plan execution-ready. Quarter after quarter, year after year, they get better and better and see momentum build.
    6. Brutal Facts: Creating good habits can unearth good old-fashioned dysfunction. All healthy families and companies have their own flavor of dysfunction, and it’s easier for said family and company to realize it on their own. World Emblem had a hot-headed culture that put too many things on its plates and failed to focus. As the chapter explains, the red dashboards and failed goals didn't lie and forced World Emblem to face the brutal facts. They had to change their behavior if they were ever going to be successful. Their “too many things” of yesterday is now refined to the critical few. Their cultural DNA of tackling too much has been redirected in their Core Values of “Get the Job Done” and “Be 100% Committed to the Team.” During change or stressful events, your greatest dysfunction becomes your gift. By remaining laser-focused on the critical few, when things arise, as they undoubtedly do, World Emblem steps up. In last week’s letter to his company, Randy shared:

      “Tony calls me at 5pm Friday and tells me he has another 5,000 piece order for (a critical professional game). He tells me that there is no way to get out orders for the (the critical professional game) while making the existing orders. On top of this, the network is coming down in 5 hours and won’t be up until Monday morning (World Emblem is moving their Atlanta operations to a new facility). Jim, Tony and Alberto get on the phone and agree that Jim is going to run 2000 pcs in Atlanta on Saturday (BTW they’ve only been in the new plant for 5 days), Mexico will run around the clock all weekend with no computers, and Tony coordinated with the client until 8:30 pm. When the computers were live on Monday,  every order was shipped early! I cannot tell you how amazing that is and was – and all this while Ken, Jorge, and Jovanny were moving the entire business into the new space – It’s work like this that convinces me that we’re invincible - - - - I would hate to compete with us - Stay Positive - Get the Job Done -Keep Smart - Be 100% Committed to the Team!

      We sometimes refer to red as “the gift of red” in order to bring up what’s going wrong and having the right discussions. These conversations at World Emblem forced them to narrow down to a few priorities they would focus on while not losing the passion they have to wowing the customer.
    7. Your Limitations: Randy and World Emblem wouldn’t be where they are today if Randy didn’t seek guidance. He knew he just needed a framework and operating system by which to run his business. He knew he didn’t have all of the answers. Randy gobbles up books every week and offers them free to his employees. He’s consistently lifting his own leadership lid and those of his teams. Randy knows Rhythm is his playbook but, the content is never the final draft. We work together to poke holes in the strategy and keep the plays fresh.

The whole point of a CEO playbook, regardless of how evolved it is, is it creates a sense of confidence that your team knows what’s important, they know what to work on and how to contribute. It takes your team out of chaos and into clarity and focus. As Randy says in the chapter that comes after 10, “I think the trick to business is to be consistently, consistently, wild swings.”

As you lift up your water or coffee cup with the raised emblem, or go to your next college or professional game, put on your uniform for work, wear your favorite emblemed shirt, or pop open some wine...chances are, you’ve seen World Emblem’s emblems...everywhere. This is Randy’s new passion - and it’s World Emblem’s next legacy.

Please check out Randy’s story in Predictable Results. You may have bad juju if you don’t.

Rhythm Systems Free CEO Playbook for Success

View Additional Middle Market CEO Articles:

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A Leader's Template: 6 Questions to Ask in Your Next One-on-One Meeting

5 Insights You'll Learn from Executive Coaching

Key Performance Indicators for Employees

The Five C's of Team Accountability

Strategic vs. Tactical Leaders: Which Are You? [Video]

Daily Routines of Successful CEOs [Infographic]

Liz McBride


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images