We caught up with the brilliant and insightful Mike McKenna a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.
Mike, thanks for taking the time to share your stories with us today We’d love to have you retell us the story behind how you came up with the idea for your business, I think our audience would really enjoy hearing the backstory.
Listening to the customer is great advice, especially when you have customers. However, when there are no customers to start with or a customer struggles to articulate what they need or why, a modified strategy is needed.
One of the best tools for an entrepreneur or small business owner is situational awareness. By listening and watching for clues about our prospective business, service, or product, we can make a more informed decision about market fit, viability, etc. Some clues are more useful than others but all of them, especially early on, are important to evaluate. There are tons of services that help scan a market for clues too, but I feel like as small business owners, OUR ear needs to be closest to the ground listening for clues, not a vendor’s.
Most of my adult life, I’ve had one foot in the public sector world of disaster response and another foot in the private sector world of disruption management. For a long time, those worlds were mostly separate. However, as world events, such as terrorist attacks, major disasters, pandemics, and cyber threats became more common, the language in the private sector started to change. And I was listening.
I was hearing about the frustrations of private companies trying to manage a disruption with only business skills, not multidimensional crisis leadership skills. I was seeing failed attempts to manage their disruption using techniques they saw used by the public sector, such as the Incident Command System or ICS. Except that these well-intentioned companies were only looking at what they had in common with their public sector cousins, not the real-world impediments that made them separate.
By listening, watching, and pondering, I concluded that the private sector organizations most committed to surviving and thriving after a disruption didn’t need a poorly adapted public sector playbook. They needed someone to mindfully customize and translate the best practices of public sector response into their own model and culture of crisis leadership.
My career of having ‘a foot in both sides’ put me in the perfect spot to help solve these important private sector challenges by delivering a blend of advisory services, training, and exercise facilitation.
And the idea for this level of bespoke service only occurred to me once I started listening and watching until I detected a challenge or unmet need that I was qualified to address.
Now, I get to work with organization’s of all types and sizes dedicated to seeing the sunny side of any disruption. And they get the benefit of a consultant who’s dedicated to listening and watching for their spoken and unspoken needs.
And that synchronicity is truly exciting.
Mike, before we move on to more of these sorts of questions, can you take some time to bring our readers up to speed on you and what you do?
I am a leadership coach, facilitator, trainer and author.
My professional career started as a private investigator and security consultant.
I facilitated criminal actions against white-collar criminals and consulted on a variety of security and investigative matters.
My clients included global consumer-goods manufacturers, including General Motors, Ford, Rolex, Disney, Nike, Dooney & Bourke, Warner Brothers, Oakley, and many others.
My security and investigations work overlapped with my service on a local, volunteer search & rescue (SAR) team. That service led to a role with TX-TF1, the state and federal search and rescue team based here in the Great State of Texas.
Between 1999 and 2018, I deployed on nearly every major, natural disaster, including Hurricanes Katrina, Ike, numerous tornadoes and hundreds of missing person searches.
My involvement in such a wide variety of crisis and disaster situations also provided the opportunity to give back by instructing others.
I’ve had the honor to engage in-person — NOT including my online students — with thousands of participants, so far: Nearly 15,000 adult students over 9300 hours so far (as of April 2022).
I primarily serve new, future and current leaders in the private sector, public sector, and government/NGO sectors. Including:
Business Continuity Managers
Emergency and Incident Managers
Emergency Responders (fire, EMS, police, search and rescue)
Incident Managers in IT/Cyber Security
Schools (K-12 and Higher Ed)
You can learn more here: https://team-solutions.us/who-we-are/
Can you share a story from your journey that illustrates your resilience?
2020 marked the beginning of an excruciating time for small businesses in my country (USA). This we all know.
My small business was no exception in that much of my work – normally done in person – became forbidden and unavailable overnight because of fears related to the COVID19 pandemic.
Of course, business income stopped overnight too, even though our financial responsibilities did not.
Savings accounts were accessed and chewed through while trying to pivot to alternative income-producing activities (i.e., virtual training, etc.)
Our government, for its part, created bank loans for businesses to help pay their employees, but nothing until early 2021 was available for the micro-small business or solopreneur.
With no end in sight, there became a point where I felt that it’d be irresponsible and detrimental to my family if I didn’t at least look at the program available for my struggling business.
After peeling back all of the layers of the program rules, it turns out that the only micro businesses being funded had to ALSO be a ‘socially and economically disadvantaged’ business.
What is a socially disadvantaged business according to the USA’s Small Business Administration you ask? It requires the business owner to be one of 5 specific races.
My race wasn’t listed so I was not permitted to seek government assistance.
Yes, in 2021 in the USA, if two identical businesses, offering the same product or service with two identical sales figures and managed the same way applied for assistance, only one of the businesses would receive support. Support that is directly tied to the requirement (a special identifier, i.e. their race) that has zero bearing on the business itself. Kind of like only offering food to hungry people who are over 6 feet tall while at the same time purposely blocking any food for those under 6 feet tall.
Did my business ultimately survive without government assistance? So far, yes.
Does it take more resilience to survive when your own government is working against your best interests? You bet it does.
Resilience is a performance mindset that defies artificial labels. We can’t ‘identify ourselves’ out of a crisis.
So for better or worse, to survive as a small business – particularly one that is not granted any special privileges – one must sometimes embrace a “if it is to be, it is up to me” strategy.
What do you think helped you build your reputation within your market?
Every business of every size has a reputation. Whether that reputation is good or bad depends largely on how well we do in the below 5 critical areas.
Objectives. Every engagement starts with clear objectives. Most think they already have objectives but most don’t (which is why I’m usually there to begin with). Once we define and agree on what success looks like for both of us, we begin. Some are annoyed with this requirement but all are grateful later.
Service. No, not just a slogan but honest to goodness do-what-ever-it takes to help the customer feel successful kind of service. Simple example: my best clients have my direct # and are encouraged to contact me 24/7 if they are worried about our project. I think only one client actually took me up on that in the last 15 years but they all know it’s available.
Flexibility. Willing to divert from original plans without extra costs in order to help the customer succeed. I try to remember what it would look like if I didn’t have the client to serve in the first place and flex as much as possible.
Responsiveness. I am a bit of a ninja with email so if a client or prospective client emails me, my reply is usually swift and attentive. I am always amazed at how many businesses place such a low emphasis on their responsiveness because it’s such an easy win.
Execution. Because we are clear on the objective (end state) when we begin it is easier to relentlessly pursue the desired outcome with all my energy and focus. Did we help the client succeed by reaching the desired end state? Or not? At the end of the day, we all have to execute if we want to have a favorable reputation. And if we can’t execute on the basics, we’ll never be trusted to execute on the bigger stuff.
By focusing on the above value derived from working with me it allows me to avoid competing on price. If a customer wants to pay peanuts elsewhere, I encourage them because I know all they will get are monkeys.
Of course, different businesses will find their mileage will vary greatly within these areas. .
- Website: https://team-solutions.us/
All photos by Mike McKenna (c) All Rights Reserved