A BRAVO from Australia

Jane St. John, our VP for International Partnerships, forwarded this email and suggested I put it on this Blog for all to see.  She also suggested that I reach out to staff here in the Tree House and have them share with me, then me with us, other customer and friend comments.  I responded  BRILLIANT.  So here is the first, of what I hope is many ‘Bravos to The Tree’ from our friends around the globe.


Hi Jane,

I just wanted to let you know that Mike and Austin’s ‘RTI at Work’ 2 day conference last week was simply awesome! I know that feedback sheets were given however just wanted to personally thank you for the work Solution Tree is doing in Australia and to let you know that this one really ‘hit the spot’! The passion of these presenters and the timely content for us as a school was amazing, so much so that we are sending a large group of our senior leadership team to the Gold Coast one.

I am incredibly excited to play a part in leading this next big step in our school and I have a feeling Helensvale will be leading the way in innovative ways to get ALL our kids across the line when it comes to mastering our learning essentials.

Hope I have made your day!

Talk soon!

Deputy Principal
Helensvale State High School
243 Discovery Drive, Helensvale, Queensland, Australia




Continuous Improvement


Dr. Deming’s famous Fourteen Points for Management have served as a great management tool since they were published in 1986, in his award winning book Out of the Crisis.  In 1998 when DG Elmore and I acquired National Educational Service, these 14 Points became foundational in what would drive us to become the Solution Tree of today. And in my opinion the two most important points are:


#1 Create constancy of purpose for improving products and services

#5 Improve constantly and forever every process for planning, production and service.

At ‘The Tree’ our Mission Statement “Advance the work of our Authors” is our purpose, but our stated goal is:

Provide the greatest offering and integration of resources created by our tier one authors, supported by top-quality, high-touch professional development, using technology as an accelerator.

No organization should ever be done improving their products, processes and services, and we certainly can not. Too many lives depend on it.  It is why we do what we do.


How many times have we all heard “There is more to life than work.”  I am guessing it is almost as many times as we have done, or heard, the numbers about how much time we spend working, sleeping and with family.  For most, the scales always are heavier on the work side of things.  I know work is where I spend most of my time, and with four teenagers in our house, sleep is the least and in the highest demand for my wife and myself.  So when it comes to the work we do during all of this time, the advise I give to everyone is:


At Solution Tree I am taking a long hard look at the culture of the company. A little reflection, a little soul searching, thinking of myself as the customer, asking the staff what they think, and looking at some of the options we have to make it better for all involved.

Don’t have all the answers yet, and most likely never will, but I certainly understand my company better now then I have in many years.  I’ve gotten a bit removed with all the  work travel of opening new markets and seeking business opportunities.  I’m tired and need to reconnect!

And to be honest, the issue of workplace happiness has always been on my heart, and all of us work hard to have some fun and make this a great place.  I’ll post some of the changes as they become part of our culture, but one of the things we do here was just introduced at last December’s Staff ReTREEt.  ‘D.O.S.’

We have always been charitable at Solution Tree and we are sensitive to the charities our staff support financially and with their time. These organizations are near and dear to their hearts.  So we began providing a Day Of Service (D.O.S.) to every Staff member. This does not count against vacation, personal or sick days, and all we ask is that you schedule it and then go spend a D.O.S. working for a cause you believe is important.

We have already had some AWESOME D.O.S. stories, and at the end of this year I will post about many, if not all, of the great things our Staff has done to help others.  But until then I think each of us needs to think about how we can serve others, and other organizations.  Why wait til Christmas and the end of the year?

Solution Tree is built upon our Mission Statement of ‘advancing the work of our authors’, and that is what we do, but how about advancing the work of your favorite charity.  It’s a good thing to do.

Customer Care



Sorry for the MASSIVELY long delay in posting again.  Bad form on my part. So here is a topic I need to embrace myself in many areas, but certainly on this blog. Customer Care.

If you are going to read my pontificating, then you are my customer.  As I have written before, my Dad taught me that nothing in the world has ever happened until a sales was made. Beginning with the serpent selling the apple to Eve.  So with every transaction of any type, there is at least one customer.

To that end, sorry customer.  Here at “Why We Do It” we strive for continuous improvement, and since I suck so bad at consistency with this blog, improvement will be easy.  :)  Here  we go.


At a recent Institute I was asked by one of our presenters how is it that we always provide high quality services throughout the entire company? Took me one second to respond. “Think of yourself as the customer. It’s that easy.”

Put yourself in the shoes of the attendee. Do you want long registration lines, sessions starting late, uncomfortable environment? Now role play as a presenter.  The professional speakers who makes her or his living sharing their intellectual property. Do you like bad AV set-up and nobody to help you fix it?  Totally frustrating.  Maybe you wanted round tables for a workshop verses classroom style? Did anyone ask you?  Maybe you asked and it didn’t happen. Or how about if the flow of the event is so confusing that your attendees can’t find the room on time, and show up while you have already begun presenting.  Now we have two upset customers.   And let us not forget the critically important internal customer?   At every event our customers are educators, teachers and GRADERS.  This means that we will have a room full of proof readers.  If there are errors in the binders, marketing materials, signage, you can guarantee we hear about it onsite…again and again and again.  And if the names are not entered into the system correctly (over 25,000 this year) the name badge is spelled wrong.  Now that shows how much care about you.  And how about if the warehouse team ships the wrong materials, or no materials, we are facing an onsite crisis.   You get the picture.  Every little detail is important and changes how people think about the event.  People rarely notice things when they are done right, but everyone notices when it is done wrong.

So at The Tree, we go to great lengths to think of what the customer wants. Customer defined as author, presenter, paying attendee, purchaser of resources, the next staff member in line to do their job. If you think of yourself as the customer, and put yourself in their shoes from the planning to the execution, you may just make different decisions.  And I guarantee you will have a better product.

Embracing Failure


Who hasn’t failed, and who will never fail again? Nobody I hang with.

At Solution Tree we do everything we can to avoid failing, but when it happens we accept it.  In-fact I want us to embrace failure.  Sounds kind of weird I’m certain, but how else can we learn if we don’t try new things?  And when you try new things, you’re bound to fail sometimes.

Can you recall your first attempt to ride, or teach a child how to ride, a bike. I clearly remember one attempt of teaching Charlotte, our oldest daughter. Holding on to the seat, running behind spouting epic words of encouragement, and letting go while still encouraging.  Then kicking into a full sprint after her, as she left the sidewalk and careened down a hill directly towards an immovable Oak Tree.  Kind of a dual failure on that one, but only one of us made a bad decision.  Unwillingly, Sweet Charlotte helped me out by crashing prior to tree-impact.



Back to Solution Tree. If someone tries something new, and has gone through the right steps to give themselves the greatest possible chance for success, and it doesn’t work out…forgive but don’t forget. And when I say don’t forget, it by no means is in a negative, vindictive, or in a grudge holding way. If we take the time to remember what steps were taken prior to achieve the failed results, who wasn’t involved in giving council, then complete an After Action Review (AAR) to have clarity and identify ways to improve our processes, then we move forward.

For instance, there was an event I championed in 2011, Author Speak, which was a financial DISASTER. Author Speak had a lot of great attributes, the concept was sound, and the 70+ authors, and the few paying attendees that were there, LOVED it. Heck I loved it.  It is in my top 3 all time favorite Solution Tree events.  When we analyzed the results, did an AAR, looked at the current market needs and our own internal abilities, Author Speak 2012 just didn’t makes sense.  Nor did 2013, 2014 or 2015. But wow did we learn a lot from the experience, and have used so many of those lessons to help us successfully design and launch multiple new events.

So in a perfect world at Solution Tree, or in life, we shouldn’t even be frustrated by our mistakes. We relive, AAR, learn, outline strategies and alternatives, and move forward with a sound informed decision.

So, we do in-fact embrace failure at Solution Tree…but only once.

BTW, if Char had headed for that tree a second time, my wife would have had a different type of AAR with me.

Practice What We Teach

We spend a lot of time preparing for the coming year and planning our future.  And following this year’s process that was more detailed and thought through than any of the previous 17 years, I realized just how blessed I am to work with an outstanding team of leaders.  Individuals who are all working in collaborative teams, focused on a common goal.  Sound familiar?  If you know Solution Tree and PLCs it should.


Lots of what we do is based on the tenants of PLCs, because PLCs are not just for schools.  They work in businesses, non-profits, social organizations, and in life itself.  I certainly have reflected on the aspects of PLCs many times as a husband and a parent.

So this past Fall I reflected on what our authors, associates and staff do to help schools implement PLC to a high level of success.  Following a review of the Three Big Ideas, I spent a lot of time thinking about the four corollary question of PLC.

  1. What do we want kids to learn?
  2. How will we know if they are learning it?
  3. What will we do if they don’t?
  4. What will we do if they do?

Then I rephrase that question just a little and ask each of our Department Leaders:

  1. What are the outcomes you desire?
  2. How will we know if you are on track?
  3. What will we do if it seem you will fall short?
  4. What will we do when you achieve and exceed?

Now put them into any department’s goals and you have a framework for building a solid business plan.

Most companies are good at questions 1 & 2, but to be a high performing company, one that reaches and exceed expectations, we must focus on question 3, and celebrate when question 4 becomes a reality!

We spend a lot of our professional lives at Solution Tree helping to implement PLCs into schools.  Why not practice what we teach?

It is going to be a GREAT 2015!



Quote: Company partners

As we RAPIDLY move into 2015, and at Solution Tree and Marzano Research we are in the final stages of 2015 business plan tweaks and budget adjustments, I thought this quote is particularly important.

So often we just think about the ‘me’.  I tend to believe the ‘they’ is most often more critical to our success than ‘me’.

Are we paying enough attention to the partners our company depends on to succeed?

–  Ron Adner

Author and Professor at Tuck School of Business




Sent to me by my good friend Garry Carter:

Nearly 400 years ago a group of entrepreneurs (we call them Pilgrims) celebrated the first Thanksgiving.  Although they actually had thanksgiving feasts many times, the first one in the fall of 1621 is the one we remember.

What is often forgotten is that the group of 50 Pilgrims who celebrated Thanksgiving had started a year earlier as a group of 100.  Further, just 4 of the original 18 adult women survived the 1st year (many had lost wives and moms).  God provided an English speaking Indian (remember Squanto?) who taught them how to grow corn and to fish; otherwise their situation would have been far more dire.  (Squanto had previously been a slave in England – go figure)   But in the midst of their struggle, the Pilgrims held a 3-day feast of thanksgiving for what God had provided to them.

I am certain that not many of the Pilgrims at that 1st Thanksgiving felt that the year was a great success…but they rejoiced.  And none of them realized the amazing start that they had given to one of the greatest and most remarkable countries in all of history.

All of us have pressures and concerns, but recalling the Pilgrims reminded to me to be very seriously thankful for the Lord’s abundant provision.

Details, details, details

One of the things I believe Solution Tree Events does well is, well, everything. Seriously.  We have all heard the phrase “The devil is in the details.” So I will announce to you that our Events Team is “Devil Slayers”.  This point was made clear to me at a resent three day event we held at the Marriott in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in which we had no say in the details.


First a little background. In Saudi we have some inherent complications that we do not have in the State.

  1. Translation.  All of the attendees, and the presenter, are wearing headphones to understand each other.  The translator sits in a booth in the back of the room.
  2. Visuals:  There needs to be two different screens, projector and two different computers so that you can display the presentation in Arabic and in English.  The presenter needs to see the English.
  3. Staffing:  We need someone to change slides on the Arabic computer to keep in sync with the presenter’s slides.
  4. Gender:  Women cannot be in the same room as men.  They are in a room next door, so besides the two content screens (one in English for our female co-presenter) there is a third for the video link of the presenter.

So now add in some site-specific complications.

  1. The facility we were in only provides the sound.
  2. A film company only does filming to project into the other room.
  3. Our host has a film crew recording for their purposes.
  4. Everyone feels as thought their role is most important
  5. There is no on-site project director from hotel or host.
  6. English is nobody’s primary language, besides the presenter’s.

So to my point about Solution Tree Events being devil slayers.  In 2014 we hosted 27 Summits/Institutes giving us around 90 keynotes and somewhere around 550 breakout sessions.  That is 640 different sessions that all need projection, sound for computers, materials distributed, projecting our presenter on one to three screens, and audio for every presenter in each of the 640 sessions.  Then throw in the 25 workshops hosted around the country and we are talking details.

I can say with the exception, each and every event session this past year came off without a hitch.  Now our team may have been the proverbial l duck, smooth on the surface paddling like crazy below, but all inevitable problems were fixed before presentations began.  Meaning all presenters and attendees had a technologically unencumbered event.  Our staff, and the contractors in which we hire and oversee, are ROCK STARS when it comes to event execution.  Unparalleled!

In Saudi we had subcontractors changing from day to day, audio squawks and shutdowns, headset malfunction, cameras unplugged during presentation by camera men, video projection one day but not the next, then back the third, projection quality dramatically different from hour to hour, cameramen more interested in texting then tracking, etc.  So imagine the frustration of the presenter and the attendees who were having a hard enough time with translations and brand new concepts.  Then throw in my attitude and temperament…my Christmas Card list did not expand.


Saving grace was our lead presenter Dr. Tom Many who has the patience of a SAINT.  He changed directions, adlibbed , and modified to engage attendees.  All this without being able to add or change slides.  Translations were already done.  Also, the attendees were fantastic.  They were very engaged in the content and Tom’s delivery, and very gracious with not displaying their frustrations with the technology.  Specifically the women who had to endure more issues than the men…but we all know they are basically more patient and tolerant than men.

The devil is indeed in the details.  If the experience is hampered by poor technology, the event suffers dramatically and the experience is not what it should or could be.  If the technology is flawless, the attendees don’t notice and they focus on the content. But we know, and more importantly the presenters know, when execution by the hosting organization sucks.  If we can perform our jobs well, nobody should notice and all the presenter’s hard work of preparation and planning culminates in a truly positive experience for everyone.  And that is why we do what we do.