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.

Hiring The Right People

One of the things I am most proud of at Solution Tree is the Team of people who work here.  It is critical to have the right employees in the right jobs, and with over 125 here at “The Tree” a couple of bad ones could mess up the culture and systems we have worked so hard to create.  Obviously not all hires are perfect, but our batting average here would put us in the Hiring Hall of Fame!

Jack Welch is the famous, former, CEO of GE, and here is an excerpt from a recent article written by Mr. Welch and his wife Suzy.  I couldn’t agree with them more.

The best thing that can happen to you as a boss is hiring a person who is smarter, more creative, or in some way more talented than you are. It’s like winning the lottery. Suddenly you’ve got a team member whose talent will very likely improve everyone’s performance and reputation. Including yours.

Yes, it’s human nature to feel fearful that a “superior” employee could make you look, well, inferior, and perhaps slow down your career progress. But in reality, the exact opposite usually occurs.

The reason is that leaders are generally not judged on their personal output. What would be the point of evaluating them like individual contributors? Rather, most leaders are judged on how well they’ve hired, coached, and motivated their people, individually and collectively—all of which shows up in the results. That’s why when you sign up top performers and release their energy, you don’t look bad. You look like the goose that laid the golden egg.

Final post on M-V-V-G-GP-S….maybe

Bill Ferriter, a good friend and Solution Tree Author, and I had a great dinner conversation in Australia last May that has led me to blogging.  He is the reason for this site and he has a fantastic blog that is a MUST READ.  The Tempered Radical.

Besides being a great educator in NC, author, presenter and friend, he also keeps me on my toes.  Below is a recent e-conversation asking me if I truly believed what I wrote this past six weeks.  My comments are in IU Red!  

Now for a quick disclaimer.  Earlier this week I was in Colorado at meeting from sun up to way past sun down.  And my Uncle, with whom I was close, passed in FL so I am her for his funeral, along with my folks.  I have now been in Bloomington two work days this month.  This topic was something I wanted to post, but became very easy to cut and past under the certain circumstances.  : )  Next week on to new topics!.  But thanks Bill for pushing me here!

This is an actual e-mail conversation cut as typed from last week.

BF:  Now a fun little intellectual push-back for you:  Are your authors your number 1 priority, or your customers?  JJ:  Our priority.  We do not create anything at Solution Tree.  We bundle items and re-purpose items, but unlike a Pearson who has a warehouse in Jersey cranking out curriculum, we have experts authors pouring their life’s work into resources we produce on their behalf.

BF:  Or the kids in classrooms that you’re trying to improve education for?  JJ: That is the educator’s customer. The educator is the author’s customer.

BF:  Do you better serve customers AND kids when you concentrate on identifying and advancing the work of the best authors that you can find? JJ. Absolutely.  

Does placing authors at the top of your priority list, will some employees forget the role that customers and kids play in making you who you are?  JJ:  Not if they know the Vision Statement:Transform education worldwide to ensure learning for all.

BF:  You and I have had this conversation before:  I know that you prioritize authors because it means you are giving voice to the kinds of ideas that improve education for every child, everywhere.  But would slipping kids and customers into your foundational statement help to keep everyone in your growing organization focused on the real reason you do what you do on behalf of authors?  JJ: Vision statement should do that. The Vision Statement is the “Why” we do what we do.  The Mission Statement is the “How” we do it.  The Goal is “What” we do.

Until next week!

Our Strategy

Well this is the last of 6 post on how we frame what we do at The Tree.  Over the past five weeks I have written about our Mission, Vision, Values, Goals and Guiding Principals.  This blog is about our Strategies.  I am not going to dwell on the specifics, because there really isn’t a need.  Kind of self explanatory.

  1. Mission
  2. Vision
  3. Values
  4. Goals
  5. Guiding Principals
  6. Strategies