By Harrell Kerkhoff,
Maintenance Sales News Magazine Editor
For the past three years, Dr. Sean Siebert has addressed attendees of the annual National Broom, Mop & Brush Meeting in St. Louis, MO, who have learned about, and received progress reports on, various successful entrepreneurship programs in rural Missouri — that can be duplicated in other regions of the country.
Featured speaker Dr. Sean Siebert, an entrepreneur himself, is the founder/CEO of the strategic management firm Invent Yourself, LLC, based in Cuba, MO. Siebert also created the “Adopt An Innovator” business model for rural community re-development, and is involved with the Ideas & Innovation Summit, focusing on education, innovation and economic development in rural America. Participants of the summit are mostly young people, and it has been described as a generation-impacting event.
“We are very fortunate to have Dr. Siebert speak to our group again this year,” meeting co-chairman Joel Hastings, of Nexstep Commercial Products, in Paxton, IL, said. “For those who have been here in the past, you have heard him talk about the different programs he has been involved with in association with small town leaders, companies and high school students — all trying to find their way in a world that is constantly changing.”
Siebert titled his presentation for the recent 2019 meeting, “But ... Does It Work?”
“During the previous two years, I have shared many stories of individuals, projects and programs, and I feel I now owe everyone here some closure,” he said. “I have explained that ‘entrepreneurship is a mindset, not an occupation.’ When working with people, my goal is to attack their filters, their processes and the way they view life in order to build upon what they are trying to achieve.”
Siebert's previous educational seminars have been featured in past MSN enewsletters.
Siebert added he seeks to teach the principles of entrepreneurship that will help guide everything that a person or company tries to do to become successful.
“That is important, because when you start to think that way, everything about your life and existence can change for the better,” he said.
THE ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT
Whether coaching a youth sports team or running a business, how a leader guides his/her people can be the difference between success and failure. To illustrate that point, Siebert discussed his youngest son’s summer youth baseball team, which consisted of eight players in fifth grade or below who had very limited experience and skills.
“Our team only had eight players, which meant if one person did not show up, we had to forfeit,” Siebert said. “That often translates to running a company. What are you often looking for? The answer, good people to hire who will show up everyday and do their best. Like coaching a youth sports team, it’s important to help your people become more productive, while properly functioning as a unit.”
To help his very young and under-manned youth baseball team reach its true potential, “coach” Siebert realized that success on the scoreboard would only come if his team played the game through unconventional means. That included deploying unique defensive shifts while in the field and implementing a strict no swing policy to bad pitches.
“As coach, I soon realized we would not win if we played normal baseball. We had to develop our own strategy for success,” Siebert said. “The same can be said when running a company, which includes finding the right people in an era of low unemployment. It requires thinking like an entrepreneur.”
He noted that after losing its first game by a large margin, his youth baseball team found success by using the players’ unique talents. The same entrepreneur spirit can lead to success in business.
“It’s about adapting to challenges and looking for unconventional ways to succeed in a changing work and business landscape,” Siebert said. “If you, as a company leader or employee, can think and operate differently, then maybe you can actually be competitive in a way that nobody has ever been or seen before.”
Siebert also shared the story of his oldest son who decided, after his junior year in high school, to change his college plans. His initial goal was to attend college on a baseball scholarship, but later he decided to improve his running skills, not play baseball, and take aim at breaking several of his high school’s track records during his senior year.
“My son, who is also a cross country runner, wanted to break his high school’s records in the 100 and 200 meter runs. The track coach wanted to look at his other talents as well, such as in the high jump and the 400 and 800 meter runs,” Siebert said. “How does that translate in business? It’s about finding a company’s niche. It’s also about finding the hidden talents of employees. Are your employees in the correct positions at work?
“We found that niche with my oldest son during his senior year of high school, with the idea of helping him pay for college through a track scholarship. We also worked on marketing his other talents for college, because if you don’t have a good product, nothing else matters when it comes to college recruitment. The same is true with business. If your ‘product’ is not good, then how in the world can you expect to be competitive?”
Part of that marketing initiative was to help his son score a 30 on his ACT, which meant he had to study for most of his summer break.
“If you are going to be exceptionally competitive at what you do, whether in life or business, the responsibility of that goal is on you. It’s also important to tell employees that you believe in them, and that they are smart. When people start to think that way about themselves, it can change them for the better.”
Through hard work, Siebert’s oldest son did achieve his goal of reaching a 30 on his ACT.
“Before my son started that process, I didn’t realize how difficult it is to achieve a 30 on the ACT. It gave me added respect for anyone who has reached that level. There is a perimeter with standardized tests where the bulk of people taking them are going to score. After that, you really have to be good,” Siebert said. “The same is true with employees. As a company leader, what are you doing to look for your ‘rock stars’ within an operation? Also, in order to improve as an organization, you have to not only look at what you do right, but what you do wrong.
“Again, ‘entrepreneurship is a mindset, not an occupation.’”
BUT ... DOES IT WORK?
Along with his other duties, Siebert is president of the Cuba (MO) Development Group, Inc. He shared four key objectives of the group that can also be used by business leaders and companies to better succeed in today’s changing business environment. According to Siebert, the four objectives have helped the city of Cuba, and surrounding area, experience growth in sales tax revenue, successfully answering the question, “But ... Does It Work?” Those four objectives are:
■ Balance, And Build, Relationships — “Like many people, the person I was two years ago is not the same person I am now. I’m significantly better at what I do in many ways, due to having wonderful working relationships with people who have taught me much,” Siebert said. “It comes down to successfully balancing, and building, relationships.”
He added the many relationships within a company environment, however, can go “sideways,” leading to conflicts.
“Probably 90 percent of what you do (as a company leader) falls into the category of getting things back in balance,” Siebert said. “You are constantly ‘cleaning up the mess.’ If, however, you can find better ways to work collaboratively with your people, then positive results will follow.”
■ Build leadership within the community (organization) — Siebert noted that members of the baby boomer generation continue to “age out” of the workforce. Therefore, it’s important to identify and build the next generation of leadership.
“As a company leader, you should be doing that daily,” he said. “It can be done through fostering new ideas from people throughout your organization. Be willing to give people your time. That is how you build future leadership.”
■ Make sure existing enterprises (as well as employees) have the resources and support needed for continued growth — As a company leader, Siebert added, it’s also important to convey to employees: “I’m going to take what you do, and I’m going to help you think differently (for a better chance of success.)”
He added, “That change can be substantial.”
■ Continue to market your location and/or company as a desirable place to live, work, visit and conduct business — “If you have ever worked and/or lived in rural America, you have heard people say that they don’t want to be part of such communities due to the perceived lack of opportunities and ‘things to do,’” Siebert said. “To counter that belief, you have to be passionate and sometimes a bit arrogant when supporting your community/organization. Failing to do so feeds those myths about living and working in rural areas.
“It’s important to be proactive and tell people,‘Yes, this is a good location to visit, live and conduct business. We are going to continue marketing our community/organization as a desirable place to build a career, and provide a better way of life.’ You constantly have to ‘wear’ the brand of your community/organization.”
DON’T GIVE UP ON PEOPLE, YOU MAY NEED TO HIRE THEM
Due to low unemployment rates and other issues — including the opioid epidemic and polysubstance abuse — a common problem many companies have been experiencing, especially those in rural areas, is finding enough qualified workers to hire and retain.
“It’s not only an economic issue, it’s also a societal issue. In a very tight labor market, you have to look for people wherever you can,” Siebert said. “That includes felons and/or those who have been in addiction recovery. It’s important to see those people differently.
“It’s true that some people are incarcerated because they need to be. There are many others, however, who can truely be helped and become great employees.”
Siebert discussed his involvement with a pilot program in a Missouri county jail, which recently received a national award for helping those incarcerated to eventually achieve fulfilling careers and lives. He was also part of a news conference where U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) announced that Missouri was receiving an additional $10 million in federal grants to fund both behavioral and medication-assisted treatments.
“The federal government has acknowledged that what we are collectively doing in Missouri is showing desirable results, thus requiring more funding,” Siebert said. “The grant money helps to hire additional nursing staff and acquire other resources to sustain a greater path to progress.
“There is no simple solution to helping people find a better way of life and stay on the correct path. You can’t just find a person a job and think that person’s problems will all disappear. Many of those people in recovery have to reinvent who they are and find a new social group. Programs to help them do that are very important.”
Siebert also discussed the success of recent felon-friendly job fairs in Missouri, put together by two people who are felons and recovering addicts.
“The first job fair attracted 13 employment seekers. I heard from seven of those people who told me they had been hired due to the event. Such success prompted a second job fair, which was attended by 26 people. I personally know six of those who attended were hired. There were probably more,” Siebert said. “The felon-friendly job fair program has since been expanded into a multi-county event. The organizers have reached out to the local homeless shelter, community health center, housing authority and a dentist — putting agencies and employers together in the same place. The most recent event attracted 75 job seekers.”
He added the problem with most job fairs today is that they are mainly directed at people who already have jobs. That is why many such events fail to attract much interest.
“If you want to host a successful job fair, host one for people who don’t have jobs. That will include felons and/or those in recovery,” Siebert said. “Of the 75 people who attended the multi-county job fair, I would classify one-third of them as being very capable employees. They are people who employers are looking for every day. There was one employer who accepted 17 applications. I was assured at least 14 of those applicants would be hired. Two other companies left with 12 and 10 applications, respectively.”
Siebert also discussed the merits of the National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC).
“It’s not a high school diploma or a GED, but certainly for those who dropped out of school, earning that certificate proves they can do math, read and think. They are very skilled people for our society, and possess leadership capabilities,” Siebert said. “There are four levels of achievement with the NCRC.”