As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Alphonso J. Cheponis.
AJ is the President of Straightline Consulting Group and has 25 years of Business Leadership Experience, Innovative HR Implementation, Transformative Sales Leadership, Marketing, Business Development, Strategic & Tactical Planning, Start-Up Operations, Staff Training & Development, and Analytical Problem-Solving experience.
His unique background in aligning people to achieve business goals has allowed him to work with Fortune 500 companies down to Start-Ups. By leveraging his knowledge and the best tools available anywhere, he now helps CEOs and Executives crush their most significant obstacles in business by teaching them how to Hire Incredible Talent at any level. He teaches them how to Align Executive Teams with Business Goals, Teach Managers and Executives Brilliant Communication Skills, Define and Create Amazing “Organic” Culture, and Build Unstoppable Teams.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
After spending two decades in the manufacturing C-Suite, it became apparent that there was no new technology, equipment, or materials that would propel us to the top of the industry and keep us there. As frustrating as it might seem to most process and efficiency-minded organizations, it became apparent that people are the answer. Most manufacturers try to do everything possible to remove people from their process because they simply can’t figure the “people” part out. I’ve not only figured that elusive “People” part out; I now teach other companies how to do the same.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
It’s difficult to distill the answer down to just one. Keeping with the topic of “people” — I was convinced that the only success in manufacturing could be found in a dark factory. A dark factory being fully automated and requiring no people, hence, no lights — dark. Like many people who just can’t figure the people side of things out, I took the ridiculously expensive journey down the path of “fewer people is better” only to discover at the end of the path; it’s the people that really matter. It’s the people that are your ONLY real competitive advantage.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Book recommendations are highly subjective, and it depends on the stage of your company, the sector your business is in, and your personal goals and challenges. With that said, a general “Must Read” book for all, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. Many authors have regurgitated the same information and wrapped it up in trendy names, but Hill’s work remains poignant. Hill says that you must have a burning desire along with the faith that you’ll accomplish your definite purpose. And you must develop an organized plan for your burning desire’s achievement. Clarity and purpose are two guiding principles every successful person embodies.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Establishing a purpose and vision has never been easier for me. In every business I’ve started, the objective was to help my clients achieve their goals. Being an entrepreneur for my entire life and surrounding myself with other executives and entrepreneurs, I noticed that we all shared the same problems, regardless of industry or stage of growth. People, or more specifically, how do we find the right people for the seats on our bus?
After years of seemingly trying everything, I never gave up hope and ultimately connected a few obscure dots and stumbled across some great tools. It was like living in a dark box, and someone was turning on the lights one by one as I started connecting the dots. The answers for success were finally within reach. When we started putting the right people in the right seats, it was incredible — everything worked better.
Today, our organization exists to help teach good companies how to be great companies by harnessing the power of the “right” people. Our vision is to help as many organizations as we can because every company can hire better, achieve their goals, be more profitable. And… every employee deserves to be in the right role so they can go home energized.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Design everything with clarity and purpose. That includes your staff, teams, objectives, and goals. When you are clear on your purpose and direction, you can pivot in an instant.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I’ve been fortunate to have a home office for years, and thankfully my brain is naturally wired for excitement and change. I understand that the shift to working from home for many people is extremely stressful and somewhat debilitating. A lot of the answers to this problem are on the shoulders of managers and leaders of organizations; sadly, they weren’t prepared for such a radical shift and are ill-equipped to communicate and manage from afar effectively. Employees need to understand that — it’s no one’s fault, and we’re all adjusting and figuring it out as we go.
From an employee’s point of view, all they can do is control their thoughts and actions. Keep a schedule, practice meditation, stay active — workout in some fashion and do something for personal growth.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
At first, all of our potential clients and prospects freaked out; they battened down the hatches and ran for the hills. Within a few weeks, the progressive thinkers quickly figured out that this was an excellent time to strategize and prep for the future. And although I believe anyone can radically change their business trajectory, those who started designing their teams and strategies with intent during the COVID crisis will inevitably surge past everyone in their respective fields and crush their competitors. We’ve helped many companies start designing their people plans and strategies so they can execute at a moment’s notice.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the corona virus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
As I mentioned earlier, take care of yourself. Take care of your mind by learning something new; take care of your health by exercising in some fashion. Turn off the news — remember that their business (((and yes, it is a business))), is driven by advertising dollars and viewership, the more people who think the sky is falling, the more that tune in and the more money the news stations make.
As far as loneliness is concerned, we’ve never been in a more connected time in history. Facetime, Zoom, Internet, Texting, Calling, Sending photos, etc. Embrace the technology at your fingertips and connect with your close friends and family like never before. For many, there’s a bright silver lining here.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
For a few industries like Oil and Gas and the Cruise Industry, it will be a tough two years to climb out of this mess. But for many, the chance to restructure their workforce and finally get the right people in the right seats will be fantastic. With the right plan in place and the ability to see data and analytics, we see many progressive-minded companies structuring their teams like never before.
There’s a massive potential for an American manufacturing resurgence, as companies begin to re-shore their operations and put buffers in place, so their supply chain isn’t destroyed or disrupted. There’s a good chance we will start to employ more people with stable jobs in a vast sector that was almost forgotten.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I’d like to think that people are now aware of how vital it is to wash your hands, and in doing so, people will stay healthier. I also believe that designers are hyper-aware of cramming more people into smaller spaces may not be the smartest thing. I do worry that people’s memories can be short-lived.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
For us, its never been more critical for our clients to hire right, as margins get tighter, companies need more people rowing in the same direction with the same intensity. Fortunately, that’s exactly what we teach companies to do. From our point of view, were thankful that virtual learning is being embraced — we can touch more people virtually than we could be traveling and meeting face-to-face.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
For many, this is a great time to shift and recalibrate. Really find out how your wired and seek a job or role that speaks to your strengths and not your history. We’re happy to give a free assessment to anyone trying to understand better who they are. Just email us and ask for a free behavioral assessment — we’ll send you one “free” — no cost or strings whatsoever, and it only takes five minutes to complete. [email protected]
For companies, now is the time to figure out what behaviors are needed in every role throughout your organization and start looking for round pegs to plug into those round holes. A company that has the right people in the right positions is unstoppable and fun.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Never say, “I can’t” — Ask yourself, “How Can I?”
How can our readers further follow your work?
Connect with me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/leanmfg/