The New Rule of Three

This six and one half page white paper outlines the simple and effective coaching style I developed, it was also the basis for my second book. Please enjoy. I know you will find it informative and more importantly easy to implement!

Have you ever been overwhelmed by the enormity of a task you were given? Are you confused by the numerous aspects of a complex assignment? Do complicated situations demand complicated responses? I say the answer is as simple as 1,2,3…The New Rule of Three.

The Rule of Three introduced itself to me in too many aspects of my life to ignore the application in today’s business world. The first time I recall hearing The Rule of Three, although it was not named as such, was in the military. “When confronting an enemy,” the gnarled old sergeant said, “how many sides do you want to attack from?” A room full of young Airman unanimously concluded that attacking from all four sides was the correct answer. The old sergeant shook his head and asked the simple question, “If the enemy traps you what would you do?” Fight to the last man, we agreed. Now the sergeant said, “If you attack from three sides, you give the enemy a place to go.” He headed off further questions by adding,” You control where they go, most likely into a position where they will be attacked from three sides.”

The Rule of Three again made itself known to me in martial arts training. My instructor said, “You can overcome a larger, stronger opponent if you have solid technique and control of distance and emotion.” In martial arts, controlling distance is accomplished by where you place yourself using the range, and the angle in which you face your opponent. Being at an odd distance and angle, you force your opponent to continually adjust breaking his rhythm, timing, and overall effectiveness. You begin controlling emotions with your own; you master your fear or excitement to reach a state of calm. From a place of calm, you can taunt your opponent to anger him and keep him off balance; you can try and reason with them, or even stroke their ego to the point that the fight is no longer necessary in their mind.

During a marketing campaign, I began researching what successful businesses had in common. There were many things, but I should not have been surprised when three main topics surfaced again and again.

It was then that I named the phenomenon: The New Rule of Three. Simply put, The New Rule of Three is the proven concept that if you take care of the three major aspects of any given situation, the rest will often fall in to place.

The New Rule of Three seemed to hold firm in business as it had in virtually every aspect of life. I set out to decide how best to help people succeed. I had to determine what the major factors of success in business were:

Ø Leadership (yours)

Ø Talent (in your people)

Ø Marketing

…are the three in The Rule of Three for today’s business.

Let’s examine each. First, your leadership, as an owner or top-level manager, you must give clear instructions, you must set a course for employees to follow. There is quite a bit to leadership you might say. I agree. But leadership itself is vital. I teach a workshop on leadership to CEO’s and top tier managers, and there are three major components. Direction, communication and motivation. These three aspects set the stage for exceptional leadership.

A leader must have and share the direction for their company and employees; they are the captain of the ship. For anyone to communicate a direction, they must know a few things.

First, what they actually want out of life, this is a Personal Vision. A written explanation of a scene some years in the future. What the leader wants his life to look like in say ten years. If in the vision, he is spending four days a week with his family, he should begin to train someone to take over a large portion of his daily activities. If the vision dictates passing the business on to her child, there are a host of actions that she should begin to implement to reach that end. As the name suggests, a Personal Vision is shared with a precious few, but it should significantly affect everything the leader does in their planning.

Secondly, a leader must have a Public Vision. The vision is not fluff, but again a picture of where the leader wants to take the business in a set amount of time. It should include the scope you will achieve, will you be known, statewide, nationally even globally. What will you be known for? Who will you help and how will you help them in the process. The Public Vision is shared with staff, vendors, customers, everyone associated with the business. It is an inspiration and realistic picture of what is to come for the company.

With these two visions well in hand, the leader must create a Strategic Plan. Planning need not be complicated or as stressful as it is often made to be. Take the three parts of your Public Vision and ask what must happen for these things to occur. These will be your over-arching goals. For each overarching goal, chose three strategies that will lead to its coming to fruition. Create three to five action items that must be taken for the completion of each strategy. It is a simple cause and effect; if the actions are taken, the strategies with be executed, with the completion of the strategies, the over-arching goals will be realized.

The formula holds true no matter the complexity of the objective, you may need more layers, but so long as you create an actionable goal with the higher strategy in mind, you will achieve success. The simplicity of this planning method is perfect for accountability. Every goal and strategy will be given to a person or department with a time table. The actionable goal demand a definitive answer to the question was this completed and when. It leaves no confusion as to who is responsible for each goal and allows for direct correction or celebration as warranted.

That CEO, with a great plan that does not or cannot communicate that plan and vision to his people, will not have the support or buy-in that it takes to make the plan the profitable reality it could be.

Communication begins with understanding how you send and receive messages, how your key people send and receive messages, and what those messages should be. Your communication is greatly affected by our personality. Most CEOs and business owners are “Director” personalities. They are most interested in the bottom line, just the facts ma’am. They prefer communication to be direct and concise as possible. It is human nature to communicate with others in the same way we wish to be communicated with.

That works well with other business owners and C-level people. The problem occurs when the CEO needs to communicate with the majority of the company. Some of the best salespeople are Influencers, they communicate with stories, they need to make a connection each time they start a conversation, and this can grate on the nerves of the Director that may view it as a waste of time. The task-oriented Compliant might be in the accounting department. Like the Director, they prefer direct communication but differ in the fact that they ask detailed questions. They feel the need to have all the answers before they start a project. This difference can cause friction with the Director who wants to give you the basic expecting them to fill in the details. A person who has a Steady personality is likely in a cubicle working away. They prefer indirect communication, emails and memos suit them just fine. When a Director singles them out, even for positive reinforcement, they are often nervous or even flustered.

As you can see each personality, and often each position in your business have different communication needs. You must carefully consider how you need to communicate with each of your key people. Send them your information in such a way that they most likely to receive and understand it.

Your key people need to have the same consideration when delivering messages to their direct reports and so on. I will include a Personality Clue Sheet at the end of this report to help you determine the best way to communicate with various members of your business.

Finally, what should those messages be? The first should be the Public Vision. Remember the more buy-in you have from the people in your business the harder they will work to help achieve your Vision. Next, an overview of the Strategic Plan and a detailed explanation of what they are responsible for complete with a timeline and a process to request any additional information they need to complete their task.

Giving everyone an overview of the Strategic Plan allows them to see how their parts fit in and benefits the whole. It also sets the stage for peer accountability as everyone knows, at least in general, what everyone else is supposed to be doing.

If the plan is communicated effectively, and no one cares, it is doomed. People that are motivated will give a well-communicated plan the benefit of the doubt and begin implementing their tasks in the broader context of the overall plan.

The art of Motivation includes clear expectations, personalized incentives, and public praise.

Clear expectations come from both Direction and Communication. Once a leader has distinctly presented a plan and has given everyone specific duties in that plan the business of motivation can begin with celebration.

Celebration of a well-done task and effective completion of their aspect of the plan will keep staff working hard. The celebration becomes motivation, which breeds good work habits that lead to task completion and quality work leading to a celebration. The cycle continues to build on itself until everyone is incredibly motivated all the time. We all know the higher the motivation, the greater the productivity.

The celebration need not be expensive or time-consuming.

Throw out the old employee of the month plaque, $100 bonus, and parking space, and instead offers a personalized incentive. A pair of Texans tickets to a sports fan or a subscription to Canoeing Today for the outdoor type will have a much more significant impact and in some cases, maybe less expensive. The recipient will know that the leader knows or has taken the time to get to know their taste or hobbies. In many cases, that knowledge is more of a motivator than the gift.

Studies have shown there is no word people like to hear more than their own name, particularly when “great job” follows it. Public Praise can be tricky for two reasons. First, people often assume they were at least as deserving of being recognized as the recipient. The beauty of the New Rule of Three for Business is that you will have the specific task they completed and excelled at in your Strategic Plan. This serves the dual purpose of clearly defining why the person is being rewarded and encourages others to look back to their own tasks.

Secondly, as I mentioned earlier, some people are simply not comfortable in the spotlight in their case, I suggest a different kind of “Public.” A thank-you note written and emailed to the employee and the employee’s boss and their bosses’ boss will have a drastic effect on moral and is private enough not to cause discomfort to the more introverted person.

In either case, ensure the reward is earned and justified; favoritism will destroy morale and render any attempts at motivation useless.

Using The New Rule of Three, we have broken leadership down into three actionable goals. Direction, communication and motivation. These goals are easily set and, with simple follow-through, will have the desired effect of Leadership. In short, the organization accomplishing the vision of the leaders and having a great time doing it.

Secondly, as Jim Collins points out in Good to Great, the right people are critically important to a company’s growth and success. I named talent as the second in The New Rule of Three for today’s business. As you might imagine, I have three actionable items here as well, choose the right Talent, ensure they are well trained and don’t settle.

First, choose the right people, the right talent. To select the right people, you must have a clear understanding o what you need them to do. I am always amazed at how many businesses do not have through job descriptions if they have them at all. You must tell your people what they need to do in as much detail as possible. Entrepreneurs may need a job description even more. I know you are likely doing many jobs, that is why it is critical to have the task on paper. You are probably overwhelmed and might miss something important. Ideally, when you grow your business, you will have the job description ready for your new team member. I am amazed that people would hire someone to head a department that represents 30% of their revenue, be that $10,000 or $10 million, but will not spend the relatively small amount of money on background checks or time doing a thorough inspection of references.

A client of mine confided in me that he had gone through over 100 applications, then conducted 30 interviews and hired only two people. You might be thinking he must have been recruiting for a CFO or other critical position. You would be right - he was hiring for the front counter of his quick-service restaurant. The cashiers are the hands and face of his business. By the way, he and the chain of which he is a part have been locally and nationally recognized for superior customer service for the last 15 years.

Lastly, do not settle! Having someone that does not meet your standards working in and representing your business will not only cause you many sleepless nights; it will eat up your day redoing and repairing their mistakes.

Secondly, well-trained talent (people) will maximize productivity. The first order of business is having the job skills necessary to complete the requirements in the job discretion. Beyond those skills are general business skills that will help everyone, such as Time Management and basic organization methods. When I was an employee, my boss sent me to the Franklin Covey Time Management course. It was certainly an investment for him. The better use I made of my time the more I produced for him. A secondary benefit was a feeling of motivation at being given the opportunity to better myself. A few years ago after turning that employer into my first client, I took his entire management staff to a Zig Ziglar motivational seminar.

Today rapidly changing business and technological landscape has made it even more critical to ensure your people skills are up to date. Not only on their core competencies but the soft skills that the new experience-driven client/consumers demand. Ongoing investment in training is no longer optional!

In addition to the “normal training and skills,” your team needs the specialized tool and knowledge they require to perform their part and task in the completion of your Public Vision and Strategic Plan.

Skill mastery is only part of what makes an employee fit. Business large and small have cultures. A team member, no matter how well trained, that is at odds with the values and attitudes of the rest of the team, will not be able to participate at their highest productivity.

In the early 2000s bought a Peer Review/Executive Master Mind business. My territory was Houston, Texas. The corporate office sent a coach to assist with my launch, and he was one of their highest-rated coach/salespeople. I am a simple guy. I like to take time to figure out the best way to proceed and move in a steady, productive way. The corporate coach was a no-nonsense, call it like I see it, take no prisoners, move move move New York Salesman.

Needless to say, we did not have the most harmonious working relationship. The aggressive nature that made him successful in New York clearly offended several prospects here in Texas. Cultural matches do mater!

The last key to keeping great talent can be found on every list ever published on the subject of “Why do people leave a job?” The number one answer is always “feeling unappreciated.” In some extreme cases, not feeling acknowledged at all. As a leader, you should be in a constant cycle of communicating with, motivating and celebrating your talent’s productivity. When celebrating your team's accomplishments, you must ensure that the celebration or rewards are deserved, appropriate and consistent.

The act of celebrating and rewarding a behavior will reinforce that behavior. If you reward subpar work, just to be kind, you are sending a signal that not only is that level of work acceptable but laudable. You will get more of the same or even less productivity.

Rewards must be appropriate to the task performed. Meeting a sales goal or the month is worthy of reward but should not be equal to the reward given to a counterpart that signs a new account that account that will represent 20% of the revenue. Look for contributions from your entire team. Someone in HR that creates a system to streamline hires or in Operations that increases productivity with a great idea should be equally rewarded.

Consistency is key. Both the reason you reward your team and the quality of the reward should uniform to the level of the achievement for which they are being recognized. You may recall from the leadership section, but it bears repeating; rewards will garner much better results if they are personalized to the desires of the recipients.

If you follow that model, your people will never feel unappreciated.

Your thee actionable goals for the second of the The New Rule of Three, Talent, are select the right people, keep them well trained, and do not settle.

These three activities will drastically improve the implementation of your vision and the plans created from it and will ensure the greatest opportunity for success.

Lastly, you must get the message about your excellent products and services to your best prospects. In other words, Marketing.

Marketing holds a special place for me as it was what started me in business; I learned early on that marketing had three distinct parts, the message, the target market, and the distribution method. The best-crafted message that is delivered to the wrong people will yield nothing. Of course, a great message, intended for the right target that is never received due to poor placement, is equally worthless.

The right message is different for every business, but it must include your unique selling proposition; in short, it must say what you do better, faster, or cheaper than everyone else. It should be completely honest and have a call to action and all the possible ways prospects can find or get in touch with you, phone number, email, apps and your website. If you have gotten their attention, make sure it is easy for them to buy from you.

Once you have crafted your message, you must carefully choose the target market you wish to reach. Begin with the good ole requirement demographics and geographic the, who and where of your clients are standard to all marketing. We all know that the top 20% of our clients provide us with 80% of our business, hence the 80/20 rule. I submit that you create a profile from only your top 20%. You chose how you define the top 20% - highest revenue, easiest to work with, however, you define them. Once you know who they are, find out where they work, live, and play. Armed with that knowledge, you can determine the most productive distribution method, marketing to only those that fit the profile of your top 20%.

The types of Distribution Methods are almost limitless. The three major concerns are Cost, Trackability and Ease of Change. The cost must be considered in three ways. Overall cost, can you afford it. Cost per person that will see it for branding and awareness purposes and most importantly, cost per customer or client gained. Trackability is the ability to know what the method has produced. It is key to tracking the cost for each of the categories mentioned. Ease of Change is vital in maximizing return on investment if a method or message is not performing up to standards you need to change it until it does.

Any marketing campaign worth its salt will use different methods of getting the message to the intended prospects. Some of the most common are radio, television, direct mail, ad placement, and the often misused and maligned couponing. The key to excellent distribution is staying focused. Once you have identified your target market, you can select billboards in a small area most frequented by your prospects or place ads in children’s magazines or have entries in holiday parades if your target is families in a particular geographic area.

Cable channels have made television advertising much more affordable and easier to focus by allowing you to select not only the geographical area but the ability to purchase ads in programs tailored to the interest you identified as your target market.

There are many methods, and each business should explore many and test a few. Once you find those that effectively reach your focused target market, use them consistently, tweaking the message, and offers to keep them fresh, and you will have effective marketing.

The implementation of The New Rule of Three in business today, Leadership, Talent, and Marketing, can simplify the complex and put straightforward, actionable goals with great results easily within your reach.

May you achieve success as you define it!

David Whitfield

Business and Marketing Matters




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