5 Reasons Business Plans Fall Short

5 Reasons Business Plans Fall Short

My observation is that business leaders look upon business and strategic planning with the fondness of a root canal or tetanus shot.  Nobody would suggest that planning is a bad thing to do, but many are hesitant to commit time and resource to the activity. Business plans only make sense if the leadership intends to implement change. Many executives reason that their day-to-day intuition has brought the company to exactly where it needs to be. Others will write “high-sounding” goals and never fund them to succeed. Good strategy blends what’s happening outside the walls with imaginative insight for what could be happening in the building. This is my list of reasons for why plans fall short:

Fuzzy understanding of what customers want: What customers want usually goes beyond the utility of the product and service you deliver. Customer values and preferences are constantly shifting. Regular conversations with customers regarding their intentions for the next one to two years are critical. Visioning is a trendy term in the management world. Taking time to lengthen your planning horizon and imagine how the world will change is a helpful exercise.

Fuzzy understanding of competitors and market trends: Particularly small business, often neglect taking the time to quantify the current size of their market and whether it is growing or shrinking. Another issue is not reacting to new technology and competitors when they enter the market. Customer adaptation to new ideas is rarely instantaneous and there is time for companies to react. That time, however, is precious and limited.

Weak appreciation of process: Effective change relies on clear understanding of how things are done today. For a very small operation, this can mean clear understanding of individual roles and responsibilities. For a larger operation, it requires understanding of process in operational, business development, customer service, and financial areas. Problems can arise when the process experts are excluded from business planning; or when process is understood as an operational activity. ISO quality standards have evolved over the last decade to take a more comprehensive view of how businesses deliver quality.

Failure to align mission and process: Even the largest corporations can stumble on this issue. Alignment can be purely a measurement issue. For example, if a company wants to be more responsive, the cycle time of a process and the process’ ability to support product and service variations are critical. There is, however, a larger cultural issue. Businesses must delegate implementation of the strategy to the people who drive the process. This handoff is the “secret sauce” for achievement of positive change and employee engagement.

Under investment in the human element: As businesses grow, the requirement for employees to lead change grows. Many companies will hire people with extensive corporate experience. This can be a successful strategy if the candidate has the experience and motivation to lead the change required now. Successful business plans require complete honesty in assessing the organization and making the investments that will bring change.

You may observe that to address these five points, you need an ongoing management process that continuously collects and digests information. Feel free to contact me if you want to understand more.

 

Developing Your Successor

Developing Your Successor

Whether the issue is preparing a business for sale or enabling the next generation to take over, managers increasingly find themselves wondering where the future leadership for an organization will come from. They may wonder, “When will Jim finally step up and take some leadership around here?” or “Will Susan be willing and able to assume control when I’m ready to retire six years from now?” The more appropriate question is, “When will this manager execute a plan to prepare new leadership to take over this company?” It is ironic that for a leader to find a successor, they must take the lead in developing leaders.

The reasons for employees not pursuing leadership are fairly predictable. These reasons are based on preconceptions regarding their ability to do the job or perceived satisfaction of taking on such a job. The list of reasons can include:

  • Complacency – liking things just the way they are
  • Lack recognition of the key skills necessary for leadership
  • Lack of confidence
  • Intimidated with how the culture treats leaders
  • Do not see incentives for taking on additional responsibility

All of these reasons will require the employee to undergo personal, positive change before they can be ready to lead. For this change to happen in a timely fashion, four elements need to be present in the management culture: Goals, Rewards, Instruction, and Process. To remember them, I refer to them as GRIP; as in “get a grip”.

 

Goals: An effective goal set is multi-dimensional. They address both long and short terms and both tangible and intangible changes. To grow leaders, there needs to be a clear link between organizational and individual goals and management needs to teach members to hold themselves accountable for their goal success.

Rewards: The best rewards are win-win. A win for the company is a reward that gains the desired result without stunting the growth of the company. A win for the employee is being able to achieve the goal and receive a reward that supports a valued, personal goal. Win-win rewards are far more effective than cash rewards.

Instruction: To grow leadership, instruction and coaching need to be available to develop the key soft skills of communication, persuasion, time management, and productivity.

Process: The owner of a small business often personally directs how work is to be done. Businesses take a leap forward when they document roles and process. When members clearly understand how the operation operates, there is hope they will step up and lead the operation.

Many business owners need to undergo their own changes before they can get a GRIP. Change can be sped up with a good guide that understands their challenges. Please talk to me if you would like to explore how I might be able to support the development of your organization.

 

Secret to Retaining Young Employees

Secret to Retaining Young Employees

When the economy heats up, the question of “When will business pick up again?” is quickly replaced with “Where do I find talent?” A number of high-skill industries are struggling with finding younger employees to succeed aging Baby Boomers.  Before companies plan glitzy recruiting campaigns, it is best to make sure their house is in order. Jim Clifton of Gallop wrote, “The single biggest decision you make in your job–bigger than all the rest–is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits–nothing.” The owner and the management team create the vibe that will attract and retain top performers.

Managers are tasked with bringing positive change to the organization. This is tricky when societal values and consumer preferences are changing at a blinding rate.  Yet, companies too often overlook investment in developing management skill and give a pass to ineffective managers. I believe that managers need to be adept in the following roles:

 

Manager as Coach At a seminar recently, I made the assertion that managers need coaching skills to develop soft skills in sales and management employees. I was surprised to get push back from a participant. There was a concern that if the manager developed close relationships with employees, they might lose objectivity in assessing performance. In my world, close relationships are indeed what we are looking for.  To be a coach, a manager must have clear understanding of the job roles, communicate the desired results for each role, and possess the ability to teach employees required skills to perform the job. If a manager can shift accountability for job performance to the employee, the employee will have a greater sense of achievement and development. Retention of young employees depends on a perception that the company is committed to their development.

Manager as Motivator A successful manager keeps an eye not only on what motivates each employee, but also on what demotivates. Managers need to be skillful at building a level of rapport that permits them to ask appropriate questions that reveal why they came to work for the company and what draws them to perform.  Organizing work assignments and offering recognition that touches those motivators will gain peak performance.

Manager as Leader Whether you are a CEO or first line supervisor, it is vital to have a vision and sense of mission for your organization. The younger generation has little patience with companies that cannot describe a brighter future that will provide opportunities for employees. Positive management values that will build trust and cooperation will shape culture and support the mission.  A question that every business leader should reflect on is whether their managers value, or even like, their employees. Younger workers prefer collaborative work environments that respect their thoughts on systems and work rules. Industries that have been stereotyped as having hierarchical authority and repetitive work assignments need to consider undertaking cultural change.

Manager as Gatekeeper Businesses today need an aggressive, strategic hiring strategy. Managers need to make hiring decisions based on character and skills without compromise. Interviews need to pose questions that discover how the candidate’s values and mission align with the company. A common interview question is “Where do you want to be in five years?”  Strong candidates will have a clear answer to this question. The question for you is, “Can you get them there?”

Executives Bonding with Sales

Executives Bonding with Sales

Perhaps, there is a reason that so many corporate CEOs come from the Sales organization. I have observed that successful businesses have strong teamwork between the Executive Staff and the Sales group. Everybody in a business understands that they are dependent on Sales to provide a predictable, profitable stream of orders. Yet, a surprising number of executives are unaware of what they need to provide to the Sales group to support their success. There are three elements that executives can provide that will support Sales.

Provide a clear two-year outlook for the companySome business owners have the attitude that if you give a sales force a good product, they should be able to sell it. A product needs to be really good and a bit disruptive to sell itself. In most sales situations, the product falls behind the sales representative and company reputation in importance to the buyer. Sales people need to describe to their prospects how the company’s investments and strategies align with the prospects’ anticipated needs. A lot has been written lately about how stories are powerful sales tools. A good story describes how a company came to their current mission and how customers can depend on the company to protect their future.

Accept responsibility for sales resultsQuality models suggest that sales people are accountable for sales and that managers are responsible for them. A company that enforces accountability, but shirks their responsibilities will have a sales force with high turnover. I have always believed that every employee’s performance impacts sales and that it is the executive’s job to assure at the company is responsive to potential and existing customers.

Lead positive change – When a sales person walks into a customer’s office for a visit, it’s common for the customer to ask, “What’s new?” Customers want their suppliers to be dynamic and not static. Sales people need current information that gives an interesting reply to the customer’s question. Once a customer becomes concerned that your business is not keeping up with change in technology and markets, the door is open for competitors to grab the account.

I would enjoy hearing reader’s opinions and practices regarding how they maintain marketing quality. I am scheduled to give two presentations on the topic in the Connecticut area and encourage you to attend and learn more.

 

Will They Remember You?

Will They Remember You?

 

The essence of making a good business introduction is connecting with the other person. The great poet, Maya Angelou, captures this notion succinctly:

 “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

While it is important to tell people what they might want to know you, it is best done while putting people at ease.  Developing this skill requires taking time to get a sense of who you are and then taking that identity lightly. To help with this reflection, I find that focusing on the points Why, Who, What, and How to be useful.

Why      This point covers why you entered your profession and why you continue to do it. Of the four points, “Why” is the most revealing and often creates the most connection. Yet in an effort to be brief, people’s discomfort with talking about themselves will cause them to skip it.

Who      The best way to cover this point is to describe the type of customer you most enjoy working with.  Some people are tempted to keep this description as broad as possible; so as to not rule out any prospects. Yet, by being specific, people to will remember you when they meet somebody who might want to work with you.

What     Of the four points, this one is most mishandled. People most often will talk about what they do instead of what they do for their customers that makes them want to buy again. By using visual language that captures the impact your work has on satisfied customers, you become memorable.

How      This point explains how you uniquely deliver the “What” that makes you preferred over your competition. The “How” is never a technical explanation and does not have to be earth-shaking. It can be the value or practice that consistently draws satisfaction and makes you trustworthy.

For example, a real estate agent might say;

My home grounds me and is a source of my refreshment at the end of my day. So I work to reduce the time families feel the dislocation of selling and buying a house.  I most like working with young families in southeastern New Haven County looking to expand into a larger home that is still under $550K. My clients tell me they especially appreciate my ability to understand what they feel are the key selling points of their current property and then communicate persuasively to get interesting offers on the home.

As I wrote at the beginning, the words are not nearly as important as being genuine. Good luck.

 

3 Mental Keys to Being Awesome

3 Mental Keys to Being Awesome

 

Coming from a quiet, Midwest upbringing, I was always taught to “never get too full of yourself” or “don’t get too big for your britches.” While I understand that these expressions were well-intentioned attempts to reinforce humility, I always felt them as an admonishment to be compliant and conform.  Most people experienced comparable messages or worse as a child; as over 90% of criticism is negative. Unless you put aside those messages, they will only serve as obstacles on the road to awesome.

Some people dismiss positive affirmation as a pop-psychology gimmick. Executives, managers, and influencers should beware that, unless you consciously dismiss those old messages, they will haunt you for the rest of your career. We have all observed managers that avoid conflict, sales people who hate cold calls, or executives that cannot own a mistake. While these professionals may not consciously recall old messages, emotions will come into play that spurs avoidance, procrastination, or even aggression. These habits of thought can be broken and here are three keys for going forward:

 

Log your dreams and set goals to achieve them. It sounds so simple. Yet, most professionals I know do not set goals. Most of these people are highly productive and competent in their work. A common belief system is that it is an obligation to be highly responsive to the people and events around them. While that’s laudable, such a belief system results in other people and events defining the future.

Improvement requires both learning and letting go. You will never learn something new unless you want to change and believe you are able to learn it. Daniel Goleman, renowned expert on emotional intelligence, began his research by trying to understand why corporate training wasn’t more effective. He found that an overwhelming number of people did not know why they were being sent to the training and most would prefer to skip it. The result was that people returned from training with performance largely unchanged.

Professional athletes spend hours visualizing top performance to improve their performance. In the high-velocity world of professional athletics, athletes must respond intuitively; as there is no time to think. Not so obvious, business professionals face the same challenge. A client or employee speaks to you, and in a millisecond, your body language and facial expression flashes a response before you can even open your mouth. In the business world, responses to stimulus need to be intuitive and preconditioned.

Listening and observing to understand how to speak.

Most achievement is earned through the relationships you form and the level of trust and support you experience in the relationship.  Persuasion and accountability play a large role in recruiting others to support your goals.  In order to recruit someone, you must listen and observe carefully to understand what they want, how they like to be communicated to, and how they like to make decisions. Persuasion is 80% listening and 20% talking.

I will be conducting a class that meets weekly called, Helping People Buy, in Wallingford, CT June 20 to August 22nd. This class will help sales professionals improve their performance by exercising the concepts above. See the link below for more information.

 

Helping People Buy

Register Now

 

Succeeding in a Fake News World

Succeeding in a Fake News World

 

Regardless of political persuasion, television news is full of upset these days. Deliberate misinformation is dishonest and meant to disorient perceptions of others and the truth. My strategy is to read the news from reliable news sources and take my time identifying the facts. Misinformation was not invented in Washington D.C, however. The business world is full of colorful characters that confuse what they want you to believe with the facts.  Failure to identify these players quickly can be detrimental to one’s career.

Deception in the workplace is always a matter of scale. In his works on Transaction Analysis, Eric Berne observed that whenever we receive communication that calls for a response, we make a choice to respond honestly or dishonestly. Most of the time, deceptions are small in nature and designed to avoid some behavior or to duck accountability. But in a stressed environment, the stakes can become large. I recall early in my career going to work for a troubled private company where stakeholders were positioning the company for sale. The entire executive team was fearful of being terminated with a stain on their career. This was the first time in my career that I became aware that managers were flat-out lying to me with the hope that I would somehow indict one of their peers to get them fired before they were. Over the next nine months, I learned much about maintaining integrity in a toxic work environment.

These are the key lessons I took away:

  • Make clear goals and set your intention before every meeting. Act on opportunities to move closer to your goal and resist attempts to be distracted. Don’t give up on your goal!
  • Make it a practice to separate facts from beliefs and opinions. Facts are observable. When I read the paper these days, I look for direct quotes and observed actions. Beliefs are the “I think”, “he should”, and all the other interpretations of what happened.
  • Monitor your thoughts and separate facts from beliefs there, too. We are all emotional creatures with the tendency to act on our emotions. When your emotions are stirred up, take a minute to identify the belief that caused the upset. Note that facts do not solicit an emotional response; missed expectations do.
  • Verify your source. If something feels a little incredible, find someone else that can report the facts.

The epilogue is that the company was acquired and I was promoted by the acquiring company.  I have found that it’s good to live by Robert Schuller’s quote, “Tough times never last, tough people do.” I have always observed that good companies fix bad management.  Feel free to share your experiences with a difficult culture and remember that Accelerated Achievement can help managers committed to fixing their organizations.

 

Most Critical Lesson for Success

Most Critical Lesson for Success

I have found in life that there are two groups of people: the Doers and the Servers. The Doers look inside themselves to decide what action they will take. The Servers look outside themselves to decide how to act. The simple lesson is, if you want to be successful, be a Server. Learning to be of service, however, is not so simple and most people resist it.

Serving is more about attitude and focus than style.  One need not be an extrovert to serve; you can take direction from those you serve without changing your environment. Being of service is never passive; it requires action. For example: many people have complained that government is ineffective and needs to be changed; yet few have ever introduced themselves to their representative in Congress. Many people are concerned about those in society that need assistance; but few have committed themselves to a mission that extends a hand. And many people in business claim to be customer-focused while never asking for critical feedback from customers or using customers’ important problems to direct business plans. While the concept of serving is simple, putting it in action is difficult. Often people are not aware of the priorities and values that create obstacles and can benefit from a teacher, mentor, or coach to change. Here are three reasons I think it’s so difficult:

It requires maturity. We are all born with a Doer’s mindset. Being of service requires the awareness that customers or people being served are not an extension of you. I am one of many people who grew up with the parental message, “If it’s good enough for me, it’s good enough for you.” Many missteps in business have stemmed from thinking that there is some universal logic that causes customer wants and needs to be the same as the business owner’s. Service requires humility and respect for what is different.

It requires embracing ambiguity and agility. I recently heard Carnegie-Mellon’s Prof. Anita Woolley speak about Smart Teams and the importance of having Right Goals. Prof. Woolley noted there are process-oriented goals that focus on executing a process with little regard for outcomes and outcome-focused goals that focus on an outcome with no preconceived process for getting to the outcome. Both approaches are appropriate and Smart Teams correctly identify which approach is best for a circumstance. Customer-focused strategies take a desired outcome identified by customers and trust that a process can be found to achieve it. Many organizations balk when they need to stop doing what they’re comfortable doing and listen deeply to find the way forward.

It turns values upside down. People start businesses with a passion for a trade or technology and a desire to practice it independently. Focus on customers creates a dilemma that asks the business owner to cede independence for interdependence with customers. Customer-focused businesses are taken in directions that the owners never could have anticipated.

The first step in changing a business’ focus is developing Right Relationships where needs flow from the customer to the provider and not vice versa.  I am happy to be of help to businesses looking to make that first step.

 

What Would Cause You to Change?

What Would Cause You to Change?

What would you have to do to really change in 2017? We’re all filled with wishful thinking. But, what would it take to change attitude and those habitual behaviors? Amy Morin, in her book, “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do,” suggests that repeating mistakes is one of those behaviors mentally strong people don’t do. Here are my suggestions for the committed:

Spend 5 to 10% of your time planning I have concluded there are two types of people: those who avoid change and tell themselves they don’t have time to plan and those who believe they don’t need to plan. Both attitudes are equally ineffective. Nobody plans to fail; but 95% of those who fail, fail to plan. Taking time to assess what’s working, what’s not working, and what has changed will invariably lead to achieving goals faster.

Set change-focused goals Committing to stop smoking is a change-focused goal. In business, I often see goals written that are not linked to specific behaviors. For example, “get more sales” leaves open how to get more sales. Goals that are difficult to achieve have obstacles that must be overcome for success. A strategy for better goal setting is to focus on what will be done to overcome the obstacles.

Know what motivates you It’s important to know what gets you excited and engaged. While some people are money motivated, more people respond to opportunities to work more independently, exercise self-expression, or be of service to other people. If a goal or project is not linked to a strong motivator, it will likely languish or be a source of stress.

Build your network Highly-effective people have no issue with asking for help and often know exactly the right person to call when an issue pops up. Drawing on assistance from others will invoke the Law of Reciprocity. When someone who provided their services needs your services, they will think of your name first. A good network can provide invaluable perspective and feedback.

Find a coach or mentor People seeking to offer unique, creative solutions benefit from having a trusted advisor serve as a sounding board and offer outside perspective. Besides being your advocate, a good coach can reframe perspectives, offer ideas, and preview plans to enrich possibilities and results.

Accelerated Achievements offers coaching services. If you want better understand how a coach can help you achieve real change, contact us.  Happy New Year!

 

Habits that Kill Growth

Habits that Kill Growth

Every business leader wants to see their business grow. All too often, the business owner that launched the business relies on their intuition to sustain it. While Operations professionals study process and collect data, rarely does that practice extend to the front office. Growing skills to build relationships, implement measures, and collect relevant data are vital to growth. Here are three growth-inhibiting habits to consider:

prooduct-acceptanceAvoid what you don’t understand – Whether it is business planning, Internet marketing, or appreciating the difference between order taking and sales, it is a good bet that the skill set that helped start the business will not sustain it. Many business owners forego writing a business strategy because they do not appreciate that the underpinning of all marketing activity is built on the business strategy. If one can answer these questions, “Why are we in business?”, “Why will people buy from me rather than my competitors?”, and “How much revenue can I capture from this market over the next three years?” their business plan will be better than most of corporate America. The fundamental skill is engaging customers and prospects so to understand what they want and the trends that are driving their interest. This skill comes naturally to a small group of gifted people. The rest of us need to learn a process and practice, practice, practice.

Avoiding development of high-skill employees – The skills and traits that make managers and sales professionals successful are almost identical. The most important of those skills are leadership and interpersonal skills. When I talk to business owners about how they evaluate sales performance, the most frequent response is, “My folks are very skilll-continuumexperienced.” While this response dodges the question, interpersonal skills are usually developed with maturity and growing self-awareness. In the sales world, experience can be a two-edged sword. On-the-job experience needs to be balanced against how professionals have updated skills to remain relevant with the changing nature of sales. Skill development does follow a logical progression. A sound “on-boarding” process should engage an employee with the position and company. Skill in setting and managing goals will accelerate development of interpersonal skill. Development of interpersonal skills requires modeling of desired behaviors and coaching employees on how to achieve results. While engagement and goal management can be measured with surveys and percentage of goals achieved, evaluation of interpersonal skills and leadership require close observation to verify desired skills.

Misconception that the value is the product– Pride in company and product offerings is almost always a good thing. Customers, however, focus on what value they might gain by consuming the product rather than the product itself. Customers’ perceived value can only be fully understood by objective, yet empathetic inquiry with the customer. Again, interpersonal skills are essential for sales and marketing staff to understand current and future customer wants. Business leaders that shy away from developing interpersonal skills will shy away from gaining adequate customer focus.

Accelerated Achievements is an advocate for Marketing Quality Management (MQM). Lasting improvement is achieved through a comprehensive assessment of process, people, and skills and implementing real-time performance measurements. Please contact us, and we will be happy to share ideas on how you can upgrade your marketing capabilities.