Overcoming Inaction Epilogue

Overcoming Inaction Epilogue

While I hope everybody picked up one gem from the blog series, I hope even harder that people will see the benefits of acting. It is not uncommon for the Return on Investment for projects I take on to be in “the triple digits” over a one year period. For example:

  • Simply giving sales people a structured process can boost results 30% or much better
  • Writing down a business case wins financing to expand
  • Developing a young leadership team that paves the way for that succession plan you’re itching to execute

These are all straight forward tactics, but they all require a leader to change and lead the change. We all have some instinct to squash personal change, when presented.  My parents came from the Greatest Generation and placed an enormous value on self-reliance. I choose an engineering profession that rewards individual innovation. I wrestled to overcome this modeling and accept that these values are not optimal in a management environment.

There are three major themes that describe resistance to change:

  • Lack of confidence: lacking confidence in skill, process, or market
  • Over-managing: relinquishing control of details undermines authority and creates vulnerability to failure
  • Too much confidence: A belief that current results will continue forever

But amazingly, I find motivation to make a change is even more significant than resistance to change. People need to believe that they can create the future they long for. They also need to cope with objectives that are 100% self-directed. There are no deadlines in creating success.

I would like to end the series with an invitation to speak with me about how you are creating success and the challenges that come with it. I don’t assume that scheduling a talk with me in any way suggests you would want to work with me. And you can pick phone, zoom conference, in-person, or whatever format suits as a platform.  If interested, click the link in the email.

Overcoming Inaction Through Leadership

Overcoming Inaction Through Leadership

When I was first promoted to a supervisor, my reports suffered through my zest to do work quickly and perfectly. Through commitment and years of scattered workshops, I changed what came natural. I learned to communicate and collaborate with people different than me. I learned to keep my eye on the goal and not be distracted by good or bad news. I truly know we can choose to be more motivating, constructive, and personable. Without making that choice, you can see the following:

  • Conflict goes unresolved or even festers
  • Lack of collaboration and critical communication among employees; leading to missteps
  • Absenteeism and tardiness is an issue
  • Employees lack initiative out of boredom or fear of rejection

Effective management is always backing up work assignments with communication of a larger view of what the work is to accomplish. Success, in my mind, requires a balance of empathy, concise articulation, and wise use of time. At the end of this post is an opportunity to download a tool to assess how well you manage that balance. But here’s a questionnaire to assess your leadership habits. Each “No” should be regarded as an opportunity to improve.

  • Most of your employees have a healthy level of ambition and seek to grow their responsibilities in the organization
  • When circumstances change, I refrain from directing and invite my employees to collaborate on a way forward.
  • I am approachable and make time on a daily basis to understand employee challenges and recognize accomplishments.
  • I have clear goals and plans for changing my management style and being more productive.

If you answered yes to all the questions, you likely have an energetic and productive work environment. Regardless of how you answered, you can download a download a self-assessment of your management style. You’ll gain insight into how well you control employees and encourage them. Accelerated Achievements has helped both new and experienced managers change their management style score in months and not years; like it did my self-directed improvement. If any of my comments leave triggered questions, let’s talk it over.

SUCCESS THROUGH PROCESS

SUCCESS THROUGH PROCESS

I once had a client that wanted to improve sales and worked hard to create a new, compelling business strategy. After an enthusiastic launch, frustration grew as the order numbers remained fairly flat. What was lacking was a clear sales process with measures to isolate where sales people were running into difficulty and why.  If goals are a map to set direction, then process is the speedometer. The basic building block for process is employee responsibilities. Without written descriptions, even a small business that has yet to evolve to processes will flounder. From a manager’s desk, process problems appear murky with no obvious solution in sight.

Some examples of process issues are:

  • Customers tripped up by the same service or delivery issues
  • Stifled productivity from employees welcoming a high-skill employee handling their responsibilities and, thus, becomes the bottleneck
  • Intense finger-pointing over who is responsible for a decision or to blame for an issue
  • Difficulty, or even inability, to forecast orders, cost, and delivery times

By definition, a process is an activity requiring work to be divided across multiple organizational functions. Successful hand-offs of work require a complete description of each task, who is responsible for the task, how it is determined that a task is completed correctly, and what action is to be taken if a task cannot be completed as scheduled. Here’s a questionnaire to help you assess your process expertise. Each “No” should be regarded as an opportunity to improve.

  • For the sales, operations, finance/accounting, and general management functions, is there the one name clearly recognized in your business as being responsible for each function?
  • Is there a quality policy that allows the employee closest to the assembly of the product decide if a product is ready to ship?
  • Do employees have a clear written description of their responsibilities and are able to recite how their performance is evaluated?
  • Do you have periodic reviews of key activities and process to determine which processes are obsolete and need redesign?

If you answered yes to all the questions, you likely have confident employees and satisfied customers.  Regardless of how you answered, you can download a white paper titled, “Marketing Quality Management.” And, spoiler alert: if sales are down, don’t be quick to blame the sales people.  Accelerated Achievements has helped all kinds of companies improve efficiency and quality. If questions have been triggered by this post and you want to talk, drop me a line.

OVERCOMING INACTION: SUCCESS THOUGH GOALS

OVERCOMING INACTION: SUCCESS THOUGH GOALS

Nobody plans to fail; but of those that fail, 97% fail to plan. Is the statement trite? Its impact is greatly dependent on the listener’s desire to succeed. Goals and planning is a critical area most prone to inaction. This can be due to a strong ego that believes intuition can solve problems more quickly than planning, a complacency to keep things just the way they are, or simply being stuck on how to proceed with the challenge in front of you. Not acting on the change around you carries a big cost. So, what happens when there is over-reliance on intuition?

  • Managers are getting stressed from taking on too many low-priority tasks at the cost of missing an important goal. You might recognize these folks by their complaints about being too busy.
  • Managers are pursuing projects without budgeting time and dollars and then being surprised by the cost of the project and dogged with rework and disappointing returns.
  • Managers fail to assign names and due dates to tasks and have little recourse to correct employees’ late work.
  • People work chronic overtime because they don’t see an activity with enough attraction to draw them home.

Experts agree that goal setting is the most critical skill for an executive to perfect. Assignment of work, monitoring progress, performance evaluation, and recognition are all impossible without solid goals. Thus, one of the best cost reduction schemes for a business is to do more planning. Here’s a yes/no questionaire to help you assess your goal setting expertise. Each “No” should be regarded as a caution.

  • Are goals not completed or completed late with some frequency?
  • Do you have work and personal goals that motivate you to keep a healthy life balance?
  • Do your employees know what your goals are and have goals to support the accomplishment of your goals?
  • Do you have a regular review of both yours and your employees’ goals to update status and identify new obstacles that need to be addressed?
  • Do you have a process to plan and research key growth initiatives, such as capital investments, market expansions, mergers/acquisitions, etc. that supports sound investment and staffing decisions?

If you answered “Yes” to all the questions, you are a planner extraordinaire.  If not, take heart in knowing that you are in good company and sound planning skills can be readily mastered.  For taking the time to review this post, I’m making The Life Balance Worksheet available as a free download.  If your assessment has left you with lingering questions and you want to kick around ideas about how to strengthen your planning process, drop me a line.

Overcoming Inaction: Creating Value

Overcoming Inaction: Creating Value

How do you set prices? Do you put a markup on your direct costs? Do you estimate the tangible product benefit for your customers and price for a fair return? Or does your accountant keep an Ouija board under their desk? Successful companies focus on perceived value; which is defined as the premium a buyer is willing to pay for your product over that of a competitor’s comparable product. Understanding customer wants and needs with a precision that captures more profit than competitors is fundamental to sustainability. Thus, the best pricing insights are always on the other side of the office windows and managers of action crave facetime with their key customers. Here’s what you might see if a business is casting their gaze inward:

  • Dialog with customers cannot get past bids, price, and transactions.
  • Upper management is obsessed on the strength of products and services and does not search for customer opportunities.
  • A company receives feedback it’s “too rigid” and difficult to do business with.
  • Employees have little interest in the company’s success or the commercial and competitive aspects of the business
  • Sales representatives don’t waste time understanding clients’ current and future needs and resign themselves to being the “lowest bid.”

With even a minimal attempt to explain a competitive strategy to their employees, active managers see an immediate jump in productivity. Active managers understand they need empathy and sincere appreciation of customer businesses to discover the real things customers want. Let’s take a quiz to help assess your value-building expertise. These are Yes/No questions and each “No” should be regarded as an opportunity to improve. Viewers that complete the questions will receive a gift from Accelerated Achievements.

  1. I have a written business plan that is available to my employees.
  2. I have direct feedback from key customers on the top two issues facing their organizations and have a plan for addressing their issues.
  3. Our leadership team convenes at least once per quarter to identify if new competition and technology may pose threats to our plans.
  4. I have secondary research that keeps me apprised on the size of my market and key changes.
  5. I have a plan to obtain the cash, capital, and employee skills to achieve my goals
  6. My leadership team has the interview and listening skills to discover the vital needs and issues from customers and suppliers.
  7. I actively measure customer satisfaction and take input on new product ideas.

If you answered yes to all the questions, you have the framework to offer superior value to your customers. Regardless of how you answered, you can download a white paper titled, “Measures and Improving Strategy Development.” Accelerated Achievements has helped all kinds of companies refine their business plans and sharpen skills to strengthen customer relationships. Contact us if you have questions or concerns about your assessment or would simply like to talk.

Overcoming Inaction: Driving Your Success

Overcoming Inaction: Driving Your Success

If I were to declare to this audience that it is the role of every manager to capitalize on strengths and shore up weakness, I would no doubt see and hear much indifference. But what distinguishes successful managers is the skill to identify which weaknesses are important to address. Organizations stagnate or even fail when managers resist changes that really need to be taken.

So, why do managers so often choose inaction? If left unchecked, any decision to take inaction can overwhelm a manager over time. Unable to envision a structured approach to a solution, the manager will continue to choose inaction.  This post is the first of a five-part series titled “Discovering Your Success.” The series is designed to make managers more aware of impediments and, more important, help identify a course of action to resolve them.

Let’s consider the recurring characters in the center of inaction:

  • Process Paul: It’s too risky to change the process. In some cases processes are tightly-tuned and careful consideration must be given to change. More often, a business has just figured out how to make things “kinda” work and changing it sounds tiring. In either case, the focus is on failure rather than improvement.
  • Marvelous Melvin: It is believed that if Melvin decides to leave the business, the world as we know it will end. So everyone is extra careful not to do anything that would put Melvin in a tizzy. Melvin understands his status and uses it to manipulate the group to his advantage
  • Sweet Sam: Is a supervisor that has learned that managing conflict requires him or her to make decisions that can be unpopular and that life is easier if you let the employees figure it out; regardless of the result. Like Melvin, this supervisor usually has 20 years of experience and you don’t want that walking out the door! So people let it ride with Sam…
  • Blissful Bob: Managers that refuse to publish goals or performance measurements for their organization are blissful. Blissful managers often fail to observe changes customer behavior and their consequences. When they do respond it’s late and attacks symptoms of the problem; rather than the root problem.

Protecting these characters will greatly hinder the business’ ability to evolve and adapt. Inaction builds vulnerability to agile competitors, weakens market position, and creates a permissive work environment. Even with a simple organization, the loss in productivity can easily run into five figures.

Subsequent blogs will look at four areas of working smarter: creating customer value, goals, process, and communication/leadership. I chose these four areas because they are essential to sustaining a business. These posts will boost awareness of the consequences when weak in an area. And, each post includes a questionnaire to help identify actions you can take to move forward. This series is all about self-assessment.  You can get started by taking a moment to write down the weakness in your organization you see most in need of shoring up.

 

The Greatest Revenue Opportunity

The Greatest Revenue Opportunity

 

Nate Dvorak and Ryan Pendell at Gallup published a paper that claims selecting top-talent managers will improve revenue per employee by 27%. In addition, selecting top-talent employees will add another 6% to revenue per employee; for a net gain of 33%. When selecting a manager, the most telling criteria are the results achieved in previous assignments. But, where can you probe during an interview to verify what’s listed on the resume? These are my top three attributes to look for while selecting managers.

Developing Relationships:   Managers need to recruit employees to be on their team and often need to get them interested in doing something they might not be inclined to do. Positive body language and the ability to engage with employees to understand their strengths are good indicators for a top management candidate. A history of keeping trusting relationships intact during stressful times and moments of disagreement is also an important indicator.

Critical Thinking:  I believe that this is the most exercised skill for effective managers. This skill is first used to align the direction and goals of the department to those of the greater organization. Then critical thinking is used to break projects down to work assignments and then tasks and the skills required to complete the task.  An effective interview strategy might be to ask for an example of a key project or an order was completed on-time. Or, ask for an example of project where the delegation strategy accounted for employee strengths and weaknesses.

A Manageable Ego:  There are times a manager needs to be loud and proud with ego on full display and times when selflessness and a muted ego are more appropriate. This is a delicate balancing act between self-confidence and building the confidence of others.  Managers that control their ego effectively will be perceived as both innovative and approachable by employees. An interview strategy might be to ask for examples of a time when their coaching skills developed an employee to produce significantly better results.

The Gotcha: To select and hire top-talent managers, you need to be a top-talent, too. All the skills required to be a top manager can be learned if you are willing to practice.  I am teaching a course called “Managing for Better Engagement and Results” beginning September 17th that is a group experience tuned to give instruction and opportunities to practice key skills to become that top talent. If you want more information, follow this link.

 

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?”