• Important hire? Here’s the strategy…

    1 February 2016
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    You don’t need to hire every position with the same approach. Sure, some companies have the same hiring process for everyone, and it often involves spending 6 months on each hire and only hiring A+ people. In theory, that’s what you should do, but in practice, there are some hires that deserve more effort and some that deserve less.

    How do you tell when to invest more or less? I’ll be talking about that on my webinar this month – the 3 different approaches to hiring, and when each one is appropriate.

    For this column, I want to focus in on the highest-investment approach.

    When does a hire deserve a heavy investment? The primary drivers are (a) the impact the position can have on the organization, and (b) the experience your company has with hiring that specific type of position. In other words, you should invest more heavily in your recruiting process when you’re hiring:

    • Executive or key manager positions – because the impact of that position will be a multiple of the costs of even an elaborate hiring process
    • New positions – because you don’t know what you’re looking for, and because you need to train your organization on what the new position will do

    What does it mean to invest heavily in a hiring process? You should spend more time…

    • Planning the position before even starting the recruiting process
    • Choreographing the hiring process – who to include when
    • Building a bigger candidate pool
    • Interviewing candidates
    • Confirming your final choice

    It’s OK not to go all-out on every hire. What’s important for growing companies is having the wisdom to know when a more extensive recruiting process is needed, and having the discipline to invest the time needed when it is required.

    If you do that, you’ll avoid the costs of a bad hire, which can be dramatic – around 2-3x the person’s compensation for a manager, and 5-10x the person’s compensation for an executive.

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  • Repeat and repeat and repeat

    22 November 2015
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    Leadership and the under-communication crisis

    As the writer of this article, I’ve evaluated all of the possibilities I could focus on, and decided that we should give our attention to communication.

    We all need to communicate more, and will be doing things in the coming months to do that.

    Any questions?

    Not enough for you? Keep reading to see what you should be doing to communicate as a leader.

     

    When I was a debater in high school, my coach gave me the following formula for success:

    Tell them what you’re going to tell them

    Tell them

    Tell them what you told them

     

    As a company leader, the same formula applies, with a change:

    Tell them what you’re going to tell them

    Tell them

    Tell them what you told them

    (Repeat)

    (Repeat)

    (Repeat)

    This is the time of year when you’re setting your annual priorities, which will be followed in a few weeks by the need to communicate those priorities to your team. I was meeting with a COO last week, and after spending an hour talking about one of his 2016 company goals, I asked how he was going to communicate the goal to the organization.

    “I’ll have the VPs tell their groups.” (Mind you, last year, some VPs told me that their colleagues would often communicate very different messages about the same topic.)

    “Can you spend time on this in the company meeting?”

    “No, we don’t have time. We need to keep those to ½ hour, and we have too many other things to cover. The VPs can cover it.”

    Huh? Um, no they can’t – at least not by themselves. In addition to the VPs’ communication, all company staff need to hear a single version of the message directly from the highest leader. It ensures consistency of the message, and ensures that people know it’s important.

    The closer a message is to something that people already know and already do, the less energy you need to spend on it. However, it would be unusual for a topic that rises to the level of an annual priority to be something that people already know and already do. So, it’s going to take energy to communicate.

    Extra energy.

    And probably extra extra energy.

    Here’s what most annual priorities should get:

    • Monthly review by the CEO in a company-wide forum (ideally a meeting, but could be a newsletter)
    • Monthly review by the VPs in their department or team meetings
    • More frequent attention as needed by the relevant manager – such as the head of HR or Sales

    “That’s a whole lot of communicating,” you may be thinking. But it’s actually still a small proportion of the overall communication that your employees are exposed to in all of the hours they’re at work. And we’re talking about a message that’s really important.

    “People are going to be bombarded by too many messages,” you may be thinking. And if that’s true, then it highlights the need to reduce the number of priorities. The need to communicate is the need to communicate. If you’re not able to meet that need, then you have to focus your attention more.

    Most business leaders are going to under-communicate their 2016 goals to their organizations, and that’s going to hurt their companies in an environment that requires as much efficiency and effectiveness as your team can muster. Are you going to make that mistake?

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  • My Goals Can Beat Up Your Goals

    Making Better Goals with a Strong Annual Planning Process

    Although it seems like just yesterday that the days were hot and we were at the local swimming hole, this is the time to start thinking about annual planning.  Some of my clients have small, simple businesses and handle their planning in an afternoon.  Others are larger and more complex, and we spend 4 days over the course of 3 months.

    No matter the extent of the process, they all have the same underlying process:

    –          Assess the environment and identify areas that have potential to improve the performance of the business

    –          Select the areas that have the best potential impact, and create initiatives to address those areas

    –          Define and justify the investments needed for the initiatives

    –          Develop action plans

    –          Launch the initiatives with managers and staff

    There’s a rich set of best practices and tools for each of those steps.  For example, many people like to use the SWOT framework to assess their situation.  But I’ve found that reviewing hits and misses often provides better insight into areas of improvement.

    On my Monthly Strategy Slice webinar, we’ll be looking at a small slice of the annual planning process – how to make sure you have a strong set of initiatives to focus on.  On the webinar, we’ll talk about tools to evaluate your initiatives along 4 dimensions:

    –          Are you focusing externally (e.g., developing new markets), internally (e.g., reorganizing), or a combination of both?

    –          Are you focusing on initiatives with short-term payoff (e.g., a marketing campaign to existing customers), medium-term payoff (e.g., hiring an important new position), or long-term payoff (e.g., launching a new product)?

    –          Do you have a mix of initiatives that will have a big (transformative) payoff and smaller (incremental) payoffs?

    –          Do you have a mix of initiatives that have different investment profiles – some requiring relatively little investment, and others needing heavy investment?

    We’ll talk about how to evaluate annual priorities, and how to apply the evaluation tools to your business on my webinar – please join us if you want to see these in action.

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  • Developing Your High-Potentials – The No-Brainer You’re Missing

    If there’s one thing in Stage 2 companies that does not take a lot of thinking, it’s identifying who your “High Potential” staff are.  They come to mind immediately whenever I ask leaders who they are.

    But, as much as it’s a no-brainer to get the most out of the people who offer the most, Stage 2 companies do a consistently horrible job of actively developing their High Potentials.  Why?  Because the Well-Oiled-and-Balanced Wheel is easy to ignore (and besides, it has a lot of weight to carry and can’t afford much “down time”.)

    The first step I’d recommend in developing your High Potentials is to come up with a model that you can use to identify your High Potentials.  Since it’s always obvious who they are, why would you need a model?  Two reasons.

    First, you need a program to develop your High Potentials, both to get the benefit of the full value that they can give you, and to keep them engaged and hopeful about their future at your company.  And in order to have a program, you need to explain to people who is part of the program and who is not.

    Second, you also have people who are Good Potentials.  Most of them will never make the jump to High Potential – but some of them will.  And to do that, they need a model of what they’re aiming for – what a High Potential is.

    I have a 1-page model for talking about High Potentials.  It’s a graphic that you can put in front of High Potentials to talk about why you value them so much and how you want to continue to develop them.  And you can show it to Everyone Else to explain in simple terms what it takes to be (and be treated like) a High Potential.

    If you want to see my model and learn some tips for using it, sign up for my upcoming August Strategy Hour webinar (even if you can’t make it you’ll get a copy), or go to the Contact Us page and reach out to me to request it.

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  • Bigger, better decisions

    Man playing chess

    Not all strategic decisions need the same amount of analysis.  This is something that many founders understand intuitively.  But it’s also something that becomes more complicated as a company grows.

    Why?  Because the decisions get bigger and more complicated, what worked for a Big Decision in the past often doesn’t work for the Big Decisions of a bigger company.  In addition, the “decision environment” gets more complicated, with more potential participants and more dynamics among them.  Who do you include?  When?  How?  Who provides input and who participates in the decision?  How is the decision actually made?

    What qualifies as a Big Decision?  Something where the payoffs are extraordinary – say, it could have an impact of 20% or more of a company’s revenue, or it could impact more than a third of the employees – and/or where the risks are extraordinary – say, it could take 20% or more of a company’s discretionary resources to implement.

    Decisions fall on a continuum – as the stakes rise, so does the need to treat the decision more seriously.

    And how do you do that?  As the decision gets bigger, you should add more information, more structure and process, and more focus and energy on the decision before its made.  If you don’t, you can be pretty sure you’ll be spending more time than you’d like or expect after the decision.

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  • 50 Shades of Grey, Small Business Edition

    How could I not take up the challenge of finding the link between the 50 Shades juggernaut and my beloved Stage 2 small business clients!?!

    Putting aside the more mundane topics of what Christian Grey’s DISC profile is, the importance of proper inventory processes, and the merits of NDAs, I’m struck by the similarity between Christian’s dominant role and how Shane Yount, owner of the Process-Based Leadership system, describes some companies:

    “(Managing by position, proximity, or persuasion) creates dependency. Employees become dependent on their leaders to make the decisions, to solve the problems, to show them what to do and when to do it. Certainly managing by position, proximity and persuasion gets short-term results. But dependency is dysfunctional.”

    It may seem extreme to draw a parallel between 50 Shades’ dominant/submissive relationship and how many small business leaders operate, but there’s probably more truth to it than many owners would like to admit.

    Recently I talked with a group of Stage 2 company CEOs, and one of their big a-ha moments was when they realized how dependent their organizations are on the leader’s opinion, intuition, and judgment.

    If you realize that your leadership is out of balance, or if your employees start to refer to you as Mr/Ms Grey…what can you do?

    The first step is creating a dialogue with your managers.  You want a process to be guiding the company, not a person, and to do that, you need to start a process that involves your leaders in key decisions – and then you need to stay committed to it.  And, if you’ve been doing a lot of the talking, start listening more.  Don’t totally hand over the reins, but start to share them.

    What should you talk about?  To start, I like to focus on today – what is working, what isn’t working?  Once you have things working OK, then you can start looking out farther on the horizon – to the next few months, and then to the next year, and then to the next 2-3 years.

    Let’s be honest about something Christian Grey knows – it’s fun and exciting to be in charge, to be The One Who Makes the Calls.  But it’s also not sustainable, and if you’re looking for your business to prosper for the long-run, you need to mature as a leader and expand how you relate to your business.

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  • Giving Your SWOT More Swagger

    18 September 2014
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    I like SWOT assessments (you know – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) for getting people’s thinking out of the day-to-day and into a creative, strategic “space.”  Unfortunately, I often see SWOT assessments that are just marginally useful.

    Here are some tips on how to get more value out of your SWOTs.

    If you can take a bullet and put it on someone else’s SWOT without changing it, then you’re not specific enough.  One of the favorites to put under Strengths is “Our People”…which is also a good example of a bullet that is not specific enough to be useful in the planning process.  What is it about your people?  Their experience?  Their deep knowledge?  Their ability to be generalists?  Once I know what’s special about your people, then I can create some possibilities about how to leverage that into a better advantage.

    Work hard to look at the future.  We live our lives in the day-to-day, so it’s hard to look ahead several years.  And that’s why it’s an advantage to do – because most people don’t.

    Put “the hard stuff” on the list.  Every business has issues that it doesn’t like to talk about.  The problem customer.  The problem owner.  The problem staffer.  Without knowing the details, I can tell you that those issues consume a large amount of resources.  So they need to be on your SWOT – though it will probably take some diplomatic phrasing.  (For example:  “Some customers are easier to work with than others,” “Owners are not always aligned on decisions,” and “Spotty follow-through.”)

    Make sure you have bullets that cover the whole breadth of the areas you’re involved in.  Often, leadership teams focus more on certain areas, and that bias comes through on the SWOT.  But the non-focus areas are often the places where there is the most opportunity, especially for companies that are developing from the lean-and-mean start-up to a more complete and sustainable enterprise.

    So, here’s the question to ask about your SWOT to see if you’re getting the value out of it:  “Does it give us insight into where we should commit significant resources over the next 3 years to improve our chances of success?”  If it gives you that, then you’re getting the value you should.  If it doesn’t, then you should take steps to upgrade it – which I’ll cover in my next post.

     

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  • First Steps Toward Accountability

    16 May 2014
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    I have 2 clients who are focused on “accountability” this year, and it’s proving a hard row to hoe for both of them.  Why?

    Well, first of all, accountability is a somewhat scary term.  If someone is saying we need it, then that must mean that we are not being accountable, and that sounds like someone’s not happy with people’s performance.

    Worse, if there’s not a way to gauge performance, the people are likely to take a need for accountability as a judgment on their dedication.  They’ll confuse accountability with work ethic.

    It’s unfortunate that accountability gets this reaction.  In Stage 2 companies, accountability is more about making things that used to be managed intuitively into things that are managed objectively.  It does make a judgment about how people are working, but not in the way they think – accountability focuses on working on the right things, not the level of effort.

    In fact, most of the time I work on accountability, people have a clearer sense of direction and less stress in their jobs.

    I can spend lots of time talking about how to make your organization more accountable, but for now, let me finish by answering the question, “How do you overcome the initial resistance to accountability?”

    I recommend 3 steps.  First, before you bring up accountability, praise the team’s work ethic (assuming it deserves praise…if it doesn’t, that’s a deeper problem…), so that they know that you know they are dedicated.  Second, give them an example of people spending more time in an area than they should.  (Serving the bottom 20% of your customer base is a fairly typical area.)  Finally, ask the team, “Do you have a way of quickly seeing whether the other people on the Leadership Team are succeeding?”  If you don’t, then you’re probably spending more time than you should simply understanding how you’re doing, instead of diving into the issues that will make your business better.

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  • Lessons from 2014 Planning

    16 January 2014
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    I am blessed with several clients who have embraced the idea of “measure twice and cut once,” and therefore have adopted a robust process for their annual planning.  While most companies would say, “Why would you spend so much time on planning,” these companies have come to understand that time spent in planning pays off in spades through smarter decisions, better allocation of resources, and faster execution.

    For these companies, my planning process starts in (gasp) August, so that we can have 4 monthly meetings starting in September.  So, I was involved in 2014 planning for the last 5 months.

    Mind you, I have other clients that planned 6-month goals for the first half of 2014 in just an afternoon.  I’m not proposing a robust process for everyone – but everyone can learn from the more involved process.

    What did I learn over the 2014 planning cycle?

    It’s helpful, and an indicator of a strength, when the leader narrows the focus early in the process. For some clients, I start the process by asking the whole leadership team (a) what is important that’s happening in your world, and (b) of all of those things, what are the most important.  With other clients, I have that discussion with just the CEO or COO, and then we come up with the 3-5 most important issues that we orient around for our planning with the leadership team.  Would your leadership team trust and embrace the issues that your CEO came up with?  Would your CEO come up with the right issues?  If so, your planning can be more focused and efficient by starting the discussion with the short-list of issues.  Remember, though, that you still need to describe a full picture of the many (often 15-20) issues that are occurring in the business, so that everyone sees the whole landscape.

    A good process will make people strategic. One of the challenges I have as a strategy consultant is to make everyone on the team effective in a strategy process, even though many Stage 2 managers are not very strategic.  How do I do that?  By working through a process that (a) includes all managers in the whole process, and (b) helps everyone on the leadership team connect tactical, day-to-day issues with broader, big-picture issues.  Admittedly, that takes more time in the planning process, but as change management consultant Randy Albert often told me, “You have to go slower at the start to go faster at the end.”  Remember, though, that including everyone in the process does not mean that everyone makes all decisions – sometimes it’s just input, sometimes it’s just feedback.

    The budget is where the rubber meets the road. I wrote a post last year about how important it is for your planning process to include both strategy and budgeting.  With the environment still uncertain and/or resources still tight, this year’s planning cycle confirmed the value of the two parts.  Budgeting without a solid rationale behind the allocation of funds is just guessing, and planning without honest decisions about limited resources is just hoping.  Remember:  at the end of your process, you should have a clear set of 3-5 company-wide priorities, and a “strategic investment budget” that identifies the specific funding and activities that support your priorities.

    After taking a breath and recharging over the next few weeks, I’ll start working with some clients on their innovation and new venture portfolios, and the new places they can take their businesses over the next 3-5 years.  I’ll write more about that topic sometime.

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  • Empathy & Profitability

    27 June 2013
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    Many of my clients are proud of the “family feel” of their companies. They care about their people, see the whole person, and create a bond of trust that moves them well beyond an “employer-employee” relationship.

    The last few years have been hard for the leaders of these companies, because they haven’t been able to protect their employees from the tumultuous market environment that their companies are operating in. Bonuses have been cancelled, raises postponed, training missed, and some of the “family” have even been let go.

    In a discussion this week with a leadership team that was debating how to balance the benefits of a family feel with the realities of operating a company within the rules of business, I pointed out that it is profitability that provides the flexibility to treat employees well.

    Look at a company that treats its employees well, and you’ll also be looking at a company that has a profitable business model.

    At a Board meeting with one of my family business clients a few weeks ago – a company that has been passed down through several generations – they said it another way: “Always protect the money tree first.”

    After yesterday’s meeting, I thought, “If profitability is the foundation of an empathetic company, what is the foundation of profitability?”

    The answer has many parts, of course – strategy, productivity, discipline, teamwork, culture, accountability, etc. But I’d say the thing that comes first, before making the profitability happen, is…empathy. The ability to empathize with your customers, so that you understand what they need and how to make their lives better, in a way that they value.

    If you want to empathize with your employees – if you want to create that great family feel – empathize with your customers.

    There are many values that a company can live by. If you haven’t considered having Empathy as one of your company’s core values, it’s worth a look. And if you haven’t defined any of your core values…we should talk.

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