Business problems are largely people problems. And, in the same vein, business is people.
Yes, you can automate. That’s easier than dealing with people. Machines, software and automation follows rules, logic and functionality.
But people don’t fit what the job usually requires. They are almost fits at best. They don’t come in the specific shape, size, function and consistency your jobs require.
This is why it is critical to gauge a person’s preferences and strengths. At least you will start with an understanding of the likely behaviors and bents that you can come to expect to see.
If your business has critical roles to fill and a lot of risk for non-performance, then evaluating a person’s inclinations is a small investment. It’s costly to discover the nature in a person further down the road and realize the almost fit you were hoping for is not even a fit at all.
I am not sure people change much. Most people are characteristic. When you talk about your friends, you don’t see them becoming a 180 of themselves. They behave consistently. So it is with the talent you recruit and manage. There’s a latitude to their growth and change, but not something dramatic altogether.
When it comes to getting work done – sales made, projects out the door, ideas that stick, etc. – you can lose a lot of money and time if your team members don’t fit what’s required.
It’s painful. And it’s real. I’ve heard the story repeatedly from business owners.
Expect most people are almost fits at best. But test to see how misaligned they are for the requirements you objectively have for your business. Hope is a poor strategy. A little foresight, process and quantitative evaluation can go a long way towards seeing if you have a close enough fit vs. someone far off the mark.
How many caller id calls have you ignored? How many emails simply go unanswered?
We are all suffering from attention deficit and most people have to keep the noise out and focus just to survive and get what they think is important done.
If you are not a person of value in someone’s busy workday or life, then you are wasting their time and attention. And we have many ways to simply ignore what does not compel us to pay attention.
Deals get done with a lot of the important ingredients we know, but have to remain disciplined and focused on creating:
Attention. You have to matter.
Pain. What is it that your customer wants to improve or get rid of? What is it specifically?
Solutions. How do you make the pain go away or get resolved?
Conversations. Buying is largely done with human beings connecting and creating understanding and agreement. How many of these interactions are you having a day?
Value. You have to pay attention carefully and help people get what they want. Everyone’s different. Some people have kids. Others have health problems. Still others need a great networking connection.
Being a person of value means you are valuable. And you become valuable by continually growing personally. You know things that others can use. You apply your knowledge. You also know people that can help. You connect the dots and you proactively make connections.
When you start your days, say, “I will be a person of great value.”
How do you know most of your work matters? There are probably a few things that matter to produce the outcomes important to an organization. Most work is simply effort and cost and does not produce meaningful results. You can see this with the ridiculing of office politics and people doing busy work in cartoons and TV shows.
If you are a manager, getting results starts with a system that focuses on outcomes. You have to be clear about what the key metrics that matter are. Then build your system to output those results.
It’s not easy because getting people doing what you need takes pig-headed determination. Furthermore, creating clarity is hard without clear strategy and vision. This often takes dialogue to get clear on what really matters to your business. Your attention and day-to-day is pulled by a ton of distractions and things that don’t matter.
If you’re not moving the needle lately, then think about how all the work that you and your team do contributes to the outcomes you want.
Maybe you’re working on outdated priorities. Or you have not refreshed your near term and long-term goals based on what you know today.
Anyone can work and be busy. But, getting the right things done requires taking pause and managing to the right priorities.
What outcomes are important to you now? Is your work set up to support those outcomes?
I wrote the book, ZeroInbox, a few years ago to help business clients with a fundamental bottleneck in their workflow, their inbox.
I have trained executives, teams and workshop attendees on this methodology to increase speed, clarity and consistency in managing the relentless flow of email in business.
I think a lot of people simply give up because they feel overwhelmed and end up having thousands of emails in their inbox.
You miss a lot of opportunities, become unreliable, and bottleneck projects when you can’t manage your inbox effectively.
I would say that email is our work when it comes to knowledge work. It’s ubiquitous and a tool that each person knows how to use without extensive training in a specialized system like a CRM or ERP software tool.
And the better you can manage your inputs and outputs, the higher impact you can have getting things done.
Furthermore, you can take advantage of opportunities that you just can’t seem to get to or entertain because you are clear, ready and action-oriented.
When you are cluttered, it’s hard to make space for the bigger opportunities.
If you feel stressed or can’t seem to get on top of your email, then you have a process problem. It’s solvable. But you have to want to solve the problem.
I understand. It can be really comforting to do what is urgent and stay in the groove of knocking out tasks. In a given day of work, there’s always the tasks that have to get done to keep pipelines moving, make customers happy and ensure our teams are motivated and productive.
However, that nagging feeling, for those business owners and executives that need to move the needle, will be there. Being busy can keep you from giving attention and focus on what really can 10x your business. You feel busy. You are getting things done. The problem is that you may not be getting the right things done.
It’s out of reach because distractions and busy work give you that dopamine hit and attachment to the work that simply has to get done.
If months have gone by, then consider, like someone who realizes that a personal trainer helps them get fit, to get clear and get the important work done. Get above the noise of your business and see what matters and does not matter.
The reality is that most things do not matter and a very few things matter immensely to help you grow your business. And if you are working on the low-level, have-to-get-done items, at the expense of the most essential opportunities, you are not being effective. You are allowing urgent demands to numb you into feeling busy and productive at the cost of big growth.
You do have to be productive so you don’t bottleneck your commitments to your customers. That’s worth making an established, reliable habit in your work.
However, if that is all you do – get busy work done – then you will struggle to grow your business. You are only refining and making what already exists optimized and at some point, it’s a diminishing return.
Are you getting the right things done consistently?
When you are small, you can run and grow your business in your head. In the early days, it’s hard to think that you play many different roles because you do different jobs yourself. You can be the salesperson, accountant, marketer, product development manager, HR administrator and many other roles without calling these out as you move from task to task.
But, when your demand grows, you can’t do it all. You need more people to help grow the business and make your customers happy.
If you are under $1M, most of your effort should be on selling. If you are past $1M, you have to make the business work. Either way, your business is about knowledge. How things get done to create a customer and deliver your product or service consistently becomes harder when you scale up.
A knowledge base is a place that organizes the knowledge that’s in your head. It helps everyone on your team understand how to do their job clearly and interact with other people doing their respective jobs.
Furthermore, a knowledge base has the following benefits to growing a business:
1. Facilitates Onboarding and Training
It is a systematic way to help a new person get started and be productive in their hired job. It also provides professionalism, job satisfaction and clarity for new employees that could otherwise be disoriented, overwhelmed and frustrated in a new role.
2. Makes Information Sharing Efficient:
A place that is structured and searchable makes it easy for your team members to get what they need, when they need it. If you have to keep answering the same question many times, rather than allowing people to find answers for themselves, you are the bottleneck in your business. It’s not a great use of time. Document it once and let it be consumed many times.
3. Increases the Value of Your Business
If you want to sell your business, what will you sell? Having systems that are clear and a methodology for growing easily and rapidly is extreme value to a buyer who wants to know how to operate the business. If you don’t have a knowledge base, then the information required to execute consistently is in your head. You can’t step out. You are the business.
4. Forces Clarity
How you do things now may change later. Having a system that is continually living and updated helps everyone stay clear for their own job. And information that is documented and does not make sense in context of your business goals or handoffs to other jobs can be debated, clarified and updated. You can push on refining your methodology as new realities emerge during business growth.
5. Helps You Lead
A large complaint of employees is that they see dysfunction from management or ineptitude. You can lead with clarity and conviction when your team sees commitment to systems, process and order. Furthermore, you can open up ideas and ways of doing things through continuous improvement to a knowledge base that should welcome better ideas and ways of executing from the people doing the work. Your leadership can center around knowledge rather than charisma. It takes the pressure off you and focuses it on business systems, where it should be.
Growing Your Business
The more people you get involved the more complexity you have to manage in your business. Clarity becomes a bottleneck to growing your business because you have to take time to explain, manage and oversee how things get done.
Furthermore, the jobs that have to get done are continually changing. You want the best ideas and approaches available and clear for everyone in a system that is repeatable and continually improving.
When we think about a problem, we like to solve it. Our brains are suckers for the open loop and we want to close it. If you are asking how to make something cheaper, you get solutions and thoughts on cost-cutting or quality cutting. And those that are super efficient at making things cheap have extreme scale to amortize such costs.
If you ask how to make something more expensive, you have to think about value. How do you make something worth more? How do you become worth more?
There are plenty of people that crave better. They can easily get cheap merchandise. But, they can’t always get that exquisite taste, feeling of quality or identity to name a few reasons why we pay more for the things we love.
What if you took the challenge to look at your prices? What would it take to make the value worth double? What would that look like? Can you add a thoughtful gift? What if you followed up with custom service at the right timing? The extra effort or concierge service could easily increase the value perception if you package your offering with some creativity.
Increase the value before anyone even asks. Sometimes it’s cost. Other times it’s care. Then, if you get traction that is repeatable, you can see if the value warrants an increase in price.
In a crowded marketplace with so many options for cheaper options, it would be hard to compete in categories that have people thinking about the low-cost option.
Become more expensive. It’s a fantastic way to differentiate and push yourself to be desired more. It’s not free. But it’s worth it.
Social can make you feel like something is happening. But, it’s hard to find a lot of testimonials of a complete stranger doing business through a social post.
We don’t have 5 different Facebooks with equal power. We have one that dominates. It’s still to be seen if it persists or if the world flips from privacy issues or attention fatigue to sink the ship.
Automation can be alluring and you can bring in so much technology that noone buys into using it in your company. Whether you move the needle of ROI can become overlooked by technology and the perceived power it holds.
Anyone can make their world more complex. And most people do. What if you could take a step back and remove what you have built up in your life. See what matters and doesn’t matter? The guys at Yes Theory deleted social media for 30 days and the outcome was life changing.
Maybe you find out that you can consolidate platforms. Perhaps you see a lot more time returned to you so you can put it to things like creativity and strategy.
We tend to like to add things to our lives rather than subtract. As technology consolidates and some platforms die or limp along painfully, I think of it as natural evolution on a hyperspeed pace. Our collective groupthink helps to filter and see what matters and doesn’t matter – what adds value and what does not.
In our own work and lives, we should speed up our decision-making so we can enjoy the outcomes of what is better at the end of the long cycle of technology darwinism that eventually weighs itself into our lives. Whether we are strategic or intentional can make the difference on reaching our goals faster.
We remember the game as kids. The hot potato moved around the group and your job was to touch it and pass it. You were part of the game of movement. You lose if you hold on too long.
When you are dealing with information, you are holding the hot potato. The next person needs you to pass it. Your team member, boss, customer, vendor, or consultant needs the information you have.
If you hold on, you affect getting paid, creating opportunities or making customers happy. You become the bottleneck. And bottlenecks jam up the flow of deals and projects that keep moving despite your productivity or lack thereof.
Whether we like it or not, the game of hot potato never stops. We can just get better so the flow keeps going. It’s harder when you have to add more creativity to the flow of the game. It takes time, deliberation and accuracy if you have to come up with a creative solution to a problem.
If you are simply clerical, it can become boring. Getting paperwork processed, bills paid or HR forms filled can be tedious. That’s the temptation of letting robots do what we get bored of so human beings don’t hold the hot potato on critical path work.
Think about where you are in the game and how you handle information flow. The great news is that you can get better. You can become more effective by anticipating the work coming your way this day, this week or this year. You can be ready to execute.
Then when you get the pass, you can get the work to the next person that needs it quickly.
That’s how you play and win. It’s how you contribute when you are in the knowledge game.
It can be hard to decipher whether people want to truly solve the problem you are thinking. But that first question can save a lot of trouble in projects, relationships and business if you can get what people want.
Solving the problem you are thinking matters may not be the priority. In your work with others, they may want something else instead:
To look good in front of their boss
Documentation to cover for their ____
A feeling of importance
Feeling secure just in case
Their gain your pain
Ideas and strategies they can claim as their own
Listen carefully and observe your customer or the team you are working with. The clues in behaviors, inaction, focus and interchange can reveal what really matters and whether solving the problem is really what matters.
Then it’s up to you to figure out if you want to give them what they really want or bow out.
If you are not making progress in your work with someone, think about that simple, question, “Do they really want to solve the problem?” It can save you a lot of wasted energy and grief.