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Maybe you’re working on outdated priorities.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?
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.
If you want to grow your business, you have to have good people to delegate functional work to. Otherwise, you become the bottleneck and risk making customers unhappy.
Many years ago, I remember learning the lesson of delegation early while working an engineering project. I had a designer working on new revisions for drawings of a machine assembly I was engineering. We talked about what changes needed to be made. I repeated and reviewed the specific changes with him.
Well, I thought by talking through those modifications that professionals get their job done because that is inherent. I had not learned to trust, but verify.
A few weeks later, after we went to prototype and fabricate of the parts, the assembly did not fit together. I was perplexed. I frantically measured all the components and to my dismay, I found that we produced parts from old drawings. There was a mix-up in what was communicated to the toolmaker.
I thought the designer had handled the updates, but that was an assumption. It was a very expensive retooling because the revisions were not communicated to our manufacturing partner.
We had many other revisions that were managed fine previously. This happened to be one of those that did not get communicated, though the work was done.
My business education benefitted though the project budget ballooned from my mistake. I learned a very hard lesson to trust, but verify. When you have teams or disinterested parties, the risk is high for a bad handoff or miscommunication.
Trust, but verify is risk management. We need it because, despite good intentions, humans are fallible. We are terrible at executing consistently. When there’s a handoff, I like to:
Explain what I need
Have the person let me know they understand by explaining back
Documenting it with an email
Reviewing if we met the spec/requirements of the handoff
Provide praise and gratitude for a job well done
I think that last point of gratitude is important because it makes working together easier the next time based on trust. Also, I like letting people know what they did well. We all need encouragement and honesty as feedback.
You may have heard the phrase, “Trust, but verify.” Usually, people learn this lesson from pain. Hopefully, you can create your own approach that consistently makes handoffs and delegations a core, robust way you grow your business through delegation.
“It manifests itself in the shape of the lucky fool, defined as a person who benefited from a disproportionate share of luck but attributes his success to some other, generally very precise, reason.” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Fooled by Randomness
If you haven’t read Taleb’s book, he does a masterful job of pointing out how our perceptions fool us, especially from the rare, high impact events we experience. We have biases that are hard to overcome. In the case of the lucky fool, we lean towards taking credit for the good luck that happens to us, and we blame outside forces and people for the bad things that happen. Tragically, our human nature distorts our perception of reality.
The Simple Dollar wrote a great essay on tips for increasing your good luck and decreasing your bad luck. It’s practical advice assuming you can overcome your own bias towards the luck that flows through your life. As the essay states, “We are all the lucky fool.”
There are opportunities galore that are there for the taking for those that are ready for luck. You have to be prepared, optimistic, open and competent to see and act on deals that are timely. Here are some weekly and daily practices to make luck bend your way and protect your downside from bad luck:
Treat all people with kindness and respect. Noone has to deal with you otherwise. And you need people to deal with you for luck to happen.
Be a person of value. Observe needs and work to help people.
Increase your value every day by what you know and who you know.
Make a daily habit of doing mindful self-care for your mental, spiritual, physical and emotional self. Pick something in each category and do it every day – read, work out, pray, and enjoy good people, for example.
Sow and reap. What you want, give more of. It’s the law of attraction you put to work.
Be a funnel of good ideas. You have to be learning, capturing and sharing. Connect your ideas or things you find helpful with the people you care about in specific, helpful ways. You need a good system for this.
I try to practice these habits to keep my probabilities of good flow high and reduce the probability of downside things happening in my life. I want luck, but not be the lucky fool as life and opportunities happen each day.
Every handoff in your business is a failure point. When one person is handling information and moving execution to the next step, often you can get things done without many mistakes or delays.
When you have to hand off a lead, support call, requirements, or project task, it’s risk. What if the information is not correct? Is there nuance and clarity that have to be transferred?
Many projects need teams to deliver. But often, when we are growing businesses, we simply get fat and waste can build up. There are often unnecessary handoffs where it can be faster with less errors by cutting out steps, people or information.
With this season of downtime, what if you took inventory and got rid of handoffs that no longer make sense?
Look at when a customer starts their engagement with your company. How much work do they have to do before they get contacted? Can you automate the first touches?
Here are some other ideas to drive throughput by eliminating or reducing handoffs:
Where does a request get bottlenecked? Consolidate the work with one person or automate the task using software.
Set the expected response time for team tasks. Track this for 30 days. If you get a 3 day average response for something that should take 1 day, get the responsible parties involved and set up a new incentive to meet the customer expectation.
Map out your steps. See if you can cut out steps that do not add value.
For work that needs to be highly responsive, hire a support vendor or get a virtual assistant. It will force you to define what has to be done and you can manage accountability.
Cut out any middlemen and replace it with direct service or engagement.
Handoffs usually develop because we hope to get some kind of efficiency, but we don’t revisit whether we have failure in speed or unnecessary mistakes. Take it back to simplicity, and care about your customer by removing the waste that simply happens because of unexamined workflow.
As the New Year is commencing, you can tighten your workflow up by looking at all those handoffs which create problems and bottlenecks.
I love dealmaking. I agree with Robert Ringer’s observation about dealmaking:
“There are no statistics to prove it, but after years of experience, I’m absolutely convinced that dealmaking is the highest-paid profession in the world.”
I think the creative pieces and bringing ambiguous, and often disparate parties and value together, is exhilarating. Great deals help everyone to win and get what they want.
Designing those deals requires insight and many cycles to drive a win and agreement. It’s why I often tell business partners that dealmaking is about going slow. Then fast.
The slow part of deal making is the art of the deal. Building rapport and relationships. Establishing trust. Putting the ideas forth that might take root. These are the building blocks that go faster with established relationships and much activity, but in the beginning of new ventures and relationships, they are slow to put forth and germinate. Often times, you have to push hard.
Fortunately, deals are everywhere. They need leadership, vision and management to develop. If you sell a known product, then your dealmaking has a lot of the components already set up.
If you have a custom, creative dealmaking offering, then there is a lot of time collaborating, designing and creating something from nothing.
I think that one of the best strategies is to be ready. Mise en Place. Anticipate that new conversations, opportunities, relationships and timing will come in the next weeks and months. Being ready by doing your homework, studying, gathering insights, having fast, efficient systems, and getting smarter are required to support the slow part.
If you have done the work then the fast part tends to take care of itself. The convergence of the details, negotiating, having solid agreements and delivering value transitions the dealmaking over to keeping your commitments.
You can always get better at the fast part. The slow part is where the payoff is if you pay attention to your approach, preparation and cadence. Where can you improve?
At some point, there’s nothing more to change or create. You know what to do and only dogged determination and repetition with accountability will work. This is the part of scaling that moves the ball inches at a time and is quite painful.
Repeating what everyone has agreed to can seem tedious, but it is critical. Articulating your core values until everyone buys in is indispensable. Reviewing what steps need to be taken to make customers happy cannot be compromised. These rituals are relentless and are daily mantras that are part of execution.
Repetition is an age-old habit that gets groups moving in the same direction. While I wish that people could simply download instructions once and execute perfectly thereafter, that is not the case when it comes to scaling. You have to say what you want many times and do it repeatedly until a task, process or habit sticks.
Our temptation is to go back to what we know or did before. Growing is hard and we resist it because our old embedded habits have a grip on us.
The new tasks or habits are there for the taking. We are not necessarily fighting an information misunderstanding. We are fighting ourselves. We have anchors that have been established and something new is a disruptor.
If you are in the business of growing, you undoubtedly will run into the reality of execution. You have to do what you have agreed upon is the new way. And that kind of implementation will come down to saying it and doing it over and over until you see what needs to happen materialize consistently and become the new normal.
IBM used to train their salespeople with the BANT method:
It’s still an excellent framework to ensure you are selling to people that can say, “Yes!”
However, that last item, “timing,” is a big variable today. We work within much more chaos and the vast majority of businesspeople are disorganized. Their inboxes are flowing with thousands of emails. They may or may not respond to texts or voicemails.
Most people are better at reacting than leading. The FIFO – first in, first out – approach is the typical behavior to people who are buried under a mountain of open loops, information and options.
So, try this selling strategy. It’s easier than trying to change the world:
Observe a day of the week when people seem to be paying attention.
We live in an unprecedented time in history. It used to be hard to start something. You needed infrastructure, people, permission, etc. That was how the industrial economy worked. The mass forced us to push with enough weight of force behind us.
But now, you can put the pieces together yourself. The only thing limiting you is your ideas and your hard work.
Oh, and you have to be ok with failure. Embracing failure means you like learning. That is how we learn when there are a massive amount of unknowns.
But, you can always get started and test.
Need talent? Get on upwork.com and hire a freelancer.
Need funding? Put an ad out on kickstarter.com.
Need systems? Find a cloud computing solution and start a low-cost subscription.
Need to know how to build a business and make money? Call me!
I doubt there is much stopping you from doubling your income or changing the world. The obstacles and costs have been ridiculously lowered and you have access to what you need.
But the scarcity is still around leadership to make it happen. You have to make that part of your modus operandi.
The world is moving at a relentless pace as you see people squeezed out of the middle class, middle management and middle thinking. It’s because everyone can compete now. And they are.
Take some time to think about how you can make a person happy. Think what you could do. Think about a plan to put the pieces together to make them happy. Then find another person. Refine your process.
If you do it enough times and see feedback from the world, you can scale and build on your innovation. But it does start with the desire and leadership to put all the pieces together and make what’s in your head and heart play out in reality.
I try to mix things up and change the routes I drive, places I work, people I meet and even houses I live in. Constantly experimenting and finding what is possible or what may work keeps a certain freshness to how I can approach work or do deals.
There’s a lot of value in having habits. I don’t necessarily want to rethink how to make my bed or do laundry or keep my house in order. Being efficient and turning off my brain and letting my habits simply guide me has its own rewards.
But in business, I always want to be pushing on my creativity. I think it’s easy to get stuck and being solely functional. The bigger opportunities get missed this way. And it’s easy to happen if I glue myself to an office or a crowd of people or seeing the same ideas over and over.
While I was out hiking at the end of my workday, I was thinking about how I wandered around Breckenridge, CO where we are living for a bit and worked in 4 different places today. I had many conversations – some sitting and others with headphones and walking miles around the area.
I was getting to know people, hash out ideas and explore deals to see how they might work for me and other people.
A lot of my business coaching works becomes about productivity and getting things done. That’s a convergent approach to work.
Moving and changing the form factor continually helps me diverge. I can think broader and take in inspiration as well as imagine solutions and opportunities. It’s really great to have that kind of flexibility and flow in a work day. When I get clarity on what’s possible, it’s easy for me to drive on making ideas happen.
Changing up how you work lends itself to staying fresh by continually experimenting.
What if you changed things up more? Can you mix it up more to keep yourself fresh?