One of the biggest headaches I hear from the business owners I work with is around managing talent. Building effective systems can do wonders for a business. For one, it creates predictability. For another, it can keep headcount low, a major cost factor.
However, we need people to get things done. They help create leverage if they are good. They can also create heartache and pain for others (Check out The No Asshole Rule. Fun read.) if they are bad. People are fickle. They largely act in self-interest. Thus, most of their behaviors when it comes to work can be frustrating if your systems for management have gaps.
I have found that a lot of the gap comes from unclear expectations. Start with this one premise: Owners and employees think about completely different things. The owner mindset is about delivering to the customer and maximizing revenue. The employee mindset wants to get paid and leave at 5 (try asking a cashier how their day is going and you will see). Those are two different goals if left unchecked.
I use a few recurring questions to help lead people and get them on the same page. Here are a few that can be helpful as you seek to manage talent:
- “What is the goal?” When you don’t sense the right commitment or effort, ask this simple question of your team members. Ensure they tell you with conviction and it is the same as your goal. If not, make sure they are clear.
- “Tell me what you heard.” Communication is often taken for granted. People’s listening skills tend to be poor. Test their understanding and ask them to articulate what they heard to ensure there is a good handoff.
- “When?” There may be ideas tossed around and big hopes and wishes proclaimed. Use this one question to pinpoint a date. Assign the date. Make it an accountability point. Remind. People will get real fast or you will get results. Attach concrete dates to ensure things get done with accountability. Ensure your systems support your follow-up.
- “If you were me…?” … what would you do? … what would you be thinking? … how would you move forward? Help your employees think like an owner. Make your cares their cares. Conversations can be highly circular if you don’t drive empathy.
- “What are you going to tell the customer?” Watch for how the responsibility “hot potato” is passed. Leaders naturally take on responsibility. For those that are about self preservation, give them responsibility, even if it is temporary. You will see a difference quickly.
It is important that your sales, marketing and operations systems provide real-time accountability with clear metrics and goals. This is a cornerstone for effective management. These questions can be transposed with metrics, documentation and follow-up.
Take yourself out of the equation and make the goal the main thing. It is effective management and aligns talent with the goal.
What are some of the frustrations you have experienced in management? How have you aligned your talent with the real goals?
Starting or growing a business today is a great opportunity. I hear a lot of dismay from customers and friends at the state of our down economy. One thing is for sure: things are not the way they used to be, and they are not going back.
Richard Florida has an insightful and foretelling book called The Great Reset. He examines impacts of geography and urban centers from the past industrial age and the transformative forces in the new economy for the information age. Technology has enabled mobility. We are fully on the journey as an information-based society. The kinds of opportunities which exist across the board for entrepreneurs, microbrands and small businesses are more accessible today than in times past. I would encourage you to order the book and soak it in.
I have found the hardest part of taking advantage of opportunities is starting. It’s a decision motivated by desire and commitment. In my work with other entrepreneurs, there is a pathway which has been valuable to frame launching and starting new ventures.
Here are some ways to start or grow your business today:
- Pick your market carefully. You have the same amount of time as everyone else. The game of business is transforming your time into money. The highest return opportunities are in businesses with “scale” and “magnitude.” Scale refers to the number of iterations for making a sale. A fast food chain is a “high scale” business. There are a lot of transactions in a day. Certain software products are like this as well. Magnitude is about the price point. Professional services are high magnitude businesses. Each transaction is a high dollar cost. Low scale and magnitude is not a good business opportunity. Try things, but pick wisely. Your time and passion go into what you ultimately pick.
- Get a real customer with a real problem. This is the best way to start a business. You are close to many problems. Keep your eyes open and work with a real customer. Getting customers is the number one priority of your business. If you are tinkering with things that don’t matter yet, like elaborate systems noone has bought, then stop yourself. Focus on getting customers. Your first customers will teach you what your offering should be. If you are fast, then pave the road ahead of them and keep their experience delightful. You will end up with an offering that you can later package.
- Package your offering. After your customers teach you what is valuable, focus on refining how you present, win and service your next customers. Ensure your systems for the sales meeting, the proposal, the order and the delivery process do nothing short of delight.
- Automate and personalize. Build systems which are repeatable. Automate where it makes sense, and leave flexibility for a personal experience. If you provide consulting, then ensure there are communications systems to help you be responsive. However, you may also want to keep the personal touch and context around the projects you work on by sending timely notes.
These are a few important strategies for entrepreneurial success. The hard work is in the details and the care of each touchpoint in the customer experience. It is not a straight path. Otherwise, everyone would do it. Think of it as cracking a code which has a reward at the end of it if you picked a great market.
I have a book which I am working on called Build Something that you can sign up for here. We live in great times, and if we can change ourselves to see the opportunities and take advantage of them, then freedom, wealth and enjoyment as well as perseverance allow us to pursue our dreams.
What would you like to build?
I spend a lot of time publishing content. Whether you have a content marketing strategy in place, lead a team of people or have a corporate blog, there is a relentless vigilance to managing content. I have developed some personal and team collaboration systems which have helped me to get things out of my head and into digital bits as quickly as possible.
- Keep an accessible topic list. My team at AscendWorks manages all of our customer engagements in Basecamp. Lists of ideas need to be easy to put in. We keep To-Do lists and I can log these with my Android phone. For other article ideas, I also manage a list in Google Apps. I use Google Tasks with a sync program that keeps my mobile device and Google Apps Gmail account continually synced. When I have an idea for a topic, I immediately record it and I know it is out of my head and in my system ready for the next step.
- Write first, optimize second. There are so many distractions that keep me from getting content published. Worrying about formatting, SEO or keyword tagging can inhibit the foremost activity which is writing. I use a simple editor and keep from working on anything but getting content out. There are a variety of tools to help facilitate this. You might want to keep the writing, editing and SEO optimization separated as a production line. Remove tools and features which distract. Otherwise you might find yourself spending time distracted that could be used for volume of content.
- Customize your mobile life. The inspiration to write is important for fresh and enthusiastic content. I carry a MacBook Air with me and if I have time and space, I get to creating content. Sometimes, it is just the start with a draft and I finish later. I have also used mobile portable keyboards with iPad devices and mobile phones to create content on the go. It’s a smaller screen setup, but it is also fun and you can do this anywhere. Another handy setup is to carry Wifi with you wherever you are. I use a Samsung 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot SCH–LC11 and can write whether on the highways, between client meetings or in hotels and coffee shops. Live in the cloud. Be mobile and be ready to turn thoughts into results.
- Feed your immediate gratification. A content strategy is a long-term commitment. I need ongoing motivation and goals. Knowing that your content is indexed with Google and your analytics are real-time should be part of the systems you have set up. Leveraging your content with other social media sites and blog posts should be part of your process. Interaction with your content and seeing feedback from your market helps you hone your writing as well as motivate you to create further content.
These are just a few of the intentional strategies I have implemented to create content quickly and in volume across many projects. On top of it all, I enjoy writing and my audiences provide the validation for continuing the journey of writing. In today’s economy, you are what you publish. If you can create speed and execution around this process, then opportunities continue to open up.
How can you implement some of these strategies?
Thoughtful design is cheap yet usually neglected. It also shows you care. Don’t just give me a chair. Take some extra care to make it interesting, comfortable and attractive. It makes me want it and value it more.
Now, that is just a chair. What about a service? Care can show up in how you design the experience that the customer has. The timing, nuance and touch you create can take something that is expected and bland to an experience that is memorable and valuable. Consider the following strategies for your service to enhance the customer experience:
- Delight With Touchpoints: Communications is a large part of your engagement and responsibility with customers. Bring added value by providing insight, expertise and ideas to issues your customer is seeking to solve. For example, if you provide design services, use timely email to educate on how color affects buyer perception. An attorney might offer ideas on how to protect assets that their clients have not considered yet. Deliver your service, but also bring value through communications that help your customers.
- Create Self-Service Portals. If your customer feels empowered, then they will not only enjoy the relationship with you but be proactive in the relationship. Depending on how your service business is structured, you can create a support system which allows for submission of issues, a forum for cross-collaboration with your customers or social media inputs to keep a continual loose tie with your fans. Designing these with elegance to your website as a hub creates multiple ways for your customers to feel connected around community, problem-solving and overall value.
- Enhance Your Personal Presentation. Create a show wherever you may be whether at your office, at lunch or at conventions. Dress professionally, care for your hygiene and be fit. Practice etiquette at all times and be a leader that serves. Your likability is a large factor in connecting with clients and designing a personal experience for them. Assume everything they see personally is in your design control. Make it a work of art that promotes congruence with your brand and show care for your customer by presenting your best. It’s part of the experience.
Design opportunities are everywhere in your business. It comes down to whether you care enough for the customer to go the extra mile and create delight and excitement for them.
One of my favorite things to do in business and life is work on the steps a customer takes whether in buying or in consulting service. Anticipating what they will do and thinking ahead to design value which they can enjoy and consume brings unexpected delight. I enjoy it and so do my clients. They know I care about them enough to be working and thinking on their behalf.
What are some things you can do to design a better experience?
When bubbles burst, downsizing hits you or innovation trumps old ways, there is opportunity to rise above the perceived adversity. I say, perception, because the larger workings of a market typically reveals what markets demand and want. Your market has a shift and your ability to recognize the opportunities change affords you can help you take advantage of your new reality.
Go for less. You had probably been going down a bloated pathway because of habit, culture or indifference. Take the correction as a way to reinvent and reset. Here are some ways to make less work for you:
- Less real estate. Work gets done anywhere and everywhere now. When you want to get something done, where do you go? I’ll bet the office is not it. That is where you collaborate. However, distractions abound. Furthermore, lease obligations, managing overhead and changing conditions make physical space cumbersome. Consider less in this area.
- Less hardware. The internet is the computer. Storage is online. Consider building a cloud computing infrastructure and focus instead on getting things done.
- Less IT. Why are you in the IT business exactly? You might want to reconsider and remove the failure points, fortress mentality and bloated systems.
- Less meetings. Use collaboration instead. Work is about actions. Structure your culture to move to action and execution rather than feel-good deliberation. Force decision-making into your systems. Function will follow form and leadership in this area.
- Less difficult people. Work with those you like and that energize you. If your hiring policies are poor in this regard, change them. Talent and personality are often a guess. Use trial periods and simplify how you partner with team members or service providers to keep building agile, capable teams that get things done.
- Less people. The industrial age experienced automation of mundane factory jobs. The information age, likewise, has an abundance of systems and tools to automate white collar work. No management, complaining, emotion, or headaches. Just pure execution. Where possible, insert automation and systems.
- Less complaining. There are too many great opportunities and your competitors and naive, energetic young people are figuring it out. Commit to winning and get on board. It brings more value than complaining. Associate with likeminded people.
- Less selling. Most products and services are bought, not sold. How about restructuring your strategy and approach to help your buyers buy and remove the interruptions, annoyances and self-serving tactics that were for a past age.
- Less pretensions. Get real and connect with your market in authentic ways. Shed the corporate veneer and be human. This may mean simplifying your copy, being more accessible or offering transparency. Work it from the inside out. It’s a Google world, so it’s hard to fool anyone with claims about yourself when there’s plenty of claims from others out there.
The world continues to get more efficient. That means obsolescence of old ways that don’t make sense anymore. If you are forced to change, then go less. Better yet, if you are wise enough to assess and take action, then go less with how you are doing business. There’s always a lot less you could be doing.
What are some areas you can push for less?
When you see something broken, do you despair or are you excited? Your ability to envision what ought to be breathes opportunity and vision into an area that would otherwise remain desolate, wanting or incomplete.
While others hesitate to dream about something bigger, the power of the ought can compel you to make change happen.
I deal with problems every day. I find that perspective is critical for those problems getting solved. If I see how things out to be, then forward progress is easy. I get caught up in the art and joy of bringing resolution, value or a win. The ought pulls me and compels me.
You can only go as far as your vision can see. The next time you see something broken, what is the ought you can see?
Much of the strategy consulting I do is focused on building systems. Systems for marketing, selling and servicing a customer are the engines which drive a business to higher levels of success. There is always great opportunity to improve how things get done. Things such as:
- Getting a lead
- Converting a customer
- Fulfilling a promise
- Providing collaboration for a team
- Increasing productivity
- Scaling a business
- Automating processes
It’s like a work of art when the final pieces are put in play. My clients experience repeatability with consistency. They have more peace of mind. They can think bigger. Their systems are working to deliver on their promise to their customers and partners.
If you haven’t gotten a chance, take a read of what building systems looks like in this story of bucket carriers vs. pipe builders. It will help you on your own journey to build something that scales.
What are some systems that work for you?
I enjoy fine suits, Allen Edmonds Park Avenues and designer shirts and ties. It’s how I do business when making deals, creating strategy or managing projects. It is congruent with how I work and who I am as a business executive and professional.
However, anyone can put on a suit. It’s easy to go spend money (if you’re not cheap) and look the part. It’s only part of the equation. There are a lot of other things that are easy as well:
- Buying books you’ll never read
- Selling words instead of knowledge
- Buying a new computer
- Loading your computer with fancy software you use superficially
- Buying high end athletic gear
- Attending networking meetings and calling it sales
- Attending meetings without results
- Throwing money at problems
- Yelling when things don’t go your way
You can do many of these things and believe you are a leader, salesperson, marketing professional, entrepreneur or whatever comfort title makes you feel important. They’re easy and accessible.
Just because you can get the goods now that used to be out of reach doesn’t change what is still valuable. Merchandise, things and accoutrements have become democratized. The world still demands what is behind the veneer. You know, the hard stuff:
- What do you really know?
- Can you solve problems?
- Do you blame or take responsibility?
- Can you get things done?
- Can you articulate?
- Do you care?
- Can you connect with people?
- Can you create clarity?
- Do you have courage?
- Do you take risks?
- Are you hard working?
- Do you have passion?
In a nutshell, it’s leadership. Too bad it doesn’t always come dressed in a suit. No, it’s not something bought. It’s substance, conviction and talent that comes from a price being paid beyond the material. It is what separates those that appear and those that are the real thing.
I look for these kind of people to do business with. It makes business more fun in the spirit of partnership. The easy stuff can be left for those that want to play the mirage game of life. Give me the real stuff.
What’s in your suit?
There’s always a bandwagon crowd. They hear a new buzz word that gets hype and fail to understand the depth of what it means. Somehow, fad words comfort us. “Social Media,” “CRM,” “Marketing Automation,” or whatever else seems to be a new medium draws attention quickly. Conferences are built around these mediums. Marketing managers try and sound smarter by name dropping with their new pet terms.
But, does it work? Are you making more money? Do you have a repeatable and measurable system that produces results?
Who cares if you are on Twitter if you don’t provide real value? What does it matter if you started a blog if you lack knowledge that changes the world?
Be sure to keep focused on the truth. Does the strategy make sense and will it produce results? You will have to buy in at the end of the decision, but the last thing to do is just sell out to some new funny term that the crowd is pushing. Strategy and execution will never go out of style.
Age and maturity are not necessarily correlated. Uncorrected bad behavior can last a lifetime. Unfortunately, there is no reparenting track for the spoiled.
Spoiled people have distorted views of reality. When something doesn’t work or there is failure it may be part of the success process. Perseverance and failures play a large and realistic role in achieving success. It’s when you quit, blame, pout or lash out before success can take shape that reveals the deficits of maturity.
If you dare to try and build something, it will undoubtedly require perseverance. Things don’t work out perfectly. People fail. Systems fail. Life throws curve balls. The last thing we need is a spoiled adult: ungrateful, petty, brittle, fearful, unrealistic, impotent, blaming.
Want more wins in your business and life? Dismiss spoiled behavior. Look for customers that are grateful, persevering and mature. Associate with partners and friends that believe, have vision and persevere. Great things can be accomplished without the anchor weight of spoiled hearts.