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Every day, your team runs into bumps in the road. These roadblocks and speedbumps require your team to hone their problem solving and decision-making skills.

But are you developing a team of problem solvers? Are your team members empowered to make decisions independently?

If your answer is shaky, you may need to work on building your team’s problems solving and decision-making skills. After all, there will come a day when you’re not there to lead the way. If you shudder to think of what your team would do without your guidance, you may also need to work on your own effective delegation skills.

Problems and Choices Are Part of Everyday Life

Whether your team is faced with small day-to-day problems or large problems that require a group effort, training your team on problem solving and decision making is essential. They need to tackle problems head-on. Great leaders provide a framework and ensure the policies and procedures are in place, so team members can troubleshoot by working together.

As a leader, it’s important you possess the vision to identify any major roadblocks in the future. Speedbumps, on the other hand, are smaller issues currently slowing down a process or causing additional work for certain team members. Unbalanced workloads and inefficient processes lead to unhappy stakeholders (including customers, owners, and vendors).

Every workplace needs problem solving and decision-making skills. It’s your job to know there’s an issue, but it’s not always the best use of your time to carry out the problem solving (especially for smaller speedbumps). However, you do set the tone and create the problem solving process. At all times, you should stay aware of your company’s weak spots and problem areas where issues arise. You should also assign who identifies, prioritizes, and tracks these issues.

Problems within a business run the gamut. Identifying issues directly and quickly makes solving them easier and more effective. For example, if you learn your customer satisfaction has decreased, you might ask your team, “What indicators do we see that customer satisfaction has decreased?” (The WHAT and the WHY.) And then ask, “How will we ensure our customers are happier?” (The HOW and the WHEN.) If you listen closely and you’ve encouraged clear communication, your team will feel comfortable identifying and solving problems. Be careful not to address the symptoms, get to the root cause.

Step 1: Identifying Adaptable Players

bring together the team members that have the best problem solving and decision making skills to tackle the problem
via Pixabay

Running a business is all about making sure you put the right people on the bus—the right employees in the right positions. If your team is struggling with the choices they face, take a step back and assess.

Your challenge is to identify those individuals who strengthen your team and add value to your established processes. Employees who think independently in exceptional situations yield the most value, as they help you actualize your goals with minimal nudging from you.

Building a strong team is like solving a puzzle. Though you may feel tempted to seek out cookie-cutter answers, the formation of a team is an improvisational skill, developed over time with experience. Leaders play a key role in the health of the team and the culture of the company. Remember to examine your own behavior if the team faces challenges, as you are the center of the wheel, and your team members are the spokes.

An agile team has the capacity to work together within their roles, but also has the ability to step outside of assigned roles and take on other responsibilities when necessary; for example, in the case of illness, emergency, or growth. When faced with challenges, a strong team addresses the obstacle or demand with fluidity and confidence without cracking or breaking.

A vigorous team has members who:

  • Don’t require hand-holding.
  • Are properly cross-trained.
  • Want to contribute.
  • Are accountable to themselves and other team members.
  • Are capable of completing their tasks.
  • Are resilient in responding to circumstances.

You may want to use personality assessment tools like DiSC. These types of tests allow you to understand how to communicate better with different personality types so no one team member feels constantly steamrolled or frustrated by another team member’s personality or actions.

Build a strong team with effective people who are flexible in deploying their talents and skills. Your team must be diverse in talents and personalities; they shouldn’t be clones of each other or of the leader. Unfortunately, diverse personalities sometimes clash, requiring careful maneuvering. If conflict on your team is an issue, these types of personality assessments are helpful in resolution.

Step 2: Setting Up for Success

PLAN written on a blackboard with communication, teamwork, strategy, goals, planning, development, problems written around it
via Pixabay

No matter how flexible and adept your team at problem solving and decision making, teams still require policies and procedures to ensure success. Let’s face it, provide too much pliancy and even the best teams devolve into chaos.

Policies name and guide the range of responsibilities any individual has in the company. For example, you may set a policy allowing a team member to clear out 80% of the finance charges up to $500. Beyond the set level, they need the guidance of a supervisor. This firm policy provides guidelines and ensures employees have room to work with customers to create solutions.

Often, though, businesses require a supervisor to confirm or approve each task. This disrupts the flow of business and undermines employee judgment and trust. When every project or task requires handholding, you’re looking at a lot of day-to-day operational bottlenecks and significant frustration for the employee.

While establishing these guidelines may feel time-consuming and may even feel like you’re relinquishing control, they’re critical to developing the scope of your business from “what” to “how?” When you establish policies and procedures for your employees, you create room to work on your business rather than running around working in your business. You create the opportunity for your business to mature.

Step 3: Encourage Your Team to Divide and Conquer

The key to any problem solving or decision making is to ensure you’ve correctly identified the real problem. Efficient problem-solving strategies include categorizing the problem. Where does the issue fall: sales, customer service, billing, company policies, somewhere else? Identifying the primary impact helps define who will drive the problem solving, leading your team to a better understanding of the dimensions of the problem.

After getting to the root of the problem, the next natural step is to determine how to solve the problem. Bring the problem to your team, encouraging each individual to look at the problem from multiple angles. It’s important to look at the problem and assess the 360-degree impact. If your problem-solving efforts require you hold a team meeting, don’t forget productive meetings require discipline to produce results.

To perform at a high level, individuals must understand their objectives and how their role fits into the whole to achieve larger company goals. You should also hold each team member accountable for their work. Creating this structure, uniting your team, and setting clear expectations to facilitate understanding all falls upon you, as the leader.

Team members should take ownership of their portion of the process. When you get buy-in from the team, you’ll find greater productivity and higher morale. Responsibility boosts buy-in and reminds your employees that everyone has a stake in the success of the business.

Step 4: Guide the Implementation of the Solution

Once your team has identified the proper problem (the WHAT), WHY it happens, and WHO is involved in creating the solution, then the solution should become obvious
via Pixabay

Once your team has identified the proper problem (the WHAT), WHY it happens, and WHO is involved in creating the solution, then the resolution should become obvious. If your team is still struggling to find the answer, encourage them to go back and breakdown the problem again. Maybe there was more to the problem than initially identified. If the details of the problem are clear, your team will present solutions and create an implementation plan to ensure those problems are solved—and remain solved.

When looking for a solution to a problem, your team must work together to find a solution that covers all bases and makes sense throughout. You’ve built your team for success, so set them up to continue on the same track.

Test the solution by asking:

  • Does my team have the necessary tools to implement the solution?
  • Is the team in agreement that this is the best solution?

If you answered NO to any of these questions, encourage your team to take advice from one another; they’re all knowledgeable and they all care about solving the problem. If everyone on your team sees the solution’s benefits, they’ll feel motivated to work together towards the same goal.

Determine if further adjustments are needed before the final solution by asking:

  • Does the solution rely too heavily on one person or department?
  • Or does it create more work for someone else?

If the answers here are “yes,” consider further adjustments to the solution. After your team has discovered an effective solution for the problem, follow up on and guide the implementation at a high level. If their hard work resulted in a successful solution, provide recognition for a job well done. For less successful solutions, encourage your team to learn from the outcome. (Always circle back through the process to identify the fork in the road that brought them to this particular attempt.) Perform a post-mortem on every project to learn more about how your team works now and how they will work better together into the future.

Rewarding a Team of Great Problem Solvers

Reward your team for a problem successfully solved
via Pixabay

With high expectations comes a responsibility to recognize and reward, as well as provide a break. Give your team members something to look forward to; for example, birthday and holiday celebrations, a surprise picnic lunch day on the company, and other fun activities like team-building exercises. Mix it up a little to add flair to the doldrums of day-to-day work.

Encourage employees to break up the day a bit and to build and strengthen relationships. Productivity requires think time and downtime. Good management will also recognize that life issues sometimes interfere with work. Offer a helping hand and provide flexibility (when and where appropriate) and you’ll create a truly committed team.

A well-balanced team is hired with diversity in mind, provided the tools they need to feel confident and positive about problem solving and decision making, provided with clear expectations and guidelines, and offered opportunities for fun and to celebrate team achievements.

These principles allow your day-to-day business to flourish and progress while you focus on big-picture business development. Wouldn’t you rather not feel like you’re drowning, constantly interfering and solving problems that your team members are perfectly capable of solving? If your day-to-day is leaving your innovation drained, it’s time for a change!

Every problem in the workplace is unique and requires different solutions. It’s been my experience that the best solutions often come from the boots on the ground—those closest to the problem. Lead a team confident in their abilities and equipped to handle the issues presented. Providing leadership in problem solving will empower your team and push your business to greater success.


Featured image and post images licensed for use via Pixabay.

Do your best practices include strong goal setting strategies? If you want to continue the success of your business, get SMART about goal setting.

Have you brushed up on your goal setting strategies lately? I know it may sound like basic business advice, but time and time again, I work with business owners who are struggling with setting and sticking to goals.

If you’re an entrepreneur, you know how critical it is to set goals regularly, but chances are, you either aren’t sure how to prioritize those goals once they’re set or don’t know how to avoid getting overwhelmed (or bogged down) by all that’s on your plate.

Good goal setting strategies begin with self-assessment. Start by asking yourself a few questions (and being honest with your answers):

  • Do I regularly set attainable goals?
  • Do I review my goals to measure my success?
  • Do I set goals to complete projects within my business?

Most business owners will honestly answer NO to at least one of these questions, but most would like to say they could answer YES to all. It happens to all of us; even if you write down a goal list, you may end up putting it away and never looking at it again. Tucked in the desk drawer of every business owner is a long list of goals they may (or may not) complete.

So how do you successfully set better business goals and, by doing so, achieve them?

Don’t Make a Wish, Set a Goal

Often when business owners set a goal, it looks something like this: Grow my Business.

Business woman looking at a business growth goals chart on a tablet
via Pixabay

On paper, this looks like a great goal, right? It’s what every business owner wants to do. Business growth is critical to your success…but what are the steps you’re going to take to reach this goal? How do you plan to define and measure “growth”? Moreover, how will you know you’ve achieved this goal? Well, you won’t.

This goal is what I call a “business wish.” Yes, we all would like to see our businesses grow, but our true focus should be directed toward the action items and strategic plan. Better goal setting strategies mean outlining the steps required to make your wishes happen.

Think of setting your goals like creating a shopping list. When the cupboard is bare, you start jotting down a list: milk, eggs, bread. Now imagine you show up at the grocery store, pull out your list, and all it says is Go Shopping. The thought is laughable, right? You’d wander around the store trying to remember what you need to buy. If you’re like me, you’d forget half of the items you were supposed to buy and then run to the store again, hours later when your kids are asking for a glass of milk.

Setting a goal like “Go Shopping” is precisely the same as a goal like “Grow my Business”—it doesn’t mean anything without an action plan. Setting a generic goal of any sort wastes time and money, hindering your success. You’re running to the store over and over, and still turning up empty-handed.

Get SMART with Your Goals

You probably didn’t get this far in the business world without a grasp on the concept of SMART goals. Even though many of us are familiar with the SMART goal-setting concept, it bears reviewing—especially if you’re realizing your goal setting strategies need improvement.

SMART is such a commonly used goal-setting tactic because it actually works. In case you can’t recall the acronym, it stands for:

S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Attainable
R – Relevant
T – Time-Bound

Setting SMART goals means coming up with new ideas and strategies to achieve them
via Pxhere

Setting strong, achievable goals means following this strategy (literally) to the letter. It’s wise because it works. Every goal you set should contain all five of these crucial characteristics. Miss one? You’ll struggle to be successful.

Playing off our example above, here’s how to turn “Grow my Business” into a SMART goal. Most goals need to be broken down into several SMART goals; each mini goal is a step toward your overall objective to grow your business.

Here’s where the rubber meets the road. I’m not going to lie; this isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Keep in mind the cautions of goal setting—don’t overextend yourself. Keep your goals attainable and specific. Your aim here is to be realistic, so you’re going to want to set goals that are easily broken down into prioritized, actionable items that align your entire team. A true confession here, I have trouble with over-commitment and often think I can do more than time allows. Be cautious.

Target Your Targets

Start at the top with your long-term targets and work your way down (or backward, if you prefer to think of it that way). You should set no more than 5 big, long-term targets, each projecting out about 3 to 5 years. These targets are the HUGE stretch goals (yes, sometimes they feel like your wishlist, but they should still be specific).

Perhaps one of your long-term targets for growing your business is to hit $5 million in sales by 2025. This goal is a great business growth target, but now it’s time to work your way down and break it into small steps.

Take the big target stretch goals and come up with 3-5 SMART goals to take you through this year. So, assuming your sales were $1 million this year, if you want to hit your target, your goal might be to double your sales over the next 12 months, increasing to $2 million by next year. Now, how do you get there? Break it down further.

Setting Clear Annual Priorities

Weekly planning is a positive goal setting strategy for business success
via Pxhere

List out the steps you need to take over the next 12 months to successfully complete your goal. Is your team positioned to meet the goal? Does your sales team use a KPI dashboard to track performance? Can you use tools like gamification to motivate your team? Are the proper systems in place to support your goals? What about cash flow?

Look at the health of your entire business today. Where does it need to be in one year for you to complete your goal successfully?

Perhaps you need to update your web content. Do you need to hire more sales associates? Turn these steps into SMART goals as well:

  • Clean up the customer database with a new CRM system by Q2 of this year.
  • Hire a marketing team member, onboard and train by May.
  • Vet content marketing firms and update the website by October.

Set no more than 5 of your annual priorities/initiatives to drive your team’s success in meeting each of your SMART goals. Those goals are then further broken down into quarterly, monthly, and even weekly targets. What should happen this week to put you on track for your timeline? It’s much easier to adjust your path week-to-week when you hit a bump in the road than to panic mid-December when you’re closing your books for the year.

In “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits,” Verne Harnish says your goal setting strategy is as simple as asking, “What do I need to accomplish today to keep this company moving towards its plans at the speed the market demands?”

A quick note about the “speed” element: each industry has a speed at which it must adapt to the market. Apple adapts at a different speed than a mom and pop restaurant, for example. Keep the speed of your industry in mind as you set your pace.

Enlist Your Team

Once you’ve set up your solid annual SMART goals and sketched out your steps, it’s time to enlist the brainpower of your team. Gather your management team (if you’re a larger corporation) or your team of individuals (if you’re a small business). Get your SME’s (Subject Matter Experts) to give their input. As boots on the ground, they’ll offer a great deal of insight into snags you may not anticipate.

Your team will help you identify additional problem areas and potential solutions to fill out those larger annual goals. Maybe improving your credit and collections processes will help you meet long-term cash objectives. Translated into a SMART goal, this looks like “Reduce average A/R days outstanding to 60 days or less for all active customers by Q3.”

There are endless areas and parameters to define your SMART goals. Practically any data point can be used to help measure outcomes. These may include:

  • Inventory days
  • Revenue per employee
  • Liquidity
  • Margins
  • Profitability
  • Customer retention
  • Lead generation
  • Customer complaints
  • Error rates
  • The list goes on…
Enlist your team to help determine metrics to track the success of your goal setting strategies
via Pxhere

The most important factor is measurability. Your team may offer other ideas of metrics to assess the success of your goal outcomes. That’s why getting them involved is so helpful. They know the impediments, and their perspective is valuable. Involving your team will also help you effectively delegate the tasks and action items as you work toward your goal.

Don’t forget: Any action plan you develop must matter to your customer base and needs to drive competitive differentiation. As you gain knowledge and experience in goal-setting strategies, the process will become easier.

It’s also important you aren’t bogged down with analysis paralysis! Use daily/weekly/monthly metrics and quarterly reviews to track success; adjustments can be made as time goes on. Most of these adjustments will involve tweaking and won’t require taking an entirely new direction. However, never ignore significant unexpected changes in the business, industry, or economy. If this occurs, address the problem(s) and re-direct as quickly as possible.

Another word of caution: if you’re in a tenuous financial position, it’s better to plan quick, very low-risk, very high-value victories. Set your SMART goals to match your current fiscal state.

The SMART goal formula can be used company-wide as a project management tool. How often do we rush headfirst into a project without defining our intended outcome? When you run a business, your day-to-day operations are hectic—but think about the time and money you’ll save if you sit down and hash out the details before you get started.

That’s the bottom line: SMART goals save time and money across your business operations, short-term and long-term. You work hard, so work smart with SMART goals.


Featured image and post images licensed via Pxhere and Pixabay.

Is your schedule packed with team meetings? Boring meetings? Meetings where everyone on your team talks in circles? How on earth do you lead better team meetings?

It turns out too many meetings are harmful to your overall business success and productivity. It may seem counterintuitive, but meetings are one of the most common productivity killers in the workplace.

In fact, according to the career website Muse, middle management spends about 35% of their time in meetings. Upper management spends a whopping 50% of their work time in meetings. 15% of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings and the number grows every year. Worse yet, executives report feeling that more than half of their meeting time is wasted (67%).

Unfortunately, meetings are also necessary in today’s workplace. The planning for many tasks is based on communication. Many business leaders (particularly small business owners and entrepreneurs) realize project planning is often a company-wide event steeped in a collaborative environment. After all, bits of the project plan will be assigned to and/or affect most of the team members in your company or department.

So, how do you boost meeting productivity? How do you know when a meeting is necessary or when solitude is the best answer? Here’s how to lead better meetings (and cut out the timewasting ones).

Is Groupwork Bad for Creativity?

You want each team member to contribute to the creative process, from the overall project planning down to the actionable to-do list. If you want to establish the best initiatives to achieve company goals, you must appreciate each employee’s need for think time. How many times have you heard, “This great idea came to me in the shower”? Plain and simple: people need time to think!

Group work isn't always the best way to produce creative ideas or the answer to better team meetingsGroup interactions may stifle creativity, no matter how energetic you are or how balanced your team may be. It’s important for leaders to know how many meetings, group brainstorming, or collaboration time is too much. (Hint: you need a lot less meeting time than you think.)

Research dating back to the 1950s, along with more recent studies, found that big groups don’t do anything to increase the flow of creativity. In fact, group work may result in negative outcomes including bullying, opinion mimicking, passing the buck, and plain old laziness. People simply act differently from Group A to Group B. It all depends on the company culture, how the group is generated, and who is involved in a particular group. This is called “group dynamics” and it’s a simple fact of life.

In his book, Moving Mountains Every Day: Lessons for Business Leaders, Dan Steininger notes that neuroscientist Gregory Berns found dissension from the group activates a “fear of rejection” reaction at the core of the dissenter’s brain (in the amygdala). Berns refers to this reaction as “the pain of independence.” Steininger goes on to illustrate the benefits of solitude using Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein as benchmarks for individual creativity.

Now, it doesn’t mean you should avoid meetings altogether, but it does mean lowering your expectations for immediate meeting outcomes (and shortening the meetings themselves). Keep meetings moving along steadily and focus on the topic at hand.

Don’t let your meeting time encroach on your employees’ think time, either. Offering employees space and freedom to troubleshoot and problem solve will often result in a better outcome than an endless strategy session or two-hour team meeting going nowhere.

Leading Better Team Meetings: How to Keep the Meeting Productive

Now, there are plenty of times when a meeting is necessary and even important. It’s the onus of the leader to ensure meetings are worthwhile. As with most situations in business (and in life), the secret to success is making a plan. Leading better team meetings is no exception. It’s vital to go into each meeting with a plan and stick to it. Always determine the reason for the meeting—if it isn’t important, don’t hold it. Period.

Remember, the head of the company need not lead in every meeting (or attend) but every meeting should follow the company standards and best practices. Here are the important steps meeting leaders (whether yourself or a team/department leader) should adopt to make each necessary meeting more productive.

1. Set the Standard and Expectation of Preparedness

To have better, more productive team meetings, everyone should come prepared with objectivesWell before your team meeting, provide each attendee with a list of meeting goals (aligned to your company goals). Whenever possible, assign goals to a point person to lead the charge. When given the time to think and formulate ideas individually and beforehand, you’ll find your team members will bring a lot more to the table.

Request each person bring at least three approaches/initiatives that contribute to accomplishing their assigned goal, plus any other ideas for the other goals on the list. Each person must contribute, right brain and left brain, and add depth to the initiatives.

Don’t attempt to save time by combining meetings with different goals or agendas (i.e., combining an organizational meeting and a creative meeting). We’ve all been in meetings where half the agenda didn’t apply to our area of expertise. What happens? We zone out. Keep the meeting singularly focused.

2. Keep Time

Set the ground rules and timeframe for each topic on the agenda and stick to the plan. You may even wish to set a timer or ask someone to keep time.

Always start on time, end on time, and if someone is late, let them catch what they missed on their own after the meeting (and without disruption). This ground rule should be established well before the meeting happens. Don’t stall the meeting to bring people up to speed as they wander in.

On the same note, keep meetings short and sweet. As leadership, you set the tone. If you believe time is money, don’t pull people away from their work needlessly. Remember, the less time spent away from their desks, the more they get accomplished.

3. Keep the Conversation Rolling

Avoid rehashing info during the meeting and stay on task. If people get bogged down in a discussion, don’t hesitate to table it. Assign the appropriate team members to work the issue out later and bring the conclusion back to the next meeting. Set the resolution as an action item.

For big meetings, you may even consider bringing in a facilitator or mediator. A good facilitator creates a productive meeting environment, drawing out ALL ideas and encouraging equal input and participation. As an “outsider,” a professional facilitator is inherently more aware of the pitfalls of group dynamics, so he or she will better regulate the tempo and pace of the meeting to benefit everyone present. Require the meeting facilitator to present you with a summary (aligned with those predetermined expectations) after the meeting is over.

4. Shorten the Invite List

Invite the fewest number of people possible to your meetings. While some “team meetings” are necessary, there’s an even greater impetus to keep full staff meetings short and sweet. Depending on the size of your company, it may be very rare to hold a full staff meeting.

For most team meetings, only those involved need to attend. This means those who are directly related to the input/output. Everyone not directly involved will get all the information they need from the meeting minutes. Research suggests the most efficient number of attendees for a meeting is about five. Whenever possible, aim for an odd number of attendees to limit bickering over majority-rule decisions. Greater numbers will result in lengthier (and nitpicky) discussions over even the most minor issues.

5. Give Everyone a Voice

The best team meetings allow everyone to voice their opinions, ideas, and thoughtsIf you’ve followed steps 1-4, your meeting will already be focused, short, and direct. All attendees are vital to the meeting and thus, will offer important contributions. This means it’s imperative to ensure each person has the floor when needed. Assuming each agenda item is assigned to a point person, it makes sense to yield the floor to the key person during their timeframe.

At the meeting, establish an environment of openness and collaboration. Be sure each team member attending the meeting has a voice and is allowed to speak. Move through initiatives per the agenda rather than brainstorming by yelling over each other. (However, sometimes shouting out ideas at random is really the best way to jump into a project.) Your meeting style depends upon your team and what you need to accomplish.

6. Listen More Than Talk

Entrepreneurs and business owners are often too committed to their own ideas, pushing the team in one direction without even realizing it. While this is great if you want to exist in an echo chamber of your own ideas, it doesn’t work for problem-solving (or generating creative approaches to tasks).

You know your approach (and comfort with yielding the floor). If you tend to talk over others, it may be best to assign an objective meeting facilitator, allowing you (the boss) to duck out of the meeting entirely. Your participation in the meeting comes as an outside influence. Before the meeting, be sure the facilitator and the team have clearly defined expectations as far as meeting structure, participation, and meeting outcomes are concerned (see step 1).

If your team is timid, allow individuals to submit additional ideas anonymously before and/or after the meeting. After all, the more ideas generated, the better. Why not present your team with as many idea-generating opportunities as possible?

7. Take Detailed Minutes

team meetings are more effective and beneficial for the whole team if meeting minutes are takenIf a tree falls in a forest and no one hears, does it make a sound? If a meeting occurs without minutes, did it even matter? Meeting minutes are vital, especially to prevent circular conversations and arguments after the fact. Assign someone to take thorough notes for each meeting. Meeting minutes should include everything discussed and all decisions made. Document problems and resolutions discussed, including those tabled.

Set action items at the end of the minutes. Outline a list of tasks or solutions for each participant to prepare for the next meeting. As appropriate, distribute the minutes to the wider team or company. Someone who didn’t attend the meeting may have a great idea or a solution to a problem. You never know.

8. Ban Chairs

This is the one tip for better team meetings that strikes fear in the heart of every leader who loves to wax on. Why? Because it works. If people have to stand, they are less inclined to filibuster. (Disclaimer: does not apply to Congress.) One way to ensure no one (including management) pontificates during the meeting is to take away their chairs.

Stand-up meetings are popular in tech companies, and with good reason. Researchers at Washington University determined the benefits to standing meetings: Standing up is more physically dynamic and has a similar psychological effect. It leads to more enthusiasm, higher creativity, and facilitates better collaboration on ideas. As they say, a body in motion stays in motion. If you want your team members to leave the meeting ready to go, then a standing meeting is your answer.

9. Timing is Everything

Picking the right time for important meetings is critical. Typically, the least effective days are Monday and Friday, when some people are more invested in planning for or recovering from the weekend, and some are out on a long weekend. Avoid scheduling meetings right after lunch when everyone is half asleep. If you want honest answers on moral or ethical subjects, better stick to the morning. Harvard and the University of Utah researchers found people are significantly shadier in the afternoons. They called it the “morning morality effect.”

What’s expected of the participants is an important consideration when scheduling meetings as well. If you need sharp decision-making skills, the morning is best. Bear in mind, mornings are also the time when your people are most productive. Informational meetings that don’t require sharp analytic thinking can be scheduled in the afternoon when people are at their least busy and least productive. Oddly enough, this is also a better time for creative problem-solving.

10. Appreciate Different Perspectives

Each employee sees your organization from a different vantage point. In her book Fierce Conversations, Susan Scott likens each team member to a different stripe on a beach ball. While everyone is part of the same ball, each person’s reality is different. Seeing as none of us know what we don’t know, it’s important not to underestimate the value in multiple perspectives.

Einstein suggested, “imagination is more important than knowledge.” And while you may feel your organization isn’t bursting with Einsteins—don’t sell your team short. You simply need to give each individual the opportunity to explore his or her own imagination and ideas. To give your people the opportunity to bring the BEST initiatives, always expect the best. Your team will generally perform to your level of expectation, assuming those expectations are clear. Remind each individual that everyone brings a unique perspective to the company.

The best team meetings always have several commonalities: they’re focused, interesting, and of interest to everyone in the room. They move along quickly because each attendee has vital insight to contribute and the facilitator keeps the conversation moving. When a great meeting is over, everyone walks out with more knowledge than they came in with, new tasks to accomplish, and ideas to consider.

While team meetings aren’t the solution to every problem, they are a necessary piece of a productive team. Lead your way to better team meetings and you’ll see increased productivity throughout your office.


Featured image and post images licensed via Pxhere.

Would you like to accomplish more in your company? Here’s how to improve productivity and maximize your output.

Accomplishing more in your company often seems like a tall (but necessary) order. While most of us have some room to improve productivity, it’s a tough balance. Chances are you’re already burning the candle at both ends. Demanding more from your workforce can become demotivating and result in the opposite of the desired effect.

So what’s a CEO to do? How can you improve productivity and maximize your output without burning yourself, or your employees out?

We’d All Like More Hours in the Day

Most entrepreneurs already have much more on their plate than they can reasonably handle. Yet, they’re still seeking ways to accomplish more as they run their business. Competition is fierce and when investors, your workforce, and others rely on you, it means pushing yourself into overdrive.

Like many professionals, you may assume the prospect of accomplishing EVEN more means:

  • – More hours
  • – More work
  • – Less energy
  • – Less family
  • – Less fun

But the prospect of pushing yourself beyond your limits can have negative results including a higher likelihood of burnout. Even though you started your business with joy in your heart, the constant push may cause it to wane. You began the company because you wanted to be able to do the things that you really love to do, now you are responsible for all of it. As your responsibilities snowballed, you recognize significant priorities and so much more to do than you ever expected. The reality of not being able to do it all sunk in. Not to mention, as you assess your team, the realization hits that you have to get the wrong people off the bus.

We all need more time in the day to get our long to-do lists accomplished
via Burst

Yet, even with all these issues and challenges, you are pushing forward to grow your business. You just wish there were more hours in the day or you could prioritize better. How can a CEO increase productivity when you don’t know what to tackle first?

I’ve been there. When you’re facing so many competing priorities, it’s tough to know how to get it all accomplished. I’ve struggled with priorities just like you. Truth be told, I still struggle (it’s human nature). When I was running my business, I often chose the easiest task to tick off the list or attacked the one I was most confident would be successful. While this seems like a good plan at first, in the long run, it’s not the best idea. Accomplishing the “easy job” leaves us spinning our wheels (and overwhelmed by the boulders we still have yet to push up the hill).

Looking at the horizon, you see so many tasks you need to accomplish, so you seek out efficiency and effectiveness in various ways; from improving time management strategies to implementing more effective delegation to attempting a Covey-type “Big Rocks” approach to addressing your priorities. Nevertheless, there are still tasks on the horizon. How do you improve productivity and how do you make decisions on your plan of approach?

Divide Your To-Do List into Four Quadrants

As a good leader, you should have already listened to input from your team on what they see as priorities—AND added those important items to your list. Now you’re faced with even more priorities. How do you accomplish it all?

But really, what is a priority in the first place? Similar to sales theories, which state there are really only three possible objections to any sales pitch, depending on the stage of your business, priorities fall into 4 buckets. These four areas need to be considered holistically for all stakeholders.

Four Areas of Priorities to Improve Productivity:

The decision-making matrix that Stephen Covey espoused was also based on the Eisenhower Matrix
via Wikimedia Commons
    • Quadrant 1: Projects and issues that are both important and urgent. Address these issues immediately—think of situations like a cash flow crisis
    • Quadrant 2: Projects that are important, but not urgent. The focus here should be on achieving long-term goals. These tasks would include items like rebranding or selecting and implementing a new system. Often less important but more urgent goals (Quadrant 3) supersede business goals in this quadrant.
    • Quadrant 3: Projects that are urgent and not important. This area could include timely “favors” for peers, marketing, or networking opportunities. Pinpointing the items that fall into this quadrant is challenging because urgent often feels important (and if it’s unimportant, it organically falls by the wayside). Targeting this area calls for some ruthless weeding of your priorities to eliminate projects that are urgent but truly unimportant to your long-term success. As the Old English proverbs states, “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”
    • Quadrant 4: Unimportant and not urgent tasks that add little or no value to the long-term success of your business. This category would include time wasters (that can mask as productive) like networking by socializing on Facebook or checking your fantasy football standings. Eliminate these time wasters from your to-do list. Often cutting these from your day is simple, but requires self-control. If you’re like me, Quadrant 4 is where I spend my time “practicing avoidance techniques.” This, of course, means I’m not addressing something I should be doing in Quadrant 1 or 2.

It’s not to say you should only spend your time on Quadrant 1 and 2 at all times. There are days when you need a brain break, or when doing a favor for a peer can ultimately lead to positive results, or when team building and socializing doesn’t help the work environment.

However, if you’re wondering how a CEO can increase productivity, the simple answer is prioritizing (especially if you’re overwhelmed by your current to-do list). We can’t do it all. If you want to know where your time goes, look at your task manager on your phone, or monitor the time you spend responding back and forth on email, social media, and on Slack. Something’s got to give on your schedule, so you can find more time to spend on the activities that bring your joy (in real life).

Assessing the Scope of Your Important Priorities

Prioritize your to do list based on magnitude and breadth
via Burst

Once you’ve focused on the priorities and tasks that fall into Quadrant 1 & 2, it’s time to decide on a plan of attack. This essentially means, prioritizing your priorities.

Review the list. To assess the scope, we need to add another characteristic: size. The size of the task has two main variables:

Breadth – How wide is the impact within the Company? Does this priority only affect one department (such as implementing a change in a procedure) or does the entire organization need to participate in this initiative (such as selecting and implementing an ERP system)?

Magnitude – How much is the resource commitment needed for the project? Can a couple of people manage it over a short period of time or does it need months of work by many people?

No matter the size of the priority, the plan of attack starts with:

    • – Clearly defining the problem that needs solving or the objective you are seeking. The problem may be anything from eliminating machine downtime to improving cash management, to higher people utilization. Be as specific as possible when you articulate and define the issue.
    • – Determining if you have the right team members, time, and capability to solve the defined issue, or if you will need to pull in outside resources.
    • – Assisting in breaking the analysis and solution into clearly defined steps. What are the milestones within the set timeline to get the project done or accomplish the objective?

Addressing Problems with a Team Approach

For priorities with a wide breadth and of significant magnitude, you will often need outside help. An objective source can help you to identify and vet possible solutions and then implement the selected approach. If you have a strong team and resources available (such as time and materials), you may be able to manage to address the issue internally.  Frequently, CEOs use outside consulting firms to aid in the identification and implementation of large, high priority projects, such as an ERP implementation. Calling in expert guidance will help you save, time, money, and the hassle of going the wrong direction. Remember, you don’t know what you don’t know; sometimes it’s wise to rely on a party with experience.

The narrower breadth and smaller magnitude projects may cascade throughout the organization. It’s important that the team feels involved in the prioritization process. Everyone should keep in mind that their highest priority may not make it to the company’s highest priorities list. Still, allowing team members to identify and complete projects to address their own highest priorities engages the team and encourages broader contributions. Ultimately, this personal buy-in will increase productivity and engagement throughout the organization.

When I ran my company, I gave team members the authority to identify and solve issues that were important to them. For example, getting an outside vendor to write documentation to make tax reporting easier may not bubble up as a corporate priority. But having this documentation was important to the team member who would otherwise spend extra time generating the report. The amount of money requested to cover the documentation easily fit within the budget and was well worth the increase in both productivity and morale.

Properly prioritizing and delegating results in overall success from your team
via Burst

Properly prioritizing, setting clear objectives, and creating the plan for the projects assures positive outcomes from the solutions whether internal or external. Allowing team members to develop personal priorities along with participating in company solutions engages team members in improvements as well as keeps good ideas percolating to the top.

Remember, as CEO, the buck may stop with you, but it’s not your sole responsibility to increase the productivity of the entire company. By clearly defining priorities and creating a plan of attack with team buy-in, you will see positive engagement and support. Ultimately, you set the tone, but burning yourself out won’t make your company more successful in the long run.

Instead, rely on effective delegation and improved prioritization of your tasks. With strong time management, you’ll find time to run your business and still enjoy the journey.


Featured image and post images licensed for use via Burst.

Wondering how to position your company for business growth? Here’s what you need to know to set your company up for success.

One of the hardest jobs an entrepreneur faces is how to prepare your company for business growth.

Entrepreneurs typically start their business and grow it with a hands-on approach. While this approach works well in the start-up phase, it typically backfires as your company starts to grow. No matter why you want to grow your business, whether you’re handing over the business to the next generation or selling it in the future, building a strong culture, cultivating a disciplined strategic approach, and accruing a solid leadership team is critical to future business growth.

As the company owner, you typically start out handholding every new person who joins the team to ensure they understand what you expect and how to align with your vision for the business. As your business grows, that same level of handholding looks and feels more and more like micromanaging. Instead of motivating your team to get the job done, it discourages business growth and innovative thinking.

To move from entrepreneurial strategy to startup, you must have a solid business strategy that brings your whole team together
via Pxhere

To move from the entrepreneurial startup phase to positioning for business growth, the entrepreneur needs to step back from the day-to-day operations and focus their efforts on shoring up the inner workings of the business – which, of course, is easier said than done. As the CEO works on setting up the foundation and positioning for business growth, they must implement specific actions to assure the company can successfully run independently, without his or her involvement or “watchful eye.”

As Jim Collins, author of Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, suggests, the very first step is deciding the seats on the bus. Then the entrepreneur must find the right people to fill them. Typically, in the start-up phase of the business, and as it continues as an entrepreneurial company, any person on the bus will fit any seat as long as they can do at least a portion of the work for the pay available.

In the next phase of business growth, however, roles need to be tightened more specifically. To position for business growth, not only do you need to define the right seats or positions and the right people to fit them, but you also need to get the wrong people off the bus. This presents an extremely hard set of choices for most entrepreneurs. It’s these early phases of long-term decision making that CEOs often face the first stumbling blocks to business growth.

If you don’t think you can get past this critical step of tightening up the roles and positions in your entrepreneurial business, then it may be time to rethink your plans for business growth.

4 Areas of Infrastructure to Focus on for Business Growth

As stated in The E-Myth, and many other business management tomes since, it’s critical for the CEO to step back and work on the operations and inner workings of the business. Instead, founders often fall into the areas that are comfortable to them. They focus their efforts on their specific area of expertise and neglect the other facets of the business.

Now, of course, the worry is that the business may fail due to a bad product or lack of sales, so those are typically the areas where CEOs get sidelined. I also want to address the less obvious aspects of running a company that constrains business growth or worse, result in failure. The biggest area that is often overlooked is shoring up the infrastructure to position the company for business growth.

Even getting the right people in the right seats will not guarantee the future success of your business if there is no infrastructure to support the employees within their role.

Infrastructure consists of all the elements of the business that comprise the organization, separate from the individuals within the company. Your business’s infrastructure provides continuity in the company with little disruption as you focus on ensuring the right people are in the right seats. As roles change, strong infrastructure helps to keep the right people doing the right job with a good attitude.

Focus on the Company Culture

Company culture is a large part of business growth and success, so don't let establishing your company culture fall by the wayside
via Pxhere

The starting point of a company positioned for business growth is well-defined company culture. Company culture goes beyond the casual definition of your company’s personality. Well-defined culture means a company with a living and breathing, identifiable personality that defines the company’s values and interaction with its stakeholders. Culture is pervasive internally from the first instance of hiring to onboarding and within day-to-day operations.

Your company culture shouldn’t be an afterthought. It’s deliberate and aligned with the greater vision for the future of the business. Within the culture, behavior is well-defined and clear. Team members should have a means of reporting digressions. In the company I ran, we used the term “paperwork” to allow a non-threatening signal of crossing behavioral lines.

Disciplined Organization

Often, the business owner believes instilling discipline requires extra work and effort (especially when he or she is already stretched thin). In reality, discipline makes every process within the business easier. Instilling discipline in the organization should start from day one (but let’s be real – it doesn’t always happen that way).

Setting up a successfully disciplined organization requires:

  • A formal onboarding process that is aligned with and integrates into the culture, defines the role, expectations, and performance requirements.
  • – Each team member to have a well-defined role with clear responsibilities, a defined reporting structure, and performance metrics. Metrics should be set as the basis of the performance evaluation, not the person being evaluated or the evaluator. Evaluation should be simply, “this is the defined job and you did or didn’t do it.”
  • – Team members to take responsibility for their actions and be held accountable under clearly defined performance measures. Leadership must address nonperformance immediately.
  • – Clear communications exist for all personality styles. Often, tools such as DiSC, Myers-Briggs or others help as guidelines in designing good communications methods. If there is industry specific terminology (jargon), be sure new team members know what the shorthand means. For example, in my company, OSI meant On-site Inventory, not Open Systems Interconnection as it might be in another industry. If you’ve ever listened to someone from the military speak, you know what I mean.

An organization with lax discipline is more work to oversee than one that functions with discipline. Implementing discipline requires consistency and effort in the beginning, but once the discipline is established, most leaders wonder why they didn’t do it sooner.

If you don’t feel you have the energy, time, or will-power to do it, enlist the help of the righthand person you will be hiring as you establish a leadership structure. Even if you delegate the implementation of the disciplinary plan, you will need to follow through on commitments, too. Remember: your team does what you do, not what you say.

Establishing a Strong Leadership Structure

Establishing strong leadership will help with business growth and sets expectations and performance standards
via Pxhere

As I watch small businesses owners struggle with positioning their companies for growth, they put in more hours and more energy. Of course, they can’t do every task by themselves, but not for lack of trying. A huge step for the entrepreneur is creating a leadership structure and instilling the discipline plan to hold everyone accountable.

Strong leaders should set performance expectations with:

  • Defined performance metrics, which can be anything from a sales goal to timeliness of financial reporting
  • Defined team leadership goals ranging from number and timing of performance evaluations to goals for team member development
  • Clear budget and spending objectives that are business-driven
  • Defined reporting requirements for the areas of their responsibility such as collection standards, quality standards, through-put or down-time standards, staff utilization, etc.
  • Responsible delegation (not abdication) from the owner and to team members

Well-defined performance standards allow the leadership team to take responsibility for oversight of all day-to-day operations. As the CEO, you can focus in the areas of running the business that bring you the most satisfaction (and generate business growth) or you can confidently hand over the reins to the next generation when you’re ready.

Operational Efficiency & Effectiveness

Supporting business growth requires that the organization function without you. Creating the infrastructure for operational efficiency allows team members to focus on their jobs and servicing your customers – no matter which role they play (team leader, help desk or dispatch, CNC operator or the CEO). People underlay all the functions of the organization, so providing a workable framework that encourages their best performance supports growth and promotes organizational continuity.

Accomplishing a growth-ready infrastructure is no small task; some of the elements bear repeating, and you can start here:

  • Clearly define the role of each team member, making sure their authority is consistent with their responsibility.
  • Document all policies and procedures, allowing team members to function autonomously in their roles. Written policies define the scope of action/authority (an internal control) and procedures detail the “how” of doing the job.
  • Enter data in a manner that’s timely, accurate, and consistently as close to the point of origin as possible.
  • Ensure that effective delegation exists and is strong within the company.
  • Cross-train team members for all functions of the business. In my company, we used cross-training as a way to test the completeness and accuracy of the procedures, as well as to prepare for vacations or other team member absences.
  • Implement internal controls to mitigate the possibility of thievery and shrink. This means segregating duties, limiting physical access, defining levels of authority, reconciling with outside sources (banks, vendors, customers), requiring vacations and moving team members between jobs.

When issues arise, team members should be trained to seek root causes, thus accomplishing multiple objectives:

  1. Elimination of future issues – In my company, we experienced increased part failures which were causing a rise in maintenance costs. By identifying that our supplier had changed vendors for the part to protect their margins, we worked with them to eliminate the issue.
  2. Establish consequences at the cause – My department (in the olden days of financials issued on green bar and no real time journal posting) was responsible for getting financials to four division presidents. My team typically worked into the wee hours fixing mistakes created in the divisions. To resolve some of the time issues, we established a policy of fixing mistakes at the source. Within minutes of issuance of the new policy, all four presidents called me outraged. However, after explaining our change, they recognized that the responsibility fell at the division level. Errors were corrected at the division going forward, streamlining the process.
  3. Change behavior – seeking root causes isn’t a way to lay blame, but rather to treat team members as adults. If they don’t know they made the mistake, they can’t be expected to change behavior.
  4. Eliminate or plan around bottlenecks – Frequently in manufacturing, a specific machine will process at a slower rate than others or have a longer processing time. To compensate for the bottleneck, that machine may be run 24/7 vs. others that only run 2 shifts
  5. Use Exception reporting – Exception reporting will help identify anomalies in processing or deviations from performance expectations. These exception reports might even be considered the original AI as it defines a standard and creates a warning when the activity is outside the established boundaries. For example, if a machine is expected to run 20,000 units per hour +/- 10%, there is only a report after it goes outside the boundaries. Another form of exception reporting would be a red light showing when a machine is down.
  6. Implement means to report issues to leadership – There are means in place to identify and percolate issues (opportunities, issues, roadblocks, storms on the horizon) up to the chain of command to leadership.
  7. Processes exist to support and encourage change.

For the entrepreneur, these steps to positioning for business growth may seem like too much to swallow. Remember, as General Creighton Abrams stated, “You have to eat an elephant bite by bite.”

For me, as I watch businesses struggle, discipline (including getting rid of those who should not be on the bus in the future) is the place to start. Without discipline and holding people accountable, growth will elude you. As you implement these changes and tactics into your business, you’ll find more time to focus on the bigger picture and position your business for growth.


Featured image and post images licensed via Pxhere.

 

Wondering why idea generation is so hard? There are creative ideation techniques you can implement to help boost your brainstorming.

We’ve all hit a creative slump before. Whether you call it writers’ block, a brain freeze, or a roadblock, when it happens, you’re stuck fast.

But in the business world, idea generation is vital to continue growing and innovating within your company. Problem-solving is also the only way to cope when day-to-day challenges crop up. When you reach a stuck point it’s time to employ your most creative ideation techniques.

What is creative ideation in the first place? What is moodling? How will teamwork help you overcome your slump (and as CEO, what if you can’t rely on teamwork to solve the bigger problems)? And what are other creative ideation techniques to help you come up with fresh new ideas?

To answer these questions, we have to start by understanding creativity.

Why is Creativity Often So Hard?

Creativity is often hard, even when creative ideation techniques like group brainstorms are used
By Mathew Henry

If you’ve struggled to come up with new approaches to a business problem, chances are you’ve asked yourself the question more than once: why is it so hard to be creative?

The noted economist John Maynard Keynes stated, “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.” We often use creative ideation techniques to start the process of escaping from our old ideas because frankly, innovative thinking is hard.

In the 1920’s Jean Piaget, a well-known psychologist theorized on how we use schemas to sort and categorize our world, easing the burden of absorbing the stimuli around us. We quickly draw conclusions within our schema (in other words, how we see the world working).

Schemas help us in many ways. We can quickly walk into a situation and draw fast conclusions about the environment. Our brains tap into our prior experience to assess the situation and decode what’s going on, they lead us to recognize aspects of the scenario we’ve encountered before. They also cause us to overlook or ignore aspects that fall outside of our recognition.

Whether you call it a schema or your operating paradigm, it’s a viewpoint that comes at a cost. These fast conclusions and judgments are hard to change. They lead us to stereotypes. Because we rely on our viewpoints so readily, we often miss information and new opportunities as we fight to hold our world within a comfortable schema. Hence, this myopic view results in the difficulty we experience when it comes to generating innovative ideas. We can’t think outside the box if we’re only aware of what’s inside.

Can we adjust our schema? Of course, but it takes work and deliberate conscientious effort because our schemas are often very deeply ingrained in our thinking. Through learning, exploring, and seeking new experience, we will eventually adjust our schemas. This is often why collaborating and other creative ideation techniques are so valuable when we’re troubleshooting a problem. Working with others helps us broaden our viewpoint.

Team Participation for New Ideas

Encourage your team to engage in creative ideation techniques
By Mathew Henry

If you want to generate new ideas and spur creative thinking, involving multiple collaborators and team members is often a good approach. If your office culture fosters an atmosphere of sharing and working together, this may already be part of your process. If not, you may find you need to open the floor to new ideas.

The classic ideation process is usually approached as a group activity. Active participation is encouraged by operating under the rule of no criticism. Every idea is considered “good” until the evaluation or selection phase.

To shake people loose from their schema, the creative ideation techniques include engaging different senses such as:

  • – Verbal/auditory (brainstorming)
  • – Physical participation (role play, kinesthetics)
  • – Visual (storyboarding, mind mapping)
  • – Writing (brainwriting, free writing)
  • – …Or actively challenging the status quo with pure brain games.

These brain games challenge participants to think differently by making new associations, questioning assumptions, or using data points to generate a new perspective.

Group ideation techniques are effective in a wide range of organizations. Nearly any industry can implement creative ideation techniques to enhance problem-solving and encourage innovation. The group ideation techniques result in many benefits such as:

  • – Active and free-flowing stimulation and association.
  • – Encouraging individuals to build on the ideas of others.
  • – Camaraderie and team building.
  • – Participation of multiple disciplines to broaden perspectives.
  • – A high volume of generated ideas to draw from in the next phase.

Of course, like any business practice, there are drawbacks to group creative ideation techniques. It’s important to be aware of these challenges as a leader, and it’s particularly important to keep these pitfalls in mind as you form groups and plan your approach:

  • – Leaders and more extroverted participants directly or indirectly (and oftentimes unintentionally) influence the flow of ideas.
  • – Groupthink might happen despite or because of the group ideation technique.
  • – The strength of the facilitator might influence the process and the outcome.
  • – The stimuli in the technique does not suit all individuals. (For example, I find it hard to stimulate my ideas with a mind mapping technique.)

Consider offering the opportunity for team members to participate using a self-selected technique individually as well as in the group. In some situations, depending on group dynamics, this customized participation may bring additional ideas to light.

Although there are hundreds of variations of creative ideation techniques, I found “18 Killer Idea Generation Techniques” to be a helpful resource. The post features an overview and explanation of each of the creative ideation techniques.

Generating Creative Ideation at the CEO Level

Oftentimes, it isn’t wise for the CEO to participate in the group ideation, as his or her participation influences outcomes. Additionally, many of the problems you need to solve as the company leader don’t fit the “public” forum of ideation. Those problems are often more challenging to resolve and require time and dedication. As the head of the company, the question becomes when do you even have TIME to think about creative problem-solving?

As CEO, you’re not only in charge of the day-to-day operations of the business. You’re constantly working on the business, as well as in the business. You’re addressing any number of mandates that you, your stakeholders, and the business book of the month espouses. Often expounding on this, busyness is viewed as a badge of honor. Whether this drive is rooted in a Protestant work ethic or has sprouted more recently, we often compete on the state of busyness.

Busyness is rampant in leadership and I personally admit I operated in that mode during much of my career. I would jealously read an article by Richard Branson or see a picture of him enjoying sailing and think that’s NOT my life. I was always busy and didn’t have time to …. (you fill in the blank). It took me quite a while to internalize the concept that busy doesn’t necessarily mean productive or effective. In fact, this constant state of frenzy probably meant I had other failings in delegation, managing my time, and over-committing. Constant busyness limits our time for creative ideation techniques or innovative approaches to problem-solving.

It’s far more beneficial if we approach our business not with an action plan but with moodling. Now admittedly, when I first came across the term, I thought it was a misspelling of “noodling” — but both words capture “go to” methodologies for creative ideation and problem-solving at the executive level. Escaping your old ideas and generating new methodologies are easier if you apply both moodling AND noodling.

What is Moodling and How Does It Boost Creativity?

Moodling is a unique and effective ideation technique that works well in executive settings
By Sarah Pflug

The term moodling was coined in 1938 by author Brenda Ueland to encourage the use of idleness to spark creativity, particularly in writing, but we can apply it to business as well. In fact, moodling is an excellent creative ideation technique, particularly when employed at the executive level.

Moodling involves idly engaging in a pleasurable activity such as sitting on the porch or taking a hike and letting your mind wander. It is typically a solitary creative activity, so you’re unlikely to find a moodling group on MeetUp. Moodling requires you to put aside distractions, be in the moment, unfocused and open for daydreaming. Moodling has no mission or clear cut objective and may not produce any flashes of brilliance.

David Robinson in his article “The Art of Moodling” states, “Moodling (is) constructive idleness. This quiet looking and thinking opens the imagination; we encourage ideas to come to us by being available and receptive. What a wonderful realization! Not only is moodling enjoyable in itself, but it gives us a return in increased creativity—better ideas, whether we translate them into writing, … inventions, or business decisions.”

For some of us, the concept of moodling may prove more challenging and come less naturally. It may, in fact even take deliberate work for us to put down our phone, turn off the podcast, set aside the stack of reading and paperwork, and mute our inbox. Moodling is the counterfoil to the state of busyness many of us embrace so readily.

Sitting idly and allowing myself to daydream hasn’t been in my skillset since childhood… Ah, the memories of messing up my Grandpa’s hayfield, the smell of the hay and the warm sunshine… oh, where was I?

With meaning and value in idleness, maybe now I can stop being jealous of Richard Branson and start following his example as an excellent moodler.

What is Noodling and How Does it Differ from Moodling?

Noodling, on the other hand, is more in my think-style. Chances are, you’re familiar with the term or have heard someone say they’re “noodling something over.”

The term noodling is derived from the slang use of noodle to describe a head or brain. The creative ideation technique of noodling is slightly different from its counterpart, moodling. Noodling is a more active ideation and problem solving technique. It’s a more focused and deliberate approach.

Noodling may mean pondering your problem in an idle or speculative manner or examining the issue from a different perspective. In moodling, you let your mind wander aimlessly and you may or may not stumble on something amazing. In noodling, you loosely focus on a specific idea, concept, or conundrum. I often noodle by putting the problem into my subconscious letting it percolate under the surface, sleeping on it, or giving it a tickle over a couple of days until an answer presents itself.

As you noodle on a problem, keep in mind framing the problem is a significant part of solving it. For example, if you frame a sales growth problem as needing to add another product, you may miss an opportunity for a joint venture offering expansion in another market.

Other Creative Ideation Techniques for Executives

Creative ideation techniques are effective and efficient ways to generate creativity in the workplace
By Mathew Henry

If you have an issue you’re trying to resolve at the executive level, it may not be appropriate fodder for your team brainstorming session. This is often why the job of CEO or President is so isolating and challenging.

Look to your network for assistance when you need to think outside the box. After moodling or noodling on a problem, it’s time to bounce it off a colleague, advisor, or coach. There’s a tendency for CEOs to feel that since the “buck stops here,” you can’t ask for help or discuss challenges with others comfortably. But the insights and perspective from someone outside the situation can prove invaluable. Look for executive roundtables, entrepreneurial affinity groups, or business leadership networks where you tap into outside resources and creative feedback.

It may also be helpful to draw on your previous experience. Look at the way you’ve creatively approached problems in the past. Could any of the methodologies work on your current issue? The problem and solution may differ, but the best approach could be similar.

Ideation and problem solving simply means coming up with ideas and throwing them at the wall to see what sticks. Think of the wildest solution and as many different approaches as possible to start. Amass a collection of ideas and then, in the next phase of problem solving, you will narrow it down and decide what’s a plausible, practical, and even innovative answer to your issue.


Featured image and all post images licensed via Burst.

Wondering how to unplug from work? Entrepreneurs, business owners and CEOs often have the toughest time getting a break. What’s keeping you from unplugging?

As the CEO, your job is to lead with vision and build a business that is both scalable and sustainable. If you did your job well, you hired the right people, set the priorities, and gave your team the resources they need to manage the day-to-day operations.

So, why is it so tough to unplug from work? Why do you feel your business can’t survive without you while you take a vacation? Are you afraid to see what your team will do without you there to lead them? If that is the case, you have bigger problems than taking a vacation!

Why We Can’t Unplug from Work

Today’s office culture glorifies busyness. We venerate the person who epitomizes the 60-hour-a-week “Protestant work ethic.” Yet many of us spend countless dollars on the work smarter/not harder program of the month. Add to this the proven addictive nature of technology and it’s no wonder we can’t unplug from work. The truth is, many of us are burning ourselves out and it’s time to STOP!

In the movie Top Gun, Stinger tells Maverick, “your ego is writing checks that your body can’t cash.” Is this not a perfect quote for the CEO who can’t unplug from work and runs themselves into the ground? How often have you gone on vacation (finally) and just as you are starting to relax, you get sick?

Taking time to fully unplug from work and take a vacation makes for a happier and healthier team and CEO
image via Pixabay

Your body and mind NEED recovery time. In his book Mentally Tough, James Loehr speaks repeatedly of the need for recovery after the expenditure of energy (whether mental or physical). Using a checkbook analogy, he refers to the use of energy (writing the checks) and the need to replenish (making deposits) and just like your checkbook, if you don’t make the deposits, you will go bankrupt. Whether high performing athletes or entrepreneurs, the rest and recovery cycle is critical to performance.

I proved this concept to myself when I was in public accounting and working 60 to 90 hours a week during the busy season, bankrupting my reserves. Without fail, when tax season ended every May, I would be out of commission for over a week recovering. Let’s be clear, even if you have a passion for what you are doing – as I did – it’s still energy expenditure and still requires recovery. Make vacation part of that recovery time by turning off stress systems and allowing for recuperation and repair.

Our culture dismisses the importance of vacation as shown by these Nielson Consumer Research Statistics:

  • 52% of people didn’t take all their paid vacation in the last year, leaving an average of 7.2 days unused.
  • 23% of people didn’t take a vacation in the past 12 months.

And yet:

  • 74% believe vacation to be important to their life.
  • 78% who take a vacation (at least 1 per year) are happier and more satisfied.
  • 71% were more satisfied at work when they regularly took a vacation.
  • And 86% of those who took a vacation once a year had stronger family bonds.

The Benefits of Taking a Vacation from Work

While entrepreneurship is a 24/7 job, remember that even the President of the United States takes vacations. Research and anecdotal evidence show that we are at our best when we are well-rested.

When was the last time you had a great idea while in the midst of the busyness of your day? Isn’t an “a-ha moment” more likely to pop into your head when you relax during a nature hike or a warm shower? Vacations allow you to clear your head of the minutia and make room for more creative and strategic thinking. Unplugging from work also helps you rejuvenate and improves your effectiveness when you return to the office. In addition, by stepping away from the helm, you empower your team. The company will get stronger with different thinking, new ideas and an occasional change in decision making.

Take a vacation and trust that your team is smoothly running the show back at the office
image via Pixabay

There are many additional benefits in the workplace that embraces regular vacations, including:

  • A happier team – Vacations reduce tension and stress, promulgating a better mood and higher life satisfaction. The results include a calmer, more energized and happier team.
  • A healthier team – De-stressing gives our bodies time to recuperate. A vacation promotes rest and helps people feel healthier.
  • A more productive team – Research shows that vacations support lowered job stress burnout and absenteeism. Breaks promote the feeling that less effort is required to perform the job.

Keep in mind, the benefits only come when you truly unplug from work. The same payoffs don’t emerge from “working vacations.” In fact, work that masquerades as a vacation may even result in higher negativity and greater levels of disengagement at work.

How CEOs Can Plan for a Successful Vacation

As the saying goes, “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” While a vacation doesn’t necessarily mean an exotic locale, there’s a lot to be said for getting far enough away to avoid the internet (or keeping yourself engaged enough to ignore it).

A certain amount of planning goes into a restful vacation. The first step is deciding who you are as a vacationer and what type of vacation really recharges your batteries. Are you a tour Europe kind of person or a go fishing and enjoy the outdoors type?

Once you’ve settled on your preferred type, then get out the map and start to plan the ideal place to go. Since anticipation improves the benefits of vacation, make sure the time is on your calendar and is held sacrosanct.

Of course, the rest of the logistics of your trip are up to you. If you prefer, employ a vacation specialist like I do to make the experience truly stress-free. My idea of a vacation, when not enjoying the wilderness, is “tell me where and when to show up, give me an informed tour guide, and I will relax.” Or, if you so desire, take the vacation planning responsibility on yourself. The rule is whatever you do—make it as un-stressful as possible.

How to Prepare the Office for Your Absence

Meet with your team before your vacation to make sure everyone is on the same page
image via Pixabay

Of course, you’ll relax a little easier knowing that your team has the tools they need to carry on in your absence. Here are a few steps you can take to ensure your bases are covered before you hand over the office keys and head for the airport.

    • Give Yourself More Time: Start by extending the vacation on your calendar by at least one day at home and one day at work, if possible. Keep your vacation response turned on in your email. This will give you breathing room to unpack and manage your home duties before heading back to the office. The extra day at the office will give you a chance to reboot and shift into work mode before being inundated with what you missed. After a recent weeklong trip to Phoenix, I took a day to reset mentally for the cold weather and to get a handle on emails and other follow-up from my time out of town.
    • Designate a Surrogate: Update whomever you choose as your surrogate with information on the status of projects and any questions or issues that you anticipate. Assign someone to review your mail and dispatch it to an appropriate team member. When you return, be sure to appreciate and not criticize the role they took or decisions they made while you were out.
    • Delegate: Delegation is the key to freeing up your time. Clear up and/or delegate as many urgent items off your to do list as you can. Often, the time leading up to a vacation can be very productive. Get it done, hand it off, and leave your desk clear.
    • Leave Clear Instructions: Set expectations for action in your email away message and voicemail; a brief statement of limited access until your return date and who and how to contact if the issue is urgent will suffice. In today’s world, there is no need for anyone to know too many details. I would also suggest that the out of office email only directs to those in your contact list.
    • Give a Reminder: Follow-up with team members, clients, and others at one week and then three days prior to your absence to remind them you will be out of the office and unreachable. Offer an opportunity to resolve any urgent issues before your departure.
    • Don’t Make Yourself Available: If you can, only let family or close friends know your whereabouts. Avoid taking your phone (or at least answering it) on every expedition within your trip. Very few things are so urgent that they can’t be dealt with later. Remind yourself that you aren’t as indispensable as you think. Besides, most true emergencies can’t be handled from hundreds of miles away, anyway. Let go and trust your team.

“It’s important for those in leadership positions to model good vacation-taking behavior. If you never take one, or you’re always working when you do, your team will feel that’s what is expected of them too, regardless of what you say or your company policies. If your company talks the talk regarding vacation, leaders need to walk the walk,” says Tanya Murphy of Cruise Planners.

As a CEO, learning how to unplug from work will help you feel refreshed and recharged. Better yet, you’ll set the bar and lead with example. By modeling good vacation behavior, you’re showing your team that you’re sincere about the importance of vacations. Your team knows that you trust them enough to leave work in their hands. You can rest assured that your systems are working and you’ll return from your vacation a better leader who is well-rested, happy, and healthy.


Featured image via Pixabay. All images licensed for use via Pixabay licensing.

 

The Best Advice for Entrepreneurs

December 4, 2018 | CEO Buddy | No Comments

Looking for the best advice for entrepreneurs who want to succeed? There’s a lot of “noise” telling you what to do. Here’s how to build your business foundation and apply best practices.

Entrepreneurs, we’ve all heard it, haven’t we? When you talk about a stressful situation at work and someone says, “Gee I really wish I could run my own business,” or “I wish I was my own boss.”

Entrepreneurs know it’s not always fun and games. In fact, little does your pal know the 24/7 work and dedication it takes to make your business succeed. If you’re like me, you probably think, “Be careful what you wish for, buddy.”

As an entrepreneur, there’s no simple formula for success, no clear-cut path, or secret. The best advice for entrepreneurs is to learn how to tune out the noise and focus on the day-to-day progress that moves your business forward.

Does the Best Advice for Entrepreneurs Come from Books?

The best advice from entrepreneurs comes from many places; books, mistakes, and more
Image via Burst

Like many self-made business owners, you’ve probably read all the books you can find on leadership and running a business. They make it seem easy, don’t they? “Here are the 7 (or 10, or 13) steps to success,” or “get the right people on the bus in the right seats, going the right direction.” “Simplify your systems, hold people accountable and your business will thrive!” Right?

There’s a lot of books out there that claim to have the best advice for entrepreneurs—the secret formula to success. Many of these books have helpful advice and good takeaways, but it’s often nebulous or incongruent with your reality. How do these great books relate to the day-to-day of the small business? You may browse the business section at the library and wonder, have any of these authors really run a small business? How would Jack Welch or any of the others really know what it’s really like to be a bootstrap entrepreneur? 

The reality is, being an entrepreneur (especially a female entrepreneur) is tough! It requires you to think on your feet, adapt, and roll with the punches. Entrepreneurship isn’t for the faint of heart.

In my small business, I oversaw a staff of 10. This, of course, meant when one person was out, 10% of my workforce was absent. Because each person had multiple roles, as is common in a small business, one absence meant that several “departments” were missing as well. I found myself often wondering, when does a large corporation like GE have that problem? (Answer—never!)

While business experts like Jack Welch, Napoleon Hill. and Stephen Covey espouse the best advice for entrepreneurs and great management concepts, they’re often hard to sync up with the real-world challenges faced by small business owners. After all, it’s hard to imagine implementing everyone’s appropriately colored parachute, when your biggest customer now sources from overseas, one of your machines started a fire, and your controller just quit. At that point, ANY parachute will do (or perhaps a life raft). Okay, so maybe you won’t face all those challenges at once, but even one event can make you wonder how the concepts in these books apply.

As my dad would often say, “When you are up to your behind in alligators, it’s hard to remember that the original mission was to drain the swamp.”

Small Businesses Run Lean but Some Advice Still Applies

Setting smart, attainable goals is some of the best advice for new entrepreneurs
Image via Burst

Looking around your business, you may see you have an almost non-existent management team. You may fit the mold of the “E-myth;” you started a company because you were good at a certain task. Now you have to wear so many other hats and be good at so many other tasks to keep the business afloat… Or, do you? All the books, articles, and TED talks with the best advice for entrepreneurs say don’t try to shoulder it all alone. But that advice is easier said than done, especially when you ARE your business. So, why read the books and seek principles to do better? Is it even possible to do better?

Personally, I think it is. There are important principles that can still be gleaned from these books, even if it doesn’t seem perfectly congruent to your business model. I‘ve read more success books than I can count. Everything from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to the 13 principles in Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, to my current reading of John Maxwell’s The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth.

Reading and understanding the concepts within those books may not help find a new right-hand person or file and insurance claim, but the concepts withstand the test of time. They really do contain the tried and true best advice for entrepreneurs, business owners, and leaders. In fact, I’ve found that many of these books repackage the same concepts, because they’re so mandatory for success. Napoleon Hill started writing about best practices 100 years ago and many of his principles are used in more modern works. The essential truths don’t change.

Running a small business is HARD. But there are many lessons along the way. Think of the advice you’d give your teenager: learn from your mistakes. You can do the same and learn from others who have gleaned their own experiential wisdom.

Having read too many books to count, (spoiler alert), the majority contain universal truths. Across the board, they all encourage you to:

  • Identify your core values and those of your business. Are you honest, loyal, trustworthy? What do you want to represent? What do you want your company to represent?
  • Define your role and purpose in the market. Do you want to be business that’s the fastest, cheapest, or highest quality? Do you want to serve your customer base better than any competitor does?  
  • Set aside time to identify and plan for:
    • Your long-term vision (3 to 5 years). Do you want to be the market leader or low cost producer? Do you want to change your level of customer dependence, so that no single customer comprises more than 10% of your sales? Do you want to reduce your company’s supplier dependence? Is there anyone that you think would add value to your team that you want to start a dialogue with? Where is your industry going and are you prepared to lead or follow?
    • And, short-term goals (<1 year). How much does your business want/need to sell? Will your staffing support the level of sales and do you have the cash flow to pay the staff, and cover operations, inventory, etc.? What are your contingency plans, should an emergency arise? What are your areas of risk? 
  • Use a defined process to set targets and goals, define specific actions toward their achievement, and hold people accountable within the process.
  • Select a form of project management that fits your team.
  • Recognize that any business plan you develop needs to add competitive differentiation.
  • Motivate and encourage your team. Team members must be aligned to achieve the goals.
  • Realize that your leadership defines the success or failure of your business.

Often, authors offer an abundance of advice on what you should or shouldn’t be doing, and not as much advice on the logistics of “how” to get achieve it. There are two books I’ve found that incorporate the “how” very well and offer some of the best advice for entrepreneurs. The current go to book is Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business by Gino Wickman, explaining the EOS© system. While many reviews talk about the usefulness of this book in the context of start-ups, I believe this a great tool for any small business. Another older resource is Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish. Harnish does a good job of explaining how to simplify processes and accomplish each business objective based on the practices and teachings of John D. Rockefeller.

How Do You Apply the Advice to Your Own Business?

Fortunately, there are many excellent books out there and we can all find value from various resources that apply to our business.

While the two I mentioned above have some great core advice and offer a “how-to” approach, the real secret is to pick and apply what works best for your business specifically. The basic principles outlined in most best-selling business books hold up over time. A key element in transitioning from the entrepreneur with too many hats to a competent leader is applying the skills preached in the books.

Many entrepreneurs have a plan for this business in their head, but it's getting it into a comprehensive attainable plan that's a struggle
Image via Burst

Many business owners believe they have a plan for success, but when it’s in their head, it’s hard to develop a competent management team with a cohesive mission and strategy to take the plan to fruition. If you want to achieve your plan for success, simply choose a method that’s clear, uncomplicated, and inspires you to lead your team to complete action items, taking you closer to your goals. And, as Nike says, “just do it”.

It is your responsibility to work ON your business, work with your team to establish clear, achievable (SMART) goals, set timeframes, and hold team members accountable.

So, if you’re ready to go, start now. TODAY, get your calendar out and schedule time for yourself (1- 2 days) offsite to really think about your business. This will help you get your vision sketched out and in order. Once you’re clear on your vision, share it with your team. Enlist their help on the process and path to success.

Work out the logistics of “how” by scheduling an offsite strategic planning session where you:

  • Set (in the initial) goal and then review your company’s 3-5 year goals.
  • Decide 1-3 annual company objectives (1-3 is a guideline for small organizations).
  • Establish 5-7 steps to achieve the objectives.
  • Determine the cross-functional teams.
  • Set timelines and a process for reporting.

As you work ON your business, apply the advice and best practices you’ve discovered to identify and address roadblocks as well. Does your company culture allow for all team members to speak honestly and openly about their concerns? Don’t forget that part of the strategic planning process includes identifying areas of concern so that over time you can mitigate risks and bolster strengths. Long-term planning lets you anticipate future hiring needs. When you work with vision, you can look ahead and set strategic actions, like networking and “getting to know” a targeted hire.

Again, like books with the best advice for entrepreneurs, the concepts often sound simple:

  • Priorities defined to allow focus, progress, and management.
  • Data available to manage the Company (firsthand and immediate).
  • Rhythm to maintain alignment and drive accountability.
  • Systems and structures in place to handle complexity.

The challenge is often not finding great advice or the best business practices, but in reining yourself in.

If you are like most entrepreneurs, you will bite off more than you can chew. I would like to encourage you to be conservative (ok, maybe a bit of a stretch) in this first round of strategic planning. This ensures you can achieve your goals and celebrate the success along the way. As you apply the advice, slowly and deliberately, you will see positive change. You’ll be leading and managing not by the seat of your pants, but with intention and inspiration.

Finding success as an entrepreneur means being open to learning more every day. It’s not about finding and applying the very best methodology, goals, and team. Simply pick something and get started. Keep your plan and objectives on the top of your mind. Schedule regular reporting as part of the process to ensure follow-through. Your life will get easier and you’ll find a better balance as you set expectations and manage the business against a set of goals and with accountable team members.

The best advice for entrepreneurs is to keep learning. Whether it’s from the words of wisdom written by business leaders or from your own mistakes. Growth-mindedness will keep you moving forward on the path to success.


Featured image via Burst. All images licensed via Burst licensing.

The Art & Science of Selecting a New System

November 20, 2018 | CEO Buddy | No Comments

Considering selecting a new system for your business? Whether it’s a new accounting system, CRM or ERP, here’s how to ensure your upgrade is a move in the right direction.

In the business world, we’re all about systems. Software and programs help us manage all aspects of our office life. But, of course, as time marches on, systems become outdated. If you’re considering an upgrade or update, there’s an art and a science to selecting a new system.

No matter which business system you are trying to replace, your process should always start with exploration. Before you consider selecting a new system, there are some basic questions you need to answer. I may sound like a broken Simon Sinek record, but nearly every business decision you make from acquisition negotiations to systems selection should start with why. Before starting the search for a system, analyze all the reasons why you are seeking to upgrade, replace, or add a new system for your company.

Often, the process of selecting a new system starts with researching on the internet to “find the best investment,” rather than an evaluation of what you are trying to accomplish with the new system. Research-first, ask why later is not a good strategy. You’re setting your company up for extra work, if not a failure.

Without identifying your needs and then evaluating how the new system will potentially meet those needs, you’re susceptible to the sales pitch and biases of the individuals involved in the selection process. Selecting a new system requires self-awareness and analysis—know what’s working and what areas of the business need attention. Be aware that a new system will not solve organizational dysfunction. It can, however, be used as a catalyst for change and improved efficiency you desire. This is why you must start with the big questions before selecting a new system.

Why are you going to invest in the new system?

Selecting a new system for your business operations is a big choice that take a lot of consideration
Image via Pxhere

The question of why is the most important one to ask at the beginning of any new business process. The most common reason for the selection of a new system is to improve the efficiency and the effectiveness of the business in some aspect. That’s a very broad umbrella and unless you define what that looks like in much more detail, the system selection or implementation goals will fall short.

Selecting a new system need not be a big project because, as you know, entrepreneurs tend to be action driven. In an entrepreneurial business, slowing down the action for some deeper thinking makes the entire process easier.

What are the considerations and outcomes expected in changing systems?

Depending on the size of your business, the amount of your day-to-day participation in the actual system change will vary. Depending on your delegation skills and preferences, you may be very involved or fairly hands-off. As CEO, you need to make sure your team has answers to their questions, especially the questions of why and what when selecting a new system and during the implementation process.

Before You Start Researching a New System

Before you start “Googling,” it’s important that you define the need. Are you looking for an accounting system, an HR system, a timekeeping system, or a fully integrated ERP system? Know what solutions you’re seeking and which systems you need to improve before you start your search. If your identified needs change during the process (you started looking for an accounting system, but see the benefits of the ERP), go through the full exercise of exploring why the change once again. You started with an initial rationale and now it’s different — why? Should you still go forward with the change?

Once you’ve explored the why, there are other questions you should explore as you assess your need for a new system:

    • What are our current processes and workflows? How will the new system revise the workflow, and do we have an evaluation and documentation process in place? Do we know the internal costs of our current processes? If not, how can we measure and assess any improvements?
    • Is there discipline and order in the existing processes? Does the right information get in the right place in a timely manner? If not, how will the new system improve discipline? Or, more importantly, how will we need to change our management and expectations to encourage this discipline and ensure success?
    • Are we only trying to eliminate manual processes or are we trying to improve the processes as well? If we “computerize” manual processes, have we missed out on an opportunity for improvement? Should we be following the current processes, altering them for efficiency or even eliminating them all together?
    • How will the selection and implementation impact existing business operations and how will we accommodate the disruption? Can we afford to pay our staff overtime during the new system implementation? What incentives might we consider for staff who puts in extra effort on the system?
    • How will the new system change impact our customers? Will they receive information faster? Will it be more secure? Will there be a lower likelihood of errors? Will our customers even notice the change?
    • If the new system is creating efficiencies, whether in processing or IT, how will we position those efficiencies within the current staff? Will they lose their jobs due to automation, or will they simply move to a different role and take on new tasks? What motivation will current staff have to help with the new system implementation if they could potentially lose their job?

Getting Ready for Selecting a New System

After exploring some of the challenging background questions about your company and the need for the new system, it’s time to start the process of selecting a new system. Once again, taking a deep dive on self and company-assessment on the front end will prevent many issues from cropping up down the road.

Here are some important areas to explore as you get ready for selecting a new system:

    • Have we defined what we need from the new system? What are the needs/wants/nice-to-haves that we will need to evaluate the new system against? Are there software comparisons and assessments online that we can use as an assessment starting point?
    • Do we have the right people defining the system needs of the company, to create a comprehensive view of the new system’s impact? Each department carries biases whether financial, manufacturing, marketing, HR, or another area, and these biases can affect their perception of the need for the new system.
    • As we’re selecting a new system, what is the budget range to meet our objectives? Should we determine a hard budget before beginning our search and selecting our new system, or should we seek information first to decide on a relevant budget range? What do we need to consider if we can’t find a new system within our target budget range? How will we determine Plan B?
    • Do we have the right on-staff talent internally to create a decision matrix and facilitate the review process for selecting a new system? Do we need to look externally for an objective resource?
    • If our company is buying a large system, can we request and schedule an onsite demo? In my experience, most demos now take place online. Not unlike those onsite in the past, every system manufacturer claims that “the system can do it all,” so buyers beware. Demand a demo when possible, especially for a large investment in a new system.

Smoothing the System Selection Process

Once you’ve decided on your internal factors like budget, staff, and workflow, it’s time to start selecting a new system. This process includes shopping around and narrowing down your choices.

Here are the steps for selecting a new system (especially) if you have several options to choose from:

    • Which systems are our industry peers and competitors using? Compare the systems not only of your direct peers but of businesses that are the size you aspire to grow into.
    • Do we need to select a new system that’s industry-specific? Do we need to integrate features for manufacturing operations or timekeeping? Will extra features and integration capacity add value to our new system or just complexity?
    • Are we seeking a fully integrated system or integration of multiple “best in class” options? What is the downline cost of each alternative – more conformance to the system, more manual reporting, or systems integration costs? Do the various best-in-class system options integrate and how complex is the process? If we decide on the best-in-class option when selecting a new system, do we have an IT team that can support the 24×7 nature of the new systems? Is our organization moving toward cloud-based systems or SaaS models? Do you prefer to host information as sensitive as finance and HR data? Do you have the system security protocol in place to protect customer data?
    • What are the reporting tools available in each of the new system options, and how do we expect to use the tools?
    • Can we quickly narrow down the new system selections to 2 or 3 choices and only delve deeply into the finalists?
    • Can we contact current users of the new software options and preferably visit them onsite to see how they actually use it? If not, why not?
    • Is the new system we’re considering the right size (cost and complexity) for our current company? Is it scalable to our growth, and will it support where we plan to be in the next 5 years? Can we use the new system in either its most simple or complex form? Are we buying a more robust system than we need or would ever use?
    • How will we evaluate the total cost involved in selecting a new system and the implementation process? Do we have benchmarks? (For example, multiply the system cost by 2 to estimate the additional cost of consulting.) Be sure to include hardware and software costs. Don’t forget the depreciation expense of the new system in your costing models. Areas that are often missed in the cost assessment are the testing regions needed before implementation of the new system and all the development to integrate the new platform. Whatever you estimate for hours, assume 2x. After selecting a new system, your business will likely change during the changeover and implementation process. Incremental changes will need to be accommodated that were not anticipated at the beginning.
    • What are the ongoing costs of the new system? Are there monthly per-seat costs, annual upgrades, etc., and what options do those costs include? In my experience, if you are comparing two or more systems on cost alone, you should consider a 3 to 5-year horizon. For example, if you have a first-year maintenance plan included on one and not the other, or if you need hardware upgrades or additional reporting tools to accommodate one of the systems, be sure to include those costs when selecting a new system.

Planning for the Implementation of the New System

Once you’ve decided on the best new system for your business, the next step is planning for the implementation. There are several assessment questions to explore that will help you create a smooth implementation.

Here are the questions to ask:

    • How will we switch to the new system–running a concurrent system for a timeframe or a cold cutover? Who will decide and what will the decision be based on? If it is a concurrent switch, there is an additional workload to consider? What kinds of testing and preparation are needed for the system change?
    • Do we need to convert customer and company data from the current system to the new system? Data conversion can be costly and time-consuming. It’s rare that data will convert seamlessly from one system to another.
    • Does your data need to be replicated to a database for reporting? Don’t forget to estimate staff time and efforts required for reporting.
    • Who will decide the staff training plan required on the new system and develop the documentation? How and when will process changes be incorporated into the system documentation and training?
    • What should our customers and vendors know about our change? Will the system change be transparent? Will customer or vendor interaction change? If there are differences, how will customers and clients learn how to use the system? Do we need to plan on training? What is the communication plan?
    • Which processes are we willing to change and adapt based on the best practices built into the selected system? Do we need to adjust a “we’ve always done it that way” mentality?
    • Can we move the data into the new system at the time it is created? Can we eliminate extra touches on the data entry process by authorizing appropriate access to the new system for any individual involved with the process?

Selecting a new system is truly an art and a science. System feature implementation varies by the personality and culture of your company. Some companies prefer to seek out ALL possible features available in the new system and attempt to implement the features into the company processes. Other companies may find the skeleton to be enough for their business at first.

Selecting a new system is a science, so make sure you're addressing every component
Image via Pxhere

Since most systems are designed around the common denominators, it will not meet all the needs/wants/nice-to-haves of everyone in the company. Remember there will be trade-offs when selecting a new system. Reporting and integrations with other software systems are often critical to the performance you want to achieve.

It’s important for leadership to be cognizant of the fact that new systems create change and change creates uncertainty. Uncertainty fuels the rumor mill. To counteract concerns and allay fears, as soon as possible, start the communication cycle on the new system. Start setting expectations and giving notice to those who might be involved in selecting a new system and in the implementation process. Explain the why and the what. Continue with regular status updates, both formal and informal.

As with any other new process, setting expectations is key. New systems do not solve business problems. A new system implemented with poor discipline and incorrect data simply means you get bad information faster. Cash flow problems don’t go away with a new system either. However, new systems, when implemented with due diligence on the front end will improve effectiveness and efficiency in the organization. Use the system change to your advantage; a new system is often the catalyst for changes you want to achieve.


Featured image via Pxhere. All images licensed for use via Pxhere licensing.

How to Create a Post-Acquisition Game Plan

November 6, 2018 | CEO Buddy | No Comments

Your business made an acquisition…now what? Navigating through post-acquisition territory can be a challenge. Here’s how to plan for this critical time.

Your company made an acquisition. Now what?
Now comes the easy part – NOT!!  Successful post-acquisition integration is more of an art than a science, but a solid implementation plan is critical.

Large companies typically have experienced integration teams that are trained to handle post-acquisition planning and still a significant number of acquisitions fail to perform as expected. Even with the right planning, running your company post-acquisition is a challenge.

How disruptive will the acquisition be to your day-to-day operations? The interruption often depends on the type of acquisition. If the acquisition is stand-alone, there may be little impact on the day-to-day function of your existing operations, whereas integration of a product line or acquisitions for economies of scale may be quite disruptive.

No matter what, as the CEO, you have a significant role to play.

Understanding the Impact Post-Acquisition

Any acquisition is culturally, economically, politically, and to some extent, personally disruptive to every team member of both companies. No matter how solid your team culture, expect some waves. An acquisition also creates uncertainty that often drives employees to exhibit self-preservation behavior.

 

Post-acquisition is the best time to sit down with your team and get on the same page for moving foward
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To counteract fear of change, it’s incumbent on leadership to communicate with the team. Clearly define the why and what of the acquisition plan. Work to create a shared vision and an environment of trust in the negotiation process. These actions will set up the basics for transparency and form a base of communication. Post-acquisition, this need for transparency still stands. Remember, once the acquisition is complete – communicate, communicate, communicate!

 

Timeliness of the communication during and post-acquisition is also critical. Immediately after the close, share the company vision with the entire team; explain the expected benefits for all members of the combined organization. Ensure consistent messaging throughout the entire organization.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming people will believe you. I was told that I would survive a merger at one point and, as you might imagine, I took a “we’ll see” attitude and covered my bases anyway. It’s instinctive for employees to protect their own interests.

Communication needs to be consistent, frequent, and ongoing. Err on the side of under-promising and over-delivering. To the extent possible, make any drastic changes within the first 30 days. Whether those changes include replacing management, eliminating duplicate positions, or selling off a product line, get the change over with! If there is unexpected bad news, be transparent explaining potential impact and your planned response.

If the acquisition is a stand-alone, you bought it (at least partially) for the management team; stay out of micromanaging operations and team communication. This does not mean abdicate. You should focus your role of bringing together the resources to gain the expected benefits such as purchasing power improvements or consolidated finance and accounting functions.

If the acquisition is fully integrated, the planning and process pre and post-acquisition are much more complex, broadly affecting the entire organization. Provide resources and tools to enable your team to implement the integration plan, optimize performance, and measure the benefits.

The Role of CEO Post-Acquisition

As the CEO, the team looks to you during a time of transition
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Chances are the acquisition was your brilliant idea, so now what?  In your role as CEO, you will guide the overall success of the acquisition. According to McKinsey, handle the integration well and you can expect 6 to 12% higher returns than those who don’t. Sounds hard, right? That’s why careful strategic planning is critical to your success.

Create DAY 1

As you negotiated the contract, certain performance will be required DAY 1. Creating DAY 1 means making sure that everyone hears the same message. DAY 1 is THE opportunity for a first impression.

  • Celebrate!!!! Whether individual events at multiple locations, a company sponsored lunch, a small gift or remembrance, or a giant teleconference, let everyone know DAY 1 is an important and exciting day. Acknowledge uncertainty, share pertinent details and set expectations. Explain the why and the what. Outline how the acquisition answers those questions.
  • Identify and introduce the integration team. Set the 3 top goals on the agenda for the transition.
  • Communicate directly with customers, vendors, and other stakeholders (using the stakeholder blog), prior to public announcements.
  • Issue the press release and let the world know of your new adventure. Use your social media platforms and website to share the message.
  • Perform formal onboarding for new team members.
  • If possible, meet individually with new team members and provide them with an overview of the vision, mission and their role in the combined company. Remember people often fear change. Explore their concerns and be prepared to address them as soon as possible. Be prepared for skepticism.

Pick Your Top 3 Post-Acquisition Goals

With your new management team, select the top 3 priorities for the post-acquisition integration. These should reflect the why that the acquisition answered. Once selected, engage SMEs (subject matter experts) in the areas of integration to build the timeline. This may mean directing Purchasing to renegotiate purchase contracts with your vendors, consolidating buying power, or conversion to a new ERP system.

Getting everyone to share the same vision and move in the same direction should occur within a 90-day window. The longer the timeframe it takes to implement, the more resistance the company may face internally. Don’t miss the opportunity to revamp and optimize systems. Limited resources mean selecting the best strategy to get the most done in the shortest time.

Pick the Right Team

Picking the right team for your post-acquisition goals is a key step in making an acquisition a success
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In my small company, my controller and I were the acquisition team. If possible, select people from both organizations as team leaders and make sure they understand the vision. Getting unbiased input is important, but you don’t need skeptics in leadership roles who are undermining the process.

Encourage the adoption of best practices from both organizations as the post-acquisition project plan is developed. As with any project plan, there should be SMEs involved from any area or subject affected by the acquisition. A detailed implementation plan is critical to successful integration. While a significant amount of the post-acquisition implementation can be boilerplate, it needs to reflect the negotiated items from the contract.

Lead!

Your team looks to you, the CEO, as the rudder of the ship. The team wants to know the captain has the situation under control. Set expectations, measure results, keep the end in mind as the company navigates through the integration. Celebrate milestones and share progress reports (good and bad). Communicate.

Engage heavily with the new management team members to develop their trust. Engage new team members with existing team members both formally and informally to foster relationships and collaboration. Encourage broad communication of the messages up and down the organization. Participate.

Throughout the post-acquisition integration, encourage discourse on best practices, issues, changing roles, expectations, and concerns. Listen.

An acquisition could be a smart move for your company, provided it’s approached with deliberate planning and an understanding of the struggles that will arise. As the CEO, once you’ve started considering an acquisition, your work as a leader has just begun. Clear, consistent communication and planning are key. With the right approach, your company can emerge stronger and even better post-acquisition.


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