Where’s your sense of urgency?

It is human nature to start in a new position with enthusiasm, lofty goals, new ideas, and a heightened awareness of those around us and their ideas for the business.

After time in our job positions

And it is an unfortunate truism that most of us become a bit stale in our jobs after some time, even if we are most successful at it and appreciated by all who work for or with us.

The signs of complacency

It is equally human for anyone to become complacent to some degree after an initial flurry of effort, ideas, reorganizations, brilliant decisions, and early successes.  But complacency is relative.  There is no direct measure to determine when you as manager, even CEO, have run out of new ideas and that sense of heightened awareness.

The good side of this

Usually complacency in your work environment is masked by having a better grip on the real drivers of the business, being able to quickly see when things are not going right or people not performing to their peak.

Think back in time

[Email readers, continue here…]   But think back to those first days on the job.  You were ready and willing to effect change, to listen to anyone, to take in ideas, and share yours with your peers.  You spent extra hours more often in creative efforts, encouraged discourse, and delved into new ideas and projects with enthusiasm.

You exhibited a sense of urgency that charged your direct reports, made you want to come to work every day refreshed, and demonstrated to all that something special was happening in their world.

Now how about “your today?”

Can you honestly state that your sense of urgency remains today at the same level as when you first started at this position?  Few of us could, and that is the reason why investors often feel that turnover in executive ranks is not so bad after all.  The average life of a CEO in that position is shorter today than ever before, partly because investors expect continual acceleration, and partly because a person seems to have only so much new material to offer.

If each of us could maintain that same sense of urgency that drove us to succeed early on, our peers, direct reports, investors, and stakeholders would all notice and respond accordingly.

How to regain that sense of urgency

Challenging your peers and reports to come up with new ideas, solutions, projects, and improvement in processes – all are signs that you are still in control of your sense of urgency.  It is hard for those around you to slack off with such a whirlwind adjacent.

The story of an “urgent CEO”

I have previously told the story of the successful CEO who drove to work each Monday morning asking himself, “What if this were my first day on the job as CEO?  What would I do?”  He kept his company and his peers always thinking ahead, if nothing else to prevent his surprising them with ideas and solutions to problems that should have been uncovered and acted upon earlier.

Reinvent yourself as if tomorrow will be your first day

It is not an easy task – reinventing yourself to be that person you were on the first day, but with the knowledge and experience you’ve since gained.  But it is an important part of being a great manager and retaining the focus upon excellence that certainly drove you to succeed in the first place.

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Posted in Finding your ideal niche, Protecting the business | 1 Comment

Why document your company’s tribal knowledge?

The processes you and your subordinates follow

It is not common for the CEO of a rapidly growing company to think of slowing down the furious pace enough to have each manager (including the CEO) document the job process managed, as well as see to the documentation for each process managed below.

Examples of documentation by key employees

And it is even more of a challenge to consider documenting the tribal knowledge of a company’s key employees.  Examples include forcing the entire sales and customer support team to use a single database such as Salesforce or Sugar or Act to document the interactions with prospects and customers or using “REM” statements liberally inside software code to notify future coders of critical information contained and reasons for making code branches, assigning variables with unusual names or more.

We leaders are not invincible

Have you made a list of your critical chain of advisors, including bankers, accountants, industry advisors, and more?  Do you have a “secret spot” for critical information someone might need if you were incapacitated or worse?  Especially when we are young, we feel invincible, and documenting tribal knowledge seems a chore with no reward.

The inevitable “walk out the door” of one may be too late for all

Then inevitably a key employee gives notice and we begin to worry over what knowledge we will watch walk out that door, wonder how we will recover in the short term and grow out of the problem in the long term.  We worry that asking our subordinates to document their processes will look like the first step in removing them from their job. And we worry over lost productivity during this effort.

Start at the top

[Email readers, continue here…]   But if we make this a part of the culture of the corporation starting at the top and from an early point in the life of the organization, this process becomes an accepted way in which managers learn and leave behind, able to move up the chain with minor disruption both in the job left behind and the job assumed.  It makes for a smoother process for seeking outside hires by providing a model for the job specification to be written.

Other important gains from doing this

And it allows everyone to better appreciate the organization, understanding the limits of each position and the duties performed, avoiding conflicts between managers when in the future changes are made in the organization and in personnel during periods of growth or even downsizing.

Tribal knowledge is an asset of the corporation, to be protected as much as cash in the bank.

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Posted in General | 3 Comments

Special edition: Building semi pro audio video studio

Like to make professional videos for a small cost? Postings to on-line sites? Dave takes you through the process, shows the results, and gives you the costs.

There’s lots more information you will find as you experiment and may need when selecting and learning  the tools Dave lists.  But you’ll be well on your way to making great videos that will set you apart from all the many podcasters and influencers using just their smartphone camera.

Watch this video.  Take notes if applicable to you.  Remember to add a suitable length mic cable if selecting a low impedance (not USB) microphone.  Most mics will come with a small desk stand. Consider a $15 desktop boom stand as shown in the video. In any case, you’ll use your desktop computer and a supplied USB cable for both audio and video into the computer.

Why list the more expensive microphone, the EDGE go? You will hear some of the special reasons for this option. In the video I forgot to mention that this mic can alter its patters to include cardiod for podcast or influencer speakers and single singers, bi-directional for two-person interviews or dual singers, and Omni directional for multiple speakers or singers, and which can include audience or room sounds if needed…

Have fun pasting in scenes or video clips to put you in an environment that illustrates your blog or posting to YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or other media outlets.  Save the cost of professional vidiographers.

And let me know if this occasional deviation from the norm to teach about tools and procedures works for you.

-Dave

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Posted in General | Leave a comment

Does your company culture encourage employee curiosity?

It’s more common than you think

Some of the world’s best companies to work for are those that encourage employees to spend time following their own paths of curiosity toward development of new products or services.  Google, 3M, Facebook, and Microsoft all allow their employees to take time to explore new ideas they conceive and attempt to develop.

The result can be surprisingly impactful

Famously, the post-it note is an example of such a product coming from employees of 3M where looking for quite another market for their newest light adhesive product.  And many free products and services have been spawned by Google employees working during their one-day-a-week personal curiosity time.

As usual, culture comes from the top

It is an opportunity that is open to any CEO to encourage creative thinking, problem solving, product creation, efficiency-creation among the troops.  Rewards don’t have to be financial, but certainly, when the gains are measured in dollars, that seems appropriate when the new development is not just a part of the job specification for a creative employee with a great idea.

Revealing employee hidden talents

Every company has hidden talent, creative thinkers that are not in a position to demonstrate their talents.  CEO’s often focus employees on the company’s goals, without allowing time to explore the edges to create alternative solutions, or to think ahead toward new possibilities.

A challenge aimed at you

[Email readers, continue here…]   What if you encouraged  each of your associates to spend ten percent of their time working alone or with others on cost-saving or efficiency improvements, sketching new ideas for products or changes to products that they may not be directly involved in creating?  What if that refreshing opportunity were to make each person return to the assigned job with a fresh new look and appreciation for the creative time spent?  It could happen, but only if you as manager develop the culture of curiosity that makes such creativity a part of your company DNA.

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Posted in Depending upon others, Surrounding yourself with talent | Leave a comment

The dangerous game: Hiring from a competitor

Sometimes it is the first thought you or your managers have when in need of skilled talent, especially for sales or product development.  It is not hard to find and observe the best employees of a good competitor at work, skillfully moving the competitor forward in a visible way.

Two slices of the pie for one price

And it is a tempting slice of pie – two slices for one price – to take a critically needed employee from a competitor, damaging that firm while building yours.

The negative aspects of the process

The problem is that a visible hire that “cuts” the competitor makes the competitor’s management bleed.   And you’ve heard of blood revenge.  That’s the worst kind, because it results in emotionally lashing out at the offender (you) with a response that is greater than the action that precipitated it.  In many cases, your firm can withstand the response.

Legal issues

[Email readers, continue here…]   In a particularly acrimonious case, the competitor’s management may threaten to sue, based upon the exiting employee’s knowledge of trade secrets or accusing the employee of removing confidential information.  To protect yourself, first it is important that the target new hire either have already quit the job from the competitor, or has approached his or her senior manager with a request to exit and work for your company.  Yes, this flies in the face of a “grab the best employee” hire, but blunts most of the energy from the opposite side.   If you are willing to accept the risk of legal action, then the next issue rises to the top…

The danger of a salary contest

In some cases, though, cross-raiding of employees by offering unsustainable salaries or perks you cannot offer to all because of your size and financial position will leave you in a position to pay grandly for your action.

Considerations to contemplate before doing this

Consider the relative size of the competitor, the visibility of the target employee, and your ability to withstand a backlash before exercising the two-slice tactic.

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Posted in Protecting the business, Surrounding yourself with talent | 1 Comment

Can your employees recruit from a customer or supplier?

The recruitment traps

It has happened to all of us who have been leaders in business long enough.  One of your employees is approached by an employee of a customer or of a supplier, stating that “It sure would be great to work in your company.”  And without a policy or sometimes without thinking, your employee responds with a “Let me help,” or worse yet, “I have a position open.”

State your policy clearly

You should be clear from the start that no one at your company may offer a job to any current employee of a stakeholder – a customer, a partner in development or in distribution, or of a supplier. The rule should be one that includes only one “out”: if a person resigns from the position with the stake-holding company, then you will be happy to talk about a position.  No winking, sending signals, or quiet promises.

The exception

There are instances where such an existing stakeholder employee offers to go to his or her boss and ask permission to speak with you, and the boss not only concurs but agrees to call you (not just to take your call).  In that case alone, it is proper to continue as far as the offer and beyond.

My story of an employee over the line

[ Email readers, continue here…]   Let me tell you the story from one of my companies where I was chairman that recently learned about the recruiting rules that should have been in place – the hard way.  The CEO of my company checked into a hotel that was a customer for its enterprise management system, and through a few innocent questions found that the owner of that hotel and other hotels was about to purchase several new systems for his new projects.  The front desk clerk cheerfully gave my CEO the hotel owner’s contact information.

The blow-back from the other side

So, the CEO called the hotel owner that day.  “I will never deal with your company again!” was the short reply from the hotel owner to the CEO, shocking the CEO looking for a closer relationship and future sales.  It turns out that another manager from my CEO’s company had recently approached that very same cheerful hotel clerk, hinting that a job would be available if she’d like to apply.   The clerk told the owner, and the rest is history.

Backing your way out of a bad situation

Properly, my CEO begged the hotel owner for forgiveness, immediately sent an email to all our company’s managers reinforcing the existing policy of not hiring a stakeholder’s employee and spoke to our employee making the offer in a non-threatening tone, again reinforcing the policy.  During the phone conversation with the hotel owner, our CEO carefully set the stage for a later call to mend fences and check on progress with the existing system already installed.  He made all the right moves given the situation.

But wouldn’t it have been easier to avoid this kind of sticky and dangerous event in the first place?

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Posted in Depending upon others, General, Protecting the business, Surrounding yourself with talent | 2 Comments

Do you empower others?

So, we’ve previously discussed why it is important for you to build consensus in an organization in most every major decision.  To do that, you must be able to relinquish some degree of power, overriding decisions made by consensus only with some thought and certainly with an explanation to those involved.

Never fear empowering others

If you’re secure in your position, you should never fear empowering direct reports to make decisions that fall within the resources allocated to them and within the budget agreed to with them.

Why not to be a micro-manager

A micro-manager cannot cede that kind of authority, even within pre-arranged limits, and as a result meddles with decisions made by direct reports, removing authority from each whenever one of those moves are made, and rendering the individual one degree more impotent in the eyes of that person’s reports.

Helping your direct reports empower others

On the other hand, a great CEO or manager not only empowers his or her direct reports, s/he directs those people to do the same with their reports down the line.  Of course you do this within limits that should seem obvious: financial impact has been provided for within the plan; and no other individuals or departments are affected negatively by such an empowered action without notice and involvement.

Helping your direct reports grow in their positions

[Email readers, continue here…]  The more power you cede, the more you become a teacher and the more your direct reports grow in their positions.  Further, the more you share your decisions, the more you prepare those below to assume your position if ever necessary or appropriate.

Doing it right to help your organization scale and grow

If you cannot or will not empower your direct reports, you must ask yourself: what’s the deal?  If it is insecurity that is the root cause, then the best course of action is to share the power even more quickly, as you’ll look and feel more like the group is supportive of you and your position.  If you are a micro-manager and are unwilling to allow those below to fail, even with more minor decisions, then you are restricting their growth in their positions, certainly causing dissatisfaction in their ranks, and missing the most important opportunities to enable scaling your organization to a much larger size.

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Posted in Depending upon others, Growth!, Surrounding yourself with talent | 3 Comments

Are you a consensus leader or dictator?

It’s a good bet that you’ve been exposed to articles, courses and lectures about various styles of management, and how each is appropriate for some companies and for some levels of organization and at various times.

When should the dictator in you emerge?

A consensus-building leader works well in that style until someone yells “fire!” and the emergency requires a dictatorial style of management to act quickly, protecting lives.

Different organizations require different styles

If you’ve ever been on the board of a non-profit organization, especially one in education, you know that a dictatorial style of management has no place in the organization (again unless there is an emergency requiring life-saving decisions).   In the non-profit sector, all decisions move slower, frustrating many board members who are business tycoons or entrepreneurs used to making rapid, final decisive moves in the workplace.

Bold leadership decisions as a norm

But wait a minute.  Is it appropriate for managers in any business to make a habit of making rapid, decisive moves as a matter of style?  In a past insight, I used the phrase: “Bet the farm only when the crops are on fire!” to underline the risk in making continuous bold decisions that obligate a company’s resources in a single transaction.

The argument for consensus leadership

[Email readers, continue here…]  It is much more appropriate and certainly more appreciated if you take the time to bring your direct reports along in the thinking process, to obtain their input with issues that affect them, and to attempt to gain consensus from the leadership team before moving into implementing decisions where risk is involved or where the others are affected.

An additional benefit from consensus leadership

Many a time I have thought a solution was obvious until one of my board members, peers or direct reports pointed out a facet of the problem not previously considered.  Bold decisions seem to reflect strong leadership.  But more often, they reflect a deficiency in willingness to cede power to the group unless for some reason necessary to withhold that power.

The wiser choice of management style

A decision made by consensus is probably a wiser decision and surely one that will be received down the line with more willingness to implement it than one posted as an order.  Orders come from somewhere up there in the minds of most people below direct reports.  And there is no better way to destroy a company’s culture than having the majority of those in the workforce believing that they are just “workin’ for the man” (woman) when they start their work each day…

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Posted in General, Surrounding yourself with talent | 2 Comments

How to undermine or reinforce your corporate culture

Ever had a manager who hung those motivational posters around the office, spoke of “pushing together,” or “you’re empowered to give great service” – and then acted at least once in complete disregard of those statements?

You don’t want to be caught even once

It takes only one time caught by subordinates to lose the faith of an entire group of faithful followers.  And that certainly counts for customers too, although the customer jungle drums don’t communicate quite as fast as the virtual water cooler system, even with today’s many ways of posting negative reviews about company behavior.

Culture done right

On the other hand, there are great examples of managers who put their reputation or large amounts of company resources on the line to reinforce just such statements.  Think of a surprising positive interaction you had with a call center employee or store clerk who resolved your problem and calmed your anger by exceeding your expectations.

[Email readers, continue here…]   That positive experience happened to me recently when I made an off-handed complaint to a call center employee solving another problem for me and she immediately said, “I’ll take care of that by crediting you in full for the cost of that unit.”  I was floored and told dozens of people about the unexpected service offered without an angered demand or even a request for compensation.

An example of doing this right

How do you empower your people to do what you claim as your motto or standard of service?  Some hotel chains have a policy that any desk clerk can make a problem right up to a cost of over a thousand dollars.  Now that’s showing faith.

A personal example of reinforcing corporate culture

I have told the story of a customer of our company whose facility was destroyed in a catastrophic fire which took with it all the records of guests staying at and reserved to be coming to the property.  The catch: the property was on a remote island in Australia, and the manufacturing plant in Southern California.

People working together with only the customer in mind

Without a second thought, our people gathered to help the distraught property management recover data from backups, interview present guests, and quickly install the brand-new computer diverted from another installation shipped overnight to theirs.  The benefit to the customer was obvious as was their continuous praise for the company and our people in helping them in their hour of need.  But just as important, the employees of the company participated as a unit in following the stated promise in our motto, “Customer first, always!”

Actions always speak louder than words.  Always.

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Posted in Depending upon others, Surrounding yourself with talent | 2 Comments

Let’s talk about your banking relationship

 The warning is real

You’ve heard the old one – that a banker always seems willing to offer a loan when you don’t need it.  For small businesses, there is such truth in that statement that you can trust the story to be based as fact from experience.

Exceptions and good reasons to work on them

There are great exceptions for growing businesses and for businesses that have a track record with a banker.  Working capital loans and lines of credit are needed for growth and during times of business stress.  If a business were operating above breakeven and revenues and expenses steady, profits would flow to either the shareholders’ pockets or to working capital and taxes. Each cycle gives the CEO a chance to use those profits to some positive advantage, including increasing the marketing budget, paying down loans, building working capital, increasing reserve cash balances or paying shareholders.

The scary exception

But if a good business finds itself in a bad downturn, there may be a need that did not exist before for temporary cash, even as management reacts and moves to trim fixed overhead.

Relationship banking and you

[Email readers, continue here…]   Approaching a banker during such times tests relationships.  If there was no previous relationship, few bankers would rely upon anything but a personal guarantee backed by hard assets before considering a loan.  But for those wise executives who included their bankers in occasional update calls, press releases, invitations to company events and an occasional personal visit, the strength of the relationship will often show its benefits during times when lending rules of the bank are near the “can’t do it” point.

How about existing loans outstanding?

For those with existing bank loans, that constant attention is more than just important.  As loan covenants become closer to being violated or after such an event, bankers have some latitude in deciding how to handle their accounts.

The dreaded workout group, whatever the name

Upon discovery of a violation of loan covenants or even when a banker hears of bad news without prior notice or updates, bankers sometimes turn the company over to the bank’s workout group – a place you never want to visit.  In the gray area where covenants are broken but barely, covenants can be waived for a period of time as companies rectify the problems, all based upon the quality of the relationship between banker and client.

It is during those challenging times that it is most difficult to tell your story to your banker, but it is just then that are the most important of times.

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Posted in General, Hedging against downturns, Protecting the business | 1 Comment