Being nice does not mean being a doormat

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I’m not aggressive and I have to get it done. I’m a nice guy, but while I tend to see the best in other people, I know I also get walked on by vendors, customers and sometimes even employees. How do I find the balance?

THOUGHTS OF THE DAY: Think about what makes you call yourself a “nice guy.” Hone skills that are synonymous with leadership. Make sure you’re clear about where you want to go with the company. Make asking for input a sign of strength, not weakness.

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Am I spread too thin?

I keep getting called on to deal with problems that crop up as we try to deliver what’s been promised. Since I know more about how things work and have a broader view of where we are going, it’s a natural request. Besides, I like being in control of the decisions about how and when we commit resources to solve problems. And I’m good at juggling. But I’m sensing a limit to what I can get to. There are a lot of sales opportunities out there that I should focus on, for example, and I can’t be in two places at once.

Thoughts of the day: Unloading the things you know how to do best helps the company grow. Avoid burnout. Know that there will be failures and that while you strive for excellence, sometimes good enough is just that. Recognize that everyone in the company will benefit from gaining experience dealing with issues on the front line — so let them.

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We Just Can’t Wing It Anymore

Right now people have a “wing it” attitude. If there’s a problem, people jump to help, which is both good and bad, but some people say it feels like there’s a lack of clarity, who does what, no agreement on how things get done, and no clear chain of command. There seems to be inadequate communication, and a lack of responsibility or accountability. We need more structure in operations. Help!

Thoughts of the Day: Operations is the guts of the business. Putting process, job descriptions, and accountabilities in place can help make things smoother. Figure out who heads up operations, preferably not the owner. Build a team to work on the best way to handle routine workload as well as exceptions. Make it clear the routine clear enough so a new person could easily learn most of what they need to know from a chart and back up descriptions.

Operations is where everything comes together. Orders from customers have to get delivered on time, in budget. Lack of planning often creates a lot of problems in operations. Things run smoother when everyone in the company takes the time to talk about workflow, defining what’s routine and what needs special handling. Departments need to layout/diagram how work flows through their department, and if they work on a variety of things, which typically happens, ask them to make multiple diagrams.

Look for interruptions and exceptions in the work flow drawing. Don’t try to define everything, you can’t solve all the company’s problems overnight, and you shouldn’t try to. Instead indicate where someone goes to get clarification if things don’t go according to plan.

Ask everyone in operations to submit a list of the things they do daily, weekly, monthly. If 2 people do the same job, ask both to submit their lists. You’d be surprised how many differences there may be as one person remembers one thing, another something else.

Ask managers to review the lists and then compile the lists into job descriptions. You can also look online for standard job descriptions and salary ranges to help move the process along.

Make sure that each job description includes a list of accountabilities. These are the standards to which people are expected to deliver. What is most important in your organization? Is it speed, accuracy, price cuts, whatever the customer needs?

You need to clarify your expectations, and document them. Ensure employee responsibility by distributing the job expectations and discussing. If there are grey areas, try your best to clear them up and make your expectations concrete.

Assign someone to be in charge of operations. It’s best if this is a person is available throughout the day to field questions, deal with obstacles, and generally oversee and assist people. Make it clear to everyone that this person is in charge and has your full support.

If you’re like most business owners, when there’s a problem in operations you stand ready to step in and head it off, or deal directly with the person who caused the problem. Build a chain of command and support them in their decisions, resist temptation to do it all yourself.

Start with the manager in charge, making sure they’re aware there’s a problem. Give them time to do some homework, if necessary, and ask for a report back to you. Use your time together to listen, provide direction and teach. Asking them to solve the problem allows your employees to take responsibility and prevent the issue from recurring.

If there is a recurring problem, form a work group. Ask the group to tackle the problem and identify a more permanent solution. Resist the temptation to get involved directly, unless they ask for your input. The goal is to build a team that learns to solve problems without your involvement.

Give everyone the goal of having a well documented, error free operation. Each time a problem surfaces, treat it as an opportunity to strengthen your processes by fixing the hole that led to the occurrence. Check that instructions on how to do things are clearly written and shared with new employees. Ask new employees to make notes anytime procedures are unclear, and update the procedures for the next person. Several rounds of teaching people what’s expected, and recognizing the improvement should lead to a near-error free, well documented operation!

Looking for a good book? Operations Management: the Art & Science of Making Things Happen, by James T.H. Cooke

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Andi Gray is president of Strategy Leaders Inc.,, a business consulting firm that specializes in helping small to mid-size, privately held businesses achieve doubled revenues and tripled profits in repetitive growth cycles. Interested in learning how Strategy Leaders can help your business? Call now for a free consultation and diagnostic process: 877-238-3535.
Business owners regularly turn to Ask Andi and Strategy Leaders for advice on how to grow profitable, successful companies. They find what they need time after time. Ask Andi is also published weekly in the Westchester and Fairfield County Business Journals and HV Biz. Written by Strategy Leaders President, Andi Gray, the Ask Andi column is a rich source of advice for owners of established, privately held businesses.
If you are a business owner and you have a question or would like to discuss some aspect of your business, call 1.877.238.3535 or send an email to

Getting on Board as Assistant to the President

As a new assistant to the President, I’m feeling my way. Sometimes I feel like I’m on my own island, not doing a lot with others. If people are having meetings, I may not be included. I also don’t know a lot about the company, who does what – think I should know more.

Thoughts of the Day: Your role can be an intimidating one for others. Carve out your niche. Introduce yourself formally. Build an orientation program. Decide what your contribution is going to be, and then make it happen.

Any new job can be a challenge. The memory of your predecessor lingers. You have yet to make an impression. People are curious about who you are, what they can count on from you.

Fitting in carries some unique challenges since you report directly to everyone’s boss. Most people are deciding how to play that out. Some may not be open with you, figuring anything they say goes back to the boss. Others may look to curry favor, hoping for good words on their behalf with the president of the company.

Treat everyone equally. Of course there will be some employees who are annoying, and some who are friendlier than others. Remember your special position as representative of the boss. Find the balance between being approachable and being a gatekeeper.

Get to know other people in the company by attending meetings. Work from the top down. While you may not be a peer to the CFO, COO, CSO and other chief officers, you are going to have to work with those folks, direct their activities, gather information from them, and get them to pay attention.

Set up an appointment to meet one on one of the company’s senior executives. Find out what they need that you can help to make happen. You want them to see it as useful to support you by opening up a 2-way street.

Learn about the company’s routines. Ask about standard meetings and reports. Figure out how information flows formally and informally. Discuss your role in supporting and enhancing that.

Ask each department to give you an tour. Take careful notes. Use those notes to build an orientation program for other new hires.

Ask for an organization chart. If one exists, keep it with you at all times. Make notes on what you’re learning about each area. Suggest edits if what you see doesn’t match what’s on paper. If there is no organization chart, draft one and review that with your boss at one of your weekly meetings. If you find problems or good things, ask your boss how much to report back.

You also have the usual challenges. What does your boss need you to do? How can you best work together? What results do you hope to produce? Clarify what’s expected.

When you interviewed for the job you probably presented yourself as organized, assertive and willing to take action. What past skills and attributes did you discuss as valuable to this company? Your collective experiences are probably a big part of why you got this job. Focus there as you learn more about your new home and your role in it.

Make sure you and your boss are on the same page. Discuss your role when it comes to giving people access to the boss’ calendar, organizing your boss’ desk, managing personal and confidential information and tasks, special projects.

Set goals. Start short term. What do you want to learn and be able to do the first, second and third months? After a month on the job clarify 6 month and 1 year goals. Stay on the same page with your boss by scheduling monthly and quarterly reviews.

Looking for a good book? I’ve Landed My Dream Job – Now What???: How to Achieve Success in the First 30 Days in a New Job, by Scot Herrick and Jason Alba.

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Are My Sales People Too Comfortable?

I know that a productive sales force is one of the keys to our future success. It’s time for them to put things in gear. I worry that things may be too comfortable around here. Any suggestions?

Thoughts of the Day: Agree on goals and measure performance against cost. Involve people in solving tough problems to get engagement and growth. Be clear about your Conditions of Success© and make sure your company’s needs get met.

Good news is that there is a sales team in place. Any company looking to grow has to have people in place to help bring in new business. Now it’s time to figure out what your company needs. Put your sales people on a mission. Compare the payoff of sales to the cost of acquisition.

Here’s an example of how to calculate a sales goal.

  • Let’s say that the sales person costs $100k, including salary and benefits, travel costs, desk, phone, managers time, etc..
  • Assume that the company’s gross profit is 60% of revenue.
  • Assign a minimum standard multiple of 3x cost to what a sales person should bring in.
  • Multiply sales person’s cost of $100k x 3 (minimum standard multiple)  = $300k.
  • Divide the $300k by the company’s gross profit of 60% to get a revenue goal = $500k minimum revenue sales goal.
  • Compare that to what sales people in your company and industry are already producing today – is that high, low or in the ballpark.
  • Adjust the goal up, if you think there’s room to produce more. Resist the temptation to bring the goal down to make it more realistic. If you’re not making money on your sales people’s efforts, you have to figure out what else to do.

Now work backwards. What’s an average sale for your company? Divide the minimum revenue sales goal by the average sale. That’s the number of sales per year this sales person has to produce.

Wondering how many sales people you need? Figure out the company’s overall sales target for the year. Deduct the amount of revenue that will just roll in the door, from existing clients, from the website, any other non-sales force related activities. The remainder is what the sales force has to bring on board. Divide by the minimum revenue sales goal per person. That’s the number of sales people you’ll need, if all sales people are just hitting minimum performance.

Want to break through to more than minimum performance? There’s real value in giving people challenges. Gather your sales team to brainstorm how they could kick sales into high gear.

When measuring and managing people it’s best to know how high to set the performance bar. Take a look at what people on the sales team have produced in previous years. Find out what competitors demand of their sales personnel.

Take a look at how sales conditions have changed over the past few years. For many companies the sales cycle has gotten longer. The number of sales per sales person has also gone down, as sales people spend more time nurturing potential sales along a longer path to close. That’s lost opportunity, unless you can shorten the sales cycle.

Is there anyone on the team who seems to be getting any performance breakthrough? What can be done to model their behavior, attitude and skills?

Maybe it’s time for some sales training. Everyone gets rusty. Getting into a structure to exercise and build sales skills could be exactly what the sales team needs to get their game on.

Make it clear what you expect. Make sure people know you’re watching what’s going on. Put performance reports in a place where everyone can see what’s going on. Don’t hesitate to make changes if someone isn’t trying.

Ask people to make incremental performance improvements. Increase sales results a little each month. Push for one more sales call, one more prospect, one more referral request. They’ll add up over the course of the year.


Looking for a good book? 52 Sales Management Tips: The Sales Managers Success Guide, by Steven Rosen.

Want to print this article? Are my sales people too comfortable