Prioritize the workload and distribute it fairly

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At certain times of the year, the people in the field aren’t working as much as we would like them to be. When things pick up, we find certain people who are doing a lot more than others. This has to be addressed, but we’re not sure how to fix it.

Thoughts of the day… Who is in charge of distributing the workload? What projects can get accomplished in slow times? What’s the reward for showing initiative? Make sure everyone understands what has to happen to make the company productive and profitable.

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Help, I’m Stuck in the Day to Day!

“No matter what I do, it seems like I’m always getting pulled back into daily tasks. I know that my job as owner is to focus on building the business. But there are so many things that need to get done and I can’t afford to let things fall apart when the people around me can’t do it all.”

Thoughts of the Day: Working “in” the business instead of “on” it can cost you. You can’t afford not to let things fall where they may when it looks like the people around you can’t do it all. Check into your growth rate – if things are falling apart, you may be trying to grow too fast. Ultimately your business will be run by someone else – use that visual to get focused now on what you have to do.

Research shows that the majority of business owners in the U.S. – actually more than 90 percent of all businesses – spend most of their time working “in” and not “on” the business. Research also shows that when business owners work “in” the business, net income over the years tends to flatline. If there are profitable years, much of those profits eventually get plowed back into the business during down cycles.

The perceived risk of having things go wrong on a day-to-day basis is overshadowed by the reality of having a business that cannot stand on its own. The owner cannot take time away from the business to enjoy the rewards of what has been built for fear things will stall, or worse, decline, in his/her absence. Consequently, hard work over the years turns into more of the same.

Perhaps, most disturbing of all, when the long-term focus is working “in” the business instead of “on” the business, exit value is nowhere near what it could be. When ready to exit, owners struggle to find a ready buyer willing to take over a business that depends on the ongoing involvement of the seller. To the extent that a buyer can be found, the value of the business is severely discounted due to inconsistent performance, lack of a strong, secure management team and inadequate systems.

Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about another way to do things. Learn to get out of the way. Make people fix the problems they create. Stop rescuing.

In order for other people to learn, you have to let go. Give people specific assignments. Put the assignments in writing as job descriptions, process descriptions and agreements on conditions of success.

Teach employees how to do what’s been written down. Don’t let them off the hook when things go wrong. Ask them to describe how they plan to fix the situation. Then hold their toes to the fire while they do it.

Make sure employees understand the important role they play in building the company’s future. Have both short-term and long-term plans in place, with progress measures. Assign teams to oversee what’s going on.

Talk with employees about the importance of teamwork. No individual heroes or heroines. Everyone is responsible for the success of the company.

If problems crop up, ask the team to solve them instead of you personally jumping in to pick up the reins. Get regular reports on progress. Help the team brainstorm how they will know when the problem is fixed. Then ask everyone to stay on task to get there.

If things start to fall apart, check on whether the company overall is trying to take on too much, too fast. A growth rate of 10 percent to 15 percent, year-over-year, should be fast enough to stay ahead of inflation and slow enough to allow time to catch and fix mistakes before they become big problems.

Have a vision that includes exiting the business. Ensure that others know how to run the business in your absence. Use vacations as test runs.

Looking for a good book? Try “Work Toward Reward: Building Business Value Today for a Well Deserved Future” by Chia-Li Chien.

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A Business Owner Can’t Be Too Accommodating

“This month I got hit with it from every angle — customers, employees and vendors. Seems like it was a one-way street, with everyone this month asking me to do them a favor and nothing coming back in return. In trying to help them out, the only thing that happened was I got worn out and frustrated.”

Thoughts of the day: Human beings are wired to help others. Know when and how to say “enough.” Use favors in advance of requests to build up good will. Help the recipient to distinguish your behavior as giving, not just being cooperative. Recognize that people value things more when they’ve had to work to get them. Keep things equal by allowing others to pay you back and expressing appreciation.

Do someone a favor because it makes you feel good. Someone asking for your opinion or help signals that they value what you have to say or do. Being open to requests translates into positive feedback that your psyche needs. Use time to reflect on requests that have come your way as a way to boost your personal sense of worth.

Meeting a request doesn’t necessarily mean going “above and beyond.” Do what you can and be honest when you can’t. If you’ve overextended, don’t get mad at the requester, take a good look at your role in going across the line. Try to find a simpler way to respond that is within the boundaries of your available time and energy.

Of course there are some people in the world who spend all of their time receiving. They are always there to ask for a favor, never there to help when you need it. Fortunately they’re in the minority. Don’t let them get you down.

You might do these “takers” a favor by pointing out the problem: “Why is it that whenever you need something you’re quick to ask, but when I need your help I don’t hear back from you?” See how they respond. Boost their awareness of how their behavior is perceived. See if they can rise above and start to take action. If not, then put your attention elsewhere.

As more requests come your way, focus on the outcome value. See the results of extending favors as things you’ve helped to make possible. Connect two people and watch to see how their worlds expand as a result of the connection. Give an employee extra time off and circle back to find out how things turned out for them. Extend a customer or vendor a favor and follow up to find out how that favor helped to make things better for them.

Get ahead of the curve by offering to do something for someone before they ask. Don’t hesitate to start with a simple introductory statement, “I’m going to do you a favor.” Make the point that you’re intentionally extending yourself now for the potential of a return favor in the future.

Human beings are wired to value things they strive for. Flapping your jaw with unsolicited advice on topics that aren’t important to the recipient will likely diminish the value of what you’re offering. Take a moment upfront to establish that the topic at hand is important to the person you’re about to help. Ask them to let you know how things turn out, in order to show your interest in having the favor lead somewhere productive.

Many times “givers” are really good at giving and helping, not so good at receiving back. Check your “recipient” quotient. How good are you at letting others help you? Do you even recognize when it’s happening? Do you remember to say, “Thank you for the help”? Do you circle back to fill people in on how their help made your world better? Keep the world in balance by allowing others to help you whenever they can.

Looking for a good book? Try Give and Take, A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam Grant.
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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. Do you have a question for Andi? Email her: AskAndi@StrategyLeaders.com.
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Letting go becomes more important than stepping in to get things right – and that seems so wrong!

My employees tell me that I get too involved in things they’re doing. My problem is this: I see they could do better. I’m worried about wasting time and materials. I want things done right. What can I do?

Your reach is only so big. You have to let go to grow. Focus on fixing one area at a time. Build your training and coaching skills. Be realistic in your expectations.

You want a growing company. Anything less can’t keep up with inflation and competition. That means you’re going to need  more sales, more shop throughput, more employees prepared to do what you used to do. Get used to the idea of bringing employees along, training and coaching them to handle more tasks as you step back.

You can’t do it all, and you can’t even be involved in it all. You’re going to have to pick your shots. Decide where to focus, for how long, in order to achieve progress. Then have a plan to move on to the next area that needs expansion or improvement. A timetable for developing areas of the company will help you to focus your attention, as well as put pressure on you to step away and move on to the next priority.

It can be difficult to let go. It’s easy to forget that we, too, were once beginners at the tasks we’re now teaching. We’ve often done those tasks for so long we take our skills for granted. We can be intolerant of mistakes, seek perfection when observing others. Look at how you go about training.

Do you set aside extra time to complete the task, to allow for discussion time? Do you agree upfront on what it is you and the trainee are both are trying to accomplish? Do you ask the trainee to explain what they know, and ask questions?

Do you participate or dictate? Do you let the trainee proceed, in order to find out f they’re just doing the task differently, but with the same high level outcome, or do you interrupt and distract? Do you assess the skill level being demonstrated in order to know if you should train or coach?

Can you shift your style of input to match the skill level of the person being trained? There are four classic stages of input: Educate, train, coach, delegate. Educate is the most basic. “Let me explain how mastering this task might be useful and important.”

What’s the difference between training and coaching? At a lower skill level, the trainee needs to be shown how to do the task. “Do it this way, follow me exactly” is the mantra until the trainee has built the muscle memory to perform the task consistently. At a higher level of skill, once the trainee has all the skill needed to perform, coaching comes into play. Coaching is back and forth discussion of what went right and what could have been better.

When the trainee is able to perform at a high enough skill level, it’s time to get out of the way completely. Delegate. Say, “Go ahead and do it. Give me a report back when you’re done.”

In the process of learning, the employee is going to make mistakes. Check if the trainee is aware of the mistake. If the answer is “yes”, discuss how to recover and then step back to let the trainee proceed. If not, go back to training on how to correctly perform the task.

Set realistic development goals. Mistakes are inevitable. It may cost more time or materials to get the same result. That’s a stage you have to go through. Once you have a number of people trained, you can ask them to work on improving productivity by cutting out waste and reducing mistakes.

Remember what it is you’re seeking to accomplish. You’re laying a platform to increase the company. When more people can do what you alone used to be able to do, the company can grow. Building a solid, thriving organization means letting go.

Looking for a good book? Telling Ain’t Training by Harold Stolovitch.

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Andi Gray is president of Strategy Leaders Inc., www.StrategyLeaders.com, a business consulting firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurial firms grow. She can be reached by phone at 877-238-3535. Do you have a question for Andi?  Please send it to her, via e-mail at AskAndi@StrategyLeaders.com. Visit www.AskAndi.com for an entire library of Ask Andi articles.

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