How to make a partnership work

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The partner we thought we had has turned out not to be a true partner. We feel like they went behind our backs and directly approached our customers and our employees. This, after they’d agreed to keep hands-off.

Thoughts of the day: How much do you have in common with your partner candidates? What do you have in writing to document your agreements? Check backgrounds before starting work. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Get everything in order up-front.

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Brace yourselves, growth is coming

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A major referral source for us is gearing up for a big summer push. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they are worried if we can we keep up. This is a great problem to have, but we need to solve it. How do we assure them that we can meet their needs? This will be a big leap forward for us.

Thoughts of the day: First, make sure you want the influx. Assuming you do want the work, build plans to gear up and assign people to implement those plans. Put someone in charge of monitoring workflow and quality. Meet with your staff to fill them in on what’s expected. Build in time to celebrate successes and let off steam.

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Think like a detective when it comes to sales

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When it comes to selling, I’m figuring out that I have to think like a detective and not a typical salesperson. Do you have any suggestions on how to best do that?

THOUGHTS OF THE DAY: Decide on who is your best customer, then go get more of them. Work through a list of best customer suspects. Figure out where your targets hang out. Find out if you really are talking to qualified suspects. Have a way to circle back to the suspects who don’t seem to fit initially. Get prospects to turn themselves into clients.

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Irreplaceable? Think again…

When I hire people, after awhile many of them get comfortable with their jobs. Even worse, some of them come to think they’re untouchable. I know they’ve grown into important roles, but that kind of attitude isn’t good for the company. What should I do?

Thoughts of the Day: Build an organization of team players by giving people goals and challenges. Remember, no matter how key an employee may seem to be, everyone is replaceable. Use regular reviews to tell people where they stand. It all comes down to what you’re willing to accept, and whether or not you’re willing to make and enforce demands.

A team of employees focused on a common goal, working together to understand and overcome a set of challenges, can accomplish substantially more than any single individual. Assign all employees to teams. Look for opportunities to have people overlap duties and back up other positions.

Target the people who are isolated, either by job function or by personal choice. For starters, ask them to join a group project, with a clearly defined goal and a leader who is good at including team members. Make it clear that part of their performance review is based on how well they perform as a team member. Ask the team leader for regular updates. If necessary, provide one-on-one counseling to the people you’re working to turn into collaborators.

Sometimes you may run into a fit issue: as in, the persons you’re counseling are having trouble fitting in as productive team members. Document the work they do. Start cross-training others to do some, or all, of their job. Keep in mind that your responsibility is to the company overall. With enough documentation and cross training, even key players can be replaced.

Meet individually and explain that sub-par performance on a team could get in the way of making progress in the company. If behavior is especially disruptive, or if you’ve been through multiple counseling sessions and there’s no real progress, make sure that person knows that they could be facing consequences up to, and including, termination, if they don’t shape up. Don’t be subtle at this stage. Make sure the message gets across.

At the same time that you’re telling people they’re in trouble, post their jobs and look for potential replacement candidates. Many times managers and business owners hesitate to draw the line with disruptive or uncooperative employees because they fear no one else can do the job. Looking for replacements, and training others to do some, or all, of the job will give you options.

In general, it is wise to conduct reviews with people once or twice a year. Try to keep people on their toes by finding the balance between giving them new tasks to master, and allowing them sufficient time to get good at existing assignments. Everyone should have a mix of some new things to learn, some things they can do really well, and a bunch of things that they’re working towards mastering.

Set the tone for the company as you conduct reviews. Give people realistic stretch goals. Put it in the context of what the company has to achieve in the upcoming year, and how their success at mastering new goals is essential to that progress.

Make time to review company results, and to plan out what’s needed for the company going forward. Make it your job to demand excellence from everyone around you, starting with yourself. Create a culture of accountability, responsibility, and striving to achieve.

Limit the time you spend with marginal performers, energy suckers, and self-serving individuals. Recognize and reward the people who perform in an atmosphere of collaboration, cooperation and acting in the best interests of the company. Give them 80% of your time. After all, the team players are your future.

Looking for a good book? Try HR from the Heart: Inspiring Stories and Strategies for Building the People Side of Great Business, by Martha Finney.

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Stop Reacting and Start Planning

Seeing us – me, my employees, my managers – get bogged down with day-to-day issues. Know that as owner I should be planning and directing where the business is going. Realize that I can get myself in trouble by reacting instead of looking ahead. Also know that we can create problems by not taking action to fix it – whatever “it” is. What advice do you have to help me stay on top of priorities?

Thoughts of the Day: Identify the top objectives for the company and continuously review where you are versus those objectives. Set up systems for people to meet and share information. Celebrate progress. Organize teams to work on persistent problems.

What’s the sight-line on the horizon that everyone in your company is focused on moving towards? Get clear on that, and it’s easier to figure out if everything you’re doing is heading the company in the right direction. Without major goals it’s easy to drift off in the wrong direction.

Write down what you want the company to accomplish in the next 5 years. Consider the following:

  • double revenue, triple profit
  • add 1 new employee for every $150k of gross profit
  • operate within budget
  • reduce operating costs by 1% – 3% / year
  • add enough clients each year to allow the company to dump the bottom 5% – the least profitable, most troublesome
  • sell new products : old customers, old products : new customers
  • expand marketing reach annually while reducing the ratio of marketing spend / revenue. 

Set up a meeting schedule to review progress, discuss obstacles, agree on next actions to be taken.

 Meetings can be great. Improperly managed, they can also suck the energy out of any group. Limit meetings to an hour, max two hours. Break up long days of conferences into a series of 1-2 hour activities.

 Work with intention. Make sure enough of the right people are involved. In my experience, it is more likely that too few people will be invited to meet, than too many. Don’t be afraid to ask people to give up “work time” to attend meetings. People need to share information in order to function well.  

Use meetings to inform, brainstorm, analyze and problem solve. Different purposes require different formats. Information sharing meetings do best if data is presented in report handouts or overheads with handouts. Brainstorming meetings need a facilitator who can document what’s being said. Analysis and problem solving meetings need to be focused towards a desired outcome: to reach a conclusion, solve a problem, etc.

It helps to understand that we remember only 15% of what we hear, 50% of what we write down, and 85% of what we hear, write down and play back. Take notes in every meeting. Start meetings with a review of the previous meetings’ notes. Know whose job it is to take and disseminate notes. Get notes out within 1-2 days of the meeting’s conclusion.

Build a culture of success by taking time to acknowledge and celebrate progress towards goals. Use checklists of to-do’s to stay on track. Recognize groups of people who are getting their tasks done according to the commitments they’ve made.

Every organization runs into problems from internal and external sources. Teach employees to be comfortable bringing up issues in meetings. Take time to brainstorm the source of problems. Assign task groups to work on rooting the causes.

Build a culture of taking action. Reward people who fix problems before they escalate into something worse. Emphasize the value of always looking to make things better.

Everyone needs space and time to think, reflect, plan. Schedule it into your day. Lead by example. Show your employees that you have the discipline and skill needed to lead the business. Make it your #1 priority to set a schedule, meet regularly, encourage information sharing and take action to work the company’s plan.

Unclear about your company’s goals and check in structure? Give us a call!

Looking for a good book?  The One Hour Plan for Growth: How a Single Sheet of Paper Can Take Your Business to the Next Level, by Joe Calhoon

Want to print this article:  Stop Reacting and Start Planning

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