Acknowledging the People Who Make it Happen

Things have been getting busier. That’s a good thing. However, I find that when we get busy we forget to acknowledge the people who are making it happen. Any suggestions on how to keep that top of mind, and use it as a tool to motivate everyone to achieve greater results in the upcoming year – we sure could use the push!

Thoughts of the Day: Acknowledgement is a powerful tool to motivate behavior. Make sure it’s honest feedback. Schedule time to review performance and recognize results. Help everyone to stay focused on their ability to contribute.

Build a positive culture. Make sure that what you stand for is what you’d want written on your tombstone. As you look around the company ask yourself:

  • Are my people truly happy doing what they are doing?
  • Do our suppliers and customers mirror our positive outlook?

Then move on to a rigorous personal assessment:

  • How does my attitude influence everyone around me?
  • What can I do to build an upbeat environment by realizing that employees, customers and vendors all strive to benefit each other?

Finally, ask about recognition systems:

  • Can my people trust that their efforts will be appreciated?
  • What can I do to make people more comfortable giving positive feedback?

The answers to these questions will speak volumes about how well your company does in the acknowledgement department.

As CEO you have tremendous influence. The tone you set leads to more of the same. If you are always criticizing, always looking at the down side, your people will pick that up and mirror it. Regularly recognizing people when they do their best can lead to an environment where people stretch to do their best consistently.

Start by giving credit where credit is due. No company would be where it is if the only person working in the company was the CEO. Give people positive feedback they can build upon by noting their efforts to do a good job.

Don’t overlook problems. Pose them in the context of, here’s what you’ve done right, here’s what I need you to work on next, I’m confident that given your successful performance on other tasks that you’ll be able to master this one as well. If someone is struggling, figure out if they should be in the job or if they should move on. Don’t spoil the mood in the company by tolerating poor performance and then being frustrated by what you see.

Acknowledgement isn’t just something you do while walking around the company. Set up goals and reports to review performance. Look for specific examples of where people achieve results. Revenue, service levels, profit and productivity are easy to measure and recognize.

Have a monthly meeting where you go over reports, hand out gold stars, and thank people for their contributions. Ask managers to share specific examples at company meetings. Teach all your employees how to give acknowledgements. In addition to recognizing performers, use job-well-done examples to teach other people what you’re looking for.

Each day make a list of people you’ve observed doing good work. Send out thank you notes. Each week spend time walking around, observing and commenting on the good things you see happening. Also make notes on things that need improving, in the context of, “Now that we’ve achieved x, it’s time to work on y.”

Encourage people by showing them the upside – the appreciation that goes with a job well done. Reward people when they take initiative by making them shining examples in front of their peers. Make sure that your employees, customers and vendors all know how much you value them.

Looking for a good book? Grateful Leadership: Using the Power of Acknowledgement to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results, by Judith W. Umlas


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Don’t Be An Overly Forceful Entrepreneur

My Achilles Heel is that I have a low tolerance for people who don’t quickly get things that seem obvious to me. I am sure it gets me in trouble with clients, prospects and employees. Any suggestions?

Thoughts of the Day:  Entrepreneurs can be very demanding. Build skill as an executive by learning to deal with people for who they are, rather than who they should be. Tap into the potential of the individuals around you. Build a diverse organization, made of up complimentary skills and talents.

Entrepreneurs can be high intensity people, focused on what they want to achieve. Their attitude of, “I’ll make it happen” is both a strength and a weakness. Knowing the risks that are on the line, they tend to be impatient and demanding. If someone else doesn’t quickly step up to the plate, the entrepreneur will be tempted to move in and take over, just to get work done.

Some entrepreneurs find it hard to acknowledge the help they receive from those around them. They concentrate on the challenge, the effort, what still has to be done. There’s little time left to reflect on what’s already been accomplished. They overlook the need to build confidence by reviewing what’s been achieved before charging ahead to master the next set of obstacles.

The result of a forceful entrepreneur overriding everyone around them? Limited communication. People trained to hold back and wait for the owner to take the lead. Lack of action if the owner doesn’t initiate it.

Entrepreneurs would do well to remind themselves that they can’t do it all. Sooner or later, if they are going to grow their companies, they need help. And that means they have to step back, gather input, let others learn to take over. Build strongly collaborative teams who can take initiative in the owner’s absence.

Start with a realistic assessment. How often does the owner cut people off? What are people capable of, without the owner’s input? If the owner weren’t around, would people eventually figure out what to do? (The answer to this last question is probably, “yes”, but hard for many owners to admit to.)

Owners are well advised to practice listening instead of doing. Learn to sit still and take notes in a meeting. Give people time to talk, work through issues, share ideas.

Suspend judgment about what “should” be. Deal with reality. Either things are, or aren’t progressing. Either tasks are done, or they’re still pending. Stop wasting time complaining, “but they ‘should’ be doing x, y and z”.

Create opportunity for people to communicate, gather ideas, process, formulate, evaluate. Recognize that part of building collaborative teams means encouraging participants to discuss, disagree and then build consensus – or at least agreement to disagree as things move forward. Don’t rush ahead with a half baked plan only to wish you could undo mistakes later on.

Deal with reality by asking the people to address the current situation. Start with a status update. Ask people to go through a list options, next steps and possible obstacles. Encourage debate. Conclude by asking participants to come together with a set of recommendations on how best  to move forward.

Recognize that each person has individual strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for growth. Learn how best to tap into individual assets. Just because someone approaches a situation differently doesn’t make it wrong. In fact, looking at situations from multiple points of view can increase objectivity and lead to more robust solutions.

There is a great deal of value in diversity, as long as it can be channeled into a collaborative approach. Use goals to provide direction on where everyone is headed. Set up key measures against which to benchmark progress. Make discussions about business issues rather than personal concerns. Increase the quality of outcomes by giving people a mission. Remind people to stay focused on overall objectives while allowing them room to chart their own paths.

Looking for a good book? The 5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximize Your Potential, by John C. Maxwell.

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Going Overboard with Overtime

What’s the right amount of overtime? Just spent the weekend looking at costs and found that we are spending $3,500 – $4,000 / week in overtime. Seems like it’s becoming a habit for everyone here, one that’s costing me some serious money. Bet we could cut out $100k per year, easily, from our expenses, if we cut out overtime. On the other hand, I don’t want to commit to additional staff in uncertain times like these. If things slow down, I can reduce overtime more easily than I can staff. Would appreciate your input.

Finding the right balance between overtime and full time is tricky. Make sure you understand the real cost of labor. Keep competitors at bay by promptly handling customer requests. Control overtime authorizations as the business grows. Do what you can to add new talent at a lower cost.

Make sure that you’re charging enough to pay for all employee costs. Calculate the  MINIMUM amount your company should charge for an hour of labor, just to break even. Add up both direct costs – labor including overtime – and indirect costs such as health care, uniforms, cell phones, etc. Divide an individual’s total cost by the company’s gross profit % goal. That’s your minimum. Double the minimum to insure your company is making money. If your customers won’t pay that, you’ll have to figure out how to operate more cost effectively.

If you can’t afford overtime, consider putting employees on a 35 hour work week. If you have to flex up hours, the next 5 hours are at regular time, not time and a half. Hire additional staff to fill the cut back gap. Put a strict limit on overtime, as in ZERO, except in case of emergencies when customers will pay extra.

Most companies today report that their backlog of work is shorter. They are working hard to meet quickly with customers. Keep competitors away by making sure that customers needs are promptly handled. This means that a steady pool of labor has to be available to quickly ramp up when groups of customers call in at the same time.

If you think you can afford some overtime, do a comparison calculation. Note that many of the extra costs, health insurance, bonuses, and field related costs such as mileage and cell phones, don’t increase with overtime. But they may increase if you add staff. So an hour of overtime may be less costly than it looks, when compared to adding staff.

Consider using overtime selectively to  reward employees who are willing to go the extra mile. Some companies find that in this recession they have cut back on bonuses, cost of living and performance increases. Selective overtime helps employees close the income gap they may be feeling at home, while getting additional income from clients to pay for the increase in payroll.

Make sure you’re not going overboard with individual overtime authorizations. As people work additional hours, they can get tired and slow down. Overtime often cuts into productivity and leads to increased mistakes, which can be costly to correct. Limit the number of overtime hours each employee is allowed to work, and monitor quality to insure people can keep up with the additional workload.

If customer volume stays up, then consider hiring. Think about starting with part timers who willingly pick up additional work when it’s available. Use new temporary and part time help to build up the company’s future labor pool. Make sure that part time employees’ goals include working their way up to full time hours.

Managing overtime is a day-to-day call. 5% of payroll going to overtime isn’t tragic. If 30% of payroll is going to overtime hours, it’s time to look for the next hire. Focus experienced employees on the most technical work. Bring in new people at a lower pay scale, and have them do more entry level work. Watch labor costs drop dramatically as you shift costs around.

Looking for a good book? No Boundaries: How to Use Time and Labor Management Technology to Win the Race for Profits and Productivity, by Lisa Disselkamp.

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Setting the Foundation for Smooth Transitions

We’re expecting staff turnover this spring, for a variety of reasons, including sickness, maternity leave and people moving on to other jobs. We want to be sure the transitions are as smooth as possible. You’ve written before about the importance of writing out processes for how work is done. Can you go into a little more detail on how to get processes in writing so the next group of people can follow them and minimize their mistakes.

It doesn’t matter what kind of business you’re in – service, wholesale, retail, manufacturing, distribution, etc. – written processes can increase accuracy and minimize wasted effort. Building systems can translate into real money savings for any organization.

Agreeing on steps to do work makes it easier for everyone in the company. There is less discussion about what is the “right way”. When a new person comes on board they have something to refer to. People looking to train their replacements have a tool to make sure that steps aren’t overlooked.

Assemble a team of people. Include do-ers and managers. Pick a function to process map, for example: how services are delivered to customers and invoiced. Ask questions that lead to a list of the big steps that happen. For example:

  • Is there a written schedule, detailing what happens when?
  • What kind of meetings are held to review the schedule?
  • What steps happen in order to perform the work?

Draw lines, linking one action to the next. Debate what’s the most efficient and effective way to get through the entire process.

Include feedback loops – where to go if there’s an error, how people are informed when actions are completed. Define the acceptable timeframe and error ratio of each activity. For example, it might be okay to be a day late in sending out an invoice. It would never be acceptable to skip sending out an invoice.

Ask people who currently perform the work to write out what they do, step by step. Once the first person has written out the steps of an action, hand it to someone else to perform the steps. Wherever questions come up, make notes to clarify the written procedure. Edit the written document and hand it to a third person to go through the steps. Once someone can perform all of the steps without asking questions, file it on the computer as well as in a procedure binder. It’s now ready to be used to train the next new person.

Once all of the individual procedures are written out, it’s time to link them together. As the final step of one procedure, define the next person pick ups the ball and runs with it. Here are some questions to ask:

  • how does the next person in line get notified it’s time for them to step in?
  • who checks to be sure no balls get dropped?
  • who checks for errors?
  • what happens if there’s a problem?

Link all of the procedures into an overall flow of activities, with check points and hands offs. This is your process map.

Once systems are developed, it’s worth it to set a review schedule. Meet monthly to review how things are going. Discuss where errors happen. Decide if things are moving along fast enough and accurately enough. Discuss actions to take to make improvements. Incorporate those notes into the procedures and process map.

Looking critically at the work of the organization can contribute to improved performance. Taking out errors is one way to minimize waste and increase profits. Figuring out the shortest path to take, to complete tasks, can lead to greater efficiency, which is one way to put more money on the bottom line.  Finally, having a process map rich with procedures, to use in training, helps to insure that lessons learned in the past are passed along.

Looking for a good book? Improving Business Processes by Harvard Business School Press.


Andi Gray is president of Strategy Leaders Inc.,, 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 or by mail to Andi Gray, Strategy Leaders Inc., 5 Crossways, Chappaqua, NY 10514. Visit for an entire library of Ask Andi articles.

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Shifting Personnel to Grow the Business

One of my guys from the field is now helping me with sales. He’s pretty good at it and wants to do more. My concern is that as the season builds, I’ll need him back in the field. I fear that he’ll lose sales momentum, and might get discouraged about working in sales. Any advice?

Moving people around the organization is a smart idea. Don’t overlook the challenges. Do keep building the organization from the bottom up by giving other people opportunity to fill in open slots. Find replacements now, before you need them. Learn how to let the people in operations solve the problem, without relying on you. Building up sales by taking people from operations who want to make the move, can lead to long term growth of both revenue and profits.

Peter Drucker cited Frances Hesselbein’s experience moving personnel around the organization, when she was with the Girl Scouts as a model of organizations to consider. He called it Frances’ Wheel of Fortune. This development model let to higher levels of cooperation, less insularity in silos of the organization, and better communication throughout the organization. Moving an operations person into a sales position can be just plain smart.

One way to ensure a smooth transition is to encourage operations people to spend time, pre-transition, building their skills talking with customers and prospects. Ask people in the field to report back on conversations. Meet to discuss what’s going well and where they need help. Consider customer service training for your field people in order to increase their ability to listen to, report on and react to customer needs.

Realize that it may be challenging for people to make the transition from operations to sales. Focus on the advantages that operations personnel have: a network of client relationships and experiences they can draw upon. Operations personnel also have an intimate understanding on how the company performs it’s work, how to make things come out right and what  problems to avoid. These skills will help them when they talk to prospects about potential future contracts.

Plan out the needs of operations, as it learns to cope with the loss of the person who moved over to sales. Look for people in operations who have the desire and potential to learn and grow. Ask who wants to move up to fill the shoes of the person who just moved on. Make a list of skills that a replacement would have to have, and ask internal candidates for the job what they need to do to get ready.

It’s easier to think of the organization as always planning to move up. Keep people energized and focused by having each person in operations build a personal development plan. Ask people who want to move on to other departments to identify their replacements and get them trained. Once people learn to bring forward their replacement candidate, at the same time they ask for a chance to move up, your job gets much easier.

Ask operations supervisors to meet regularly to discuss their organization. Who’s ready to move up. Who needs more training. How well people are doing at training their replacements.

Give them information to work with. How many additional sales will they have to deal with this year. What other parts of the organization might need to draw on their people. How many people will they likely be able to hire this year.

Keep in mind that your most experienced sales people are likely to come from operations. If they understand how the company works, and how to avoid problems in operations, they’re less likely to sell problem projects or underestimate the scope of work. Of course operations skills are often very different from sales skills.

Communication, working independently, knocking on doors, using a database to keep track of prospects are all essential sales skills. People will need to demonstrate some degree of skill before they transfer over. If they can make the transition, look for them to turn their operations background into fewer mistakes in the sales process and better transition of new work into operations.


Looking for a good book? Essentials of Capacity Management by Reginald Thomas Yu-Lee.


Andi Gray is president of Strategy Leaders Inc.,, 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 or by mail to Andi Gray, Strategy Leaders Inc., 5 Crossways, Chappaqua, NY 10514. Visit for an entire library of Ask Andi articles.

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