Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Broken Windows and the zombie minimum culture

I recently had an experience at an organization that had seen better days. The headquarters of the organization that were once magnificent and stately were now in desperate need of thorough cleaning, fresh paint, and light repairs. Although after using the “facilities” before my meeting, I would say those were in need of a MAJOR overhaul, but I digress. As I sat in the HR office waiting for my meeting, I noticed that the space was more organized chaos than anything else. Even the Receptionist, who was attentive, knowledgeable and polite, had a wrinkle problem with his clothes that made me think he either a) needs to do a wash, or b) like me, he absolutely abhors folding clean clothes. However, no matter how much I hate folding, I always run a warm iron, as needed, over my business clothes (for suits I use my professional steamer). Additionally the non-HR personnel I did meet had a slightly better than zombie look about them as they conducted their business. They seemed sucked lifeless by an organization that valued nothing and was the embodiment of a policy book that set a minimum “15 pieces of flair” without rewarding those who did more. As I sat there I thought two things. First, I thought how sad a state of disrepair this once prominent organization has fallen into. Second, I thought how gross the bathroom was; eye level exposed copper pipes, green and yellow tile and a trough sink. Seriously gross.

It wasn’t until about a week later as I drove through the town where the organization is located and right past the HQ itself that it dawned on me… Broken Windows! More so “broken windows theory” is what I was thinking about. I then thought if I were in charge of the HR area, I could whip that place back into shape in no time (okay in some time, but you get my point). Notice how I didn’t say “if I were in charge of the whole organization”, I said just in charge of the HR department. Why? You ask. Because in a situation such as this, a disorganized zombie culture cannot be effectively transformed from the top, but rather has to be manipulated from within. HR is the police department in the broken windows theory looking to stop the crime of murdering the souls and minds of the employees. Just like in the theory I would start by solving the petty crimes or rather, fixing the broken windows.

Step 1) Reorganize the HR office. Organized chaos is a shambolic front to have. Any potential or current employee who walks into that office should at least walk out impressed with how it looks. They should almost think, well the building itself is terrible, but HR is on top of their stuff. Clean the space up, change the feng shui

Step 2) Enforce the dress code, in the HR office at first, but then throughout the organization. Now “professionals” from around the world will argue with me on this one, but let’s face it how you dress reflects how serious people take you. My receptionist friend could have been the guy from the DOS EQUIS commercials, but with all those wrinkles I wouldn’t even ask him directions if I saw him on the street holding a map. In the HR office, people need to be reassured of the quality product we are providing. Ironing your completely acceptable clothing choices is one way to help assure them of that.

Step 3) After the HR office and staff is on the right path, I would start recruiting and hiring better for all jobs in the organization. Better is a sliding scale, for me talent is talent, but people who are going to fit the mold of professionals and organized are moving to the top of the “to hire” and therefore BETTER than those who don’t. In any event the goal would be to fight the zombies by bringing some life back to the organization.

Step 4) Lobby top management for the funding to have the bathrooms fixed. Now I know in this day and age financial capital can be put to better use than upgrading bathrooms, but as part of the plan to fix the broken windows this has to be the next step. The bathrooms are the only common thread of space between all employees and all visitors to the office, including potential new hires. As any college sports follower knows the better your facilities the more likely you are to have better recruits playing on your team!

Step 5) Zombie management interventions. What are these you ask? Most people know them as management training. Let’s face it, we all tend to manage those beneath us how we were managed or the complete opposite from how we were managed. That means for all the different classes of management in the text book, most people are only using the 2 they know about somebody else’s or the opposite of someone else’s. Neither of which may be a good fit for them as managers or the organization as a whole. By intervening and looking for ways to improve management, their might just be an opportunity to breathe life back into the existing employee base.

Those are just the basis for fixing the broken windows and changing the zombie culture at this particular organization. However, no matter the situation I believe that HR has to be the driver of organizational change. So let me ask you loyal readers… is it HR’s failure that leads to these types of organizations? Is HR the right place to start fixing the broken windows?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

You are either growing or you're dying...

As Big Tom Callahan says about business in the movie Tommy Boy "You are either growing or you're dying. There just ain't no third direction." The recession has made everyone in small business painfully aware of this new reality. Now I know that that recession is hard for small business owners, my wife is a small business owner and it is tough out there. Capital is all but gone, costs are increasing, and sales are harder to find than ever before, but that doesn't mean your business has to die. In fact if you are still in business your company was growing and you probably didn't even know it.

Most small business owners will probably think I am crazy for saying that, but the reality is what impedes growth is a lack of understanding as to what "real" growth is and how to find it. For most business owners, growth is a tangible result measured against some benchmark on the space time continuum, e.g. growth of sales over the previous quarter. However, what if "real" growth was intangible? What if "real" growth was measured as the ability to stay in business? Would you know how to recognize areas of "real" growth in your company? Probably not, but why?

The reason why is because the business world doesn't measure upticks in creativity and innovation, so most small business owners won't either. However, I challenge you to think about your business situation for a second... Over the past 18-months have you been able to do the impossible and keep the doors open? How? My bet is that you have done it through looking beyond the tangible and focusing on the perception of value derived from creativity and innovation, I know my wife has.  She has changed the intangible things about her company.  She changed the model, method, and overall strategy of the business she got into as the recession started.

Now, I know what you (and she) are thinking, you're thinking "I kept the doors open and lights on because I slashed payroll, cut costs, incurred additional debt and did it all because my sales were down... which are tangible" and it doesn't take a genius to recognize that is the opposite of growth in the traditional text book sense. However I ask how did you slash payroll? How did you cut costs? My wager is that you intuited or perceived value (an intangible) in people (cut him but not her) and costs (kept the water cooler, but lost the fresh flower delivery) in a way you had never done before. You recognized that to keep the company "growing" you needed to cut back and change things. You realized in order to survive your company has to be more responsive to customers. It has to be doing business with the right vendors. It has to be more creative. It has to embrace innovation and it has to do all these things to buy yourself another day in business. So to put it back into traditional growth terms, despite all the cutbacks your company is still growing one day at a time. It would have to be, or else you would already be dead, because in business there really isn't a third direction!

How did you grow to survive the recession? Where will you grow when it is over? Leave a comment and let me know!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Are you a good boss?

Across every organization, in every industry, in every country the questions of what makes a good manager will be a hot button issue. Books on management and leadership are produced almost daily not to mention that annually academia produces volumes on the theory of leadership and management. I even threw my hat in the ring with a Master's Thesis titled "A Study of the Context in Strategic Leadership" however what set my thesis apart and sets my views on management apart from others is I don't believe that there is one "perfect" way to manage or lead people. In recent posts where I attempt to interpret Sun Tzu's five failings of a general and in my posts on why we as managers are bad at making decisions Part 1 and Part 2, I argue that we are all victims of our own limited cognitive capacities as human beings.

While I don't believe that one type of management is better, I do believe that there are good manager and bad managers, and as my thesis would argue it is all based on the context of the context... (If anyone wants a copy of this I can e-mail a bulky PDF upon request). So what do I mean when I say it is all based on context, well consider asking yourself, Which manager in the past did I enjoy working for the most? Why? What was happening in my personal life? What was happening at the organization? What level of work was I at? If you answer those questions honestly you can begin to see maybe it wasn't so much that they were good managers, but that the context in which they managed was positive. You can also replicate the questions in the negative sense, as in why did I hate my old boss?

However while I don't think one style or type is better, I do believe that there are some definite things every good manager should understand... in context of course.

1) Understanding that customer service flows through the organization, not just out of it. As Vineet Nayar puts it into action at HCL, employee's first, customers second. If a manager can understand where in process the work being done by his or her employee's comes from and flows to next, they will be better at addressing the professional needs of their employees.

2) Understanding that while it may rain down from above, a good manager is both an umbrella and a cumulonimbus cloud. A good boss should protect their employees from unnecessary rain and take the brunt of any STORMS that may be headed their way. How many of us can say we didn't like a boss because anytime he or she got into trouble he passed the blame down onto us? At the same time we all love a boss that "goes to bat for us". That said even if the boss goes to bat for you, they should be prepared to rain down thunder and lightning on under-performing employees. A better way to describe it would be that a good boss doesn't let anyone else punish their employees, but is always prepared to punish them if they are at fault.

3) Understanding that being predictable isn't always a bad thing. As any Psychologist can tell you, people are confused by people who have unpredictable reactions. And as any management text can tell you, if your employees are confused you are not doing so well as a manager. The implication for business is to simply try and have a consistent reaction, or at the very least a predictable reaction. If you lash out because a report is filed incorrectly on Monday, and then play it off as no big deal on Tuesday, then no one can tell if it is a big deal or not a big deal because you created ambiguity. For example at an early point in my life as a manager two of my employees didn't appreciate each others personalities. In fact both contacted me minutes apart and said I need to do something. I told them both the same thing, "This is a personal matter, it is not a business matter therefore as your manager I will listen to both your personal complaints, but only rule that you both are liable for not doing your work today. I will only get involved in matters of business, and the interest of business will decide all matters." By doing this I let them both know what they could expect an honest open door as a manager but I removed all ambiguity from the way I would deal with personal and professional matters.

4) Understanding that it isn't personal, it's only business. Just like in the Godfather, you can never react to employee issues personally. If you do, you are done. In the example above, I could have easily told one of my employees who was truly just stirring up trouble, that she was wrong, and she was the root of all the problems in the department. I wouldn't have been lying either. However if I had done that I wouldn't have been able to increase their individual work load with out being rebuffed, nor would I have been able to lighten another person's workload in the department without being accused of playing favorites. However by sticking to business, I maintained my ability as a manager to manage as I saw fit.

5) Understanding that just because you are the boss, you didn't instantly become a genius. This is probably one of the hardest concepts for managers to understand. For example as a result of the above mentioned personality conflict, I brought to my staff the idea of buddy lunches. In theory it sounded perfectly reasonable, one day a week you rotated and had to eat lunch one on one with another person from the department. It seemed like a good idea especially as I tried to break down the "cliques" and personality conflicts in the department. However when presented with the idea my employees kind of chuckled at my idea and told me in unison that this wasn't primary school and they didn't need a required lunch buddy program. Now to be sure I had already spent a lot of time on developing the rotating schedule and fitting it into their work schedules. I was also more than a bit embarrassed to be told that this wasn't "primary school," but instead of ramming my idea down their throats because I could. I simply said fair enough, but we have got to come up with a better way to break up the "cliques" and all work together. They came up with their own solution amongst themselves and it seemed to work.

A manger who understands these 5 things is more than likely going to be labeled a good manager by the majority of their employees. Wouldn't you agree?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The trouble with RISK...

Unless you have been under a rock lately you have heard of the two biggest events in American (well technically BP is British) business since the recession began. First, Goldman Sachs and those lads there engage in some legal but unethical practices. Second, BP manages to sink a deep horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico and recreate the Exxon Valdez incident only on a much grander scale (I swear if this accident is the result of a drunken individual all oil companies should require mandatory twice daily breathalyzer tests). However, while there are countless ways that these events are different. There is one major way in which they are similar. They are similar because of the risk.

Now we can all agree that drilling for oil, two miles below the surface of the ocean, or gulf as it is in this case, is decidedly risky. And we should all know by now that investing in anything is also inherently risky. However knowing something is risky and truly understanding the risk that goes along with it are two entirely different things. The difference between knowing and understanding risk should matter to anyone owning, managing, or operating any business. The reason being that assuming you reduced all the risks or assuming that an event won't happen leaves you no room to maneuver if it does.

As an example, I will use the NASA model of successful risk management... there is no absolute, there is only probability and possibility. For example, they launch people into space knowing that 1) They may never make it, 2) They make it but something goes wrong up there, 3) They make it, but then they can't bring them back (see Columbia Tragedy) 4) They make it, they make it back, but something goes wrong down here (see Fantastic Four) or 5)They make it and they make it back safely. Those are all the big picture risks that exist in manned Space exploration which by my simple math equates to a 80% chance of complete failure. Would your company take on any project that had only 20% chance of success? How then does NASA or anyone operate successfully within such a risky environment? I argue that are successful because they understand risk to be inevitable and they have a reaction plan for everything.

Therefore in order to move beyond knowing the risks towards understanding the risks there are three things to do, which apply to EVERY business decision:

1) Create a plan to mitigate the risk of everything imaginable. Really and truly think Independence Day alien invasion, think hurricanes in Iowa, blizzards in Egypt, and meteor impacts. Once you are done, think smaller, think tornadoes, think power outages, think floods like Nashville. Once that is done think even smaller, think CEO heart-attack, think computer viruses, think office fire. And so on and so on until you think you have covered it all. Then once you are done with that reduce the risks from the minutiae up to through alien invasion, the risks associated with a fire, flood, and meteor strike are likely to be similar (building location for example) but not the same so by starting small you should be building a base of mitigation for larger events. The most important thing to remember when doing this is that you will miss something. You might mitigate the risk of an office fire by installing a fire suppression system, but what if the system is down for maintenance. That should help you see the importance of step 2.

2) Create a plan for what happens after the Aliens invade, the fire burns down the building, and your CEO chokes on a peanut M&M. By doing this you allow for the possibility of something you didn't think of from happening and you have a plan of action in response. This is what is known in the biz as a business continuity plan, however that sounds like a one and done sort of thing, which isn't helpful. I like to consider it more like a base set of ideas of what to do should the CEO not die, but merely be incapacitated. Now this is where semantics takes over and a lot of people give up on risk analysis. If the CEO is incapacitated but not dead then we should do this, but if he is this, then we should do this etc. However when aspects of risk begin to delve into semantics, reconsider NASA, there is only life or death that defines success and failure for them, you should have a similar big picture definition of success and failure. This way you won't bog down in the infinite semantics of "what if."

**Update, in items 1 and 2, be sure to factor in the Human elements of risk as it plays on your greatest corporate capital, the employee. As this post points out, how you manage employees in a post calamity environment is extremely important. I mean nothing would be worse than a risk related event coming full circle by losing the employees best equipped with the knowledge and skill to improve upon whatever brought about the risk event in the first place.

3) Review steps 1 and 2 often. As Goldman Sachs found popular opinion changed. As BP found out, the technically impossible happened. If you review steps 1 and 2 at least bi-annually you won't prevent the risk of the epic fail, but you will reduce its probability and its effect.

Friday, April 16, 2010

5 simple rules for understanding millenials...

I recently had a conversation the other day with an HR professional who had read my recent blog post on social networking and the benefits it can provide HR. While she agreed in principal that it can have an impact, she relayed a story of how misuse can damage personal and or professional reputations. She relayed the story we have all heard of a CEO who tried to "connect" with the employees by taking down the stodgy business suit "year book" photo that was his profile picture and replaced it with the picture of him camping in jeans and a t-shirt holding a PBR (I still don't understand the hipster resurgence of this swill, but I digress) in one hand and a fishing pole in the other. She then went on to say how this attempt to connect backfired and ended up hurting his personal and professional reputation in the company. She agreed that while HR should not be trolling the Internet for "gotcha" pictures of employees, it is a fact that people forget how conspicuous you really are on the Internet and how by default we make assumptions about people, companies and places as a result of what we see. The old "first impression" argument for controlling social networks from the HR perspective. Now I think many or most of us will all agree that this is a very valid argument. However her remarks got me thinking; What if this view doesn't apply to the "Millenials"? How then does a company make rules and govern people who have a fundamental disagreement with the rationalization of the rules?

My argument is that Millenials, which apparently I am one of according to the date range, have grown up with a level of connectivity which no other previous generation can imagine. As a result, the old norms for communication have been overrun by hundreds if not thousands of one off exceptions to the rules. For example, think about the old protocols such as the 8am-10pm phone call policy. You know, the protocol that says you should only call someone at home between those hours, and that any calls outside that time had better be the result of a life threatening emergency or death. Now imagine that a text comes in at 11pm from a friend, or an e-mail from a colleague in Europe comes in at 5am where you are but 10 or 11am where he is. All of a sudden the old rules don't apply because the phone never rang, and now an exception has been created. As Facebook, Twitter, and other social media and social networks progress we will reach a point where no practical rule exists, because there are hundreds of exceptions. Right now I will argue that the exceptions are the only rules Millenials know. How can that not be the case when nowadays parents and kids text each other to coordinate times, dates, events, pick-ups, drop-offs, etc?

However as an older Millenial, I know the old rules. I am used to literally being told stories of my parents party antics. Of having to call friends when I got home to tell them about what ridiculous thing happened while I was on vacation. In essence, I was told and would share the same stupid, job jeopardizing, PBR drinking stories, but the technology of the day provided an appropriate filter since I could only connect to people one at a time. Current technology provides no such limits and most younger Millenials don't expect it to nor do they care that it doesn't, because it never has. Thanks to standard technology I can now take a video of my friend/coworker doing something that isn't exactly legal, tag him in it, and post it to the wall of a friend who would laugh same as me if only they were there. All that can be done in the exact instant it is happening, aka real time. For the most part my friend/coworker won't care, nor will the mutual friend who received the post, and nor will I as the person who posted it. However if our corporate HR finds it or perhaps someone trying to hire me or either one of my friends sees the video then we are cooked. If, for arguments sake, we were employed then HR would call us in, explain to us that we were wrong, that we damaged our reputations, damaged the company and likely punish us for doing what is normal and natural for us to do. Going further this reaction from HR towards us results in animosity, a feeling of being disconnected, ostracized, a little embarrassed sure, but mostly we would get frustrated because we didn't do anything wrong. Or maybe we know we did "wrong" but we didn't do anything we haven't been allowed to do since we were old enough to be left on our own by our parents.

And that's just it... most of today's policy makers who I will argue mostly come from the Baby Boomer generation, didn't have the technological capability to instantly shatter their whole careers. Let face it the lord knows if they did have the ability they probably would have. So in an effort to find the middle ground I offer up some social networking advice for Millenials and those tasked with setting policy for them.

1) As a policy maker, don't assume Millenials know better. As I show above in many instances they know right from wrong in terms of legal and illegal, but not as it relates to damaging their personal and professional careers. The rules, filters and limits of even just a decade ago no longer apply.

2)As a Millenial, think about what or what you don't want people to know about you before you post anything. Most Millenials won't fall for a Phishing scam, where most non-Millenials will. Why? Because Millenials have been online since birth, they know better than to provide instant access to their bank accounts, social security number etc, but they don't always know that the funny photos of them playing "Edward 40-hands" over the weekend can be just as damaging.

3) As a policy maker, think about the possible exceptions to the rules before you make them. As I recently expressed to someone, most policy is made under the idea that what is good for the goose is good for the gander, but it forgets that ducks and swans inhabit the lake too.

4) As a Millenial, no matter if you are a goose, swan, or duck, when you first get into the water (job market) take a cue from nature and swim behind the mother (your boss), it is for your protection. Or in other words fall in line, at least at first, because you may not be fully aware of the dangers that exist.

5) Finally whether you are a policy maker or a work force Millenial try to understand where the other person is coming from. Generation gaps are no different than any other demographic marker, you should handle it like you would handle any other "diversity" issue... with respect.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Using social networks to improve HR

Do you twitter? Do you have a Facebook page? a MySpace page? How about a linked in profile? If you are like a lot of people you answered yes to engaging in at least 2 or 3 of the above social networking activities. Now we have all read news articles online or in print that speak to how closely companies monitor employee's social networking involvement. As a matter of fact just today on Yahoo Finance I linked to an article titled "6 career killing Facebook mistakes." This got me thinking, I have never read or seen one article which doesn't have a similar death-knell headline for how HR seems to view social networking. Now I am sure there are articles and countless examples of companies which have embraced social networking, but for the most part the articles I read are about how participation in social networking can get you fired and in some cases if you do it the right way, get you hired. But what about the areas of HR between hiring and firing? Can social networks actually make an organization better? Below is a list of arguments as to why companies should be mining the social networks of their employee's not policing them.

1) It can promote communication within the organization. Often times company structures limit the interactions between employee's of different departments, however people from different departments may have social relationships which promote or facilitate corporate communication. In HR there is a lot of buzz about people known as boundary spanners who have social skills that allow them to bridge gaps in organizational knowledge, just by being social. These boundary spanners exist and are important... I propose that social networking sites are ready built boundary spanner's. In so much as interoffice communication between two departments may be limited, this "superoffice" (my term) communication is boundless.

2) Information can be passed around quickly. We all know that Twitter got its start as a way to pass information around in 140 characters. Does anybody remember when Twitter went mainstream in 2008 after the journalist/UC Berkley student in Egypt went missing the guy twittered that they had been black bagged (arrested) with his phone in his pocket. Within a few hours his family, friends, and local congressman back in the States knew and were diplomatically getting him released (here). The fact information moves that quickly is not new, people trying to harness the power of the information is not new. HR in your company using the power and speed of social networking to do something besides share news or policy... may not be new to some, but it doesn't seem like an optimized use of the power or speed of online social networks.

3) Evaluation of corporate culture. If your company is like most, it has a mix of seasoned veterans and new energetic new hires. However the ways of old and beliefs of youth often clash within a company's culture. If you continually see disparaging posts against the experienced veterans by the young hires in your company, there is a high likelihood that your company culture could be changing or that your culture is resistant to change. Reciprocally if the old veterans are tweeting and posting against their frustrations with the new hires, there may be cultural conflicts, or maybe problems in the hiring process. In any event HR departments should read the posts, follow the tweets, and consider them to be the barometer of corporate culture.

4) Identifying weaknesses in HR programs, policy and effects. If you are able to read the posts and the tweets and see the pictures of your employees you are getting unprecedented access to true corporate capital. If the tweets are negative about the organization or about how people are dreading the upcoming training or how pointless the performance review process is, you have more valuable information than you are ever going to receive from a formalized 360-Feedback program. Based on the information you can respond to the comments by changing the way you do things. If training is universally panned, you should update the training. If performance reviews seem meaningless, determine a way to change them and give them meaning. If your employees are posting and tweeting about how awful the company is to work for, well then there is a bigger and more serious problem going on and HR should be prepared to address that.

5) Recruiting, headhunting and hiring. Obviously corporate recruiters have found linked in. I am pretty sure the high priced consultant/recruiters have figured out a secret though, disgruntled employees looking to ship to another company may be posting away "anonymously" in blogs. Just because he or she may hate their current job, it doesn't mean they won't love their next one, especially if they tell you exactly how to make the next job better for them...

For better or worse social networking is here to stay. Companies should embrace the benefits beyond the showroom floor and begin to use the unprecedented look into the lives of employees to improve operations. I provided 5 ways that it can be done, how many more exist?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Know the limits of your management skills (Part 1)

Many small business owners are familiar with Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and its implications about business. On the whole as a management text it has fallen out of favor with most people in business for its aggressive comparisons to war and the not so easy to apply when not engaged in an actual war tactics. However while both points may be true, many aspects of the text have real relevance for managers at all levels of an organization today. For the purposes of this blog I will focus on the ones related to being a strategic leader.

In the text, Sun Tzu states “there are 5 dangerous traits of a general” that will always lead to their downfall and the downfall of their army. More important than this however is the fact that Sun Tzu doesn’t mention redeeming traits of generals, he doesn’t offer solutions or recommendations to overcome these traits. Instead of Sun Tzu offering ways to become a better general, he offers the best advice about strategic leadership that I have ever come across when he simply says “they must be examined.” The reason that it is such great advice is that these traits are personal and inherent and cannot be overcome completely. The best you can do as leader is identify which trait you are the most prone to and try your best to check yourself against them. However since the traits are personal how you check them will be up to you, but in part 2 of this blog on the topic I will provide some techniques to try to check them.

In an effort to examine the traits like Sun Tzu said I will offer you his words, my interpretation of them for business leaders, and then offer a couple of personal questions to help you determine your most likely “dangerous trait”

  1. “He who is reckless can be killed” – In other words think before taking action. Do you charge head first into difficult tasks? Has anyone ever complimented your “bulldog” style of management? Have you ever been assigned to clean up a department or business?
  2. “He who is cowardly can be captured”- If you don’t act like a leader, no one will support you. Do you have a hard time making tough decisions? Are your subordinates walking all over you? Have you ever had to carry out a decision made for you?
  3. “He who is quick-tempered can be insulted”- Getting mad and getting even are only distractions. Have you ever used an axe to swat a fly? Do people at work really know how to press your buttons? Do you burn bridges?
  4. “He who is moral can be shamed”- Taking the moral high road is great, but you are not always the authority. Do you publicly criticize other people’s management decisions? Do you often say the best way to lead is by your actions? Does the balance of right and wrong guide your every decision?
  5. “He who is fond of the people can be worried”- Lead your people, don’t let your people lead you. Do you worry if your subordinates like you? Have you worked harder to cover for an employee? Is popular approval more important to you than the tough decision?

My dangerous trait is morality. I think I make the best decisions in the world, I criticize others and I base my decisions on what is more morally right than wrong. What is your dangerous trait? How would you attempt to overcome them? Remember to come back for part 2 of this topic and I will put forth some potential techniques for checking yourself against these traits.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Innovation... That's not a bad idea!

Only 47% of senior executives see their companies as more innovative than the competition, and 17% concede that they're even less innovative than peers, according to an Ernst & Young survey of C-suite executives at firms with revenues of $50 million to $5 billion. Among the most frequently cited innovation challenges are lack of appropriate personnel (48%) and "lack of a big idea" (41%).

Source: Ernst & Young

We all want to build an innovative business, but we don't think we have what it takes within our organizations to do. Add to that at the same time we don't follow through with what we need to do to actually innovate. If you feel this way, the following are all the ways you can promote instead of stifle innovation in 2010.

1) Help others innovate- Too often we find ourselves as business leaders telling those in our organizations to come up with innovation and as soon as they do we ready our rifles and shoot them down.

2) View innovation as a core business product- You would never stop making your product better, why would you stop making your company better?

3) Innovation isn't just a way to improve sales- Innovation can come from anywhere, a new quality control procedure, a new more efficient way to file important information, a better system of procurement; if these things make your company better, they are all forms of positive innovations!

4) Support innovation- After you have broken the habit of shooting down innovative ideas (see #1), they still have to grow. Think of innovation like a seed. You can simply plant it and hope it grows, or you can water it, give it nutrients, make sure light shines on it and make sure it grows.

5) Don't handcuff innovation- Really #4 and #5 could be combined, however sometimes we support innovation, giving it time and space to grow, but then handcuff the growth by giving it unrealistic time lines or require it to meet impossible metrics. This isn't to say you should fund all innovation to the hilt, but be realistic with your expectation for innovative ideas.

6) Reward innovation- Innovation makes the company better. If someone attempts to innovate and it doesn't earn or save $1, don't punish the innovator as a failure. Creating a culture which rewards innovation will make it easier for employee's to bring better ideas to the table.

7) If at first you don't succeed, keep trying- No innovation is perfect right out of the box. More than this, not every attempt to innovate will be successful. However simple law of averages says the more innovations you support, the more likely one or more will be a success.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

2010 and The Partnership Revival?

This year all of us are looking for ways to grow our businesses to recover some of what we lost in 2009. One way to grow a business that often gets overlooked is a partnership. Many small business owners avoid partnership like a plague because of past experience. We have all had a business deal, class project, or personal relationship that has soured our view of partnerships. Whatever the reason for your partnership-phobia, '09 put a lot of us in the same boat trying to generate business with little resources, and joining a partnership will allow you to do just that.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the concept an effective partnership offers many benefits to a small business owner, but the 4 biggest are listed below.

1) Partnerships don't result in the loss of decision making control- In a partnership both companies agree to help each other, but no one has to give up control of their own company. If company X and Y partner with each other, partner Y can't influence the decisions of company X and vice versa.

2) Partnerships focus on your core- In an effective partnership both partners should be focusing on their core business methods. As a result neither company has to dedicate "additional" core resources to the partnership to receive benefit.

3) Partners can come from anywhere in your channel- Good partners are not always companies in your specific industry. Partners can be your suppliers, your competitors, or other companies who share your customers, but don't provide the same products or services.

4) Partnerships have no upfront costs- An effective partnership provides benefits to both companies as a result of the collaboration. If one company has to pay upfront to enter into a partnership there is a fundamental flaw with it. Now this is not to say that a company can't receive compensation as a result of the partnership, my company provides financial incentives to our partners when their effort results in a sale for our company.

Ultimately every partnership is unique and can be structured to take advantage of all kinds of business needs. Cost cutting, revenue boosting, entering new markets, are all reasons to enter a partnership and are all problems we are trying to solve in 2010. So as a small business owner don't just assume you have to spend more or work harder to see results. Take the time to find a suitable partner and you might be surprised to see that you are working harder because you are back to being busy!