Business Growth, Great Entrepreneurs, Great Reads, Key Ideas to Think On, Leadership, People and Teams

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in-support-of-an-accordion-management-styleMost of us know Jack Welch at the former chairman and CEO of General Electric who saw the corporation’s value rise 4,000% during his tenure. He’s now known as a best-selling business author and the Executive Chairman of the Jack Welch Management Institute. What you may not know is that Mr. Welch is a staunch supporter of selective micromanagement—or as he calls it, “Accordion Management.”

What the heck is “accordion management”? In a recent article (which you can read in its entirety here) he described it this way:

As a manager, you have to take what I call the “accordion approach.” Get very close to your people and their work when they need you – that is, when your help matters – and pull back when you’re extraneous. Your help matters when you bring unique expertise to a situation, or you can expedite things by dint of your authority, or both. Your help matters when you have highly relevant experience that no one else on the team brings, and your presence sets an example of best practices – and prevents costly mistakes. Your help matters when you have a long relationship with, say, a customer or a potential partner, and your being at the table changes the game. In such situations, you have to micromanage. It’s your responsibility. Just as it’s every employee’s responsibility to help the organization win.

It’s well worth it to read the whole article, but here’s the big take-away for me. Leadership and management aren’t template driven. As a leader you need to be flexible and know when being involved is a benefit—and when it actually detracts. There’s a huge difference between micro managing (trying to control every little detail of your company) and being willing to jump in when you (and perhaps only you) can make a big, positive difference.

Of course in order to exercise “accordion management” you’ve got to have the kind of relationship with your leadership team that enables them to tell you when you’re crossing the line. And you also need the kind of clear vision and honesty to be confident that you’re really getting involved for the greater good—and not to bolster your ego. What we’re really talking about here is not micro-management, but engaged leadership.

That’s a tune everyone can dance to!

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Business Growth, Execution and Productivity, Great Reads, Key Ideas to Think On, Leadership, Strategy

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A-Pirate’s-View-of-Business-MeetingsIf you’ve spent any time around me, you know that I’m a big proponent of regular business meetings. I’m not talking about meetings just for the sake of meetings—I’m talking about regular meetings with clear objectives and accountability. I’m talking about the kind of meetings that keep you informed about the status of important measureable items (You can call them KPIs if you want—I do!) that keep your business moving in the right direction and not only keep you going, but keep you growing.

I talk about different kinds of regular meetings frequently (Planning, quarterly, monthly, daily, etc.) They’re important. I’ve found certain formats for meetings to be particularly helpful and I often pass them on. But it’s important to remember that the meetings are there to serve the business—and not the other way around.

It’s like my good friend, Captain Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean once said when explaining the Pirate’s Code: “The code is more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules. Welcome aboard the Black Pearl, Miss Turner.”

While Captain Barbossa may not have had business meetings in mind, he was still onto something. Consistency and regularity are important, but it’s not a rigid set of rules. You can use flexibility in the exact format of the meeting you have—as long as there is accountability and you cover the important issues.

Startup company, Skyscanner uses something they call “The 22-minute meeting” that employee Mary Porter described in her post, “How the 22-minute meeting saved us 100 working days.” With 15 employees attending a weekly 60-minute meeting, they realized by cutting the meetings to 22 minutes they could save 29,700 minutes (100 working days) a year.

You can read her post here, but here are a few small changes they made that cut the length of time they spent and maximized productivity.

  • Keeping track of time. To respect employees’ time the company agreed each point on the agenda should only have a maximum of 5 minutes. To reinforce that a large clock was brought to the meetings and an alarm sounded after four minutes.
  • Keep things relevant. If further discussion is required the topic is taken off line and pursued by the relevant parties (rather than making everyone sit through details that may not apply to them).
  • Paying attention to etiquette. Noticing that attendees were often late and distracted by messages and emails the company agreed a specific start time of 9.05am and banned laptops/mobiles, unless presenting.

The steps Syscanner took may not be the right steps for your company. That’s not the point. What is important is that they knew meetings were important, but that their current format wasn’t delivering. So they made changes.

Regular meetings are crucial to track progress and to pass on valuable information. But don’t be a slave to your meetings—make sure your meetings are serving your business interests.

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Business Growth, Events, Key Ideas to Think On, Strategy

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Leadership Solutions with a businessman walking through a complicated maze opened up by a pencil eraser as a business concept of innovative thinking for financial success.

If you’ve been in business for a while you know that high growth for your business doesn’t just happen. It’s something you have to work at. But success doesn’t come from simply working harder. You’ve got to work hard at the right things.

Let’s face it: the business world is a bit like a labyrinth. There are all kinds of paths you can take that will lead you into dead ends of slow or no growth. How can you get some perspective that will help you find your way through the business maze to the kind of growth you want for your business?

While there are a lot of moving parts to building a better, more successful, more profitable business, there are three things that are indispensable if you want to see extraordinary growth. You need to:

  • Align your business with your business goals. That means developing clarity about your vision and having accountability within your organization to achieve those goals
  • Accelerate your business. You need to find and develop a strategic advantage over your competitors that allows you to move faster.
  • Advance your company. You’ll want to enhance your company’s reputation and see your revenues skyrocket as a result of employees who understand and deliver your brand promises.

There’s a great opportunity for you to focus on these three things and develop a firm foundation for moving your company forward. The Scaling Up Business Growth Workshop from Gazelles Coaches has give more than 20,000 executives and leadership teams the tools, strategies and understanding to achieve remarkable growth.

I invite you to join me and a group of your highly motivated peers as we explore and explain how to scale up potential high-growth businesses to achieve their goals. The first workshop will be held in Colorado Springs, CO on November 16, 2016. Click here for more information or to register for the Colorado Springs workshop. A second workshop will be held in Denver, CO on December 7, 2016. Click here for more information or to register for the Denver workshop.

Rapid, high growth in business doesn’t just happen. Plan now to equip yourself and your business for unprecedented growth.

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Business Growth, Cash and Financials, Key Ideas to Think On, Leadership, Planning

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You’ve heard it a hundred times: “Cash is King.” When it comes to growing your business, there may be no other axiom that rings as true. Not having enough cash on hand can kill a growing business faster than almost anything.

Cash-flow-Is-King-And-Why-So-Many-Businesses-Are-SerfsStill, managing cash flow is a problem that plagues so many growing businesses. A recent article from entrepreneur.com highlighted five of the worst cash flow mistakes small business owners make and included a rather sober statistic: As many as 82 percent of startups and small businesses fail due to poor cash-flow management.

You can read the complete article here, but let me give you a summary of the five mistakes as highlighted by contributor, Jason Hecht.

  1. Overestimating future sales volumes
  2. Engaging in impulse spending during the startup phase
  3. Being passive about past-due receivables
  4. Not using a cash-flow budget
  5. Not keeping a cushion of cash on hand

Cash flow management doesn’t just happen on automatically. It needs to be part of your strategic planning—and it needs to be tracked regularly and discussed by your leadership team. Why?

  • Development projects can’t move forward if you don’t have enough cash on hand
  • Production shuts down if there isn’t enough cash on hand to keep things going
  • Marketing efforts are worthless if you don’t have enough cash on hand to deliver what you promised (which means all the money you spent on marketing is down the drain)
  • You can’t grow you business if you don’t have the cash to pay for expansion

For some businesses, cash management simply isn’t part of the company’s “DNA.” Entrepreneurial leaders aren’t always the best cash managers. It’s simply not their strength. That’s when it may make sense to bring in an outside expert to help map out your cash management plans.

Cash is king when it comes to business growth. If you learn to manage it, cash becomes a tool you can use. If it rules you, however, you’ll end up a serf.

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Business-Success- What-Are-You-Waiting-For?Sometimes business owners get stalled. The want to move forward but there is something that prohibits them from doing so. They’re waiting for the right opportunity. Or maybe they’re waiting for the right partner to team up with.

What’s interesting is that there always seems to be an excuse for poor performance. Maybe it’s not as lame as, “That new app we were counting on didn’t release on time so we can’t move forward!” but there are some real doozies out there. And lest you think that it’s just the little guys that come up with excuses for their poor performance, rest assured that some of the big boys are just as bad at dodging responsibility.

Not long ago, Fortune published an article that highlighted 5 unusual excuses for a bad quarter. You can read the whole article here, but let me give you a summary of some of the excuses some of the biggest and best in the business world gave for not hitting their goals.

  1. Tesla listed customer vacations as a big reason they missed the sales goal for one quarter
  1. Travelers Companies blamed their poor financial performance (a 21% drop in quarterly profits) on the “polar vortex” (in all fairness, so did 22 other companies!)
  1. Societe Generale is a French bank that saw their third-quarter profits dip by 86% in 2012 and blamed it on “stupid accounting requirements”
  1. Oracle, IBM, and TIBCO all blamed poor profits on “crappy salespeople.” To be honest Oracle actually cited poor execution in the training of their sales force
  1. Netflix missed their subscriber growth projections and blamed it on customers transition to chip-based credit and debit cards

The thing is, there are almost always excuses. And most of the time, they’re not helpful. At least the folks at Oracle were on the right track. They cited something specific that was under their control and (more or less) accepted responsibility.

What’s your excuse when you fall short of your business goals? The thing is that you don’t need to have an excuse. What you do need is to be able to point to causes that you can control—and then fix them. That’s why a regular activity such as reviewing your SWOT analysis is so important. And why it’s essential to be honest in your evaluation.

Don’t focus on fixing blame. Focus on finding the cause and fixing the problem. That’s what will move you ahead. Nobody wants to hear your excuses.

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Coaching and Encouragement

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Great-Leaders-what-really-motivates-employees?One of the most important functions a business leader has is to motivate his or her employees. Sure, we all want to have people working for us who are self-motivated, but let’s be honest: sometimes you need to rally the troops and help them live up to their potential.

How hard can it be to motivate people? Apparently it’s no cakewalk. A search on Amazon.com for “books on motivating employees” yields 5,614 titles! Apparently a lot of business leaders struggle with this. Maybe it’s because we forget what motivates us. If I mention the words motivation or incentives, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Yep! We tend to think of monetary enticements.

Let’s not be naive. Money matters. You’re not going to attract or keep the quality of employees you want if you pay them peanuts. Raises and bonuses do stimulate and encourage people. But they aren’t enough. What will get people to be creative and to go “beyond the call of duty” you need to get at their emotions. And you need to do that by creating a sense of accomplishment of great goals.

Setting great (and realistic) goals is a big part of your job. And you have to make sure you communicate those clearly to employees. But you also need to make sure your employees have a sense of accomplishment. That means rewarding them in front of their peers. Sure the reward can have a monetary value, but peer recognition of accomplishment is huge.

Sometimes that acknowledgement can (should) come in more intimate settings. You don’t have to wait for a company-wide meeting to acknowledge a contribution. Say it out loud in a manager’s meeting. Mention it in a company-wide email. Make sure your employees know that they are building the company—not just you.

When people see that what they do—on an individual level—makes a difference, they are motivated to do more.

Here’s another tip. I mentioned earlier that we sometimes forget what motivates us. Spend some time remembering. Did you ever have an employer who motivated the socks off of you? How did he or she do it? Can you do the same thing with your employees?

I’d love to hear your ideas on what motivates you and what you’ve found that motivates your employees. Leave me your ideas in the comments section. Maybe together we can pull together title # 5,615 for Amazon’s list!

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NoRestA few years back there was a Doonesbury cartoon that depicted two CEOs talking, and one said to the other, “How did you lose your company?” The second CEO replies, “I went to lunch!” It might not be quite that bad, but there’s no doubt that it’s tough to stay on top of all the changes happening around us in business.

One of the biggest illusions of modern day business is the sense of having “arrived.” We all have moments when we get to bask in a bit of glory when we achieve a goal—but the business world we live in today is constantly changing—and we have to change with it. If you want to be great at what you do, there really is no rest for the excellent!

The concept of always pushing and learning in business is what’s behind a new book by Mark McClusky entitled, Faster, Higher, Stronger: How Sports Science Is Creating a New Generation of Superathletes—and What We Can Learn from Them. McClusky compares the (often slim) competitive edge that world-class athletes seek, and talks about how what often separates winners from “also-rans” can be the slimmest of margins.

One thing that jumps out to me is a quote McCluskey picked up from UK Sport research chief Scott Drawer: “The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.”

Why is learning—and learning faster—so important in business? We live in an age when information is disseminated at a remarkable speed. The knowledge you acquire that gives you a competitive edge doesn’t stay proprietary for long. That means you don’t hold your edge for long. Your competition will figure it out. When they do, your competitive edge is gone.

That’s why there’s no rest for the excellent. If we want to excel—to be great at what we do, we have to continually raise the bar. What was cutting edge yesterday is the industry standard today. But here’s the thing: It’s not just about learning what’s new. It’s about learning things that will make you and your business better.

Where do you go to challenge your assumptions about how you do business? Who motivates you to learn about things that aren’t just different—but better? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear who you think has a finger on the pulse of what will move business forward.

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Often, when someone asks you how you’re doing, it’s just a greeting—a way of saying hello. Most of the time, when someone asks us that, we reply, “Fine!” To be honest, we don’t really think about answering the question. It’s an automatic response.

But when someone asks that same question about your business, it’s a whole different story. When it comes to business, asking, “How are you doing?” is a test—and, “Fine!” is an inadequate answer. That’s because unless you know specifically how your business is doing in several critical areas, the chances are that your business isn’t doing “fine” at all.

I often refer to something called “The 4 Decisions” when I speak, coach, or write. These are critical decisions that every business faces. As a growth company these decisions determine your success.  Let me summarize these four key decisions briefly (courtesy of Gazelles).

1. PEOPLE Decisions: These decisions focus on getting the right people doing the right things with clear accountability and metrics.

2. STRATEGY Decisions: If revenue is not growing as quickly as you like, then it’s time to re-examine your strategy.

3. EXECUTION Decisions: By simply tightening up your execution habits, you can dramatically improve gross margins and profitability while reducing the time it takes for everyone to complete their work.

4. CASH Decisions: The first law of entrepreneurial gravity is “Growth Sucks Cash”.

Here’s the thing: It’s not enough to simply ask, “How are you doing” in each of these areas. And it’s not enough to answer, “Fine!” You need specific answers to specific questions.  Here are some examples of the kind of questions you need to be asking in each of these critical areas.

1. PEOPLE Decisions: Given the opportunity, we would enthusiastically hire every employee all over again. False  1   2   3   4   5   True

2. STRATEGY:  Each of our employees can articulate the company’s long-term goal (also known as our “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” or BHAG). False  1   2   3   4   5   True

3. EXECUTION: We have Key Performance indicators (KPIs) which are used effectively to track employee progress and ensure alignment with priorities.
False  1   2   3   4   5   True

4. CASH: We constantly review 12-month cash flow projections with our financial team. False  1   2   3   4   5   True

Naturally, each of these four critical decisions requires more than one simple metric and answer. I just wanted to give you a taste for how the process works. If you’d like a simple (but thorough) one-page assessment form for each of these areas, shoot me an email, or call me at 719-487-1899.

How’s your business doing? It’s probably not fine unless you know the specifics about your performance in the areas of people, strategy, execution, and cash.

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When we think of innovation, we often think of technology or of new products or markets. And while those things are certainly signs of innovative thinking, not all of us are going to come up with the next iPad, or Google Glass. But innovation and creativity isn’t restricted to gadgets and technology. There are other ways businesses can be creative and innovative—and successful.

Sometimes just finding a new or different way to do something can provide your business with the edge it needs to get a leg up on the competition. If you’re in a business that relies on other businesses for manufacturing or for technology support, you know that keeping the costs on those outsourced activities under control is crucial to making your bottom line.

Too many businesses, however, assume that the only way to do that is to ship those activities overseas. An increasing number of U.S. companies, however, are finding ways to keep costs down—while keeping the work in the U.S.

In February 3, 2014 issue of Fortune Magazine, Gazelles CEO Verne Harnish discussed five ways that U.S. companies can profitably take advantage of things that are “made in the U.S.A.” Here are some highlights from his article.

  • Invest in Efficiency: Kimray, a profitable family run business in Oklahoma City spends more than 50 percent of their annual capital budget on new machines that enable the company to work faster and generate less waste—making them more competitive.
  • Train Internal Talent: One reason many companies send tasks offshore is that there is a shortage of skilled machinists in our country. But instead of sending those functions overseas, Kimray offers extensive in-house training to new employees, emphasizing math and technology. And they offer continuing education to motivated employees.
  • Keeping It Local: Many manufacturers assume they have to go to overseas markets for competitive pricing. But sometimes it just takes a bit more thought and searching to find a local source that’s just as competitive. That’s what 800razors did—finding a U.S. factory that was hungry for new work. In addition to keeping manufacturing costs down, keeping this function in the country reduces shipping and logistics costs.
  • Capitalize on Emotion: There is a huge benefit to being able to claim that your product is “made in the U.S.A.” Domestic employment is still the number one concern of many Americans, and many of them are more than happy to support efforts that strengthen local economies. Companies like Kimray and 800razors capitalize on that emotion.

Just because your company doesn’t come up with “sexy” new technologies or products doesn’t mean that you can’t be creative and innovative. Sometimes it’s the way you get the job done that’s creative and innovative.

When is the last time you took a look at how you do what you do? Can you find a better way that will keep you competitive and give you an edge over the competition?

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We entrepreneurial types tend to celebrate innovative companies. We admire them. We want to be like them. But what makes a company innovative?

That’s a bit of a trick question, because, frankly, I don’t think there is any such thing as an innovative company. Companies aren’t innovative—people are.

What that really means is that if you want to know what makes a company an innovative, forward-looking, groundbreaking force, you need to take a look at the people who make up the company. And more specifically, you need to take a closer look at a company’s leadership.

How does one become an innovative leader? Can anyone do it, or is that something that belongs only to those “right-brain” creative types who dream in Technicolor? Are innovators born—or made?

Forbes.com recently suggested that, “Anyone can change his or her behavior to improve creative impact in a company.” And they went on to list five disciplines that creative and innovative leaders practice—gleaned from The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton M. Christensen.

And what are those disciplines? The authors refer to them as skills, and list them as:

  1. Questioning
  2. Observing
  3. Networking
  4. Experimenting
  5. Associational Thinking (drawing connections among unrelated fields)

When you look at that list, most of the skills listed don’t immediately strike you as “creative” or “innovative.” And yet, it’s the practice of these disciplines that leads to innovative—even disruptive—thinking and action. Here’s a quick glance at how some pretty forward-thinking CEOs apply a few of these disciplines in their companies.

  • When Jeff Bezos of Amazon interviews job candidates, he says “Tell me about something that you have invented.” [It] could be on a small scale—a new product feature or a process that improves the customer experience, or even a new way to load the dishwasher. But he wants to know that they will try new things.
  • Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com says, “I can’t sit in headquarters and pretend I’m in touch. Odds are, what we’re using today will be obsolete in a few years.”
  • Robert Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard says, “The most important thing we do to encourage innovation is give people the freedom to fail. And if we disappoint [our customers’ expectations], we are a very good learning organization, really digging deep into understanding why it didn’t work.”
  • Pradeep Sindhu, cofounder and chief technology officer of Juniper Networks says, “Most R&D innovation at Juniper happens because someone looks two to five years out and notices a potential disruption. Our culture promotes vigorous debate based on a survival-of-the-fittest philosophy–regardless of the source.

Are you working on these disciplines in your company? Are you questioning your strategy and methods—or are you just going with the flow? Are you observing what’s going on around you—or are you too busy “doing stuff?” Are you networking and seeing what’s happening outside your walls—or are you isolated? Are you experimenting and trying new things—or are you locked into a predictable pattern. And are you looking at trends in unrelated fields—or are you only aware of what’s happening in “your” industry?

Maybe you don’t consider yourself a “creative type.” Don’t let that stop you from using the disciplined “left side” of your brain to come up with ideas that can disrupt your whole industry!

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