Why do startups fight city hall?

This past weekend, I had a brief discussion about Uber, France, tech startups and the need to “fight city hall”. It all started after I posted a story about an upcoming Paris taxi strike, which is designed to send a warning message to the French government and French people from a highly entrenched monopoly.

The message is “Don’t support something that threatens our monopoly or we will shut down the city.

The key thought in the article was that French government’s handling of the Uber situation is an illustration of what’s wrong with entrepreneurism in France and that the situation affects all French startups rather than solely impacting Uber.

It seems the laws in France are designed to frustrate entrepreneurs attempting to enter established markets, if not to suppress all new business entries. The article goes on to make note that all of this goes on while France’s leadership talks about how they want to encourage entrepreneurship.

Why care about what happens in Paris?

What in the world does this have to do with small business in the U.S.?

Similar things occur here in the States and in many cases, startups end up feeling forced into a situation where they are left with no choice but to fight city hall – often because the alternative is to be legislated out of business with the help of an entrenched competitor. Sadly, this “competitor” isn’t the least bit interested in competing. They’re happy to use the local and regional governments’ desire to protect the citizenry as a means of raising the bar into entering “their” market.

Most U.S. based entrepreneurs tend to avoid such battles because they are expensive, frustrating and quite often do nothing more than waste a business owner’s time and money.

Yet startups like Uber are often found doing that very thing – taking on governments to eliminate protections that were once created due to a public safety interest but have been perverted into something that seems perfectly designed to preserve and protect entrenched businesses not only from new entrants into the marketplace – but from their clientele as well.

Why startups?

Why are tech startups picking on established markets? And why do so many of them seem to want to fight city hall?

They often do this because that’s where the market is. We talk about the opportunity you create simply by improving service to clients here on a regular basis – and do so because it is one of the easiest ways to transform your business. Service – one of the essential things a business delivers – has gone from a foregone conclusion to a differentiating factor.

Uber is perhaps the most obvious and the easiest example to make note of, but they are far from alone on this one. Part of their attraction to consumers is how easy they make it to use their services when compared to most of their competition. Even now, their obstacle isn’t that cab companies all over the world have increased the quality of their cars, the ease of booking and paying for a ride, etc. No, their biggest obstacle is local / regional governments, many of whom have fought to keep Uber out.

The thing is, it isn’t really about Uber. They’re simply today’s easiest and most visible example to understand. What this is really about is creating more barriers to entry into a market.

Old rules that favor one company or one technology are what start ups deal with every single day. In fact they often focus on those areas because they make the market attractive. Markets with poor service often slowly become that way because of a lack of competition created by artificially created barriers to entry. Often companies in those markets treat their customers so poorly that people do business with them only because have no other choice.

These are markets that have repeatedly sent a message to their clientele that they need to be taught a serious lesson. Most local entrepreneurs can’t afford to fight City Hall. Only those who are highly capitalized have that luxury in most situations – the luxury of out-waiting and perhaps, out-spending city hall, something no small business owner can do.

As any small business owner knows, there are plenty of barriers to entry as it is. Be careful not to ask your representatives to help you create more of them, as the next time, it could be your business that’s targeted the next time. Each one of these barriers that is successfully installed makes it easier to create another one.

Starting a new business is hard enough as it is. Let’s not create more barriers.

Strategic Notebook: Marketing Calendar

Are you marketing with intent or by accident? The only thing those two have in common is “ent”. Choose intent.

It’s a massive job?

Like anything you might not have done before, a marketing calendar might seem like a massive job. Don’t let that freeze you.

Big jobs have a way of creating a resistance to getting started – you’re frozen. Big tasks that you feel like you can’t finish in one setting are easy to put off. Next thing you know, it’s next January and you still haven’t gotten started. You can do this a year, quarter or a month at a time, so break it down. If a month seems like too much to bite off at once, start with a week. In fact, start with next week. What will you do with intent next week. The important thing is to start.

If you can’t dedicate an afternoon to it, then start 30 or even 15 minutes at a time. Once you get rolling with a week, look at that first week and figure out what should happen the second week after doing what’s planned for the first week.

Anyone can do a week at a time or take one intentional marketing effort at a time. No matter how slow it goes, get moving and keep moving. Create some marketing momentum.

Beating the blank page

Writing sometimes starts with that first, incredibly tough blank page. Building a marketing calendar isn’t much different. It starts with that first blank month. So where do you start?

What marketing efforts would you make this year even if you were the most disorganized accidental marketer ever? Put that on your calendar.

How do most of your new clients learn about you? Are they walk-ins or drive-bys? Do they find you online? Are they referred? Do they respond to ads in <something>? Rather than doing things to attract these clients accidentally – put the number one client attraction technique / effort on your calendar.

Once you have even one thing on your calendar, it’s easy to move ahead and identify other things you already do. The marketing calendar is your road map to doing these things with intent, doing them with enough lead time that you aren’t tempted to blow them off and getting them executed consistently.

Keep it simple

A marketing calendar might seem like a thing that should be complex, hard to understand and a hassle to implement. While a calendar can have lots of components and it can be multi-layered, it doesn’t have to complicated or a hassle. Focus on one piece at a time and keep things simple until you’re ready to step things up a level.

For example, you might have seen a multiple media, integrated campaign that coordinates email, social media, direct mail, radio, TV and who knows what else – and does so in a sequence over time. It might be tempting to think that if you can’t do that, you shouldn’t bother building a marketing calendar. Don’t use that as an escape hatch. You might get to the point where anything less than that seems like you aren’t even trying. Don’t let that happen. Keep it simple until you get some momentum from executing your calendar and creating something intentionally.

The first goal of a marketing calendar is to start marketing with intent: to work a plan, and stop marketing by accident. Once you have the mechanics in place, you can add additional layers, media and sequences as it makes sense, if it makes sense.

The end game isn’t the end.

What’s all of this for?

We started this discussion by asking if you market with intent or by accident. The goal of this process is to eventually get you to the point where you know what has to be executed each day in order to do the marketing you know you need to do. Intent.

Why’s that important?

When marketing is done consistently and with intent, it creates the conditions that allow you to know exactly what to do to keep growing your business. It creates job security for your people, who will most certainly detect the results of marketing with intent. It will build confidence in you and in the business.

When you work under conditions where you no longer worry about your job or whether your paycheck will clear this week, I think you’ll do better work. That’s good for everyone.

Hiring entry level people & (gasp) Millennials

I know a number of 20-somethings who are looking for (mostly) entry-level jobs. They’re in the age group often called “Millennials”, which some like to categorize as a generation of slackers with no work ethic and no motivation. “They need frequent naps.“, says The Atlantic, while quoting a study that included people as old as 37. My first 40-something manager at EDS took a 20 minute nap at his desk every day – in 1983.

The same types of comments were once made about Gen X, whose work drives a sizable portion of U.S. economic production these days.

If you’re basing your opinion of the potential of a prospective hire based on a broad brush that The Atlantic or People Magazine uses to describe their generation, I won’t be surprised if one or more of your competitors hires carefully selected millennials and uses them to kick your tail in the marketplace.

I don’t mean to say that people north of 30, 40 or (eek!) 50 (that’s me!) are not productively contributing to the economic growth in the U.S. I’m simply making note that they aren’t alone.

We don’t hire entry-level people

One of the comments I heard most often from these job seekers (about a dozen of them) is that “no one” is willing to hire entry-level people. The interesting thing is that none of these folks have zero experience. Most of them are looking for work in the restaurant (not fast-food) business, at least for now. Some of them have management experience – and no, I don’t mean they were an “assistant manager”, today’s euphemism for “an overtime-exempt barely supervisory level person who works 70 to 100 hours a week yet gets paid for 40”.

I recently met some of these so-called Millennials at a brewery in Missoula because I wanted to hear about their experiences.

Here’s a short list:

  • People post jobs on Craigslist and never hire anyone. Old news.
  • People post jobs on Craigslist indicating they are “hiring now”. They interview for the openings, but during the interview, make it clear that they still aren’t sure if they are going to hire anyone – even weeks after they posted the job.
  • Interviewees are told they can’t be hired because the hiring manager doesn’t believe they can learn something new – even if that “something new” is something most adults could do coherently with fewer than 10 minutes of instruction.

One of the “unlearnable” skills was refilling the items on a salad bar. The allegedly “can’t do salad bar” person had several years of restaurant experience serving and doing prep work, but hadn’t worked in a place with a salad bar. Thus, the hiring manager stated they were unqualified and unable to learn that “skill”. End of discussion, with no opportunity to prove otherwise.

Strategies for entry level people & those who hire them

After hearing the job seeker’s laments, I gave them a few strategies for dealing with the situation, including making the employer an offer like this one:

I understand that you’re worried that I can’t do the job, so I’ll work the rest of the day for nothing, starting right now. If I don’t prove my worth, I’ll walk away and you owe me nothing. If I prove I can do it, you’ll hire me on the spot and include pay for today’s work in my first paycheck. Does that sound fair?

Employers: In my experience, testing works, but only if real work is used for the test.

In the last 15 years, all but two of the people I’ve hired lived in a different state. Only three were not tested in advance. Anyone tested was paid for their test work whether they were hired or not (easier to stay legal – and you can do this without a big hassle). Test them once or as much as it takes until you know what they’re made of. Don’t waste time and money giving them made up test work. Give them real work with a minimum of instruction as necessary. Make them show their stuff – especially their resourcefulness and willingness to figure it out.

If you view Millennials as slackers with no work ethic or motivation, and are unwilling to test to identify good people of all ages, it will be difficult competing with hiring managers willing to make this effort.

Train them to make it easy to buy

Last week, we discussed the importance of training your employees to use systems well beyond the cash register, including those strategic to the company. While a normal cash register transaction is a typical customer interaction for a retail or service business, there are always the random circumstance that isn’t part of the “poke a few buttons, swipe their card or give them their change” process. In those situations, do you make it easy to buy?

What happens if you’re out of stock? This past weekend, my wife and I had an encounter with a young, polite employee of a national U.S. corporation who was dealing with an out of stock issue. The out of stock item could have been a simple logical issue rather than a physical one. Had the employee been properly trained and provided with the right systems, she would have be trained to “make it work” (hat tip to Tim Gunn), take our money and be resourceful. It didn’t turn out that way, but that’s not her fault. It’s management’s responsibility to make sure she has the systems and training to handle situations like this.

When easy to buy is out of stock

I suggest you put some thought (and some action) into training your people to make it work, rather than to say no and refuse a client’s money – where it makes sense. When it isn’t possible to make it work, your team’s training and systems should be ready to take over.

Think about what happens when an item is out of stock.

  • Do you place the item on backorder?
  • Do you have notification systems in place for your team so that they know when the out of stock item is back in stock?
  • Do you have notification systems in place for your clients so they they know the out of stock item has arrived so it can be scheduled for delivery or pickup?
  • Is your staff trained to handle an out of stock situation in a way that preserves the sale, preserves the client relationship or creates a positive memory for the customer?

Assuming you have all of that in place, what happens in the meantime?

The interim

In the meantime? In other words, even if you have out of stock situations handled well and have systems and training in place to deal with them, what specifically happens from the moment the out of stock situation is detected to the moment it is resolved? This can be seconds, minutes or months.

While the purchase was meaningless, so are many day to day purchases by your clients. The transaction may mean little in the big picture / long term, what matters is how it is handled. This situation illustrates how easily and inexpensively you can turn a failed transaction into one that people will share with their friends.

Over New Year’s, I took the family to see Star Wars. It was our first movie of 2016. The theater near us has an annual bucket program that works like this: You spend $20 on one of these buckets, which gets you popcorn today and the ability to refill the bucket for $4 for the rest of the year. In case you haven’t been to a movie lately, a large popcorn and two drinks will easily cost $20 these days, so the $4 refill for each movie is a nice savings.

Yet on January 1st, they were out of 2016 buckets. While this indicates broken inventory control, that isn’t the point. The concession stand employee said “We just ran out.” When asked if there was a way to get a rain check or pay for the bucket and take a disposable container for now, she looked baffled. Had management trained her well, she would have had a clipboard at the register, could have charged us for the annual bucket, taken our name and number (or email, whatever), given us a bag of popcorn and moved on. A 20 cent solution to retain a $20 sale for a recurring client.

Trivial but still important

Trivial, but these things that happen to your clientele every single day. How are you training your team to handle them? What systems are in place to deal with issues like this, even if the solutions are as simple as a clipboard?

Word of mouth comes from handling these things gracefully and without disruption. Prepare your team to make it easy to buy.

Leading your team to goal setting

Last week, I suggested that you communicate company goals to each team member so that your company-wide goals have context for them in their daily work and with their department’s goals. That’s only part of the job when working with team members and goal setting. The other part is making sure they have a process for identifying what they want to accomplish and how they will break it down and knock off the steps required to make departmental and personal goals happen.

Goal setting training?

You might be looking at that last paragraph and wondering how it is possible that anyone on your team doesn’t already have a process they’re happy with for goal setting. Have you asked them what process they use for identifying, prioritizing and achieving goals? For a business owner, this may not seem possible, but business owners usually have a different worldview, mindset, background (and so on) from at least some of their staff.

To shine a light on that thought: In all the companies I’ve worked for and with since I started post-collegiate work in the early ’80s, not one offered (much less required) goal setting training of any kind to help employees or teams with this critical responsibility.

NOT ONE. How is this possible?

Even if your team members have a goal setting / achievement process they are happy with, do you know how it fits with the process your company uses? What if yours is better? How will learning yours impact their work and life? What if THEIRS is better? How would that change the lives of the entire team and the future of the company?

Yes, training.

The same way that it’s possible for companies to forget to train their people on project management, process management, product management, etc. The assumption at companies that don’t do this may be that “We hired an experienced person, so we expect you to know this.”

That’s great, but if the experienced hire hasn’t been trained, or uses a sloppy, misguided or incomplete method – who pays for that? Even if the method is good, but it’s incompatible with your company’s process, it’s worth discussing.

Are these things a part of your employee on-boarding? Are you showing them where the health insurance forms are and how to file expense reports, but failing to provide them with information (and training) on the company’s preferred goal setting process? Are you spending any time acclimating them to how project management is done at the company?

Are they being trained on the systems and tools your company uses to communicate, manage projects, collect and review feedback, store ideas, plan projects and identify goals? If not, how will they thrive in your system?

People systems are as important as other systems

It’s all too easy to see a need in a company, hire for it, plug someone into a position and turn them loose like a replaceable part. You may feel that your front line people can be handled that way since they aren’t viewed as a strategic hire. I suggest that they are because they are customer-facing, but it’s more than that and goes back to our discussions last week where giving context to company goals is critical to achieving them.

When you take that concept of giving your team context to company goals and apply it to the systems across your entire company, even the front line staffer needs to know your systems and the importance of using them. How else will they determine and achieve their goals? How else will they know the importance of passing along client feedback, much less how to do it?

One of management’s responsibilities is to see that the staff has the systems and training to handle everyday situations. You train them to run the register, but it shouldn’t end there. What are you doing to prepare them to become of strategic value to your company? We see stories on a regular basis where someone started at an entry level position at a large company and somehow managed to end up as the company’s CEO (or as the company’s owner). These things don’t happen by accident.

How you prepare someone to become an integral part of your success is more important as any other training you provide. Train, mentor and guide them – even if you don’t plan for them to become CEO.

Are you communicating company goals?

The natural thought process for small business owners at this time of year is often about goals, i.e.: “How can we do better next year?”

Before you can answer that, you need to decide what “do better” means. What’s your process for thinking that through? If you decide it’s about increasing a high level focus item like profit (rather important), you’re going to have to break it down so you can focus on the actions that produce the increase you’re looking for.

Departmental goals matter too

Once you’ve settled on an area to improve, don’t limit improvement ideas solely to your focus. If you have a staff, you have to get them involved. If you’re big enough to have multiple departments, you have to get them involved. Get them together and take them through the process you went through. For each department or area of the company, what data should they review? For each department or area of the company, what else needs review and discussion? What do they think they can improve upon this year that will have the most significant impact on their area’s quality and speed? Each department needs to understand how achieving their goals will contribute to other departmental goals, and vice-versa. Finally, all departments or areas of the company need to understand how their area’s goals contribute directly to company-wide goals.

Communicate company-wide goals

Most business owners are pretty good at breaking down the achievements required to reach their goals, but a common misstep is to overlook the communication required to make sure that the owner’s company-wide goals have “Why does this matter to me?” context at all levels of the company, for every employee.

This is a critical step for several reasons, most of which are connected to the need to provide employees with context to the company’s goal(s). When discussing the context of the goals with your team, answer these questions from the employee’s perspective: Why should I care? How can a brand-new employee contribute to such a high-level goal? How can an employee who feels their work is “menial” possibly believe their effort is critical enough that it rolls up into the company’s goals? What do I need to hear about my work to make this company goal important? (If they don’t know these things, they won’t likely be bought in to company goals.) My low-level work seems unimportant, so why does this matter to anyone? I watch the clock all day, how could my work be of importance to the company?

Each person, regardless of what they do, needs to understand how their work contributes to the company’s goal(s). They also need to understand what their department’s goals are. They need to be reminded that the most “menial”, seemingly “low level” task is important because that work is often where the company has significant contact with the customer. If they don’t truly understand the importance of what they do – their leader needs to step in and help.

Obvious, but often overlooked

You might be thinking this is all so obvious, but in small, closely-held companies, these things are not commonly communicated, or are not explained to a level that makes them resonant with the staff. If your company goals don’t resonate with the staff, they really aren’t company goals at all. The same goes for departmental goals, which can produce silo’d behavior that leaves people with the impression that the performance of one group or even one person is not all that meaningful to the rest of the company, when the truth is that all of these pieces working in sync are critical to making the entire company’s goals.

Things to consider

What are the three most valuable pieces of information you learned about your clients this year? Of those three, which demand that you leverage them with into the new year? Is any one of them such a competitive advantage?

What is an area of strength in each department that can be leveraged for the entire company? Is this a strength limited to that department, or can that department teach the rest of the company how to gain from it?

When you sit down to look at these things and discuss them, be sure that you’re thinking about and discussing the data, rather than going on gut feel. It’s way too tempting to do this by the seat of the pants, but don’t do it.

Work Linear vs. Parallel

This week I traveled to Kyiv, Ukraine for meetings with a software team. The meetings went well and I will be on my way home by the time you read this, however I had some travel issues.

It’s worth noting that all of the issues I encountered were either created or they were problems that are not allowed to solve themselves because the people and systems communicate with each other at a level that forces them to work in a linear fashion.

It prompts questions we should consider for ourselves and our clients.

What do I mean when I say “Work linear vs. parallel”? Some examples from my trip provide a good illustration.

Working linear

When my plane from Missoula left Salt Lake City (SLC), it left late because the de-icing line in SLC was long. I don’t know if they had a de-icing truck out for repairs, or if they simply didn’t allocate enough trucks or drivers, or if something else was going on.

Regardless of the reason, the situation and the possible lack of fallback solutions (ie: backup trucks, drivers on call, etc) created delayed flights for many that day – creating a linear problem.

If the normal pace of takeoffs cannot be maintained, then SLC becomes a bottleneck in the West and flights to surrounding cities start struggling with schedules as a result.

This cascades into many linear problems at once since every city with a late flight potentially has stranded passengers or passengers with missed connections. Old news, but it’s important to consider how quickly this can cascade.

When my plane left Missoula, it did not de-ice. I don’t know what the protocol is for de-icing, but about 15-20 minutes into the flight, we had failed to continue our climb to cruising altitude and started to turn back. The flaps would not retract and this wasted too much fuel. Unfortunately, we were above maximum landing weight, so we circled for 20-30 minutes to burn off enough fuel to land.

The irony is that this circling was burning the same fuel and time we would have burned if we had simply continued to SLC with the flaps down, normally a 54 minute flight.

This quickly ate into the layover I had built in.

When we got to SLC, we were unable to pull into our gate right away. By the time I got to the gate for Paris, the plane door was closed and I could not board.

Five minutes matters

The big thing that hit me during this process was seeing multiple instances of seemingly insignificant two to five minute delays cascading into hours of delays. Any one of them could have been planned out of the airline’s response and it would have allowed enough time for three people on the Missoula flight make the connection to Paris, much less all the other people who were missing connections that afternoon.

The thought to consider is this: How many two to five minute delays are built in to what you do, how you serve, how you deliver, etc? How do these affect the client’s outcome? What costs do they increase when service fails? What costs will the client incur?

What happens when a few of these five minute delays push your delivery of products or services to the next business day?

What systems do you have in place to automatically tend to conditions that can create these delays?

Working parallel

Every business encounters problems. How businesses react to them and what they do to eliminate / prevent situations that are controllable is critical.

How does automated, perhaps parallel problem solving save money? What delays can be addressed without waiting for them to happen? What delays can be reacted to with automation to accelerate a response and solution?

Cost examples from a plane trip:

  1. What’s the circling fuel expense to get below max landing weight vs. the cost to continue to SLC?
  2. What’s the cost of lost seat revenue for the empty seats and hotel stays for interrupted travel?
  3. How much delay is introduced at the gate when you don’t automatically rebook travelers?
  4. On a daily basis, what does a five minute gate wait cost, in missed connections, lost seat revenue and hotels?

Look at your business. Make a list of preventable delays. Knock off one at a time.

Is your New Year planning done?

New Year planning for your business is often a mechanical process involving adding x% to various budgets and reducing others or leaving them the same. While financial planning is important, be sure to invest some time at a deeper level so that next year isn’t simply a repeat of this year with a different calendar.

Even if this year has been your best year to date, there’s always room for improvement. In fact, the year after your best year often requires even more focused effort to maintain your current pace. On the other hand, if this year wasn’t so great or was “simply OK”, then these discussions will be in context to turn things around.

Here are some questions to consider for your New Year planning…

Strength Training and Leverage

Who isn’t getting the training they need? What parts of the company would likely produce improved performance after receiving additional training to leverage their strengths? What sort of training is required? For whom? This review should involve everyone in every department, from the owner to the newest employee.

While training can go a long way toward dealing with strengths that need reinforcement, the real solution is often found by delegating certain work to other people. Fighting someone’s weaknesses is usually a waste of time, talent and money. Can they be overcome? Perhaps. Is it worth it? It depends on experience and whether or not the questioned work is the person’s real gift.

You might be tempted to think “They run the cash register. How is that a gift?

The register isn’t the point. The people at your register, at your receptionist desk, on your support lines, taking inbound calls… they’re the people who make the first impression at your company. They’re great at public facing work, or they aren’t. Some will grow into it. Some never will, but may excel at other things. In the meantime, every new prospect and client interacts with these folks. Wouldn’t you prefer they interacted with someone who rocks that register, receptionist desk, or inbound call?

Ever had a great experience at a hardware store cash register? Ever had a bad one? Ever called in or met a receptionist who was a company’s best asset or worst first impression? How are these things going at your place?

Assess Leadership

Over the last year, you can probably name the high and low points from a leadership perspective. This includes owners, managers and team members. Last week I talked about the comfort you feel when you know someone has your back. A good bit of this is driven by leadership and example setting.

For every leader on your team, consider what would help them grow as a leader in the coming year. What can you do to help? What about everyone else? Have you and your managers taken the time to identify staffers who show potential as leaders? What process will be used to do that?

If you’re a team member and you want to lead, two things: Continue leading by example and be sure to let your manager know that you want help becoming a better leader. Assuming they can read your mind isn’t a great plan for your future.

Communication

As with leadership, you can probably identify the highs and lows communications-wise over the last year, both with your clientele and your team. What’s your plan to learn from them, train based on what you learned, reproduce the wins and address the less than ideal?

Is there anyone on your team who needs communications training? Do you cringe when you read emails from some people? Does anyone on your team struggle to get their point across verbally? What can you do as an owner to help them?

If you’re the one having difficulty communicating, who can you ask for help / suggestions? Again, don’t assume anyone will come to your rescue. Take initiative. The ability to communicate effectively is a big differentiator for you and your company.

New Year planning and individual goals

All of the things we’ve discussed above relate to individual goals. Either you want to improve or you want your direct reports to improve, or both. What have you done to communicate the company’s goals for the coming year? What about your departments? What about your personal ones?

It’s time to have these conversations.

Culture defines who has your team’s back

How tight is your staff? What’s the culture of the team? Do they trust one another? Do they trust you? Do your employees know you have their back? Do they know their peers have their back?

Can everyone on your team depend on the processes, systems and people involved in your business? If you said yes, does every single person agree?

If you haven’t asked, don’t assume the answer is yes.

How well do they jell?

Ask your team about the qualities of the people they want to work with. Use their answers during your hiring process. You can’t allow even the smartest, best qualified prospect to join your team if they’ll create cultural conflict.

A few more questions to ask your team:

  • Is there anyone whose call you don’t want to answer? Ask them to think about why they wouldn’t answer.
  • Is there anyone whose call you will always take? Ask them to think about why they’d always answer.
  • Is there anyone on the team who makes you wonder “Why does management keep that person around?
  • Is there information about the business that you don’t have that’s preventing you from doing your job to the best of your ability?
  • If you’re responsible for local sales, do you know what parts of town yield the most profit?

Those last two questions are a clue about the information your team needs to become more effective. It’s not always about the obvious things.

Team members who are ready to grow into more responsibility will start asking (if not only wondering to themselves) if the work they’re being asked to do is turning a profit for the business. It’s critical to complete the circle of communications to your team about sales and profitability. When employees show concern about these things, feed that fire. It’s a sign that they’ve matured beyond taking home a check and are interested in growing their impact on profit.

These things contribute to your culture

While some businesses will hand wave away their culture as a meaningless foofoo thing, culture is what glues your team together. It defines how well they work together every day (or not) and that goes directly to how well they treat your clientele.

It’s essential that you use your culture as a filter for deciding who has the privilege of joining your team.

If you don’t, you’ll likely lose people who are very difficult to replace because they’ll see right through the “culture is important, employees are important” statements you might make.

To be a place where people want to work, these things matter.
To be a business people want to do business with, these things matter.

What doesn’t kill you…

I had an annual meeting conversation with a team this weekend. They’ve been to hell and back over the last year, business-wise. The ones who survived the worst part and stuck around have learned to depend on each other and expect great things of one another every day. They understand the importance of defending one another, covering for one another and expecting the best from everyone as the work together. They understand what’s important, what’s not and that they have to stick together and continue to work together or they will certainly die (employment-wise) separately.

While I won’t mention what business they’re in, I wouldn’t suggest taking them on. After listening to them and speaking with them, it’s clear they’d take punishment for one another. Best of all, they understand that the best culture in the world doesn’t mean much if profitable sales, consistent delivery and service don’t happen. It takes all of these things.

And that’s important because?

I mention this because a trial by fire will either destroy your team or bond it like few other experiences. The differences between teams that get destroyed and the ones that bond include your leadership as an owner, the team’s leadership (implicit and explicit), who makes up your team and what they’re made of. These things define your team’s culture because it defines who they are.

Which team do you lead? Do you know where the strengths and weaknesses are? Are you willing to investing in the proper hiring, training and communication to build your team into one that can take a punch?

Strategic notepad: Small Business Saturday

The Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday rushes are over. If things are going as planned, your sales are on target with no signs of missing your revenue budget for the holiday season. Unless things are going poorly, you might not have started thinking about what you’ll do differently next year – yet now is the perfect time to plant the seeds for those changes.

Why am I asking this moments after the Black Friday / Small Business Saturday / Cyber Monday trifecta? Because the wounds from the sting of procrastination, “didn’t have time to get it all done”, and “shoulda / woulda / coulda” you suffered through the last few days are still sensitive. While the tenderness remains, and the rushes are behind you, it’s time to take a brief moment to reflect on what you learned the last few days, and continue to make note of what you notice over the next few weeks. How long is brief? Long enough to make a note. This doesn’t need to be an afternoon of deep thought.

In the heat of these rushes, did you notice things you’d forgotten to do, prepare for or setup prior to Thanksgiving? Did you notice things that weren’t organized or communicated as well as you would have liked? Did you notice things that could be improved? Write it down.

Simple examples: Did your business run out of coffee, shopping bags, change, receipt paper or rewards plan signup materials? Were all of your shifts covered with enough people, but not too many? Did you have enough inventory on special items? Were shelves restocked/pulled enough? Did a certain group of customers not show up? Did you have the new client traffic you expected? Write it down.

Planning and backdating for Small Business Saturday

You probably have a list that helps you keep things sane for November / December, and that list probably includes tasks that have to be performed months earlier. Are these items already on your calendar with perpetual reminders? Are they backdated to build in sufficient time for completion? Are their prerequisite tasks given sufficient lead time to avoid cascading deadline failure?

For example, to get a mailing / email / Facebook promo (better yet, all three) out prior to Thanksgiving weekend, your marketing calendar needs tasks for promotion planning, email sequence planning, ad / email copywriting, artwork creation, printing, etc. You can’t wait till November 1st to start. If it didn’t happen this year, build it into next year’s calendar so it DOES happen. Write it down.

Write it down now, consider and plan later

While the memory of your “How did we miss / forget that?” moments are fresh, take a moment to make some notes so that when you have some solitude / planning time, you don’t forget the little things you noticed as the rushes occurred. Put a pad next to each register, next to the phone, next to the coffee pot, next to the back door, next to where you keep today’s mail.

Notepads in all of these places allow you and your team to jot down something in the heat of the moment while “that thing” is fresh in your mind. Take a moment at the end of the day to consolidate (and date) the notes for the day. If there’s anything you can take immediate action on, get that done ASAP and review the rest later.

It’s critical that you go back over what went well and can be improved, as well as what didn’t go so well. Don’t wait until you finally relax for a few minutes after January’s inventory and try to remember the little things that happened weeks earlier. You won’t remember them and that will likely mean you’ll encounter them again next year. Keep these notes and your calendar for 2016 updated with the things you notice every day for the next 5-6 weeks.

Include your staff in Small Business Saturday planning

Encourage and remind your staff to write these notes and initial them so they can provide more details when time permits. They probably see different things than you do, and often from a different perspective. Their feedback will likely have a more direct impact on your clients’ experience as well as the ability of your staff to deliver to the best of their ability.

Take advantage of the lessons, gotchas, highs and lows. Write them down.