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Employee Training Employees Leadership Management

On being essential

Is your business “essential”? I don’t mean the Federal distinction. I mean in view of those who you serve, because those are the only ones who matter. No matter how bad the economy or anything else in the future might get, is your business serving essential needs for your clients?

Essential people

The people you’ve hired are a big part of what makes your business essential to your customers. Finding, keeping, and training people who love to take care of your customers is real work. Taking “good care” of them includes training, coherent management, “real wages” and benefits.

A business doesn’t pay “real wages” and benefits because someone else wants them to. They do it because it puts their team at ease, allowing them to focus on the quality, speed, and value of their work. A team that’s not worried about their job has more headspace to attend to their work. It puts a fence around them, making it hard for others to poach them.

Essential customers

Reach out to your very best customers. Call them or write an email that’s very clearly personal and not mail merged. Find out what their concerns are. Do they assume you’re going to be around? Remove any doubt. If you’re having problems, be square with them. You should be asking them if there’s anything causing critical problems right now. Are they things you can help with? Tell them specifically how. If you can’t, can you suggest someone who can? Be the one helping, not the one just trying to make a transaction happen.

You probably know the customers who are most on the edge. What can you manage to do for them? Even a small gesture that buys them a little more breathing room is worthwhile and will certainly be remembered.

Made in your image

When I see a company doing things that make them less essential than they could be, I tend to break down what they do well and what can they do better. In many small businesses, the capabilities and behavior of the businesses mimic the capabilities and behavior of the owner. Most owners are essential to our business – at least until our business matures. Some of this “made in your image” thing is good. Some isn’t. I battled it for years, as many of us do. One of the battles was over bookkeeping.

I’m not a fan of accounting. Accountants are fine. The actual work of accounting and bookkeeping always made me crazy. I know, I know. Seems silly given what I do. It is. Ever have one of those things you know you need to get better at even though you really don’t like it? That was accounting for me.

The thing is, accounting isn’t there solely to keep the tax man happy. The quality of your business decisions will improve substantially as your understanding of your numbers improves. No, I don’t mean the tax code and all of that. I mean the numbers that fall out of day to day operations. They all fall to your books. They’re metrics, but not the normal kind I talk about. Lots of metrics tell a story – and accounting does too. If you don’t listen to the numbers (including the accounting ones), the story won’t go how you want it to.

Mirrors reflect everything

I tell this story to reinforce that my company was a direct reflection of me during my “bleah, accounting” phase and that was not a good thing. It was important to work on (or delegate) the things that I don’t want to be reflected from me. Becoming essential means doing those things for your business.

Unless you’ve worked at it, your business reflects the things you’re good at, as well as those things you need to work on. The mirror reflects everything in front of it. Your business doesn’t have to, but you have to make a conscious decision that this is going to happen.

You have to choose which of your behavior your business reflects and which ones it does better than you. This will, of course, require some delegation or some training, or perhaps both. For me, it was both.

Customers decide

Your customers decide whether or not your business is essential to them. The behavior of your company and the value it provides to your customers is how they decide.

Photo by Faye Cornish on Unsplash

Categories
Management strategic planning

Grandma’s Rainy Day

Almost every Saturday, my grandmother and grandfather would load up the LTD and my grandmother would head to the farmer’s market. In their area, it was a massive open air building under a roof. Every booth had a waist high table with edges and a hanging scale. We’d spend the day there, selling vegetables, butter and a few other food items.

After we got home, the first thing we’d do after I helped her unload the car is head to her dresser. She’d pull part of the day’s take from the farmer’s market and stuff it into a bank bag she kept in the back of her dresser drawer. The rest would stay in her purse. One day, I finally got curious enough to ask her about it. She called it “her rainy day money” and explained the idea to me. As a farm family, you never know what unexpected weather is going to bring. Even as a young boy, the possible impacts were obvious, even though I had no understanding of how devastating a major storm at the wrong time would be to their cash crop.

Prediction isn’t protection

That’s the problem with storms. Several decades later, our weather detection and prediction capabilities are much better, but it doesn’t matter all that much. Even with days of notice before the arrival of a massive thunderstorm, hurricane or untimely freeze, there’s still not all that much you can do about it unless you can harvest your crop before it arrives.

Sure, grandma can cover a reasonable amount of garden plants with a sheet to prevent freeze damage. You can’t easily cover dozens of acres to protect against a hailstorm or similarly damaging event. If you’re my grandparents and your only income is from that farm, then the rainy day fund could literally be a life-saver. 

Hurricanes and other threats

Hurricane Camille (1969) and Agnes (1972) both hammered their isolated farm with very high rainfall, yet I don’t recall my grandparents ever being in dire straits as a kid. Sure, grandparents don’t always share the extent of their financial situation with young kids, but kids notice things in adult behavior, particularly if it changes. I never saw anything that made me wonder – or they were good at hiding it.

My grandparents’ primary cash crop was tobacco. Extremely heavy rain early or late in the growing season can devastate a crop. Their crops were on sloping land, which I suspect was by design. Hail could destroy a crop. 

Farmers face many challenges, including market fluctuations, global relationships, and “Big Ag”. Grandma’s rainy day fund protected my grandparents personal economy on a scale that was workable for their small farm.

Another term for rainy day fund is business reserves. 

Hindsight is 20/20

Today, a lot of businesses are in a bad spot. Some have closed. I don’t know their situations, but I suspect some portion of them could have benefited from having a rainy day fund, or perhaps a larger one. I’m pretty sure that every business that’s been hit hard would look back and be grateful if their former self made sure they had 60 days of reserves. 

I don’t mean to make light of this or bust on you when you’re down. I’ve been there. I know how it feels. Building business reserves is hard, particularly when starting up or starting over. You’ve got demands at home. You want to take better care of your staff. Growth and other projects want their share. Every single dollar of revenue has multiple demands on it. Old news, but still true.

Work on your rainy day fund

I hope businesses that have taken a hit can restart and get back to business. It’s hard. You think back to all the challenges you faced over the last five years or so – knowing that restarting means you’ll probably have to face some of them again. 

Whether you’re starting over or not, knowing what you know now, consider budgeting a rainy day fund into your monthly business budget. Not “I should do this someday”, but a specific amount or percentage. Decide how much you want to have in reserve for some future rainy day. Carve it out every day, week or month. Maybe you already do this. If so, double down on your business’ ability to take a punch. It’s something you’ll never regret, plus Grandma will be even more proud of you. 

Photo by Craig Whitehead on Unsplash

Categories
Business culture Customer relationships Entrepreneurs Management

Predictions, models, tramps, & thieves

I know, you weren’t expecting a reference to Sonny & Cher.

Technical people (programmers, doctors, scientists and the like) aren’t typically considered to be good communicators to the public at large. Good communicators like Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson stand out because they’re adept at explaining very technical subjects in a way that’s understandable to everyone. Sure, they have time to prepare, but that doesn’t guarantee content everyone else can understand.

This is one reason why we’re so frustrated with the inaccuracy of “predictions” about things like weather, fantasy football player performance, stock market behavior, hurricane tracks, asteroid paths, and COVID impacts.

How many science-y people in these roles are saying something like… “This is a model. This is how models work. A model is not a promise. It is a set of results from a bunch of calculations based on the data we have today – and the data we don’t have yet. When the data changes, the results coming from the models will change.

The lack of this kind of communication causes modeling to be devalued by everyone else.

What you don’t know

Data changes rapidly – weekly, daily, hourly. Some of today’s data could be inaccurate. We may not know that until tomorrow’s data arrives, or a sensor fails.

Consider hurricanes. Hurricane models “predict” their path & severity. The output changes as variables are added /changed / deleted, and as varialbe importance changes. As the hurricane gets closer to shore (or as the time to make your third round draft pick nears), models become more accurate because there are fewer variables, & the possible range of still-useful variables shrinks.

What don’t we know?

When Donald Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense, he was asked about then-recent discoveries about WMDs in Iraq. The questions were legitimate as was his answer, though he was mocked for it at the time.

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.”

Donald Rumsfeld (2002), speaking as U.S. Secretary of Defense

Anyone who has worked with business metrics, science, or fantasy football knows that he was right.

Despite this variability & the knowledge that tomorrow could look much different, we often have to make decisions using today’s data.

Predicting people performance

If you’re trying to predict the performance of a NFL player, it’s equally difficult. We know a player has a 44″ vertical, runs a 4.2 second 40 yard dash, and is a three year All-Star (and more), yet we still can’t accurately predict his stats for next game.

We don’t know that his mother is sick, or that a tiny injury is bothering him intermittently. We might not notice tiny performance differences that affect a game’s outcome. Perhaps only the player who covers him will notice.

After the game, the coach might tell the press that they called different plays “because he’s hurting a little bit” as a ploy to distract their next opponent. It’s Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknown” to most of us.

You don’t know when you draft a great quarterback that you’ll lose him for the season in week seven because he tripped over his own feet during practice. Likewise, if you don’t know your best salesperson’s mother has terminal cancer, you won’t know that (or how) it affects their work.

Will models help you?

How’s your team? Is anyone challenged by something that impacts them like a nagging injury? How distracted would you be in that situation? What would help you? What needs do your people have that they don’t normally have? How can you help? Can they help each other?

What aspects of your clients’ performance could be predictive? What data is indicative of their performance? What *was* indicative but has changed? What don’t you know? Have you checked in with them? How can you help? Can they help each other?

Can performance modeling help you see performance changes earlier? Can models help you make better decisions earlier?

What don’t you know?

Categories
customer retention Customer service Employee Training Getting new customers Management

Got a reopening plan?

As economies start to reopen (like ours here in Montana), everyone’s trying to figure things out. What’s going to be different? What’s going to be the same? What should we do & say? One of the most important aspects of your reopening is the communication to your employees and to the public – your customers.

Employees need a roadmap

Training is essential. Make sure they know specifically what new tasks are expected of them, when, how often, & why. Don’t assume they know exactly what to do. Document new processes. Advise about old processes that are gone. Observe how these processes are executed. Let the best ones train & observe the rest so you can deal with more important things.

Yes, management 101.

Explain the impact of these things on your customers. Their actions, or inaction, could make a client for life, or repel someone forever.

They need to understand what’s being done to keep them safe. Employees need certainty. Their family needs to know their health & income aren’t being placed at risk.

Customers decide

I mentioned employees first because if they aren’t prepared, your customers will notice. They’ll watch how your business responds. Most people know someone somewhere who has gotten sick. Some are scared (or at least concerned), and some aren’t.

The busier your business was, the easier it’ll be to avoid. You may need to meet your customers where they are – just like always.

Make sure your customers know exactly what you’ve done to make your business safer for them. They need to know exactly what you’re doing each day. If they see things indicating that you don’t care about your people, why wouldn’t they assume you feel the same about them?

Make sure they understand what the new rules are, whatever that means for your business.

The logistics of all this are not easy. It’s probably work you haven’t been doing, at least not at the scale reopening requires.

Your customers need certainty. They decide whether when (or if) they return to your business. Your actions, people, & communication will impact their choice.

Customer experiences

I ordered carryout pizza from a place that brags on their contactless carryout. I arrive to find employees without masks or gloves. The same pen & clipboard is used for every other pick up I watch while waiting in the car for my order. I get the same clipboard & pen to sign with, despite the fact that I paid online. Keep in mind that the employee delivering the pizza and handing over the clipboard/pen is touching the same items that every customer touches. When I touch the pen, I touch everyone else who touched the pen.

A week later, I order carry out from a local pizza place. They’re sharing pens/clipboards & requiring signatures for an online payment. There’s no PPE.

A week later (you’ll notice a pattern here), I order carryout from a different national pizza chain bragging about contactless carryout. Same deal. No PPE and a shared pen / clipboard.

A few weeks later, I used the drive through at the third place. After speaking with their national office a week earlier, their contactless carryout truly is.

I had allergy testing scheduled for a while and surprisingly, it didn’t get cancelled. Everyone masked up – even the receptionist. When I arrived, they had a clean pen jar & a used pen jar. A sign instructed you to use a clean pen and place it in the used pen jar when done.

At grocery stores, there are signs identifying sanitized carts. The clerk wiped the pinpad after the person in front of me was done – a process that didn’t happen two weeks earlier.

I placed an online pickup order at a brewery. When it was ready, I received a text message. When I arrived, it was ready to carry to the car.

I haven’t heard from the other two “we’re contactless but not really” pizza places.

Reopening Processes

What processes had to be changed? Don’t force your team or your customers to figure it out during their first encounter with your reopened business. It’ll frustrate them & make you look unprepared.

If signs will help, make signs. If a sequence of signs will help, or a checklist will help, use them. Warn your customers in advance of any orders and repeat the advisory when they place an order. Let them know what to expect. If your new process needs explanation (regardless of reason), explain it.

Photo by Birgith Roosipuu on Unsplash

Categories
Creativity Employees Entrepreneurs Management

Adapt to build security, stability, & certainty

A lot of the concern you see from people right now is rooted in a loss of certainty. Ask a few business owners why they started their business and you’ll likely find security, certainty, or the desire to have more control as their reasons for starting a business. Maybe it’s the feeling that they finally have some security (or an increase in security) thanks to making some extra cash each month. It could be based on having the ability to “take a punch”, ie: withstand an unexpected week away from work, or some other temporary negative impact on your income.

Stability and security

For a business owner, one of the first steps in this path is being able to pay yourself consistently. For some, it was the ability to make payroll without nervously waiting on sales to come in before the end of the payroll period. Perhaps it was the ability to offer your team the benefits they’d expect at a larger employer. All of these are steps along the path to sleeping better at night as business owner, and at some point, as an employer.

Your employees crave the same type of stability, security, and certainty in their lives. For the employee, stability means knowing you’ll have work for the next couple of months. Having retained earnings available feels pretty good right now if you’re an employer. Perhaps you can assure their future for the next few months. Or maybe you’re as worried as they are.

Now is a great time to discuss ideas they’ve had that you might not have had time for. A weak owner with little vision will simply lay them off without any effort to find an interim solution.

If your business is slow, your sales and marketing efforts need stronger efforts. For those who never had to sell before (some businesses don’t), you might have to start. You might have to “beat the bushes”.

Some of you may never have needed to do marketing before. Others can’t survive without it. Adapting means you might have to do some things you’ve never done before. How we adapt to change says a lot about us.

What adaptation looks like

Adaptation takes many forms. A high-end, upscale, highly-regarded restaurant in Seattle closed a week or two ago, but not for good. They decided it wasn’t responsible to be a gathering place for a while. It’s possible that they may have had no choice in the matter if their clientele stayed away for a few months.

Rather than let fate, luck, or circumstances determine their destiny, they took things by the reins. Their current solution is to create three businesses. One, a food truck type of business for simple breakfasts (coffee and bagels) and another food truck type business that serves lunch. Finally, they created a service that creates family dinners to carry out and take home (to go only, no on-site service).

Once things return to normal, they might leave those three new businesses open and reopen their fancy restaurant. In the meantime, they’ve kept their people working while providing food services that some people need.

Create new certainty

These are the kind of ideas worth discussing at your office or shop. As an example, if you provide raw materials (whatever that means) for certain clients, perhaps those clients could use assemblies or packaging of your raw materials (including delivery) in a form that allows their team to work at home in their garage to build / assemble / etc the same things they build at their shop. This type of idea may not fit your business, or your clients’ business, but an adaptation might. Rethink about what you do, what they buy & how you can help them.

Think about every step in your process & theirs. How are you involved now? How can you shortcut the process or provide partial results along the way? Brainstorm possibilities with them. You might find solutions that make sense for both parties under today’s conditions. They might also fit afterward. Even if they don’t, the solution have value to others.

Can-do thinking that built resilient companies in the past & can do so again. Leaders step up when the time is right. They don’t wait. They don’t need permission. They just lead.

Photo by Balaji Malliswamy on Unsplash

Categories
Leadership Management

Be Prepared on Main St.

If you believe the folks randomly interviewed on the news, it doesn’t seem like anyone’s too worried about COVID-19 here in Montana. How they shop tells a different story: people want to be prepared. I recently found the TP section of Wal-Mart all but empty. Costco was out of TP except for the big public restrooms rolls. Same for the 20 pound bags of rice (Costco-wise). I mention this because ignoring the need to “Be Prepared” (the Boy Scout Motto) isn’t advisable in your business life any more than in your personal life – even if you weren’t a Scout. To that end, a friend sent me a link to a founder/CEO advisory sent by the Silicon Valley venture capitalist firm Sequoia Capital. Print readers, see https://medium.com/sequoia-capital/coronavirus-the-black-swan-of-2020-7c72bdeb9753

The Sequoia advisory was aimed at founders and CEOs of firms they’ve invested in, yet they kindly shared it with everyone. They called it (paraphrased) “guidance… while dealing with potential business consequences of the spreading effects…“.

If you read it, bear in mind that it’s targeted at founders and CEOs at startups, not necessarily at Main Street businesses. Still, much of the guidance applies to local business, so I used a little editorial license to adjust their guidance for Main Street.

Challenges being faced

They listed drop in business activity (sales), supply chain disruptions, curtailment of travel, time to containment, recovery time for the economy after containment. All of these things could impact Main Street. For non-tech businesses, the supply chain is the one that concerns me. Stay on top of this if you depend on Just-In-Time suppliers.

Cash runway – Most Main Street businesses don’t have a Silicon Valley style runway. They have receivables & payables and the only investor is often the owner. If you have a line of credit to smooth out the bumps, have a cup of coffee with your banker. No one likes surprises – and that goes for both of you. Two-way communication is critical.

Fundraising – Few Main Street businesses are concerned about raising another round of capital, but the thought of forging partnerships during difficult times is wise, even on Main Street. As the advisory noted, “Constraints focus the mind and provide fertile ground for creativity.

Sales forecasts – While this paragraph is brief, it’s important. Customers may delay payments because they’re being paid slowly. Be prepared, communicate often, assume nothing.

Marketing – While I agree that care is needed (where the advisory says “rein in customer acquisition spending” and “raise the bar on ROI for marketing spend“), events like this cause some companies to freeze. Fear has them not marketing as hard (or worse, not at all). Fear-induced contraction can become self-fulfilling, causing business to soften because they took their foot off the gas. Even if your spending is curtailed, don’t stop marketing altogether. If you invest carefully, you could pick up some business you might not otherwise have gained.

Headcount – While it’s just slang, I detest this word and its cousin “Human Capital”. As if we’re thinking “Hey Buck, back that skid of human capital up to the loading dock, will ya?“. Let’s take a different angle at this. Your people are going to be scared, or at least, worried. They’re worried that you might cut their hours, or cut them loose entirely, much less that the business might fail. People don’t respond well to surprises. Communicate early & often. If you have an emergency fund or cash buffer that has you ready to make payroll despite a bumpy three or four months, tell them sooner rather than later. Their concern will impact their behavior. You don’t want that.

If it starts to look like making payroll could be tough a month from now, don’t wait to tell them. I know, I know, you don’t want to lose them, so communicate carefully and honestly. Be flexible & creative. Find a win-win to help them stay that helps you both, even if part-time. When things get rolling again, you don’t want to be the business who can’t hit cruising speed due to an inexperienced staff.

Capital Spending – As Sequoia noted, keep your powder dry.

Leadership – They hit this for a couple of paragraphs because it’s important. Depending on how things go over the next few months, your checkbook and your leadership could be tested. Your actions will send a message to your entire community.

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Categories
Employee Training Employees Management

Why employees leave

How well do you know the people on your team? I don’t mean things like their significant other’s name, their favorite food, the name of their dog, what breed of dog they have (if they have a dog), what their cat plays with, what their favorite candy is, or what they do on weekends. I’m not saying there isn’t value in knowing those things (as long as you actually care about the person). What I’m wondering about is are you in tune with the mindset, the needs, and aspirations of your team members.

Why they leave

Managers don’t often know an employee is going to leave until they give notice. You think “Sure, they kept it a secret”. Obviously.

At some companies, if they learn you’re looking for another job, they’ll fire you. For sensitive roles, it’s sensible security policy. Frequently, the mindset is “They’ve already decided to leave, so they’ve effectively already left, therefore, the quality / quantity of their work will suffer, or they will sabotage our business.” Stunning that they’d hire a person like that in the first place, isn’t it? Says a lot about their ability to evaluate people. And why’d you keep someone if you thought that?

When they leave, they’ll give you a reason, but it’s rarely the truth (ie: their manager).

There are opportunities too good to pass up (doing what they’ve always wanted), money that’s too good, & better commutes. You understand “do what I’ve always wanted”. It might be a reason you started your business. Sure, there’s independence & the fantasy of how much money you’d make, but most people don’t start a business to do something they hate.

So let’s rewind to why they left. Ideally, to the reason why they started looking in the first place. There’s something you know of that happened to this employee, that they experienced, or didn’t but should have. Maybe you talked to them about it but it still provoked them to start looking. If you handled it well, it’s possible they wouldn’t be looking.

Everyone else leaves?

Think about the last few people who left. Why’d they leave? Look at the timelines of their careers. If you back up, day by day, week by week, month by month… what event turned them? Something did.

Maybe it was a bunch of little things. Still, that one time, that one thing, whether small or not, that one thing did it. Next thought: “I think I’m going to look around.”

When that decision was made, it might have been when things were repairable. If the right conversation happened (or the wrong one didn’t), maybe that person would have written off that event. Instead, it was one more straw on the camel’s back. Perhaps the final one.

I don’t have time for this

Thinking you don’t have time for this? You’re right.

You don’t have time to search for new employees, hire and train them, spend months getting them up to speed, only to be exactly where you were months earlier.

Learn what’s going on with your people and how things are going before they’re frustrated enough to leave. Talk about their career goals.

Yes, money’s gonna come up. Ignore it & it becomes a problem. Same with opportunity. Even if the money & opportunity are good, people tire of being unsupported by their manager (whatever that means to them), having ethical problems ignored, & whatever else you never fixed.

It makes them leave.

Opportunity is here & there

Someone saw something in your employee that you didn’t see, saw & ignored, or saw & procrastinated because you needed them where they were – ignoring that they could’ve been more valuable to your team had you given them the opportunity someone offered. Opportunity they earned in part while working for you, perhaps as you trained them. Instead of leveraging that investment, grooming them & putting them into a better role that’s more valuable to you, something else happened.

Who else is in those shoes? Who would you hate to lose?

Is it because of their current responsibilities, or because of their potential? What has to happen for them to step into a better, more valuable role? Do they need more experience, training, or time on the job? If you haven’t discussed this with them, they’ll likely assume you don’t see or care about their future.

That’s your choice. Somebody else’s choice might be to recognize what they’re worth. Same choice you have.

Photo by Olivier Collet on Unsplash

Categories
Management

Do we dislike consistency?

For the record, I’m not a New England Patriots fan., but I can’t deny that I admire their process. In fact, I think their process is what most Patriot “haters” actually dislike. It’s not necessarily Tom Brady, even if you don’t like that he’s 40ish, looks 30ish, has 0.000003% body fat, a gazillion dollar contract, a supermodel wife, etc. Or that he’s been great at coming back from certain defeat, similar to Roger Staubach, John Elway and a few others. Still, I don’t think that’s it, except maybe for that last minute “miracle” in the Super Bowl against the Seahawks.

The thing about haters seems to be about the team, rather than the coaches, or players (except for Brady). I mean, you might not like how coach Belichick talks to the press (or doesn’t), but it’s tough to dislike his effectiveness. Consider the consistency of the results he’s produced across two decades with more or less a different group of players each year, Brady notwithstanding.

Perhaps there are all sorts of reasons to dislike the Patriots. Ultimately, I think it’s because their process produces fairly consistent results for two decades. Their process produces wins when we think they shouldn’t.

Process yields results

So what’s the point of the football talk? When a team (business or sports) consistently does well over a long period of time, there will be haters.

Consider the consistency of processes and results across your entire business. Now think about how these results impact customers and vendors. Customers despise inconsistency. If you ask your customers, what area of your business is the most consistent and most frustrating, what would their answer be? Think about your pet peeves with your vendors. Do you mirror them to your customers?

You may be aware of areas where your business is a pain to deal with. It may be due to results, services, delivery, and/or quality being inconsistent. Your opinion of what’s inconsistent isn’t the only one that matters. Your customers might have thoughts on that – and you should ask. While it’s good to work on improving the consistency of the things you’ve identified, it’s a really good idea to discuss the topic with your customers. A good time to do it: when they’re already complaining to you. You’ve already got them to open up and tell you what’s going wrong. You might think you should avoid giving them more reason to rip on you, but it gives you more chances to respond and repair the relationship.

Machines & Robots

You may not want to be “hated” like the Patriots, but it could happen. If you are doing right by your customers, employees, contractors, and anyone else involved for an extended period of time, it’s possible. Even so, the hate you might get from some people is their problem, not yours.

When your company’s success takes up more space in the competition’s minds than working toward their own success, that’s clearly not your problem. Your problem (challenge, really) is to get your company to the point where that could happen. The path to success involves a lot of things – and one of them is a significant increase in the consistency of what you do.

At some point, your company and your people might be seen as “a machine” or “robots” because of their consistency. As long as your customers don’t see them that way because they’re inflexible and stone-faced, you’re fine. To some, looking like a “machine” or a “robot” is a negative. To others, it means your team is well trained and you have systems in place to minimize mistakes.

Consistency Fatigue

If a competitor doesn’t like you and your business because of the consistency of the results your business delivers, much less the friendliness and skillfulness of your people, it isn’t your problem. Deep down, I think that’s the problem with the Patriots. Yes, most fans can look back over the years and remember when their favorite team lost to the Patriots in a game they “shouldn’t have lost”. Some of it might be that people are tired of seeing them at or near the top of the heap. This year, they got what they wanted.

Strive to produce consistently high quality results, coaching, mentoring, training, and execution. Let the haters hate.

Categories
Leadership Management Project Management

Make a game plan, then work it

We’ve been mulling change, prioritization, and getting important tasks done. It’s time to get serious before the holidays distract you. When they’re over, having a ready-to-start game plan will help you get a solid start on the new year. Question is, what should be on your game plan?

Big rocks

We’ve all probably heard the story about putting the big rocks in the jar before adding pebbles, sand, & water.

The story resonates because we remember a time when we left the big rocks till later & then disappointed someone by missing a deadline, or being unable to fulfill a commitment.

These disappointments, failures or what have you often happen at least in part because we didn’t deal with the big rocks first. Old news for Covey followers, but worth a reminder when making a game plan.

A game plan of three things

I suggest starting with three big tasks. Looking at the list of tasks you want to accomplish in the next year, which three should have the most impactful and positive strategic result to your company over the long term?

Think about it. Discuss it with your team. Decide.

Consider the possible causes of failure. Some call this a “pre-mortem”. Make sure your game plan includes steps to defuse these issues or prevent them from becoming a problem. Think about the essential accomplishments needed to complete these tasks. Make sure everyone knows what these points are & that someone has direct responsibility to monitor them.

Painting the building may not be one of your three things, but it could be. I can recall on more than one occasion seeing a restaurant whose building had clearly been ignored for many years – and wondering if they handle food safety with the same level of care.

Up next – figure out how long these tasks will take. You need to know if your game plan is reasonable. This is not the place for fantasy.

On guesstimates

People are terrible at estimating how long a task will take. Eventually, some figure out a system for accurately estimating how long work will take because they got burned, fired, etc). This is particularly true in the technology business, but we aren’t alone.

Why is that?

We’re too optimistic about the pace we can maintain. We rarely bother to consider that we may run into an issue that we’ve not dealt with before – and the research, work (plus rework) & testing to resolve it takes time. These episodes don’t typically happen just once in a big project – which we also don’t consider.

We often discount the possibility of interruptions for urgent tasks that, while not of high importance, still must take precedence for a few hours or day. Naturally, we forget how many times this has happened based on our history, industry, team, etc.

Some folks estimate something, then “double it and add four”. Maybe that builds enough buffer into the estimate, but it’s still a wild guess with little more than gut feel to back it up. “Double/triple it” is a pretty good indication that you put insufficient thought into your estimate.

In some environments, you’ll find people will give an “instant” estimate to stop the “How long?” questioning. “You need to do this, how long will it take?” doesn’t usually have a legitimate answer when the task was unknown to you five minutes earlier. Saying “two weeks” without further introspection is simply avoiding persecution… temporarily.

It takes thought to produce a reasonably accurate estimate. This isn’t about making estimates correct to three decimal places. It’s about being reasonably close.

If you promise completion on January 15, you need to have confidence in that date from day one. If you know from the start that you’ll never make the date, don’t know if you can make it, or can only make it if everything goes perfectly – you’re asking for trouble.

Work backward

Big tasks should be broken down into pieces before you can estimate them. Starting from task completion & working backward helps us remember steps we might otherwise forget.

Estimate your list of steps. Break down steps estimated over four hours & estimate the new steps. Four hours seems extreme, but it’s a timeframe we can wrap our heads around. In your line of work, maybe it’s four days. You know where your estimation accuracy really shines.

Make a game plan. Work your plan. Get big things accomplished.

Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

Categories
Leadership Management Small Business

One thing to prioritize next year

As we approach the new year, you’re probably thinking of things you simply must get done for the coming year to be a big success. It’s a good bet that your “must do next year” list is long. There’s a good chance you’ll never complete it, at least not next year. Look at that list for what it is: Far more than you can get done in a year. That’s OK.

When we sit down and think about all the things we could do for our business, our team, and our customers – there will always be more things than time to do them. While we know this, it discourages us because we didn’t get it all done. To paraphrase Drucker, doing it all isn’t the important thing, doing the right things is.

Reflect & Prioritize

Last week, I mentioned your mile-long ToDo list and segued into managing the pace of change for your team to prepare for today’s discussion. Thinking about the year that’s about to end, how many major things did you get done?

Despite all that work, I’m sure you have improvements to make, new efforts to build and roll out (whatever that means for you), and other work to do. You aren’t alone. We all have a laundry list of important things to grow and improve our businesses.

When I look back on my year, I can think of two fairly major things and a longer list of less-substantial efforts. Probably forgotten is a laundry list of things that took less than a day or perhaps less than a week. I’m pondering this without looking at the system I use to manage such things. I’m sure I have forgotten medium sized projects that I now take for granted. The little things aren’t unimportant, but they aren’t the subject of this discussion. Still, there’s a massive pile of things I haven’t touched.

Sure and I have work to do

Rather than being disappointed about what you didn’t get done, appreciate what you did get done. It starts with looking at what you really can get done next year and how you’ll stay on the path.

I have 786 items in my project manager. Some small, some large. They won’t all be completed next year. Obviously, only a few are worked on at a time.

I prioritize the big things on my list on a weekly basis. The rest get reviewed monthly. Priorities / needs change for all of us. Something that was important six months ago might be irrelevant (or super critical) now. It’s rare that the most important things to complete in the next year will change, but it happens.

Your cycle of review / prioritize might be different, but it’s still needed. Imagine if next year you complete the three (or six) biggest items on your list. Today, that might seem crazy (“Crud, I have 780 to go”), but what impact will the six biggest items have? Only you know.

Yeah, but the Jones’

You may see other businesses getting a ton of new things done or perhaps more big changes than you could possibly do. Don’t think you don’t stack up, or that you aren’t as good as them. They may have more time, free capital, staff, or whatever. It doesn’t matter. Don’t get trapped in the comparison thing. Remember that what you see is only part of the story. You have no idea if they’ve made unsustainable decisions to accomplish what you see them doing.

Your ToDo list will live a long time. It will grow and shrink repeatedly. There will be big things and little things. They’re important in their own context, but they aren’t the biggest thing.

While getting it all done, remember to prioritize being a better you next year than you were this year. If you need a daily reminder in your calendar to do the things that make this happen, so be it.

Challenge your team to do the same and help them get there. Show them what you’re doing to improve, even if they need to do something else. Share your struggles and successes so that they know the path isn’t without challenges. Some will need some help figuring out what that means, what to do first / next, and how to get started again after tripping up. Be a leader in that respect, whether you’re the owner or not.

Photo by Mauricio Fanfa on Unsplash