Categories
Business model Competition Management

Leg wrestling with fire ants

If you’ve ever leg wrestled, you know it can be fun (among other things), but only under the right circumstances. You’d never want to do it on a nest of fire ants. Their bites would hurt far worse than almost any outcome from leg wrestling. If you absolutely had to wrestle on that nest, you’d put it off as long as possible. When you finally got started, you’d get it over with as quickly in order to minimize the pain and suffering. Making major changes in your business is not terribly different.

Kicking the can

Have you ever put off implementing a major change in your business that you know you have to make? If so, was it because you knew it was going to be difficult? Did you kick that can down the road because you weren’t sure if the change was going to work? The thing is, if you know the change needs to happen – it doesn’t matter if you aren’t sure about its chances for success. The mere fact that you know it needs to be done is a sign that your business is at risk. What’s scary is that you know deep down that not making the change is riskier than making it. But still, you put it off, which has a tendency to increase the risk.

Decide

With difficult things, the first step is usually the toughest. Sometimes the hardest part is making the decision itself. Once that’s done, many of us will focus and start to execute. You may find yourself wrestling with the fear of “breaking” your company, but if the position you’re in has you thinking about this, it’s probably already broken (if not badly bent). In these situations, waiting long enough (ie: too long) will cause someone or something else to make the decision for you.

A good example of such changes can be seen in the volume of businesses that have to re-examine how they get paid. It was incredibly rare 20 years ago for a company to use a subscription business model – except for newspapers, magazines and the like. Changes in advertising such as the loss of traditional classified ads, and the rise of digital marketing changed those markets. That, combined with a lot of foot-dragging re: the process of migrating to digital publication destroyed or significantly weakened many of those firms.

Many of these same changes have spread to businesses with traditional business models. Today, it’s steadily getting to the point where a non-subscription-based company is a rarity in many markets. While not all companies fit that model, those that depend on an ongoing creative and/or maintenance effort have little choice. The economics associated with buy-once, support-forever business models simply don’t work well in many markets where content and/or technology changes daily. They never really worked all that well in software and other rapidly changing markets, but the expansion of these “new” markets from zero to cloaked the economics for years. There was always a new client around the corner because of the growth from ground zero to whatever normal market penetration was for that market.

Blow it up & build it again

Today, many companies that were built over the last 20 years are find themselves struggling with the idea of moving to subscriptions. This, despite the fact that the economics are clear. The challenge for these companies is not only to migrate to subscriptions (or something other than front-loaded revenue models like buy-once-support-forever), but also to adjust their operations to a regular, well-planned deployment of value in the form of updates, fixes, and features over time. Without regular production in some form that produces recognizable value your customers want and need, subscription businesses will struggle to keep subscribers, and find it difficult to grow, particularly when competing with companies using low friction, subscription pricing that makes it easier to buy.

The changes may seem insurmountable, but the choice is clear: If you don’t blow it up & rebuild on your terms, someone else will force you to do it on theirs. Decide whether to live or die, knowing that no decision is still a decision. You simply have to make the decision, plan your execution, and press the start button. It will be hard, but not as hard as watching your market share shrink because you can’t fund the product development work needed to catch up, keep up, or ideally, move ahead. You get to decide your path.

Photo by Stephen Radford on Unsplash

Categories
Employees Leadership Management

Do small teams need good leadership?

Smaller companies are seldom known for having good (or even great) leadership. This isn’t because small companies don’t have great leaders. Instead, it’s because they are rarely discussed. Someone might talk about the business owner with four employees whose home-grown consulting business is doing good work and growing steadily. But do we hear about her being an amazing leader? Not often. It could lead you to believe that very small businesses don’t need good leadership. Don’t fall for it.

Are YOU a great (or good) leader?

At this point, you might be wondering if you’re a good leader. It isn’t solely about having a good relationship with your staff. One way to see how effective your leadership is, is to leave the office. Does the office work better when you’re gone? Does the office get less done when you’re gone? Do the wheels fall off when you’re gone?

Some teams get more done when their leader is out of the office because the leader is a distraction. This usually takes the shape of interrupting the team frequently to check on project statuses. Sometimes it goes a bit further. If your people are regularly being asked questions about work you know they have the expertise to do, you’re probably micromanaging them.

Does your team understand the big picture? If a stranger asked them what their company does, would they represent the company as you’d hope? Would they describe the company in terms of their job? Would they describe the company in terms of the good they do and how they help their customers?

Does each team member understand why their work is critical to the day-to-day success of the company? Do they understand how less than ideal performance in their department impacts other departments and the overall success of the company? Do they know exactly what they are responsible for? Not “Oh, I’m sure they do”, but “Yes, they have specific deliverables, duties, and expected outcomes for each day, week, month.” Are these things discussed regularly with each team member?

Get rid of the gaps

If you’ve decided that you need to get better at leading your team – what’s the next step? Go back over the previous section. Become a much better communicator. Leave nothing to assumptions, which doesn’t mean “Be a nag.”

You might be thinking “My people know what they are supposed to do.” That might be the case, but the truth is probably different. I suspect if you sit down with each member of your team and discuss your specific expectations, there’s going to be some gaps between what you expect and what they think you expect. Is that fair to them? Does it serve you and the company well?

If you find yourself frustrated with a team member, think specifically about what’s frustrating you. Are you absolutely, positively sure that they know they should be doing whatever you’re frustrated about? Are you sure that they know exactly what your expectations are? “They should know”, you might think. If you’ve haven’t explicitly told them, they might have the wrong idea entirely. They might not even realize how critical a seemingly minor expectation is because you haven’t explained how their work fits into the big picture. Rather than stew about it, take a minute to discuss it with them.

Make sure your expectations match their understanding of the job. Be sure they understand how their work fits into the entire process. Make sure every department knows *exactly* what is expected of them. If even one of your expectations are unstated, that can fester into a bad situation. Unstated assumptions can kill a company.

Water that garden

If you plan to grow, you need to cultivate the crops you’ve planted. It’s no different with your staff. As your team grows, someone (probably multiple someones) are going to stand out as up and coming leaders for your team. The point is, this isn’t solely about your leadership skills. Your ability to grow leaders and get out of the way is key to your company’s future growth.

As you grow, I guarantee the team will eventually outgrow your ability to manage it. People who have studied leadership and management in the real world will usually quote numbers from five to fifteen direct reports as the limit of the number of people a single person can manage effectively. Don’t wait until things get crazy to make a move.

Photo by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash

Categories
Improvement Management Manufacturing

The benefits of speed

For years, Dan Kennedy has said “Money loves speed.” He’s usually referring to making decisions and implementing things quickly, rather than falling prey to “Good is the enemy of perfect” (among other things). This is not speed for the sake of speed, however. The benefits of speed in the right circumstances, under the right conditions, are worth examining. You may find that you can’t increase speed without negatively impacting quality or safety. In those situations, I’d pull back on efforts to increase speed. Below, I discuss a few situations and opportunities that I hope will spur some ideas that will help you find places to increase the speed of your business activities.

Military time… and yours

A tank that can be refueled in one hour is more effective against an enemy than a tank that can be refueled in two hours. The same can be said for equipment not used in battle, like your lawn service’s mowers, or a delivery truck – even though defeating an “enemy” is not your goal. Similar effectiveness can be gained from a mower that can run twice as long, either because it consumes less fuel per hour, or because it has twice the fuel capacity of a similar mower.

During World War II’s Battle of Britain, British pilots who survived being shot down in morning were frequently back in another plane and in the air defending England that afternoon. German recovery crews had to travel much longer distances to recover a pilot and get them back in action. In addition, they had to have long range fighters so that pilots could fly to England, attack, and return back to Germany. These speed, distance, and equipment requirements thankfully had them at a disadvantage.

Is there anyone who hasn’t been parked at a point of sale counter, hotel front desk, or similar as an employee waited on a computer to perform some task necessary to allow us to check in, complete a purchase, etc? Some companies seem to be on a never-ending quest to improve these experiences. They know that customers want the shorter wait times in line. They’ve seen customers get frustrated and leave a store due to long lines. Meanwhile, other companies seem to ignore these counterproductive point of sale speed and usability problems, much less the long lines they can cause.

Sometimes, you have to temporarily slow down in order to speed up. A wobbly wheel will shake a car (and its passengers) to pieces, make the car less safe to drive, and prevent the car from reaching higher speeds. Taking a few minutes to stop and tighten or change the wheel costs a few minutes, but pays off in safer, faster driving. A simple example, but it begs the question: What’s wobbly, sketchy, or less than dependable at your business?

Downtime

Downtime is a speed issue as well, since you can’t get much slower than zero. Every time you eliminate or reduce downtime, there’s a corresponding increase in speed. The great thing about downtime is that much of it is preventable, whether it relates to computers, processes, or boat trailers.

Downtime hides in places you might not expect. Electricity. Disk space. Oil. Anti-freeze. Drive belts. Spare drive belts. Tools in vehicles. Flashlights in vehicles. Better warehouse lighting. Better training. Prevention has a solid ROI. Ask your team about processes, situations, and equipment that fails. Remember – injuries count too. Your people know where the dangerous places in your business are. Ask them, not only for where these things are, but also for ideas on how to address them.

Supply chain problems have a way of creating downtime as well. When you run out of raw materials due to order errors, delays, mistakes, or really – any reason, production grinds to a halt. Zero speed, particularly in a production environment, has a high cost. If you send people home because you’re out of raw materials, you not only miss out on the work getting produced, you also risk losing skilled people who probably weren’t easy to find. Most supply chain errors are preventable. Your team can help identify ways to deal with these problems, so be sure to ask if they’ve seen these issues before and have been involved in resolving them. Either way, take advantage of their experience and insight.

There is one place where speed isn’t recommended: Hiring.

Photo by toine G on Unsplash

Categories
Management market research Positioning Product management Sales Setting Expectations

Increase sales by making deployment easier

Everyone wants to sell more, yet few ask what impacts it the most: deployment. I had a long overdue conversation to catch up with Richard Tripp this week. His “POV method” is the best process I’ve seen for refining & re-prioritizing product focus. It’s based partly on finding out the number one outcome that the majority of your actual paying customers care about. Tripp calls this group of customers a company’s “center of success”. To my knowledge, use of his process has been limited to software companies – mostly SAAS companies. It struck me during a long drive yesterday that it could be used to improve the sales of any team. Teams with a deployed service or shipped product might gain the most.

Involve the whole team

The not-easily-impressed folks might think “Wooo, talking to customers – that’s a super new idea” and they’d be missing the point. Having been involved in many such efforts over the years – my experience is that the POV method is different & better.

It’s different in part because it isn’t about a group of VPs sitting around pontificating about things they’re disconnected from. Why disconnected? Because most VPs no longer spend time customers in the trenches. Even if you’re a owner/VP now, you weren’t always one, so you know what I mean. It’s better for the entire team to discuss progress together rather than in a series of silo’d departmental conversations. When everyone hears from everyone who has data / experiences to contribute, a much richer, more complete picture is the result.

One of the outcomes is the reduction of the pain and suffering required to adopt a product / service and substantially shrink / simplify the timeline from payment to “we’re getting the benefit we paid for”. I remember years ago watching the discovery process unfold during the early stages of a POV conversation about a group’s (non-SAAS) product.

During the discussion, a normally quiet member of the service / deployment team who spent all of their time with customers during the deployment process blurted out something like “Do you have any idea how frustrating our installs are and how long it takes our customers to go live with our software? At least three months!!

The product team’s reaction was shock and surprise, as you’d expect. Because management was part of the discussion, the project got immediate momentum. A substantial and cooperative joint effort between the product and the service departments to substantially pare down install / deployment challenges was the outcome – a small but high impact improvement.

Assembling a grill

Software deployment challenges are common, but deployment problems aren’t limited to software. The longer that the time-to-benefit period grows for any product or service, the easier it is for buyer’s remorse to take hold. If it takes 90 days to get your product or service producing, customers can lose sight of why they wanted the benefit.

It reminds me of buying a new grill, getting it home and putting it together.

If you’ve assembled a grill in the last 20 years, you know that the grill business needs some work. People buy a new grill because the old one finally rusted out, they need more capacity, or they’re having an event & need a bigger one. Most people don’t do this weeks in advance. They might buy the grill a day or two before the big event.

The likely result is one of those “It’s 10 pm on Christmas eve and I have toys to assemble” experiences. Instead of fitting together plastic parts, there’s sharp-edged sheet metal & screws that look alike but aren’t. Meanwhile, two people must hold the pieces in position so the third person can turn a few screws. Eventually, this pile of parts becomes something that will eventually cook a meal. Does it have to be this much trouble?

Imagine if the team(s) responsible for packaging, instructions, & parts watched consumers muddle through this process on a third floor apartment patio. Enlightenment is guaranteed. When a developer watches an end user use their software, it’s often painful because what seemed obvious almost never is.

Whether you make software, grills, or campers – your development, packaging, and deployment staff will learn important lessons simply by watching a few customers unpack, assemble, & deploy your product or service.

Photo by Matthieu Joannon on Unsplash

Categories
Business model Entrepreneurs Leadership Management Small Business

Small Business Scorecard

I’ve long focused on helping businesses one on one, by choice. From time to time, I’ve considered mechanisms (other than my writing) that provide help in a group setting. Ideally, this would let me help more people while not drastically increasing the time required to do so. Typically, this means holding webinars, group coaching, masterminds, ie: “one to many” events. This piece is intended to fill some of the gap between one-on-one help and one-to-many help, at least for now.

How we get help differs

When it comes to seeking help, business owners appear many forms. Some repeatedly seek help from people, books, and other resources. Others tend to accept help about specific topics, or when a resource is recommended to them by a trusted friend. Some read or listen to many sources of help / advice, but are pretty choosy about the things they implement. Some seek no help at all – and this group seems to be broken down into a group that knows they need the help but never take action, and another segment that simply figures it out on their own (or doesn’t).

Efficient learning varies from person to person. Some prefer reading, while others learn / retain more from audio, video, pictures and/or diagrams. Some people prefer brief information, others tend to consume “long reads” or extensive, highly detailed video. This time around, I decided to take a self-guided approach. I’d appreciate feedback on how effective the scorecard is for you – and why.

How the scorecard works

I’m calling this a scorecard, but the goal is not to arrive at a number and think “We got a 74, so we’re doing fine as is.” It’s more of a self-assessment & introspection tool. You’ll find statements about how things work in your business. You’ll agree with some. Others will have you thinking “That’s definitely not us.” If a seemingly-negative item on the list doesn’t pertain to you, cross it off. Look at the items you circled / checked as “yep, this is us” as a milestone on the way to a stronger company. Some may need recurring attention.

Marketing

  • Our marketing is completely automated across all media, digital or otherwise.
  • Our marketing is strictly digital. We don’t make sales calls, send US Mail, visit prospects, have prospects visit us, and we don’t go to trade shows.
  • Our marketing is strictly organic. We don’t advertise, other than having a website.
  • We test new ads against our ad that performs the best.
  • We market our work consistently.
  • We spent ad money effectively.
  • We have data that tells us what works and what doesn’t, marketing-wise.
  • Our marketing is executed based on a plan or marketing calendar.
  • We collect information about people who show an interest in our products / services.
  • On a regular basis, we reach out to people who have shown an interest in us. We send offers as well as useful information that will help them make a purchase decision.
  • In marketing dollars, we know how much it costs to get a highly-qualified lead.
  • In marketing dollars, we know our lead cost on each type of media.
  • For each of the media we use for marketing (radio, tv, newspaper, direct mail, various internet options), we keep track of lead quality, lead volume, and ad investment.
  • We decrease our marketing efforts / spend when the market is tight.
  • We use our lead cost to drive decisions about ad purchases – including internet ad options.
  • We increase our marketing efforts / spend when the market is tight.
  • We don’t really advertise with any consistency. You might say it’s driven by which ad salespeople call on us.
  • In our market, expertly-done marketing has ceased to become an edge. Everyone in our market is a good marketer.
  • We decrease our marketing efforts / spend in good times.
  • Most companies in our market are spray-and-pray marketers.
  • Some companies in our market are haphazard or random marketers, but there are some that we’d consider experts. They spend ad money effectively.
  • We increase our marketing efforts / spend in good times.
  • We’re one of the haphazard / random marketers.
  • We’re one of the more effective marketers in our market.

Operations

  • It feels like things “fall apart” a little when critical people leave, or are out of the office.
  • When the owner or manager are gone for the day, things seem more productive.
  • When a team member is gone, it’s easy to deal with their workload because we’ve been cross trained.
  • When someone is out of the office, it can be a little tough, but we have written process / procedures documentation to help us get the work done.
  • We rarely / never have to contact someone who’s out of the office to ask them how to do something, or to get online and help us deal with this or that.
  • When our front desk takes order / job status calls, they have to call back into the shop to get someone to tell them what’s up with an order / job.
  • We sometimes run out of the supplies / raw materials we need to do our work.
  • It’s common for us to contact someone who’s out of the office because we need help dealing with something they do.
  • Customers can tell when a critical employee is on sick, off that day, or vacation.
  • When a customer contacts us to find out the status of a job / order, any employee can easily and quickly find the info and pass it to the customer.
  • Customers can’t tell when a critical employee is out of the office.
  • We never run out of the supplies / raw materials we need to do our work.
  • We use a system to track and manage our tasks / work.

Business model

  • Our products / services are one-off. We don’t make something once and sell it multiple times.
  • Once we make tooling, we can make and sell the same item repeatedly.
  • We sell services on a subscription basis.
  • The business doesn’t generate income when the owner isn’t working.
  • We serve a vertical (narrow) market.
  • We sell products and service them, so ongoing reputation is critical to get returning customers.
  • If we’re not on the job and billing hours, we’re not generating revenue.
  • We serve a horizontal (wide) market.
  • Our market has already been disrupted / is difficult to disrupt.
  • Once created, our services have a marginal COGS so we can make something and sell it repeatedly.
  • Our customers pay us each month. We deliver / replenish consumable products / services.
  • Our market could easily be disrupted.
  • We provide customers with a service infrastructure.

Staffing

  • We’re always understaffed.
  • We have trouble keeping people, but they don’t tell us why they leave.
  • We have trouble keeping people. They tell us why they leave, but we can’t or won’t do anything about the things they mention.
  • Customers can’t tell when an employee is brand new.
  • Our people rarely do things together outside of work.
  • It takes a long time for us to hire someone because we’re careful to find people who fit our existing team.
  • Customers can tell when an employee is brand new.
  • We have trouble keeping people. We’re not sure why.
  • Few of our first line managers are familiar enough with the line employees’ work to take over for them in a pinch.
  • It takes a long time for us to hire someone because candidates are hard to find.
  • We’re overstaffed, but our workloads vary wildly so we don’t want to shrink the size of our staff.
  • Our team is a family – they frequently do fun / family / activities together outside of work.
  • Our first line managers could easily handle the work our line employees do, if they needed to.
  • We tend to promote from our existing staff.
  • We rarely promote from our existing staff.
  • Our team tends to be swamped one week, and might be sitting around with nothing do the next week.
  • Most of our team members are easily replaceable.
  • We have employees who have been here for many years.

Sales

  • Our sales team says they never have enough leads.
  • The sales team feels our leads are properly qualified when they get them.
  • Customers and prospects comment that our sales team was useful in helping them make a purchase decision.
  • Salespeople often comment that they’re getting leads who aren’t suitable for our products / services.
  • Our pipeline is difficult to confidently predict more than a couple of weeks out.
  • We have quotas, but we aren’t involved in deciding what they should be.
  • We close an acceptable-to-us percentage of sales when we have a highly-qualified lead.
  • I feel confident when I give a solid lead to one of our salespeople.
  • We have sales quotas – and we’re involved in determining those numbers.
  • We’re constantly under pressure to make quota – and we know it’s because the company’s cash flow is precariously low.
  • We get very few complaints about our sales team.
  • Finance is always bugging us to give them pipeline information, but we can’t consistently tell them anticipated revenue more than a week or two in advance.
  • Our sales team has an experienced leader.
  • It’s not unusual to get comments that our sales team is pushy.
  • Finance really appreciates that we can give them dependable sales pipeline info 30-60 days in advance, so they can depend on revenue in advance of receiving it.
  • Sometimes people send in feedback saying our sales team is more interested in closing a sale than they are about helping customers decide on a purchase.
  • We have more leads than our sales team can handle, but not all of them are well-qualified.
  • Our sales quotas feel like impossible expectations rather than achievable goals based on lead flow.
  • Our sales team is lead by the salesperson who usually sells the most.
  • We have more highly-qualified leads than our sales team can handle.
  • We believe that our product / service makes a significant improvement in the lives of our customers and as such, it is our obligation to offer it to as many qualified prospective customers as possible.
  • Our sales team easily handles all the leads we give them. They keep asking for more.
  • Most days/weeks/months, our sales team can handle the leads assigned to them.

Management / Leadership

  • You can ask any of our employees what motivates us as a company, or “What’s our why”. They all know.
  • Our people are an investment in our business.
  • We have to constantly watch our people to keep them working.
  • Our managers are all family members who learned to manage here – and it’s worked great for years.
  • Our people feel like a cost / expense.
  • Sometimes new employees have to wait to get a phone, desk, computer, tools, or a space in the shop. Those things aren’t always / usually available on their first day.
  • Employees know what our company long and short term goals are.
  • We’re an open book company.
  • Our managers are all family members who learned to manage here. I think the company would positively benefit from an experienced leader.
  • We don’t share any financial performance information with our people.
  • When a new employee get to their desk / work station / shop station on their first day, they have everything they need to get to work.
  • We have a 401K.
  • Team members don’t seem to connect their work with the company’s goals.
  • It takes new employees a few weeks / months to get their act together and become effective.
  • We routinely discuss the importance of 401K participation in our employees’ future.
  • Our financial performance is none of our employees’ business.
  • Any good manager could join us, learn our business, and be effective here.
  • Only our family can manage this business.
  • Our employees understand what makes our business profitable and sustainable.
  • New employees often comment about how good / refreshing our on-boarding process is.
  • We encourage our employees to educate themselves and offer ongoing training as well.

Finance

  • We know where the funds for our next payroll will come from.
  • We’re always on top of the required state and Federal reports related to employees and such.
  • Sometimes we have to pay our invoices late, but it’s not an every month thing.
  • We get paid late by our customers and it creates issues for us.
  • We don’t have receivables.
  • Our payables are always behind.
  • We never have any issues with state or Federal tax returns or deposits.
  • We’re always on top of tax returns.
  • If sales could deliver dependable pipeline numbers for the next quarter, our finance problems would disappear.
  • The owner / management hates accounting.
  • We’re always up to date on tax deposits.
  • We’re not very good at managing the company’s finances.
  • We tend to be late on tax returns. Sometimes we have to pay a penalty.
  • Managing our finances is one of our superpowers. We suspect we’re better at this than many other companies.
  • We tend to be late on tax deposits. Sometimes we are charged penalties / interest.
  • We do all our own bookkeeping and accounting / tax work.
  • Debt is an important ingredient in our ability to grow.
  • We do our own bookkeeping, but we have a professional handle the taxes and related paperwork.
  • We outsource bookkeeping.
  • We’re focused on eliminating debt for the long term, even though we know it may slow us down from time to time.
  • We have a professional handle taxes and related paperwork.
  • Our “numbers” drive strategic decisions.

Systems

  • We understand that “systems” might include automation, but also may include manual systems – such as checklists, documented work processes, job descriptions, manufacturing reviews, and similar items.
  • New employees learn our systems as they learn their job.
  • We’re gradually systemizing parts of our business.
  • None of our systems are “perfect”, but our imperfect systems save time, keep us on track, and help us avoid missed steps.
  • There’s one person who knows it all on our systems, but that’s it.
  • As an owner, I ask myself “Whose job is this?” every time a piece of paper crosses my desk.
  • Our systems are a strategic advantage. They make our work safer and more consistent. They help us produce a more consistent outcome for our customers.
  • We routinely review our systems with feedback from the people who use them. Reviews drive upcoming system improvements.
  • The nature of our business requires that we invent most or all systems ourselves.
  • We don’t have anything we’d call “automation” but we’re definitely a systemized business.
  • We have several team members working together to know, improve, and manage our systems.
  • Over time, we train new employees on all the company’s systems so that they help in any area if someone is out.
  • We understand that automation / systems can be leveraged in any part of our business, from management to finance to manufacturing, sales, and/or marketing.
  • We’re using systems and ideas that others have refined over time.
  • Systems (and particularly automation) are something we need in order to keep up with competitors. If we didn’t have to, we’d use as few as possible.
  • Our systems have been in place for years. We rarely change them.
  • Our systems are very close to ideal. We’ve worked hard to get there.
  • Our systems are difficult to change.
  • Our systems are a mix of commonly-known systems from experts and systems specific to our industry and/or business.
  • We train new employees on all the systems in their area.
  • Adding new systems to our work is easy.
  • It’s difficult getting new systems into our workflow.
  • When we hire people. we look for experience in systemized businesses and experience with systems like ours.
  • If we find job candidates with experience with systems unlike ours, we consider this useful as we might gain an edge from that differing background.

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

Categories
Employees Hiring Leadership Management

Where to find tech candidates from underrepresented groups

Earlier this week, someone asked on a local Slack group about where they could find a more diverse set of candidates for a tech job opening vs. what they might find at the standard “big” job sites (Indeed, Monster, etc). The job sounds ideal. Good company, almost everyone working remote, Kubernetes expertise needed (ie: not stale technology).

I reworded the question a little and passed it along on Twitter. The response was pretty decent, so I thought I’d document it here in case readers have a similar desire to expand their reach when seeking out candidates. The responses below are in the order I received them and link to the author’s tweet in case you have questions, comments, etc. As I receive additional replies, I’ll add them here.

Note: A reader pointed out that there is a significant recruiter fee to place a job ad on techladies, so be a good consumer and read the fine print as the reader did.

Update: 2019-08-07: An AWS-related grant passed by me, so here’s the details: https://reinvent.awsevents.com/community/we_power_tech_grant/

Categories
Employee Training Entrepreneurs Leadership Management

Are you holding on too tight?

Have you ever driven something to the post office because then you’d be absolutely sure it was put in the right box and actually mailed? Seemed rational at the time, right? The biggest turning point in a business owner’s life is when they trust someone enough to let them do something the business owner used to do. Yes, bigger than deciding to start the business itself. It’s one of the most difficult achievements for owners because it’s driven by fear, an emotion as primitive as there is. This fear convinces us that no one else can do the work as well as we can, even when the task is unimportant but necessary.

We have a bias toward the illusion and value of control at least in part because we did everything when there was no one else to do it. We remember the good old days when we built it alone in our basement, kitchen table, garage, etc. We did it all, thumped our chests, and drank from the skulls of our competitors. Our fond memories tell us we were in control of everything. The reality was more likely daily firefighting in an environment where we were alone and nothing was truly in our control.

Control isn’t the secret sauce

We think control is an important and essential element to building and growing a company. We think this because it’s all we know. When we’re the only one doing the work – control of everything is the default behavior model. Over time, “control of everything” stakes its claim as one of the essential ingredients of our success comes to us simply because we were the only employee. That doesn’t mean it’s the ideal.

Delegating work is one of the hardest and most valuable skills a business owner can develop. We usually won’t admit to ourselves that being bad at delegating (or not wanting to delegate) is a product of our desire to preserve our illusion of control.

We convince ourselves to stay small with thoughts like these:

  • I built this thing myself when I discovered others weren’t doing this, or weren’t doing it well.” (until I delegate to the right person with the right details, assuming this was ever true, and of course the task is so critical that I MUST be the only one to do it. Except it usually isn’t that critical, it’s simply work that must be done.)
  • No one knows what we went through.” (and?)
  • No one works like an owner.” (which is understandable – they aren’t owners).
  • It’s faster to do it myself than to teach you how to do it.” (Except for the second through nth times, assuming you taught it properly)
  • Others don’t care like I do.” (even though they might – worst case, they care enough or in their own way. Again, they aren’t owners.)
  • So and so’s work isn’t perfect.” (Neither is yours)
  • I can always do it better than anyone else.” (Are you sure? Is 10% better worth not getting to that truly critical work that is of a nature that you really are the only one who can do it?)
  • No one but me has the twenty seven years of experience that’s necessary to do this work well.” (It isn’t usually necessary, we just think it is. If we use that experience to guide our training & delegation, someone else *can* do it as well.)

Control has limits

How many items can you carry at one time? At some point, you’ll either stop adding items, or you’ll start dropping things. Our minds have a similarly finite ability to control things. That “control” includes managing people, projects, relationships, much less doing the work our role demands of us.

Your leadership role requires your full attention. Would you prefer to lead your company well, or lead it poorly because your mental and physical energy is consumed by less important tasks other people can do?

Holding on too tight stifles growth. We had to hold tight when we were working alone, but it’s a serious liability when you have a team. The best NFL quarterbacks throw or hand the ball to someone else most of the time, despite most of then having great running skills. Your children won’t learn to walk if you never let them out of your arms.

An executive who works with famous bands and professional athletes regularly asks his clients how their work changed once they “went pro”. In both groups, the most prevalent answer was “having the time and mental space to focus solely on our music / on-field performance and the wants / needs of our clientele, without the distraction of little things that used to consume their time.

The fear of letting go of the control that we think helped us succeed when it was just us – is exactly the thing that keeps us small.

Hiring my assistant Lorena is one of the best decisions I ever made.
But, many entrepreneurs don’t know how to go about hiring one. (Myself included! I got lucky with Lorena!)
Many entrepreneurs don’t know where to look. They don’t know what to pay.
They don’t know WHO to trust.
But most of all, they don’t know HOW to trust.
They don’t how to let go of tasks they really need to let go of. They don’t know how to let go of control.
I get that. We entrepreneurs have skin (and blood and hair and sweat) in the game. We can’t take our eye off the ball or things slide into chaos in a hiccup.

A comment from Perry Marshall

Photo by davide ragusa on Unsplash

Categories
Employees Management

Accountability starts with you

Are you holding your team members accountable for their work based on key performance indicators (KPIs), key process areas (KPAs), and/or key result areas (KRAs)?. It’s common for firms to weave these metrics into job descriptions so that each employee is clear that “hitting their numbers” is central to meeting the progress expectations of a particular role.

All the numbers are connected

If marketing hits their numbers, they’re generating at least the minimum number of leads that sales needs to maintain their monthly sales quantity. This assumes that they have sufficient advertising budget, the right people in “skill positions”, and the company’s chosen market is large enough to consistently produce those leads month in and month out (a KPI for upper management?). Sales has to hit their number using the leads marketing provided to them so that the company’s finance team can make its monthly goals. At the least, this means making payroll, paying the bills, retaining some earnings for future purchases, and hopefully generating some profit.

You need manufacturing (whatever that means for you) to hit their numbers so that the delivery promises made by the sales team (hopefully in cooperation with manufacturing) can be met so that delivery / deployment / installation dates are achieved. Customers don’t like missed deadlines, often because they’ve made their commitments to their customers based on delivery dates you promised them.

Your customer service / support team has to meet response time and ticket closure numbers so that customers aren’t waiting too long for the help they need. A customer who is dissatisfied with service and support might decide to hold your invoice for an extra week, or month. That impacts your financial team’s numbers.

If anyone misses their numbers, it can impact other teams and make it difficult (if not impossible) for them to hit their numbers. That makes for a not so awesome management meeting between team leaders. Do you have a KPI for finger pointing? Is your leadership solid enough to prevent that train wreck?

What do the numbers mean?

Avoiding that train wreck is critical to the morale and productivity of your team. Poorly chosen numbers, or numbers that don’t reflect your culture and values are eventually going to create trouble.

If your KPIs (etc) are chosen well and carefully explained to your team members, they will reflect the desired output and behavior of your team members. Collectively, the numbers reflect a team effort to achieve suitable progress.

“Chosen well” is critical. It’s not terribly difficult to pick a number that seems to identify a desired level of performance, only to find that someone has abandoned a cultural expectation in order to hit their number.

These numbers are intended to make it easy for your team to understand the most important parts of their role and to know what level of productivity is needed to support the company’s needs – ultimately the needs of another department or team. They also need to make sense.

Quality matters

A KPI of “Make 50 sales prospecting calls a day” might seem reasonable, but does it make sense? 50 calls in an eight hour day requires making six calls per hour all day, every day (plus two more). Does your marketing team produce enough leads to satisfy this need each month? 20 business days a month means marketing has to generate 1000 new leads every month per salesperson. Alternatively, your sales team has to do their own lead generation (Do they have the tools for that? Do they know how to use them effectively?)

Averaging 6.25 calls per hour means that your sales team averages no more than nine minutes and 36 seconds learning about each prospect during each call. Time consumed by travel, meetings, prospecting, follow ups, trade shows, etc might shrink those sales calls further.

None of this speaks to quality. If hitting numbers is all that matters, 50 calls is 50 calls, no matter how qualified the lead. The quality of leads & sales calls will likely decline as the deadline approaches. The It’s tough to create a relationship and assess a prospect’s needs in under 10 minutes. Using that time on a poor lead is doubly costly.

Now imagine that you’re expected to make 100 sales calls a day, because “that’s what ‘real’ salespeople do”. What will suffer?

Unfortunate performance measurement choices can negatively impact any department. Be sure the numbers you ask your team to hit make sense holistically for the entire business. Accountability for that starts with you.

Categories
Employees Management

Taking initiative… is it risky?

Remember the first time you convinced your kid to jump into the pool? Even though they trust you in a litany of other ways, you might have had to coax, sell, and maybe even coerce them to jump off the side into your arms. The child probably had thoughts like “What if mom or dad doesn’t catch me?“, “What if I go to the bottom?“, and “Everyone will make fun of me if I mess this up“, even if they would, you wouldn’t and they wouldn’t. Sometimes it took a lot of convincing to get them to make that leap. Maybe they were scared, but it’s likely they were more scared of the unknown outcomes they’d dreamed up, or the ones they hadn’t even thought of. The first time they take that leap, they’re simply unsure, despite your assurances that it’ll all be OK. They’ve probably never seen you pretend to miss their brother when he jumps into the pool – even if that’s a game you and the brother actively engage in.

Employees have similar fears, but they learn differently. They learn from the behaviors they see over time and from stories they’ve heard in the past. Perhaps even from stories told during on-boarding and training.

Scared to take initiative?

In some companies, showing initiative is lauded. However, if management says “We love when our teams take initiative!“” but only “show the love” when the initiative succeeds, fewer will risk taking initiative. People take initiative only when they know it’s safe to do so. I don’t mean safe in a “I can’t stand up for myself” way. We’re talking about job security.

If your team members have the tiniest inkling that taking initiative might cost them their job, many will avoid doing so. You might think employees who worry about their job security are snowflakes, wimps, etc. You might never have been called on the carpet for taking initiative and failing. You may never have known the fear of losing a job. Maybe you never had a manager that treated you poorly. Maybe you never had a job and always worked for yourself. What’s the employees’ perspective?

It’s possible your employees need their job so badly that they aren’t willing to risk losing it. Given that 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, it’s clear lots of people can’t afford to lose their jobs. All of us probably know at least one person in that situation, and it’s clear that there are far more in that mode than we realize.

What does failure feel like?

How are failures are handled at your company? Do team members get “beat up” verbally, privately or publicly? Are snide comments made in group settings, like “guess we’ll never trust Sharon again“, even if said jokingly? Is the joke truly a joke, or is there some real meaning to those words? People notice when promotions (etc) go to people who perform steadily but never take initiative. If the comfort zone is where promotions & raises come from, would your people leave theirs?

If you want your folks to take initiative, show it. Make it clear who has this sort of leeway (and how much), whether they are “front line” staff members or executives. You may think your execs don’t worry about job security, but some almost certainly do as exec jobs are harder to find. Make sure they know the boundaries (or that there aren’t any) in areas where you want to see initiative taken. Give them examples of successes and failures. Show them how these efforts are handled, win or lose.

Be sure that failed efforts get attention in a way that won’t cause others to pull back on taking initiative. Thank those who stepped out and stepped up, regardless of outcome. Initiative taken with the intent of helping the company is a positive thing. This isn’t a participation trophy. It’s reminding everyone that taking initiative in the context of their roles is a desirable behavior, whether attempts succeed or fail.

After initiative is taken, deconstruct what happened. Let the team help diagnose it and suggest improvements. The failure discussion shouldn’t be about the person, it should be about the work & how to give initiative a better chance next time. Share the lessons learned from the wins *and* the losses so the next initiative has a better chance of success.

Photo by Lavi Perchik on Unsplash

Categories
Management

What’s your company really worth?

25 years ago, I was writing some software for my father in law. Sometime during the process, my computer locked up and lost a bunch of work. The first time this happens, the experience is seared into your brain. I had to redo a bunch of work. Recoverable, but annoying. The painful process was made a bit worse because it was work I was doing for family.

The cost of lost data

Last week, a client of an acquaintance was struggling thru a ransomware attack. After discussing his options, it sounded like his client’s data is gone, not “just” encrypted. How would the rest of your week go if you found out right now that all of your company’s data is gone?

Think about what “all your data is gone” really means for your company. We’re talking about losing all of your data. Gone.

If you have a staff of people with a shared company calendar with appointments with clients – what would the impact be if the calendar was empty?

You might lose all of your accounting data. Imagine getting your books and taxes in order after a loss like that. While much of that data could be recovered from your bank’s records, you’ll still be missing important details.

Any activity that hasn’t yet created all of its financial transactions wouldn’t appear. The complexities of such transactions make it more difficult to reassemble the pieces, even from a bank statement. Imagine the invoices that don’t go out. Who has paid? Who hasn’t? The same thing affects invoices that come in for payment. Which ones have been paid? Which ones haven’t? Your customers who get invoices they’ve already paid will soon wonder what else you’re struggling with.

You might lose all of your sales and order data. That’d make it tough to calculate commissions, pay vendors, deliver orders and so on. What about your data used or created by manufacturing and shipping applications?

Losing all of your company’s data could be crippling, yet it happens regularly. You don’t often hear about it because no one wants to publicize such situations. It’s the same attitude that makes companies keep data breaches and hacks secret. These losses happen simply because not enough effort is put into making backups AND checking to make sure they work.

What does ransomware do?

Normally a ransomware event results from running a malware application or clicking on a link (or opening an email) that leads to installation of the ransomware. The bad part is that the ransomware encrypts all of your data and you can’t do anything with it unless you pay the ransom. In the case of my acquaintance, the loss was even worse – it didn’t encrypt the data, it erased it.

While ransomware (and charging a ransom) isn’t legal, companies with insufficient security, staff training, and/or inattentive users are victimized by ransomware every day. Few instances are reported because it’s embarrassing.

All it takes is one errant click on a legitimate looking website or email. The next thing you know, every computer on your company network could be encrypted (or just one).

Small price to pay

The company that lost their data had no backups. That’s right. NONE. The last time their data was backed up and stored off-premises 11 months earlier.

Fortunately, this backup was made by their developer or they’d have no backup at all. Ironically, the developer recently offered to setup backups for the client, but the offer was refused. Now he’s working to help them try and recover their data from the backup he made that will probably be the best shot they have to save their company.

If making backups and taking them off-premises sounds like hassle / cost you don’t need, I suggest you consider what your company’s worth. What’s it worth if all the data is gone?

My guess is the difference between those two numbers are worth the time / price of backing up your data. Maybe that’s the price of a monthly online backup service. Maybe it’s the price of an external hard drive or two. Either way, this small investment beats losing all of your business data.

Backup, take your backups offsite, educate your team on how to identify sketchy emails and websites – and help your staff with security software that can intervene to protect your assets. Your company’s worth it.