You may be missing out

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Like most entrepreneurs, you are used to digging in and doing whatever needs to be done. That’s how you started and built your business. It’s part of you. It’s in your nature. It’s the reason you are where you are.

But there comes a season where you can’t do it all and it seems like something is missing. Things that used to operate like clockwork just aren’t clicking anymore. You worry when you are out of the office. You wish you had more time in the day – to accomplish more and to spend more time with your family.

It happens to everyone who has a growing business. See if these statements hit close to home:

  • There is a lack of accountability on my team.
  • It seems like all my team does is fight fires.
  • I’m not sure everyone is on the same page.
  • “Tom” causes trouble but he hits his numbers and I can’t afford to lose him.
  • Our expenses are growing faster than our revenues.

Sound familiar?

If it does, it is time for a gut check. As the leader, what are you going to do about it? These problems won’t go away on their own, and they are likely to get worse. You can do one of three things: 1) pretend not know there are problems, 2) spend more of your time and effort to “fix” the problems yourself, or 3) you can ask for help.

Option 1 does nothing to resolve the issues. Option 2 means you have less time devoted to growing the business, less time for your family, and a lower likelihood of driving the results you need. Option 3 – asking for help – gives you best chance to get your team aligned, drive accountability in the organization, and gives you the freedom to focus on the vision for the company. And wouldn’t it be great to take time with your family knowing that your team was operating at a high level?

If this is where you find yourself today, find someone with the experience and expertise to help you. You need a fresh perspective from someone who isn’t caught up in the whirlwind of your daily business so you can right the ship.

Don’t miss out on better results at work. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to invest more of yourself in your family and your passions.

Are you limiting your team’s success?

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If you are a business owner or leader of a team, repeat after me: “It’s all my fault.”

Wait, what? Yes, the buck stops with you. You are ultimately responsible for your team’s success.

Let’s assume that you have hired a great team. Bright “go-getters” who want nothing more than to be part of a winning team. To succeed in their chosen career. To make a difference. But…

Maybe it seems all you do is put out fires. Maybe the smiles are gone from your employees’ faces. Maybe they are checking out internet job boards for new challenges. Maybe your customers are looking for greener pastures. These are just some of the signs that you haven’t set your team up for success.

Sure, they receive a fair salary in exchange for their efforts, they have good benefits, and they like the casual dress code and the free snacks in the break room, but you haven’t given them the tools they need for success. So what is missing?

Clear goals and consistent feedback.

They need a clear challenge. What are your goals for the year? If your team can’t immediately tell you what they are trying to accomplish for the year, then your chances of success are almost nil. Tell them! Be specific.

Let your team know if they are winning. Once you’ve spelled out the goals, make sure your team knows the score. They really want to win, and the only way to know if they are is to see the results compared to the goal. So tell them! If they are winning, take time to celebrate the success or milestones along the way. Making your goals should be fun.

Hold people accountable. Few things will frustrate team members than someone else who isn’t pulling their weight. That individual will drag an entire team down. When people make mistakes or simply aren’t doing what is expected of them, it is your job as the leader to hold them accountable. Your team expects nothing less – after all, that’s your job as a leader.

The three factors above can do wonders for a group. Consistently ensuring those three activities are performed is the foundation of leadership and will move your team toward hitting your goals.

But that’s not all. There are a couple of other responsibilities your team expects from you. And they aren’t always easy.

Remove people who aren’t working out. As hard as you might try, not every hire is a home run. Some just don’t work out despite all your efforts. Your team knows it, too. If someone isn’t a good fit for the team, whether is it a mismatch of values and culture, missing skills, or anything else, keeping that individual does not help the team and in fact hurts them. It’s your job to make the tough call for the good of the team.

Be open to feedback. Your team has ideas that need to be heard. They do the work day in and day out and have insight on what’s working and what isn’t. Let them tell you so you can benefit from their experience. At the same time, you both must understand that not all good ideas can be implemented. Tim Cook, Apple CEO, once said that “We say no to good ideas every day. We say no to great ideas in order to keep the amount of things we focus on very small in number, so that we can put enormous energy behind the ones we do choose, so that we can deliver the best products in the world.”

Your team’s success or lack thereof is ultimately your responsibility. They need clear direction, focus, and feedback, and you have to remove the roadblocks. Doing your job by equipping your team makes your team’s job much easier.

Your business is growing….why don’t you feel like you are winning?

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Your business is growing. You’ve got a great product or service, you know your customers, and you’ve assembled a stellar team. But something has changed. Profitability has slipped, tasks take longer to complete than they should, or your team is frustrated. What’s going on?

You are a victim of your own success. Every business owner goes through it. It is part of the maturation process for any business.

What are some of the reasons you’ve gotten here?

You need to quantify your sales pipeline. Are you investing time in customers or entire market segments that aren’t profitable? Are the wrong types of opportunities taking away resources from more valuable opportunities?

Your systems haven’t kept up with your growth. Systems can be tools, processes, and software. As your business grows – in volume, the number and type of offerings, or complexity – you need to re-evaluate how your team executes the critical business tasks required to meet your customers’ needs and make changes as necessary.

Your team is confused or out of alignment. You’ve added people and maybe even entire departments. Valuable, productive employees who once had their hands in all aspects of the business aren’t sure who does what any more. Efforts are duplicated or worse, missed completely. Everyone is working toward different goals. The company culture you’ve built begins to change.

The bottom line is you are fighting fires. The cost of fighting fires manifests itself when you don’t have time to cast your vision for the company or nurture the company culture. You and your team are busy, but your aren’t effective or productive.

Growing companies will go through challenging periods or even seem to stall. It’s a natural part of the process. The key is to make sure you evaluate the root cause and understand the reason(s) why and take decisive corrective action.

Leaders lead…people

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Leaders of all kinds – from CEOs to department managers to Little League coaches, in businesses, non-profits, and volunteer organizations – take on responsibilities that not everyone wants.  Most leaders step into those roles because they feel called to lead.  It’s their duty.  Yes, the recognition and financial rewards may be desirable, but those rewards are not enough to keep a leader motivated.  It’s their calling, their contribution to the organization or the community, and leaders don’t shirk their responsibilities. 

Leaders are called to do many things. They create a vision for the organization.  They develop strategies to achieve goals.  They inspire the team when the chips are down.  They take responsibility when things go wrong.  And they do things too numerous to mention that don’t even get noticed. 

When leaders are engaged in the day to day and doing their best to fulfill their role to the organization, there is on thing they can’t forget:  they don’t lead a business (or department, or club), they lead people. 

What’s the difference?  Only people can follow you.  A leader has followers:  people who believe in the vision and direction of their leader.  Systems, processes, buildings, and ideas are tools of the leaders and followers; they are useless without team members to use them to go where their leader is taking them.

In the midst of the whirlwind, leaders must not forget the people they lead.  They won’t be successful without them.  How can a leader make sure he or she doesn’t forget the people they lead?

Be visible.  Schedule time to be in the office.  Let the team see you and know you are engaged.  People want to talk to the people who are leading them.  Despite all the great advances in technology, talking to someone in person has a profound impact.

Get to know people.  In a large organization, it may be impossible to know everyone on the team but spending time with some individuals up and down the org chart will reap benefits throughout the organization.  Spend time talking to people as you walk around, in the break room, or at lunch.  It doesn’t need to be something about work either.  Learn something about them and their families.  Work is only one aspect of their lives.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.  A leader must keep the team informed.  Are we making progress?  Are we reaching our goals?  Do we need to change?  What dangers do we face?  Make checking in with your team a regular part of your schedule. 

Listen.  Listen more than you talk. Your team has a lot of knowledge from their position on the front lines.  They see problems and have answers the leader may not have insight into.  Your decisions have a real impact on real people and sometimes they just want to know you care. 

Anyone who considers themselves a leader needs to look around everyone once in a while and make sure people are still following them.

It’s all in HOW you do it

“What do I need to do to I move up in the organization?” Whether I’m mentoring people just starting out in their careers or coaching an employee one-on-one, that is an often-asked question. Many assume learning a new product or service, earning certifications, or going back to school is the answer. I encourage people to always look for opportunities to learn more about life, work, and the world around us, and while that is well and good, it may not be the best way to move up the ladder in your career if that is your primary reason for learning.

Often it is not what you do, but rather how you do it that makes you successful and gives you new opportunities.

Yes, it is important to be competent and knowledgeable about your job and your industry. That’s the cost of admission. Unless you are entering a company or a role as an intern or in a training program, you must have the basic skills to perform the job or build upon them. And you should continue to grow those skills as you mature in the role.

If you don’t have the expertise needed for the role you hold and training doesn’t help, you won’t be in it very long – if your manager is doing his or her job. I contend that most people have the ability to learn and become proficient in new skills too and to move to new responsibilities within the organization that are different from the role in which they started. A younger worker may try out several different roles in different companies before discovering his gifts and passion.

So, if most employees have a set of applicable skills, why do some seem to move forward in their careers while others stagnate? The ones moving forward have figured out that attitude matters. That’s right – how you do your job is as important as what you do in your job.

Say what? Clocking in and taking care of my responsibilities isn’t enough? No, not if you want to be more valuable to the organization. Think of the people you admire at work and the ones who get ahead — what do you see in them? I expect you see people who do some of the following:

They have integrity. Their actions are always above board. They don’t do or say things that make you question their character.

They hold themselves and others accountable. They plainly say what they will do and then do what they say.

They lend a hand. If they can pitch in and do something to help someone else, they do. Everyone needs help sometime to meet a ridiculous deadline or deal with an urgent issue.

They realize that everyone in the company is on the same team. Everyone in the company is trying to do their part to make the company successful regardless of their role.

They know that every job and every person in the company is important. And they treat everyone with respect because of that fact. If the job weren’t important, it wouldn’t exist.

They volunteer. They take on special projects that aren’t necessarily part of their job. They teach others. They plan the next company outing. They decorate the office for the holidays and bring breakfast for the team.

They have a winning attitude. And it’s contagious.

They make mistakes. They make mistakes because they are trying hard and looking for better ways to do things, and they won’t always get it right the first time.

Take an inventory of yourself at work. If you want to move your career forward, are you focusing on what you do or how you do it?

Reach your goals

The calendar has flipped to a new year, and that means one thing: businesses and individuals have set goals and made resolutions, all with good intentions. But good intentions alone won’t get you to your goals.

People innately want something to strive for, something to make us stretch and grow, something to make us better, something to let us know we won, that we achieved something. However, all too often we don’t set ourselves or our businesses up for success.

You can change that this year. And it all depends on what you do first. We usually don’t fail because the goal is unachievable or too big; we fail because we don’t plan well.

Yes, like many things, your preparation is key to reaching your goals. No doubt it will take hard work and perseverance, but you won’t reach the point where hard work and perseverance matter if you don’t start off right.

So what steps can we take to improve our chances for this year being the year we hit our goals?

First of all, set a goal and make sure everyone on your team knows what it is. You may be thinking to yourself that this is basic and we should be beyond it. But check yourself before moving on. Can your team clearly articulate what your goal is for 2017? Do they know what their individual contribution toward achieving the goal should be? If the answer to these two questions are “no”, then one of two things happened: you didn’t set a goal or you didn’t communicate it well.

Ask yourself if your goal is clear and not some vague idea or mushy feel good statement. You can use the SMART goal approach as a guide. SMART goals are commonly defined as those that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. There are resources you can find online to dig into that topic if you need a more detailed explanation.

Once you have a clear goal, make sure you have communicated it clearly to your team (even if your team consists only of your significant other and their only role is to cheer you on and hold you accountable). The most experienced manager can’t help you hit your goal if they don’t know what it is.

Second, create a plan that moves you toward your goal. We’ve all heard “hope is not a strategy” and it is not. If you want to reach a goal or destination of any kind, you have to know how you are going to get there. Write down specific actions you will take to achieve your goal and then do them.

Next, make sure you have the resources to achieve your goal, and make sure your resources are focused on the goal. Your goal is important or you wouldn’t have committed yourself to it. If it is important, make sure you invest the effort and money it deserves. Do you need different tools or software? Do you need to change your processes? Do you need to learn a new skill or hire people who have experience in certain areas? Like a car with no fuel, a goal with no resources is going nowhere.

Finally, report on your progress. Reaching a goal of any worth is a journey; you won’t do it in a day. (If you do, your goal wasn’t significant enough.) You and your team both want to know if you are winning the game. Celebrate your progress as you move closer to hitting your goal and hold yourself and your team accountable when you don’t.

Taking all these steps won’t guarantee you will hit your target – very few things are certain in life. You can be certain though that there are things you can do to make this the year you make progress toward your goals.