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Culture – policed or created?

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Today I read an article that called HR the department responsible “for policing personnel actions and culture.” That struck me as odd.

Culture shouldn’t be policed. Leaders model and nurture it; employees create it.

Culture is the environment and personality of a company. It is the result of thousands of interactions a day between employees in every group at every level.

If the actual culture doesn’t match the stated company culture or values, there is a disconnect that causes confusion – or worse – mistrust.  It is fine to aspire to a desired culture as long as you realize 1) the difference, and 2) that you aren’t there yet.  Mismatch between the stated and actual culture fools no one.

If no one takes ownership for building and managing culture, culture still happens by default.

HR may do things to encourage culture, but a single department can’t force a culture.  HR’s roles are to advise the leadership on issues of culture and to ensure rules and laws relating to personnel are applied correctly.

Some may argue there isn’t much difference between policing and building a culture.  I believe there is huge gulf between the two in terms of approach and attitude.  Do you want to work for a company where culture is policed or one where culture is intentionally created?

Growth: The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly

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It’s a safe bet that if you do a quick internet search on business priorities that increasing topline revenue, improving sales performance, and increasing company value will show up in the top results.  Growth matters.

To misquote Gordon Gekko:  growth is good.

Growth tells us you are meeting a need in the market and customers see value in what you do. Growth gives your team more opportunities and expands your horizons. Investors are happy. If you ever watch ABC’s Shark Tank, you know that history and forecasts of growth are major areas of concern.

But it’s not all rosy. You must be prepared for growth and have realistic expectations.

Growing your company may require capital or decreased profitability while you invest in the future.

Your team may need to find newer, better ways to accomplish their tasks to be more efficient and maintain profitability. What got you here may not support you at the next level.

The company may outgrow the capacity and capabilities of its employees. This is especially true of leaders as the company moves from an idea to a company to a professionally-managed firm.

Strong leaders can navigate these obstacles by taking a long-term approach and making tough decisions at the right time.  You must be prepared to protect the business.

However, there are two challenges of growth that can be devastating if you aren’t intentional about protecting them:  maintaining culture and customer satisfaction.

Customer satisfaction is obvious. You won’t stay in business if your level of service drops. Customers have other choices.  Can you maintain your current level of satisfaction while adding more customers?

Culture, however, is easy to ignore if you aren’t intentional. Rapid growth may mean rapid expansion of your team. Hiring strategies must include finding new team members who embrace your values.  Leaders must work harder to model, foster, and communicate values as the team gets larger.  “Culture eats strategy.”

Growth is vital, but exceeding your ability to absorb growth is dangerous.

Lessons from a reality show

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I’ll admit I’m a fan of survival reality shows like Survivorman and Naked and Afraid.  These shows are entertaining to watch and you can learn lessons from them too.  I find The History Channel’s Alone to be one of the more engaging ones.  The contestants aren’t just fighting the elements for their survival – they do it by themselves.

If you aren’t familiar with this show, individuals are put in remote locations where they will have no contact with any other humans.  They are allowed a limited number of survival items including a satellite phone so they can tap out.  They must find food and build shelter.  The last one remaining wins.

Having watched several seasons, there are lessons that the survivalists learn that apply in our businesses too:

Priorities matter.  Survival means finding food sources, having fire, and building a shelter.  Most contestants begin with either building a fire or creating a rudimentary shelter.  They know that when the evening comes these will be the two most important items they need.  Catching food, exploring the area, and other things are important but they must do what’s most important first.  Otherwise, their ability to remain in the contest is quickly diminished.  They can’t do it all at once, which leads to the closely-relates lesson of…

Pace yourself.  One of the first lessons that the contestant learn is to pace yourself.  Survival isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon.  One Day 1, everyone is full of energy and excitement, but reality kicks in as soon as they are dropped off.  These men and women are in it for the long haul.  Sustainable food supplies and a warm, dry, secure shelter are paramount.  With limited tools and possibly small amounts of food, they can’t operate at 100% every day to secure those needs.  They pace themselves so they have the energy and resources to reach their long-term goal.

Adapt.  The contestants, like many of us, may catch a lot of fish one day and none in the same spot for days after.  Long rainy days may limit what they can do outside their shelter so they do what they can inside.  As the weather changes, a warmer shelter may be needed.  The survivalists change their tactics when the environment or the situation changes.  They stop doing what doesn’t work.  Doing the same thing when it no longer serves their purpose or meets their needs is a poor survival strategy.

Going it alone is difficult.  The emotional toll of being alone wears on the contestants.  Their video diaries show the emotional and mental battles they wage in addition to fighting the elements and nature.  Many of the contestant drop out for emotional reasons rather than physical ones.

Entrepreneurs and business executives face the same challenges.  We must prioritize what’s important and ensure it gets done above all other things.  We can’t run ourselves or our teams hard too long without time to recreate and regenerate.  We have to change our tactics, services, and markets to stay relevant.  And we need others – both internally and externally –  to help us shoulder the burden of leadership.

Why? Why not?

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These may be the two most important – and least-asked – questions.  “Why?” makes you think about purpose.  “Why not?” opens you up to new possibilities.

Let’s start with why. The answer to this question identifies the reason behind a decision or an action.   It is purpose.  Motivation.

If you are making sound decision, your why for anything you do is based on your values, your passion, and your goals.  A trifecta of motivation.  The reason for doing something is due to your strong belief that it is right and good to do based on what is important to you, and it helps you reach an objective or milestone.

In business, why has huge implications.  Every action your team performs, every product or service you sell, and every decision you make should move you toward your goals and be in line with your values and purpose.  If not, you are wasting both time and resources.  Can you afford to do something simply because you’ve always done it that way without considering a new approach?  Should you even be doing it at all?

Of course, to answer these questions you must know your purpose, values, and goals.  Not in some vague way but with specificity and clarity.  If you can’t do that, this is your starting point.

Let’s move to why not.  Asking this question forces you to consider new ways of doing things.  It gives you freedom to think of alternatives, to try new methods, to reinvigorate your team, to reach your goals faster.  It helps you stay relevant.  It allows you to dream and try new things.

Why not keeps you from becoming stagnant, stuck in the same place.  Markets, customers, technology, and trends are always changing, and your business must adapt.  You must find new ways to be more efficient and effective.  You must reach new customers.  You must stretch yourself and your team.

Author Louise Penny says, “Life is change.  If you aren’t growing and evolving, you’re standing still, and the rest of the world is surging ahead.”  Asking “why not?” can be scary but it is necessary.

When you do consider new options, your why and your why not must be in alignment and compliment each other.  In other words, your new possibilities should reflect your passion and goals.

I encourage you to take the time to reflect on your why and consider your why not.

Gain more by giving away

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“I’m too busy.”

“I don’t have time.”

“I have too many priorities fighting for my attention.”

Sound familiar?

In times where we are expected to do more with less and where immediate isn’t fast enough, we’ve all felt that way.

It’s worse when we think we must do it all ourselves.

That kind of thinking will make you less effective.  We all have the same amount of time in a given day.  There is only so much you can do, and while you can always do a little more, studies show diminishing returns for each extra hour worked; less time sleeping leads to increased mistakes and negative affects on health.

What is the solution?  Delegation.

The Oxford Dictionary defines delegate as entrusting a responsibility to another person.

There are several benefits to learning the art of delegation.  First of all, it allows you to have more time to do those things that only you can do.

Secondly, it helps you develop employees.  To effectively delegate, you have to clearly define the task, communicate the objectives, and explain its importance.  This gives the employee insight on the business they may not otherwise have.

Delegation also allows an employee to demonstrate skills you weren’t aware they had or to develop skills necessary for them to advance in their career.  Delegation is a key component of investing in your high-potential employees.

Delegation allows you to focus on what is most important for your business.  Effective leaders don’t allow their time and effort to be consumed by things than can be handled by others.  The more senior your role, the less time you spend “doing” and more time thinking and communicating.

By delegating, you maximize your efforts on those things that only you can and must do.  At the same time, you are building a stronger team, demonstrating trust, and teaching skills by allowing them to try new things.  Your company benefits because you are creating an environment where everyone is challenged and to put their skills to their highest and best use.

Stop trying to do it all yourself.  You’ll get more done by giving tasks away.

Return on…Resources?

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We all know what Return on Investments, or Equity, or Assets are but they may not tell the full story.  You need to get all you can from all your resources.  What is your Return on Resources?

Return on Resources???

You started and built your business on an idea, and then added sweat equity and capital to bring it to fruition.  Along the way you added people, provided training, invested in tools and software, began marketing, and possibly many other items.  Collectively, those are your company’s resources.  Why do you have them?  Because you need them to maximize your profits and the value of the business.

That’s where your operations come in.  Operations includes ALL the processes to keep your business running.  It’s not limited to how you deliver your products and services.

The goal of your operations is to extract value from every resource in your organization.

Let that sink in.  You only add people, equipment, processes, or services for one reason: to make more money.  Every employee, every tool, every asset, every decision should be contributing to reaching your goals in some way.  If not, it’s dead weight on your organization or consuming time and money that could be better used elsewhere.

Ask yourself if the value you are receiving from your resources is what you expected.

  • Do you add more people rather than look for ways to be more efficient?
  • Do new hires get up to speed and become productive quickly?
  • Are there products, services, or processes that add little value and should be modified or eliminated?
  • Have tasks, routines, products, or even employees been added slowly over time without a good top-down review to see if they are still needed?

If you aren’t making the most of your resources, let OPG help you maximize your return.

Your business strategy is incomplete. Or just wrong.

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Let me clarify — wrong for YOUR business.

Your strategy should be as unique as you are.  If you can delete just a few key words and your plan is unidentifiable as yours, it may not be the strategy you need.

Strategy doesn’t begin with deciding what steps you will take to meet your goals.  It starts well before that.  It begins with your company DNA and an understanding of why your customers do business with you.  Without those foundational elements, your strategy misses the mark.

Company DNA

The company DNA is the combination of the core purpose or passion – the reason your business exists – and the values inherent in the organization. DNA drive everything in your company and it sets you apart from your competition.

Your position in the marketplace

Your customers choose to do business with you.  What is it that compels them to select you over others in a crowded market?  If you don’t know, there is one sure way to find out – ask them!

Understanding your strengths and weaknesses as well as the opportunities and threats you face help round out your market niche and how you can leverage your unique position.

Armed with the info above, you can better define the products and services you provide with clarity which allows you to sharpen your brand and target your audience.

Now plan your strategy

Your strategy will set the goals you are trying to attain along with the steps you will take to achieve them.  They should leverage your unique purpose, values, and niche.  Every goal and action must be specific nad have owners responsible for driving them.

If your strategy isn’t more than a list of goals, doesn’t capitalize on the elements that make you unique, and and doesn’t leverage your strengths, it isn’t the right strategy for you.

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.