Archive for the 'leadership' Category

2010 Starts Now!

This may come as a shock to my friends and clients in the home services industry but…next year is here, now!

Sure, I know, we are just finishing this year…and we deserve a break. Sorry, no break..not now; not when only the best prepared will grow in this economy. So, you just gotta ask yourself, will I or won’t I be on the winner list this time next year?

If you are committed to growing, you have your work cut out for you. Sure, it can be done…I have numerous clients and contacts who have grown significantly this year. But it wasn’t an accident or quirk of fate. It was the result of planning, training, lots of hands-on follow up, tracking and reacting on a daily basis. Nothing short of that works.

But you can grow.

Next, if you are one of those sad soles who feels you’ve paid your dues, suffered through this recession and are celebrating Ben Bernanke’s decision that “the recession is largely over”, guess again. Ben deals with banks. You deal with homeowners and small businesses. And, flash! The recession is NOT “largely over”. Only a politican or economist would say a thing like that. So, together, we wil l face another tough selling season. You have to be ready..that is, unless you are content to backslide…something I find unacceptable.

If you know my history, you know I helped a small, growing service company grow in the recession of the late 1980’s. We learned that it can be done. But it doesn’t just happen. To succeed in 2010, you will need to be 10% better at everything you do. You will need to hire 10% better, train a tad more effectively, lead, track, react and coach 10% more effectively. So, take my advice…strart next year now! Don’t get lazy. Forget about the flush years past…this is a business war we are in and not all will make it. Be on the winner’s list.

My schedule is filling faster than ever…and that is becsause smart managers are preparing now for tomorrow.

Food for thought.

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Look not to Obama for success in 09!

Expectations are way, way too high for a quick fix in 2009. We [our economy/our country] are in new and unchartered economic waters. Few alive today, very few,  have experienced, as adults,  the sort of distress. And it’s only just begun.

I’m old enough to recall my dad telling me over and over how Roosevelt and his “New Deal” in the 1930s, the government programs that were supposed to end the “great depression”, failed.  Sure, roads, bridges, lakes and damns were constructed. Sure, thousands went to work for their country.  Still, look at the facts…the economy DID NOT come back.

What brought us out of the depression was the second world war; the worst war in American history!  Sad…but undeniably true.

So, we can sit and dream, we can listen to politicians preach at us about the need for and sensibility of deficit funded  bail outs but…in the end, it’s not going to be enough.

I almost feel sorry for Obama.  This current economic crisis is not of his making. Leading us out of it, however, is now his responsiblity.  Problem is, he has so little significant control. That’s right, so little control.  About the most important thing he or any leader can do when faced with problems of this magnitude, is to act like a leader!

What he can do:

First, try doing what John Kennedy did in 1961…set an aspirational goal around which we can rally. Kennedy dazzled us with the space program. He made us believe we were good enough, smart enough to send a man to the moon and bring him back alive…”not because it’s easy but because it’s hard”.  So, Obama, Mr. almost President, do the same. Set an aspirational goal. And if you, my readers, are small business operators, you do the same. To be motivated, people need a cause.

Leaders unerstand that, when we focus on the big, overarching goal, the one that is a game changer, small problems and roadblocks fade away; they are handled as simply challenges to eliminate.

Next, find the best, most talented people to lead in focused, functinal areas. I believe Obama is doing this. But…politics have to be kept out of the staffing process. Great leaders understand that they only direct and inspire…and that it’s their people who make things happen. We must have the right people in the right jobs…and, in politics, that is not typical. So, Mr. Obama, buck the trend.

Now, give your “go team” the tools they need to make things happen. Playing with monetary and fiscal policy is a place to start but…you’ll have to go far beyond these overly complicated and slow to be effective government processes. You’ll need to get down in the weeds. Find out what the leaders need, give it to them..and do it quickly.

Then, Mr. President, we’ll need a a positive working environment. See to it that our smartest people interact , that they work together and share the best ideas, in an atmosphere that is all positive.

Most government programs are soon bogged down in red tape. Mr. Obama, you must cut it.  As he led the space program in the 60s, Kennedy cut the red tape, made the process efficient. It was essential to reaching the goal then and is now. So, facilitate the process, Mr. President.

And last…be a “hands-on” coach. Stay close to the action. Get out of Washington, DC! Get out there on the playing field with those on whom you depend to make change happen. Don’t let the status quo tie your hands. Great leaders, those who solve tough problems NEVER LOSE TOUCH WITH THE PEOPLE ON THE FRONT LINES!

If all this sounds a bit trite, that’s only because blog readers are impatient. I have to lay it out concisely or nobody will take the time, I fear, to read my thoughts.  But I know this, the process works.

So, will Obama save us? No. Can Obama quickly but carefully put in place a process of leadership that minimizes our time and national pain in the “recession”? You bet. Will he? My bet is…he’ll try.

Who will make the difference? You will; the American people. You always have and you will again. A positive belief and commitment the principles on which this country were built will be the base, the foundation of our movement out of this economic crisis.  Do we need strong, committed leaders? Sure. But who will do the heavy lifting? You and I.

Are you ready? I am. Let’s learn a lession from those brave souls on 9-11. Let’s roll!

Wake up call for Gen Y workforce

Achtung! Wake up kids, it’s a new ball game!  Listen closely now, I’ve got a new word to add to your vocabulary….layoff.

Making my rounds as a small business consultant, in the past 90 days, I’ve noticed a perceptible change in the younger, less experienced workforce…the Gen Y folks in their early 20s. Now, I don’t want to make too much of this observation but…the new generation of workers is getting a rude awakening. No reason to repeat what you all know…times are tough. In some industries, real tough. And, compared to a just one year ago, layoffs are far more common.

Around the water cooler, staff members in the slowing home services business wonder…”Will I be next?”  As I said, to me, this newfound concern for job security is clear.

What does it mean? More importantly, what does it matter?  I believe those of us whose concern it is to manage and lead in tough times, have a real opportunity!  An older member of the management profession, I’ve seen it, lived it all before…backin the late 80s.  Recession then led to job cuts and more work for those who were kept on the team.  And, I must say, we learned alot about productivity, as delivered on a daily basis by concerned workers.

I suppose all I’m saying is….Maslow had it right! His well known “hierarchy of needs” theory is proven to be fact over and over again. Human beings react to the most urgent, most threatening situations in ways that preserve their lives and lifestyles. Nothing new here.  The point is, when people are worried about thier jobs, they tend to listen more closely to those who have the power to end their careers.  “What”, they wonder, “must I do to keep this job?” 

Smart leaders understand that, if only for a fleeting moment in time, Gen Y workers, self-possessed and focused on balance, flexibility and lots of control and immediate gratification in their lives, are going to pay more attention to how they can add value to the company.  This is a good thing!

Smart leaders will sieze the moment!  I’m not talking about grinding an extra 10 percent out of each frightened worker…I’m talking about teaching the new generation of workers how good they can be! Why? Because most have no idea how productive a person can be when focused on the task at hand vs. a consuming belief that life must be fun 24/7!

So, go for it boss! Crank up the training…have more team meetings. Let your best people know that, together, you will weather the recession and emerge a better, more productive team than ever before.

Teach your people to multi-task. Cross train everyone. Show people how good they can be and recognize the positive growth when you see it!

Let’s go America…time to turn off MSNBC and CNN…time to cut out the negative thinking….time to pull you team up by the boot straps! You can do it…your workers can do it….if you understand that it really does take an energized team approach to leading.

Go for it! After all…what is your next best option?

Managing Management Stress

Read all the books you want; consult psychological theories and the experts.  Typically, what you’ll find is lots of advice by “experts” in behavioral psychology, always sporting a PhD and ready to tell you how YOU can subdue the stress in YOUR life. Problem; they don’t and most often have never lived in your world or walked in your shoes. They, the experts, have trouble relating so, in the absence of solid, experience based data, they rely on theories…theories expounded more “experts” who preceeded them.

Think for a moment, do you suppose Sigmund Freud would be able to relate to the working environment of a modern day manager? Do you really? I don’t.

So, what we get is a series of directives telling us how the human mind works and what goes wrong, usually based on how we were “imprinted” as kids, our early experience and behavioral conditioning, without PRACTICAL ways with which to correct the problems leading to excess and unmanageable stress.

Who has time or the inclination for counseling? Few managers I know.

With the full understanding that I’m no “expert”, I’ll suggest an Rx for managing the unavoidable stress in today’s business world. Sure, it’s somewhat general but I know it helps because it worked for me and for others with whom I’ve consulted. The most practical way to deal with natural stress is to maximize SELF-CONTROL. Figurative and literal control of your time and your life.

“Can’t be done,” you say? I’ve done it; so can you.

First, and this is the gutsy one, you must determine that you and only you will decide who you are today and how you’ll spend the rest of your working life. Doing this means going through a bit of self-analysis. No, you don’t need a shrink! You must identify those things driving you nuts. I’m talking about the “put offs”, things you have decided you must do because you can’t trust others and which you simply don’t feel comfortable doing.  Do it, the sky won’t fall and your business won’t fail.

What things are really important to you? Simply put, if you identify what is most important in your life, things and people, and find you are consistently upset and “stressed” by other things and people, you have to decide to clean up the list! You are going to focus on the important and work to dump the others.

What I’m saying is, if you want to control stress, you must control youself..and that means manging the things, people and activities in your life.

I apologize for the sermon. I’ve been at this a while and made every mistake there is to make. So, I’ve learned by suffering the slings and arrows of living a phony existance. And, thankfully, I learned how to make it better. Believe me, rich or poor, it’s better being yourself!

Now, let’s get practical for a moment. “How”, you ask, “can I do it and run my business at the same time?” How can I escape the people issues, customer problems and details? Quick answer, re-engineer your organization.

Re-engineer?  Rebuild? Reorganize? Yep! All three. Recently, I worked with a small business owner on the west coast who was drowning in a sea of details and activities that were driving him crazy but which he felt he was bound to manage. Because he came from the old school…”If you want it done right you do it yourself”, he really trusted noone but himself. And he had himself boxed in. He had no time for things he really felt great doing. 

I understand, I am over-simplifying a more complex process but, bloggers are impatient.  In a sentence, I prevailed upon the manager to sit back, analyze his time and re-focus on his skills.  Surprised as he was, we were able to establish a plan for delegating the less essential tasks, tasks that were tying him up on a daily basis and let him breathe!

Result; as the manager’s day focused more and more on the “A” items, so vital to his business and let the “B” and “C” items go to subordinates, he relaxed.  You can do the same. you will now spend time where you can add the greatest value. And, you be a happier manger…with far less stress.

Bonus; you now have a process for building the skills and abilities of the next wave of mangers.  Succession planning now will become an integral part of your team building culture. And, you will have found a tool for stress reduction…no PhD, no couch required!

Again, I do apologize for the grossly underdetailed explanation above. My point is simply to encourage managers to stop feeling that suffering is a job requirement and plan a system that works for you!

Layoffs and Cutbacks

So, everyone’s buzzing about hard times, a recession driven slow down and staff reductions. 

With all kinds of uncertainties, the most important question is….will I be on the cutback list?  Below, I’ll tell you how to know.  

First, though, understand I’ve lived through and survived several of these scenarios. I base my comments on those experiences. How did I make the “stay” list so often? Luck? Nope.  I was fortunate enough to score some important points; I had what the company wanted.  Do you?

If you have the guts to look honestly at yourself, not just at your self-image but the way others, especially superiors, see you, you will know what’s coming.

First, I’ll focus on the front line worker’s perspective:

1. Understand, companies cut from the bottom to the top. People with the power to cut, never cut themselves. Makes sense, right? Managers in the middle of your organization will be asked to force rank their teams, top to bottom.  If you fall in the lower half, start your job search now! Look at yourself vs. everyone else on your team.

2. Forced rankings place a net value on each employee.  The idea is to measure anything and everything you can do for your employer during this difficult period.  The more you can deliver, the higher your ranking.

3. To approximate your chances of surviving the next cut, take an honest, analytical look at yourself. Look not only at what you see but what others see in you. Focus on these areas of your performance:

*Can I be relied on to meet expectations 100% of the time, regardless of challenges?

*Do I complain about unusual assignments and the occasional request to do something extra…above and beyond my job description?

*How broad based and flexible am I? How many positions can I fill on at least a temporary basis.

*Am I a seen by others as postivie, a team player who is always part of the solution vs. the problemr?

*Do my senior managers like being around me? Do they voluntarily converse with me, making direct eye contact? Or, am I avoided?

*Am I a valuable multi-tasker?

*Do I have the potential to grow and develop as the current business climate brightens and the company regains it’s ability to grow?

*Finally, and you can’t underestimate the gravity of this one….what is the state of office and compnay politics? Who has been sucking up to whom? To whom are favors owed. How secure is your boss and what will he/she do to solidify his or her position. Will you become a “sacrificial lamb”?

Answer those questions and you’ll know whether or not to you are on the hit list.  Good luck!

Now, what about mid-level managers? If this is you, don’t think for a moment you are above it all.  The first thing top managers do in times of impending crisis, is to line up the “sacrificial lambs”. I’ve even seen top people promote these “lambs” so that when the day comes, they will have someone on whom to place blame, shielding themselves.  That’s just the way it is…survival of the fittest isn’t just a silly theory, it’s life.

So, managers in the middle, look at the above list of perceived values and evaluate yourself. Are you really vital to the success of your struggling organizaion? Or, are you an overpaid, fast-talker who has spent the last two or three years telling yourself how great you are. Look at the hard results of your efforts. Can you justify your position? If you were looking down the org chart at yourself, what would your judgment be?

Since you are nearer the top of the organization, you have more exposure to senior managers.  Evaluate your relationships. How are you viewed from above:

*Are you consulted before decisions are taken?

*Are you included in important meetings or sent a meeting summary?

*In meetings, are you and your topics consistently at the bottom of the agenda?

*When extra staff was last added, was it in your department of elsewhere?

*How did your department budget fair last time around?

Do you get the message? If you don’t feel the company places top value on your funtion, and this can be proven by answering the questions above, now it the time to polish up the resume and start networking..which you should have been doing all along.

And, to you, my mid-level friends, an extra measure of luck..you’ll need it!

New Administration, hard times, NOT business friendly

Like it or not, republican or democrat, the die is cast; there will be a measurable change in your business model, and soon.  My objective is not to sell you on a particular philosophy but to alert you to the inevitable.  With higher taxes on even small to mid-sized businesses and reduced discretionary spending, you owners and managers out there will now have to control costs more tightly.  If you don’t, the alternative will surely be less on the bottom line.

When growth comes, not from adding revenue and taking advantage of accompanying economies of scale but through budget crunching cost reductions, YOU WONT BE ADDING PEOPLE, will you. Soon, you will come to the realization that you are going to have to succeed with the people and equipment on hand.  And, if you are normal, this is a frightening concept.  

I’d like to suggest you think about the one thing that does make sense for the short-term future; get more productivity from the people you have!

I understand, asking today’s ‘gen y’ worker to do more is akin to blasphemy but…you gotta do what you gotta do.  The good news is, even workers who want more time off, more flexibility on the job and continuing benefits, even those folks will respond to greater recognition and an enhanced position on the team.

Think about it…the starting quarterback is injured. As he takes his seat on the bench, you look hopefully at the back up. You tell the back up; “This is your chance..now you can be somebody, you can help us win the game. And, when we win, YOU win.  More money, pride in knowing you are the best, maybe even a promotion to the staring team.” 

My point is, when you are in a pinch, if you understand how to impact human behavior, you can win every time.  So, you don’t  tell people times are tough, that the new congress has jacked your taxes and you will earn less money. You don’t say that because nobody but you cares! What you do say is this; “Team, I know everyone here is concerned about the economy, our jobs and our company future.  It’s natural to worry when all you see in the media is a growing unemployment number and businesses failing.  Well, we are not going to fail and YOU are not going to lose your jobs, period!  We’ve been handed a tough situation but, if we all pitch in, we will weather this storm…and we’ll do it by working together and working smart!

Having reassured your team, you explain that everyone, including you, the leader, will need to do more short-term but, when we win, everyone will share in the success. [Don’t say that unless you genuinely mean it]

What I’m suggesting is, in tough times, when you may even need to cut staff, you can still WIN with your core team. It requires “hands-on” coaching and an understanding that, if treated with a modicum of respect and shown they are important, no, vital to success, your people will work harder and do more to help your team win.

This is my consulting message to clients and I wanted to share it with you.  Thinks about your management style. Are you bossing or coaching?  Will your people go to battle for you becasuse they understand you will do the same for them? Or, are people simply cogs in a gear wheel?

Tough times require a refocused effort to create and maintain a positive workplace enviornment and it begins with letting your people know YOU CANNOT DO IT ALONE!

A Leader’s Secret Weapon

  “Can’t talk…gotta go”. 

 “Hey, boss, hang on…I got a question”.

 “I said I gotta go…upset customer”.

Humm….sound familiar?  Boss can’t talk to employee, has customer issue to resolve. And, of course, as we’ve all been taught, THE CUSTOMER COMES FIRST!  Or does he/she?

Take a closer look at how you really outght to run your business.  I have a slogan; I use it in all my triaining/consulting sessions. It goes like this: “CRM [Customer Relations Management] begins with ERM [Employee Relations Management].  Get my point?

I don’t care what business you are in, if you have customers, you need to focus on serving them in a special way.  If you don’t, in this economy, with choices galore, they will disapprear like the morning fog.

So, how do we successfully serve, retain and profit from our customer base? Through our people.

If you want happy customers, start by building a culture that includes and is based on happy people. “Can’t be done these days”, you say.  Wrong. It can is is being done…today.

Without a long explanation, suffice to say that a primary cause of business failure, is a preceding failure to focus on your key resouce, the human resource.  We work real hard on planning, figuring out how to execute, etc. But, when it comes to the people on whom we depend to make it happen, we spend little time and attention to ensure success. Period.

A moment on something I learned as a young, know-nothing econ student; The Pareto Principle. All who sell, or have ever sold anything, have heard of it.  Still, if the PP is unfamiliar, let me lay it out as concisely as possible.

In 1906, an Italian eonomist named Vilfredo Pareto, while studying the laws of distribution [how things are naturally spread out], discovered something important. Simply, that a majority [he figured about 80%] of the value of time spent and effort expended, came from a minority [he fiuured about 20%] of the things we do.  We get most of the return on our time and effort from a very few things we do during a typical day, week, month or year. Lately, this distribution principle has been termed, The Pareto Principle.

The lesson, to a young sales rep is, figure out who your highest potential customers are and spend you time with them. Don’t waste time on the masses that return little in payback for time invested.

The PP can be applied to management time in any business, as well. Ask yourself..how do you spend your day….on things or on people?  Because people are tougher to deal with and control than things or tasks, we tend to gravitate to things we can control. Even familiar problems precede dealing with our people in terms of the percieved degree of difficulty and discomfort. So, for most managers/leaders, people come second.  The team comes second.

Now, that would be fine…except for one thing..it’s our people who enable us to succeed, to reach management and company objectives.  No doubt about it…as good old Vilfredo learned, you will get more bang from your time use and focus buck when you spend it on high payback activities that involve people!

What kind of activities? Oh, let’s start with recruiting, attracting the best in your business segment. Then, how about training them; ensuring they succeed, which, of course is hugely motivating to the worker, leading to greater productivity and lower staff turnover. And how about follow up coaching; reinforcing learning to form strong productive habits? Am I getting through?

Stop focusing on things, spend your time with your people and the investment will be returned 10 fold.

Smart managers and leaders know the secret to success…the secret weapon; the Pareto Principle.