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Dear CFO,
I’m the Marketing Director for a nonprofit organization. I work closely with our President and Board regularly. In our last meeting, I was asked to work on our organization’s vision. We often take cues from the for-profit world, and having a background in that sector myself, I thought I’d explore your perspective. What advice can you give leadership on visionary thinking when deciding on the direction for their company (or organization)?
Visionary Newbie in New Brunswick, NJ

What a great and interesting question. It seems every business leadership article, book, and TED Talk is about the importance of creating your “vision.” Still, for many people, the concept of a vision is relatively nebulous. Have you figured out your future targets, set some goals for your organization, and started to sketch out what you’d like to look like in the near (and distant future)?

These are big questions, I realize, but they’re essential concepts to explore if you really want to set yourself up for success. While I don’t have as much experience in the nonprofit world, I do know that, like a business, you have to run lean and keep an eye to your bottom line. It’s important to consider all your revenue (or funding) sources as well as your client base.

So the big question becomes: Where exactly do you want to be in the next 3-5 years?

The even tougher question is: HOW do you define where you want to be in the next 3-5 years?

Finding the Right Approach to Your Big Future Questions

Business men and women planning business vision and strategy on a clear boardYou mention looking to the business world for inspiration and ideas on visionary thinking. I think that’s a great idea because there are undoubtedly many resources out there. Business books abound, and almost any you pick up will encourage you to engage in long-term strategic planning and goal setting.

Regardless of your business book of choice, the vast majority of business book authors will offer up some serious questions. Many of which will pertain to finding your “why.” For many organizations, answering this question immediately helps you shape your direction.

Susan Scott, the author of Fierce Conversations, suggests answering questions such as:

  • Why are we here?
  • What is our ideal relationship with one another?
  • What is our ideal relationship with our customers?
  • What contribution do we make to the global community?

…and other tough, big-picture questions, some of which may actually be easier in the not-for-profit world.

Author Bernie Liebowitz asks similar broad-reaching questions:

  • How do our customers see our business, our products, our services? -and-
  • How do we see ourselves and our business environment?
  • How do we see the future?

In his book, Leadership: Thinking, Being Doing, Lee Thayer proposes the idea that “leaders create reality out of their vision.” This is a compelling statement. Without a vision, what will your reality become? Without a clear view of your future, will your organization cease to have one? Regardless, wouldn’t you prefer to have a hand in shaping the outcome into precisely what you want?

Creating a Vision of Your Ideal Future

Visionary thinking involves picturing the future in detail. Don’t be humble. Think big. This is a guideline that’s hard for many of us, especially if you’re in a helping profession or service-based organization. Avoid the tendency to shrug off your value. You are providing a fantastic service. Be proud, and go for the gold.

The trick is to be careful not to destroy your vision with doubt and criticism before you get started. Avoid judging your ideas before they are fully developed. Don’t allow stereotypes or even logistics to limit your thinking. Be sure that stakeholders and leaders are not too content with the current state of your organization to seek new ideas.

Don’t fall back on the we-tried-that-once or the that’s-not-how-we-operate mentality. Instead, reexamine each idea, approach, and path compared to experience to determine what’s different now. Both the business and the nonprofit world are changing rapidly in the face of new technology and growth. What worked for you before (or what didn’t work for you before) might change right before your eyes.

Don’t be afraid to think long-term either. Remember, none of these goals need to be achieved tomorrow. Shoot for the stars and then figure out the incremental steps to get there. Once you have your big stretch goal set, you can set your trajectory (and adjust your target as needed down the road).

Engage Your Entire Team When Possible

Business team holding puzzle piecesTo successfully invest in your vision, your team must be fully engaged in the visioning and planning process. Your team’s engagement encourages commitment to ownership of your outcomes; it creates “buy-in.” Plus, the creation of the vision will provide focus, define direction, generate solutions, and improve effectiveness and efficiency. Not bad for a few days’ work!

You never know where the most significant ideas will come from. Don’t dismiss anyone in the process. Listen, share, and keep the conversation open and creative.

How do you start that visioning process?

Here’s a method of visioning that’s worked for my businesses in the past…

Start the process by establishing a collective mindset. Imagine it’s five years from today. Our organization is extremely successful. Now we need to define what that success looks like, as a team. To accomplish our vision, let’s address and discuss the following questions to first define and build our vision, and to identify issues and objectives that lead to long-term success. As always, for best results, I suggest you write down your answers. The success of these exercises depends on the open flow of communication and ideas. Often times an outside facilitator is best to establish the right framework and group dynamic to keep the ideas flowing and bring the process to a conclusion.

Again, pretend you’re in the future, looking back over the past five years of your business successes:

  • Perform a SWOT AnalysisA SWOT analysis is an excellent practice for any entity, business, or organization. Look back as though you’ve achieved your goal. Ask what weaknesses did we overcome? What strengths and opportunities did we capitalize on? What new threats materialized?
  • Identify Drivers — What drives our organization? How does that driver affect us or our clientele? How does it affect our other stakeholders?

Some potential areas of impact might include general economic conditions, technology, demographics, changing tastes or sophistication of the client, and changes in distribution channels (or in the case of a nonprofit, changes in your funding sources, grantmakers, and service areas).

  • Mission — Do we need to change anything to be consistent with our values and our mission? Most organizations are quite mission-driven, but it’s incredible how any entity can quickly spiral away from its original values and path. It’s a good practice to revisit your values and mission regularly.
  • Operations — Is our internal operational structure working optimally? Why? Have we improved efficiency? How have we overcome recent and past obstacles? What additional skills do we need to achieve this vision? What will our system requirements be? Are there areas that need to be shored or tightened up?

Be sure to cover all aspects of your operations. In the business world, this would include collections, credit, process, accounting, IT, customer service, manufacturing, purchasing, distribution, etc. In your world, it could consist of grants in process, salaries, promised funds, initiatives, events, fundraising expenditures, and client services.

  • Think broadly – How has performance improved? How are operations running? Think internally, externally, and about other agents, new distributors or distribution methods, etc.
  • Products or Services — Do we offer any new services? Are our products and services still meeting the needs of our population? Who are our competitors, and what are they doing better? Do our programs still meet the needs as we identified in our mission? Who else is competing with us for funding with similar services and would it make sense to consolidate?
  • Clientele — Who is our target audience? Did we seek out or align better with a specific type of client? Why? How has our target market changed? Did we expand into new territories? Who might we work with next?

In the business world, we would also look at:

  • Marketing, Sales & Promotion — Is our sales (or funding) department working optimally? Why? Is marketing providing the necessary support? What new marketing strategies did we introduce? How many development people are needed to achieve our goals?
  • Production — How do we meet the needs of our customers? Did we change any of our delivery systems? Did we restructure any processes? Should we reassess our facilities? Can we move to cellular manufacturing?
  • Sandbox — Are we in the same markets? Are we in new markets where we hold the # 1 or # 2 spot? Should we abandon any markets?
  • Brand Promise — Is our brand promise still ____________? (Do you really do what you say you do?) Is there a more descriptive tagline now that we’ve made some changes?
  • Community — How does our company (or our employees) serve our community? Did our success enhance the success of others? This area is probably one where the business world could take a cue from nonprofits. More and more, customers prefer companies who give back and serve the greater good. We could all take a lesson from nonprofit organizations on community service.

Answering the questions in this exercise will help you and your team to develop the details of that optimal future.

In the end, you’ll be looking at your personalized picture of your future success—and you’ll understand the events, changes, and components that allowed you to achieve that vision. Now that’s visionary thinking!

But there’s still more. How will you know you’ve achieved those goals? How will you measure your ideal business success?

It’s essential to define those success outcomes as well, so you know when you actually achieve your milestone. Remember the importance of setting goals and creating a measurable, achievable vision. “Saving the world” sounds noble, but how will you know when the world has actually been saved?

The future can seem uncertain, and it’s always hard to say what will happen tomorrow, but by creating a strong vision, you’ll have a clear roadmap and path to continue to forge ahead. I’ll leave you with a favorite quote by Alan Kay: “The best way to predict your future is to invent it.” Best of luck in inventing your future of success!

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Goals, stretch-goals, five-year-plans, targets, and long-term objectives—there are a lot of terms surrounding the future of your business. But how do you keep your eye on the future so you experience realistic (and successful) outcomes?

In business, we define the term targets as our long-term objectives (usually looking five years into the future), and goals as shorter-term objectives (often projecting out about a year). Now, of course, the two terms get used interchangeably, and it’s okay to set big goals stretching well into the future and, at the same time, aim for quarterly targets with shorter-term objectives.

For the sake of clarity in this discussion, though, we’ll define targets as long-term objectives and goals as the shorter-term benchmarks. Today we’re going to talk about targets, as opposed to goals. As you work toward building a successful business, you’re going to need to break down both your goals and your targets into measurable steps toward success.

A great target is essentially a SMART goal but on a big-picture scale. Once you define a big target, you can outline an actionable plan of smaller, more manageable steps, benchmarks, or goals to help you hit those significant target achievements.

Setting Actionable Long-Term Objectives

Ready to start looking to the future?

two business women and one business man setting goals for their business using post-it notes in a meetingYour targets need to be measurable and should create long-term benefits in the areas in which your business needs improvement. Again, how will you define success? What numbers do you need to hit? Do you have a revenue target and cash flow target? (…and I do recommend setting cash flow objectives.) Think about it this way: what measures of success are typical in your industry? Is it sales per employee, return on assets, liquidity?

Most companies set a sales goal. For example, many years ago, a large brewery I was working with stated their target was $2 billion in sales in the next five years—a goal created to surpass a major competitor. For their company, the goal was big but realistic. It took into consideration their competition and market and had a clear timeframe for the long-term objectives.

Don’t worry if your targets aren’t quite as lofty. If you think $2 million is a slam-dunk, then set the goal at $2.5 million—not out of reach, but enough of a stretch to create a real challenge.

Your long-term goals must be ambitious but attainable. As Victor Lipman pointed out in Forbes, “Don’t set goals that are unattainable as they’ll likely just demoralize people. ‘Stretch’ goals are one thing, as you can presumably get to them with a good stretch. ‘Ambitious but attainable’ is language I like for these.”

Remember: the driving force behind each of your targets is always the wants and needs of your target market and your current customer base. When it comes right down to it, everything you do in your business is customer-driven, so set targets that reflect your best efforts to keep and expand your customer base.

Aim High with Your Targets

When choosing your targets, keep your team members and company culture in mind. Set company-wide targets for small businesses, but larger corporations should set department-wide or smaller targets. Each of your team members must see their role in achieving the target, so present each target in a relatable fashion. Transparency and team-buy-in are critical to reaching long-term objectives.

When your team invests in your success, you’ll move forward much more smoothly and quickly. If you don’t have the internal resources required to analyze and implement your targets, consider enlisting outside help. (A sharp accountant will typically provide reliable feedback within a couple of hours.)

When it’s time to pick your targets, stay clear and strategic. Each target should include a finite number indicative of success—no fuzzy math allowed. Pick no more than five targets. More targets become unmanageable and unrealistic.

What are your targets?

At the highest level, your targets typically look like revenue, profit, and cash flow. Present your team members with clear, visible, and understandable milestones to ensure your targets are relatable and seen as achievable.

Business man writing goals and objectives on a board during a meetingRevenue is generally an excellent place to start. How big do you want to be? Or do you want to define this in terms of annual growth? 3M, for example, states 20% of revenue must come from new products, so their revenue goals are defined in terms of product development.

So, to translate this to your team, state your revenue goals in terms of production: “Five years from now, we will have shipped five million units of Product X.”

Profitability is important. All the revenue in the world isn’t worth much if you don’t earn a profit on it. One of your targets will likely define profitability, either in terms of dollars or a percentage of revenue and cost reduction.

If manufacturing costs are 80% of your revenue, your team may need to hear: “We will be exploring production layouts to reduce scrap rates and lower production times.”

Cash Flow is often more important than profitability, especially if you want to grow. Don’t forget—it takes money to make money. Cash flow is often ignored, but it’s a significant component to your long-term objectives and business success, and frequently one of the constraints to growth.

Remember, you collect money from the customer later on in the sales process (perhaps 30 days or 60 days later). Do you have enough money to purchase and pay for the goods you will sell to your customers? There are additional costs associated with the assets required to run your business (such as a particular piece of equipment you need to manufacture your products or those shelving units you use to display your products), so consider all factors.

Other Measures. These measures might be industry-specific (revenue/full-time equivalent, profit margin, table turns, number of customers), or they might be bank requirements (net worth, % borrowed against assets, the total amount of debt), etc.

This might also include risk reduction goals; for example, “No single customer at more than 20% of sales” – or – “We will have at least two vendors for each product.”

This could also refer to cost reduction goals; for example, “Reduce damaged pieces from 1/1,000 to 1/100,000.”

Additional measures might include expanding your company’s marketing channels through new online campaigns, then measuring the ROI by analyzing the increase in website hits and new purchases made through your website.

Build Off Your Targets in the Future

Business woman looking at a spreadsheet of data on her laptop with coffee in one handYour targets aren’t a “set it and forget it” situation. It’s vital that you continuously revisit your targets, track your progress, and ensure you’re on track. Once you’ve set the long-term objectives, break them down into annual, quarterly, and even monthly steps. This will help you ensure you continue to move toward your targets.

There are several ways to build targets. Make targets both achievable and appropriately challenging. You should integrate targets into day-to-day business operations. You can’t grow 50% without investment, so keep your cash flow and revenue projections in sync. Other items impacted by growth are harder to estimate, such as the number of new employees you’ll need, or how much you’ll end up spending on equipment investment. Maybe you’ll need more space, more cars, more desks, more computers—the list goes on. All of these factors impact cash flow, sometimes dramatically, so you must consider these big changes you might need to make or you’ll quickly notice you’ve impeded your quest to achieve your targets.

A quick sidebar for companies in dire financial straits—don’t ignore the elephant in the room. As you’re thinking of long-term objectives, you may realize your short-term situation is precarious. Address the financial issues in all aspects of your overall business plan and strategy with a high sense of urgency. It will NOT get better or go away. DO IT NOW! Ignoring these issues or deluding yourself into believing everything will fix itself? Not going to happen—so don’t bank on it! (Like straightforward tips? Check out my Eight Tips for Great Leadership post.)

Consider each target and the extended timeframe. While five years may seem like PLENTY of time to reach your big eventual goal, you’ll next need to break it down into actionable steps. You must stay clear on what needs to get done NOW, and every step to reach that target in your timeframe.

With careful planning, realistic expectations, and an eye on your long-term objectives, you’ll hit your targets successfully!

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Dear CFO,
As the Financial Director of a small manufacturing business, I’ve been working with our sales team to set goals for next year…which has led me to wonder if I really understand goalsetting. I’m good at the “big picture” part, but I struggle to help them prioritize when we narrow it down. What are your best goal setting tips for actionable (realistic) goals?
Leveling-Up Goals in LaGrange, IL

I’ve read so much on goal setting, and a lot of it feels somewhat esoteric. Trust me, I’m the queen of high-level thinking, so I know as well as anyone how difficult it is to break down those high-level values, mission, vision, and targets into real, workable, actionable steps. For many managers and leaders, the breakdown is the hardest part.

I’ll tell you, there are great goal setting tips out there, but it’s hard to wade through all the peripheral noise. Here are five of the best goal setting tips I’ve found and what works for me.

The Five Best Goal Setting Tips

Tip #1: Commit to Starting Your Goals NOW!

I find many leaders get bogged down in what I like to call a “plague of maybes.”

  • Maybe you’re still a bit on edge about establishing a solid commitment to achieve your goals.
  • Maybe it’s hard to commit because you think your team won’t get on board if you’re stretching them a little thinner with extra workloads.
  • Maybe it’s compounded because you’re not sure whether your team will buy-in or even be capable of the performance you expect.
  • Maybe the day-to-day workload is too much.
  • Maybe you’re in a mid-level role and you’re waiting for word from the top (before soliciting buy-in from the bottom).
  • Maybe you feel committing is a waste of time because you never know what will happen, or you haven’t been successful in the past.
  • Maybe, maybe, MAYBE.

Enough Maybes!

The list of obstacles preventing you from starting to set your goals is endless. Running through the maybes is a masterclass in procrastination. I propose, even if ALL of the maybes listed above are 100% true, your department will be more successful, and perhaps even perform better when you commit to setting goals. Take one step today, right now!

Tip #2: Don’t Dismiss SMART Goal Setting

Your plan is what keeps your goal achievable and grounded in reality. Consider your plan the road mapBy now we’ve all heard so much about SMART goals, we can recite the criteria in our sleep: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. But if we all know the SMART concept like the back of our hands, why do we still skip a letter (or two) when we set goals?

First the “S”—I’ve seen so many people flounder with their goal setting because they aren’t specific enough about what they want to achieve. (Hint: if you’re stuck, start by listing out what you want to AVOID instead. Sometimes that’s an easier approach.) Either they aren’t sure, or they get stuck on the “big picture” thinking again.

People also get stuck when they avoid the “A” and “R” in SMART. While I encourage setting big stretch goals, your goals must be achievable and realistic. Realistic doesn’t mean you shouldn’t aim for the stars, but set a plan to obtain a rocket ship first. “A goal without a plan is just a wish,” in the words of author Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Your plan is what keeps your goal achievable and grounded in reality. Consider your plan the road map.

People miss the “M” and “T” as well. They aren’t sure when a goal is complete because they’re nebulous with the parameters. Is the outcome measurable? Will you KNOW you’ve achieved your target? Is the goal time-bound? Will you know WHEN you get there? So many goals end up floating out there in space because they aren’t tethered by time and measurability.

I read a great article a while back in Forbes called Seven Mistakes Leaders Make in Setting Goals—a fantastic list addressing goal setting and implementation issues. The insights in the article are timeless when it comes to goal setting. (Much thanks to author Ron Ashkenas for his ideas.) From the article, I gleaned three additional goal setting tips.

Tip #3: Don’t Engage in Charades

you need to know what your team is capable of and whether or not they’re going to sandbag the idea right from the startAshkenas defines engaging in charades as, “you and your people know from the beginning that the goal is just an exercise to convey the appearance of progress, but there’s no hope of achieving it.”

My take is you need to know what your team is capable of and whether or not they’re going to sandbag the idea right from the start. While you know you’re the team leader—and, yes, your team needs to follow your lead here—above all, stay realistic. Get buy-in from upper management to ensure you have the right people on the bus. Do you trust your current team?

Are your team members comfortable with communication? Are they willing to let you know the goal is more than a stretch? Can you break it down into smaller pieces? Can you quantify the resources it will take to accomplish this? Do you have internal and external resources to hit your target? Can you afford to make it happen?

The bottom line is this game can occur at every level in the organization, from the strategic plan to individual performance goals. Be honest with your team and yourself.

Tip #4 Don’t Set Vague or Distant Goals

It comes back to the S in SMART. Are your goals specific? Look at the T as well to ensure, as Asheknas says, “The time frame is not explicitly defined or set too far into the future, so no one takes it seriously.”

You define your targets and long term objectives with milestones that stretch out 3-5 years. But how do you break it down to “eat the elephant one bite at a time?”

When it comes to these long-term, high-level objectives, pick THE date, perhaps hang it up in the office, so the target is always present, relevant, and meaningful. Again, get a feel for the steps, people, and time involved before defining the date. People want to feel successful. As expressed in Break Through: A Leader’s Greatest Lesson by Paul Homoly, CSP, your job is to make it easier for your people to succeed.

If there’s no hope of meeting the end date, your team will know it isn’t real, and they won’t take it seriously (or they’ll feel instantly defeated. Your goal must be doable, or they’re doomed from the start.

Tip #5: Set Only One or Two Goals at a Time!

Prioritize your goals and only go after 1 or 2 at a time - don't overwhelm yourself!Overachievers raise your hands! One of the biggest goal-setting mistakes is setting too many goals! Asheknas says, “By assigning an overabundance of objectives, you allow subordinates to pick and choose the goals they either want to do or find easiest to do—but not necessarily the ones that are most important.”

The truth is, this is the goal-setting tip I struggle with the most. I want it all achieved NOW. So, instead of setting realistic goals, it becomes a long, LONG (overwhelming) to-do list. If you’re like me (and there are many out there) put someone on your team to tell you when there’s too much on your plate.

Sometimes priorities need to get rearranged and reassigned. Priorities make everyone’s job easier; it’s still possible to achieve much of what you want to do, and when those items are ranked, a rhythm develops to accomplish each step.

Decide what’s most important. Help your team prioritize and decide which goals to tackle when. Don’t merely throw goals at your team and expect them to come up with the priority. When this happens, someone will get overloaded, and your most important goals will get ignored, not accomplished.

Using these goal setting tips will help you and your team tackle those goals and you’ll be on your way toward your targets! Remember to start with the right, SMART goal setting strategies, prioritize, and work toward your goals step by step. Before you know it, you’ll feel amazed at all your team has achieved.

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Ready to bring your business plans to life? Here’s what you need to know about creating a project plan and leading your team to success.

Building a successful business takes significant time, effort, planning, and implementation to produce the desired results.

The more thoughtful you are in strategically planning your quarterly goals and action plans, setting firm project plan ground rules, and considering other roadblocks or opportunities, the better your chances are for improving your business overall. It all begins with creating a project plan.

So, once you’ve found a great initiative, vetted it with your team, identified the parameters—it’s time to put the pedal to the metal and actually start working on those project plans!

Project plans identify the steps necessary to achieve your key initiatives, thereby achieving a company goal. Key initiatives are the individual ways in which employees will be able to contribute to the achievement of that goal.  

Foundations: Creating Your Project Plan

Once you’ve identified your goals and the key initiatives to achieve them, the project plan comes nextFirst of all, you’re going to want to go digital. Paper planning is no longer the most efficient method for project planning. There are plenty of software options out there like Wrike, Basecamp, and Asana. Most of these products are extremely user-friendly, scalable, and affordable. At the minimum, using a shared Google doc will keep your project plans in one place.

Once you’ve identified your goals and the key initiatives to achieve them, the project plan comes next. Project plans take each key initiative and put individual small steps in place to help employees work toward completing those initiatives. In addition, project plans assign responsibility and deadlines for each individual step. Develop these at multiple levels throughout the organization based on your goals for the business and your overall strategic plan. Project plans can range from a few simple steps to hundreds in the case of a system implementation or other large initiative.

Remember, every company is different. Project plan development may look completely different for one business versus another. In this case, for example, we’ll focus on what creating a project plan might look like for a smaller company.

What’s the main difference between a small business and a large corporation? The long-term objectives may be the same (grow the business and make a better profit, for example) but typically, smaller companies are more resource-constrained, meaning the implementation of strategic plans may be more difficult to achieve.

Notice we said difficult—NOT impossible! Nothing is impossible as long as you plan carefully, lead with confidence, and don’t give up.

Small Business Project Planning

The majority of small companies will implement a project very informally, and with little accountability as to who is responsible for ensuring the project is completed. I, myself, have been guilty of this more often than I care to admit. Well, I’m human and we all make mistakes! The temptation of sliding back into that informality is still there for me, but the difference is now, I know better.

Creating a project plan sets you and your company up for successCreating a project plan sets you and your company up for success. At the end of the day, it all comes down to setting priorities (for a great example, review Stephen Covey’s Big Rocks Exercise) and managing expectations.

Without a formal project plan, there is no accountability from your team because you failed to supply your team with appropriate expectations. Unfortunately, in this day and age, the “do as I say, not as I do” attitude won’t get you very far, especially if your comprehensive goal is to be a high-functioning organization.

Think about it. Most people tend to work better when under a firm deadline. Don’t you?

For purposes of implementing a new project plan process in a small business, we’re going to keep it relatively simple. The first question to ask in developing your project plan is “What does “done” look like?” and define it clearly in terms of how it meets identified requirements (technical, functional, satisfaction of and fit with strategic objectives) as well as any deliverables. Then ask yourself, “What steps do I need to develop in the project plan to achieve “done”?

Turning Key Initiatives into Project Plans

Here’s an example of an initiative and how we would turn it into an actionable project plan.

Strategic Objective: Improve sales by 20% in the next year.

Let’s select the first initiative and develop a simple project plan by identifying what steps we will need to take to accomplish the strategic objective.

  • Increase Quarter 1 close rate to 40%
  • Project Leader: Lee
  • Project Subject Matter Expert: Jake

There are a few things you should notice immediately about the plan. First off, each step is SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Sensitive). Second, there are itemized steps in the plan that can be tied in with other initiatives under the overall strategic objective. Talk about killing two birds with one stone! Often there is a sequence and/or interdependency to the steps and therefore any problems can cascade through a plan.

Note that some of the listed steps might seem to conflict with another initiative. At this point, you would be best fit to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is it more important to build my pipeline to 50, or increase my close rate from 30% to 40%?
  • Are these initiatives truly in conflict? Would the pipeline increase be in pursuit of higher quality sales with a higher probability of close?
  • Can we combine seeking 5 new customers into the pipeline build?

The most important thing to remember is that it’s your job as the leader, president, or owner of the business to make it easier for your team to succeed. The original initiatives were developed together with your team, and everyone came to an agreement on the plan and perceived the overall goals as achievable.

Now, it’s your job to make sure that actually happens.

Pitfalls of Project Planning: What to Watch Out For

The best thing you can do to help your business succeed overall is to come prepared with a project planBefore you continue to implement a given project plan for a selected initiative, think to yourself, “How could this plan negatively affect the company?” I’m not saying that you should think negatively about your plan, per se. Rather, you should prepare yourself for anything (and hope for the best). The best thing you can do to help your business succeed overall is to come prepared.

Yes, your project plan looks clear and positive. It even sounds like a great plan when you explain it to your team. But inevitably, issues may arise that you didn’t see coming when you developed your strategic plan.

Here are some examples from the project plan above of issues that may arise or result in unintended consequences.

  • What could be wrong with increasing the close ratio?
  • What if I close on more risky credits? Do we have the controls in place to assure that this doesn’t happen?

At the time you developed the initiative from which your project plan stems, it may have been safe to assume that someone from your financial team would have raised a question if the issue had been a true risk. However, you can’t always assume that. Despite everyone’s best effort, sometimes issues slip through the cracks.

Here, the argument for using cross-functional teams comes back into play and you can see the benefit that having more than one point of view can really bring.

Whatever you do, don’t over-complicate things for your team. You should be thorough, strategic, detailed, and motivated, but keep it as simple as you can while still actively pursuing success. Make a list of goals and key initiatives to measure and pursue those goals, assign responsibility, prioritize each goal and initiative, and make a project plan with a list of all the steps necessary to complete each initiative assigning responsibility and due dates

Don’t be afraid to get things done, and don’t be intimidated. NOW is the time to start!

Pick up a piece of paper and a pen, flip open your laptop, or turn on your tablet. Don’t wait around for the idea to hit you—JUST GET STARTED! Remember the words of prolific artist, Pablo Picasso: “Action is the foundational key to all success.” The rule when creating a project plan is to do your due diligence, then jump in and go for it!

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Wondering how to set realistic (but ambitious) quarterly goals and action plans? Here are the steps to action-planning success!

Dear CFO,
I’m hoping to really ramp up our online sales in our marketing department. As the department head, it’s my job to set our benchmarks and figure out our quarterly goals and action plans. I know breaking it down into bite-sized pieces is key. Could you advise me on the best way to set and track realistic (but challenging) quarterly goals?
Goal-Getter in Gainesville, FL

Success in any business planning requires setting goals and establishing long-term targets. I’m assuming you’ve explored your long-term plans (5-year objectives) and your big “stretch goals”? These BIG ideas are achievable when you take it one day at a time.

I would suggest reviewing SMART goal setting strategies and the basics of project planning. It sounds like you’ve had experience in those areas already, but it never hurts to brush up. From there, breaking down your goals and action plans into quarterly targets is a great idea for success. 

So, as you dive into quarterly goals and action plans, my best advice is to remember many factors are beyond your control. You can’t predict the future (market, economy, innovations), so simply focus on the pieces you CAN control. One of these pieces is your goals.

Once those SMART goals and long-term targets are set, it’s time to convert them into specific actionable steps. This list of the actionable steps required to achieve your goal will translate into your action plan.

Every division and department in your company will have individual goals that align with the larger goals and long-term targets of the company as a whole. Now, since you’re focused on your department (marketing), it’s important to look at the areas of overlap. Make sure none of your goals interfere with the goals of other departments. Your success shouldn’t make someone else’s job harder. Align the long-term strategies across the entire company for the greatest impact and outcomes

Step 1: Schedule Time to Take Action

putting off your quarterly goals and action plan will only create more chaos in the company down the roadNow chances are, like everyone in the business world, your department is extremely busy. It’s often tempting to forgo the pro-active approach of solid project planning and development, and instead, react to whatever the winds blow your way.

But putting off your quarterly goals and action plan will only create more chaos in the company down the road. It will inevitably lead you and your department farther away from achieving your quarterly (and annual) goals. If you’ve broken the actions down into smaller pieces, then the time to act is NOW.

Establish a quarterly priority and schedule for your department to meet and develop your action plan. This plan should establish exactly what you need to do to meet the specified goals and priorities.

Remember, prioritizing is one of the most difficult yet important steps when you’re developing an action plan. It’s hard to narrow down which steps are the most important. It’s also tempting to want to tackle every item at once. Break it down into the MOST critical goal, then the next. Which steps will help you reach those goals within your given time frame (in this case, a quarter)?

I suggest reviewing Stephen Covey’s unique “Big Rocks” exercise for a nice visual representation of why priority setting is so crucial to business success.

An action plan should consist of key initiatives that will allow you and your team to actually accomplish priorities once they’ve been set. What your key initiatives look like will depend on a number of factors. Remember, determining the key initiatives is very hard. Avoid the “I want everything yesterday” mentality.

One of the factors that will determine the look of your initiatives is your budget. If you know what your budget is for a given action plan, share the information with your team so they know where the boundaries lie. If you don’t know what your budget is, you may end up looping back to your plan.

After you’ve efficiently prioritized and identified your top priority, focus on it! Make sure you relate the top priority to your department in a way they can visualize it, along with an actionable way to measure the outcome.

Step 2: “Theme Me Up, Scotty!” (Establish Your Theme)

establish a theme for your quarterly goals and action planNow that you’ve developed your action plan and you’re ready to take action, you must find an appropriate way to express the action plan to others on your team. Every individual learns differently, so it’s wise to choose a ‘theme’ or expression many can relate to.

For example: Are you the industry underdog fighting the market leader? Perhaps a “Rocky” theme would motivate your team, using sales growth as the key initiative to measure outcome. A “300” theme could help you rally your company together, using customer fulfillment as a key indicator to measure success. It’s totally okay to have a bit of fun with your theme!

In reality, it doesn’t fall on you alone to pick a theme for your action plan. It doesn’t need to be flashy or chic, either. It only needs to work to drive real action among your department!

If you’re hard-pressed to come up with a theme yourself, encourage your team to share their ideas. This also fosters buy-in and helps boost your team culture. There are innumerable ways to express action plans with themes, and they should all include a form of measurement and cohesive idea.

One of the most common themes of expression for an action plan (that I’ve seen) comes in the form of a one-page summary for each individual goal, with the team developing the key initiatives necessary to achieve the goals.

Step 3: Identify Key Initiatives & Key Performance Indicators

If you find yourself wondering what a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is, relax! I’m here to show you exactly where they fall in your action plan. KPIs are an important tool in your quarterly goal and action plan arsenal.

Once you’ve stated your quarterly goals, you should use KPIs as a statement of measurement for achieving the outcome of each goal, in addition to identifying who in your department is responsible for measuring the outcome.

This type of action plan measurement will translate into a project plan, which might look like this:

  • Goal: Increase customer satisfaction to reduce turnover and increase referrals.
  • Key Performance Indicator: Monitor customer satisfaction with a checkout rating or single question survey.
  • Key Initiatives: Customer service and marketing
  • #1: Design a single question micro-survey for customers upon checkout, “would you recommend us to a friend?”
  • #2: Decrease customer response time from 48 hours, to 24 hours.
  • #3: Offer customers an incentive for referrals (5% discount for referrals).
  • #4: Cross-promote via social media, web, and customer channels (internal and external).

Another example could be formal with more finite targets broken down for the quarter and built upon to achieve the annual objective:

Improve sales by 20% in the next year.

Step 4: Track Performance on Your KPI Dashboard

You will track your KPIs on what’s called a KPI dashboard. This dashboard offers a visual representation of your goals and progress. You can align the dashboard to your theme for added impact. As I shared in my post, How to Set Up a KPI Dashboard:

In the sales department, you may choose racehorses staggered with the “closest to goal” salesperson in the lead (whether the salesperson is closest to achieving the percent of the goal or the actual dollars). The achievement of the accounts receivable aging goal (reduce 90-day accounts to < 5% of total receivables) might show a trend line in green if it’s heading in the right direction or simply highlight the percent in red if going the wrong direction.

Some departments in your company may need more fun and competition to motivate them. Others may find success by staying focused on day-to-day performance. Keep the company culture and culture of the individual departments in mind as you plan your KPI dashboards.

It’s all about figuring out what will motivate your team and give them a visual idea of where they stand. Seeing a goal progress is very motivating (this is why fundraisers often use a visual representation of donations, as they work toward their goal).

As you work on your quarterly goals and action plans, don’t forget—the SMART goal concept and the need for team contribution is key in every part of your goal-setting and action plan development. For the most success, you’ll need 100% team buy-in.

So, use a KPI Dashboard and SMART goal setting strategies to keep your team on track. It will be so satisfying when you look back at the end of the quarter and see all your department has achieved!

Featured image and post images licensed for use via Pxhere.

There are many business lessons in sports history. What do the underhand free throw and the Fosbury flop teach us about running a successful company?

Throughout sports history, there are many great pieces of wisdom. Anyone who’s read Harvey Penick’s golf-based philosophies or Vince Lombardi’s insights on teamwork knows there are plenty of business lessons in sports.

Today, there are two sports where you can learn powerful lessons about the way you think of your business: high jumping and basketball. Are you wondering what on earth you could learn from these two athletic events? Plenty!

Business Lessons in Innovation from The Fosbury Flop (a.k.a. the Brill Bend)

track and field runner high jumping over a poleLet’s talk briefly about the art of high jumping. Before the 1968 Olympics, all high jumpers used the scissors or straddle kick to clear the bar. This method involves running at the bar and turning to clear it; taking off on one foot and landing in a standing position on the other side of the bar. This method had been in use since the beginning of record-keeping in 1912.

While the style of jump is somewhat dependent on height (or so I thought when I did high jump), this classic scissors method led to a world record jump of 7’ 8 ¼” in 1978. That was the last time the scissors method was used to break a world record.

In 1968, Dick Fosbury became famous for inventing a “new” style of high jumping. He found he couldn’t compete with the scissors method and developed his own technique to beat the competition. What made the difference was Dick Fosbury was willing to seem weird. He wasn’t concerned about looking good—just getting over the bar.

As one journalist described it, Fosbury looked “like a guy who was falling off a truck.” His method featured a midair rotation whereby the jumper arched their back, kicking their legs out, and landing on their back on the other side of the bar. The move allows the jumper to run with more speed, arching their back to keep the center of gravity at or below the bar.

(As a side note here, Canadian athlete Debbie Brill developed a similar technique known as the Brill Bend. She used it to become the first North American woman to clear 6 ft in the high jump.)

All records since the introduction of the Fosbury Flop, including the standing (1993) high jump record at 8’ ½” held by Cuban athlete Javier Sotomayor, used the flop method. Athletes realized it was worth looking a little funny to perfect their technique.

So, what business lesson do we learn from the sport of high jumping? Are you making the same moves over and over, but not making progress? Sometimes we work very hard at improving our scissors kick when we should instead invent the next Fosbury Flop. Are you the innovator in your industry or doing the same old thing?

A few business innovation questions to ask yourself:

When is the last time you tried something new in your markets? 

  • Are you on the right distribution channels?
  • Have you explored new markets or means of penetrating existing markets?
  • What was the latest product enhancement you introduced?

When was the last time you improved your production capabilities?

  • Does your staffing assure the best quality and quantity delivery of your product?
  • Are your machines capable of meeting the specifications of your customers?
  • Is the production flow as efficient as it can be?
  • Have you identified waste and downtime and set up a plan to reduce them?

Have your personnel policies and procedures kept up with the times (legal and generational)?

  • Have you adapted to the needs of a multi-generational workforce?
  • Have your benefits kept up with the demands of the incoming workforce?

Do you have performance measures (what is the height of the bar you plan to jump)?

Have you looked at your competitors recently? (Are they all doing the “flop” and you are still using the scissors kick?)

  • Do you have a recent SWOT analysis?
  • What is the status of your market? Are you a mature industry where costs rule or an innovative sector, needing to move quickly into new frontiers?

The point here isn’t to do all these items, but rather to develop a business mindset that keeps a focus on:

  • What am I currently doing?
  • Who is doing it better?
  • How can I do it better?

Figuring out innovative answers is hard to do when you spend your days “in” your business. That’s why you must step back and take the time to work “on” your business. Never underestimate the importance of think time, especially as a company leader.

Don’t get me wrong, answering these questions may require more money or resources than you have right now. Other questions are there to generate ideas to help you run your business more effectively. Optimize your resources (get yourself over the bar) and think creatively about addressing the obstacles (invent your own “flop”).

The Other Crucial Business Lesson We Can Learn from The High Jump

track and field runner jumping a high jump over a poleSo, once the Fosbury Flop (or Brill Bend) was introduced, that was it, right? Game-changer? Well, yes and no. While the Fosbury Flop is almost universally used now in elite competition, it’s important to realize high jumping is often initially taught using the scissors kick.

It’s tempting to ask why this would be? Why teach kids how to do the sport in a less-efficient manner?

As young athletes learn the high jump, the scissors kick isn’t only safer, but a better way to solidify the fundamentals, proper form, and technique. Scissors is safer because athletes stay upright. It’s less intimidating and helps young high jumpers build up their confidence.

From this business lesson in sports, we realize one of the biggest takeaways: before you innovate, you need to learn the fundamentals!

So often as business owners, we get ahead of ourselves. We chase the next squirrel or follow the next big idea. This is especially true for entrepreneurs used to forging ahead on their own path. Innovation is essential, but make sure you aren’t reinventing the wheel!

There are plenty of best practices and business fundamentals to help you answer many of your most significant queries. Most problems have been faced before. Before you implement new business plans or take a step forward, examine your current state.

If you answer yes to each of these questions, then you might be ready to move up to the Fosbury Flop! But don’t forget you need fundamentals covered FIRST.

Don’t Fear the Underhand Throw

basketball player jumping to dunk the basketball in the netNow, moving from the world of track and field to the world of basketball. We’ve all seen players stand at the free-throw line, shooting baskets. Typically, players assume a free throw stance, eyes on the basket. They shoot the ball overhand, and “swish” in it goes…or not.

How many of us get frustrated as we watch our favorite team miss free throw after free throw? It must be challenging to hit those baskets, right?

In one scientific study, the researcher evaluated the use of both the overhand and underhand shot using participants who hadn’t shot free throws in the past. While this study was limited, and participants who shot well overhand were also successful at underhand, the researchers found one style no more prone to success than the other. The researcher concluded free-throw shooting success “may be more dependent on repetition than style.” However, in real-life applications, anecdotal evidence shows underhand throws are often just as successful, if not even more useful for some players.

Basketball fans know the importance of a player’s skill at free throws. Often, the opposing team will foul a bad free-throw shooter to force a turnover in the game. In fact, coaches bench good players near the end of a game to avoid this possibility. To stay in the game, several players increased their free throw percentages using the underhand methodology.

  • Rick Barry, 12-time All-Star and Hall of Famer, is synonymous with the throw. He made 89.3% of all his career attempts (the record at his retirement in 1980). The 2018-19 season saw an average of approximately 76%.
  • George Johnson moved his free throw stats from 41.2% in his rookie year to 69.4% for his career adopting the underhand throw.
  • Wilt Chamberlain, 13-time All-Star, 7-time scoring champ, and Hall of Famer increased his stats 11% to a career-high in 1961-62 of 61.3%, including a record of 28 points from the line. BUT switching back to overhand his career record stands at 51.1%.

So, why switch back? If underhand throws are working, why wouldn’t everyone train to use them? They aren’t an illegal play. Why are there very few examples of the underhand free throw in modern basketball?

  • Wilt Chamberlain’s autobiography reflects on his decision, “I felt silly, like a sissy…I know I was wrong…I just couldn’t do it.”
  • Perhaps Shaquille O’Neal (15-time All-Star, 2-time scoring champ, and Hall of Famer), who was horrid at the line, summed it up for modern times, “I’d rather shoot zero percent. Too cool for that.”
  • Even when Rick Barry tutored a poor shooter to achieve “80 to 90 in practice …he never had the guts to do it when he went back to the team.”

So, what business lesson do we learn from underhand shooting? (I must say, for starters, if they stopped calling it the “Granny Shot,” it might gain more acceptance. Perception is reality.)

Are you overlooking methods to improve your business, because they seem beneath you? What is your underhand shot in your business that has proven successful? It’s essential to remember that it doesn’t matter if your success is based on the shot itself or the repetition to perfect it. Either way, if it works, it works! So, how will you improve your stats using that shot?

  • Did you have recurring revenue you abandoned in pursuit of a bright and shiny new customer because you were “too cool for that,” like Shaq?
  • Do you have customer concentrations that could harm your business and you know it is “wrong” yet choose to ignore it?
  • Are you afraid to “look like a sissy” in your industry, circle of associates, or others and fail to bring a new insight or product to fruition in your “stats”?
  • Do you have the “guts” to pursue a new venture regardless of the perception of others?

Each person sees the world through filters built over a lifetime, and therefore, perception is reality. I need to forge ahead despite my lack of “guts” sometimes, or my fear of how others might perceive me in their reality. I can’t control their reality nor my place in it, and here I should take my own advice.

Besides being incredibly entertaining and engaging, sports teach us many powerful lessons in the business world, as in life. How will you apply these lessons to your company today?

Featured image and post images licensed for use via Pxhere.

How to Start Setting Up a Project Plan

October 8, 2019 | CEO Buddy | No Comments

Wondering how to build a project plan? Here's how to get started setting up a project plan for your next big task.

Dear CFO,
My boss approached me about coming up with a project plan as our accounting department transitions to new software early next year. This is a new challenge for me, but one I’m ready to tackle. What advice do you have for me about setting up a project plan? 
Ready to Plan in Raleigh, NC

Setting up a project plan? That’s terrific! I’m sure you’ll find it an exciting and interesting challenge. Since you seem new to the ground rules of project plans, I thought I’d start with the basics. Every great project plan begins with a solid foundation and works up from there.

Setting up a project plan means starting with goals. If you’ve studied basic goal setting, you probably know the crucial difference between how to set goals and how NOT to set goals. Once you’ve set those SMART goals and long-term targets, further break them down into quarterly goals and action plans. These bite-sized steps help you and your team set up a firm pathway to follow on your project plan.

Successful action plans require REAL action. The action happens mainly by developing lists of actionable items, identifying top priorities, coming up with a unique theme to drive engagement. To gauge success, you must determine how to measure the achievement of each goal through key performance indicators.

But the breakdown doesn’t stop there. You’ve got to keep moving forward, and the key to moving forward at this point in the game is to create a solid project plan. Identify the ground rules and drive your department toward successful implementation. Let’s start with the basics of setting up a project plan.

Ground Level: What IS a Project Plan?

To accomplish ANY project efficiently, you’ll need to use a project planIf we break down the anatomy of a project, we see it has a defined beginning and completion time. Most projects entail a specific scope of work or activity within the parameters of budget and time constraints. Usually, there is a defined outcome or goal.

To accomplish ANY project efficiently, you’ll need to use a project plan. Now, a project plan isn’t necessarily a specialized or clearly defined document or outline. Project plans entail identifying key initiatives (itemized goals you’ve set for your company) and implementing ordered steps to help you achieve them.  A project plan is created by making a list, putting together a procedure document, using project planning software, or working through brainstorming sessions with your team.

Also, project plans should outline the assignment of responsibility for the completion of a given project and a realistic due date. When referring to the project plan, your team should know who must do what to achieve the goal.

Last but not least, the project plan will identify the context of the budget for the specific project. Keep in mind, the budget may be rigid or flexible, and in the form of both time and money.

The Rules of the Road for Setting Up a Project Plan

Before you start developing real project plans, it’s helpful to review the ground rules of project planning.

Here are the basic rules of successful project planning:

  1. Avoid too many cooks in the kitchen. The number of employees assigned responsibility for a project may vary from 1 to 7, depending on the size of your company. Anything larger and you should consider breaking up the initiatives into smaller pieces.
  2. Assign and rely on project managers. If you don’t have people to help your team by serving as project managers, you may need to add another strategic objective. Hire people to fill the role (remember it’s all about having the right people on the bus).
  3. Cross-train and promote cross-functionality. Teams, and even team members themselves, should learn to become cross-functional whenever possible. Everyone who is impacted by the project should be involved. Enlist the help of SMEs. Get your IT team on board. Ask for input from your sales teams.
  4. Remember, outside perspectives are valuable. Involve those on the periphery, even if there is no direct impact. You gain insight from boots on the ground. For example, marketing might see a PR opportunity in IT development for customer service. Finance might find a way to gather data more effectively. Customer Service may share customer feedback to direct sales response for communications.
  5. Communicate roadblocks throughout the company. When you reach a barrier or stuck point, it’s time to ask EVERYONE for input. Offer people an opportunity to contribute and ask for feedback. The ideas you’ll hear will amaze you—many of which may have never crossed your mind! Maybe everyone won’t offer the right answer, but it will get the wheels turning on an alternative solution.
  6. Think of the outcomes for the whole company. Remember, your objective is to improve the business overall—not just your group or department. A great idea in Sales may look like a nightmare to Finance, and vice versa. We’ve all had the experience where someone comes up with a “great idea” that frustrates everyone else.

As a leader, I’ve always followed the rule, “You can’t make your job easier if it makes someone else’s job harder.” This rule helps people think more critically about the potential changes necessary and how to accomplish project objectives in different ways. Thinking outside the box is terrific, as long as you’re not putting someone else in a bind.

Plan with the Big Picture in Mind

When you create your project plan and enlist the feedback of your team, reiterate to everyone to keep the guideline in mind.A project manager needs to remember that you don’t want just to move work around; you want to streamline it throughout the organization. When you create your project plan and enlist the feedback of your team, reiterate to everyone to keep the guideline in mind.

Focus on the broader outcomes and long-term business goals for your company. How will these results look in two years? Five years? Ten years? How will this change affect customers and other key stakeholders? Will it impact other departments (like IT)? It’s important not to become too single-minded on your objective and miss the whole story.

Integrate project plans to support your goals. An individual plan shouldn’t conflict with another company-wide objective. Set consistent initiatives. For example, if the initiative includes the aim of closing more sales, it shouldn’t raise a credit risk the company isn’t willing to assume. However, it’s perfectly logical to say closing more sales means we need to adjust our risk evaluation and change pricing to accommodate it.

Setting the criteria for an acceptable sale—however profitable or risky—should be independent of the initiative to close more sales.

Project planning is a big responsibility, but it sounds like you’re up for the challenge. If you want to make changes in your department, you must implement a plan, before leaping. Remember, as Harvey Mackay said, “A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.”

Best of luck to you with setting up a project plan for your team!

Featured image and post images licensed for use via Pxhere.

8 Critical Tips for Great Leadership

October 1, 2019 | CEO Buddy | No Comments

Everyone can benefit from brushing up his or her skills, even at the top level. After all, great leaders know everyone faces challenges and makes mistakes—even GREAT leaders, themselves.

Sometimes great leaders make the biggest mistakes. So what still makes them a great leader? A great leader works through mistakes, learns from those mistakes, and keeps moving forward!

You can read business books and advice to set up a framework, but YOU need to tailor any information to suit your business and your industry. No one knows how to run your business as well as you do. And yes, knowing what advice to follow is often the hardest part.

Most of us who have made it to the top level in a company know the essential components of leadership (or at least most of them). The challenge is in understanding how to synthesize the information and apply it to your unique situation. Easier said than done, right? Trust me, I know. I’ve been running businesses for over 30 years, and I’ve learned some hard-earned lessons along the way. (Truthfully, I’m still engaged in improving in a number of these areas).

So, here are 8 of the most critical tips for great leadership. Keep ahead of the game by refreshing your leadership skills regularly.

8 of the most critical tips for great leadership. Keep ahead of the game by refreshing your leadership skills regularly.

1. Write Great Ideas Down

So, you’ve taken your vacation time over the summer to catch up on your reading list. Now, what are you going to do with that new knowledge?!

I know too many business owners who, after choosing a book for business success and reading it cover to cover, think, “I am SO ready to go. Now!” But did you take the time to write down your business model? What about your business plan? Did you do a SWOT analysis? Did you write down your five-year plan? Have you figured out your chart of accounts, balance sheets, and financial forecast?

Or did you just read the book and now you’re hoarding all those great ideas in your head? Be honest. It’s essential you take the time to write down notes and figure out a plan for applying the great ideas and concepts to your business. You don’t have to use every piece of business advice you come across, but when you find something pertinent, don’t let it fall by the wayside—write it down!

If you don’t have your next steps down in a document to crystallize your thoughts and convey them to your team, you’re risking the success of your business.

2. Think Before You Do

Before you begin a new project, or before you work toward that next milestone, set aside a block of thinking time to be sure you’re solving the right problem.I’m sure you’re thinking, “I always think before I act.” But how many times have you hit a roadblock during a project, only to realize you could have avoided the problem with a little preliminary legwork? Before you begin a new project, or before you work toward that next milestone, set aside a block of thinking time to be sure you’re solving the right problem.

We often underestimate the power of taking time to ponder. Because we’re so focused on getting stuff accomplished, think time can feel like a waste. Don’t make the mistake of brushing it off, though. It’s crucial for you AND your team to have time to do some creative thinking.

There’s no need to sit around, fist to the chin, pondering in solitude like The Thinker—unless that works best for you. Find your think style to stimulate new perspectives, thoughts, and ideas. Draw pictures, design graphs or pie charts, scribble down notes, think out loud by yourself or use a colleague as a sounding board. But don’t forget to set a deadline on your thinking time or you’ll never get started, which brings me to the next point…

3. Get Started, Already!

Sometimes the opposite problem also occurs. Instead of diving in headfirst, maybe you’re stuck in that endless loop of the planning process. Nothing gets accomplished, and your stakeholders, your team members—everyone—are starting to get irritated.

Or you’re getting stuck in a perfection trap. There’s rarely a perfect time to get something done. The truth is, if you’re waiting for the time to “feel” right, you’re probably waiting too long. Most of us need to realize we have to act even if we don’t feel it (we may never feel like it). Sometimes you’ve got to take Nike’s advice and “just do it.”

It’s time to get started. Often, starting with a few baby steps (even if they’re leading you in the wrong direction) will change your team’s inertia and get the ball rolling. Just start!

4. Value Your Leadership

You’re the boss. You’re leading the company. People are looking to management as great leaders and examples. They also depend on you to steer the ship in the right direction.

The decisions you make directly affect the success or failure of your business, so you must trust and value your leadership. To do that, you must understand your responsibilities as a leader, and never take those responsibilities lightly.

It is your responsibility to convey the big picture to your team. It’s your responsibility to provide support for your objectives and statements. It’s also your responsibility to motivate your team to achieve success while providing a workable framework that includes accountability and monitoring. It’s your responsibility to ensure the company is successful so you can continue to provide a stable livelihood for your employees.

5. Hire Smart, Then Delegate

Great leaders know that one of the essential management skills is learning to delegateBusiness owners (especially small business owners and entrepreneurs) often want to have their hands in every pot. I like to call this falling into delegation traps. Because we want to control and manage it all, we fail to hand off the smaller tasks. This over-reach leads to failure because we can’t juggle it all (no one can).

Great leaders know that one of the essential management skills is “learning to delegate.” Hire team members you trust to handle the responsibilities in their job descriptions (slow to hire). Train them properly and set them up for success with the right tools and processes. At the same time, be ready to get rid of those people who don’t perform to the level you require (fast to fire). Sound harsh? Tough luck. You’re the leader. It’s your responsibility to make those tough decisions.

When you try to micromanage, especially when working around a poorly performing team member, YOU become the roadblock. The rest of your team will notice, and morale will suffer. You spend all your time focused on righting a sinking ship. Don’t risk losing the rest of your high-performing team members—your business success depends on your team.

6. Know Your Customers

You must understand your customers. Who are they? What do they want from your company? What is their unique problem, and how are you uniquely positioned to resolve it? Think of this as communication 101: understand your audience.

Why do customers like your company, your services, and your products? Are you listening to feedback and contacting them through the channels and methods they prefer? Regularly reassess the wants and needs of your customer base. When is the last time you met with a customer? What kind of questions did you ask, or were you afraid to ask?

Meeting the wants and needs of your customer base IS the bottom line for business success. Your target market drives ALL company projects on some level. Never lose sight of the most critical driver of your ongoing success: meeting the needs of your clientele.

7. Address the Elephant in the Office

it's time to find solutions. Think about it and then establish goals based on your real problemsAs you know, things can go wrong. Sometimes things can go very, VERY wrong. Some business owners are tempted to pretend everything is fine and dandy when the business is going down the tubes.

As Mr. Fred Rogers said, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.” We may feel like we shouldn’t talk about certain situations or address specific topics. Instead of practicing avoidance, it’s time to find solutions. Think about it and then establish goals based on your real problems.

Whether it’s team member morale, an unsatisfied customer, less-than-optimal software, or a cash flow crisis, problems must be addressed full force, immediately, and with determination and resolve. You may think you’re protecting your team by hiding the problem, but they may have the solution or offer a different perspective (besides, chances are, they already know what’s going on). Being a great leader is tough, but you must always continue to embody your values and operate in honesty. Do what you know is right, even when it’s hard.

8. Establish Accountability

The best way to hold team members accountable is to set clear expectations, standardize processes, define metrics for progress, and then follow-up, follow-up, follow-up.

Remember that micro-management isn’t the same as follow-up! Follow-up means that your team has a clear direction and concept of the ultimate goal, adequate training, and explicit knowledge of individual assignments, processes, and deadlines. The team reports on roadblocks, progress, and accomplishments. It means establishing and reviewing daily or weekly objectives and all assigned deadlines. Great leadership includes setting SMART goals and reviewing them regularly.

Accountability is about making your team understand that you care about everyone’s day-to-day performance, but without micro-management. Putting accountability and follow-up processes in place assures everyone is on board, so everything from daily operations to broader strategic initiatives plays out successfully as expected.

Great leadership is possible in any management situation. Keep your skills sharp and communicate with your team. Pay attention to your instincts and keep learning and growing each day.

Featured image and post images licensed for use via Pixabay.

Male and female coworkers discuss work over a laptop.

Delegating effectively can lift the performance of both you and your company. Strong delegation skills are a vital tool, offering benefits for both the person who delegates and the team member delegated to. However, not all delegation is effective. Here are the common traps and how to avoid them.

Dear CFO,
I keep trying to delegate work to my staff, but they either do it so poorly that it’s easier to do it myself or they ask so many questions that I can’t get anything else done anyway. How can I use better communication for more effective delegation?
– Overwhelmed by Workload in Washington D.C.

Build Your Effective Delegation Skills to Avoid Delegation Traps

It’s easy to fall into what I like to call delegation traps. You may think you’re handing off work with clear instructions, but it’s easy to miscommunicate. Clear communication is the key to avoiding delegation roadblocks. Remember, not all delegation is effective delegation. Part of building your delegation skills is learning how to give clear, concise instructions that set your team members up for success.

Not sure if you need to work on your effective delegation skills? Check out these common delegation traps and see if you’re falling into them.

The Most Common Delegation Traps: Communication Roadblocks

Woman standing in front of her team, moving post-it notes around on a meeting board.

1. Failure to define the project in terms of the SMART goal.

  • The problem: Instructions given are inadequate to complete the project and will likely result in lost time and energy as the project is fixed along the way. This leads to frustration for both parties.  It’s not patronizing to lay out the instructions clearly and if they aren’t clear, it should be no surprise when the team member has additional questions. A negative response from the delegator, in this case, is both demoralizing and unproductive for the team.
  • The fix: Lay out the requirements for the project in a SMART goal format. Follow up with the specifics on responsibilities, levels of authority, reporting and monitoring requirements. Engage the team member in the process and follow through for more effective delegation.

2. Only the dirty jobs get delegated.

  • The problem: You only delegate tedious jobs which are low visibility or just plain boring. The team member may get the impression you perceive these tasks as below you, leading to low morale.
  • The fix: Show the team you are not above any work by completing some of your own tedious tasks. For those delegated, explain the value of each task and recognize although it may not bring a Disney theme park ride to mind, it’s important. This will make the task more palatable for the team member. Effective delegation skills also include recognizing a job well done, team members are more likely to pitch in willingly when they perceive the value to them.

3. Conflicting priorities.

  • The problem: A critical, high visibility project just came up and you need to delegate. Your top team member is best for the job (this, and many others) and you shuffle their pet project to someone else.  In fact, you are always shuffling tasks around; this is damaging the attitude and productivity of your best team members.
  • The fix: Stop doing this! (Just kidding.) Make sure you establish open communication with your employees, encouraging them to bring conflicting priorities to your attention without retribution. When working as an acting Controller in a manufacturing company, I had a very good and hard-working team member who would always get the job done. I wasn’t always aware of what was on her list of priorities, so whenever I assigned or delegated a new project to her, she would simply ask what tasks on her list could get a new priority.  I accepted her process and we worked together to refine priorities and shift tasks.

Blank post-it notes on a board and a woman's hand moving one note.

4. Too little delegation.

  • The problem: You do not know what to delegate or maybe how to delegate effectively, so you keep doing tasks yourself that really should be delegated. Effective delegation skills are good for many reasons: the growth of your team, freeing up your time to help the business grow, and increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of the team by finding the best person for each project.
  • The fix: Make delegation an acceptable management objective by encouraging delegation at all levels of the organization. Train everyone on best practices to develop a set of strong delegation skills in each team member. Enable teams to focus on the higher priorities with regular communication of those priorities.

5. Lack of consistent policies, procedures, and training

  • The problem: Only one person knows how to do it–whatever “it” is. Delegating is hard, even in a growth mode, if you need to start from scratch on the process each time. Up until now, all of the information related to delegation was for a specific outcome such as a project or a report. While several of the traps apply in this scenario, there is a more basic issue in the day-to-day delegation which must be addressed: How can someone step in for your Controller while she takes a vacation if there are no policies to follow? How can you shift work from your accounts payable clerk when you need her on a short project if there are no procedures for his job, nor anyone trained to do it?
  • The fix: Effective delegation skills rely on cultivating flexibility in your team culture as well as following good delegation processes. Cross-train your team members. Setting policies to allow distributed decision making will benefit the entire team.  In the company I ran, the dispatcher had the opportunity to collect past due rents before sending service. We defined what her operating perimeters (delegation) for settling accounts was and I was involved if the customer would not comply.  It eliminated a bottleneck and increased cash flow. Document procedures to assure consistent job performance, accountability and cross-training is beneficial for all jobs. 

6. Forgetting you are accountable too.

  • The problem: Team members think they can use delegation to abdicate responsibility for various policies, procedures, projects, etc. Or, you may be pursuing a big customer and lose track of the day-to-day tasks. Well-trained team members will operate efficiently and, in most cases, get the job completed.  But, it’s important to remember, you can’t delegate accountability.
  • The fix: Team members need to keep you informed whether you like it or not. Your team needs to know you require active approval of the biggest projects, significant changes in policies (those which change a risk scenario), watch financial and operational metrics and schedule regular status meetings to keep a pulse on the business.

Remember, effective delegation skills are a useful tool to strengthen any team. Building on existing skills and helping develop new ones is the key.  Delegation works best in an environment of open and clear communication where team members can give feedback, ask questions and contribute to the final results.  When delegating, remember it is a learning experience and takes practice to implement.

If you happen to fall into any of the traps, you aren’t alone. Tomorrow is a new day and the perfect time to use these tips to improve upon your delegation skills and foster a better, more productive work environment.


We've all heard there's no "I" in team, but building effective teams requires attention to individual strengths and interests.

Do you have employees or team members? Are the individual strengths and contributions of your team members recognized and fostered?

In the words of Andrew Carnegie, “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”

Building effective teams within your company requires strong leadership. After all, if sports have taught us anything, it’s that a team is only as good as the coach. The right leader can take the same players to victory or to defeat.

So, how are effective teams built? It starts with recognition, growth, and learning how to play to everyone’s strength.

Employee vs. Team Member: Semantics Count

Does anyone really like being called an employee? Everyone wants to be employed, but few people want to be an employee.

There’s a cold chill to word employee (or worse, “worker”) that can squeeze morale out of an organization. Leaders may relate to the people they oversee, but relying on the term “employee” puts distance between management and workers that’s tough to bridge.

Is there really a difference between the terms "team member" and "employee"? YES!
via Pxhere

Getting the right people in the right seats of the bus means encouraging engagement and buy-in—qualities that come from team members, not employees. The title of “team member” promotes a collaborative environment. While there are workers who prefer to punch in and punch out without a second thought, excellent employees will welcome responsibility and rise to the occasion.

As a leader, it’s important to remember that if you want workers to feel the buy-in of being team members, you must treat them as such.

Does that really mean there’s a difference between the terms “team member” and “employee”? YES!

An employee is a person. They’ve been hired to do a job, get paid, and go home. Professionalism is essential to any business, but even professional “employees” will take orders rather than taking initiative. Why? Because their success doesn’t hinge on the success of the company. They don’t have any buy-in. Companies with an “employee culture” require managers—those who are in charge—calling the shots and giving directions.

Team members, on the other hand, work together. They share goals and try to come together to bring your business to the next level. Team members have a mentality that everyone succeeds or fails as one. When a team member needs help, another team member swoops in without needing to be directed. Teams don’t require managers; they need leaders who don’t hand down orders, but rather, work alongside them. You want your business to succeed, so enlist help from people you can trust with your dreams of success.

But the truth is, building effective teams isn’t just about semantics. It’s not enough to start calling your people “team members”—you have to walk the walk, too. Identify WHY each team member has value (and make sure the entire team knows it).

Hire people who share your vision and invest in people who want to be a member of your team. It’s that valuable, shared outlook that will benefit your business, long-term. Cultivate a culture of team members, not just employees.

Do You Provide Projects or Do You Ignite Passion?

Employees receive projects, tasks, and assignments. Projects need to be completed, and while good employees will get them done, without buy-in, they won’t put forth the extra effort. Employees expect management to direct their workflow. If you don’t tell them to do it, it’s not their fault it doesn’t get finished.

Employees might care about their jobs, but they aren’t comfortable or committed enough to give suggestions for areas that need improvement. They don’t believe their opinion matters, so why share it? In an “employee culture,” there’s little passion for the projects you assign—and with that mentality, business is likely to remain stagnant, with fewer opportunities for improvement and growth.

Team members, on the other hand, seek out projects based on their passions because they’ve invested in the work they do. A well-cultivated team still has specialists and experts, but all team members count. One team member is comfortable suggesting a course of action for another without fear of encroachment or power plays. Everyone respects each other, and employee conflicts are minimal.

Passionate team members take the initiative to seek out solutions rather than waiting for a manager or a higher-up to instruct them. They know how to problem-solve.

Employees often look at themselves as parts of a greater machine. They work every day, and they’re counted on to produce, but they’re ultimately replaceable when they wear out, break, or fail to do the job efficiently. Employee loyalty can be shored up with excellent compensation and benefits, but if that’s all your company has to offer, the situation will burn people out. Even employees that start passionate and ready to contribute can feel like they don’t matter if their contributions and ideas aren’t considered. Once that happens, it’s only a matter of time before they start looking elsewhere for work.

Think of team members as pillars. Pillars are vital structural elements. Team members do their best to shift the weight of work as evenly as possible. When one team member gets busy, another can pull some weight back to keep stress low. Pillars may need support, but they’re irreplaceable. They matter.

Team members want to feel like what they do matters to somebody, whether it’s the team, their leaders, or the customer. When you feel like someone’s paying attention to what you’re doing, you feel as though your work matters more, and that is important for the success of the entire business. It’s that feeling of importance that ignites the passion and drive to keep achieving.

Individual Strengths for Building Effective Teams

Team members in smaller companies often have the advantage of seeing their impact on the entire company
via Pxhere

Team members in smaller companies often have the advantage of seeing their impact on the entire company. In larger corporations, each employee may feel like no more than one of many cogs in a wheel.

But no matter the size of your company, it’s crucial that job components align with individual strengths (and compensate for weaknesses). Leadership must provide support for each team member and get to know the areas where they excel and the areas they could develop.

Meet with each person frequently to identify room for growth in their performance plan. Measure individual accomplishments that not only help achieve personal growth but also help the company succeed. Offer think time or downtime for brainstorming (and even time to pursue passion projects). This downtime allows team members to think more creatively and strategically.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of seeing Dara Torres, five-time Olympian and twelve-time Olympic Medalist (the most recent at 41 years old, no less!) speak at the UWM Women Leaders Conference. Her work ethic is both inspiring and contagious. She emphasized the importance of her entire team using a dramatically different approach as they worked together to achieve a common goal. They didn’t set their sights on winning the gold medal, but instead, on helping her optimize her total performance so she could win the gold.

Your people (the small muscles) need to work with the organization (the big muscles) within a particular strategic infrastructure (the bones). Just like the body needs a variety of exercises to promote balance, so does our business physiology. Think about it: Each of those little muscles plays a vital role in creating a well-balanced team! One neglected muscle can throw the whole team out of whack.

A well-balanced team includes a variety of complementary skills. Too many managers hire employees that have similar strengths as their own, but this serves to unbalance a team. Ideally, each person’s abilities should help round out the overall skills of the group. Consider whether you’re actually nurturing those skills for each person in your company.

Also, assess whether each team member is in the best position for his interests and experience. Sometimes you place an employee in a role only to find out later that he would thrive elsewhere. Don’t hesitate to move team members around until you find the perfect fit. (This will also cut down on turnover if you’re proactively making sure your staff loves what they do.)

Pump Up the Concept of TEAM Success

Leadership should foster enthusiasm about working together collectively to achieve goals. No one should feel separate from the team, so be sure everyone understands how significant their contributions are to the team and the company at large.

Promote team spirit by communicating frequently. Set SMART goals and regularly share company progress and achievements. Give kudos to those who have given their all each week. Discuss how you can work together to reach your goals even faster.

Personal interests can improve a company, too. For example, is there a team member who loves the environment? They’ll want to help you figure out new ways your business can go green. You make your workplace better when you let team members express themselves at work. The success of the project contributes to the overall feeling of accomplishment among the entire group.

While every team member wants to succeed on their own, they also want to feel like they’re part of something more substantial. Building effective teams means fostering both a positive team environment and highlighting opportunities for individual growth. Make sure each group or team has a mix of different personalities and different strengths.

When you have the right teams in place (the right fit for your company culture), leverage your tools to help individuals succeed for the benefit of the whole team.

Featured image and post images licensed for use via Pxhere.