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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.

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.

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.

Every business owner has faced the dreaded moment when a treasured employee offers up their resignation. It rarely happens at a convenient time. No matter how well you perform as a leader, you can’t control everything; this extends to your employee turnover.

But, as they say, when one door closes another one opens.

Turnover presents you with an opportunity to engage in strategic hiring; not only to hire the right people with the right qualifications but also to define positions and attract the best possible candidates.

How to Find an Opportunity in a Stressful Situation

Shift your mindset to view employee turnover as an opportunity to strengthen your team instead of a problem.
via Pxhere

When an employee quits or gives two weeks’ notice, you may consider the “easy route”—take their old job description, post it online, and wait to see who answers. But is that the best method for strategic hiring?

Shift your mindset to view employee turnover as an opportunity instead of a problem. For example, you might lament the loss of your accountant who stuck with you for the last five years. While it’s hard to lose a good accountant, the situation presents an opportunity to redefine the Controller position. You could bring more worth to the role, and thus, attract a qualified and engaged employee.

After all, good employees are hard to find and even harder to keep! Employee engagement and buy-in are often vital components of employee retention. Employees will leave due to extenuating circumstances, of course, but happy, engaged, and appreciated employees are much more likely to stick with you long-term.

Use the departure of one employee as an opportunity to tighten up the positions and responsibilities of the rest of your team to deter a mass exodus.

In smaller companies, a position opening provides the opportunity to reevaluate important aspects like company culture, position necessity, and even cross-functionality. It’s an essential time to check-in with your team. Request the input from those in the “trenches.” Often, they’re able to identify gaps and pinpoint areas where coverage is lacking.

Don’t Rush It: Strategic Hiring Takes Time

You may feel like you need to rush to get a body into the empty chair so you and the rest of the company can continue with business as usual. Unfortunately, “replacing” an employee without consideration may lead to a missed opportunity to improve your team.

When a team member leaves your company, there is an immediate need to ensure the tasks they were responsible for will still get completed every day. Whether everyone in the business pitches in or a few select employees must absorb additional duties, consider what’s best for everyone in the long-term. Spread the work around, so no one burns out.

Smaller companies tend to feel more of a pinch in these situations. If you’re missing clear procedures, company-wide cross-training, and a team attitude of willing helpfulness from day one, it will be particularly hard.

Now is the time to boost morale and strengthen your company culture. Improving engagement may mean merely acknowledging your employees’ extra effort with a donut day or lunch. Often, employees just want to be recognized for their efforts. Spread the appreciation amply around, especially when a particular group or employee is picking up the slack.

Carry Out a 360-Degree Assessment

Look at hiring a new team member as an opportunity to assess and strengthen your company
via Pxhere

When an employee leaves, there are several areas you should consider. Look at this time as an opportunity to assess and strengthen your company:

  • Review the immediate impact of the team member loss on others in the organization as far as tasks and responsibilities.
  • Hold a team meeting to distribute the day-to-day workload to maintain customer service immediately.
  • Review performance plans and become more knowledgeable about the needs and interests of other team members; for example, is there the opportunity to promote someone from within?
  • Review the ‘who does what’ aspect of your business model. List current procedures to see if there is redundancy or overlap you could eliminate.
  • Analyze the areas in which the former team member was successful and where they fell short of the mark.
  • If you decide to hire a new team member, determine the skillset you need and the experience necessary for success, then create a job description.

Redefining a new position may look very similar to replacing an old one, but that doesn’t mean there’s no difference. Every time you face a change, you are, in essence, defining a new position.

Gathering Input from Your Team

Before you start your search for the right job candidate, meet with stakeholders and relevant team members to gather their input. Pertinent questions to review when you encounter an opportunity to build your team:

  • Should we replace the position with another person?
  • Can we offer growth to another team member by moving elements of the position?
  • Does the job description accurately describe what the position entails?
  • What does the workload of other team members look like? Are they able to absorb some or all of the responsibilities?
  • Is there an under-utilized team member with a unique skillset?
  • Are we looking for additional responsibilities to add to the position that the former team member couldn’t provide?
  • How much experience are we looking for in this position? Evaluate experience needs vs. experience wants against the expense of training.

Once you’ve completed a full assessment of the situation, you’ll have plenty of material to assist you and your HR department. You can begin crafting a dynamic employee ad, recruiting the right candidate, and conducting the interviewing and screening process.

Finding the Right Person for the Position

Instead of searching for the “perfect employee” (who doesn’t exist!) look for a candidate who’s a good fit. The right person, at the right time, for the right job, on the right team.

To find the best possible candidate for your vacant position, carefully define the specific skills you require for the job. During your discussions with your SME’s and team leaders, review and expand the relevant skills. Technical candidates such as engineers, architects, accountants, or chemists should possess the requirements like degrees or specific certifications accurately matching your job descriptions.

For non-technical candidates, evaluate the specific skills you’re looking for. Think about what types of people were successful in the role in the past. What made them successful and WHY? At this point, an actual written list is helpful; integrate your discoveries into interview questions later.

Once you’ve put out your ad and the responses start pouring in, you face the task of narrowing down your options. Here’s the million-dollar question: How do I pick the right person for the job?

Strategic hiring is considered one of the most challenging issues surrounding business success and management today. Narrowing down a pool of high-quality candidates may seem like a pretty daunting task. Rely on the information you’ve compiled on the role. Assess the potential candidates against your definitions.

The more clearly you define your needs for the position, the more productive the interview process (and ultimately the hiring process) will be.

Preparing for Interviews

what information will you seek from your job candidate in the interview?
via Pxhere

I want to add the quick disclaimer here; this post doesn’t cover the legal issues surrounding what you can and can’t ask a candidate in an interview. You should consult a lawyer if you’re unsure about the legality of the interview process.

Ask yourself: what information will you seek in the interview? Your answers may vary based on the position and level of experience required. Remember, you’re determining if the candidate can perform the job function and if they’ll fit with your team.

How many interviews you conduct with a specific candidate will often depend on the size of your business, the number of high-quality candidates, and the level of the job. For most roles and positions in many small businesses, three to four interviewees will suffice.

Before you interview…

  • Each interviewer should have a complete list of interview questions to work from and room to document the answers provided. These questions should be open-ended, and several interview questions should repeat among the interviewers.
  • Audio taping the interview is an excellent way to ensure you don’t miss anything or misquote the interviewee.
  • Look into the different styles and types of interviews to see which fits your business best.
  • Include a rating system to rate the overall performance of the interviewee at the end.
  • Don’t forget to discuss impressions with your interviewers. Sometimes, the overall impression of a person after an interview is a red flag for a less-than-great candidate.
  • Weigh each candidate against the criteria you’ve outlined in your strategic hiring discussions with your team. You’ve defined the position, now find the candidate best aligned with your needs.

As the business owner, president, or general manager, are you expected to conduct each interview yourself? NO! Ensure each interviewer has a list of questions pertinent to the position and you’re all on the same page about what it is you seek in a great candidate.

Keep in mind that the interview process is often fraught with uncertainty. None of us can predict the future or know how an employee will perform when the rubber hits the road. However, we can set ourselves up to be as strategic as possible in the hiring process.

After the interviews, compare the candidates and make a choice. If you’ve carried out your due diligence, rest easy knowing you’ve positioned yourself well. No matter how well you integrate a new team member, or how skilled a new employee is, a new hire impacts your entire team.

Bruce Tuckman developed the concept of four stages high-performing teams inevitably go through in the process of becoming more efficient. It starts with forming and continues into the storming phase. Then, the norming stage follows as a hierarchy is established. Finally, the performing stage is the last phase in which all the hard work pays off.

The better fit your new employee is for the position and the company culture, the faster the four stages of high performance will run their course. Take steps during onboarding to train and integrate the new hire thoroughly. Document procedures and policies as you move forward to shore up any gaps in your system.

Strategic hiring of the right people for the right positions is one of the best ways to ensure the health and continued success of your company. Use the opportunity of a departure to increase the performance and engagement of your team.


Featured image and post images licensed for use via Pxhere.

Every day, your team runs into bumps in the road. These roadblocks and speedbumps require your team to hone their problem solving and decision-making skills.

But are you developing a team of problem solvers? Are your team members empowered to make decisions independently?

If your answer is shaky, you may need to work on building your team’s problems solving and decision-making skills. After all, there will come a day when you’re not there to lead the way. If you shudder to think of what your team would do without your guidance, you may also need to work on your own effective delegation skills.

Problems and Choices Are Part of Everyday Life

Whether your team is faced with small day-to-day problems or large problems that require a group effort, training your team on problem solving and decision making is essential. They need to tackle problems head-on. Great leaders provide a framework and ensure the policies and procedures are in place, so team members can troubleshoot by working together.

As a leader, it’s important you possess the vision to identify any major roadblocks in the future. Speedbumps, on the other hand, are smaller issues currently slowing down a process or causing additional work for certain team members. Unbalanced workloads and inefficient processes lead to unhappy stakeholders (including customers, owners, and vendors).

Every workplace needs problem solving and decision-making skills. It’s your job to know there’s an issue, but it’s not always the best use of your time to carry out the problem solving (especially for smaller speedbumps). However, you do set the tone and create the problem solving process. At all times, you should stay aware of your company’s weak spots and problem areas where issues arise. You should also assign who identifies, prioritizes, and tracks these issues.

Problems within a business run the gamut. Identifying issues directly and quickly makes solving them easier and more effective. For example, if you learn your customer satisfaction has decreased, you might ask your team, “What indicators do we see that customer satisfaction has decreased?” (The WHAT and the WHY.) And then ask, “How will we ensure our customers are happier?” (The HOW and the WHEN.) If you listen closely and you’ve encouraged clear communication, your team will feel comfortable identifying and solving problems. Be careful not to address the symptoms, get to the root cause.

Step 1: Identifying Adaptable Players

bring together the team members that have the best problem solving and decision making skills to tackle the problem
via Pixabay

Running a business is all about making sure you put the right people on the bus—the right employees in the right positions. If your team is struggling with the choices they face, take a step back and assess.

Your challenge is to identify those individuals who strengthen your team and add value to your established processes. Employees who think independently in exceptional situations yield the most value, as they help you actualize your goals with minimal nudging from you.

Building a strong team is like solving a puzzle. Though you may feel tempted to seek out cookie-cutter answers, the formation of a team is an improvisational skill, developed over time with experience. Leaders play a key role in the health of the team and the culture of the company. Remember to examine your own behavior if the team faces challenges, as you are the center of the wheel, and your team members are the spokes.

An agile team has the capacity to work together within their roles, but also has the ability to step outside of assigned roles and take on other responsibilities when necessary; for example, in the case of illness, emergency, or growth. When faced with challenges, a strong team addresses the obstacle or demand with fluidity and confidence without cracking or breaking.

A vigorous team has members who:

  • Don’t require hand-holding.
  • Are properly cross-trained.
  • Want to contribute.
  • Are accountable to themselves and other team members.
  • Are capable of completing their tasks.
  • Are resilient in responding to circumstances.

You may want to use personality assessment tools like DiSC. These types of tests allow you to understand how to communicate better with different personality types so no one team member feels constantly steamrolled or frustrated by another team member’s personality or actions.

Build a strong team with effective people who are flexible in deploying their talents and skills. Your team must be diverse in talents and personalities; they shouldn’t be clones of each other or of the leader. Unfortunately, diverse personalities sometimes clash, requiring careful maneuvering. If conflict on your team is an issue, these types of personality assessments are helpful in resolution.

Step 2: Setting Up for Success

PLAN written on a blackboard with communication, teamwork, strategy, goals, planning, development, problems written around it
via Pixabay

No matter how flexible and adept your team at problem solving and decision making, teams still require policies and procedures to ensure success. Let’s face it, provide too much pliancy and even the best teams devolve into chaos.

Policies name and guide the range of responsibilities any individual has in the company. For example, you may set a policy allowing a team member to clear out 80% of the finance charges up to $500. Beyond the set level, they need the guidance of a supervisor. This firm policy provides guidelines and ensures employees have room to work with customers to create solutions.

Often, though, businesses require a supervisor to confirm or approve each task. This disrupts the flow of business and undermines employee judgment and trust. When every project or task requires handholding, you’re looking at a lot of day-to-day operational bottlenecks and significant frustration for the employee.

While establishing these guidelines may feel time-consuming and may even feel like you’re relinquishing control, they’re critical to developing the scope of your business from “what” to “how?” When you establish policies and procedures for your employees, you create room to work on your business rather than running around working in your business. You create the opportunity for your business to mature.

Step 3: Encourage Your Team to Divide and Conquer

The key to any problem solving or decision making is to ensure you’ve correctly identified the real problem. Efficient problem-solving strategies include categorizing the problem. Where does the issue fall: sales, customer service, billing, company policies, somewhere else? Identifying the primary impact helps define who will drive the problem solving, leading your team to a better understanding of the dimensions of the problem.

After getting to the root of the problem, the next natural step is to determine how to solve the problem. Bring the problem to your team, encouraging each individual to look at the problem from multiple angles. It’s important to look at the problem and assess the 360-degree impact. If your problem-solving efforts require you hold a team meeting, don’t forget productive meetings require discipline to produce results.

To perform at a high level, individuals must understand their objectives and how their role fits into the whole to achieve larger company goals. You should also hold each team member accountable for their work. Creating this structure, uniting your team, and setting clear expectations to facilitate understanding all falls upon you, as the leader.

Team members should take ownership of their portion of the process. When you get buy-in from the team, you’ll find greater productivity and higher morale. Responsibility boosts buy-in and reminds your employees that everyone has a stake in the success of the business.

Step 4: Guide the Implementation of the Solution

Once your team has identified the proper problem (the WHAT), WHY it happens, and WHO is involved in creating the solution, then the solution should become obvious
via Pixabay

Once your team has identified the proper problem (the WHAT), WHY it happens, and WHO is involved in creating the solution, then the resolution should become obvious. If your team is still struggling to find the answer, encourage them to go back and breakdown the problem again. Maybe there was more to the problem than initially identified. If the details of the problem are clear, your team will present solutions and create an implementation plan to ensure those problems are solved—and remain solved.

When looking for a solution to a problem, your team must work together to find a solution that covers all bases and makes sense throughout. You’ve built your team for success, so set them up to continue on the same track.

Test the solution by asking:

  • Does my team have the necessary tools to implement the solution?
  • Is the team in agreement that this is the best solution?

If you answered NO to any of these questions, encourage your team to take advice from one another; they’re all knowledgeable and they all care about solving the problem. If everyone on your team sees the solution’s benefits, they’ll feel motivated to work together towards the same goal.

Determine if further adjustments are needed before the final solution by asking:

  • Does the solution rely too heavily on one person or department?
  • Or does it create more work for someone else?

If the answers here are “yes,” consider further adjustments to the solution. After your team has discovered an effective solution for the problem, follow up on and guide the implementation at a high level. If their hard work resulted in a successful solution, provide recognition for a job well done. For less successful solutions, encourage your team to learn from the outcome. (Always circle back through the process to identify the fork in the road that brought them to this particular attempt.) Perform a post-mortem on every project to learn more about how your team works now and how they will work better together into the future.

Rewarding a Team of Great Problem Solvers

Reward your team for a problem successfully solved
via Pixabay

With high expectations comes a responsibility to recognize and reward, as well as provide a break. Give your team members something to look forward to; for example, birthday and holiday celebrations, a surprise picnic lunch day on the company, and other fun activities like team-building exercises. Mix it up a little to add flair to the doldrums of day-to-day work.

Encourage employees to break up the day a bit and to build and strengthen relationships. Productivity requires think time and downtime. Good management will also recognize that life issues sometimes interfere with work. Offer a helping hand and provide flexibility (when and where appropriate) and you’ll create a truly committed team.

A well-balanced team is hired with diversity in mind, provided the tools they need to feel confident and positive about problem solving and decision making, provided with clear expectations and guidelines, and offered opportunities for fun and to celebrate team achievements.

These principles allow your day-to-day business to flourish and progress while you focus on big-picture business development. Wouldn’t you rather not feel like you’re drowning, constantly interfering and solving problems that your team members are perfectly capable of solving? If your day-to-day is leaving your innovation drained, it’s time for a change!

Every problem in the workplace is unique and requires different solutions. It’s been my experience that the best solutions often come from the boots on the ground—those closest to the problem. Lead a team confident in their abilities and equipped to handle the issues presented. Providing leadership in problem solving will empower your team and push your business to greater success.


Featured image and post images licensed for use via Pixabay.

Do your best practices include strong goal setting strategies? If you want to continue the success of your business, get SMART about goal setting.

Have you brushed up on your goal setting strategies lately? I know it may sound like basic business advice, but time and time again, I work with business owners who are struggling with setting and sticking to goals.

If you’re an entrepreneur, you know how critical it is to set goals regularly, but chances are, you either aren’t sure how to prioritize those goals once they’re set or don’t know how to avoid getting overwhelmed (or bogged down) by all that’s on your plate.

Good goal setting strategies begin with self-assessment. Start by asking yourself a few questions (and being honest with your answers):

  • Do I regularly set attainable goals?
  • Do I review my goals to measure my success?
  • Do I set goals to complete projects within my business?

Most business owners will honestly answer NO to at least one of these questions, but most would like to say they could answer YES to all. It happens to all of us; even if you write down a goal list, you may end up putting it away and never looking at it again. Tucked in the desk drawer of every business owner is a long list of goals they may (or may not) complete.

So how do you successfully set better business goals and, by doing so, achieve them?

Don’t Make a Wish, Set a Goal

Often when business owners set a goal, it looks something like this: Grow my Business.

Business woman looking at a business growth goals chart on a tablet
via Pixabay

On paper, this looks like a great goal, right? It’s what every business owner wants to do. Business growth is critical to your success…but what are the steps you’re going to take to reach this goal? How do you plan to define and measure “growth”? Moreover, how will you know you’ve achieved this goal? Well, you won’t.

This goal is what I call a “business wish.” Yes, we all would like to see our businesses grow, but our true focus should be directed toward the action items and strategic plan. Better goal setting strategies mean outlining the steps required to make your wishes happen.

Think of setting your goals like creating a shopping list. When the cupboard is bare, you start jotting down a list: milk, eggs, bread. Now imagine you show up at the grocery store, pull out your list, and all it says is Go Shopping. The thought is laughable, right? You’d wander around the store trying to remember what you need to buy. If you’re like me, you’d forget half of the items you were supposed to buy and then run to the store again, hours later when your kids are asking for a glass of milk.

Setting a goal like “Go Shopping” is precisely the same as a goal like “Grow my Business”—it doesn’t mean anything without an action plan. Setting a generic goal of any sort wastes time and money, hindering your success. You’re running to the store over and over, and still turning up empty-handed.

Get SMART with Your Goals

You probably didn’t get this far in the business world without a grasp on the concept of SMART goals. Even though many of us are familiar with the SMART goal-setting concept, it bears reviewing—especially if you’re realizing your goal setting strategies need improvement.

SMART is such a commonly used goal-setting tactic because it actually works. In case you can’t recall the acronym, it stands for:

S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Attainable
R – Relevant
T – Time-Bound

Setting SMART goals means coming up with new ideas and strategies to achieve them
via Pxhere

Setting strong, achievable goals means following this strategy (literally) to the letter. It’s wise because it works. Every goal you set should contain all five of these crucial characteristics. Miss one? You’ll struggle to be successful.

Playing off our example above, here’s how to turn “Grow my Business” into a SMART goal. Most goals need to be broken down into several SMART goals; each mini goal is a step toward your overall objective to grow your business.

Here’s where the rubber meets the road. I’m not going to lie; this isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Keep in mind the cautions of goal setting—don’t overextend yourself. Keep your goals attainable and specific. Your aim here is to be realistic, so you’re going to want to set goals that are easily broken down into prioritized, actionable items that align your entire team. A true confession here, I have trouble with over-commitment and often think I can do more than time allows. Be cautious.

Target Your Targets

Start at the top with your long-term targets and work your way down (or backward, if you prefer to think of it that way). You should set no more than 5 big, long-term targets, each projecting out about 3 to 5 years. These targets are the HUGE stretch goals (yes, sometimes they feel like your wishlist, but they should still be specific).

Perhaps one of your long-term targets for growing your business is to hit $5 million in sales by 2025. This goal is a great business growth target, but now it’s time to work your way down and break it into small steps.

Take the big target stretch goals and come up with 3-5 SMART goals to take you through this year. So, assuming your sales were $1 million this year, if you want to hit your target, your goal might be to double your sales over the next 12 months, increasing to $2 million by next year. Now, how do you get there? Break it down further.

Setting Clear Annual Priorities

Weekly planning is a positive goal setting strategy for business success
via Pxhere

List out the steps you need to take over the next 12 months to successfully complete your goal. Is your team positioned to meet the goal? Does your sales team use a KPI dashboard to track performance? Can you use tools like gamification to motivate your team? Are the proper systems in place to support your goals? What about cash flow?

Look at the health of your entire business today. Where does it need to be in one year for you to complete your goal successfully?

Perhaps you need to update your web content. Do you need to hire more sales associates? Turn these steps into SMART goals as well:

  • Clean up the customer database with a new CRM system by Q2 of this year.
  • Hire a marketing team member, onboard and train by May.
  • Vet content marketing firms and update the website by October.

Set no more than 5 of your annual priorities/initiatives to drive your team’s success in meeting each of your SMART goals. Those goals are then further broken down into quarterly, monthly, and even weekly targets. What should happen this week to put you on track for your timeline? It’s much easier to adjust your path week-to-week when you hit a bump in the road than to panic mid-December when you’re closing your books for the year.

In “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits,” Verne Harnish says your goal setting strategy is as simple as asking, “What do I need to accomplish today to keep this company moving towards its plans at the speed the market demands?”

A quick note about the “speed” element: each industry has a speed at which it must adapt to the market. Apple adapts at a different speed than a mom and pop restaurant, for example. Keep the speed of your industry in mind as you set your pace.

Enlist Your Team

Once you’ve set up your solid annual SMART goals and sketched out your steps, it’s time to enlist the brainpower of your team. Gather your management team (if you’re a larger corporation) or your team of individuals (if you’re a small business). Get your SME’s (Subject Matter Experts) to give their input. As boots on the ground, they’ll offer a great deal of insight into snags you may not anticipate.

Your team will help you identify additional problem areas and potential solutions to fill out those larger annual goals. Maybe improving your credit and collections processes will help you meet long-term cash objectives. Translated into a SMART goal, this looks like “Reduce average A/R days outstanding to 60 days or less for all active customers by Q3.”

There are endless areas and parameters to define your SMART goals. Practically any data point can be used to help measure outcomes. These may include:

  • Inventory days
  • Revenue per employee
  • Liquidity
  • Margins
  • Profitability
  • Customer retention
  • Lead generation
  • Customer complaints
  • Error rates
  • The list goes on…
Enlist your team to help determine metrics to track the success of your goal setting strategies
via Pxhere

The most important factor is measurability. Your team may offer other ideas of metrics to assess the success of your goal outcomes. That’s why getting them involved is so helpful. They know the impediments, and their perspective is valuable. Involving your team will also help you effectively delegate the tasks and action items as you work toward your goal.

Don’t forget: Any action plan you develop must matter to your customer base and needs to drive competitive differentiation. As you gain knowledge and experience in goal-setting strategies, the process will become easier.

It’s also important you aren’t bogged down with analysis paralysis! Use daily/weekly/monthly metrics and quarterly reviews to track success; adjustments can be made as time goes on. Most of these adjustments will involve tweaking and won’t require taking an entirely new direction. However, never ignore significant unexpected changes in the business, industry, or economy. If this occurs, address the problem(s) and re-direct as quickly as possible.

Another word of caution: if you’re in a tenuous financial position, it’s better to plan quick, very low-risk, very high-value victories. Set your SMART goals to match your current fiscal state.

The SMART goal formula can be used company-wide as a project management tool. How often do we rush headfirst into a project without defining our intended outcome? When you run a business, your day-to-day operations are hectic—but think about the time and money you’ll save if you sit down and hash out the details before you get started.

That’s the bottom line: SMART goals save time and money across your business operations, short-term and long-term. You work hard, so work smart with SMART goals.


Featured image and post images licensed via Pxhere and Pixabay.

Is your schedule packed with team meetings? Boring meetings? Meetings where everyone on your team talks in circles? How on earth do you lead better team meetings?

It turns out too many meetings are harmful to your overall business success and productivity. It may seem counterintuitive, but meetings are one of the most common productivity killers in the workplace.

In fact, according to the career website Muse, middle management spends about 35% of their time in meetings. Upper management spends a whopping 50% of their work time in meetings. 15% of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings and the number grows every year. Worse yet, executives report feeling that more than half of their meeting time is wasted (67%).

Unfortunately, meetings are also necessary in today’s workplace. The planning for many tasks is based on communication. Many business leaders (particularly small business owners and entrepreneurs) realize project planning is often a company-wide event steeped in a collaborative environment. After all, bits of the project plan will be assigned to and/or affect most of the team members in your company or department.

So, how do you boost meeting productivity? How do you know when a meeting is necessary or when solitude is the best answer? Here’s how to lead better meetings (and cut out the timewasting ones).

Is Groupwork Bad for Creativity?

You want each team member to contribute to the creative process, from the overall project planning down to the actionable to-do list. If you want to establish the best initiatives to achieve company goals, you must appreciate each employee’s need for think time. How many times have you heard, “This great idea came to me in the shower”? Plain and simple: people need time to think!

Group work isn't always the best way to produce creative ideas or the answer to better team meetingsGroup interactions may stifle creativity, no matter how energetic you are or how balanced your team may be. It’s important for leaders to know how many meetings, group brainstorming, or collaboration time is too much. (Hint: you need a lot less meeting time than you think.)

Research dating back to the 1950s, along with more recent studies, found that big groups don’t do anything to increase the flow of creativity. In fact, group work may result in negative outcomes including bullying, opinion mimicking, passing the buck, and plain old laziness. People simply act differently from Group A to Group B. It all depends on the company culture, how the group is generated, and who is involved in a particular group. This is called “group dynamics” and it’s a simple fact of life.

In his book, Moving Mountains Every Day: Lessons for Business Leaders, Dan Steininger notes that neuroscientist Gregory Berns found dissension from the group activates a “fear of rejection” reaction at the core of the dissenter’s brain (in the amygdala). Berns refers to this reaction as “the pain of independence.” Steininger goes on to illustrate the benefits of solitude using Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein as benchmarks for individual creativity.

Now, it doesn’t mean you should avoid meetings altogether, but it does mean lowering your expectations for immediate meeting outcomes (and shortening the meetings themselves). Keep meetings moving along steadily and focus on the topic at hand.

Don’t let your meeting time encroach on your employees’ think time, either. Offering employees space and freedom to troubleshoot and problem solve will often result in a better outcome than an endless strategy session or two-hour team meeting going nowhere.

Leading Better Team Meetings: How to Keep the Meeting Productive

Now, there are plenty of times when a meeting is necessary and even important. It’s the onus of the leader to ensure meetings are worthwhile. As with most situations in business (and in life), the secret to success is making a plan. Leading better team meetings is no exception. It’s vital to go into each meeting with a plan and stick to it. Always determine the reason for the meeting—if it isn’t important, don’t hold it. Period.

Remember, the head of the company need not lead in every meeting (or attend) but every meeting should follow the company standards and best practices. Here are the important steps meeting leaders (whether yourself or a team/department leader) should adopt to make each necessary meeting more productive.

1. Set the Standard and Expectation of Preparedness

To have better, more productive team meetings, everyone should come prepared with objectivesWell before your team meeting, provide each attendee with a list of meeting goals (aligned to your company goals). Whenever possible, assign goals to a point person to lead the charge. When given the time to think and formulate ideas individually and beforehand, you’ll find your team members will bring a lot more to the table.

Request each person bring at least three approaches/initiatives that contribute to accomplishing their assigned goal, plus any other ideas for the other goals on the list. Each person must contribute, right brain and left brain, and add depth to the initiatives.

Don’t attempt to save time by combining meetings with different goals or agendas (i.e., combining an organizational meeting and a creative meeting). We’ve all been in meetings where half the agenda didn’t apply to our area of expertise. What happens? We zone out. Keep the meeting singularly focused.

2. Keep Time

Set the ground rules and timeframe for each topic on the agenda and stick to the plan. You may even wish to set a timer or ask someone to keep time.

Always start on time, end on time, and if someone is late, let them catch what they missed on their own after the meeting (and without disruption). This ground rule should be established well before the meeting happens. Don’t stall the meeting to bring people up to speed as they wander in.

On the same note, keep meetings short and sweet. As leadership, you set the tone. If you believe time is money, don’t pull people away from their work needlessly. Remember, the less time spent away from their desks, the more they get accomplished.

3. Keep the Conversation Rolling

Avoid rehashing info during the meeting and stay on task. If people get bogged down in a discussion, don’t hesitate to table it. Assign the appropriate team members to work the issue out later and bring the conclusion back to the next meeting. Set the resolution as an action item.

For big meetings, you may even consider bringing in a facilitator or mediator. A good facilitator creates a productive meeting environment, drawing out ALL ideas and encouraging equal input and participation. As an “outsider,” a professional facilitator is inherently more aware of the pitfalls of group dynamics, so he or she will better regulate the tempo and pace of the meeting to benefit everyone present. Require the meeting facilitator to present you with a summary (aligned with those predetermined expectations) after the meeting is over.

4. Shorten the Invite List

Invite the fewest number of people possible to your meetings. While some “team meetings” are necessary, there’s an even greater impetus to keep full staff meetings short and sweet. Depending on the size of your company, it may be very rare to hold a full staff meeting.

For most team meetings, only those involved need to attend. This means those who are directly related to the input/output. Everyone not directly involved will get all the information they need from the meeting minutes. Research suggests the most efficient number of attendees for a meeting is about five. Whenever possible, aim for an odd number of attendees to limit bickering over majority-rule decisions. Greater numbers will result in lengthier (and nitpicky) discussions over even the most minor issues.

5. Give Everyone a Voice

The best team meetings allow everyone to voice their opinions, ideas, and thoughtsIf you’ve followed steps 1-4, your meeting will already be focused, short, and direct. All attendees are vital to the meeting and thus, will offer important contributions. This means it’s imperative to ensure each person has the floor when needed. Assuming each agenda item is assigned to a point person, it makes sense to yield the floor to the key person during their timeframe.

At the meeting, establish an environment of openness and collaboration. Be sure each team member attending the meeting has a voice and is allowed to speak. Move through initiatives per the agenda rather than brainstorming by yelling over each other. (However, sometimes shouting out ideas at random is really the best way to jump into a project.) Your meeting style depends upon your team and what you need to accomplish.

6. Listen More Than Talk

Entrepreneurs and business owners are often too committed to their own ideas, pushing the team in one direction without even realizing it. While this is great if you want to exist in an echo chamber of your own ideas, it doesn’t work for problem-solving (or generating creative approaches to tasks).

You know your approach (and comfort with yielding the floor). If you tend to talk over others, it may be best to assign an objective meeting facilitator, allowing you (the boss) to duck out of the meeting entirely. Your participation in the meeting comes as an outside influence. Before the meeting, be sure the facilitator and the team have clearly defined expectations as far as meeting structure, participation, and meeting outcomes are concerned (see step 1).

If your team is timid, allow individuals to submit additional ideas anonymously before and/or after the meeting. After all, the more ideas generated, the better. Why not present your team with as many idea-generating opportunities as possible?

7. Take Detailed Minutes

team meetings are more effective and beneficial for the whole team if meeting minutes are takenIf a tree falls in a forest and no one hears, does it make a sound? If a meeting occurs without minutes, did it even matter? Meeting minutes are vital, especially to prevent circular conversations and arguments after the fact. Assign someone to take thorough notes for each meeting. Meeting minutes should include everything discussed and all decisions made. Document problems and resolutions discussed, including those tabled.

Set action items at the end of the minutes. Outline a list of tasks or solutions for each participant to prepare for the next meeting. As appropriate, distribute the minutes to the wider team or company. Someone who didn’t attend the meeting may have a great idea or a solution to a problem. You never know.

8. Ban Chairs

This is the one tip for better team meetings that strikes fear in the heart of every leader who loves to wax on. Why? Because it works. If people have to stand, they are less inclined to filibuster. (Disclaimer: does not apply to Congress.) One way to ensure no one (including management) pontificates during the meeting is to take away their chairs.

Stand-up meetings are popular in tech companies, and with good reason. Researchers at Washington University determined the benefits to standing meetings: Standing up is more physically dynamic and has a similar psychological effect. It leads to more enthusiasm, higher creativity, and facilitates better collaboration on ideas. As they say, a body in motion stays in motion. If you want your team members to leave the meeting ready to go, then a standing meeting is your answer.

9. Timing is Everything

Picking the right time for important meetings is critical. Typically, the least effective days are Monday and Friday, when some people are more invested in planning for or recovering from the weekend, and some are out on a long weekend. Avoid scheduling meetings right after lunch when everyone is half asleep. If you want honest answers on moral or ethical subjects, better stick to the morning. Harvard and the University of Utah researchers found people are significantly shadier in the afternoons. They called it the “morning morality effect.”

What’s expected of the participants is an important consideration when scheduling meetings as well. If you need sharp decision-making skills, the morning is best. Bear in mind, mornings are also the time when your people are most productive. Informational meetings that don’t require sharp analytic thinking can be scheduled in the afternoon when people are at their least busy and least productive. Oddly enough, this is also a better time for creative problem-solving.

10. Appreciate Different Perspectives

Each employee sees your organization from a different vantage point. In her book Fierce Conversations, Susan Scott likens each team member to a different stripe on a beach ball. While everyone is part of the same ball, each person’s reality is different. Seeing as none of us know what we don’t know, it’s important not to underestimate the value in multiple perspectives.

Einstein suggested, “imagination is more important than knowledge.” And while you may feel your organization isn’t bursting with Einsteins—don’t sell your team short. You simply need to give each individual the opportunity to explore his or her own imagination and ideas. To give your people the opportunity to bring the BEST initiatives, always expect the best. Your team will generally perform to your level of expectation, assuming those expectations are clear. Remind each individual that everyone brings a unique perspective to the company.

The best team meetings always have several commonalities: they’re focused, interesting, and of interest to everyone in the room. They move along quickly because each attendee has vital insight to contribute and the facilitator keeps the conversation moving. When a great meeting is over, everyone walks out with more knowledge than they came in with, new tasks to accomplish, and ideas to consider.

While team meetings aren’t the solution to every problem, they are a necessary piece of a productive team. Lead your way to better team meetings and you’ll see increased productivity throughout your office.


Featured image and post images licensed via Pxhere.

Would you like to accomplish more in your company? Here’s how to improve productivity and maximize your output.

Accomplishing more in your company often seems like a tall (but necessary) order. While most of us have some room to improve productivity, it’s a tough balance. Chances are you’re already burning the candle at both ends. Demanding more from your workforce can become demotivating and result in the opposite of the desired effect.

So what’s a CEO to do? How can you improve productivity and maximize your output without burning yourself, or your employees out?

We’d All Like More Hours in the Day

Most entrepreneurs already have much more on their plate than they can reasonably handle. Yet, they’re still seeking ways to accomplish more as they run their business. Competition is fierce and when investors, your workforce, and others rely on you, it means pushing yourself into overdrive.

Like many professionals, you may assume the prospect of accomplishing EVEN more means:

  • – More hours
  • – More work
  • – Less energy
  • – Less family
  • – Less fun

But the prospect of pushing yourself beyond your limits can have negative results including a higher likelihood of burnout. Even though you started your business with joy in your heart, the constant push may cause it to wane. You began the company because you wanted to be able to do the things that you really love to do, now you are responsible for all of it. As your responsibilities snowballed, you recognize significant priorities and so much more to do than you ever expected. The reality of not being able to do it all sunk in. Not to mention, as you assess your team, the realization hits that you have to get the wrong people off the bus.

We all need more time in the day to get our long to-do lists accomplished
via Burst

Yet, even with all these issues and challenges, you are pushing forward to grow your business. You just wish there were more hours in the day or you could prioritize better. How can a CEO increase productivity when you don’t know what to tackle first?

I’ve been there. When you’re facing so many competing priorities, it’s tough to know how to get it all accomplished. I’ve struggled with priorities just like you. Truth be told, I still struggle (it’s human nature). When I was running my business, I often chose the easiest task to tick off the list or attacked the one I was most confident would be successful. While this seems like a good plan at first, in the long run, it’s not the best idea. Accomplishing the “easy job” leaves us spinning our wheels (and overwhelmed by the boulders we still have yet to push up the hill).

Looking at the horizon, you see so many tasks you need to accomplish, so you seek out efficiency and effectiveness in various ways; from improving time management strategies to implementing more effective delegation to attempting a Covey-type “Big Rocks” approach to addressing your priorities. Nevertheless, there are still tasks on the horizon. How do you improve productivity and how do you make decisions on your plan of approach?

Divide Your To-Do List into Four Quadrants

As a good leader, you should have already listened to input from your team on what they see as priorities—AND added those important items to your list. Now you’re faced with even more priorities. How do you accomplish it all?

But really, what is a priority in the first place? Similar to sales theories, which state there are really only three possible objections to any sales pitch, depending on the stage of your business, priorities fall into 4 buckets. These four areas need to be considered holistically for all stakeholders.

Four Areas of Priorities to Improve Productivity:

The decision-making matrix that Stephen Covey espoused was also based on the Eisenhower Matrix
via Wikimedia Commons
    • Quadrant 1: Projects and issues that are both important and urgent. Address these issues immediately—think of situations like a cash flow crisis
    • Quadrant 2: Projects that are important, but not urgent. The focus here should be on achieving long-term goals. These tasks would include items like rebranding or selecting and implementing a new system. Often less important but more urgent goals (Quadrant 3) supersede business goals in this quadrant.
    • Quadrant 3: Projects that are urgent and not important. This area could include timely “favors” for peers, marketing, or networking opportunities. Pinpointing the items that fall into this quadrant is challenging because urgent often feels important (and if it’s unimportant, it organically falls by the wayside). Targeting this area calls for some ruthless weeding of your priorities to eliminate projects that are urgent but truly unimportant to your long-term success. As the Old English proverbs states, “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”
    • Quadrant 4: Unimportant and not urgent tasks that add little or no value to the long-term success of your business. This category would include time wasters (that can mask as productive) like networking by socializing on Facebook or checking your fantasy football standings. Eliminate these time wasters from your to-do list. Often cutting these from your day is simple, but requires self-control. If you’re like me, Quadrant 4 is where I spend my time “practicing avoidance techniques.” This, of course, means I’m not addressing something I should be doing in Quadrant 1 or 2.

It’s not to say you should only spend your time on Quadrant 1 and 2 at all times. There are days when you need a brain break, or when doing a favor for a peer can ultimately lead to positive results, or when team building and socializing doesn’t help the work environment.

However, if you’re wondering how a CEO can increase productivity, the simple answer is prioritizing (especially if you’re overwhelmed by your current to-do list). We can’t do it all. If you want to know where your time goes, look at your task manager on your phone, or monitor the time you spend responding back and forth on email, social media, and on Slack. Something’s got to give on your schedule, so you can find more time to spend on the activities that bring your joy (in real life).

Assessing the Scope of Your Important Priorities

Prioritize your to do list based on magnitude and breadth
via Burst

Once you’ve focused on the priorities and tasks that fall into Quadrant 1 & 2, it’s time to decide on a plan of attack. This essentially means, prioritizing your priorities.

Review the list. To assess the scope, we need to add another characteristic: size. The size of the task has two main variables:

Breadth – How wide is the impact within the Company? Does this priority only affect one department (such as implementing a change in a procedure) or does the entire organization need to participate in this initiative (such as selecting and implementing an ERP system)?

Magnitude – How much is the resource commitment needed for the project? Can a couple of people manage it over a short period of time or does it need months of work by many people?

No matter the size of the priority, the plan of attack starts with:

    • – Clearly defining the problem that needs solving or the objective you are seeking. The problem may be anything from eliminating machine downtime to improving cash management, to higher people utilization. Be as specific as possible when you articulate and define the issue.
    • – Determining if you have the right team members, time, and capability to solve the defined issue, or if you will need to pull in outside resources.
    • – Assisting in breaking the analysis and solution into clearly defined steps. What are the milestones within the set timeline to get the project done or accomplish the objective?

Addressing Problems with a Team Approach

For priorities with a wide breadth and of significant magnitude, you will often need outside help. An objective source can help you to identify and vet possible solutions and then implement the selected approach. If you have a strong team and resources available (such as time and materials), you may be able to manage to address the issue internally.  Frequently, CEOs use outside consulting firms to aid in the identification and implementation of large, high priority projects, such as an ERP implementation. Calling in expert guidance will help you save, time, money, and the hassle of going the wrong direction. Remember, you don’t know what you don’t know; sometimes it’s wise to rely on a party with experience.

The narrower breadth and smaller magnitude projects may cascade throughout the organization. It’s important that the team feels involved in the prioritization process. Everyone should keep in mind that their highest priority may not make it to the company’s highest priorities list. Still, allowing team members to identify and complete projects to address their own highest priorities engages the team and encourages broader contributions. Ultimately, this personal buy-in will increase productivity and engagement throughout the organization.

When I ran my company, I gave team members the authority to identify and solve issues that were important to them. For example, getting an outside vendor to write documentation to make tax reporting easier may not bubble up as a corporate priority. But having this documentation was important to the team member who would otherwise spend extra time generating the report. The amount of money requested to cover the documentation easily fit within the budget and was well worth the increase in both productivity and morale.

Properly prioritizing and delegating results in overall success from your team
via Burst

Properly prioritizing, setting clear objectives, and creating the plan for the projects assures positive outcomes from the solutions whether internal or external. Allowing team members to develop personal priorities along with participating in company solutions engages team members in improvements as well as keeps good ideas percolating to the top.

Remember, as CEO, the buck may stop with you, but it’s not your sole responsibility to increase the productivity of the entire company. By clearly defining priorities and creating a plan of attack with team buy-in, you will see positive engagement and support. Ultimately, you set the tone, but burning yourself out won’t make your company more successful in the long run.

Instead, rely on effective delegation and improved prioritization of your tasks. With strong time management, you’ll find time to run your business and still enjoy the journey.


Featured image and post images licensed for use via Burst.

Wondering how to position your company for business growth? Here’s what you need to know to set your company up for success.

One of the hardest jobs an entrepreneur faces is how to prepare your company for business growth.

Entrepreneurs typically start their business and grow it with a hands-on approach. While this approach works well in the start-up phase, it typically backfires as your company starts to grow. No matter why you want to grow your business, whether you’re handing over the business to the next generation or selling it in the future, building a strong culture, cultivating a disciplined strategic approach, and accruing a solid leadership team is critical to future business growth.

As the company owner, you typically start out handholding every new person who joins the team to ensure they understand what you expect and how to align with your vision for the business. As your business grows, that same level of handholding looks and feels more and more like micromanaging. Instead of motivating your team to get the job done, it discourages business growth and innovative thinking.

To move from entrepreneurial strategy to startup, you must have a solid business strategy that brings your whole team together
via Pxhere

To move from the entrepreneurial startup phase to positioning for business growth, the entrepreneur needs to step back from the day-to-day operations and focus their efforts on shoring up the inner workings of the business – which, of course, is easier said than done. As the CEO works on setting up the foundation and positioning for business growth, they must implement specific actions to assure the company can successfully run independently, without his or her involvement or “watchful eye.”

As Jim Collins, author of Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, suggests, the very first step is deciding the seats on the bus. Then the entrepreneur must find the right people to fill them. Typically, in the start-up phase of the business, and as it continues as an entrepreneurial company, any person on the bus will fit any seat as long as they can do at least a portion of the work for the pay available.

In the next phase of business growth, however, roles need to be tightened more specifically. To position for business growth, not only do you need to define the right seats or positions and the right people to fit them, but you also need to get the wrong people off the bus. This presents an extremely hard set of choices for most entrepreneurs. It’s these early phases of long-term decision making that CEOs often face the first stumbling blocks to business growth.

If you don’t think you can get past this critical step of tightening up the roles and positions in your entrepreneurial business, then it may be time to rethink your plans for business growth.

4 Areas of Infrastructure to Focus on for Business Growth

As stated in The E-Myth, and many other business management tomes since, it’s critical for the CEO to step back and work on the operations and inner workings of the business. Instead, founders often fall into the areas that are comfortable to them. They focus their efforts on their specific area of expertise and neglect the other facets of the business.

Now, of course, the worry is that the business may fail due to a bad product or lack of sales, so those are typically the areas where CEOs get sidelined. I also want to address the less obvious aspects of running a company that constrains business growth or worse, result in failure. The biggest area that is often overlooked is shoring up the infrastructure to position the company for business growth.

Even getting the right people in the right seats will not guarantee the future success of your business if there is no infrastructure to support the employees within their role.

Infrastructure consists of all the elements of the business that comprise the organization, separate from the individuals within the company. Your business’s infrastructure provides continuity in the company with little disruption as you focus on ensuring the right people are in the right seats. As roles change, strong infrastructure helps to keep the right people doing the right job with a good attitude.

Focus on the Company Culture

Company culture is a large part of business growth and success, so don't let establishing your company culture fall by the wayside
via Pxhere

The starting point of a company positioned for business growth is well-defined company culture. Company culture goes beyond the casual definition of your company’s personality. Well-defined culture means a company with a living and breathing, identifiable personality that defines the company’s values and interaction with its stakeholders. Culture is pervasive internally from the first instance of hiring to onboarding and within day-to-day operations.

Your company culture shouldn’t be an afterthought. It’s deliberate and aligned with the greater vision for the future of the business. Within the culture, behavior is well-defined and clear. Team members should have a means of reporting digressions. In the company I ran, we used the term “paperwork” to allow a non-threatening signal of crossing behavioral lines.

Disciplined Organization

Often, the business owner believes instilling discipline requires extra work and effort (especially when he or she is already stretched thin). In reality, discipline makes every process within the business easier. Instilling discipline in the organization should start from day one (but let’s be real – it doesn’t always happen that way).

Setting up a successfully disciplined organization requires:

  • A formal onboarding process that is aligned with and integrates into the culture, defines the role, expectations, and performance requirements.
  • – Each team member to have a well-defined role with clear responsibilities, a defined reporting structure, and performance metrics. Metrics should be set as the basis of the performance evaluation, not the person being evaluated or the evaluator. Evaluation should be simply, “this is the defined job and you did or didn’t do it.”
  • – Team members to take responsibility for their actions and be held accountable under clearly defined performance measures. Leadership must address nonperformance immediately.
  • – Clear communications exist for all personality styles. Often, tools such as DiSC, Myers-Briggs or others help as guidelines in designing good communications methods. If there is industry specific terminology (jargon), be sure new team members know what the shorthand means. For example, in my company, OSI meant On-site Inventory, not Open Systems Interconnection as it might be in another industry. If you’ve ever listened to someone from the military speak, you know what I mean.

An organization with lax discipline is more work to oversee than one that functions with discipline. Implementing discipline requires consistency and effort in the beginning, but once the discipline is established, most leaders wonder why they didn’t do it sooner.

If you don’t feel you have the energy, time, or will-power to do it, enlist the help of the righthand person you will be hiring as you establish a leadership structure. Even if you delegate the implementation of the disciplinary plan, you will need to follow through on commitments, too. Remember: your team does what you do, not what you say.

Establishing a Strong Leadership Structure

Establishing strong leadership will help with business growth and sets expectations and performance standards
via Pxhere

As I watch small businesses owners struggle with positioning their companies for growth, they put in more hours and more energy. Of course, they can’t do every task by themselves, but not for lack of trying. A huge step for the entrepreneur is creating a leadership structure and instilling the discipline plan to hold everyone accountable.

Strong leaders should set performance expectations with:

  • Defined performance metrics, which can be anything from a sales goal to timeliness of financial reporting
  • Defined team leadership goals ranging from number and timing of performance evaluations to goals for team member development
  • Clear budget and spending objectives that are business-driven
  • Defined reporting requirements for the areas of their responsibility such as collection standards, quality standards, through-put or down-time standards, staff utilization, etc.
  • Responsible delegation (not abdication) from the owner and to team members

Well-defined performance standards allow the leadership team to take responsibility for oversight of all day-to-day operations. As the CEO, you can focus in the areas of running the business that bring you the most satisfaction (and generate business growth) or you can confidently hand over the reins to the next generation when you’re ready.

Operational Efficiency & Effectiveness

Supporting business growth requires that the organization function without you. Creating the infrastructure for operational efficiency allows team members to focus on their jobs and servicing your customers – no matter which role they play (team leader, help desk or dispatch, CNC operator or the CEO). People underlay all the functions of the organization, so providing a workable framework that encourages their best performance supports growth and promotes organizational continuity.

Accomplishing a growth-ready infrastructure is no small task; some of the elements bear repeating, and you can start here:

  • Clearly define the role of each team member, making sure their authority is consistent with their responsibility.
  • Document all policies and procedures, allowing team members to function autonomously in their roles. Written policies define the scope of action/authority (an internal control) and procedures detail the “how” of doing the job.
  • Enter data in a manner that’s timely, accurate, and consistently as close to the point of origin as possible.
  • Ensure that effective delegation exists and is strong within the company.
  • Cross-train team members for all functions of the business. In my company, we used cross-training as a way to test the completeness and accuracy of the procedures, as well as to prepare for vacations or other team member absences.
  • Implement internal controls to mitigate the possibility of thievery and shrink. This means segregating duties, limiting physical access, defining levels of authority, reconciling with outside sources (banks, vendors, customers), requiring vacations and moving team members between jobs.

When issues arise, team members should be trained to seek root causes, thus accomplishing multiple objectives:

  1. Elimination of future issues – In my company, we experienced increased part failures which were causing a rise in maintenance costs. By identifying that our supplier had changed vendors for the part to protect their margins, we worked with them to eliminate the issue.
  2. Establish consequences at the cause – My department (in the olden days of financials issued on green bar and no real time journal posting) was responsible for getting financials to four division presidents. My team typically worked into the wee hours fixing mistakes created in the divisions. To resolve some of the time issues, we established a policy of fixing mistakes at the source. Within minutes of issuance of the new policy, all four presidents called me outraged. However, after explaining our change, they recognized that the responsibility fell at the division level. Errors were corrected at the division going forward, streamlining the process.
  3. Change behavior – seeking root causes isn’t a way to lay blame, but rather to treat team members as adults. If they don’t know they made the mistake, they can’t be expected to change behavior.
  4. Eliminate or plan around bottlenecks – Frequently in manufacturing, a specific machine will process at a slower rate than others or have a longer processing time. To compensate for the bottleneck, that machine may be run 24/7 vs. others that only run 2 shifts
  5. Use Exception reporting – Exception reporting will help identify anomalies in processing or deviations from performance expectations. These exception reports might even be considered the original AI as it defines a standard and creates a warning when the activity is outside the established boundaries. For example, if a machine is expected to run 20,000 units per hour +/- 10%, there is only a report after it goes outside the boundaries. Another form of exception reporting would be a red light showing when a machine is down.
  6. Implement means to report issues to leadership – There are means in place to identify and percolate issues (opportunities, issues, roadblocks, storms on the horizon) up to the chain of command to leadership.
  7. Processes exist to support and encourage change.

For the entrepreneur, these steps to positioning for business growth may seem like too much to swallow. Remember, as General Creighton Abrams stated, “You have to eat an elephant bite by bite.”

For me, as I watch businesses struggle, discipline (including getting rid of those who should not be on the bus in the future) is the place to start. Without discipline and holding people accountable, growth will elude you. As you implement these changes and tactics into your business, you’ll find more time to focus on the bigger picture and position your business for growth.


Featured image and post images licensed via Pxhere.

 

Wondering why idea generation is so hard? There are creative ideation techniques you can implement to help boost your brainstorming.

We’ve all hit a creative slump before. Whether you call it writers’ block, a brain freeze, or a roadblock, when it happens, you’re stuck fast.

But in the business world, idea generation is vital to continue growing and innovating within your company. Problem-solving is also the only way to cope when day-to-day challenges crop up. When you reach a stuck point it’s time to employ your most creative ideation techniques.

What is creative ideation in the first place? What is moodling? How will teamwork help you overcome your slump (and as CEO, what if you can’t rely on teamwork to solve the bigger problems)? And what are other creative ideation techniques to help you come up with fresh new ideas?

To answer these questions, we have to start by understanding creativity.

Why is Creativity Often So Hard?

Creativity is often hard, even when creative ideation techniques like group brainstorms are used
By Mathew Henry

If you’ve struggled to come up with new approaches to a business problem, chances are you’ve asked yourself the question more than once: why is it so hard to be creative?

The noted economist John Maynard Keynes stated, “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.” We often use creative ideation techniques to start the process of escaping from our old ideas because frankly, innovative thinking is hard.

In the 1920’s Jean Piaget, a well-known psychologist theorized on how we use schemas to sort and categorize our world, easing the burden of absorbing the stimuli around us. We quickly draw conclusions within our schema (in other words, how we see the world working).

Schemas help us in many ways. We can quickly walk into a situation and draw fast conclusions about the environment. Our brains tap into our prior experience to assess the situation and decode what’s going on, they lead us to recognize aspects of the scenario we’ve encountered before. They also cause us to overlook or ignore aspects that fall outside of our recognition.

Whether you call it a schema or your operating paradigm, it’s a viewpoint that comes at a cost. These fast conclusions and judgments are hard to change. They lead us to stereotypes. Because we rely on our viewpoints so readily, we often miss information and new opportunities as we fight to hold our world within a comfortable schema. Hence, this myopic view results in the difficulty we experience when it comes to generating innovative ideas. We can’t think outside the box if we’re only aware of what’s inside.

Can we adjust our schema? Of course, but it takes work and deliberate conscientious effort because our schemas are often very deeply ingrained in our thinking. Through learning, exploring, and seeking new experience, we will eventually adjust our schemas. This is often why collaborating and other creative ideation techniques are so valuable when we’re troubleshooting a problem. Working with others helps us broaden our viewpoint.

Team Participation for New Ideas

Encourage your team to engage in creative ideation techniques
By Mathew Henry

If you want to generate new ideas and spur creative thinking, involving multiple collaborators and team members is often a good approach. If your office culture fosters an atmosphere of sharing and working together, this may already be part of your process. If not, you may find you need to open the floor to new ideas.

The classic ideation process is usually approached as a group activity. Active participation is encouraged by operating under the rule of no criticism. Every idea is considered “good” until the evaluation or selection phase.

To shake people loose from their schema, the creative ideation techniques include engaging different senses such as:

  • – Verbal/auditory (brainstorming)
  • – Physical participation (role play, kinesthetics)
  • – Visual (storyboarding, mind mapping)
  • – Writing (brainwriting, free writing)
  • – …Or actively challenging the status quo with pure brain games.

These brain games challenge participants to think differently by making new associations, questioning assumptions, or using data points to generate a new perspective.

Group ideation techniques are effective in a wide range of organizations. Nearly any industry can implement creative ideation techniques to enhance problem-solving and encourage innovation. The group ideation techniques result in many benefits such as:

  • – Active and free-flowing stimulation and association.
  • – Encouraging individuals to build on the ideas of others.
  • – Camaraderie and team building.
  • – Participation of multiple disciplines to broaden perspectives.
  • – A high volume of generated ideas to draw from in the next phase.

Of course, like any business practice, there are drawbacks to group creative ideation techniques. It’s important to be aware of these challenges as a leader, and it’s particularly important to keep these pitfalls in mind as you form groups and plan your approach:

  • – Leaders and more extroverted participants directly or indirectly (and oftentimes unintentionally) influence the flow of ideas.
  • – Groupthink might happen despite or because of the group ideation technique.
  • – The strength of the facilitator might influence the process and the outcome.
  • – The stimuli in the technique does not suit all individuals. (For example, I find it hard to stimulate my ideas with a mind mapping technique.)

Consider offering the opportunity for team members to participate using a self-selected technique individually as well as in the group. In some situations, depending on group dynamics, this customized participation may bring additional ideas to light.

Although there are hundreds of variations of creative ideation techniques, I found “18 Killer Idea Generation Techniques” to be a helpful resource. The post features an overview and explanation of each of the creative ideation techniques.

Generating Creative Ideation at the CEO Level

Oftentimes, it isn’t wise for the CEO to participate in the group ideation, as his or her participation influences outcomes. Additionally, many of the problems you need to solve as the company leader don’t fit the “public” forum of ideation. Those problems are often more challenging to resolve and require time and dedication. As the head of the company, the question becomes when do you even have TIME to think about creative problem-solving?

As CEO, you’re not only in charge of the day-to-day operations of the business. You’re constantly working on the business, as well as in the business. You’re addressing any number of mandates that you, your stakeholders, and the business book of the month espouses. Often expounding on this, busyness is viewed as a badge of honor. Whether this drive is rooted in a Protestant work ethic or has sprouted more recently, we often compete on the state of busyness.

Busyness is rampant in leadership and I personally admit I operated in that mode during much of my career. I would jealously read an article by Richard Branson or see a picture of him enjoying sailing and think that’s NOT my life. I was always busy and didn’t have time to …. (you fill in the blank). It took me quite a while to internalize the concept that busy doesn’t necessarily mean productive or effective. In fact, this constant state of frenzy probably meant I had other failings in delegation, managing my time, and over-committing. Constant busyness limits our time for creative ideation techniques or innovative approaches to problem-solving.

It’s far more beneficial if we approach our business not with an action plan but with moodling. Now admittedly, when I first came across the term, I thought it was a misspelling of “noodling” — but both words capture “go to” methodologies for creative ideation and problem-solving at the executive level. Escaping your old ideas and generating new methodologies are easier if you apply both moodling AND noodling.

What is Moodling and How Does It Boost Creativity?

Moodling is a unique and effective ideation technique that works well in executive settings
By Sarah Pflug

The term moodling was coined in 1938 by author Brenda Ueland to encourage the use of idleness to spark creativity, particularly in writing, but we can apply it to business as well. In fact, moodling is an excellent creative ideation technique, particularly when employed at the executive level.

Moodling involves idly engaging in a pleasurable activity such as sitting on the porch or taking a hike and letting your mind wander. It is typically a solitary creative activity, so you’re unlikely to find a moodling group on MeetUp. Moodling requires you to put aside distractions, be in the moment, unfocused and open for daydreaming. Moodling has no mission or clear cut objective and may not produce any flashes of brilliance.

David Robinson in his article “The Art of Moodling” states, “Moodling (is) constructive idleness. This quiet looking and thinking opens the imagination; we encourage ideas to come to us by being available and receptive. What a wonderful realization! Not only is moodling enjoyable in itself, but it gives us a return in increased creativity—better ideas, whether we translate them into writing, … inventions, or business decisions.”

For some of us, the concept of moodling may prove more challenging and come less naturally. It may, in fact even take deliberate work for us to put down our phone, turn off the podcast, set aside the stack of reading and paperwork, and mute our inbox. Moodling is the counterfoil to the state of busyness many of us embrace so readily.

Sitting idly and allowing myself to daydream hasn’t been in my skillset since childhood… Ah, the memories of messing up my Grandpa’s hayfield, the smell of the hay and the warm sunshine… oh, where was I?

With meaning and value in idleness, maybe now I can stop being jealous of Richard Branson and start following his example as an excellent moodler.

What is Noodling and How Does it Differ from Moodling?

Noodling, on the other hand, is more in my think-style. Chances are, you’re familiar with the term or have heard someone say they’re “noodling something over.”

The term noodling is derived from the slang use of noodle to describe a head or brain. The creative ideation technique of noodling is slightly different from its counterpart, moodling. Noodling is a more active ideation and problem solving technique. It’s a more focused and deliberate approach.

Noodling may mean pondering your problem in an idle or speculative manner or examining the issue from a different perspective. In moodling, you let your mind wander aimlessly and you may or may not stumble on something amazing. In noodling, you loosely focus on a specific idea, concept, or conundrum. I often noodle by putting the problem into my subconscious letting it percolate under the surface, sleeping on it, or giving it a tickle over a couple of days until an answer presents itself.

As you noodle on a problem, keep in mind framing the problem is a significant part of solving it. For example, if you frame a sales growth problem as needing to add another product, you may miss an opportunity for a joint venture offering expansion in another market.

Other Creative Ideation Techniques for Executives

Creative ideation techniques are effective and efficient ways to generate creativity in the workplace
By Mathew Henry

If you have an issue you’re trying to resolve at the executive level, it may not be appropriate fodder for your team brainstorming session. This is often why the job of CEO or President is so isolating and challenging.

Look to your network for assistance when you need to think outside the box. After moodling or noodling on a problem, it’s time to bounce it off a colleague, advisor, or coach. There’s a tendency for CEOs to feel that since the “buck stops here,” you can’t ask for help or discuss challenges with others comfortably. But the insights and perspective from someone outside the situation can prove invaluable. Look for executive roundtables, entrepreneurial affinity groups, or business leadership networks where you tap into outside resources and creative feedback.

It may also be helpful to draw on your previous experience. Look at the way you’ve creatively approached problems in the past. Could any of the methodologies work on your current issue? The problem and solution may differ, but the best approach could be similar.

Ideation and problem solving simply means coming up with ideas and throwing them at the wall to see what sticks. Think of the wildest solution and as many different approaches as possible to start. Amass a collection of ideas and then, in the next phase of problem solving, you will narrow it down and decide what’s a plausible, practical, and even innovative answer to your issue.


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