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How to Start Setting Up a Project Plan

October 8, 2019 | Dear CFO | No Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ground Level: What IS a Project Plan?

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

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

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

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

The Rules of the Road for Setting Up a Project Plan

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

Here are the basic rules of successful project planning:

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

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

Plan with the Big Picture in Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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


Featured image and post images licensed for use via Pxhere.

Male and female coworkers discuss work over a laptop.

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


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

Build Your Effective Delegation Skills to Avoid Delegation Traps

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

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

The Most Common Delegation Traps: Communication Roadblocks

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

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

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

2. Only the dirty jobs get delegated.

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

3. Conflicting priorities.

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

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

4. Too little delegation.

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

5. Lack of consistent policies, procedures, and training

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

6. Forgetting you are accountable too.

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

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

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

 

Managing multiple teams in different locations? It’s not as difficult as you think. Thanks to these tools and tips, you’ll lead from anywhere!

Dear CFO,
Our small business is growing and we’ve expanded to a second location across the state. It’s my job to manage the accounting and operations teams in both offices. How would you recommend I lead multiple teams in different locations?
Dividing My Time in Dallas, TX

Managing across multiple offices is a challenge I’m very familiar with! Overseeing multiple teams in different offices feels like getting split in two. Managing people who you don’t see every day is tough. It becomes harder to establish credibility when you don’t work in the office regularly.

Not only is your authority on the line, but it’s also challenging to build rapport, as well as to hold people accountable. Building your effective delegation skills and creating clear, standard processes for each task will help. Clear instructions prevent miscommunication and ambiguity about expectations.

The key to leading multiple teams in different locations is to encourage cooperation and collaboration. Working together is easiest when you, as a leader:

  • Establish big-picture, common goals.
  • Develop ground rules for how everyone will work together.
  • Determine lines of authority.
  • Get buy-in from executives and subject matter experts.
  • Find ways to hold team members accountable for their actions and job responsibilities.

Leveraging Communication Tools and Technology

it’s easy to share information across multiple channels and multiple locations with project management tools
via Pxhere

So, how do you communicate clearly and lead effectively when half your team is across the state? Fortunately, technology offers us the answer. These days, it’s easy to share information across multiple channels and multiple locations.

Start with the right tools and tech. Tools to optimize your Microsoft experience include Exchange, OneNote, and Office 365. Also, there are many tools proven effective in managing specific objectives in single-office settings that provide even more value to multi-office teams. While you don’t need to employ every technology tool out there, explore your options to find the most effective solutions for your unique situation.

Communication Tools

Finding useful communication software will help your team connect. Depending on your needs, there are several communication tools out there you might find helpful.

  • GoToMeeting: Collaborative online meeting space.
  • Skype: Internet-based video and voice calls.
  • JoinMe: Screen-sharing, online meetings, and web conferencing.
  • Slack: Inter-office instant messaging and chat.

Project Management Tools

Project management tools are abundant out there. Some tools are industry-specific, which may be helpful for your office. Other tools are universal, connecting any office across multiple locations. These products function as a storage tool, a place to assign and track tasks, and a way to communicate project status. Compare the options to find the one that aligns with your company’s needs.

File Sharing and Storage Tools

Cloud-based storage options ensure essential documents and media are accessible by your entire team, whenever they’re needed. From photos to documents to videos, store files safely in the cloud and get them to your team in any location.

The best mix of tools for businesses with multiple teams in different locations include:

  1. Software that makes it easy to hold meetings regardless of location.
  2. Project management tools that give everyone the same access point for assignments and files.
  3. Online document management systems.

Some businesses also prefer to host their proprietary information on a “home” server, so all team members are accessing the same, up-to-date information. A server gives everyone access to ALL the information they might need. However, with the availability of cloud-based storage, you may find no need for a traditional server for your business.

But no matter what tools your team uses, it’s essential they understand the value of using them. You’ve got to address the adage, ‘What’s in it for me?’ The importance of buy-in can’t be understated.

Individually, each team member tends to focus only on what they do. After all, most employees want their job to be easier. Your role as a manager is to enable their success. Use tools that contribute to the achievement of your ultimate company objectives as well as your big-picture business goals. So, while each employee’s focus is on himself, it’s your job as a leader to pull all team members together.

Building and Growing a Great Team

to build a great team, have a mix of personalities and strengths within your team, spread evenly across your multiple locations
via Pxhere

It’s important to have a mix of personalities and strengths within your team, spread evenly across your multiple locations, whenever possible. Different people will bring diverse talents and insights to the table. Foster a company culture where everyone has a valued voice.

When working across multiple locations, every team member must feel they’re not just a cog in the wheel. In a small business, each person is important. You must help each person understand their role and how they contribute to and impact the company. Show them how they influence the outcomes of your big-picture company goals.

To avoid the ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality across multiple locations, “force” communication between the teams as much as possible. You should structure your day-to-day processes so your teams are working together and communicating to offer the best your company can provide to your customers. Your backup duties should cross geographies as well. For example, if your A/R person is in one location, put your backup/overflow/secondary A/R person in another area.

When you use the right tools and provide clear guidelines and processes, your team should have no problems working across multiple locations.

When Personalities Clash

While tools are available for almost anything you choose to do, PEOPLE are still PEOPLE, and everyone isn’t always going to communicate effectively or get along. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to deal with miscommunication and simple personality conflicts that tend to arise when a group of employees works closely together. While you can’t force everyone to get along, you can encourage in line with both team goals as well as objectives for the company as a whole.

Tools like DiSC, Now, Discover Your Strengths, and Strengths Profile ensure people fit into their roles. But it’s also best practice to discuss results as a group, so you better understand how to communicate with the different personalities within your company.

I can’t stress it enough: communication is the baseline for almost everything you do in an organization. You must help your team define the best way to communicate (both through those tools as well as well-established processes, regular meetings, and emails).

Address issues as soon as they arise to avoid creating more significant long-term problems. Provide constructive feedback rather than criticism, but above all, stay positive and straightforward.

Our natural tendencies are to spot elements of danger. This idea of diligence is reinforced in school, where we’re taught to notice problems and correct them. Often, people focus on the negative, and not the positive. This mentality doesn’t always benefit the team or the company—so, instead, pay attention to the effort put forth by your team and acknowledge victories, big and small. Giant accomplishments aren’t the only work worthy of praise; the day-to-day stuff matters too.

Lead by Example

your team members look to management for cues about how to communicate, especially when geographically distant from one another
via Pxhere

No matter which office your team members work out of, they’ll look to management for cues about how to communicate, especially when geographically distant from one another. When you want others to use your style, you must show them by doing. Nudge your email-loving team to utilize face-to-face communication tools like Skype more often, by being the first one to make calls using this tool.

Be present as much as possible in each office your team spans. If you’re overseeing teams at two locations, your presence will significantly impact the teams’ abilities to work together. Even if it doesn’t seem obvious to you, building a rapport and connection between the two offices will keep everyone on the same page. Be a consistent factor for your teams.

Avoid having a “favorite” location, so all team members feel they’re on equal footing with you. Staying objective is especially challenging if you’re leading a new team at a new location. If possible, schedule extra time at the new site, so you engage with the new team members. We all tend to favor our home team but divide your time fairly, in a way that suits the workload.

As a leader of multiple teams in different locations, you must stay on top of what’s happening with each team member and facilitate better communication across the board. Prepare to jump in and troubleshoot, especially during the initial setup and transition. Once both locations are up and thriving, you’ll be surprised at how modern technology enables teamwork from almost anywhere.

Best of luck to you as you manage this transition to leading multiple teams in different locations. With careful planning, the endeavor will be a success.


Featured image and post images licensed for use via Pxhere.

Dear CFO,
Our department is hiring. I’ve been asked to write an ad and assist HR as they narrow down the resumes. How do I write an ad that will get noticed? Attracting the best job candidates and finding the right fit for the role is critical to our small team. Help me write an employee ad that sells!
Hiring in Harrisburg, PA

So, your company is in a position to hire? That’s terrific! Business growth is all about getting the right people in the right seats on the bus. You’ll want to attract team players who fit with your company culture, bring fresh ideas, and help shoulder the work.

Easier said than done, right? Strategic hiring begins by attracting the best job candidates, and attracting the best candidates starts with a great ad.

Odds are you know how to sell your company to a prospective client pretty darn well. When it comes to attracting the best job candidates, you may not use the same words or even the same tone. However, you still want to achieve the same objective: You want to sell the prospect on the idea of your company before they experience the product or service for themselves.

How to Sell Your Company to Potential New Hires

When a team member leaves or employment is terminated, the owner (or manager) has a choice. Should the newly open position be replaced, or do you need to redefine the role? If your company is starting to grow, you may also be in the position to hire, as is your case.

When you’re ready to hire, you’ll want to know where to source high-quality candidates to build your pool of potential employees.

Before you find your dream candidate, you need to know how to seek them out. Step number one is to write an employee advertisement that sells the candidate on your company before they ever step foot in your office.

How do you expect to sell your company and the job opening to your prospective employee? From my extensive hiring experience, the old fashioned process of “post the job description along with the minimum qualifications and hope for the best” doesn’t draw the best and brightest. So, how DO you go about attracting the best job candidates?

In the book You’re Not The Person I Hired!, the three hiring-expert authors suggest a creative plan:

  • Envision the ad as a sales tool. How will you appeal to the candidate you seek?
  • Consider the job posting a marketing effort from your company to the potential candidate; with that in mind, direct the ad to your target audience.
  • Use words to entice and interest. (How about the personal ads in Jimmy Buffett’s If You Like Pina Coladas?) Get creative!

Comparing Employee Advertisements: Old vs. New

How do you go about hiring the best job candidates?
via Pxhere

When writing your employee ad, keep in mind that filling a technical position may look different than filling a sales position. Here are two example ads, before and after considering the opportunity to market both the company and the sales position.

What’s the difference between these two headings?

  • Account Executive
  • Are you looking for a rewarding sales position with a great company?

Which headline draws your attention? Which company sounds more exciting to work for?

Now check out the full ads…

Both of the descriptions below give a real sense of what the job entails, but which would entice you more? Which position would you rather explore?

Original Version:

The Account Executive reports to the Vice President and is primarily responsible for the maintenance and growth of existing business and the development of new business. The selected candidate has demonstrated the ability to effectively call on low- to high-level decision-makers, identify potential opportunities, and secure business in a timely fashion. Additionally, candidates will possess the following:

A sound understanding of features and benefits along with basic sales practices and procedures used to generate and secure new contract business.

Effective communication and interpersonal skills are essential for both personal and team success.

  • Must be a team-oriented person motivated by money and success.
  • Strong customer support skills.
  • Solid sales experience with a proven track record of success.
  • Strong business development and closing skills.

REVISED Version:

The right person for this Sales Opportunity will desire income growth and career advancement potential in a dynamic organization. The ideal candidate will want to capitalize on existing customers and business partner relationships and will readily achieve their personal and financial goals.

If you:

  • View yourself as a Sales Professional, and not just a ‘salesperson,’
  • Want unlimited earning potential,
  • Take ownership of customer satisfaction,
  • Know how to question the customer into “Yes, I’ll buy,”
  • Want to be part of a fun and flexible work environment, and
  • Can mine a significant existing book of business…

…Then YOU are the person we’re seeking! In this position, you will have direct access to the President and report to the Vice President of Sales and Distribution while managing a local territory. This opportunity is not about putting in the time; it’s about achieving goals.

You can see the difference between the two ads. One offers the details and one “sells” the idea of the position. Creating an interest in your business and position requires creativity. Not all roles are “sexy” or easy-to-sell on the surface.

Think of the differentiators that set your office apart, such as a team environment, flexible scheduling, or dedication to your customers. What’s your unique selling point and how will YOU attract the ideal job candidate?

Where to Find the Perfect Employee

The concept of a “perfect employee” is an oxymoron when you think about it. Why? Because we’re all human! Perfection is impossible. What your team needs is a new hire who’s a good fit for your unique situation; this requires a careful approach.

Let’s be honest. There are many ways to fill a position. You may have heard “hire slow, fire fast” or “hire for attitude, teach skills.”

When it comes to hiring a new employee, everyone seems to offer different advice. But it isn’t about waiting for perfection to stride through the door. It’s more about grabbing the attention of as many qualified candidates as possible (by writing an appealing ad) and then choosing wisely from a high-quality pool.

Now that you’ve written your ad, you may be wondering, “Where’s the pool?”

Post your dynamic, eye-catching ad in the spots most relevant to your industry. School and college job boards, as well as alumni networks, are fantastic for finding entry-level recruits. Higher-level searches may require the assistance of an executive search firm or recruitment agency.

Keep in mind, most employment agencies charge a significant fee for their services. That said, they offer valuable insight, vetting, and screening assistance as well as access to a vast network of potential recruits. This reach makes an agency a fitting choice for multiple hires or specialized industries.

Consider where you’ve hired employees before. Where did your top talent come from? Don’t underestimate your network, either. LinkedIn and other professional connections may put you in touch with excellent referrals.

Online job boards are also an option to consider. Post job ads on websites directed toward specific geographies, technical expertise, or niche groups. Most online job boards charge a fee, but it’s worth the investment to find the best job candidates.

Narrowing Down the Pool

To effectively narrow your high-quality candidate pool, start by reviewing each candidate’s resume
via Pxhere

You’ve written an ad that SELLS your company to prospective employees. You’ve identified superb candidates by networking and looking in the right places. Now you’re wondering, “what’s the best approach to narrowing down the worthy candidate pool?”

In my own experience (over 30 years in management in multiple industries), narrowing the field and finding the best possible candidate fit for an open position is a challenge. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Inevitably, some candidates look great on paper, but may completely blow their interviews. On the other hand, there are those whose resumes don’t look so hot, but they’ll really wow the interviewer in person. Occasionally you get a candidate with a good resume and an excellent interview performance, but when you hire them –  End of story! You’ll find yourself wondering what the heck you were thinking as you’re whipping up the termination paperwork.

What a waste of time and energy! I bet you’re wondering how you could avoid hiring mistakes.

I wish I could give you a magic hiring key, but on a serious note, there’s no foolproof method for finding the right person. HOWEVER, there are a few ways to lessen your chances of hiring the WRONG person and making a costly mistake.

The Key to Vetting a Resume

To effectively narrow your high-quality candidate pool, start by reviewing each candidate’s resume.

  • Does the resume make sense?
  • Do the timelines align?
  • Are there explanations for gaps in employment?
  • Does their experience match the requirements of the position?
  • Is the layout clean, and free of careless errors?
  • Are there easy-to-avoid grammatical mistakes?
  • Have you checked their social media profiles?

Most businesses—especially small businesses—look for people who figure problems out on their own, put two and two together, or stretch to complete the job. If a candidate doesn’t provide a top-notch resume, you may not want to talk to them. Take the hint: The type of person who hands in a shoddy resume is likely the type of person to hand in shoddy work. If a candidate can’t locate a sample resume online and ask a friend to proofread, how good of a job do you think they’ll do once hired?

Once you’ve narrowed the candidate pool down to 3 or 4 candidates, it’s time to start the interviewing process. You’ve carefully written the ad and taken the time to review the resumes. Rest assured you’ve carried out your due diligence to hire the best job candidates possible.

Best of luck as you prepare to on-board the new team member in your department!


Featured image and post image licensed for use via Pxhere.

Is your team falling apart due to conflict at work? Here are the most common workplace conflicts, resolutions, and ways to build your team

Dear CFO.
As the Head of Accounting, it’s my job to keep our team productive, focused, and on-task. Lately, there’s been a lot of conflict at work amongst our department. It seems like there are personality differences, petty arguments, and bad feelings everywhere. What would you recommend I do to smooth things over and build a stronger (more cohesive) team?
Conflict in Camden, NJ

Conflict at work wreaks havoc on moral! No one wants to be part of a team that’s falling apart. I sympathize with your problem—personality clashes and petty arguments are tough to resolve but addressing the conflict and building a stronger team will help.

As much as we’d all like to avoid conflict at work, conflicts are sure to arise between coworkers from time to time; it’s human nature. When conflict is ignored or poorly managed, resentment and mistrust build until productivity is compromised.

In any business with more than one employee, success depends on teamwork. As Vince Lombardi said, “The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.”

In business (and in football), a team is held together by great leadership. Resolving conflict—or better yet, avoiding it altogether—requires clear communication and a conflict management strategy to deal with situations as they arise.

“It’s All Your Fault!”

One of the most common conflicts at work stems from a lack of accountability (in other words, the blame game). Conflicts often spring up between departments or coworkers who depend on each other to complete tasks. Every link in the chain, from marketing, sales, service, and delivery, is critical to good customer relations. If one link fails, the entire process collapses.

Conflict at work between coworkers will only hinder communication and team strength
via Burst

Finger-pointing is common between coworkers and departments when a situation goes awry. After all, no one wants to shoulder the blame for a misstep, especially if they can pass the buck onto someone else. If you notice every problem is someone else’s fault, it’s a sign your business is desperately in need of conflict management.

To help your teamwork through the issue, start with the basics: identify the source of the problem. Where did the link break? How do you ensure the issue is resolved for the long term? Running a trouble-free business environment requires strategic thinking, trouble-shooting, and organization. Address problems at the source and lead the team to a permanent solution. The biggest mistake is one you don’t recognize as a learning and growing opportunity.

While a lack of accountability seems to lead to the most frustration, there are many other common conflicts at work as well:

  • Breached agreements and broken promises. Team members not completing work as promised (also related to accountability).
  • The wrong skillset. Because of a lack of cross-training or mistakes during onboarding, someone lacks the right skills. This results in other team members picking up the slack.
  • Lack of information or misunderstanding. While this is often a highly resolvable conflict at work, it’s a common issue. Tasks and deadlines should be clearly defined and reasonable. The process should be in place with the information necessary to complete tasks.
  • High-stakes competition. While a little friendly competition is healthy, cutthroat practices that pit departments or coworkers against each other are destructive.
  • Discrimination, bullying, or harassment. A corporate culture that doesn’t prevent and explicitly forbids illegal harassment is toxic to business.
  • Competition for resources. When departments are reduced to scrabbling over resources due to a strained budget and cash flow issues, conflict is inevitable.

Leadership Sets the Bar: Resolving Conflict at Work and Building Your Team

Team building and communication are the keys to nipping potential conflict in the bud and ensuring greater harmony down the road. It’s vital to promote an atmosphere and company culture where everyone has a voice. Encourage workers to come forward with concerns before they become problems. Different types of conflict may require different handling.

Individual Conflicts

There are times when conflict will arise because someone isn’t following a process. These conflicts are easy enough to head off, but if left unchecked, it can lead to the blame game, breached agreements, and broken promises.

Resolution of individual employee conflict may require individual action
via Burst

Resolution of individual missteps may require retraining, setting limits and deadlines, or making job expectations clear and straightforward. Start by meeting with the worker to discuss the process and why it is beneficial to the rest of the team. You may discover a reasonable explanation of why a person is not following the protocol; for example, they may not fully understand a new responsibility. In that case, additional training may turn the situation around.

Flexibility resolves most minor transgressions. Is an employee late to work due to family obligations? Could you resolve the situation with a more forgiving schedule, say a 15-minute leeway in the morning, shaved off a one-hour lunch? Small concessions increase employee satisfaction, reduce the level of stress in the office, and impact retention rates and productivity. Remember, everyone is human with lives outside of the 9-5.

Conflict Between Two People

It’s unfortunate but common—most conflict exists between two people. One person doesn’t get along with the other. Someone offended or hurt someone else. One team member feels put-upon, while the other has his or her head in the clouds.

Resolving a conflict between two people is a big job for team leaders. Skillful resolution requires negotiation skills and diplomacy. If it’s practical, bring the parties together to talk it out and find an answer. Clarify the facts of the situation and give each person time to talk without interruption. You may find the company policies and procedures offer a solution. You may also find company policies are lacking in this area and need an amendment. Remember, if it happens once, there’s a strong chance it will happen again.

Conflict arises when someone oversteps a peer’s boundaries. To resolve this kind of dispute, clarify what those boundaries are and give your team a verbal signal to let teammates know when they are crossing the line. Encourage everyone to take a moment and cool off before re-engaging. In my company, we had a code word that people could use when someone was getting close to boundaries. The word “paperwork” signaled that we didn’t want things to go any further as it would then require formal paperwork.

Some conflicts are rooted in personality differences. These are often the most challenging to resolve. Different people use varying styles of communication. They may clash with others, or they may prefer an independent work environment. Communication is truly the key to personality differences. While coworkers may never become best friends, they can learn to communicate with each other respectfully and effectively, no matter their style. We used DiSC to identify personality communication styles and keep top of mind awareness allowing the “S” to let the “D” know what communication works best for them.

In the workplace, as in the population, some people are unpleasant, unreasonable, demanding, or mentally unstable. If the situation is beyond your control because a person involved is beyond rational discussion or decision making, you may need to call in an HR consultant. Sometimes the only answer is to remove negative influences from the team before they drag the whole team down.

Conflict Between Departments

Occasionally, “team spirit” ends up segmenting the office into different parties pitted against each other. This type of conflict is especially common in environments with high-stakes competitions or a lack of resources. Departments and teams become competitive and cutthroat.

The resolution to workplace conflict is encouraging collaboration between departments.
via Burst

Any time there’s a dip in sales, marketing loves to blame sales and sales loves to blame marketing; this is a universal truth in business. The resolution to this workplace conflict is encouraging collaboration between departments. Keeping departments separate and secretive—or worse, in direct competition—can cause a breakdown in productivity. Again, communication is critical.

The best advice for resolving conflict is to avoid it in the first place. Stable company protocols, clear expectations of performance, and open lines of communication will help you keep your workplace humming along in perfect harmony. Building your team up and encouraging them to work together as a cohesive unit keeps conflict down. Engaging team members from multiple departments in any significant company change brings a better understanding of both the “why” and the “how”.

Remember, it’s much easier to miscommunicate when you’re barely speaking. While it’s essential to give your team plenty of individual work time and think time, it’s also good to encourage team-building as well.

Understanding Your Role in Team Building

A strong team is the counterfoil to conflict. Productive team meetings, clear protocols, a strong company culture, and open communication are all critical to creating an organization that works together. It’s your role as a leader to foster this collaborative environment.

Management promotes team harmony in two ways:

  • Building trust among team members.
  • Holding each team member accountable for commitments.

Not only do these two elements prevent and address most areas of conflict, but they intertwine entirely. Without trust, it’s challenging to hold your team members accountable for their responsibilities, and if you don’t keep them accountable, they can’t build trust with you and their cohorts.

Trust is essential for a successful team. As management, your role revolves around fostering open dialogue about every topic (even the ugly issues and work conflicts). You also need to continually work to engage those subject matter experts on your team to proactively solve problems as they arise.

Trust comes when your team is confident that sharing concerns with you will result in action. It’s one thing to say you have an open-door policy, but as many jaded employees know, it doesn’t always mean you’re open to hearing criticism or are involved enough to change for the better. Trust also comes with more open communication among the team members. Everyone’s opinion should weigh equally, and their feelings taken into account. People feel valued when they feel heard. Keep in mind that you can’t please all the people all the time. Sometimes getting everyone on the same page is virtually impossible–don’t sweat it, if you have good relationships, the occasional “just do it” is acceptable.

As I said, accountability fosters trust and vice versa. Accountability means management:

  • Holds everyone to the same standard. Clearly defined expectations, deadlines, and processes set the stage for accountability.
  • Follows through on commitments. Team members depend on one another to perform as expected, thus feeding their success.

These areas are a struggle for many leaders, including myself. In the past, I’ve held on to underperforming team members in the hopes their performance would improve through my encouragement. While encouragement and offering second (and third) chances aren’t bad, I was inadvertently sending the rest of my team mixed signals. I was paying attention to the underperforming employee while neglecting everyone else.

Avoid conflict at work by keeping clear expectations and accountability between team members
via Burst

Too little accountability leads to unclear expectations, leading to a trickledown effect on team managers and others. Excellent performance isn’t rewarded, and problem areas aren’t addressed. Accountability means setting up measurable and clear expectations.

When one employee needs too much hand-holding, you’re only hurting the rest of your team. When everyone else is working hard without reward or acknowledgment (because you’re too focused on boosting up one underperforming employee), their spirits get down, and it damages your employees’ ability to work together.

The other component to team building (and counteracting conflict) is bringing everyone together often. Sometimes it takes getting out of the office to enhance your team’s trust and encourage teamwork. Consider scheduling a retreat—anything from a few hours to a full weekend—where individuals learn to work collectively to problem solve through targeted exercises.

In planning a retreat, consider what specific skills you would like your team to build. If problem-solving is weak, build in activities to strengthen skills for your organization. If communication is ineffective, focus on building it. Don’t consider yourself separate from the team on the retreat; it’s crucial your team members see you as a team player.

If a full department retreat isn’t in the cards, team socials, luncheons, or happy hours give everyone a chance to bond and connect. While it may seem counterintuitive to socialize when there’s work to be done, your team will be more dedicated when they get along. This means recognizing and respecting each other as individuals. A little “getting to know you” goes a long way.

Resolving conflict amongst your team is a big job, but if you open the lines of communication, set clear expectations, and engage in team building, you’ll be well on your way to a strong, collaborative department!


Featured image and post images licensed for use via Burst.

Dear CFO,
Our company’s owner just handed me a long list of quarterly priorities for the department that I lead.  I would like to implement some of my own priorities as well this quarter, to help our department run more efficiently. How can I motivate my team to get more done at work? I want to accomplish both sets of priorities, and still get the day-to-day work done. My fellow team members don’t have much extra time and our department doesn’t have room in the budget for outside help. How can I achieve more so we hit our targets?
Trying to Meet Objectives in Boston

As I read your question, my first thought is, “I’ve been there!”

Often it feels as though company priorities are set in a vacuum; totally ignoring the day-to-day reality of staffing and the allocation of other resources. In my experience, while it often feels that way at the department level, it’s not usually the case. My guess is that your company owner is prioritizing a dizzying array of objectives for both the long-term benefit of the company and to meet short-term constraints, such as cash flow.

Unfortunately, the onus is on the department heads to ensure their team stays productive. You may feel like you don’t have a clear path to get more done at work but are still facing constant pressure to make it happen. Team members need buy-in and engagement in the work they do, including company and department priorities (unless you run a department of cyborgs). This engagement is critical for fueling motivation.

While I agree in principle with the best practice that says every goal for every individual and department should align with the top goals of the company, the truth is, it’s not always realistic.

Individual team members will have day-to-day aggravations, roadblocks, or impediments that they feel need to be a quarterly priority as well. While the direct correlation with an individual’s goal and a company goal may not be evident, addressing these challenges (and helping your team address them) will be reflected in employee performance and retention. Therefore, I believe that employees can have priorities not directly tracked to the company goals that will still contribute to effectiveness, efficiency, and overall job satisfaction.

How to Accomplish Company Priorities

Fostering employee engagement is the number one way to improve team productivity and satisfaction
via Burst

The big (not-so) secret to getting more done at work is fostering employee engagement and buy-in. The question then becomes how do you get the buy-in from your team, so you can keep your boss happy and satisfied with your department?

First, to build employee buy-in, focus on the many ways the company priorities benefit your department. Underscore the importance and the impact of proposed priority projects on the individual members of the team, the department as a whole, and of course, the company.

It’s often hard for individuals in the company to see the bigger picture (and feel that it indeed justifies additional effort), so it is important you understand the benefit of each objective and can exuberantly support them. If there is not a direct benefit to workers, it’s important for team leaders and department heads to convey the overall importance to the company just as exuberantly. This doesn’t mean you should ignore your team’s objections or frustrations, but rather that you should prepare to address them directly.

Being prepared to speak to team members’ objections requires you to think and empathize with the individuals in your department. Like all of us, team members have a unique perspective, viewed from their own lens of experience. Therefore, it’s helpful to address the goals in terms of each perspective (and each concern). This means answering the big question WIIFM (“What’s in it for me?!”). Candid honesty is the best policy to address concerns. If there is truly no direct benefit to team members, say so, but within the context of “why” the priority exists.

Address direct impacts of the company priorities such as:

  • Changes in department workflow – for example, expense reports may now be verified in your department.
  • Changes in department staffing – for example, headcount getting cut due to the automation of a process.
  • Changes in department priorities – for example, new computer upgrades are getting fast-tracked.
  • Changes in individual roles and/or responsibilities – such as increased involvement in the expense reporting function requires training for additional processing.
  • Need for additional hours – for example, when training on a new system adds time to the workday, necessitating overtime.
  • Changes in scheduling – for example, a new system implementation requires weekend work from your team.

No matter the scenario, changes should be explained and concerns addressed clearly. Ambiguity is often demotivating. Team members can’t see the benefit or rationale for the actions of the “man behind the curtain.” This leads to distrust and frustration.

Instead, operating with transparency (even when it’s not the greatest news) will help your team get more done at work. They’ll feel engaged and appreciated. Even if a task is difficult or challenging, understanding the greater “why” helps justify the effort.

How to Accomplish Department & Team Priorities

Much the same as setting company priorities, department priorities should be set using specific criteria.

When it comes to setting department priorities, filtering ideas through what Stephen Covey referred to as the “Four Quadrants” will help. For those unfamiliar, each priority and idea can be filtered from the team based on their sense of urgency and importance.

The decision-making matrix that Stephen Covey espoused was also based on the Eisenhower Matrix

Quadrant 1: Urgent/Important

Quadrant 2: Important/Not Urgent

Quadrant 3: Not Important/Urgent

Quadrant 4: Not Important/Not Urgent.

Most priorities for the team to address should come from quadrants 1 and 2. Keep in mind, the sense of urgency and importance of the team members’ ideas may be different from your own, so it’s important to work together to set goals. Some goals may also differ from what the company would deem as quadrant 1 or 2 goals. Yet team members may need to accomplish some of their own objectives to even make it possible to achieve the company goals. (For example, accounts payable might have some ideas to quicken their process, enabling them to take on the new expense report processing without adding staff.)

In my experience, there are a few specific best practices that have helped me get more done at work, accomplishing priorities in both levels—company and team/department. The biggest is encouraging employees to take ownership of the various objectives and priorities. This means assigning a leader.

We all know if a task is everybody’s job, it quickly becomes nobody’s job. As the parable, “Who’s Job Is It Anyway” goes:

There are four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have.

Assigning ownership increases buy-in and engagement. From there, accomplishing the team priorities and company priorities entail:

    • Vetting the capabilities of each team member and aligning them to tasks. Ensure a clear project plan, milestones, and specific outcomes and align them to specific members of the team (the most closely aligned should ideally be the project lead/owner).
    • Allowing team members to suggest improvements and processes, even if they affect other roles. However, the team members work under the rule, “you can’t make your job easier if it makes my job harder.” When a conflict arises, the team should agree to change the process (ultimately making both jobs more efficient) or to agree upon the transfer and even disbursement of work, based on the overall benefit.
    • Fully cross-training team members to take on additional roles for an agreed-upon time, so a fellow team member can work on a priority. This not only keeps the cross-trained skills fresh but also encourages team building.
    • Providing team members with quiet time. Interruption after interruption punctuates the day-to-day work. Whether interruptions come in the form of outside phone calls, social media, Slack, or email, the costs of constant interruptions are high. Giving team members a ½-day of quiet, focused work time per week will greatly improve productivity. This allows your team to get work done, either in the performance of daily tasks to free up time for the quarterly objectives or establishing the quiet time to work on the quarterly priorities themselves.
    • Providing guidelines for following the process of priorities as well as the level of review and oversight team members should expect. Whether you are using EOS (Entrepreneur Operating System), SMART goals, or other management tools, make sure your team knows the expectations and the timeline for performing them. Transparency and clarity will motivate them along the way.
    • Keeping an Idea Register with SWAG (“Sophisticated Wild @SS Guesses,” for those of you who are not familiar with the term) estimates of time to complete each task. A Micro-project may be <10 hours and could easily fit into the schedule, whereas a macro project >250 hours generally requires coordinated efforts between departments, higher approval, and a full evaluation of cost/benefit, etc. The idea register keeps visibility on great ideas as they pop up and provides the ability to review the ideas as departmental and company objectives are set.

Since you mentioned the need to follow budget constraints, another option to justify the cost of outside help could come from a good cost/benefit analysis. I recently justified the benefit of a temp because the work she picked up would free my controller and that would take work off my plate (and I am an hourly CFO).

via Burst

It’s certainly possible to get more done at work and to motivate your team with strategic planning and by fostering engagement. Remember, cracking the whip and pushing your team to accomplish more and more, without transparency or buy-in, becomes demotivating. Get everyone on the same page.

Accomplishing company (and department) priorities requires inter-departmental cooperation, great leadership, appropriate delegation, and independence…along with good processes to manage the projects. If you have been providing good leadership to your department and you have an engaged team, I am sure that you can accomplish both the company goals as well as the departmental.


Featured image and post images licensed via Burst.

 

Dear CFO,
Our company president wants to grow our small business. We’re both cash-strapped and “people-strapped” at the moment. Can you recommend some small business growth strategies I can implement at the department level (the areas under my control)? I’m responsible for our business operations, including accounting, IT, and HR.
Struggling with Small Business Growth Strategies in Sacramento

The first comment I hear in the business world is always, “I wish I owned my own business.” To which I always say, “Be careful what you wish for!”

A close second statement is, “I want to grow my business.” To which I also say, “Be careful what you wish for!”

The truth is, most small businesses aren’t set up for growth. A lack of cash and a lack of the right people are often roadblocks, but of course, decisions about growth are rarely left to the department heads. Yet, much of the heavy lifting of growth positioning does fall to you, which sounds very much like the situation you find yourself in now.

The good news is, there are many actions you can take to help prepare your company for future growth. Here’s how to implement small business growth strategies at the department level.

Address the Low-Hanging Fruit (Cashflow Problems) First

As you help position the company for growth, the first area of focus is addressing the cashflow problem. If the need for cash flow is truly dire, as Hippocrates would say, “desperate times call for desperate measures.” There are many ways to address a cash flow issue (see my blog on handling a cashflow crisis for more details).

However, your “cash-strapped” issue is a typical problem. As the head of the accounting department, you’ve probably already taken the following actions. It never hurts to revisit best practices, though, to ensure your department is staying on top of your cash flow.

Best Practices for Addressing Business Cashflow Issues

  1. Don’t give customers a reason to avoid payments. Are all the invoices correct when mailed and emailed out to clients? Are the statements going to the proper addressee? Are the facts and details of the invoice clear and correct?
  2. Follow up in a timely fashion. Do you pursue past due balances immediately? Do you increase contact and collection efforts as the balances age?
  3. Communicate with your vendors regularly. Are there alternate terms for methods of payment, you could work out?
  4. Continue to pay your payroll tax liabilities. It may be tempting to borrow against payroll taxes, but don’t do it. Not only are the fines onerous but there is real liability associated with skipping out on this fiduciary responsibility.
  5. Renegotiate payment terms, if needed. Consider your defined payment terms for customers and vendors. Can you request deposits from customers? Could you extend payment terms with vendors?

Cash flow issues are certainly a concern, but there are steps your department can take to address them and better position the business for growth.

Shore Up Financial Operations to Combat Cashflow Issues in the Future

Addressing financial issues will help avoid more major issues in the future as your business grows.
via Burst

Making the financial operations area as strong as possible is a critical step in small business growth. To shore up your financial operations, begin by creating timely, accurate, and meaningful metrics and financial statements. Remember, these financial areas are critical to support leadership decision-making.

Financial Operation Areas to Address:

Develop meaningful metrics.
As the head of a department (or several departments), you play a vital role in assisting leadership with defining metrics and setting parameters. The way you define metrics will vary by the type of business and the departments within the business.

For example, sales team metrics (company history shows one sale per 100 calls) might be set at 100 calls/day. A service business or support center might measure chargeable time against a standard, while a call center may measure against dollars collected. Metrics might be issued daily, weekly, monthly, or in the case of fast-food sales, by breakfast/lunch/dinner in virtually real time.

As you set metrics, evaluate the accuracy and sophistication of existing information, along with the ability to affect the outcome, against the time needed to do the reporting. Remember that “reporting just to report” is meaningless.

Establish a closing schedule to generate a rhythm of reporting in the business.
For example, the sales team should know they need expenses in by the 5th workday, inventory needs to be entered by day 3, etc. Leadership knows they will have their information by the 7th workday. These clear-cut reporting parameters keep everyone on track.

Clean up your chart of accounts.
Examine the state of your chart of accounts and follow best practices. Meaningful decisions are fed by meaningful statements that come from a meaningful chart of accounts.

Minimize time spent on finding and fixing errors.
While this seems like a no-brainer, chasing changes to previously issued numbers or an update to the wrong file waste valuable time. Mitigate these possibilities by:

    • Limiting access to only those who need to work in the systems.
    • Proper training for those who access systems.
    • Turning on audit trails so discrepancies can be traced to the root cause and prevented in the future.

Assist in analysis.
Prepare comparative financial statements, noting any unexpected or significant variances. Report on changes in product line profitability, margins or other items of importance. Evaluate significant drivers and note any impact on the financials, including the following: differences in workdays in the month, rework changes, collection issues, changes in overtime hours, machine down time, etc.

Use a real and robust accounting system.
Touting a reputation of being “user-friendly” isn’t a criterion for an accounting system. Make sure there are adequate controls and that the system has a balance sheet so you can calculate the cash flow.

Small Business Growth Strategies with Staffing Shortages

A small team shouldn't inhibit business growth, so adjust your small business strategies to fit your team
via Burst

Now, when it comes to being “people-strapped,” you may be facing a different dilemma. First of all, does “people-strapped” mean a shortage of staff (because cash is too short to hire) or do you mean you’re staffed with the wrong people?

If you’re staffed with the wrong people, let me give you some hard-earned advice: trade up immediately!

Trying to fix a broken situation or spending time encouraging people to meet their job obligations isn’t a luxury of the small business. This is especially true if the biggest block to implementing small business growth strategies is that your company is short on both cash and people.

Obviously, there are HR considerations and rules to abide by, as you shore up your staff and assemble the best team possible (with attention to your cash constraints). But I encourage you to create a strategy to optimize voluntary and involuntary turnover (hiring and yes, firing) to strengthen the team. Ultimately, the right people will only help with the growth of the business.

Some Ideas to Build the Right Team for Growth:

    • Offer creative compensation for disciplined team players. Work to create an atmosphere and compensation structure to meet their needs. Remember that broadly defined, “compensation” includes work hours, place of work, amount of travel, vacation and other needs as defined by the team member. This isn’t to say you promote a “do what you want” policy, but that you design the best situation to retain or attract good employees, given your cash constraints.
    • Consider temp-to-hire positions. While these can be more expensive in the short-run it allows you to assess how employees will perform long-term. Consider it “a try it before you buy it” strategy that may save your company the 30%+ of salary (per US DOL) that a bad hire costs a company. Not to mention that this saves you on the hidden costs of bad morale, negative productivity impact, administration and time required for the new candidate search.
      • Follow the rule: hire slow and fire fast. Set clear expectations for employees with strong policies, procedures, and guidelines during the onboarding process. Don’t hesitate to fire employees who don’t perform up to par. This also sends a message to others about expectations as you build up the team.

A good team will give you more for every dollar spent. They will contribute to the morale of the company and display a vested interest in the future of the business. A great team contributes to great company culture and plays an integral role in the company’s success. Don’t shortchange the business with the wrong staff, especially if you’re a small business, where everyone needs to pull their weight.

Address Operating Inefficiencies

Assist in leadership by making sure all operational processes are addressed and understood by your team
via Burst

Once you’ve addressed your issues with cash flow and your staffing deficiencies, you can help position your small business for growth by finding other areas of operating inefficiencies to address. Leadership should be focusing on operations to prepare the company for the next phase. This includes building a growth-ready infrastructure.

At the department level, you can assist leadership by ensuring the following operating areas are addressed:

    • The roles of each team member are clearly defined, responsibilities and expectations are outlined. Does everyone on your team understand the scope of their job description?
    • Policies and procedures are well-documented. Does your team have a written procedure for each activity? Are the procedures clear and easy to follow?
    • Avoid double-handling data. Data should be entered in a timely, accurate, and consistent manner, with as little “pass around” as possible.
    • Cross-train every member of your team. Cross-training is a great way to test your procedures and discover gaps in job outlines.
    • Evenly distribute tasks. Are jobs delegated? Do one or two members of your team end up doing the bulk of the labor? Ensure leadership at all levels are effectively delegating tasks.
    • Review your internal controls. Do you have steps in place to “keep” your team honest? This includes limiting access, reconciling with independent and outside sources, and cross-training.
    • Train team members to address issues when they arise. This includes:
      • Implementing stopgap measures to eliminate future issues.
      • Fixing mistakes at the source.
      • Learning from missteps and changing behavior.
      • Planning around bottlenecks.
      • Running exception reporting.
      • Communicating with leadership (and having access to leadership).
      • Adjusting future processes to accommodate changes.

Working on growth strategies for your small business means doing your due diligence to ensure your operations are running smoothly. Addressing your cash flow issues as well as your staff-shortages will help you eliminate many of the roadblocks, but it’s an important time to examine the overall health of your business and best practices you have in place.

Depending on your relationship with leadership, you should be able to candidly share your concerns as you implement these steps to help your business grow. As part of the company, you have a vested interest in its success. Any observations will only serve to better position the business for a bright future.


Featured image and post images licensed via Burst.

Implementing More Employee Think Time

May 14, 2019 | Dear CFO | No Comments

Wondering if employee think time is valuable? You bet! If you want to keep employees creative and sharp, here’s why you should budget in some time to ponder.

Dear CFO,
Our company is constantly trying to encourage employees to think creatively so we can stay ahead of the competition.  A recent discussion with my boss led to a conversation about employee contribution, specifically on how to stimulate new ideas and innovative thinking from our team. The problem is, everyone is busy keeping up with his or her job. What are some ways as a Project Manager, I can foster ideas and add employee think time to the schedule (without falling behind)?
Keeping Busy with No Time to Think, Omaha

Scheduling employee think time can be challenging when business is busy, but it's a beneficial practice
via Burst

The logistics of fitting in employee think time can be very challenging, especially in an environment where the demands are high. But giving employees time to mull over problems and come up with innovative solutions means taking the pressure off. Chris Winfield at Inc. writes that companies like 3M are seeing the importance of building in employee think time to the schedule. Downtime and brain breaks are important—the challenge comes when we’re trying to get upper management on board with the idea of employee think time, especially in a world that’s all about productivity.

I personally experienced similar situations, both where I was in charge, but I was too busy to figure out a better way to add employee think time into the day (even though I knew a solution must exist). Or, I knew the way to make our schedules better for problems solving time, but no one above me would listen. I hope you are not in either of those situations. Buy-in from upper management is critical to making employee think time part of the routine.

When Management Gets in the Way

Whether you’re the top brass or you’re stuck somewhere in the middle of the chain of command, it’s important to the health of the business that everyone buys in and supports the idea of employee think time or creative time.

Many of us think creative time is just for creative offices, but all types of industries can benefit from additional employee think time (as well as think time for management). How many people come up with their best ideas in the shower? Why? Because when we’re able to finally relax and step away from a problem we can often gain perspective and insight.

Yet, oftentimes, with deadlines and quotas, we forget that people don’t usually do their best work under pressure. Over the course of my career, I observed this phenomenon time and time again:

  • – Management that isn’t willing to wait even a day or two while you derive a more efficient way to do the reporting they require, or superiors who refuse to give you extra time to streamline your job or address an issue you notice amiss outside your department.
  • – Management that only listens to outside consultants. While I believe consultants can add needed perspective, the roots of many of their suggestions arise from employee discussions, and even discontent voiced to management in the past. This misstep makes employees feel undervalued and ignored at best, and in the worst scenarios, like their jobs are at risk.
  • – Management that expects clean up to happen at the end of the line rather than examining, addressing, and fixing the root cause of the problem. This scenario creates additional work and consumes time that could be used as employee think time to resolve the larger issue.
  • – Individuals who are afraid to speak up and offer suggestions to upper management, because the boss already knows the “best way” and refuses to listen (and in some cases, even punishes them for their perceived criticism).
  • – Especially outside of the tech and creative industries, management that often views employee think time as idleness and thus discourages it.
  • – Incremental improvements that go unnoticed and get lost in the shuffle. Management that has a predisposition to the BIG idea and loses peripheral insight into other problems.

Let’s assume (and hope) you don’t work in an organization where management stifles ideas by the very way they manage. That addresses the first couple of bullet points on the above list. Quality organizations recognize that new ideas, streamlining, and process improvement have to be built into a healthy office culture.

Think your company is falling into any of these traps? The truth is, new ideas often come from a new perspective on an old problem. Employee think time requires both engagement and energy, so individual performance should be taken into account. Some employees are simply better suited and more comfortable with open creative time, whereas others prefer guidance and structure. Using ideation can be a great way to generate new, innovative ideas and is a good way to begin employee think time, especially if it’s new to your office.

According to Mark Twain, “There is no such thing as a new idea. …  We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

While I’m not sure how Mr. Twain would react to the technological changes of the last century, there is a strong element of truth to the concept of taking old ideas and making new combinations. The question to be addressed is what does the process for making new idea combinations look like?

Leading Employee Think Time By Example

Employee think time and generating new ideas calls for participation from the whole team
via Burst

Generating new ideas requires employee think time for your entire office, not just your creative staff or marketing team. Great ideas can come from anyone. As a leader, encouraging and allowing employee think time is critical in this hyper-competitive world. In fact, the idea of employee think time should be promoted, with all industries following the lead of the tech and creative industries. Idea generation, innovation, and employee think time is productive and should be encouraged.

As a leader you should do the following to foster employee think time and creative approaches in your office:

  • – Lead by example. Make sure your team sees you allocating time to thinking on your own schedule. As a manager, I would take two Thursdays a month, go to a coffee shop from 7am to 9am and read on the industry, leadership, and other topics to stimulate my thinking. I know another senior exec. who gets to the office at 7am every day to start his day with think time, where he can ponder personnel, supply chain, and other issues of his industry.
  • – Allocate employee think time for your team and give them a place to do it. Offering a small conference room or an offsite option on a regular basis encourages your team to work on their role, not in it. It’s important to let them know, they shouldn’t limit their thinking to their role or department; remind them they bring a fresh perspective to other parts of the business too.
  • – Take into account the individuality of your team to optimize their engagement and energy around employee think time.
    • – Some workers may thrive in a group environment and others need quieter surroundings
    • – Some people are raring to go at 7am and others reach their creative peak at 10pm
    • – Some employees may relish the interaction of debate, with quick responses and heated discussion, while others are more deliberate and contemplative in their responses
    • – Allocate specific time to work on problem-solving, either group or private, on a regular basis. Some organizations require daily check-ins, while it’s more common to see weekly or monthly allocations in most business settings
    • – Keep in mind, unproductive meetings or lack of direction will add to the workload instead of solving problems and your team will quickly lose interest.
    • – Be sure to recognize innovative ideas, accomplishments, and progress whether in private or public
  • – Train team members in a number of ideation techniques to help get the ideas started and encourage their implementation of the idea-generating techniques. As leadership, you don’t need to be involved in every brainstorming session. Instead, have a process for documenting the problem they are solving, the ideas generated, the selection and review process, and any documentation needed to acquire the approvals needed to proceed.

Actively seeking new perspectives might mean adding someone from outside the department or company to your problem solving. Alternatively, moodling or noodling on an issue passively creates new perspectives

Implementing New Ideas from Employee Think Time

So, now you made time to come up with all these great ideas, the question becomes, how do you get from idea to implementation?

First of all, don’t expect easy answers. Sometimes the implementation process requires extreme effort and contribution from the team that goes above and beyond the norm. In the case of something like a major system implementation, it may take time and assessment before it’s deemed feasible. For other small-scale innovative suggestions, you can work within the time constraints of your individual departments.

To implement new ideas generated during employee think time:

  • – Sneak in incremental Improvements. You may not be able to tackle the whole improvement right now, but you can make time to take the next small step toward the big improvement. At the department level, incremental gets the job done. As Shane Fielder says, “incremental improvement done imperfectly, over time, produces monumental results”.
  • – Take advantage of downtime. Most departments have an ebb and flow to the workload. For example, accounting is really busy right after month end, but often has a bit of a lull in mid-month. Take advantage of the slower schedule by using that time for implementation of the new ideas.
  • – Break BIG ideas into incremental improvements. Rather than trying to tackle everything at once, split up the process into manageable tasks. Big ideas move your company in a new direction. It’s important that there’s a focus around innovative, big ideas, and the strategies to implement them. But remember, most BIG ideas break down into a series of steps, and those incremental tasks are easier to sneak into the crevices of the day.
  • – Create the implementation timeframe thoughtfully and reward performance as you go along. Some projects require a short timeframe and condensed efforts (such as a system conversion) while as bigger projects, like improving the procedure documentation process, can happen over a longer timeframe. Both short and long-term projects require a level of recognition commensurate with the efforts involved.

While implementing employee think time will result in many benefits for your team, keep in mind that employee think time isn’t its own reward for most of your team. Even when offering employee think time becomes an embedded process in your office, it is still important to recognize the benefits of the ideas created.

Always remember to reward and celebrate think time achievements and innovative new ideas
Via Burst

Create processes to capture the great ideas that your team generates, as well as methods to measure improvements. Regularly scheduled weekly meetings that focus on progress against “Big Rocks,” (a Covey term used in the EOS system) or metrics specific to improvements (for example, reducing days sales outstanding from 45 to 30 days) will help keep your team on track.

Good luck as you implement more employee think time for your team. One of the most important pieces to remember is to always reward your team for performance. Celebrate the wins and help them to recognize the value of their great ideas!


Featured image and all post images licensed via Burst.

Wondering how to manage team vacation requests, when your staff wants time off? Here’s how to prioritize vacation and why you should promote paid vacation.

Dear CFO,
My company recently implemented a mandatory vacation policy because the CEO believes we will benefit personally from time off, and the company will benefit from a happier, healthier, and more creative workforce. I’m concerned about how to manage team vacation requests. As you know, the workload doesn’t change based on who is in the office. I’m not sure how to make time for my team to take these vacations when we’re already over-worked.
No Vacation in 5 Years, Chattanooga, TN

I can relate to your dilemma. Knowing how to manage team vacation requests is certainly a challenge for any team leader. The workload is constant no matter who is there to perform it.

With a mandatory vacation policy, most employees will (and should) opt to take their vacation. Our company policy was “use it or lose it,” and no one chooses to lose days. With two weeks of vacation, 11 holidays and two personal days, it meant that every employee was out of the office for about a month of each year.

There are two obvious potential answers to the question of how to manage team vacation requests: 1) Staff your team 10% higher to compensate for the “lost” time, or 2) Ask your team to work overtime to make up for the deficit.

While I said those were obvious solutions to the vacation request dilemma, they may not be the right solution. Let’s look at the problem from the perspective of the CEO and get creative, especially since those two costly solutions might not fly anyway.

Why Vacation is Critical for Your Team

Most of your team members are knowledge workers, especially when it comes to their specific role. Optimizing results means relying on the wisdom, experience, and unique perspectives they bring to their job. In addition, chances are high that most of your incoming team is of the Millennial generation. These 20-30-somethings are focused on accomplishment (not time at the office) and using technology to connect and contribute.

In his book The Organized Mind, Daniel J. Levitin discusses the addiction and effects of technology and the fact that the brain uses a disproportionate 20% share of the body’s energy. These two factors support the need for vacations to allow workers to unplug, refuel, and replenish the motivation and creativity needed to perform as knowledge workers.

As a leader, you set the example for your team. If you don’t take your vacation days, or if you’re only taking “working vacations” (i.e. constantly checking your email and calling in), your team knows you don’t value vacation. There is no “do as I say, not as I do” when you are in a leadership role. Additionally, the benefits of vacation extend to managers, CEOs, and team leaders as well as their staff.

Shawn Achor, the author of The Happiness Advantage, found that employees who take time off perform better. Research supports that “when the brain can think positively, productivity improves 31%…and creativity and revenues can triple.”  As a corollary, employee retention increases. Not only are your people happier, healthier, and more productive, but their attitude will influence others on the team.

Addressing the Fears of Encouraging Vacation

 

Work overload often makes employees hesitant to take vacation time
image via Pixabay

With all these benefits, it seems logical that employers would jump at the chance to promote vacation, but of course, the show (or in this case work) must go on. It’s easy to see the benefits of team vacations on paper. It’s quite another to manage team vacation requests that leave you shorthanded.

The US Travel Association offers some statistics that show just how common the fear is for employees when they fill out their PTO request:

  • 40% of employees are afraid of the mountain of work that they will have upon return.
  • 35% say they are the only ones who can do their jobs.
  • 25% are even afraid of losing their jobs (although the current tight labor situation may impact this stat slightly).

While you may be one of the 28% of leaders who “cringe” at approving time off or the 32% who believe other employees have extra burdens when team members take time off, the fact of the matter is a vacation is still important for morale. If you’re seeking optimal performance from your team members, you need to approve at least some of those requests.

In fact, it could be a fear of judgment or repercussions that is preventing your team from putting in their requests. Yet, if you want to encourage productivity and a positive work environment, vacation is necessary for everyone.

Cruise Planners CEO, Tanya Murphy says, “Before I owned my travel agency, I worked in corporate America. I observed that some of my colleagues wouldn’t take a vacation out of a sense that it would hurt their career ambitions. I took every vacation day I was allowed, and I was promoted several times in my 16-year career. If employees are delivering work while they’re there, then they shouldn’t worry they’ll be seen as a slacker. Take your vacation days!”

As CEO of a small company with a policy of 23 days off per year, I dealt directly with the dilemma of how to manage team vacation requests. The fears of untold piles of work, being the only person who knew the job, or worries about being replaced were very real. In a small company, there are several steps to take to relieve these fears and this is where strong systems and company culture come into play:

    • Every position should have a set of clearly outlined policies and procedures that assure consistent treatment of the company business. This would allow anyone to step in at a moment’s notice to perform the job
    • At least two people should be trained in each position. At my company, we used vacations as an opportunity for “refreshing” the skills of the backup person.
    • Process critical work while a team member is on vacation. For example, the backup person processes cash but filing can wait for the regular team member’s return.
    • Spread some tasks among other team members to alleviate the backlog. All team members recognize that the same consideration applied when they vacationed.
    • Consider hiring a temporary worker to fill the role if circumstances make the aforementioned steps too difficult. If this is a continuing issue, consider ways to streamline some processes.
    • Another option might be to allocate some of your budget to a vacation fund – that the employees may ONLY use for vacation.

How to Encourage and Manage Team Vacation Requests

Encourage your team to take vacation time and make it easy for them to plan around work
image via Pixabay

Vacation policies are usually quite clear on the “what” of the vacation, such as each employee earns one day of vacation a month for the first year, or each employee starts with two weeks of vacation. Often the policy defines the use by an anniversary, fiscal, or calendar year and other details like additional weeks at 5/10/15 years.

However, the application of the “how” of vacations may not be clearly stated in the policy. Many leaders manage team vacation requests by seniority or on a first come/first serve basis. This can be effective, but it may also lead to some tough choices.

To ensure continuity, often departments in an organization have specific times of the month or year where no vacations can be scheduled. For example, retail typically has a no vacation policy for Black Friday. Accounting departments may not allow vacation before the month is closed or at the time of inventory.

It’s important for morale that team members perceive the “how” of vacation use as fair. I found it best to be clear when you outline blackout vacation days. Lay out the schedule at the beginning of the year and allow first come/first serve requests. In my experience, we generally had a policy that two people couldn’t be out at the same time in our small organization. If there was a conflict between vacation requests, it could generally be resolved with a diplomatic conversation.

Alleviating the anxiety around employee vacations requires planning. Once the team member is assured the company has their back with cross-training, policies, and procedures, they should still prepare the team for their absence. Encouraging vacation planning best practices reinforces the message of leadership’s commitment to and the sanctity of vacation time.

Encourage your team to use these vacation planning guidelines:

    • If possible, plan the first day back as a half day to reboot mentally and physically.
    • Review the policies and procedures of the position to ensure that you’re up to date and perform a dry run with the back-up team member.
    • Make the boss or a delegated team member aware of open work and the status of all projects.
    • While no one can predict every concern that comes up, you should share any anticipated hiccups or challenges that might occur during your absence.
    • Clear up as many urgent tasks as possible. Often, the time leading up to a vacation can be very productive, so take advantage and leave the desk clear.
    • Set expectations for action in your emails and voicemail. I would recommend setting the away message to direct correspondence to your backup person. Keep the message brief with just a simple return date.
    • Follow-up with the boss, team members, clients and others at a one week and then three-day timeframe reminding them of the vacation. Offer management an opportunity to resolve any anticipated issues before departure.
    • Only let family or close friends know your whereabouts. There is no need to let the office know where you’re headed.
    • Truly unplug and avoid taking a phone (or at least answering it) on every expedition and excursion within your trip.

These practices encourage employees to really unplug and take a break from the busyness of their position. While it can be tough for some workers to leave the role, ensure them that the office will be just fine without them there for a few days. Focus on the importance of their refreshed return, where they’ll be able to offer a renewed perspective.

This also means, that as a manager, you need to adhere to your vacation policies. Use the opportunity to identify gaps in your cross training and delegation traps. Even when it would be easier to pick up the phone and call a team member on vacation, refrain. Troubleshoot the answer on your own and reinforce your company’s philosophy on vacation time.

Changing your mindset to one that understands and appreciates the benefits of vacation will help you think more creatively and support the full use of vacations for yourself and your team. By encouraging and learning how to effectively manage team vacation requests, you’ll promote a healthy, happy and productive work environment.

Vacations should be a regular (not a once every five years) occurrence. Best wishes that you also get to schedule some time away as you reinforce your company’s new vacation policy.


Featured image via Pixabay. All images licensed for use via Pixabay licensing.

How to Do a SWOT Analysis: Template & Tips

December 11, 2018 | Dear CFO | No Comments

Dear CFO,
My company is embarking on its first ever strategic analysis and planning session and I’ve been asked to help the team start with a “SWOT analysis.” I am not sure how to do a SWOT analysis or where to begin.
Needing a first step in Amarillo

A first-time strategic analysis and planning process can be intimidating. It’s hard to start with a blank sheet of paper to stimulate meaningful outcomes. But, as with many business planning processes, there are tricks of the trade to help you get off to a productive start. One of the best strategic analysis tools is a SWOT analysis.

As you probably know, SWOT stands for Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Learning how to do a SWOT analysis isn’t challenging, but this simple guide is a powerful tool for visioning and strategic planning. Engaging multi-functional teams in defining the various elements of a SWOT analysis eliminates the risk of getting too focused on the perspective of a single person (the boss). Enlisting the help of your full team provides a more well-rounded view including the issues faced in the day-to-day operations of the company.

How to Do a SWOT Analysis from Scratch

To get started with the SWOT analysis, there are several approaches. Often, a company will start by performing a SWOT analysis on a competitor as a frame of reference and to get thoughts flowing. It’s usually easier to identify the weaknesses and challenges of your competitors and often they will be congruent to your own company’s challenges.

SWOT analysis is a team effort - everyone should be involved to help target all aspects of the business
via Pxhere

Similarly, as you’re planning how to do a SWOT analysis, consider internal framing of your perspective for strengths and weaknesses and using an outside perspective when thinking of opportunities and threats. Remember that the SWOT analysis paints the picture of where you are today. Using the strategic analysis and plan, you will then decide how to better move toward your goals and company targets. Directly address opportunities and threats within the strategic plan as it is developed. Then plan for the future by strategically pursuing opportunities that fit your goals and troubleshoot relevant threats.

Your Company culture determines the best method to develop the SWOT, whether you use four quadrants on a whiteboard, mind mapping, specific software, or flip charts. The SWOT development method isn’t as important as the content that comes from the activity. However, I recommend no matter what method you take to develop your SWOT, you approach it as a group activity, as the outcome will be more complete and you’ll create a more accurate assessment. Document the SWOT analysis both for reference and for comparison as you move forward with strategic planning.

Using Questions to Develop Your SWOT Analysis

As you’re deciding how to do a SWOT analysis, it’s helpful to develop a set of questions to guide you through each quadrant. You’ll find a set of SWOT template questions below to help as you go through the SWOT analysis exercise.

Notice that in posing the questions, they are often the mirror image of another element of the SWOT analysis. So, don’t be too concerned if a question is in the “wrong” category for your company. A question of Opportunity can be evaluated in the context of a Strength or a Threat, and a Threat may expose a Weakness or convert to an Opportunity. Each quadrant is related and intertwined.

As you might guess, these SWOT template questions aren’t comprehensive. You may wish to amend them to align with issues unique to your own business. As you decide on which questions apply, think in terms of your products, employees, customers, competitors, economy, and more specific questions will come to mind.

SWOT Template: Strengths

The first step in your SWOT analysis is identifying the strengths
via Pxhere

Examine your company’s strengths, both internally and externally. Consider your company against your own benchmarks and the market competition.

    • Does your company’s value proposition compete favorably in the market?
    • What distinguishes your product from that of the competition?
    • Are your systems up-to-date with timely and accurate information for decision-making?
    • Are your distribution channels loyal and functioning well?
    • Does your product reflect an experience for Millennial buyers?
    • Do you have a clear pipeline of new products or services?
    • Are you the market leader in any emerging markets (ex. serving the cannabis market)?
    • Do you provide a highly specialized product?
    • Do you hold patents over other intellectual property?
    • Can you get the job done faster or cheaper than a competitor?
    • Is your customer experience better because frontline employees love their jobs?
    • Can your business grow with your existing infrastructure?
    • Are there high barriers to entry in your business?

 

SWOT Template: Weaknesses

Identifying weaknesses during a SWOT analysis helps you better prepare for improvement
via Pxhere

Don’t be myopic when analyzing weaknesses. Take a clear step back and examine your competitors’ strengths. Look at others within your industry to expose your own challenges.

    • Do you know why your company loses sales?
    • How strong is your brand within the market?
    • How are your lead times compared to the lead times of your competitors?
    • Are your employees provided market pay, benefits, and other perks they value?
    • What complaints do you hear from customers, distributors, or employees? Do you address the concerns and what are they telling you?
    • Do your products represent a substantial enough compensation for your distributors or are you too small a fish in too big a pond?
    • Do you have a high employee turnover?
    • Do you have adequate policies and procedures to assure tribal knowledge stays within the company?
    • Do you have a clear method for facilitating the training and evaluation of employees? Do you have adequate cross-training and bench strength?
    • Do you know your product development and life cycle, especially compared to your competitors?
    • Does your company culture support changes, if they are needed?

 

SWOT Template: Opportunities

As a team, identify the opportunities your business has to grow and improve during the SWOT analysis
via Pxhere

As with strengths and weaknesses, opportunities exposed are considered in the context of the strategic plan (long-term and short-term).

    • Are new markets opening up that your product can address (solar energy, hydroponics, virtual reality, etc.)?
    • Have you created technology that positions your product ahead of the competition?
    • Can you accelerate your development cycle?
    • Can you capitalize on alternate marketing channels (social media, strategic alliances etc.)?
    • Can you tweak your product to meet an alternate demographic need?
    • Have you scoured your intellectual property to find new applications?
    • Can you fill a hole in your product line, distribution channel or geographic reach with an acquisition?
    • How will your customer base change over the next 3 to 5 years? Taylor Swift changed to keep her customer base, will you adapt to the new to keep yours?

 

SWOT Template: Threats

During the SWOT analysis, threats are the last to be identified but they're some of the most important factors
via Pxhere

Don’t forget that unaddressed weaknesses can turn into threats. Think broadly – competitors, general economy, regulations, tariffs, global reach, and product evolution.

    • Is someone eating away at your market share?
    • Are you the high cost/high service producer in a market that is moving toward price competition?
    • Are substitute products entering the market (such as what was seen in the craft brewing industry)?
    • Are you limited to servicing a specific geography (such as in the case of a franchise)?
    • Do you lead or lag in a changing economy and how does that bode for you today?
    • Did you anticipate growth and spend yourself into financial difficulty?
    • Have you addressed eroding market share?
    • Is your industry changing (such as: production moving overseas, alternate products, consolidating for economies of scale, etc.)?
    • Have you evaluated your competition in all of your markets?
    • Are competitors capitalizing on new marketing and distribution channels?
    • Are there regulations or tariffs on the horizon that could negatively affect your business or that of your customer base?
    • Are you dependent on a customer or market facing disruption?
    • Are regulations increasing overhead and threatening profitability (community banks)?
    • Are competitors entering new geographies, consolidating vertical markets or making other changes?

For each section of your SWOT analysis, rank the top five Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats you’ve identified during your brainstorming session. The criteria for ranking should be the highest value at this point in time (rather than anticipated threats in the future, or past weaknesses now being addressed).

Once you’ve ranked each quadrant of your SWOT analysis, determine how to capitalize on Strengths and Opportunities. How will you move forward productively to make gains? Then address Weaknesses and Threats as you build the strategic plan. Go slow and deliberately address each item. There is no need aim for completion of every item in your plan this year. You may wish to view your plan as 1, 3 and 5-year benchmarks. In the end, the company proceeds with the elements of the SWOT analysis within the context of the vision, mission, and strategic plan.

The SWOT analysis is a great business exercise to highlight areas of importance and keep them on the radar for planning. It’s a simple tool, but one that will really paint the full picture for you and your company. Best of luck on your SWOT analysis! I’m sure it will give you a 360-degree view of where your business is headed.


Featured image via Pxhere. All images licensed for use via Pxhere licensing.