The Key to Effective Delegation: Clear Communication

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.

 

SMART Goal Setting Strategies to Hit Your Targets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Make a Wish, Set a Goal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get SMART with Your Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Target Your Targets

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

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

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

Setting Clear Annual Priorities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enlist Your Team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Featured image and post images licensed via Pxhere and Pixabay.

How to Position Your Company for Business Growth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Areas of Infrastructure to Focus on for Business Growth

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

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

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

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

Focus on the Company Culture

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

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

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

Disciplined Organization

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

Setting up a successfully disciplined organization requires:

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

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

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

Establishing a Strong Leadership Structure

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

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

Strong leaders should set performance expectations with:

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

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

Operational Efficiency & Effectiveness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Featured image and post images licensed via Pxhere.

 

Moodling and Other Creative Ideation Techniques

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

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

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

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

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

Why is Creativity Often So Hard?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Participation for New Ideas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Generating Creative Ideation at the CEO Level

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

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

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

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

What is Moodling and How Does It Boost Creativity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Noodling and How Does it Differ from Moodling?

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

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

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

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

Other Creative Ideation Techniques for Executives

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

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

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

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

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


Featured image and all post images licensed via Burst.

How to Manage Team Vacation Requests (and Why You Should Approve Them)

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.

Why is it So Tough for CEOs to Unplug from Work?

Wondering how to unplug from work? Entrepreneurs, business owners and CEOs often have the toughest time getting a break. What’s keeping you from unplugging?

As the CEO, your job is to lead with vision and build a business that is both scalable and sustainable. If you did your job well, you hired the right people, set the priorities, and gave your team the resources they need to manage the day-to-day operations.

So, why is it so tough to unplug from work? Why do you feel your business can’t survive without you while you take a vacation? Are you afraid to see what your team will do without you there to lead them? If that is the case, you have bigger problems than taking a vacation!

Why We Can’t Unplug from Work

Today’s office culture glorifies busyness. We venerate the person who epitomizes the 60-hour-a-week “Protestant work ethic.” Yet many of us spend countless dollars on the work smarter/not harder program of the month. Add to this the proven addictive nature of technology and it’s no wonder we can’t unplug from work. The truth is, many of us are burning ourselves out and it’s time to STOP!

In the movie Top Gun, Stinger tells Maverick, “your ego is writing checks that your body can’t cash.” Is this not a perfect quote for the CEO who can’t unplug from work and runs themselves into the ground? How often have you gone on vacation (finally) and just as you are starting to relax, you get sick?

Taking time to fully unplug from work and take a vacation makes for a happier and healthier team and CEO
image via Pixabay

Your body and mind NEED recovery time. In his book Mentally Tough, James Loehr speaks repeatedly of the need for recovery after the expenditure of energy (whether mental or physical). Using a checkbook analogy, he refers to the use of energy (writing the checks) and the need to replenish (making deposits) and just like your checkbook, if you don’t make the deposits, you will go bankrupt. Whether high performing athletes or entrepreneurs, the rest and recovery cycle is critical to performance.

I proved this concept to myself when I was in public accounting and working 60 to 90 hours a week during the busy season, bankrupting my reserves. Without fail, when tax season ended every May, I would be out of commission for over a week recovering. Let’s be clear, even if you have a passion for what you are doing – as I did – it’s still energy expenditure and still requires recovery. Make vacation part of that recovery time by turning off stress systems and allowing for recuperation and repair.

Our culture dismisses the importance of vacation as shown by these Nielson Consumer Research Statistics:

  • 52% of people didn’t take all their paid vacation in the last year, leaving an average of 7.2 days unused.
  • 23% of people didn’t take a vacation in the past 12 months.

And yet:

  • 74% believe vacation to be important to their life.
  • 78% who take a vacation (at least 1 per year) are happier and more satisfied.
  • 71% were more satisfied at work when they regularly took a vacation.
  • And 86% of those who took a vacation once a year had stronger family bonds.

The Benefits of Taking a Vacation from Work

While entrepreneurship is a 24/7 job, remember that even the President of the United States takes vacations. Research and anecdotal evidence show that we are at our best when we are well-rested.

When was the last time you had a great idea while in the midst of the busyness of your day? Isn’t an “a-ha moment” more likely to pop into your head when you relax during a nature hike or a warm shower? Vacations allow you to clear your head of the minutia and make room for more creative and strategic thinking. Unplugging from work also helps you rejuvenate and improves your effectiveness when you return to the office. In addition, by stepping away from the helm, you empower your team. The company will get stronger with different thinking, new ideas and an occasional change in decision making.

Take a vacation and trust that your team is smoothly running the show back at the office
image via Pixabay

There are many additional benefits in the workplace that embraces regular vacations, including:

  • A happier team – Vacations reduce tension and stress, promulgating a better mood and higher life satisfaction. The results include a calmer, more energized and happier team.
  • A healthier team – De-stressing gives our bodies time to recuperate. A vacation promotes rest and helps people feel healthier.
  • A more productive team – Research shows that vacations support lowered job stress burnout and absenteeism. Breaks promote the feeling that less effort is required to perform the job.

Keep in mind, the benefits only come when you truly unplug from work. The same payoffs don’t emerge from “working vacations.” In fact, work that masquerades as a vacation may even result in higher negativity and greater levels of disengagement at work.

How CEOs Can Plan for a Successful Vacation

As the saying goes, “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” While a vacation doesn’t necessarily mean an exotic locale, there’s a lot to be said for getting far enough away to avoid the internet (or keeping yourself engaged enough to ignore it).

A certain amount of planning goes into a restful vacation. The first step is deciding who you are as a vacationer and what type of vacation really recharges your batteries. Are you a tour Europe kind of person or a go fishing and enjoy the outdoors type?

Once you’ve settled on your preferred type, then get out the map and start to plan the ideal place to go. Since anticipation improves the benefits of vacation, make sure the time is on your calendar and is held sacrosanct.

Of course, the rest of the logistics of your trip are up to you. If you prefer, employ a vacation specialist like I do to make the experience truly stress-free. My idea of a vacation, when not enjoying the wilderness, is “tell me where and when to show up, give me an informed tour guide, and I will relax.” Or, if you so desire, take the vacation planning responsibility on yourself. The rule is whatever you do—make it as un-stressful as possible.

How to Prepare the Office for Your Absence

Meet with your team before your vacation to make sure everyone is on the same page
image via Pixabay

Of course, you’ll relax a little easier knowing that your team has the tools they need to carry on in your absence. Here are a few steps you can take to ensure your bases are covered before you hand over the office keys and head for the airport.

    • Give Yourself More Time: Start by extending the vacation on your calendar by at least one day at home and one day at work, if possible. Keep your vacation response turned on in your email. This will give you breathing room to unpack and manage your home duties before heading back to the office. The extra day at the office will give you a chance to reboot and shift into work mode before being inundated with what you missed. After a recent weeklong trip to Phoenix, I took a day to reset mentally for the cold weather and to get a handle on emails and other follow-ups from my time out of town.
    • Designate a Surrogate: Update whomever you choose as your surrogate with information on the status of projects and any questions or issues that you anticipate. Assign someone to review your mail and dispatch it to an appropriate team member. When you return, be sure to appreciate and not criticize the role they took or decisions they made while you were out.
    • Delegate: Delegation is the key to freeing up your time. Clear up and/or delegate as many urgent items off your to-do list as you can. Often, the time leading up to a vacation can be very productive. Get it done, hand it off, and leave your desk clear.
    • Leave Clear Instructions: Set expectations for action in your email away message and voicemail; a brief statement of limited access until your return date and who and how to contact if the issue is urgent will suffice. In today’s world, there is no need for anyone to know too many details. I would also suggest that the out of office email only directs to those in your contact list.
    • Give a Reminder: Follow-up with team members, clients, and others at one week and then three days prior to your absence to remind them you will be out of the office and unreachable. Offer an opportunity to resolve any urgent issues before your departure.
    • Don’t Make Yourself Available: If you can, only let family or close friends know your whereabouts. Avoid taking your phone (or at least answering it) on every expedition within your trip. Very few things are so urgent that they can’t be dealt with later. Remind yourself that you aren’t as indispensable as you think. Besides, most true emergencies can’t be handled from hundreds of miles away, anyway. Let go and trust your team.

“It’s important for those in leadership positions to model good vacation-taking behavior. If you never take one, or you’re always working when you do, your team will feel that’s what is expected of them too, regardless of what you say or your company policies. If your company talks the talk regarding vacation, leaders need to walk the walk,” says Tanya Murphy of Cruise Planners.

As a CEO, learning how to unplug from work will help you feel refreshed and recharged. Better yet, you’ll set the bar and lead with example. By modeling good vacation behavior, you’re showing your team that you’re sincere about the importance of vacations. Your team knows that you trust them enough to leave work in their hands. You can rest assured that your systems are working and you’ll return from your vacation a better leader who is well-rested, happy, and healthy.


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

 

Acquisition Integration Project Management & Planning

Recently, a Project Manager in St. Louis asked me about due diligence and acquisition integration. They were coming into the acquisition process with no previous experience. First, we addressed the due diligence process, but the other piece of the acquisition comes during the integration. Integration project management and planning is vital during this step.

Informing the Project Manager that the company is targeting an acquisition puts the manager in a positive place; this means there is time to prepare for the integration. Keep in mind, while targeting and completing the transaction aren’t the same, if the CEO is actively seeking acquisitions, it’s likely a transaction and integration will happen eventually. So once you get the heads up, you should start considering the integration plan.

Integration project planning has to cross multiple levels of the company to be successful
Image via Burst

Smooth integration requires much integration project planning and the implementation of the plan needs to cross organization lines. To ensure this happens, careful integration project management is required. Once acquired, the plan of the target needs to include input of members from each business by including them on the integration project management team as you refine the integration plan. If your CEO clearly defined the “why” and the “what” of the acquisition, your definition of the “how” will be much easier.

The performance of an acquired business often doesn’t meet the projected value, even in large companies with dedicated integration project management teams. For small companies, successful integration is in some ways easier, although still a huge amount of work. The lead integrators in a small company, usually the CEO and finance, are closely familiar with the business, culture, and employees, which isn’t necessarily the case in a larger organization. Integrating the new business is a more intimate affair in a smaller company and therefore, I believe, the likelihood of success can be greater.

Keep in mind that there are tangible and intangible drivers for implementing a successful integration management plan. Both are critical to success and often only the tangible is addressed in the acquisition integration management and strategic plan. The tangible factors are easier to identify, quantify, and develop tactics for integration. Recognizing the intangible factors is also important and the CEO sets the stage for the cultural integration beginning in the evaluation and negotiation process. Once the deal is done, in creating “day one”. It is likely that you will be responsible for the mechanics of making that happen.

Integration Project Management: Planning for Day One

For day one to go as smoothly as possible, it’s important that the integration project management team works together. If you’re overseeing the process you should be sure to do the following:

  • Coordinate with your CEO on the messaging of the day to make sure it is threaded throughout the areas of your responsibility.
  • Anticipate and coordinate the communications for customers, vendors, and other stakeholders. You may be responsible for drafting these as well, unless you are part of a larger organization.
  • Anticipate and coordinate the press release and social media platforms. An outside marketing & PR firm or internal staff may do the actual drafting and release. Be sure the social media team has announcement content with consistent messaging.
  • Prepare for the formal onboarding of new team members. Coordinate with all team members for appropriate introductions and conveying consistent messaging.

General Planning for a Smooth Integration

Initial planning for the tangible elements of acquisition involves thinking about all the elements of your business that are everyday occurrences. Much of the integration process is adjusting the mechanics of the combined entity. Again, clearly defining the “why” of the acquisition will help guide the integration project management team with the general planning for the impact on the acquiring company.

Creating an integration project plan from day 1 will ensure a much smoother transition
Image via Pxhere

It is important to remember that the acquisition is supposed to benefit the whole new company. Spend enough time with the acquisition to identify their best practices that you should adopt. Do NOT shoehorn the acquisition into your company’s mold. Both sides have strengths to bring to the table. The more you optimize the culture, learning curve, and operations, the more successful and smooth the acquisition process will be for all employees.

Your integration project management plan needs to start by asking questions on the changes in the business. Based on the answers, the team will then develop the steps to address each issue. Hopefully, the cost side of these questions was modeled in the forecasts you prepared for the negotiations.

Some areas to examine as part of your integration project management plan:

    • CashWill customers change their deposit habits, directing to your lockbox or location? How will you communicate any change and in what timeframe? Will deposit activity change substantially (large individual deposits periodically or a significant volume of small transactions)? What about credit cards and ACH draws from customers or by vendors? Will vendor payments change to your bank or not? What does your bank need to know about any of these changes? Does this offer an opportunity to restructure bank fees? Does your current bank have the capacity to handle the potential changes or do you need a new relationship?
      Develop a timeline, specific steps, and responsibilities to address the answers.
    • Accounts Receivable – Are the payment terms similar to the current terms? Do the customers pay in the same way (ACH, direct deposit, lockbox, credit card)? Are expected customer balances higher or lower than your current business? How do the expected balances support any line of credit requirements? (Keep in mind an acquisition often includes either new banking needs or renegotiation of current requirements.) What are the implications of changes in distribution channels (adding online, a distributor network, retail locations or other)?
      Develop a timeline, specific steps, and responsibilities to address the answers. Notify customers of any changes in invoicing and deposit procedures, addresses or other changes. Address the transition as part of any long-term contracts as negotiated.
    • Inventory Do you have a comprehensive inventory procedure to employ to assure complete and accurate inventory. Will SKUs increase because of the acquisition? Will there be a consolidation of physical space deciding where, when, and how? How will inventory changes influence related costs (rent, shipping, employees, etc.)?
      Develop a timeline, outline specific steps and allocate responsibilities to address the answers.
    • Accounts PayableCan you consolidate purchasing power? How and when will you consolidate? Do vendor balances and expected payments vary from your business (large periodic payments or small regular payments)? How does that affect cash flow and bank balances?
      Develop a timeline, outline specific steps, and allocate responsibilities to address the answers. Notify vendors of any changes in billing and shipping addresses or other information. Address any long-term contracts as negotiated.
    • Debt – Typically, this changes with the acquisition. Do you have new covenants and reporting requirements?
      Develop a timeline, specific steps, and responsibilities to develop systems to assure compliance.
    • Negotiated Compliance – In the case of our acquisition, we had a lookback provision based on the actual revenue from customers in existence at the time of the acquisition. This required specific reporting for a class of customers. Does the agreement call for any specific reporting to the seller (often required with seller financing) or others involved in the transaction?
      Develop a timeline, specific steps, and responsibilities to develop systems to assure compliance.
    • Other changes – This is the laundry list of things that change because of any location, name, or other changes and often this simply means changing who pays the bill.
      • Update licenses (software, naming rights, etc.), leases, contracts, etc. according to negotiated or legal requirements.
      • Determine the use and integration of phone systems, ERP, CRM, or other systems and the transition plan. Obviously, a single line here understates what is involved. The initial evaluation establishes a timeline for decision and change, keeping in mind the 90-day window. Often an acquisition forces an upgrade in the systems due to volume and or changes in complexity. In the meantime, what actions are required to keep things running?
      • Change of physical space – Often there are long-term lease commitments to deal with. For example, in an acquisition that we did, we were responsible for some high rent space that no longer suited our needs. We moved to a new location (another set of to do’s) and sublet the space. While the sublet payments didn’t cover the entire cost, it did defray the out of pocket expenses. Consider areas you’re integrating two office cultures (which should have been a primary consideration in the acquisition decision), one location’s modern office space and the other’s dingy old warehouse, may breed discontent. It may mean your office space needs an upgrade.
      • New location – The outcome of the acquisition may mean relocating a distribution center more centrally or eliminating excess/redundant facilities. The complexity involves personnel, logistics, notices, etc. During integration project management and planning, the move and/or elimination timeline should begin within the 90-day window, thereby setting expectations. The plan itself need not be complete in that timeframe.

General integration concerns to be aware of:

  • If the reporting entities remain separate, define the allocation of the costs of any of the above.
  • Define the change in each team member’s role. Define the integration of new team members. Are there opportunities for growth on the team?
  • Communication styles play a big role in setting new team members up for success during the restructure. Using some initial testing (DiSC, Myers-Briggs, Culture Index) may help in smoothing potential communication missteps. Your management team can communicate in the way the new team member needs to hear it.

Initial definitions of the “why” and “what” of the integration will help your integration project management team to direct the initial planning. Comprehensive due diligence during this phase will lead to a smooth integration. Remember, this is a team effort and the successful integration is not fully on your shoulders… although sometimes it may feel like it.

If your company is going through an acquisition, you may need further help in the integration. I offer a 2-hour free consult and would be happy to help. Reach out and let me know how I can guide your acquisition process.


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

How to Create a Post-Acquisition Game Plan

Your business made an acquisition…now what? Navigating through post-acquisition territory can be a challenge. Here’s how to plan for this critical time.
Your company made an acquisition. Now what?
Now comes the easy part – NOT!!  Successful post-acquisition integration is more of an art than a science, but a solid implementation plan is critical.

Large companies typically have experienced integration teams that are trained to handle post-acquisition planning and still a significant number of acquisitions fail to perform as expected. Even with the right planning, running your company post-acquisition is a challenge.

How disruptive will the acquisition be to your day-to-day operations? The interruption often depends on the type of acquisition. If the acquisition is stand-alone, there may be little impact on the day-to-day function of your existing operations, whereas integration of a product line or acquisitions for economies of scale may be quite disruptive.

No matter what, as the CEO, you have a significant role to play.

Understanding the Impact Post-Acquisition

Any acquisition is culturally, economically, politically, and to some extent, personally disruptive to every team member of both companies. No matter how solid your team culture, expect some waves. An acquisition also creates uncertainty that often drives employees to exhibit self-preservation behavior.

 

Post-acquisition is the best time to sit down with your team and get on the same page for moving foward
Image via Pixabay

To counteract fear of change, it’s incumbent on leadership to communicate with the team. Clearly define the why and what of the acquisition plan. Work to create a shared vision and an environment of trust in the negotiation process. These actions will set up the basics for transparency and form a base of communication. Post-acquisition, this need for transparency still stands. Remember, once the acquisition is complete – communicate, communicate, communicate!

 

Timeliness of the communication during and post-acquisition is also critical. Immediately after the close, share the company vision with the entire team; explain the expected benefits for all members of the combined organization. Ensure consistent messaging throughout the entire organization.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming people will believe you. I was told that I would survive a merger at one point and, as you might imagine, I took a “we’ll see” attitude and covered my bases anyway. It’s instinctive for employees to protect their own interests.

Communication needs to be consistent, frequent, and ongoing. Err on the side of under-promising and over-delivering. To the extent possible, make any drastic changes within the first 30 days. Whether those changes include replacing management, eliminating duplicate positions, or selling off a product line, get the change over with! If there is unexpected bad news, be transparent explaining potential impact and your planned response.

If the acquisition is a stand-alone, you bought it (at least partially) for the management team; stay out of micromanaging operations and team communication. This does not mean abdicate. You should focus your role of bringing together the resources to gain the expected benefits such as purchasing power improvements or consolidated finance and accounting functions.

If the acquisition is fully integrated, the planning and process pre and post-acquisition are much more complex, broadly affecting the entire organization. Provide resources and tools to enable your team to implement the integration plan, optimize performance, and measure the benefits.

The Role of CEO Post-Acquisition

As the CEO, the team looks to you during a time of transition
Image via Pixabay

Chances are the acquisition was your brilliant idea, so now what?  In your role as CEO, you will guide the overall success of the acquisition. According to McKinsey, handle the integration well and you can expect 6 to 12% higher returns than those who don’t. Sounds hard, right? That’s why careful strategic planning is critical to your success.

Create DAY 1

As you negotiated the contract, certain performance will be required DAY 1. Creating DAY 1 means making sure that everyone hears the same message. DAY 1 is THE opportunity for a first impression.

  • Celebrate!!!! Whether individual events at multiple locations, a company sponsored lunch, a small gift or remembrance, or a giant teleconference, let everyone know DAY 1 is an important and exciting day. Acknowledge uncertainty, share pertinent details and set expectations. Explain the why and the what. Outline how the acquisition answers those questions.
  • Identify and introduce the integration team. Set the 3 top goals on the agenda for the transition.
  • Communicate directly with customers, vendors, and other stakeholders (using the stakeholder blog), prior to public announcements.
  • Issue the press release and let the world know of your new adventure. Use your social media platforms and website to share the message.
  • Perform formal onboarding for new team members.
  • If possible, meet individually with new team members and provide them with an overview of the vision, mission and their role in the combined company. Remember people often fear change. Explore their concerns and be prepared to address them as soon as possible. Be prepared for skepticism.

Pick Your Top 3 Post-Acquisition Goals

With your new management team, select the top 3 priorities for the post-acquisition integration. These should reflect the why that the acquisition answered. Once selected, engage SMEs (subject matter experts) in the areas of integration to build the timeline. This may mean directing Purchasing to renegotiate purchase contracts with your vendors, consolidating buying power, or conversion to a new ERP system.

Getting everyone to share the same vision and move in the same direction should occur within a 90-day window. The longer the timeframe it takes to implement, the more resistance the company may face internally. Don’t miss the opportunity to revamp and optimize systems. Limited resources mean selecting the best strategy to get the most done in the shortest time.

Pick the Right Team

Picking the right team for your post-acquisition goals is a key step in making an acquisition a success
Image via Pixabay

In my small company, my controller and I were the acquisition team. If possible, select people from both organizations as team leaders and make sure they understand the vision. Getting unbiased input is important, but you don’t need skeptics in leadership roles who are undermining the process.

Encourage the adoption of best practices from both organizations as the post-acquisition project plan is developed. As with any project plan, there should be SMEs involved from any area or subject affected by the acquisition. A detailed implementation plan is critical to successful integration. While a significant amount of the post-acquisition implementation can be boilerplate, it needs to reflect the negotiated items from the contract.

Lead!

Your team looks to you, the CEO, as the rudder of the ship. The team wants to know the captain has the situation under control. Set expectations, measure results, keep the end in mind as the company navigates through the integration. Celebrate milestones and share progress reports (good and bad). Communicate.

Engage heavily with the new management team members to develop their trust. Engage new team members with existing team members both formally and informally to foster relationships and collaboration. Encourage broad communication of the messages up and down the organization. Participate.

Throughout the post-acquisition integration, encourage discourse on best practices, issues, changing roles, expectations, and concerns. Listen.

An acquisition could be a smart move for your company, provided it’s approached with deliberate planning and an understanding of the struggles that will arise. As the CEO, once you’ve started considering an acquisition, your work as a leader has just begun. Clear, consistent communication and planning are key. With the right approach, your company can emerge stronger and even better post-acquisition.


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

Employee Onboarding & Orientation: How To Prepare Your New Hire for Success

Employee onboarding is an important aspect of running a business. Here's how to have a successful employee onboarding process.
In today’s tight labor market, employee onboarding has never been more important. It’s often challenging to find and hire the right people for your company.  When you finally hire, it’s essential to have processes in place to help him or her succeed. 

So, you’ve hired the perfect (or near-perfect) employee and they’re ready to start their new and exciting position with your company. Now what happens? Effective employee onboarding is critical to seamlessly integrating new hires into everyday operations and company culture.

If you’re wondering just how important employee onboarding is, put yourself in the mindset of a new employee:

Don't leave your new employee feeling like everyone forgot it was their first day. Make sure to have an employee onboarding process in place for new hires.
Image via Burst

On a typical first day, you show up and show up are greeted by a busy receptionist who says, “Oh, you’re here. I’ll take you down to HR.”

After a deluge of paperwork, HR escorts you to a supervisor who says, “I’ll see where your desk is,” only to end up plopping you into an empty cubicle, noting that your computer should arrive in a day or so. For now, well…. “Here, just sit tight, and I’ll check back with HR.”

As the new employee, you’re probably thinking “What did I get myself into? Did they forget I was starting today? And where is all the excitement they expressed about bringing me in as part of the team?!”

Always remember, for new employees the first day on a new job is exactly like any other first impression – and first impressions matter the most.

When I began a new job in 1982 at Aqua-Chem, I was greeted warmly and welcomed into a fully stocked office with my very own business cards, printed and ready to go. Introductions to my team members were a success and I had a pleasant conversation in the Controller’s office where my expectations were set. To this day I still remember how truly welcomed I felt. My amazing experience is how I knew I had made a great decision and was working for the right company.

Guidelines for Great Employee Onboarding

With varying opinions out there about what qualifies as a positive hiring experience, it seems tough to find clear employee onboarding guidelines.

In the book “You’re Not the Person I Hired! A CEO’s Survival Guide to Hiring Top Talent,” authors Barry Deutsch, Brad Remillard, and Janet Boydell provide useful guidelines for helping new team members feel welcome. This book is an excellent resource. I’ve personally used this book as a guide to establish my own company’s orientation manual and I’ve seen the amazing results throughout my career. The authors recommend a standard orientation process and a straightforward manual as the two key parts to success in the employee onboarding process.

Develop (and Adhere to) a Standard Orientation Process

Orientation is an important piece of successful new employee onboarding. The orientation process should be well documented and available to everyone in the organization. A smart place to store this information is in the company handbook. This establishes the importance of the process and makes the information accessible to anyone in the company. Although the handbook and process outline should be available for all employees, who is involved in the orientation process itself will depend on the size of your company. For a small company it may involve everyone but, for a larger business, it may only include one specific department.

Develop an Orientation Procedure and Manual

This is a one-time investment that will pay big dividends. Effective employee onboarding relies largely on a well put together orientation procedure and manual. After the candidate accepts the job offer, recognize the internal questions they will likely ask themselves: Will this really be right for me? Is leaving my current job a good thing? etc. This is the perfect time to confirm they’ve made a great choice to work for you.

I would encourage your company to create a standard orientation process as well as a personalized manual and procedures right away. Each part should include important steps as well as clear and easy-to-follow guidelines. This should be done before your new team member begins.

How to Prepare BEFORE Your New Team Member Starts

1. Send a Gift

Shortly after the acceptance of your job offer, send a gift to the new employee’s family and/or spouse re-confirming how excited you are to bring them on board. (Define this process for your company and assign responsibility within the procedure.)

2. Craft a Memo for Current Employees

Draft a memo to introduce the team member to existing staff. The employee onboarding process is sometimes tricky and navigating the best ways to ensure both the new and existing employees are happy is no easy task. Consider the expectations of current team members and proceed with caution not to oversell.

An employee onboarding memo might include:

  • Special qualities of the new team member and why they were chosen to fulfill the role.
  • Some interesting outstanding qualities and characteristics of the new team member.
  • The “stats” and how they will contribute to the team.
  • Reasons management likes him/her.

3. Prepare their Workspace with Necessities

Workspace essentials like a tablet, notebook, pen, paper clips, and a cup of coffee.
Image via Burst

Prepare their workstation with all the needed supplies, keys, security cards, and business supplies they may need. Don’t forget to add a touch of CELEBRATION to the space as well! Whether it’s a balloon, a banner, or a small gift, good employee onboarding should help the new hire feel special. A list of team members in the department, as well as those they might work with in other parts of the company, along with a brief description of their roles/responsibilities and types of questions they might answer, should also be included.

4. Schedule Time for Paperwork

Arrange a separate time and place for the overview of benefits and completion of new hire forms (the more general paperwork should be completed online prior to start). Typically, employees will need to provide copies of their identification and bank information (for direct deposit). It’s always helpful to request this ahead of time, so they can be processed with HR before their first day. You may want to offer them access to the copier, so they can copy and scan the materials they need for employment.

5. Define Clear Responsibilities

Remember to delegate tasks and define responsibility (generally the direct supervisor) for preparing for the very important discussion with the new team member by:

  • Reviewing and updating the job requirements and work rules.
  • Developing a draft of the training plan based on the job requirements, previous experience, and any strengths or weaknesses revealed in testing, if applicable.
  • Preparing for a specific discussion for work standards, responsibilities, authority, reporting, and expectations.
  • Other information that the new team member may need such as product, customer, role etc.

6. Define Expectations for Existing Hires

Define the expectations for the current members of your team like determining any expected interactions the new hire may experience with certain employees as well as preparing existing staff members to understand their role in the employee onboarding process/how they ‘re expected to help.

Remember: You should do all of this is BEFORE the new team member arrives!

How to Give Your New Team Member a Great First Day!

Once your team member arrives, it’s important to welcome them and set them up for success. This portion of the employee onboarding process sets out the general objectives of the orientation program and establishes the timeline for accomplishing them. Depending on the scope of influence of the new team member and the size of the company, this may take anywhere from 1 to 3 days.

Set specific objectives for each day as well as a detailed agenda to follow the flow of the day and topics each person will cover. (Check out this sample orientation guide attached here.) A few of my recommendations for the team member welcome phase are:

1. Implement Employee Onboarding Immediately.

Okay, this one may sound obvious but it’s important to remember the process you need to complete to successfully accomplish your goal of bringing on a new employee. The actual start of work is exciting for everyone but can also be disrupting for the team.

Keep in mind, you’re not only making a good impression on the person starting, but you’re also reinforcing your cultural mores, confirming expectations and revisiting what it means to be part of the team for existing employees. Keeping the excitement and interest up for everyone is key. Following the orientation guide will assist with keeping things on the correct employee onboarding track.

2. Start on a Wednesday

Maybe it’s been some time since you started a new job, but trust me when I tell you, it’s hard work! The first week is extremely overwhelming and starting on a Wednesday allows recovery time for the employee. They’re given the weekend to take in all the new information they’ve recently learned. Time to settle in is one of the key concepts of employee onboarding and new job training.

3. Begin the Day with a Tour

Whether it’s the Supervisor or CEO, the person responsible for giving the tour must convey the history and culture of the company. The tour should involve brief introductions as well as cover the physical locations of important areas like the lunchroom and other facilities.

4. Encourage Team Building

New employees meeting their team for the first time is an important step in a new hire feeling welcomed into the workplace.
Image via Burst

New job, new people, new everything. Helping the new team member to feel welcome while engaging the current team to help in doing so is important. Fun yet focused introductions will make the new team member feel included as well as encourage participation by everyone.

My choice was to bring in lunch for everyone and give each person a chance to introduce themselves (new person last) while also sharing something personal (i.e. they have four dogs, or they go to Mexico every February). I wasn’t the leader who organized a cool scavenger hunt, BUT I understood the importance of engaging the new team member to meet and get to know their peers across the company.

Team building exercises and sharing fun facts are entertaining ways to help new employees get familiar with the faces of the building and get a first-hand look at the culture of the company through finding the answers to questions like which employee’s spouse is a stand-up comic? (No one in Wisconsin would use Who is a Green Bay Packer fan?)

5. Set Clear Expectations from the Beginning

Provide a tailored 90-day performance plan with weekly (at the beginning) and then monthly milestones allowing the supervisor to track progress and recognize training needs. The new team member should have clear objectives and, depending on the uniqueness of your business or product, there may be a bit of initial training as well.

6. Every Little Part Matters

Remember it’s all about how you make them feel and if a quantitative person like me buys into it, you know it must be true. Strong employee onboarding processes will help new hires feel welcome, appreciated and engaged from the beginning which sets the stage for job satisfaction.

Remember: Employee Onboarding is Only the Beginning

Getting the new team member started on the right foot is just the beginning. Orientation is only one part of achieving the employee onboarding process. Do research and take a look at other, more out of the box and creative ways to conduct employee onboarding and don’t forget, keeping an entire team engaged and motivated is even more work, so plan ahead and get ready!


Featured image and all post images licensed via Burst.

 

 

Deliberately Creating a Company Culture

Four coworkers standing next to each other, smiling with their arms around each other.
All companies have a culture. Since nature abhors a vacuum, it’s better to select and cultivate the culture you want. Sitting back and allowing your company culture to develop naturally, may result in an unintentional, unprofessional environment inevitably derailing your business.
As Steven Covey says, “Start with the end in mind.”

What is Company Culture?

According to Frances Frei and Anne Morriss at Harvard Business Review: “Culture guides discretionary behavior and it picks up where the employee handbook leaves off. Culture tells us how to respond to an unprecedented service request. It tells us whether to risk telling our bosses about our new ideas, and whether to surface or hide problems. Employees make hundreds of decisions on their own every day, and culture is our guide. Culture tells us what to do when the CEO isn’t in the room, which is, of course, most of the time.”

Building a company culture should be strategic and deliberate. Most importantly, the culture should adapt as your business grows. Experts who write about company culture recognize it at a significant influence on job satisfaction, productivity and even employee retention.

Top Four Types of Company Culture

While many different kinds exist, in the book “Corporate Culture: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life” authors Terrence Deal and Allan Kennedy skillfully identify four key company culture categories most companies can be classified in.

1. ‘Work Hard – Play Hard’ Culture

Three coworkers on their laptops, sitting on a coach and working, talking, and laughing.
Photo by Matthew Henry

Both having fun and maintaining action are priorities within this type of company. The attitudes of these employees are all about balancing work and play. An example of this sort of company culture would be Google (or portrayed in the show Mad Men in a more extreme version). Younger employees focus less on hours and take more pride in job performance. Quality of work is important here, but the employee is also looking forward to kicking back and enjoying free time with co-workers. Work-life and social-life are often intertwined in this company culture.

2. ‘Process’ Culture

In this company culture, data, grids, and forms take precedence over all else. Creativity and flexibility are limited, with the focus more aimed at established procedures, corporate bureaucracy and internal hierarchy. In my experience, the larger a company grows, the more likely they will fall into this category.  While I am all about procedure, this type of company does everything by the book, possibly limiting new and innovative idea sharing as well as the opportunity for improvement.

3. ‘All Hands on Deck’ Culture

This “get it done” culture relies on everyone in the organization to participate and work together as a team, no matter what their official title or position. The primary focus is on getting the job done, even if it involves all hands on deck. I would classify most start-ups and entrepreneurial businesses in this category. Nonprofits also fall into this category as well. Titles, job descriptions, and roles are loosely defined and less important than getting the job accomplished. This does not mean there is no structure; it means there’s a great deal of structural flexibility.

4. ‘Tough Guy/Macho’ culture

My experience in the 70’s at Coopers & Lybrand (now PriceWaterhouse Coopers) fell into this category and I am happy to state this does not seem to be the case in the 21st century. This is the type of culture where getting the job done is the most important part, no matter what the cost. This culture expects you to know what you’re doing with little or no direction. Feedback and constructive (sometimes not so constructive) criticism are the norm here. My hope is that this company culture is waning due to its ineffective way of motivating employees and executing projects.

In larger companies, while there is an overall culture, managers within departments may operate across the different types of company cultures described above. For example, the lab area may have a process culture to support the appropriate level of documentation and procedural requirements of outside agencies while the sales department may develop a ‘Work Hard – Play Hard’ culture, exuberantly celebrating victories.

These are general categories and the lines are not definite, but rather quite blurred. There may be elements of each in your business and growth may require some cultural transition. As you build your business, pro-actively developing and adapting your company culture will optimize team performance and growth.

Why does Company Culture Matter?

Team's hands together, showing teamwork and accomplishment.
Photo by Matthew Henry

Family culture defines what the kids do while the parents are out, just as corporate culture defines employee actions outside of the handbook or sight of supervisors. Employees make hundreds of decisions not directly covered in policies, procedures or handbooks. How they act when no one is watching is cultural.

According to Inc. Magazine, “culture is the shared values, attitudes, standards, and beliefs that characterize members of an organization and define its nature. Corporate culture is rooted in an organization’s goals, strategies, structure, and approaches to labor, customers, investors, and the greater community.”

Without a strong overall company culture, employees or whole divisions could find themselves falling off track. A well-established company culture developed to fit specific needs allows for employees and teams to thrive.

For example, a CNN/Money headline described the cause of Wells Fargo employees creating millions of fake accounts as a broken “sales culture” issue. Closing the sale (and getting the subsequent compensation) became the only driving element within their culture, causing them to lose sight of a serious problem.

Embedding culture includes not only stating the vision, mission, and values of the company but also living and breathing them along with reward systems, internal control procedures, and adequate oversight.

How to Create a Great Company Culture

Over the years, I’ve found the smaller and/or newer the business, the more likely it is that an ‘All Hands on Deck’ company culture will be present. There is so much work to do and not enough people around to do it. There is often a sprinkle of ‘Work Hard – Play Hard’ (think: technology start-up) as it reflects the camaraderie of building a business. These cultures are more popular as they bring a small business the most success.

Be aware that as your company grows, the needs of your business will change with it; there will likely be a need for some kind of cultural transition. In my experience, building and transforming a company culture sometimes requires shaking up the status quo. Replace employees who don’t fit with those who do. Replace elements of the business that don’t fit in the new environment.

For example, in transforming a utility culture, I let go of the rigidity of a time clock atmosphere and several employees who could not adapt to a more distributed decision-making model. Once you’ve decided what kind you like best, actually creating the company culture requires consistency of actions. The behaviors you model will drive the perception of the “real” culture.

The Elements of a Great Company Culture

What goes into creating a great company culture, or might I say, sustaining one?

Neil Patel states there are four main elements:

  1. Hire people who fit your culture
  2. Stick to employees who understand the values and mission of your company
  3. Know that good decisions can come from anywhere
  4. Realize you’re a team and not a bunch individuals
A smiling business woman standing in front of a row of employees working on computers.
Photo by Nicole De Khors

To successfully hire people that best fit in with your culture, you’ll have to first create the culture and decide how you’re going to make it great. This step will keep your current performing employees happy and allow you to attract and hire more fantastic employees.

It’s also important to ensure your current employees understand the values and mission of your company before bringing new people on board. Begin the indoctrination in the interview process and follow-up in the training process. Really take the time to feel out whether they’re a good fit (some companies go so far as to have the candidate work in the company for a week).

Delve into their expectations and if your employees (new-hire or otherwise) can’t answer the question, “Why do you want to work here?” you might want to re-evaluate their fit. Ideally, core values between the company and the employee should align.

With many years of consulting under my belt, I fully support the idea that creating a great company culture is about remembering that good ideas and decisions can come from anywhere within the organization. The people who know the job best often have the best ideas.

Remember, no matter what the position title, everyone is an important part of the team. Ensure your team feels respected and appreciated. High-performing members often get frustrated when management makes all the choices or takes credit for everything. It’s often the coach who is fired when the team under-performs. So remember to make sure every member knows their value.

Finally, I strongly believe in a “do as I do” not “do as I say” type of environment. Always model the behavior you’ve defined for your culture. Your actions and expectations will drive the type of company culture you establish.

Culture drives much of the expectations and behavior within your organization. Deliberately decide on the type of culture best for your company and your business will find a more success.


Featured image by Shopify Partners. All image licensed for use via Burst.