Category Archives: Business

Put the right team together

Jim Collins, in his classic business book Good to Great, identifies getting the right people on the bus in the right seats as a fundamental step to business success.

That is a principle you can apply when you are looking at your internal teams and working parties, not just the top team than runs the whole business.

Teams and working parties can be a very powerful way of resolving problems, dealing with projects and enhancing business processes but only if the right people are in the team.

If the team doesn’t have the right composition it won’t be as successful.

A useful analogy may be that of rowing. Mark de Rond studied the rowers at Cambridge preparing for the university boat race and in particular the selection process.

It’s not just a case of choosing the 8 fastest oarsmen, but one of selecting the best combination of rowers even if some of those left out are faster as individuals.

In business, it may well be prudent to select potentially less able or less knowledgeable candidates for their ability to work together rather than creating a team all of whom are high achievers but who will not get on with each other.

For teams to be really effective there are several other factors to consider but right at the top of the list is communication. Everyone on the team has to be fully aware of the objectives of the team, but also to understand and accept their role within the team. The team will review progress and everyone affected will know what is happening and what the milestones are – so this is all about communication.

Teams can be a fantastic environment for individuals to develop new skills and experience but that requires the right ethos from the team and its leader. A no-blame learning environment, where mistakes are just an opportunity to get it right next time, is a great place to develop.

You need to give before you get

One of my colleagues shared an excellent video about networking just the other day. Mark E. Sackett describes how so many of us collect business cards, but then just fail to follow up or build any kind of relationship.

I have heard so many clients and colleagues tell me that networking just doesn’t work, yet that’s how I get the vast majority of my business – through referrals from my network.

That doesn’t mean that I go to a networking meeting, meet somebody there and they engage my services. I wish!

First of all, would you do that? Engage the services of someone you’ve only just met? That would be pretty rash.

I have a couple of points to make about networking:

We all know that people do business with people that they know, like and trust, so why expect someone to engage with you on the basis of the first meeting over a cup of coffee? How can you know, let alone like and trust someone on that basis?

The second point is that it is not about the people in the room. It’s about the people they know and the people they know. This is the “six degrees of separation” where everyone is connected to everyone else through just six connections.

So, for me the keys to effective networking are

To be interesting to the people you meet – and the easy way to do that is to be interested in them.

They have to know what you can do for them – and for their clients – but you don’t have to ram it down their throats at the first meeting.

Give before you get. Help others to help you – if you help someone, there’s a very good chance they will try to help you.

Stay in touch – whatever tool you use. I was referred recently by someone who was referred to me 9 years ago. I engaged with him for some tax advice (unpaid, just exploring an option) and 9 years later, he referred a client of one of his contacts looking for some strategic advice. He remembered me thanks to LinkedIn

 

Do you treat your colleagues as your customers?

Everything you do in your work will probably have a knock-on effect on someone else in the business. If you do your job perfectly, it will help others do their job and in the end, the customer benefits from great service.

If you are well removed from the customer, operating in one of the vital back-office roles, it is really easy to think that what you do doesn’t really matter to the customer. There may be no direct effect, but if what you do runs really smoothly your colleagues in the next department don’t have to spend time and effort dealing with your output – they can just get on with the job.

This is something you can picture really well if you think of a production line. If the previous operation has put all the holes in the right place and they are the right size, completing your operation is really easy. If the hole is in the wrong place or is the wrong size, that requires you to take extra time to fix before you can carry on with your “real” job.

The same principles apply in an environment that isn’t a production line.

In one company, the customer services team handled order administration and were responsible for quoting the customer order number on our invoices. They would archive the customer orders without a copy of the invoice, and with no reference to the invoice number.

The credit control team, trying to get payment for these invoices, found that some of them had incorrect purchase order numbers. The customer would not (could not) pay us.

Finding the right order number and re-issuing the invoice with the correct details was a laborious time-consuming job.

We changed the system so that the cross-referencing was captured. The customer service team didn’t treat credit control as a customer, yet credit control were reliant upon the output from customer services.

When you look at your department, who are your customers and are you meeting their needs?

It can be lonely at the top

The more responsibility you have in whatever field, the fewer people you can share with.

If you are leading a business, the people in that business look to you for advice and guidance. You are supposed to have the answers – because if you haven’t got them, who has?

In the workplace, you are bound up with all the emotion that comes with leading a team.

You’ll be feeling responsible for the team, and for the business.

That can make your position a lonely place. You can’t talk about your problems to your colleagues, your customers, your suppliers or your service providers – all the people you come into contact with on a daily basis. Some business leaders are lucky enough to have an understanding partner, who will at least listen!

There are two strategies to deploy to help you avoid the worst effects of this trap.

Firstly, surround yourself with trusted advisors. These are people you must be able to trust and discuss issues with, and who can bring dispassionate objectivity to bear on your problems. They could be independent business advisors (I know one of them!) or perhaps other business leaders who operate in a different sector. There are many peer groups to facilitate such support.

Secondly, be more open with your colleagues at work. There’s nothing wrong with being human, and indeed if you are more open you will build stronger relationships with the people around you. The stronger those relationships, the greater the trust and honesty will be and the easier you will find things.

There will always be those areas where you cannot discuss the issues, but they are probably far fewer than you think they are. Just make sure you are not spreading loads of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt)

Business Leaders are people too!

How do you talk to your customers and prospects?

Not that long ago we were all getting lots of promotional material through the post – junk mail. Now, we get lots of promotional emails – so many in fact that Google have introduced a filter in their email system so they are pre-sorted into a folder labelled promotions.

Guess how many of those you would actually read?

We are told we have to use social media to promote our businesses, but the variety of platforms is amazing. It’s not just Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter but Google plus, Instagram, You Tube, Xing….I could go on and on.

Some marketing gurus are advocating a return to physical mail to stand out from the crowd.

Often, you’ll see a “chat” system available on a website. Click here to “chat” to us and you can exchange a series of messages with an operator.

You might also consider mobile messaging. I know some of my contacts prefer a text message to any other form of communication!

Finally, or course, there is the other use of a telephone – to actually make calls!

The questions should not be “Which method do I choose?” but rather “Which method does my customer / prospect choose?”

There is no point sending emails to someone who doesn’t read or respond to them. You may have a wonderful Facebook presence, but if your target audience doesn’t use Facebook, so what?

If your customer prefers to communicate using a text message, that’s what you do.

If they’d rather talk to someone, pick up the phone.

Make sure you have enough capacity to provide a prompt service. No one will be impressed by a long wait for an operator – either on the telephone or on the web, and unanswered messages on social media will just do more harm than good.

Whatever channel your customer chooses, that is where you go.

 

Was the fault in the system or in the execution?

Every business has times when things don’t go according to plan. A customer was let down and made a fuss, you are embarrassed and have to take remedial action. All of this costs money and time.

It is really easy to jump to conclusions and decide it was the fault of an individual. You remonstrate with the individual and that makes you feel better.

It doesn’t make them feel better – and it may not make their colleagues feel any better!

Take a step back & consider if the fault was really with the individual, or was it with the “system” they are operating in?

Consistent performance comes from well-established processes and procedures that miniseries the amount of human input required to achieve the end result. In many respects that is the basis of a quality system.

Do you have a set of processes and procedures, or are you just relying upon the knowledge and skill of the individual? Is it a blend of the two? You have processes, but they only work because of the individual’s ability to interpret them and apply their experience?

The perfect system is one where you could put a new person on the job, give them the procedure and they achieve the right result. Ultimately you are trying to de-skill the operation, so that everything is easy.

One great advantage of getting the procedures right is that it allows you to assign more complex tasks to the people who were using all their skills and experience to get the result without the procedure. You can give the de-skilled process to less experienced or less capable people.

That allows you to recruit at lower levels, invest in training those new people to learn your systems and grow into the business. If you don’t de-skill the processes, you have to hire people with greater skill levels who are going to be more expensive.

Time invested in creating processes is never wasted – but be a little wary. If you create an “idiot proof” system, someone will prove themselves to be a better idiot!

 

Get clear on your strategy

Over the last few weeks I have helped a number of clients get some more clarity over their business model and their strategy for the future.

This is such a fundamental area for business success. Without that clarity, you cannot determine what your organisation should look like in 3 or 4 years, you cannot determine where to allocate your resources or even how to approach your market.

We are all told we have to have an elevator pitch, so that when you are in the lift with your ideal prospect you can tell them what you do in the time it takes to travel between one floor and the next.

There’s a fundamental flaw in that thinking. Your prospect does not care what you do. Your prospect cares about the result you deliver for their business.

It really doesn’t matter that you write wonderful software, or that you sell the best engineered widgets. What matters is how that software helps your customer or client, what gain they get from deploying it and what pain you are taking away. It doesn’t matter that you manufacture the best widgets, what matters is that you help your customer produce his product that relies upon those widgets.

Take your current marketing information, from the elevator pitch through all your brochures, leaflets, proposals and your website and highlight every time you see the words “We or I” and change them to you. (It’s known as weeing all over the page when you have too many we’s)

Now look at those statements that have a “you” replacing the “we”

See if you can respond to the statement with “so what?”

See if you could put that statement on your competitor’s website and it would still be true.

You may find you have some work to do so that your customer or prospect cannot answer “so what?” and that may take you right back to the fundamental reason why your business exists!

 

It can be lonely at the top

The more responsibility you have in whatever field, the fewer people you can share with.

If you are leading a business, the people in that business look to you for advice and guidance. You are supposed to have the answers – because if you haven’t got them, who has?

In the workplace you are bound up with all the emotion that comes with leading a team.

You’ll be feeling responsible for the team, and for the business.

That can make your position a lonely place. You can’t talk about your problems to your colleagues, your customers, your suppliers or your service providers – all the people you come into contact with on a daily basis. Some business leaders are lucky enough to have an understanding partner, who will at least listen!

There are two strategies to deploy to help you avoid the worst effects of this trap.

Firstly, surround yourself with trusted advisors. These are people you must be able to trust and discuss issues with, and who can bring dispassionate objectivity to bear on your problems. They could be independent business advisors (I know one of them!) or perhaps other business leaders who operate in a different sector. There are many peer groups to facilitate such support.

Secondly, be more open with your colleagues at work. There’s nothing wrong with being human, and indeed if you are more open you will build stronger relationships with the people around you. The stronger those relationships, the greater the trust and honesty will be and the easier you will find things.

There will always be those areas where you cannot discuss the issues, but they are probably far fewer than you think they are. Just make sure you are not spreading loads of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt)

Business Leaders are people too!

Is there a SPOF in your business?

Is there a single point of failure in your business?

I’ve lost count of the number of businesses I have helped identify and deal with the single point of failure in the business.

Sometimes, this is a computer system. It’s not robust, possibly not backed up properly and if it were to fail the business would grind to a halt.

More often, it is a person. If that person isn’t available, is sick or on holiday, things don’t get done and eventually the business fails. That’s not you, is it? It is often the business owner, with all the levers of control in their own hands.

Perhaps it is a single contract with a customer. That represents such a high proportion of your business that if you lose that contract the business will go under. You don’t have to do anything wrong for the worst to happen – it could be something completely out of your control. Perhaps the customer is taken over, or they lose their customer…but you still lose out.

Sometimes it can be a supplier, or a component from a range of suppliers that is rapidly coming to the end of its life.

Do you know where your points of failure are?

Are you sure that computer backup is actually working ok? When was the last time you tested it? How many people actually know how to restore from a backup?

If it is an individual, training can help. Delegation is often something that doesn’t come easily, but it is a vital skill to avoid becoming a road block. Delegate a responsibility, not a task, and try offering support with the delegation “What do you need to make this happen?”

If it is a customer or a contract, put your efforts into diversifying that business. It it’s a supplier, look for alternatives.

If you do have a single point of failure there is a law that says you will get caught out – eventually!

 

Cross Training to keep your business fit! 

 

For me, cross training in a gym is a distant memory but I am sure some of my readers may still indulge. In a business sense, cross training is a great way to improve the business.

In a well-designed induction program a new team member may experience several different departments over a number of days or weeks. That allows them to start on the job with a wider understanding of how their work impacts upon the rest of the business. It’s a really good way to bring someone into the team and make sure they have a decent understanding of how the business as a whole gets things done.

It’s not often that you see the same principles being applied to established team members, but it can be a great way of making sure that departments work together, rather than forming silos where information is retained within the department and competition with other departments rather than cooperation is the order of the day.

Tesco used to require the senior team (from directors down) to spend some time on the shop floor every year. I wonder if that no longer happens, and some of their problems can be related to the disconnection between the leaders of the business and its customers.

When you acquire a business you should have a plan to integrate the two businesses and a very powerful way to blend the cultures is to have an exchange of staff.

I’ve used cross training with the credit and collections teams, working with the sales team. The credit team can be very dismissive of the sales team – I’m sure you have heard phrases like “Those lazy sales folk, they can’t even get the credit application form completed” but get the credit team into the meetings and they’ll realise (a) how much else is going on to secure the customer and (b) how clumsy the credit application form is. In one case I remember the credit application form was reduced from 8 pages to 2.

Cross training really can keep (your business) fit