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by Dennis Roberts

In many industries we have just entered a new financial year and, for that matter, closed off the old year. So I’m guessing you have been busy with business and financial plans, annual performance reviews, tax and statutory returns, and maybe even salary reviews and bonuses. Yet none of these is the most important day-to-day activity you as an enterprise leader can perform right now.

What is the biggest favour you can do for your staff right now?

It is simple and tactical rather than strategic. Everyone including you is under mounting pressure to do more with less. The place to start and the place you as the leader can add supreme value is in sitting down with your staff and identifying what activities they should STOP doing as a matter of urgency. The busyness that envelopes us is the greatest obstacle to productivity improvement and high performing teams.

When we look for low hanging fruit or quick wins it is all too often something new or incremental or instantaneous. Identify the low value repetitive tasks, the distractions, the non-core items and do one of four things:

·         Outsource

·         Automate

·         Re-engineer, or

·         Eliminate

I suggest that there is at least 20% latent inefficiency in every role including your own as Owner/ Operator – that’s one day per week you could better utilise. Just imagine what heights you and your team can rise to with an uplift factor of up to 20%.

Here’s some quick exercises to you get stop-starting immediately:

Meetings – there is no need for meetings to be scheduled for one hour blocks. Set an agenda, or invite your attendees to circulate the agenda ahead of time.

Begin with the end in mind – cut to the chase. At the outset of the meeting state what your intended or desired outcome is and work backwards to that goal. It might not be applicable for all meetings but where resolution is sought know what success looks like at the outset.

Empower staff – your role as leader or manager is primarily to be a point of escalation. You role is not to solve problems but to remove roadblocks and provide insight so that your people are empowered to back their own judgement.

Set and manage expectations – so further to above – set and agree performance expectations, ensure staff have all the support and resources to do their job and get out of their way.

Create the void – by this I mean when you invite staff to think for themselves, encourage them to come to you as a point of escalation, discuss and debate their thinking processes for addressing any problems they encounter the value you add is being their as a sounding board. Sure, you may have a strategic perspective they don’t so after they’ve said their piece you add your two bobs worth.

There is a wonderful description I heard recently that applied to non-executive company directors and that is “noses in, fingers out.” There is much merit in applying this to your role as enterprise leader.

When you step out, they can step up. 



by Dennis Roberts 


 
 
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by Dennis Roberts

We live in an increasingly fast paced, volatile environment. It seems the one constant is change. Yet there is a truism about change that many overlook. People don’t resist change, they resist loss, or perceived loss. The real art of leadership is to co-create the vision for this uncertain future AND communicate the benefits.

One of the key distinctions between leadership and management is your ability to co-create the vision and lead people into unchartered territory. The necessity for leadership is obvious when responding to a crisis. Yet it is also necessary, and perhaps more difficult, when that compulsion to change is not evident. It comes back to the motivational forces at play. Ask yourself “Are you moving AWAY from something, or are you moving TOWARDS something.” The most compelling motivational force is the former. This motivational drive is prevalent in sales and marketing strategies and leadership strategies.

So when you are leading change you have two choices – you can reframe the motivation drive for change such that you sell the benefits of moving towards, or you can create an artificial crisis or crucible to reflect the potency of this moving away strategy.

Engagement is key. The more you involve your people in the decision making process, the more buy in they will feel. Often the fear and doubt which forms resistance to change is born out of ignorance. Fear and doubt arise from an uncertain future. Tell me of a future that is certain.

It is crucial that you empathise with the type of loss your staff may perceive. This will vary depending on their personal values. It may be relationship, financial, security, autonomy, status or a host of others. Make it a priority to master the communications skills involved in reading, interpreting and eliciting the values of your staff. It may be the best investment in people skills you may make.

Action steps

Here are three actions you can take today:

·         Provide the context – sit down with your staff offsite and state the context for change. There are two time points – current and future.  Here’s where we are and here’s where we want to be. It’s now the start of a new financial year so if they are wondering why you are doing this simply point out that this is a new year and we need to plan future growth.

·         When in doubt, ask them – if you want to work out what is important to each of your staff the most simply way is to ask them. You can invest in all manner of reading eye movement, sensory cues, language patterns but for heaven’s sake, just ask them first.

·         Have a view – if it is your business then you may already have a firm view of what you want to create, and maybe you don’t want to co-create the vision. Well, you will still need to engage your staff to come along with you. Be flexible in how you communicate the vision. Invite them to opt in. Create little windows of opportunity that they can express their creativity.



by Dennis Roberts


 
 
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by Dennis Roberts

It is an urban myth that you can create sustainable growth in your business. Just as life is followed, or preceded, by death, all growth is followed, or preceded, by periods of stagnation or decline. We have much to learn from the seasons of nature.

It is folly to assume that we can create sustainable growth rates, however we can create a sustainable business that recognises, plans for and adapts to these seasonal ebbs and flows.

Growth will take one of three forms - linear, step function or boom and bust. You may experience any or all over the life of your business. To understand growth is to understand life (and death). It’s all part of the life cycle.

At some point your business may die, or at the very least, experience mini-death (le petit morte) just as the branches of a tree die. You can expedite what occurs naturally just as you can prune the branches of a tree. When you know the cycles of your business you can pre-empt nature by pruning where appropriate.

Let’s explore this growth phenomenon a little further.

Linear (or incremental) growth

This is the basis upon which most business plans and revenue forecasts are created. It seldom reflects reality or seasonality. So what, you may ask? Well, if your revenue forecasts assume steady growth then your resourcing levels will also. This impacts hiring and firing decisions, capital and plant acquisition and expansion, service delivery and all business processes that support revenue growth, client retention and acquisition. Put simply, if you grow faster or slower than expected you are left without contingency strategies to upsize or downsize or take remedial action. It seldom works this way.

Step function growth

Your revenue growth may rise exponentially and flat line for a time. This is often due to seasonal factors, marketing campaigns, product launches and environmental factors. The biggest issue you face is when your organic growth exceeds your capacity to deliver triggering capacity issues. This will require capital investment, labour hiring, outsourcing, business process re-engineering, multi-site expansion and a range of commercial decisions that take you into unchartered territory. When you grow from a one man band with no management infrastructure to having to lead and delegate responsibility the personal challenges rise. It may also trigger a need for debt or equity raisings and greater personal financial exposure. Directors guarantee anyone?

Boom and Bust

This is volatility at its best. Rapid growth followed by either a plateau or downward spike. It is often triggered by turning your marketing pipeline on and off, or your infrastructure not keeping pace. It is easy to invest in the front end of your business, eg sales and marketing because the measures of success are tangible. If you are reluctant to invest in business systems, processes and service delivery capability then you are asking for trouble.

I once worked in the wholesale telco space and witnessed one of our retail customers grow from virtually nothing to $100m in eighteen months by acquisitions and promptly collapsed. The model was not sustainable. The tragedy was that you could see it unfolding before your eyes.

I have been a judge of small business awards and have also worked with small businesses on the brink of collapse. The sweet smell of success or bitter taste of failure is quite intuitive.

How can you better manage your growth?

1.       Manage your risk tolerance – most people have a risk tolerance of +/- 10% and entrepreneurs significantly more. What is important here is not your personal risk tolerance but the robustness of your business systems. If you have a high risk threshold and it is not reflected around you, something will break … and it may be you! It is highly desirable to surround yourself with balancing influences not yes men. Engage a coach/ mentor, seek wise counsel from your accountant/ CFO and appoint an Advisory Board.

2.       Know when to slow the flow – create your marketing and sales pipelines to be independent of you. As an Owner/ Operator you have the primary role of overseeing business development even if you have sales and marketing people. the buck stops with you as the CEO. If, by good management or good fortune, your lead generation and conversion exceed your capacity to deliver then slow the flow. Don’t turn it off but slow the acquisition.

3.       Build robust business systems – you are not your business. Appoint a project team or external consultant to build business systems. This is about working smarter not harder. Build the foundation for your future success. If your marketing budget should be 10% of your revenue then equally a percentage should be allocated to building your backend. How much varies in each case.

4.       Build a buffer – expect cost over runs and time delays by as much as 50%. It doesn’t mean blindly tolerate 50% inefficiency in your business but understand that as human beings are estimates are based on best case and life is seldom best case.

5.       Keep a tight rein - on your money and your time. At a minimum conduct monthly reviews. Ideally conduct real time reviews. So in order of preference - real time, daily, weekly, monthly. If you don’t have a handle on your monthly performance by the 10th day of the following month you are setting yourself up for a fall. Remember 80% of businesses fail. It doesn’t have to be you.

6.       Retain faith in your vision - and back it with the facts. Faith is one thing, blind faith is another. Solicit independent professional opinion, eg coach, mentor, advisory board, accountant. Build a mastermind team around you.

7.       Plan you work - it’s actually much more than planning your work. Planning your work suggests time and task management. To succeed in business you really need to think strategically. So whether your plan is one page or fifty pages, it must be strategic. A good strategic plan consists of three core elements in this order – vision, strategic objectives, strategies. Your principle responsibility as the CEO is to formulate this plan and execute it. Do this well and you won’t know yourself as an enterprise leader. Day-to-day challenges will still arise but now you will have a context within which to lead, and not just respond. When Einstein said, “You can’t solve a problem with the same level of thinking that created it” he was talking about your strategic thinking, your strategic plan and your enterprise leadership. I’ve been around the block a few times and this strategic planning and execution element is THE difference between mediocre business and elite performing business.

I hope you have found this article/ blog useful. If you have any questions or issues that I can help you with post a comment or contact me directly. 


by Dennis Roberts

 
 
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by Dennis Roberts

When you are the boss of an enterprise it is easy to assume responsibility for making the decisions. It doesn’t make the decisions any easier but the buck stops with you. This is how most owner/ operators work. The position demands that you take responsibility and be accountable. It’s your money so who better to manage it than you?

Well, if you had your money invested in financial securities there is a fair chance you would engage a fund manager, whether it be superannuation or managed investments. You place your reliance upon the professionals.

When you employ staff in a small business environment you are buying the knowledge, skills, talent and aptitude of your staff. Often they are closer to the action than you are. And if you are managing your business wisely that should hold true.

Many years ago I worked in a retail department store. It was a vacation job during university. At first I served customers in our stationery department. It was simply order taking. I later migrated to selling menswear where there was more finesse, and salesmanship.

Have you got your staff simply taking orders and performing assigned tasks? Every job function requires some degree of creative problem solving. People will create work arounds and adapt either their talents and skills to fit the demands of the job or vice versa, they will adapt task to skill.

The real opportunity to step into your leadership potential is to cease playing boss and making the decisions and create a space for your people to make their own decisions. This is art not science. I’d love a dollar for every time I’ve heard, “It is quicker if I do it myself.” It reminds me of the native American Indian proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go with others.”

What practical steps can you take to create this space for change such that your people assume personal responsibility and autonomy?

-       Conduct weekly meetings – set a simple agenda wherein you ask everyone on your team to give updates. Everyone gets to talk. Your role as Chair is to listen more. Agenda items may include: Highlights from last week, wins/ losses, roadblocks to success, priorities for the coming week, acknowledge staff contribution.

-       Keep the tone positive, constructive and supportive – everyone is doing the best they can. Ask how can you support them to perform at their best?

-       Lead the way – if the room goes quiet when you pose a question, then lead by example. If your staff aren’t used to public acknowledgements then show them how. If all this is new then set the context for your new methods by stating upfront, “I’m going to change the format of our meetings so that I talk less and encourage you to share more.” 


by Dennis Roberts

 
 
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by Dennis Roberts

Your ability to reinvent yourself, products/ services, brand and even your category is a key to enjoying sustained business success. Sadly most business owners don’t look at reinvention or innovation until it is too late. Why? 80% of the population adopt reactive behaviour. They wait for the external environment to create such discord or circumstance that change is demanded.

When you run an enterprise the best advice I can afford you is to reinvent yourself and your business on an ongoing, if not scheduled, basis. You may well ask, “Why take action when it’s not broken?” Well, the business environment moves so fast and with such volatility that if you are standing still or operating from yesterdays assumptions and beliefs you will be dead in the water.

In the education sector curriculums which are set at the beginning of the year are outdated before they have run their term! Fortunately, you are an enterprise and a small(er) one at that and this affords you the flexibility and ability to alter course more quickly than larger institutions. Herein is a major competitive advantage for you. If you program annual reinvention of yourself and your business you not only take out the reactivity, you create a decisive advantage over your competitors, big and small.

Quite simply, if there was one new thing you did in your business all year, let it be this – reinvent yourself and your business. Question the very assumptions upon which you started the business. everything is fair game.  

Here’s some things for you do:

Make reinvention an annual event – Given that reactivity is so widespread take the spontaneity out of the equation by programming an annual review, or time to reinvent yourself. This applies equally to your as an individual as it does for your products, services, brand and category.

Go offsite – The process of reinvention, innovation or lateral thinking is best explored when you are free from the constraints of your day-to-day activities. Get out of the office, commune with nature, or find some avenue where you disrupt the limits of your current thinking. Creatives adopt techniques like writing ideas with your non-preferred hand, engaging in musical or theatrical stimulation, or any right brain activity.

Innovation is play – Business is too serious. If managing a business is science then innovating is art. Give you and your team permission to explore the unexplored. The creative power houses like Google and Apple have made art an art form. Huh? Give yourself permission to play and reap rewards unimagined by your logical, linear, conservative left brain.



by Dennis Roberts


 
 
Picture
by Dennis Roberts

When you are the boss of an enterprise it is easy to assume responsibility for making the decisions. It doesn’t make the decisions any easier but the buck stops with you. This is how most owner/ operators work. The position demands that you take responsibility and be accountable. It’s your money so who better to manage it than you?

Well, if you had your money invested in financial securities there is a fair chance you would engage a fund manager, whether it be superannuation or managed investments. You place your reliance upon the professionals.

When you employ staff in a small business environment you are buying the knowledge, skills, talent and aptitude of your staff. Often they are closer to the action than you are. And if you are managing your business wisely that should hold true.

Many years ago I worked in a retail department store. It was a vacation job during university. At first I served customers in our stationery department. It was simply order taking. I later migrated to selling menswear where there was more finesse, and salesmanship.

Have you got your staff simply taking orders and performing assigned tasks? Every job function requires some degree of creative problem solving. People will create work arounds and adapt either their talents and skills to fit the demands of the job or vice versa, they will adapt task to skill.

The real opportunity to step into your leadership potential is to cease playing boss and making the decisions and create a space for your people to make their own decisions. This is art not science. I’d love a dollar for every time I’ve heard, “It is quicker if I do it myself.” It reminds me of the native American Indian proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go with others.”

What practical steps can you take to create this space for change such that your people assume personal responsibility and autonomy?

-       Conduct weekly meetings – set a simple agenda wherein you ask everyone on your team to give updates. Everyone gets to talk. Your role as Chair is to listen more. Agenda items may include: Highlights from last week, wins/ losses, roadblocks to success, priorities for the coming week, acknowledge staff contribution.

-       Keep the tone positive, constructive and supportive – everyone is doing the best they can. Ask how can you support them to perform at their best?

-       Lead the way – if the room goes quiet when you pose a question, then lead by example. If your staff aren’t used to public acknowledgements then show them how. If all this is new then set the context for your new methods by stating upfront, “I’m going to change the format of our meetings so that I talk less and encourage you to share more.” 



by Dennis Roberts