Resources to Help You Lead Better

Two books I read recently that I think everyone should read - especially if you're in business today.

Good to Great, by Jim Collins, is a stellar book, full of interesting insights from Collins, who is a really good writer (which helps make the book what it is) and from his research team, who compiled mountains of information about Fortune 500 companies. The book doesn't cover them all, but concentrates on 11 standout companies, including Kimberley Clark and Walgreens. I liked the thoughts Jim presented on leadership and how companies navigated through their tough years (and their good years). I like the true inside look at a company through the eyes of an outsider who is trying to find best practices. It's a good read, and full of information for leaders and other managers involved in building a company.

From the Publisher's Weekly review, "While the companies that achieved greatness were all in different industries, each engaged in versions of Collins's strategies. While some of the overall findings are counterintuitive (e.g., the most effective leaders are humble and strong-willed rather than outgoing), many of Collins's perspectives on running a business are amazingly simple and commonsense. This is not to suggest, however, that executives at all levels wouldn't benefit from reading this book; after all, only 11 companies managed to figure out how to change their B grade to an A on their own."

Another great read has been around for quite some time. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. I know what you're thinking, you already read it—zip, bang, and boom. Moving on. Whoa there. Hear me out. This book offers some really good ideas about leadership and generally being an all-around balanced person. This guy knows what he's talking about. Just consider that perhaps it's time for a revisit and read one chapter. Good books are meant to be read many times, not just once (and not just skimmed through in five minutes so you could pretend you knew what everyone was talking about when the book first came out).

Amazon's reviewer writes, "Before you can adopt the seven habits, you'll need to accomplish what Covey calls a "paradigm shift"--a change in perception and interpretation of how the world works. Covey takes you through this change, which affects how you perceive and act regarding productivity, time management, positive thinking, developing your ‘proactive muscles' (acting with initiative rather than reacting), and much more."

Just two really great books worth your time. I love business books, so more to come in the future.

Loyalty from Your Employees

Your company can only get things done by your employees. As many have found out the hard way, if you have to do it yourself, everything else will fall apart. That's why in the business world there is so much emphasis on training and a happy workplace. But is this emphasis warranted? What could go wrong if employees were catered to less? What would happen if they were catered to more?

Let's say you didn't have a corporation, but a small restaurant. You can always find new waiters and waitresses, so why should it matter how loyal they are? Well, from the time the customer walks in the door, to the time they walk out, their ONLY true contact with your business and its hopes and dreams is the minimum wage kid you put out to be your ambassador. If they don't care about their job, then they won't care about how the food looks, or the customer's experience outside of the minimum it takes to get a tip.

What if you have a retail store? With uncaring employees, how do you think your customer service will be if you are not around to handle things? If you had a manufacturing plant, would neglected employees care about overhead, waste, or throughput?

These are just a few examples of how employees fit into an uncaring business, but the examples don't have to be the rule. In a recent article in Forbes, Tara Weiss asks, "Does your staff have your back?" Of course, she is talking about employee loyalty, but what is the foundation of loyalty? Basically, employees want to feel part of the company they work for and they need to feel a sense of purpose.

A big part of accomplishing this with your employees is to treat them well. However, that alone will only produce happy, yet disconnected employees. Education is a good way to unite your workforce. Show them the company's goals, how you plan to get there, and their part in the plan. Let them feel pride about how much they help the company by going the extra mile here and there. Setup a feedback program so they can definitively see their impact on the greater good.

It doesn't stop there. Once an employee feels accepted, knows their part, and can see results of better work habits, they still need one more thing to bond it all together: praise and reward for their efforts. Have a merit-based reward system. Make weekly announcements to single out and cheer for not just the most accomplished workers, but the hardest working ones as well.

Basically, if you give them a role, a purpose, and a reward, your employees will go to great lengths for the company; giving you results you could never have gotten any other way.

Using Intuition To Make Business Decisions

Many of the best managers we've met (or have heard about) not only have education and experience, they also boast intuitive decision making skills. These intuitive skills are based on an ability to recognize patterns at lightning speed. Gleaned from years of experience, the right decision comes in a flash, as quickly and effortlessly as "a recognition of information that has been largely forgotten by the conscious mind," writes Richard Daft in the upcoming new edition of Management (due out in 2009), one of his many textbooks on the subject of business management. He reports that "in the business world, managers continuously perceive and process information that they may not consciously be aware of, and their base of knowledge and experience helps them make decision that may be characterized by uncertainty and ambiguity."

Another book, recently published, called The Feminine Side of Leadership, by business executive Jenny Fisher "shares her experience and insight on how to maximize the creativity and talents of team members by creating a trusting and supportive work environment."

"‘The Feminine Side of Leadership is an invaluable tool to help people recognize their current management strengths and identify growth areas to improve their personal leadership effectiveness,' says Fisher. ‘Readers will learn how to use their leadership skills to inspire creativity and foster growth throughout their organization. By utilizing our inner strength and unleashing the power within us we can create a passionate, high-performance work environment that inspires others to succeed.'"

Using intuition rather than rational analysis to make business decisions is a timeworn tradition, not a newfangled invention or an exact science, even though recent books may promise that.

Gary Klein's Intuition at Work: Why Developing Your Gut Instincts Will Make You Better at What You Do (2002) was the penultimate book written to harness and channel this timeworn tradition. The book has been called the definitive work on intuition in business management, featured in the Wall Street Journal, and revered by business managers.

Klein writes, "Some experts encourage us to follow our intuitions, while others counsel us to suppress our intuitions because they are inherently biased. At first glance, we seem to be caught in a dilemma. Fortunately, research conducted during the past fifteen years points to a path forward."

"In order to take that path, we have to reject the dilemma. We shouldn't simply follow our intuitions, as they can be unreliable and need to be monitored. Yet we shouldn't suppress our intuitions either, because they are essential to our decision making and can't be replaced by analyses or procedures. Thus our only real option is to strengthen our intuitions so that they become more accurate and provide us with better insights."

If you wish to strengthen your intuition as a business manager, which has returned to the forefront as a skill to be mastered, perhaps checking out Klein and Fisher and Daft will help you in your quest.

A Round Up of What’s Happening in Small Business

A Business Daily Africa article highlights an often-overlooked aspect of starting a business: a business plan. We've not really discussed these on this blog, but look forward to future posts, and soon.

"What needs to be implemented? Simply put, a strategy. It is the working plan that shows how all the elements of a business will work together to achieve the stated objectives. Whereas this working plan should be well thought out, it should never be static.  In a small business, things keep changing and getting more efficient in response to the internal and external environments.

"A small business must create a name that will set itself apart from competitors if it is offering services. It must always be clear what is trying to sell. The name of the product should closely associate with the expected service experience.

"Good and successful businesses do simple things well. They keep their promises time and again, that way they gain loyal customers."

Reuters reports that small businesses in the UK are feeling the crunch as larger suppliers slow pay schedules. This is a true sign that even the UK's economy is hovering. We're seeing a similar trend in the United States. Although productivity is up, there's still reticence on the part of many big industry decision makers.

"The Federation of Small Business (FSB) says that small firms are experiencing the biggest squeeze on their cashflows since the early 1990s as big companies are now delaying payment to their smaller suppliers by more than 100 days. The FSB says that the situation has worsened dramatically in the past few weeks and it took the unprecedented step of naming Alliance Boots as one of the worst payers."

Hispanicbusiness.com reports that inflation has risen to the top of small business owners' list of worries during this economy.

"Inflation is the top concern of small-business owners for the first time since January 1981, according to a June survey of the National Federation of Independent Business.

"Confronted with rising gasoline, energy and food costs, some business owners have raised prices, but many have found creative ways to cut costs and delay further price increases.

"Small-business owners are feeling pressure from inflation 'every time they open up the back door' to receive new inventory, said William Dunkelberg, chief economist at the federation. He said 41 percent of small businesses raised prices in June in response to this 'backdoor inflation.'

"'There has been a really dramatic increase, and it seems to be accelerating,' he said of the inflation rate.

"In June, 20 percent of small-business owners cited inflation as their top concern, compared with 8 percent in February, according to the National Federation of Independent Business."

And now you're all caught up with some of the latest small-business news for this week.

How To Help Your Employees Succeed

After a previous post about boosting productivity by allowing employees to surf Facebook (I’m sure you’re delighted to have me bring that point up again), I want to clarify exactly what I believe is a productivity booster and what is not. Some companies advocate naps at work (a few heavily creative jobs really do necessitate this) and others ban personal Internet surfing (which I really don’t think is entirely all good) and so I’d like to come into this discussion again squarely in the middle.

Canada.com recently cited a study that indicates allowing people to goof off at work (surfing the Internet) boosts morale and productivity.
"[A] new study by a U.K. research group might help boost the Internet's image. It found that taking short breaks to surf the Internet at work might actually be beneficial to an employee's productivity.

Conducted by MindLab International, the study involved European women from seven different countries who were asked to complete computer-based intelligence tests designed to induce stress. They were then offered a 10-minute break in which they could surf the Internet freely before returning to further testing. Stress levels and productivity were monitored throughout and the researchers found that the break resulted in both a reduction in stress and an increase in productivity."

On the other hand, some companies struggle with workers goofing off by gossiping and stirring up trouble among fellow employees. That is not my idea of boosting morale.
AfricanPath.com, a site geared to reporting news of and by Africans around the world talks about the problem of gossip in the workplace and I really liked blogger Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi’s June 26, 2008 checklist on the subject.

"Do you:

  1. Spread rumors about other people?
  2. Have you good things to say about others?
  3. Judge others only on the basis of facts?
  4. Encourage others to bring their rumors to you?
  5. Precede your conversations with a "don’t-tell-anyone, and you-didn’t-hear-it-from- me"?
  6. Keep" confidential "information confidential?
  7. Feel guilty about what you say concerning other people?
  8. Have an okra (slippery) mouth?
  9. Like to hear reports of scandals?"
These examples should serve as a caution to employers who cite lost productivity as the number one factor impacted by employee turnover, according to TalentKeepers’ 2008 Employee Turnover Trends research report.

 

"‘It used to be that employee turnover was considered solely an HR problem, but now top executives are beginning to see the far-reaching impact of turnover and its implications,’ explains Craig Taylor, VP of Client Services for TalentKeepers and senior research author of the 2008 Employee Turnover Trends report. ‘It starts a domino effect that will eventually touch all aspects of an organization. The key is to stop the chain reaction by implementing tactical retention strategies before the last domino falls.’"

Is allowing goof off time a tactical retention strategy? According to many employed workers, the rigidness of an employer is also a measure of their willingness to stick around for the long term. I think every employer must ultimately make the call about goof-off time that best suits their particular needs. But I urge moderation. Polling employees about their preferences and discussing these issues openly is the best next action for companies seeking a definitive policy.

The Buck Stops Here

Leadership

Leadership. Even the word strikes fear into the hearts of those stalwart leaders and managers who must lead us every day. If you're a member of the leadership club, we've rounded up a few great news links to help you lessen the fear and actually become a better leader than you thought you could be. Yes, you can!

Furnitureworld.com highlights an important leadership quality that I think is so often overlooked in many of the top leadership how-to books and even in most news articles about leadership.

"You hear it all the time … aspiring managers or vice presidents want to know the most important key to an esteemed business leader's success. Thinking the answer must be something like inspiring leadership, technological innovation, savvy marketing or far-sighted financial planning — all of which are important — their jaws drop when they learn the truth.

Generally, a savvy leader's success is directly tied to his or her ability to focus on the business fundamentals — the daily blocking and tackling that every company must master to be a winner in its field. Strong, effective leaders stress fundamentals like discipline, accountability, strategic alignment, managing to his or her values, and empowering employees. Additionally, these leaders have mastered the six basic functions of management: leading, planning, organizing, staffing, controlling and communicating. But what's the one golden thread tying all those functions together — and the most important key to great leadership? Clear communication."

The Wall Street Journal hits upon a radical approach to leadership: group leadership.

"It's a common corporate approach to a problem: Build a team of experts from different parts of the company and ask them to find a solution.

But these teams could be a lot more effective if companies took one radical step: Share leadership.

This concept, of course, flies in the face of the traditional idea of how companies should operate -- one person is in charge, and the others follow. But in a team of specialists, one expert usually doesn't have the know-how to understand all the facets of the job at hand. Instead, a better approach is to share the top duties, so the person in charge at any moment is the one with the key knowledge, skills and abilities for the aspect of the job at hand. When that changes, a new expert should step to the fore."

These are two really good ideas for leaders seeking a renewal of their skills while in the midst of layoffs and harsh financial times for their company or department.

Take heart, leaders. These are interesting times, but the ability to look outside of proven typical solutions to gain new, bigger results is really quite smart. And just so you know, that's another sign of a good leader. Kudos to you!

Happy 4th

We hope everyone enjoys a wonderful July 4th this year. Make sure to watch fireworks, eat hot dogs and spend some time with friends and family.

Happy 4th

Five Tips To Reduce Your Company’s Expenses

Are you feeling the squeeze as a business owner? The papers are full of talk about rising food and gas prices for consumers, but the business owners have to deal with those issues as well. Not only are consumers not spending right now, but the price of gas increases the price of other supplies that businesses require to operate. And the mood among small business owners is dour, so here's a few tips to pep up your day.

  1. Check your utility bills for errors. Phone bills, water bills, electricity bills, any recurring cost of doing business expense has a bill and they are nowhere near fool-proof. Check them to make sure you're being charged the right amount. Check with the companies to see if they offer a promotion for being a loyal customer. Make sure you're paying for what your company is using and not extras that you're not.
  2. Renegotiate your contracts. This slides neatly into the second slot after number 1 above. Is there a better deal you can get by going with another company? If you pit two companies against each other, can you whittle them down bit by bit? Never be afraid to ask for a better deal. It's the name of the game. Especially now.
  3. Think outside the box. Rather than flying everyone to one location for a meeting, think about a conferencing service and instead of handing out cell phones willy-nilly, reconsider how many people in your company really need them. It only takes a little bit of brainstorming.
  4. Outsource. Trying to do it all as a small or mid-size business isn't smart and these days there are services for everything. Shop around and don't sign any long-term contracts until you know you'll use it. This can be for HR, teleconferencing, accounting, marketing, you name it. There must be one thing holding up progress in your company. Figure that out and the sky's the limit. And don't outsource everything; start with one thing.
  5. Show that you're cutting back. Be the example. Turn off the lights when not in the office. Eat a sack lunch twice a week. Print on both sides of the page. Recycle. And always praise employees who attempt to help you cut costs by doing any of the above. It goes a long way and builds morale, which improves productivity, which improves sales and on and on. You know the drill.

Going Green, Along With Everybody Else

It's the biggest buzzword of the year, and may end up the most popular trend of our decade: green.

And everyone's jumping on the bandwagon, including whole sectors of business, government, and media.

The Chicago Tribune reports a list of celebrities who have not gone green yet including: Celine Dion, Tiger Woods, Elizabeth Hurley, Al Gore, John Travolta, Madonna, the Beckhams, and Bill Gates.

Why do these famous people get cited? And what is with Al Gore ? Isn't this his pet peeve?

The Trib reports that each celeb on the list uses more than the usual amount of water, has larger than above-average homes, and uses up a lot of resources traveling the world.
According to the BBC, "David Beckham may have had the largest carbon footprint of all in 2006. Add on his wife's carbon footprint, and they could be one of the most eco-unfriendly couples in the world."

The San Jose Mercury News tells us that public school districts in Miami, San Francisco, and Chicago will benefit from a partnership between a television network and an environmental media company.

"CBS Corp. and EcoMedia of New York City announced Thursday that they will sell special advertising content and programming. They will use part of the proceeds to install solar power, green roofs and organic gardens at schools in the three cities. This is the first step in what will be called the 'Green Schools Initiative.' It will cost about $250,000 per school for the upgrades. EcoMedia wants to expand the program in dozens of schools nationwide over the coming years."

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports on an upcoming initiative joining Seattle's blue collar workers together to create a new green economy.

"'This is hard-wired into Puget Sound's genetic code. We understand technological revolutions. We started one in aerospace in the '50s, and we started one in software in the '70s, and now we can start one in this,' said Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., who will address the conference. 'Against a backdrop that for decades seemed to pit environmentalists and labor groups against each other, greens, labor and their allies worked together in the last few years to help pass state laws to improve energy-efficiency and require use of renewable energy. Now they're looking to make sure the jobs those requirements spawn end up in the Evergreen State.'"

What green trends do you see in your neighborhood?

The Downside of Upgrading

8.3 million. That's how many times the new version of Firefox was downloaded yesterday. We were part of the 8.3 mil. Probably millions downgraded - we did (5 out of 5 in our office). Why?

We use Firefox for the extensions. Without the extensions, we might as well be using Netscape 1.0 or IE. We'll gladly upgrade to 3.0, but only when the extensions catch up, if they ever do. We have to have our tab options! This seems eerily similar....does anyone remember the Vista upgrade headaches? We still have issues. Why can't UPS send us a Vista compatible version of their shipping program?

So who's to blame? The original developer (like Mozilla or Microsoft) by not sending out dev kits in time? Or 3rd party developers who haven't yet caught up with the platform? Or is everyone to blame? …for simply not hopping on a conference call to talk about it.

Before definitively pointing the finger, let's keep in mind "What makes a browser great?" Compatibility (ALL Types: Site, Application, Plug-in, & Platform) and Speed. In that order. Some users might wonder if Mozilla could include a ‘fatter' version of the browser with a certain level of compatibility with old extensions. Maybe simply warn about stability or security issues until extensions are updated.

From the Mozilla website: "When you install Firefox 3 all of your Extensions and Themes will be disabled until Firefox 3 determines that either a) they are compatible with the Firefox 3 release or b) there are newer versions available that are compatible."

This can't be the best policy.

Individual extension developers are usually not paid. Maybe they make some AdWords cash, but they are donating to the community and bring the biggest piece of the value pie. Is there more Mozilla can do to cater to these developers? Could they further open up what is being developed to the public domain and stay competitive? Trust in users could generate more brand loyalty and give 3rd party developers more reaction time. People love the name; dare we say they are as positive of a brand as Google. How is the beta/RC program working out? How soon DO developers get information? Is that soon enough or do unpaid extension developers simply ignore the idea of updating their code until they hear from users in their inbox.

As users, we can love extension developers and show gratitude for their time. Please let them know they are appreciated!

As platform developers, we can take some more time out of the busy rush to "release". Although this might "cost" the company, it would be invaluable. Imagine a "no-name developer" receiving a phone call or an email double checking about compatibility.

As third party developers we can bask in the billions of dollars being made from AdWords; or just continue taking pride in persistence. A job well done!