One of my favorite characters from the movie “Up” was Doug the Dog. Doug had a very special collar that enabled him to speak to humans. He was enthusiastic, loyal and easily distracted. He would often lose focus when he heard or saw a squirrel. Mid-sentence he would turn and say “Squirrel“.
I’ve observed how many business owners and entrepreneurs love squirrels too. I am talking about the shiny objects that distract our attention from action and activities that produce optimal results in hopes to find the latest, greatest gimmick that will catapult their business.
Understand, I am not against innovation and improvement. I am all for it; at the right time.
Here are some key strategies that will enable you to be much more strategic when you consider potential opportunities for innovation and improvement. Doing so will increase your likelihood of success by minimizing distractions and squirrels.
Know Your Numbers
Often entrepreneurs are not in tune with actual performance of their businesses in critical areas. They monitor their success by guessing.
A client and I were reviewing their marketing and lead generation efforts. When asked about the performance of his various efforts, he had no idea which channels were generating leads or had converted business. He was wingin’ it and making very subjective decisions about how to invest his marketing dollars as he was getting ready to renew some advertising contracts. I recommended that we do some data collection and forensics on previous sales over the last year. Interestingly, we discovered some surprising truths about his lead generation and conversion efforts.
Specifically, we determined that he was investing over $40,000 per year in a publication that only produced one lead for his company and no sales. Ironically, he thought the ad was working and getting ready to renew for the next year.
The good news is that we discovered that another publication was producing fantastic results and we diverted funds to that media.
Not utilizing good, objective information leads business owners to be in a constant state of innovation and often spending time focusing on the wrong thing.
Be Strategic About Innovation
Attention is the new currency. Marketers are doing everything they can do to capture your attention.
As I suggested before, entrepreneurs can be susceptible to distractions and offers purported to make your life easier, sell more, improve and innovate. When you know your numbers and the truth about your performance, it will help you temper and resist the constant demand for your attention.
In one of my businesses, I observed our leadership team considering an alternative to a software program that we currently have in place. The new potential vendor was offering a lot of bells and whistles that sounded very appealing.
I challenged our team to consider the results our current program was producing and asked if those numbers were acceptable. By the time we finished the conversation, we found that our current program offered all the functionality and efficiency we really needed to get the results we wanted. Yes, the other program was compelling, but didn’t offer any real tangible benefit that would enhance the business.
Monitoring numbers will tell you the areas of the business you need to focus your attention and stay focused on what matters most.
Plan Sand Box Time
Entrepreneurs by nature tend to be innovators. They like to improve things and make things better. It is part of their DNA and can’t be squelched. A simple solution is to spend time researching and learning new things at a very specific, designated time each week. Get in the sand box and play. As an example, spend two hours on Friday afternoons learning something new or researching an area of interest. The key is that you don’t have to take any action after you’ve played. Just satisfy your need to learn and explore. You can also use that time to look for ways to improve something that you’ve previously identified, based on the numbers, that is not working in your business.
In summary, being more productive starts with knowing your numbers, focus on fixing what is broken based on those numbers and watching out for the squirrels vying for your attention.
Rick was very frustrated with his business. Despite the fact he was working harder than ever, the business growth has stalled or plateaued. The business is wildly dependent on him and he couldn’t seem to get free.
Jennifer had a good business. Money was decent. She could take a little time off from time to time. But she knew deep down that the business wasn’t great. The business was far from its full potential. Her dream of building something extraordinary seemed more and more elusive to her. The business hasn’t clearly defined or differentiated itself.
The one thing Rick and Jennifer have in common is they are both stuck. They are intelligent and hard-working. Both were on a journey to build a great business. Although in different places in their businesses they are both on the continuum.
We all are on a continuum to move our business from perhaps barely surviving to modestly performing to performing well but yet highly people dependent to a growing and profitable, professionally managed, scalable, differentiated, system driven business that really matters with a powerful and compelling culture that genuinely serves the lives of the owners, customers and contributors to the business.
We have our own definition of greatness and I believe we all want to get there. If not, why bother?
The Level 7 System started with the premise – How to help entrepreneurs build great businesses that serve their lives.
We developed a set of Level 7 Core Principles; productive ways of thinking about business if you will. The idea is that if we embrace the RIGHT thoughts it will lead to the RIGHT actions.
Then came the Level 7 Implementation Program. We need to help business owners and entrepreneurs to apply the right thoughts in the most productive and effective manner. I am happy to say, my team and I have done a pretty good job of helping our clients accomplish that goal.
Everything changes. Innovation Happens (oh…that could be a t-shirt)
Not too long ago, at one of our Annual Level 7 Roundtables, a client asked me about the key activities of a Level 7 Business. I gave it some thought, did some research and concluded that there are 10 Absolutely Essential Activities Business Must Do to Become Great.
Here they are:
1- Get Your People Fired Up and Enthusiastically Engaged. Great businesses engage in consistent, intentional and varied leadership directed communication with the purpose of creating an enthusiastic collective focus with the people in the organization. Through these communication forums, leadership communicates goals, vision and values in a way to will inspire and get people bought in an on-board with the direction of the business.
2- Pay Attention and Listen. Great businesses expecting people to take an interest in the vision, goals and values of the organization, must demonstrate an interest in the concerns, ideas, frustrations and issues of their employees. These forums, or one on one meetings, with individuals are not intended for mentoring, performance reviews or providing team members direction, they are simply to listen to their people and appropriately respond. Most Level 7 Business conduct 15-20 minute One on One Meetings once per month. Calvin Cummings of Valbridge Property Advisors in Los Angeles, California suggested that implementing One on One Meetings in his business was one of the most important and valuable things he has done for the health, employee satisfaction, engagement and growth of his business.
3- Review Your Systemization Report once a week. Great businesses are systems driven. There seems to be a lot of confusion about what it means to be a systems driven business however. Some people believe that once they have a set of written and documented systems in a three-ringed binder on a bookshelf means they have systemized their business. Or they think that just because they have identified some process or workflow in an area of their business, even though it’s in their people’s heads, they have a systemized business. Well not to burst anyone’s bubble, but this is not systemized or systems driven. Read more about becoming systemize driven here.
Essentially being systems driven means your business has effectively orchestrated the process of documentation, testing, training and implementing your systems. In other words, creating great, high performing, results focused processes that your people are actually USING. Once you’ve done that, your business will be then be engaged in the process of evaluating and innovating your systems to continually make your systems better. The cycle repeats and your business continues to improve.
The Systemization Report is your reference to the current status of every system in your business as it relates to the systems development cycle. The Systemization Report serves as the catalyst that keeps the process of developing, implementing and innovating your systems.
4- A Commitment Standard is in place. If you have a systems driven business, you can trust and have confidence that your business will perform. Why? Because great systems produce great results. However, most systems are operated by people and, as such, you much trust your people to operate the systems according to the way they have been written and developed. If they don’t, then you will not get the results you are expecting or counting on.
A Commitment Standard simply clarifies the company’s expectations when it comes to commitments and follow-through. It establishes an environment of trust between management and staff and employee to employee. Although we assume people will consistently keep all their promises, things frequently slip through the cracks, people don’t always do what they say they are going to do.
This impacting results and business performance. The details matter. And one small slip can cost a company dearly. But the fact is people don’t always complete tasks on time or do things the way they are supposed to be done but it rarely addressed.
The Commitment Standard provides clarity of expectations when it comes to accountability and follow-though.
5- Stop Firefighting and Solve and Eliminate Your Problems Well. Most business owners are effective at solving problems. We are great firefighters. But to build a great business, we need to permanently eliminate reoccurring problems and frustrations. We need a systematic and effective approach to identifying the core source of the problem and in a step by step manner eliminate it. The Level 7 Problem Resolution System is a tool that our clients and their employees regularly use to deal with frustrations and challenges. Not only does it give the business owner and effective approach to solving problems and frustrations but it helps employees to effectively resolve problems too.
6- Monitor and Report Your Employee Performance. Great businesses have clearly defined, objective and measurable goals and expectations for each employee in their organization. These goals are communicated and reported to each team member on a monthly basis. Great businesses are on the same page with their people. When people are meeting or exceeding expectations they get high fives and acknowledgement. For those that are falling short; time and energy is invested to help them improve performance so they can start succeeding. If your people are succeeding across the board, your business is succeeding.
7- Be the Conductor and Orchestrate Correct Behavior. Great businesses understand that we must get things done. If it doesn’t need to be done, then eliminate it. We create Work Prioritizers. Work Prioritizers are essentially check or task list of reoccurring activities your employees are responsible for doing. This is not micromanagement just in case that thought went through your mind. It’s actually empowerment. You are setting your people up to succeed by providing them a resource that keeps them on track. Sales people are reminded to make 5 outbound calls per day. Bookkeepers are reminded to generate month-end reports by the 5th of the month. Front desk people are reminded to purge old files every month. Managers are reminded to review their Systemization Report weekly and take appropriate business improvement action as required.
8- Don’t Take Any Chances and Thread Your Culture. Great businesses are intentional about their culture. Threading or embedding a set of values in an organization requires a lot more than posting a list of values on a wall someplace on your premises. A well-crafted and threaded culture differentiates an organization among its employees and consumers. Level 7 Businesses employ a wide variety of strategies to establish and maintain a powerful and compelling culture. The most notable and effective is to create a Culture Development Team.
Having a Culture Development Team that meets regularly to develop strategies to communicate and engage people in the culture transfers the ownership of threading the culture to employees.
9- Know Your Numbers. I’m not talking about the occasional monthly P&L you might be getting. I am suggesting a set of key indicators that monitor performance for each department and area throughout the business. You could be looking at client acquisition numbers, lead conversion performance, closing ratios, employee productivity, brand development, quality control, client retention etc. The numbers for each business is unique to each business. Getting the numbers however is not enough. It also requires a clear and specific approach to responding when an area of the business is falling short.
10- Get Your Best Minds Together. Innovation is vital to any growing enterprise. Great businesses engage their key people in the business to participate in specific forums designed to initiate and encourage improvement in areas of concern in the business. The Level 7 Brainbank Process brings people together, they look at areas or systems that require improvement and then discuss and implement changes to their current systems to improve the business performance. Innovation and improvement goes from random and haphazard and business owner dependent to systematic, intentional, purposeful and engaging that includes people within the organization.
Once a business effectively and consistent engages in these key activities, they will see and experience massive improvement in all the areas of performance, revenue, profitability, capacity to scale and replicate, employee morale and customer satisfaction while improving your quality of life and connection to your organization.
Want to discuss or evaluate where you might be or how we can help you implement these 10 Critical Activities? Let chat. Click here to check out times and availability for a 30 Minute Evaluation, Assessment and Recommendation Call.
Evaluating employee performance is often very subjective in business.
If you’ve ever said, “I think [fill in employee name] is doing a good job but I am not so sure about [fill in another employee name]”, you are largely guilty of subjectively evaluating employee performance.
Stop it. It’s not good for you or for your employees. If your business relies on subjectivity to measure performance, than you can guarantee you will have employees who think they are doing a good job and aren’t. You will also have good performing employees who are not sure you are happy with their performance. Not good in either sense.
Getting employees on the same page as you or management requires clear and quality communication of expectations and performance.
I was meeting with Jenny and Odeen Domingo, owners of co+hoots and eeko studio the other day.
I wrote on the whiteboard in their office these words:
How to Get Fired from [fill in your company name]
They were amused. They both chuckled. Jenny busted out her laptop and feverishly began taking notes.
I wrote down four additional points and explained that any employee who is not meeting these expectations could and perhaps should be fired.
#1- They aren’t coachable and willing to learn and grow.
In a business that is hoping to grow and improve, so must it’s people.
#2- An Individual doesn’t fit the company culture.
This assumes you have a desired and written set of values that describe the company culture. If an employee doesn’t fit and isn’t willing to try to fit your culture, based on your mentoring and development (see point #1), then they ought to go.
#3- The employee doesn’t produce results.
Every position exists for a reason, a purpose and to achieve a goal. Not just do tasks. Doing tasks produce results. A sales rep makes outbound calls to produce sales. A bookkeeper enter accounts receivables in hopes to maximize collections. A manager works on systems in hope so to ensure that employees are producing their results. All employees produce results. The question is whether the results are what you want. The first step in the process is to define the specific results. Then measure them. The report them to your people. BAM. Everyone on the same page.
If an employee is not achieving their goals, despite your systems and training, they might need to go.
#4- They don’t follow-through with commitments, accountability.
In a systems driven business powered by the Level 7 System, we need to trust two things: Our systems produce the results we desire and our people follow the systems. It also means we trust our people to keep their promises. If you have people who don’t follow-through, once you’ve established this as a standard and expectation, they must go.
If you want to focus on a more positive approach to employee development and performance, rather than focusing on reasons to fire them, then consider the four points above and emphasize with people that extraordinary performance is measured by the same criteria. Specifically:
- Top Performing Employees are role models for our company culture. It’s measured through peer to peer, self and management assessments.
- Top Performing Employees always achieve the results specified for their position.
- Top Performing Employees always follow-through with their agreements and commitments.
By getting clear on these performance expectations and then communicating them objectively, you are setting the stage for your employees to be on the same page. They will know they are performing well or not and so will you.
Let's assume for a minute that you embrace the idea that the key to producing consistent, predictable results in your business is dependent on the quality of your systems coupled with the willingness of your people to follow the systems.
Essentially your goal is to create a systems driven versus a people dependent environment.
If you don't understand that concept or embrace it, you are missing out big time. Contact me. I will happily explain it to you. No pressure. It really makes sense or you can read The Level 7 Manifesto =>>
The big mistake people make in the process is thinking that they just have to go through the motions and get all their systems documented in the business and create these beautiful 3 ringed operation manuals. I have met many business owners who have done this and the end result is a lot of time and money invested only to have dusty, obsolete manuals sitting on a shelf some where.
Building a systems driven business is about creating a systems culture where everyone in the organization understands and embraces the notion that the key to your success is the quality of your systems. Further, the business supports what I refer to as the System Development Cycle.
This is the key. You must build install the systems development cycle.
The System Development Cycle is a reoccurring process that starts with the initial documentation of your systems, periodic evaluation of those systems and innovation of the systems as needed to improve business performance. Then the loop starts over again.
Want to simplify the process of building a great business? Get the system development cycle installed in your organization. Make IT the way you do business.
Read more about the System Development Cycle here =>>
Whoever came up with the statement "the customer is always right" was wrong. The reality is that this statement was designed for people who couldn't be trusted to effectively connect with a customer in order to create a win win environment.
But the customer is not always right. The customer doesn't always know what they NEED. They might know what they WANT. But the two are entirely different.
Henry Ford once said, regarding the first car he ever built, "If I'd asked my customers what they wanted, they'd have said a faster horse."
Effective leadership listens and observes trends. They do talk with customers and look to the future. They might not base their decisions on what the customer says they want however. They look for trends that reveal what the customer really needs or at least will want in the future.
I recommend that we do this intentionally. Take some time and simply ask the question, 'what trends and opportunities seem to be emerging that our clients and industry will be interested in the future?'
Here are a couple trends I have observed.
I see an ultimate decrease in the demand for commercial office space. Why? Technology is going to enable us to be able to telecommute more effectively. It's already happening.
There will be an increased demand in resources, training, materials and equipment designed for people to successfully work independently at home.
More outlets will emerge for socialization. It is already happening. Look at on-line social media. People will need to connect to others. If that isn't happening at work its going to happen somewhere. Starbucks like places will continue to grow as long as they can cater to the home-based work crowd. Wifi and Internet access, a quiet place to sit for long stretches of time will become common place in our neighborhoods.
I believe the next major break in technology since the desktop computer will be high functioning voice recognition programs. Think Star Trek and how the crew would interact with the computer. Key pads, mouses, touchscreens would become obsolete.
I would love to hear your feedback on trends in the world you see emerging too.
Please post your comments below.