Designing Strategies: The Blog
Where have all your leaders gone? Are they really gone, or have you just totally overlooked them in your search for someone from outside with an MBA, designer suit and slick haircut? Many times leaders are hiding in plain sight within your organization and you simply didn’t notice them. Some may have been with your company for years, dedicated employees learning the ins and outs of the business. They are the ones that keep things operating smoothly and handling issues from other employees that you never even hear about.
These hidden leaders bring seemingly insignificant issues to the surface where they can be dealt with, or make suggestions to improve processes, productivity or your bottom line. From their unique points of view they can clearly identify ways to save the company money or make processes and systems more effective. Other employees bring issues and ideas to these unsung leaders because they respect them, knowing they will find a way to deliver the message and make things happen. Do you have any potential leaders hiding in plain sight?
Even the smallest companies need good leaders if they plan to grow and be successful. It is amazing how many small companies stay small and fail to grow in size and profitability because the owner/founder fails to realize that he or she is the bottle neck hindering their growth and success. Until that death grip is released and leadership is shared, growth will be impossible.
At some point, one person trying to control every facet of a business will bring even a thriving organization to a screeching halt. Dreams and goals of becoming a larger firm with multiple locations, exceeding tens or hundreds of millions in revenue, and having a global presence are not possible if an owner cannot let go and share leadership responsibilities. Far too much time is spent working in the business, instead of working on the business to achieve its vision. It takes a team to make visions into reality; a team made up of worker bees, managers and leaders. No one of those parts can be successful without the others.
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Characteristics of failed businesses include lack of sufficient funding, lack of planning and lack of a vision of where and how owners want the business to grow and succeed. Statistics show only one in three new business start-ups survive beyond the first two years. Those with sufficient financing and a clear direction enjoy a much greater chance for success.
Have you reached a plateau or stumbling block in your business and are not sure how to get past it to move to the next level? Some very basic marketing research can help get you back on track and refocused on your next level of success.Market research does not have to cost thousands. Much can be done in-house by you and your staff, or by an independent contractor. You already have an excellent group from which to seek input: your existing client base.
Who are your most favored clients or customers? Why are they among your elite client base? Are they the ones responsible for the majority of your revenues and profit? Do they possess other positive characteristics that you would look for in new clients? Are they loyal to your company and willing to pay more for quality products and services? Which client types would you like to have more of, or less of? All of this information should contained within your company records. All it takes is reviewing and analyzing of those records to give you a clear idea of who your best customers are, and why you would want more of them to help you move forward.
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Are you chasing customers away? I recently developed a seminar on the topic of improving customer experiences, so the topic is top of mind for me. My mental radar is on High for recognizing bad… no, make that miserable… examples of customer service and experiences. I wish I could say there are equal amounts of good and bad customer service and experiences, but sadly, the bad greatly outnumber the good, and even the mediocre.
Everyone claims to provide exceptional customer experiences, but it isn’t true by a long shot. A friend recently stopped by a family style restaurant with a colleague for a late lunch. They walked in the door only to be met by the top of the hostess’s head, looking down at something that must have been really, really important to ignore customers with cash in hand. The restaurant was virtually empty with more than a few open tables where they could have been quickly seated.
After standing in the lobby several minutes, unacknowledged, the hostess finally looked up. My friend said: “Two, please.” The hostess responded: “Name, please?” to put them on a list! No one else was waiting, plenty of tables were available, but the hostess felt compelled to put them through the paces of a customer walking in on a busy Friday evening. Her actions made absolutely no sense at all, and there was no excuse for the delay in acknowledging their presence.
The important point here: what impression did this experience have on the customers? Needless to say, it was not a good impression. Clearly, the customers’ experience was not exceptional or even mediocre. Some company policy or procedure had evidently taken hold of the receptionist’s brain, and no logical thought could escape to satisfy a customer.
Do your company policies and systems get in the way of making a customer’s experience dealing with you positive? When you wrote policies and procedures, were they focused on making things easy for you and your staff to get jobs done, creating a necessary paper trail; or focused on making it easy for customers to do business with you? My guess is that your focus was on the internal, not the external; the much more important customers’ point of view. The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer. How are you doing?
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“Strategic planning or tactical mediocrity? Each firm has the choice.” This was the eye-catching headline of
an article by Scott Clark, a sales consultant from Iowa. Now, think fast. Which is your company: (a) one with
management that is strategically focused, constantly thinking in a strategic mode, watching for changes and opportunities in the world around you? Or, (b) does your management team spend their time putting out fires and dealing with the tactical, day-to-day, operational issues of the business?
If your response was ‘b’, “dealing with the operational tactics that just keep the business going”, odds are that no one is strategically focused on the future of the business. Anyone devoting all of his time focused internally, dealing with inventory levels, equipment malfunctions, supplier and distribution issues, and human resources issues will be unable to focus strategically, missing the big picture so necessary for a successful and profitable future. Who is watching for opportunities on which to capitalize? This scenario is known as spending time working in your business, not on your business.
Many firms think they are strategically focused. After all, they schedule a planning session every year. Doesn’t that make them strategically managed? Not by a long shot. Spending a day or two at a retreat and coming away with something passing for a strategic plan does not guarantee success or change the way a firm operates. If no one routinely analyzes the strengths that led you to the level of success you hold today, or the weaknesses that held you back from becoming more than an ‘OK’ company, why would anything change? Why should you be more successful than you already are…assuming you are successful in the first place? Do your core competencies poise you to merely maintain your position against competition, or to jump ahead when an opportunity arises? Will they help or hinder you in finding new markets, developing and introducing new products or services?
A management team focused day in and day out on the status quo, giving attention only to immediate, short-term issues, will doom a company to stagnating at that level indefinitely. Or worse yet, they will doom the company to failure due to their inability to see or understand what is happening around them in terms of competition, or customer needs and preferences. This does not even include awareness of constant changes in the environmental, political, economic, technological and sociological spheres that make up that big world around us in which we strive for success.
It is imperative for the firm that dreams of success to move their management team toward strategic thinking as the first step to becoming truly strategically planned and managed. Of course, your company must deal with the day-to-day issues that keep it operating smoothly; that is essential for any company. Just be sure that internal, tactical focus does not exclude that external, big picture focus critical for a strategic approach to success.
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There is an ongoing difference of opinions on the key component of business success: customers or employees. Some say it’s all about the customers. From my viewpoint, it is that ‘chicken or the egg’ theory: Which came first? I have to give employees the nod. An employee is the first contact a customer has with your product or service. Their first experience with your company may be the receptionist answering the telephone or greeting them as they enter your place of business. It could be a delivery person, or a maintenance person shoveling snow from your front entrance. None of these are high paying jobs, but they are certainly important to your firm’s success.
Imagine a day without any one of those people doing their best to represent you. The phone rings repeatedly with no quick, friendly answer. Your customer relations specialist doesn’t respond in an interested, polite manner. Products stack up on the loading dock, waiting to be delivered by a skillful, friendly representative of your firm. Customers arrive at your door, irked because they had to climb through snowdrifts to get to you. Odds are, customers will not be in the most receptive mood to do business once they have found you without good employees meeting them at all touch points.
Finding and hiring good people is only the beginning of the process. Once you get them, how will you keep them in this highly competitive job market? Is yours a good place to work? Do you pay a fair wage for their contributions? Do you show them basic respect as a part of your team? Have you assigned a training budget for your workers? Do you let them know that no matter how low their job is on the corporate totem pole, that they are important to the success of your business?
Training your people is one way to provide them with tools they need to succeed and be productive. Empowering them to do their jobs the best way they see fit is another. Recognizing their achievements goes a long way to making them feel that their efforts have been noticed and appreciated. What, if anything, are you doing to support the people who support your business?
Find ways to reward innovation and excellence. Rewards need not be expensive. Like the saying goes: It’s the thought that counts. Reserve a parking space near the door for the ‘Employee of the Month’. Feature an employee in the company newsletter where other employees and customers will see it. These kinds of rewards cost little but go a long way in making an employee feel valued. Gift cards or gift certificates to local restaurants, and tickets to concerts or sporting events are inexpensive ways to tell an employee that you’ve noticed their contributions and appreciate their efforts.