Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Favorites - If U cn rd ths u mgt b a hllva ldr

Whether at work or at home, any leader worth his or her salt
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recognizes that in any single interaction - even in every single phrase - many messages are being sent simultaneously.  When two people communicate you might notice three distinct (and perhaps conflicting) pieces of information - the obvious surface message, the message behind the message,  and the unintended message - and that's just for starters.

How you say it is incredibly important, yet oftentimes in situations where time pressure, mixed feelings, or high intensity affect your communication process it's easy to forget that unintentional messaging can easily become communication gone sour.  Let's talk about a few of the common pitfalls:

You may or may not consider yourself a spelling geek, but poor spelling can communicate lack of education or lack of intelligence.  This is not an attempt to be insulting.  Some people care about spelling and some people don't, but if you don't spell well and you have to write for someone who considers accuracy in spelling to be a key quality indicator, you are in deep doo-doo.  Use your spell check every time, and then check your checked spelling.  (Bank marketers, for instance have to use the words "note" and "rate" quite often.  Depending upon the particular typo, spell check would change the mistake into a recognizable word - just not the correct one.)

Use some.  Shorter sentences and relatively short paragraphs will help the message get through faster, and to a wider range of reading levels.  Understand though, that short sentences can also sound like commands.  That doesn't always serve your purpose (remember the message behind the message?).  On the other hand, if you go on and on and never break a thought for a pause and you keep the same sentence going and you connect all of the parts with the word "and" your unintended message will be that you are unable to sort the information in your head well enough to chunk it into comprehensible pieces and that will drive people to think you might be either seven years old or a little bit nuts.

Just a few days ago there was a post online that said you reveal yourself as over 40 years old if you allow two spaces at the end of a sentence instead of only one. One more thing - if you frequently use exclamation points or multiple question marks at the end of sentences people will know that you used to be a cheerleader, and that you have never gotten over it.

The order in which you choose to organize your words has a HUGE impact on the message perceived.  If you're Pennsylvania German (or perhaps a Yoda fan) you'll know what is meant by, "Please throw down the steps a pair of socks!"   If you're not, well, the person using that syntax has revealed himself or herself as Pennsylvania German (or a Star Wars wannabe) and that the local word sequencing has just overwhelmed sixteen years of schooling.  Colloquial (informal) syntax often isn't welcome in business communication.  In a global economy it can be greatly to your advantage to sound homogenized enough that you could be from New York, or from California, or from Wichita, or from "France."  (A Saturday Night Live Coneheads reference for you old geezers out there...)

Word Choice
It comes down to this:  you can choose to use big words, small words, foreign words, or swear words.  Any word choice you make reveals whether you think the communication is about the receiver of the message or about you.  Match the word choice to the audience.  If you don't do so, you'll risk coming across as a vulgar pseudo-intellectual with egomaniacal tendencies, a narcissist, a braggart, a ....  Enough said on this point.

Ambiguous Combinations
This communication method is sometimes unintentional, but often is strategically employed when you have been asked to say something and you want plausible deniability later.  There's a hilarious book on this, titled Lexicon of Intentionally Ambiguous Recommendations, or L.I.A.R., by Robert Thorton.   This concept is best demonstrated with examples:
  • "I would place this student in a class by himself."  Really?  Why does he have to be alone?
  • "She works effortlessly."  Is it easy for her, or does she apply no effort to her work?
  • "You will never catch him asleep on the job."  Is it that he never sleeps on the job, or that you'll never catch him?
  • "Whenever he asked for a raise, we generally let him have it."  With a sledgehammer?
  • "There is nothing you can teach a woman like her."  She's not too bright.
In Summary
Tread carefully in your communication today.  Bee aware tht peepul are waching 2 sea weather you know what u r doing, and yur speech and riting reveal more than u realize.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Can't sleep? Stressed out? Try this...

Often when you can't sleep or you're experiencing chronic stress your brain is cluttered with short-term memory loops.  Concerns about work, personal problems, unpaid bills, that person who drives you nuts - even reminders to pick up bread at the store can circulate and recirculate, making it difficult for you to relax and/or to concentrate.

If you don't want to medicate yourself and you don't want to expend money on improving your situation, try meditation.  There are a number of forms, some of which you can do sitting in a comfortable chair in your home or office.  Meditation can include quiet mindfulness, guided meditation to an audio or video track, chanting, Tai Chi (a gentle form of Chinese martial arts moves) or Yoga.

You can look online and find a large number of tutorials if you are a beginner.  We have included a video here, that will help you to go on a guided meditation using colors and flowers.  Some people find it helpful to use an external voice like this one to help them to focus until they can train themselves to meditate on their own.

There are tangible benefits to be achieved through meditation, including:

  • Calmness
  • Improved immunity
  • Improved fertility
  • Anti-inflammatory benefits
  • Reduction in symptoms from Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Reduction or elimination of other physical symptoms and conditions related to stress
It's called meditation practice because you get better at it the more you do it.  Be gentle with yourself and give it a try...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Determining what your biz should work on first

In the midst of working in your business every day there's the
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part about working ON the business.  That's the part that often gets short shrift unless a leader and his or her team make a discipline of doing regular planning and updates.  The second challenge beyond lack of longer term focus is that of many opportunities for improvement.  It's tough enough to determine what to do next that the business's default position becomes to do nothing.

Certain of these improvements can be ignored - for a while - for the sake of immediate concerns.  But when they go unattended over a longer period of time they can become the items that can no longer be ignored.  They become the immediate concerns - and when this happens the biz owner has a smaller range of potential actions to take, simply because of the urgency to make something happen.

Is your list long?  Have you been procrastinating because there are improvements to be made, but you don't know which should be placed at the top of the priority list?  Here are three methods you can use to determine which comes first:

  1. Which is costing you the most?  Some of the improvements on your list might not have an immediate, noticeable price tag associated with them.  And some won't - they are quality of life issues.  But with some thought you can make a connection between, say, lack of a website (or an outdated one) and lost revenue opportunities.  There's often some guesstimating involved here, but look at your average sale, and assume you could make X sales per week online, and extrapolate from there.  There might also be some hard dollar costs when you stop and think about them.  Reduce costs, or reduce opportunity costs by taking care of these things pronto.
  2. Which is strategically crucial?  If you are banking on quality customer service to generate and keep business, you had better make sure that your people and processes are well buttoned down.  You can't win the service game by being on par with your competition.  You have to be noticeably and consistently better.  That won't happen without attention from you.  
  3. What does the diagnostic say?  There is a diagnostic called D.I.AL.O.G. that you can use to measure your company's current performance (as perceived by employees) in a number of areas like strategy, customer and market focus, processes, human resources, etc.  You can determine whether people, process or strategy is your best next step.  (Summit can assist you with designing and interpreting D.I.AL.O.G. for your company's needs.)
It might seem easier to choose to accept the status quo for now.  It's usually not convenient - and it might be downright disruptive - to work ON your business.  But taking no action isn't avoiding a decision.  It's a decision in itself.  Wouldn't you rather make changes on your own terms rather than wait until a crisis or steadily eroding conditions force you to do so, and fast?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

After the merger - why 60-90% fail

There are a lot of valid reasons to do a merger or acquisition:  60% to 90% of mergers and acquisitions fail to achieve their goals.
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vertical or horizontal integration, buy market share, buy market territory, achieve operational efficiencies.  Unfortunately, depending upon which source you read,

The folks making the merger decision are looking at the 50-thousand foot level to make sure that the numbers work.  But the success or failure of the venture is often not determined at the 50-thousand foot level - it's determined on the ground.

1.  Formation of a new company culture.  
During the merger "dating" phase, promises are made about business units maintaining their autonomy and identity.  Balderdash.  Post-merger the acquired employees are waiting for the other shoe to drop.  They fully expect that they are being deceived, and as a result engage in self-protective, turf-protective behavior.  The functional leaders in the acquiring organization often go in expecting to rule the day as though there are not quality leaders in the acquired organization.  A battle of wills ensues, and the new company runs the risk of departure by key talent.

If it wants to overcome the cultural hurdle the merged organization has to engage in developmental activities that cross functional lines, and also combine individuals from the previously separate organizations into integrated development teams.  This helps to ensure that all employees are operating under a common set of skill sets and performance expectations.  In addition, participants in the development groups begin to establish relationships with their new colleagues as individuals rather than as representatives from the "Evil Empire".

2.  Integration and alignment of core processes.
The full benefit of the merger can only be realized by removing waste from core business processes.  There are typically duplications of effort that should be addressed so the new company can benefit from both consistency and cost savings.  The acquiring organization cannot assume that their processes should simply be adopted by the acquired company.  Chances are that there is waste in all of the processes in both organizations, and when the new, combined organization chooses to evaluate and reinvent some of the more complex and costly processes they can achieve two purposes simultaneously:

  • They reduce waste and errors (and thereby cost).  In addition, a reinvented process can contribute tremendous gains in speed.
  • When the company chooses to involve individuals from all of the impacted companies in the process of analyzing and reinventing the work process they support the formation of the new company culture.
Senior leadership often assumes that they can execute the post-merger integration themselves, but they can't keep their eye on the big picture tasks associated with the merger and deal with the ground-level issues at the same time.  Even if they were able to do so, it would not be an effective use of their time and strategic perspective to be personally involved at the tactical level.

In addition, hiring a third party to assist with the post-merger integration helps to ensure that there is equitable management of the cultural issues that are certain either to bubble up or simmer under the surface.
Summit coaches are certified to facilitate both the development of the new company culture and the process analysis and reinvention activities.  Email to to set up an exploratory conversation.

Monday, August 18, 2014

People need these in times of change

When was the last really big change in your life?  A marriage?
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Death of a loved one?  Child born - or heading off to college?  A significant reorganization or culture change in your company?  Even a first day in a new school?

All of these events can create intense emotional reactions, whether they are interpreted as positive or negative for the individuals involved.  For some people they can result in difficulty concentrating, depression, lack of productivity, or interpersonal conflict.

Society has created rituals to accompany some of these, to help the affected individuals through them:

  • Marriages - A wedding (usually) has special clothing associated with it, and witnesses and a ceremony.  After the ceremony the new couple departs for a vacation together, ostensibly to get accustomed to one another, to consummate the marriage, etc.  It takes a while to get used to being married, and it takes a while for some outside the relationship to accept that the new partnership is real and permanent.  The ceremony, bachelor party, honeymoon - even the cake - are part of making it all official, and walking all involved through the process.  Even before the actual wedding, parties are held to help the new couple equip their house, and the bride and groom go out on the town with their friends as a last hurrah pre-commitment.
  • Deaths - Memorial services (and in some instances viewings of the deceased) provide a process for those who are grieving, and those who want to be supportive of the grieving parties.  A viewing makes the departure very tangible, and although it can be a catalyst for grief it provides an accepted environment for the grieving to let it out.  Even the customary food and reception after the funeral provides a vehicle through which family and friends of the deceased can laugh through tears as they remember stories from the past.  Even the customary food delivered to the surviving family member(s) helps them to feel the caring of extended family and friends, and relieves them of some of their chores during the first stages of their grieving process.
  • Births - Showers help new parents obtain the sometimes expensive essentials when they are preparing for the child's arrival.  Announcements go out to inform friends of the birth.  And christenings and baby dedications help to make the child part of the religious community to which their parents belong.
In times of change sometimes it's difficult to know how to act.  Processes like the ones above help people to understand what is appropriate behavior.  In addition, they can serve to walk the person through the process without needing to think too much.

How this relates to business
Smart business leaders  understand the impact that events like strategic changes, reorganizations, and mergers and acquisitions have on their employees.  Although these changes are "just business, not personal" they become personal because people are impacted on an individual and personal level.  Smart companies provide processes through which employees can assimilate the change, come to grips with their feelings about it, and learn new ways of behaving and relating.  

In a wedding between two individuals, the wedding doesn't make the marriage successful.  The ceremony is only the beginning of a much longer process.  In a company merging, or one intending to make changes in culture, the process takes 1-3 years, and that's with structure and process in place to help.  Without the supporting mechanisms like (re)training, team meetings, etc. it's difficult for the intended changes to occur, and/or to become fully integrated.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Do you have what it takes to run a successful business?

Summit coaches have trained and coached hundreds of owners of business start-ups.  We've learned a lot about what it takes to succeed (and what it doesn't) in running a business venture.
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During or after training a particular group of newly minted business owners someone will inevitably ask, "Who do you think is going to make it?" as though it would be evident after spending five and a half days with them. In the corporate setting there is a similar phenomenon, albeit played out differently. Based upon a candidate's education, connections, intelligence, looks, etc. some managers guess up front what that person's potential could be.

This practice of "handicapping" set up a sort of caste system where the perceived up-and-comers were given engineered opportunities to prove themselves - and those not judged to have great futures didn't get them. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy! One of the good (and scary) aspects of working for oneself is that you eat what you produce. (Most business owners can only vaguely remember what it was like to totally blow a day of productivity and not consider the consequences.)

But one of the better aspects of being self-employed is that nobody but you gets to decide what your future is going to be. No matter what your education, your intelligence, your connections, your looks - if you do the activities necessary to attract and maintain customers you're going to be successful.

There have been times where highly educated and corporately rewarded former execs (high potential?) blanched at the idea of being rejected on a cold call, so much so that they didn't contact prospects to start the client acquisition process. No action, no results. They disappeared from the radar screen because their pride stopped them.

Some incredibly intelligent people (perceived to be shoo-ins) have shot themselves in the foot by spending too much time thinking about what they need to do and not enough time doing it. There have been analytical, quiet people (long shots?) who returned to their markets after start-up training and laid out detailed plans for their desired futures, then methodically took one step at a time to build outstanding businesses. Then there were the self-named introverts (not natural at sales?) who hit their home markets and drew clients like flies to honey because they listened instead of talking their prospective clients' heads off.

Even the finest and most intricate piece of porcelain starts out in the same form as a lot of baser items - as a lump of dirt. It requires more work, perhaps, and some skilled decoration. But who could look at that lump of dirt and guess at the mastery that would bring it to a place of priceless value?

Does it help to have good tools in order to succeed? Yes. Does it make the job easier to have certain skills, talents and resources already in place? Of course it does. Can a person stand a greater chance of being successful if they use a process that's been proven to work in a broad assortment of venues by a wide variety of practitioners? I think the answer to that is an obvious yes.

The point here is that it's dangerous and limiting to handicap people's potential. Stop making assumptions, sizing them up and deciding what you think their fate is. Let them show you. Let them demonstrate to you that they can develop themselves into the leaders, the owners, the human beings they dream they can be. You owe them that.  And don't do it to yourself, either.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Is startup planning a waste of time?

For all of our SCORE mentor colleagues out there across the country, no worries.  We won't spout heresy here today about the premise that underlies a lot of the function and activities of thousands of volunteer executives, business owners and retirees...

The whole idea behind a strategic plan is that it should serve as a compass, an indicator of true North, such that you can focus and guide your activities effectively. Circumstances and business conditions change, but you can always refer back to your plan to map out your next move. Yesterday a new business owner approached us and expressed frustration that she really didn't have enough information to do a really good plan. The process has felt like a waste of time as a result. She's not the first start-up owner to share this concern with me, so here are some thoughts:

Pros of planning in a start-up
  • Vision and values will help you know how you want to behave from the very first day you're in business.
  • If you identify target markets as part of your plan you'll better be able to target your marketing approach, from logo to advertising channels, to the content in your message. Your business will look very different from Day One, for example, if you're appealing to teens vs. corporate entities.
  • If you need to get financing of any sort your banker or other funding source will view a well-developed plan as an indicator that you know what you're doing, so you'll be more likely to be successful in obtaining funding.  Reality check:  most small businesses don't start with bank financing.  Most of them are bootstrapped with the owner's own money and/or that coming from private sources like family.  But even family wants to be assured that the numbers can work.  You have to live with them whether the business flies or not.
  • Going through the entire process will help you find out what you don't know. This feeling of conscious incompetence won't be comfortable, but can help guide you to find out what you weren't able to answer when creating your plan.
  • Using a planning process as a feasibility test can prevent you from embarking on a venture that simply doesn't make sense.  Sometimes you can't know that this is the case until you really dig into the details of market, competition, financial requirements, products, etc.  Do you really want to place your personal assets at risk on a flyer?  Your spouse or significant other would probably say "No." or "Absolutely not!" or even "What, are you nuts??"
Cons of planning in a start-up
  • The business owner who questions the value of planning does have a point. She does not yet know what her target markets will be. She provides services, so it's not like she'll have a storefront and a bunch of inventory at risk if she hasn't narrowed down her focus. She wants to treat her first 3 months as laboratory time, learning where the most receptive prospects are and through experience determining what her "sweet spot" customer profile looks like.
  • The learning curve in the first 3-6 months is typically quite steep. If the new business stays too grounded in whatever sounded good at the beginning they could (a) miss some great opportunities and/or (b) stick for too long with something that doesn't work simply because it's on the plan. If cash is tight this could be deadly.
Even when a business is past start-up phase the concept of planning can be controversial. Yes, it sounds like the thing to do, but some businesspersons still resist it because they want to remain flexible and open to opportunity. The issue really becomes one of how to allocate resources, and if there's no game plan the business might have to take a pass on the most promising opportunities that arise due to lack of funding, time, etc.

If your business or your industry is changing rapidly whether you're in start-up mode or farther along in your business growth, continue to plan.  Just keep the time frames reasonable given the pace of change.  If eighteen months is the maximum reasonable window, plan for 18 months.  That doesn't erase the need for a larger vision for the context within which the shorter term plans are being made.  You need to know your ultimate desired destination so that any course adjustments you make will ultimately get you closer to it.