Thursday, August 27, 2015

Could MVP generate unprecedented growth for your biz?

Have you considered the value of an MVP (Minimum Viable
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Product) strategy in helping your business start and/or grow?  

The start-up phase of a company is rife with learning experiences, both painless and painful, and capital is rarely in large supply.  But many small business owners invest weeks, months, even years polishing their product before it is released to start to return cash to the business.  The most perfectionist owners reach capital crisis points because they just can't let go before their offering is exactly right.  The MVP approach compresses the learning and speeds the return of capital to the business by introducing the bare bones and enhancing while the product is live and in the market.

This is not to say that quality isn't important, only that live testing with real customers is the best testing.  The idea behind the MVP is that you test the product with a limited audience, with only the absolutely essential, most basic features.  The approach comes from the software development industry, where "deploy first, code later" enables developers to make continuous improvements by measuring market response to each new product feature.  As the product becomes more built-out, it's released to larger and larger bases of customers.

MVP strategy takes guts, and an ability to think quickly and respond to emerging opportunities and problems. 

MVP Masters -  Flightcar
We first heard this startup story at a conference in Summer 2013.  Flightcar was conceived by three teenagers in San Francisco who turned down college offers from Harvard, Princeton and MIT .  They realized that a lot of space at the airport was being consumed by parked cars - the outbound travelers' cars stored in garages and lots during their trips, and the rental cars awaiting inbound travelers.  They got the idea that people could make money by renting their personal cars to other travelers instead of paying money to park them at the airport lot.  And inbound travelers could save money and drive cool rides by renting them.  So Flightcar was born.

They needed cars, renters, and insurance.  They needed a basic website.  And off they went. Because Flightcar's resource sharing concept has been so disruptive to the standard systems at the airport, they have fought legal challenges along the way.  They have had to use limo services to drop off and pick up customers to get around the airport's objections to them using the airport lots.  They have had to figure out ways to store the personal items from renters' cars while the vehicles were being used by someone else.  You get the idea.

The MVP concept allowed Flightcar to learn a lot about how to operate its business in one location. The three partners used the knowledge gained in their MVP to refine and expand the business.  As of August 2015 Flightcar is serving 17 airports.  Yes, that's seventeen!  Now you can even make your car available on a monthly basis, and earn $200-$500!  And if you're a renter, the car selections range from compact to sedan to minivan to SUV to luxury models.  And of course you can download a free Flightcar app so you can access the service right from your phone!

Not bad performance for a few college dropouts, eh?  Maybe the MVP strategy could work for you.  Deliver, test with live customers, refine, etc. And please let us know how it works for you.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Embracing the clean slate

School starts for tots, kids, teens and teachers.  There's a move to
a new class, new friendships, maybe even a new school.  And everybody has the opportunity to begin with a clean slate.  It's a little bit scary to start from scratch, to invent (or reinvent) yourself.  It's a bit intimidating when you don't know anyone.  But you have unlimited potential on that first day, countless possibilities.

You have that opportunity too, even if you are going back to the same job or the same relationship.  Yesterday is history, and today you have a clean slate.  You have a new chance to make decisions and engage in behaviors that help you become more of the person you want to be.

This is a simple concept, but it isn't necessarily easy to implement.  Yesterday's habits can be difficult to shake unless you are mindful about what it is that you want to create and pay attention to whether what you're doing right this minute is in alignment with that creation.  When it comes to other people, your mistakes from last week might have left a few smudges and streaks on the board that you have to acknowledge.  But you write new things on it anyway.  There's plenty of room, and today is a new day.

How many do-overs is one person allowed to have?  As many as there are days - at the very minimum.  You can't control the past and you don't know what the future has in store, but you write your story in the present.

What if you rocked yesterday?  What if you accomplished tremendous things?  You know the answer to that.  It's a clean slate for you too, and regardless of all of the great things you did yesterday or the day before, you need to keep writing, to keep inventing yourself.

Is there no rest, no day when class is over, you might ask?  Your pace of growth and change ebbs and flows.  There are times when you are connected to a strong sense of purpose, and you put yourself back in school to learn and grow.  And there are times when you choose to sit back and reflect on what you have already done.

The point here is that it's not over unless you decide not to do any more.  If you want to, you can walk up to that clean slate every morning and ask yourself what you'd like to write on there today.  You don't have to consider yourself "done".  You don't have to accept yesterday's grade as the transcript for the rest of your life.

Now, what colors of chalk would you like to use today?

Monday, August 24, 2015

Is hope killing your business?

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"If they pay by Friday we'll be in good shape." "If we get yeses on these four proposals we'll make
our numbers for the entire year!" "If I move the problem employee to that department he will do better than he has done in this one."

What is necessary for your business to succeed?  Are the proper ingredients in place, for real? Or are you counting on a beneficial chain of events to happen - all of the planets to be in alignment - to help you make it work?

There is no silver bullet, no strategy, no tip or technique that is going to win 100% of the time. So you need to build a bit of failure and disappointment into your projections.  Sound like a downer? Well let's ask this question:  would you rather plan around it now and develop a backup or be surprised later when it's more difficult to recover?

Hope isn't a bad thing in and of itself.  Sometimes your gratification will be delayed.  That's one of the facts of self-employment that people exchange in order to have more autonomy and a larger opportunity. It takes grit and persistence to do your own thing and win.  You persevere through setbacks, because your belief in yourself, your business, and a brighter future help you through.

But hope is not a substitute for action.  If you need one customer, work on getting two. If you know that not every quote is going to stick, quote more than you need.  Measure your success percentage, your average sale amount, etc. so you can allow your intelligence to help you hit your numbers.

Hope unfulfilled can lead to disappointment, disillusionment, and even cynicism.  All three are negative emotions that drain your energy and create a palpable bad vibe in you and your business.  So go ahead and hope - but back it up with numbers, and with results-focused activities.  The more you do to create the results you want, the less hope will be necessary.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Four ingredients for effective leadership

The transition from an individual contributor to a team
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leader or supervisor is probably the biggest one that a person will make in his or career in your company.  The person selected for promotion is often notable for his or her skill at the content of the individual contributor's job.  And often this big shift in role is marked only by a change in wardrobe and perhaps a celebratory dinner at the inlaws.

At Summit we believe leaders are made not born.  That's the good news for individuals who aspire for more responsibility. The bad news is that in a lot of companies the development of leaders is done through the school of hard knocks.  Freshly minted team leaders (and their teams) wind up bearing the scars generated during the learning curve.

If you are contemplating promoting someone to a team leadership position, here are four ingredients that the person should possess before taking on the role.  This doesn't mean that they already have to have them - you can help them develop them in preparation for more responsibility.

  1. Human relations skills - This is the ability to first manage a person's own behavior.  These skills include effective listening, modeling desired behavior, communicating work standards, providing performance feedback, etc.  It might seem like some workers have these naturally, and some people do come to the workplace with some innate talent and/or level of development.  But these skills can be developed further for the individual's continued career progression.
  2. Goal achievement - Even copious skill and talent needs focus to make its full impact.  Understanding how to plan and achieve goals is more than simply writing them.  You know as well as we do that far more goals are set than are reached.  Effective goal planning can be taught so that more are achieved more quickly, with less stress, and with fewer wasted resources.
  3. Attitude alignment -  Habits of thought (attitudes) can trump everything else.  They affect how your team leader sees himself or herself, and how they see other people.  Attitudes are assumptions, and they also contain the leader's self-image.  Supporting attitudes include optimism, belief in one's competency, perseverance, open mindedness, and orientation toward results.  Aligned attitudes are multipliers for skills and actions toward goal achievement.
  4. Understanding of HR processes - There are processes and procedures that keep your company legal and reduce risk.  It's important that your team leader understand what he or she cannot ask during a job interview, and what documentation needs to accompany a disciplinary meeting with an employee.  Failure to provide training in this area not only can create a demotivating work environment - it can cost your company money in preventable unemployment claims, crippling government penalties, or even lawsuits.
The good news in this is that even if you don't have processes in-house to develop your team leaders you can access a proven process to help them perform at their optimum level.  See THIS LINK for more information about an opportunity coming up in September in York, PA.  Or contact SummitHRD to tailor something specifically to the needs of your business.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Chip on their shoulder?

Why is it that some people seem to want to fight?  They walk
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around with a giant chip on their shoulder, looking around for something to fault, someone's transgression to call out, or some flaw they can magnify.

(Historical side note:  The proverbial chip was a chip of wood, not a potato chip.  A person spoiling for a fight would put a chip on his shoulder and dare the other potential pugilist to knock it off - and start the fisticuffs.)

Where does the metaphorical chip come from?  It's a habit of thought, that someone else is seeking to do you wrong.  When this habit of thought is deeply ingrained even the most innocuous and unintentional comments or actions are perceived as a threat.  And the person with the chip on the shoulder reacts in anger, with snide comments, or even with body language that indicates that he - or she - is spoiling for a fight.

A person with a chip on the shoulder may have a valid history of disappointments and other people in his or her life who behaved badly.  Their assumptions might have some foundation that, had you had the same experiences, you'd be tempted to balance your own little block of wood or salty snack up there on your own shoulder bones.

When you're interacting regularly with individuals with chips on their shoulders, beware, because you can start to develop your own - about them.  Suddenly their overreaction engenders your own overreaction, and conflict is off to the races.

If the chips that you observe in another person seem to relate to a specific trigger, you can ask questions to help them become aware of their behavior.  This works best when you have already established relationship and influence with them, or are in some position that gives you authority to do so.  Even so, your asking questions can trigger the negative reaction, so stick with description and stay away from judgment:

  • "I noticed that you crossed your arms and frowned whenever the topic of _____ came up.  What's going on?"
  • "In the meeting every time Harry brought an idea forward you had a reason why it was wrong or wouldn't work.  Is there something that I should know?"
You need to know what your goal is here.  Is it to coach the individual so they can gain awareness and choose to see things from more than one perspective?  Is it to understand?  Is it to extinguish the behavior no matter the consequences?

If you tolerate this kind of behavior when it's a frequent occurrence you are telling your organization that's it's OK.  But behavior has consequences, and regardless of whether the person has valid reason to raise his or her hackles automatically at some stimulus, you are in charge of the work climate. This behavior is particularly destructive in a group setting, where there are observers as well as the target of the verbal jab. You are in charge of the way in which individuals speak with one another.  

Use communication ground rules in meetings to preclude the attacks from happening. Take this person aside and counsel with him or her about the problem.  You might not be able to get at the bottom of the triggering stimulus, but you can at least work on establishing and reinforcing the appropriate workplace behavior.

Now back to you, because you're the only person over which you have real control. You've got your own - we all do.  The chips that we carry are some of the obstacles to our skill in relating with others.  Your chips can be your career downfall, so that's the place to start.  Start identifying and questioning the assumptions that cause you to go ballistic without warning.  Eat them if you have to, but get those chips off of there.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Quality - is it in consistency, or in customization?

Quality is often perceived as consistency in performance
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within a high standard with tight tolerances (meaning little wiggle room to be in conformance).  When you are a consumer you want your fries to be delivered to your table at your favorite restaurant tasting slightly salty and with a texture that is satisfyingly soft on the inside, crispy on the outside, every time.  That's why you order them - because you know what you're going to get.

Henry Ford said that people could buy his car in any color they wanted - as long as it was black.  But the father of mass production, while he transformed industry through standardization and assembly lines, didn't make room in his process for differences in customer wants and needs.  His goal was to make everything the same, which made the production process efficient and cost effective, and made his cars accessible to the average consumer.

Do your customers benefit more when you make everything the same?  Or is quality defined differently in their eyes?

  • A bespoke suit fits better than anything off the rack because the tailor creates it using the wearer's actual measurements, and using the client's selection of fabric, lapel size, pleats or no pleats, and preferred break.  
  • Haircuts and styles are intended to be adapted to the shape of the customer's face, and to his or her hair's unique texture, hairline, etc.  Fashions come and go which lead barbers and stylists and their clients toward certain trends, but the best practitioners help their clients follow the trends while maintaining a look that is "theirs".
  • Educators have to cover certain material in order to meet testing standards and graduation requirements with their students, but the best ones don't execute in the same way with every child.  The best teachers adapt their methods to the manner in which students learn, and they use a variety of approaches within one group of children to make sure that they reach each student's preferred learning style and motivation.
Customization affects speed, and it affects cost.  When you individualize your products and services, though, you are not freed from responsibility for consistent process.  It's consistent process that enables you to manage cost and speed while you provide customization.

For instance, the tailor will do preliminary measurements, because even his regular customers eat too much over the holidays or diet or become ill and lose weight.  He will create a pattern and fit that onto the customer before cutting expensive fabric using it.  Then once the suit is being assembled he will bring the client in for a fitting or two before the final one, to make sure that the suit fits perfectly.  
The details here are not important, other than the fact that the tailor does it the same way with every customer, no matter the suit selection.  It's customization within a standard process.  The standard process helps to create an accurate outcome, but it also helps to manage the customer's expectations.  If he expects the suit to take two weeks to be made and it's complete in two weeks or less, the customer is satisfied (assuming, of course, that the suit fits properly and is well constructed).

Do your customers want the same thing every time?  For them is your performance defined by consistency, or by customization?  This is an important strategic question for you to answer, and you answer best by asking your customers what they want most from you.  Sounds simple, yes?  But a lot of businesses don't take this step and risk a significant amount of money on their best guess.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Quality = When Expectation < Performance

Quality is not one single standard - rather it is a perception
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generated by the relationship between your expectations and the actual performance. This statement might raise a few hives in the Six Sigma fans out there. Yes, there are standards for manufacturing quality that many companies are trying to achieve. But let's look at it from a broader perspective for a minute.

The Museum Test - Go into any museum or gallery and look at a piece of art and determine whether you think it is "good."  Now consider the historical context in which the piece was created. The perspective of quality and innovation can change dramatically when you realize that the artist was the very first to explore, oh let's say cubism, for example.  Newness and innovation against an expectation of tradition cast a perception of quality.

If you are an art aficionado you'll observe the techniques used (brush strokes, quantity and texture of paint, balance and composition) and pass judgment on them. What happens when you look at the same piece of art and realize that it was created by a 6-year-old child? Holy cow - it's fantastic! You arrive at your judgment because your expectation was greatly exceeded by the artist's performance.

Have you ever been to a concert where the platinum recording group forgets the words to its own #1 hit? You're angry, right? It's your expectation that you're going to see something outstanding, hearing your favorite tune live, and by the singers and players that created it - and their performance is a disappointment.
Now for the practical applications:
  • Set expectations thoughtfully. Don't promise delivery in 30 minutes if you can't do it every time. If you think you can make it in 35 minutes, commit to 45. That way your customer's expectations will be exceeded and they'll be happy. The actual elapsed time won't be any different, but in their comparison of expectation vs. performance you'll be looking good.
  • Stretch your performance standards so you will be able to be consistent in meeting higher and higher levels of expectation. You expect a different level of service and quality at DisneyWorld than you expect at the annual fireman's carnival. Develop your people and refine your processes so word of mouth from wowed customers will bring repeat business and referrals.
  • Beware benchmarking. Yes, you can watch the other guys from Brand X and develop your business to be better than the competition, and that's something. But what if the industry as a whole isn't performing well? Do you really want to be the best of the worst? Play your own game - differentiate yourself by being unique.
  • Be customer-driven in your innovation. Whose expectations are more important - yours or those of your customers and potential customers? This is a statement of the obvious, but find out what they actually want before you go through a big process of giving them what you think they want.