Category Archives: Helpful Hints

Back To Basics

I played a number of sports growing up. Thinking back on it, no matter which sport I was playing, when the season began the coach would inevitably talk about getting back to basics. He usually meant the building block skills that a team had to have in order to be successful. If you don’t think that’s important, watch one of today’s major league baseball players try to lay down a suicide squeeze bunt. That basic skill has almost disappeared.

No, today isn’t going to be yet another old guy rant about how the world has changed for the worse, Instead, as we approach the end of one year and the start of another, it’s a reminder that now is a great time to do a little back to basics thinking. It’s harder than you think because what often happens during the course of a year (or longer, depending on when the last time was that you did this exercise) is that the basics get forgotten in the heat of battle. So here are a few of the fundamental questions that I’d be asking myself and my team right about now.

First, what are we trying to accomplish? That sounds overly simple since making a profit is pretty much what every business is trying to do unless you’re a non- or not-for-profit organization. What are you trying to make happen? What problems that your customers have are you trying to solve?

Next, how are you measuring success? It’s not just the cash register ringing or the bottom line overflowing with black ink although clearly basic financial items are important. How many new customers did you attract? How is your reputation? What good have you done for your customers, your partners, your vendors, your employees, and your community?

After that, take a look forward. What do we need to do in order to be successful in this next year? How do last year’s results, both good and bad, direct us forward? What can we start doing and what should we stop doing, whether it’s meetings, products, reports, or something else? What could happen in the marketplace that will affect us, both positively and negatively? Do we have a disaster plan?

Finally, is the view you and your organization had of the world at the start of this year still the way you see it going forward? If you don’t think that things change that much, think back 5 years or even (gulp) 10. You wouldn’t have had a mobile strategy or a social media plan then. You probably didn’t pay a heck of a lot of attention to your website or online reviews. You sure had better be active in all of those areas today even if you’re not a digital business.

Those are some of the basics I see as necessary for success. What are some of yours?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Those Pesky Joneses

You might have missed something in the financial news yesterday that reminds us of a really important business point. The good folks at Verizon wrote down the value of Oath, which is what they renamed their acquisitions of AOL and Yahoo. I’ll let the good folks at Bloomberg relay the facts:

Verizon Communications Inc. is conceding defeat on its crusade to turn a patchwork of dot-com-era businesses into a thriving online operation.

The wireless carrier slashed the value of its AOL and Yahoo acquisitions by $4.6 billion, an acknowledgment that tough competition for digital advertising is leading to shortfalls in revenue and profit. The move will erase almost half the value of the division it had been calling Oath, which houses AOL, Yahoo and other businesses like the Huffington Post.

For you non-financial types out there, writing down an asset is the accounting term used to describe a reduction in the book value of an asset due to economic or fundamental changes in the asset. In other words, something isn’t worth what you paid for it any longer. Oops. These were acquisitions that Verizon made to transition into taking on Facebook and Google as a content providing, eyeball-generating ad brand. This latest stumble comes on the heels of several others that Verizon has made over the last several years (a JV with Redbox, their failed news site, their awful app store and of course, V-Cast). When you basically spend $4.8 Billion and flush $4.6 Billion of it down the write-down toilet as they did the other day, you might need to rethink your strategic direction.

When you think about it, what Verizon did is not all that uncommon in business. They forget what their core competencies were and chased the latest shiny object. Big mistake. Where would we be now if all that capital had been invested in 5G networking or in WiMax? Video and advertising is something in which hundreds of companies are engaged. Yes, it’s highly profitable but it’s also dominated by two behemoths and subject to the ebbs and flows of consumer interest (whatever happened to MySpace anyway?). Why would you try to keep up with those Joneses?

It seems as if FiOS, their high-speed broadband service has been abandoned. They’re no longer expanding despite the fact that demand for very high-speed internet is everywhere. 5G is years away and technically challenging. Does anyone remember the dream of WiMax? Those are areas in which they are the Joneses and people have to keep up with them. None of us in business can forget what made our ventures successful because we think the grass is greener in some other business’ yard. Don’t chase the Jones’ success. Create your own.

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?, What's Going On

Getting A Commitment

One of the hardest things I’ve encountered over my years in business is getting people to commit to things. It could be a firm time for a meeting. It could be a deadline. I’ve found that people are often unwilling or unable to lock in firm dates and times. Maybe they have a fear of commitment or maybe they just want to maintain flexibility in their schedules.

Once you can get someone to make a commitment to you, it affects their actions going forward. Those actions have to become consistent with the commitment they’ve made to you, whether it’s finishing a report or making a decision about something or even just arranging their calendars to fit their appointment with you. That refocus is a good thing, so what can we do to encourage people to make those commitments?

One thing I’m finding helpful is allowing and encouraging people to book their own meetings with me. I use one of the online calendar services and I am finding that one I can get people to lock in a time to talk they rarely blow off the meeting. They usually go back and change the time via the calendar, which is a lot better than a no-show. By the way, if you want to set up a meeting with me to chat about franchises or other consulting, you can click this link.

I think the best thing you can do to get people to buy in and commit to you on something is to remember that they will only do so when it’s apparent to them that you’re following their agenda. Your reasons don’t matter. You need to make sure they know you’re asking for their time and energy because you’re solving their problem. If they commit, what’s the win for them? I try to make that clear to them before I seek to lock them into anything.

How well do you secure peoples’ commitments? Are you making it clear to them that you’re asking for that commitment for THEIR reasons and not yours?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Faddie Friday!

It’s Foodie Friday and the topic today is really Faddie Friday. What got me thinking about food fads was hearing yet another discussion about keto diets. You know – low carb, no carb, no fun. I’ve been doing a variant of this for many years (and lost a lot of weight) but it actually goes back to the invention of the Atkins Diet in 1972. I’m not a full-blown keto person but I do watch my carbs and try to cut out sugar and foods that I know are high on the glycemic index.

Atkins is far from the only food fad. At one time, fondue was all the rage. I’ll bet if you dig deep enough into a closet or your garage you’ll find a fondue set, maybe one your mom handed down. Nothing like a communal bowl of hot cheese, wine, and seasonings, right?

Now we have fads such as juice cleansing, kale, and bacon, which down here in the South is not so much a fad as it is a way of life. What’s interesting to me is that fads aren’t the same thing as trends. You can think of it in business terms. Fads are those two-day blips in your revenue while trends are the steady direction of those revenues. Fads are jagged, trends are smooth. Food fad – kale. Food trend – healthier eating. Got it?

You need to think in those terms as you approach your business and how you run it. I’ve lived through several management fads and they weren’t all as benign as kale. Ever hear of Six Sigma? How about Business Process Re-Engineering? Matrix Management? Or one of my absolute favorites, MBO – Management By Objectives. Even though it was created by one of my favorite management people, Peter Drucker, it was cumbersome, time-wasting, and not quick enough to react. Obviously, I agree with much of the thinking behind it but the actual implementation could bog you down.

I bring all of these up (and it’s far from an exhaustive list) to remind each of us that we have to watch out for fads. I was told by a senior executive many years ago that the internet was both a fad and a scam. He had a little trouble figuring out the difference between a fad and a fundamental change. Take the time to distinguish between the two and you’ll be far better off than those who don’t. Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Helpful Hints

A Few Thoughts From My New Gig

As I mentioned in this space a few weeks back, I’ve begun a new line of consulting involving matching people who are looking to take charge of their business lives and invest in a franchise of some sort with the right franchise for them. So far it’s been interesting work and today I’d like to share a few things I’ve found in this work that I think are applicable to other businesses. By the way, if you’re one of those people who want to be a corporation of one, click here to check out how I can help (end of gratuitous self-promotion).

Many of the things that come up are points that apply when you’re hiring or interviewing for a position yourself. The first is that of shared beliefs. Nearly every franchise gives me a listing of what their ideal candidate looks like. In many cases, they’re not looking at a technical skill set. You can be taught how to refinish a countertop or to run an afterschool program. Instead, I see things such as “belief in helping a community of learners” or “possess a passion to own a senior-focused care company that largely stems from personal experience caring for others.” You can’t teach those things. When you’re hiring, ask yourself if you’re more interested in someone who knows Excel inside and out or someone who will be a supportive member of your team and play nicely with the other kids in the sandbox. I always opt for the latter since I can teach the former.

Another thing that comes up a lot is that of a franchise’s record of success. How well does their system work? What are the financial results that prove it? If you’re looking to take a job because it’s more money, you’re overlooking the fact that the company may be hiring because people are leaving a sinking ship. How long have the current employees been there? Have they come up through the ranks? Why have people left? It’s relatively simple to find out how a company is doing, both from a financial and an employee-relations perspective. Take the time to find out. A larger paycheck is of lesser value if you’re miserable every day.

Finally, I try to help the candidate set realistic expectations about what their prospective business will be about. Very few people like surprises in business. Don’t oversell the job or the company if you’re hiring. Hopefully, you have a great story to tell and you should let the facts and track record speak for themselves. Keep the promises you make. If your expectations don’t align with the company’s or the candidate’s, there’s going to be a massive problem.

I always remind candidates that franchises are awarded, not sold. It’s a mutual job interview, not a business for sale off a shelf to anyone with the resources to invest. Your staff and your career should be treated the same way, don’t you think?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

The Best Weatherman

I’m going to tell you a secret about me. I’m a bit of a weather freak. I check the weather multiple times a day and I rarely miss the weather segment on the 11PM news. If I ever meet Jim Cantore, I’m going to shake his hand and run like hell since disaster is on the way.

I have a favorite weatherperson, but he’s my favorite for a reason you might not have thought about and he also teaches us something about being a great manager. Why I love this guy is simple. He doesn’t just explain the “what” of weather. He explains the “why” as well.

All weather folks tell you the forecast. They let you know if it’s going to rain or freeze or be gloriously sunny. That’s the “what.” Very few, however, will explain to you about water vapor levels and what looking at the infrared satellite view and the radar can tell you about what’s going on in the atmosphere. That’s the “why.” Great managers do the same thing. They don’t just tell their team what they want to be done. They also explain why they want it done and how it fits into the bigger scheme of things. It’s more like telling a story than it is just stating a fact (in the case of weather) or issuing a command (in the case of managing).

I’ll admit that I sometimes used to put the “what” before the “why” as a manager, particularly when there was an emergency situation. That’s a weak excuse, frankly. It doesn’t take more than an extra minute to preface the what with a why and then add on a “how” for good measure. Even in most crisis situations, there is an extra minute to do that, and it often results in a better result and a more united team as the crisis is conquered.

When you watch your weather tonight, listen for the “why.” Do the same to yourself as you’re asking your team for help. Do you hear the “why”?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Girls And Boys Just Want To Have Fun

One thing I learned after I began managing people many decades ago is that even though it’s called “work,” it doesn’t have to seem that way all the time. Since I was still pretty young (24) when I got my first managerial responsibility, I still placed a good deal of emphasis on having fun as well as getting the work done. In fact, most of the time when problems arose it was because I had failed to act in a way that would be how I would want my boss to act or that I’d forgotten that for most people, work is what they do and not who they are. Let me explain why remembering to have fun is just as important as remembering to get things done.

I felt I was running a benevolent dictatorship. What I mean is that most decisions were mine because I bore the responsibility for them to the powers that be whether I had made them or not. However, I rarely took those decisions in a vacuum. I got input from my team and always encouraged them to voice their opinions. They knew that I might not decide to do things the way that they wanted but that I’d listened and considered their thinking on the matter.

That’s part of having fun. It’s letting every member of the team feel valued. It’s taking what we were doing together seriously but not taking ourselves so seriously. I read somewhere that great leaders are ambassadors of happy. I like that, especially since I’ve worked for a few bosses to whom “happy” and “staff” were never words that intersected.

People have fun when they know what to expect from their leader. When leaders make a conscious effort to have fun, whether via silly signs or self-deprecating humor or through the constant appreciation of the good work of each person on the team. That’s when “work” becomes a place that’s a lot more than a job or a paycheck. Ask yourself, “are we having fun yet?” Ask your team too. Are you? Are they?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud