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Business Management organizational development

Entrepreneurs – Keep your eyes on the goal!

I’ve got a passion for small businesses and always have. When I look back over my life it’s obvious now that I was always meant to have my own business, and to help other like-minded people be successful. I come by it honestly, too. When I was eight years old, my parents (both pharmacists) took a huge risk and left their safe and secure jobs with big chain pharmacies to open a mom and pop (literally) store. My first job was dusting and facing shelves, and learning that you always put down whatever you’re doing to make sure the customer is treated like an honored guest. I didn’t know it then, but my parents went through the expected lean and scary years only to build a thriving business catering some unique niches, enabling them to sell and enjoy their retirement years exactly as they wanted to. Growing up, our livelihood was continuously being threatened by the ‘big guys’ – those large grocery store chains that tucked pharmacies inside as a loss leader, and we prevailed by offering something they didn’t – professional excellence, caring, and an unparalleled passion for service.

And on the other hand was my grandfather. He came to Canada from Russia as a young boy, and his farmer-parents contributed all their resources to send him to school to become an engineer. He spent his life working for a large company, and retired at age 60 with a full pension. Grandpa always wanted to start his own business, but as sole provider of a family of five, never felt confident enough to make the transition. He spent the last ten years at his job bored, unchallenged, and increasingly miserable. When he did retire, he sank into a depression that never lifted. One of his biggest regrets was settling for the sure thing instead of taking a chance on his dream.

So the entrepreneurial spirit runs deep in me, as does the fear of wasting my potential.

I personally never thought I’d end up in business. I was planning on being a writer – or maybe a psychologist or teacher. I wanted to write and I wanted to help people and I did NOT want to work a 9-5, with a boss, and somewhere someone said I had to be every day. Which naturally led me to managing HR (just kidding…there was nothing natural about it). But those desires did lend themselves very well to coaching, organizational behavior management, and eventually organizational development consulting. Throughout the course of a meandering, 20-year journey, I learned from experts in their field some tools, systems, and practices that help companies become as profitable as possible.

One thing I learned is that although there’s a lot of things large companies do that don’t apply to smaller businesses (nor would they probably want them to, to be honest), there are also things that can transform these smaller businesses in all the right ways! Streamlined hiring processes, managers who are able to bring out the best in people, the sky-high morale that comes from shared purpose, an understanding of metrics and how to use them to increase top and bottom line, HR best practices, and on and on. All these are incredible tools, that when placed in the hands of willing business owners change their business from a source of stress and burden to an exciting, profitable, thriving endeavor.

Of course, the problem is that even though the tools work just as well  (if not better) for smaller and medium sized businesses, they’re not as accessible. Full-scale, turnkey consulting implementations can be prohibitively expensive, and off the shelf solutions are often one-size-fits-all bandaids. Even if they do help, they’re a lot like a diet: Fast results that are never maintained. Because of my background, this has bugged me. Part of my DNA is championing the underdog and it just never seemed fair that the people who would most benefit from these solutions don’t have the access to them that their large competitors do.

Like any entrepreneur, I struggled for a while to figure out how to provide the solutions I wanted to, to the people I wanted to serve, and how to package them so that it was accessible and easy to implement. One thing life has taught me personally is how to get back up again after a right cross to the chin, so I was prepared to tough this one out. I kept looking at it from different angles, trying to figure out how to provide the best value to my clients without selling solutions they didn’t need, or adding in so many layers that either they couldn’t afford it, or I couldn’t afford to provide the service!

One phrase kept asserting itself into my mind, that I couldn’t shake. Some of you may recognize this, but it’s ‘and they shall know the truth and the truth shall set them free’. Another way you might have heard this concept presented is that ‘admitting there’s a problem is the first step’. Finally, it all crystallized for me, and it was so obvious, I couldn’t believe it.

You see, my smaller clients have always approached me asking for help solving the problems they know about! Usually it’s to help recruit for a tough to fill position, or audit their HR practices, or train their managers. Because of my customer service mentality, my response has been of course to solve the problem that my clients are asking me to solve. But what I learned in my epiphany is that what my clients REALLY need is to know how they’re REALLY doing. This is the information that they’re never going to get by diagnosing and treating their own problems!

This opened my eyes to a whole new way that I needed to be offering and delivering my service. As a highly educated and trained Business Coach, Organizational Development Consultant, and HR Practitioner, I am uniquely positioned to provide my clients with an overview of their organizational landscape, strengths, and vulnerabilities. This information is hardly ever made available to organizations of this size, and the benefit is that it puts the business owner in the driver’s seat. By seeing the whole picture, and understanding the steps required to align correctly, the business owner can then choose whether/how to address the issues. This has allowed me to develop solutions, and partnerships to provide solutions, on various levels to ensure they are flexible, scale-able and cost effective. If you want to learn more about how this works, check out my site www.todaysleadershipsolutions.com or email me at carrie@todaysleadershipsolutions.com n

One thing my journey as an entrepreneur has taught me is that it’s not easy, and you rarely end up exactly where you thought you’d be, in the time frame you thought it would take. The ability to keep trying in the face of failure, think of different solutions to recurring problems, and a desire to provide value to a client base who you deeply respect and care about are critical if you want to keep at it and enjoy what you’re doing. Most important for me is to listen to my gut and focus on what I love AND am good at, not just what I’m good at. This can be an act of faith, as a lot of people will tell you that it’s not possible, but I think if you stay true to yourself and your dream, you’ll eventually see the results you want to see!

Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm providing comprehensive organizational development solutions for companies who are growing and who truly value their people.  With certified Executive Coaches, Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) practitioners, SPHR-certified HR professionals, and Organizational Development Specialists, Carrie’s team brings a unique perspective and a cross-functional approach to providing workplace solutions that work.  Carrie can be reached for consultation at carrie@todaysleadershipsolutions.com

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How to ensure the people on your team act like they’re on YOUR team

If you are the leader or manager of a business, you are not alone if you’ve ever thought “I’d love my job if not for the people!” Leadership is NOT for the faint of heart and I’d hazard a bet that even as you’ve thought those words, you still know in your heart of hearts that you only want what’s best for your team.  Most entrepreneurs and business owners that I’ve worked with have all had a vision for their company and part of that vision included being the best at what they do and being a great place to work. I know many very successful executives and business owners who have learned everything on their own and by doing the opposite of what they experienced and hated as employees.

Yet as strong as the vision might have once been, many people find themselves at that turning point wondering, is it even worth it?  Big deals dry up, small problems don’t and people who said they were eager to turn your dream into a reality when you interviewed them have suddenly become complain-y and entitled and you often think to yourself, this is NOT what I signed on for. Sometimes, the temptation of going back to your old nine to fiver when you at least had a steady reliable paycheck is almost irresistible.

If that sounds familiar, rest assured that it is extremely common! Just because you had the courage and initiative to start a business doesn’t suddenly make you immune to self-doubt or fear like the rest of the world. The difference for great leaders and entrepreneurs is that you have the ability to work past the fear and hold on to your vision.  If you have identified that the people on your team aren’t acting like they are on YOUR team, then you need to take action!  Here are some tips to address  pitfalls common to leaders and entrepreneurs to prevent them from becoming huge headaches.

1) Maintaining communication

This is particularly true if you have a small team. A lot of times, business owners and leaders just assume that the team has the same passion for success and are as excited about the business as you are. This is not a safe assumption. Most of your employees are probably not as informed as you think. They’re not mind readers and if you want them to be as enthusiastic as you are, you have to plant the seeds and water them daily. Share your hopes, share your excitement and…

2) Solicit Input

Hopefully you have people working for you whose input you value. If you don’t, it might be worth a look at why that is and whether you have the right people working for you OR whether you might be better off as an Individual contributor rather than a leader with employees reporting to you. If you want your people to care about the organization, the more you ask what they think and implement the more invested they will be.

3) Rigorously address issues

Understatement of the year: Avoidance and denial are not good business tools. Whether you are overlooking sloppy workmanship, trying to see the best in an employee who unenthusiastic in her role or just hoping things get better, failing to address issues can quickly lead to an unbelievable amount of stress on your part. Think of the absolute worst case scenario if you were to have a tough conversation with your employee and NOT having that conversation is guaranteed at least five times worse than that. 

4)  Keep the big picture in mind

Work ON the business! Yes, there are fires, yes there is the tyranny of the urgent but if you want your business to grow, you need to have a vision and destination. Growth and success are not just they happy by-products of doing all the little things right; instead, you need to be intentional every day about where you are going so you know what little things you should even be doing!

5) Develop your leadership skills

A recent article in Forbes illuminates how extremely important leadership skills by showing that in almost all cases, the skills of the subordinate are always slightly less than their immediate supervisor. That means that if you are at the top, it’s critical that your leadership abilities be top notch! If you don’t feel this is your strong suit, fear not…many of the skills are teachable AND learn-able. 

Clearly these are just five points, but if you are diligent about improving you will soon find yourself with much fewer ‘people problems’ and moving much closer to your vision.

 

 

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Is your Human Resources department a help or a headache?

Quite some time ago, I got so tired of hearing HR referred to as a ‘necessary evil’ that I refused to identify myself or my department as HR.  I banned the term and rebranded us as OD (Organizational Development).   I believe passionately that the team responsible for Talent Development is a strategic partner at the highest level of the organization with one of the toughest jobs.  Besides being knowledgeable on all current/applicable state and federal laws, one must also be a skilled communicator in order to convey to management and shareholders the benefits and risks of compliance and non-compliance.  This necessarily requires training and persuasion and the ability to communicate beyond just a perfunctory “because I told you so”.  

So many people get into HR because they ‘like people’ and are then disillusioned because of the preponderance of paperwork and the requirement to deal with unpleasant situations (like dress code, or hygiene…ugh).  Sadly, many HR professionals are taught case law and statutes but are not operationally educated enough to make good business cases for their ideas.  They know that employee culture is critical but can’t ‘sell’ it to the owners or stakeholders effectively.  This is absolutely changing and SPHR or SHRM-SCP designees must demonstrate proficiency in business strategy to obtain their certification.  But as both HR professionals and those who interface with them can tell you from experience, the emergencies and demands of the normal workday have a tendency to derail best laid plans and the HR team can become embittered enforcers; finding their value in creating a bureaucracy.  

What’s the cure?  Having created highly successful support teams for years, I’m convinced that there are things an HR leader must insist on in order for their team to be accepted as a strategic partner and to achieve credibility throughout the company. 
•    Create a customer service department.  Even if this must be repeated weekly, drill into every member of the team that they are there to support the company, not vice versa.  
•    Train the team on operational concepts. This helps with the previous point.  It also engenders respect for the team’s internal customers.  I’ve found there can be an unconscious arrogance from people who have been educated in management and leadership concepts when they encounter those managers who may be rough around the edges.  Education in the core business can eliminate that and help find common ground.
•    Train the team on finance.  It’s vital for the HR team to understand the fiscal aspect of the organization for many reasons.  When communicating policy or changes, it helps the team’s perspective to know the context of organizational performance.  It also helps the team help you (as a leader) prepare cost benefit analysis for the ideas they wish to implement.  It’s easy for an HR person to recommend a learning management system to track training, but you’ll get a much more thought out proposal when they have to justify the cost and/or prioritize this spend with other team suggestions.
•    Get involved with talent management beyond ‘morale’.  Yes, HR is often the corporate event coordinators, but to be a true strategic partner and to bring great value to the organization, it is important to become and expert on the organizational short and long term goals and what the human resource requirements are to achieve them.  This includes head count, training needs, succession plans and leadership development.

•    Understand the business.  Every position I have ever taken has been in an industry that was new to me, because HR is transferrable.  That does not mean you don’t need to learn it. Knowing how the industry functions makes you more effective at recruiting, leading the culture and will build credibility with your cross functional peers.
•    Build a department mission and vision, reinforcing the above

There’s more, but these are the essentials as I see them, and what have helped make me successful.  If you are not experiencing these things from your HR department, consider implementing some.  If you don’t know how…get ready for it…consider an outside source, coach or consultant to assist you.  (I know a great resource, as a matter of fact).