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Positioning for growth is simple (but not easy)

Does this sound familiar? You’ve worked hard and donated blood, sweat, and yes, even tears, to building your business because you love your product or service and truly believe it makes your customers’ lives better. You’ve survived wildly fluctuating economies relatively intact, and have built a solid core of employees and managers you trust.  You’re ready to take it to the next level in your strategic plan and start going after a revenue number or market that seemed like an impossible dream only a few years ago.

As you start ramping up, you notice a few things that don’t seem like too big a deal at the time, but are starting to tickle your radar. For example, as you need to add to your staff to fulfill orders, it’s harder to find exactly the kind of employees you’re looking for. And you know your managers understand the value of developing their employees and staying strategic, but lately they’re too busy putting out fires to work on preventing them. Then one of your best employees tells you that if you don’t give her a substantial raise, she’s leaving. Then another employee does leave. You’re starting to notice a lot more mistakes as handoffs that used to happen seamlessly, now don’t. And then one of your larger accounts actually does start complaining that your service isn’t what it used to be. Now you’re starting to get worried. Was your previous success just a fluke? Do you really have what it takes to play in a bigger ballpark? What if it all implodes? (And, if you’re like me this quickly degenerates into visions of homelessness, hungry children, and a life of drudgery working for minimum wage as a cashier for a big-box retail chain).

You turn to experts for answers. It all makes sense, on some level. You need to create the right culture to get the right employees. You need to develop your leaders so they can develop your employees. You need systems and dashboards to manage performance (or maybe you don’t…there seems to be some contention on that). Above all, you need to keep providing your customers the level of excellence to which they’re accustomed because if you don’t do that it’s all moot. And even though it all makes sense, it seems so disjointed!! Is training the answer? Who do you train first, and when do you find the time? Do you just need to start measuring things so you can hold people accountable? Start documenting? Have offsite teambuilding meetings? None of these interventions are cheap, and there doesn’t seem to be any particular assurance that any will get you out of what is starting to seem like a no-win situation.

It’s okay. Believe it or not, you’re right where you’re supposed to be.

Before you hate me for saying that (because I can see why you would), just think about how far you’ve come. You’ve beat the odds by actually getting to the ‘quality problems’ stage. Trust me, I’ve been in growing companies and dying companies, and they’re both stressful but I’ll take growth stress any day. No matter what the circumstances, growth is uncomfortable, and surviving it is what makes you great. So above all, DON’T feel like you’ve done something wrong, or are somehow unqualified to play in the big leagues just because it’s so messy right now.

And believe it or not, the solution for your current problems is far, far more simple than you probably believe. But not easy. Which is good and bad news. The good is that with some perseverance and discipline you can build a first-class company. The (kind of) bad news is that there are no shortcuts. There’s no magic formula, or class you can take, or speaker you can hire, that will allow you to achieve a solid foundation that WILL get you to the next level (no matter what anybody tells you).

In order to get there, you need to think of your business as a whole, not a collection of different problems to fix. Band-Aid solutions may stop the bleeding temporarily, but that’s not what you need. Once you start thinking of your business as a series of systems, ALL of which are vital, then you can begin the process of diagnosing your strengths and weaknesses, and developing a treatment, (or triage) plan to fix the whole thing.

This means a lot more work on the planning stage, to make sure your big picture is cohesive, unified, and interlocked for success. The major steps (and all have several sub components) are Performance Management (which includes training, goal-setting, metrics, and more), Leadership Development, Corporate Communication (your system for disseminating info to and from your staff), Culture, Hiring (I include that as its own section because it’s a major challenge in today’s climate) and your infrastructure, which includes your regulatory compliance.

Because all of these are so interlocked, I can’t stress enough the importance of resisting the temptation to just start fixing the problem with the loudest symptoms. Sometimes you have to if the problem is threatening your business, but by knee-jerk investing in recruiting, or leadership training, or culture improvement without a holistic view of your entire situation AND your desired endgame, you may end up shortchanging yourself, and having to go back and redo things. And from a corporate communication side, it’s pretty hard to get people mobilized and excited about the vision when you have ‘next best thing’ phenomenon coming from the top.

If this resonates for you, the first step should be an objective, big picture review of all your systems. Don’t worry – chances are you’ll be much better in some areas than you think.  As for the areas that aren’t so good? Well, they’re not so good whether you address them or not, so what will you want to have done this time next year?

If you’re interested in learning more about my diagnostic tools, please contact me for more information!

 

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The five major drivers of business pain

If you are a business owner or senior leader, you are no stranger to problems. They are everywhere and typically revolve around two groups of people: the people who work for you, and the people for whom you work (i.e. your customers). 

If you’re like most of the people I deal with on a regular basis, you may find yourself at times wondering if it’s even worth it. I had one client who actually downsized his project list just so he could complete all the work himself and eliminate any need for employees. He’s much happier now doing the tangible work he loves and not having to deal with the myriad of issues that comes with management.

On the other side of the spectrum are those who truly feel inspired to lead others and know in their heart of hearts that they were born to do so but find themselves at a loss with how to deal with inspired employees who are just not hitting the company revenue or profitability goals.

Usually when someone calls me, as a consultant, they are experiencing a pain point that they attribute to a certain problem. Some examples of pain points:

  •  It’s impossible to find good people
  • Turnover’s through the roof
  • You’re getting audited and have no idea if you’re compliant or not
  • You can’t afford to pay your employees more and are afraid you’re going to lose them
  • Productivity is too low, or error rates are too high
  • Employees are constantly complaining about management
  • You’re too slow to market with new products

In other words, the pain point is the issue that becomes intolerable enough that a business owner is willing to talk to yet another consultant in hopes that maybe there’s a solution.

The good news is that there is a solution, but believe it or not, the pain point is almost always a symptom of the problem, and not the problem itself. I have found that the problem usually lies in 1 or more of 5 basic areas:

1)     There is lack of clarity from the top down about the company revenue and profitability goals, the strategy to hit these goals, and objective information about how the company is performing to goal.

2)    The employees may genuinely not have the knowledge, skills, or tools to perform the tasks they need to perform.

3)    Managers are not providing information to employees about expectations, and are not providing feedback about performance to expectation and/or appreciation for excellent performance.

4)    An over-reliance on management rather than leadership has resulted in a compliant but not committed employee base, whose performance lags when not monitored, and whose desire to remain undetected by management results in a consistent lack of creativity and innovation.

5)    Basic legal requirements are not understood and spelled out in an understandable way, with clear company policies and processes built out to make it easy to follow.

Some companies only have one of these problems, some have them all. In times of starting up or growth, it’s far more common to experience one or more of these. If you’re lucky, or in a strong market, or have uncommonly dedicated employees, it’s possible to get through these problems without massive disruption or financial hits. On the other hand, why go through misery if you don’t have to?

When your business is in the $5 to $25 million a year range, finding help can see overwhelming because many of the packaged, off-the-shelf solutions seem like overkill and at the same time don’t really address the problem at hand. When you’re small to medium-sized and growing it really pays to work with someone who’s had success with businesses your size and is willing and able to customize a solution that works for you, is flexible and most importantly scalable so that you don’t have to redo everything once you hit a major milestone. Yes, there is a gap in the market for turnkey solutions for companies this size, but that’s precisely the basis on which Today’s Leadership Solutions was formed!

Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm focused on helping organizations, leaders and job seekers to identify workplace solutions that work.  As a certified executive coach, organizational development expert and resume writer, Carrie consults with small to medium sized businesses on OD, human resources and recruiting solutions in addition to providing career coaching to managers and executives in transition. Carrie can be reached for consultation at carrie@todaysleadershipsolutions.com

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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).