Improve Your Planning Effectiveness by Doing Less

Why is planning so often avoided? Even when it is done it’s often ineffective. More often than not I run into businesses without a plan for where they’re going. In many cases they’re smaller organizations, but it’s certainly not limited to them. Even companies with revenues of $10-$50 million operate from year-to-year with little more than an expectation for where they’re going and an idea for how they might get there. Sometimes the reason is continued success. Business has been going well for long enough that the leaders either don’t believe they need a plan or are too busy to work on one. That situation can lead to complacency that will eventually catch up with the business. I think the more common reason is the perception that it takes too much time and resources, or leaders lack the knowledge for how to plan.

Then there’s the matter of effectiveness. Of those that do plan, many fall short of achieving their goals, and departments and individuals become disillusioned and frustrated. When you combine those that don’t plan at all with those that do with little success, you can see that very few organizations experience the powerful benefits that can be derived from even a simple plan. With that kind of track record, why would anyone plan? Sometimes less is more and in the case of planning, one of the first steps is to forget what you believe planning should be.

Planning shouldn’t be done unless there’s a purpose for the plan. When there is, a few simple steps can get the job done quite well. If you don’t typically plan or maybe you’ve planned but struggled to make it successful, the secret is to start simple, very simple. A planning process that works for you is an excellent planning process. Don’t feel pressured to conform to someone else’s model.

  • Take a moment with yourself or others to examine how your business is operating. What parts are going well? Which ones would you like to perform better? To know what’s working well and what’s not implies there’s a purpose or benchmark from which to evaluate effectiveness. How do you know something is working well or not? What should it be doing? This is a reflective thinking step. Consider all aspects of the business.
  • Once you have a list of business areas identified for improvement, and it may be a long list, choose the top three to five. They may be financial in nature, organizational, behavioral or any other aspect of the business. These would be the areas that, if improved, would do the most to help the company realize the greatest impact from the first step.
  • Once the most important needs are identified, set a goal for each one. Pick goals that you feel you can reach and are objectively measurable. By giving yourself goals you can reach, you’ll actually improve something and build confidence to do it again.
  • The next step is deployment. Here you decide who is going to do what and when. Like the previous steps, keeping it simple is the best method. Don’t burden individuals with a laundry list of tasks. Just a few easy ones to accomplish will do. When they’re done you can add more if you need to. Planning should help people achieve goals, not frustrate and confuse them.
  • The final step to this simplified planning approach is execution and follow-up. Unfortunately, this is the step where leadership plays the most critical role and where most plans run aground. All too often, failure to execute is explained away as the fault of the team members. In a way it is, but in most cases it’s a failure of leadership to maintain clear, consistent and regular follow up and communication on the tasks to be performed. Leaders should hold team members accountable for their tasks. That means checking to make certain that work is progressing as planned and supported where necessary. Plan execution meetings with the entire team are also necessary. Success depends on everyone pulling on the oars together, supporting one another and understanding how the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

This is where simplicity shines. A few goals, a few initiatives and clearly defined responsibilities will accomplish much. It’s better to accomplish one or two things well than a dozen that are left unfinished. If you’re not getting a lot done to move your company forward, the answer might not be to do more, rather it might be to do less, and accomplish more.

If you’d like simplify planning process and improve your planning effectiveness, give reach out to me through our website and let’s begin a conversation.

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Developing a Positive Response to Negative Events

I recently spoke with a company that was struggling through a tough time. They’d lost customers, key employees and money. I was asked to help restore what was lost but, before I could do that, I had to address their greatest loss, that being hope. The negative events had sapped their vision of a brighter future again. What was worse, the organization was in an all-out panic which was producing fatalistic attitudes, worse than the truth itself. I knew that if they stayed focused on the negative they’d only get more of the same which eventually wouldn’t end well. They would fulfill their prophetic thoughts.

Panic stems from a feeling of no control. When we lose control we feel a strong need to regain it. Unfortunately, much of what affects us is out of our control. Our response then should not be to control what we can’t, but to respond to the situation with what we can control, that being us.

The first step in that process is to control our thoughts and words. There are doom-and-gloom people, sometimes even leaders, who for their own reasons sap others of hope. The issue is more complex though than just “looking on the bright side of things.” There are specific approaches to changing how we think and also wrong ways to do it.

The first step is to be careful who you listen to starting with yourself. This is important because it’s very easy to let others determine what we believe. A negative narrative we run ourselves can spoil a recovery. When we think the worst case long enough we lose the spirit to fight on. It’s called learned helplessness. We also give up on engaging the creativity and problem-solving abilities that are inherently human and present in every organization. As a leader, you can poison an entire organization with the wrong words. A hopeless attitude is a dangerous attitude, no matter how “real” the facts might seem.

When we frame our thoughts properly we create an attitude of resilience. The ability to bounce back from life’s downturns is a powerful tool for success. The ability to respond effectively in times of upheaval requires honesty and courage. Leaders are not successful in spite of their setbacks, they are successful because of them. Real leaders embrace their setbacks and learn from them. They grow smarter, tougher and more resilient. While others linger in defeat and negative thought, the resilient leader sees beyond the current reality to a better and brighter future.

Being resilient requires courage, courage to face the brutal facts of the situation and to push ahead when you may be disappointed or embarrassed. Resilient leaders have to build an attitude of optimism even when it doesn’t feel natural. It’s the organizational fuel for a recovery. Leaders must operate efficaciously with a positive expectancy knowing that, despite their circumstances, they can figure out and overcome the obstacles. Their goal is not just to bounce back, but to bounce forward to a better position.

 The most successful companies and leaders all experience setbacks or problems, but they see them as temporary. Sometimes the best ideas emerge from our toughest situations. As a resilient leader, you must also inspire others to participate. It’s an attitude that draws people together. The sense of a community working together to solve a problem is a powerful force. There are few problems an inspired team cannot accomplish when working together, no matter how large the obstacle.

A lot of what looks like luck isn’t luck at all. It’s the result of the right attitude. Good business practice tells us that we can only change what’s within our control. But often we fail to change the most important aspect of business, one we have 100% control over, that being our attitude. For my client, it would be wrong to not take very seriously their circumstances. But despite those conditions and how they felt, an attitude of hope in the face of their despair would not have been foolish either. If you look for reasons to be negative, you will find them. However, if you choose to look for reasons for hope, you’ll easily find them as well.

If you’ve been looking at reality with a glass-half-full attitude and want to try a change of attitude for better results, reach out to me through my contact info on our website or the “contact us” tab on this page.

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How Well Intended Rewards Backfire

Not long ago I listened to a frustrated company owner describe what he thought was a lack of appreciation for his ongoing generosity. For a number of years he recognized a special day in the company with a small, $50, monetary gift for his employees. It had also become a long-standing tradition and in his mind, it was a way of saying thank you. This year however, was different. He chose to eliminate the monetary gift for a number of reasons. Unfortunately, the understanding he expected to get from his years of generosity was met with complaints and he took them personally.

This is not an uncommon story. It’s often experienced around the holidays when a customary holiday bonus is delayed, deferred or cancelled. For many well intended leaders, the experience is less than heartwarming and catches them off guard. What should have been a nice company gesture was not only unappreciated but may have turned into a negative experience leaving some to say, “I’ll never do this again”.

While there’s no formula to ensure getting the desired response, there are a few simple things that can help prevent an employee gift from becoming a morale buster.

  • Frequency and its resulting predictability matter. When something is repeated it can become predictable. When that happens, a sense of entitlement can emerge. It fits the pattern of our lives and what once was an appreciated gift becomes an expectation. Unfortunately, when something we’ve come to rely and depend on is changed or removed, it creates anxiety.
  • Language and words matter. Psychologically, the word “bonus” and “gift” connotes different expectations. The notion of a bonus conjures up thoughts of it needing to be earned whereas a gift is seldom thought of as earned. We also don’t expect gifts to continue indefinitely, but bonuses are more easily tied to an event, even if the event is a recurring day on the calendar. The words “holiday bonus” and holiday gift” have much different feelings and connotations to them.
  • The sense of something being earned or unearned can also matter a great deal. The human condition in all of us responds to a work/reward response. If we’ve been conditioned to expect a reward for something we’ve done it becomes hard to remove the reward without an adverse reaction. There’s certainly a place for compensating someone for their contribution but that’s much different than a thank you or a gift. I pay my plumber for his work. It’s not a “thank-you” gift. When it comes to showing appreciation for someone, unexpected and unearned are always best. An unexpected gift means so much more than one I’ve come to expect. Alphie Kohn in his 1995 book titled “Punished By Rewards” wrote, “As it happens, most studies have found that unexpected rewards are much less destructive than the rewards people are told about beforehand and are deliberately trying to obtain.”.
  • The unit of the gift can play a big role too. Should the thank-you be monetary or something else? When my kids were young they got to a point of asking for money for birthday gifts. My wife would instead buy a special and thoughtful gift. While it didn’t carry the transactional monetary value they were hoping for, it meant a lot more to her and to them. The same holds true for employees. A thank-you gift should be just that, a gift, not a check. It doesn’t have to be big or of great value. Remember – It’s the thought that counts. Many times it’s a remembrance for something. While it might not be convenient to hand out turkeys around the holidays, a gift-certificate to the supermarket carries more meaning than a check for the same amount.

It can hurt when best intentions aren’t appreciated. I was taught not to expect something in return for a gift. If I did, it probably wasn’t a gift, it was a negotiation. The first step to avoiding disappointment is to not expect something in return. Money has value but little meaning and when you’re expressing a heartfelt thank-you gift, meaning matters. Also, make it an unexpected surprise. You’ll be remembered for that.

If you’d like to learn more about how to make your rewards more satisfying and effective, reach out to me through our website or the “contact us” tab on this page.

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Selling a Business in Turbulent Times

For owners who prepare well, there are still good opportunities to get top dollar for your business even during turbulent times. In a recent podcast conversation with an M&A executive, we discuss some of the ways to capitalize on the opportunity. Follow the link to listen to the entire conversation.

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Developing a Culture Brand

To thrive in today’s marketplace, companies need more than a good product or service. Branding is central to having your company stand out in a crowded market. For years, we’ve focused on the market brand, how we’re seen in the eyes of our customer. But today, market brand is not enough.

In the ever-increasing competition for employees, companies and organization need to pay close attention to their internal culture brand. With the choices workers have today, your ability to succeed may hinge as much on your internal reputation, your culture brand as it does on your external market brand.

It’s no longer just about money. In today’s wired social network, word of an organization’s reputation spreads quickly. It’s no longer the case that employees hire on only to leave later because of the culture. Today, they make a decision to not even apply and go somewhere else based on culture. Couple that with a generation of workers that value mobility and short-term employment and you have a situation where the inability to attract and retain can be very limiting for a business.

To avoid the problem, it’s important that companies be intentional and thoughtful about creating an internal culture that pulls in and retains the best talent.

Know yourself
Internal culture is not what management says it is. It’s what the employees say it is. Listen to what others say about their experience. It’s hard for an organization to act consistently if they haven’t defined who they are and what values they stand for. Senior leadership must first define the organization’s core values, the heart and soul of the business, to make it part of the culture.

A mistake made by many organizations is to define the words without a clear connection to behaviors. Who doesn’t want a culture where everyone acts with integrity. It’s a great statement, but what does it mean? We assume that everyone knows what that looks like in action. They don’t. Every organization is going to define it differently. Management should take the time to clearly identify what they believe about each cultural value and describe the behaviors that would result from that belief. This give employees the opportunity to see it in action, to give context and meaning to the words.

Hire for culture
Once the internal cultural attributes are defined it should be integrated into the talent selection process. The goal is to go beyond just skill to looking for individuals who value what the organization values. Hiring for culture does not mean hiring people of like personality. It means hiring on similar beliefs. There can be differences around personality with likeness in values.

New employee orientation for many amounts to little more than covering the requisite topics and administration of HR.  But some organizations use it as a strategic opportunity to share their personality, their culture with new arrivals. Rather than just focusing on compliance and administration, they dive deeper into presentations, stories and examples of their core values and behavioral expectations. The goal is to set the stage for future performance and how every member of the team is expected to live up to what the internal brand stands for.

Consistency matters
Actions speak louder than words and for the desired culture to take hold, employees need to see the cultural attributes reflected in the actions of the organization’s leaders. It’s not enough to speak to the cultural values, they need to demonstrate them through their own behavior. Every interaction is an opportunity to affirm your values in the eyes of employees and customers.

 Spread the word
Embedding the values into everyday life involves repetition and recognition of the right behaviors. Organizations should recognize and reward the people who exhibit the values leadership proclaims or the culture is in trouble. In small organizations leaders can tell stories of living out cultural values. In larger and geographically diverse situations company intranets, videos and internal social media systems can carry the message. What’s more important than the method is the frequency. The more frequent and inspiring the stories, the more they’ll become cemented into the everyday actions of the organization.

If you’re diligent with the process and patient enough to see your work take root, your internal brand can become so well-known and attractive that you begin to draw in employees who share your values. You’ll be able to hire people who believe what you believe, individuals who need little assimilation into your culture because it’s already who they are. When that happens, things can get exciting.

If you’d like more information on how to leverage your culture brand, reach out to me through our website or the “contact us” tab on this page.

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