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MAKE BOLD MOVES AND SEE DRAMATIC RESULTS

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In my conversations with many CEOs and business owners, I find that there is a distinct correlation between those who make bold moves in their business, and those who achieve their objectives (read more about having clear objectives here). Steve Jobs made bold moves and revolutionized how we listen to and purchase music today; John Antioco (former CEO of Blockbuster) did not.

We all equally learn to make bold moves as a child – our first step, first bike ride, first time driving a car. But somewhere along the line many of us seem to digress into making fewer and fewer “bold moves,” learning instead to play it safe and slow down, rather than speed up and take bold action.

I’ve got news for you:

 

 

Do you make bold moves? Is your company moving forward in new and bold ways?

Here are some examples of bold moves that successful CEOs I’ve met consistently take:

  • Enter a new market with a product or service that’s not yet fully proven.
  • Merge or acquire with another company to capture more market share.
  • Moving to self-managed teams to eliminate bureaucracy and improve productivity.
  • Make rapid and profound changes to existing products or services based on customer feedback.
  • Quickly eliminate or displace anyone who doesn’t support making bold moves.

To be bold doesn’t take nerve, it simply requires that we return to having an insatiable appetite for new ideas, rapid action and new levels of success.

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Are You More Productive than a Goldfish?

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Being productive heavily relies on one's ability to concentrate their attention. A recent study conducted by Microsoft suggests that the attention span of young and old alike has diminished from 12 seconds in 2000 to around 8 seconds in 2015. What's most interesting about this statistic is that the average attention span of a goldfish is around 9 seconds which begs the question, are you more productive than a goldfish?

It's been my experience that regardless of age, gender, role or career, we collectively struggle with ways to increase productivity, both with ourselves and (in the case of business owners and executives) with our employees.

At an organizational level the signs that this struggle would arise has existed for sometime particularly when you consider that:
  • Email was intended to reduce paper consumption and increase individual productivity.
  • E.R.P. and various other software solutions were intended to improve the efficiency of managing data.
  • Smart phones in the workplace were meant to increase communication across the organization.
  • Instant messaging in the workplace was meant to increase the speed and convenience of office communication.

Do you think that all of these predictions came true? More importantly do you notice a trend? In everyone of these examples technology was suggested as the means by which to increase efficiency, however in reality it hasn't.

 

Who made these predictions in the first place?  

 

recent article in the NY Times should provide more fuel for thought when the author suggested that numerous CEO's of Technology companies such as Chris Anderson of 3-D Robotics and Alex Constantinople of the OutCast Agency admitted that they sheltered their children from technology, a trend that the author first noticed during his interactions with Steve Jobs several years ago. 

 

I'm not here to point blame or lay fault, but I want to suggest that it may actually be possible that much of the technology we strive to purchase and introduce in order to increase productivity is in fact having the exact opposite effect. 

 

What to do?

 

The solution although you've likely heard it before, is quite straight forward. Increasing productivity begins with increasing our attention span and increasing our attention span begins with limiting our use of technology. Concentrate on one task at a time for set periods of time (20 minutes to start) and don't let yourself be distracted by technology.

  • Turn off your email - check it at scheduled intervals.
  • Turn off your phone - educate others on your "office hours" and when you'll be responding
  • Stay away from the internet - it's a time dump and should be used sparingly and carefully.

There are growing trends to taking a "technology vacation" but I would suggest that increasing productivity doesn't require a one time or periodic event. We need to place conscious concerted effort to how we use technology, making it a tool, not a crutch.

 

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Are You Practicing Customer Omnipresence?

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Last week I spoke with a group of CEO's in Toronto on some of the critical points in my upcoming book from McGraw Hill - Operational Empowerment: Collaborate, Innovate, and Engage to Beat the Competition

Specifically I asked them about the challenges they were experiencing relative to continuously improving the performance of their business. Hands down the number one challenge (regardless of industry or sector) was how to consistently capitalize on shifting customer and client needs in order to grow profitably.

What was most disturbing was that there wasn't one individual in the room that was confident as to whether their approach to creating stronger customer bonds was truly effective or not. I find this is a consistent concern amongst CEO's from across North America however the answer is quite simple. Omnipresence.

How are you connecting with customers to understand, serve and satisfy their evolving needs?

Despite lengthy discussions on building stronger customer connections, there were three predominant areas that we discussed in depth, all of which apply to any business. I call these the 3 "C's" to Omnipresence, specifically:

1. Channels: Customers today have the desire to connect with a business (and it's employees) on multiple channels. It's simply irresponsible to think that directing customers to one or two channels (i.e. email or telephone) is sufficient. Being omnipresent means that you have to be willing to connect online, in person, at events, in stores, via email, through online forums, via telephone and in focus groups. Opening and managing multiple communication channels is the key to stronger customer connections and heightened brand awareness.

2. Customization: I still think that Burger King was onto something when they first introduced their slogan "Have it Your Way." As a culture we've become accustomed to having what we want, when we want it. Providing customers with a "take it or leave it" approach is the easiest way to destroy customer connections. Those organizations who are omnipresent provide customers with multiple means of customization to ensure that what they are investing in is exactly what they want.

3. Creativity: The first time I received a birthday card from a car dealer I thought "Wow, what a creative idea." Today, what was once creative is all too common. Omnipresent businesses continuously introduce new means to put their product or service in front of their ideal customers. From hand written "thank-you" cards to alliances with complimentary products or services. 

The only sure thing in life other than death and taxes is that customers needs will continue to evolve. How are you positioning your business, your employees and your products and services in order to satisfy your customers and set yourself apart from the competition?
 

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WHY BETTER DECISIONS INCREASE PRODUCTIVITY

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Have you ever wished you were more effective at influencing the decisions of others? Better yet would more effective and collaborative decisions made by your employees or team members result in less conflict and higher levels of productivity?

 

This past week I returned to Toronto after a brief stay in North Carolina. Upon landing but prior to exiting the plane there was a relatively brief but intense discussion between the flight attendant and ground attendant, following which all passengers were released from the plane only to stand on the tarmac for another fifteen minutes awaiting our luggage.  

 

I wouldn't have minded if we had to do this upon arrival to North Carolina, but standing in 40 degree Fahrenheit weather wearing little more than a spring jacket was not a pleasant experience. As we stood shivering, the ground attendant clearly still upset from the earlier discussion with the flight attendant apologized for the delay citing a broken luggage trolley as the culprit. "I'm not sure why the flight attendant wouldn't let you stay on the plane where it's warm. Apparently she has a memo that says all passengers can be released upon landing." 

 

A memo?  

 

It's clear in this instance that both the flight attendant and ground attendant made a decision that they felt was the best given the circumstances, however their inability to share information, consider accentuating circumstances and collaborate on a better solution resulted in conflict (a less than productive outcome) with passengers receiving the short end of the stick.  

 

How are you ensuring that the decisions made by your team are the best possible decision given the circumstances? 

 

In many of the retreats that I facilitate we spend time discussing how to influence decisions for more powerful outcomes, the process of which begins with understanding the four basic approaches to decision-making.

 

1. The "Independent" decision-maker: Quick decisions based on an assessment of the current situation.

2. The "Dependent" decision-maker: Decisions that are based on known instructions, policies and guidelines. 

3. The "Supportive" decision-maker: Decisions that are based on supporting the best interests of others.

4. The "Calculated" decision-maker: Fact based decisions supported by evidence and data.

 

Once you consider that there are different approaches to decision making, it becomes much easier to understand how you can influence the decisions of others both directly and indirectly in order to achieve the "Best Possible Decision" or B.P.D.

 

What about those circumstances where it is unclear as to the decision-making approach of others? In these situations consider these four questions:  

  1. What is the information at hand that should be considered and discussed?
  2. What facts or data are known about the situation? Have they been discussed?
  3. What past practices, procedures or policies should be considered? What is their intent?
  4. What might the thoughts or ideas of others who are impacted by the decision be?
  5.  

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IS YOUR NETWORK BUILT FOR SUCCESS?

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Success is not a solitary journey. The most successful CEO's, Presidents and Entrepreneurs that I've encountered have built a powerful network to assist them along their journey including surrounding themselves with peers, trusted advisers, coaches, financial advisers, accountants, lawyers and even personal trainers. There is no end to the network one can build if open to the possibilities.

 

But you may have noticed that there is a significant group that is missing from this list. Any ideas as to who they are?

 

Every successful leader is surrounded by a supportive team, however interestingly enough for most of the business leaders and entrepreneurs I interviewed for my upcoming book from McGraw Hill, employees were not always high on the list of a success network.  

 

Why?

 

More often not the response I received when I asked this very question was simple. An Executive or Business Owner can choose (and change) their network of advisers, peers and friends quite easily, however changing out employees within the business is often more difficult. Tightly bound union contracts, skilled labor shortages and a general dis-taste for termination topped the list of reasons as to why this is.  

 

This being said, because we don't have the same freedoms to manage and select our employees as we often do with advisers, there is a greater disparity in identifying the optimum methods to motivate, energize and incentivize employees. For this reason I wanted to share a few of the methods that I've helped clients incorporate to improve the productivity and motivation of their staff, with the intent that you can do the same. 

 

Three ideas to motivate your employees to higher levels of productivity:

 

1. Loosen the reigns. Stop holding employees to a lower standard. Expect more of them and allow them an opportunity to rise to the occasion. I can tell you a dozen stories of my clients who found a diamond in the rough working in an administrative role who is now running a division or leading the company simply because a previous CEO or President took a chance and allowed them the opportunity to grow.

 

2. Growth through failure. As you know success comes with it's ups and downs, often more of the later than the former. This said, why are we so prone to avoiding the opportunities to let our employees fail? We have to be selective of course, but allowing employees to fail builds character, resilience and dedication to finding success. Stop thinking of failure as a bad thing.

 

3. The Power of Three. Put two employees together in a room and it won't be long before they are thinking and agreeing on most everything including world views, business and politics. Put three into a room however and the dynamics change. The "third wheel" often ensures that group think doesn't have an opportunity to manifest itself, resulting in increased diversity and ingenuity. Are you shaking up the ranks by incorporating the Power of Three? 

 


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CUSTOMER VALUE FORTIFIES GROWTH

How can you maximize business growth, retain customers and sustain high levels of customer satisfaction in one fell swoop? The answer isn't as complex as you might think, and almost counter intuitively it does not result from a singular focus on marketing or sales, despite what experts in those areas might suggest..

The most effective way to achieve these objectives is by understandingwhat your customers value. I'll never forget a comment made by the CEO of a Marketing firm I was working with while we were exploring future opportunities for growing his company. "If our customers suddenly decide that they can attain the greatest value from dirty diapers, then we are going to start selling the best dirty diapers money can buy." Possibly an odd statement, but it demonstrates his acuity to recognizing the distinct parallels between success for his business, and providing distinct and meaningful value to his customers.

Are you clear on what your customers, both internal and external, desire? Can you definitively describe what they value and how you are (or are going to) deliver that value? Here are some questions to consider:

 

Assessing Customer Value:

  • What do your customers appreciate about your products, services and people?
  • Where would your customer like to see improvements (consider your people, products, and services)?
  • What do your customers find provide little or no value relative to your products or services?
  • What are your customers' strategic objectives? How might you support achieving those objectives?
  • What challenges are your customers going to face in the next 24 to 48 months? Which pose the greatest risk?
  • Would your customers refer you to other companies? If so, why? If not, what would need to change in order for them to do so?

The outcomes to these types of questions not only form the basis for a very distinct value proposition and market focus, but they identify where you need to improve, invest and develop in order to providing significant, meaningful and continuous value to your customers or clients. 

 

Is your department, division, or company built to provide value to it's customers or clients? When was the last time you identified what it is that your customers truly value?

 

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BO KNOWS ENGAGEMENT

I recently watched a biography on Bo Jackson during a flight to
Edmonton. Raised by a single mother in a family of ten, Bo’s upbringing was less than glamorous, with he and his siblings surviving off what can only be described as a pittance. In the area where Bo lived many other families were in a very similar situation, and as teenagers, many of Bo's friends turned to violence and crime as a means of attaining money. Despite the temptation this brought, Bo instead chose to focus his energy on his passion for sports.
 
Although cut short by a career debilitating hip injury, Bo’s record breaking career as both a professional football and baseball player helped him to reach levels of success that others can only dream of. The reason? Bo's ability to identify with and connect his talents and capacity with his passion.
 
Are you in a career that connects your talents, capacity and passion? What if you could make these connections and form a rewarding and satisfying career just as Bo did, despite the odds and obstacles that exist? What would this mean to your lifestyle, your attitude, your future?
 
Moreover what if you could help your employees make these same connections? How would this impact productivity, morale and profitability?

I've used the following questions with my coaching clients to help them assess how they can make this connection for themselves and their employees. Take a moment and reflect upon your own answers:

  1. What do I enjoy spending my time doing outside of time with my family and friends?
  2. What have other people told me I am good at?
  3. What do I feel most comfortable doing while at work?
  4. Are there other people doing something that I wish I were doing? How might I approach them to discuss?

Time is finite, and we only get one chance to make a touchdown. Doesn't it make sense then to build a business, division or department that connects talents, capacity and passion? The reward will be greater than the investment. Just ask Bo, he knows.

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IT'S NOT WHAT YOU MAKE, IT'S WHAT YOU KEEP

With a new year upon us it's common to consider Sales targets.

  • How can we grow international sales opportunities?
  • What new customer segments should we tackle in order to maximize sales opportunities?
  • How can we convert and close more leads?

The key to any successful business is not how much you make, it's how much you keep. What you should be considering in conjunction with the questions above is how can you maximize profitability? For instance if sales remain constant with those achieved in 2013, however you can increase profits by 10 or even 5%, what would this mean to the bottom line? What would it mean to your budget or business?

To increase the amount you keep, explore the following questions:

1. Which processes contain the greatest amount of waste (i.e time, delay, complexity). How can you minimize this waste?
2. What is your average employee absenteeism? Which employees exceed this average? Why?
3. Where have the predominance of your supplier or contractor price increases come from in 2013? How can you mitigate them?
4. Which leaders (i.e. supervisors, managers) are the most challenging to manage? How will you correct this in 2014?
5. How will you create opportunities to extract value from your employees? How can you empower employees to take action on opportunities without your prompting?
6. Which machinery or technology are creating bottlenecks? What opportunities exist to overcome these bottlenecks?
7. What ideas do your employees have for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of your business?

So as you begin setting sales targets for 2014, consider how you can "keep more" than you did in 2013. After all it matters less what you sell if your profitability is shrinking.

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From Vacation to Velocity

With summer drawing to a close, we are faced with the challenge of shifting from vacation mode to work mode. It's often difficult enough to do this for ourselves, much the less engage our employees.

I recently facilitated a session with a client which I called "Vacation to Velocity." With summer being their slow season, finding a method to get everyone focused and working in the right direction was critical to gearing up productivity for the fall, their busiest time of the year.

We held a brief meeting with all staff to transition from vacation to velocity, covering several key areas, the intent of which was to increase communication, improve engagement and build excitement about the months ahead. During the session we discussed several distinct areas, the most critical of which are below:

1. Where does the organization stand relative to it's strategic objectives? What successes have been achieved; what challenges have been overcome?

2. What changes in the companies customers, competition or suppliers are expected to occur during the next several months? How will these changes impact the business and employees?

3. What initiatives are being considered for the next six months? What impact will they have on the employees? What support is required?

4. What are the greatest successes of the business during the past six months? How have the employees contributed to those successes?

As you can imagine, employees were very receptive to the session, providing valuable feedback that might otherwise not have been considered. Indirectly employees were also motivated by the senior leaderships desire to improve communications.

What are you doing to shift your employees focus from vacation to velocity? How are your employees contributing to achieving your strategic objectives? Remember that engagement is built on communications, good bad or otherwise. So try holding an informal session with employees and watch engagement and motivation improve.

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Success Breeds Success

I have been writing some articles for the Association of Manufacturing Excellence recently around the topic of Lean. While researching the articles, I found that when I bring up the topic of Lean to clients and colleagues, I receive either a response of unbridled enthusiasm, or absolute disdain. Few respond anywhere but at either extreme. Now I’m never curious about the former reaction of excitement, but I’m always interested in what has driven the later response.

Have outcomes not been achieved? Was there a failed project? A wasted investment? An inability to engage employees?

Now, I will admit that I often avoid bringing the term Lean into discussions, for the exact reasons stated above. There is always a risk that the other person has had a bad experience. But with that said, the concept of Lean is still one that should be incorporated into every operation to reduce waste and maximize labor productivity.

So let’s set aside the term “Lean” for just a moment, and focus on the best opportunities that exist for maximizing productivity and ultimately employee engagement,

1.    Information is useless in the wrong hands
The smaller the “knowledge” gap between company ownership or senior management and those on the shop floor or in the front lines, the better. Senior management must understand the challenges of the employees, and the employees must understand the direction and strategy of the organization (and the benefits to them in supporting the direction). I have met with several CEO's who feel it not important to discuss the state of the business with employees in order to avoid impacting morale. Unfortunately their perceptions are false and in fact are resulting in the very outcome (poor morale) that they are trying to avoid.

2.    Ideas are only useful if you use them
How do you feel when someone chooses to ignore you or your ideas? If you’re like most people, eventually you just stop offering up ideas or any discussion at all. Well, the best ideas for increasing productivity, reducing waste and maximizing customer value often come from those who actual do the work. This is nothing new. There are few companies that don't actually offer some form of an employee suggestion program. However enticing employees to offer suggestions for improvement is only successful if you actually consider their ideas, and then implement where it makes sense to do so. The best reward for employee suggestions, and in turn the best way to entice employees to continue to provide new ideas, is to simply implement their past suggestions.

3.    Success results from consistency
If sharing information and generating ideas is one of the best means to increase productivity, then achieving results comes from hard work and repetition. Everyone I have spoken with who has a bad taste for Lean in their mouth says the same thing, "It wasn't working, so we quit." A project wasn't finished; communications broke down; meetings ceased. Whatever the intended outcomes of the initiative, they were never achieved and the perception is because the energy and progress that existed initially, quickly diminished. Management blame the employees, the employees blame management. Regardless of the type of improvement you are pursuing, always start small and build on success because success breeds success. Most importantly, never ever stop. Success takes hard work and consistency. If you aren't committed, don't start.

So, whether you are a fan of Lean or not, you can improve productivity by simply sharing information across the organization, taking action on employee suggestions and remaining committed and consistent. Simple suggestions, but hard work. I guarantee however the results are worth the effort.

© Shawn Casemore 2013. All rights reserved.

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