SBM #69- They Should Know Better

Communication

A constant refrain that I hear from business owners is “they should know better!” “They” of course being any or all the employees that screwed up. Naturally, when I hear this statement, I just can’t leave it alone and therefore I need to challenge it. At which point the conversation goes something like this,

Client: They should know better
Me: Really, why is that?
Client: It’s their job
Me: Did you tell them?
Client: No, I shouldn’t have to
Me: Why shouldn’t you have to?
Client: Because they’re supposed to be adults
Me: That may be true, but you still need to tell them what you expect
Client: I hired them to do a job. If I have to tell them or show them I don’t need them.
Me: Seriously?

It’s not about micro-managing

I think you get the drift and I’m sure many of us have felt the same way at times. Unfortunately, too many owners wrongly assume that once they hire an individual, that person should automatically know everything there is to know. Granted, they should have all the technical skills required for the job, but that’s only half the battle.

Where many entrepreneurs fail, is in telling their employees what they expect from them on a regular basis. We’re not talking about micro-managing, it’s about providing clarity. It’s about setting expectations or objectives. It’s about letting them know specifics, like when you expect the task to be completed or how many hours you’ve allocated for that project or how you expect them to act in front of customers, or your dress code and on and on. Just because you failed to mention something and then expecting your employees to read your mind, is asking a little much, don’t you think?

The easiest way to fix this is to communicate. Yup, it can be that simple. Communicating is nothing more than telling people what you expect. Because left unsaid, it is usually just asking for trouble. And once it becomes a crisis, emotions usually take over and its no longer just a conversation. By having regular ongoing dialogue between employees and managers, everyone should be on the same page. This can go a long way in minimizing surprises.

Here ya go, get it done!

You see, nobody likes surprises because they usually occur at the wrong time and leave little opportunity to correct the situation. Simple, regular and informal dialogue between managers and employees would avoid many of the problems that arise.

The alternative of course, is to simply assume that once the project was assigned, it would be completed without further communication and it usually goes something like this- “Here ya go, get it done!” The weakness in this strategy usually manifests itself once the client calls to inquire why the project is two weeks behind schedule. Those are always fun conversations. Why is it then, that the only person that knew was the client?

In hindsight, one of my major communication tools was simply wandering around and talking with my staff or watching them do their job. This provided me the opportunity to reinforce what my or our clients expectations were. If I noticed that something was lacking, I would typically bring it to the attention of the project coordinator responsible for the project, for them to rectify. Often in a quick group meeting.

Fortunately, this was a rarity because the coordinators were very good at setting expectations and at helping individuals meet those objectives. In addition, our reporting processes allowed us to monitor our benchmarks in real time. This real time reporting was not designed to “catch” individuals for low productivity, but to identify potential problems in the execution and to take corrective action early on, thereby allowing us to finish on time and on budget with excellent results.

Hoping things will improve rarely works

Because of our ongoing dialogue with the front line employees, coupled with the data, this allowed us to notify the client early on of a potential problem and take corrective action. Although this was never fun to tell a client you’re having a problem, and thankfully was a rarity, it was far better strategy than waiting until the end and hoping things would turn around on their own. It has been my experience that hoping things will improve rarely works and leaves you to make a bunch of lame excuses to a very disappointed client.

Being visible and asking questions is part of being a manager. Equally important to opening the lines of communication, is asking the right questions. These questions should focus on removing roadblocks to productivity and serve as teaching moments.

However, in order for this to work it must be a two way street. Employees need to feel comfortable enough to be able to express their thoughts or know that delivering bad news won’t earn your wrath.

Yes, they should know better, but if you want better communications within your organization, then it’s up to you to create it. Being visible, watching, listening and letting people know what to expect, will go a long way in reducing those nasty surprises that just ruin everybody’s day.

You may also enjoy – Being a leader can be a pain

Copyright © Greg Weatherdon 2018

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SBM #68 Discipline Equals Freedom

Discipline Equals Freedom

Discipline means identifying what’s truly important

READING TIME: 5 minutes

Discipline is not always a strong suit when it comes to describing many entrepreneurs, it just goes against their rebel nature. One of the main reasons they went out on their own is because they figured they could do a better job, make more money and have a better life, but to do it their way.

For many, their jack of all trade, get it done, whatever it takes attitude, helped them launch their business, but this not an enduring strategy if one wants to create a sustainable business. On second thought, it can be, if you enjoy long days, doing everything yourself and running around like your hair is on fire. Chances are though, this helter skelter approach to running a business won’t get you to where you want, because that requires discipline.

We can do whatever we want,
regardless if it’s productive or not.

Discipline is one of the most difficult habits for entrepreneurs to form. On any given day, distractions abound for these individuals. When coupled with not having a boss looking over your shoulder, it’s akin to leaving a child alone in a candy shop. We can do whatever we want, regardless if it’s productive or not.

This is why discipline is so hard. It’s almost like anti-freedom. It means you must do certain things, at certain times and these tasks become your new boss. However, over time, with enough practice this boss becomes your partner that shoulders much of the load. But first, you must embrace discipline, if you want to achieve freedom.

“I’ve got so much to do,
I don’t even know where to start?”

Embracing discipline means, identifying what’s truly important on a daily basis. In general terms, what’s truly important can be summed up as follows- “Any task that can move the business forward, by eliminating restrictions or generating revenue.” These important items can cover multiple areas of the business that range from preparing estimates to dealing with customer problems or handling those niggling HR issues. You need to make them your daily priority even though they may be unpleasant. By not addressing these, less than fun priorities, they start to pile up and eventually generate so much stress that it can become paralyzing. Just think how many times you have said, “I’ve got so much to do, I don’t even know where to start?”

A daily dose of discipline,
in exchange for tremendous freedom,
is a fair trade.

For many, it’s because we let other more interesting things distract us. Notice I said more interesting and not productive. These more interesting distractions often taking us down endless rabbit holes, that although keep us entertained, do little to move the business forward. Yes, discipline means doing things even when we don’t want to.

The Cambridge dictionary defines disciple as “the ability to control yourself or other people, even in difficult situations”. This sounds simple enough, but it’s easier said than done. For most of us though, we have to dig really deep to stay on task every single day. I know I have to. But to be honest, a daily dose of discipline, in exchange for tremendous freedom, is a fair trade.

Being individuals, it’s hard to prescribe a single solution that works for all, but here are 5 steps you can take to help you get those really important things done everyday that could help you to get that elusive freedom we all seek.

The 5 Steps 

  1. Make a list of every single outstanding issue you need to deal with.
  2. Rank them by the most urgent to least urgent. Urgent should be those items that directly affect the business, good or bad. These are usually the things that keep you up at night.
  3. Circle the top 3 items and action them. This sounds simple enough, but this can be especially difficult when these items make you uncomfortable or where your natural instinct is to keep ignoring the issue. Layer on all other day to day distractions and your day will be full.
  4. Repeat this every day adding in new items, deleting completed ones and dealing with the top 3 and you’ll soon find yourself sleeping a little better and feeling more in control of your world.
  5. Lastly and probably most important, is to find that time of day when you’re most productive and creative. For me, it’s first thing in the morning, for others it’s late at night. Once you identify your most productive time, embrace and protect it. Use this time to complete those items that require deeper concentration. To be sure, some items just can’t be completed in the wee hours of the morning, like disciplining a staff member, as it’s usually frown upon to contact them a 5am. However, prepping for that meeting is something that can be done before the sun is up.

Identifying priorities in a business can be challenging, because when we’re overwhelmed, everything appears to be a priority. But getting things under control will require discipline. So, try the above 5 steps for the next month, because they say it takes 30 days to create a habit and this is one good habit to have.

So, if you’re tired of always being stressed out and not having time for yourself, maybe it’s time to apply a little discipline to your daily routine. Because discipline equals freedom.

I’m Greg Weatherdon and this has been your Small Business Minute.

You may also enjoy Know Your Strengths

Copyright © Greg Weatherdon 2018

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SBM #67 – Demand More

SBM #67-Demand More from your service providersI have worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs helping them to shape their businesses into their vision. One problem that I frequently come across is the quality or I should say, the lack thereof of some 3rd party service providers e.g. bookkeeping, IT specialists, etc.

For the record, I’m all about outsourcing non-core or mission critical activities to individuals who specialize in a given area. But time and again I find that many of these providers never consider the best interests of their clients.

Most of my entrepreneurial ventures have been as a service provider and one of my key mandates was to always be searching for ways to reduce our costs to our clients. That may sound treasonous, but in fact it helped to grow our profits and our roster of clients, most of whom were divisions of global packaged goods companies.

“Clients are always looking for cost reductions…suppliers are always looking to increase their billings”

The premise was simple. Clients are always looking for cost reductions on the goods and services they buy, so my thought was to pre-empt that thinking. Without boring you with the details, we provided telemarketing and communication services to the packaged goods industry, servicing their small or orphaned accounts.

Our normal program recommendation was to execute 3-4 telemarketing sales programs a year. The targeted accounts would range between 3,000-5,000 retailers. By the end of the second program we had accumulated sufficient information to go back to the client looking to adjust our original agreement-downwards!

Of course, this is not the norm. Most suppliers always look for ways to increase their billings by recommending the program be expanded. Our approach on the other hand, was very disarming to clients but was based on solid business premises.

Our typical recommendation after the second wave, was to reduce the number of calls by around 20%. Because at this point we usually had enough data to determine which accounts simply weren’t interested, for whatever reason, in dealing with us. We were in effect, wasting our clients money and therefore they should be culled from the program.

  1. So, what did this approach do for us? It positioned us as a trusted partner and an organization that had our clients best interest at heart.
  2. It dramatically increased our sales ratio performance e.g. a 35% sales ratio automatically jumped to over 40%.
  3. Our revenue per call would also soar. Clients always like that.
  4. Our profit margin jumped significantly as we kept a percentage of the savings. The clients never questioned us as we passed on about 80% of the savings.
  5. More often than not, clients would reallocate the savings to another program for us to execute. So, we really didn’t lose anything.
  6. Our efficiency increased as we were able to service more clients, at higher margins, without increasing our manpower or physical space. All while growing our revenues.
  7. Our clients regularly referred us to other divisions within their organizations.

The best part of this strategy was that we rarely had to justify our fees. Not many service organizations have that luxury.

“When I uncover these duplication, clients begin to lose faith”

Unfortunately, in working with my clients today, I find that many of the service providers they use, never look to help them. They simply focus on maintaining the status quo to protect their billings that often results in the duplication of efforts. When I uncover these duplications and bring this to my clients attention, they quickly begin to lose faith in these individuals.

These service providers think that by helping the client be more efficient or show them a better way, that they will put themselves out of job. Nothing could be farther from truth. It would in fact solidify their position in the eyes of their clients.

To be fair, clients are not innocent in this by any means. I’ve talked about this in The Small Business Minute #56 Delegate not Abdicate. Too many entrepreneurs eagerly outsource tasks that they don’t like doing or have no knowledge and then immediately ignore it assuming they no longer have to worry about that area of the business.

There are many great individual service providers that are engaged in their clients’ business. They do provide valuable assistance and insight but there are just as many that don’t.

If your service providers are not helping you run your business and don’t regularly suggest improvements, it’s probably time for you to demand more.

I’m Greg Weatherdon and this has been your Small Business Minute.

Copyright © Greg Weatherdon 2018

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