Archive for category leadership

Start, Stop, Continue – Reviewed


When I hear in meetings that people don’t know why they are doing something or why a certain policy is in place I begin to wonder how much time is wasted on things we are just doing because we’ve always done them that way.  This post was triggered after reading “I can’t believe we’re still doing that” which brought back a lot of memories about team meetings that I facilitated and the frustration I had because there was such a resistance to change when confronting obsolete work.  Now I want to admit that I thought I had posted on this exercise in the past but after searching my archive I didn’t find it referenced.  Sorry about that.

Setting the Stage

This exercise is great when change occurs naturally in the workplace.  It does not need to be forced.  But I must admit, when I am called in as an outsider to facilitate change meetings it is very natural for me to use this tool.  If you are managing a team or organizations, there are still may opportunities to use this tool:

  • New Leadership – often a great time to realign your department or team when a new leader is ready to add a new twist or their own perspective to the role of the organization.
  • New Management – this is a great time to review ‘why’ we do things.  There are times when the past choices are allowed to be questioned as to why we are doing something.
  • Direction Change – often with new management or leadership comes a direction change and a time to evaluate past traditional work and possibly make changes.
  • New Team Member – sometimes a new set of eyes brings a new perspective.  And remember, those new team members have past experiences for you to gain from as well.
  • New Competitor – nothing can be more jarring than a new threat in the vicinity.  This change is ideal to reevaluate what the team is doing and make some needed changes.
  • New Capability – learning something new is a great time to make changes.  Sometimes it’s as simple as learning a new lens or gaining new tools or skills that allow you to reevaluate past norms.
  • Measurement Changes – remember always “you are what you measure” and at times those measurements tell you that something is wrong or something unexpectedly went well.  This is a great time to pull the team together and analyze the outlier.

Pick your change.  For the most part any change that occurs in your normal business cycle becomes an opportunity to evaluate your norms and possibly make some changes.  My only word of advice is that you don’t use “Start, Stop, Continue” too much.

Facilitation Instructions

You will need three surfaces, I tend to use three large tear off sheets taped to a wall, with each one title with one of there topics: START, STOP, and CONTINUE.  You will need sticky notes and writing materials, and sticky dots handed out to each person attending the meeting.

You will provide the participants a problem to solve  in which they must come up with ideas on how to improve something by stating things they would START, STOP, or CONTINUE doing.  Here are some suggestions for problems to solve:

  • How can we make this department better?
  • How can we reduced the total elapsed time of a specific process?
  • How can we reduce the duration of a specific task?
  • How can we improve the customer experience?
  • How can we reduce the returned product / restocking percentages?
  • How can we decrease the Account Receivable averages and improve cash flow?

Have the team write their ideas on the sticky notes and place it on the correct START, STOP, or CONTINUE sheet.

Facilitation Tip: This brainstorming session is sometimes best SILENT. As a general rule if there is a superior in rank or position in the room and someone may try to “impress the boss” by controlling the session, or an (opinionated) person who naturally commands all the discussions, then make this part of the exercise “SILENT ONLY” and limit the damage.

If the STOP page seems sparse after the activity is underway, then stop the team and force them to evaluate that specific area alone.

Facilitation Tip: If you have a process map already created for a specific process you are asking the team to improve then make sure the process is visible somewhere in the meeting room.  If you don’t have the process thoroughly mapped out then begin first by mapping the process into a swim-lane chart so everyone can understand what they are being asked to improve.

Group and Rank Suggestions

Have the team go through a nominal grouping exercise where they attached similar ideas together.  Allow the tam to challenge each other.  If an idea seems to fall into two groups then create a second sticky note and have the team move on with other groupings.  Then identify any associations between the grouped items (i.e. Item 2 can’t be started or completed without Item 1 having been accomplished first).

Then have the team vote on which items they think are best.  Give each person 5 or 10 sticky dots.  They can place dots on any of the grouped items.  They can place multiple dots on any one group if they feel strongly that a specific items needs more attention.  (Don’t let them place all their dots on one item though).

This will produce a list of items the group either believes are low hanging fruit or very important and need to be addressed.

We are looking for

STOP Sheet

  • Redundancies
  • Obsolete Steps
  • Eliminate Points of Failure
  • Reduce Inter-Departmental Hand-offs
  • Reduce Elapsed Times

START Sheet

  • New tasks in an existing process
  • New processes
  • Purchase new software / tools
  • New classes to educate staff
  • New Hire orientation updated lists

CONTINUE Sheet

  • All existing items not found on the STOP / START sheets that the team is already performing.

I hope you enjoy this exercise.  Let me know how it went.

Good Hunting.

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Marketing Focus


After reviewing the chart below, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of these issues would drop off if companies were following the principles explained in “Marketing Warfare” by Al Ries and Jack Trout.

Doesn’t it make sense that the marketplace,  and by that definition consumers,  wins if the best companies and products battle it out?  And does this change if it’s B2B or B2c?

Enjoy.  I would love to read your comments on this subject.

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Deathwish: One Last Meeting!


As a consultant I am asked to facilitate critical meetings and/or evaluate meeting or facilitator performances.  I have yet run across an organization that lives for meetings.  No company believes if they could only have one more meeting then they would reach the pinnacle of their business existence. It reminds me of a common story a life-coach might offer his client reminding the client of the concept of work-life  balance.  A man is on his deathbed and wishes for one last day at work so he will be satisfied and complete.

I do run across organizations that hold mandatory and regularly scheduled meetings because … well … because that is what they think all organizations are suppose to do.  (They should but not for that reason.) The meetings are scheduled and placed on everyone’s calendars.  Some even go so far as to create performance review metrics concerning attendance, timeliness, and participation for the above mentioned meetings.  Literally, the  same agenda is passed around at each meeting, with the same ground rules clearly identified somewhere on the page.  I’m not anti-meeting when I say this, but, what a waste.  A waste of time and resources for the company.

Meetings Must Accomplish Something

A meeting must have value and that value is determined by the behavioral change  your department or organization sees based on the content and outcomes of the meeting.  Leadership or management should set goals and objects for these meetings in the same way they w0uld for any other element in their domain that is responsible for adding value to the organization.

Here are some ideas you may wish to consider:

  • Set an annual budget for meeting costs (including time/resources)
  • Set a scheduled begin and end – start on time and end on time or end early
  • Create a unique agenda for each meeting
  • Have your team understand what it costs to run or go over on time
  • Measure performance against that budget
  • Use the meeting to set team objectives
  • Avoid one-way meetings – delegate assignments – track results
  • Rotate (delegate) who runs the meeting – teach your staff meeting prep & management
  • Document success / accomplishments from meeting assignments
  • Report accomplishments up!

Understanding Meeting Costs

Often a hidden cost within business that is overlooked or poorly managed is the time spent in meetings.  In today’s post,  I am specifically referring to the mandatory staff meeting, often weekly.  A department or team rarely understands just how expensive the meeting is, let alone how much it costs the company to go past the scheduled time.

When I tell a client that a 20 person half-day weekly department meeting costs the company $220,000 annually, they just about drop out of their seats.  They begin to understand that the cost demands value to the organization.  I show them this simple equation:

Staff x Rate x Hours x 50 weeks = Annual Cost of meetings

20 x $55.00 x 4 x 50 = $220,000

  • Staff would be the number of employees attending the meeting.  I used 20 in this example.
  • Rate is the fully burdened hourly rate that you would get from HR or your Accountant.  I used $55.00 per hour for staff averaging 70K salaries in this example.
  • Hours are the scheduled time each week  of your meeting.  I used 4 for this example

So going over schedule in this example would be:

20 x $55.00 or $1100 an hour to the company. (2x for the opportunity cost if you want to be picky or $2200 per hour)

Some immediate benefits

When you begin to hold your meetings accountable for more then update sessions and keep track of your costs you will begin to see some startling changes in your teams performance.

  • Reducing meetings to an hour each week can be used to report savings to the company.
  • Delegation and the results from those assignments can be used to promote tangible benefits against the costs
  • Rewarding your team for completing meetings before the scheduled end time. This  can be assigned as savings
  • Teach the team when to use the entire staff or a subset to save the costs to the company
  • Monthly reporting to your manager will help them understand the value of this large expanse.

Who knows, you may be asked to run your bosses meetings or be asked to train other managers because your department will be doing so well.

Good Hunting

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Exceptionalism: Focus on the Never


Firstly, I need to apologize up front that I don’t remember where I got this idea from.  It is not my idea, I have used variations of this exercise in my consulting practice,  but I wanted to pass it along.  One of the problems I have when listening to a host of podcast products  is that at times I am not in a good position to stop and take notes.  This idea I found on either Phil McKinney’s “Killer Innovation” or on a “Venture Voice” interview, but that is a guess at best.

We all need tools to help us think of new ways to solve old problems.  We have a lens that we use to evaluate data as it comes in.  Every so often we find a new lens which helps us provide a breakthrough in performance or understanding.  In this case I wanted to share with you a new way of looking at things with a hope that it produces exceptional results.

Always / Never Brainstorming

This is an excellent team exercise.  I would expect at least two large hanging paper sheets and a pile of sticky notes and some felt tip markers would work nicely.  Here are the steps:

  1. Define the topic or focal point.  Try to be specific.  I prefer these questions NOT be open-ended if possible to make sure you are focused as possible. Here are some example:
    1. “What are the first impressions of our company/organization/church?”
    2. “What’s the last thing people remember about ?????”
    3. “What do people expect when they ????”
    4. “What happens when a person doesn’t ????”
  2. Have the team brainstorm things that ALWAYS happen (Time limit 10 minutes or until the ideas dry up)
  3. Now, have the team identify things that NEVER happen for this topic (Same time limit, and keep the answers relevant)
  4. Take a break – you just spent 20 minutes hurting your brains! (5 minutes)
  5. Nominal Grouping next – spend 5 to 10 minutes  moving the stickies together that are talking about the same thing (duplicate stickies if the idea is relevant to two groupings)
  6. Focus on the Never – now ask the team to come up with ideas that would make the never become a reality and be considered exceptional. (20 minutes)

Innovation Bonus Exercise

Now I did get this great idea from a Phil McKinney podcast as I was driving back from a State Cup soccer tournament.  This is the first time I heard this exercise described this way and should provide you some great ideas and insights.

Our brains are programmed to stop thinking once we think we found the right answer and often we leave ideas in our head and never share them because of this reason.  You as the leader or facilitator need to force your team past this creative barrier.    Here is the bonus exercise:

  1. Have all your nominally grouped ideas placed on a grid.
  2. Each idea group should run across the top of the grid
  3. Each idea group should run down the left side creating a matrix.
  4. In each matrix box, FORCE the team to come up with a new idea.
  5. Use this Hybrid list of ideas for innovative ways to move forward.

The ALWAYS List

This list represents the performance bar that all expect from any organization in the specific category examined.  This list becomes the managers performance list.  The manager will use this list to help identify talents and skills needed by the staff to accomplish these objectives.    Mentoring, training, feedback and possibly team reconfiguration (fire/hire) might be needed to help the team reach the Always Base Level, if they are not already there.  It is imperative that the manager get his team to this level and make sure they stay there.

The NEVER List

The Never list (and Innovation Hybrid List) is used by leadership to determine what the group will take on next.  An assessment needs to be performed first.  Do we have the right talents?  Do the correct skills exist at the right level to take on the new item?  What do we gain by taking on the new item as it relates to our competitors?  How long can we have an advantage before the competitors catch up to us?  And let’s not forget, how much will this cost us?

Marketing Warfare Correlations

Now before I get emails asking me how this relates to Marketing Warfare let me break this down quickly.  This exercise will work for three of the four areas of the strategic squares.   I’ll try and break this down by market position:

Market Leader – you are using this exercise to create a Defensive Marketing Plan.  The goal is to create a moving target for the competitors in your space.   The ultimate object of these  repetitive successes would be to discourage your competitors from attempting direct attacks on your position.

Market Non-Leaders – since you are not using this exercise to attack the leaders weakness within their strength, this exercise should be used in creating a flanking attack and would work best if you focused on an area in which the leader is currently not focusing on.

Local or Regional Leaders – this exercise will produce great ideas for guerrilla marketing warfare plans.    Many of these ideas will place you in a strong competitive advantage to the national companies that cannot respond to the dominance you hold in your local or regional spaces.

Please let me know what you think of this post.  I hope it helps you and your organization.  Your feedback is most welcome!

Good Luck and Good Hunting!

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Recommendation: Venture Voice


Recently, I reorganized and reprioritized my podcast library and listening preferences.  It’s been about a year and some of the material wasn’t doing it for me any more. I won’t get into the reasons or the methods right now.  Just know, I started poking around iTunes, my podcast subscription tool of choice. and began sampling several different podcasts.

There is a lot of free podcast  content out there and most of it is worth the price you pay for.  But occasionally, you can run across some work that is truly valuable and insightful.  I wanted to share just such a find.

Venture Voice

This is taken from their about page at Venture Voice:

What does it take to start a successful business? We’re working the phone to find the answers by calling on entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and their friends and foes. This podcast (or, for the uninitiated, Internet radio show on demand) features our conversations. Listen to the voices of those living the entrepreneurial life. The excitement, trepidation and ambition heard in their tones gives us a feel for what they’re going through.

We’re interested in people in all types of industries — those who’ve already made it big and those who will soon. We want to hear about failures as well as successes. Start-ups have effects on personal lives in addition to professional lives; we explore both. If you would like to suggest someone to be interviewed, or have feedback for the show, please contact us.

Host and Executive Producer: Gregory Galant

Associate Producer: Eddie LeBreton

Founding Designer: Aaron Quint

My Time is Valuable …..

So why do I think spending time listening to 1 hour interview so worthy that I would want to pass it along to you.  Just in a short time I have gained valuable insights that I believe will help even the most modest of achievers among us.

Here are some of the insights I’ve gain:

  • All these people in the success stories we hear about are people just like us!
  • All had mentors that helped them in the process of moving forward
  • All failed … some more often then others … but all did.
  • Some were visionary, Some were leaders, Some were lucky …. all tried and refused to give up.
  • Some had great answers to difficult questions.
  • Some seemed clueless and you end up wondering how they made it so far.

Generally speaking that if you want to become better at something then the time you spend must complement this.  After all:

  • If you want to become thin … don’t do what fat people do.
  • If you want to become rich … don’t do what poor people do.
  • If you want to become better … don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.

Here’s a Sample of Titles:

I wanted to share with you some of the episodes that I recently listened to.  Now keep in mind, I don’t agree with every point of view these people claim to be important.  Rather I listen to their thought process and try and understand how did they end up making the right choice and what created sustainable success.

  • VV Show #56 – Joel Spolsky of Fog Creek Software
  • VV Show #55 – Graham Hill of TreeHugger
  • VV Show #54 – Tim Westergren of PandoraVV Show #53 – David Cohen of TechStars
  • VV Show #52 – Sam Wyly of Maverick Capital, Green Mountain Energy, Michaels Stores and Sterling Software
  • VV Show #48 – Frank Addante of The Rubicon Project
  • VV Show #46 – Jeremy Stoppelman of Yelp

Conclusion

I’d be interested in knowing what your thoughts are of some of the interviews.  Please drop by again and leave a comment. If there are other podcasts that you think are also valuable then please leave a comment here as well.

Good Hunting,

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Happy New Year


Well we survived another year.  I hope that 2009 will be better then the last for all that read this post.  I hope that you will take to heart some of these thoughts:

  • You become better when you become focused!
  • Improve your brand, after all, it is the only thing you truly have!
  • Be authentic, faking it takes way to much energy and destroys momentum!
  • Think Global, Execute Local!

Some Quotes

Here are some quotes from my favorite General – Karl von Clausewitz taken from “Marketing Warfare” by Al Reis and Jack Trout:

“Some statesman and generals try to avoid the decisive battle.  History has destroyed this illusion.”

“The statesman who, seeing war inevitable, hesitates to strike first is guilty of a crime against his country”

“Pursuit is a second act of the victory, in many cases more important then the first.”

“Many assume that half efforts can be effective.  A small jump is easier then a large one, but no one wishing to cross a wide ditch would cross half of it first.”

“Out of a thousand men who are remarkable, some for mind, others for boldness or strength of will, perhaps not one will combine in himself all those qualities which are required to raise a man above mediocrity in the career of a general.”

Final Thought

So let me leave you with this thought for 2009, taken from the book “Basic Economics” by Thomas Sowell.

“No economic system can depend on the continuing wisdom of its current leaders.” p72

Dare I add to this, it holds equally true to ourselves, our family, our vocations or businesses!

Happy New Year!

Good Hunting.

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Ban All Mirrors!


We handed out our traditional Christmas gifts to the contracted cleaning crew today. Nothing special, just some home made cookies my wife worked on for several days. One of the ladies, now a regular we have come to know and appreciate, made some funny statement like “Great, that’s all I need is some more pounds!” We all laughed.  She explained she walked by a mirror in her house the other day and her reflection shocked her. My response – “Ban all mirrors! That would solve the problem!”

The Real Problem – Not Enough Mirrors.

In truth, we don’t have enough mirrors in our lives. In business, we become so focused on the next deal, the next deadline, the next pay period, the next ….. OK you pick. We lose sight of our reflection in the mirror.  We don’t even bother to look most times.

Mind you, everyone else still sees us. Our employees. Our family. Our friends. Our Vendors. Our clients.  They don’t see us as a reflection in the mirror.  They have the luxury of simply watching us in our daily struggle to focus on the next thing.

Difficult Solution – Put up more Mirrors!

The strategy is simple, create an accountability network.  The tactic is difficult to implement.  There is a reason why peer accountability groups work.  Left to ourselves, we are our own worst enemies.  Finding a peer to trust is hard enough, finding someone you look up to is very bold.

Customer Service Mirror – find someone, maybe a trusted client, and review your company’s performance.  What’s working, what’s not.  What are they seeing your competitors doing.  What do they wish you would do

Leadership Mirror – are you creating bold audacious goals for you and your teams?  Who is reviewing them with you before you make your presentations.    Who is raising the bar, making you think of options outside your comfort zone?  Who laughs at you when you come up with a real stinker but you think it the next revolutionary idea?

Management Mirror – who is helping you improve you systems, processes, and staff?  Who’s helping you develop a performance model that fits your team’s talents and abilities?

For the sake of this post leadership and management are defined this way.  If a ladder was leaning against a wall, management would be focused on the most efficient and productive use of that ladder where it stands, leadership would be responsible for making sure it’s leaning on the right wall.

Social Media Mirror – it’s not just the people around you any more folks.  As Matt Hames states in his Web 2.0 posts, now it’s also your digital presence that is being looked at.  What you do on the internet, but also equally important, what is said about you on the internet becomes the new dimension to the mirror’s reflection.  Do you have someone helping you with your global perception?

Conclusion

Wow, all this from a bunch of home made cookies for Christmas.  I hope this post has a longer lasting quality then my wife’s baked goods.

I hope in the future when you walk by one of the mirrors in your life you are not shocked by what you see.  And I hope, for your sake, that it’s not too late to correct what you see.

Good Hunting,

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You with Risk: Mitigator or Instigator


How do you handle risk? Are you aggressive or passive with your campaigns? Do you think your job is to mitigate risk? Do you believe success is bred only when you instigate risk? Recently I read an article by Joseph Jaffe called Rewarding Risk and it made me contemplate how we think about risk, or rather how we should be thinking about risk.

Now I must be honest, Mr Jaffe is advocating risk in his article. He’s also writing for the United States Postal Service magazine and suggesting that companies be more aggressive with their direct marketing, and from this I assume their mailings. There is nothing wrong with that, but I want you to consider risk in a different light.

The Constant within Change

In times of change, risk is the only factor that remains constant. In today’s uncertain times, how you perform your role as marketer could be an important aspect to the success or failure or your organization. Doing nothing allows a competitor to act and take a position within your space. Taking aggressive marketing actions could cause you to dwindle your reserves and leave you weak when you may need to react to a competitor’s aggressive move.

So what is the answer? Do we focus on playing it safe? Do we become very selective in our approaches and try a minimalist approach until the economic times improve? Here is something I want you to consider.

The Mitigator Statues

OK, so how many are there? Someone point them out to me. Show me the place where we honor those fallen heroes of avoided risk. So how many statues, monuments, renamed schools or streets, plaques, or even little plastic trophies are out there for the following:

  • kept their company safe from spending money that might not have been needed
  • avoided a trip that may have been a disaster
  • Kept a department happy and safe by avoiding the potential of failure due to a tough project
  • never got fired because you refused to stick your neck out for something you thought was right

Let’s face it. We don’t honor the people who avoid risk. We like to keep them around so we have reminders of what not to be, but we don’t honor them.

I think Karl von Clausewitz stated this best:

“Some statesmen and generals try to avoid the decisive battle. History has destroyed this illusion.”

My Suggestions

Practice Marketing Warfare – Darwin’s survival of the fittest living out right before our eyes. The customer wins when the strongest company, product, or service survives and walks off the battlefield.

Fail Often, Fail BIG – If the next project you work on isn’t making your stomach churn with acid reflux because you have it all hanging out there, then quit marketing and join a PR firm. I hear they love working on Risk Mitigation.

Continuously Improve Yourself – never think you know it all. Never stop reading. Never stop going to school. Never stop teaching. Never stop!

Narrow Your Focus – apply your strengths and talents with the greatest possible force on the target or objective at hand. Go into every assignment with a superiority that assumes you will succeed.

Parting Quote

Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorius triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Good Hunting!

Source:

Jaffe, J. (2008, November). Rewarding Risk. Deliver, 4, page 5

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Nice Guy Bill of Rights


I recently read an interview in Incentives by Alex Palmer conducted with CEO Russ Edelman, co-author of the book “Nice Guys Can Get the Corner Office“. The interview is a good read and I would recommend it to anyone. But what caught my eye was a small section at the end of the piece called “Nice Guy Bill of Rights”

Maybe this piece caught my eye because of my recent post Customer Experience Investment Opportunities which was based on Seth Godin’s “How much extra for nice?” But as a person who is running a company, simply focusing on just on my client’s marketing goals and objectives is not enough, I must also focus on building a strong team.

Managing Overly Nice Guys (and Gals)

This is taken from his pience. I’ve modified the format a little help with space constrants of this blog.

Nice Guy Bill of Right

  • Self-Awareness : know your strengths and weaknessess
  • Speak Up : learn to express your opinions and e heard
  • Set Boundaries : set them and respect them
  • Confront : address issues directly and without fear
  • Choose : make choices without guilt
  • Expect Results : learn to hold others and yourself accountable
  • Be Bold : reach beyond your comfort zone
  • Win : compete and succeed

Your Thoughts

Ok, if you have overly nice people in your organization, do you help them succeed or do you dismiss them as weak? Are you helping them add value to the organization or do you see them as a drain?

Please comment your thoughts.

Good Hunting.

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