Ten Critical Factors in Getting Your Business Off to a Fresh Start in 2022 Part 3 of 3
In part two, I wrote about the first five key factors to get your business off to a Fresh Start in 2022. Those key factors were: 1) Vision; 2) Hard Review; 3) Focusing on Understanding if Needed Changes are Strategic vs. Behavioral; 4) Customer-Based Brand Positioning; and 5) Product Strategy.
In this article, I will complete this series with the second five of ten critical factors to get your business off to a Fresh Start in 2022.
Key Factor #6: Functionality (Time & Roles)
“I just don’t have time to do what I WANT to do, because I am doing too many things I NEED to do.”
A few years ago, a business owner I coached was frustrated because their co-owner was spending a lot of time managing IT issues as well as trying to manage the rest of the business. The co-owner said, “I can do it better than anyone else, so I need to manage IT, too.”
Yes, they could probably manage IT quite well. But was setting up desktops for new employees the best and highest use of their time? The answer was a resounding “No!”
In my experience, many owners gravitate towards activities that although important could be handled quite well by a subordinate or an outside resource. They feel comfortable doing something they know how to do, even if it takes quite a lot of time. “I’m saving money, and I like to do it!”
The problem is that as owners, you can do HUNDREDS of activities probably a little better, faster, and cheaper than others in your company. But when you focus on “lower use” activities, this means you do not have the time and energy to focus on those activities that really only you can manage for your company. A junior employee doesn’t have the “big picture” context of your company, nor do they have the vision for the business that you, the owner possesses. And if you don’t prioritize your time to focus on your highest and best use, then your time very quickly gets eaten up by the “tyranny of the urgent”.
Almost 60 years ago, Charles Hummel wrote “Tyranny of the Urgent” in which he argued that in the ongoing battle between the urgent and the important, the “urgent” wins far too often. Steven Covey and many, many others have since written about the importance of making time for the important …not just the urgent.
As a business owner, at the very top of your list should be making time to work ON the business, not just IN the business. Your unique perspective as an owner provides you with a superior view of the whole of your business. You should embrace that role and prioritize those critical important functions related to vision, strategy, and leadership. Let others take on some of the roles that they can handle. Otherwise, you will remain focused on the urgent, and never have enough time to devote to the roles for which you are distinctly needed to fulfill.
Two suggestions: first, schedule time before your employees arrive and before the urgency of the day engulfs you, so that you can work on vision and strategy. Second, build your vision and strategy time into your calendar. Schedule an appointment and make sure people know not to disturb you during your critical, HIGH PRIORITY vision and strategy time.
Key Factor #7: Capability (Skill Sets & Training)
In 2020, small & mid-sized companies reduced the hours of employee training by 20%, to about 41 hours per year per employee, while large companies increased hours of training per employee to more than twice as many hours. Source: Statista 2022.
According to Forbes, “small business owners who invest in training are more likely to report growing, and more likely to report growing more.” Given that hiring and retaining good employees is generally the second greatest concern of small business owners (after “finding and keeping customers”), it makes a ton of sense that training is vital to success.
First of all, training improves job satisfaction, in remarkably high numbers. In a CNBC @Work Survey, “more training and learning opportunities finished ahead of seemingly popular benefits like more paid time off, a more flexible schedule and increased family benefits.” So not only will your employees be more effective, but they will also be happier, too.
Does training improve productivity? In a study of more than 3,100 U.S. workplaces, the National Center on the Educational Quality of the Workforce (EQW) found that on average, a 10 percent increase in workforce education level led to an 8.6 percent gain in total productivity. But a 10 percent increase in the value of equipment increased productivity just 3.4 percent. Another study showed that companies that invest the most in training generated higher rates of net sales per employee, gross profit per employee, and a higher company value.
In a time when finding good employees is increasingly difficult, the more you can invest in helping your current employees develop enhanced capabilities will prove to be incredibly valuable to the overall success of your business. And your employees will be happier, too.
Key Factor #8: Capacity for Change
The pandemic has taught us many things. But perhaps the most important lesson for small companies has been that they must be prepared to pivot and they must have the ability to change quickly.
Being able to change requires much more than simply a desire and willingness to change. Companies that experienced successful changes in course also had the capacity (or capability) to change.
How do you create the capacity to change within your organization? You can start by encouraging and rewarding people on your team who are willing to take (prudent) risks and move beyond their comfort zone to try something different. Not everyone is comfortable taking risks and changing. If you can identify a small but strong core of people who are open to helping you implement change, that is a great place to start. Make sure that you are encouraging and supporting ideas. Not every idea is equally brilliant. But you need to make sure your people feel valued and appreciated for being vulnerable and suggesting ways to change. The quickest way to kill their spirit, however, is to publicly embarrass them by “over-correcting” them …especially in public. When you help them flesh out their ideas, you can guide them to conclude for themselves if an idea is an “A+” or needs to go “back to the shop” for an overhaul.
A great gift of encouragement you can provide your employees who are open to change is to nurture and encourage their desire to change. Rather than saying “I don’t think that will work” use phrases like “tell me more about that”. Eventually, you can guide the change you are seeking. But you need leaders who feel you “have their backs” when they take a bold step to embrace change.
Another key to identifying your capacity for change is to realistically analyze the cost and timing to implement change. How long will change take? What are the true costs to implement change? Is retraining required? New equipment? Different mindsets? New employees? What will be your competitors’ response to your change? What will that cost? Take a broad look at the costs (time, people, money) needed to successfully implement the change you are seeking.
Key Factor #9: Communication
A few years ago, I learned a valuable communications lesson from Home Depot. One of their leaders said that they had discovered that employees required multiple repetition in communication in order to change behavior. They had a “Five Plus” rule –they needed to be able to communicate changes AT LEAST 5 times for most employees to actually change their behavior. Does that mean their employees are less capable than other companies’ employees? No. It was merely an acknowledgement that changing behaviors isn’t easy. People have so much information constantly swirling in their minds. It simply means that repetition works. To break through, you need to communicate effectively, multiple times.
This is true with your own employees. Don’t assume that just because you have emailed something once to your team that they will all understand, remember, and change their own behavior. According to several sources, the average worker receives 121 emails per day, and sends 40. They cannot possibly “fully engage” with each and every email they receive. So how can you break through the clutter, even with your team?
Give them context. Bigger picture. Share your purpose. Shirlaws (a small, global consulting firm with which I am affiliated) discovered that most people communicate and engage in a “thinking” modality. They want to understand why. They can’t (or won’t) follow messages without some broader explanation and context. They need to know WHAT they are being asked to do, and WHY they are doing it. If you communicate the reasoning being a change, then they can internalize your higher purpose and perhaps even take it further to help you achieve the goals you are setting for your team.
Finally, in your communication, don’t forget to create “pictures”. Many people need to hear stories to understand something communicated. By hearing an example, they can relate the communication (especially change) to something they can better understand. This puts your communication in context to something they can (hopefully) relate to.
As a simple example, I often draw pictures to help people see what I’m saying. I may draw a lifecycle of a business with a timeline to help an owner understand a typical journey a business may take. Shapes and arrows can sometimes make complicated steps easier to understand. WordArt can be helpful is showing the relative importance of different benefits in the mind of a consumer. Sharing a specific example in the form of a brief story can also help people gain valuable context and relate your message to something they better understand.
Overcommunicate. Provide context. Add stories. Paint pictures.
Key Factor #10: Accountability, Coaching, Support
How important is it for your company’s success that you hold people on your team accountable for their performance? Most owners would say that without accountability it is very difficult to achieve the results they desire among their employees. Accountability enables you to monitor their performance, to spot small issues before they become huge, to identify where to focus your coaching, and to help keep your team focused on the most important tasks they must complete to be successful.
So, who holds you accountable? Whom do you turn to in order to share your vulnerabilities? Who guides you in identifying your blind spots? Where do you turn when you aren’t certain you have the answers, especially if your own employees may lack the perspective to help you on big issues.
Where can you find help that is right for you?
One key factor to look for is finding someone who can adapt their approach to your situation. A great place to start is to seek out mentors. Wise people who have experienced the challenges you face and are willing (and able) to be a sounding board for you. Most people are honored if you seek them out for mentorship. Another option is to find groups, like Vistage, when other similar business owners can privately get together and learn from each other.
Many owners find benefit in working with a business coach as well. Forbes conducted research that showed that business coaches generated a 53% increase in overall productivity, 23% lowered costs, 22% increase in profitability, a 61% increase in job satisfaction (among employees and executives), and a 34% reduction in client grievances.
A great golf coach, for example, is going to spend time understanding his student’s issues AND identifying resources – how much time does the student have to practice? The golf coach then finds ways to adapt the student’s approach to make improvements that the student can (AND WILL) actually be able to implement. Look for this same approach in your coach.
Finally, support yourself! I have found that one of the biggest roadblocks to success is often that owners are simply too hard on themselves. They are very hard “self-graders”. They don’t cut themselves any slack at all. As a result, they set impossibly high expectations for themselves, “punish” themselves far more than they would do to their own employees and end up becoming discouraged and even burned out. To remedy this, set challenging, but achievable goals. If something isn’t working, don’t beat yourself up, but instead congratulate yourself for identifying an issue, and then seek help to improve the situation.
One of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is permission to have a fresh start. Yesterday may have been a miserable day (or even a bad year). But thankfully, today is a new day, and a new year. You CAN do things differently. You CAN try new approaches. In this series of articles, I have attempted to lay out a road map to help you get off to a Fresh Start this year. In brief, focus on identifying a clear vision, then take a hard look at what really is most important to change. You can’t change everything at once, so understand what are the most productive changes you can make. Take a look at how your customers perceive your brand and your business. Ultimately, to change their behavior, you need to change their perceptions.
Support your vision with clear, simple strategies for products. Then make sure your team is equipped to implement this fresh start. Do you have the right people in the right roles? Have you trained them sufficiently? Do you have the capacity you need to implement the change you desire? Once you understand this, make sure you communicate clearly, passionately. And communicate the most important messages again and again. Finally, give yourself the support you need. Just as you help your employees achieve their greatest potential through your coaching and support, make sure you find ways to support yourself. You deserve it!
Carter Welch is an accomplished business leader, consultant and coach responsible for driving success in numerous businesses large and small. A former Procter & Gamble and Pillsbury executive, he focuses today on guiding small business owners to identify obstacles, overcome fear, develop winning strategies, lead organizations and ultimately, to achieve great success. He can be reached at 707-339-2842 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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