Business Everywhere: Get out and vote! Then, get back to work!

Business Everywhere: Get out and vote! Then, get back to work!

As Americans, we have a civic duty to vote for our elected officials. As you know, there is a hotly contested election happening in the United States right now, with people from all parties and all walks of life campaigning strongly in favor of their candidate of choice. It’s unavoidable, the news covers it every moment of every day, your social media streams are filled with armchair commentators, and the yard signs and bumper stickers silently scream about their preferred candidate. I believe strongly that everyone should do their duty to vote, as Americans we owe it to our neighbors, our families, future generations to exercise that right. Get out and vote! Then, get back to work!

The outcome of the election, at the federal, state, even the local level, is not going to decide the fate of your company. There is not a single presidential candidate who is going to come in and stop your business from going on – no congressperson is going to raise your sales or increase revenues. The results you get from your business will be a direct reflection of the energy and effort that you invest in your company. The political climate or the next President will not have the final word on whether or not your business makes it. No laws that the President can put in place will change the need for sales and revenues in your business. No tax policy is going to sink a well-managed business. No cabinet nominee will affect your bottom line. These things are wholly irrelevant to what happens in your business, and we’ll all do well to remember that.

The politicians and the elected leaders of our country will undoubtedly change some things when they take office, it is inevitable that laws will change, agreements will be made, the landscape will shift. But at the end of the day – how much will any of that really impact you? Because the fact of the matter is that no matter who is elected President on November 8, on November 9 – your business is still going to open the doors, turn on the lights, and get to work. That is a piece of reality that we cannot ignore.

What successful business owners do differently, especially when things are uncertain, sets them apart. Here are three ideas that will help you build an “election-proof” business:

Long-Term Planning

While it’s easy to get caught up in thinking about the election, focused on the issues, or who said what; the focus on your business needs to be on your Vision for the company. Having a picture of how your business will look and operate for years in the future is one of the most powerful tools an owner can possess. Getting specific and clear on your long-term plan for the company allows you to focus less on the short-term, it gives you a focal point that you can control, and allows you to ignore the noise in the political arena because you’re taking control of the fate of your business.

Setting your long-term vision for the company gives you the ability to stop worrying about the short-term changes going on around you. The goal is to build a business that can carry on for more than the length of the next president’s term, so whoever gets in office no longer has power over the outcome of the company. We’ve found that 3-5 years is the ideal amount of time for looking ahead, because it’s tangible (the mind can comprehend that far down the line) but still a stretch for owners (you will have more than enough time to address whatever short-term issues are currently facing the business).

By setting your sights on the long-term plan for your business, you’re taking control of the future of the business. Having a clear picture allows you to make decisions that will benefit your company for years to come, and build a business that is sustainable and profitable, regardless of the political environment. You’re saying that you alone will decide the fate of the business and you’re not going to give the power to anyone else to determine what is going to happen; and that is a powerful idea.

Keep an eye on your Indicators

Every business owner should have a set of Key Indicators they know and track within their business. What these are will vary based on the business, but every business can and should have them. These indicators serve as your scorecard for the business operations, telling both a financial and practical story about how the business is running. Your Key Indicators show you trends within the business, and give you a solid backstop to confirm or deny your hunches and gut feelings about the things you’re seeing in the business.

We identify the Key Indicators based on our Vision; we pull out the key points, both tangible and intangible, and determine how they will be measured. This helps make the Vision more concrete; we can track how our decisions are moving us toward our Vision, and measure the steps we’re taking to get there. You can’t manage based on feel alone; obviously you know your business as well as anyone, but the power that your Indicators give you should not be discounted. They can help you see your blind spots, or where you might be overlooking something in the business because you’re too close to it. They help you measure your progress toward achieving your Vision, accomplishing your goals, and getting what you want from your business. Key Indicators can help you measure the unobservable things that are happening in your business, and give you important ways to track things like Customer Satisfaction, Employee Satisfaction, and Morale.

Determining your Key Indicators, and making a commitment to track them helps you take hold of the steering wheel and continue navigating toward your business goals. By focusing on the things you can measure and control in your business you’re once again staking your ownership and leadership in the company. By focusing on your Key Indicators you’re showing that you’re in control of the business and that you’ll be aware of any impact that outside influences might have; this gives you the ability to track, analyze, and adjust to anything. It gives you control of your business and helps you stay focused on the things that really matter to your bottom line.

Know your numbers

The Key Indicators listed above are crucial to the health and success of your business, but knowing your financials is absolutely critical. Because ultimately, the bottom line of your business is the most important piece of information you have. The line that says Net Profit at the end of your reports is the one everyone focuses on, but knowing what happens in your business to give you that number is just as important. Without an understanding of your finances, you’re navigating without a map, you’re shooting in the dark with no feedback on whether or not you’re even close to your target.

There are many business owners who aren’t comfortable talking about their finances, because they’re unhappy with them, or because they don’t know what the financials say. Many people ignore the finances until they absolutely have to, and some only go as far as making sure there is enough in the checking account to make payroll this month. This approach is setting your business up for failure just as much as assuming that one Presidential candidate is going to ruin your business and another is going to save it. Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because there is money in the back account that the business is fine; or that just because the Income Statement shows a profit that you’ve got the money you need to pay your bills. You have to look beneath the surface to get the whole story.

You don’t have to be an expert to track your finances; small business owners are often anxious about diving into their finances for fear of what they might find. But the truth of the matter is much less scary – making a commitment to track your numbers and ask why they are the way they are is always the first step. You don’t have to be able to produce complicated reports to have an idea of the financial health of your business. We always start with the statements from last month, simply looking through it and asking questions. The goal is to develop a habit of looking at your finances regularly and asking questions about the information you find. You don’t have to have all the answers at the outset, the practice of asking questions will help you gain an understanding and build a relationship with the numbers. Make the commitment to know and understand your financial position, because it might be the single most powerful thing you can do for the future of your company.

Now, don’t take this as me washing my hands of the election, I believe that many important things will be decided during this election cycle, and that the next four (or eight) years of our country will shape the world where my future children and grandchildren will grow up. I plan to vote based on the issues most important to me and I encourage you to do the same; again, it is our duty as Americans.

But once your ballot has been turned in, once the confetti falls on the President-elect, don’t use the outcome as an excuse about your business. No matter the result, you can create a crystal clear Vision for what the business will become, you can track your Key Indicators to move you toward that Vision and most importantly you can manage your business by the numbers . Don’t lose sight of that for any reason. Get out and vote! Then, get back to work!

Business Everywhere: A Chef’s Vision

Business Everywhere: A Chef’s Vision

Business Everywhere is a series about looking for and finding business lessons in our everyday activities. Every day we see the lessons we learn in working with businesses popping up all around us. If you take a moment to look, you’ll start to see them too. You can read more by clicking on the “Business Everywhere” category above.

Oftentimes on the weekends, I find myself watching Netflix as my wife drifts off to sleep next to me on the couch. She’ll doze off and I usually switch from whatever we were watching to something else, and more often than not I find myself drawn to cooking shows; shows about renowned chefs and their incredible restaurants. (Chef’s Table is my latest go-to)

Now this is probably for a number of reasons; personally, food has always been an important part of my memories and my life growing up. Almost every holiday, every life event revolves around the special food we’ll be eating that day. My grandma, and now my mom, spend days preparing huge meals for our family and I have countless memories of helping them in the kitchen.

But beyond my personal attachments, I’ve come to realize something: these chefs are freaks. They fit every characteristic that we preach in our work at freak. They are extraordinarily passionate and strive to perfect their craft, they want to share their gifts with others, and they work fearlessly to deliver an exceptional experience.

I’m fascinated by the people who run the restaurants, by the chefs who have changed how dining is done, who have shifted the expectations for what “good food” really means. The chefs’ stories are as interesting to me as any of the food they cook. And I think that is because I can see so many similarities in the restaurants they run and the businesses we help. The parallels between the crafting of a meal in a restaurant and owning a business appear when looking at things from the right perspective. Here are some of the things I’ve noticed recently:

 

Vision

One of the most important things that any of the chefs possess is a vision for their food and the restaurant they are running. They are crystal clear on what they want to do and they have a perfectly produced picture in their head of what the finished restaurant will be. Often the chefs tell stories about the formative moments in their lives, how they’ve worked in various kitchens and taken lessons from all of those places. How the apprenticeships and all of the jobs they’ve had have shaped the person and the chef that they are today. This is exactly the same process as creating a vision for your business – using every resource available to them, they’ve created the picture of the restaurant as they want it to be. The only thing left to do is to get there.

These fine-dining chefs have eaten food all over the world, they have references in their mind from countless cuisines, and that gives them the ability to create something that is unique to them. They cook using unique combinations of flavors and techniques to create something truly special. They use their references in creating their own food, their own version of something they enjoyed, and it belongs only to them. That is a really powerful idea, and something that applies as much in business as it does in the kitchen.

As a business owner you have a unique set of experiences that have shaped who you are – and you can draw on all of them when you’re creating the business you want to create. You may have ideas from previous jobs of exactly what you want to do, and how you’re going to do it. But you’ll discover as you create your processes, things look a little different, you add your own personal touches, and you take ownership of the thing that once belonged to someone else’s company. Having this palette to draw from is crucial as you’re creating the vision for how you want the company to be when it is finished.

 

Customer Experience

In these fine-dining restaurants, you’re paying for more than the food – the entire experience is curated and created to leave you feeling incredible as you walk out the door. From the moment you walk in until the moment you depart, you’re inside the world that the restaurant has created. You’re there for the experience not just food. You may forget what ingredients were in a dish, you might not remember each course in detail, but you’ll never forget what it felt like to sit in that restaurant, to have your needs catered to, and to experience all that they had to offer. This idea applies to your business vision as well.

If your customers are only going to remember what they got and how much they paid, you’re not likely to keep them coming back; you start competing on price and instead of being a fine dining destination – you’re McDonald’s. (Now, maybe you want to be McDonald’s, and that’s fine. But remember, the experience you have at a McDonald’s has been curated to leave you feeling a certain way too) There are countless ways to leave an impression on your customers and you shouldn’t neglect them. Pay attention to the details, your staff’s attire, how they greet your customers, the decor on the walls of the office – all of these things help create the experience your customers will have, and they shouldn’t be left to chance.

 

Excellence

Finally, one of the most important things I’ve noticed across countless restaurants and chefs on these shows – they’re constantly evaluating and evolving their processes. Whether they’re trying new techniques, experimenting with ingredients, or changing the presentation on a dish – they’re never satisfied with the status quo. Sitting back and accepting that the way things are done now is the only way they can ever be done is a sure way to fail. There is always a way to improve, there is always something that can be done better, and they know they have to be on the lookout for these opportunities. Innovation and improvement are built into the DNA of the restaurants, so they’re constantly looking for a way to improve. Your business should be no different.

While you want the innovations to fit within the big picture goals you’ve set for yourself, the quest to improve, the desire to see things done better should be a part of the foundation of your business. The EMyth idea of Innovation-Orchestration-Quantification is something that has to live within your business if you want to to continue to grow. There are always areas where you can improve your business practices. As in the restaurants, there may be times when you have to throw out the entire menu and start fresh – and there will be times when a small tweak to something can have a huge impact. You can only know what you need by being truly in touch with the pulse of the business, and by knowing what things are most important to you. One advantage we have in business that many chef’s may not – is the data we can collect. We have numbers to study that will help us make decisions and measure outcomes (this is quantification). If this idea is built into the DNA of your company you’ll be well served for a long time to come.

 

As with any good restaurant, a great business has a vision for what it should be. Everyone who works there understands what they are trying to achieve and why. The staff know what their role is and why it is important. The employees feel engaged with the work and know they’re part of a team. The leaders have painted a clear picture of what they’re going to do and given the staff a road map for success. The leaders have crafted an experience that will wow their customers and draw them back again and again. Everyone on staff looks for ways to improve and are encouraged to share their ideas to move forward. The leaders understand that stagnation is nearly as bad as death, so they’re always looking for ways to improve. In business, and in the kitchen, this is a recipe for success.

March Sadness: Why focusing on just one area doesn’t work in Business or the NCAA Tournament

March Sadness: Why focusing on just one area doesn’t work in Business or the NCAA Tournament

I waited until the last minute to fill out my bracket last night and was convinced I stumbled onto a gold mine. By no means was it rocket science but it magically started to unfold in front of me. Below is a play-by-play of that experience and how my approach was ultimately in alignment with so many business owners and the issues that arise when you focus on just one area.

It’s 9:35pm on Wednesday the 16th and the 77th running of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is less than 12 hours away. I can honestly say I have not watched a single college basketball game in its entirety this season. Needless to say, I completely ignore these facts as I scramble to complete my bracket and place my bet before midnight. How hard can it be? I know the sport, will pick an educated strategy and roll the dice.

So what’s the strategy?

OFFENSE.

Bottom line you have to score to win. Sure they say defense wins championships, but players are getting bigger and the game is getting faster. The best players in the Nation play for the top schools and do for them what they do best; score. This makes filling out my bracket fairly easy. I simply need a snap shot of each matchup, which CBS Sports so generously provides, and one stat line, PPG (Points Per Game). Ignoring all tournament seeds and season rankings, I fill out my bracket in its entirety selecting the team who has averaged the most points per game during the regular season in every matchup.

I won’t bore you with the outcome of all 63 games, but will give you the Elite Eight down to the Championship. You will quickly see why I thought I had this figured out.

Elite Eight

#1 Kansas vs. #6 Arizona

#1 North Carolina vs. #2 Xavier

#4 Iowa State vs. #2 Michigan State

#4 Duke vs. #14 Green Bay

Final Four

#1 Kansas vs. #1 North Carolina

#4 Iowa State vs. #14 Green Bay

Championship

#4 North Carolina vs. #14 Green Bay

 

Drum roll please…Your 2016 NCAA March Madness Champion is…

GREEN BAY PHOENIX.

Woof!

I imagine you are asking yourself who the Green Bay Phoenix are. Yup, that’s the exact response I had as well. And just like that my house of cards came crumbling down. Time will only tell, and sure there is an outside chance that any team can win this tournament, but if we look back at history this just won’t happen.

The strategy I had chosen was simply that, just a strategy. Sure my thought process made sense and I was able to justify it, but at the end of the day scoring is just one part of a very complicated game. Some would argue it is the most important part, say like sales in a business, but if you focus on just sales, you won’t be successful.

My bracket was playing out in a way that had me believing in something that was not sustainable. It looked good, felt good and in the end had some of the best teams where they should be. But nobody remembers second place in the NCAA Tournament and certainly not the top 8. My strategy got the ball rolling, helped me to complete my bracket, but in the end I was only fooling myself.

And this is where it connects back to the business. Focusing on only one aspect of the business is something I see too often. People tend to be really good in one area and have trouble looking outside of it. Without a doubt we want to maximize our strengths, but to be good at one thing is just too dangerous. This is both relevant internally and also for those who depend on revenues from one major client.

There are no shortcuts to mastering this tournament and there are certainly no shortcuts in the game of business. While we can only focus on one area of a company at a time, it is imperative to look at every aspect and turn over all stones.

Being great in one are area of your business is no different then having one of the Nation’s top PPG averages in College Basketball. It looks great on paper but you’ll never take home the hardware.

Prepare for Takeoff: How Southwest flight No. 324 catapulted my blog

Prepare for Takeoff: How Southwest flight No. 324 catapulted my blog

For months now I have been telling myself, “This is the week I will start blogging!” My intentions are sincere on Sunday evening and the week ahead looks like I should have no problem spending an hour lost in my own thoughts. Then life shows up on Monday morning. Getting lost in my own thoughts during the week is by no means a problem, but typically it’s between client calls and chasing by twin boys around. And if I am being honest, those moments are more about taking a breath than an actual Zen moment. Finally I found my opening…

 

DING!

 

“Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the crew I ask that you please direct your attention to the monitors above as we review the emergency procedures. There are six emergency exits on this…

 

Sitting two rows back and next to the window on my flight home, I prepare myself for the usual safety speech. While I have to imagine most of the plane is not hearing this for the first time, it is still mandatory and therefore the staff goes through their due-diligence.

 

We all know where it goes from here.

 

“If you are traveling with children, make sure that your own mask is on first before helping your children.”

 

This has entirely new meaning to me. Contrary to what you may be thinking, it is less about my children and more about the importance of taking care of yourself first. I’ll save that rant for a different post and if we are going to do it any justice it will probably have to be a series.  

 

Typically at this point I am already lost in a playlist but something about today grabs my attention. It is not that I am scared for this flight and think today is the day I finally need these instructions. It is not the delivery or script this particular flight attendant has chosen. Instead it is the simple beauty that without a doubt we will forever hear this presentation when boarding a plane. Why? Because it’s just that important. Our lives are on the line and it makes perfect sense to rehearse any possible scenarios before we take-off. At the end of the day, they would rather take the extra five minutes to repeat themselves and refresh our memories. Ultimately it is for our own good.

 

And then I start to think about my own business and the work I do weekly with my clients. This is very typical for me to take a normal life moment and relate it to business and the work I do. (Ask any of my clients about sleep training my boys and how that single moment taught more about management and employees than any book ever could.) I personally believe that the root to all successful business is structure and communication. In fact, if you really think about a business, it is nothing more than a spider web of communications.  Spider web? Why would he choose to use that word? That sounds negative. I could not disagree more! I hate spider webs just as much or more than the next guy, but they are incredibly beautiful and unbelievably efficient when used for their purpose.  

 

Think about it. A business is nothing more than communication at all levels. Our financial reports and Key Financial Indicators are simply our finances communicating to us. Our Marketing is us communicating to the customers. Our position agreements and systems are an internal communication between management and employees.  I’ll stop there.

 

The point is, our goal is to get as crystal clear on this communication as possible and most importantly NEVER STOP HAVING IT! It amazes me how often we implement meetings at different levels into a company and ownership will ask me, “How long do you think we should do this?” FOREVER!

 

So next time you feel it is unnecessary or redundant to repeat a task or a meeting most of the staff has heard more than once, think of your last flight. While you’re not 35,000 feet in the air on the daily basis, your business has a higher probability of determining your life’s fate than any flight you will ever board. We should really start to treat them like our lives are on the line.