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azyq0zd8zai-averie-woodardIt’s possible to lose your way in business.  Maybe the market doesn’t need you so much anymore.  Or processes that used to work well have been surpassed by the competition.

Perhaps you’ve lost your mojo and are just turning the crank.

It’s time to make a big decision.  You can follow the inevitable decline into irrelevance, or maybe just shut the company down because your heart isn’t in it.

Or you can reboot the business.

Read the rest of this entry »

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wordsLeaders often struggle with the capturing their “bigger why,” the compelling thing their organization is trying to achieve. One challenge is that there are multiple ways to represent it:

Purpose:  A statement of purpose focuses on how you relate to the world around you, capturing the unique and powerful role you want to play.

Mission: A mission statement conveys a sense of movement and accomplishment. You’re going toward something important and even exciting.

Vision: A vision describes an inspiring “end state” that, paradoxically, is usually unachievable.  But it captures a future scenario that is beautiful and compelling. Read the rest of this entry »

Mission ProfitYou’re on a mission to achieve great things in your business, even to change the world. But the truth is that you spend more time worrying about how the economy is doing, and whether you’ll be able to make enough money to survive.

There’s hope for you!

The first question to ask yourself is: How essential is your mission to your business success? Read the rest of this entry »

power plugYou can have the best strategy on the planet, but nothing gets delivered without your people. They are the powerful core of a great business.

What happens when your workforce isn’t pushing your strategy forward? Well, two things are happening. Some people are headed off in random directions, so you end up with chaos. Others are too afraid to take any significant action at all, so you get nothing.

Neither of those achieves your goals.

We all understand that a team’s actions, individually and collectively, must be focused on the right objectives. That’s what management does.

But out here in the real world, it’s not just about breaking big goals into team objectives and individual actions. If you stick to that, your competition will swiftly overtake you. You’ve ended up with a bureaucracy, where following The Plan is more important than actually moving forward.

This is where leadership comes in. Management operates best with logic and procedure, while leadership calls upon inspiration and emotion. Together, the two elicit focus, dedication, teamwork and self-management.

I’m not saying that your company needs to be overtly emotional. For instance, look at President Kennedy’s moon-shot program during the 1960s. NASA was an amazing engineering organization, and engineers aren’t exactly known to be emotional. But they were absolutely inspired, dedicated and focused — even to the degree that momentum powerfully continued past JFK’s death in 1963.

That’s also a great example of how inspiration is infectious. Congress was absolutely dedicated to the program as well, ensuring generous funding. The Legislature could have done nothing without NASA, and NASA would have done nothing without Congress.

Likewise, your leaders and managers can do little without your workers and partners. They, in turn, will achieve nothing of value without management processes and leadership inspiration.

Together, you can be absolutely unstoppable.

That brings up a major issue, though, with powerful objects. Consider a supertanker, or a freight train, or a rocket engine. They struggle with making quick changes of direction.

Your business needs to operate in a competitive environment, with shifting customer demands and ever-changing technology. In some industries, include unstable government regulation.

Yet your people are good at doing things a certain way, and management structures reinforce sticking to what’s worked well in the past.

This is where true leadership makes the most impact. The best leaders I’ve seen are the ones who refuse to sacrifice the core values and mission of an organization. make timely decisions to alter goals and strategies to keep up with (and lead) change, and drive the management systems to quickly align the workforce around a new direction.

This sounds contradictory: How are we to change direction but not change our mission? We can do it because these are two distinct levels.

Perhaps your deepest personal values are to be healthy and have a long, happy life. Within that, there are many options. A new exercise device comes out that helps you stay healthy while having more fun. Or you get sick for awhile and switch to different exercises. Or you just want to change because you’re tiring of the old routine. All of these changes are perfectly fine for helping you achieve your deeper values.

This is exactly why it’s important to distinguish between the two levels in your business.

If your employees think the purpose of your business is to keep them employed, then they’re operating at a very basic level. You have much bigger goals than that, even ones you would never ever sacrifice.

One way to tell the depth of your goal is with this simple question: Would you rather shut down the business entirely rather than sacrifice the goal? The closer you get to answering “yes,” the more you’ve identified the unshakable foundation of your company.

Does each and every employee understand what that is, and work every day to deliver their part? Is each manager constantly looking for improvements?

Are they inspired?


This article was first published in BizWest.

dierschow-1024x730Robert Kaplan and David Norton developed a powerful concept back in the 1980s and ‘90s for monitoring business performance.  Dubbed the Balanced ScoreCard, it has spread rapidly through large organizations around the world.

Despite this popularity, I’m continually surprised by its lack of visibility among smaller companies.

Perhaps some fear that it’s too complex and requires too much overhead to support. Well, yes, it’s possible to go crazy and create a behemoth which then crumbles under its own weight.  But that’s true of any tool of significant power.

Read the rest of this entry »

Diversity has been given a bad name. There’s an implication that it’s just about government getting in the way of your business. But really, diversity is a powerful and useful concept.

We all tend to seek out people who are similar to us; that’s part of human nature. So when you’re looking for employees, you tend to be most comfortable with those candidates who share your point of view. You get along.

It’s a dangerous thing.

Read the rest of this entry »

As the business owner, it can be difficult to find time for your own improvement. But at the same time, you’re the one who most impacts whether the company is working well or not.

Fortunately, there are plenty of resources out there.

Typically, we think about professional development as “send someone to a class.” That’s fine for certain kinds of skills, but can fall behind in the application of skills to a worker’s situation. Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve been talking with quite a few people who are looking ahead to the day when they can retire as company owner. This is uncharted territory for most of us, though; it’s yet another phase that nobody prepared us for.

It doesn’t have to be as scary as you might think.

I’ve worked with several clients who are working through this transition, hoping to leave a healthy and prosperous business. Read the rest of this entry »

We’re always looking to fix problems. Most of the time, problems are addressed by making our systems more complex.

We add new rules. We create new process steps. We insert new reviews and checkpoints.

This happens in government, of course, but also in each of our companies. It’s the way we think about addressing issues.

The net result is that overhead continues to increase, things slow down, and you lose innovation. Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve been frequenting a local frozen yogurt shop for a couple of years now. It’s a wonderful break, especially during the summer. But they’ve been through rocky times, with changes of ownership and rebranding.

Ordinarily this would make me optimistic, but in this case the company seems to have lost its way. Honestly, I’m surprised it’s still in business.

This isn’t about a company’s size. Read the rest of this entry »

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