THE 4 THINGS THAT KEEP SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS UP AT NIGHT

Here are the most common things small business owners worry about and how they deal.

By Brian Sutter, director of marketing at Wasp

A recent State of Small Business Report, which surveyed more than 1,000 small business leaders, suggests that small-business decisions makers are increasingly more optimistic about the state of the U.S. economy—47% feel better than they did 12 months ago—and the future of their businesses. But that optimism doesn’t mean small-business leaders are without concerns about their companies.

Here are four biggest concerns weighing on the minds of small-business owners and how they can to cope:

1. GROWING REVENUE

Almost half of companies with 11 to 100 employees cited growing revenue as their biggest business challenge.

When it comes to issues with revenue, businesses may want to compare the channel that is driving the most revenue to the channel where they are investing the most resources. For instance, nearly 60% of small businesses view their company website as an integral part of their business, yet more than half of businesses polled said less than 11% of annual revenue was generated online.

2. HIRING NEW EMPLOYEES

In 2013 the unemployment rate averaged 7.4% and was predicted to fall to 6.6% in 2014. Instead, unemployment fell to 5.8%. While unemployment rates fall and more jobs become available, employers are finding it challenging to find qualified talent. In fact, 56% of companies with between 101 and 499 employees said that hiring employees was a top business challenge, one that I expect to see businesses facing through 2020.

If you’re a business looking to cope with a more competitive job market, make sure your interviewing process, job descriptions, and path to promotions are clearly identified and align with your current business model. Your business can’t afford to ignore interviewing and onboarding practices if you want to attract top talent.

3. GOVERNMENT REGULATIONS

Businesses are still facing regulations this year, and survey data suggests that the Affordable Care Act is really coming into play in 2015 and 2016. Larger small businesses expressed concerns about both government regulations and employee health care.

In fact, 36% of companies with 51 to 100 employees and 36% of companies with 101 to 499 employees—essentially small businesses large enough to be impacted by the Employer Shared Responsibility Payment—said that government regulations were a top business challenge.

According to the IRS, the Shared Responsibility Payment applies “if at least one of its full-time employees receives a premium tax credit for purchasing individual coverage on one of the new Affordable Insurance Exchanges, also called a Health Insurance Marketplace.” The payment will be calculated across a business’s entire payroll if the minimum level of coverage isn’t offered to employees.

4. CASH FLOW

Cash flow was a top concern for businesses with 11 to 50 employees, and every business surveyed said increasing profit was a top business challenge for 2015. In other words, the small businesses surveyed are all looking for ways to make their business as profitable and lean as possible, which means managing cash.

According to Gene Marks, who consulted on the 2015 State of Small Business Report and recently spoke with Maria Contreras-Sweet, head of the Small Business Administration, there’s a lot of capital out there for small businesses. Although banks are still giving out less loans overall, Marks encourages small businesses looking for additional capital to consider U.S. Small Business Administration loans, which have less restrictions and requirements.

What’s not keeping small business leaders up at night? Technology. In fact, only 22% of leaders polled said outdated technology was a top challenge for their business. However, in 2014, 54% of small business IT departments spent over $5,000—largely to maintain hardware infrastructure. Although it may not be a focus, should this pattern of IT spending continue, we expect technology to be an unexpected nightmare for some small businesses in 2015.

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3 STEPS TO HELP YOU MASTER THE ART OF DELEGATION

by Andria Corso

One of the great opportunities of leadership is the delegation of tasks to others, which not only frees up your time to be more strategic but also develops those employees to whom you’ve delegated.

Although it is a great opportunity for leaders, it is also a great challenge. Delegating means letting go of a fair amount of, if not all of, the control associated with the way tasks are completed. I find this to be a struggle for many leaders, myself included.

As the owner of my business, I find that letting go of tasks and delegating to others can be quite a challenge at times. What if they don’t do it right? What if they don’t get it done on time? What if they upset the clients?

These “what if’s” can go on forever! I’ve tortured myself through many of them and I’ve seen many of my clients do the same. What I’ve learned, both personally and through working with others in this area, are some key steps to take to ease concerns about delegating to others.

First, you want to have a high degree of confidence in the people you delegate to; therefore, be diligent in your selection of those you hire to work for you. Often times leaders are in a hurry to get a position filled so do not take enough time to be sure they are making the best selection. Without confidence that you have the best people on your team, delegating can be difficult. Yet, when you know you’ve got the right people in place, it is much easier to delegate with assurance.

Second, you will probably need a fair amount of updates and status checks on how your team is doing with the tasks. (Usually I need more updates and status checks early in the relationship.) Once you get to know the individuals and their work ethic, and your relationship develops, the amount of check-ins decreases because the expectations are well understood, and your confidence in their ability to meet your expectations increases.

Lastly, you want to change any “what if” comments from negative to positive. So, instead of thinking, “What if they don’t do it right?” try, “What if they do it better than I ever could?” Or, “What if this works out better than I thought?” That mindset shift will help you expect the best as opposed to expecting things to go wrong.

Does this mean things never go wrong? Of course not but it certainly sets up an environment that is more expectant of success than if you continue to think of all the possible ways things could go wrong.

Although this is not always easy for leaders, letting go of control and delegating is necessary and highly beneficial for all. It not only enables you, the leader, to focus on more strategic items but it motivates your workforce to take on more responsibility and fosters more employee development.

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GREAT LEADERS ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

by Rhett Power , Co-founder, Wild Creations

Let’s face it–we don’t have all the answers as leaders. One of the things I have learned over the years is that asking questions is OK. In fact, asking your team for help in solving a problem or getting the answer to a challenging question is a great way to make them feel needed and valuable. I believe successful leaders understand that asking questions–and listening with intention–is the best way to manage and lead.

If you’re not asking questions every day, you’re missing the opportunity to:

  • find better ways to improve processes, create new business, and recruit loyal   customers;
  • discover possible flaws or challenges in your company; and
  • engage employees in strategic planning and creative thinking.

Asking questions is easy. Here are 10 examples to get you started.

  1. What do we do well?
  2. What’s missing?
  3. What should we stop doing?
  4. Are we relevant? How can we be sure to remain that way?
  5. What award do we want to earn?
  6. Do I/we have the right team?
  7. How do we recover from setbacks?
  8. Are we measuring the right performance indicators?
  9. What do our customers say about us?
  10. What is it like to work here?

What’s not so easy?

What’s not so easy is being vulnerable enough to listen to the answers to these questions. This is what separates leaders from the rest. A true leader knows that honest answers can motivate staff (and self!) as well as avoid potential pitfalls. The road to success is paved with the information gained from just asking the right questions. And listening. And then implementing.

Words from the wise

I recently read an article by Mike Maddock, who gives this advice on asking questions: “The way you ask questions is critically important. By starting questions with ‘How to’ or ‘I wish’ and finishing them with the challenge that you can’t figure out, e.g., ‘I wish I knew how to get this idea through our legal hurdles,’ you are modeling great leadership. Why? Because great leaders humbly share their biggest challenges with their teams and ask them to help solve them.”

Entrepreneur Rick Smith, founder of World 50, the world’s premier senior executive networking organization, considers the ability to ask questions essential. He feels it will be key to successful leaders in the next five years. Smith writes, “Today’s leaders are addicted to answers. … Of much greater value will be the ability to ask the right questions. In a chaotic situation, winning requires focus, and knowing where to focus will be determined by the questions you are asking. In the future, your effectiveness as a leader will be defined by your ability to ask the right questions.”

A final question

Are you ready to start asking the right questions?

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SEE HOW RESILIENCE CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE

by Didier Bernard

Resilience (or resiliency) is our ability to adapt and bounce back when things don’t go as planned. Resilient people don’t wallow or dwell on failures; they acknowledge the situation, learn from their mistakes, and then move forward.

According to the research of leading psychologist, Susan Kobasa, there are three elements that are essential to resilience:

  1. Challenge – Resilient people view a difficulty as a challenge, not as a paralyzing event. They look at their failures and mistakes as lessons to be learned from, and as opportunities for growth. They don’t view them as a negative reflection on their abilities or self-worth.
  2. Commitment – Resilient people are committed to their lives and their goals, and they have a compelling reason to get out of bed in the morning. Commitment isn’t just restricted to their work – they commit to their relationships, their friendships, the causes they care about, and their religious or spiritual beliefs.
  3. Personal Control – Resilient people spend their time and energy focusing on situations and events that they have control over. Because they put their efforts where they can have the most impact, they feel empowered and confident. Those who spend time worrying about uncontrollable events can often feel lost, helpless, and powerless to take action.

Another leading psychologist (Positive Psychology), Martin Seligman, says the way that we explain setbacks to ourselves is also important. He talks in terms of optimism and pessimism rather than resilience, however, the effect is essentially the same. This “explanatory style” is made up of three main elements:

  • Permanence – People who are optimistic (and therefore have more resilience) see the effects of bad events as temporary rather than permanent. For instance, they might say “My boss didn’t like the work I did on that project” rather than “My boss never likes my work.”
  • Pervasiveness – Resilient people don’t let setbacks or bad events affect other unrelated areas of their lives. For instance, they would say “I’m not very good at this” rather than “I’m no good at anything.”
  • Personalization – People who have resilience don’t blame themselves when bad events occur. Instead, they see other people, or the circumstances, as the cause. For instance, they might say “I didn’t get the support I needed to finish that project successfully,” rather than “I messed that project up because I can’t do my job.”

Dr. Crow (the co-founder and Program Director of the Center for Learning Connections) identified several further attributes that are common in resilient people:

  • Resilient people have a positive image of the future. That is, they maintain a positive outlook, and envision brighter days ahead.
  • Resilient people have solid goals, and a desire to achieve those goals.
  • Resilient people are empathetic and compassionate, however, they don’t waste time worrying what others think of them. They maintain healthy relationships, but don’t bow to peer pressure.
  • Resilient people never think of themselves as victims – they focus their time and energy on changing the things that they have control over.

Developing Resilience

The good news is that even if you’re not a naturally resilient person, you can learn to develop a resilient mindset and attitude. To do so, incorporate the following into your daily life:

  • Get enough sleep and exercise, and learn to manage stress. When you take care of your mind and body, you’re better able to cope effectively with challenges in your life.
  • Practice thought awareness. Resilient people don’t let negative thoughts derail their efforts. Instead, they consistently practice positive thinking. Also, “listen” to how you talk to yourself when something goes wrong – if you find yourself making statements that are permanent, pervasive or personalized, correct these thoughts in your mind.
  • Practice Cognitive Restructuring to change the way that you think about negative situations and bad events.
  • Learn from your mistakes and failures. Every mistake has the power to teach you something important; so don’t stop searching until you’ve found the lesson in every situation. Also, make sure that you understand the idea of ”post-traumatic growth – there can be real truth in the saying that “if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.”
  • Choose your response. Remember, we all experience bad days and we all go through our share of crises. But we have a choice in how we respond; we can choose to react negatively or in a panic, or we can choose to remain calm and logical to find a solution. Your reaction is always up to you.
  • Maintain perspective. Resilient people understand that, although a situation or crisis may seem overwhelming in the moment, it may not make that much of an impact over the long-term. Try to avoid blowing events out of proportion.
  • If you don’t already, learn how to set SMART, effective personal goals – it’s incredibly important to set and achieve goals, and to learn from your experiences.
  • Build your self confidence. Remember, resilient people are confident that they’re going to succeed eventually, despite the setbacks or stresses that they might be facing. This belief in themselves also enables them to take risks: when you develop confidence and a strong sense of self, you have the strength to keep moving forward, and to take the risks you need to get ahead.
  • Develop strong relationships with your colleagues. People who have strong connections at work are more resistant to stress, and they’re happier in their role. This also goes for your personal life: the more real friendships you develop, the more resilient you’re going to be, because you have a strong support network to fall back on. (Remember that treating people with compassion and empathy is very important here.)

Focus on being flexible. Resilient people understand that things change, and that carefully-made plans may, occasionally, need to be amended or scrapped.

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PEOPLE ARE MESSY

By Brad Lantz, Inner Circle Twin Cities

Everyone who has reared children knows that it is a messy job! They leave their finger or handprints on almost anything we do not want them to. They act in public like barbarians that are storming the castle and speak in a voice, well suffice it to say is not their “inside” voice. So I find it interesting that leaders of organizations expected that it would be different in creating and building the culture of their company.

One leader said, “Why can’t they (their people) grow up and act like adults? My mother ran a daycare facility and those kids were better behaved than my employees! They are not accountable, have little innovation and stand around talking rather than giving me their 40 hours”.

Many of these same owners are the same people who gripe about their client relationships. “Clients can’t live with them, can’t live without them.”  To which Ayn Rand stated: “I don’t build in order to have clients. I have clients in order to build.”

McKinsey in their article “Look both inward and outward” suggests:

Companies that only look outward in the process of organizational change—marginalizing individual learning and adaptation—tend to make two common mistakes. 

The first is to focus solely on business outcomes. That means these companies direct their attention to what is referred to as the “technical” aspects of a new solution, while failing to appreciate what they call “the adaptive work” people must do to implement it.

The second common mistake, made even by companies that recognize the need for new learning, is to focus too much on developing skills. Training that only emphasizes new behavior rarely translates into profoundly different performance outside the classroom.

Their research and client experience suggest that half of all efforts to transform organizational performance fail either because senior managers don’t act as role models for change or because people in the organization defend the status quo…. Equally, the same McKinsey research indicates that if companies can identify and address pervasive mind-sets at the outset, they are four times more likely to succeed in organizational-change efforts than are companies that overlook this stage.

As a leader what are we to do?

  1. Consider that it is how you respond to what happens to you that determines your experience.
  2. Consider that you are the one to choose whether you want to engage or entertain almost all situations. Think of this in regard to your open door policy. Employees are drawn to your open door rather than truly bring issues that you need to be involved in they come to chat or reinforce something they already know. They are interrupting your workflow and their own.
  3. Consider taking responsibility for YOUR personal actions or non-actions and how helps others to see what excellence really is.
  4. Lastly, consider if you have an internal determination and give your best, no matter what others say or what they understand.

Messy people are messy for a reason, is it lack of leadership?

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CREATING A CLEAR MESSAGE THAT WILL DIFFERENTIATE YOU FROM THE COMPETITION IS ESSENTIAL FOR BUSINESS SUCCESS!

by Brad Lantz, Inner Circle Twin Cities

Building your marketing plan and a message that will differentiate you from the competition is all part of a good marketing plan.  There are many segments to a marketing plan so in this article I would like to focus on the marketing message There are two distinct segments when creating and delivering your marketing message. These include the following:

  1. The Message
  2. The Delivery of the Message

Hall’s research has shown a 42 percent increase in effectiveness of your communications efforts if the proper message is developed. Delivery of the message is accomplished through the other nine disciplines of the plan.

What is needed in the message?

Message Development

“I bring you good news! Business success is not random. There are patterns to the universe of business. There are reproducible scientific lessons and laws that, when applied with diligence, can help you win more, lose less and make more money with your new products, services sales and advertising efforts.” Doug Hall

There are steps to defining your Brand and they begin by identifying and building the following:

  1. Your Strengths – which must be prioritized in order of importance from your customer’s perspective – you and your people should take the Strength Finder Test.

a.       You’re always more effective when you focus on unleashing your strengths, and managing your weaknesses–rather than spending a large amount of time trying to improve your weaknesses, unless your weakness is sales or customer service!

b.      Once you have ranked these strengths, you are ready to develop your elevator speech – a thirty-second statement to get your audience to engage with you and ask for more information about your company.  A good template is: Who you are and your role, the top three things your company does, then the top three benefits that your customer receives from those things.

  1. Create your client’s Blatant benefit – specifically, obviously, directly.  What’s in it for the them?
  2. What is your client’s Basic Belief – why should the customer believe you will deliver on the promise made above?
  3. How can you demonstrate a Dramatic Distinction – how revolutionary and new to the world is your benefit/reason to believe?
  4. Elevator Speech – when someone asks you what you do, you must interact with them and help them understand your product/service.  The best way to accomplish that is to relate your service through an analogy. The goal is get them to ask the next question: “Tell me about that.” Discover the why of your company, most companies communicate the what and the how. See TED TV’s Simon Sinek video
    • A good template is for an Elevator Speech: Who you are and your role, the top three things your company does, then the top three benefits that your customer receives from those things.
  5. Compelling story (one-page commercial) you must take the prospect’s pain and write a short story (3-5 minute commercial) that describes how you solve that pain. The goal is to get them to the next step, which is to say: “We need to get together.”
  6. Position – how we want to position (their perspective of what we provide) our company or services in the minds of our audience(s).

Once you have the correct message you are then ready to move into creative ways of reaching your clients and prospects to build awareness, interest, purchase and relationship.

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LOOKING UNDER THE HOOD FOR LEADERSHIP

by Brad Lantz, Inner Circle Twin Cities

When we think of leadership, we often focus on the what: external characteristics, practices, behavior, and actions that exemplary leaders demonstrate as they take on complex and unprecedented challenges. However, we won’t reach our potential as leaders by looking only at what is visible. We need to see what’s underneath the hood to understand how remarkable leaders lead—and that begins with our perceptions.

As important as discovering what our precepts are, we often skip ahead to actions. We try to adopt a behavior and expect it to stick through sheer force of will. Sadly, it won’t if we haven’t changed the underlying attitudes and beliefs that drove the old behavior in the first place. Making matters worse, our behavior affects other people’s mind-sets, which in turn affects their behavior. A leader’s failure to recognize and shift their perceptions can stall the change efforts of an entire organization. Any effort to become better leaders should start with examining ourselves, by recognizing the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that has driven our behaviors.1

How can we create new behaviors that improve our ability to lead at your best?

1. Find your strengths

A surprising amount of our time and energy at work is focused on our shortcomings—the gap between 100 percent and what we achieved. For many executives, this pervasive focus on weaknesses fosters a mind-set of scarcity: a feeling that there are too few talented people in the organization to help it move the rocks that need moving. But what if you could move rocks by starting with strengths, leveraging people’s strong desire for meaning?

The magic comes when we learn to integrate strengths into our daily work—a real challenge, since many executives believe that strengths are the words that come before the inevitable “but” in their performance reviews. Many use the “sandwich” effect of strengths as the bun – with weaknesses as the meat in between.

Some executives will use the greater self-awareness the exercise brings to catalyze a career change—drawing on feelings that may have been percolating. The vast majority find that the simple act of peering through the lens of strengths is a doorway to enhance their power, generating positive emotions and energy.

To be sure, everyone has weaknesses to improve. But deliberately shifting to a focus on strengths is a far more inspiring approach; you’ll raise the odds of lighting up everyone around you and unleashing enormous energy for creativity and change. Want more –  StrengthFinders 2.0 Gallup

2. Practice the pause

We all face challenges at work: impossible deadlines, missed budgets, angry customers, sharp-elbowed colleagues, and unreasonable bosses (sometimes they are us). These behaviors generally create a “fight, flight, or freeze” reaction with most people.  What if you could pause, reflect, and then manage—creatively and effectively—what you’re experiencing?

Surprisingly, if we don’t consider this, we most often create the outcome we fear. Worried about losing control? When you snapped at your team, you just lost it. Worried about not being heard? When you argued defensively, people turned away and you accomplished it. Notice when your attention is focused on needs that you want to protect, and redirect instead toward the experience we want to create, we open up access to a greater range of behavior.

By figuring out how to pause and reengage our “thinking” brains (the parts governing executive functions, such as reasoning and problem solving), we can make the shift from a mind-set of threat avoidance (a fear of losing) to one of learning and of getting the most out of the moment. Want more - The Pause Principal - Cashman

3. Forge trust

Leaders need a community of supporters to achieve audacious goals, for communities are built through shared objectives and mutual trust. Yet not everyone views trust in the same way, so as leaders we must learn what others value if we want to inspire trust. At a minimum, the effort leads to greater understanding.

In fact, simply recognizing and embracing the differences in how people perceive trust can strengthen it. Once we are aware of our own—or others’—profiles, we tend to adjust our behavior subconsciously. When we do so deliberately as well, the results are quite powerful. After all, it’s our behavior that instills trust in others, not our intentions.

When you shift your perceptions from “trustworthy people are a scarce resource” to “I can inspire almost everyone to trust me more,” your community of supporters will expand effortlessly. Want more – Speed of Trust - Covey

4. Choose your questions wisely

What propels leaders to carry out unprecedented, audacious visions? Fear? Foolishness? Ambition? A sense of duty?

Hope. Leaders we admire tend to use fear as fuel for action, but they favor hope. Fear is of value because it gets our adrenaline flowing, sharpens us, and makes extraordinary contributions possible. But it’s easy to succumb to fear and feel overwhelmed by downside risks. Fear spreads through an organization like a contagion. Without the counterbalance of hope, fear paralyzes. So how can we find the right mix of both? Start with the questions we ask.

We tend to use problem-focused questions more, they work well for technical, linear issues that have “right” answers. As we move up the ranks as leaders and the challenges become more complex, our problem-solving instincts can lead us astray. By contrast, when we develop solution-focused instincts, we empower and engage others, deliberately infusing hope. Remember that employees with problems already feel fear. Problem-focused questions only fuel it. Want more – Just Ask Questions - Cohen

5. Make time to recover

Who wouldn’t want to work in high-performance mode nonstop? A desire for achievement and competitive success urges us on—often past our physical and mental limits. Professional athletes build in time to recover, but executives rarely do. Why not? The limiting beliefs are well accepted: commitment is noticed through hard work and suffering; only slackers take time off during the day. People tell the story of a hospitalized colleague with awe: “He worked so hard he collapsed, in service of the company.” Hero? Not really. If that young executive had the self-awareness to shift his perceptions from managing time to managing and balancing energy, he might have remained in good health.

The solution is simple: find ten minutes twice each day (morning and afternoon) [some reports say every 90 minutes stand up and move] to recover, stepping back into a zone of low but positive energy to recharge. Consider all four sources: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual activities can each fuel you. Schedule recovery activities, and stick to them until this is your new normal.

To make change stick, unwire and rewire from the inside. Start with self-awareness: seeing yourself as a viewer of your own “movie.” Once you see the pattern, you have a choice whether to change. Owning the choice creates enormous freedom. And as you exercise that freedom to change your mind-set and practice new behavior, you role-model a transformation—creating what does not exist today but should. And isn’t that what leaders do? Want to know more – Primal Leadership – Goleman

So are you, have you, been pursuing behavior modification or are you truly looking under the hood and going deep to find out the source. It can be the most difficult time of your life but the results are worth it. The discovery of your true self can be truly amazing.

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CRITICAL THINGS RIDICULOUSLY SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE DO EVERY DAY

By Dr. Travis Bradberry

Having close access to ultra-successful people can yield some pretty incredible information about who they really are, what makes them tick, and, most importantly, what makes them so successful and productive.

“Whenever you see a successful person, you only see the public glories, never the private sacrifices to reach them.” – Vaibhav Shah

Kevin Kruse is one such person. He recently interviewed over 200 ultra-successful people, including 7 billionaires, 13 Olympians, and a host of accomplished entrepreneurs. One of his most revealing sources of information came from their answers to a simple open-ended question:

“What is your number one secret to productivity?”

In analyzing their responses, Kruse coded the answers to yield some fascinating suggestions. What follows are some of my favorites from Kevin’s findings.

They focus on minutes, not hours. Most people default to hour and half-hour blocks on their calendar; highly successful people know that there are 1,440 minutes in every day and that there is nothing more valuable than time. Money can be lost and made again, but time spent can never be reclaimed. As legendary Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller told Kevin, “To this day, I keep a schedule that is almost minute by minute.” You must master your minutes to master your life.

They focus on only one thing. Ultra-productive people know what their “Most Important Task” is and work on it for one to two hours each morning,without interruptions. What task will have the biggest impact on reaching your goals? What accomplishment will get you promoted at work? That’s what you should dedicate your mornings to every day.

They don’t use to-do lists. Throw away your to-do list; instead schedule everything on your calendar. It turns out that only 41% of items on to-do lists ever get done. All those undone items lead to stress and insomnia because of the Zeigarnik effect, which, in essence, means that uncompleted tasks will stay on your mind until you finish them. Highly productive people put everything on their calendar and then work and live by that calendar.

They beat procrastination with time travel. Your future self can’t be trusted. That’s because we are time inconsistent. We buy veggies today because we think we’ll eat healthy salads all week; then we throw out green rotting mush in the future. Successful people figure out what they can do now to make certain their future selves will do the right thing. Anticipate how you will self-sabotage in the future, and come up with a solution today to defeat your future self.

They make it home for dinner. Kevin first learned this one from Intel’s Andy Grove, who said, “There is always more to be done, more that should be done, always more than can be done.” Highly successful people know what they value in life. Yes, work, but also what else they value. There is no right answer, but for many, these other values include family time, exercise, and giving back. They consciously allocate their 1,440 minutes a day to each area they value (i.e., they put them on their calendar), and then they stick to that schedule.

They use a notebook. Richard Branson has said on more than one occasion that he wouldn’t have been able to build Virgin without a simple notebook, which he takes with him wherever he goes. In one interview, Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis said, “Always carry a notebook. Write everything down. . .. That is a million dollar lesson they don’t teach you in business school!” Ultra-productive people free their minds by writing everything down as the thoughts come to them.

They process e-mails only a few times a day. Ultra-productive people don’t “check” their e-mail throughout the day. They don’t respond to each vibration or ding to see who has intruded into their inbox. Instead, like everything else, they schedule time to process their e-mails quickly and efficiently. For some, that’s only once a day; for others, it’s morning, noon, and night.

They avoid meetings at all costs. When Kevin asked Mark Cuban to give his best productivity advice, he quickly responded, “Never take meetings unless someone is writing a check.” Meetings are notorious time killers. They start late, have the wrong people in them, meander around their topics, and run long. You should get out of meetings whenever you can and hold fewer of them yourself. If you do run a meeting, keep it short and to the point.

They say “no” to almost everything. Billionaire Warren Buffet once said, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.” And James Altucher colorfully gave Kevin this tip: “If something is not a ‘Hell Yeah!’ then it’s a no.” Remember, you only have 1,440 minutes in a day. Don’t give them away easily.

They follow the 80/20 rule. Known as the Pareto Principle, in most cases, 80% of results come from only 20% of activities. Ultra-productive people know which activities drive the greatest results. Focus on those and ignore the rest.

They delegate almost everything. Ultra-productive people don’t ask, “How can I do this task?” Instead, they ask, “How can this task get done?” They take theout of it as much as possible. Ultra-productive people don’t have control issues, and they are not micro-managers. In many cases, good enough is, well, good enough.

They touch things only once. How many times have you opened a piece of regular mail—a bill perhaps—and then put it down, only to deal with it again later? How often do you read an e-mail and then close it and leave it in your inbox to deal with later? Highly successful people try to “touch it once.” If it takes less than five or ten minutes—whatever it is—they deal with it right then and there. It reduces stress, since it won’t be in the back of their minds, and it is more efficient, since they won’t have to re-read or re-evaluate the item again in the future.

They practice a consistent morning routine. Kevin’s single greatest surprise while interviewing over 200 highly successful people was how many of them wanted to share their morning ritual with him. While he heard about a wide variety of habits, most nurtured their bodies in the morning with water, a healthy breakfast, and light exercise, and they nurtured their minds with meditation or prayer, inspirational reading, or journaling.

Energy is everything. You can’t make more minutes in the day, but you can increase your energy to increase your attention, focus, and productivity. Highly successful people don’t skip meals, sleep, or breaks in the pursuit of more, more, more. Instead, they view food as fuel, sleep as recovery, and breaks as opportunities to recharge in order to get even more done.

Bringing It All Together

You might not be an entrepreneur, an Olympian, or a billionaire (or even want to be), but their secrets just might help you to get more done in less time and assist you to stop feeling so overworked and overwhelmed.

What do you do to stay productive? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, as I learn just as much from you as you do from me.

Dr. Travis Bradberry is the award-winning co-author of the #1 bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the cofounder of TalentSmart

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THE 4 MAJOR LEADERSHIP MISTAKES THAT MOST BUSINESS OWNERS MAKE (PART 2 OF 4)

by Dale Henry

We’re now to number 2 of what we’ve found as the 4 major mistakes that business owners, or senior leadership teams of larger companies, make on a regular basis that limits the performance of the organization.

The second major mistake: Thinking leadership is a ‘fail/pass’ proposition.

What I mean by this is thinking that as long as you aren’t getting complaints (or not too many or too often) about a leader than there’s nothing to worry about or work on. Well that’s not actually true. Regarding leadership, ‘not bad’ is not good; ‘okay’ rarely is; and going from good to great makes all the difference in the world. Why?

Most of us would probably agree that bad leaders don’t get the best from their teams. In fact they probably get the minimum amount of effort and performance, right? Well John Maxwell, the world’s #1 leadership expert, believes that 90% of leaders are ‘positional’ leaders – those that depend upon their position or title for authority and influence. Furthermore, he’s found that those leaders also get the least amount of effort (and therefore results) from their people. So a leader being ‘not bad’ is not only not ‘good’, performance-wise there is little difference between being ‘bad’ and ‘not bad’.

So as top leaders of an organization, we need to realize that having ‘good enough’ leaders isn’t an acceptable answer to get the best performance from our people. ‘Good enough’ really isn’t good enough.

Great Leaders Required

We don’t get great performance, or have great teams, without great leaders. It just doesn’t happen. So we should focus there. We need to realize that without great leaders the vast majority of the potential – the potential or possible performance – of our people remains completely untapped.

To get the best performance from our people, and our teams, we need to have, and develop, the best possible leaders we can throughout our organizations.

Strategy and vision may come from the top down, but performance and growth happen from the middle out.

The leaders in the middle of our organizations – those that architect and orchestra the execution of strategy (or in other words, generally run the business) – need to be strong, effective, truly influential leaders who know exactly how to build high-performing teams.

We shouldn’t settle for anything less. We’re already paying 100% of the cost of having our people come to work. We should really make sure they have the best leaders possible encouraging them to do and become their best so that our organizations can perform at their very best.

Question: Are you settling for less than you should regarding the leaders within your organization?

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STRATEGIC EXECUTION: WHY PLANS FAIL & SUCCEED

by Scott Morrell

There’s an old saying that says, “If you fail to plan you plan to fail.”  Ponder and reflect on that for a moment.  Think of the many ways we plan in our daily lives-from who is driving kids, to fun things like vacations, to what’s for dinner, to the structure of our work day.  The list can go on and on.  And when we plan, things tend to run smoother.  If we fail to plan, the road is generally a little rougher.

Strategic planning for organizations is no different.  It should be a fundamental part of any organization to keep them on a road for success-not failure.  But many organizations don’t have a well-thought out/executed strategic plan. And a search on the internet may tell us why organizations don’t.  Numerous websites have data and research on why strategic plans fail.

Top 5 Reasons Plan Fail

Generally the failure of strategic plans can be summed up in about 5 reasons:

  1. Lack of Focus and Understanding
  2. Vague Action Steps
  3. Lack of Follow-Through
  4. Lack of Resources
  5. Lack of Flexibility

Why They Fail and What Makes Them Work

Lack of Focus and Understanding

When vision, mission and values are not clearly defined there is a lack of focus and understanding.  In the absence of clarity, employees will make up their own directions; sometime counter to where the organization intends to go.  Strategic plans must be focused and include manageable, clearly defined goals and objectives.  Plans must be comprehensive, detailed and clear to team members, stakeholders and the entire organization to lay the foundation for its success.

Vague Action Steps

If your strategic plan fails to define what the management team does every day, then it needs good action steps.  A good set of action steps helps each manager know what they need to do.  Coordinated action steps help employees understand why certain behaviors need to be done together and allows them to focus their time and attention on contributing to the plans success.

Lack of Follow-Through

If there is little or no follow through to ensure the plans success, the big picture strategy is useless.  Lack of follow through sets the plan up for failure. If accountability is not an organizational value, any planning effort becomes an at-risk endeavor.  However, intentional follow-through is a strategy for success.  Intentional follow-through will contribute to the plans and the organization’s short and long-term success.

Lack of Resources

Sometimes strategic planning doesn’t work because the organization hasn’t done the right kind of allocation and alignment of resources.  While reallocation may be conflictual, the focus of the effort should be on the long-term achievement of all.  This can be staff resources or financial resources.  Proper planning and data collection can help alleviate a lack of resources.

Lack of Flexibility

Experience tells us that simply because a plan has been implemented and everyone has agreed, it doesn’t mean all will go as expected.  Being adaptable is imperative to help attain the overall plan.  For a strategic plan to work, some flexibility needs to be built into the process as a mechanism for reviewing and adapting the plan as circumstances change.

What To Do

Considering there are so many reasons why plans fail, one may wonder why plan at all.  What benefit does it actually have? Let’s consider that opening thought again, “If you fail to plan you plan to fail.”  Planning is a fundamental part of our lives.  Without it, we wander.  And businesses that don’t plan tend to wander.  Strategic planning helps to set priorities, focus energy and resources, strengthen operations, and ensure that employees are working toward common goals.  Without formal planning, the purpose of the organization might be misunderstood, the intent of the organization might be unclear, organizational intelligence and resources might be misapplied, and the sum total of the organization’s efforts might yield sub-optimal results or yield results and outcomes that do not contribute to the organization’s purpose for existence.

With the New Year, what’s your organization’s plan for success?  It is one with a clear, well-thought out plan for success or is it failing to plan and possibly planning to fail?

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