unlocking business growth opportunities

You are currently browsing the archives for the Success category.

Got Grit?

May 4th, 2016

Seeing grit in action in one of the grittiest places on the planetGrit

In her Ted talk and new book, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth explores why some people – entrepreneurs, students, rookie teachers in the urban core or West Point cadets – succeed. Her answer? Grit. Duckworth defines grit as “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals,” even in the face of challenges.

I’ve been thinking about grit and entrepreneurship lately. I saw a lot of both on a recent project in Malawi, Africa. In the literal sense, rural Malawi is one of the grittiest environments on the planet. The average per capita income is $255 a year. Most homes are one-room huts with no electricity or running water, and the red-clay soil fills your shoes, if you have a pair, with grit.

Grit may be a teachable or learnable trait in developed economies, but it’s a daily survival skill in Malawi. Here are three examples, among the dozens I observed, of grit in action.

Solar-Charged Opportunity: Traditional communications infrastructure has limited reach, but mobile phone use is pervasive. People who did not have access to electricity or running water in their homes eagerly showed me photos of their children on their phones. In most villages, it’s easy to spot the entrepreneur who runs the mobile phone-charging business: just look for the hut with the solar panel propped against a milk crate in the front yard.

A Recipe for Perseverance: Michael supports his five children and relatives by preparing meals for visiting project teams – a skill he learned during a 9-year stint cooking for a Dutch family. Late one afternoon, the guest house lost access to water and electricity while Michael was preparing dinner. He quickly shifted gears and built a charcoal fire outside. With the help of candles and my flashlight, he finished preparing the meal on the kitchen stoop. Then he mounted his bike for the hour-long commute, in pitch darkness, to his village. True grit.

The Next Big Fish: I first observed English at the Lake Malawi shoreline, chatting with the fisherman preparing their boats and nets for night fishing. The next morning, I found him on the guest house porch with the work of the village painters and carvers he represents displayed for sale. A day later, he was back with fresh-caught fish from the boats he represents. English is a salesman who gets results. He works from sunrise to sundown because his goal is to buy a boat, hire fisherman and run his own fishing operation.

Grit requires sticking with the hard tasks and working hard to make future goals a reality. By that definition, some of the grittiest people I’ve ever observed live in the rural villages of Malawi.

Got Grit? If you’re curious about your own grit quotient, check out Duckworth’s Grit Scale.

Two Simple Ways to Make Your Next Meeting More Productive

October 21st, 2015

2136AA314EAre you a Risk Manager or Opportunity Seeker?

Knowing the difference can have a significant impact on your meeting outcomes. Early in my career, I worked for a global consulting firm. I vividly remember one of the first meetings to discuss a new initiative that I had been assigned to spearhead. I laid out the opportunities, expecting an animated exchange. What transpired instead was a detailed discussion of the possible implementation challenges.

That meeting was a Eureka moment in my career. I had approached the meeting as an opportunity seeker, while most of my colleagues had approached it as risk managers.

Since that time, I’ve seen countless examples of meetings that have gone awry because of similar opportunity/risk miscalculations. Chances are you’ve experienced a few yourself. Why does it happen? Most people have a dominant mindset along the spectrum of opportunity seeker to risk manager, and will frame their meeting participation according to that mindset. What’s the difference? These two comments illustrate the distinctions:

Risk Manager: “We must make sure that the trains run on time.”

Opportunity Seeker: “Why does it have to be a train?”

A Meeting of the Mindsets

There’s nothing wrong with either point of view. Each mindset is valuable in developing an idea, project or initiative. The key is to find a balance that allows both ideas to be explored and challenges to be uncovered. How do you give risk managers permission to think in terms of possibilities, and encourage opportunity seekers to consider the downsides? Here are two simple ways.

Ideal Scenario: Begin by discussing the ideal scenario. Ask each participant to describe the ideal scenario for the idea, project, or initiative, from his or her point of view.  Remind everyone to focus comments exclusively on the ideal scenario.

Pre-Mortem: After you have documented the ideal scenario, shift gears using a technique developed by James Macanufo. Fast forward your idea, project or initiative into the in future (next year, end of next quarter, next month).  What could go wrong? Ask everyone to focus discussion on aspects of the idea, project tor initiative that might not go as planned.

Spend the remainder of your meeting identifying steps and processes for implementation that maximize the opportunity and limit the risks.

Opportunity seekers and risk managers both bring useful skills to the table. When you balance their perspectives, the result is a meeting of complimentary mindsets.

The Most Powerful Time Management Question You’ll Ever Ask

September 29th, 2015

clockSusan is a business owner who loves to innovate.

She generally makes good business decisions, except when she’s under pressure. A week before the most important trade show of the year, Susan decided to create a holiday-themed video. She spent several 20-hour days working on the video, pulling staff away from important show preparation.

At the trade show, the video got only passing glances from attendees. Susan was too exhausted to work the company’s booth effectively and hadn’t prepared her staff to step into her role. The company’s show orders decreased 30 percent from the previous year.

Maybe you’ve been in Susan’s shoes. You have a significant project to complete, a month-end quota to meet or a looming deadline. Just thinking about the work overwhelms you, and your knee-jerk reaction is to focus on something else – anything else. The decision you make in that moment will move your business forward, or set it back.

You can break this bad-decision cycle with one simple question:

What is the best use of my time right now?

Here are three simple ways to manage your time for the results you want.

Reviewing Your Goals

Write down your goals in an easily accessible format. Two options are to store them on a mobile device or keep them on a card in your wallet. As you review your goals, ask yourself: What is the best use of my time right now? Identify actions that will move you toward your goals.

Setting Your Daily To-Do List

Chances are that the tasks on your daily to do list exceed the time you have to accomplish them. Start by categorizing your list by:

  • Tasks that maintain your current business
  • Tasks that grow your business
  • Tasks that simplify your business

Review the tasks in each of these categories and ask: What is the best use of my time today in each of these categories? Then select the most important items for the day.

Using the Gaps in Your Schedule

Every business day has schedule gaps. Some are intentional windows of time between meetings; others take shape due to cancellations or unexpected adjustments. Examine how are you using those gaps in your schedule, and ask yourself again: What is the best use of my time right now?

Fifteen minutes between meetings can be a coffee run, or a time to connect with a high-value customer. Having lunch with a friend could be time better spent having lunch with a new business contact. That 40-minute task could be halfway to completion in 20 minutes

Deciding to take action is not the issue. Deciding to spend your time wisely is. Using this simple, powerful question on a daily basis can help you manage your time for results.

Reinventing TGIF: Top Business Development Activities for Summer Fridays

July 9th, 2015

There are nine Fridays between the Fourth of July and Labor Day. How much new business will you generate with yours?

The idea of working on Fridays in the summer seems counterproductive. It can be easy to talk yourself into not working or leaving early: everyone’s on vacation; no one’s serious about business on Fridays.

Here’s the surprise: research indicates that taking Fridays off during the summer can be counter-productive. In a survey conducted by Captivate Network, fifty-three percent of those surveyed said that reduced hours on Friday lowered their productivity and increased their stress. Leaving early on Friday and dreading Monday all weekend is the ultimate waste of time.

Summer Fridays are the time to work smarter, not harder. Take advantage of the relaxed vibe and the slower pace with these tips.

Schedule Friday Morning Meetings

Busy executives wind down on Fridays and their calendars are often more open than other days of the week, especially during the summer. Meeting at a breakfast or coffee spot that is convenient to your prospect’s office can provide a brief change of venue without taking up much time. This approach can be especially effective as a follow-up conversation to an initial meeting. Nine Fridays? That’s nine opportunities to move nine potential buyers closer to a close.

Do Lunch, Get an Introduction

Summer Fridays are an ideal time to schedule lunch with former colleagues or business associates. Always confirm that you’ll meet at their offices, and ask in advance if they’d be willing to introduce you to their boss or other executive at the company that you’d like to meet. When you meet your new contact, be sure keep the conversation brief and informal. Remember, it’s not a sales call; it’s an introduction. By the end of the summer, you’ll be back in touch with nine colleagues and you’ll have nine new business contacts.

Send “Three by Three” Emails

Fridays are also a good time to refine and test your email messages to prospects. Pare yours down to three sentences, then test sending a few by 3:00 p.m. on Friday to three types of prospects:

  • New prospects you haven’t met
  • New contacts you have recently met
  • Contacts you know but have not approached as prospects

The typical business executive receives over 600 emails a week. This inflow slows down as the work week closes, and your email may get more attention on a Friday afternoon than on a Tuesday morning. 

Clear Your Desk and Your Head

When I worked for a global consulting firm, we had an unwritten rule: don’t leave the office on Friday until your desk is clean and your week ahead is planned. It seemed restrictive at the time, but it’s a practice that pays big benefits: it frees up your head space for weekend pursuits. Nothing boosts productivity like coming back to a clean desk and a game plan on Monday morning.

If you work smart on Fridays in the summer, you won’t be alone. But you will be ahead of the competition.

Three Ways to Practice Listening as a Business Skill

June 25th, 2015

Watching with your ears pays off in improved business relationships

When I lived in Latin America, frequent trips to government offices to keep my visa status updated meant a lot of bus travel. I learned to close my eyes as soon as I got into my seat. By being “asleep” I could avoid any unwanted attention I might cause by looking around. It also developed my listening skills. Watching with my ears taught me to observe my surroundings and still focus on information about my stop or connection.

This came in handy during an especially crowded second-class bus trip during Easter week. My seatmate was a woman traveling to market with a live chicken in her lap. I can still hear that chicken’s off-beat clucking as Olivia Newton-John’s “Let’s Get Physical” played through scratchy speakers. Despite all those layers of distraction, I still managed to hear the driver announce my stop.

About forty-five percent of a typical business day is spent listening, so watching with your ears is not only a smart travel strategy. It’s also a valuable skill for business owners and salespeople. Here are three ways to practice watching with your ears to maximize the value of every business interaction.

Asking and Listening: A former colleague of mine kept a roll of duct tape on his desk. It was his reminder to ask questions, shut his mouth and listen. Listening starts with asking open-ended questions that begin with what, how, who or where. In a business negotiation, examples of open-ended questions might be: 

  • How would you describe your current (workflow/maintenance/customer service) process?
  • What types of issues have surfaced in your current process?
  • What impact have those issues had on your (customers/employees/partners)?

The key is to ask, and then listen without interrupting. Practicing this skill with a friend or colleague can help you to notice and modify your interruption tendencies.

Listening through Layers: Listening through layers is a technique that can help you to uncover underlying issues or motivations. Try listening through three primary layers: listen for facts first, then thoughts and beliefs, and then for feelings. Often you’ll discover that you or others have made assumptions at one or more of these layers. Listening through them helps to clarify what’s important to each person and help to identify the next steps you can take together. 

Taking Action after Listening: Listening is half of the process. Identifying the next steps to a common goal is the other half.  Asking additional, open-ended questions can be useful in reaching workable future steps, such as:

  • What would you think if…?
  • How does _______ sound?
  • What are the options?
  • Who can help with that?

It’s not always easy to step back from telling or interrupting. Perfecting your listening skills takes a little practice, but it’s worth the payoff in avoiding in tense negotiations and improving the quality of your business relationships.

Letting Go: Delegating for Business Growth

May 28th, 2015

Ann started her company from her dining room table fifteen years ago, and gradually grew it into a nationally recognized brand in a specialty market. Like most business owners, she wore many hats in the early years. She wanted to grow the company and knew it was time to stop doing everything herself.  Ann learned how to delegate the hard way – by not getting the results she wanted.

Ann announced to her team that she was only going to focus on the activities that she enjoyed: managing the company’s social media presence and creating new products. She told them to figure out how to deal with “everything else.” Within a few weeks, Ann was inundated with questions from her team on everything from how to deal with distributor relationships and customer fulfillment issues, to partnership opportunities and production adjustments. 

Here’s what Ann learned about delegating for business growth.

Don’t Delegate by Default

Ann defined her own responsibilities without clarifying her team’s responsibilities. Before you delegate, ask yourself what you expect your team to do, as well as what you intend to do.

Let Go of the Right Things

Ann decided to focus only on what she enjoyed doing, but letting go of what she didn’t like doing may not grow her business. It’s a fact of business ownership – doing what you like to do is sometimes different from doing what you need to do. You can explore your own want to/need to activities with these questions:

  • What do I enjoy doing most?
  • What activities do I need to do myself, and why do I need to do them?
  • What activities do I need to be kept informed about, and what information do I need to stay informed?

Delegate to the Right People

Ann didn’t match specific activities with specific team members’ strengths. Assigning additional work to a team won’t compensate for a lack of specific skills or expertise. If you don’t have the right people on your team, delegating for growth requires hiring or outsourcing.

Delegate Authority and Accountability

Because Ann didn’t specify what “everything else” meant, her team brought everything back to her for resolution. Effective delegation requires three elements:

  • Assigning specific activities to specific team members
  • Empowering them to make specific decisions
  • Clarifying what results they are expected to achieve and how to keep you informed

When you’ve built your business from scratch, delegating can feel strange and uncomfortable at first.  You can make it easier by applying Ann’s lessons before you delegate for growth.

Living Your Personal Brand

April 22nd, 2015

Sometimes, setting an example for yourself sets one for others.

I recently accepted an invitation to speak at a business school forum. I typically don’t charge a fee for speaking at student events, but since I would be booking a flight, I asked if travel costs were covered. I was assured that they were, and I purchased a ticket. Then, a week before the event, an administrator apologetically informed me that that there would be no travel reimbursement. Somehow, despite several conversations and email summaries of the arrangements, the students had misunderstood the budget.

On the plus side, this was the first and hopefully only time I have ever encountered this situation. I have to admit that my first reaction was disbelief. Did this business school really expect me to fly 1,500 miles on my own dime to speak for free?

As I moved from indignation to introspection, two questions kept crossing my mind:

  • How can I turn my response into a positive learning moment for everyone involved, including myself?
  • How could I use this situation as an opportunity to live my personal brand?

I’d gotten a good deal on the flight. With a little effort, I could arrange business meetings before and after the event. I could catch up with a longtime friend over dinner that evening. I could also choose to be insulted, turn down the invitation and end my interactions on a polite but unpleasant note. What kind of message would I be sending about my personal brand if I did that?

The next day, I sent a brief email message to the students and the administrator:

The mixed messages were unfortunate and I appreciate your apology. I honor my commitments, and I will honor this one. I look forward to seeing you next week.

During the forum, the administrator apologized again and reimbursed my flight. I had a conversation with another speaker that led to new business for me. Most important, my decision to speak despite the miscommunications allowed me to make a quiet and potentially powerful statement about my personal brand, and perhaps set an example for the future business leaders who attended the forum.

This situation reminded me that, regardless of external circumstances, we always have choices. We can allow our choices to be determined by the decisions and behaviors of others. Or we can make our own, intentional choices, based on what we stand for and what we intrinsically know is the right thing to do. The learning moment for me? It’s easy to find a substitute speaker. But there is no substitute for the integrity of living your personal brand.

Here’s to the Role Models

March 16th, 2015

I recently participated in a networking event for students at Johnson County Community College. This event allowed students to practice introducing themselves to business professionals, engage in conversation for a few minutes, and transition politely to another conversation.

In the course of these conversations, I met a student I’ll call Jana, who was studying fashion merchandising. I asked Jana how she became interested in merchandising, and she told me, “It started with a mistake I made at work.”

She works part-time selling women’s apparel in an upscale department store. One day, she sold the outfit on a mannequin. Rather than leave an undressed mannequin on the sales floor, Jana created a new outfit for the mannequin.

The following week, the regional merchandiser summoned Jana for a meeting. “I thought I was in trouble, that I was going to lose my job,” Jana told me. The merchandiser told Jana that the clothing promoted on mannequins was a corporate decision, but that wasn’t the primary reason for meeting. The items worn by Jana’s mannequin had sold well in the previous week, and the merchandiser thought Jana had talent. The merchandiser told Jana about the fashion merchandising program at the college, and encouraged her to apply. She has continued to mentor and encourage Jana, and wants to hire Jana when she completes her degree.

Jana’s story was the most memorable introduction I heard that day – but what impressed me even more than Jana was the forward-thinking merchandiser. This woman not only recognized Jana’s budding abilities, but also had the courage and confidence in her own abilities to take the intentional step to be a role model and mentor. She set a proactive, professional example for Jana, who hopefully will see herself as a role model for other young women as she progresses in her own career.

Whether we think we are or not, we are each a potential role model and mentor for someone in our business, industry or job function. Here’s to the role models, like the merchandiser, who are paying it forward by mentoring others.  

Growing Your Business? January is Get Real Month

January 21st, 2015

It’s claimed as Hot Tea month, Hobby month, and even Divorce month. I think of January as Get Real month. It’s time for reviewing your business behaviors. What’s moving you forward? What’s holding you back? Here are three behaviors that top the list:

I’m Not Wired to Sit at a Desk: Some business owners will do anything to evade think time. They’re great at networking and generating ideas. When it comes to thinking through the implementation, they are equally adept at evasion tactics.

I Put Out Fires: I once worked for a boss who felt most productive when putting out fires. When his company was operating smoothly, he would create a crisis that he could step in and resolve. Constantly dealing with crises prevents you from thinking about your business.

I Have to Do It Myself: These business owners are overwhelmed with daily decisions and tasks that others should be doing. Every business owner must eventually face the operational consequences of growth: you can’t continue to make decisions or execute on every detail of your business.

If you recognize these behaviors in yourself, maybe it’s time to get real.

First, make and keep a recurring weekly appointment with yourself to think about what’s happening in your business and prioritize your activities. Figure out which day and time of day you feel most focused and open to stepping away from the daily details and claim that time as your own. Consider choosing a non-office location for your appointment if interruptions or distractions are an issue. Make certain that you’re not substituting office interruptions for distractions in another location.

During your appointment, keep your business goals, opportunities and issues visible. Reviewing a standard list of questions at each meeting can help you to focus.

Business Changes

What needs to change in my business?

Who or what resources do I have to make this change/who are my best change agents?

Whom do I know who can help with this?

Which of m y current activities need to change?

Opportunities and Issues

What can be done right now to help to resolve this issue/leverage this opportunity?

Who can take this action?

What is the most productive use of my time?

What were the top three things I did last week?

How do these things contribute to my business goals and opportunities?

Priorities and Productivity

What percentage of my time did I spend on those things?

What were the least important things I did in the last week?

How could I have deferred or delegated those things?

Then ask yourself the same questions for the coming week.

The most important appointment you can keep is the one you make with yourself. Get Real in January, and you’ll see results in 2015.

Got Goals? Five Ways to Stay on Track in 2015

January 5th, 2015

Several years ago, I visited a friend in London. On New Year’s Eve, we had dinner at a local bistro, and then did something I had never done: we sipped champagne and set goals for the coming year. Not resolutions, but career and business goals. It’s a tradition I continue to observe.

Setting goals is challenging enough – but the real work is keeping your goals from unravelling as the year unfolds. Here are a few tips for keeping your 2015 goals on track.

  1. Document your Goals

The often-cited “Harvard Goals Study” suggests that people with clear written goals achieve more and earn more than those who don’t. Putting your goals into a form that you can review and revise is key to staying on track. Not a writer? Consider developing a visual infographic or mood board to capture the intent of your goals. You can also use goal-setting software tools, such as the ones listed here.

  1. Set Interim Outcomes

Let’s say your business revenue was $5 million in 2014 and your goal is to increase revenue by 30% in 2015. What might that look like on a monthly or quarterly basis? For example, you might set a monthly revenue goal for the first quarter of 2015 that is less than a 30% increase. Chances are you’ll need the first quarter to put processes in place and manage your learning curve as you work towards your goals.

  1. Review Your Goals Weekly

Whether you’ve written your goals down, developed an infographic or loaded them into software, set a weekly appointment review them, assess the past week’s activities and define actions you can take during the coming week.  

  1. Take Daily Action

What can I do – right here, right now – that supports the goals I’ve set? Asking yourself this simple question on a daily basis is a powerful way to keep yourself on track. For example, re-engaging with a lapsed prospect instead of having lunch with a friend you see regularly might be a better use of your goal-focused time.

  1. Benchmark Opportunities to Your Goals

It’s called Bright Shiny Object Syndrome. You’ve set your goals, and then you get distracted by a new idea, or a shot-in-the-dark possibility. When an idea or opportunity surfaces, test it against your goals with the following questions:

  • Does this idea or opportunity bring me closer to achieving my goals?
  • How do I know this?
  • Is pursuing this idea/opportunity the best use of my time, compared to what I could be doing?
  • How will pursing this idea/opportunity affect current projects or initiatives that support my goals?

An update on New Year’s Eve in London: my friend wanted to launch a business in a warm climate near the ocean, and her goal that year was to relocate to a beachfront community. She now runs a successful real estate company in Florida.