Nancy Duffee

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:40

Get SMART

Remember those New Year’s resolutions you committed to in January?

You resolved to develop your professional and personal life to new heights. You got charged up, excited and determined to follow through. This year, you were going to bite the bullet and actually do what you said you were going to do last January: increase sales, beef up technology to increase productivity, pay more attention to associate contributions.

If you’re like most of us, however, by the end of January, those resolutions have been relegated to the back burner.

A client I coach made multiple resolutions both personally and for her career, but needed to move beyond intent to create results. She accomplish this by setting and evaluating her goals and using a method I call SMART. Here’s how it works.

Specific: Was this goal clear or vague? My client wanted to change careers in 2000 and one day start her own business. That was an intent — and obscure. We evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of her position and determined how her personal values fit into her overall career plan.

Recognizing that her current position did not offer the challenges she was looking for, we broke down the steps she needed to take to find a new position as a business owner.

Measurable: How was she going to track her progress? For this client, a journal writing technique was utilized to plot and guide her course. For visual effect, she drew a line down the middle of a page, placing what she liked about each of her career positions on the right and what she disliked on the left.

By comparing the two, she could easily see similarities that carried through each position, assisting her in determining what steps to take in deciding the type of new position she wanted to explore.

Attainable: Were these goals achievable for her? Without letting the mental gremlins and ‘yeah, buts’ block initiative, could she envision the end result?

Realistic: Was she setting her sights too high? Know the difference between pipe dreams and those that can be actualized by utilizing your skills and values. Instead of striving to become the next Bill Gates, maybe owning a computer services company is more likely.

Timely: What’s the target date for completion? Again, “sometime next year” doesn’t get it. My client wants to have her own business, but does she have the financial, emotional and physical reserves, as well as the social and spiritual reserves to begin this venture? At the moment, her financial reserves are too limited to attempt this.

Therefore, her question becomes, “When do you believe you will have the reserves to leave the position you’re in and still cover living expenses and start-up costs?” A new goal is now in the beginning phases.

For each goal my client set using the SMART approach, we charted action steps toward reaching those goals. She has made significant strides in the last six months in both her personal and career life, aligning herself with the envisioned outcomes.

So why wait until next January to set goals? You can do that any time and take action on those that are the most important to you.

You don’t want to be standing on the sidelines next year wishing you had followed through with your resolutions.

Nancy S. Duffee (NSDCoach@aol.com) is a professional coach and owner of Integrated Solutions in Central Ohio.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:38

Don't miss your cue

The road to business success rarely follows a straight route. Curves, detours and roadblocks constantly challenge an owner's navigational skills.

The astute owner will religiously monitor the internal and external signs pointing toward the need to make radical shifts to keep the business vital.

Overseeing increasing or decreasing sales and profits is often the least effective method for determining the long-term success of a business. There are other, sometimes subtle, changes that yield valuable information upon which to base decisions -- furnishing opportunities for action before the bottom falls out of a company. Here are five areas to watch:

1. Increasing competition.

In a rapidly changing business and economic sector, competition is fierce. Finding and studying the competition is imperative -- particularly if the market is flooded. Repositioning the business, either through marketing efforts or upgraded products and service demands a decisive shift.

One of my coaching clients once owned the only professional business service of its kind in the area. For years, there was no competition. With the advent of technology, a developing business community and the arrival of new competition, however, he realized the need for change.

He quickly updated antiquated software and added services and staff to keep clients and add new ones. During the busiest season of the year, business nearly doubled -- despite a new competitor in the area.

2. Long-term clients taking their business elsewhere.

Informed consumers are looking for great deals and value-added services. Establishing client surveys and analyzing and applying the results in your business model will help ensure that existing clients not only remain loyal, but provide referrals.

3. A market disappearing.

What was once considered a viable product or service may no longer exist. If consumers are not purchasing widgets anymore, why try to sell them? Instead, explore creating new lines, merging with another business or closing down.

4. Employees resigning.

Are they accepting offers from competitors? What type of company lured them away? What factors caused them to leave?

Conducting exit interviews to find out why staff is leaving provides feedback for reviewing your hiring and retention practices.

5. The owner's personal interest in the business.

After several years at the helm, the owner may realize he or she is consistently waking up dreading the day ahead. The fun and excitement of running the business -- even a highly successful one -- is gone. This is a surefire recipe for business disaster.

Taking stock of the mission and vision of a company by the owner is paramount in determining a course of action. Is it possible for the owner to take a sabbatical and return refreshed and full of new ideas? Or is it time to relinquish ownership?

Granted, variations in sales and profits are vital indicators of a company's health. It is important to determine what causes such fluctuations in order to evaluate trends and market conditions. But resting on financial laurels alone, while ignoring other signs, may ultimately force a company to make decisions from a reactive instead of proactive position. As a client once said, "If it's in front of me, I can deal with it. What I'm not seeing can cost me dearly." Nancy Duffee (NSDCoach@aol.com) is a professional coach, workshop facilitator and owner of Integrated Solutions in Central Ohio.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:43

Who’s in charge here?

Owning your own business is as American as apple pie. It conjures up images of independence and freedom to make decisions based upon your agenda, potential wealth and creative expression.

In the early stages, the owner is caught up in the excitement of developing a company. As the business expands, however, owners may find themselves feeling out of control, owned by the business. How can you tell when ownership has shifted from the person to the process, when the owner has gone from being proactive to reactive?

I recently helped a client who was beginning to experience this. His goal was to expand his business, but he realized it was necessary to delegate parts of his job. As he became more involved in the operations and administrative duties of the business, it was taking time away from what he really wanted to do: service his clients and expand his business.

When this happens, the owner is out of balance. Owners are consumed by their business, mentally, physically and emotionally. They’re no longer doing what they wanted to do when they founded the business. The energy to build it has diminished, often replaced by a growing resentment. Somewhere along the road, they lost their identity and accorded it to the company.

A major component in re-establishing ownership is assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the owner in relation to the vision of the company. As the owner regains a sense of balance and establishes goals on which to measure progress, the company’s infrastructure can be viewed more proactively.

The first thing I did with this client was request that he evaluate his strongest abilities and those things he most enjoyed doing. He readily recognized it was necessary to relinquish the operational elements of the business that were not his forte.

Based upon the vision for this growing company, we evaluated job descriptions and determined that a new position was necessary to align with the client’s decision to delegate key functions. This would allow him to spend more time with existing clients and expand the client base — his ultimate objective. This type of strategic planning helps ensure that the firm is going in a single direction and that major decisions support the overall vision of the company.

The second strategy was to design an administrative system to ensure the highest possible standards required in my client’s regulated profession and to provide excellent customer service. This also reflected the objective of expanding his client base by providing value-added services beyond the industry standard.

With these factors addressed, my client hired a person we both believed fit the bill.

One would assume the owner achieved a sense of balance and recaptured much of his original enthusiasm. As in all businesses, however, conditions can rapidly alter the best of intentions, goals and plans. Within a few weeks, another challenge arose.

The newly hired, capable and competent staff person was quickly becoming overwhelmed with her responsibilities. This proved to be a crucial turning point. The formerly reactive owner could have easily reverted to old habits, jumped in and taken over tasks that had been delegated to this position. The new, proactive owner, however, stuck to what he did best and supported the person by asking me to coach her through a challenging transition.

Working with the vision the owner established, the staff person and I established priorities and goals.

We went back to developing strategies and planning, building a solid foundation for the business owner to regain control of the business.

Will defining objectives, planning strategies and setting goals ensure success? There is no guarantee, but coaching the owner to redirect energy back to himself has greatly increased the odds.

Nancy S. Duffee is a professional coach with Integrated Solutions in Central Ohio. She can be reached at (740) 965-1121 or NSDCoach@aol.com.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:34

Averting disaster

It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when.

At some point, your business will be affected by a man-made or natural disaster. In the rapidly evolving technological environment, normal business operations will be increasingly interrupted by equipment failures operation errors or power outages. Accidents, illness, hurricanes, tornadoes and floods also wreak havoc on those unprepared.

The first step in averting disaster is to anticipate the types of business interruptions that could affect your company. Then establish a workable disaster blueprint to deal with them.

Start by asking these questions:

  • What are the primary functions critical to our mission?

  • How are these functions vulnerable to interruption?

  • How can we address these factors?

The initial focus for any disaster plan should be the safety of employees. Data can be recouped, structures rebuilt and equipment replaced, but human suffering is not as easily remedied. Personal well-being plans include arranging for first aid and CPR classes provided through local emergency officials and requiring all employees to participate.

This type of proactive planning paid off almost immediately for a computer company I worked with a few years ago. Within a week of receiving Red Cross training, a speeding motorcycle careened off the road, flinging the driver into a key employee in the company's parking lot, seriously injuring both and damaging company property. Staff used the basic knowledge gained through these classes to provide critical care until paramedics arrived.

As part of the personnel component, it's also important to develop an emergency contact tracking system for each employee. One I initiated included telephone numbers of family, personal friends and physicians to be contacted in the event of an emergency, special medical concerns and specific preferences employees had regarding their care.

When an employee became increasingly disoriented, then fell to the floor and went into seizures, the information proved invaluable. By having immediate access to emergency contact records, it was ascertained this employee was both diabetic and epileptic. By following the instructions on the form, implementing basic first aid techniques and calling 9-1-1, the staff stabilized a condition which was life threatening for the employee.

Another important element in a business disaster plan is a complete asset inventory schedule, including photos or videotapes of all equipment and furniture, fixtures and products. Consistently update the list when purchasing or selling assets and provide it to off-site accountants and insurance companies. This can expedite the process of substantiating and recouping losses.

During routine on-site inspections, determine which equipment requires maintenance on a continuing basis and prepare a calendar to schedule and insure tasks are completed. Preventive maintenance can be as simple using equipment covers, routinely backing up electronic files and copying paper documents, or as complex as installing uninterruptible power sources and automatic sprinkler systems or modifying existing buildings

A company I consult with invites the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation on site annually to offer, at no cost, recommendations for workplace safety. Advice offered by the bureau and implemented by the company includes posting hazardous chemical communications, such as Material Data Safety Sheets for easy access in the event of an accidental spill or misuse, and establishing written programs and training for employees on certain equipment.

During a thunderstorm, lightning struck the facility, effectively rendering the business nonoperational for more than a day. There were no physical injuries and equipment damage was contained largely based upon the suggestions offered by the bureau for modifying components of the electrical wiring and related systems.

Essential to my own disaster planning are ongoing consultations with my attorney, accountant, financial planner and insurance agent. I also store copies of valuable records off-site so they will be available in the event of a calamity.

Preparing for the probability of business interruptions is sound business management. While minimal down time and service interruption will not dramatically interfere with providing products and services, establishing a disaster plan calmly and objectively places you in control of the situation instead of allowing disasters to control your business. Nancy Duffee (NSDCoach@aol.com) is a professional coach, workshop facilitator and owner of Integrated Solutions in Central Ohio.