As businesspeople, we have a fiduciary responsibility to ourselves and to our companies to measure the investments we make.
Investments include acquisitions, funding new expansion initiatives, inventory, office space, equipment, even employees. Too often, we don’t have benchmarks in place to really measure the return on these investments.
Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, loved measurements, and is well-known for culling the bottom 10 percent of performers and emphasizing that businesses need to measure key areas to get things done. He had an excellent track record as a result. Not every company is GE, but the principle applies to any business, particularly when it comes to investments that require a lot of cash.
By not measuring the success or failure of the ideas we implement, we put ourselves in a vulnerable position. If too many investments are made at once, cash flow can quickly dry up if they don’t pay off. People and resources will be diverted to unproductive projects, while money-making ventures sit idle or never become as lucrative as they should.
With no tangible measurements, it becomes easy to spread our resources, especially capital, too thin while working on too many projects at once.
Here are several suggestions to help you avoid this mistake.
1. Set goals and establish a timeline for a return on each investment. Be realistic, because some things take time to mature. Make sure the company is financially sound and can handle the downside of any investment you make. In other words, don’t bet the farm on a deal.
Be prepared for the worst-case scenario. You’ll be able to manage better knowing that your company is prepared, allowing you to focus on creating success rather than avoiding failure. One deal shouldn’t put your company at risk.
2. Put it in writing and share it with the right people. Give employees the information they need to do their jobs, and let them know how you want them to measure progress.
Employees need to understand your goals. If they are not clear about the goals, you risk them pushing the idea in the wrong direction.
3. Make yourself and your employees accountable through key performance measures reported on a periodic basis to assess your progress. This helps keep key people informed on how the company is progressing toward achieving its goals. Keep regular tabs on why projects are or are not working as predicted, and make the necessary adjustments.
4. If you are not receiving a return on an investment, weigh your options. If the return is there, continue funding. If it is not, don’t delay in making the difficult decisions. There are many reasons something looked good to start with, then soured. Economic conditions change, key employees leave, new competitors enter the field.
5. Make decisions that are in the best interest of the companies well being. Leadership falls on you. Reassess why things aren’t working and pull the plug, if necessary, then refocus that capital on more promising projects.
As your company grows, the need to establish benchmarks to measure progress grows with it. Benchmarks provide vital information on which to base your business decisions and give you quantifiable data as to which projects are worth pursuing.
With a tightening economy, it’s more important than ever to carefully manage every dollar. Take the time to establish benchmarks now, so you can continually evaluate performance.
If push comes to shove, you’ll know exactly what needs pushing and what needs shoving.
As an organization grows, changes are inevitable.
New employees are added, promotions are made and job responsibilities shift.
But any time you have change, you have the potential for conflict. Few people are comfortable with change, and each person will react differently in making the adjustments necessary to move forward with the company.
The most important thing a CEO can do is to be active in confronting potential conflict. Conflict goes hand-in-hand with change. Employees begin to question management, co-workers and even themselves as they are forced outside of their comfort zones. Those questions can lead to misunderstandings that can lead to conflict, and that will ultimately slow your growth.
Don’t passively avoid potential conflict. Instead, actively engage members of your organization by providing the necessary forums both for you to communicate your strategy and vision and for them to communicate their concerns back to you. An active conversation will help drive your vision for the company through the organization and will also help foster your next generation of leaders as they take a more active role.
Only when employees are challenged to think — and to challenge you — will you maximize your organization’s potential. Do you want employees who don’t speak up when they recognize what may be a fatal flaw in your grand strategy? Or would you rather have employees who are actively thinking about the big-picture goals of the company and doing their part to contribute?
Regardless of what size company you run, it comes down to a simple choice.
It’s a choice between having employees acting like robots or acting like people. If you choose robots, you will have to have all the answers. If you choose people, you only have to have some of the answers because the employees will help you find the rest.
Engaging employees in conversations, meetings and decision-making helps them take ownership and helps you create a happier work force. If they are not allowed to speak, gossip and rumors will drag down your productivity.
Actively provide two-way communication. Let employees do the talking and hear what they have to say. The results may surprise you. Those closest to the customer often know best what needs to be done to improve sales, service or efficiency.
Too many CEOs lament the lack of good people to help take them to the next level. Maybe the problem is more CEOs need to create good people rather than driving them off with a work environment that’s better suited to a good robot.
When Ted Turner launched CNN, there were plenty of people who said a 24-hour news network would never fly.
But Turner saw a problem: He enjoyed watching the news, but his busy schedule typically had him missing the standard news broadcast time. That’s when he got the idea: What if the news was on all the time? He couldn’t be the only one who was unable to fit a regular broadcast into his schedule, so he knew the demand was there.
The next step was to dream big. What if the news was on all the time, not just locally, not just regionally, but nationally and even internationally? The result was the first 24-hour cable news network. It took a lot of effort to get CNN to where it is today, but Turner’s dream was realized. His big dream yielded a big result.
People need to dream big. If you never take the time to dream big, great things probably aren’t going to happen for you.
We have the power to visualize our future. A professional athlete visualizes hitting the game-winning shot so that when the time comes, he or she expects to succeed. As CEOs, we must also visualize ourselves and our organizations achieving great things. We must see where we want to be and then convince those around us to help us get there. When you can articulate the vision in a way that makes it as clear to them as it is to you, your goals will be easier to accomplish.
Here are four steps to achieving great things:
- Have you dreamt big enough? If you aren’t visualizing your business achieving all its goals and growing the way you want it to, it might be holding you back.
- Take time to reflect on the dream. Let it simmer as you consider the obstacles that will have to be overcome to achieve your dream.
- When you are comfortable that you have thought it through, share the dream with people you trust. They can point out challenges you may have overlooked or offer encouragement to keep you moving.
- Get started. Big dreams don’t happen without hard work. Lay out the steps that will get you from where you are today to where you want to be and start working toward your goal. You won’t get there overnight, so focus on taking small steps toward your vision each day. Sell others on your dream so they can help you get there.
Don’t be satisfied with small achievements. Visualize your potential and the potential of your organization. With hard work, you can turn it into a reality. Dare to dream big.
Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800)988-4726 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
What if the leaders at IBM had stuck to making punch card equipment? What if after making the transition to the personal computer market, they had stayed entrenched there?
Punch card equipment is long gone, and with recent PC sales numbers significantly in decline, the leaders of IBM have stayed ahead of monumental changes in the market and kept the company moving forward for decades.
An open mind.
Too often, CEOs place self-imposed limitations on themselves, both in business and personally. The status quo becomes acceptable and new ideas become verboten. When this happens, growth is stifled — a dangerous situation. Many business gurus will tell you that you are either growing or dying. A stagnant company sees itself as not losing ground, but as its competitors move forward, its relative position in the market fades, even though it views itself as standing firm.
The only way to avoid this is to keep an open mind. CEOs need to constantly grow and learn from a personal perspective — so they constantly improve their leadership and people skills — and also from a business perspective — so new ideas are allowed to push the organization forward.
While there are many approaches to keeping an open mind, here are three ways to get started.
- Embrace trial-and-error. Finding success might require experiencing a dozen failures. Whether it’s a new way of running a meeting or trying to find the next innovative product, accept the fact that success has a cost. Don’t eliminate an idea because it goes against what the company has always done.
- Seek knowledge. As a professional, a CEO should never stop learning. There should always be a curiosity about your industry that drives you to seek an understanding of the latest trends and strategies, but you should be constantly looking at other industries as well. Often, best practices in one industry can be applied to another. If you are the first to make the move, it will give you an advantage over the competition.
- Find a mentor. The right mentor can make you aware of your blind spots. Without someone to offer a different perspective, it is easy to fall into familiar ways of thinking, thus stifling the chance of new ideas taking root.
The longer a CEO runs a business, the easier it is to fall into the trap of doing what worked yesterday or last week. When this goes on long enough, the business ends up with an overall strategy that is several years old.
You would never say, “Let’s use the same strategy we developed five years ago,” but because of a closed mind, that’s what ends up happening by default.
Be vigilant about your search for knowledge. In the end, it will make you a better leader and improve your company’s chances for success.
Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or email@example.com.
Ronald Reagan was well known for not only his confidence but also his positive outlook and sense of humor. He had a way of never taking himself seriously and always found a way to find humor even during the direst times.
In fact, following the assassination attempt, he told his wife, “Honey, I forgot to duck.”
His constant positive outlook made him appealing to voters and is one of the reasons he continues to score high in polls ranking presidents.
Do we approach life and leadership the same way that Reagan did? Do we always take a positive outlook into the start of each day?
Some CEOs act as if being in charge makes them a victim and complain of the burden. Leadership is a privilege that all of us should learn to enjoy. We have to train ourselves to enjoy the process, not just the end result.
Let’s take some time to reflect on the victories, no matter how small, and celebrate them. Learn to reflect on the great clients we have and the great people who work for us instead of focusing on the one unhappy customer or an employee with a bad attitude. But most importantly, we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.
Each day that passes is a day that we do not get back. We have to look at each day as a series of moments and find the happy things that put joy in our life.
These can be simple things — a funny comment from your child, something silly you heard on the radio or a bright, sunny day. When we start focusing on these small joys in life and start stringing them together, we’ll find that an entire day has become joyous. Enjoy the time you are in now and don’t spend so much time fretting about tomorrow. Be intentional: Start by writing down four little things a day at work that bring you joy on a daily basis and build from there. This can even be a conversation around the watercooler that makes you laugh. String together a few days like this, and we are well on our way to a more joyous life.
By developing this habit, we will be more inclined to treat people better, and they, in turn, will treat others better, which will increase the overall positive culture of our workforce. The work environment is a bigger factor in why employees leave than money is, so focusing on providing a more joyful environment will also help your business in the end.
Whether in business or in life, it all comes down to being joyful. Happiness is fleeting based on circumstances, but joy becomes permanent once we have cultivated it. Start by focusing on the little joys and build from there. Remember, people won’t remember what you said, but they will remember how you treated them.
Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steve Jobs was the master of spotting trends and the opportunities that go with them. He was so good at it that he could see trends when they were still in their infancy. This allowed him to create products that kept his company at the front of the waves of change and ultimately drove massive profits and stock growth for Apple.
While not many people possess the uncanny sixth sense that Jobs had, it’s important to spend time studying your industry and what’s happening at various levels, from customers to suppliers to competitors.
You need to recognize when the trend is pushing positive growth and when it’s not. The additional challenge is to know the difference between a trend and a fad. A trend is more long-lived and drives a lot of long-term opportunity, while a fad tends to burn out quickly. This isn’t to say that trends last forever, because they don’t. An important part of studying trends is to know when to jump off the wagon and find the next opportunity, because if you ride a trend too far, you may find yourself in a rapidly declining industry or an area of waning interest.
For example, Y2K was a fad. For those who don’t remember, the Y2K boom was caused by old computers that only saw years as two digits instead of four, and widespread computer issues were predicted if systems weren’t upgraded. A giant boom in computer consulting and sales resulted from this issue, but it was short-lived. The moment 2000 rolled around, the need for Y2K upgrades dried up.
The dot-com boom, which was partly fueled by Y2K, was a trend. For a number of years, a ridiculous amount of money was being thrown at any project that contained the word “Internet,” regardless of its business model or competitive factors. While it was active, there were plenty of online growth opportunities for businesses to take advantage of.
Those who recognized the trend were able to capitalize on it, and more importantly, those who recognized the end of the trend were able to cash out before it went bust. Not every trend will be as big as the dot-com boom, and depending on your industry, they may not be so obvious.
Finding and recognizing trends starts with studying your industry. You need to stay in tune with what’s happening with competitors and constantly read about not only your industry but related ones as well. Talk to suppliers and vendors to get their opinions as to what direction your markets may be headed. But the most important thing may be to have an open mind. Don’t assume that because something hasn’t changed for 20 years that it isn’t ever going to change.
With an open mind, you are more likely to recognize an emerging trend before everyone else has rushed to capitalize on it, putting you ahead of the curve. Once you are exploiting a trend, you have to be equally diligent to know when it’s going to end, and that’s done in a similar fashion to identifying it in the first place: Stay plugged in to your industry.
These are exciting times and change is all around us. Look for the hidden clues that can lead you to the next big opportunity, and never stop challenging your own beliefs. The CEOs who do the best over time are the ones who don’t accept the status quo.
Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or email@example.com.
When the economy dips into a recession, companies have two basic responses: hunker down to weather the storm or be aggressive by attacking weakness in competitors and opportunities in the market. I have always preferred the latter approach.
During the past two years, our company made several important acquisitions and recruited top talent to forge a new business that positions us as a leading provider of a full range of marketing services for clients ranging from manufacturers and professional service firms to nonprofits and consumer products companies. I am pleased to announce the official launch of SBN Interactive, our content-driven interactive marketing firm.
SBN Interactive is the culmination of months of planning and hard work. It combines our long-standing expertise in creating award-winning content with our intimate knowledge of the latest marketing trends and tools. More importantly, it allows us to leverage our expertise in offline and online marketing to drive measurable business results for our clients across the full range of marketing channels: Web, mobile, video, social and print.
Today, customers move seamlessly across online and offline channels and expect the experience to be consistent, connected and available when they want it and how they want it. What does that mean in practical terms? It means that businesses need to deliver a consistent brand across the spectrum of marketing channels that their customers use. Some prefer print, others video, still others social media. Regardless, marketers need to present the right message to the right customer through the right channel.
Our team of interactive marketing strategists, content strategists, content creators, designers, developers, optimization experts and technologists understand and embrace this. They collaborate to develop strategies and solutions that meet the specific business goals of our clients. From custom magazines and website content optimization to social media strategies and fully outsourced marketing services, they have the expertise — and dozens of proven tactics — to help move the needle for a business.
At the heart of everything we do is our core competency: content. Content drives differentiation, and there are few organizations that exist or are organized in a way to efficiently deliver relevant content in the context of the connected world we live in. But we, at Smart Business, live and breathe content on a daily basis.
We have spent more than two decades working with and writing about some of the most successful business people in America, from iconic business builders like Wayne Huizenga and Les Wexner to maverick billionaires like Ted Turner and Mark Cuban. Now, we are putting those same skills — and many more we have developed over the years — to work for other companies.
We will still continue to bring you management insight, advice and strategy from the best and brightest business minds in the pages of Smart Business. However, thanks to SBN Interactive, we now have a more direct way to help businesses like yours meet their goals and prosper.
I invite you to learn more about SBN Interactive by visiting our website at www.sbninteractive.com or by contacting me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 250-7034.
Richard Branson is full of big ideas. The man who founded six companies that each rake in more than $1 billion annually dares to think big. For him, it’s all about the experience, making a difference and not doing things the same way as the competition. An idea captures his imagination and he sets out to turn it into reality.
For him, it’s not about the money. It never has been.
When he sees a situation where he thinks he can make a difference in people’s lives, he looks for a way to make a difference. He understands that “why” he is doing it is more important than the “what” or the “how.”
Author and consultant Simon Sinek agrees (see video link). He explains that Apple is wildly successful at what it does not because it can build computers better than anyone else but because it understands “why” it is doing so. It’s not that the competition doesn’t know what it is doing or that it doesn’t have talented people creating good products. It’s just that Apple understands why it is in business and focuses its message on that instead of what it does — which is build electronic devices.
Sinek says that people like to do business with people who believe what they believe, so they buy more on the “why you do it” rather than what you are actually doing. Notice that profits are secondary. If you do things the right way for the right reasons, profits come naturally.
You might already have a big idea for your business, but it will most likely never reach its full potential unless you understand why you are doing it. Have you ever stopped to think about why you are in business or why you are doing what you are doing? It can be an enlightening exercise.
With the demands of daily business, we seldom stop to think about the reasons behind our actions, and if we do think about it, the answer is often “to turn a profit.” But to what end?
When you understand why you are trying to make a profit and the answer goes beyond simple wealth, then you are getting to the heart of what differentiates a good business from a great one. Maybe the reason why is a social issue, such as eliminating hunger, or maybe it’s a medical issue, such as curing a disease. But it doesn’t have to be grand. The “why” can be something like “making computers easy for everyone to use.” The important part isn’t the scope; it’s understanding your business’s basic reason for existence.
When you’ve taken the time to understand that, your business will have the potential to do great things because employees and customers alike can unite around a common understanding.
It’s why Apple is a great company and it’s why Richard Branson is wildly successful. If you’re already doing it, you’re on your way. If not, take the time to think about it.
While attending an event we put on with a local charity, I was impressed with the difference that seemingly minor things can make in someone’s life. I was proud of the contribution and effort that our employees put into the event and the dedication the nonprofit showed for its mission.
The event made me think about the business community and all of the wonderful things companies do for those in need. Take the recent destruction from Hurricane Sandy as an example. Businesses have pledged more than $90 million in assistance, two-thirds of which was monetary donations to organizations like the American Red Cross.
While companies give back in as many ways as possible, even during these difficult economic times, I was wondering if there wasn’t more that could be done in our local communities. Not every effort has to always include a financial component.
Here are some nonfinancial ways to give back in addition to what you already do for the community:
- Give more time. Some organizations have a greater need for man-hours in addition to financial backing. Your business may already give generously on the financial side, but maybe your favorite charity could use a labor boost as well. Nationally, about 35 percent of companies have some sort of formal volunteer program. Consider donating employee time to help out with a big project or basic cleaning and organizing.
- Offer advice. You probably already serve on one or more boards for a nonprofit, but there is always another charity out there that could use your help. You don’t have to become a full-fledged board member, but you can offer advice as needed to help the existing members navigate through a problem that plays to your strengths. If the nonprofit is looking for a board member and you don’t have the time, help it find the right person by making a recommendation or referral.
- Hire nontraditional employees. One way of giving back to the community is helping others help themselves. There are many skilled employees with either physical or mental disabilities that could be a great addition to your company if given the chance. When you have a job opening, make sure you are considering all candidates, including those from nontraditional backgrounds.
- Do pro bono work. If you can provide a service that a nonprofit needs, consider donating it. Marketing, printing, IT services — basically anything an office needs is probably something a charity could use. Find out what the nonprofit could use, then figure out a way to help out. Even if your company can’t help, maybe you know someone else who can.
In this season of giving, it’s not hard to find a worthy cause. There’s also no question that you and your company have most likely already given a lot, assuming you are in a position to do so. But there’s an old question that asks, “How much charity is enough?” The answer is easy: Just a little more.
Take the time to evaluate whether you can do just a little more than what you are already doing to make an even bigger difference.
If you are in search of a worthy cause, consider donating to The Pillar Fund, a donor-advised fund administered through the Cleveland Foundation. For more information, contact Dustin Klein at email@example.com.
Are we grateful for the things we have? Are we grateful that we live in a country where the government can’t seize our businesses, where there’s no threat of rebellion and where we can go home to the comforts of our modern homes?
Many people in the world don’t have any of those luxuries. Some can’t even look forward to a good meal or clean drinking water. Most of us here in the United States don’t have to worry about such problems because the people that came before us worked hard to create a nation that has an amazing standard of living. The generation before us rose from the troubles of the Great Depression, led the fight against Nazi aggression that killed millions and returned home to finish making America into a superpower, but do we ever pause to think about the contributions our mothers and fathers made to make things easier for us today? They lived in small houses, often sheltering multiple generations, and worked long hours to make a better life for their children and grandchildren and selflessly went off to war to protect our freedom.
Do we ever think about any of that? The answer for many is no. Gratitude is in danger of becoming a lost art as we focus on accumulating money and possessions, always looking to be better or richer than the next person.
How many times have you read about or talked to someone who had everything you could ever ask for — nice home, nice car and no money problems — lamenting the fact that he or she doesn’t have as much as or more than someone else? We sometimes catch ourselves comparing who has more instead of who has less.
As business leaders, we should have some sense of moral obligation to help those within our sphere of influence, whether it’s our peers, employees or the person who lives down the street. We should be doing our best to look out for those around us, but too often, our days are consumed with the details of business.
Our world may be built on information, but wisdom is lacking. Business has been boiled down to statistical analysis and quarterly earnings reports while people are just another line on the ledger. There is often little room for gratitude in corporate America, and that’s a shame.
When our focus is on accumulating things, we can never enjoy it, because we don’t know how. How can we enjoy something when we’ve already raced off to try to get more? Like a kid tearing through a pile of Christmas presents, we never really take the time to appreciate each gift.
In this season of giving thanks, we should take a moment to think about those who came before us and who helped us get to where we are. Let’s thank those around us for a job well done and consider reaching out to someone who could use a helping hand. But most importantly, let’s consider putting our lives in perspective by thinking about those who are less fortunate.
When we focus more on gratitude, we’ll make a difference that’s far more effective than any business plan. It will allow us to take the time to celebrate success and enjoy the fruits of our labor. Gratitude doesn’t require a giant donation or a huge event; sometimes the little things are more effective.
In the end, we’ll find that the only things truly worth accumulating are good will and happiness. It’s in our control to start helping everyone around us get their fair share, and that’s something all of us can be thankful for.