Tony Arnold

Sunday, 30 June 2013 20:00

Generational management

In any business, a group of employees can consist of a diverse group of people. Differences in race, creed, color, sex, national origin and religion can bring a melting pot of perspectives and talent to the daily pursuit of your company’s mission. Proper management of these generations and a greater focus on the differences among them can enrich your business and ultimately your bottom line.

Building a diverse workforce has been a mantra in business for quite some time and as we become more effective at building that diversity, differences in each generation’s approach will begin to surface. Management and leaders of businesses must begin to recognize that their personal approach and desire may not deliver the same desired results in the future.

Leaders need to understand the personal needs and motivators of individuals within their organization. Individual and generational views of health care, vacation, promotions, bonuses, retirement, loyalty, authority, work hours, work approach, communication, work-life balance, etc. are quite different based on personal needs and expectations. Having polices aiming for one-size fits all will simply not work.

Here are a few characteristics of each generation that could dramatically impact how work gets done in your business:

Baby Boomers

This generation is accustomed to personal interaction. They enjoy teams and a take a collegial approach to most challenges. They tend to be workaholics and are willing to work during time typically reserved for home and family. They’re interested in being rewarded for that dedication whether it comes in a bigger bonus or further advancement.

Alternative appreciation such as more time off or vacation usually does not do the trick. This is a group that receives much satisfaction from work. This group relies on its healthcare and is looking forward to retirement.

Generation Xers

This generation is much more independent. However, they have disdain for rigid work hours and authority in general. They lack trust in institutions and corporations in general, which fits with their independent nature.

They are extremely savvy with computers and technology. The group is adaptive to change and will accept a number of job moves in their lifetimes. They work to live, not the other way around.

Generation Y / Millennials

This generation is likened to next level Gen Xers, meaning they take all the same characteristics further on the trend line. They question authority more and they challenge the status quo. Typically, they expect instant responses and are in touch almost real time with the world around them. They are multi-taskers and leave Gen X slightly behind with their knowledge of technology and the growing world of social media.

Telecommuting would be a fine option for them. They’re also very interested in quality of life and are interested in a good ratio of work/life balance. They are open-minded to differences and expect diversity.

Now that we know a little more about the differences inside the generations represented in the workplace, we can make good decisions accordingly. This knowledge is powerful when dealing with important tasks such as hiring and recruiting and how that may relate to the relocation of a key player inside your organization.

It can help you schedule meetings around preferences on work hours and access to information, and it can be worth its weight in gold relative to the retention of key team members and how you structure your compensation and benefits system for maximum impact.

Embracing the differences in your workforce relative to their generation may provide you with important information in order to make the correct choice on key decision points. Chances are that discussion with your team of HR practitioners and a little research in the areas we covered is all you need to make the most of your team.

 

Tony Arnold is founder and principal of Upfront Management, a St. Louis-based management and executive consulting firm. He can be reached at (314) 825-9525 or tony@upfrontmgmt.com

Tuesday, 30 April 2013 20:00

Effective leadership

As leaders, we understand that our actions, whether good, bad, positive or negative, are being continually examined. Our job as leaders is to create a vision, develop and execute strategic plans, define goals, and set objectives aimed at creating excellence through products and services that address the needs of the customers and markets we serve.

Accomplishing these tasks cannot be done in a vacuum; a team of highly skilled and dedicated leaders is needed to accomplish these goals. CEOs and business owners are constantly challenged to seek out the talent needed to build an effective leadership team. Though difficult, it is paramount to find talent that has a keen understanding of your organization’s market, vision, mission and objectives.

Building a team of talented leaders that share similar capabilities, traits, ambitions, and that are qualified to lead an organization is one thing, but getting this group to function together to lead a business effectively and efficiently requires special attention.

It is vital to have a leadership team that consists not only of highly skilled, functional leaders but also those who possess the ability to understand the broader picture. Members of this team must be willing to contribute, provide productive opinions and work as a team to reach consensus, and then collectively execute these decisions throughout the organization.

Leading strong leaders requires managing egos, resolving conflicts, balancing power and integrating opinions in a way that ultimately fosters a team that is aligned with your organization’s vision, goals and objectives.

Reflect for a minute on the qualities that have brought you to your leadership position. You are a visionary and you’re high on confidence. You likely have charisma and years of experience. You have a wealth of important contacts and you are a person that most would consider to be “plugged in.”

Now assume that those in your organization, technically your subordinates, share many of those same qualities that you possess. The possibility and likelihood of friction in these relationships is high if you don’t manage these relationships carefully.

Below are some action steps to take to enhance your leadership within your organization.

1. Set the expectation that leaders actually lead, be accountable, take risks and don’t wait for direction. If those around you are not willing to do the same, then maybe it’s time to make a change.

2. Spend quality time with leaders individually to understand their views on their role and their vision of how their functional area contributes to the mission of the organization. Are they thinking big, stretching their direct reports and delivering the results you expect?

3. Challenge the team and individuals to stretch their thinking and share their “big ideas.” Be clear and concise. Put things into context so they understand the meaning and possible outcomes of decisions.

4. Set clear expectations of leaders and the leadership team. Expect individuals to know the overall business and be able to separate themselves from their functional role and contribute to the enterprise by tackling complex issues.

5. Mandate open and frank dialogue between leaders while reiterating that these discussions remain confidential.

6. Expand their role by asking them to contribute by taking lead roles on enterprisewide matters.

7. Allow leaders to lead so they own their actions and decisions. It is your responsibility to identify and select high-quality talent with the knowledge and experience needed in order to contribute to the organization.

These steps are the beginning to a harmonious relationship with your top team members. Remember, the goal is the respect that you earn along the journey, not friendships or three people to round out a great foursome on the links. Your energy, vision, determination and drive are the active ingredients in leading by example. ?

Tony Arnold is founder and principal of Upfront Management, a St. Louis-based management and executive consulting firm. He can be reached at (314) 825-9525 or tony@upfrontmgmt.com.

Thursday, 28 February 2013 19:00

Tony Arnold: The power of empowerment

Corporate entrepreneurship is picking up a few nicknames as it becomes a trending topic in discussions. “Intrapreneurship,” a term used by Steve Jobs in a Newsweek article in 1985, will still drive your autocorrects and spell checks crazy.

But a quick online search of the term will find an increasing number of articles racing to define the buzzword for the current era. Why the refreshing discussion on the topic of entrepreneurship inside the walls of a corporation? When well-run, these efforts can be a virtual lottery of profit for the company who manages it correctly. Let’s take a stab at addressing the concept and what it means today.

Jobs was, of course, referring to the Macintosh team, the virtual garage band of loyal workers who were long on hours and ingenuity and provided the basis of a new line of computer products that began to lead the company in new directions.

The Mac team exemplified a culture of innovation and made a good case for a strong investment in talent, coupled with a healthy budget for research and development. In the view of many, this remains the current model for companies today.

But daydreaming about inventing the next Mac, iPod or iPhone might be mitigated by reminders of failures, such as New Coke, Clear Beer, Crystal Pepsi or Netflix spinning off their DVD business to Qwikster, the most recent major blunder by a corporation.

Here are a few steps to take on your path to becoming more tolerant of risk while never forgetting to keep a close eye on the costs.

 

Empower a team.

Keeping the lines of communications open will inform you of breakthroughs before they happen. Define the goal and how success should be measured. Then establish a funding level and clarify your time horizon to reaffirm the commitment. It will help you monitor progress or regress directly and you’ll be able to spot pitfalls while there’s still time to react.

Consider meeting with different people so that you can gain multiple perspectives. Walk the group’s area and they’ll know they have the interest of top management.

 

Recognize and cultivate top performers.

Support them with complementary people who think like they do but consider fostering an environment of teamwork, not necessarily one of competition with each other.

Resources for the project need to be ample but not extravagant. The team will understand the venture itself should be considered like a start-up, and while they’ll enjoy the same benefits as your other employees, they may relish the opportunity to “rough it” and be considered noncorporate types.

 

Reward extraordinary performance.

An opportunity for the team to be compensated based on viable success must be a part of the equation.

Entrepreneurs will be highly motivated to share in the long-term value and upside they create. This also will aid in retaining the capability and high-quality talent in your organization. It will come back to your bottom line in spades, so don’t forget to share. Reward efficiency and frugality as well.

 

Set the pace.

Set, monitor and share data on progress against agreed upon milestones. Hitting goals will energize the team and provide the necessary information to tweak their overall plan and make adjustments. The allocation of resources can also be measured at this time, and if you’re knocking on the door of a breakthrough, you’ll know it. ?

 

Tony Arnold is founder and principal of Upfront Management, a St. Louis-based management and executive consulting firm. He can be reached at (314) 825-9525 or tony@upfrontmgmt.com.

We are barraged each day with opinions on the economy, jobs, health care costs and a host of other topics that can affect consumer confidence. Information is plentiful, but it is often contradictory, leaving people to decide who and what to believe.

As business leaders, you must face not only the realities of the business environment in which you operate but also the mindsets of employees and customers.

As the economy shows signs of improving, they look to see if you’ll react. But leaders often rely on others, and being fearful of making the wrong move, they wait for the percentages to improve and for more certainty to prevail. Even the optimists are finding it challenging to break out of the pack and do something bold.

Emergence depends on factors

The reality is that not every sector will enter or emerge from a recession at the same time. It is important that you understand your market and where your business is in the cycle. If you don’t already have a list of leading indicators, then you need to develop one.

Demand the best information from which to make decisions regarding your business. Rely on facts, trends and data to help make better and timelier decisions. Act quick, be decisive, and don’t be a naysayer. Focus on what can be done versus what can’t. Motivate and energize your organization and set goals to break out and show what can be accomplished.

Being an early mover can give your business a substantial competitive advantage. When you see signs of enduring strength, you need to lead changes in your organization to improve the mood and atmosphere, to build confidence that things are going to improve, and to implement the plans you have developed.

Time to take action

Here are some steps you can take:

? Leverage your competitive advantage

? Take price increases in key segments while locking in cost in others.

? Get aggressive in marketing and selling efforts

? Expand into new markets or launch new products

? Invest in training staff and hire high-quality people

? Make acquisitions of products or businesses

? Invest in incremental capacity to enable growth

? Create a contagious atmosphere where people can prosper and customers can enjoy themselves

These actions within a company become contagious and can foster creativity and risk-taking. When done effectively, these actions will position your business for success.

Setting the tone

The way you think and talk about your business, the market and the situation you face will set the tone for the organization. Your actions and words can be the difference between breaking out or being a laggard.

Do you focus on the problem or the solution?

Do you think about the opportunities to grow share or focus only on retaining customers?

Have you ever noticed that, during tough times, the sales gap between the A and B/C players widens? Their attitudes shift and you start hearing excuses from B and C players as to why they “can’t” get sales.

Even when things start to recover, the A players will distance themselves even more from the others. When you go on sales calls with the A players, they acknowledge the circumstance with the customer but will quickly focus on what should be done to make the best out of the situation.

As leaders, we can set this expectation across the organization. It’s a mindset and an attitude. Do your part to create an environment where people can be creative, develop plans and execute with passion so they can win.

 

Tony Arnold is founder and principal of Upfront Management, a St. Louis-based management and executive consulting firm. He can be reached at (314) 825-9525 or tony@upfrontmgmt.com.

Contracts and legal agreements can play a key role in determining whether a company flourishes or flounders, but it’s easy to skip over the details when more urgent matters come into play. Those who don’t come back to those details when the fire has been put out, however, run the risk of bigger problems down the road.

But sometimes the perceived urgency to get the deal done becomes the driving force, undermining the effort, quality, judgment and scrutiny needed to pen a solid contract that’s in the company’s best interest. If the analysis and due diligence takes more time than anticipated, impatience grows and the decision may be made to just get it finished so you can move on.

With so much on the line, you can’t afford to do that. You need to do what it takes to ensure that every agreement is in the best interest of your company and that your rights are safeguarded for the agreement’s term.

Do you sign, or are you responsible for, the contracts your business concludes? Savvy leaders keep their focus on getting the right deal and then they watch for potential pitfalls and red flags in the fine print. They conduct reviews, ask probing questions, understand the terms and financial impact of the deal and are alert for liability issues and balanced termination provisions in the contract.

 

Here’s some advice that will help safeguard your company’s future:

 

Put all business dealings

in writing

Do this even with your partners, family and employees. When there are modifications or changes to your agreement, put them in writing so both parties are aligned. Not only will having a written agreement prevent issues and misunderstandings in the future, in certain situations, verbal contracts can be legally binding.

Clarify the scope of

the agreement

What rights do you have? What can you do? And often more important, what can’t you do? Be sure the boundaries are very clear. Describe geography, markets, improvements and noncompete terms.

Define all of the important contractual terms

Be sure that performance criteria, metrics, timelines and detailed services required by both parties are set out clearly, as well as the consequences of nonperformance along with remedies. Define price, cost, volume by product, forecasting, payment terms, licenses or permits required, registration cost, etc.

Understand the legal terms and their implications

Don’t be embarrassed to ask your colleagues who negotiated the agreement or to ask your legal team the same question multiple times. As a check, ask an individual who hasn’t been associated with the contract to review it and point out potential areas of concern.

Don’t assume anything is obvious or clear

As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. Include formulas, definitions and examples of calculations. Set out potential problems and disputes and how they will be resolved. Define it in a manner where someone not familiar with the business could fulfill and understand the terms of the agreement.

Define the duration of the agreement and the terms for early termination

All business relationships have an end point, so it’s critical that contracts between business entities or individuals make provisions for unwinding the relationship when all obligations are fulfilled. Carefully define each party’s rights and obligations after termination.

Monitor performance and fulfillment of the terms of the agreement

Make sure the company lives up to its responsibilities under the contract to protect its reputation and business relationships.

A solid contract answers all of the “what ifs.” What if the other company goes out of business or is acquired? What if your contractual partner doesn’t fulfill its obligations under the contract? What if there’s a truckers’ strike that prevents ground shipment of the raw goods you need?

Become practiced in setting out and answering all the “what ifs,” and you’ll find yourself among the gold medalists in the contract game.

 

Tony Arnold is founder and principal of Upfront Management, a St. Louis-based management and executive consulting firm. He can be reached at (314) 825-9525 or tony@upfrontmgmt.com.

Don’t let the words “competitive intelligence” intimidate you. First, there’s nothing underhanded about using the resources at your disposal to keep a close eye on your competitors. We’re not talking about sneaking into a competitor’s office to find proprietary information or planting a “mole” to report back to you on the competition’s latest research.

Those over-the-top (and illegal) activities are the stuff of spy novels and big-screen thrillers. Instead, think “information gathering.”

Second, it’s quite likely that you’re already engaged in competitive intelligence, but without assigning this label to your efforts. If so, it’s merely a question of taking these ongoing activities to the next level. But regardless, the bottom line is that the failure to make information gathering on your competition a top priority will create a huge blind spot for your company that will severely constrain success.

The good news is that you can launch an aggressive competitive intelligence program with fairly little of your valuable time and even less cost.

All of the information you need to gather for a robust competitive intelligence program can be found online using free online tools. Here are the steps for getting on track to regularly analyze your market competition.

Develop a list of competitors

You know who your competitors are, of course, but have you built a list?

Create one that includes the address of each competitor’s website, the company’s key leadership and a sample of any articles on your competitors or their key team members that have appeared in the media in the last two years.

Employ free tools such as Google News

Think about what an executive from Coca-Cola might do to find intelligence on Pepsi.

When we went to Google News, we discovered that five of the top 10 results generated would be very useful to Coke. Included were recent articles on new products, class-action lawsuits and sponsorships that Pepsi has undertaken.

Of course, whereas Pepsi and Coke generate daily articles on popular search engines, sometimes even hourly, your competitors may generate news much less frequently.

Nonetheless, set aside time each week for your own effort, and don’t allow a dearth of results — even for several weeks or even months — to deter you from what must be a regular activity to be effective in the long run.

Get specific and narrow the results

Consider narrowing your search to include the name of a top executive or a target area of the business. For example, that same Coke executive might want to stay informed about Pepsi’s CEO, Indra Nooyi. When we performed this test, the results in Google News for “Indra Nooyi” included almost 10 important articles in the first 10 results listings.

Automate the flow of this information

You or someone else in your company may have set up a Google Alert on your company’s name so all mentions in the news are sent to your e-mail inbox. If you haven’t, stop reading this article and go do it quickly.

Now, do the same for the names of all of your competitors.  In addition to Coke and its main competitor, Pepsi, that same Coke executive would likely have created Google Alerts for its other competition, including “Dr Pepper Snapple Group” (use quote marks because you want all the words to appear next to each other).

You could also set up alerts that will snare general industry information as it breaks, just as our Coke executive might establish an alert for “beverage industry” to receive news aligned with this topic.

Delegate — if you wish

After you’ve handled these competitive intelligence tasks for a while, you may decide to turn the effort over to an assistant, an employee at a lower level or even an intern. What’s key is to keep refreshing and growing the search terms you use based on the information you’re netting – as well as to cull from your list of terms those that aren’t pulling in useful intelligence.

The regular flow of information you’ll receive on your competitors, your industry and your market will keep you on top of — and even a few steps ahead of — the competition.

Tony Arnold is founder and principal of Upfront Management, a St. Louis-based management and executive consulting firm. He can be reached at (314) 825-9525 or tony@upfrontmgmt.com.

Do you understand the challenges your employees face? If you don’t, you need to. Any work force that has lived through these times of dislocation, reduced disposable income, rising prices for food, gasoline and other necessities and unrelenting worries about the future is, quite understandably, a much-changed group.

The confidence these employees have in their company’s leadership and the engagement they bring to their jobs has diminished considerably. As a result, many employees — including those whose contributions are vital to their companies’ ability to rebound quickly and nimbly — are poised to make a career move with the first signs of stepped-up hiring in their industry.

The companies that will fare the best as the recovery spreads and new opportunities are created for these disaffected workers are those whose leadership has been open, empathic and accessible during these rough times. How did you communicate about the difficult actions you took and why they were necessary?

To drive your organization through hard times, did you grab hold of the reins and issue demands that employees “fix sales” or “cut costs”? Or, did you solicit your employees’ take on the challenges and engage their help in finding a solution – so they felt indispensable, appreciated and at least somewhat in control of their fate?

Regardless of what you did or didn’t do in the past, today is the first day of the rest of your company’s future. The steps you take today to establish the face of leadership in your organization — as well as in the weeks to come as the recovery picks up strength and breadth — will position your company for the post-recovery environment. Here’s what you can do to chart a positive course.

Get behind the numbers

Break out of the routine that includes meetings, presentations, e-mails and metrics to really think about the drivers of success and the limitations that have resulted in your company’s numbers. Experience a day in the life of your organization. Go into departments and travel with sales, technical and service people on routine calls.

Don’t be fooled by success and be cautious of filtered information. Have a dialogue with people about their work instead of just listening to presentations that have been structured, massaged and beautified. Be honest with yourself and your team about the “elephant in the room,” the conditions and state of your markets and your business.

Focus on execution

Get a firm handle on how your organization plans and executes. What motivates your people? Do they have a passion for doing their job? Do they strongly believe in what the company stands for?

Relook at how work gets done and what’s really necessary versus what’s merely become routine. Ask people where and how they spend their time, and how they measure their personal and professional success.

Be visible internally and externally

People should feel they know you and have access.

Have a dialogue with your employees, customers, vendors and other third parties. As you engage with them, dig for truths so you can understand what they do, where they’re feeling stymied and how you can make improvements to enable them to be more successful.

Open communication channels

In one-on-one lunches, town halls and other venues, probe for the reality that your employees face, understand and see every day. Be grateful for the tough questions, and if they’re not asked, raise them yourself. Talk about your people and the commitment they’ve shown through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Praise the successes of your people. Be open, honest and sincere; and speak with energy and passion, but be yourself. Share your feelings and what you stand for so your employees can understand you and connect with you in ways they’ve never done before. 

It’s a tall order, but it’s doable. A willingness to take a fresh, honest look at your company and to expose your fears and vulnerabilities to internal and external groups is the key. Get started today.

Tony Arnold is founder and principal of Upfront Management, a St. Louis-based management and executive consulting firm. He can be reached at (314) 825-9525 or tony@upfrontmgmt.com.

Your own approach to the work that your company does transcends all aspects of your business. It sets the tone for pace, execution, employee engagement and results. By its example, top management must establish the culture of work on which excellence, and thus company success, depend.

But as I consult with companies — small, medium or large — I’m continually amazed at how work is getting done. What’s lacking in these businesses is a culture that clearly defines excellence and that values diligence, timeliness, efficiency and, as you’ll read in the case study presented here, honesty.

Absent these shared values, the answers to problems become those that a select group wants and not fact-driven solutions. Projects take on a life of their own, dragging on for inordinate periods and overrunning budget because goals, scope and deliverables aren’t defined. Time and resources are wasted on misguided efforts and activities that don’t support the company direction or mission. Employees then become frustrated by a process that makes it impossible for them to contribute their skills, talents and energies to a successful outcome.

How can a CEO turn this destructive culture around? An important first step is to understand the difference between challenging and communicating - a critical distinction that impacts how work gets done.

When you challenge a team, you risk directing the outcome to a narrow set of predefined options or to an impossible goal. For example, hitting a sales target that isn’t supported by market conditions. Communicating, by contrast, calls for setting the overall tone and parameters and creating an environment in which broad, even unforeseen options, can be critically explored and high achievements can blossom. This was one invaluable lesson that a CEO who called on me for advice learned.

When the CEO engaged me, his company’s sales targets and new product launches were consistently falling short of expectations. He wanted to know, “Why isn’t the sales team working effectively to launch new products, maintain current accounts and expand our customer base?”

In each of the three previous years, the company’s management had assembled members of the sales and marketing teams to explore how to achieve sales growth and position new products. In these meetings, the sales team had described the competitive challenges it faced in the marketplace, including effectively demonstrating the value of the company’s products to customers. Sales also had consistently reported that the margins distributors were capturing were not competitive.

But marketing, just as consistently, had responded that its research indicated high end-user satisfaction and high repurchase marks even at higher prices, and so, marketing had continued to raise prices. Management and marketing together had concluded that the sales team’s inability to position the products was the reason for declining sales.

As it turned out, the CEO’s challenge to grow sales had spawned a dynamic that had produced just the opposite. Determined to rise to the CEO’s challenge, the management and marketing teams had ignored the views of the sales team as they focused determinedly on raising prices and setting high expectations for sales. Unable to gain support at the distribution level, the sales team continued to fall short of goals as sales experienced even sharper declines.

Although he’d heard the arguments of both sales and marketing, the CEO believed he should continue to challenge his teams, assuming that they would present the best solution. As it turned out, however, marketing had not just discounted the views of the sales team but had also skewed its research rather than confront the CEO by questioning his challenge. So the CEO learned the importance of communicating rather than challenging. But he did so at a dear price for his company’s sales figures, his trust in the marketing team and his sales and marketing teams’ ability to work collaboratively and effectively.

Does your company lack a culture of work? If it does, what price are you paying?

Tony Arnold is founder and principal of Upfront Management, a St. Louis-based management and executive consulting firm. He can be reached at (314) 825-9525 or tony@upfrontmgmt.com.

There are better ways to grow sales than to merely throw money at the problem, whether that means more money spent on advertising, a bigger sales force or beefed-up expenditures in other business areas. A close look at your pricing policies, your customer relationships and your sales team’s needs and capabilities can reveal ways to grow revenues even when times are tough.

Look at pricing first

Start with pricing and get over the belief that you can’t raise prices without dampening sales. By keeping prices flat or using price discounts to try to keep demand or close sales, you create two problems. First, you destroy the value of your brand and the integrity of your pricing. Second, you train customers to negotiate harder to get every last penny, which ultimately destroys your customer relationships by undermining customers’ trust in your company. 

Instead, look at pricing as a strategic tool that must be managed and based on value, market demand, product lifecycle and cost structure. An important first step is to review your pricing policies with a sharp eye, including looking at any flexibility the sales force has to set price. If your sales team has authority over pricing decisions, put an end to that authority quickly.

After this review, you’ll hopefully feel better prepared to bite the bullet and raise prices — especially if it’s been more than a year since you last took a price increase. After all, your customers are seeing increases at the gas tank and the grocery store almost on a weekly basis. They won’t be overly surprised that you’re raising your prices as well. And customers usually aren’t as price-sensitive as a pure economic analysis would suggest. At the end of the day, your customers expect you to take increases from time to time to cover your own cost increases.

And while you’re focusing on price, review the pricing discounts you offer and evaluate their effect on revenue; modifications may add to your bottom line without driving away customers.

Boost customer focus and service

By letting your customers know about your plans to enhance customer focus at the same time you implement a pricing increase, you’ll dampen any complaints about the price hike. As you consider ways to boost customer focus and service, consider all customer touch points. By scheduling a tour of customers’ facilities, for example, you’ll communicate that you care about your customer’s business as much as your own.

Other ways to enhance customer service include the following:

  • Improve product and service delivery processes so it’s easy to do business with you.
  • Provide value-added services that are hard for competitors to duplicate.
  • Review order fulfillment and delivery statistics and improve the metrics. Even if you’re at 97 percent on time and complete, you’re leaving 3 percent on the table. 
  • Evaluate customer complaints and identify ways to eliminate concerns and problem areas.

Enhanced customer service will earn your company not just more loyal customers but also a larger customer base as these highly satisfied customers refer contacts to your company.

Challenge your sales team

There’s a lot you can do to strengthen your sales force and increase the business it generates. Start by setting stretch goals. For example, if you normally set 2 to 3 percent as the target for increased sales, up the target to 4 to 5 percent — or whatever figure you have at least a 50 percent chance of meeting. Your people will rise to the occasion.

And don’t underestimate the impact of training on qualifying and closing, time management and sales management. Your sales team will not just appreciate their new skills. The team will become a loyal, well-tuned engine driving your company’s growth.

Tony Arnold is founder and principal of Upfront Management, a St. Louis-based management and executive consulting firm. Utilizing C-suite experience as a CEO and executive experience in early-stage start-up and Fortune 100 companies, he brings unique skills, insights and perspective to enable clients to improve business performance. Arnold can be reached at (314) 825-9525 or tony@upfrontmgmt.com.

There are companies out there, which, despite their outward success and public reputation, suffer from a discipline problem. Uncertain about the rationale for undertaking projects or their relative priorities, the staff plods along, half-heartedly working on projects, missing or putting off deadlines and, in the end, creating a need for more work to fix what was missed the first time around.

Leadership, for its part, is unaware of how work gets done, the time it takes and the drain that nonstop executive meetings are placing on the organization. And no one, not staff or management, seems to understand what’s going wrong or who’s accountable.

These are clear symptoms of a lack of discipline and a lack of rigor. In an effort to make faster decisions and speed up the organization, or perhaps eliminate bureaucracy, discipline may have been unintentionally sacrificed.

The problem is a lack of discipline in a business can lead to chaos, wasted resources, low productivity and poor morale up and down the line. A company in this state may, from all outward appearances, be succeeding, but it’s not achieving its true potential.

Keeping the goals, the path, the timelines and the results top of mind at all levels requires discipline and a certain amount of oversight. As a leader, it’s your job to ask the right questions so you can assess how priorities are managed and how work is getting done.

Are you or other executives inadvertently dictating the flow of work or, worse yet, the outcome? Do managers require exhausting reviews and updates, especially in advance of formal meetings?

When is the last time you asked a presenter how long he spent creating the slides for a particular presentation versus working on the content? 

Those are generally process questions, but it’s essential that you ask them. Other questions to ask revolve around the overall business plan and whether the work that’s being done supports the organization’s business goals. A key question in this regard is this: Do managers and staff understand why their work matters and how it fits into the overall plan?

Here’s another important question: Do managers and staff receive feedback on the outcome of their work? If the research a manager completed on deadline by dedicating a month’s worth of nights and weekends was the reason the organization won a contract with a new, plum account, was the manager told about the impact of her contribution and congratulated on her dedication to the organization? Was this done even if her paycheck reflected her share of the commission on the coup?

When exercised by an organization’s top leader and upper-level managers, this type of discipline can serve as an essential guide for employee conduct and job performance. And at the end of the day, it’s worth hundreds of times more than any employee handbook or written job description, regardless of what the organization might have paid a management consultant to create the documents.

How does your organization stack up when it comes to discipline? Are you confident that discipline is alive and well and consistent across your organization at all levels? Or are there departments or functions where discipline has been lost? In the haste to build a more nimble, dynamic organization, have you and your management team lost the rigor and discipline that is so essential to hold chaos at bay, keep staff motivated and engaged and bring reality to your vision?

Discipline starts at the top. It’s up to you to either create or return to a culture of discipline in your organization. Be in touch and grounded so you’re certain that management is aligned and articulates the strategy while applying the right amount of discipline. Step up to this challenge and you’ll step up your organization’s performance, its ability to retain key employees and its standing among your customers.

Tony Arnold is founder and principal of Upfront Management, a St. Louis-based management and executive consulting firm. Utilizing C-suite experience as a CEO and executive experience in early-stage startup and Fortune 100 companies, he brings unique skills, insights and perspective to enable clients to improve business performance. Arnold can be reached at (314) 825-9525 or tony@upfrontmgmt.com.

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