Blog Performance Strategy and Planning

When “Ready, Fire, Aim” Hurts Business Results

When we feel pressure to achieve business results, such as greater revenue or profitability, we often opt for quick and immediate action – that’s even what productivity specialists advise. 

While there is truth in the adage, “the only thing worse than a bad decision is no decision”, those kinds of adages don’t always apply and it can save you a lot of time, money and frustration when you understand when the situation is right for a quick decision and when it makes more sense to “measure twice and cut once” to achieve better business results.

We all want to be effective business leaders. Somewhere on the entrepreneurial journey most of us develop a belief that spending money to solve a problem or to get desired business results is a productive action. And although investments of time and capital are required to achieve results, we get lured into believing that because we’ve spent some money we assume the issue is resolved or the result will be reached. This mindset is often the reason many entrepreneurs never obtain the results they are wanting and run out of money trying.

The goal of this article is to remind us that while quick and decisive actions are good, they need to be balanced with clarity of outcome, simplicity of strategy, and other things that may require time but allow for better long-term business results. There is a reason why one of President Lincoln’s most famous quotes is, “If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe.”

Here are three scenarios where a Ready, Fire, Aim approach hurts you and undermines your business results:

  1. Business Result #1: Spending Marketing Dollars

Marketing is likely a painful concept for you if you are like most business people. And like all painful things, we do our best to avoid the topic as much as possible. When the need arises to obtain more clients or increase our brand awareness we tend to delegate the work to external marketing agencies. 

We do this in an attempt to avoid the discomfort of working within the marketing arena and hoping that people outside of our company will understand the nature of our products and services. 

Where the Ready, Fire, Aim approach normally rears its head is in selecting an agency to work with. We begin interviewing prospective marketing agencies before we have clarified some key data points. 

One of these is who our core customer or buyer persona is. It is not rocket science to figure out what our best customers look like. Even if you aren’t comfortable with the exercise, a quick Google search on ‘Best Buyer Persona Questions’ will provide numerous examples on how to clarify who your desired customers are. 

Often these details will affect what agency you are looking for and how to investigate whether an agency has had success with marketing in your specific field of business Selecting an ill-fitting agency will often cost you up to a year of time and thousands of dollars, often completely failing on your business results.

  1. Business Result #2: Hiring a New Employee

There seems to be a global acceptance that it is impossible to know whether a new employee will ultimately be a good fit in an organisation. This sentiment makes it easy for people to want to take the Ready, Fire, Aim approach in hiring new team members. Where this breaks down is when that strategy undermines the need to have a clear job description identified and precisely what the position entails.

This usually incorporates three specific areas:

      1. What business results the position is accountable for producing
      2. What the key activities are for the position
      3. What Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) define whether the role is being performed at a satisfactory level.

When we are clear on what the role needs to produce for results we will have a greater understanding of the skillset required of a new employee. 

This has two specific outcomes. On the one hand, it may discourage applicants, but these will likely be unable to achieve the desired business results. On the other, it will provide clarity for applicants, displaying the true breadth of a position that could initially be perceived as minimal. Either way, it promotes greater clarity of the position, often saving you time and money in interviewing people who aren’t a good fit ever being hired in the first place.

Once again, an ounce of prevention in the form of a more developed job description is worth more than a pound of treatment once someone has been hired into a position they may be inadequate for. 

  1. Business Result #3: Building Effective Teams

With so many team-building products and services out there, it is easy to fall into a Ready, Fire, Aim mindset, purchasing something promoted to build well-functioning teams. Once again, prior to purchasing something that could help you and your team achieve better business results, it is important to clarify what you are wanting to accomplish with your team dynamics. 

A team whose performance is impacted by a lack of trust is quite different from a team that is struggling with accountability or fear of conflict. Yet, with the Ready, Fire, Aim mentality; we purchase 360-degree reviews and Myers Briggs tools simply because it is marketed as the team-building solution.

Less is more with most business activities. When time is spent clarifying ‘what’ specifically we are wanting to accomplish, the ‘how’ will often reveal itself in more practical ways than simply purchasing an ad hoc product or service. The extra time spent initially will be time saved tenfold, and more than compensated for in business results.

That is what Lincoln is talking about when sharpening his axe. A little more effort in clarifying what to aim at will pay dividends on the value obtained when firing your shot. 

We hope this article helps you find a bit more patience with the effort of aiming and that your shots in business generate more value for you both professionally and personally.

As always, enjoy the process!

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CrossFit for Your Business: A 3-Step Guide to Organise Your Business [part 3]

When you take the time to organise your business, you not only improve its functionality, you can also save time and money, increase productivity and optimise profitability.

As I have discussed in the previous blogs of this series, a disorganised business can become a self-destructive machine and its own greatest hurdle to success.

In week one, we identified whether or not a business was problematic; last week we explored the repercussions of these issues.

Today, we look at solutions.

Let me begin by stating that to effectively organise your business it takes time and effort; it is a process that simply can’t happen overnight. 

However, by setting aside the few hours it will take, you will save yourself time exponentially, creating a far more efficient business that continues to steadily improve week over week.

You will now know whether or not your business is healthy, you will understand the problems and the implications they have. Now, let’s organise your business in five easy steps:

How to Organise Your Business & Make it More Presentable

Step 1 – Re-Clarify Your ‘Why’ (60 Minutes and 1-2 glasses of red wine)

This concept isn’t new but it is often misunderstood. 

We have a tendency to think that ‘why’ we want to grow our business and make it more profitable is self-evident – but it isn’t! Why you need your business to be more profitable will be different to another business owner or manager, depending on business type, current size and personal perspective. In fact, this ‘why’ is so different from person to person that after 25-plus years of trying anticipate a person’s ‘why’, I’ve officially stopped trying to guess because I’m wrong 98 percent of the time! 

The reason you want to be clear on your ‘why’ is because that is where your greatest strength lies. You need sustained energy and tenacity to grow a consistently highly-profitable company. Show me a flat company and I’ll show you a leader who has lost their ‘why’. When you are thinking through your ‘why’ remember that you will likely be far more passionate about doing something for someone other than yourself, so watch for that thread when clarifying your ‘why’. 

Assign an absolute maximum of 60 minutes to completing this task. Revisit your Vision Statement for where you want your company to go and why. Do the same for your Mission Statement, which is basically how you intend to use your product or service to get to your vision target. Finally, identify the three to seven qualities you most like in people you work with, which will reflect your company’s Core Values. 

A quick hack on core values is to utilise Patrick Lencioni’s work. He identified that the qualities of Humble, Hungry and Smart are consistently found in great team players. You can see his descriptive and informative video on this here. Over time you can use more descriptive words, but in all likelihood they will be derivatives of those three core values. 

Step 2 – Identify Your Top 5 Company Performance Numbers (60 Minutes)

Don’t over think this. Imagine you are cut off from communications with anyone at your company but you can receive five numbers each week to monitor and organise your business. What would those five numbers be? Typically, it will include a number defining ‘new opportunities’ our leads, a number about your sales pipeline, and a number representing actual closed sales. Often a number on recognised revenue may be included, but that depends on your type of business. Finally, a number explaining customer satisfaction or employee safety may be added – again, depending on business type.

As you are seeing, these are not the typical Profit and Loss numbers your accountant may more readily submit to you. Although your profit and loss statistics are important, they are often non-specific to your company’s functionality and don’t help you understand how your business is performing now – not to mention how it will likely be performing over the next few months. Your five numbers should provide a snapshot of the current health of your business and a sense of where things are headed. 

Next, you need to figure out how you will obtain and review these five numbers each week. This may take some work but it will prove incredibly valuable in the longer term.

Step 3 – Begin Having Real Weekly Meetings Focused on Company Performance (60-90 minutes per week but should replace any existing management-type meetings)

You are now ready to have a real weekly company performance meeting with your key people. Schedule a weekly meeting of about 60-90 minutes where the agenda is consistent and focused on three things:

    1. Reviewing the Top Five performance numbers and identifying any issues
    2. Sharing any relevant customer or employee headlines to keep key players informed
    3. Identifying, discussing and resolving for any identified problems (or opportunities) the company is facing. 
  • Then monitor the execution of those identified tasks to ensure that they are effectively implemented until completion.

Over time, this meeting will change how your company operates and highlight the effectiveness of individual team members. Within a month your team will begin to experience a shift in accountability and focus without the need for new strategies. 

Step 4 – Implement a Quarterly Day-Long Meeting (6-8 Hours each quarter)

After about a month of these regular weekly meetings you will be ready to develop greater clarity for the company and team. In a day-long meeting, begin by identifying a set of 12-month goals. This should include financial numbers as an objective success measurement, but also highlight company improvement goals in the areas of:

    • Team development
    • Key process improvements
    • Specific technology enhancements.

From here, identify what specific improvements you need to achieve over the 90 days in order to be on track to accomplish the 12-month targets. 

Step 5 – Update Your Company’s Structure (3-4 hours)

Most companies’ organisational charts begin with people and are completed with people in mind. When you feel established in your new processes, the next big opportunity is to think about your company from the lens of, “What will it take to get paid by customers while remaining compliant with regulators?” This task will result in clarity of the specific ‘Seats’ or roles a company requires to operate most efficiently. It is important to understand that when you have a small number of employees you can easily have more seats than team members. In this case you need to assign multiple seats to a single person.

Each seat is defined by three things:

    1. What it generates or provides
    2. What its core activities include
    3. What key performance numbers it provides and adheres to (eg: how you quantify whether the seat is delivering on its tasks)

This can be thought of as an Accountability Chart rather than Organisational Chart. The key benefits are that you will optimise the company’s structure according to the work required rather than the people in the organisation. Additionally, the clarity of what is expected from each seat will assist staff in understanding and managing their obligations and role requirements.

After identifying the required seats for your company, you can begin assigning people from your team into these well-defined positions. You will often find it will be easy to place most of your team members nicely into the seats outlined. 

There may well be a couple that will not be perfectly suited to a specific seat. These people will require additional thought and discussion to determine whether they are actually appropriate for your company. The goal is to always try to find a seat and set of activities a staff member can be successful at or that aligns with their specific skillset. The good news is whether you can find a fit or not, both you and your team will have more clarity on the skills you need for a specific seat.

Organise Your Business

With these five steps implemented, you will be well on your way to enjoying a healthier, more predictable and profitable business, freeing you up to focus upon the continued improvement of your company, reducing your stress, overtime and additional tasks.

We hope this Five-Step strategy provides you the structure and direction you need to better organise your business, making it more attractive to your potential clients, investors, bankers, or future employees. 

Life is too short to get stuck within a hectic company so, as always, enjoy the process!

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CrossFit for Your Business: A 3-Step Guide to Company Organisation [part 2]

Company organisation can easily slip away from you.

Poorly implemented or maintained systems, changing staff members and lazy shortcuts can all add up to creating major issues within your business. Even when not an issue in and of itself, poor company organisation can be problematic when you are presenting your business to potential investors, or when introducing new staff members.

One of the issues is that if you have longstanding company organisation issues, they are often overlooked, ignored or adopted by new team members as ‘the norm’, so the insipid issues are left to fester indefinitely.

In part two of my new three-part guide, we will investigate the numerous problems that a disorganised company may have. These issues detail where your company may be falling short of its potential, but also provide red flags that can help you avoid significant repercussions.

The Problems Disorganised Companies Have:

They say the first step in solving a problem it is acknowledging you have a problem. If, after last week’s blog, you are now feeling your business is a bit out of shape, it often helps to further clarify why you may want to tighten up certain areas, systems or processes. This requires becoming more clear on the problems associated with an ‘out of shape’ business. 

It is likely obvious to you that the costs and problems stemming from a disorganised business are numerous. For the sake of keeping this article as brief as possible while attempting to create as much value for you as possible, we will identify some of the more interesting problems that come when trying to run a disorganised company.

Higher Operational Costs

When the same mistakes are repeated, more people are required to complete a set amount of work. If technology or systems aren’t fully utilised, it leads to confusion, increased operational costs, inferior productivity and fewer results.

Lower Accountability

When there isn’t agreement on what is specifically expected from an employee, it is difficult to hold them accountable for specific results. When this lack of clarity persists for an extended period the employee often defines a self-prescribed comfortable job description that is not optimal for the company.

More Difficulty Managing Cash 

To forecast your cashflow accurately you need accurate financial data. In order to achieve this you need people following the correct processes and disciplines to enter and reconcile the data correctly. This is rarely the case with disorderly companies.

When these financial management activities don’t occur correctly or consistently the financial data quickly degrades to the point where it is not trusted or utilised. The end result is that cashflow and profitability are monitored by gut instinct, which is nearly always wrong, especially as the company grows and the figures increase.

Lower Profitability

Gross profit requires consistent monitoring and communication. Disorganised companies often disregard current Gross Profit numbers, making it impossible to identify and fix issues as they arise in sales or production processes. 

Unfit companies often don’t know how much money they are actually making until viewing their annual financial reports. This is not an ideal way to optimise a company’s profitability.

Greater Risk

Not surprisingly, when you are paying more than necessary to maintain a functional company, there isn’t clarity on how the company is performing. This includes diminished risk assessments, poor financial management and a greater potential for problems that can put the business at risk.

Company Organisation

At this point, it is likely becoming apparent that the cost of sustaining poor company organisation is significant. Now let’s turn our attention to working through what’s required to have a tight business – one you are happy present to potential clients, investors or employees.

Next week, we will investigate what goes into creating a well-organised company, but for now it is important to address what you are likely thinking:

“Of course I’d like to have a more organised company; I simply can’t afford the time and potential cost of getting my business to that point!” 

So let’s address that first.

Abraham Lincoln famously said, “If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe.” The classic mistake most entrepreneurs make is taking a ‘Ready-Fire-Aim’ approach to activities within their business. This creates a significant waste of time, money and energy that is impossible tough calculate. Getting your company organised, fit and healthy doesn’t and shouldn’t happen overnight – but with efficient and well-executed planning it can progress smoothly and steadily for resounding and noticeable results.

When I’m invited into companies to improve profitability and/or productivity, nine times out of ten we begin by removing activities or processes that aren’t producing the desired results. And when then adding more effective activities, we take a ‘measure twice cut once’ approach ensuring we are only adding productive strategies rather than reactive, unclear, or poorly-executed activities. 

Much of this clarity comes from having a defined framework with which to manage your company. What is the management framework you are using for your company? If you can’t name it, it likely doesn’t exist. If this is the case, it’s likely because you’ve never attended a course or training that describes a practical and applicable management framework. It’s somewhat ironic that we don’t receive an operating manual for the vehicle that is supposed to protect our business’s and family’s future.

Regardless of whether you have a business operating system, you can always refine your company organisation so it will run more profitably and display better potential to buyers, investors, bankers and key employees. 

Next week, I will share a method to do so that can be both efficient and affordable to any business.

If you’re in any doubt as to your company’s health or how to begin creating a business operating system, explore my website further, or book a FREE 60-minute consultation today.

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CrossFit for Your Business: A 3-Step Guide to Business Organisation [part 1]

When is the last time you wished you could improve your business organisation? Many business owners tell me they recently felt that way when they wanted to look into some potential bank financing. Others comment on how they didn’t feel comfortable having a discussion with a potential buyer or investor because they didn’t want to reveal the disorder lingering beneath the surface of their business. 

Beyond the often trivial or fleeting feeling of a little embarrassment that can come from thinking about sharing your company details with an outsider, there are often real costs that are associated with having an out-of-shape and dysfunctional company. 

In my new three-part guide, I will take you through the stages of improving your business organisation, first by identifying what a disorganised company looks like, and then delving into the problems this may instigate, before presenting a collection of solutions towards creating a business profile you can truly be proud of.

This week, we begin with identifying the warning signs that may suggest a lack of organisation within your business. 

What a Disorganised Company Looks Like

But before we explore some of the challenges created by not having an organised business next week, it will likely help to clarify what creates that lingering feeling of disorganisation within a company. 

Describing a disorganised or ‘out of shape’ company can be done by breaking out the three component parts of any business – its people, its processes and its technology. 

The People Within a Messy Business

If a team is unfocussed, despondent or poorly informed on a company’s structure and functionality, it can cause some reluctance, even embarrassment when presented to prospective employees, investors or clients. Team members will likely be unclear on the company’s direction, what the company stands for, or what its competitive advantage is.

The team members of a disorganised company frequently don’t come across as passionate or motivated in what they do or how their input contributes to the rest of the team and business at large. They will frequently display a myopic focus on what is relevant to them, without much appreciation for the greater vision. 

There can also be perceptible cliques within the organisation that create a certain polarisation or dissociation with the company or team as a whole. This may not be recognisable at a level of a potential investor, but if a key potential employee spends much time talking with various team members the cracks in the team quickly begin to appear.

Processes within an Out of Shape Business

A disorganised company lacks the clarity to perform consistently. This is partly due to not having clearly defined processes, but also by not having the discipline to train new team members consistently, thereby instilling strong habits that endure over time.

Common symptoms of companies with insufficient processes are:

    1. Low profitability due to inefficiency and elevated labour costs
    2. Difficulty in training staff to be productive quickly
    3. Repeating mistakes already experienced by the company
    4. Low levels of accountability by team members when things go wrong 
    5. Difficulty in delegating tasks and activities away from the strongest team members.

Technology within a Disorganised Business

Messy companies often have numerous Band-Aid fixes or partial technology solutions. These partial technology solutions lead to a lack of trust in the data and knowledge that resides within the various systems. This then generates a number of bad habits that lead to ineffective reporting and numerous direct and indirect costs to the company and the company’s owners.

Some bad habits are:

    1. Creating manual work-arounds for otherwise automated or centralised processes that result in information being stored in multiple locations
    2. Not using certain functionality within existing applications through laziness or a lack of education 
    3. Duplicating information and maintaining it in spreadsheets rather than in the native application. This is frequently seen in Cloud-based accounting software
    4. Using one’s ‘gut’ rather than actual company performance information because the data isn’t accurate. Leaders tend to use ‘gut instinct’ rather than information when they don’t trust their data. This is how most businesses financially fail. Leaders then try to estimate cashflow requirements rather than turn to validated data and take the appropriate actions.

Business Organisation

If any of this sounds remotely familiar, it could be that your business organisation is distinctly lacking in some areas. The issues may be minimal and the solutions simple, but by acknowledging the underlying issue and further analysing your company processes, you can increase efficiency, promote morale and avoid potential loss to and even failure of your business.

If you are unsure of your business’s health status or are uncertain about how to take the next step, you can find a simple company self-audit on my website, or feel free to book a 60-minute business coaching session with me today.

And, as always, enjoy the process!

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Struggling to Pay Vendors on Time? It Could Be Your Cash Flow

I hear it more and more: companies are struggling to invoice their work, reducing cash flow and making it harder to pay vendors.  

However, delay in billing for your work is not an excuse your key vendors will likely accept for very long before it impacts your relationship with them. The most common repercussion is that credit terms are converted to more immediate payment terms rather than a longer-term repayment arrangement.

Not only will this affect your cash flow, it can also greatly impact your productivity if you are unable to purchase the resources required to convert into profit.

We may try to blame our delayed revenues on outside problems but those are most often out of our control and not helpful. In our practice, we regularly see early signs of delayed revenue problems with our clients. Fortunately between our three-way cashflow forecasts and other KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) monitored on company performance scorecards, we identify these problems early enough. We are then able to guide our clients to finding solutions before the issues negatively impact cash flow and the ability to pay vendors.

One solution is to modify a client’s sales contracts to protect against project delays. Another solution is to identify a risk early enough to be able to add additional suppliers to a client’s supply chain strategy.  

In a third situation, clients identify a project management strategy as a win/win and agree to provide additional payments in advance.

The 3-Step Cash Flow Solution

  1. Use shorter-period client invoice terms
  2. Pre-plan for future vendor invoices
  3. Negotiate a pre-pay installation plan with vendors

The primary advantage of managing drops in revenue is identifying the causes early enough to be able to find solutions that avoid cash flow challenges. To do this, you should have effective company scorecards and accurate three-way cash flow forecasts. If either of these strategies is missing in your company, I suggest you talk to your business advisor or account for some further guidance. If you don’t have confidence in either of those team members, call me today and we can walk you through how to get your revenue and cash flow under control so you can maintain strong relationships with your vendors and partners.

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Company Planning & Execution | Blind Spots Part One

5 Common Blind Spots Leaders Have Are Not Seeing How To:

Company Planning

The aim of this blog series is to remove these common business leader blind spots by focusing your attention on each issue and bringing visibility and understanding to concepts that will be easier to see and, therefore, improve over time.

Blind Spot #1 – Disregarding the importance of Company Planning

To be clear, “Company Planning” for our purpose means defining what you want your company to accomplish and how you will know when you achieve it. A company plan includes several consistent components that we won’t go into here but you can review in a previous blog post here. For now, it is sufficient to understand that good company planning will include meaningful definitions for the following items: 

    • Core Values
    • Vision/Mission/Purpose
    • Unique Selling Proposition or “3 Uniques”
    • The Target Market or Customer Personae
    • The BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal)
    • Three-Year Goals
    • One-Year Goals
    • Current-Quarter Goals
    • Current Primary Company Issues

Like most written descriptions, they get better over time through the process of discussion and revision. This is one primary reason why many business leaders fail to see the value in company planning; they try it a few times but don’t return to the information consistently enough for it to become highly meaningful for everyone involved. They then disregard the Company Planning strategy and discipline thinking it isn’t that helpful when in reality they failed to implement and execute it effectively from the outset.

A second reason many business leaders overlook the importance of Company Planning is that we are not typically very good at it initially. One of my favourite sayings comes to mind when writing this: “anything worth doing well is initially worth doing poorly.” This is often the case with Company Planning. It takes time to get the required sense of when to push a team for clarity and when to let a concept rest for the time being. Additionally, it can take some trial and error to discover which questions to ask to identify true value for a team rather than simply receiving specific facts or statistics.

A final reason why many business leaders fail at company planning is that they lack consistency. Company Plans should be reviewed in detail every 90 days for them to become ingrained enough to begin affecting people’s behaviours and decisions. We use a full-day planning session every quarter with our clients to maintain clarity over the next 90 days and reinforce long-term targets. This repetition of reviewing, discussing and adjusting is what breathes energy and clarity into the company’s overall direction. And consistent performance reviews provide the necessary feedback on whether the company’s efforts are matching the company’s ambitions.

Company Planning should be a business leader’s superpower rather than a blind spot.  We hope this article compels you to see the value in company planning and reflect on whether it was more about the quality of execution than the strategy itself that led to past failures. Like many things in business, the more you do it the better you will become!  

In our next blog post, we will be covering Blind Spot #2: How To Hold Employees Accountable in a Collaborative Way. 

Until next time, enjoy the process!

Blog Financial Control Strategy and Planning

Generate Compelling Business Strategies Through Storytelling

Today we focus on the final of the five strategies great problem-solvers use to break through their challenges. As a quick reminder from the previous articles on this topic, here are the five mutually reinforcing problem-solving business strategies that seem to underly great problem solvers’ success: 

  1. Don’t accept the first description of a problem as the actual core issue
  2. Be curious about every dynamic of an issue
  3. Maintain an empathetic view of the world, to see through multiple lenses
  4. Ensure an agreed-upon definition of the issue is reached before any discussions on potential solution strategies
  5. Use storytelling to generate a compelling call to action.

Strategy #5:

The Use of Storytelling for Business Strategies

Psychologists and communication experts have told us for years that our brains process information best in the form of stories. Likely this is due to evolution and how we have evolved as a species over millions of years. Be this as it may, I have little authority on storytelling and even less direct skills at performing this valuable combination of art and science.

We all have weaknesses in our arsenal of business strategies and this is my Achilles heel, as much as I would love to have developed it over the years. My lack is prowess in this area is not due to a lack of knowledge or for want of trying. That is why, even though I am not an effective storyteller, I am comfortable commenting on the strategy and providing some guidance on where to go next if you are curious about the topic.  

One of my favourite focuses on the use of storytelling is when a company utlises it to tell its own story to its marketplace. One author I find particularly helpful on this front is Donald Miller with his book Building a Story Brand.  He succinctly describes both why and how a company should present itself through the structure of a story as part of its overarching business strategies.  

Although the entire book is worth reading and implementing into your own unique business strategies, the key insight is that your company is not the main actor in your company’s story – the customer or client is. Using this lens changes how a company approaches promoting itself in a profound way. I hope you enjoy the journey this book and insight set you on. You can find the book here and at numerous other locations.

As for your own storytelling skills, there are countless books and courses on how to become a better storyteller. However, the real challenge is putting in the time and energy to actually become a better storyteller in the realm of your own business strategies. Although I have failed to date to find the discipline to do so, I hope you will because everyone will benefit from your development.

This completes the five business strategies for effective problem-solving. I hope you have identified some opportunities for you to further develop your problem-solving skills.  We always appreciate your feedback on business strategies that you find helpful.  We hope to hear from you sometime soon. Until then, best of luck on your journey.

Need more advice on creating effective business strategies? Feel free to contact me today with any questions you may have.

Blog Financial Control Strategy and Planning

Analysing Your Problem Solving Strategies

Today we focus on the fourth of five strategies great problem-solvers use to break through their challenges. As a quick reminder from the previous articles on this topic, here are the five mutually reinforcing problem-solving strategies common in successful problem-solving strategies: 

  1. Don’t accept the first description of a problem as the actual core issue
  2. Be curious about every dynamic of an issue
  3. Maintain an empathetic view of the world, to see through multiple lenses
  4. Ensure an agreed-upon definition of the issue is reached before any discussions on potential solution strategies
  5. Use storytelling to generate a compelling call to action.

First Agree on the Actual Problem Before Discussing Problem Solving Strategies

Having facilitated hundreds of annual, quarterly and ad hoc company planning sessions, the most consistent dynamic I need to referee is discussions on solving key problems. The typical dynamic is to immediately seek solutions when a problem is raised. The team then quickly forms a range of objective opinions on how best to resolve the issue. Many minutes, hours or even the entire meeting can be wasted upon investigating the first idea that presents itself without discussing alternatives. The saying “Ready, fire, aim” seems fitting here.

Great problem solvers don’t limit themselves to focussing upon a singular problem or the first solution that seems to be viable. Rather they call upon a rarely utilised strategy of first clarifying ‘What’ the actual underlying problem is before allowing a deeper discussion to take place that will then provide the most practical, most educated problem-solving strategies possible.

Rarely a day goes by where an example of this problem-solving strategy doesn’t rear its head. In a weekly Executive Management meeting I was facilitating today, an issue was raised about an underperforming business unit. In many meetings, a great deal of time could have been spent on all the problems being observed about this particular issue.  Fortunately, the CEO asked the question, “but why do we feel the business unit is struggling?” This provoked a discussion around how the Business Unit Leader (not in the meeting) was struggling with either doing what they said they would or, when they couldn’t, proactively telling those affected that she wasn’t going to achieve the objective. 

After some discussion, I asked the question, “but why is the staff member struggling with their objective?” The response from the CEO was that he was letting her off the hook and not addressing the problems as they arose. He self-diagnosed that he was the underlying problem and that he would improve his communications and engagement with her to address the issue more directly and rapidly. This led to a different solution strategy and one that the Executive Team had more control over. Not using this problem-solving strategy would have likely resulted in a very different strategy and outcome.

If this strategy seems interesting, give it a try in the next discussion you have with your team about a problem.  See if you can ask a question about the cause of the problem.  Continue investigating the fundamental cause of the problem until you have a general consensus from the group on what the actual issue is. Then discuss and identify a practical solution that is then tracked until completion.

Fun Fact: the same strategy can work at home! Enjoy the process and let us know your experiences.

Blog Financial Control Strategy and Planning

Adopting Empathy to Gain Business Insights

In today’s blog, we will focus on the third of five strategies great problem-solvers use to break through their challenges: adopting empathy. As a quick reminder from the first article on this topic, here are the five mutually-reinforcing problem-solving strategies that seem to underly the success of the world’s leading problem solvers: 

  1. Don’t accept the first description of a problem as the actual core issue
  2. Be curious about every dynamic of an issue
  3. Maintain an empathetic view of the world, to see through multiple lenses
  4. Ensure an agreed-upon definition of the issue is reached before any discussions on potential solution strategies
  5. Use storytelling to generate a compelling call to action.

Strategy #3: Adopting Empathy to Gain Valuable Insights

As a concept, empathy is somewhat of a cliché. Like most overused words there is real value at its core; the problem is that most people aren’t willing to put in the work to actually put the concept into practice. 

The opportunity for anyone willing to adopt a more expansive perspective is significant. Most notable is the ability to present similar information to different individuals to obtain more pervasive understanding and agreement. This improved agreement ratio leads to greater productivity and less conflict.

Another benefit empathy can provide is an increased understanding of the complexities involved in a challenge. Often we value certain challenges higher when we better understand the details. The same goes for another person or party seeing a different dynamic in a problem with greater clarity. Just because our background and experiences help us see one part of a problem more clearly than another person doesn’t mean it is more valuable. An empathetic discussion can help you gain greater clarity on topics you were less clear on.

A third opportunity in using empathy to solve your business problems is the ability to define the actual item of disagreement and compartmentalise it. Often we disagree at macro levels when in reality we agree on nearly everything but a few specific details. By carving these out, teams often have the ability to solve important problems and not involve the conflicting items. However, it is difficult to navigate the unpacking of these issues without adopting an empathetic approach to maintain open, productive dialogue. 

Despite the risk of empathy becoming a cliché, it is frequently being identified as the super-skill for humans as we move into an ever more digitally-interactive world. 

Quick Empathy Hack

When you want to create a good dose of empathy, practice asking yourself the following questions:

  1. “What would be required for a well-intentioned person to be taking the point of view they are?” 
  2. “What beliefs do they have that could be different from mine?” 
  3. “What is the actual concept/idea we disagree on?”
  4. “What are all the things we do agree on?”

Any of these questions can help you avoid judgement of the other person. This will give you additional space to identify viable and effective solution strategies that can work for both parties.

Enjoy the positive emotions and insights that come from pushing the use of empathy over snap judgements!

Need more advice on adopting empathy? Feel free to ask any questions by contacting me today.

Blog Financial Control Strategy and Planning

Functional Curiosity For Success

Today we focus on the second of five strategies great problem-solvers use to break through their challenges: functional curiosity. As a quick reminder from the first article on this topic, here are the five mutually reinforcing problem-solving strategies that seem to underly their success: 

  1. Don’t accept the first description of a problem as the actual core issue
  2. Be curious about every dynamic of an issue
  3. Maintain an empathetic view of the world, to see through multiple lenses
  4. Ensure an agreed-upon definition of the issue is reached before any discussions on potential solution strategies
  5. Use storytelling to generate a compelling call to action.

In this blog series, we are going to break down each of the five problem-solving disciplines into actionable concepts with the hope that we all become better problem-solving leaders as a result.  This article will focus on the first strategy.

Strategy #2:  Be Curious About Every Dynamic of an Issue

Gary Vaynerchuk wrote in his most recent book, Twelve and a Half, “the word curiosity is underrated in our society. It feels fluffy, academic, and childish, but I believe it’s one of the most important characteristics for success in business.”  We can’t agree more.  

Being in the business coaching industry and helping leaders improve their strategies and decision-making, it is common to see people getting stuck in old or simply incorrect beliefs.  When people lack functional curiosity, they dismiss new opportunities instead of taking the time to explore them.

Curiosity is defined as a strong desire to know or learn something. It is the energy that generates the patience to identify something new, something not recognised before. It is in this space that new insights and strategies for more effectively solving problems are born.  

When this curious energy is missing, we tend to keep repeating our past. Whenever there is an inflated ego involved, curiosity gets suppressed. Moreover, we find a strong correlation between suppressed curiosity and financial management challenges.

We have found one exercise particularly good at stimulating more functional curiosity in times where you may be overlooking the opportunity or not feeling the desire to do so.

Functional Curiosity Stimulator Exercise:

One effective question to ask yourself when trying to muster a higher level of curiosity is, “what is the belief that you need to have in order to see the problem the way you are currently observing it?”  

Let’s say you are currently facing a problem where your staff are not feeling accountable enough for the standard of work they are performing. In asking the above question you identify that the belief you have is, ‘Employees never care as much about the quality of their work as the owner does’.  

Functional Curiosity can get you to then ask, “how may my current belief not be 100 percent accurate and what other dynamics could be at play with the employees’ work quality challenges?”

This question can open your thoughts up to potential opportunities for improvement like:

  1. They may not fully understand the implications to the current substandard work. 
  2. The team is simply not clear on the standards you are wanting.
  3. There may be a skill set issue at play

Often, new problem-solving strategies can come from seeing new dynamics to a problem through this line of questioning and functional curiosity. Let us know your experience when trying this strategy on some of your long-standing challenges.

Next time you are faced with a problem try to observe functional curiosity and see what new insights may be gleaned from even the oldest and most troublesome challenges.

Be sure to check out next week’s article where we discuss the third of the five strategies great problem solvers use.