Growth, Innovation and Emancipation

When I talk with business owners about the focus of my work, this phrase seems to speak to them in a relatable way.  A lot is wrapped up in these words both from a business and a personal perspective  (It also kind of rolls of the tongue and is a good conversation starter).  Taking each a step further:

Growth:  The ability to operate profitable and increase the value of the business.  It’s about developing people and processes while leveraging resources and technology in ways that preserve and expand those factors that made the business successful in the first place.  It is also about the growth of the owner as an individual – changing habits and priorities in support the goals of Growth, Innovation and Emancipation.

Innovation: Having the time, focus and awareness to think strategically along with a strong, flexible operational foundation that can respond to opportunities and improvise without losing control or damaging the core activities of the business.  It also means developing the entrepreneurial capability of employees – especially those responsible for allowing the Emancipation of the owner(s).

Emancipation:  Reducing the operational dependency the business has on the owner allowing him/her to focus on the important – both in and out of the business.  It means developing customer and employee loyalty to the business and not to the individual owner.  It is about creating intrinsic value in the business and laying the groundwork for exit and succession.

No one discipline is responsible for achieving Growth, Innovation and Emancipation.  It is an ‘integration’ and ‘synthesis’ of all aspects of the business – tangible and intangible.  It requires taking into consideration the top-down, bottom-up, inside-out, outside-in view in charting a path from the current reality to the ideal vision.  The effort is exciting, challenging and rewarding since every individual owner, business operation and market is unique.  Certainly there are some common principles and frameworks – but no one size fits all. Each must work toward and achieve Growth, Innovation and Emancipation in a way that work for them.

So what’s the purpose of this post?  Simply to express the term Growth, Innovation and Emancipation as the coinage of my realm.   I thank my client Monty Rostad for initially ‘coining’ this phrase for our work together and then graciously allowing me to use it as my calling card.

Outcomes Are What Count… Hire For The Business That You Want To Be

After my post about Breaking the Habit of Intervening (and related comments) I got to thinking about the true success factors for those people who fill the positions of Client Account Manager, Customer Relationship Manager, Project Manager, Consultant, etc.. As Ian Lurie points out in his comment, there are times when customers get fed up with their Account Managers and demand action by you, the owner. Sometime it’s about the Account Manager’s technical skills; however it has been my experience that is more often about the Account Manager’s intrinsic skills, capability, style or approach.
So I decided to list what I believe are those key success factors for people in this position. These are characteristics familiar to you, the owner, since you likely have most of them and they have been key to your success. While they may be intuitive, many small to mid-size businesses don’t make the effort to:

  • Articulate and prioritize these key success factors (along with others in their particular business)
  • Look for specific ways to identify or test for them in the interview process
  • Consciously develop ways to improve them up during the training and development process
  • Create specific methods and measurements for review and accountability related to these factors

So here’s my list of the key success factors for a Client Account/Relationship/Project manager – someone who…

  • Instills confidence in others whether on the phone, in email, in person
  • Knows when to stop talking
  • Listens more than they talk
  • Asks good questions
  • Willing to say ‘I don’t know’
  • Able to say ‘I don’t know’ in a way that still instills confidence
  • Willing to tell you something you don’t want to hear
  • Able to tell you something you don’t want to hear in a way that still instills confidence
  • Takes responsibility
  • Appropriately articulates the client’s responsibility in the success of the project/relationship
  • Admits mistakes
  • Learns from mistakes
  • Can point out mistakes of others without causing them to feel incompetent or become defensive
  • Responds to mistakes by any perpetrator in a way that instills confidence
  • Flexible communication style
  • Perceptive in identifying other’s communication style and adapting accordingly
  • Understands technology as a tool to accomplish an objective – not an isolated activity
  • Anticipates problems, conflicts, log jams, etc.
  • Proactively finds alternatives to get the job done
  • Proactively communicates with the right people
  • Able to influence others in an appropriate way to get the job done
  • Interested in what’s going on in the world, community and industry
  • Likes to learn
  • Has common sense, practical approach

Of course no one has it all – but I would rather go into an employment relationship clear about areas of weakness so I could deal with it proactively. Of course identifying these in the interview process or early in the employment is not necessarily very easy – a subject for future posts.
What would you add (other than very industry specific characteristics)? Do you specifically identify these during the hiring process or early employment period? How?

Are You Tripping Over Dollar Bills To Pick Up Pennies?

Confusing the concepts of costs and investments can hurt the future of your business.
No business grows solely by cutting costs. It grows through wise investments.
One client didn’t want to spend money on new computers because it would “cost” thousands of dollars. However when we looked more deeply, he was losing significantly more than that each year by not making the investment. Here’s how:

  • His employees were wasting hours each week because of the time it took to access and refresh the primary software applications that they used. That was time that would be recovered with new computers.
  • He was also paying his computer support vendor more money to fix or simply maintain the mishmash of old systems and different configurations.
  • He was missing out on new capabilities and efficiencies that could help him serve his clients better and more profitably

I call this tripping over dollar bills to pick up pennies.
When it comes to evaluating investment versus cost, a good place to start is by considering technology upgrades. Training is another, as is hiring temporary help to complete certain projects, rather than diverting experienced employees from the primary focus of developing business.
It’s a good policy to ask your employees for their perspective. After all, they’re the people most familiar with many of the tasks, so their input can be indispensable.
In no way do I advocate a philosophy of simply throwing money at a problem. Instead, I urge you to examine all cost decisions in light of the potential for a timely return on investment.
That’s how you will prosper.

Building an Asset versus Working For a Paycheck

Choosing to build your business as a valuable asset versus a paycheck has a significant impact on how you invest your time and resources. An asset requires a strategic perspective and a consistent focus on management (hence the term ‘asset manager’ in the financial world). A paycheck requires putting in the time to do the job you get paid for (and for business owners, that’s one paycheck for a lot of different jobs).

Many owners fall into the trap of working so hard for a paycheck that they lose sight of their business as an asset. That is, until they want to sell and wonder why the business isn’t worth as much as they think it should be.
If you want to build an asset that pays its manager a salary, throws off a good income return and delivers a strong capital gain you need to focus on the right things to make that happen – like these ten I wrote about a while back. the sooner you take action the more value you will gain (think compounding).

As Seth Godin says with his elegant simplicity, don’t confuse building a job with building a business. Either approach is fine – as long as it is a conscious decision.
Other Posts related to this subject:
Nearly every post I have written…
One of my recent favorites…

Break The Costly Habit of Intervening. Get More Time and Grow Your Business

One of the hardest habits to break is intervening to solve problems that your employees should handle. For instance, your customer calls you directly about a problem or concern related to a project. Of course it’s faster for you to just handle it then and there. You love taking care of your customer and It might be even be a rewarding distraction to deal quickly with an issue where you have great expertise.
Unfortunately, each time you do this there is a long-term impact that reduces your capacity for future growth/profit/time. Think about it…
Your Customers:

  • Become trained to call you if they don’t get the answer they like from your representatives
  • Lose respect for your Account Manager since they got a different answer or response from the boss
  • Learn how to get the answer they want by exploiting (consciously or subconsciously) multiple channels of communication. This is a great negotiation tactic for them
  • Get used to ignoring any organizational structure you might put into place

Your Customer Account Managers (Project Mgr, Relationship Mgr or whatever term you use):

  • Become discouraged and lose confidence in their ability to handle client issues
  • Stop taking ‘ownership’ of the relationship since they come to assume that it really belongs to you
  • Walk around afraid of getting into trouble if they make a decision that the client (or you) may not agree with
  • Lose the opportunity to gain the experience and formation around dealing with difficult customer relationship issues

If you are serious about getting more time and being able to grow your business you need to break the habit:

  • Start by making sure that your customers understand your organization and the processes you are putting into place
  • Practice saying “Let me talk with {Enter Employee Name Here} and we’ll call right you back.” Put a sign on the wall or on your phone if you need to be reminded
  • Listen to your Account Manager. Let them explain their perspective and thought processes before you jump to the solution. There’s always more to the story
  • Use the opportunity to ‘form’ your staff. Have them make the follow up phone call – with you present if it is going to be a really tough conversation
  • Make sure you show support of your staff. If you don’t show confidence in them, how do you expect your customers to?
  • Give them the freedom, resources and authority (with appropriate accountability) to take care of your customers. They will make mistakes – just like you did. And if they are keepers, you will reap the benefits in the long run.
  • Also, pay attention to ‘core strength’ issues with systems, procedures, knowledge sharing, etc., that may be contributing to the problems being experienced by your customer

It’s not easy to let go and old habits are hard to break – but the effort usually pays big dividends.
Related Posts:

Give the Gift of Experience
Maximize Your Return on Investment from Mistakes

Building a more valuable asset

The purpose of my business is to help business owners build a more valuable asset, not just get a paycheck. Here are ten foundational elements that I believe define a valuable business:

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