The Fear Factor

Growth Series (Part 12)

The Growth series will posted on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through the month of October 2011.  

Since it is Halloween, we will address the fear factors that can cripple growth as the final post in the series. Like the ghosts, goblins, ghouls and stories that are a part of Halloween, most of these fears originate and dwell in the mind. Companies who want to grow have to be able to put the fear factor in perspective rather than in focus. Perhaps these stories will help you exorcise the things that haunt you most.

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” - Ichabod Broker had targeted a producer who he felt was a prize. He had never been a confident person and always felt that he was not quite good enough to ask for a big producer’s commitment. He believed his chief competitor Brom ”Pick Your Bones Clean” was always right there with uncanny timing, delaying or killing his opportunity. He was great at getting the candidate to the point of being interested in the move and then like a horseman, Brom would meet the candidate and the opportunity was Brom’s. As Ichabod’s confidence diminished, his active imagination conjured up many scenarios in which his initiatives would be defeated by Brom or some other competitor. Ichabod became the headless horseman, riding into battle each time to find his head without success. He was literally caught in the trap of his imagination and stopped trying. Eventually his company was picked virtually clean and, no longer able to survive, he was gone. Had Ichabod made his move, the game would have changed.

“The Great Pumpkin” - Linus really believed that he was destined for great things if he could just bring a star producer on board. He had worked hard, met with Mary many times. Just like the Peanut’s character, waiting for the “Great Pumpkin” to arrive, he was prepared in every way possible. If Mary would join his company, his goals would become reality. He did not realize that Mary had no intention of coming. Sure she would meet with him, asking great questions and always agreeing to stay in touch each time. There was always an implied promise that she was almost ready to move to his company, just enough of a promise to keep him believing. He did not hire others who were good and refused to use the items set aside for Mary. The Great Pumpkin, whether a deal, a person or any other type of opportunity, never really comes. While waiting on the big one, great opportunities come and go. Perhaps as the old saying goes, a bird in hand is worth two in the bush.

“The Devil Went Down to Georgia” – I got the call from the Regional Director in Georgia. There was a new competitor in the state who seemed to be a mystery and growing quickly. The scary part of the growth was that they were taking away the producers from Georgia companies to build this new company and everyone felt they were a target. The rumors and concern grew quickly, stirring fear and immobilizing the group. Who were they? Why were they successful? What was the value proposition? A lot of time and resources were spent gathering information and kindling the fear without action. They were looking for a competitive strategy but never considered attacking the attacker. The attacker never had to play defense as everyone was working to secure their companies. The aggressor often wins as they are seldom attacked and only have to execute offensive moves.

“V” – They seemed like the perfect people when you brought them into your company. For a long time they seemed to fit in and they certainly added a lot in production, use of technologies and building teamwork. Then one day, you started to notice little changes. The changes at first were subtle and perhaps you could feel the changes more than see them. The culture was changing. More people were aligning with the V group and they were growing as they were also bringing in more of their own. Soon you were not sure whether anyone was aligned with the company you thought you owned, or, were they really a part of the company being built from within by the V’s. At the point the V’s make their move, they may take your company with them. The V’s would not have gained control if needs were understood and addressed and the leaders did not allow leadership to migrate to the new group. Growth requires attention to the business base.

“Silence of the Lambs” is a great psychological thriller. Who can forget the scene with Anthony Hopkins playing Hannibal Lector in the leather protective mask asking agent Clarice Starling, “Tell me, Clarice – have the lambs stopped screaming?” Many companies have people both inside and out who are exceptionally good at playing on the psyche of owners, leaders and managers. At some point they have shown vulnerability or voiced a fear. They know how to push buttons, get a reaction and distract the company from its objectives, forcing an undue concentration of time and effort. If you allow them to draw you into their world, it will seriously undermine your growth by taking away time and focus. While you may not be able to ignore these people, you must stay in control and isolate their impact on you.

These stories and shows may not be specifically aligned to your business but they are remembered and are retold primarily because they feed our imagination, tantalize that which we fear and are based in legitimate fears. Understanding our fear factors and what we need to do to overcome them, work with them or be motivated by them can be a powerful part of ensuring growth.

This post concludes our Growth Series. Our November series will focus on infrastructure.

Happy Halloween!



Growth Series (Part 11)

The Growth series will posted on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through the month of October 2011. 

If I were to back a truck up to your door loaded with quality producers ready to work for you, would you have a problem?

When I have posed this question to business owners in the past, I often see many reactions.
  • Concern over the space, staffing and support that will be needed.
  • Excitement at the prospect akin to winning the lottery.
  • Anticipation of the impact to the business.

Some even started to voice their concerns and the problems they envisioned. But the real answer is “No.” If given a problem with an upside opportunity placed in your hand, you will find a solution for the problem so that it does not evaporate.

One of the greatest challenges in growth is overthinking the “If” factors. This is really misspent time and effort because, until you take action and make something happen, there is no “if” to be concerned about. It is more of trip into distraction.

If the problem presented in the scenario was space, you would find the space if it was really needed and quickly. It would force you to evaluate your options and the cost very quickly even if it was an interim solution to buy you time. This efficiency in thinking and action is always there but we become insulated and, to a degree, complacent in requirements that are not immediate and where the benefit is not tangible. Whether the pressure is driven by positive or negative forces we often perform at our best under stress.

In some ways, we are like athletes who train to win but if not in competition and actively honing their skills, they too, become rusty and sometimes slow. But the spark is still there waiting to be ignited and challenged. The desire to win and overcome obstacles never really dies. It is simply overcome by routine and often an exhaustion that comes from fighting skirmishes that will not win the war.

To grow our companies and obtain the results we know are possible, we must not take the easy road. We must challenge ourselves to the path less traveled for it is there we find the treasure. Our problem solving becomes more intuitive based in experiences where we are tested. Challenges are a call to action where under stress and need we can draw on our training in which we have gained experience, knowledge and the taste of wins we have scored.

We must keep our entrepreneurial spirit and skills fit and ready so that we smell and seek opportunity like a hunter who smells prey. We must fight the drifting into paralysis that “if” can cause.

As I write this, a quote from Yoda of the Star Wars trilogies comes to mind. "No! Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try."


Growth Through Career Development

Growth Series (Part 10)

The Growth series will posted on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through the month of October 2011.

All of these companies share a problem that can challenge their vitality and stunt growth, in some cases right at the point of recruiting.
  • Broker Barb has great plans for her company’s growth. She is building a multi-state enterprise with an impressive offering of services. Her company has been built from the ground up and about half of her associates have never been in another company.
  • Broker Tina has a very small boutique company that serves a niche market and does not see growing large in her future.
  • Broker Herman has a medium size company with a lot of family members involved.
  • HVAC company owner, Sam, is known as one of the best in the business and is always, in essence, a one man band.
  • Franchisor Opportunity Brand has some great staff but a pretty limited growth ladder.
  • Country Club of the County has minimized staff so career opportunities are pretty flat.
  • Association Members Now works with member volunteers and a limited staff. Small and efficient is the objective.
None of these have a career development plan or program in place.  Career Development Plans are not only a recruiting tool, but are one of the most effective retention and business development tools you could put in place. Best of all, there's very little cost and they can be opened to all in the company and those considering joining the company.

Each of these companies, within our consulting meetings, mentioned recruiting challenges and retention challenges. All were recruiting for what exists in their companies today with few opportunities of a tantalizing future.  A future that could be more than the opportunity for which they were hired. By default, they were saying “if you want to grow, you will need to leave the company.”

Career development plans should be built to develop the person and not specifically targeted toward developing one person for one position. That approach is full of problems as it is too narrow and the person may not be interested or might not work out. Great plans offer opportunities to all but promotion to steps only to those who achieve the requirements and stay on track.

Plans must also offer easy transition between tracks should the person find that their interests are different than originally thought. That does not mean that they go back to square one, but are recognized and given credit for the skills and achievements attained entering the selected track at the point where specific skills and requirements have not been met on another track. All transitions must be without any tag of embarrassment or failure.

If you look at the sample plan in the download center, the first thought that pops into mind of most looking at it is that everyone will want to be on the management track. Guess what, that is OK. It also does not mean that you are getting ready to replace someone. The plan requires meeting many requirements including recruiting enough people to need the management position before they can be considered for a management position. They must complete all of the skill development, training and production steps required. Many may state they want to be on that track but most will change their mind fairly quickly after the pure production step and initial entrée into recruiting on the first rung of the management ladder.

It is important within the career development plan to have paths and options for producers to grow and achieve status. Without that option and a way to transition, many will see your company as a dead end for their career and leave.

The published career development plan and options in a company should always be general. Since no two people are alike and many come with skills, it is important that the career development plan built for them be individual, with an assessment of strengths, skills and objectives aligned with those of the company. Individualized plans are always customized within the basic structure of the published plan.

Should you find the need to add tracks, it is fairly easy to do as long as you do not forget initial components that must be common to all tracks and then build the skills and production attainment that must be on each rung of the ladder and accomplished before moving forward.

It should also be remembered that time and compensation may vary significantly and can change in any of the areas of the plan especially as applied to an individual.

A career development plan can be built for any company of any size, including those where an exit strategy is desired, and creates an important part of your company’s value proposition. A sample real estate Career Development Plan and Career Development Plan Overview can be found in our download center. Should you need assistance in structuring a Career Development plan, please contact us.

Related blogs on career development:
  1. Opportunity Drives Growth
  2. Talent, Timing & Turf
  3. The F.B.I. Interview
  4. Growth Through Risk Control


Growth Through Risk Control

Growth Series (Part 9)

The Growth series will posted on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through the month of October 2011.

“Everyone will leave you. It is just a matter of why and when.”

The mentor who drilled that into my head was talking about one of the most basic elements of business – people. Whether you are recruiting, building your company, considering retention options and or looking at your business practice, the statement holds true. We cannot count on any relationship to be forever and would be fools to do so. We can do more than hope, we can build in systems that mitigate the risk by making the company the best and most attractive option. Life circumstances make it impossible to fully eliminate risk.

So how do we reduce the impact of the risk? Assessing and managing risk with an understanding of its impact is an important element of growth planning as it may impact your goals and specific areas of attention.

1. First we need to understand why people or accounts stay with you and probable reasons they will leave and then assign a value. The chart below gives a sample high level view. You may want to break down specific components of items such as your value proposition for a better look. Once you have created the considerations for your company, apply the rating system to individuals or accounts beginning with those that have the most impact to your company.

Please click here to view and download the full-sized table.
2. Once you have evaluated the risk, monetize the impact. How much do you earn and what do you potentially stand to lose.

3. Consider the timing of the risk and cost of impact to prioritize your focus.

4. Determine how many of your average people or business accounts it will take to replace the top two risks in your company.

5. Using the impact evaluation tool, monetized the impact, looked at the timing and have an understanding of replacement cost or effort, you can now structure a plan to mitigate the risk and potentially create growth that outweighs the impact.

Since we know that “Everyone will leave you. It is just a matter of why and when.”, taking a proactive look and implementing a plan can be the best way to control many risks.

Tomorrow, we will look at Career Development options which can be a great tool for growth and risk mitigation.


Face The Facts

Linkedin is the most professional of top rung social media platforms (on the same level as Twitter and Facebook). There are no videos of cats doing cute things, no photo galleries full of your children and grandchildren during every phase of their development. It's about business. Promoting your business, promoting yourself for future business and sometimes promoting yourself when looking for a business change.

Because of this focus on business and professionalism, you might think it good and proper to post your company logo or other company avatar as the image on your Linkedin profile page. You thought wrong.

Your Linkedin profile should showcase a picture of you. A head shot, your face. YOU. Not your company logo, your Pekingese or your orange tabby. Before we explain the importance of using your own face, we thought we'd share some of the most common excuses:
  • I'm a very private person
  • I don't take good photos
  • I don't want to be recognized
  • I'm already on Facebook
  • I'm worried about potential bias
Except for the last excuse, which could potentially be a concern, the others are simply that...excuses. Linkedin has greater privacy parameters than Facebook, making your profile very customizable based on your privacy choices. A good photographer and a relaxed setting help with the "bad photo" excuse and the privacy excuse makes little sense. You are trying to promote your business, aren't you?

Quick example...your name is David Smith and you own a company in Atlanta. You make some great contacts at a local networking event. The next morning an individual you met the night before wants to make a connection on Linkedin. But he/she's misplaced your business card. They remember your name, but not your company. They do a search on Linked in and there are twenty-five David Smith's listed in the Greater Atlanta area. If your photo was posted to your profile, it would be much easier for this prospect to find you, wouldn't it?

People do business with a company. They make connections and engage with a person. Your photo in your profile helps make that connection. It verifies to an interested individual that you are a company that works with and designs solutions for other people. Do you connect with faceless entities?

If those reasons aren't enough, let's get even more practical. Linkedin considers using your logo in your profile as "advertisement". One time offenders will find their image removed, leaving you with the default "faceless" avatar. Repeat offenders may soon find their accounts blocked, meaning missed chances to make connections. That's the last thing you want to happen when you're building and maintaining a business.

What might your photo be saying about you as a business man or woman? Check out Say Cheese to find out.  Look for more great discussion on using Linkedin, from Answers to Groups, in future posts.


The F.B.I Interview

Growth Series (Part 8)

The Growth series will posted on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through the month of October 2011.

Mary Moaner is uncharacteristically upbeat today. It is like she will probably get a raise and yes, she probably will from you. Mary is one of those salespeople who let’s say has “been around the block a couple of times”. In fact the number of company business cards with her name on them makes an impressive collection. She boasts about her longevity in the business with her limited production being mainly the result of the “friends and family” plan. Her reputation for being the sour apple is well known, everything happens to her and she must certainly be the most unlucky person in the industry.

Your manager or recruiter has several performance objectives to meet. including prospects interviewed and hired, and has not met the quota to reach bonus. There are a number of Mary Moaners, Larry Limpalongs, Katie Opportunity-Killers and Terry Troubles that will usually meet in a recruiting interview if there is nothing better to do that day. In fact they all know the game well and that your manager or recruiter will basically buy them rather than face accountability without anything.

If we could make sure that all recruiters and managers conducted an F.B.I interview – Financial Biased and Informative, better practices would most likely weed out the people who siphon deals from producers who really want to earn a good income from the career. It would also help in really being able to reward the deserving with incentive compensation.

Each interview conducted needs to be one in which mutual benefit is sought and that hiring is not for the sake of simply numbers, a perceived take away from a competitor or for bragging rights. An F.B.I. business interview looks at the factors that align with the company’s objectives.

  • Financial – Unless you are a charity or a social club, you probably have a financial motive behind all hires. What is the cost benefit of hiring the person? What type of investment will need to made and will that investment pay off. Will their compensation be on scale or an exception relative to their production history and potential.
  • Biased – The bias must be to the impact on your company, culture, your systems in place including your pay scale, optimization of opportunity, PR, competitiveness, risk, management requirements and new business as a result of the hire.
  • Informative – The interview in addition to qualifying the fitness for hire should also bring insight to how to work with this person, development and fulfillment of potential future requirements. You should also be able to determine their work style, expectations and potential longevity.

We owe it to ourselves, our companies and our industries to not simply pass those who really do not impact the business positively from one company to another, usually with a raise each time. The cost benefit is too great for tolerance.

Perhaps some of the interviewing techniques of the Federal Bureau of Investigation are worthy of review. No question is asked without a purpose and they always seeks to make progress toward the objective. The FBI engages in many areas including fraud protection. The following quote applies well to the reason for conducting a Business FBI Interview: “Getting educated and taking a few basic steps may well keep you from becoming a victim of crime and fraud—and save you a great deal of time and trouble.”

Perhaps hiring someone not fit for hire in the same way we would a valuable producer is in ways perpetuating and being victimized by industry fraud.

We have created a Business Case Tool that can be used to document and request hiring and/or compensation. It will also serve as a tool to train and assist managers and recruiters in obtaining needed information. Please go to our Download Center to obtain the tool. It is offered as a PDF without charge for a limited period. Customized and/or fillable tools will be available through our soon to be opened web store.


A.T.F. Strategies

Growth Series (Part 7)

The Growth series will posted on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through the month of October 2011.

When markets change so do the opportunities for growth. In some cases, especially in the toughest of markets, it seems to be “eat or be eaten.” The activity in mergers and acquisitions (M & A) has certainly increased and is likely to continue. Companies do not need the same physical footprint to transact the same or greater quantities of business. Costs can be leveraged through technology to serve a broader market and bring efficiencies at a reasonable cost to larger companies. Since not all companies can bear the investment and upkeep required, M & A opportunities are born. Market changes, economic drivers and demand for tools and services changes the approach even in mergers, acquisitions and absorptions.

The A.T.F. assault for market dominance is made by a company deploying action in the market through Assertive Tactics executed with Finesse.

It takes an assertive company willing to do the preparatory analysis and work through initial approaches with defined advantages and the knowledge that it is a process with many events. The tactics must fit the opportunity and become the vehicles that drive momentum toward the objective. The finesse is displayed in the art of the deal where everyone wins and thoughts of loss are diminished to the shadows of an exciting future.

A lot of companies say they will talk to anyone, and they will, but it is not a plan and becomes very difficult to execute, integrate and manage. ATF companies understand that the plan is a long term strategic initiative in which the environment and players will change. Flexibility and fit will be key operating words in a dynamic strategy.

Each competing company in the market is evaluated for fit. “Fit” is the collection of complimentary elements the company brings to the ATF company and what the target company brings that helps the ATF company grow. Requirements are often items that are viewed as critical deal elements by the target company and may be deal breakers. Time is an ally with requirements as many change or can be mitigated over time. Flexibility to work with situations and make changes to the plan will be necessary. Timing is always a gateway to opportunity that does not remain open.

Complimentary elements may include people who will work well together with similar values and objectives, similar business practices, tools and locations that will fit nicely in the operations of the company. All of these elements must blend and expand the company without overlap and waste.
  • The growth may be defined and quantified in terms of the marketplace, people, leadership, status, niche penetration and/or business units. The growth must be able to be integrated in the company’s objectives, operations and plans.
  • Requirements might include key positions, leases, people, debt and agreements in place.
  • Flexibility will be required in resolving areas of conflict, bloat and egos. It is also needed when an outside force changes the plan. Examples would be when a target company merges with a competitor or when the target company is no longer desirable.
  • Timing factors may include exit points for key people, monetary factors, leases and life circumstances.

ATF companies need all of the insight, information and skills portrayed in this series of blogs on Growth. As described in C.I.A. Recruiting Tactics, the ATF company will need to take a Completely Informed Approach and build a dossier on each company in the market place with regular updates. One tool often used to start to build the information is a simple pro and con assessment of each company in the footprint or expansion area.

Companies that are considered to be top targets are then further assessed for fit. Once fit is determined, there is a virtual overlay to see what the companies would look like if combined. Obstacles and requirements are considered along with factors of timing to determine prioritization. It is almost as if you were looking at a battle plan in a virtual game simulation. You should also begin to see potential effects that will occur as a result that will probably create additional opportunities or challenges.

Mergers and acquisitions should always be a part of a company’s growth plan. A company that adopts an ATF methodology always has the advantage. ATF companies are more successful in negotiations and often sought after as an option and because of the advantage their acquisitions are often less costly.

It is interesting that the strategic plan of the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Agency, The A.T.F., includes the following on their site,“ATF is committed to a strategic management framework to promote continuous assessment and improvement. The framework focuses on strategic planning, budgeting, performance measurement, and Bureau operations.”

Perhaps there is some similarity in their strategic plan to an ATF company pursuing strategic growth.


C.I.A. Recruiting Tactics

Growth Series (Part 6)

The Growth series will posted on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through the month of October 2011.

“Do you want an exciting, rewarding career in…?” Who wouldn’t, I am sure that they do not want a dull, underpaid job. That line has become so used and abused it is almost like a cliché with little real meaning just like a lot of the recruiting sites, listings and career pages. Most are as appealing as bouillon broth soup.

This last week, I had three companies grumbling about their recruiting challenges. Two need sales people and one needs a technical person. I checked all three websites and not one was going to attract fish to the net, let alone the right fish and it would be difficult to actually determine who to talk to if you had an interest.

In most of these cases, the prospective candidate knows more about you than you do about them and having knowledge is power, not only in the pursuit but also the negotiations and post hiring integration to the company. The candidate has met or talked to people who have worked for or with you. They may have done business with your company or simply consider the rumor mill to be fact. Unfortunately, many recruiting appointments begin with a data dump about your company and all of the attributes, whether or not they are of interest to the prospect.

When you need the right people you need to use C.I.A. tactics - Completely Informed Approach.
  • What is the profile of the person(s) you need to hire. How do you speak to these needs on your web site? Not the traditional recruiters language but really selling the opportunity, making it something they need to know more about and with a bit of mystery so that they need to talk to you.
  • Identify the known people who fit the profile and create a target list.
  • Do some research on the top 5 – 10 on the list. Google, FaceBook, Linkedin and many online sources will be extremely valuable. Your job is to build the profile of the person, a dossier.
  1. When you look at Linkedin, see who is connected to both you and the prospect. If the prospect is not connected to you, it might be a good time.
  2. Facebook will most likely lead you to many of the more personal interests and a bit of insight to their personality.
  3. Check out other sources in the industry.
  • Does the profile of the person still fit the person you are looking for? If not, they should not be on your top list.
  • Next ask these questions.
  1. Why would this person want to work for you?
  2. Why wouldn’t this person want to work for you?
  3. What would be the key motivator beyond money for them to join you?
  4. Are there any obvious restraining factors or red flags?
Using C.I.A. tactics leaves you far better prepared to create opportunities to bump into them or invite them to a meeting, knowing what will attract the prospect and how to engage them in discussions. You will also know what is most important to them and be able to align your company’s needs and offerings to help them see a perfect fit. Your opportunity should be multifaceted and open a path to meeting their goals and objectives.

Money will come into play but it is not all about money and often when a prospect goes to money first it is a way to end the conversation rather than qualify the opportunity. If you allow the opportunity to be commoditized at the beginning, you are already in a compromised position. If it is really being used as a qualifier, ask questions to help you define and understand before offering an answer. Your answer may also be the opportunity to better understand the fit. If their range is not too obnoxious, you may want to answer that the range is within consideration but you will need to know if they qualify for that range or what they will need to do to get there.

Recruiting is perhaps one of the most exciting ways to grow a company. With the right people in the right positions, you can achieve great results.

Speaking of good recruiting websites, you may want to check out the Central Intelligence Agency, (CIA) for ideas. I am sure that they apply the Completely Informed Approach when considering a prospect.


Opportunity Drives Growth

Growth Series (Part 5)

The Growth series will posted on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through the month of October 2011.

Company A had a growth problem. The leadership worked with their managers to set recruiting and retention goals each year as a part of the business planning process. Monthly accountability sessions reviewed the pipelines with a lot of time talking about whether specific candidates were targeted for the pipeline, in the pipeline or had fallen out. Most of the managers were certain that it was all about money and in listening to their recruiting dialogue; they were quick to give away money even before the candidate raised the issue.

When the managers and leadership of the company were asked to describe the opportunity without using any reference to money or earnings, none could do it. They had gotten so used to only competing with money that they did not even know how to sell their company in any other way. Opportunity and growth are strong recruiting and retention tools. When you reduce opportunity to a monetary commodity, you only win when you are the highest bidder and have trouble retaining when there is the lure of more money from a competitor.

Growth opportunity can be divided into categories each with a separate and distinct value that is not necessarily tangible but may include monetary or tangible benefits. Some tangible benefits are not directly from the company but accrue as a result of achieved opportunity.
  • Position – The more formalized positions that are recognized by leadership responsibilities, awards and or title that elevate the person within the company and industry. These have “bragging” rights and can be publicly recognized.
  • Status – Much less formal and is very important to most people. It is the both internal and external recognition of achievement and usually opens doors to other opportunities. Quite often includes being recognized as a subject matter expert. These people are often the “go-to” people in an organization.
  • Skills – Most companies offer training and or education that, for the most part, is an option. Few companies really do career development and skill development planning with their people including those in management and leadership.
  • Future - There are always objectives in terms of transition and achievement that are desirable. These include exit or business transitions, options to expand and develop other businesses, access to benefit and loyalty programs.
  • Personal Goal Achievement – We are all driven by goals we set and many are not monetary at all. Knowing these goals is an important part of creating a path to the opportunity to realize and celebrate these goals. It may be business driven such as establishment and development of a team or being able to realize a life experience such as a trip.
When I look at companies from their websites through their training and planning, it is often difficult to find the opportunities. It is usually even more difficult to find management and leadership who can verbalize the opportunity or have anyone see them as instrumental in finding the path.

Creating development paths that are valuable is a great retention and growth tool which serves both individual and company needs. Opportunity will drive growth and usually without the cost of competing on compensation alone.

Career and Skill Development will be addressed in future blogs and documents on our site.


Leadership Required

Growth Series (Part 4)

The Growth series will posted on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through the month of October 2011.

Tough times are the point where leadership has the greatest potential for growth. It is not unusual for tough times to mean a reduction in staff, especially support staff. In smaller companies more of those tasks fall to owners, managers and other key leadership staff. Even though there may be a lot of burdens and work, making the choice to lead is not just an option but critical. The following example gives a look at an owner forced to make choices.

A mid-sized company had flown high and been a poster company of success in the good times. The owner took on a mantle of pride and was delighted to be the go-to person other companies were referred to for a model of growth and productivity.

When I first started working with the company, it did not take long to see that the fable of the “Emperor’s New Clothes” was being portrayed in real life. Everyone was quick with the compliments and enjoyed the benevolence of the proud owner. Growth and taking on debt were encouraged by the franchisor whose growth objectives were at least in part met through their affiliates. Looking behind the scenes, the company was about ready to implode.

The management team saw some of the challenges coming with the changes in the market but they chose to mention only items that would not reflect poorly on them in the management team meetings. They knew with the market tightening, business being tougher to contract and nervousness in both consumers and staff that if the market changed in the direction they expected it to, they could potentially be in jeopardy in terms of their jobs and the business units they managed.

The managers also saw that many other companies in the same market were consolidating their physical footprint and utilizing technologies including the Internet, which had become the preferred business initiation point for consumers. In the meantime, revenues decreased significantly due to falling prices and cancelled business. The owner, rather than paying attention to the numbers, felt that the additional locations and service areas would soon bring revenue that would overcome what was hoped to be a temporary drop in business. Now that locations had been added, staff headcount grew, infrastructure requirements escalated and marketing costs exceeded budget. Many of these additional costs were being paid out of reserves so the problems were not as apparent as they would soon become.

The business usually had their highest revenues in the second and third quarters, with the fourth quarter being good but not as strong. The first quarter was always the big challenge. The bookkeeper called for a meeting with the owner to go over finances, as there was not enough in reserves to pay bills. Pending business for the next three months, which would go into the first month of the first quarter, would not cover current bills or any type of cost related to growth. The reports had been sent but the owner was often too busy to really look and see what was happening. The owner, always an optimist, decided to work with vendors, renegotiating terms and extending payments, still thinking the problem would be short term.

The downturn is a part of one of the most challenging economic periods that the industry has ever seen. The growth that had been taken on was now crushing the company, with threats of action from vendors, landlords, former owners of companies that had been purchased and the franchisor.

Even though it took several years, the owner faced with crisis is stepping up to the plate. Taking a hard look at every location, every member of staff, viability options for the business and protection of personal assets, the owner is now taking the reins of the company and becoming the leader the company has needed for years. While the benevolent characteristic of the owner made accountability of the managers difficult, the depth of the problems and threats mandated change. Everything is scrutinized against the objectives of the business.

The owner now has a hands-on understanding of the company utilizing the reports as vital tools. Gone are all of the barriers to clear vision. Part of the process of becoming a leader had been working through fear and loss. The owner now works from an objective oriented position of strength, gaining input, utilizing analytics and working through others with accountability. Pride is still there but it is now with perspective and new sense of accomplishment. No matter what the future brings, the owner is a better leader and stronger than ever. The choice was to lead rather than cower in fear.


Growth in Capped Markets

Growth Series (Part 3)

The Growth series will posted on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through the month of October 2011.

One of the growth challenges that many companies, regardless of their industry, may face is growing when the market is capped. There are many ways in which a market can become capped. It can be due to geographic limitations, demographics, economics, availability of money to consumers and absorption rate for the product in the market. For purposes of discussion and planning we will define a capped market as one with less than 10% growth potential available to the entire market.

A great example is the mobile telecommunications industry. Studies and forecasts published in January 2006, predicted that the mobile phone industry was poised for “spectacular growth” over the next four years, upwards of 50%. Take out the emerging markets and growth for the US was predicted by a number of sources to be no more than 7.2% , even into an extended period to 2013. Growth was limited in the US primarily by the absorption rate of the US consumer market for cell phones. By 2006, most people in business had cell phones, our teenagers certainly did and there had been significant penetration into every population group. Think about it, how many people do you know who do not have a cell phone? The new user market is basically a capped market in the US today and in the foreseeable future.

Working with a customer base that was capped the mobile industry created demand and dependence that would require existing users to spend more dollars to bring growth. Smart phones became integrated into our daily lives, often replacing items like day planners, address books, and more. Contracts were created with benefits for extended periods. Loyalty programs including in network long distance was often offered free of charge. Equipment was another component with phones that seemed to have built-in obsolescence, often dying or lacking in needed functionality about every two years and could be enhanced by accessories that were often model specific. Appetites for more features and functionality were driven from many sources. Mergers and acquisitions also constricted market options consolidating growth for the major providers. While this growth has been very good, it too has limitations due to the consumer base. Enter another service that could be sold to not only cell phone consumers but users of many devices, data plans.

I do not know about you, but I have seen evidence of this growth by comparing my bills over the years. The impact taking new phones, accessories, higher and varied types of usage means that if the consumer added up all costs of mobile communications, they are paying 3 to 5 times what they were in 2006. All of this within nearly the same customer base as five years ago.

This example can really be applied to many other industries.

Real Estate - The greater Atlanta real estate market in 2006 was like many markets in the nation with a high percentage of the sales being move-up consumers using equity to move-up, change types of housing and make changes often oriented to lifestyle. Today, that is a capped market due to the downturn in market demand and the fact that a number of foreclosed properties has nearly erased homeowner equity. The forces of this capped market forced a change of consumer base to first time buyers taking advantage of the price drops and investors often from areas outside of the market.

Medical - The medical industry, especially single practitioners and small groups, found limitations on their growth through negotiated insurance contracts which decimated the opportunity for margin growth but did not contain costs. It is also a difficult industry to expand the customer base more than incrementally. Slowly but surely many adopted the practice of semi-annual check-ups and lab work rather than the former standard of annual. Additionally, the staff became more adept in looking for opportunity to sell services including annual vaccinations rather than waiting for the consumer’s request. Additionally, there has been and will continue to be aggregation of practices under a parent company to provide economies of scale that cannot be realized by the individual practitioner.

Industries that provide discretionary expenditure goods and services (for example a Country Club) will find themselves subject to economically capped markets more frequently than necessity markets such as groceries. But even groceries will suffer capped segments of their business in challenging economic times.

So how do you grow in a capped consumer market? First of all make sure that you have done the analysis of your market and define what is capped and with what limitations. Is this a long term or a short term scenario? Once you define the limitations, consider what will potentially drive consumer demand and at what cost. In most cases, the solution will be found in expanded services or creating consumer need. Products can expand the market but have a different cost/benefit ratio than service in most cases. Look for longer term solutions that allow you to take advantage of the ebb and flow of the market while adding to your revenue stream to create true growth in capped markets.


Talent, Timing and Turf

Growth Series (Part 2)

The Growth series will posted on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through the month of October 2011.

The owner of Company Z called for help. The company is family owned and has been a top company in the market place for several generations. Growth seemed to have reached a plateau and in the current market they could not see a way to grow without significant cost and recruiting effort. They wanted to throw numbers of people at the problem and hope that would be the solution. Numbers would not really solve their problem, especially if recruited using their existing methods.

Looking into the company a number of issues became apparent. The big net strategy simply dumped people into the company. The really needed to do an assessment of the people and positions in the company against needs.

We initiated the assessment looking at what they wanted to achieve in the company:
  • Market share dominance
  • Strong position in specialty markets and business sectors
  • Utilization of leading edge technologies to expand their customer base and transact business

These objectives are not so unusual and they had quantified the objectives in their business plan. They had a road map, but the question was…did they have the people, talent and skills to put the map to work?

The first part of the assessment was to define the talent that they would need to meet their objectives. Note we did not say numbers, as talent put to work out produces a simple quantity every day. We found that a significant portion of the people recruited were new to the business with little experience, customer basis or understanding of how to work the business. This meant a large cost in training, management and long ramp up to production. Recruiting numbers meant bringing in generalists which would be important for a part of the business but certainly would not bring the desired growth or meet target objectives.

The second part was to look at existing talent which was divided into four categories: Leadership, Management, Staff, and Sales. We did a talent inventory looking for strengths, weaknesses and, most importantly, what talent was missing in the company. Other factors considered were life circumstances which might affect the availability of the talent such as age, family issues, and where they were in their career. These all were related to timing. The final consideration was impact which we also called “turf”.

In leadership, we found that out of the core leadership several had retirement plans. Two of these were people who had become so insulated in their functions that it would be difficult to transfer the knowledge and experience, especially since there was little documentation of their work. Even though being on the leading edge of technology was embedded in the fabric of the company, few of the leaders were proficient in technology tools, their application and understanding of the gains that could be made. Each had strengths they contributed but if any of them were not a part of the team, there would be a serious void.

Management, we found, had for the most part grown up in the business before technology became such a large component. They could talk about the technology but reverted to their old methods in most areas of business. While there were some specialized talents in this group, they all worked as generalists. Most had some impact on turf in the people they were responsible for managing, however that was a two edged sword in that many had relationships with their people that were more akin to family and friends, making business direction much more difficult to apply. Additionally, almost all were more driven by fear than opportunity. They were for the most part “nested” in their jobs.

Many of the support staff, in part due to the challenges of the economy, were concerned about retaining their jobs. Rather than seeking efficiencies and ways to help the company achieve objectives, they were more concerned with trying to be irreplaceable in job functions and knowledge. Several were ready for retirement but, in some cases could not afford to retire. The company being family owned kept some of these in their jobs even though in almost every situation there was lament about the inadequacies or lack of skill and ambition. Additionally, many of these were not adapting to the newer business model and learning the skills necessary to propel the company forward.

The sales team had a few specialists but not many. There were also some very strong producers, some with niche markets. For the most part, the sales staff were generalists with low average production and high turnover. Looking at the timing of when the people had been hired and where they were in their careers, there was a lot of business at risk over the next couple of years with little way to capture and or transfer. An overlay of the sales staff and their production against target markets, territory coverage and specialty areas revealed huge gaps which translates to lost opportunity.

The company realigned focus of talent, timing and turf against objectives and found that expanding existing unused talent and recruiting for need rather than numbers would make their goals possible. It also laid a path for future hiring and transference of skills. They launched a program to maximize existing talent, worked to develop people to resolve timing challenges and target particularly sales recruiting to coverage of turf. They were pleasantly surprised when they found that people want to work for a company that has targeted them and knows why they are a part of the picture. Putting a career development program in place also became an attractive feature of the company as well as an incentive for some of the people already in the company. They did exceed their objectives and minimally impacted cost. They became the company of choice by paying attention to talent, timing and turf.


Growth in Tough Times

Growth Series (Part 1)

The Growth series will posted on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through the month of October 2011.

The last few years have been tough for most businesses. Many changes were the result of external economic pressures more than the path that might have been desired. While not all businesses are healthy or thriving, many are much healthier than they have been in years. They have shed a lot of weight, some of it was fat and some seemed important at the time until deeper cuts were needed. In many cases, businesses are leaner and to a degree “meaner” because all complacency is gone and there is a hunger for success.

The tough times have produced greater business growth in terms of understanding how to do more with less than any abundant time could ever create. Sloppiness, sloth and some of the silliness that exists in abundance is thankfully reduced or gone. It is kind of like the guy who has a heart attack and all of a sudden drops twenty pounds, exercises and eats better than ever. As his heart heals, the muscle builds and given the opportunity under healthy conditions is stronger than it had been before. A serious wake-up call changed habits and forced corrections. We have had a business heart attack and now must use what we control to create our future and become healthier than ever before.

There is a lot of opportunity for most businesses now and most of it will require change. Within change, we are forced to grow. During the month of October, this blog series will address many types of growth and ways to grasp opportunities.
  • Growth through people – Not just numbers of people or the business that they can produce but also the inventory, development and use of the talent pool.
  • Vertical growth, stretching elements of the company to reach new potential.
  • Horizontal growth, looking at expansion through customer expansion, linear business expansion and next business options.
  • Relational business growth, dollars on the table to be gained through relationships and related business families.
  • Internal growth through operations and focus on specific tools.
  • Knowledge base utilization and growth.
  • Brand and identity growth.
  • Growth through information.
  • Woven business growth in which growth opportunities become the fabric and value of the business.
  • Growth through differentiation.
  • Aligned business growth strategies.
  • Roadblocks to growth.

We believe that it will be a fun series, full of stories, tips and ideas. It will be your challenge to integrate these in your company’s growth plans and lead your company to take advantage of the opportunities you will discover. Think outside of any box you are in and dare to dream. Growth is only limited by lack of imagination. Money can help but for most growth ideas is not a requirement.

We look forward to your comments and questions throughout the series.


Going Digital: Marketing Meets Social Media

When Pat asked me to work with her well established company I knew I had to provide valuable and viable expertise to both her company and her clients. It’s not so easy to do when working with an innovator like Soltys, Inc. My passion, my niche, social and online business, proved a timely fit for a new direction for Soltys, Inc. and the clients and customers the business serves.

Social and online business practices are no longer the new fad, they are an expected and necessary part of doing business in 2011 and beyond. From e-commerce to social media, video to blogs, the process of showcasing your business expertise online is not only expected, but of extreme importance to the continued success of your company. That might sound like an extreme statement, but after reviewing many of the online profiles of the individuals and companies with whom Soltys, Inc. does business, I found I wasn’t finding out a lot about business and sometimes too much about personal interests and beliefs.

While social media and social business allow you to showcase the personal and personable side of your business, you do have to be careful about how personal you get, and just as careful about what kinds of personality you showcase via your business persona. Some things to consider:

  • Have you set up a true business page on Facebook, or are you using one or more personal profiles as your business profile?
  • Does your profile picture or avatar suit your business style? Does it suit the social media platform?
  • Are you posting viable, targeted and engaging content that will?
  • Do you have a social media marketing plan? Or are you simply posting on social media sites because you’ve been told it’s the thing to do?

The four “e”s that drive social media are engage, embrace, educate and entertain. I’ll be discussing each “e”, as well as some social media best practices and content considerations in future posts.

Thanks for letting me share some of my more simplified ideas on social and digital business. I look forward to discussing them in greater detail.

Mallie Dein, Director of Digital Inititatives
Soltys, Inc.