‘Twas Five Months ‘til Christmas

Christmas In July (Part 13)

‘Twas five months ‘til Christmas and all through the company house
Everything was stirring, opportunity beckoning like a march from Strauss.
Business plans and strategy reviewed with care
Dollars promised through December would be there.

The producers digging for business widespread
While visions of dollars danc’d in their heads.
The CFO is counting and sees no cap
It will not be the usual fourth quarter nap.

Out in the market we have caused such a clatter
What they think really does not matter.
The impact grew like fire in a flash
The momentum will be more than a splash.

The glint of rewards beginning to show,
The work is not over I truly know.
I am in wonder at what is beginning to appear
The best in our people with awe I revere.

Even the most senior of our staff are lively and quick
They too are energized by the business uptick.
Faster than ever deals begin to frame
The teams called out each mentioned by name.

Now Leaders, Now Managers, Now Staff and Producers
On market, On leads, On partners and consumers
To the top of the market and over the brawl
Now close the deals, close the deals, close the deals all.

As anticipation mounts when the wins begin to fly
Every obstacle is met making challenges nigh.
So to the top of business the producers flew
More dollars for each and bonuses too.

Then in the market I heard the poof, poof
Competition backing down under our hoof.
I knew it was not the market turning around
100% market share is aways available I’ve found.

Reasons for failure were given the boot
Winning for all is such a hoot.
The dollars and rewards of the attack
Are building and not one is looking back.

Their eyes, how they twinkle and attitudes merry
Changes in culture forward we carry.
Armed and ready we draw our bow
New targets in sight, hit with results to show.

We have dug in our feet and shown our teeth
Our integrity, mission and vision we keep.
We’ve cut a broad swath with fire in the belly
The market has opened up like a deli.

I feel the passion and energy of my old self
Leading, laughing, thinking, it’s all top shelf.
Looking back now fear was all in my head
Being proactive means nothing to dread.

It is easy and exciting each day as I go to work
The hum and pace are more than a perk.
Tensions, concern and anxiety no longer pose
A threat to prosperity on the path I chose.

Awakened from my thoughts as if by a shot from a pistol
The newest numbers make everyone whistle.
All indicators suggest a December that will be off the charts
A very merry Christmas bringing dollars and joy in our hearts.

An adaptation by Pat Soltys of the poem “Twas The Night Before Christmas” written by Clement Clark Moore.

This post concludes the Christmas in July Brings Dollars in December series.  Our next series is Enterprise by Design.


Using Money

Christmas in July (Part 12)

The Christmas in July initiative was already showing promise for a very good return on invested time and energy.  The owner of S and Company had done a masterful job of not only including everyone but also engaging their participation and ownership of the objectives.  Reward systems had been set up that would leverage dollars brought in.  New ideas for making money and saving money had been implemented.

Being an entrepreneur, he knew that using money proactively brought greater opportunities.  The time was ripe with the momentum that had been created to put some ideas into action that would use money effectively.  While there were many opportunities, he selected one that was politically, socially, culturally and most important economically advantageous.  He knew that the popular environmental movement would work on his behalf.

The idea came as he saw a number of posts on Facebook regarding the impact of plastic water bottles in landfills.  The posts talked about the cost and challenges to produce, package, store, refrigerate and dispose of use and toss bottles.  A little research brought up many sites with facts, costs and impact of bottled water.  What had been a convenience now was turning into consciousness.

He asked the accounting department to pull information related to the cost of supplying bottled water in his company with calculations as to the approximate cost per bottle with everything from procurement to disposal calculated.  He was surprised to find that even though the price per bottle ranged from .30 to .50 depending on whether they bought custom labeled or not, the total costs were closer to a dollar per bottle.  The number of bottles that were being used, consumed and disposed of in his company alone represented staggering cost and impact numbers.  It was a line item that had basically been hidden as a part of “kitchen supplies”.  The number had taken a big jump each year for the past few years but no one had broken out the costs.  

He began researching what it would cost to have nice customized, reusable water bottles in sport and other formats and found costs ranging from .50 to $5.00 in quantity.  There were even ones in which an individual’s name could be individually applied.  It would not take very long before the cost spent was fully recaptured as long as there were viable sources for refilling the bottles.

Most of the larger locations had water fountains permanently installed.  There were refrigerators (many with water in the door) in the smaller locations, access to water fountains in the mall kiosk locations and a number of water coolers installed.  Access and refrigeration should not be the problem.

Working with the marketing team on the design for the bottles, an order was placed so that there would be at least one bottle per person and two for the staff who were always in the office.  The bottles ordered were designed to have a name written in permanent ink to identify and personalize the bottles and were dishwasher safe.  Additional bottles were ordered to be sold through the company store as replacements or used for marketing purposes.  Even if sold at cost, there would be a positive net gain at the end of the year.  For a reasonable additional cost, sales people could have a quantity of the bottles further customized with their name in addition to the company name and logo.

The next manager’s meeting was just around the corner and the owner decided that it was a perfect opportunity to launch the campaign and begin distribution of the bottles.  It would be an internal and external promotion leveraging the green aspects, social responsibility and letting those in the company know that this was another way that the company was also looking for ways to achieve the goals that had been set. 

It was a good use of money.  The only bottled water that would be bought in the company would now be for the water coolers where there was not another bottled water source and those would be bottles that were refilled and delivered.  No more storage, no more bottle refrigeration, no more picking up bottles left around and there would be a lot less sent to recycling.  It was company, budget and environmentally friendly.  An investment of less than 8% of the annual cost would reduce the overall cost nearly 72% of what it had been in the previous year.


Saving Money

Christmas in July (Part 11)

Recognizing and taking advantage of an opportunity is a skill that only the best of leaders possess.  It goes beyond ideas and people skills as it requires an awareness of the environment and sometimes the guts to do something about it.

The owner of S and Company decided to focus on the money this week in his Christmas in July initiative.  His attention on making money would not turn to the flip side of the coin – saving money.   Every fiber of his being loved the proactive side of business.  He had grown his businesses and lived by the axiom –

“You can’t save your way to wealth.”

He knew in this initiative that rather than trying to save money by making large cuts or changes, it would be the small things.  He wanted to create a pro-actively efficient operation that would change the culture and habits of people from users to stakeholders.

The opportunity was in front of his eyes.  In the Christmas in July initiative, everyone had an opportunity to win and rewards were based on profit.  He had the opportunity to utilize peer influence to create savings especially in the small things.  It would take a little education but that did not have to be formal excepting with the management team.  Everything else could be subtle, he could even have some fun with it and probably leverage the momentum he had set in place by working to make the company a green friendly company.  Red and Green as colors also worked well as a part of his plan.  Best of all, if it was a peer movement, it would not be seen as a top down mandate.  It would create ownership of the action and results.

Through the peer representative group that had been established, he knew he could start the ripple that would become a peer objective.

He told the group that since the rewards for achievement that were based on profit, there were ways in which each person could contribute to the goal through little things.  He outlined some of the ways which were small and yet could make a difference.  If everyone simply encouraged others to be proactive, it would be easy.

  1. Turn off the lights – if a room is not being used and it is not a safety issue, turn off the lights.  The savings would not only be in power used but also light bulbs and maintenance.
  2. Think digital – the need for hard copies has decreased significantly yet habits often still mean that we print and copy even when there is little future use for the paper afterward.  If printing for review purposes, consider using black and white mode unless color is important.  Since copier and printer toner, paper and maintenance were fairly big individual line items, this could have real impact.
  3. Courtesy Copies for groups, charities and yard sales that are well-intentioned, still cost money.  In essence, it makes everyone in the company support an individual effort when company equipment is used for individual purposes.  Savings would be in paper, toner and maintenance.
  4. Mail or Send Electronically – Delivery by email has a lot of advantages when appropriate as it allows attachment, time and date stamp as well as receipts.  It also costs almost nothing and requires the same or less effort than mailing or preparing a delivery.  Savings is in cost of mail, delivery and printing were easy to capture.
  5. Meeting Deadlines – turning in transactions and other work on time allows staff the opportunity to better manage their workload and facilitate everyone’s needs.  Reducing and or eliminating special handling and emergencies has a savings in potential overtime paid as well as fines that can be assessed for late filings.
All of these were really small things that did not require extra effort but rather a consciousness and would also apply to their own business practices.  The peer representative group and the managers saw these as easy wins and asked if there could be some sort of reporting on the monthly impact.

The owner agreed that he would produce a graph that would show overall and line items that had change that were impacted by everyone.  They also gave a number of suggestions on their own.  The time between the initiation of these cost saving measures through the end of December with reinforcement through the impact graphs and recognition would create new habits that would carry well beyond the Christmas in July Brings Dollars in December initiative.


Making Money

Christmas In July (Part 10)

The owner of S and Company knew that he had done so many things right in the kick-off of his Christmas in July initiatives. The stage was set to keep the momentum going to produce revenue that would make the fourth quarter and December one of his best ever.

This week he decided to turn a lot of his attention to the money side of the business. He decided to group his efforts into making money, saving money and using money. Money is not simply the end result of a business initiative, it is a tool, it is security and it is leverage. The initiatives that he put in place would produce revenue, but not necessarily a greater percentage of money that would hit the bottom line unless he changed something.

His margins in his core business were pretty skinny due to market and competitive pressures, so energy and time spent in that area would yield little additional return. He had many other components in his enterprise that had higher margins. Some of these were stand-alone products and services but most could be sold with the core business transaction. In fact, almost every one of the products and services in the group would be needed and purchased somewhere by the customer on the course of the transaction.

The answer had been in front of him all of the time. He had built a great enterprise but it had a lot of elements that were not connected and the customer base was not leveraged to create multiple purchases.

What were the roadblocks that kept this from occurring naturally? Thinking about it, the answers were fairly simple but the solutions would be more complex.

  • WIIFM – The sales team focused on the core transaction or business segment that they were involved in as they saw the most personal benefit there. Ancillary product or services did not necessarily bring them any additional rewards that they could see. Managers were often seeking favor with the sales team concentrating on problem solving.
  • Education and Orientation – The Company had spent a lot of time and money educating the sales teams and the management teams on selling their core business but little time in understanding how to leverage the other products and services in the enterprise to their advantage. Sure they were told about the other business components in orientation but there was no reason for continued top of mind awareness. Each business unit, due to structure, orientation and default, was in a world of their own with little interaction.
  • Promotion – The consumer was not introduced to other products and services except by default. Web presence, social media, presentations, and marketing pretty much focused on the core transaction. There was little if any opportunity for the consumer to engage the enterprise with or without a transaction.

A visit to the grocery store gave him some ideas. What if the web site which drove most of their business and was a resource for consumers and sales people had virtual end caps? What if at different points when they visited part of the web site a virtual nudge appeared to bring awareness to a related product or service? Could he place other triggers that would bring all tangents together and in focus?

Could he also leverage his customer care group for presales rather than focusing on post-sale only? Were there metrics that would give the sales team confidence that leveraging the enterprise did add to their rewards in terms of easier transactions, customer stickiness and friendly internal vendors?

The more that he thought this, it also struck him that the education in the company by default created an adversarial relationship where salespeople were individual hunters rather than having a business partnership with the company. He realized that market pressures had created the thought process that the salesperson would not make as much money if the company made more money.

There was a lot of work to do. Lots of opportunity and he could see that a few tweaks would change the picture so that revenue also had a higher profit margin by focusing on the enterprise rather than individual components. It would not be a quick change but more of a systemic change that would touch almost every component of the company. He knew that individuals and the company would be stronger as a result with tighter bonds which meant a long term return on his investment.


Ripples that Make Waves

Christmas In July (Part 9)

The owner of S and Company was humbled by the accolades he received from the Christmas in July launch meeting. He had empowered and gained the gift of empowerment that would change the way he led the company. He shook almost every hand as they exited the meeting and accepted the statements of support, passion and drive they shared. He was surprised by the number of flashes he saw in the audience as pictures were taken.

He realized that the meeting had been like a stone dropped in the water or a radio wave broadcast, the ripples created energy that would touch all in the wake. This was emphasized when he saw the postings that began to appear on Facebook through the company page and individual pages. He got a few calls from the media and some of his competitors wanting to know, “What Happened?” Since the meeting was staged so quickly, the rumor mill had been denied the chance to alter the message, intent or impact. Reactions that would follow did not have the power that an initiative well-launched, brings.

He had engaged from the stage. His presentation featured pictures of people and success stories and there were many shout-outs of recognition and thanks. Each manager, division leader and peer representative had been recognized and tasked with accountability now spread throughout the company. He had also asked them for their help, support and shown a transparency that was greeted with appreciation. A genuine request for help with a worthy reason seemed to bring out the best in people, including willingness to pitch in.

Pitch in they did! Several had back burner deals that with a little work could be posted. Others had things they intended to work on at some point that they could bring to the forefront. Perhaps most interesting was the number of people who loved the strategic concepts he had shown where certain types of buyers were most likely to result in multiple sales, approaches to relatively low hanging fruit and ways to utilize company campaigns. They asked about teams, additional information and requests for leaders in these pursuits.

It was interesting to see that when they were pulling together as a team, the individual interests that were often thorns in everyone’s side seemed to take a back seat. Activity and focus on the objectives also brought natural talent to the forefront. Winning together meant that each one also would win. He had not thought that it could be done with such a large company, spread over a lot of geography.

He knew that he would have to keep feeding the wave so that energy was constantly renewed. It occurred to him then that every achievement organization from scouting to armed services to sales used recognition as a fuel. Whether it was a milestone reached, a competency conquered or entrance to a select group, recognition was the fuel – frequent, meaningful and the more public the better. It needed to include not just the planned points of recognition but small items as well, including personal touches. He also made sure that in the recognition, family and friends would be able to witness the limelight.

He decided to write a letter to the family of each person in his company thanking them for their ongoing support. He would briefly outline the initiative and let them know that this meant that everyone was putting forth a bit of extra effort. He would let them know that there were rewards and bonuses for successful completion of the goals. The letter went out the next day.

The waves had expanded from a single point to gaining energy of their own. Each time a barrier was encountered it did not stop the wave, but rather sent it in a new direction with more energy. The activities built around the initiative helped him discover many gifts from strategic surprise through recognition and inclusion. It certainly was Christmas in July and he felt that the dollars would be reaped well into December and beyond.


Leadership In Action

Christmas In July (Part 8)

Through this series, we have been following the owner of S and Company as he implements his Christmas in July initiatives. He has now engaged everyone in the company and outlined the market opportunity he sees, but knows success will never come on autopilot.

He has always loved history and learning about the great leaders of the past and present, gaining an understanding of what set them apart from all others. As he thought about them, there were several traits that became apparent.

Those leaders were connected with and engaged the people who followed them. While there was hierarchy it did not get in the way of relationships.

Their followers were loyal and willing to pursue the objectives they set because respect, trust and alignment to mission had been earned. The respect, trust and alignment were mutual.

Those leaders communicated directly making each person feel that they spoke directly to them.

Those leaders brought people at every level into tactical and strategic plans with each person having ownership in the success of the objective.

The leaders demonstrated a thirst and drive for the win, not for their own glory but for everyone participating individually and as a group.

He had to lead. This was not something to be delegated. As the company had grown and there were more layers, he found himself heavily engaged in the administrative and financial side of the business, harnessed to the enterprise. A lot of his interaction was with a very small group even though he had always stated an open door policy. His communications had become “State of the Company” and communications which were one way via the company communications channels.

Sure he was at each awards ceremony, welcomed new people at orientation and tried to squeeze time in to walk around and talk to people but none of this really made him feel engaged. Creating the peer representative group really felt great and was invigorating. He had been surprised that many of them felt that he had been “untouchable” with access restricted by a number of gatekeepers.

The speech given by George S. Patton the day before D Day came to mind. He was never thought of himself as a desk commando but a man of action, inspiration and leadership. It brought back memories of when the company had been small and struggling where he was hands-on and motivating people without money.

He felt the excitement building. He had the traits; some had become dormant over the years or grown a bit soft. It was time to really bring these out. Like a commander looking at maps of the battlefront, he devoured all of the information and ideas that had been put together in the initial strategy meeting that he had called Gifts In The Market. Rather than presenting this through others in many small meetings, he decided that he needed to present it “Patton” style.

A venue was secured that could hold the whole company with large screens. It would not be a long meeting but would give the platform to launch the initiative and personally speak to each person. He decided that it would be an early morning meeting. Buses would be available from each location to bring teams to the meeting that was titled Market Assault. Very little additional information was given as to the content of the meeting. He went to work on what he would say, how it would be presented and how he would work to engage each person.

Sure it was going to cost a little bit but the rewards and the timing would make it all worthwhile. The Christmas in July Initiatives would be launched in with panache, style and strength. This was a win-win that would allow the company to accelerate the dollars in December goals.

All managers and division leaders were tasked to make this a success in terms of attendance as well as all of the components that would follow to ensure momentum.


Gifts in the Market

Christmas in July (Part 7)

Christmas in July is sometimes about discovering the gifts that are waiting for you to receive them. In this series, we will continue the story of the owner of S and Company who has embraced the Christmas in July initiatives.

The owner of S and Company really wanted to make sure that everything possible was in position to make sure that the company and the people in the company would reach their goals. As he was searching for opportunities, a news story on the web caught his attention. It was about how change occurs in communities that is fairly subtle and a series of separate events. Once the changes accumulate, the landscape is changed and totally different. Because the changes are not necessarily related and have little relationship in timing, the change does not really stand out.

He thought about the market place. Each year when the company writes the business plan, the marketplace data is used as a part of the metrics. But what actually changed in the marketplace that might have created unseen opportunity? All of a sudden, it hit him. While some of the revenue and units available in the community had not changed greatly, the competitors had. One group of companies had a major brand change; others were suffering an identity crisis as their brand had been sold. Several companies had merged and a couple of others were closed. There were others that were doing better than ever and some in which owner age, health or other challenges meant that changes for those companies would soon occur as well.

The more that he thought about what had occurred in not even a year’s time, he realized that the way the company had been using market place data in their business plan hid significant opportunity. There were gifts in the market just waiting to be claimed.

Some of the opportunities were fairly small, others had great potential and all would require a strategic pursuit. He realized that the cumulative value of even a portion of these opportunities more than guaranteed that the goals for dollars in December would be met. It would take a team effort and it would require both internal and external messages. It would also require that the company operat from a position of strength.

He called the managers together, as well as the division heads across the company, to explain the opportunity he saw. Excitement grew as each person in the meeting realized what this would mean. He told them that this would require a team effort and each of them would have a significant role as individuals and in the way they would work as a company. The meeting had been planned to continue through a working lunch so that he could take advantage of the excited mood in the planning, tasking and launch. The buzz was infectious.

At the conclusion of the meeting, campaign names and dates were established, targets and strategies defined. He came back to operating from a position of strength and asked each what that meant to them. There were a variety of answers, some that did not match the people who offered them. In the end he said that there were many times in which he felt that they had each, and as a company, been playing defense – countering, protecting and explaining. This was quite natural as all were at least in part problem solvers. While problem solving would not go away, he wanted them to understand that no new ground is gained in playing defense. He wanted each one to assess their own strengths and the company strengths and to utilize those to drive momentum. Let others play defense while they moved forward and conquered targets. This would be important in being effective and efficient as the one playing offense rarely had to play defense.


The Support Team

Christmas in July (Part 6)

The owner of S and Company had decided to go full speed ahead with a Christmas in July initiative.  The meeting with The Managers went very well and actually created goals a bit beyond the ones he had in mind.  Everyone seemed to be on board and the coaching/accountability meetings would give him a lot of insight, opportunity to work directly with the managers and really gave him a chance to feel the pulse of business that seemed to get lost in the corporate offices.

He had turned the tables so that the producers were participating in helping their managers achieve their goals and really contributing to the growth of the producers and the company.  The representative team loved having a role and the buzz that had been created throughout the company could be heard just about everywhere.

The group remaining that he really needed to bring on board was the support team.  This team included everyone who was a part of the company supporting the business but not a producer or manager.  Basically, these were all of the people who kept the wheels on the bus going round - front desk, administrative, IT, marketing, accounting as well as the corporate leadership team.  The corporate leadership team and the departmental managers had been in the manager’s meeting, mostly on the sidelines. 

As he thought about the group, excepting most of those on the corporate leadership team, these people were task oriented, well trained in their area but with little connection in terms of either role or tasks with most of the company.   Some had little interaction or communication with producers and managers other than something related to one of their tasks.  They knew how to keep the wheels on the bus but did not know how their job impacted the speed and/or destination of the bus.  Their training and orientation included a few words about the importance of their job to the company but nothing that made them a part of the team.   They were important to the success of the goals and initiatives, but it was difficult for them to see when focused on tasks.

He decided that first he and the corporate leadership team, with the divisional managers, had to make sure that they saw why their job was so important and what it would impact if they were backlogged or for some other reason became a bottleneck.  They also had to understand the impact of their communications when talking to managers or producers.  Finally, they needed to understand what they could do to help build opportunities and revenue in the company. 

The decision was made to set aside a portion of the net profit that exceeded the year end objective as a bonus pool specifically for this group.  He then decided to feature one or two a week with a brief bio and personal statement on the company Intranet to introduce each as more than a person others saw coming and going.  A part of this was to be written by them as a short "here is what I do".  Each of these jobs became a part of a puzzle in which the picture, when completed, showed everyone as a puzzle piece connected to others.  

The departmental managers were tasked to come up with a method of distribution for the bonuses which would require participation, recognition of extra effort and reaching out to be a team player.    Word spread that they would be included in the Christmas in July initiative, even before the bonus plan was finalized.  There was a noticeable difference in energy, more smiles and seeking information to learn what they could do to help achieve the goals.  Unexpectedly, one of the first things that happened voluntarily was that they asked about the vacation schedule so that they could help by providing cross coverage.

The distribution plan was modeled on the concept of "catch me doing something right".  An online system was set up on the company Intranet to collect responses.  The departmental managers also decided that there needed to be interim awards and recognition.  Each person who was recognized on the Intranet each month was put in a drawing for lunch with the boss.

It was beginning to look like things were really coming together for the Christmas in July initiative.  The next step was to take a strategic look at how to leverage the market. 


The Producers

Christmas in July (Part 5)

The owner of S and Company knew that the Management Team would face challenges while executing the ambitious Christmas in July goals that had been laid out in the meeting unless they could change their methods of operations and working with their teams. The production team’s expectations of the managers were not necessarily the actions and activities that would promote business growth.

All but a couple of the managers had been in their roles for a number of years, long enough that it took a lot to get them excited. They maintained more than motivated. Growth came primarily as a result of their team’s production, even though they were quick to take credit for the growth.

The producers were a fairly independent group. About 40% were seasoned professionals who needed little from their managers until they ran into a problem. The next tier, about 30%, had been in the business and the company 2 – 3 years and would remind you of teenagers with their behavior. Another 20% were newer with two years or less under their belt and the remainder would be consider new.

Very few, if any, of the producers had reached their potential and each had needs that the manager should be able to leverage to help them and the business grow, The ones who would probably benefit the most and bring the greatest return on invested effort were also the most difficult to work with. They were in the 30% group and had just enough experience, success and tenure to think they had outgrown the manager’s ability to help them. The managers felt little love from this group and, in general, felt if they came to the manager it would be because they had a tough problem or wanted their compensation increased.

Compounding the challenges that existed in the company and the marketplace was timing. It was the middle of summer. Summer vacations, the lure of summer events and family commitments added to the breather many wanted to take after working hard through the spring and early summer busy times. It is always difficult to start an ambitious initiative in the summer.

The owner knew that he needed to really change things to make this work. He hoped that the behavior he was modeling would transfer to the managers, but knew that the group they would use these skills with would be the new and newer producers who still allowed them a pedestal. He decided to turn the tables.

He decided to create a contest in which the production team would stretch their managers by giving their manager points for positive and productive work with the producers. He asked for two representatives of each production tier to meet with him and be the courier of the information back to the producers and act as a leader in this project. He told them about the goals, with the largest being that everyone would grow as they achieved. He knew that spreading responsibility and roles for the short term would bring great results.

A point system was designed so that any producer could give four points to the managers score card for a growth activity which included strategy and planning sessions. Three points for proactive group activities which could include great meetings, lunch and learns or marketing activities. Two points would be given for standard training and/or coaching and one point for problem solving. Managers could also be given a negative point if it was felt that they were not leading, not available (business hours) or several other items that the production team voted to put on the list. A reward was set for the winning manager and team. To win, managers would need to have not only the highest point count but also had to have points awarded by each person on their team.

The managers and representatives worked together to present the contest and goals at the next meeting. Producers liked being able to help their manager gain points to win and everyone seemed to be excited. The peer representative changed the tone from top down to working together.

The managers each stepped up their game as they could not control points being given and did not know where they stood. Skills and ideas that had gone dormant were brought new life. Producers were involved and finding new value in their manager and the atmosphere was great to drive production. It was a great initiative with everyone having the opportunity to win. The changes were definitely the best gift delivered through Christmas in July and the owner knew that these would bring dollars in December.

The owner was pleased with the process and initial enthusiasm, but knew that there was one other group that had to be brought on board. If the operational staff and core support teams were not a part of goal, they could potentially be the wet blanket. The next post will tell that part of the story.


The Management Team

Christmas in July (Part 4)

Last week in Who’s on Your Team?, we suggested a review of the players who would help you execute the Christmas in July planning and be able to lead the implementation of the plan.  Integrating new energy and ideas through a specialty group must work with and through your existing management team if you want all hands on deck and pulling in the same direction.  Gaining buy-in, involving and holding each member of the management team accountable will bring better results.  The story of S and Company tells how one company decided to motivate their managers.

It was early July and the management team was assembled with the meeting room arranged in U shape seating to encourage interaction, allow viewing of presentation materials and make sure that the presenter was not only a focal point but could see the reactions exhibited by everyone.  The meeting started in the normal fashion rounding up stragglers from phone calls, pre-meeting breaks, conversations and other distractions about five minutes after the time that was designated.  As everyone took their seats, personalities were readily apparent.  There are a total of 22 on the management team each with personality, needs, and an ego.

The owner of the company brought the team together to announce a new business strategy which would change the company’s branding that had been in place for at least two generations.  The change would also bring new tools, systems, opportunities and would create much needed changes in the company.

The meeting started with the usual agenda of updates, issues and opportunities.  When the opportunities section came up, the owner walked to the front of the room.  On the screen behind him, a picture of a Christmas tree appeared.  Underneath the tree were gifts with names of each person in the room on them.  There were also gifts for everyone in the company and others labeled for the people the company served.  The room became silent waiting for the owner to speak.

He asked each to write down what they wanted for Christmas as a gift.  They also were asked to write down what they would want professionally, for the area that they managed and for the people who worked for them.

It took a while as people decided how to answer - a politically correct answer, what their head told them or where their heart led them.  The owner said that they had tried to get Santa involved but since he was already booked, each of them would need to figure out how to get what they wanted.  Each manager was given all of the stats relative to the area that they managed and asked to determine what they would need to do to have the gifts they wanted under the Christmas tree in December. 

This was a surprise as several of the managers were used to dumping problems and challenges on the company in part to cover what they were not doing or change the focus.  The meeting progressed with each person working on their plan, sometimes collaborating with others.  Individuals were called out to meet with the owner in an adjoining room to discuss their “gifts” and plans.  It was both a midyear planning session and a personnel review. 

Near the end of the meeting, the owner came back in with the collective list of what each wanted to achieve by Christmas.  The numbers were posted as well as the goals and it kind of took everyone’s breath away.  It was an awesome but possible goal.  It required that they work as a team, leverage tools and business systems and required high accountability.  The best part was that each person had determined how they would be held accountable.  The accountability aligned with the company’s methodology only now it was their idea rather than company direction.

The finale of the meeting was when the owner brought in the team that had been assembled to bring new ideas and help move the company toward year end goals.  They were introduced as resources to work with the managers to accomplish individual and company goals. 

The owner asked each person to take initiative, collaborate and push their comfort zone to accomplish the goals they shared earlier.  These goals would become the company goals.  Finally the owner asked if they would be willing to share the risk of the pursuit with him.  He offered to a bonus based on exceeding goals with up to 50% of the net profit beyond the goal put into a bonus pool.  Managers who exceeded their goals would share in the bonus directly related to the percentage of goal they and their area exceeded.  Managers who did not make their goal and did not make the company requirements for the area managed would lose 1% of their incentive compensation for each 10% mark where the requirement was not met.  In essence, meeting company requirements would mean no loss in compensation but exceeding goals would have rewards above and beyond the compensation plan.

There was quite a bit of discussion as some were fearful that they had set their objectives too high and others who felt confident they would meet and exceed their goals.

The owner then announced that he would again be meeting with them within the next week to review requirements and set final goals.  The strategy they had created and could refine before the meeting would also be reviewed.  Each month they would meet again.  While there would be accountability the owner would assume a coaching role to help each of them achieve.  Each was encouraged to deliver information ahead so that they would be able to gain the most from the coaching meeting.

Each management meeting afterward focused on achieving the goals.  In the first of December meeting, the owner brought in 22 gift wrapped packages.  Each package had a thank you note and a check for 50% of the additional bonus earned to date.   The packages could not be opened until the meeting was adjourned.  Those that had not reached bonus had a small amount, a gift, to encourage them to push hard through the remainder of the month.

Team spirit was high and the best end of the year strategy meeting the company had ever had was held.  The Christmas in July meeting brought dollars in December outperforming every company in the market and created a leadership training program for the resource team that had been brought in to contribute new ideas and energy.  Best of all, many of the managers adopted the accountability and coaching style modeled by the owner with their teams creating change that would continue through the next year.


Who’s on Your Team?

Christmas In July (Part 3)

Yesterday, my husband, Mark, and I celebrated our wedding anniversary. It is more than a celebration of the number of years we have been married, it is the celebration of a partnership with complementary skills, shared goals, an aligned vision and two people jointly willing to pull their weight without dependency. We are a team.

Companies that embrace the concept of Christmas in July mid-year planning and employ initiatives necessary to realize the revenue in December need a committed team. The owner or one member alone will not accomplish the goals no matter how great the ideas are or how hard you work. Santa without elves probably yields a pretty empty sleigh.

First, do you have the people on your team who are ready, willing and able to take leading roles, fully commit to the objectives and bring a passionate focus to the mission? Does your team work as a team or are they a collection of individuals that share little, including risk and reward? Are your team members willing to be mutually accountable?

Before you say yes, because you have leadership, really take a tough look – have the roles and responsibilities become the job where energy, creativity and willingness to push are a bit tired? (see post called Fearless.) You may want to bring in a string of players tasked with key areas for making the initiative successful. Your existing leadership team may be re-energized by the spirit and enthusiasm that those who have not had the opportunity to play a key role in an initiative can bring. It is not going around your team it is working through the team.

Once you have decided, who should be on the team, consider the challenges and opportunities that each team member brings. You need to get ready to “sell” your concept and create buy-in. It may seem strange that you need to “sell” to your selected team but you will produce far greater energy and creativity with less resistance than any mandate will bring. How you sell and get people excited will most likely ripple through the people they talk to.

Once your team is in place and you have gained the commitment necessary, defined the objectives and tasks/roles have been accepted, there is a lot of work to do. A number of pointers can be found in the post “When the Ink is Dry.”

Mark and I never would have guessed as high school sweethearts where our partnership would lead. It has been filled with opportunities, a few adventures, great times and some decisions that were not our greatest. Over the years we have met people who were a part of our team for a project or a time period, others who are permanent members of our team and had the opportunity to really enjoy the energy and pride that our children brought to our story. Those children, now grown, are taking everything that they experienced with us and through us to levels far greater than ours.

That is the true reward of a great team, when the benefit, experience and achievements are greater than the initial plan. The team you build, whether for an initiative or a lifetime, is a powerful force not to be harnessed but given guidance, objectives and counsel with freedom to exceed.


Celebrating Independence

Christmas in July (Part 2)

Today, July the 4th, Independence Day, is a great day to kick off your companies Christmas in July.   Christmas and the holiday season are all about celebration, good will, and sharing kindness so it is perfect that Christmas in July begins with a holiday celebration complete with fireworks, parades and lots of fun.  Consider the activities you participate in as ignition for ideas that you might incorporate into your company.

To help you with some starter ideas, a lot have been pulled together and presented to you as a fictional company we will call Independence Realty.  The ideas could work in most industries with a little change to align to that company’s industry and activities.  You will notice that all of these activities align to the objectives of the company and are revenue builders.

The owner of Independence Realty noticed the same cycles in business that everyone talked about.  Within those cycles, July was usually a good month but nothing stellar.  It was in the middle of vacations, summer heat, and a time of the year when people were not highly motivated in the business.  It seemed that, from Memorial Day to after Labor Day, customers and staff kind of coasted.  People who had begun the buying or selling process would complete transactions but there was a significant drop in new customer inquiries and activity.  All of this was, to a degree, related to the fact that sales professionals and companies spent the greater amount of marketing activities and efforts in the early spring and fall.

What would happen if the week of the Fourth of July was celebrated with events and activities such as you might find around a Midwest state fair?  The owner decided to go big and go grand with focus on participation from the staff, families and community and of course business.

On-Track Awards
The on-track awards were designed to give individual and public recognition to people and offices in the company that were at minimum on track for their annual goals.  The goals had been set in the fourth quarter of the previous year.  Each producer in the company had worked with managers to set goals that would meet their income and business needs.  Managers worked with the leadership team to set goals for the office and the leadership team set goals for the company.  The On-Track awards combined revenue, commissions earned, sales count and new inventory listings to create the standards.  The big factor was to qualify for the award, winners could not have a goose egg month with no listings or sales in the first six months of the year.  There were several awards groupings including several that focused on saleable listings added each month.  Recognition would be made through the week’s events to community and peers in multiple venues including significant web presence.

Staging Exhibition
Each office would host an exhibition in which the associates would profile on a display board listings that were prepared for market and “staged” shown through pictures and descriptions on a foam core board.  Each listing presented for the exhibition and an award had to show before and after, explain objectives and give results with a bit of the associate’s bio.  During the first week of July, these were featured on the company’s web site and in the offices.  Judging was through a panel from the community.

Office Open Houses
Each office location hosted office open houses within the week.  Main Street offices where there were community events were coordinated with the community calendar to maximize impact.  Mystery visitors will come through the open house to judge the office on reception, readiness to assist and appearance. These open houses are a  time to be on your toes – opportunity and recognition follow.  The open houses culminated with a picnic or barbeque for staff and families.

 Freedom to Choose
Celebrating the Freedom to choose a career, the company offers free tuition for licensing to new recruits signing on in the first week of July with a commitment to stay with the company at least two years.  Perks are available for milestone activities once the person has joined the company including during the pre-license period.  Experienced associates moving to the company within that week will receive a jump start package.

Participation in Community Events
If there is a celebratory event in the community for Independence Day, each office and the company participates whether through a float in a parade, volunteers at races or creating an event at their location.
There are many other ideas that can be incorporated.  Each idea executed needs to push production and include participation from the community, associates and families.  Using activities to create a mid-year jump start can change the business cycles that are perceived to be norms.  Initiatives that are focused on objectives definitely will bring dollars into the company.

We have so much to celebrate with the freedoms we have as citizens and entrepreneurs.  We have the freedom to establish businesses, create concepts and ideas.  We can make as much money as the market will allow if we use our skills, creativity and make sure that we recognize others.
Celebrate the birth of our country and our freedom!    


Christmas in July Brings Dollars in December

Christmas in July (Part 1)

Almost every business has cycles, some less obvious than others but they are still there.  In some businesses the cycle is related to the closing period from the opening of a transaction until it is closed. Others are tied to weather conditions and time of year.  There are also cycles related to consumer spending practices.  Retail cycles are in many ways easier to predict and plan for than those of service businesses, especially those that offer services that would not be considered a necessity.  

Non-retail business owners seem to find December an especially challenging month in terms of revenue, expenses and, in many cases, focus on the business.  Traditional business plans are often written with each month equal, in most cases because it is simply easier to divide by 12 and hope that the highs and lows equal out over the year.  That is fine on paper but does not pay the bills unless you are really good at building reserves and not spending when you have money.

One way to mitigate the impact is to do mid-year planning.  Creating this as a midyear event where milestones are celebrated, budgets re-examined and strategies realigned, taking into account dependencies that may not have been known before, can change the dollars in December.  Most financial impact to a business is the result of efforts executed well in advance of seeing the dollars; hence July becomes a perfect time to reevaluate.

A few things you may want to look at include:

1.  Annualized or large expenses most likely to occur in low revenue months.
2.  Products and services most impacted by discretionary consumer spending.
3.  Subscription and recurring income renewal periods.
4.  Timing, promotion and introduction of new products and services.
5.  Building your pipeline for future revenue.

There are many more actions and activities businesses using the Christmas in July strategies employ that go well beyond this starter set.  We will be showcasing many of these throughout this series.  Whether you own a business or are a decision maker, July is a great month to celebrate wins, reward people and put energy into the business.