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You're Ignoring a Critical Resource: The Ideas of Your Staff
Resourcefulness is often integrated with self-reliance. An employee who is closer to the front lines often has less resources at his disposal, and fewer - if any - subordinates to assign and delegate work to, so that ideas can be brought to fruition. The employee, therefore, often turns to the resources that they do have, in the form of their own abilities, ideas, and time. Eventually, that resourcefulness stands out among his peers, and he is promoted. Now, management has higher expectations of him, as they have given him more tools and resources to deploy to implement business improvements. A critical flaw can appear here, though. A manager born of a self-reliant resourcefulness is unlikely to immediately (if ever) embrace these new external resources to their full potential. In fact, the manager is likely to accidentally follow old habits, and centralize his idea generation, only utilizing any new resources as part of the deployment.
The front line staff, as Toyota has recognized, often have some of the best ideas for improvement. They are, after all, the ones executing the day-to-day processes over and over, and so are in the perfect position to see flaws, issues, or things that could be improved. Traditionally-run businesses completely ignore these ideas though, in favor of the idea that management must be the ones to come up with the solutions to problems. After all, management is made up of resourceful individuals who rose through the ranks with their great ideas. Now, however, the once front line staff are removed from the front lines with their promotion, so their ideas are now (at least) one degree separated from what they once were. The ideas cannot be as in-touch with the root problems, then, and the manager can accidentally implement "solutions" that only cover up issues, or worse, exasperate them.
Operating Without Critical Business Info is a Scary Prospect
The triumphs, though, are often hard-fought and at great expense. How often are the audience of the movie yelling at the screen "no, don't go into the old abandoned building!" because they have information the characters lack, trying to save them from undo hardship? The plot of the movies would not be much interest if the main characters were all omniscient, and could avoid all peril with no effort, but there is a lot to be said for having the conflicts be a battle of the intelligent, rather than the incompetent.
Business is not so different from the classic horror movies. Without outlining the analogy in depth, it is sufficient to say that the unknowns in business are the source of suspense, tension, and ultimately, stress. Is a particularly expensive marketing strategy paying off? Is your staff meeting their obligations, and exceeding your expectations? How are your business financials? Often, the information is available - as it is to an observant horror film protagonist - but is not easily accessible, or is overlooked because of the hustle-and-bustle of day to day operations. Your business' KPIs (key performance indicators) are the audience, having insights and seeing things that you can't, screaming at the screen to try to guide you, but not being heard.
Taking a lesson from the horror movies, then, it is time to take a step back and listen to the audience. The KPIs of your business need to be made accessible, ensuring accuracy and relevance, so that you can dispel many of the unknowns. Starting KPIs should include month- and year-to-date financials, conversion rates for each step of the sales funnel, staff performance, and client statuses as they progress though your post-sales process. Without those as a minimum, just as the creepy, abandoned building at the end of the street doesn't raise big red flags, you too will miss red flags in your business, adding the stress of the unknown. And of course, if you don't know where to find your KPIs or how to set up a KPI dashboard, BMI is there to help.
When You Get Too Far into the WeedsYou Have to Break Out the Scythe
Maximizing Employee Effectiveness Through Aligning Objectives
The Super Secret Art of Holding People Accountable
The need to set boundaries with your staff, and then actually enforce those boundaries is an entire topic unto itself. Instead of focusing on the concept in general, highlighting the most insidious of these offenses is more worthwhile. That offense is that of shirking job responsibility, or worse, reverse-delegating work. It doesn't matter if the strategy employed is conscious or not, nor whether the strategy is born of ill-intent (such as laziness). The strategies typically employed usually manifest in one of two ways: either the employee actively fails to complete the task, or the passively fails to complete the task. An active fail might look like the employee constantly asking the boss or coworkers for help, and not being resourceful in their attempts to complete the job. A passive fail might present itself as the employee just ignoring the task altogether. They are testing the boundary to see if they can get away with only doing part of their job.
Are you so focused on the howyou forget about the why?
Do Your Thing!
To make a living doing the thing you love and working for yourself, you have to do all this other stuff you don't love and aren't great at. You have to spend time doing it, but first, you have to spend time learning how to do it- because the only thing worse than spending time on something you don't enjoy is having to spend even more time on it when you do it wrong the first time.
Starting a small business is scary because maybe you don't know if the world will see all the value of the new thing you bring to the table. There is an unavoidable degree of risk in that. But there are a lot of other risks too. One of the big ones is burnout- that you'll spend so much time attending to all the details and on top of that you still have to actually perform the service and make the product. Another huge risk in small business is all the little things you need to get right to make it work, in fields that have little to do with your core business. Accounting and Admin and HR aren't fun or sexy but if you do them wrong your business can fail even when you have a great product and a market-beating a path to your door.
Here's how you mitigate the risk: get a partner whose thing is to run business. Running a business is a set of skills and tools, and like any set of useful skills, there are people who excel at them. There are very affordable tools that can do the lion's share of the heavy lifting. We're a team with the skills to make a tool that fits your business. That means you just do the things you're good at, and the minimum possible admin and reporting, and the system will leverage that to complete all of the necessary functions of business.
Are you working for the present you, or working for the future you?
Are you working for the present you, or working for the future you?
Treating the Symptom Will Never Solve the Problem
Treating the Symptom Will Never Solve the Problem
If the floor manager asks why again, to the server's response, the server might reply that there is only one terminal for credit cards, and so it is taking time to collect payment, even from customers who have their bills and are ready to leave. Again, if the floor manager is contented, the problem is unsolved, and the treatment is only to symptoms. If the manager asks why a third time, the server responds that the other terminal is broken. Why, the manager asks, and the server explains the shift from the night before said a customer dropped and broke it. Lastly, the manager asks why he was not informed, to which the server replies that the other shift leader was informed, as is the standard practice of the servers. Now, the floor manager can deal with the root cause of the problem, and alleviate symptoms that will not crop up again. A staff member who neglects his duties would have certainly presented other symptoms, hiding the true nature of the issue from management.
By taking the time to dig into the problem, and asking 'why' until the most basic premise is reached, the treatment of symptoms becomes the treatment of causes, and the business is afforded the ability to improve. So too does this apply in personal lives, where the 5 Whys method could be done on a failed resolution. Determining the actual cause of the resolution being abandoned will provide the insight into what issues need to be addressed in order to ensure future success.
Change is Not Affected by Desire, it is Affected by Action
Change is Not Affected by Desire, it is Affected by Action
We wish you a Merry Christmas, and a happy new year.
Better late than never!
The astute observers among you might recognize that the BMI newsletter, usually diligently sent on the 1st of the month, is, in fact, a few days later this month. Whether you call it fate, chance, or just a creative accident, the tardiness of the newsletter coincides nicely with the topic. Extending far beyond a characteristic found only in business owners or entrepreneurs, a general sense of reluctance and hesitation when starting something new seems to pervade through most. It is unsurprising, and certainly not inherently negative or detrimental, as a sort of fear of the unknown makes it difficult to muster the motivation to face a challenge of undefined difficulty. Clichéd though it might be, a universally recognizable example would be of a student preparing to study for a test. Glancing at the clock (which for this story, will read 6:54pm), he boldly states, 'I'll start studying at 7pm!' Then, as so often is the case, time gets away from him, and he looks back at the clock in dreadful anticipation of having to start, only to realize it is now 7:02pm. Enter the most curious part of the story: rather than start 2 minutes late, our proverbial student - akin to so many others - will set a new start time for himself. 'I missed the 7pm start time,' he might think, 'so instead I'll start studying at 7:15pm!'
Facing the scariest part of business: accountability and responsibility.
It seems fitting to discuss, as the calendar rolls over into October, a month traditionally associated with spooks, scares, and Halloween, one of the most frightening parts of business an entrepreneur can face. Accountability is, for the entrepreneur, an interesting and odd concept. Unlike the work force of the majority, it is not often that the entrepreneur has a boss to report his success or failures back to; it is much more common that the entrepreneur is the boss, the one with whom the buck stops, and to whom all other employees are ultimately accountable. Within this framework, and the lack of direct and obvious accountability an entrepreneur has to any one person, it is easy to unintentionally invite a host of problems into one's business.
This is certainly not to say that accountability does not exist in the entrepreneur's business and role in some sense. The entrepreneur is accountable for his decisions, his vision, his success, and, as he is the one in charge, he is accountable for the overall success or failure of his business. At a glance, one might believe that this burden, the heaviest of any in the organization, would be sufficient to keep the entrepreneur on track. Often times, though, this is not the case. Truly, the entrepreneur knows, in the back of his mind, that their decisions impact the business, and that if success is to happen, as the old adage goes, "if it is to be, it's up to [him]." Why, then, do entrepreneurs seem to let this fundamental truth get away from them? Why do entrepreneurs not achieve the levels of success they are capable of?
A lack of accountability to a singular person, such as a employee has to his boss, creates a disconnect in the feedback or effect caused by any action (or inaction, as the case may be). When the entrepreneur has to steer the company, he is considering a wide plethora of options and decisions, on top of trying to manage the day-to-day activities that fall upon his plate. The lag between decisions (or non-decisions) that have more subtle impacts creates a situation wherein the entrepreneur, too busy with everything else he has to do and lacking accountability to any single person, does not tend to track the data on cause and effect. Consequentially, the entrepreneur is not working on the high-level executive decisions he should be. It is a sloppy game of guess-and-check, and the results are predictably subpar. Rather than continuing to accept the inconsistent or seemingly random results of your business, this October, force yourself to find the time to become accountable to yourself. Track metrics and data, follow up with yourself on decisions you have made, and act as your own boss, demanding that your work be effective and efficient. And of course, if you find yourself at a loss of where to begin, BMI is there to help; our HR team can create report cards to help you track your crucial data, and our VIPs Group is to hold you accountable.
We all agree it is important, so why don't we do anything about it?
Summer, believe it or not, is starting to draw to a close. September generally marks a return to routine, as schools open, vacations end, and the weather becomes less conducive to activity outside the home. That is not to say that routine is a bad thing, nor to suggest that summer ending should be a depressing time (though, those still in school might beg to differ!), only to highlight that this time of year is generally a slower pace. In fact, with how many see a shift in their schedule to accommodate the restart of school, it might even be argued that September is the true start of the year. If that is true, then perhaps September is a good time to reflect on the habits and routines that are being set up, and the impact they will have for the next few months. A sort of early New Year's resolution.
The importance of building habits that are sustainable and beneficial is no secret. Conventional wisdom regarding health, exercise, diet, sleep, and so many other elements of life are not without their established merits. In spite of the value they are recognized to have, there appears to be a disconnect; if these elements of life are so important, why are they not prioritized? The paradox mirrors something BMI has noted over the years, in that it seems some people are too busy to reduce their workload. At first glance it might seem completely backward, to hold the notion that one's work schedule is so filled to the absolute brim that there couldn't possibly be time to analyze why the schedule is so full, or work on reducing that workload. Yet, it is a significant and deep-rooted issue. Just as people continue to acknowledge then immediately ignore the importance of a healthy diet and exercise, so too do people acknowledge and ignore the importance of both balancing work and life, and prioritizing the real work that should be done.
Parkinson's law is, as the name suggests, a law, just as gravity. It states that, if not regulated and measured, work will expand so as to fill the allotted time. If one books 8 hours of work a day, then work will fill all 8 hours that day. If one can only perform 1 hour of work a day, then work will fill that 1 hour. As a thought experiment, imagine your work day and your to-do list. In the event that you completed everything on your to-do list, would you call it a day, and head home early? Or, would you allow work to expand and keep you there until that arbitrarily-set amount of time elapsed? The amount of work to be done is infinite. The question, then, is where you have drawn a line. Or perhaps, the question is, have you drawn a line?
Trite as it may be, it is time to focus on the journey, not the destination. The start of autumn and the return to routine offers a fantastic opportunity for introspection on exactly what habits and routines are being set, and why. With such a disconnect between being busy and being productive, and the two being confused for one another, take the time to reflect on what you are prioritizing; where you spend your time is where you will see results (or the lack thereof). If you find yourself too busy to even do that, perhaps this can serve as a red flag that you might need help, and of course, BMI is here to help guide and orient you with your goals.
The pursuit of perfection should not hinder the pursuit of improvement.
The pursuit of perfection, not only in business but in life in general, has long since been a core tenet of society. It's not as if the belief that perfection can be achieved, per se, has ever become accepted though. The very definition of perfection precludes any room for improvement. Be it beauty standards, sports achievements, artistic creations, business processes, or anything else, there is always something flawed, broken, or able to be improved upon. Photoshop and airbrushing can move models towards the impossible beauty standard. New techniques, more practice, and perhaps the use of performance-enhancing drugs can result in greater sporting achievements. Artistic creations and the public's taste change, moving a particular piece in and out of favor. Business processes can be made more efficient, automated, and more muda eliminated.
The inherent inability to achieve perfection and the fundamental principle that flaws will always exist should not be taken in a negative connotation. Instead, they should be celebrated as an opportunity. Speaking strictly in the business context, can you imagine what might happen to an industry if it perfected itself? No more room for improvement in any area; the hypothetical business has obtained the definition of perfect. All of its competitors would immediately be put on very short timelines to either perfectly emulate the perfect processes, or go out of business. There would be no reason to deal with any other company besides the hypothetically perfect one, and so the market would rapidly transition to only working with them. Even those emulating the perfect business would be nothing more than an automated clone; deviations from the processes would move away from perfection, and by the very definition of perfect, literally no innovation can be deployed to give a competitive edge.
Not only is embracing room for improvement in business vital, it opens a new mindset: that the pursuit of perfection should never hinder the pursuit of improvement. That is to say, knowing how overwhelming a task moving from current state to desired state is should not prevent moving from current state to 'new' state; a perpetual refinement that acknowledges that it is not perfect, but is better than yesterday. Applying this mindset to tackling the problems within business removes the need to get it right the first time, or the fear of failure. Instead, it frames it through the lens of reasonable and achievable progress. One step at a time, one refinement at a time, towards the goal of perfection, but never getting overwhelmed at not arriving at the destination, and enjoying the journey. And naturally, if there are too many processes that need attention and improvement, BMI is here to help ease your burden.
if you can't stand the heat, do you have to get out of the kitchen?
A heat wave, at least in Canada, has resulted in some record temperatures and nearly unbelievable thermostat readings this past week. With temperatures surpassing 40°C (that's 104°F for the American readers) and even getting as hot as 46° (114°F) where some of BMI's staff is, it is understandably difficult to focus on work. The allures of the pool, beach, lake, or any other such means by which people are trying to beat the heat are made even worse than in years past by the fact that local restrictions are finally being relaxed, and the population wants to capitalize on it. Such a combination of factors ultimately poses the question: are you in a position to be able to enjoy the weather?
It's a difficult question. Not merely out of some arbitrary calculation on whether there is enough banked holidays or vacation budget to take a few days off, but out of the underlying business principles. Are you in a position that, if you take time off from your company, things will continue to operate smoothly? Do you have reservations or doubts about how long you can take off before things start to go sideways? Are the day-to-day logistics of your company secure and sufficiently established to be executed without your discerning eye? Have you put yourself, accidentally or intentionally, in a situation where you and your business are synonymous, and one cannot exist without the other?
The expression "if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen" has been on the BMI radar for this last week, in both the business and personal sense. When the temperature is 40°C across the entire country, how do you "get out of the kitchen?" In that same vein, when the pressure of work is overwhelming, compounded by desire to capitalize on the weather, how do you take the departure so desperately needed? Can you even take that departure?
The answers to these questions only have a starting point. Despite the implication of the proverb, leaving the aforementioned kitchen because of the heat is not a weakness. Recognizing and responding to external situations by reacting in a way within your control is far from weak; it is a critical strength that modern society does not often promote. The heat of the kitchen - or the country - very well may be too much. Accepting a weakness is the start; building a plan to overcome that weakness is the goal. July's BMI challenge, then, is to look at your own "kitchen" and start to determine how you can handle the heats within. Decentralizing processes or automating them so you can take leave the kitchen when you want (or need to) is one such way; analyzing where the heat is coming from and if that proverbial burner even needs to be on is another. No matter what solutions you start to devise, BMI is here to provide the support and infrastructure your organization needs to make them a reality.
You can beat a dead horse, but you can't make him drink.
Among the Wellth team, there is a great affinity for the use of malaphors. A malaphor is combining two common sayings together into a singular (and perhaps humorous) expression. The title of this newsletter itself is the combination of, "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink" and, "you're beating a dead horse." The other malaphor that sees considerable use is "we'll burn that bridge when we get to it." In spite of the jesting nature of such expressions, the reason that the aforementioned bridge-burning expression comes up occasionally is because it represents a mentality that every small business owner needs to internalize.
It should go without saying that burning bridges, at least in the original metaphor that it is used, is seen as a finality; an action or decision that will have lasting impact and not easily undone (if it is even possible to undo at all). Juxtapose the seeming permanence of the decision to burn a bridge with the implied relaxed nature of the other expression, to cross 'that' bridge when you get to it, and a lovely contrast appears. Perhaps a bridge burning, or, in this context, a decision that a small business owner must make in their daily operations, will have lasting consequences. There is no sense, however, in fretting over the magnitude of the decision if it is not time to make the decision in question. You can't cross a bridge - or burn it, for that matter - until you are actually at it. Panic, stress, and worry about things to come don't serve any purpose in aiding the decision-making process, so why bother with it?
This is easier said than done. It is human nature to fret and worry about decisions that could have negative outcomes. Even the Wellth team, the champions of holistic living and success, are not immune to it. There is, however, substantial comfort in knowing that no matter how monumental a challenge, no matter how big a bridge, no matter how massive a blaze when the bridge is set alight, that the proverbial crossing (or burning) of the bridge is nothing to worry about. It's a simple mindset that changes it all: either you are in control of the decision, or you aren't. If you are in control, then why worry? You can work hard, utilize outside resources (like BMI), ask friends, family, or mentors, and approach the decisions you need to make as prepared as you can be. If you've done everything you can to make an informed decision, and the decision is in your control, despite how tempting it may be to stress about the outcome, there really is no need. You've done all you can, and all that is left is to, as the malaphor suggests, let the pieces of bridge fall where they may.
If the decision isn't in your control, then you have nothing to worry about. Stressing about things outside your control does not impact the outcome, and only serves to weigh you down or distract you from what is in your control. The bridge may burn, but if, in the words of Billy Joel, "[you] didn't start the fire," there's nothing to be done. Try utilizing this simple approach over the summer. It will take considerable practice to learn to stop worrying, but actively working on this mindset will leave you freer to enjoy the beautiful weather, less stressed and distracted, and even free you up to better balance your work and home life. Just relax and remember, you can burn that bridge when you get to it.
The fine line between giving your all, not giving enough, and reckless abandon.
A theme you may have heard in BMI's publications, whether it is the newsletter, social media, or YouTube videos, is stressing the importance of holistic success. Holistic success, a balance between the work life and home life, between personal and professional, between hard work and relaxation, is sort of an abstract concept. At first glance, it might even be interpreted as nothing more than an obvious statement; of course there has to be a balance between work and home. You can't live at the office; Maslow's hierarchy exists, in varying degrees, and applies to everyone. Everyone requires food, sleep, and a day off now and again. Arguments on the amount of any of these basic necessities aside, the major focus of BMI's holistic success is the time component of the work-life balance. Finding the sweet spot of working hard, but not overworking, is not nearly so straight forward as it would appear at the aforementioned first glance.
For sake of simplicity, time, in this example, will only be divided into two categories: working and not working. If you are spending time working - independent of whether you are physically at the proverbial 'office' - that time counts as work. Everything else you do counts as not work. What ratio of time, work to not work, is the secret ratio that maximizes success, without unreasonable sacrifice? There is, you will agree, diminishing returns for the value of putting additional hours into work beyond a certain point. The graph of work hours versus output has some hard limits that dictate this diminishing return. At the upper limit, a 24-hour input of work in a day will suffer catastrophic output. Not taking a single second to sleep, eat, go to the bathroom, or relax is not only impossible, it is detrimental to one's health; you could even go so far as to call it reckless abandon. Clearly the ideal ratio of work to not work, then, is not 24 to 0.
On the other extreme of the graph, the lower limit wherein not a single second is spent working will have a similarly catastrophic output of nothing. A business with sufficient automations will survive some level of zero output by owners and key employees, but that momentum will only last for so long before operations crash to a halt. The ideal ratio of work to not work is not 0 to 24. It might seem like common sense, but it does frame the question of where holistic success can be found, and pose another question altogether. Tim Ferris, in his book "The 4 Hour Work Week," addresses this latter question; the question of why the ratio can't be 0 to 24. Since he does an excellent job of making the case that the ratio should be as close to 0 to 24 as possible, let's examine the build-up to that ideal scenario.
Somewhere in between the extremes lies a golden ratio of time put into work, time spent relaxing and recharging, and the output of time spent doing both. A single newsletter article might not be sufficient to explore finding that ratio, but that is not it's intention. Instead, take the time yourself to reflect on what your current ratio of work to not work is, and if it is in need of adjustment. The business world often gets so wrapped up in doing things 'the way they've always been done' that it doesn't take the time to ask if the status quo is the best approach. A 40-hour work week might be the norm, yet there is nothing to say that it must be. Can you justify the time you spend at the office as being truly productive? Or, is it time spent there out of convention, of habit, without real reason? Taking the time to prove to yourself that the time you are (or aren't) spending working is the closest you can get to your perceived golden ratio will motivate you in the time you are at work, or force you to move closer to that ratio. And, as always, if the ideal ratio is spending less time working, BMI is here to offer the support you need to clear your plate.