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  • Aspire » Leadership

    21 Oct
    Photo by *Sax via Flickr

    Photo by *Sax via Flickr

    We talk to business owners every day and one of the things we hear most often is that they have a “people problem” and it’s hurting their business…but there are always at least 2 sides to every story.  

    Although every business is unique, I would challenge that few business really have “people problems”, despite being one of the most overstated reasons for lack of performance in a business.  When we methodically peel back the onion far enough the root is usually connected to leadership and ultimately the top rung on the leadership ladder is the owner or ownership team.  That’s not to say that you don’t or can’t have the wrong people in the wrong seats, but those kinds of problems are usually a symptom of leadership challenges.

    Leadership is critical to business success and although it often feels intangible, it can be measured. Excluding uncontrollable events such as acts of nature or unforeseen economic turmoil the bottom line results of your business are the direct numerical indicator of your ability to lead.   When you lead effectively you set the stage for the rest of the business, your employees, and your customers. And when all of those things come together, because of your leadership, the numbers will reflect your success.

    The good news is being an effective leader of a company is not as hard as it is often made out to be.    That is not to say it is easy or happens without purposeful intention; but there a few simple steps you can take to help you get well on your way to raising your leadership bar.

    Without question, most of us have some leadership abilities.  If you are reading this and you own or manage a business it is safe to say you have already proven your ability to lead at some level. Great businesses and great business outcomes will come from strong leadership and the bottom line is that all of us can always get better.

    How do you know how well you’re doing (other than the results)? Try this short 3 question quiz as a quick test of your current leadership performance.

    #1:   3 for 3 – Same Page Test

    Ask your top 3 employees to list their top 3 priorities.  The owner(s) do the same.   If they all match, congratulations, you passed Test #1.    If they don’t your employees are telling you they don’t know what you are expecting them to do.   One of the biggest reasons employees pass off responsibility is they don’t understand what you really want them to do.  Get everyone on the same page.

    #2: Training the Trainers Test

    If something happened to any of your key employees is there someone besides yourself who could step in and seamlessly fill that role? If you have anyone who is irreplaceable (including yourself) you still have work to do.

    Depending on the size of your company having depth in different positions can be challenging, but the message is you must constantly be training.  Cross-training is invaluable when unplanned interruptions happen in business.  A simple way to start laying the ground work for this is to have each employee create a step-by-step manual defining what they do in their position.  It creates great opportunities for discussion to improve processes, create a scalable model for growth, and insulate your business from unexpected events or key employees leaving.

    #3: Authority and Empowerment Test

    After your next manager/staff meeting, where plans for the day, week, or project are discussed, start a timer and see how long your business can function without you having to provide additional input or make a decision.  The rule is you can’t initiate any communication.  If you can make it at least 24 hours, then you clearly have delegated some level of decision making duties to your employees/staff. The advanced version of this test is to be able to go a week or two without input and still have everything function smoothly.

    Depending on your business size this same process can be replicated with department managers and their employees.   This is a great exercise to help reevaluate spending limits for purchased items, authority to grant warranty or sales discounts, granting employee’s time off, and any number of questions routinely channeled through upper management for approval.  The inability to “let go” is one of the biggest obstacles that prevents a business from being able to grow.   You can’t do everything and you shouldn’t if you want to grow sustainably.

    So how did you perform?  Did you earn a passing grade?   As a business owner or manager your ability to lead ultimately determines the success of your business. And yes, leadership is more complicated than a 3 question test.   But hopefully this exposed a couple areas where there are opportunities to improve your business and improve your employee’s view of you as their leader which ultimately is what attracts the best employees to companies.  As always, please feel free to share your thought in the space below.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    16 Sep

    performance-reviews

    There are few things that business owners and managers hate more than employee performance reviews. With the exception of a very few companies that do it right, the process is generally considered to be a huge waste of time by employees and managers alike while generating a lot of ill will.

    However there are good reasons why a business needs to be doing performance reviews – and not just because your HR lead says it’s important:

    • Everyone need to be on the same page when it comes to priorities, focus and culture – a good performance review process will enable that.
    • Employees need valid, timely and constructive feedback if they’re ever going to get better (or find a better seat on the bus).
    • Business owners need a consistent and objective way to rate employees and give merit raises.

    A lot of small business owners or entrepreneurs don’t do formal performance reviews – but whether it’s formal or not, reviews, ratings and raises are still going on and avoiding the problem or the process can be an even bigger problem than doing it poorly.

    Tim Moran knows these issues well – a 30 year HR leader in companies like NCR, Frito-Lay and most recently Hallmark Cards, Tim is an HR Consultant who recently wrote a book aptly entitled: “Performance Reviews: Why We Hate Them and What You Can Do About It!

    In the book, Tim makes a strong case for how we ended up with today’s painful and bureaucratic performance review, why it especially doesn’t work now and a great blueprint for a better way to do things.

    A lot of Tim’s experience and key points in the book are directed to larger, more corporate environments…however the best ideas apply to any business owner who has at least 1 employee.

    Here are some of the key points that I think applies to small business owners:

    ‘Traditional’ employee performance reviews are too bureaucratic for today’s fast paced world

    Employee Performance reviews came out of the business management sciences of the 1950’s and 1960’s when the world moved a much slower pace and you could probably count on your company’s strategic objectives and focus to be valid for at least a year or two at any given time. Business changes rapidly today and things will be even faster tomorrow. Using a very structured, detailed objective management process for your entire workforce isn’t practical and frankly no one has the time. You (and your staff) have to be flexible and able to change direction and priorities quickly.

    Leadership must buy into actively supporting a formal process

    Employees are very sensitive to what’s going on around them and if the business owner and leadership team can’t be bothered to go through a performance review process, then the employees are never going to take it seriously either. This approach will guarantee a huge waste of time and a potential hotbed for lawsuits down the road.

    You need a quick, easy and effective process if it’s going to get done

    The good news is that Tim does more than just point out what’s wrong with the current status quo. He recommends a simple, single page process that is easy to implement…and easy to manage and maintain over time. Because it’s just one page, employees and managers have to be concise and focused on what’s important. Finally – this simple approach lends itself to more honest and open communication…actual talking because there’s not a lot of red tape and painful forms to hide behind.

    The best process is one that will get used and by keeping things simple and straightforward, Tim’s approach makes that a lot more likely.

    Want an example? I love Tim’s definition of Performance:

    “What you do (Results) + How you do it (Behaviors) = Performance

    Generally every employee knows what they’re supposed to do – ideally much of that is measurable or it ties back to business level results (revenue, profit, or other Key Performance Indicators).  The ‘What’ becomes the biggest part of the review – looking at the quality, productivity and timeliness of the results the employee delivers.

    The other component, the ‘How’ looks at how they do things – did they get along with others? Did they step up when needed? Did they live up to the company’s core values?.

    The end result is 4 quick scores – 3 of them on Results and 1 on behaviors, rate them from 1 to 5, take an average of the 4 scores and you’ve got your annual rating.

    It’s easy to do, easy to understand and it will help you have the discussions you need to be having anyway.

    There’s still going to be work and effort involved in rating and reviewing employees, but Tim’s approach takes away a lot of the perceived overhead and should let you get down to what’s most important – are your employees helping you drive towards the outcomes you want and doing it in a way that makes you want to keep working with them.

    Are you frustrated with your Employee Performance Review process?

    Or do you really even have a process? If you don’t have one…or if you don’t like what you have, then I strongly recommend picking up Tim’s book (right now via Amazon) – it’s only about 70 pages, but he hits all the high points and makes a lot of sense. You could also reach out to Tim on LinkedIn or I would be happy to introduce you. As part of his consulting practice, he would be glad to help you figure out how to change or implement a new and better way for this painful process.

    What are your thoughts on Employee Performance Reviews? Love ’em? Hate ’em? We’d love to hear from you – leave us a comment below and keep the discussion going.

    Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach

    23 Jul

    Eye Care Springfield MO

    Photo by Mark Heffington via Flickr

    Integrity, character, honesty, core values; virtually every business expert on the planet can give you their dissertation on why one or all of these are critical for long-term business success.

    When questioned, most business owners will typically respond that these are principles that guide their company.   Equally, most employees will say they subscribe to these same values in the way they conduct themselves within the organization.   And one would have to agree that by and large, this is true.

    However, every business at some point will be tested.   Every employee will be tested.   The significance of the test may vary, but the significance of the response does not.   It is in that moment, the level to which you truly honor those defining principles as the owner or an employee, that one learns just how much you will risk upholding them.

    A test revealed…

    During a recent conversation with the owners of a business, we were discussing one of their key accounts and they made mention of what they referred to as “the incident”.  It was something that had never been mentioned before.    “The Incident” as it turned out, was a test for this business a couple years ago.   And frankly it wasn’t just a test, it was “the test” and the repercussions of their reply had the potential to drastically impact their bottom line.

    What if this was your business?

    Imagine an employee who works for one of your largest customers proposes a plan to you.   If you agree to the plan you are not only guaranteed continued business, but additional business…lots of it.  Because of the position, the employee of this company has the power to influence the amount of business you are getting and losing this account could be devastating to your company, your employees, and their families.

    The proposed plan is simple and agreeing to it would require little effort on your part.  The financial upside for your company is clear; guaranteed continued business, with more on the way.  However, the downside is the great unknown?   The client company is a fairly large corporation, so there could easily be others involved further up the management ladder.   If you contact ownership, will they believe you or think you just have an issue with their employee or department?   If another business agrees to play ball and you don’t, will you lose this account and risk not only the future of your business, but the livelihood of all your employees?   These were just some of the questions and this was the test the owners faced.

    Making a decision.…

    The owners discussed the situation.  Regardless of the outcome, for them there was only one answer.   And though they had never formally written their core values or posted a mission statement on an office wall, the foundation of the business was built around biblical principles and that is how they guided their business. So at the risk of potentially losing their biggest account they declined the offer and decided to inform higher level management about ”the incident”.  With that, their test was over and now they would wait for the results.

    Today the unscrupulous employee is no longer with the company and this business continues to earn a significant amount of their revenue working with this corporation.    It is safe to say they passed their test.   And yes, we all have 20/20 vision in retrospect.   But at some point, regardless of your industry or your customer base, your business will face a similar situation.  You may be directly involved or maybe one of your employees will be targeted.  The circumstances will vary, however it is in the pivotal moment that your business will know what it is like…to be tested.  I hope you pass!

    One way to get in front of these kinds of tests is to consciously take the time to figure out what you stand for – uncover your Core Values.

    As always, we value your comments and would love to hear about any ‘tests’ that you might have seen or heard of.

    Chris Steinlage, Kansas City Business Coach

    03 Jun
    Picture from AnderCismo via Flickr

    Picture from AnderCismo via Flickr

    I had a great discussion the other day in one of my Peer Group Advisory Boards. The question for the group was – ‘What’s the most important trait for a successful business leader?’.

    A great case was made for Honesty and I wouldn’t say it’s a wrong answer – if I can’t trust you I’m not going to follow you (and therefore you’re not a leader). The problem is that it’s not a very actionable trait – you’re likely honest and have integrity…or you’re not, and hearing advice or a tip that you need to be honest and trustworthy probably isn’t going to change how you’re wired.

    Of course there are many others, here’s a short list of possibilities, a great leader needs:

    • To be empathetic
    • To be decisive
    • To be able to see the big picture at all times
    • To be clear – in generating a vision and in communicating with others
    • To have passion and commitment
    • To see how everything fits together (and how to build systems)

    All of the above are critical to long term success, but I believe there’s an additional trait that stands above the others…and ironically if you don’t have this trait, it’s unlikely you’ve read this far.

    What’s the trait?

    Curiosity.

    Initially curiosity may not seem to have the heft that Honesty or Empathy have, but there’s a lot of depth to curiosity – especially in a business setting.  For starters, it’s kind of unusual – it’s a great trait that unfortunately is often systematically beaten out of students in our educational process…you’re not supposed to ask questions, you’re supposed to give answers. So a genuinely curious person, one without an agenda, will really stand out and grab attention.

    Take a moment to think back to some of the leaders you’ve been around, both good and bad. What set them apart? What made them different?

    In my case, the worst leaders I had in the corporate world were those who strongly believed in a specific way of doing things…that might be based on tradition or it might have just been that their way was the only way to do things. In either case, anyone asking questions was inherently criticizing the organization and causing problems.

    The best leaders I worked with were just the opposite. They approached every meeting and every interaction with a positive questioning – how can we do it better? What if we tried something else? Why are we getting stuck? They were challenging to work for, in a good way, but I did far more and learned far more under those leaders than everyone else combined.

    The Essence of Leading – Driving Change

    Here’s another way to look at it – if everything is great, if it can’t be any better…then you don’t really need a leader. You might need a manager just to keep the status quo, but if there’s no need to change, there’s really no need to lead.

    However the world isn’t perfect and  you are almost never going to be in a situation that’s perfect…and expect it to stay that way for any length of time. The world has a nasty habit of surprising us with curve balls, bad weather, unexpected outcomes, competition and lots of other challenges. That’s when you need a leader…that’s when you need someone asking the tough questions – questions driven by a healthy, positive curious mind. Change happens when someone recognizes an issue and asks ‘How can we solve this issue?”. Curiosity not only helps to propel change, but it also enables an open mind…fostering innovation and possibilities.

    How do you cultivate Curiosity?

    Some people are just naturally curious, but most of us could probably develop a stronger sense of curiosity – here’s a few ideas on how to do that:

    • Lead with a question – it seems obvious, but how often do you feel like you need to prove how smart you are by telling someone something. Next time try asking a great question and get them to open up.
    • Study something you find cool – Dig deep on a topic that you inherently find interesting…even if it doesn’t have an immediate practical application. Consider the number of fascinating classes you can choose from in an online masters in organizational leadership program. This way you can feed your natural curiosity while learning information you can use in the business world.
    • Accept…even encourage failure – Work with your team to purposely try experiments and make sure they know that failure is a great outcome (just ask Edison).
    • Read a lot – It’s often been said that leaders read and readers lead, too often the internet is driving us towards the quick fix, the shallow answer. A great book will challenge you to think much more deeply.
    • Read outside of your business / industry – The naturally curious find interesting ideas in all sorts of places. Try reading a book or a magazine that you wouldn’t normally read.
    • Take the scenic route – Slow down and purposely drink in what’s around you. Notice things you normally would pass by. Literally take a different route home tomorrow.

    What do you think? Are you naturally curious? How has your curiosity (or other’s) impacted you? Am I just full of it? Share your thoughts, comments…and especially questions below, I’d love to hear from you. I’m curious what you might have to say!  😉

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach    

     

    01 Apr
    Picture by SashaW via Flickr

    Picture by SashaW via Flickr

    Have you ever felt like you’re on a treadmill when it comes to your business?

    Maybe your results aren’t where you want them to be, so you’ve vowed that you’re going to bear down and work even harder!  You’re already working 60+ hours, but you can surely find a few more hours here or there and your commitment to hard work and brute force will pay off this time.

    Sound familiar?

    The problem is  you’re headed the wrong way!  Working harder on the same things you’ve been doing means you’re only going to fail faster!

    “If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to keep getting what we’re getting.”   –  Stephen R. Covey

    It’s not just a treadmill; it’s a treadmill that’s headed over a cliff – running faster isn’t going to help you.

    Why do we fall back to ‘work harder’?

    Business owners are smart – if we took the time to really think things through, most of us would realize that running faster on the treadmill isn’t going to move us forward.  But when the fires are burning and when we really need to make some progress, the easiest thing to do (at least in the short term) is to bear down and work harder.

    There’s also an element of ego and pride.  You may be struggling…even failing, but no one is going to fault you for not trying…for not working hard enough.

    I get it.

    The problem is that if you’re an entrepreneur or a business owner, you are already wired to work hard.  99% of the time the problem isn’t effort, so working harder isn’t solving the problem…and in fact it will end up keeping you from really making the breakthrough you want!

    How do you make that breakthrough get off the treadmill?

    Step 1 – Slow Down:   The first thing you need to do is slow down…which will go against every instinct you have, but without giving yourself some breathing room, without taking the time to step back, just a little, and really look at the situation, there’s no way you’re going to find the real issue or a real solution.

    Step 2 – Identify where the model is broken:  Take an honest look at what’s working in your business – one suggestion would be to consider doing a Business Effectiveness Analysis with a certified Business Coach, but you could also just do a personal, streamlined review of your business model.  We’ve written about a simple model called the Business Pillars which could work as well.

    8pillars

    The key is to figure out, as best you can, what your true root cause issue is in terms of sustainable business growth.  More than likely you’ll identify multiple things that aren’t working great – that’s a great start…almost every business has a lot of things they need to work on.  A valid list is an important place to start.

    Step 3 – Prioritize, Plan…and Take Action:  Here’s where you get down to making real changes.  Review your list of constraints and prioritize them based on a combination of biggest impact and your ability to fix them.  If your biggest issue is the current state of the economy…there’s not much you can do in the short term, so move on to the next biggest issue until you find one that you can address.

    Then it’s time to start taking action (and different actions than you’ve been taking).  But you have to stay focused – trying to fix several things at once is a sure-fire recipe for failure and frustration.  Stick with your top priority candidate and come up with a realistic plan and approach for how you’re going to fix that issue.

    Give yourself a way to measure progress and make sure you’ve got time constraints built into your plan.  If you’re struggling with a lack of leads due to marketing, then your priority may be to implement a marketing plan in the next 90 days…with a next step of allocating enough time to develop a powerful marketing plan or find some marketing help.  Whatever it is, you must be doing different things than you’ve done before – that’s the only way to get different results.

    Step 4 – Measure and Keep Moving:  Business success isn’t a one time, one shot deal – it’s an ongoing process.  Once you identify and resolve your biggest issue, you should start seeing some progress (and you should celebrate…but only a little).  It’s a great first step.  Now you need to focus on the next top priority and figure out how to address that one.

    Even if you’re taking small steps, if they’re in the right direction you will soon be surprised at the amount of progress you’re making.  It’s way more than what you were making on that treadmill!

    Overnight successes are never Overnight!

    A breakthrough in your business isn’t going to happen immediately – life just doesn’t work that way.  But you can start seeing incremental success and before you know it you are going to be way ahead of where you were just a few weeks ago.  It’s all about consistent progress in the right direction.

    Are you feeling stuck on anything in your business?  Have you tried doing something other than running faster?  Would this approach work for you?  We’d love to hear your thoughts – let us know what you think in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach