Breaking out of your business activity trap prison

By: John D. Laslavic, LPBC

Business owners, CEOs and senior executives face a myriad of challenges in today’s business environment. Many of the challenges are related to understanding the ever-evolving business, economic, technology and political environments - not to mention the specific technical business changes presented in the professional field you and your team members embrace.

New and exciting products and services are continually being introduced to the market. These new business tools are available today and can be incorporated to assist your businesses to improve overall performance and profitability. However, the challenge we face is to find the time to invest in learning, adapting systems, and incorporating the new technology, tools and services while adjusting our current processes, maintaining our business efforts and dealing with a hundred other things. We must also keep the company mission in mind and lead our teams to success. This is no small task.

The trap we face is that it takes time, money and focus to step out and properly delegate our responsibilities and hold our associates accountable for results we have agreed upon. Stepping out of these day-to-day activities takes a tremendous amount of energy and effort. We get stuck in the business activity trap prison without a focused plan, resources and support. We do the same operational things that are important, day after day, subjecting our businesses to short term success but future harm. While our businesses earn revenue today, we sacrifice tomorrow. If you, as a leader, are not planning, looking at new innovations and adapting to the anticipated future environment, then who is? The answer is no one.

We know we must be open to change to be relevant in the long-run. We should be developing, introducing improvements, testing new tools and systems to help our associates but also to free ourselves from day-to-day technical and recurring business functions. Our goal must be to create, innovate and deploy better systems that produce more sales revenue and reduce our costs to gain a higher overall profitability. We can continually strengthen and grow our businesses through this process and applying best practices.

ThistleSea coaches have a fourteen-year track record of helping business owners, CEOs and senior executives free themselves from the business activity trap prison. This allows them to benefit from a more profitable business. In addition, ThistleSea clients understand the future, position their companies correctly and create a better life for themselves and their families with more time to pursue the things they value the most.

Give us a call for a complimentary discussion to see if a ThistleSea business coach might help you escape your business activity trap prison by starting the discovery process to build your action plan. Don’t hesitate to give us a call today.

“Because your business should lead to Abundance.”

Profit and Exit: Keys to Running the Best Company

Many books, seminars and speeches have been written about business. Many encourage business owners to jump through hoops but miss the two fundamental reasons for starting and running a business. The fundamental reasons are:

  • Earn a profit as a result of all the actions your business takes.
  • Be open to exit if the offer and timing is right.

All business owners should continually work to make a profit and prepare their companies for the ultimate success in an exit strategy. According to statistics, only 3 percent of businesses exist for 3 generations. Even size and reputation are no guarantee for business survival as many of the Fortune 500 vanish from the list each decade. With that backdrop, preparation, focus and always being open to an exit are critically important to maximize your investment in time, energy and money.

I have been asked many times by business owners, CPAs, attorneys, and consultants if I can help them or their clients achieve higher valuations. Obviously, if there is an engaged ownership / executive team and a market for the company’s products and services, the answer is yes. But where do you start?

While owners have many reasons for starting a business, they soon realize it is not easy and takes a lot of effort, money, smarts and consistent action. They learn, hopefully sooner than later, the only reason that a business exists is to earn money that results in a profit. Everything else may be important but is secondary.  Only delusional souls think the business' primary reason to exist is to keep families together, preserve a legacy, develop people, serve a community, etc. These are all good reasons but are secondary. If your business makes a profit first, you can “make the happy business cake,” and benefit those you serve it to. But without profit, you have no prosperity, just broken dreams, wasted energy and disheartened souls.

Typically, if there is some time before the actual exit events and sales closing, there are a number of things that can be done to evaluate, consider and take actions that will increase profits and the company’s valuation.

The first recommendation is to conduct an overall assessment of the business. It should include all areas of the business and technical operations. This assessment should help you discover the strengths and weaknesses to build an action plan for improving those areas found deficient and targeted for specific improvement. This is an area where an outside objective observer may be required to help you eliminate your company’s blind spots. They may also help you build your action plan and steps required for the improved value and results.

Here are some areas typically needing improvement:

Leadership

Is your vision for the company’s future clear and have you communicated this vision to all your stakeholders?

Most companies we meet need some work with the leadership team on refining the future vision, so they can clearly communicate what success will look like. This may include, for example, working on the strategic plan, communication strategy, upgrading organizational talent and preparing high potential emerging leaders, etc.

Marketing

Is the organization able to continually generate new qualified leads for its products and services?

How your customer service and reputation management integrate with your sales and customer service processes should be an important concern and typically are areas where great gains in value can be made.

Human Resources

Is your human resources function mitigating the risks for the business?

Typically, there is an opportunity to improve your agreements and employee understanding of the work required. If all functions are smoothly accomplished and properly executed, typically, it enhances the overall company’s profitability. In addition, buyers or those involved in operating the company after the transition are typically looking for a turn-key operation with well documented organization processes and procedures. They place a higher value during their due diligence process on a well-organized company human resources program.

Financial

Three areas to look in the finance area when preparing to exit include the following:

  • A clean set of books that are understandable. This is especially important to place the proper value on the company prior to the sale, during buyer due diligence and at closing.
  • A financial dashboard that demonstrates the financial Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to track your progress in improving company performance and overall value.
  • A budget and cash-flow plan to demonstrate how much cash the business can generate over time and how much cash the business will need.

Sales

Is your sales organization able to convert qualified leads to customers?

Do you have a sales model that works? Can your sales model be replicated and taught to others in order to repeat the results and company sales growth?

Technical

While many start businesses because of their founder’s expertise in some technical, product or service area they are knowledgeable and excel in, that alone doesn’t make the business sustainable and grow. Building a technical operating manual to include your policies, procedures and training programs will enhance the company’s value. In addition, you will need to demonstrate the company’s expertise, along with many other business competencies to entice an interested buyer to complete the purchase of your company.

Expense Control

Do you have a purchasing system in place that helps you to increase your gross margin and control overhead?
 

Are there areas where you can eliminate or reduce without hurting your quality and performance?

In summary, your ongoing and number one goal should be focusing on and achieving the highest profit and the highest valuation with your exit strategy in mind. This is the best way to run a company that will deliver for your family, employees, customers and the community.

If you are interested in learning more about how ACT Capital Advisors can assist you in improving your profits, valuation and selling your company, contact me at (724) 935-1930 or email me at jlaslavic(at)actcapitaladvisors.com.

Learn more about the author at http://actcapitaladvisors.com/pittsburgh-office/

Agreements: Key to your leadership success

The start of a new year, growth in your business, increasing complexity, new federal tax legislation, increasing competition, the introduction of new products or services… They’re just a few examples of business complexity that require strong leadership to chart a new destination and clarity to define success. 

The answers to, “What direction are you heading?” and “Why are you heading that direction?” require leadership. In almost all cases, you will need to work with others and clearly communicate to inspire them to your vision of success.

handshake.jpg

What can we do to more quickly build a framework that engages our team members, outsiders, and other stakeholders and propels everyone’s actions to reach our desired level of success? Let’s consider focusing in 2018 on better and stronger agreements. 

Agreements can be oral or written, simple or complex. The understanding on when and how to use an agreement in business is critically important to gaining trust, honoring relationships and putting dignity (“the state of being worthy of honor and respect”) into relationships, to create value and build a more profitable business model. Gaining agreement is not always easy, but it’s essential to any ongoing relationship.

Here are 6 items to help build strong agreements:

  1. Dream of the desired state and define why you desire it and what success looks like for you, your department and/or your company.
  2. Describe why the desired state is important to you, your team and your company.
  3. What must you do to achieve your dream and the success desired?
  4. Who is involved and needed to assist you in fulfilling and accomplishing your dream state?
  5. What are the specific messages you need to communicate, and what agreements are required to lead others to help you achieve this success?
  6. Develop a list of terms (the words and phrases that express the concepts required for a strong agreement). The terms must be clear to all parties involved in the agreement to achieve the desired outcomes. 

Without strong agreement, we operate from a position of unconscious and often conflicting set of assumptions. In that position, relationships are fragile at best and most of the time the relationships are far less successful than desired. 

When should you worry that your agreements might be weak? Consider these 3 warning signs:

  1. Employees or stakeholders refuse to share ideas, or their ideas are not acknowledged.
  2. Solutions to issues and problems are incomplete and not resolved, causing frustration and confusion.
  3. Complex challenges are not dealt with efficiently or in a manner quickly enough to make a real difference. 

When the people involved in the company struggle to see eye to eye on an issue, their implicit vague agreement causes a misalignment. Misalignment creates greater risk and destroys value. 

Most importantly, without clear agreements, our decision-making is clouded, and we fail to honor our own values. Leaders struggle to make timely and appropriate decisions, ultimately operating at a level far less than their potential. 

The same applies to employees. In the absence of strong agreements, we set them up for poor performance and failure. Questions left unanswered in the culture include: “How do we interact to achieve the desired results?” “What are the unwritten rules of the game?” “What level of autonomy and resource do I use to make an impact?” 

Clarity for both the supervisor and employee on responsibilities, accountabilities, duties and performance levels through strong agreement relieves the pressure and tension allowing for personal expression, business growth and the ability for the team to create value for the customer.

The use of agreements (both formal and informal) guides companies to make good decisions, and supports organizational capacity-building and maturity. 

If you would like to learn more about building strong and better agreements with your employees and stakeholders, contact a ThistleSea Team member. We would be glad to help you and your organization.
 

"To tie my foot problems directly to employee hiring was funny."

Or "How my bunions led me to hire a business coach."

I decided to write this post after reflecting on my time as a client at ThistleSea (I'm the only one in our office who can do this). This may give you an idea of why someone might hire a business coach.

I came to business coaching when the business was almost exactly 18 months old. I spent the first 13 months working between 70 and 80 hours weekly, and my 34-year-old body had begun to inform my brain that this was not a sustainable plan. What were my clues?

There are no pictures that accurately represent how unpleasant marriage was at the time.

There are no pictures that accurately represent how unpleasant marriage was at the time.

  • I was missing important family events regularly.
  • I had very few relationships outside of the business.
  • My feet had developed problems that weren't healing. (This after many years of tap dancing and running without issue.)
  • My marriage was pretty unpleasant.
  • I arrived each day at work prepared to fight fires.
  • If I wasn't putting out my own business fires, I was covering so that employees could put out their fires.

Looking back now, it's not hard to categorize my challenges. But under pressure, I couldn't see them:

  • Work/life balance was poor
  • Systems were not in place (in my case, HR systems were weak)

 (I don't know if ThistleSea's Wexford office was literally at a cooler temperature than my business, but when I would arrive at a coaching session, there was a clear feeling of "Ahhhh...." I could breathe. I could think and plan, ask questions, propose solutions, write, be still... I had no fires to fight.) Getting to the root cause of anything is difficult under pressure, so it was important that pressure could be relieved.

Let's use one of my examples.

PROBLEM: "My feet had developed problems that weren't healing."

WHY? (1)
I was on my feet for 8-10 hours, 6 days per week.

WHY? (2) 
I had to help the staff get the work done.

WHY? (3) 
There wasn't enough staff capable of meeting the company's requirements for the amount/quality of the work.

WHY? (4)
Staff didn't stay very long.

WHY? (5) 
We didn't clearly explain what was required when we hired new people. So we hired some people who didn't understand the work or weren't capable of doing it.

Yeah, I wore this. Yeah, it was as ridiculous as it looks.

Yeah, I wore this. Yeah, it was as ridiculous as it looks.

To tie my foot problems directly to employee hiring (1) was funny, (2) did not happen overnight and (3) did require making intermediate adjustments. That is, I didn't go straight to having an amazing system for hiring and then magically experience foot healing.

I'll talk a bit more about what happened in my next post. 

TAKEAWAY: When you're having a problem in your business, write it down. Ask "why" 5 times. You'll get very close to the root cause, and that's where you need to be.

The CEO Genome Project findings

By: John D. Laslavic, LPBC

Our team at ThistleSea Business Development, LLC works with clients to apply best business practices and personal effectiveness strategies. The results help them run more profitable and successful businesses and have careers that deliver more fulfilling lives.

An article in the May-June 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review, “What Sets Successful CEOs Apart,” reviews a behavioral study called the CEO Genome project. The University of Chicago and the Copenhagen Business School collaborated to identify the common traits of the most successful CEOs. They used data and interviews from over 17,000 C-suite executives (including 2,000 CEOs) covering career history, business results and behavioral patterns. Distinguishing behaviors were identified in four areas taken from those who were hired as CEOs (and those who weren’t) and those who excelled in the CEO role (and those who underperformed).

These findings are important because business leaders can significantly increase their odds of becoming high performing CEOs and top performing business executives if they deliberately develop the following behaviors. For this article, we will call them leaders.

1. Decide with Speed and Conviction
Leaders found as high performers move forward and make decisions. They understand that slow decision-making causes bottlenecks, frustrated teams, and over cautious staff. It stalls progress within their company.

Bad decisions are better than a lack of clear direction because they can be fixed. Mistakes are viewed as learning experiences by top performing leaders.

Having a wide view from a variety of data and information resources is required but must not be overdone. To make a call, 65% of the information is enough for these high performers. Perfection slows progress. They cannot wait for a perfect answer.

2. Engage for Impact
Top performing leaders lean into the discomfort. They set a clear course by understanding their stakeholders’ needs and motives. They have an unrelenting focus on creating value and driving performance and results.

Leaders are also principled in their communication. They stand out by making decisions fast with great conviction. The studies showed leaders who are more decisive are 12x more likely to be a CEO. A wrong decision is better than no decision. According to the findings, leaders were given low marks on decisiveness 94% of the time for deciding too little, too late and given low marks only 6% for deciding too quickly. Only 1/3 of the leaders are terminated for bad calls while 2/3 are terminated for indecisiveness. Results-oriented, engaged leaders who consistently understood their stakeholders were 75% more successful in their role.

3. Adapt Proactively
When you’re watching a close sporting event, you’ll see that sometimes the coach must throw the playbook out the window to win. Business leaders are, at times, required to quickly adapt. Those who can master adaptation are 7x more likely to succeed in their role. To successfully adapt, these leaders are consistently scanning wide networks and diverse sources of data and information. They have a great sense of change and can make strategic moves to their advantage. They also spend 50% of their time on long-term thinking.

Leaders use coaches and recognize the value of having diverse advisors who are objective and whose judgement they trust. As one colleague of mine would say, “Never drink your own bathwater!”

These successful leaders recognize setbacks as a part of their job. Setbacks are part of learning and offer opportunities to modify and improve.

4. Deliver Reliably
Leaders who had the ability to deliver reliably were twice as likely to be selected for the CEO role and 15x more likely to succeed. Board members, investors and employees love a leader with a steady hand they can trust.

The keys to delivering reliably? Set realistic expectations, plan, budget, assess the business to develop an independent point of view, build a strong team, align and execute. Establish meeting cadence, dashboards, clear accountability, monitor performance systems and make rapid course corrections.

If you want to see how you rank in these 4 traits, take the 5-minute online assessment at http://CEOGenome.com.

Contact us if you would like to discuss how we assist business owners, executives and other leaders improve their performance through understanding their impact and adopting successful behaviors and best practices. We might be a good fit to assist you and your team. ThistleSea is confident in our ability to positively impact your continued success and growth.

The Cure for a Business Filled with Assumptions

One of the most important concepts I discovered as a business coaching client was just two words long: “Never assume.” What kinds of things did I assume as a business owner?

  • Every stakeholder knows and shares my vision for success.
  • Employees will follow the company’s policies and procedures. (In retrospect, "HAHAHAHAHA!")
  • Staff members will share their discontent with me if it occurs.
  • Employees will share my values.
  • Vendor relationships are adversarial in nature.
Turns out there's a reason EVERYBODY knows this saying.

Turns out there's a reason EVERYBODY knows this saying.

Were my assumptions wrong? Well, yes and no.
 
Some stakeholders knew my vision for success. Some employees followed company policies and procedures. Some staff shared discontent with me when it occurred. Some shared my values. Some vendors tried to take advantage of the company. The problem was not that my assumptions were all wrong; it was that by assuming, I could never be sure.

Business coaching helped me to understand the dangers of assuming, and then to make changes in my behavior to stop doing it.

BEFORE (Assumptions) AFTER THISTLESEA COACHING
Every stakeholder knows and shares my vision for
success.
I need to know the vision. I need to communicate it often. We
need to discuss it, ask questions about it, and lead people to
share and adopt it.
Employees will follow the company’s policies and
procedures.
"These are our company’s policies and procedures. Here’s
where they’re written down, and these are the people who can answer questions.
You’re expected to understand and follow them. If you choose not to do so, here
are the consequences you can expect."
Staff will share their discontent with me if it
occurs.
"We’ll check in as a group daily and with each other
periodically. Your supervisor will meet with you individually on a regular
schedule, and you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions, speak openly,
receive performance feedback, etc. If you’d like to speak directly or you’re
experiencing a problem that isn’t being resolved, here’s the best way to
schedule time together."
Employees will share my values. "The values that drive our company are _____, ____, and
_____. We honor our values among ourselves, with our customers, vendors and
competitors. On Wednesday, Amanda demonstrated our value of ______ when she
________."
Vendor relationships are
adversarial in nature.
"Here’s what we need and expect now, as outlined in our
written agreement. Let’s schedule a 6-month review so we can correct any
issues, learn about new services, etc. If we have immediate needs, what’s the
best way to get a fast response?"

Assumptions can be hard to identify, particularly if you’re assuming things correctly.
 
Communicating clearly elevates the importance of top performance in your company. It gives all parties the opportunity to decide, “Now that I understand this, am I on board? Or not?” It leaves no room for drama, ambiguity, excuses or blame.
 
The next time you’re surprised at something that happens in your business, ask yourself why. It’s likely that you assumed incorrectly… just like I did. Let us know if we can help. Reviewing your assumptions may be your key to success.