Your Advisory Board

Every successful business owner benefits from the wise counsel of a select group of experts,  who offer a differential diagnosis that brings fresh air and information into the room and drags us out of the echo chamber of our auto-pilot  habits and ingrained perspectives.

Fortunately,  life equips us with an advisory board,  whether or not we recognize it as such.  Unfortunately,  most of the advice we receive is bad,  starting with what know-it-all cousin Howie and meddlesome Aunt Sheila have to say (those two will have you broke in six months!).

No,  our real advisory board must be carefully curated.  One must know whose advice generally should be heeded and whose advice basically should be ignored.  The advisory board that we consult can be informal.  It is not necessary to create a formal board unless the business demands it.  But we should check in regularly,  to find out what is new on the horizen,  figure out how to solve problems faster,  brainstorm intriguing new ideas and overall learn how to work not just hard,  but smart.

Clients

As numerous experts repeatedly recommend,  listen to your clients and receive a wealth of information.  Customers give the outside-in,  other side of the desk view and what they value most can be surprising.  You cannot always fathom what customer priorities will be and you won’t know until you let them tell you.

Customers are essential members of our advisory board.  The client represents the marketplace and when the market speaks, business owners must listen.   Ask  for customer feedback in the form of evaluations,  surveys,  or plain old Q & A over coffee.  Ask what they like about your products and services;  ask what would enhance the experience of doing business with you;  ask about upcoming trends in their organizations and figure out what you can monetize.

Employees

If you have employees,  seek out their insights and advice on how your business protocols might be improved.  Employees are in the trenches and often know better than the owner about how the business is perceived by customers.  Employees are uniquely positioned to give very valuable feedback.  Owners and managers should be smart enough to listen.  

Likewise our accountant,  attorney and other professional service providers,  through the unique prism of their specialty,  may offer useful advice that can have a positive impact on the business.   A wise business owner creates  an environment where employees know that their opinions and advice are welcomed,  respected and at least occasionally implemented.

Competitors

Do speak with experienced people within your industry,  including competitors.  Many will be happy to share a few pearls of wisdom with you,  especially if they operate in another geographic locale.  Marketing tips and other promotional strategies can be  good topics to discuss,  as could the types of services that resonate most with clients these days.  If your summer vacation means travel,  don’t be afraid to do some soft-touch networking.  You might get some timely advice from a seasoned pro.

Roundtables

Additionally,  I think you will find it useful to have also a structured advisory board esperience and for this I recommend membership in a peer group,  also known as a CEO forum or roundtable.  Groups consist of perhaps a dozen business owners in non-competing industries,  are often segmented by number of employees and annual revenues and usually meet monthly for about 2 hours.  The idea is to assemble a group of business owners who share a  similar profile and who therefore have the  perspective to offer relevant advice and support to fellow members. 

When properly facilitated,  group members function as each other’s board of directors.  There is guidance and support on decision-making.  Members celebrate successes.  New ways to consider and resolve business challenges are put forth.  Opportunities may be discovered,  goal setting is encouraged and members hold one another accountable for progress and achievement.  Peer roundtables can provide a welcome source of support and inspiration and do much to overcome the isolation that many business owners experience.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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Facilitated Meetings Get Things Done

At certain times it is advisable to bring in a professional to facilitate,  or conduct,  your meeting. The facilitator guides meeting participants through a specific agenda and employs techniques that assist participants as they work to identify key issues,  analyze problems,  discover opportunities and organically create strategies,  decisions,  actions and time tables that will lead to resolutions that participants understand and accept.

According to Michael Wilkinson,  author of “The Secrets of Facilitation” (2005),  examples of appropriate times to call in a professional meeting facilitator are:

1). An important issue has been detected or a major problem has surfaced.

2). The solution to a vital issue is not apparent and deeper understanding and analysis of  the problem are required.

3). Buy-in is needed for a solution to be successful and it is likely that the required solution will need the acceptance of key stakeholders.   A change in behavior or methods may be necessary,  without which the solution will fail.

When a professional meeting facilitator is called upon to conduct your very important meeting,  time and money are not wasted.  The facilitator works with the meeting convener to select the best participants for the meeting, who become the planning team for the issue at hand.

Who are the team leaders of departments that will control decisions likely to be made? Who are the team leaders of departments that will be impacted by those decisions? Who are the pivotal team members in those departments,  those most likely to formulate strategies,  implement actions and/or live with the fall-out? These factors impact the selection of planning team participants.

Once the convener has worked with the facilitator to choose the team,  the facilitator conducts brief,  individual interviews with them. The facilitator explains to team members why they have been invited to participate and what the convener would like to achieve in the meeting.  The facilitator then asks questions of participants in order to gauge alternative viewpoints regarding the history of the issue,  resolutions attempted and failed,  possible barriers to resolution and factors that may be critical to creating resolution.

The facilitator shares this data  with the convener and together they create an agenda for the planning session and also determine how much time will be needed to work through it and arrive at solutions. The convener then schedules a mutually agreeable meeting time and confirms specifics in writing,  ASAP.

If pre-meeting data need to be generated, the convener either assembles the data or assigns the task to the appropriate staff.  In advance of the meeting, the convener sends the agenda to the planning team,  along with data that must be reviewed.

At the meeting,  the facilitator gives an overview of the process the team will use to examine and analyze the issue and create solutions and then reviews the agenda. The facilitator also gets agreement on meeting ground rules:  e.g., no surfing of electronic gadgets,  no interrupting,  no “opting out”, etc.

The facilitator then goes about the work of conducting the meeting.   He/she asks provocative questions that will stimulate thoughtful analysis;  leads the team in brainstorming useful ideas;  generates enthusiastic participation;  and captures participant responses on flip charts,  for documentation.  The facilitator motivates the team to delve into the issues and devise solutions.

Where there is disagreement over an approach to a problem,  the facilitator works to find consensus and accommodation.  Solutions that emerge in facilitated meetings work because the key stakeholders are always present.  Their perspectives and priorities  shape and create the  solutions that arise and therefore they buy into them.  They own them and they value them.  As Michael Wilkinson has pointed out,  an effective decision = the right decision x commitment to the decision.

The facilitator transfers the decisions,  actions and follow-up from flip charts to Word documents and sends that info to the convener ASAP,  who then disseminates to the team. Additionally,  the facilitator may reconvene the team for a half day meeting in 45-90 days,  to ensure that team members are following through,  allow the team to measure the impact of solutions,  make necessary alterations and maintain project momentum and commitment.

In professionally facilitated planning meetings, business objectives are invariably achieved and implemented in a timely and cost effective manner.

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Let’s Call The Meeting To Order

“Do we have to have this meeting?” How many times over the last 10 years have you made that statement? Probably countless times. You were surely justified.  Most meetings waste time and money because they are called for the wrong reasons.  They have the wrong people in the room;  too many people just want  to hear themselves talk;  they drag on forever;  and worse,  either no decisions are made or if they are, they are never enacted.  Meetings are torture!

In my corporate days,  I worked for a Fortune 100 that imposed so many meetings on the staff that they may have violated human rights treaties. Those people would call a meeting and first decide how long they wanted it to be. Then they would either expand or contract an agenda to fill the allotted time. Yikes!

Meetings were unproductive,  mind-numbingly boring,  seldom addressed relevant issues, typically brought forth no decisions,  rarely produced follow-up actions and absolutely never ended on time. They were brutal.

The money and time wasted on senseless meetings by US businesses is now being calculated by an online company called Meet or Die  meetordie.com.  They chose about a dozen industry categories,  factored the length of the meeting and the job rankings of who will attend and then estimated the cost of the meeting to the company.   If you spend a lot of time in meetings (or are a serial convener),  please check out this site.  It will give you pause.

A company with 100-500 employees that holds a day long meeting with just 5 mid-level employees present will spend an average $3000.00 to conduct that meeting in-house. Team Leader,  ask yourself—will your meeting produce results that are worth the resources expended? Are you guaranteed to accomplish what you set out to do? Will the actions and decisions that surface be implemented?

So what goes wrong? The biggest meeting killer is the lack of a clear purpose.  What does the convener aim to do in the meeting and why? The second meeting killer is the agenda. The meeting agenda should reflect the purpose.  Furthermore,  it should not overflow the time scheduled for the meeting.  The idea is to provide a framework to identify and define  key issues; discuss and analyze those issues; and resolve those issues through decisions, strategies, action plans and follow-up.

Moreover,  it is critical for the convener to bring the right people into the meeting.  Identify the stakeholders and decision makers for the issues at hand and schedule a mutually convenient date and time frame needed to carry out the meeting agenda.   Decide if any participants would be best suited to take ownership of a particular agenda topic and review with that person.  Make sure that appropriate background materials are emailed in advance for participant review.

During the meeting,  encourage participation from all attendees.  Do not let people “hog the floor” or,  heaven forbid,  behave disrespectfully by attacking,  sarcasm,  texting, interrupting or other dysfunctional behavior.

There will be room for alternative viewpoints on how to approach and manage key issues and that is healthy.  After all,  you called the meeting to get input about concerns and possible solutions.  Just remember that the meeting convener is responsible for ensuring good behavior and establishing an atmosphere of positive energy and thoughtful dialogue that will promote analysis, sound decision making and problem solving.  The convener should also keep the meeting flowing by moving through the agenda and staying on time.

Lastly,  the convener should review all decisions reached and actions planned;  review who will take ownership of implementing those;  establish an accountability follow-up schedule;  and in a timely fashion,  email meeting minutes to document it all.

There you have it,  the secrets to running an effective meeting.  Next week, we’ll talk about when it makes sense to call in a professional to plan and run a meeting for you.

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Be An Inspiration

Let’s end  this ugly year, this annus horribilis, on a high note!  I’d been looking for the right way to close 2009 and put us in the frame of mind to create a much better year in 2010.  I think I’ve found what I was looking for– maybe you will agree?

I recently read an excellent article by Alaina Love, writing for Business Week Magazine on December 22, 2009.  Ms. Love is a nationally known leadership expert and president of Purpose Linked  Consulting.  She is also co-author of “The Purpose Linked Organization: How Passionate Leaders Inspire Winning Teams and Great Results” (2009).

Ms. Love presented what she calls the Inspiration Continuum: 10 behaviors and characteristics that she feels identify a true leader.  Whether you are a Freelancer,  CEO of a company large or small,  or a senior manager I think you will find this information applicable to your circumstances.  I pass this string of pearls along to you and hope that you will be inspired to integrate this wisdom into your business practices:

1.   Authentic rather than phony

The words,  actions and beliefs of inspirational leaders are consistent.  These leaders are not phony or pretending to be someone they are not.

2.   Reliable rather than erratic

Employees know they can count on inspirational leaders to guide the organization to clearly defined goals on a well thought-out course.  They do not confuse an already struggling workforce with erratic behavior and constantly shifting priorities.

3.   Anchored rather than disconnected

These leaders are well positioned in the flow of the business and the organization’s culture.  They are clued in to contemporary trends and issues,  rather than disconnected from current realities.

4.   Optimistic rather than pessimistic

Inspirational leaders demonstrate a world view of possibility and abundance.  They are not unaware of the challenges and difficulties the organization may be facing, but they choose instead to focus on both how and why the organization will be successful.

5.   Self-aware rather than unconscious

They understand their strengths and passions as well as their vulnerabilities and blind spots and they work diligently to leverage the former and minimize the latter.

6.   Driven by purpose and passion rather than power and fear

Inspirational leaders understand the tremendous power of a well-articulated purpose and a passionate workforce that embraces it.  They get results not through wielding power and inculcating fear,  but rather by creating a vision in which others can become engaged.

7.   Inclusive rather than divisive

These leaders value the input of others and seek out opinions from a widely diverse base.  They recognize that divisiveness and exclusion do not lead to quality results or strengthen teamwork.

8.   Focused on others rather than self-focused

Inspirational leaders focus first on creating a positive environment for others and leaving a valued business legacy and only secondarily on their own needs.  They will make tough choices that benefit the business over the long term,  rather than trade the future for a short term gain.

9.   Respectful rather than manipulative

As the economic dust begins to settle and organizations reinvent themselves, inspirational leaders recognize that the business environment is dynamic and may require even more changes that affect jobs.  They appreciate the importance of treating employees at all levels with respect and insist that any implemented programs or processes are consistent with this core value.

10.  Able to foster other leaders rather than demanding followers

Inspirational leaders spend a significant chunk of time identifying and grooming leaders throughout the organization.  They are fully aware that the future of the business is directly related to developing individuals who are even better leaders than themselves and recognize that a business dependent on any one leader for its success puts itself in a vulnerable and tenuous position.

Thank you for taking the time to find and read my under-the-radar postings.  Please know that your interest, support and comments are much appreciated.  My objective for this blog is to present information that you can use to build a better business.

I am new to the blogging scene and still on the learning curve.  How am I doing?  Have I achieved my objective—or at least appear to be on track to do so?  What are the hits, what are the misses?  What topics have I covered that you especially enjoyed or found most useful?  What topics would you like to see addressed?

Thanks for reading and best wishes for a happy and prosperous New Year.

Kim

Fortune Favors the Prepared

Fortune Favors the Prepared

Hello again,

I’m back with a little more for the blog.  Earlier this month, on Thursday June 4, I lucked up and got invited to a truly marvelous half day symposium that was held at Northeastern University’s Center for Emerging Markets.  The symposium was organized by Ravi Ramamurti, Distinguished Professor of International Business and the center’s director.

Capitalizing on Emerging Market Opportunities featured several high ranking speakers from government and industry, who offered some revealing perspectives on the reality of foreigners doing business in China and India. The directors of the US-China and US-India Business Councils both spoke, as did VPs from Liberty Mutual International, Staples, EMC, Tata, Pfizer and Thermo Fisher Scientific.  I took lots of notes.

Ready For My Close-up

So am I making a plan to do business overseas in the near future? That’s an exciting prospect (I love to travel and experience other lands and cultures. I also love to shop and eat!), but  it does not appear to be in the cards at this time.

However, prospective clients may be taking a look at how their organizations might fare in certain international markets. Some may have stars in their eyes and see juicy new revenue streams  and others may feel pressured, reluctantly viewing markets outside the US as the only way to keep the business profitable.

Regardless of the motive, those of us who traffic in business strategy or work with decision makers in the tactical functions, which could include coaching management teams, facilitating CEO forums, market research and strategic marketing, operations, sales  and of course brainstorming sessions and strategic planning, will be better able to serve our clients and our businesses if we are able to anticipate the opportunities and challenges that those clients are likely to encounter as they evaluate  entering overseas markets.  We need to know what they don’t know!

Knowledge is Power

It all comes down to the tried and true axiom of knowing your customer.  We need to know what excites them and what worries keep them awake at night.  We need to be able to show them ways they can make money, ways they can save money and also the ways they might lose money.  One of the ways we can do all of that is to stay abreast of what is going on in local, regional, national and international business environments.  So keep  reading the WSJ, the NYT plus your local newspaper.  Be sure to attend a conference or two before this year ends and get some useful info on business issues that may be on the minds of clients and prospects.  It makes for some good networking. You just might meet your next client!

More later,

Kim