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Want to Be a Good Manager? Pick Up a Book.

For those that have experienced poor communication at a company, you know it isn’t pretty – especially for smaller companies.

Kelsey Meyer

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When a manager in a startup isn’t effectively communicating, trust breaks down. When you don’t have trust, people question the decisions made and productivity lags. When speed is inherently important – especially in technology startups – poor communication can drive a startup towards failure, rather than the path to success

This is important for startup managers to recognise — when your team consists of 10 people, as losing just one person due to inept leadership can seriously harm the company.

I’ve seen the pitfalls of bad communication firsthand in growing our content-marketing company Influence & Co. from two to 50 employees in three years. I’ve learned that it’s much easier to effectively communicate when you have four people sitting in the same room overhearing every conversation, than it is when you’re managing offices in three different cities.

While managers – including myself – have struggled with communication, I’ve learned (through a lot of reading) that I’m not alone. Reading and staying informed is one component that I believe sets managers apart.

Yes, managers can gain some of this information by speaking with their team, meeting with experts in the industry and attempting to gain inside knowledge of the competition, but the most effective way will likely involve a lot of reading.

Related: (Slideshow) Top 10 Self-Help Books of All Time

Managers need to keep up with industry trends, so they can prepare for changes that could affect their organisations. They must know what their competitors are doing and where they’re headed. And they need to read customer feedback, questions that come in through their website and even the transcripts of customer calls. All this matters and helps a manager take a company’s vision to the next level.

Depending on the industry, managers should be reading some (or all) of the following on a regular basis.

Niche and trade publications.

To know where a company is going, you must understand its product and industry. Niche publications that cover the tiny nuances of your industry are important, because they ensure you know enough about your industry to make good decisions.

Articles written by thought leaders.

Managers should have an idea of where the industry is headed. Reading content from respected thought leaders in your field provides you insight into what those ahead of the curve are thinking and challenges you to bring these thought processes back to your team.

Competitors’ newsletters.

Although it would be nice to pretend that competitors don’t exist, it’s more effective to know what they’re doing. Reading competitors’ newsletters gives you an understanding of what their stakeholders – customers, prospective customers and board members – are seeing, and it can potentially give you a heads-up on areas where you may be lacking.

Customer reviews and feedback.

While the best approach is to have managers pick up the phone and ask for verbal feedback from customers to gain a true understanding of how the company is performing, that’s not always possible. When that is the case written customer reviews are a great place to start. This is the best possible R&D you can do as a manager.

Related: (Slideshow) The 7 Books Every Entrepreneur Needs to Read When They’re Discouraged

Business books.

Managers are frequently told that they’re running a small business within a larger company, so understanding the basic principles of keeping this company afloat is rather important. A good place to get a sense of what is deemed a good business book and what isn’t, is to check out a publication, like The New York Times, and read their reviews and lists.

Psychology books.

Managers need to motivate a team. Psychology books that focus on what makes people tick, how to get people to do what you need and the psychology behind being a good manager can help you understand specific motivations.

I absolutely love when I’m scheduling a meeting with one of my team leads and see a section of time blocked out on her calendar that says ‘reading time’.

By encouraging your managers to read during business hours, you’re investing in their knowledge and signaling that continued education and intellectual curiosity are important to the organisation.

Related: The Simple Way to Find Out What Motivates Your Employees

Kelsey Meyer is the president of Influence & Co., a content-marketing firm specializing in helping companies showcase their expertise through thought leadership. Influence & Co.’s clients range from venture-backed startups to Fortune 500 brands.

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Successful Entrepreneurs Know The Difference Between Taking Chances And Taking Risks

To come out on top, build a process-driven company.

Brian Fielkow

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An outsider might think that entrepreneurs take chances. That’s simply not true. They take risks – and there’s a profound difference.

You’re taking chances if you act on the assumption that everything will go your way, if you rely on variables that are outside your control, if you do not understand the fundamentals of the market you are about to enter and if you cannot measure your actions.

On the other hand, you are taking calculated risks if you perform reasonable due diligence before executing, you seek input from trusted advisors, you rely on experience – not luck – and if you can measure results against your plan.

The savviest entrepreneurs prepare for all possible outcomes. They anticipate what can go wrong, and they prepare for it. When the unforeseen happens, they adjust quickly.

Each entrepreneur’s challenges are unique. That said, I have had the most success managing risk by infusing an intense focus on process into my business. I can trace most of my company’s failures (and my own) to deviation from process. Often, this is caused by lack of focus.

Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way to create a process-driven company that enables me to take risk with clarity.

1. Forget about the complicated handbook

Instead, let your team write the processes. Have your subject matter experts define best practices to execute successfully and mitigate risk. Keep it simple. Use checklists to supplement your process manuals. A one-page checklist beats 1 000 convoluted pages of process.

Related: 5 Infamous Risks Every Entrepreneur Must Face

2. Do not become upset automatically when people fail to follow the process

Ask whether the process was understood and properly communicated. Have we considered that the average American reads at a junior high school level? Yet many of our handbooks are written at a much higher level. People can be accountable only for what they understand. As our teams perform with greater understanding of process, the risk of execution-related failures drops dramatically.

3. Update your processes regularly

What makes sense today may not make sense tomorrow. In an environment of continuous learning, our processes are always evolving. Think of your process book as the place to institutionalise memory. As stated above, the unforeseen will happen. It’s a matter of when, not if. The first time the event occurs, it is unforeseen, and you address it. If the same event happens again, then it is a process, management or employee failure. Ensure that your new hire integration plan allows plenty of time for process absorption.

When problems arise, it’s tempting to ignore the small deviations and errors. If you have enough small deviations, it will build to a major failure. To manage risk, it’s important to dismiss paying attention only to severe issues. Whether a failure created a minor problem or a large one is purely a matter of chance.

I have managed risk in my business by treating all process failures the same. By discovering the root cause quickly, we can understand what happened and develop measures to improve execution on our plan.

When your plan is challenged, here are a few questions you should ask and steps to take to better manage risk:

  • Describe the incident. What happened? How often has it happened?
  • Investigate the incident. Assign cross-functional teams to investigate. Ensure the team produces documentation to support its findings. This may require meetings with people inside and outside the company. Outside perspectives are often helpful. If we are involved directly with a situation long enough, we can easily develop blind spots. Outsiders will not have the same blind spots.
  • Investigate the process. What process was supposed to be followed? Was it followed? If not, specify where the process was not followed and why. As stated above, was the process properly communicated and understood?
  • Define solutions based on the investigation. Ensure the solutions are both practical and highly tailored to the issue. Once the solution is defined, what is the plan for implementation and measurement of success?
  • Communicate liberally. Too many companies share their successes and bury the failures. It’s critical to communicate what went wrong and the solution with all parties involved. This is how you institutionalize knowledge.
  • Document and review. Document the resolution in your process manual, and review at defined intervals to confirm the resolution has taken hold and that no course corrections are needed.

Related: Evaluating Risk in your Business

These simple steps will help you build better processes and a culture of continuous improvement. In the end, there’s no better way to mitigate risk.

Entrepreneurs distinguish themselves by being able to manage risks in the face of uncertainty. There is an undeniable element of intuition and luck inherent in their decisions. When faced with these variables, most people will freeze. They will be afraid to take a risk, because they cannot distinguish it from chance. In contrast, an entrepreneur understands the variables and addresses those that he or she can control in a process-driven environment. The bases are not always all covered, but the known variables are controlled.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Crisis Management In A Digital Age

If you’re at a loss for how to go about jumping into the fray of social media commenting and opinions, here are a few tips to protect you, your business, and your brand’s reputation.

Darren Mansour

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In business, you can’t ignore what’s being said about you online. Most importantly, you need to respond appropriately. The internet is a free-for-all of consumer commentary, inevitably, some of it can be damaging.

Crisis management comes with the Online reputation management (ORM) territory of changing negative sentiment around your brand into a positive.

It can be difficult to know how to respond, keep things positive, or change the sentiment around your brand. If you’re at a loss for how to go about jumping into the fray of social media commenting and opinions, here are a few tips to protect you, your  business, and your brand’s reputation.

1. Avoid a Knee Jerk Reaction

Reading what could be perceived as negative commentary on your brand, business, products, services, or employees, can cause you to jump straight into responding by justifying yourself or trying to show that the consumer is off the mark and misinformed. These are normal reactions, but it isn’t necessarily going to help your brand or positively push your online presence.

Rule number one is not to place blame, especially on the consumer or commenter, even if the comment is negative, false, or misleading. Rule number two is never to take it personally and do not to respond emotionally or in an accository fashion.

Pay attention, think it through, then respond in a calm, professional and appropriate way. Set a clear ORM response policy around commenting and responding to comments.

Related: Crisis Management: Fail To Prepare, Prepare To Fail

2. Consider Comments as Free Research

Think of the comments you receive on social media, both good and bad, as consumer research. Keep a record of your comments and responses, tips, questions, suggestions, and key problems. You’ll find that your customer, fan, and follower will give you valuable information that you would not otherwise have.

The idea is to change negative sentiment around your brand into positive while at the same time leveraging off the information and data gained through this process. This perspective will assist you to see the value in this engagement with your brand. Online Reputation Management should be a daily task. This is all part of maintaining your online reputation and digital media presence.

3. Remember That Everyone’s Reading Your Responses

The most important reason to respond to both positive and negative comments is because everyone else on that thread is reading the banter. The amount of people reading the comments usually outweighs those actively participating in the conversation by commenting. They are all paying close attention to how the business and brand responds.

Related: How To ‘Crisis-Proof’ your Company

Appropriately responding to less negative comments presents the opportunity to demonstrate how connected the brand is with their consumer, it is the perfect platform to solve potential problems and defuse particular situations. When a business listens and responds to feedback online, in an appropriate manner, a sense of trust is created. It shows that the brand is prepared to go above and beyond. This can stretch far beyond the commenter.

4. Hire Talent To Do Your Responding

In order to fully tap into the benefits of social media you should consider getting a specialist on board to manage your social content along with the responses that this content creates. It is important to be on the same page as your marketing team. If you are looking for an agency with the experience, guts, and glory to carry your brand, then get in touch with So Interactive for your digital marketing needs.

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How Entrepreneurs Can Make Good Decisions Quickly

Below are some tips on how you can do just that.

Amy Galbraith

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As an entrepreneur, you have to face difficult decisions on a near-daily basis. These can range from deciding on what marketing strategy suits your business best or choosing what new talent to hire for your team. Making good decisions quickly can be tricky, even more so if you are pressed for time. However, there are methods you can use to do this.

Decision-making is an intrinsic part of being an entrepreneur, and once you know the answer to “What is decision-making?” you will be better able to make good decisions, quickly. Below are some tips on how you can do just that.

Acknowledge what you are trying to accomplish

Making decisions can be difficult if you do not know what, exactly, you are trying to accomplish. Before you reach a decision, you will need to carefully look at what you are trying to accomplish and optimise. Once you have done this, you will be able to make the right, and quickest, decision.

An example of this is changing a marketing strategy. Are you trying to reach a new audience? Are you trying to release a new product to the public, or are you trying to change your brand’s image? Once you have acknowledged what you are trying to accomplish, you can decide on what options best suit the situation. This process might take time at first, but, once you have done it a few times, it will become second nature.

Related: 6 Common Decision-Making Blunders That Could Kill Your Business

Use available data

Having evidence or data to help with a decision can be highly useful for any entrepreneur. And in today’s online world, you will be able to find enough of both to help you make any decision, whether it is big or small.

Using data and evidence, you will be able to see how your company is currently performing and make a business decision based on this data. The key to making good decisions in the shortest amount of time possible is having the right evidence and information available. You will need to be sure that you understand the data and evidence in order to use it as part of your decision making.

Give yourself a deadline

It is important to set deadlines for decisions. This way, you will be able to make them quickly, effectively and before any problems become bigger than they need to be. For example, set a deadline for deciding on a new employee a week from their interview date. This gives you time to examine their strengths and weaknesses in depth before deciding.

Having a deadline creates a sense of urgency, meaning that you will spend less time procrastinating and more time on the actual decision-making. It will keep things moving forward and you will avoid “paralysis by analysis”, a common occurrence in entrepreneurs and business owners. Deadlines help to keep the goal in sight, allowing you to make a decision quickly and easily without overthinking it.

Get an outside opinion

Even the Khaleesi in Game of Thrones has an advisor to help her make decisions. And if she has one, it makes sense that a business owner or entrepreneur should too. It is a good idea to get an outside opinion, especially if you have been thinking about a decision for a long time.

An objective voice can help you to reach a final decision, as they can help you consider points that you might not have thought of. You could ask your friends or your colleagues for help, but be sure that they do not have any attachment to the decision. This can make it difficult for them to give objective advice. If you have a mentor, this is the best person to ask for advice.

Related: 5 Bad Decision-Making Habits That Can Destroy Your Business

Reframe the problem

Step back from the problem or decision you are facing and look at it from another angle. Often, reframing a problem or situation can help you to reach a speedy conclusion, especially in terms of business.

Try to see the issue from as many perspectives as possible, as this will help you to ensure that you are not emphasising one aspect and neglecting another. This is all a part of the answer to “what is decision making?” as seeing a problem from another perspective can help you to see the bigger picture. You should try to think of at least three different ways to see the problem and work from there.

Keep calm

One of the most important ways to make good decisions quickly is to keep calm. By keeping your emotions in check, you will better be able to make a decision that is smart and objective. The steps in decision-making include knowing what you want to accomplish, using the data available to you, giving yourself a deadline and asking for an outside opinion. Once you have taken all of these steps, you will be able to make efficient and effective business decisions.

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