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Agile Businesses Win the Race

In an unpredictable market, flexibilty leads to ultimate success.

Pavlo Phitidis

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I would argue that there are three absolute truths that we can rely on as entrepreneurs and business owners. This is an appealing proposition because absolute truths allow us to plan and act with certainty.

The first is that your physical body will die. Given this truth, plan for it now and build your business into an asset of value so that at the appropriate point in time you can sell it, earn a capital profit and retire gracefully and in comfort.

If you aren’t building your business into an asset, you had better love what you do, since it’s likely you’ll have to do it for a very long time to earn your income!

Next, you can’t change another person. I’m not saying you can’t try by way of argument, influence, threat, persuasion and other means. The point is that you can’t change another person. Only they can change themselves. This is a useful consideration when employing someone or selecting a partner in business.

Finally, we live in a world of enormous uncertainty. Nothing is predictable. This is the toughest of all the truths to deal with, since it provides the greatest threat and opportunity to our businesses and is the subject of this article. The best way to manage this is to build an agile business able to deal with what comes across your path.

Could this be you?

Allan is a technically smart guy. In every conversation with him, lights switch on and he can’t see any unsolvable issues within the lighting business. He has ridden and driven trends in light design and his expertise is uncontested.

Allan had a lot to be proud of. His multi-channel strategy allowed him to capitalise on the many players, from architects to quantity surveyors, and large construction companies to the multitude of bakkie-builders.

A constant flow of orders had allowed him to build his business to a 68-staffed organisation.

Ongoing sales were the oxygen of Allan’s business and inventory management was its food. When orders came in, Allan needed to make sure he had stock. Minimum stock levels were calculated and adjusted every year to ensure that this strategy remained relevant and in place.

The industry had been going through some tough times. Delays in government expenditure on capital projects, increasing lead times and reticence to invest had all impacted on the construction industry. Residential home improvements and DIY had increased slightly and Allan’s ability to see this had enabled him to respond and capitalise on the slowdown.

Recently, things had picked up. Solid medium-sized construction projects were being confirmed and he had to get his stock levels up again. All in all, it looked like this was going to be a great year.

In February last year, Allan arrived at work as he always does. It was almost 7.30am and he was prepared for all his internal Monday morning meetings to set up the week. The factory was already abuzz and he greeted his staff first thing as his morning routine determined. He had good relationships with every one of his staff and was well regarded by all.

At mid-morning, whilst running calculations on a new design that he had been working on, Allan heard the factory quieten down. It was sudden. Immediately he stood up and went down to the factory floor. Through the glass in the door he could see something was wrong.

As he entered the factory, he saw his staff had gathered by the dispatch doors. There were about 50 of them and someone was speaking to them. As he approached the crowd, the speaker left the factory through the dispatch doors and the staff members began to follow.

Allan called at them asking what was going on. He turned to his floor supervisor who simply shrugged his shoulders and moved away. Allan was witnessing an unprocedural strike and his factory floor ground to a halt. What made it worse is that staff members that Allan had known for some time were racheting up the aggression stakes.

After four months of aggressive dialogue, demands that had no commercial basis, legal bills that he never thought possible, the deepest overdraft he had ever faced, consistent production began again.

Unfortunately, orders had been lost, penalties for non-delivery had been paid, product quality had been compromised and worst of all, trust had been broken. The extent of the damage was profound.

Turn Your Haters Into Your Biggest Fans.

Expect the unexpected

Many things drive predictable uncertainty in our lives as entrepreneurs. The pace and the extent of these drivers has been exacerbated in the last decade. Whilst times have always been uncertain, the rate of change is faster than ever and multi-dimensional.

Our best answer is to position ourselves for constant, unexpected, guaranteed change and the best way to do this is to create an agile business. One that can respond to the unexpected faster and more effectively than your competitors and big business.

Allan is not an unusual business owner. In speaking with him, he admitted that he had had an intuition that his staff was becoming increasingly agitated. He had suspected an outside influence was responsible.

He had chosen to ignore it in the hope that it would blow over since he had no answer to the problem. His business was driven by invested legacy systems, a way of working and deeply rooted relationships that relied on trust. Perhaps the only person not wanting change, this inevitable consequence of life, was Allan.

Here’s how he could have mitigated the risks of change:

  • Build your business on the back of systems, not people. The process of business is generated by several functions such as marketing, sales, procurement, operations, human resources and so on. Every function is broken up into activities and coordinating these activities into a sequence is what drives the result of that function.

Employing people to run systems in your business before employing them to perform a function is a key success factor for many reasons. This is emphasised given the staffing headwinds facing many local entrepreneurs, such as a disruptive labour force and low levels of skills in the market place. Building a business dependent on systems first makes for a better entrepreneurial bet than building one dependant on people first. It increases your agility, dramatically allowing you to source, select and train people more effectively.

  • Automate what can be automated, including information. The process of assessing and organising activities that drive the functions of a business also lends itself to new opportunities. In some cases, these activities can be contained in automated processes. This process of automation includes machinery and equipment, software systems that take care of a business process and the like. Whilst the upfront investment is high, the long-term gains of well-made choices in this regard are very rewarding. Automated systems can be programmed for change. People take a lot longer.

In a fast changing world, access to useful information across the organisation is vital. Dealing with issues before they arise and spotting opportunities before competitors enable a business to move ahead with pace. With cloud computing and increasingly smart, very low cost technologies, a business owner can share information across the organisation like never before, allowing all staff to contribute insights into opportunities like never before.

  • Outsource non-core people-heavy activities. Whilst looking at the activities in your business, an assessment of what is core to your business and what is non-core lends itself to ongoing strategic action. In cases where you have non-core activities involved in your business that rely too heavily on people, outsource them to a service provider instead. The service provider is likely to be a specialist in this non-core field of yours and might do a better job, introduce innovation and have the right type of staff well trained in the activity giving you a better result. Did Allan really need to have an entire department producing the circuits or could this have been outsourced?
  • Deepen customer relations. In streamlining your business through the activities above, time will become available. Focused and purposeful staff operating the systems that drive your business, all with measureable outputs that have incentives and consequences attached, leaves you to focus on the most important activity in your business, deepening customer relations. If this takes the form of sourcing and supplying new and additional products or services to deepen the relationship, all the better. Being in the face of your customer allows you to make good choices in how you deal with them and communicate. When times are tough, your customer’s view of your business and your service is all that counts.

The first time I met Allan two years back, his favourite mantra was ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. Constantly thinking how to innovate your business is a key success factor in being entrepreneurial and leading your industry – because if you don’t your competitor certainly will. It took a crisis that nearly cost Allan his business for him to build agility into his operations.

The results have been pleasing; 38% profit growth off his highest profit before the crisis in the midst of an ongoing recession.

Why You Should Be Selecting Your Customers Carefully.

Pavlo Phitidis is the CEO of Aurik Business Incubator, an organisation that works with entrepreneurs to build their businesses into valuable assets. Pavlo is a regular commentator on entrepreneurship on 702 Talk Radio and 567 Cape Talk Radio. He can be contacted at www.aurik.co.za

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Strategy

6 Questions You Should Be Asking When Coaching

Top athletes have coaches because they’re winners. Business leaders should be the same.

Nadine Todd

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Dr Marshall Goldsmith

Whether you’re a CEO looking for a mentor, coaching your management team, or structuring a coaching programme for your managers to implement, there are six questions that can help anyone get better at anything.

The expert

Dr Marshall Goldsmith is a best-selling author and world-renowned business educator and coach. He has coached top CEOs, including Alan Mulally, former President and CEO of Ford Motor Company.

The key to a successful coaching programme is simple dialogue and establishing responsibility. The person being coached must understand and agree that success lies in their hands. They must take responsibility for their actions.

Related: How Business Coaching Can Help You Achieve Your Goals

The method

Once every few months, have a direct coaching session. Ask (or answer for yourself) these six questions:

  1. Where are we going?
  2. Where are you going?
  3. What are you doing well?
  4. Do you have suggestions for my improvement?
  5. How can I help you?
  6. So you have suggestions for me?

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Strategy

4 Ways To Develop The Leaders You’ll Need In The Future

One of the most challenging aspects of leadership development is consistently and effectively identifying the next wave of leaders.

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One of the most challenging aspects of leadership development is consistently and effectively identifying the next wave of leaders.

It can be easy for those at the top to forget that eventually someone will have to take their place at the helm. And ignoring that fact has lead to issues with succession planning, unwanted turnover and other challenges in leadership development in many organisations.

2016 High Impact Leadership research from Bersin by Deloitte asked 2,422 HR and business leaders from around the world how well they believed they could discover new leadership talent. Just 35 percent of respondents said they were above average when it came to successfully identifying and developing leaders.

To understand why this is, consider the typical leadership development paradox. Traditionally, the first step is to choose who has leadership potential, then develop their skillset. Logically, however, this makes little sense.

How is it possible to identify effective leaders if employees have yet to receive any type of leadership development?

Here are four ways to properly identify better qualified candidates for leadership positions:

1Stop choosing potential leaders based on unrelated skills

Gallup’s 2015 State of the American Manager Report, which studied 2.5 million manager-led teams in 195 countries, found that the top two reasons employees are promoted to management positions are because they were successful in a non-managerial role or because of their tenure with the company. Neither of those criteria have any proven correlation with leadership skills or relevant experience.

Create a better means of measuring for true leadership potential. Look at the culture of the organisation and envision what it would look like for someone to lead by those values.

Also consider how successful leaders evolved over time in the organisation. Then use that information to make a list of recognisable traits to look for as signs of leadership potential.

2Broaden leadership development to more employees

People learn and grow at their own unique pace. Requiring that an employee reach a certain position or be with the company for a certain number of years before they’re offered leadership opportunities holds back those who might be ready for more responsibility now. Or even worse, it might push those who aren’t yet ready into leadership roles.

Instead, let leadership development be a company-wide initiative. This gives more people the chance to take the next step in their career. It also creates a larger pool of possible great leaders to draw from across the organisation.

3Track progress and growth

Track progress and growth

There’s no way of knowing who is ready to step up and lead unless development is monitored. Remember that this is a process. Employees need feedback from their mentors and coaches to know for certain what skills they’ve mastered as well as where there can still be improvements made.

Develop a way to assess progress for different leadership positions, and be clear with employees and coaches about what success would look like in different situations. For instance, explain what is expected of a first time project leader.

Get everyone on the same page about the developing leader’s responsibilities and how that should guide their team.

Then collect thorough feedback from all those involved. Ask the leadership candidate what challenges they faced as well as where they think they thrived. Pose the same questions to those they supervised and organisational mentors.

Over time, this will reveal patterns that make it easier to identify who is best suited for leadership in the long-term.

4Focus on continual leadership development

There is no such thing as too much experience. There is always more that can be learned. After leadership candidates have been identified, continue to nurture them. This keeps employees from feeling that they have plateaued, which is unfortunately common.

The 2014 Insigniam Middle Management Survey: Middle Management’s Critical Role In Saving Company Innovation looked at responses from 200 middle managers from around the world. It found that only 15 percent of managers believe they will ever be promoted to the next level of leadership at their company.

Whether intentionally or not, employees who have proven their leadership abilities are being told that their leadership journey is over – and this hurts both them and the organisation. Encourage a steady stream of highly trained and skilled leaders working their way up by demonstrating that there is no end to development.

In order to clearly see who the next wave of leaders is going to be, employees need to be given the chance to hone and exercise their skills.

That means redefining how leadership potential is identified and providing each employee with the chance to develop personally and professionally.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Have You (Really) Put Your Business To The Test?

You should constantly test things in your business to see if they’re working. In that direction lies success.

Nicholas Haralambous

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nic-haralambous

There’s a pretty famous saying that people in business like to use: Always be closing, or ABC. It’s a very sales-driven concept that suggests that whatever you do, you should always be closing a sale.

I used to like that way of thinking: Drive your pipeline growth, work on the numbers and push the sales as hard as you can all the time.

That approach definitely works for certain types of businesses, but after a while it can be soul destroying work that leaves a business a bit hollow. So over the past few years I’ve been working on a tweaked methodology.

I call this method of building and selling: Always be testing or ABT.

Related: 3 Sure Fire Ways To Improve Efficiency And Find Your Business’s Productivity Sweet Spot

The concept is simple. You should constantly be testing things in your business to see if they’re working. If they are working, great, you can then start testing how to improve them. If they’re not working, you find out and can start testing fixes for the problem.

This applies to your team, your product, your day-to-day strategy for selling, customer acquisition and anything else you can think of.

Start testing yourself

The obsession with testing things started in my personal life. I was doing it without realising what I was doing. I started waking up 15 minutes earlier every month and after a while I was spritely and awake by 5:30am and walking my dogs or working while everyone else was asleep.

Then I stopped eating sugar for a while to see if I’d feel better. I did. That didn’t last but I then stopped drinking coffee to see if I’d sleep better. I did. So now I don’t drink caffeine of any kind after 3pm.

I found that I was constantly testing out everything that I did and tweaking my life accordingly. So one day I realised that this model would probably work in my business: Small, frequent tests with specific goals in mind to try to learn something new or verify something old.

Related: How You Can Make Those Sales When Nobody’s Buying (Yes It’s Do-able)

business-reporting-structure

Testing requires reporting

Setting up tests is not difficult. But tracking the results of the test requires preparation. Interestingly, when I moved Nic Harry from a pure e-commerce company into physical retail, I discovered how slow real world retailers have been to use technology to track changes they make in store.

With nicharry.com we have been able to test, tweak and track results for years. I have many tests and lots of data to pour through when I want information about a decision. I can make a change on the homepage and see if it leads to more transactions than the previous homepage tweak. If it works, great, if it doesn’t, I go back to the way it was.

I decided to take this type of thinking into our flagship store by treating each wall and window as a web page. We kept notes of which socks were on which walls and which socks sold better where in the store.

After a few months we had figured out which walls were the hotspots in the store. Then we started to move the socks around and see if we could influence who purchased what just by placing the socks in a different place.

This type of tiny testing environment helps me understand my stores, my team and me products with granular detail. However it wouldn’t be possible if my systems weren’t set up properly to help me track these changes.

Why test something that works?

People often ask me why they should test something that is clearly working. Well, what if one day your product stops selling and you don’t know why? What if your core revenue stream dries up over the course of a few months or years and you haven’t noticed?

Testing helps me to stay in front of my problems. I can think of a stand out example of a company that stopped testing and ended up losing: Blackberry. Do you remember them? I do, but not many people will in a year or two.

Related: 10 Brilliant Responses To The Customer Who Is ‘Just Looking’

It’s also worth remembering Kodak. Kodak was founded in 1888 and thrived for a century, literally. Then it stopped testing in the face of innovation all around the company and from within. In 2012 Kodak filed for bankruptcy protection. The ironic part of the Kodak story is that digital photography killed their business. Why is this ironic? Kodak developed the first digital camera in 1975 but didn’t test it in the market. They were worried it would eat into their existing business.

If only they had tested the product before they dropped it. Tests do not have to be large and complex. Implement systems that allow you to track the changes in your business whether online or offline. Then engage with your team about how they can help you to measure and manage the tests and then start with something small.

Testing for no reason is futile. It’s imperative to know what you’re testing and why. Once you’ve figured out your goals, start testing and never stop.

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