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Start-up Advice

7 Steps to Turbocharge Your Startup Without Losing Your Best Talent

Could following these steps help another company accelerate its growth?

Peter S. Cohan

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If investors aren’t satisfied with a company’s growth rate, they might try to replace the CEO. The incoming replacement typically has about eight weeks to figure out what’s wrong at the venture and how to fix it.

A quick turn onto a new path is desirable so that the company can grow faster and investors see the new executive as part of the solution. But that’s not always easy because the new chief inherits the people who were responsible for the old strategy. Those staffers may feel threatened by a new strategy and try to undermine it.

Related: (Video) 11 Obsessions of Remarkable Entrepreneurs

The new leader could replace them but at the risk of losing valuable talent. Instead, a CEO might be better off managing a process to help employees see the company’s future as he or she does. Then all the company’s oars are rowing in the same direction.

John M. Collard, chairman of Annapolis, Md.-based Strategic Management Partners, conceived of turning around a company company as a five-step process. His white paper that named each of steps in the title: ‘Management Change, Situation Analysis, Emergency Action, Business Restructuring, and Return to Normality‘.

Shane Buckley put his own spin on enacting dramatic change, by using seven steps, after becoming the CEO of  Xirrus in the summer of 2012. As he explained in an interview last week, he saw that Xirrus, a commercial Wi-Fi firm, had a presence in schools and universities but needed to expand its markets and selectively outsource activities previously done in-house to lower costs.

“I changed our business and a key part of that was outsourcing many of the activities that Xirrus had done internally, such as manufacturing,” he said. “I knew that implementing this … would require a big cultural change.”

Buckley could have fired the employees, replacing them all with people who saw things his way. But he decided to bring in an outside management consultant, Judy Issokson of Issokson & Associates, to help him lead the process of changing Xirrus’s culture.

The following seven steps that Buckley took to change Xirrus’ strategy without replacing all its people could be of help to other firms.

Related: How to Be a Successful Entrepreneur in Your 20s

1. Meeting with all employees

Buckley started off as CEO by meeting with people both inside and outside the company. “During the first six to eight weeks, I had a chance to figure out what was working and what needed to be fixed,” he says. “I met with all customers and partners. I also spent about 30 to 45 minutes with groups of six to eight employees to ask them what is happening.”

Listen to customers, employees, suppliers and industry experts to figure out the markets to target and capabilities the company needs to win.

2. Creating a safe zone to talk about the truth

People are naturally afraid when a new CEO arrives. Buckley hired Issokson  to help dispel that fear. She created ground rules to help employees feel confident that they would be safe if they told her their true feelings about Xirrus.

Explained Buckley: “I was working with Judy to help us identify the barriers to getting Xirrus where we wanted to be. I realized that since [the company was]  going to outsource activities like engineering that Xirrus had always done internally that the engineering staff might have different skill sets than what would be needed. But I wanted people to feel free to express their concerns” in a safe environment.

When a CEO’s vision depends on radical change in the company’s strategy, it’s a judgment call whether to keep most of the employees. If the decision is to work with current employees, the leader needs a way for them to replace their fear of change with enthusiastic buy-in to the CEO’s vision. A CEO who’s great at managing change can accomplish that. Otherwise, hire an experienced consultant (after checking references) who has done this for similar companies.

3. Getting ideas for future goals

Buckley wanted people in the company to articulate what they believed needed to be done. He met with his executive staff and the whole company, he said. Over four to six weeks people were asked, What do we need to do? What are our key objectives? He was not given the answers directly, though.

Hiring a consultant who’s good at managing a process leads staff to feel like they came up with the same goals for the company as you did. The key thing to remember is that if your people believe that the company is implementing their ideas, they will embrace those ideas much more enthusiastically than if the ideas are forced upon them.

4. Asking questions about key objectives

Issokson analysed the responses and presented her analysis of the top five priorities.

CEOs should react carefully to ideas proposed by their staff. If people feel that the CEO is taking pot shots at their ideas, they’ll turn into resentful sheep rather than enthusiastic problem solvers. So ask questions about the ideas proposed in a way that’s respectful and seeking greater understanding.

5. Allocating resources to the priorities

And after listening to the responses, Buckley decided which resources would be assigned to meet the key objectives and in which sequence.  One priority was to make Xirrus a company that was easier for customers to do business with. “We decided how we would change the way we would bring in customers and how we would respond to their questions,” Buckley says.

Determine the urgent priorities and be sure they get the capital, people, technology and other resources needed to make them happen first. If the most important priorities are realised, the company will survive long enough to get additional resources for less mission-critical ones.

6. Sustaining momentum

When priorities are set and resources allocated accordingly, people wonder whether the company will follow through. To that end, leaders must model the behavior they want to elicit from employees. Said Buckley: “You have to be authentic. Leaders have to do more. People want to see that you are working harder than they are. And they ought to feel free to give the leader feedback and keep the momentum going.”

Remember, people are always watching the CEO. The ones who want to get ahead will do the things accordingly. If the CEO is working harder than they are, they will try to keep up or even exceed his or her efforts.

7. Linking measurement systems to priorities

Lastly, the way people are measured must be consistent with those priorities. Buckley decided that if customer requests were to be truly valued, “we can’t keep measuring them just on whether they met their sales target. ” He added,

“We need to start tracking how satisfied customers are as well.”

Communicate clearly how the new strategy will affect staff recognition. Then change the measurement systems to line up. That will go a long way to getting staffers to make the company’s top priorities happen.

And Xirrus is planning an initial public offering next year, according to a March story in the Pacific Coast Business Times. Buckley claimed last week that Xirrus is thriving, growing 40 percent year over year, it added 70 people and seeking new markets with a new footprint.

“On a human capital level,” he says: “People are more engaged, they work together across functions, and the company is moving faster because trust has replaced fear.”

“Xirrus has executed a masterful expansion of the business since Shane Buckley joined,” wrote Steve Krausz, general partner for US Venture Partners, whose firm invested in Xirrus. “In my 29 years of venture investing, I have seen few companies go through such a successful transformation as Xirrus,” he says.

“Xirrus now has a complete product offering that has anticipated the explosive growth of mobility, video and cloud management of Wi-Fi services. The customers have responded with great enthusiasm as enhanced video and mobile services are being demanded by both consumers and enterprises at an ever accelerating pace.”

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to include Steve Krausz’s comments. His title was later corrected to reflect his role solely as a venture capitalist whose firm invested in Xirrus. Also, Xirrus CEO Shane Buckley’s comments have been updated to indicate that only one area was outsourced: manufacturing.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Peter Cohan is president of Peter S. Cohan & Associates a management consulting and venture capital firm. He is the author of Hungry Start-up Strategy: Creating New Ventures with Limited Resources and Unlimited Vision (Berrett-Koehler, 2012).

Start-up Advice

Entrepreneurship Is All About Overcoming Obstacles

Confronting your own doubts and fears is the essence of being an entrepreneur.

Kimanzi Constable

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Entrepreneurship is not a destination; it’s a journey. On this journey, successful entrepreneurs don’t have an expectation of “arriving” to some finish line. If you do have that expectation, you won’t continue to push yourself to step outside of your comfort and grow. You won’t seek out the things that truly help your business experience explosive results because all those things require you stretching yourself.

On any journey, you have times of joy and more than a few setbacks. During the times of joy, you feel like you can accomplish anything. It gives you the strength and motivation to continue to put in the work that helps your business.

During the hard times, negative feelings and emotions can easily take over. Before you know it, you’re feeling sorry for yourself and you turn to your familiar coping mechanism.

That coping mechanism could be food, alcohol, binge-watching TV or any other thing that takes your focus away from what you want to accomplish in your business. Since you don’t have a boss or company dictating your day and what you accomplish, that time “coping” could turn into weeks of your doing no work at all.

Related: Why You Shouldn’t Quit Your Job To Start A Business

Becoming a successful entrepreneur means understanding hard times are when you need to push. When there are obstacles, here’s what you need to do.

Acknowledge, then process your thoughts

The only way to get through obstacles is to start with acknowledging that they’re there. The gateway to your feelings and emotions is your thoughts. What you think about and focus on is what you’ll attract more of into your life.

When you’re dealing with obstacles, your thoughts focus on what you can’t control and why that situation is happening to you. That can be a dark place.

When you feel your thoughts spiraling, give yourself two minutes to fully feel what is going on in your head. Don’t try to suppress those thoughts – let them out. When you try to suppress them, they grow stronger and threaten to get control.

Related: How To Survive 150 Straight Rejections

Once you have given yourself two minutes, take control of your thoughts. Focus on what brings you joy and what you’re grateful for in your life. It’s hard to be down when you’re expressing gratitude.

Focus on what you can control

Life is messy. Change is hard. Growing a business is not easy and it feels like everything can go wrong at once. There are always going to be things you can’t and shouldn’t try to control.

Related: 3 Key Law Areas To Know When You Launch That Start-up

There are, however, things you can do something about. If your marketing plan is off, you can readjust. If your sales are lacking, you can go back what you know works. If a team member is causing more trouble than is worth helping them, you can let them go.

The point being, there are tangible things you can fix in your business no matter what is happening. Identify what the things are that you can do something about.

Create a plan that will help you get on the path to recovery. Make it practical and actionable. Fill up your to-do list and calendar with the tasks that lead to results.

Ask for help, then take action

Some obstacles feel like more than you can handle. Seeking counsel and support can be the difference between you getting through it or failing.

Don’t try to be Wonder Woman or Superman. Seek help. One of the best things you can do is make decisions that help you recover. Talking and planning with someone who understands and is trained in dealing with a crisis is valuable.

Then, make decisions that are action-based. If a decision pushes you toward the action that helps your business, make it. One of the best ways to recover from difficult situations is to take massive action. Taking action on the things you can control will give you progress. As you consistently take action, you’ll be closer to your goal before you even realise.

Related: What You Need To Know About The Lean Start-up Model

Obstacles don’t have to be business breakers in your life. You can learn from them and use them to make you a stronger and wiser entrepreneur. The most successful entrepreneurs understand that it’s not the crisis – it’s your response that determines how successful you’ll be. Stay strong, process your thoughts, create a plan and then take action.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Start-up Advice

Start-ups: Creating A High Tech/High Touch Environment

Here are some practical tips for creating a ‘high tech/high touch environment’.

Dirk Coetsee

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In this fast-paced tech orientated world things are changing at a frightening yet exciting rate. It is so easy and so quick to create a tech start-up from anywhere in the world and office space as a requirement to start up has become obsolete, your garage will do. Yet because it is so easy and so cost effective for so many to create a start-up it is so hard to stand out amongst this entanglement of serial tech entrepreneurs and innovative start-ups.

The millennial generations’ general paradigm of thinking, which is more open –minded and entrepreneurial is slowly but surely breaking through the barriers of traditional business operations, mechanisms and methods, imbalances are created, however, when tech is the sole focus and people are forgotten in the process. As is so evident throughout history eventually by some means balance is sought in order to create equilibrium.

This writing serves as advice to all tech start-ups to seek balance from the onset in creating a “high tech/high touch” environment. A “High tech/high touch” environment can be defined as a balanced approach where both tech solutions, and of equal importance, team empowerment and inspiring leadership form a potent combination of enduring success.

Related: What Is Limiting Your Entrepreneurial Mindset

Technology by itself cannot solve everything but technology applied in unison with a strong people centred approach can be a powerful catalyst towards solving at least some of this worlds’ major challenges.

Although many factors such as for example fiscal discipline and other management controls play a vital role in your start-ups’ success do not forget to create an inspiring environment for your team within which they feel safe and united in purpose. Key to business growth is the individual growth of all team members and no stone should be left unturned in moving from a toxic and/or culture of complacency to a learning and growth culture.

Co-create an inspiring vision for your team and get their full buy-in. If you cannot do that you might have to put in more effort when it comes to your own leadership skills and/or “free up the future” of complacent and lethargic employees whom simply do not want to work hard to collectively actualise your business’ co-created vision.

Although very hard, it is worth the effort to only hire people that are passionate about and have integrity in what they do. If a sustainable and successful “high tech” environment is the aim ensure that it is underpinned by very smart hiring and training practises further enhanced by a good dose of inspirational servant leadership.

Generally speaking, everyone wants to feel part of something bigger, exciting, and inspiring. It is your responsibility as founder and leader to create a motivating and energetic business climate wherein every team member is empowered to execute at a rapid pace and with a “zero defect” mind-set. A team environment wherein everyone sincerely wants to be great at what they do and are energised by ‘small wins’ on the path to actualising the grand vision of the company is far more inspiring and sustainable as opposed to an environment where ‘subordinates’ are only managed and basically forced to do their jobs.

Related: The Anatomy Of Peak Performance

Sincerely care for your people yet maintain balance,as caring does not mean you treat them like children. Caring means taking great interest in both their career and personal development, and to be tough enough to eventually let those go that does not constructively contribute to a positive growth culture.

Here are some practical tips for creating a ‘high tech/high touch environment’:

  • Have a balanced approach in hiring. Hire for technical and people skills and ensure that there is a clear development and training plan for all team members that is reasonable and attainable.
  • Find your purpose as an entrepreneur and with great enthusiasm model that purpose at every juncture as to inspire others to find their purpose.
  • As ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ guard the positive and growth culture that you model as a leader with all your energy and remove anything and anyone from the aforesaid culture that is counter-productive to your business performance.
  • Sincerely care about and show that you care about each individual team members’ personal and career development.
  • Regularly put having fun and inspiration high on meeting agendas as we generally take ourselves too seriously.

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Start-up Advice

Why You Shouldn’t Quit Your Job To Start A Business

Rather than taking the plunge, consider dipping your toe in first

Yannick van den Bos

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As the world becomes more digitized and access to the internet is something we all enjoy, more and more of us want to quit our day jobs to start our own businesses. The word “entrepreneur” is thrown around a lot these days, with many people seeing it as a means to enjoy a whole new level of professional, financial and personal freedom.

It is not difficult to see why, either. Having the ability do what you love, when you want and on your own terms is certainly attractive, especially when you could potentially build it into a sizeable income. Don’t be too quick, however, to abandon your day job to pursue your entrepreneurial dreams. Many of today’s best-known entrepreneurs consider doing so to be reckless and unnecessary.

“Entrepreneurs” are rarely the modern-day maverick who suddenly decide one day to quit their jobs and pursue their dreams. After all, quitting a job to pursue business is risky, especially without having a safety net in place. In fact, the majority of people who decide to start an online business will fail within the first year.

Further, there is far more involved in transitioning from being an employee of others to becoming your own boss than you may realise. Changing your mind-set from that of an employee to an entrepreneur is a major key to successfully bridging that divide.

Related: 3 Key Law Areas To Know When You Launch That Start-up

If you operate with the mind-set of an employee — a person who is used to working for others and being paid by them – you will almost certainly fail. When you work for others, you do what they tell you to do. As an entrepreneur, you decide what the next best step is, and you execute that step in your day-to-day actions. The latter requires both a significant mind-set shift and major discipline.

At the same time, in our rapidly changing economy, you would almost be doing yourself a disservice not to start a business. But, how can you do so while working full-time?

Take the “hybrid path” to entrepreneurship

If you’re willing to sacrifice much of your free time now to reap the rewards later, you have what it takes to become an entrepreneur. Often called the “hybrid path” to entrepreneurship, many successful entrepreneurs started their business while still being employed full-time.

Research has shown that those who kept their day jobs while starting their businesses were 33 percent more likely to be successful than their risk-taking counterparts.

Leveraging your full-time job in the early days of your business, allows you to build on firmer financial ground, increasing the likelihood that your enterprise will last and thrive through the initial stages.

Related: What You Need To Know About The Lean Start-up Model

In addition, being entrepreneurial within your existing job allows you to build the necessary skills and traits you will need as you transition from your employee to entrepreneurial role.

Being impatient and chasing short-term gratification by quitting your job and going all-in, is risky and often ill-advised. Building slowly and steadily for the long-term is often the wisest course of action.

Today, it’s more important than ever to start a business

Still, with all that being said, the time couldn’t be more right to start your own business and become self-sufficient. Unlike in years past, having a job no longer guarantees financial security.

Rapid developments in technology and the ever-increasing digitization of our world puts creative and business-building tools in the hands of everyone. Whether you have skills to market or a great idea for a product, you too could be the next Bill Gates or Elon Musk.

Even if you set your sights a little lower, consider what skills you have that others would gladly pay you for. Figure out what you can charge per client, and how many clients you would need to completely replace your income. Unless you’re already earning seven figures, you’ll soon realise that the numbers are not that daunting.

Related: 6 Resources For Start-ups Looking For Funding

I was able to build my first business through affiliate marketing With affiliate marketing, you don’t have to create your own product. Rather, you earn a commission by promoting other people’s products.

Though the thought of running your own business, spending your days working on something you’re passionate about, and choosing how and where you spend your time is enticing, realise there are days if not years of sleepless nights, cash flow shortfalls and mind-set hurdles between you and your destination.

By building your business while working full- or part-time, you will have the cash flow in the short term to get your enterprise off the ground. Once your business begins bringing in an income which rivals that of your day job, then and only then should you consider whether to pursue it full-time.

Building a business is not for the faint of heart. But, if you’re willing to work crazy hours, delay gratification and learn from your failures, you can build both a business and life like few others. After all, “Life is too short to be living somebody else’s dream.”

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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