Having a Plan

Posted on April 9, 2018 by | 0 comments

What are Top Maryland Businesses Doing Differently?

strategic planning for maryland business

About a year ago, our leadership team started to work through a strategic planning process that if followed to the T would walk us through several exercises, challenge us to take an honest look at our organization and collaborate on where we can and will be in the future. What I didn’t mention is that this leadership team was not comprised of naturally patient individuals. Almost everyone on the team, myself included, thrives on results and has an appreciation for the short road. This exercise would challenge everyone in that room. It was not the short road, it was truly a journey, a term that has now become a buzz word in our organization. What we didn’t realize at the start, was what the journey would do for us as individual leaders, our team as a cohesive group and our organization’s overall health. The results were incredible. Those who don’t know all of the steps in the journey may even call the transformation “magical”. The members of the leadership team changed the way we carried ourselves in the organization and showed true cohesiveness to the rest of the organization. We provided our people with clarity to our goals and expectations and they began to take extreme ownership in achieving those goals. Everyone began to feel as though they were part of something and the inclusion was transformational. There began to be a buzz throughout the entire company and it was incredible.

I am sharing this experience with you not as a boastful excerpt, rather from one “get it done” individual to another, I want to emphasize the importance of transforming our vision of strategic planning from folks in a room putting thoughts to paper, to an organizational journey. Be patient and appreciate the ride, the results will be greater than you could imagine.

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You may not realize it, but part of what got you and your business to where it is today is your ability to think long term and strategically. What separates great businesses from good businesses is the ability of its executive team to cascade that vision to the entire organization in a way that motivates every employee in every area of the company to act in a unified manner towards a common goal in lock step with their core values and principles.

Often times, your natural ability to design and execute a complex plan in your head competes with your ability to work through that process with others, put the plan on paper, and clearly cascade it to your organization. The value of walking through the journey of who we are today, where we want to be and how we will get there is one that will fundamentally change your organization if done correctly. It is impossible to fit an entire process in one article, so here is the general framework our team followed as we went on this journey as food for thought. It is important that you find the steps that work best for you and your team and possibly even a trusted advisor to guide you through the process. The end result, if done correctly, will be every member of your organization having clarity to the plan and more importantly, their part in it.

How Much Time Do We Need?

We keep calling it a journey because that is precisely what it is. It is more than just going through the motions, it is changing mindsets and aligning your entire team around where you need to go as an organization. That journey can take days, months or longer. We can’t emphasize enough the importance of having your entire team go through this together and then championing it throughout the organization. The length of time should be as long as it takes everyone on your team to contribute, comprehend and buy-in to each step in this process.

Why Are We Doing This?

We as business leaders take this journey to arrive at the following benefits:

  • We will provide clarity to what is a priority and which resources should be allocated where
  • Forces us to make choices on what we will and won’t do in the future
  • Rallies the entire organization around a single plan or end game
  • Eliminate siloes and short term thinking
  • Set expectations and clear measurements for hitting goals and objectives
  • Ultimately improve performance

Now for the Framework:

We loved the exercises provided in a Strategic Planning workbook that takes you through every component down to actionable details. There are many out there, so it is important to find something that you and your team can work through.

Step 1: Agree on where you are now.

This is the assessment phase. It is impossible to get to where you are going without agreeing on where you are at this moment. Look at your environment—the industry, your competitors, how you got to where you are today. We loved going back to basics and using a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis on top of our situational analysis to gain excitement and alignment on where we are today.

Here is an easy overview of what a SWOT Analysis is, how to do it and why it is important. 

Step 2: Paint the Picture of Where You Want to be.

This is more than just a growth number or goal you want to hit. It is everything from how your employees should act to how you want to be perceived by the external world.

This is the top of the pyramid if you are following the strategic Planning model we outlined above.

  1. Start with Your Mission Statement. Why do you exist as a company? This should be unique to your organization. Ask yourself – could my competitor use this same statement? If so, it is not embodying why you specifically exist.
  2. What is your Vision Statement? Who do you want to be? This should be the mantra for your employees to live by.
  3. Establish Your Goals. These should be high-level and look at your organization at a macro-level. Outline what you must achieve to be successful.

Mission Statement Exercise
4 Questions for a Great Mission Statement
Simplify Your Vision Statement

Step 3: Move into Action.

Taking into consideration why you exist, who you want to be and what it will take to be successful, start working through the action plan to get there.

  1. Outline Your Objectives. These should be specific outcomes that are measurable and ladder up to your goals.
  2. Map Out Your Initiatives. If you are an operational person, this is your fast ball. Put in writing the major initiatives you need to accomplish in order to be successful. These should be outside of your day-to-day actions that are necessary for typical business outcomes.
  3. How Will You Measure Success? It has been said that you can’t change what you don’t measure. Make sure before you start with any initiative you have a way to measure progress.
  4. Establish Clear Targets for each Initiative. A team will rally around a target so make sure you have established what success looks like and continue to monitor how you are tracking towards your target.

Step 4: Adjust Your Plan.

The most successful plans are not those that hit the mark on the first try (that is nearly impossible). Successful plans are those that are monitored and adjusted as needed. As you track your team’s progress towards the targets you’ve outlined together, take time to optimize your action plans to ensure you hit your mark.

Once you have a strategic plan defined for your organization, brainstorm ways that you can share it with every area in the company and tie each employee to their impact on the plan. As you set out to achieve your goals as a team, remember to cascade the vision frequently, share measurable results and celebrate the wins along the way. You may find that the journey itself will have the greatest impact on your organization. 

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About Advance:

Advance Business Systems helps organizations focus on their core mission by providing technology that can increase efficiency and effectiveness and services that eliminate the distractions that many organizations face.

Managed Services:

The right resources and a plan are critical to an organization achieving and exceeding their goals. Advance provides services such as IT planning and support that will take IT off your plate, keep you from worrying about data security and position your business for the future.

Business Technology:

Having the right business technology solutions in place, such as multifunctional copiers, interactive white boards and document management software, can greatly improve the flow of information through an organization.

 

Adopting a Proven Process for Problem Solving

Posted on March 26, 2018 by | 0 comments

What are Top Maryland Businesses Doing Differently?

problem solving at a Maryland business

As an executive, it is likely that one of your greatest skill sets is problem solving and you have a proven track record of success. Most successful business professionals get a thrill from taking a challenge, breaking it down and providing a viable solution that will make an impact. So what are the most successful businesses doing differently?

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It’s All About the Process

We’ve seen many great businesses, all with different problem solving processes—it seems it’s not the process itself, it’s that they have a process. And it is universally taught and religiously used throughout the organization (almost) always.

Resist the urge to quickly identify what you think is the problem and immediately jump to a solution. Many of the successful problem solving processes, such as the one Dale Carnegie teaches, include multiple steps which help to overcome some of the outages caused by “quick” problem solving. The most common outage is not identifying the true problem, but a symptom of the problem. This can leave you with the underlying issue still haunting you well after you’ve put a solution in place.

Here are a few key steps that we live by:

  1. Identify the Problem (Not the symptoms)
    Einstein had said, if he had an hour to solve a problem, he would spend 55 minutes defining it and 5 minutes solving it. So there has to be some weight to this, right? As you embark on your problem solving journey, spend due time truly understanding the problem and gain alignment from the group on exactly what it is. Put your problem ID to the test and bring multiple perspectives in the room—other departments or levels of the organization—and if everyone agrees, chances are you’ve arrived at your core issue.
  2. What are the Causes?
    Write out all of the things that contribute to the problem you’ve identified. This will ensure you understand and address all of the things that are feeding into the problem. If you leave any lingering out there, the likelihood of your solution being successfully implemented is reduced.
  3. What are our Options?
    This step is an independent producer’s worst nightmare. It requires patience and inclusion from all parties involved. Layout all of the possible ways you can address the causes you outlined above and ultimately arrive at a solution.
  4. Align on an Action Plan
    Out of your options above, select which you will be moving forward. Then, outline the steps that need to be taken, who will be doing them and when. This seems simple, but this clarity is often overlooked and results in lack of follow through or execution.
  5. Get Feedback & Optimize
    Unlike the infomercials, problem solving is not set-it and forget-it. Successful implementation requires a clearly defined provision for feedback so set a date and time as soon as you develop the action plan for the team to regroup and gather feedback from any involved parties. Ask yourselves, “How is the new process or idea working?” “Did it turn out the way we thought it would?” And remember, it’s okay if it didn’t. Rarely is something perfect on the first try, especially with extremely complex issues. Be open to feedback and adjust accordingly.

Buy-In Can Change Mindsets

Have you ever heard an employee gripe about a new rule or process that was rolled out? Chances are, they didn’t contribute to the solution and so they have not bought in to it. One of the easiest, yet most impactful changes you can make to your organization is inclusion in the problem solving process.

Teach everyone in your organization the process that your team will use. Then bring impacted team members into the room to solve problems as they occur. It doesn’t need to be everyone if it involves several departments, but you should have representation from each area in the room.

Two amazing things can come out of this. First, you may find as your team members become regimented with a universal problem solving process, you will need to be involved less and less. Secondly, but most culture shattering for your organization, your team members will take ownership over the solutions and work tirelessly towards the end goal or solution.

Simple but Effective

The concept of having a problem-solving process and inclusion may seem incredibly simple but you would be amazed at how few organizations do this well. Master these concepts and you have a leg up on the competition and you’ll see an immediate boost to your organizational health.

Looking for great tools to help you implement these concepts? Here are some of our favorites:

Join Email List

About Advance:

Advance Business Systems helps organizations focus on their core mission by providing technology that can increase efficiency and effectiveness and services that eliminate the distractions that many organizations face.

Managed Services:

The right resources and a plan are critical to an organization achieving and exceeding their goals. Advance provides services such as IT planning and support that will take IT off your plate, keep you from worrying about data security and position your business for the future.

Business Technology:

Having the right business technology solutions in place, such as multifunctional copiers, interactive white boards and document management software, can greatly improve the flow of information through an organization.

Focus on Your Core Competencies & Eliminate Distractions

Posted on March 15, 2018 by | 0 comments

What are the Best Maryland Businesses Doing Differently?

third party it provider

The complaint we hear most often from high capacity decision makers in an organization is that they face daily distractions from their core focus or their “A time.” We see this a lot in CFO’s and COO’s. They are not able to dedicate the time they need to the core mission of their organization, instead they are putting out fires—from employee issues to data breaches—and they in turn are just getting by rather than helping their organization to get ahead.

According to a University of California Irvine study, “it takes an average of 23 minutes and 14 seconds to get back to the task [after a distraction].”

Imagine this, you have blocked off two hours to get some crucial work accomplished. You spend 20 glorious minutes in full focus, until an employee of yours appears in the doorway, “do you have two seconds for a quick question,” they ask pleadingly. “Of course,” you say, as you minimize your document and give the employee your full attention. You end up speaking to this employee for fifteen minutes, and subsequently working on her issue for another thirty. By the time you get back to your original task, almost an hour had gone by and your “A Time” has all but been spent.

So why are we stuck in this spiral? Consider this, you wouldn’t ask your CFO to make uninformed legal decisions on something that has a huge impact on your business without ensuring they have a legal resource to turn consult but the same often does not hold true for other high risk decisions or areas of expertise. As the business and technology landscape changes, many decision makers find themselves struggling to keep up with the latest thing impacting their business. And the price of not keeping up can be immense—so why do we put ourselves through the stress and exposure to potential risk? The reasons vary from financial reasons to just not knowing what other options are out there.

We’ll walk you through some options and considerations so you can shift your focus back to fulfilling your mission and stop worrying about those things that fall outside of your company’s expertise.

Whether you rely on a partner or internal resource for certain areas of competency may depend on the size and needs of your organization. Not sure where you fall when it comes to IT? Check out this quiz!

First, what are some of the areas successful businesses have transitioned off their plates and on to a third party?

Rationale #1: I’m saving money by keeping these areas in house.

Reality:

Based on the size and sector of your business, that may be true but consider these costs often left out of consideration.

Most employers look at the cost of an employee as their salary plus benefits but the less scrutinized costs associated with the areas outlined above can add up quickly!

  1. Technology. Areas such as IT and marketing can require complex technology from hardware to specific programs needed to manage the workload associated with their roles.
  2. Training. Fields such as IT, HR and Digital Marketing are ever changing at a rapid pace and the risk of not keeping up can often put your company in harm’s way from legal ramifications to lost business and downtime. Ongoing training is essential to just to keep up let alone master the evolving environment. Take the cost and burden off of your team and leverage a third party that specializes in these areas—their livelihood depends on staying on top of the changes and making sure their resources are not only trained but have mastered each area.
  3. Recruiting. There is a big price tag associated with finding and hiring the right resources. Whether it is a recruiting fee or the time you or your people devote to interviewing and onboarding, let that be someone else’s burden and use your time to move your core business forward.
  4. Management and Development. Your time commitment doesn’t end at on-boarding. The on-going management and development of that resource is a burden that falls on you or your highest capacity team members and that is keeping them and you from devoting more time towards your bottom line.

Rationale #2: It is difficult to find a third party resource I can trust.

Reality:

There is no denying that it can be challenging to find the right fit for your organization when it comes to a third party partner. But once you do the confidence and peace of mind pays off in dividends. If you have an internal resource, chances are you had to invest heavily in filling that role, and as we mentioned above, getting them up to speed and continuing their growth. Plus, what happens when that resource is out sick, on vacation or has a need for longer term leave? You are left scrambling to find someone (who will likely be less qualified) to cover for them. For areas such as HR or IT, all it takes is one wrong move by your fill-in to have a huge negative impact on your business. Let’s say your head of IT is out of the office for the week and a data breach occurs? Can you take a chance on having a less qualified resource handle the fallout? If you outsource, find a third party solution that has multiple resources with the same level of expertise so you never skip a beat.

The most successful businesses eliminate distractions for their teams allowing them to focus on their core mission, outperform the competition and have a clear path for growth and longevity. Don’t get stuck in a never-ending cycle of just keeping up or worse, falling behind. Evaluate those areas that you can transition to a third party resource and you could have more time, peace of mind and greater expertise in essential areas.

Whether you rely on a partner or internal resource for certain areas of competency may depend on the size and needs of your organization. Not sure where you fall when it comes to IT? Check out this quiz:

What is the Right IT Solution for Your Business?

About Advance:

Advance Business Systems helps organizations focus on their core mission by providing technology that can increase efficiency and effectiveness and services that eliminate the distractions that many organizations face.

Managed Services:

The right resources and a plan are critical to an organization achieving and exceeding their goals. Advance provides services such as IT planning and support that will take IT off your plate, keep you from worrying about data security and position your business for the future.

Business Technology:

Having the right business technology solutions in place, such as multifunctional copiers, interactive white boards and document management software, can greatly improve the flow of information through an organization.

Building the Right Team

Posted on March 6, 2018 by | 0 comments

What are Successful Maryland Businesses Doing Differently?

hiring the right team

Do you feel like there are not enough hours in a work day to conquer the critical things your business needs to move forward? If you’re like most executives, your calendar is full and only getting more booked up. You are not alone and you most likely do not have a time management problem. Like many organizations, your problem may be not having the right team.

Learn what it takes to be a successful and healthy organization! Sign up for e-mail updates as we explore the top challenges businesses face and what the most successful organizations in Maryland are doing differently, from one executive to another.

Developing Your People & Positioning Them to be Effective

A company’s most valuable resource is their people. Organizations invest a huge amount of money and energy in finding resources but some don’t spend enough time investing in the resources they have and positioning them to be successful. While recruiting and hiring are both critically important, it may not be your starting point.

Rather than starting at square one, make sure you are not overlooking valuable resources already within your organization. With the right development, motivation and positioning, existing team members can flourish.

Are you holding your team members back from taking ownership?

Most managers and executives are high capacity individuals and tend to want to “do” rather than developing their people to do it themselves successfully. This cycle creates an overburden on the manager and complacency in their team members.

Try this:

  1. Don’t take over issues. When your team members come to you with a problem, if your immediate response is to handle it for them, shift the burden and use it as an opportunity for growth. The next time someone comes to you, help them to clearly identify the problem and who would be the right resources to help them identify options and create a solution. Then encourage them to address it with those individuals.
  2. Bite your Tongue. In meetings and presentations, position your team members to take ownership and then avoid jumping in even if you feel you could “help” them by taking over. Instead, follow-up after the meeting and review what the individual thought they did well, what challenges they had and what they could do differently.
  3. Define Latitude. No employee likes to be micromanaged and usually our team members are unsure of what they can and can’t take the reins on. So define exactly what each employee does or does not have the latitude to do or make decisions on. It sounds simple, but very few managers have this conversation and reinforce it regularly.

Looking at Production and Values.

So, how do you assess if you have the right people in your organization? Most healthy organizations evaluate their people on both results and values. It’s not an either/or scenario and the detriment caused by top producers that don’t share your company’s values can be team busting. It’s easy to run through your team and identify who isn’t performing or who has a negative attitude but without clearly defining it and creating an action plan, we can often let it go on for far too long and cause damage to our team or our bottom line.

Try this:

  1. Define your values. Write out the values that are minimum acceptable for your organization—things like honesty that are not unique to your business but that are a must to be part of the organization. Then outline your core values—those that are not universal to all good businesses, but a defining value for yours.
  2. Create measurable results. Ensure that each role, even administrative roles, have measurable outcomes associated with them. What does it mean to be successful? Make sure it is quantifiable and clearly cascaded to each area.
  3. Map out your team. To understand how your team stacks up, plot each person on a matrix with the x axis as results and the y axis as values. For those that fall under the acceptable results line and score low in terms of values, it may be time to coach them out of your organization. Where employees fall short on results but high on values, problem solve their performance issues and put an action plan in place to get them where they need to be.

Hire for Coachability.

Now that you’ve assessed your current resources, you have likely identified gaps in your team, so how do you ensure you bring the right people on board? The hiring process is one of the biggest areas of pain for many organizations. When you look at bringing someone into your organization, identifying their skills and drive may be the easiest part of the evaluation. Harder to do is identifying a good team fit. Will they meld with the team they will be joining and your organization as a whole? Lastly, but potentially most importantly, look for coachability. Someone may be high capacity but if they are not coachable, they may be a short term fit in your organization.

We can probably all think of one person in our organization who fits this description. Incredibly hard working and self-motivated but not open to feedback or working through the ideas or vision of others on a team. This puts a cap on their potential and creates challenges when collaborating with others in your organization.

Try this:

  1. We love the interview questions found in Kevin F. Davis’ book, “Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness” to gauge coachability. They work for any role, not just sales—check them out!

Here are some of our other favorites to check out when trying to build the right team:

Join Email List

About Advance:

Advance Business Systems helps organizations focus on their core mission by providing technology that can increase efficiency and effectiveness and services that eliminate the distractions that many organizations face.

Managed Services:

The right resources and a plan are critical to an organization achieving and exceeding their goals. Advance provides services such as IT planning and support that will take IT off your plate, keep you from worrying about data security and position your business for the future.

Business Technology:

Having the right business technology solutions in place, such as multifunctional copiers, interactive white boards and document management software, can greatly improve the flow of information through an organization.

Implementing Effective Internal Communication

Posted on February 19, 2018 by | 0 comments

What are Top Maryland Businesses Doing Differently?

Organizational Communication

Communication is both the key to success and the downfall of most relationships—in the workplace, in your marriage, in friendships and with family. It is very much a pre-requisite for any healthy organization but it requires constant work and attention to be truly successful. Here are a few concepts that healthy organizations have mastered that don’t require an entire organizational overhaul to implement:

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  1. Speak at the right level for your audience.

    Far too often, we believe overloading the recipient with information shows value and intellect but if the person on the receiving end does not have an understanding of the content to begin with, they block out those nitty-gritty details and are left with just the opposite perception of the one “throwing-up” information on them. The person perceived as a valuable asset is not the one that can overload their audience, but the one that can create a clear, comprehendible message to the recipient and create action or buy-in as a result. If we don’t present information in a way that is meaningful to the other person, the phrase, “we are just talking to ourselves” rings true.

    The prescription:

    Spend less time memorizing the details and more time understanding your audience’s point of view. Chances are, if you tend to overfill the glass on a topic, you know the content better than you give yourself credit for anyway. Before you present information, consider who you are talking to and what is important to them. Then actively work to present a higher level overview tied directly to what the audience cares about and avoid the urge to talk about how it is relevant or impactful to you. Allow your audience to guide where the conversation goes by probing for details rather than diving right in.

  1. Slow down!

    When we are passionate about something, we tend to speed up our speech and sprint to the end leaving our audience trailing behind and working hard to keep up rather than taking in the content.

    The prescription:

    Sit back, relax your body and slow down your speech to the point where it feels almost awkward to you. Although it may feel unnatural, the recipient does not recognize it as slowed speech, instead they see you as a comfortable, confident presenter. Pause often to allow for interaction from the audience. Engagement breeds understanding and buy-in.

  1. Segment the content to the same lens.

    We often sit in meetings or entertain conversations where each person is coming at the topic from a different lens. One person may be presenting emotional view points, another may be presenting fact while another person presents the things that could go wrong. When this is the case, none of the people in the room are effectively working through the topic, they are locked in to their own lens and lost in their own perspectives.

    The prescription:

    Give each lens its due time. Break a conversation into different segments.

  • First, allow everyone in the room to unload their emotional perspective on the topic. Getting this out of the way first and classifying it as such allows you to move on to true problem solving.
  • Once you isolate the emotions, move on to facts surrounding the topic and challenge each other to present only facts. At this point, most people realize their initial perspective may not have been grounded in anything concrete.
  • Next, ask for the obstacles to overcome so you can ensure they are out in the open. Then challenge the group to come up with ideas to overcome the obstacles.
  • Lastly, and potentially most importantly for buy-in, ask for the benefits surrounding the solution. A team can rally around an idea when they spend time collectively outlining the potential benefits of the solution and projecting themselves into the positive end state.You’ll be amazed at the progress you can make when you have everyone speaking to the same perspective.
  1. Over communicate.

    Organizational Presentation

    This is the most apparent but also the most overlooked. When we don’t over communicate, the execution of a great idea or initiative can be lost because it didn’t reach the right people. Even if it was communicated, it may not have been received. How often do you hear, “Well, I copied you on the email” as a rebuttal for someone claiming they weren’t informed of a change or decision?

    The prescription:

    Focus on the cascading message associated with every decision. Who needs to know about this, who will tell them, how will we tell them so they understand (probably not in a mass email) and when will we do it? Once you outline those next steps, ensure you establish a frequency in which you will disseminate the information and a method for making sure it was done and done effectively.

  2. Spend time on the journey.

    We often forget all of the knowledge we gained as we worked through a problem and assume everyone else around us now holds that knowledge despite not having been a part of the process. Then we are let down or lose steam when the group does not share in our excitement or energy surrounding the end result.

    The prescription:

    When you arrive at an outcome and look for buy-in from others, unless the group is willing to give you blind faith, you need to bring the entire group through the journey it took to get there. That does not mean you need to drag people through the hours, days or months that you’ve spent on something, but it is important to hit the high notes and transfer your knowledge to them. Start with the current state, outline the challenges faced in the as-is situation and then outline the projected end state along with its benefits. This ensures your audience knows what you now know and the revelation is appreciated, not lost.

Looking for great tools to help you implement these concepts? Here are some of our favorites:

Join Email List

About Advance:

Advance Business Systems helps organizations focus on their core mission by providing technology that can increase efficiency and effectiveness and services that eliminate the distractions that many organizations face.

Managed Services:

The right resources and a plan are critical to an organization achieving and exceeding their goals. Advance provides services such as IT planning and support that will take IT off your plate, keep you from worrying about data security and position your business for the future.

Business Technology:

Having the right business technology solutions in place, such as multifunctional copiers, interactive white boards and document management software, can greatly improve the flow of information through an organization.