How to Become an Agile Business

In today’s competitive landscape, it’s important for a business to be able to rapidly adapt to market and environmental changes. “Agile” is the buzzword associated with this ability to adapt quickly to changing situations; but what is “agile” and how can a business become an “agile business”?

Agile is a philosophy, not a process. Although originally used for software development, it’s now used by companies large and small in any industry. According to the Agile Manifesto, agile refers to:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Becoming an agile business is a process that constantly needs work. Is it worth it? According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, agile firms grow revenue 37% faster and generate 30% higher profits.

Here are some guidelines for becoming an agile business:

Create focus. Don’t be distracted. Get rid of a long list of priorities and instead replace it with a short, manageable list of three or four items that are “must dos”. As you complete one item, add another to your list. This will keep you focused.

Communicate your vision. Communication is the key to change and change-worthy behaviour. Communicate with employees often, be transparent and give them clear and compelling reasons to embrace agility and become agile champions.

Hire the right people. The success of your business rests on hiring the right people – employees who are aligned with your vision and your values. In order to be agile, the employees you hire must be results-oriented, not task-oriented. They must be able to work within an organization that gives them the freedom and the responsibility to accomplish their jobs without a step-by-step instruction manual on how to do it.

Create autonomy. You can’t maintain a stranglehold on your employees and micromanage every decision in an agile environment. Senior managers need to lessen their direct control over day-to-day activities and give their employees control over how they do their work. Give your employees the environment and support they need and have confidence that they’ll get the job done.

Be prepared for the unexpected. Although you can’t plan for the unexpected, you can be prepared for it. Agile businesses are flexible, adaptable and expect change. They are ready for all eventualities and can quickly pivot. Changing requirements are the name of the game.

Agile is motivating. An agile environment by nature is motivating. Instead of working on the same project month after month with little change, an agile environment empowers employees to respond to changes, giving them freedom to become more than their job descriptions.

How agile is your company? Want more advice on becoming an agile business, or general advice from other business owners like you? Find out if a TAB Board is right for you!

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Focus on the Human Side of CRM to Improve the Customer Experience

The Customer Relationship Management industry (CRM) has exploded. It’s estimated that 91% of business with more than 11 employees now use a CRM system. CRM is a term that refers to the strategies, technology, and practices that companies incorporate into their business to manage and analyze customer interactions and data. However, many businesses are not realizing the full benefits of CRM because they’re entirely focused on the data and ignore the human side of CRM. The data will tell you how to manage customers, but not how to build relationships with them. Computers don’t build relationships; people do.

In today’s highly competitive marketplace, the success of your business depends upon delivering customer-focused experiences and processes. I have outlined below a few tips I’d recommend for staying focused on the human side of CRM.

Don’t overlook the human side of CRM

Helping is the new selling” are the latest buzzwords being bantered around these days. It speaks to relationships and a service-oriented mindset. Although CRM has the potential to provide deep insight into both individual clients and general trends, it’s imperative that you connect and engage with your customers in a meaningful way or you diminish the value of your CRM system. No amount of data can provide the human touch.

Implementing a CRM system doesn’t automatically deliver results

Databases full of client information are the basis on which to improve customer engagement, but never lose sight of the relationship-side of technology. The success of your business depends on the human element.

Being authentic

This is crucial in any industry. Your sales team are the ones that can help your organization achieve its revenue goals. The human interaction between your salespeople and your customers is what will ultimately differentiate you from your competition, and bring them back again.

Listening

This skill is highly underrated. Do your sales people listen? Do they understand what your customers value? Can they educate and inform? Can they close the deal?

In order for CRM to deliver on its promise, ensure that the data and the human element are fully integrated.

Want more advice on how to get the most out of your CRM system, or general advice from other business owners like you? Find out if a TAB Board is right for you.


The Best Managers are the Best Communicators

As a business owner, you dedicate much of your time to communicating with your clients. While this is crucial for your business, equally important is communicating with your employees. Internal communication touches every aspect of your business from announcing the onboarding of a new client, to introducing a new product to your business line. No matter the size, industry, or type of company you own, I recommend having an internal communications process embedded in everything you do.

An internal communications process allows for the exchange of information between all members of your organization, which will save you time and money. In fact, companies with effective internal communications processes experience 47% higher total returns than those that are not effective at communicating.

I’ve outlined below 3 key elements to help you establish an effective internal communications process.

  1. Have the Right Mechanisms in Place to Keep Employees Informed

Your internal communication mechanisms must be strategic, in order to be targeted and the most beneficial. Consider your company’s current mechanisms, from the methods of communication it uses, to the way your company engages with and seeks feedback from your staff, to the way it measures if the mechanism is successful and identifies any issues for future change.

Choosing what mechanisms to use depends on your size and budget. If your company has multiple locations, you may decide to invest in passive, large-scale communication options to disseminate information. Creating an intranet (a private network only available to a company’s staff) is one great option. If your business is smaller, consider using more conventional communication channels such as an internal newsletter, e-blast, Director’s blog, or notice board. I have even seen some companies benefit from using social networking sites as their primary means of internal communication. More directed options could include Breakfast Briefs for front-line staff, a monthly Director Communications Day, scheduled Director Q&A drop-ins, or Lunch & Learns.

No matter what mechanism(s) you choose, the bottom line is that employees have access to a platform where they can receive important company information so they stay abreast of the information they need to do their job.

  1. Creating a Two-Way Loop

Having great communication mechanisms in place is vital, but ensuring that they consistently generate engagement between management and employees is a key step. It is imperative that business owners and managers actively respond to feedback received and ensure a loop is created, as opposed to a top-down form of communication. By acting on the honest feedback reported by employees encourages more of the same – staff telling it “like it is”.

  1. Measuring the Mechanisms

To ensure that the communication mechanisms you choose are working effectively, incorporating measurement indicators, such as scheduled weekly face-to-face meetings with actionable items reported for follow-up, anonymous employee surveys offered at quarterly or annual company all-staff meetings, or through specific activity surveys through the intranet, could help identify gaps, what is or isn’t working, and what methods of communication work best for your employees.

Regardless of which avenues you choose, the main goal is to ensure employees have several effective paths available to them where they can communicate with senior management and feel heard.

Communicating with your employees is essential for the productivity of your business. Does your company have an internal communications process in place?


Marketing Your Business: You Can’t Rush The Process

Although I am not a marketer, as a business advisor I am often asked what are the most effective ways to market a company. Business owners tend to ask me what tactics they should use to gain the ‘best’ and ‘fastest’ results. My advice is the same for business management: before you execute on a business initiative, you need a plan. Before you implement a marketing tactic, make sure you invest the time and resources in having a professional strategic marketing plan.

As a business owner, you know what you know, and what you don’t. Marketing, as an aspect of a business, is no different. Hiring a strategic marketing agency to develop your strategic plan is just good business sense.

A big part of any strategy is understanding how your customers value what you do for them. Depending on what data you may already have, a strategic marketing agency will conduct in-depth research on your customers and competitors to understand what brought them to you, and also why they stay.

As a result of the research analysis and the agency’s experience, they will be able to create an area of difference for you – something unique that differentiates your business from others in your industry. This brand identity is rooted in what your customers value.

This strategic marketing plan will now act as your roadmap and provide direction for all aspects of your marketing efforts and determine what tactics will be most effective in targeting specific customers. This is similar to how the strategy in a game of chess is needed to determine the moves made on the board.

Once your strategy is complete and you know what tactics are required, you can make an informed decision as to who will implement them. You’ll need to look at your internal resources and skill sets and compare them to external ones. If you choose to take them on in-house, think about who will manage them from a marketing perspective. You may choose to outsource only a portion of your tactics while taking on the rest internally. When it comes to implementation, you have a few options. Taking the time to plan can save your business thousands of dollars in needless tactics.


The Roles They Are A-Changin’

changes-aheadAs a business owner, you know how important it is to keep things fresh and innovative in your workplace, but when making changes, you’ll need to consider how your plans might impact your employees.

If you are in the process of job redesign where employees are assigned new roles that play into their strengths and contribute to a more successful business, these changes can be stressful to your employees. If someone has been hired for a particular job and then he or she is suddenly expected to perform a different role in the organization, tension and stress can result.

A recent report found that 46% of 1,018 Canadian employees recently surveyed had taken time off work or noticed other employees taking sick leave following workplace changes, a common symptom of a stressed-out workplace.

I’ve outlined below a few tips on how you can shift roles in your organization without contributing to employee stress:

  1. Share your vision.

Why are you doing this? What is this change going to accomplish for your organization? Sharing this vision with employees will allow them to understand exactly why this is happening, and help them find their part in it.

  1. Keep the lines of communication open in regards to role change.

Ask employees how they feel they can contribute to a new role and encourage conversation. By doing this, you can evaluate each employee’s strengths and weaknesses, while giving them an opportunity to work in a new role they would truly enjoy.

Make sure employees stay up to date as things begin to shift. For example, when you have made some final role decisions, send out an email to all staff informing them of the new structure. Keeping everyone in the know will ensure a smooth transition process.

  1. When your employees begin their new role, make sure they feel supported.

Assuming a new role can be challenging, especially if the employee doesn’t have a lot of previous experience in the position. Positive reinforcement can go a long way, as employees are less likely to experience stress when they report a positive and supportive workplace culture.

In today’s workplace, you need to keep things fresh, but maintain a balance against a backdrop of inclusiveness and communication. Learning how to handle change effectively is what will keep your team on the right path to growing your business.

How have you successfully restructured your business?


When You’re Looking for One in a Millennial

entrepreneur-593358_1280Every day, thousands of millennials are entering the workforce for the first time. Now, many small business owners are considering hiring these individuals and asking what they need to consider before they opt to hire them.

There is no denying that the millennial generation is much different than the generation of workers that has come before them.  This means that as a small business owner, you’ll need to make some changes to your business culture in order to accommodate the very unique needs of this particular group.

I’ve outlined a few key items you might want to consider before hiring millennial workers to ensure success for both your company and your potential millennial hire.

  • Flexibility

Millennial workers, unlike any other generation before them, are keen on the idea of having office hours that suit their personal needs. How flexible are you willing to be with your office hours? When interviewing potential millennial candidates, ask about their work schedule expectations. If you run a business that can only accommodate the hours of 9am to 5pm, then you can expect a millennial may not find your opening suitable to them.

  • Millennials want to be valued

Millennials need a great deal of validation from and communication with their supervisor/manager to let them know how they are doing, and to give them praise (preferably in a group setting) when they have done a good job. In the workplace, this may require more of your time and attention. They want to be noticed for their work and you will need to be available to give them ongoing feedback. Do you have the time to provide them with ongoing feedback and praise? If not, a millennial may not feel valued in your office.

  • Company Culture

Millennial workers are expecting an inclusive and exciting company culture that promotes social relationships and fosters innovation. If you have other millennial staff, or see your company hosting social nights or team-building activities, a millennial might fit in well. Their need to work and collaborate with a team is key to their success. Is your office made up of employees aged 45+? If so, a millennial worker might feel like an outsider and have trouble fitting in.

There is no doubt this new generation of workers are the future of business, and they have so much to offer, but we need to learn how to accommodate their needs if we are to add them to our workforce.


The Business of Letting Go

8095592977_85b9c8e0bcOne of the biggest challenges I have seen many small business owners struggle with is that of delegation. Most owners started their businesses on their own being the person who does everything and so letting go or delegating can be difficult from many angles. Let’s face it, if you continue to do everything, then why do you have staff and how can you ever hope to grow your business?

Delegation means letting go of the day-to-day tasks associated with that responsibility, but by no means does it mean completely letting go of that responsibility. In other words, if you have hired a sales person to take on the responsibility of sales for your company, although you may not be making the sales calls, you do need to ensure that your sales person has the right sales processes, sales metrics and that they are in fact the right person for the role.

Without the right processes, metrics and people in place, it’s likely the onus will fall back on you to get things done. Sounds familiar? Letting go isn’t easy, but having a proper delegation structure in place will allow you to focus your energy and resources on building a successful business. Here are my recommendations for effective delegation:

1) Have the right processes

Ensure you have the right processes in place to ensure that the task or responsibility will be done correctly and in accordance with your standards. For example, if you are delegating writing you will need to ensure what type of writing, how much time the writing should take, what structure the writing must have, what approvals are required, what source materials, and how the writing must be started. The process needs to be written down, explained to the person who you are delegating it to, and followed up with by you to ensure the process is being followed.

2) Measure your success

The only way you can truly know if the process is working right is to measure its effectiveness and subsequent success. To measure the success of the objective, you may want to consider KPIs as they are an effective way of measuring key business objectives, as are analytics. There are numerous measurement tools available, so finding the one appropriate for your business is important. Whatever metric you choose should be spelled out and communicated to the person taking on the delegated task or project. They need to understand that they are being measured in their responsibilities.

3) Have the right people

In a previous blog, I discussed the importance of building a solid team. Ensuring you have the right people working for you means that you can delegate appropriate tasks with the confidence they will be completed accurately and efficiently. Trust and communication are two qualities that can make or break a business. In my many years as a business advisor, I’ve witnessed numerous business owners cycle through employees simply because they had the wrong person in the role who was not fully capable of handling the responsibilities despite having the right processes and metrics in place. Invest wisely in securing the right team. With the right team in place, you’ll experience no hesitation in delegating important tasks and responsibilities.

Delegating is what most business owners crave – you want someone or something to take the huge responsibility of doing it all yourself off your shoulders. Have no fear, by ensuring you have the right processes, metrics and people in place will mean you can lessen your load, and free up the much-needed time to do what you have always wanted to do: focus on building your business.