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!


Establishing the Roots of Success – How TAB Helped Aspiria Grow

20160915_150115_resizedFourteen years ago, Charles Benayon embarked on a journey to create a company that would support mental health issues for employers and students. Fast-forward to today and his company, Aspiria Corp., has helped tens of thousands of people and their families.

As the Founder and CEO, Charles and his team provide Employee and Student Assistance Programs to medium- and large-sized businesses and schools. Reflecting on his successes, he credits much of his recent progress to the advice he has received from The Alternative Board ® (TAB).

“Prior to joining TAB, I was doing a ton of things on my own that, perhaps, I shouldn’t have been doing,” he recalls. “I was working too much “in” the business and not working enough “on” the business.”

For Charles, however, it wasn’t an instant decision to seek business advice from an advisor. “I couldn’t see how an advisor who knew nothing about my industry could help me grow my revenue base,” he said.

But it was roughly four years ago that he felt as though he was at a standstill with his business.

“We were at a level in my company where I was making all sorts of decisions and I really didn’t have someone at my level that I could bounce these decisions by. I thought it would be helpful to try to find an advisor who could provide support for me, who could help me with some decision-making, and who could help me develop a strategy for the company.”

It took about a year, but Charles decided to make a phone call to Phil Spensieri that would forever transform his business – for the better.

“Prior to meeting Phil, I didn’t have a strategic plan for the company,” he admits, “but he helped my management team and I develop a five-year strategic plan which has now become our blueprint for everything that we do.”

Providing structure is something in particular that Charles attributes to Phil’s expertise

The strategic plan isn’t the only thing keeping Charles and his team focused. As he mentions, The TAB Advisory Board is quick to keep him on his toes.

“I feel as though this team of advisors, including Phil, hold me accountable for my actions. If I say I’m going to do something and the next month I attend the group meeting and I haven’t done it, they’re going to call me on it.”

There’s much to gain from peer discussions, according to Charles. “The TAB Advisory Board can help any small business leader reach their business goals by providing a supportive, structured environment to help you get there.” Problem solving and like-minded support, as he mentions, are two of the biggest takeaways from a TAB Board meeting.

Joining TAB was pivotal for Charles, who recommends the dual-model approach to business coaching as a recipe for success: “If you don’t have one-on-one and group support to assist in reaching your goals, then your business will not be successful.”

 

Do you belong to a peer advisory board? How has it helped your business? Do you see how joining one can help you grow your business?


How to Protect Your Intangible Business Assets

Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 8.57.30 AM.pngWhen I speak with business owners about their assets, they often refer to their tangible assets such as their office(s), computers, and machinery. However, the value placed on intangible assets, such as people, knowledge, relationships and intellectual property, is now a greater proportion of the total value of most businesses than is the value of tangible assets.

It’s these intangible assets, rather than the tangible ones, that enable a company to distinguish itself from competitors. Your intangible assets might include your customer lists, intellectual property, business plans, recipes, pricing formulas, and trade secrets, and are typically the foundation upon which your company is built. Think about KFC’s intangible asset – the special, secret recipe, without which KFC would just be fried chicken.

To ensure your “secret sauce” does not become that of your competitors, you’ll need to develop a strategy to properly protect your intangible assets. To achieve this, you’ll first need to write a list of your assets and make sure you have back-up (hard drive/cloud) for this list.

Although I recommend sitting down with a corporate lawyer who specializes in intangible asset protection, I’ve outlined below a few very simple things you can do on your own to start protecting your intangibles:

Your Employees
Make sure you have employment agreements for all your staff. These agreements stipulate that all company assets are proprietary and that unauthorized disclosure of confidential information such as pricing formulas, customer lists and other data and information is prohibited. Depending on the type of business and the employee’s role, employee agreements can include clauses to help ensure that any invention or discovery made by an employee while employed with the company is the property of the company.

Your Ideas
Even though you own copyrights without filing, you should have your corporate lawyer file for you to fully protect those rights. You can start the process to receive a patent or trademark by submitting an application to the appropriate governmental agency. Be prepared, as the application requires you to provide an explanation of why the asset is proprietary to you.

Your Information
Confidentiality or nondisclosure agreements, designed to protect your valuable trade secrets, can be very simple or very detailed, depending on the requirement. At a basic level, they commit a party (vendor/freelancer/supplier) to keep specific information confidential, to not share it with potential competitors, or use it for themselves to gain market share.

Your Digital Data Backup
It seems simple, but many businesses owners still store anything important in their head. Make it a priority to back up everything that is important to running your business. Digital documents can be easily backed up to a server that is in a different location or on the cloud. Put a plan into action to backup all your data and get it done.

As a responsible business owner, you’ve done everything you can to build a successful business – now invest that same energy into protecting those very valuable assets.


If Your Sales Strategy Did Not Measure Up… Look At Execution

Intersection-of-Strategy-Execution-Success-300x200It’s the end of the first quarter and many of you are looking at your sales results compared to your sales goals and if the results are poor, blaming your sales strategy. Well, the sales strategy may not be to blame.

Sometimes it’s obvious what went wrong, but sometimes it can be a few factors that contribute to the overall poor results — market predictions, understanding the skill set of your sales team, and understanding the sales cycle of your customer. I have found that the following 3 reasons are why sales strategies sometimes don’t lead to the desired results:

Execution

I have seen it time and time again, sales strategies failing at the execution level. The best-laid plans are just that – plans. The real results happen in the execution of those plans. Part of reviewing your execution includes:

Were your expectations too high?

Was your plan too ambitious? If you are ending your first quarter not having met your sales results, your plans could have been too grand. Was what you planned realistic? For example, if you planned for weekly call-out campaigns, your sales team needs to understand if they are to secure an actual sale over the phone or just generate a lead for future sales nurturing. Had you hoped that your sales team would deliver sales, or your marketing team’s campaigns would drive more leads? Adjust your expectations to a realistic level.

Did you have the right resources?

Consider the skill set of your sales team and whether they had the right training to execute the sales strategy. Providing them with a formal on boarding program for each service or product is essential to help them be successful. What about your support team – are there enough order takers or shipper-receivers in place to handle new orders, and what resources are in place to handle from lead to delivery? Every person in the sales cycle is important, but perhaps there was an area that was not covered. If so, adjust the plan to reflect that. You can’t expect great results if you don’t have the infrastructure in place to support the growth.

Who was accountable?

When you created the sales strategy did you share it with your team and hand off tasks to each of them to be accountable for? Did you hold regular meetings with your team to hear of any hurdles and get status updates? Did you hold yourself accountable for ensuring the plan was executed properly? Someone has to take responsibility for ensuring all goes according to plan.

After you’ve conducted a full review of the execution of your plan, you’ll easily see what areas and factors contributed to the failure of your sales strategy. In all likelihood, your plan was good and just needed some adjustments based around its execution. Once the adjustments are made, your sales strategy will help to grow your business.


Did 2015 Measure Up to Your Business Plans for the Year?

measureRemember back in January of this year, when your vision for your business was fresh and clear in your mind, when your business goals and objectives had a well-defined path to achievement?  If you are like most business owners, your vision may have remained the same, but the execution and delivery to meet your goals and achievements was not exactly how you had planned.  This is typical of most businesses, as our plans cannot possibly allow for unpredicted circumstances, whether positive or negative.

In preparing for the New Year, I encourage you to take the time to reflect on this past year and start preparing your plans for the New Year by considering the following questions:

  • Revisit the tracking of your business plan and any other planning documents including your action plan, and review last year’s goals.  Did your business accomplish what you set out to do? Why or why not? Write a list of all the company’s major accomplishments for the year (or lack of them). These will be handy when you do your business planning for the current year.
  • What barriers prevented you from reaching your goals? How can you avoid them or prepare for them in 2016?
  • What is the key area you want to improve on in 2016? What steps do you need to take to accomplish this e.g. hire more staff, expand into new markets, increase marketing/branding, etc.?
  • Are there things you might have done differently e.g. hired too quickly, expanded too quickly, didn’t hire fast enough, etc.?
  • Have you started a business plan for 2016 that includes writing your goals and plans for next year?
  • Have you created a budget for the next year if you work on a calendar year fiscal basis?
  • Have you reviewed your vendors and providers recently? Do you need new ones or replacements for existing ones? Review your list and score them, see where you might need to add or even get rid of any that are not providing you with added value.
  • Have you reviewed and updated your marketing and advertising plans?  Make sure you consult with your internal or external marketing professional to ensure you are strategically placing your marketing budget to align with your business goals.

We all know how important business planning is, so before you break for the holidays, take the time to reflect and plan for the New Year. You know the cliché: businesses that fail to plan, plan to fail.

Kick the New Year off with a clear plan with attainable goals and remember to take time off over the holidays and enjoy time with your family and friends.  Thank you for following my blog over the past year. Happy Holidays.


Processes: Follow-up to the 3 P’s of Business

0 - blog delete 2You may recall from my last post that all successful businesses have three things in common: effective policies, procedures, and processes. Today, I’m going to focus on the third “P”of business – processes. What impact does having effective processes in place have on your business? By focusing on this element of the three P’s in particular, my aim is to help you understand the significance of having processes in place in your business, and reflect on the effectiveness of your current processes.

What does it take to complete a task? A process, you may remember, is the high-level overview of a task – the map that guides you from start to finish through the steps you need to take to reach your objective. When faced with a task, how does your business act? Any successful, efficient business will have clear processes in place, with clearly outlined steps, to deal with such situations.

What types of processes exist in your business? Are they clearly implemented and communicated? To give you a sense of what processes look like, I’ve detailed below some examples of the types of processes that you should have in place in your business.

Example #1: Onboarding

You’re probably already familiar with onboarding, whether it’s by name or in concept. Onboarding is the process through which new employees acquire the knowledge, skills, and behaviours to become effective organizational members.

Do you know what your newly hired employees want out of the onboarding process? Generally speaking, new employees want on-the-job training, a review of company policies and procedures, a company tour, equipment setup, and the availability of competent and approachable mentors. New employees want to learn how to do their job efficiently and start contributing in a meaningful way as soon as possible.

In those first few weeks, new employees form their opinion of your organization. This is why onboarding is so vital. It’s a proven fact that an effective onboarding process leads to higher job satisfaction, higher retention, better performance, greater organizational commitment, and a reduction in occupational stress.

Example #2: Exiting

When an employee resigns or is terminated from a position, a number of tasks must be performed to ensure a smooth transition. If you’ve ever left a position, think about the tasks that had to be performed, the assets that had to be returned. As a business, if you forget to perform any of these tasks, you’re opening yourself up to risk.

You should keep a checklist to be followed when an employee exits so you don’t forget anything crucial. Your checklist may include: an exit interview to gain insight on areas of improvement, collection of company property (laptop, smartphone, credit cards, keys), process outstanding payroll, and the removal of building, computer, and network access. Also ensure that you have the employee’s current address and phone number if they need to be reached.

A clear exit process is necessary for your organization both to protect your business and ensure that exiting employees leave with dignity.

Example #3: Financial

Your business needs financial processes to work smoothly and mitigate risk. Some examples of essential financial processes in your business may include: accounts payable/receivable, payroll and benefits, and budgeting. Financial processes must continue without major failure day by day to avoid financial chaos. Financial processes should be efficient and effective, align with your goals, utilize best practices, and minimize risk of fraud.

The Bottom Line

Put simply, to remain successful your business needs processes of many types. For essential tasks to be completed in a way that mitigates errors and risk, those occupying the top rungs of the organizational ladder must take process creation and optimization seriously.

What do essential processes look like in your business? Are they efficient, or could they use some work?


Growing Your Business with the Help of an Advisor: A Case Study

09022011_trusted_business_advisorBeing your own boss can be one of the most rewarding career paths, but without a doubt, it can also be the most challenging. Regardless of the size of the business, the leader at the top is not an expert in everything; it has been my experience that they are experts in a field. This means that there are many questions – operational, HR, financial, marketing, sales, and strategic questions – that will need answering.

A few years ago, I met a business owner in the creative field who wanted to grow his business from a home-based operation with no employees to a fully functioning business with a team of dedicated staff.   This was something he had been struggling with and didn’t know how to achieve or whom to ask for advice.

Through our discussions, it quickly became clear that in order to truly make changes for a lasting and successful business, this creative entrepreneur needed a business strategy and resources. The owner and I established a series of meetings over the following months to create and detail the business strategy including goal-setting, creating a framework for the business; establishing what services will be offered to maintain and grow the revenue, creating pricing models, and examining additional product lines.

While developing the strategy, we also began planning for the resources needed to implement, support and drive the strategy including assessing locations, rental costs, reviewing staff requirements and duties, bookkeeping and accounting needs, invoicing systems, phone and internet systems, and IT support and back-up.

Once he executed on our strategic and resource planning, his business has not only grown, but is thriving! This business owner is typical of the entrepreneurs I see as a business advisor, where they have a clear vision of what their business is and where they want it to be, but what they need is the proper strategy, resource planning, and business advice to help them realize that vision.

Just as “two heads are better than one”, achieving success and reaching your goals often requires expertise beyond your own skill set. Calling on a business expert will help ensure your business needs are calculated and understood so that your business results align with your vision.

Do you have a business advisor or coach? How valuable have they been in helping you grow your business? I look forward to a lively discussion!