Monday, December 31, 2018

5 Strategies For Business Growth Many People Forget

arrows-business-growthIn this age of constant market evolution and new technology, there is no such thing as a static business that is self-sustaining. The traditional approach of implementing stable and repeatable processes, so that your business can run itself, no longer works. Just ask former big brand companies, like Blockbuster, Kodak, Lehman Brothers, and Sears, what happened to them.

As a small business advisor, I always recommend that being “self-sustaining” requires taking frequent and aggressive measures to step out ahead of the pack, including yourself, before you start feeling the pain of change and new competitors around you. Specific measures that go beyond the traditional linear thinking include the following:

  1. Develop new products for your existing segment. Rather than enhancing the offering you have, develop and offer new products that capitalize on the customers that you already know well. Competitors tend to focus on price and other variations to existing offerings. Too many businesses only think of new products when in crisis mode.

    For example, Facebook added WhatsApp as a cross-platform messaging and Voice over IP (VoIP) service to enhance the self-sustaining growth their social media platform before any downturn. WhatsApp alone now has a user base of over one and a half billion users.

  2. Introduce disruptive technologies to this domain. Rather than rely only on linear thinking, the best entrepreneurs are always looking to offer in parallel a more dramatic new alternative. Since these usually require a large investment, and more time, including customer education, they need to be started while your current business is still healthy.

    Apple did this with the introduction of the smartphone, which altered the value chain for computers, video, and software, which were already staples that they knew well. Richard Branson is doing it with Virgin Galactic space rides, without impacting his Virgin Airlines.

  3. Populating new domains to sustain your market. If your product is already unique, then new domains would include adding online to enhance store fronts, and alternatives for business to complement consumer offerings. These allow you to get new growth without fighting existing competitors. Defining new domains is even more powerful.

    Elon Musk is doing both of these, first by expanding his Tesla electric vehicle initiatives beyond cars, into self-driving taxis and trucks, and secondly by entering new domains of transportation with SpaceX and Hyperloop. He entertains no sense of a static business.

  4. Redefine your product to reach a new category. This strategy, often called breakaway positioning, has the intent of expanding your product opportunity into a previously unreachable category. It also has the advantage over competitors of retaining existing customers, while at the same time attracting new customers from another category.

    For example, Swatch was able through marketing to define their watches as fashion accessories, as well as timepieces, greatly expanding their segment. Uber added UberLUX, with stylish high-end cars, to declare access to the limousine category.

  5. Implement a plan of regular strategic acquisitions. Unlike a total reliance on internal innovation and organic growth, growth through acquisition or merger is generally faster and can be self-sustaining as a process. Further, acquisition offers other advantages such as easier financing, instant economies of scale, and new market penetration.

    For example, even the giant Amazon acquired Whole Foods as a growth entryway into the competitive grocery and food industry. Apple acquired Shazam to quickly boost Apple Music by letting users identify songs, movies, and commercials from short audio clips.

The reality is that you can never stop changing your business, and still be self-sustaining. The strategies outlined here may seem intuitively obvious, but they require real effort and discipline to implement, perhaps why so few companies consistently outperform the market. Change is the only constant in business, so now is the time for making your plan for regular change a priority.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 12/18/2018 ***

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Sunday, December 30, 2018

How The Best Entrepreneurs Do Better Than Anyone Else

best-entrepreneurAt some point in their life, hopefully everyone strives to be the best in their chosen profession. Most people think that being the best requires more intelligence, more training, and more experience. In reality, in business or even in sports, the evidence is conclusive that it is as much about how you think, as what you do.

I saw this illustrated a while back in the classic sports book, “Training Camp: What the Best Do Better Than Everyone Else”, by Jon Gordon. His evidence and real life stories conclude that top performers in all professions have the same key traits listed below. I agree they certainly apply to the great entrepreneurs I have known. You need to think about how they apply to you.

  1. The best know what they truly want. At some point in their lives, the best have a "Eureka!" moment when their vision becomes clear. Suddenly they realize what they really, truly want to achieve. They find their passion. When that happens they are ready to strive for greatness. They are ready to pay the price.

  2. The best want it more. We all want to be great. The best don't just think about their desire for greatness; they act on it. They have a high capacity for work. They do the things that others won't do, and they spend more time doing it. When everyone else is sleeping, the best are practicing and thinking and improving.

  3. The best are always striving to get better. They are always looking for ways to learn, apply, improve, and grow. They stay humble and hungry. They are lifelong learners. They never think they have "arrived"—because they know that once they think that, they'll start sliding back to the place from which they came.

  4. The best do ordinary things better than everyone else. For all their greatness, the best aren't that much better than the others. They are simply a little better at a lot of things. Everyone thinks that success is complicated, but it's really simple. In fact, the best don't do anything different. They just do the ordinary things better.

  5. The best zoom focus. Success is all about the fundamentals, and the fundamentals are little and ordinary and often boring. It's not just about practice, but focused practice. It's not just about taking action, but taking zoom-focused action. It's about practicing and perfecting the fundamentals.

  6. The best are mentally stronger. Today's world is no longer a sprint or a marathon. You're not just running; you are getting hit along the way. The best are able to respond to and overcome all of this with mental and emotional toughness. They are able to tune out the distractions and stay calm, focused, and energized when it counts.

  7. The best overcome their fear. Everyone has fears. The best of the best all have fear, but they overcome it. To beat your enemy, you must know your enemy. Average people shy away from their fears. They either ignore them or hide from them. However, the best seek them out and face them with the intent of conquering them.

  8. The best seize the moment. When the best are in the middle of their performance, they are not thinking "What if I win?" or "What if I lose?" They are not interested in what the moment produces but are concerned only with what they produce in the moment. As a result, the best define the moment rather than letting the moment define them.

  9. The best tap into a power greater than themselves. The best are conductors, not resistors. They don't generate their own power, but act as conduits for the greatest power source in the world. You can't talk about greatness without talking about a higher force. It would be like talking about breathing without mentioning the importance of air.

  10. The best leave a legacy. The best live and work with a bigger purpose. They leave a legacy by making their lives about more than them. This larger purpose is what inspires them to be the best and strive for greatness over the long term. It helps them move from success to significance.

  11. The best make everyone around them better. They do this through their own pursuit of excellence and in the excellence they inspire in others. One person in pursuit of excellence raises the standards of everyone around them. It's in the striving where you find greatness, not in the outcome.

Jon is convinced that people are not born with these traits, they must be learned by everyone. He talks about staying mentally strong, and maintaining a big-picture vision while taking focused action. So if you aspire to be the next Elon Musk or Steve Jobs, focus on your attitude as much as your business plan.

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

10 Questions To Test Your Aptitude As An Entrepreneur

career-entrepreneurCurrently there is no professional certification, or standardized testing, as there is for accountants and lawyers, to see if you are ready to tackle the rigors of starting a new business. In fact, some pundits argue that the best entrepreneurs, including Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, actually dropped out of school early to start their businesses, implying a negative relationship to training.

Based on my own experience in working with many entrepreneurs, including Bill Gates, I’m convinced that the requirements for success may indeed be not so much academic, but more a mindset of confidence, commitment, perseverance, and constant learning. In fact, these mindset elements are best gauged by your own honest self-assessment against the following questions:

  1. How strong is your drive and ambition? If you are contemplating starting a business as a way to get rich quick, or as a way to work less, you should try another road. On the other hand, if you are passionate that you can solve a compelling need better than anyone else, I’m convinced that I and everyone else will line up behind you to help.

  2. Are you happy to make your own decisions? This isn’t about not having a boss. All entrepreneurs have multiple masters to serve, including customers, investors, and your own team. The key is a willingness and a conviction that you know what has to be done, are willing to communicate and charge down your path, even when others are in doubt.

  3. Do you enjoy working and learning from others? Building a new business is not a solo exercise. Every good business is a positive collaboration between many people with different skills and objectives, with an effective leader to bring their efforts together. You need to enjoy working and learning from all the people around you, including customers.

  4. Can you accept the fact that the buck stops with you? The responsibility of a business is much the same as raising your children. It hovers over your head 24 hours a day, 7 days every week. There are no excuses when the economy or the market changes. The success or failure of your business will impact your family and your future.

  5. Do you have a baseline of relevant skills and experience? Starting a new business in an industry you know nothing about is fraught with risk. Experience managing projects, people, and finances is as important as deep technical product development skills. Working as an executive in a big company does not prepare you to run a startup.

  6. Have you built relationships with people who can help? The right connections in business can make all the difference – in finding advisors, investors, experts, vendors, and even customers. As the business matures, your relationships need to change and expand, so you need to enjoy the process as well as the learning from each.

  7. How do you feel about the value of money in business? Some social entrepreneurs I know are so passionate about their cause that they don’t even want to think about money or profit, and they often fail. I would assert from experience that it takes money to do the right thing, and you can’t help anyone for very long without a sustainable business model.

  8. Do you have a positive and stable personality? Every new business is a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs, which are accentuated by your own highs and lows. In addition, you must be the role model for your team and your customers in selling your vision, and the value of your offering. People expect their leader to be strong and above reproach.

  9. Have you really analyzed the market and competitors? Too many aspiring entrepreneurs I know are so enamored with their new idea, and they charge ahead, without first doing the homework on the size of the opportunity, market restraints, and competitor alternatives. Passion is necessary, but not sufficient, to drive a business.

  10. Can you deal with the need for change and innovation? The market and customer needs change quickly and regularly these days. You need to be able to innovate quickly as the initial dream no longer satisfies the market. What worked yesterday may not work tomorrow, so you always need to be thinking and planning for the next generation

If you can answer most of these questions with a resounding yes, then I encourage you to pursue that dream of starting and running your own business. Otherwise, you may be smart to work for a startup or other company for a while to validate your mindset and build your confidence. Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur, and that is a good thing.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on CayenneConsulting on 12/07/2018 ***

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Monday, December 24, 2018

Business Lessons Often Ignored In The Heat Of Passion

bicycles-building-carsMost aspiring entrepreneurs are convinced that their idea and passion are so great that failure is not a possibility. They relate quickly to one of the big successes out there today, including Facebook, Airbnb, or Snap, and can give you a dozen reasons that they are in the same category. It’s a good way to get some inspiration, but not an accurate representation of reality.

As a startup advisor and angel investor, I tend to focus on the much longer list of ways your startup can fail, based on my own experience and inside knowledge from peers who you will never see highlighted on the Internet. I’m convinced that you can learn more from failure than success, so it pays to take these as lessons to improve your success odds before you start:

  1. Creating a new technology doesn’t make a business. Based on my experience, creating a new business is at least as difficult as creating an innovative solution, and it takes a knowledge of finance, operations, customers and the marketplace. If you don’t have all these interests and skills, even your most “disruptive” products will likely fail.

    For example, the personal motorized scooter Segway was announced as disruptive technology way back in 2002, but is still not a successful business. Despite the technology, the fears of pedestrians and government regulations strangled the business.

  2. If there is no competition, there is likely not a market. Every potentially successful product has competition, or an alternative, or customers with no interest in change. If you really believe your idea has no competition, perhaps you haven’t looked, or there is no real business. Competitors arrive rapidly these days, so make sure you look often.

    I often hear funding pitches on “nice to have” products, combining the features of several known winners, such as Facebook and Twitter. In fact, there are no competitors for this combination, but people rarely pay real money or incur change for nice-to-have solutions.

  3. Focus on doing one thing well rather than many things. Don’t try to be all things to all people. You will likely confuse your target customers, and do everything poorly, because of the limited resources of a startup. Later, as you scale the business, is the time to add products or service offerings that customers demand to make the business more robust.

    For example, Uber built their initial success by simply connecting people looking for intra-city car rides via a smartphone app. Only later did they expand this offering to multiple classes of cars, Uber for business use, package delivery, and even freight hauling.

  4. Plan to and assemble the right team, including co-founders. Building and running a business is not a solo operation. You need skills in finance, operations, and marketing to supplement product development, and more hours of work than one person can manage. A team with the right skills, chemistry, and culture makes all the difference in business.

    I find that most investors invest in the team, more often then they invest in an idea. If you have the right team, you will be able to execute effectively, multiply the impact of your solution by an order of magnitude, and build relationships with customers quickly.

  5. Calculate your projected costs, and double the amount. Both the business and your solution will take more time and money to develop than you expect. Entrepreneurs always assume everything will go right the first time, and it never happens. Count on at least one required pivot, and several crises that you could never anticipate.

    Can you believe that Facebook, for example, required an investment of nearly $350 million before turning cash-flow positive? Even the best entrepreneurs tend to underestimate their requirements, and finding emergency funding is very costly.

There are many more lessons to be learned by listening to advisors, and peers who have gone before you. Even if you fail on your first startup, you should wear it as a badge of courage and lesson learned, rather than be devastated. Both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs experienced early failures, but obviously never gave up. Your legacy will be how far you have traveled, rather than where you started.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 12/11/2018 ***

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Friday, December 21, 2018

How To Stay Cool, Despite Team Members Who Annoy You

secret-annoying-gossipIn my career in business, I’ve found that the people you work with make all the difference. If everyone works well together, you all feel a sense of job satisfaction. If some people on the team are irritating to you and others, the whole environment becomes toxic, killing your motivation and the productivity of the team. Everyone thinks this is a management or the other person’s problem.

Yet, as a business advisor, after investigating a few of these situations, I find that both sides see the situation differently. Thus you may be irritating or annoying other people without even realizing it. In any case, there are many things that you can do to minimize the impact on yourself, and on the productivity of your team, especially if you are not the manager:

  1. Limit interactions with problem people to smaller doses. Total avoidance doesn’t get the work done, but strategically timed short encounters may not exceed your patience. Be proactive in timing your visits close to a natural exit, such as just prior to a meeting. Keep your vibes positive and unemotional, and you may uncover a new team member.

  2. Adapt your approach to match the style of the other person. It’s all in the approach. Some people are invigorated by a confrontation style, while others consider it irritating. Some want to tell you all the details, when you are just interested in the bottom line. As in any relationship, both sides have to be empathetic, or positive results don’t flow.

  3. Define and adhere to role and relationship boundaries. It’s easy to forget that all members of a team are peers, especially if you have been there longer, or an expert in your specialty. Treat all with respect, and remember that the manager has a different role. Find neutral time and ground to discuss boundaries that may have been crossed.

  4. Declare constraints on your meeting times before starting. Many irritating interactions are the result of rushed or perceived incomplete discussions. If you have other commitments pending, such as a meeting about to start, or phone call scheduled, these constraints need to be communicated early to avoid negative reactions.

  5. Be aware that body language speaks louder than you do. You can’t change the body language of others, but you can control your own. Present a posture of being open and supportive, speak unemotionally, and keep the dialog positive. Reports indicate that body language is fifty percent or more of every communication. Make yours work for you.

  6. Treat all team members comparably and consistently. If any team members don’t know what random action to expect from you on the next interaction, you are part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Productive relationships require some degree of predictability, and the ability to anticipate the needs and style of peers and management.

  7. Avoid being a complainer or commiserating with downers. Perennially negative people are always perceived as irritating by the rest of the team and management. Even worse, however, downers drag down both you and your colleagues. It’s up to you to be proactive about fixing relationships rather than complaining to others about them.

  8. Find a job or role, rather than a relationship, to motivate you. Highly annoying and ineffective people tend to look to others around them for motivation and direction, rather than accept that responsibility. An example is someone who essentially does nothing until someone tells them to. If you find the work you love, good people relationships will follow.

Your ability to work effectively with potentially annoying team members is a perfect indicator of your future ability to manage an organization, rise in your career, or build your own business as an entrepreneur. It’s not all that different than adapting to difficult non-work situations and relationships. Remember that you can’t change others, but you help them change themselves.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 12/06/2018 ***

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Monday, December 17, 2018

Business Complexity Goes Up Dramatically As You Scale

complexity-of-designMost of the entrepreneurs I advise today are ready to declare success when they get that first surge of traction with a real customer. This is a good sign, but they have no idea that the hard work of scaling the business is still ahead of them. It’s a bit like the heady first days after you’ve fallen in love, when you can’t imagine anything will ever kill that passion or commitment.

Scaling a business is fraught with risk and unknowns. You need to find investors for funding, vendors for volume manufacturing, processes for repeatable execution, as well as marketing and distribution to attract customers far beyond your pilot rollout. In fact, this is where your startup has to move from an initial project to a complex product business.

Based on my software career with IBM and several startups, I experienced the challenges and failures of scaling a software project to a business many times. I now realize that software has evolved to be key to the value of most products, including cars, airplanes, and appliances, as outlined in the new book, “Project to Product,” by Dr. Mik Kersten, currently CEO of Tasktop.

Dr. Kersten asserts, and I agree, that it doesn’t work today to manage software as a cost center inside a business – it is too integral to the value stream of the solution provided, most evident during scaling. He outlines five dimensions of scaling any business that introduce new levels of complexity, requiring tools with an overall view of business flows, processes, and value delivered:

  1. Adding more features to support a broader customer set. More features means more complexity, more experts, and specialized tools to facilitate the integration, testing, and support. What may have looked like an incidental cost in your base product will now grow to be a major impact on profitability, customer responsiveness, and time-to-market.

    For example, new car infotainment system options alone are fundamentally more complex in terms of features than entire software products were a few years ago, requiring millions of lines of code from multiple vendors, multiple languages, and UIs.

  2. Evolving from an initial solution to a product line for growth. As the number of products increase to attract a larger market share, the complexity increases exponentially to produce, distribute, and support the business. This means more suppliers, more interfaces, and more integration to manage, which is today the realm of software.

    BMW, for example, now has around 12,000 suppliers worldwide, for their many models, and each car now consists of over 30,000 parts. They produce a new car every seventy seconds, in the sequence of received customer orders. That’s a huge scaling challenge.

  3. Adding partners, with their own tools and specialists. You can’t manage partners in the same fashion as you manage your own internal teams and processes, so scaling the business through partners adds additional complexity. Communication at the digital level has to be done through formal software interfaces (APIs) that you never anticipated.

  4. Attracting new markets and market segments. Each market or market segment may require a new edition or configuration of the management system and software, again increasing complexity. The specialists to support these may speak different technical as well as communication languages, and be physically dispersed around the world.

    If a business sells to both business-to-consumer and business-to-business, it will need two separate support channels connected to multiple value streams. The opportunities for disconnects and disruptions go up again as the business scales to this level.

  5. Moving information platforms to the Internet cloud. Expanding businesses today forces a full dependency on storing and moving data through the cloud, exposing it to additional risk from security breaches and data loss. The tools and expertise to manage this risk require new and additional resources that most companies do not anticipate.

    Many businesses believe they will free up staff time and money by moving applications and data to the cloud, but end up facing spiraling costs as they underestimate the scale of such projects. Here again, it’s important to measure value, rather than project cost.

Businesses that are the current masters of scaling, including Amazon and Alphabet, are making the challenges harder for the rest of us by redefining the software technology landscape around their platforms. It behooves us all to keep up with these changes, manage the transition to a more software-centric world, and thrive in that world from a bottom line business perspective.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 12/03/2018 ***

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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

7 Practices Reduce Risk In Even The Smallest Business

shop-micro-businessIn the last few years, I’ve heard more and more about a new type of small business, called a “micro-business” (or micro-enterprise). These are usually characterized as owner-operated, with five employees or less, and less than $250,000 in sales. With the low cost of e-commence entry, and powerful Internet technologies, they require minimal capital to start, perhaps as little as $500.

I see the potential for these to become big business in this entrepreneurial economy. According to the Voice of Microenterprise (AEO) website, if one in three micro-enterprises in the United States hired an additional employee, the US would soon be at full employment. These businesses are usually run out of the home, and cover the gamut from consulting services to e-commerce.

Dal LaMagna, in his humorous classic “Raising Eyebrows: A Failed Entrepreneur Finally Gets It Right,” leads with the foundational principle of micro-businesses, which is to start small. This allowed him to learn enough from all his early mistakes to hit it big ($10 million revenue) with a global beauty tools company called Tweezerman. He and I offer seven key additional practices to reduce the risk:

  1. Tailor the business to you. Do you love antiquing? Fishing? Cars? Cooking? Now, think about what pursuing this passion might mean for your lifestyle. Think how you want to spend your day; where you want to live; whether you want to work with people or alone; in the morning or at night, and so on. Eliminate any aspect of your business that doesn't create your preferred lifestyle -- and will work against you.

  2. Be frugal. Don't spend money you don't have. Don't invest in anything you don't need. If this means baking cupcakes in the local church basement and delivering your signature pastries by bicycle to local stores -- two dozen at a time -- do it. Take the money you make and put it right back into the business.

  3. Record every expense. From the dollar you gave to the homeless guy on the way to meet a prospective client, to the new tie you bought to look professional, write down every single penny. The key to launching a micro-business is to keep expenses under control and fully accounted for.

  4. Keep a monthly profit-loss. For the first two years of your business, complete a monthly profit-loss statement. This helps you stay on top of where your business is going, where it could do better, and why it fluctuates.

  5. Find free stuff. Many items needed to start and run your small business are available for free or next to nothing. Be creative. Use freecycle.com; ask friends if they have an old computer or printer; or visit a thrift shop for office furniture or office supplies.

  6. Write down agreements. With a very small business, your clients sometimes make the assumption that they don't have to sign an agreement. Wrong. Get in the habit of thinking like a company founder and get promises in writing. And while you're at it, keep your side of agreements.

  7. Keep it simple. When Dal first started Tweezerman, he did nothing but focus on tweezers and selling them to cosmetic counters, one store at a time, which he did very well. If you can do one thing well, don't dilute your efforts until you have been turning a large profit over a consistent stretch of time.

My net recommendation is that if you consider yourself a do-it-yourself entrepreneur, preferring to do things yourself rather than forking over money to consultants, then definitely the micro-business approach is for you. The down side is that your business will probably grow slowly and more organically.

If you prefer to rely on others for most things, or want to get there fast, the investor approach may be the best answer, but the price is higher in time, dollars, and control. It’s your choice, but remember that the wrong choice probably won’t get you there at all.

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, December 10, 2018

8 Ways To Prepare Yourself For Business Crises Ahead

financial-crisis-aheadMost entrepreneurs see their new venture as a fun adventure, until the pressures of a cash flow crisis, or a manufacturing quality problem, or a major customer satisfaction problem hits. Even with all my years of experience mentoring in business, I can’t predict how you will prepare for and react to pressure situations. I wish I could, since these often make or break your business future.

Over the years, I have found some key things that you can do to prepare yourself, how a proper mindset can mitigate the pain, and put you back in control. Here are the top approaches I recommend, and the entrepreneur mindsets that I see in survivors:

  1. Evaluate new competitive threats as new opportunities. New competitors can steal your market, or they can open up new markets. Entrepreneurs who react with fear and anger are in major jeopardy of losing their health, since competitors are a constant in the startup world. Use them positively to tune your solution and expand your opportunities.

  2. Use business model pressures as drivers for innovation. There is a natural human tendency to fight the need for change, and the pressure to change causes pain. True entrepreneurs love change – that’s why they are starting a new venture. They use pressures, like shrinking margins, as drivers for their next innovation in manufacturing.

  3. Incorporate fun and humor into pressure relationships. If your team is feeling over-whelmed by the pressures of customer demands, it may be time for an off-site fun event to get them recharged and fully motivated. Fun and humor will also offset the tension in dealing with tough customer issues, resulting in higher satisfaction, loyalty, and referrals.

  4. Take control of the situation by breaking task into chunks. When the challenge ahead looms large, it’s easy to let anxiety get the best of you, and you are afraid to start. Every big task can be broken into milestones, allowing you to enjoy small successes. That’s why I suggest a business plan before you start, with a timeline and deliverables.

  5. Work from your strengths – don’t worry about weaknesses. Most entrepreneurs start with passion and confidence, but many succumb to their weaknesses when pressures set in. Lead with your strengths and in-depth skills, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from advisors or partners to fill in the gaps. Confidence alone will overcome many challenges.

  6. Turn every failure into a positive learning opportunity. When pressures mount and things go wrong, don’t start looking for excuses, or someone else to blame. Make every failure a lesson learned, and project that mindset to your team. Thomas Edison counted many learning opportunities, bouncing back after 1000 failures on the light bulb alone.

  7. Prepare for challenges rather than hope for the best. The best entrepreneurs always have a plan, with alternatives, and continually research their industry and competitors. Others strike out blindly, assume it will be an easy win, and quickly feel the stress and pressure, with minimal insight on how to respond. Be over-prepared, and enlist advisors.

  8. Stay physically fit and balance work with play. Pressure situations will happen in every business, so stay at your best both physically and mentally to respond. Don’t let the “normal” workload wear you down – keep a balanced focus on work, and find other activities, including sleep and entertainment, to keep up your motivation and stamina.

Based on my own experience as a business executive and advising small business owners, I’m convinced that anyone can learn from these techniques to handle the pressures of a new venture or existing business, no matter what their background. It won’t happen by default, and it does take effort and initiative on your part.

You too can then thrive on the challenges and pressures of your business, rather than let these pressures destroy you. Most entrepreneurs I know can’t stand the boredom of “business as usual,” as that threatens their sense contribution and self-worth. Be one of the best, whose motto proudly is “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on CayenneConsulting on 11/27/2018 ***

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Friday, December 7, 2018

Why Team Management By Fear Is Bad For Any Business

businessman-afraidDespite the ease of communication through social media, new tools, the popularity of fearless independence and #MeToo, I still see many business organizations that are less than productive due to fear. Yet in my work as an advisor to senior executives, I find that many fail to see reality in their own organizations, and have no idea whether they are part of the problem or the solution.

I finally found some real guidance on this challenge in a new book, “The Fearless Organization,” by Amy C. Edmondson from the Harvard Business School. She presents a wealth of case studies on the pain and business losses from this type of leadership and culture, and provides some practical guidance on how to change it to a more psychologically safe and productive workplace.

If you are one of those leaders or team members who really wants to change things, here are some key indicators of the problems that I have seen, and some pragmatic guidance on how to get things moving in the right direction:

  1. Team members fail to speak up for fear of retribution. Hearing too much silence in your organization is a dangerous sign. This reticence to speak up, for fear of being embarrassed, intimidated, or penalized, can lead to widespread frustration, anxiety, depression, or even physical harm to others. Team members just don’t feel protected.

    Changing this culture has to start from the top. You as a team leader or executive have to openly invite participation from every team member, and respond positively in tone and actions when people actually do speak up. Show humility and appreciation for all input.

  2. People show excessive confidence in authority. In some organizations, especially medical and highly technical ones, authority and reverence are well understood and tightly linked to one’s place in a strict hierarchy. Deference to the leaders can become the default mode of operation, suppressing valuable input, to the detriment of everyone.

    The solution here is to hire and surround yourself with people who bring strong complementary skills to the table, as well as high confidence and self-esteem. In my experience, leaders who hire helpers rather than real help are breeding this problem.

  3. A culture of silence where leaders fail to listen. Often employees learn to stay silent when they see that voicing concerns or ideas is futile. In fact, they usually give up not just their voice but also their entire psychological engagement with your company. Evidence of not listening includes interrupting feedback, being defensive, or no evident follow up.

    You can reverse this culture by asking for opinions or updates at the end of meetings – then pause and ask again, so they know you are sincere. Also, you must be available and approachable. Mingle with employees. Ask questions, listen to responses. Be conscious of your eye contact, facial expression and tone of voice.

  4. Impossible stretch goals are never challenged. Performance goals set without team member input, and without support and feedback, are a sure sign of managing by fear. Most people feel that unattainable targets led to the serious problems at both Wells Fargo and Volkswagen a couple of years ago. Both are still struggling to change their culture.

    The solution is to communicate what you want - early and often - once is not enough for people to take you seriously. Then ask for input, listen to the evidence, and provide feedback based on what you hear. Be fair and consistent, with no excuses or emotion.

  5. You only hear the good news from team members. How many times have you chopped people off at the knees for being the bearer of bad news? Team members learn quickly, and the message spreads, that problems must be buried, and people are berated or penalized for surfacing tough issues. It’s fair to ask for solutions, in a positive way.

    Actually, the best approach is to ask the hard questions to get to the heart of a problem in a non-threatening fashion. Hard discussions can be the most productive, as well as more satisfying to team members, if they feel they are being heard and can make a difference.

Psychological safety is a workplace state in which people feel confident expressing themselves and comfortable calling attention to problems without humiliation or retribution, where colleagues trust and respect one another. In today’s complex world of constant change, collaboration in a fearless organization is the only way to survive and thrive, and only you can build it.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 11/23/2018 ***

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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

10 Business Constants Flourish In This Age Of Change

meeting-relationshipIn this age of constant change, I usually find myself writing about what has changed. Yet I find that periodically it pays to reflect on what hasn’t changed in business, probably won’t change in the foreseeable future, and is still critical to our success in our professional career, as well as the success of our business. Here is my list of the basics that some people in business tend to forget:

  1. Showing up consistently must still be priority one. I’m not talking about clocking in to work and physically putting in your time. I’m talking about being present mentally and engaged, with a full focus on the business work at hand, and contributing to the team. According to recent Gallup data, only 32 percent of employees are fully engaged today.

  2. Customers and peers still expect follow-up and timeliness. I still expect people in every business I call to answer the phone, or at least return the call in a timely fashion. Today there are many more ways to make contact, including email, social media, and web site queries, yet a common complaint I still hear is that no one ever responds.

  3. No one wants to hear that you are too busy for them. Every smart professional and business owner needs to reflect regularly on what they have really accomplished in a given day or week. Results of consequence should never include how many meetings you attended, or hours spent at work. Businesses grow based on customers served.

  4. Number and quality of relationships is still critical. Business connections and networking are still the source of major new clients, new job opportunities, and most promotions. Relationship building does not happen without effort, and the right people won’t find you automatically. It takes initiative on your part, just like it always has.

  5. It’s good for your business to find a work-life balance. Successful business people find a way to escape the pressures of work on a regular basis – through family, a hobby, sports, or other recreation. Every human body needs time to rejuvenate, for maximum productivity and creativity at work. Take some time to get totally away from the grind.

  6. Your job in business goes well beyond any job description. There is no simple formula for delighting customers, and anticipating the next business challenge. Your ability to satisfy the needs of customers and peers in any role can never be fully defined by a job description. Yet declaring that something is not your job will not impress anyone.

  7. It’s not how many things you start, it’s how many you finish. Crossing the finish line ahead of competitors is what gets you paid, and the only way your business will thrive. Investors in new businesses look for traction and results, not ideas. People who proclaim to be thinkers, rather than doers, rarely get funded, and rarely succeed in business.

  8. Customers and peers want to follow leaders, not processes. Even very detailed business processes can’t cover all the important cases. The best businesses people have always been the ones who are skilled and empowered to push the limits, and manage tough situations without excuses. These will lead your business to success.

  9. Managing cash flow is still a major key to business operation. According to financial experts, 80% of small business failures today are caused by poor cash flow, and that hasn’t changed for a long time. Cash is king when it comes to the financial management of a growing company. Entrepreneurs need to manage cash flow daily and personally.

  10. Honesty and integrity in business still pay big dividends. A couple of the most important factors in any business and career continue to be honesty and integrity, which breed trust. It is very difficult to have long-term success if your customers and your peers don’t trust you or don’t think you’re honest. I don’t believe that will ever change.

Thus it’s still critical to spend as much time at work focusing on the things that don’t change, as you do on the things that must change. More importantly, these things that don’t change can be your anchor for stability and enjoyment, leading to real satisfaction as well as success. What more could anyone want from work?

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on CayenneConsulting on 11/19/2018 ***

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Monday, December 3, 2018

Interpersonal Skills Are Still Key to Team Engagement

team-engagement-relationshipsOver my career in large businesses as well as small ones, it seems that more and more people are feeling unhappy and unfulfilled in their job. I’m convinced that technology is making this problem worse, rather than better, since it often causes to a sense of isolation working remotely, or even in the same office. Isolation leads to a lack of relationship or connection with others.

For example, while social media exchanges are now quick and simple, they miss all the body language and emotion that many believe constitute more than fifty percent of human relations and communication. The result is that even highly engaged workers can get results without a sense of fulfillment or satisfaction. This leads to a spiral downhill in productivity and happiness.

Your challenge as an entrepreneur and business leader is to discover ways to improve the fulfillment of your team, without turning back the clock on technology. I found these issues outlined well in a new book, “Back to Human,” by Dan Schawbel. I like his research and experience on what it takes to improve connection and fulfillment in this age of isolation at work.

Here are some key actions for improved fulfillment that we both believe every leader and executive needs to adopt:

  1. Build stronger team connections to make work fun. Lack of connection makes work feel like a chore and creates the silos that minimize creativity and innovation. The first step to fulfillment is insuring that you have face-to-face conversations and joint social activities, so that you get to know one another better outside of social media and email.

    The more you and other team members understand others’ unique situations, life goals, passions, fears, and obstacles, the more you can help everyone feel more fulfilled, and the more they will help your business.

  2. Show how your work contributes to shared values. Make it evident that values from you and your team drive your business goals, rather than goals driving values. Fulfillment is a function of doing the right thing. Define and enforce a high bar for ethical behavior, product quality, employee communication, social responsibilities and customer service.

    You have to engage the hearts and minds of your team members. To foster team fulfillment, breed optimism, promote resilience, and renew faith and confidence, real leaders look opportunities to reward adherence to values as well as results.

  3. Define and foster a higher purpose for the business. In my experience, both you and your team will have the most satisfaction and fulfillment if you can combine a strong sense of purpose with a quantifiable business opportunity. In other words, profit and a focus on repeatable processes need to be offset by social and environmental benefits.

    In every business, the first higher purpose should be a focus on your customer needs, rather than internal challenges. Without customers, there is no business, and no higher purpose can be satisfied. Beyond that, seek active team participation in outside efforts.

  4. Create and support a culture of trust in your team. Be open to sharing personal information and summaries of conversations you’ve had with senior executives. Provide the opportunity and encouragement for all team members to do the same. This will demonstrate team member authenticity and help build trust. Be the openness role model.

    Listen to what your team members are saying, without interrupting. This shows respect and will help you better give them the feedback they need for fulfillment and trust. It also demonstrates that you are willing to engage with their ideas, thoughts, and feelings.

  5. Focus on accomplishments rather than time at work. To improve team members’ sense of fulfillment, you have to make sure things get finished, and results are measured. Set goals and make sure they are attainable. Smaller goals can lead to bigger ones, which will give you different levels of achievement at different times.

    Your job is to remove obstacles that get in the way of employees’ fulfillment. One often-overlooked obstacle to a team’s success is having a teammate who isn’t performing well or has a bad attitude. Don’t keep them around and let them poison the rest of the team.

Sometimes tech devices trick you into thinking that they are helping you and your team to stay better connected. But technically connected and unhappy or unfulfilled team members won’t lead to success for you or them. We are all still humans, so personal relationships and the interpersonal skills of the team are still essential. Don’t forget that critical side of your business.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 11/19/2018 ***

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