If there’s one common malady that most business owners and entrepreneurs fall prey to it would probably be “shiny-object syndrome.” It affects virtually all of us. Why? Because of how we’re wired.
Normal people don’t start businesses, crazy people do. People like you and me who are curious, driven, resourceful, risk-takers who believe that an idea can be transformed into reality—a solution that can solve a problem and produce a positive economic exchange for both parties.
In essence, we’re opportunists. We see an opportunity to make a difference (and make a dollar or two in the process) and somehow believe, against all odds, that we’re the ones who can make it happen.
Which means that we’re also a pretty confident bunch. We believe that we can do whatever we set our minds to. And because we’re usually good at a lot of things, we tend to believe we can handle more than we actually can.
So, what happens when you take someone like us and place a new opportunity in front of them? Exactly. You get shiny object syndrome. In other words, if you ever wonder why you’re so gullible for shiny-object syndrome or why you tend to find your mind diverted all day long or why you start so many things that you can’t actually complete, it’s no wonder. It’s how you’re wired.
Unfortunately, it’s also one of the primary hindrances to your success. And moreover, both you and your company are paying a steep price for it. Why? Because one of the bedrock keys to success is concentrated focus (not diverted attention) over long periods of time.
So, how can you break free from this negative malady known as shiny-object syndrome? Well, here are a few ideas for you today.
I. Own That This is Actually a Problem
The first step to recovery in virtually anything is to first own that you have a problem. Unfortunately, many of us don’t believe this is a problem (remember that unshakeable confidence that we discussed earlier). We tend to think we can do more than we can—which is usually caused by a lack of self-acuity and an unawareness of how our behaviors affect others.
As optimists, we tend to remember more of the positives, than the negatives. For example, we’ll remember the ONE time when we were balancing ten projects and successfully grew by 25% but we won’t remember ALL of the other times when we continually felt overwhelmed and didn’t get that much done (and grew by 1-3%).
Or we won’t pay attention to how frustrated our employees are when we keep moving the ball all the time. For example, one of the common fears amongst all employees is a leader going to a conference. Why? Because they know that when he/she comes back they’ll have shiny-object syndrome and want to go in another direction … until the next conference … when they’ll want to go in another direction, etc.
Note: I’ve done enough employee surveys to know this is true.
But beyond all of that, lack of focus is a growth killer. No one can move 50 things down the field at the same time. And who’s the one trying to move 50 things down the field at one time? Exactly. You.
So, own it. The lack of concentrated focus over a long period of time in your business derives itself from you. Until you own that, nothing will change.
II. Relentlessly Embrace Focus As Your Modus Operandi
Focus is a way of life. It’s not something that you occasionally do. It’s a ruthless way of living whereby you intentionally say “No” to a lot of things in order that you can say, “Yes” to a few things.
Several years ago, Jim Collins wrote a famous article about the importance of creating a “Not To Do” list. It immediately caught on. Why? Because he was right. Success is far more about editing out than adding in—the exact opposite of the natural bent for those of us who call ourselves entrepreneurs.
Which is why I used the phrase, “relentlessly embrace,“ because this is going to be a fight. However, it has to become your modus operandi, your primary way of operating, especially as you begin to scale.
Why? Because the natural tendency for most business owners and entrepreneurs whenever they’re trying to scale up is to add more. To add more to what you’re doing. To add more products. To add more markets. To add more services. Etc. But that tendency to keep adding more will kill you and your business far faster than staying focused ever will.
As you have more people and more money, more opportunities will pop up on your screen. And you’ll find it easy to say, “Yes,” to more and more of them because it’s in your nature.
But you must fight this. I’ve watched this happen time and time again, in both small and large businesses. Whenever a leader (or a business) allows their attention to be diverted by other opportunities (which, in and of themselves, are probably good opportunities), the business suffers. They were growing, then they weren’t (or they were growing at a nice pace, let’s say 25% or more per year and now they’re growing by 5%).
There is a time and place to add. But if you really want to grow, focus has to become your default. Editing has to become a way of life. Your “Not To Do” list has to become larger than your “To Do” list.
III. Focus Down To A Few Big Projects
In my BizScalers Club, we focus everything down to three to five big projects every 90 days. That’s it. And those three to five projects should be in alignment with your annual plan (which should have only 3-5 growth accelerators and 3-5 constraint eliminators).
And every week, using our weekly planner, we write out those three to five projects and the next few steps for that week to turn each key project into reality. Everything in alignment. Focused in on just a few big projects. Why? Because that’s how success happens.
As I wrote above, no one can move 50 things down the field at once. So, how are you doing?
What are the three to five big projects that you need to be focused on this quarter?
Do you need to focus on
Developing a systematic lead generation marketing machine?
Enhancing your relentless sales system?
Building a new employee or customer onboarding system?
Overseeing a new software build?
Hiring a new sales person and onboarding them well?
Systematizing some of the work you’re currently doing so you can delegate that work to someone else?
Creating a new launch campaign for a new product/service?
Developing a better business model?
Or something else?
Whatever it is, don’t write up a list of 10 to 25 or even 40 items. Write up a list of three to five and stay focused on them until they’re executed properly.
IV. Focus on One Primary Conversion Strategy
Another frequent problem of shiny object syndrome is the addiction to adding more and more marketing channels and platforms. You watch a webinar on LinkedIn and say to the team, “We need to create a Linkedin system.” Next week, you run into another business owner who’s killing it on Instagram and say to your team, “We need to create an Instagram system.” The following week you’re reading a book and the author grew her business on direct mail so you say to your team, “We need a direct mail campaign.”
The following week, you watch another webinar on automated funnels and you say to your team, “We need to create a series of automated funnels.” Later that week you’re talking with a friend who’s built his entire business with webinars so you say to your team, ‘We need a webinar system.” Etc. Etc. Etc.
You know the drill because you’ve lived it. We want it all. Free, paid, and partnerships. We want to be on every platform and using every available means possible to get customers/clients/member/patients. Why? Because we foolishly believe that more is better. That if we simply had more hooks out there, we’d catch more customers/clients/members/patients.
However, the opposite is usually true. There are plenty of businesses out there that have built entire multi-million dollar empires on just one or two primary marketing channels connected to a conversion process. The key is that they got really good at using that one marketing channel and turning that into a cash conversion system for them and their business instead of doing twenty different channels and platforms poorly.
So, if you were to pick one or two marketing channels and work those channels relentlessly so that your business could master that channel (or those few channels) what would your primary channel(s) be?
Note: a simple example of this would be mastering Facebook ads leading to a webinar to a sales page to a customer. Until that’s crushing it, you don’t need to be adding other options or platforms.
V. Focus on Going Deep With Your Current Customers
The final area of focus for today is overcoming another natural tendency for most business owners and entrepreneurs, which is the tendency to focus more on acquiring new customers than on going deep with current customers. No matter what metric you’re using, it’s always cheaper to sell to a current customer since there’s no cost of customer acquisition.
So, why do we keep messing this up? Because it sounds sexier to go after new customers. It sounds cooler in our minds to be able to say, “We added 100 new customers this month!” that to say, “We increased the average transactional value of our customer base by 30% this month.”
But buyers are buyers. And the longer someone is with you, the higher the probability that a good percentage of them will buy more and more from you.
In other words, there’s nothing wrong with going after new customers, but the fastest path to cash is almost always with your current customer base who already know, like and trust you. Going deeper with them will happen faster and at higher price points than it ever will with newbies.
So, focus on what generates cash. What else can you sell your current customers?
Can you sell them more of what they’re currently buying?
Can you find an add on to what you’re currently selling?
Can you sell a higher value product than what they’re currently buying?
Can you sell them on a subscription model? Or a subscription to maintain or service what they bought?
Can you offer them an adjacent product to what they’ve already bought? Etc.
Keep playing with this question because so many business owners and entrepreneurs get this one wrong. Acquiring new customers is critical but focusing on going deeper with those whom you already have as customers should be your first priority, not something you’ll get to “some day.”
Well, there you have it. Five keys to breaking free of shiny object syndrome.
Own that this is actually a problem
Relentlessly embrace focus as your modus operandi
Focus down to a few big projects
Focus on one primary conversion process
Focus on going deep with your current customers
If you follow these five keys, you’ll find that your business grows faster, generates more revenue, makes more impact and allows you to experience more freedom.
The good news is you want to scale your business. The bad news is that a lot of businesses have tried to scale and haven’t succeeded. In fact, some have gone out of business exactly because they tried to scale.
So how can you avoid that? What are the major breakdowns that tend to frequently cause business owners and entrepreneurs to get stuck in their scaling efforts—and how can you avoid making those same mistakes yourself?
If you find either of those questions interesting, then you’ll want to keep reading this week’s post on how to avoid the major breakdowns that frequently occur whenever a business owner/entrepreneur attempts to scale their business.
I. Fall In Love with Cash
Back in the early 1980’s (a very long time ago) I was an accounting major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. And it was probably my first day in accounting 101 when the professor said, “In business, cash is king.” I’ve never forgotten that. You can manipulate data to tell all kinds of stories in financial reports but there’s one report that matters more than any other in scaling—your cash flow report. Nothing else comes close.
If there’s one universal truth about scaling it’s this
“Growth sucks cash!”
So, if you want to scale your business, you have to constantly be forecasting and managing cash. If you have cash today, awesome. But if you have $200K in cash today and think, “Now’s the time to scale up” so you start adding people and technology that cause you to bleed $80K/month, you have a potential problem in a few months if sales lag at all.
This same scenario happens if you bill in arrears. If Joe works on account A today, at the beginning of the month, and you bill him out at $200/hour, you pay him for those hours on either the 15th or 30th of that month. However, if you bill your clients at the end of the month (i.e. the first week of the next month) and then bill on net 30, you won’t receive money until somewhere 30-45 days after you paid Joe for that labor (and that’s if the company pays you within 30 days, which, for some companies, is a huge assumption).
For one person, that might not seem like a major problem, but when you’re scaling, that happens with everyone whose time is billed. In essence, you become a bank for your clients. The $8,000 you paid Joe, 45 days before you got paid (with no interest or fee for being a bank) is now multiplied by the number of billable people you have (let’s say, 15), which means you’re now carrying a $120,000 cash flow loss for those 30-45 days. Ugh!
In other words, if you want to scale, you have to fall in love with cash and cash flow management. Far too many businesses that have tried to scale have gotten into trouble because they got too far out over their skis—they weren’t paying attention to cash flow. What might look good today could look terrible in three to six months.
II. Staff Ahead of Demand
This might seem counterintuitive based on point one, but if you’re managing cash well, it shouldn’t be. One of the more common problems in most small businesses is that they usually wait until they absolutely need to hire someone and then wait some more.
What makes this so problematic is that very few businesses can go out and hire an A-player staff member this week. Just think back on your hiring experience. Between the time you decided you needed to hire someone and the time you actually did and they were on your payroll, what was the average length of time between those events? Rarely does that happen within 30 days. More often, it takes three to six months (note: the qualification was A-player staff member, not warm body).
Using whatever number of weeks/months your average is, you can see why this would be a problem with scaling. If you wait until demand is needed and it takes you, let’s say, three months on average to find an A-player staff member, what happens to your growth? Exactly, it plateaus.
However, if you know it takes three months, on average, to find an A-player staff member, and you’re monitoring your growth well, three to four months BEFORE demand requires it, you should begin your hiring process. This way, you’ll have no constraint on your growth. You’ll simply keep growing because you increased your company capacity before capacity could be reached.
So, how far before demand do you need to start your searches?
Note: you can short-circuit some of this be constantly working on your virtual bench ahead of time.
III. Systematize Your Hiring and Onboarding Processes
Following on the heels of point two is another common problem of business owners and entrepreneurs when it comes to scaling, hiring poorly. Note: most business owners and entrepreneurs don’t like to own this principle because of selective memory. They remember the good hires and forget most of the bad ones. But, on average, most business leaders are successful at hiring A-players somewhere in the 15-30% range (in school, we call that an F).
If you want to figure out your ratio, list all of the people you’ve ever hired over the years, then put a letter grade next to them (A, B, C, D or F). Add up all of the A’s and divide that by the total number of hires you’ve made. Chances are the percentage isn’t as high as you originally imagined.
There are a number of reasons for this but right at the top of that list is that most business owners and entrepreneurs have no process for hiring, let along onboarding new hires. Typically, it’s a very loose, seat-of-the-pants process driven by the desire to get this done as soon as possible—and then we wonder why so few hires are good hires.
This becomes exponentially worse whenever you’re trying to scale because you have to hire faster than normal and you need to have highly capable people who can quickly make a contribution to the team or you’ll stall out your scaling efforts.
The better option is to create a step-by-step process for hiring. In BizScalers, we use a 12 step process. You can refine that down to fewer if you’d like, but you need to create a step-by-step process for hiring that you use EVERY SINGLE TIME to ensure you have the best chance at hiring great talent—and then you need a step-by-step onboarding process to ensure they get up to speed quickly and fall in love with your company.
So, what is your process for hiring and onboarding? And is each step in your processes documented and used every single time?
If you want to scale, you need to nail this one down.
BTW, the national average that I’ve seen is that one out of every three hires is gone within six months. That’s a major problem when scaling.
IV. Refuse to Be the Bottleneck
Technically, this isn’t possible but the principle is valid. Let me explain. In every business, the business owner/entrepreneur is both the primary reason for that business’ growth as well as its primary bottleneck. This is true, no matter how large your businesses is—whether you’re doing $500K this year or $5M or $50M or $500M or $5B. Whatever the current limitation is of your company, you’re the bottleneck (hence why I said, technically this isn’t possible).
However, you can become a bottleneck at a higher level. That’s why, if you want to scale, you want to refuse to be the bottleneck at your current level. If you’ve led your business to be a $2M per year business, that’s awesome. Very few companies make it to $2M. However, the reason you’re not a $5M/year business is probably because you’re not leading at the level that a $5M/year CEO would. The solution is,
“Grow the leader, grow the business”
To keep this short, there are two things that are absolutely critical if you want to avoid being the bottleneck. One, you need to commit to learning how to lead at a higher level. That’s why I run The BizScalers Club. It’s an educational platform designed to help you learn how to design and build a more scalable business. However, you don’t have to be a member to grow. There are lots of options for how to do this. The key is that you commit to growing you. And my simple rule for this is commit to scheduling at least one hour PER DAY to learning at least 5-7 days per week.
The second key to refusing to be the bottleneck when you’re scaling is to become a delegation master, not a dumper. Most business owners and entrepreneurs are delegation dumpers, “Sally, take care of this,” as if just giving someone a task is enough.
If you want to scale, you have to grow yourself first and then delegate like a boss.
V. Change Before Your Have To
Years ago I was told that Peter Drucker said that organizations have to change their structure for every 45% growth. Whether he said that or not, the basic idea holds that as organizations grow, the organization itself needs to continually adapt to the new reality. When you were a company of five and “everyone knew everything” that worked at that point. However, at 15 employees, that doesn’t work very well. And at 50, forget it.
Back in the early days of my pastoral career when our church was averaging around 120 people per week, I learned that the 200 barrier (referring to weekly attendance) was the pastor barrier (similar to the business owner barrier) where the ministry had to change from one person making all the decisions to a staff and leader decision-making and ministry. I also learned that the 400 barrier was the board barrier where the board members, who in the early days are basically unpaid staff, needed to give up those responsibilities and trust that staff members should be doing that work and they should move to more of a policy-making and oversight board. Note: both of these changes are hard to make (i.e. senior pastors and boards giving up control is not easy to accomplish), which is why most churches don’t break the 200 and 400 barriers.
However, because I knew these were the barriers we were heading into, when we were averaging between 150–180 people per week, I made both of those changes at the same time. They were far from easy (especially board members giving up control) but the result was that we soared through both of those barriers when others got stuck (and some are still stuck there 25 years later).
In your business, if you want to scale, you should constantly be thinking about how you and your business need to change before you have to
What products or services do we need to add or delete to our mix before we have to?
What do we need to improve or innovate to stay ahead of our competitors?
How do we need to adjust our org chart and hires before we run into a problem?
What technology do we need to change out or acquire before we’re required to?
Do we have some people on our team who were effective in the past whom we no longer can justify on the payroll?
Do we need to increase the quality of our staff team before we hit some capacity problems?
Do we need to upgrade to a new platform to handle the increased demand of our customers? Etc.
Scale efforts stall when someone at the top isn’t forcing the organization to constantly change before change is required. So, if you want to avoid that, make sure you’re constantly changing your organization, your strategies, your tactics, your people, your organizational design, your technology, etc. before you have to.
So, there you have it—five keys for how you can avoid some of the major breakdowns that frequently occur whenever a business attempts to scale.
Fall in love with cash
Staff ahead of demand
Systematize your hiring and onboarding process
Refuse to be the bottleneck
Change before you have to
If you do each of those five things, you’ll avoid some of the most common breakdowns any business owner/entrepreneur encounters whenever they attempt to scale their business.
Do you ever get frustrated that some of the people in your business are choosing to do something in a way that you wouldn’t?
Or do you ever watch someone doing something and think, “Why would that ever choose to _____ that way?”
Or, as you’ve added employees, do you ever feel like your business has lost some of that “special sauce” that made it feel special back when you were smaller?
If you answered “Yes,” to any of those questions, you’ve run into a culture problem.
Culture is the 24/7 driver of a business and as you begin to scale up your business, it’s one of those issues that you have to be incredibly intentional about or you’ll lose what made you unique and you’ll end up with a hodge podge of culture (i.e. what every individual thinks it should be—which, technically, is a culture, just a bad one).
So, how can you turn that around and build the kind of culture that will drive your scaling efforts—whether or not you’re actually present? To discover how to do that, you’ll want to follow these six keys.
I. Design It
Your business, just like very business has a culture. The problem is that most cultures are completely unintentionally “built.” Whatever the owners/founders’ personality and personal idiosyncrasies are, tends to be the culture.
So, if Joe is an extroverted entrepreneurial CEO who doesn’t like planning and loves to do everything by “the seat of his pants,” that tends to be the culture of the company. If Angela is the owner of an ad agency and is very thoughtful and deliberative, loves collaboration and values diversity, that tends to be the culture of the entire company … at least for the first few hires.
The problem comes when enough employees are hired that not everyone reports to the owner/CEO. That movement from direct contact with the owner/CEO on a regular basis to not, is usually when culture problems really begin to raise their ugly head—and it gets worse when multiple layers of management are added or when employees are virtual (or virtually virtual, i.e. they pop in every once in a while to the main office). At this point, multiple cultures/values/preferences all raise their ugly heads and create conflicts.
The better option is to be intentional about designing the kind of culture you want (which may or may not fully fit who you the owner/CEO, are).
So, strategically, what kind of culture would create the best environment for your employees to perform at their best and fulfill your strategic plan?
Don’t assume a great culture will simply arise from your company, you have be intentional about designing it. However, once you design it, you need to make sure you …
II. Model It
As you know, people do what people see. For decades, leaders have asked me, “So, Bruce, how do you get people to do ____?” My answer has always been the same, “You have to go first. You have to be the model.” Why? Because people do what people see.
When you were a child, I’m guessing you hated it when any parent/teacher/adult said to you, “Do as I say, not as I do.” That’s just poor leadership and faulty thinking—and you knew that when you were a little kid.
So, if you want something to be true of your culture, it always has to start with you and what you’re modeling for your people. For example, if you want to create a culture of people who execute fast, then you have to start modeling fast execution (not just telling your people to execute fast).
One way to model that would be to schedule an execution time after key meetings (for example, a weekly staff meeting). If right after a meeting is completed, you start executing on your responsibilities and don’t wait until just before the next meeting (or worse, not executing at all), you’ll set a standard for fast execution that everyone will notice.
In fact, I was at a strategy meeting yesterday with one of my clients. During the meeting, the husband (it’s a husband and wife team) mentioned he would follow up on a task. A few minutes after our almost three hour meeting ended, while I was at a stop light, I checked my email to see if there was anything urgent I missed that morning and guess what, this owner had already followed up on that task. Bravo! Perfect!
So, how are you doing at modeling the actual culture you want to create in your business?
Nothing will influence the culture of your company more than the example you set (which, of course means that if you don’t like your current company culture, you know exactly where to start looking for the root of the problem).
III. Talk About It
Culture is always built by two things more than anything else, the model we set and the stories we tell. It doesn’t matter what culture we’re talking about—historical culture (the Greeks and Romans), national culture (the founding of the United States), military culture (previous military encounters), family culture or business culture—all are built on example and story (with the same stories being repeated over and over again).
In other words, once you’ve defined the culture you want, you want to find stories that illustrate the culture you want—and then you need to keep telling those stories over and over again. “Remember when …”
Culture isn’t created by putting some words up on a wall or giving a speech once a year on it. Culture is created day by day as you reinforce and talk about what matters most.
You can even personify your culture by naming it and then talking about it. For example, when my kids were growing up, they can tell you I repeatedly would say things like, “You’re a Johnson and Johnson’s don’t _____!” Or “You’re a Johnson, and Johnson’s do ________!”
You can do the same thing with your company. For example, I have a new membership community I’m launching in a few weeks. The people in that community will be called BizScalers. So, I’ll repeatedly be saying to them things like, “BizScalers do ______. They don’t do _____.” Why? Because I want to build a certain kind of culture, just like you want to.
Culture isn’t built in a day or through one talk, it’s built day by day as you talk about it over and over again until your people are mocking you, and then you do it some more.
So, how are you doing at constantly talking about the culture you want for your company?
IV. Embed It
Words are great, but as a BizScaler :-), you know that systems are the key to scaling your business. It’s nice that you’re modeling and talking about your culture but how do you make sure that what you’re designed, modeled and talked about actually becomes a reality in your business? You do that by embedding it in your company.
You can embed it in your employee manual
You can post your core values on your walls
You can print your core values on your meeting agendas and talk about one of them per meeting
You can set up a value of the month program
You can make sure you meet with each new hire on day one and share your culture with them as part of their onboarding process
You can add culture issues to employee plans and employee evaluations
You can make culture part of your bonus program, etc.
In other words, you don’t just assume someone will magically “catch” your culture, you intentionally embed it in your systems and processes so you make it impossible for someone to not know what it is.
So, how are you doing at embedding your culture throughout your organization?
V. Hire To It
This just makes sense. It is infinitely easier for someone who already owns your cultural value to be assimilated into your culture than it is to take someone who’s 30 degrees or 50 degrees or 180 degrees off target.
Back in my old pastoral days, I used to tell engaged couples that if they thought that getting married would somehow magically transform their fiancé into someone different than they are now, they will be sorely disappointed. Note: I’m not anti-change because my entire career has been about helping people change. But, in general, who people are, is who they tend to remain.
Yes, it is possible to help someone who isn’t a collaborator to become more collaborative—it’s just infinitely easier to hire someone who already loves collaborating (if collaboration is part of your culture).
Yes, it is possible to take someone who isn’t a self-starter and help them become a self-starter—it’s just infinitely easier to hire someone who already is a self-starter.
Yes, it is possible to take someone who isn’t committed to excellence and train them to work at an excellence level—it’s just infinitely easier to hire someone who already is committed to excellence and produces work at that level.
In other words, once you define your culture (whatever that culture is), make sure you use that grid as a filter for hiring. Yes, you can change some people. But the vast majority of people will continue to be who they already are (and they’ll already own your culture on day one).
So, how are you doing at making sure all of your new hires fit your company culture before you actually hire them?
VI. Enforce It
I can’t overstate how important this principle is. If you’re not willing to hold people accountable to a value or principle, then it’s not really your culture. Enforcement is where the rubber meets the road.
In my book, Breaking Through Plateaus, I shared the story about a company I did a talk for on leadership back when I first left pastoral ministry. As part of the preparation for that talk, the managing partner of that firm asked me to interview each of the nine board members and the COO.
On three separate occasions, the board member I was interviewing reached out to a crystal pyramid on the conference room table (one that had the core values of that firm etched onto it) and said to me, “This is bunk. We don’t actually believe this.” The fact this happened in three separate meetings is still amazing to me.
When I asked them why, they all said, “Because we have key partners in our firm who consistently break these values and we do nothing about them.” In other words, since we don’t enforce these values, they’re not really our values in the first place.
I deal with this issue all the time with business owners and entrepreneurs. Stating a value or cultural practice is good but if you’re not willing to enforce it (i.e. call people on it when they don’t live up to it), then it’s not really a cultural value … period.
Great business leaders know you have to call people on breaking cultural values or the value means nothing. This means that you have to call them on LITTLE BREAKS of the culture because if you don’t call people on the little stuff, it will escalate into big stuff.
So, how are you doing at enforcing your culture? Are you calling your people on the “little breaks” or not?
If you’re not consistently enforcing your values and cultural practices, then you’re in trouble. If you are or have been a parent then you know what I’m talking about. Consistency is the key to great leadership (and parenting).
So, there you have it, If you want to build a better, more intentional, company culture, make sure you engage in all six of these culture practices.
Talk about it
Hire to it
If you engage all six of these keys you’ll build the kind of company culture that will scale well, regardless of whether you’re present or not. And that will make your life infinitely easier!
As you hit these last few weeks of the year, how’s your head doing? Are you full engaged and ready to finish well? Or are you starting to slow down and ready to coast into next year?
Are you on track with your goals? Slightly behind? Or way behind?
Are you thinking about the holidays and vacation? Or are you dialed in at work and pushing to end the year well?
If you’re like most of the people I know, you probably flip back and forth from side-to-side, day by day, but the overall tendency is probably more toward the slowing down than the pushing forward side.
So, what can you do to break that cycle and make sure you finish this year well? If you’d like to discover five ideas for how to do just that, make sure you keep reading
Note: let me be clear, there’s nothing wrong with being excited about the holidays, wanting to spend time with your family and getting a break (if you’re taking some vacation time in the next few weeks). This post is about how to be fully at work when you’re at work. It is not an anti-family or anti-vacation post :-))
I. Let Go of The Noise
Unfortunately my Wisconsin Badgers lost this past weekend but one of the phrases that their head coach, Paul Chryst, has been drilling into the minds of his players all season long is to let go of the noise—to not let what other people think (“Should the Badgers be in the playoff even though they’re undefeated?”) influence their play. Their job is to stay in the moment and play the down in front of them, not to worry about the past (a missed tackle or interception) or the future (how will this influence our playoff hopes) but to stay fully focused on the present—that’s not bad business advice.
As you know, we all have head noise that affects our current performance
“I’m so far behind, I’ll never hit my numbers this year (or quarter)”
“No one likes to buy in December (that is, if you’re not in retail)”
“I only have 13 actual work days left in the year. No one can get much done in 13 days.”
“I’m tired. It’s been a long year. I deserve a break.”
“December is always a slow month. Everybody knows that. Why fight what everyone knows?”
Any of that sound familiar? Well guess what, that’s all head noise and the thing about head noise is—it’s only true if you let it be. If you feel like “no one buys” then you won’t do what’s necessary to close a deal so you’ll feel justified in your belief—but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t have closed several deals.
Likewise, if you’re so far behind on your goals and give up, you won’t do what’s necessary to get more done and set yourself up for a great next year. Or if you buy into the industry belief that nothing happens in December, you’ll allow that belief to hinder your ability to get more done. Bottom line, it’s all noise.
Beliefs are just that, beliefs. If you change them, you can change your actions. If you let go of the noise and start staying fully present then it doesn’t matter what happened in the past (like the past eleven months). Nor, does it matter what will happen over the next few weeks. All that matters is that you stay fully engaged today, in this moment.
So, if you want to finish well, what’s the next thing you need to do today to keep your business moving forward? Stay focused on that. Let go of the noise and stay focused on each moment in front of you and you’ll find yourself finishing the year well.
II. Run a Sprint
If you haven’t picked up my guide on how to run a 30-Day Sprint, make sure you do so now. If you have, then this is the perfect time to run one (albeit a less than 30-day sprint since there are only 26 days left in the year from the day I’m publishing this).
Sprints are great. They’re like a longer version of the “Day Before Vacation” principle (you know the one where you get more done in one day than you normally do in a week).
Since you’ve let go of the noise, what are the top one to three most important projects you need to complete by year’s end?
Once you write them down, pull out some Post-it Notes® and write (in a thick marker) all of the tasks that need to get done to complete that part of the project by 12/31.
Once you have those tasks completed, put them up on a wall or board into the column called, “Hopper” or “On Deck” for those tasks that need to be completed this week or “Doing” for those tasks you’re going to work on today.
Each day for the rest of the month, your job is to move as many tasks as you can from the left to the right (and as soon as they’re done, move them to the “Done” column). It’s almost like a game.
However, what you’ll discover is that if you’re doing this every day you will accelerate what you get done this month and it will help you finish well. Sprints are you.
So, what are the top three projects you need to focus on this month?
III. Touch Base With Your Pipeline
My guess is that you have a ton of people that you know you should’ve contacted over the past few months or year. At this point it’s easy to let the noise get in the way and say, “Well, I’ve missed the boat for this year, I’ll contact them sometime next year.”
However, there is a better way. December is a very relational month. Even if you haven’t reached out to someone over the past few months (or even years) it is totally acceptable to reach out to them in December.
Now, the goal of these calls or contacts shouldn’t be to close business (that may happen, but it shouldn’t be the goal). In general, people do business with people they know, like and trust. So, view these calls as an opportunity to catch up. “Hey, I was just thinking about you and wanted to see how you’re doing.” No one will think that’s an unusual call in December.
If something comes up in the call that opens the door for a deal, great. But the key here is that you’ll have moved the relationship forward and you’ll have put a nail in the coffin of that noise in your head that keeps you from calling people more often.
When I finally get clients to make these calls, they never tell me, “The people I called were upset with me.” No, they ALWAYS say, “The people I was so afraid of calling because so much time had gone by were excited to hear from me.” And sometimes, they even initiate a business conversation (“You know, I was just thinking I need someone to …:).
So make a list of all those people you “know” you should have contacted this year and haven’t. Then, once you make the list, prioritize them and then divide them up by the number of days left and make a few calls per day. You’ll be glad you did (and you’ll feel better at the end of the year that you didn’t leave those open loops open).
IV. Pre-Wire Next Year for Success
One of the frequent mistakes that many business owners and entrepreneurs make at the end of the year (that keeps them from finishing well) is that they allow the calendar to dictate their actions. Since December is the last month of the year, they tend to view December as an end—when, in fact, it’s simply another month on the ongoing journey of the earth circling the sun.
We use calendars as abstracts to mark years (as well as to record fiscal results) but the reality is that December is just another month like any other month. And January is a coming.
So, one of the best ways to finish well each year is to use December, not just as a month to finish well, but as a month to pre-wire success in the next calendar year. Too many people wait until January to get started on the next year. Wise people use the end of one year to set up next year for success so that when they hit January 1, they hit it in full stride.
This is one of the reasons why you should touch base with your pipeline now (i.e. you’ll be set for January and February calls).
If you’re in a business where you either sell time or products with a net 30 payment plan, then December is even more critical than you might think for success next year. For example, if you’re a law firm and bill on net 30, it’s easy to get lulled into thinking, “It doesn’t matter what I do this month because none of it will be collected until January,” you’re not thinking properly.
If you want until January to get fully engaged, then you’re effectually shortening your “year” into 11 months (since only work completed by Nov. 30th will be collected in any given year). If, on the other hand, you want revenue for 12 months, crank it in December and collect it in January for a 12 month year. Why not start every year off with a bang!
The other main way to pre-wire your next year for success is to look at some of those projects that you didn’t completed this year that if you did would set you and your business up for success next year. For example, I bet there are some marketing projects that didn’t get completed this year because you (or your people) were just “too busy.” Well, now would be a great time to complete them before January rolls around so you can unleash those marketing campaigns the first week or two of January (rather than waiting another month or two or more).
So, what can you work on this month that will set you up for success next year?
V. Be Extremely Generous
When you’re trying to get a lot done in a short span of time, it’s easy to get very self-focused and be self-absorbed in your own projects and work. However, being a leader isn’t just about what you do, it’s about what you’re able to accomplish through others. As you’ve probably heard me say often before, leadership is all about accomplishing results through other people.
That means that for your business to finish well this year, December is a great time for you to be generous.
Be generous with your time (who needs some help from you to end the year well)
Be generous with your praise (who needs some extra affirmation to finish the year well)
Be generous with you money (how can you incentivize year-end behaviors and results)
Be generous with your knowledge (who can you help short-cut their way to a solution)
Remember, December is a month of giving and generosity. For those of us who follow Jesus, it’s a month where we remember that someone who didn’t have to do something, chose to sacrifice everything to become one of us. But even if you’re not a follower of Jesus, you still get the idea. Generosity is based on the ideals of love and sacrifice, not convenience and comfort.
So, how can you make a number of generous sacrifices of your time, praise, money and knowledge this month so your people can produce at a higher level and finish the year well?
Well, there you have it. Five ideas for how you can finish this year (and any year) well.
Let go of the noise
Run a sprint
Touch base with your pipeline
Pre-wire next year for success
Be extremely generous
If you do these five things over the next few weeks, I have a feeling you’ll feel very good about how you ended this year. Plus, you’ll be set for an incredible start to next year.
How do you feel abut how your business executes what you set out to accomplish? Do you consistently execute on your strategic plans? For example, if you were to pick a percentage, would you pick 100% of the time? 75% of the time? 50% of the time? 25% of the time? Or some other percentage of the time?
How about your big projects or initiatives? 100%? 75%? 50%? 25%? Or some other percentage?
If you’re like most business owners and entrepreneurs your answer is way south of 100% (and probably way south of 50% of the time), which is a real problem.
It’s one of the primary reasons why most businesses tend to push plans and projects from quarter to quarter and year to year making very little progress.
So, how can you turn that around? Well one way to begin making some progress on this issue (and there are multiple reasons why this problem exists) is to implement The Five Rhythms into your business.
In my BizScalers Club, we use the analogy of racing to help organize these five rhythms into our businesses.
Rhythm #I – Yearly Marathons
In order to make significant progress on things that matter, every business, including yours, ought to have a well thought out strategic plan. One that lays out a significant growth path (north of 25% growth per year) with key metrics, growth accelerators, constraint eliminators and quarterly accountabilities for everyone on the leadership team.
Your strategic plan should be primarily strategic in nature, not tactical. You’re defining what you want to be, not how to get there. But this preferred vision of your future should drive everything in your business over the next twelve months. It shouldn’t be a document you create in the fall for the following year never to be seen again until the next fall. It should be a living breathing document that you reference weekly/monthly and should inform every plan for that coming year.
As you know, a marathon is a long, hard, arduous race. It requires perseverance, grit, determination, an ability to overcome and push through pain, and a burning desire to reach the finish line. Your strategic plan is your marathon and it should require nothing less than a 26.2 mile race would.
So, how are you coming on your strategic plan for this coming year? Is it strategic? Does it lead to significant growth? And how will you use it weekly and monthly over the next twelve months to drive the execution of it?
Note: While as the leader of your business, your primary focus is the strategic plan, each of your departments should have an annual plan as part of their rhythm as well.
Rhythm #2 – Quarterly Races (or 90-Day Races)
While strategic plans and annual department plans are critical, the one inherent problem is that they tend to lack motivation because, well, twelve months is a long time. The frequent refrain is something like this, “Hey, it’s only February. I have until December to get this done. I’ll work on it in Q4.” Ugh!
On the other hand, while monthly plans are essential (we’ll discuss them in a moment), they tend to be too short in time frame to get big projects done. Why? Because every week you and your people still have to do your normal work. So, what’s the solution? Exactly, focus on quarters. Or as we like to refer to them in BizScalers Club, 90-Day Races. In 90-days, you can make a lot of progress on issues that matter.
Using your yearly marathon, then, you want to break your strategic plan (or departmental plan) into four execution style plans. You should pick five projects that over the course of the next 90-days will allow you to make significant progress on your yearly plan.
For example, you might pick something like
Launch new outsourced CFO service
Develop and implement a new Best Buyer strategy
Hire and onboard three new sales people
Systematize a better hiring process to ensure we’re only hiring A players
Master Facebook ads so we can profitably scale up our ad spend in Q2
Turn our website from a brochure site to a lead generating site, etc.
You get the idea. These aren’t simple, easy to get done projects. Nor are they year-long annual or on-going projects. But can you imagine the kind of impact these kinds of projects could have on you and your business if you could nail down 20 of these big projects every year, My guess is that it would be life-changing for you and your business.
So how are you doing at creating and overseeing 90-day races in your business?
Rhythm #3 – Monthly Sprints (or 30-Day Sprints)
If you haven’t picked up my guide to 30-Day Sprints, make sure you do so today. 30-Day Sprints are game changers. They take the big ideas of your strategic plans and the big projects from your 90-Day Races and put them into actionable projects that need to be executed fast (hence the word, Sprint).
Every month, you should have set, as part of your rhythm, time to define what the top one to three projects are for that month (which should be in alignment with your 90-Day Race plan). You and your team should then list out all of the actions that need to be accomplished that month to complete those projects (on Post it Notes).
You then should organize all of those tasks on your 30-Day Sprint Board under the four headings of
Hopper (where all tasks start)
On Deck (those tasks that should be worked on this week)
Doing (those tasks being actively worked on) and
Done (when those tasks are completed)
Then every day, during your daily meeting, done in front of your Sprint Board, you should be moving post it note tasks from the left to the right. In other words, monthly sprints should accelerate action in order to ensure that your yearly marathons and quarterly races actually get accomplished.
So, how are you doing at creating and overseeing 30-day sprints in your business?
Rhythm #4 – Weekly Dashes
If you’ve been sensing a theme here :-), it’s all about alignment. The power of these five rhythms is that they all feed and flow into one another. Yearly marathons > Quarterly Races > Monthly Sprints > Weekly Dashes.
If you operate this way, you should never wonder if your plan is going to be executed because every week you’re looking at your strategic plan, your 90-Day race plan, and your monthly sprint plan.
If you ever wonder what you should invest your time on, your weekly dash, your monthly sprint and your 90-day race plan should make that abundantly clear.
Dashes are all about outright speed. If we liken your monthly sprint to a 400M (or 440 yard) race, the weekly dash is the 100M (or 100 yard) sprint. It’s a pure burst of speed.
So how are you doing at making sure your weekly plans and actions are in alignment with your monthly sprints and quarterly races?
Rhythm #5 – Daily Workouts
Your fifth and final rhythm is to do the hard work necessary to drive a great dash or sprint, the work you do in the gym—the daily work of sweating and pushing and sets and practice and road work etc. This is where victories are forged, in the weight room and the practice track. It’s in the day-to-day hustle and work that no one sees where dashes and sprints are won.
But what forges champions is that they make sure that the daily work they do is always in light of the long term goal they’re pursuing. In your case, it’s your vision, reduced down to a strategic plan, reduced to a quarterly race, reduced to a monthly sprint, reduced to a weekly dash.
It’s all about alignment. That’s why these five rhythms are so important.
One of the primary reasons why strategic plans often fail (i.e. they don’t get executed) is because they only function on a yearly rhythm. A twelve month cycle time is way too long to be effective. You need to break that down into a series of five rhythms that ultimately lead to what you (or your staff) are going to do today.
So what percentage of the time when you’re making your to do sheet for the day are your choices made in alignment with your strategic plan?
If your answer is less than 100% of the time, you might want to start organizing your life and business around these five rhythms. They’ll not only ensure that your strategic and growth plans get executed, they’ll also accelerate the speed at which those plans get executed. In other words, they might even push you and your business to grow faster and achieve more.
The rule is … everything in alignment.
Quarterly Races (or 90-Day Races)
Monthly Sprints (or 30-Day Sprints)
Once you get these five rhythms in place, you can go in either direction and end up at the same place. Daily > Weekly > Monthly > Quarterly > Yearly or Yearly > Quarterly > Monthly > Weekly > Daily. Either way, they end up in the same place.
So what do you need to do this week to start implementing your own five rhythms?
When you or your business get stuck, what do you do to get unstuck?
As you probably know, getting stuck is normal. It happens to everyone and every organization. Even the best leaders and the best companies get stuck from time to time. So, what do you do when that inevitable plateau hits?
If you’re like most people you do one of three things
You get flustered (and/or possibly depressed) because “nothing” seems to be working
You double down and work harder doing more of what got you stuck in the first place (which of course doesn’t solve the problem that got you stuck)
You give up and hope that “something” will happen that will turn this around
Unfortunately none of those strategies work, which is why so many people and businesses stay stuck for so long.
So, if none of those strategies work, what other options are there for you to get unstuck? Glad you asked. Here are several ideas to help you and/or your business get unstuck.
I. Channel Your Inner Spock
While emotions are the fuel of life, they’re usually pretty terrible when it comes to problem solving. Being frustrated or angry or depressed or stressed rarely allows any of us to function at our best. When life isn’t working according to plan, the last thing we need to lead us forward is our emotions.
What we need is to be objective and logical. We need to remove emotion from the equation so we can see clearly what’s really causing our stuck-ness. If you’ve ever watched Star Trek, you know that Spock was just that person. Though he had a human mother, he fought to keep his emotions under control so that the Vulcan part, the logical part, could see what others couldn’t. It was the logical part of him that made him so valuable during conflict.
The same is true of you. When life or business isn’t working according to plan, that’s when you need to channel your inner Spock and put your emotions at bay so you can see clearly what’s actually in front of you.
You need to be able to remove all preconceived notions about you, your people, your products, your customers etc. and look at them objectively, as if you were that proverbial fly on a wall observing everything in front of you.
For some of us, this is easier to do than others. For example, in Myers Briggs, I’m a total T (thinker). I have no F (feeling) in me. It’s one of the reasons why I’m so good at solving problems (note: having no feelings leads to other problems, but that’s for another day :-). On the other hand, for others of you, where feelings dominate, this will be harder.
However, preferences are just that … preferences. They’re not meant to be excuses. Anyone can learn to be more objective. And when you’re stuck, that’s one of those times where you need to learn to act outside of your natural preferences and channel your inner Spock. If you don’t do that, it becomes infinitely more difficult to get unstuck and do what follows.
II. Start With You
In any organization, everything flows south of the leader. That’s one of the reasons why several college football coaches have already been fired this year and why more will be gone before the end of December. Everything flows south of the leader.
That’s why when you’re stuck, your first option should always be to ask, “What part of this do I own?” Note: if you haven’t channeled your inner Spock first, this will be harder to do. Why? Because by nature we’re all inclined toward self-preservation and interest. After Adam ate the fruit from the forbidden tree, what was his first response? Exactly. To blame others (in his case, his wife, as well as God “the woman you gave me”). Truly a class act moment, eh?
Left to ourselves, most of us will have a hard time seeing how we’ve contributed to our stuck-ness. The problem is almost always … out there. It’s an employee problem or a marketing problem or a customer problem or a product problem or a competitor problem, etc. It’s always out there.
However, as a leader, the problems that lead to stuck-ness almost always start with us—which is why your default should always be to start with you.
I remember several years ago, it was around year six of my former church, where we had been growing at over 30% per year when one spring we flatlined. That bothered me so I started investigating it. I asked questions. I looked at our marketing. Our series. Our services. Our members. What was going on in our community, etc. and nothing was shouting out, “This is the problem.”
So one day in our staff meeting, I asked my team, “So what do you think is causing us to be flatlined here this Spring?” I recounted all of the things I’d investigated and how they lead me to a null answer. Finally one of my staff members spoke up and said, “I think the problem might be you.”
I said, “Why do you think that?” Note: never be defensive when someone says you might be the problem. He said, “You’ve been burned out for the past month of so and I think you underestimate how much the rest of us draw our energy from you.”
I never would have seen that alone but he was right. That was the day I realized that as a leader, I could never be “down” when I was with my people. They needed me to be up because I infused them with the energy and morale they needed to work at their peak. Once I realized that, I changed and guess what, we got back on a growth curve. I was the problem.
So, what part of your stuck-ness do you own?
III. Challenge Assumptions
Whenever something isn’t working out right, it’s frequently caused because some assumption you’ve made in the past, isn’t as valid today. The common vernacular for that is, “What got you here won’t get you there.”
What got you your first hundred customers probably won’t get you your next hundred customers
What allowed you to lead a team of five probably won’t allow you to lead a team of twenty-five
The ad campaign that worked last year that brought in a drove of new customers probably won’t work as well this year
Every problem (including stuck-ness) has a set of assumptions underneath it. Now that you’re channeling your inner Spock and you’ve already owned up to your part of the problem, you should be able to see more clearly as to what the assumptions might be.
For example, maybe you’ve been doing most of the selling for your business and you just don’t have any more time available. The assumption is that you’re the best salesperson and no one else can sell your products/services as well as you can. Well, those two things could be true, but they might not be. Moreover, the assumption that the best salesperson is the “only” one who can sell your product/service is probably not valid. Three people who can close 80% of your prospects are better than one person who can close 100%.
Over the years I’ve worked with a lot of service professionals. The vast majority of them assume that almost all new business is best generated by referrals. And they’re right. In the professional services business, most new business is driven by referrals. However, referrals aren’t very scalable (vs. paid advertising, for example).
And more importantly, most stats aren’t great predictors of what should be done, only what people are currently doing (since the vast majority of service professionals only do two things for new clients, referrals and networking, the stats would bear that out—which says nothing about them being the best way to attract new prospects, only what people are doing).
Back in my old pastoral days, we drove a lot of our growth through direct mail. However, if you looked at most church surveys, 90+% of church growth was driven by referrals. Why? Was it because only referrals worked? No. It was because that’s all most churches did.
Remember that old line, “Foolishness is continuing to do what you’ve always done and expecting a different result.” Well, to get a different result, you need to engage in different behaviors. And to get a significantly different result, you need to engage in significantly different behaviors.
That will never happen if you don’t challenge your assumptions. One of my favorite games to play is the “Who says?” game. Who says this has to be done this way? Where stands it written that this activity must be done this way? Who says?
So, what assumptions underlie what’s holding you back? Remember, what got you to where you are probably won’t get you to the next level.
IV. Focus on Your Biggest Constraints
If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you know I’m a huge fan of constraint theory. But there’s also a practical reason for believing this. When you’re stuck and feeling overwhelmed, trying to solve too many problems all at once tends to be self-defeating. In other words, focusing on the few items (one to three) that can make the biggest impact, makes solving your stuck-ness infinitely more attainable.
In constraint theory, you’re looking at a system and realizing that while there are multiple problems hindering the flow through that system, there’s one constraint, more than any other constraint, that’s hindering the flow through that system. While you could devote your time, energy and resources toward attacking any of the hinderances, logically, it makes the most sense to focus on the one constraint that hinders the most flow through the system before attacking any of the other hindrances.
So, as you take a look at your stuck-ness, what are the biggest hindrances/constraints? Once you create a list, order that list from the biggest hindrances to the smallest.
Then, depending on who’s available to help solve/fix these issues, choose anywhere from one to three to attack this month. Once you do that, you’ll want to …
V. Create a 30-Day Sprint
If you haven’t picked up my guide on how to run a 30-Day Challenge, make sure you do so here >>. As you know, I’m a huge fan of sprints. They get everyone focused on the same project. They create energy and movement. And they get stuff done faster.
Using some of the issues we’ve discussed in this post, let’s assume your business is flatlined because you don’t have enough leads coming into your business. Historically, you’ve depended on referrals to generate new business because you’ve assumed that’s just the way people in your industry get new clients. And your biggest constraint is that you’re the single point of failure for generating new business though the goodwill of your past clients referring new clients to you. What could you do in this scenario.
Well here are a couple of options
You could create a 30-day sprint to book local speaking engagements, which could lead to an offer for a free something
You could create a 30-day sprint to advertise in Linkedin
You could create a 30-day sprint to advertise through FB ads (or Google PPC ads)
You could create a 30-day sprint to book webinar engagements (or create your own webinar series)
You could create a 30-day sprint to engage in a direct mail campaign to potential best buyers, etc.
You get the idea. The most important problem to solve here is that you have a lead flow problem. Everything else is secondary. Don’t worry about those issues right now. To grow, you need lead flow. And you need that lead flow to come from more than you. Once you determine what you strategy is, you simply need to create a 30-day sprint to make sure you attack your biggest constraint with everything you’ve got.
Don’t try to solve every problem, just the biggest one you can with focused attention and a massive amount of effort. But remember, all of this action is based on challenging an assumption that’s been keeping you stuck.
So, what are you going to create your 30-day sprint around?
To recap, if you or your business are stuck (and you want to get unstuck), here are five things you can do starting this week to turn that around and get back on a growth curve.
Channel your inner Spock
Start with you
Focus on your biggest constraints
Create a 30-day sprint
If you do those five things right away, you have a high probability of getting unstuck and back on a growth curve. So, what are you waiting for?
Few things hinder day-to-day progress more than conflict. Any time you put two or more people together, conflict is rarely far away.
Sometimes that conflict is with business partners. Sometimes it’s with employees. Sometimes it’s with customers. And sometimes it’s with family members and/or friends.
But regardless of who that conflict is with—there’s a price to be paid for that conflict.
However, the good news is that you can avoid a significant percentage of those conflicts by simply doing three things.
So, if you’d like to avoid paying that price, in order that you can focus most of your time and energy on things that matter, make sure you watch today’s video on “How to Eliminate Most Conflict Before It Begins.