Part 2- Why Aren’t You Finishing Projects?

Part 2- Why Aren’t You Finishing Projects?

Is it time to focus and finish your projects for this quarter?

Before you answer, click here to read my article from two weeks ago– “Why Aren’t You Finishing Projects (Part 1).”

Here are my thoughts on “Why Aren’t You  Finishing Projects – Part 2”: 

The main answer is that you are juggling TOO MANY projects.

Below is my graphic explaining another concept from Todd Herman.

This example shows what happens if you juggle 5 projects, versus tackling one at a time:

This shows you the impact of “context switching”– when your brain and effort is spread across multiple things.

As Todd explains it, if it takes 4 hours to finish one project, and you do one hour a week on 5 project at a time, it takes you 16 weeks to finish Project A.

If you work on only Project A, you are finished in 4 weeks.

Now I realize that some projects take more time and require waiting on other people, but I think the concept is pretty clear.

One finished and implemented project is worth 50 started and abandoned ones.

If you need a bit of inspiration/ motivation to keep plugging on Project A, re-read the article PART 1.

So pick one half-finished project and make a commitment to power through and “get ‘r’ done” by the end of the 13-week quarter.

Image from Todd Herman

Part 1 – Why Aren’t You Finishing Projects?

Part 1 – Why Aren’t You Finishing Projects?

You, small business manager, want to improve things.

I will bet dollars to Freddy’s Famous Buffalo donuts that you have a “wish list” of projects you want to implement, and you have started some of them.

Yet your office (and mine) is littered with books unread, binders from great workshops, possibly brochures or saved emails with a system or process that sounds great. One you want to investigate that just might make your business operate more smoothly or more profitably.

Hey, we are idea people and we are starters (maybe not finishers).

When you do start something new with anticipation, this most likely happens (image from Todd Herman):

One of the most persistent complaints I hear from employees of small business is that “we don’t finish what we start” and that the owners/ managers are always adopting the latest book advice or stuck in chasing shiny objects syndrome.

Making changes, finishing a project or new process, and getting everyone on board and sticking with it is HARD.

You have to be patient and persistent to make progress, and to stay positive with all the set backs and challenges you encounter.

Four things you can do to start and finish your projects:

  1. Do ONLY ONE at time (more about this next week)
  2. Enlist the help of your team– don’t do it all yourself
  3. Create an action plan with weekly action items and assign tasks to specific people with a deadline
  4. Meet weekly (same time) to review what is complete, what needs to be discussed/ decided, and what is next

As a bonus– get an “Accountability Buddy” outside of your team/ company (a colleague or a consultant) who will hold you accountable to make progress, keep you motivated, and help you work through the inevitable bumps on the road.

Maybe even decide the reward you will give the team to celebrate– such as a “pizza party” or outing or something nice for the office (plants? Fooze ball table?). This can keep you motivated as you slog through the tough parts and keep you sprinting toward the finish line.

Image from Todd Herman

Step 4 of 6 to Coach for Accountability – Using Dashboards

Step 4 of 6 to Coach for Accountability – Using Dashboards

How do you know when to fill up the gas tank on your car?

Or when you are speeding above the speed limit? Or your engine is overheating? Or your tire pressure is too low?

Because … every car has a dashboard — a handy visual guide to the key things that matter to operate your vehicle properly. (Geeky history: They have been around since the early days of autos – the speedometer was invented in 1902 and installed in cars since about 1910. My great aunt Louise proudly told tales of driving her dad’s roadster over 100 miles per hour on country roads in the 1920’s.)

So if your $35,000 auto has a dashboard, do you have one for your multi-million dollar business?

Today I continue my 6-part series on coaching for accountability (you can Read Step 1Step 2, Step 3 here) or see all 6 steps on my 1 minute video slideshare.

Step 4 to Coach for Accountability and High Performance: Develop a Dashboard with your key metrics:

What should you include on your dashboard?

I highly recommend using categories similar to the “Balanced Scorecard” approach.

This means that your dashboard shows key numbers to track and evaluate:

  1. continue with financial measures (sales, profit, cash)
  2. add operational metrics (leads, proposals win rate, on-time-delivery, quality)
  3. include “voice of the customer” (net promoter score or customer feedback)
  4. employee experience (retention, engagement scores)

You can see the advantages of this concept– if you are focused solely on current sales or cash in the bank, there are other other areas of your business that need tending for future success. If you don’t have leads or are losing work to your competitors, or your service delivery level or employee engagement is dropping, these are warning signs that predict lower revenue and profits.

8 Benefits of Dashboards

1.  Visibility: The new field of “Business Intelligence” or BI shows that the more you measure in your business the more you can improve. What is measured becomes higher priority and gives you the tangible target to improve.

2.  Maintain quality during growth: If your business is growing, you need to make sure that you are maintaining the quality and customer experience standards and your team is not burning out.

3.  Alerts before systems break: When you track leading indicators, you can see issues coming before they happen. For example, if you track pending orders you might see that your current production schedule can’t handle the order volume and will be backlogged by two weeks. Dashboards can alert you to this before chaos ensues.

4.  Less stress: When you have a dashboard, you can get timely and accurate data on your business health, compared to your targeted goals and to historical trends. This will allow owners and general managers to feel more comfortable letting go of responsibilities, while knowing they are “watching the store” and things are running smoothly.

5.  Basis for accountability: How do you know your managers are doing their job? Easy, just check their department dashboards. Where do they need more coaching? — you will see a lack of improvement or a drop in their key numbers to let you know there is an area to discuss and determine the root cause. This ongoing process improvement conversation increases the business knowledge and the decision making competencies of your managers.

6.  Data to make / evaluate decisions: Did that marketing campaign or new training program yield positive business results? If you see improvement in your dashboard numbers, you can see if a project was successful.

7.  Creates ownership thinking and alignment: This is especially true when business dashboard metrics “cascade” down to departments and to individuals. Employees and managers start to understand what they can do to increase revenue and customer service and efficiency or reduce costs.

8.  Improves revenue, productivity, margins, profits and teamwork. As you can see from the list above, focus and clarity around what is important to drive business value and improve your value to customers will only improve your financial results and operational capacity.

As you can see from this list, implementing dashboards and management review and planning around the data can be the foundation of high functioning, profitable and growing organization.

Next article I will share details on Step 5 “Delegate, Don’t Abdicate” [see all 6]

Are You An Idea Hamster?

Are You An Idea Hamster?

I often spend time with clients and other business owners who are full of ideas– so many they don’t know where to start, or they starting working on 2 (or 10) without much progress. Their head and office notebooks are littered with the ghosts of projects past.

I heard another business owner Amy call this being an “idea hamster”– what a great term!

You have an idea, and another idea, and another one, and you start running on that hamster wheel spinning and going no where.

Sound familiar? I know that it does for me, I struggle every day with being a reformed hamster.

Here are six key steps that have made a difference for me to complete something important [as Seth Godin calls it “shipping”]:

  1. Write a destination postcard for the end of the year– what you plan to accomplish
  2. From the postcard results, generate a long list of potential projects and categorize by type [are they planning, sales, marketing, people, operational?]
  3. Now rate those projects on effort and on impact on your goals — then rank by those with the highest impact and the lowest effort — these are your short list– put the rest into a “parking lot” [crucial step 1- they are always there to be re-considered.]
  4. Prioritize the list of projects— does one have to be completed for another to be effective? Does one address a burning issue or roadblock to growth?  Rank them and put a guestimate on the number of weeks to complete.
  5. Select the Number One priority project, get your team together, make an action plan to divide up the tasks and start chipping away every week.
  6. Crucial step 2– do not start another project until this one is complete! 

Do not get distracted by the next shiny thing, just keep momentum on that project. Focus on the next step, one at a time, every week.

Get your team concentrating on just one task and making progress. Yup, it’s hard to do but any change in habit is challenging.
{See the great graphic above that I think captures what we all go through! This is great, this is hard, this sucks… dark swamp of dispair…}

4 Stages of the Small Business People Pyramid

4 Stages of the Small Business People Pyramid

I am not clairvoyant, but I can get a quick estimate of the stage of your business based on answers to three simple questions:

  1. How many hours a week did you work in last year?
  2. How much has your profit grown in the last three years?
  3. What percent of your team are A Players?

The answers to these three questions are inextricably linked – the quality of your People is essential to your business profit and your personal work-life balance as a small business owner.

To describe these business growth and health stages, I created a model that I call the People Pyramid.

Stage 1: Fires Chaos & People Drama

When you don’t have a trusted reliable team, you are left to deal with fires, chaos and drama. You and the rest of the team are exhausted dealing with everyday crisis, and feel frustrated rather than productive.

You might have a few Debbie Downers who squelch the whole team, and leave things hanging or a mess that surface later. Good employees are annoyed they have to pick up the slack or deal with someone who doesn’t work as hard or care as much as they do.

Tensions may be high or between co-workers, lowering the team spirit and creating interpersonal drama. The chaos lowers the customer experience and distracts you from pursuing new sales and customers. The focus is on getting through the day, not improving the business.

This creates a vicious cycle that is definitely not the foundation for growth.

Often owners work too many hours, and go home feeling like they didn’t accomplish anything. They feel burnt out and overwhelmed, and think about exiting the business.

Stage 2: A Few Good (Wo)men

At this stage, you have a stable core of long term employees who share your values about how to care for your customers and are good at their day job.

Most people are decent performers but a few don’t seem committed to doing a great job all the time. These lower performers tend to drag down the team, and take a large part of your day assigning and monitoring work is done on time and correctly.

Work flows fairly well and employees are mostly clear about job expectations, although procedures are informal and not written down. New employees struggle in their first few months getting used to how you do things. You have a fair amount of turnover as some of the people you hire leave after 2-3 years, and you are not sure how you can keep the good ones.

To make decisions, staff ask managers questions and get approval for anything they think should be run by the boss. There may be a continual flow of people asking questions and running things by you.

Your days are busy but progress is slow, and you have a wish list of business improvement ideas that you never seem to get started [much less finished].

You would like more free time and you are afraid to leave since issues or problems surface when you take more than a few days off.

Clearly the business is relying on your presence and guidance to function. You have the CEO Syndrome [Chief Everything Officer].

Stage 3: Silos and Soloists

The natural progression for a business is to start to organize around functional areas- sales, operations, customer service, accounting.

This is typically the stage where you have team leaders or managers who now coordinate the daily work in each area. Just like an orchestra, each area head is a soloist- concerned with the work under her section. Sales is concerned with selling more to more customers, operations is concerned with onboarding and servicing the customer, and accounting is counting the beans and controlling the cash.

It is also natural for these soloists to make decisions in a “silo” [a tall structure sitting directly next to another structure, yet not touching or connected.] Sales might promise 7 day turnaround without checking with the team who has to do the work and has a 14 day backlog. Purchasing might find a great deal on supplies and place an order without checking with accounting, and now there is a cash flow issue.

You now become the conductor of the orchestra—making sure that each soloist complements each other’s work and that decisions are made based on the impact on the whole business, not just one area. This requires daily effort on your part, because silos can’t see what is happening outside their walls, and often don’t hear about the impact of their decisions unless it is a crisis.

At this stage, there are often team leaders or manager who now assign and coordinate the work of your employees. These key people now are responsible for the daily monitoring of employees and customer care, and putting out small fires.

Most employees are clear about expectations and you have another layer to assist with performance and attitude issues, so you only need to get involved with serious and persistent People issues.

Now you have time to have informal team meetings to keep people informed and tackle current problems, although you may not stick to a consistent meeting schedule. You and your staff may not know what to talk about and when, and some people find these meetings boring.

You want to grow your revenue but sales may have been flat the last few years.

Your business has a good reputation and sales often comes from referrals and repeat customers. You may have sales people who use the traditional methods of networking, advertising and responding to leads that are generated to convert into customers. You may not have a specific sales pipeline or track sales metrics on a regular basis.

You feel like you are progressing on the business, but may feel like you “pay for it” when you take time off.

Stage 4: Trusted Accountable Team [Ready for Growth]

If you want to grow beyond a few million in revenue or 20 people without imploding, these are the elements you need to for scalable business. (Or if you want your smaller business to be more valuable and less reliant on you.)

This is a business that runs on “autopilot.” Just like an airplane, the captain is setting the course and still there for oversight and monitoring, but the routine work of flying at the same attitude is delegated to the co-pilot and systems.

This is a business that does not revolve around the CEO, who can then focus exclusively on strategic long-term planning and implementation.

This is the highest valued business, since it doesn’t need the expertise or effort of a single person to create value.

Key tasks and results are defined in standard operating procedures and are followed consistently. There is a method in place to review and improve process to eliminate bottlenecks, increase efficiency and delight the customer.

There are “A-players” in every main role and the majority exceed performance expectations. There is an ongoing coaching process in place to give regular performance feedback, and everyone has a training and development action plan. People are engaged, committed and loyal and the culture is positive and values accountability.

Everyone is clear about their responsibility and how they can impact business goals, and have individual metrics and projects with “line of sight” to key business priorities.

The business has a strong brand, and a consistent repeatable process to find leads and turn into customers. Sales is not dependent on a single rainmaker. The sales pipeline is clearly defined and semi-automated, and is reviewed and refined by the sales team in regular meetings.

The business uses dashboards to evaluate key company & individual results weekly and monthly. Business decisions are based on data analysis of past, present and future modeling. Managers meet regularly to evaluate and revise their plans and projects for continual improvement and long-term value creation.

Owners of businesses at this stage spend most of my day doing what they love, and choose how much time they take completely unplugged from the business.


Next Step: Read our Guide “8 Reasons You Are Stuck in the Day-to-Day and Don’t Have a Team to Rely On”

If you feel trapped in your business, you are working hard but can’t seem to get out of the day-to-day…maybe you don’t have a reliable team.
Click to Get this Guide 
5 Plans to Run Your Business

5 Plans to Run Your Business

Remember Steven Covey’s habit “Begin with the end in mind”?

There are five main plans to guide your activities and decisions to create the business you desire:

1. Strategic plan

It is crucial to provide a roadmap to guide your major decisions. A simple strategic plan answers the key questions: “what kind of business do we want to be, who are we, what do we do best, who is our ideal customer, how are we different, what do we value?”

2. Budget

An annual budget is a planning document that is a snapshot of your goals for revenue increases, cost reductions, and profit enhancement. Once finalized, it becomes a monthly report card to ensure your activities and projects are on track to achieve the expected financial results, or to alert you to items requiring attention to fix.

Budgets are also extremely valuable to aid your decisions— they are a simple tool to forecast the return on investments or business changes.

3. Sales plan

If you want to find, attract and cultivate leads into new and repeat customers, the solution is to have a consistent optimized sales process that is semi-automated. This “pipeline” is designed around finding the Ideal Customer [who craves what you have to offer and deliver well], and then nurtures the relationship, until they are convinced they need your solution and you are the right vendor for them, turning them into customers.

4. People Plan

This plan outlines your current and future people roles—what job titles you need, clarifies role responsibility and authority, and forecasts what additions and changes to roles are needed to support sales growth and new business lines.

This plan also specifically outlines what people are accountable for, and how they will be measured, as the foundation of your performance coaching and process improvement.

5. Owner’s plan

Owners, just like every team member, should be in a role that maximizes their strengths. Many owners continue to be the CEO- the Center of Everthing Officer. This creates a huge roadblock for growing the business as the owner becomes overworked and overwhelmed. An owner’s plan considers their current and future desired involvement, and outlines a plan to transition responsibilities to key people over time.

Once you have these 5 plans defined, this guides your team to prioritize activities and make effective decisions to achieve the results outlined in your strategy. You and your team have the entire “operating manual” to optimize and automate your business, and ensure it’s transition and survival beyond one key person.

This reminds me of a phrase repeated by my veteran friendsProper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance… 

 

Image provided by basketman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.