What Comes Next?

It is important to have goals. Goals can focus and guide our drive, but what happens after we achieve our goals? Future planning is necessary to ensure that our goals are simply milestones rather than the end of the road. A lot of time it is easy for a firm to have lofty long range plans and audacious short term goals, but navigating the strategy and tactics to join the two can be tricky.

I have been guilty of this myself. I have been working for two years on completing my Executive MBA. As I come to the end of this program, the question of what comes next has been on my mind a lot. I will admit I have had tunnel vision. For me, this was such a hard to reach goal that I can hardly believe it is almost here! But what comes next? Will I start another equally audacious goal or will I continue working along this path with smaller milestones until I come up with a new big goal? Is this the end? How I choose to follow up achieving my goal is almost as important as the journey to get there.

In business, just as in life, we need to be forward thinking, planning ahead, and ready to adapt to any challenges along the way. There is no single formula or recipe for how to achieve this; however a key ingredient is looking beyond your goals. What happens if you reach your capital campaign goals? Or reach your sales goals? Or growth? Or revenue/users/numbers? We quantify our goals in a variety of ways, and often spend a great deal of time planning and organizing our tactics to achieve them. But a large part of the planning process should consider what happens next.

Planning should be an ongoing cycle that allows for some flexibility as goals evolve over time. Before launching a capital campaign to build a building, start planning how to build it. Before increasing production, know how you will use the increased production, know how you will alter this plan when demand changes, and start planning for your next product offering. Small business can easily fall into a trap where there simply aren’t enough people to do all of these things. Simply reaching the goal takes everyone’s time and energy. An easy way to begin looking beyond your goals is to consider several possible outcomes: not reaching the goal, reaching the goal, and surpassing your goal. What happens in each scenario? How will you react and respond? Is that the path that you want for your business?

Future planning is not easy; the future is unknown. But you and your firm will be better prepared, no matter what comes, if you start looking beyond your goals and consider what comes next.

As for me, I have given it a lot of thought and don’t have all the answers, but have some good ideas. After celebrating graduation with family and friends, I plan on unplugging and recharging for a brief time before anything else. My family has supported me throughout this journey, and I need some time to reconnect with them. We will be taking a

road trip, doing some backpacking, and catching up on sleep.  Beyond that, I know that I will enjoy applying a better understanding of leadership, management, and business to my work thanks to the knowledge gained in my MBA.

Don't they look like they miss me?
Don’t they look like they miss me?

I will be taking a short break from this blog, but plan on returning after some travels. I am sure that in my travels I will see things through the business lens that I will be eager to share with my readers, so I am looking forward to continuing our discussions on leadership, life, and business. In the meantime, remember to plan for what comes next!

Photo Credit

Advertisements

Seinfeld: The Business of Nothing

Ever since I began studying for my MBA, I have been seeing examples of the lessons and practices taught during my courses in my everyday life. It seems like there are business lessons everywhere I turn! Over the years, I have watched my fair share of Seinfeld episodes, and can appreciate the entertainment value of the ‘nothing’ that the show is about. Recently, I started to notice that the ever-present reruns were reminding me of all the catch phrases and slogans that came out of the show.

I was surprised at how many could be used as reminders of various business lessons and practices. For a show about nothing, they sure talked about everything! While these phrases were definite fuel for laughter, try to think about them through the business lens. For example:

  • The Close Talker- Personal space invasion is an easy way to strain an interaction. Maintain a respectful, professional distance during face-to-face meetings. Don’t be a Close Talker!
  • The Low Talker- The Low Talker is someone who does not enunciate and articulate clearly or loudly enough to be understood. Make sure your message is clear and speak at a moderate volume so that people can hear you.
  • Mulva- If you don’t remember someone’s name, don’t guess and make it up. This can be embarrassing, but it is never a good idea to pretend. Don’t let it get to the point where you can’t ask. Maybe ask for their business card or come up with another creative, professional way to (re)learn the forgotten name.
  • No Pick!- Perception is often much stronger than reality. Always be aware of the way your actions and professional choices will be perceived. In other words, even if you are not picking your nose, don’t let it look like you are!
  • Yada yada yada- In the show, the phrase yada yada yada is used to gloss over big and small details when sharing a story. In business, we have a tendency to do the same thing, gloss over things that may seem inconsequential, but can have a large impact. Think before you ‘yada yada yada’ the details.
  • No soup for you!- The ‘Soup Nazi’ as he is referred to is famous for his amazing soup and strict service policies. Those who do not follow his protocol are banned and told, ‘No soup for you!’ Is your product so good that you can ignore your customer service? Do you want to be known in a similar manner for your lack of service? In my opinion, customer service is the most important thing a business can do to improve its reputation.
  • Puffy shirt – When Jerry wears the puffy shirt on television, it is a great bonus for the designer. However, in the end, Jerry is too concerned about what the puffy shirt does for his image and ends up damaging the designer’s reputation. This serves as a reminder on two levels for me-be careful what you agree to in a partnership and carefully control your image.
  • The vault- ‘You can tell me anything, I will put it in the vault.’ There is no such thing. Secrets and gossip have no business in the workplace. Nothing will stay in the vault forever. Maintain professional behavior and relationships and don’t participate in rumormongering.

As I said, I can find business lessons anywhere these days, but having catchy phrases like this to remind myself of some proper professional responses certainly is useful. Try to think of other unique and interesting places you might find business lessons to learn in your everyday life!

Photo Credit

Passionate Leadership

Many leaders are passionate about a cause, an idea, or reaching certain goals and milestones. But what makes the truly great leaders stand out. Is it simply this passion? I have known many great leaders and many passionate people, but I want to highlight 3 very passionate, yet very different leaders that have had a big influence on my professional career. I have had the pleasure of working underneath and being mentored by these three and have learned different skills from each one. All three have unique and creative ways of blending their passion and their skill sets to achieve amazing things.

One of the first bosses that I had in several of my first jobs was a truly motivated man named Ron Wallisa. Ron was the head of Parks and Recreation in Monroe, CT, where I grew up, and I knew him for decades. Ron held this position for 32 years and left a tremendous legacy for future generations to enjoy. As a boss, he had not only passion for the parks and programs in his care, but a truly inspiring ability to transform lazy high school students into responsible adults handling one of the busiest operations in town. I worked for Ron for a long time and learned how to take responsibility for everything in my care and to take pride in all the little aspects of the job. His vision of what our parks complex could become has taken a long time, but through steady, regular effort, he has created one of the best parks in the region, if not the state.

My current boss, Kathy Copeland, is the definition of passionate. She is the founder of our organization, driven to action due to the overwhelming need within the industry and in our community. Seeing that there were athletes that were unable to enjoy the freedom of the ski slopes, and inspired by other DSUSA chapters, Kathy developed Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra to meet that need in our region. Over 10 years later, this little non-profit has grown to be a life-changing, thriving organization that teaches over 3000 lessons every year, with new programs being developed regularly. Her passion is inspiring. But what Kathy is truly good at, is gathering the skills and talents that she needs and inspiring others to take action as well. People are attracted to a worthy cause, but channeling their skills and talents to get the job done can be difficult. One person can’t do it all; you need a team to reach big, hairy and audacious goals. Kathy has taught me how to seek out needed skill sets and find the right person to get the job done.

But the passionate leader that inspired and taught me the most is my mom, Janice Martin. Janice worked for the Bridgeport Regional Business Council for many years until retiring recently. I have had the pleasure of working for and with her on a variety of projects and jobs, but also had the privilege to see her behind the scenes work as well. Like the leaders I mention above, Janice has the ability to inspire others and set and achieve big goals. But she also has the ability to connect with people, places, and things in an amazing way. Watching her develop curriculum for her leadership classes, network with a room of congressmen and women, or lead her staff through a project, showed me that making these connections is what business is all about. By connecting with individuals, she was sharing her passion, learning from their passions, and the end result was much more successful. This has influenced my career choices, my professional ability to make connections, and is why I know how to keep striving to be a better leader.

These three leaders all had different ways of sharing their passion. Each has inspired and influenced me over the years and shaped the type of businesswoman I am today. Their passion was the catalyst, but their true leadership came through in their other qualities. Being a passionate leader can be the starting point for becoming a great leader, but I continue to strive to be more like Ron, Kathy, and Janice.   I am very fortunate to have been able to learn from such passionate leaders. I can only hope to do the same for others that I have the privilege to lead. Thank you for your passion and dedication!

Photo Credit

Are You a Leader or an Alpha?

To return to my previous analogy of business lessons learned from my dog team colleagues, I want to talk more about leadership within this framework. Many of us know who the ‘alpha’ is in our workplace or team. They may also be a leader in your organization. But do they mean the same thing? Is it necessary to be the alpha to be a good leader and vice versa?

No, absolutely not. A leader is someone who steers the team in the right direction. The lead dog(s) can guide the sled and team through challenging terrain and difficult conditions and always has the strength of character to make clear decisions. Decisiveness and direction are two very important traits in a leader. The leader’s primary concern is keeping the sled on course to reach the destination.  Course corrections and minor adjustments are all within the leader’s skill set.

The alpha on the other hand is considered to be the biggest (personality, not always size), toughest, and most dominant dog in the entire pack. The pack is made up of all the dogs that run in the teams as well as old and young dogs. The pack is a much bigger group than the team. The alpha often has a dominant genetic presence within the pack as well. (In the business world, this is clearly seen where some ‘alpha’ managers will make sure the pack is filled with ‘their people’.) The alpha has a large and dominating presence; everyone notices as they enter the room.

If you lead will others follow?
If you lead will others follow?

One of the interesting things about dog team dynamics is that as a general rule, alpha dogs do not make good lead dogs. This may be surprising to you, as it was to me when I first started working with these animals. But think about it for a minute. The alpha has to be concerned with what everyone is doing, but the leader only needs to make sure that the team stays on track. If the leader is worried about dominating the team (an alpha trait), he won’t be focused on the goal ahead. This is one of the reasons why many smart, capable leaders often are not great in that position; they are ‘too’ alpha.

Recognizing alpha or leadership qualities within yourself, you can better position yourself within your team. If you have a strong, dominating personality, use that strength to keep your team motivated and moving towards achieving your goals. If you are more of the goal oriented type, use that vision to help your team keep their eye on the prize. Being aware of your strengths will help you be a better leader, regardless of your alpha status.

Personally, I strive to be a leader, goal oriented and concerned with the bigger picture. Leaders have the long term vision to guide the team in the right direction; they are future oriented. Alphas are primarily concerned with the here and now and/or their legacy; they are past and present oriented. To keep your sled or business moving, you may have a need for both, but vision will help guide you into the next miles of your journey. Are you a leader or an alpha?

Unless your the lead dog   Photo Credit

Side Work – An Outlet for Your Passion or a Necessary Evil?

So many people that I know have more than one job. It doesn’t appear to make a difference how ‘full time’ their primary job is; many of these folks have benefits too. So, why do so many of us have second (or third) jobs these days? My two primary theories are that second jobs, or side work, are either an outlet for a personal passion or a necessary income stream (or both).

I have a full time job at a non-profit, but I also teach swimming lessons on the side. Teaching swimming lessons, primarily to young children, is something I have done for almost 20 years. Even while working full time and pursuing my MBA, I have continued to teach lessons. My motivations are varied and the extra income is certainly a big part of it, but money is not my primary driver.

I like to say that I simply can’t say no to the kids! I am not really such a softy, but in reality, every time I have thought I should stop (I just don’t have the time!), I think about all the kids I have taught over the years. Many of these kids have gone on to the swim team or become swim instructors themselves. I have developed relationships and made connections with some truly amazing people.

It may sound like I am motivated by neither my passion nor the money, but that is not the case. My passion is to connect with people! Not only in my ‘day job’ but in my side work, I am offered the opportunity to directly connect with people and have an impact on their lives.

This is why, although I may indeed stop teaching swimming lessons one day (possibly soon), I know I will continue to seek an outlet for this passion. Maybe I will become a volunteer with an organization like Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra that allows similar connections to be made. Or maybe I will continue to seek out employment opportunities that allow for the outlet of this passion.

Unfortunately, however, a large portion of the people that I know simply can’t afford to stop their side work. The challenges of the labor market, rising cost of living, increasing wage gaps, and the decreasing opportunities many face result in difficult economic times. Without turning this into a debate on the state of the job market, I urge you to consider what you are doing as a leader or employer to improve your workers’ situations to the point that they seek out side work simply as an outlet for their passions.

Are there adjustments to your wages or benefits that could have a dramatic impact on your employees’ lives without threatening the bottom line? What are your employees’ reasons for needing an extra job? We all want our employees to be able to focus on the job they were hired to do, not be distracted or exhausted because of their side projects. A better understanding of your employees’ motivations will allow you to be a better leader and maybe even discover some surprising skills and hidden talents within your team.

Photo Credit

Confessions of a Woodland Studier

I have a confession to make.  I hide in the woods with books.  A lot.  I prefer to choose out of the way spots just off the beaten track so as not to be disturbed.  Sometimes I bring my dogs with me, but never any people.  I have even been known to camp out overnight with my books.  While I am an avid reader, the majority of my time spent in the woods lately is spent either studying for my MBA or walking my dogs (or both!).

For the last two years while pursuing my MBA, I have spent as much of my study time as possible in the woods surrounding my home.  The program that I am pursuing, through the University of Nevada-Reno, is offered exclusively online.  This makes it very accessible to me while both working and living far from any major university.  It is a condensed, intensive program that has required a lot of hard work and dedication.  Fortunately for me, I found a way to study that enhanced the process and facilitated my learning.

As my undergraduate background is in environmental science, the majority of the classes in this MBA program were entirely new to me.  I had a fair bit of on the job experience in most of the topics, but had never tackled them academically.  From the very beginning, I understood the importance of what I was learning as I began to apply it at work.  I firmly believe a large portion of my success in this program is due to my ability to apply virtually everything that I have been learning right away; as hard as it has been, it was a benefit to work full time and go to school full time!

However, I attribute another large portion of my success to the best ‘library’ for studying possible.  The quiet of the woods is highly conducive for deep immersion in a text.  Whatever the topic, it was easier to focus on what I was reading without being distracted.  This leads to a deeper understanding and better retention of the material.  I first noticed this during the first semester.  In order to make the most of my limited time, I had stopped on the way home from work to read some of my accounting text.   I was able to read the entire chapter fairly quickly and when I did that chapter’s homework, it was much easier.

Ever since then, I have done all of my assigned readings while sitting in the woods.  I also find that writing is sometimes easier in the woods.  Although it is sometimes faster when using a computer, at times, I can write quite a bit with just a pad of paper and a pen.  A good first draft can be generated quickly if you just have a way to get the ideas down in writing.  I now try to carry a pen and paper with me at all times, just in case!

By choosing a different space for studying, I was able to better focus my energy on the task at hand.  I have also seen this principle in action at work.  There is a soothing and healing power in nature.  This is just one of the many reasons why at Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra we use outdoor recreation as a vehicle for healing and learning.  So go on.  Go outside! You might just learn something!

Photo Credit

Measuring Your Firm’s Impact

There are a variety of metrics that can be used to measure the effectiveness of your business.  I am usually a very concrete, data driven individual, but in the past few weeks, I have been honored by the outflowing of praise from the families of the athletes that we work with at Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra (DSES).  I am always preparing reports for our board of directors and donors based on concrete quantitative information.  But the real impact of what we do is made clear in the words of those that we are, in fact, having an impact upon.  Rather than preparing a report based on numbers, is there a way to determine the qualitative impact that your organization has upon those you serve (your customers)?

Here is a small sample of the feedback that I have received in the last month:

“Thanks once again to all of you- your hard work is very appreciated!” From a thank you card written by the family member of one of our military athletes who has also become a donor.

“You guys are extraordinary and these moments will forever change Ian’s life!!! Thank you so much!!!!!” Text message received from parent of youth athlete after participation in our weekly cycling group.

“After all these years since Korea, it is hard to think of someone like Roy as a “Wounded Warrior”, but when I see him with the rest of the guests … winter or spring … I see so much happening to him, and see the subtle changes taking place … just to let you know it is never too late to help those who survive war … whether in combat or just away from home in stressful situations … and you can, in fact, “teach an old dog new tricks” … thanks to all of you once again for all you do … I know you can’t always see the results down the road …. but they are happening, and all of us you help are appreciating your time and efforts, perhaps more than you can even guess!!!  Thank-you!!”   Email received from the wife of a Korean War veteran that originally attended our events as a VIP, eventually accepting the option to join our activities as a participant and serving as a powerful mentor to our other athletes.

 

At the end of the day, why does your business exist? Is it to sell more widgets? Or is it to solve a problem in a unique way that can truly have an impact on others’ lives?  Don’t disregard the quantitative measures of impact, but don’t forget to check in with your customers and try to determine your impact in other qualitative ways.  This can be both positive and negative, but can provide a good measure for how well you are achieving your mission in your customers’ eyes.  For me, this feedback has given me a motivation to continue our efforts to reach out to military and civilian athletes-we really do change lives!  Have you checked in with your customers lately?

Photo Credit