Better, Better, Maybe Not?

The notion that we can constantly make ourselves and our companies better, in theory, is a great idea. But when does it become too much?

For me, the best way to answer this question is to notice our strengths and work to enhance them. As an executive life coach, I refer to this as discovering and working in our genius.

Sometimes we become so focused on achieving that we cannot appreciate who we are or what we have already accomplished. When we are constantly reaching, it’s a recipe for perpetual dissatisfaction. 

What? Wasn’t I just quoting Florence Nightingale a few weeks ago, who said discontent leads to innovation? Yup. It is indeed a delicate balance, isn’t it?

For me, the subtle difference between striving to make the world a better place and pausing to celebrate accomplishment comes with self-awareness. The stoics said it well. We must be careful not to become reactionary or to accept, without question, the status quo. We must know ourselves, know our geniuses, and recognize where and when we can make a difference and where and when we cannot.  

Once we understand and act within our genius consistently, we become more effective, more satisfied, and ultimately better leaders. 

The Gift of Feedback

Feedback is a gift. It is an opportunity for personal development and, ultimately, leadership development. And, it is hard; Very hard.

I am not sure which is harder, giving feedback or accepting it. Recently I was with a small group of fellow coaches, several of us long-tenured, and we were discussing this very topic. We spent a couple of hours working with each other to improve our skills at both. I mention long-tenured, as a reminder to myself, that no matter how skilled we think we are at this, it is hard, and requires constant practice. Following are the reminders I heard.

When giving feedback:

  • Start from a place of care, ask yourself what outcome you want to achieve from the feedback, and get clear that you really believe that outcome is possible, i.e., is the person capable of the behavior change you want to see?
  • You can earn trust with truthful, specific, positive feedback (TSP as speaker, Michael Allosso, calls it).
  • When giving constructive feedback, ask first if the receiver is open to feedback.
  • Even better, wait until the feedback is asked for.
  • Own your experience, share feelings and observations; be specific.
  • Use neutral language, e.g., my experience of you… or When you do…, I feel…
  • Remember, the purpose of feedback is to share your experience of another person, not to “fix” the other person.

When receiving feedback, remember it is a gift:

  • Ask for feedback, and be specific about the purpose, e.g., I want to become more effective at…
  • Listen and digest.
  • Try not to defend or respond, simply say, thank you.

Let’s work together. If you are looking to grow or get unstuck and cut the time to action to six months or less, there is no better time than now to contact me. 

© EKS LTD Please feel free to forward this blog in full with attribution, including the copyright notation.

With Diversity, Comes Diversity

What does this statement even mean?

  • Homogeneous groups have similar backgrounds, preferences and personality styles. Often homogeneous groups are homegrown with few additions from “outside.”
  • Diverse groups, on the other hand, may differ in traditional ways, i.e., gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual preference. Members may also differ in terms of their personality styles and backgrounds. Finally, a group’s diversity may come from changes in membership as outsiders join and integrate into the existing culture.

Diverse leadership teams are hard…they are harder to build, unlikely to come to a consensus, and are more likely to have conflict.

So, why bother? Because… they are harder to build, are unlikely to come to a consensus and are more likely to have conflict, they make better decisions. Research studies prove this out. And, diverse groups only work when they can come together as an integrated team.

The word integration is rarely used today in the context of a diversity conversation. It harkens back to the 1970s when schools were being “integrated.” Fights broke out, and education became challenging. This period, in retrospect, was viewed as an experiment that failed. And, this “experiment” provides insight for leaders who want to diversify and integrate their organizations.

Integration- Merriam Webster “to form, coordinate, or blend into a functioning or unified whole.”

Some organizations handle integration well, and some don’t. Why? For me, the answer lies in how intentional the leader is about their culture.

What to do? As with any critical decision, start by asking yourself, what outcome do I want?

Diversity is not always the best approach. 

Homogeneous groups are easier. Because of their similar backgrounds, preferences, and styles, they are likely to agree and move forward quickly.

If the goal is getting more of what you already have, then a homogeneous group may be the way to go. If the goal is innovation and critical thinking, you are more likely to get there with a diverse group.

If you decide you want to build a diverse team, begin by defining what you are looking to accomplish with the diversity. Then ask yourself the following questions as you start to form, coordinate, or blend into a functioning or unified whole:

  • Do I know the backgrounds, preferences, and styles of current team members?
  • Have we defined our culture? And do we acknowledge the unspoken characteristics of our culture?
  • What are our gaps, and are we willing to fill them with outsiders who bring a different perspective?
  • What on-boarding actions do I need to take to achieve integration?

Let’s work together. You can learn more about my leadership coaching and peer advisory boards here. http://elisaspain.com

Is it Time for a Different Approach to Strategic Planning?

This is the time of the year that most companies begin their strategic planning process.

While it’s fun to host and participate in an off-site, the end result sadly is often put on a shelf until next year.

Mostly the plan is a continuation of the last one, and mostly the plan calls for growth, usually growth that is based on internal expectations. And, unless the plan is translated into numbers and then becomes part of the budget, expectations are infrequently measured against actual outcome. No wonder the reality of strategic planning and the hope are often not aligned.

If you are interested in doing it differently this time… Chris Bradley of the McKinsey Consulting firm offers four practical suggestions to tackle the particular problem of bold forecasts and timid actions:

  1. Don’t hide the hairy back in the bottom drawer
  2. Calibrate your projected results to the outside view
  3. Build a momentum case
  4. Focus on moves, not promises

This short article Hockey Stick Dreams and Hairy Back Reality should be required reading for anyone who makes plans, or is charged with approving them.

Friction

Friction slows things down and makes motion difficult — it’s basic physics. We also know less friction eases movement and increases speed. When things are faster and easier to use, commerce happens.

And, when friction is present, movement slows or worse yet, simply stops.

We see this all the time with technology adoption. Have you found yourself abandoning a website, because you forgot your password and the reset didn’t work? Or the website was slow and you were busy? Or, the app on your phone crashed? Or? Or? Or?

Recently a friend abandoned attending a show with us because try as she might she couldn’t get into the website to buy a ticket. I have been thinking about friction ever since.

Wondering what each of us may be inadvertently doing to create friction for our customers, or even for ourselves? None of us sets out to create friction and yet it happens all the time.

As the economy tightens, perhaps now is the time to hunt down friction everywhere it occurs – with customers, employees, vendors – and seek to eliminate it, so that we can maintain or grow our slice of a perhaps more challenging pie.

Elisa K Spain http://elisaspain.com/leadershipcoach/

Are You a CEO or President of a Privately Held Business? If you are also a lifetime learner and want to learn more about my Vistage Group, click http://elisaspain.com/impact/

Now That We Are Here

Business is good for most companies and has been for quite some time.  And yet, the economic signals are there; we are nearing the end (are perhaps at the end?) of this long economic recovery.

Your industry may have more runway, or you may be in an industry that is a leading indicator. Regardless of your industry position, an equal perhaps more important question to ask is, what percentage of your customers fall into each of these categories and those in-between?

In short, are we diversified?

Anyone who has hired an investment advisor knows, all of them advise first and foremost, to build a diversified portfolio. And, despite all the data supporting the long term benefit of diversification, some investors believe they can pick the winner or time the market. There are LOTS of stories in the investment press about the risks and consequences of these choices.

Those of you who are frequent readers know that my background is in financial services and investments and I often compare running a business to managing an investment portfolio. And, as with some stock market investors, when it comes to our companies, we frequently ignore our advisors and the diversification advice they give. We have a great product or service; our biggest client is giving us more and more business; we are making money, we think “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?”.

Over the years, I have worked with a number of businesses and watched this process unfold…

Business is good, there are industry measures that indicate the product, service or economic cycle is maturing, perhaps margins are tightening, but revenue remains strong. Then suddenly (one could argue it wasn’t suddenly), it isn’t strong anymore, in fact, the business has gone from significant profits to losses, seemingly overnight.

The thing about income statements is they are lagging indicators. If we ignore other key indicators, especially the external industry trends, it is easy to be lulled into market timing behavior. And as with market timers, by the time the CEO realizes the market has turned, it is often too late to adjust without incurring significant losses.

As you continue your planning for 2019 strategic actions, I encourage you to pause and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the trends in our industry; where is our industry in its business life cycle and in the economic cycle?
  • How does our product/service compare to others in the industry; are we a leader or a follower?
  • What is our current level of product/service/customer diversification; where would we like it to be?
  • What new product or service can we start developing now that will replace our core offerings in the future?

Elisa K Spain

Are You a CEO or President of a Privately Held Business? If you are also a lifetime learner and want to learn more about my Vistage Group, click here

The Power of Habit, Avoiding Decision Fatigue

How many times during the day do we pause and ask ourselves what was I intending to accomplish today, how did I end up here?

According to one study, the cause of this is decision fatigue. Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price.

Conversely, the more of our key behaviors we can put under the automatic and more efficient control of habit, the more likely we are to accomplish the things that truly matter to us.

How different would your life be, after all, if you could get yourself to sleep 8 hours at night, exercise every day, eat healthy foods in the right portions, take time for reflection and renewal, remain calm and positive under stress, focus without interruption for sustained periods of time, and prioritize the work that matters most?

Research says, the solution is to make fewer decisions each day. We can do this by learning to co-opt the more primitive habit-forming regions of our brains, so that rather than reinforcing our negative impulses, they become the soil in which we build positive rituals that serve our long term interests.

So how do you get started? Begin, by slowing down. Speed is the enemy of reflection, understanding and intentionality. When we slow down, we can take the time to examine the things we do each day and decide which of these merit daily decisions and which perhaps could be given up to habit.

Repetitive decisions are perhaps the easiest to “automate” by making them a habit. Yet, for some of us, we find joy in making these simple decisions each day. The choice is ours to make with the goal simply being to make fewer decisions each day.

Here are a few examples that we all share: eating, dressing and getting to our morning destination.

I enjoy choosing what to wear, so that is a decision, albeit a frivolous one, I choose to make daily. Breakfast, on the other hand is simply sustenance, so I generally make a smoothie. And, I let Google Maps guide me to my destination for the day even if it is a route I know, just so I don’t have to think about it.

What daily decisions are you making that you could give up to habit? For inspiration, Jeff Bezos’ daily routine here.

Are You a CEO or President of a Privately Held Business? If you are also a lifetime learner, and want to learn more about Vistage, click here.

You can read more of my blogs and leadership quotes here.

 

Cyberattacks are the Silent Killers of SMBs

One of the top five concerns noted in Vistage’s recent report Decision Factors H2 2018, is cybersecurity.

If you have employees, customers or financial data, you are a target for a cyberattack. Cyber criminals are aggressively targeting small and midsize businesses (SMBs), and cyberattacks are increasing in complexity, frequency and severity. For many SMBs, those attacks are leading to loss of data, cash, customer records, employee information, leadership credibility, and employee and customer trust.

Yet many SMBs still haven’t taken the proper precautions to protect themselves.

Cybersecurity is a silent killer, it can shut you down like nothing else, says Joe Gavin, Vistage chief research officer. Here are his suggested actions to protect your business:

  • Assess the strength of your cybersecurity – To gauge the strength of your cybersecurity, use a reputable tool — such as the Cybersecurity Framework offered by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
  • Create a layered defense – A comprehensive cybersecurity plan has three core components: people, process and technology.
  • Call on a cybersecurity expert – Just as you may have an outside legal counsel or CPA, consider engaging a cybersecurity professional for additional support.

With this last recommendation in mind, I called on cybersecurity expert, Michael Davis, CTO of Countertack, to share his thoughts on this important subject. The following remarks are his.

You are the target. SMBs lack the defenses of larger organizations as the Decision Factor’s H2 2018 report identified. SMBs have smaller budgets, less security talent, and usually a lack of consistent risk management which makes for an easy and unsuspecting target.

Imagine walking in to the office Friday morning and your controller running up to you saying that all the money in the payroll account just vanished and the bank doesn’t know where it went. This attack, named an account takeover, is a type of fraud perpetrated by cybercriminals using multiple pieces of malware and human social engineering to steal money. Attackers infect your computers, watch and monitor your business processes and access your bank accounts, and then pounce at the proper opportunity to get the most money in one “smash and grab” job. In many cases, your business is let holding the bag and not getting any money returned from the bank, insurance, or 3rd parties. Very rarely is any money ever recovered.

As Joe Gavin, Vistage chief research officer mentions, layered defenses are a must to protect your business, but what layers do you pick? How do you know choosing solution X vs Y is really going to help you? There are so many variables to protecting yourself from a cyber-attack and the attacks are constantly adapting, it can be difficult even for seasoned IT security experts to pick the right options. And while starting with a risk assessment from NIST or CSF is a great option, you may not have the budget or ability to perform the process without an external IT security expert.

So, what can you do now? Today? These are my straightforward must dos for protecting your business:

Use the cloud as much as you can.

An IT security expert saying to use the cloud? I thought the cloud was “insecure”? No, majority of cloud providers, especially Tier 1 and Tier 2 providers like Microsoft, Rackspace, and Amazon are doing security better than your business could ever do it even if you hired 10 people today. Leverage their investments in IT security to protect yourself.

Having data protected in Office 365 from Microsoft for example, provides lower risk while giving your business a bunch of security capabilities you would have to manually build and manage without your IT team having to do much more than “set it up”. Normally, the additional security is “baked in” to the monthly costs you are already paying to use the provider’s services, meaning there are no additional costs except the one-time setup and configuration time to receive the security value I am referring to. Little to no ongoing maintenance or monitoring is required to get the security benefits from cloud providers.

Use Multi-Factor Authentication for everything

Attackers don’t want your laptops or servers, they want your data. Your files. Your Email. Access to these is all controlled by your identity – the username and password you haven’t changed in probably years.

Multi-factor authentication is now supported by the majority of applications and cloud providers. Multi-factor authentication provides a second mechanism to validate that you are who you say you are. “Google has not had any of its 85,000+ employees successfully phished on their work-related accounts since early 2017, when it began requiring all employees to use physical Security Keys in place of passwords and one-time codes” according to Brian Krebs, from Krebs on Security, one of the most well-known security journalists. (See https://krebsonsecurity.com/2018/07/google-security-keys-neutralized-employee-phishing/)

Google’s technology to replace passwords is obtainable by any and all SMBs, for a one-time payment of less than $50 per person. You can use SMS codes, physical keys, or even simple apps on your phone to provide multiple levels of authentication that can thwart phishing attacks, malware, and ultimately attackers getting access to your data.

Multi-Factor Authentication technology is cheap, easy to use, and the most effective defense against attackers we have today. Use it everywhere you can but especially with your email and cloud providers.

Start doing Security Awareness Training

Depending on what study or survey you want to pick, phishing is either the source of 95% of all SMB attacks or at least the #1 mechanism attackers use to get malware on your computers. Security awareness training is most important for SMBs compared to larger enterprises because you simply have less layers of defense when it comes to stopping an attacker. The first layer of any defense within an organization, large or small, are your people.

More training you say? But Mike, my people hate all the compliance training they have to do now so this won’t work. Long gone are the days of “compliance training” where employees were subjected to hours of boring PowerPoints telling them to “not click bad emails”. While that approach was somewhat effective, the new approaches to Security Awareness training are exciting, amazingly impactful, and actually pretty fun! Multiple vendors now offer “sitcoms” employees can watch that also train them on proper behavior and techniques to avoid getting infected. Two of my favorites are Mulberry from The Security Awareness Company and Restricted Intelligence. See their trailers at https://vimeo.com/6580874 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_aWktl_Oy8)

Costs are low, and include a full year of content and management of who takes what training etc. All delivered online with no setup costs.

Don’t “lie” on your Cyber Security Insurance application

Ah, insurance, it is being perceived by many SMBs as the solution to the cybersecurity problem. Why invest in security technologies, people, and processes when I can pay a fee per year and be covered if we are hacked? Sounds great but the truth is, the insurance companies are not paying. Put one little exaggerated truth on the form, and that is grounds for non-payment. Insurance companies have teams of people making you prove all the processes and controls you said you had when you filled out the form were working when the hack occurred. If they didn’t work, even for just 1 day, no coverage.

Should you not have insurance than? No.  It is a great way to reduce risk if, and only if, you are 100% honest with the survey’s and applications. Your premiums will not be cheap because you are investing in reducing your risk. You might not even get approved until you do the minimum required and you better make sure that whatever you agree to do on a consistent basis you actually are doing – otherwise you will be left wit the entire burden of the costs to cleanup the hack, the stolen money, and in some cases reputational damage in the eyes of your customers.

Don’t mess around with this, do it right or tell the provider you aren’t and pay the premiums.

Michael A. Davis is the CTO of GoSecure CounterTack, an Internal Managed Security Services company that provides outsourced security services. Learn more at http://www.gosecure.net

Are You a CEO or President of a Privately Held Business? If you are also a lifetime learner, and want to learn more about Vistage, click here.

You can read more of my blogs and leadership quotes here.

Talent shortage goes critical

One of the top 5 concerns noted in Vistage’s recent report Decision Factors H2 2018, is talent shortages.

The unemployment rate at 3.9% is near an 18 year low. Last week, the DOL announced the number of Americans applying for unemployment fell to a near 49 year low. By measure of most economists, we are at full employment; some say we are past that. Additionally, there is a growing mismatch between skills desired and skills available. In short, demand exceeds supply on several levels.

Joe Gavin, Vistage chief research officer, offers these suggestions gleaned from experts he interviewed:

Change how you retain talent – Quoting Fabiola Brumley, Southeast regional executive at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, “To hold on to your best people, try supplementing employee benefits with non-traditional benefits, such as financial counseling or a reward system that recognizes high performers. Additionally, Joseph Quinlan stresses that companies should be “much more flexible — not just for millennials, but for the aging cohort as well. There are a lot of folks who are ‘retiring’ who really want to keep one foot in the door, and companies should think about how they utilize that talent.”

Build a workforce within your community – If you can’t find people with the right skills, train people to develop those skills. Quinlan encourages companies to reach out to community colleges and mayor’s offices to develop vocational training programs and attract local talent. “You’ve got to be creative about creating a workforce that’s local to your environment or operation,” he says.

Rethink how you recruit – “It’s about rethinking human capital from 20,000 feet, deploying more resources to the HR function and making sure the entire management team is invested in the process,” says Marc Emmer, a business strategist and president of Optimize, Inc. Consider following what 20% of CEOs surveyed are doing and try artificial intelligence for talent management and hiring. Another consideration Emmer notes is the importance of a strong brand and strong offerings if you are going to attract millennials.

Substitute labor with technology – Explore whether technology can help you deal with a labor shortage by automating tasks or improving efficiency. Brumley offers the example of a landscaping company that might invest in equipment to reduce lawn mowing time from three hours to 45 minutes.

Develop a systematic framework for talent planning – Data from NCMM confirms that talent planning has a strong correlation with the growth and performance of a company. To that end, CEOs should use a talent-planning framework that meets four criteria:

  1. Align talent strategy with strategy.
  2. Build sufficient processes to ensure systematic talent-planning efforts.
  3. Lead by example and involve leadership in the process.
  4. Engage employees in talent-planning and ensure that they recognize the value of the process.

In addition to the suggestions offered above, I invite you to consider these innovative methods that are yielding results for CEOs:

  • Have you considered apprenticeships for professional roles?
    • Instead of competing with everyone else for talent with “5-10 years of experience”, what about offering a high energy, junior person a chance to learn? Perhaps pairing them up with grey haired talent that you are trying to retain? Many, perhaps most, experienced workers, including professionals, want to mentor junior employees. It’s their way of leaving a legacy.
  • What about non-traditional sources for finding talent?
    • Social purpose organizations, like Cara, offer job and life skill training to people convicted of non-violent crimes, thereby preparing them to re-enter the workforce. For those who want to try this carefully, Cara will even take on the risk of employment through their temporary agencies Cleanslate and Cara Connects. Vistage member, Maria Kim, CEO of Cara, shares more on the benefits of this opportunity in this book, In The Business of Change, by Elisa Birnbaum.

Are You a CEO or President of a Privately Held Business? If you are also a lifetime learner, and want to learn more about Vistage, click here.

You can read more of my blogs and leadership quotes here.

 

Cost pressures broadening and growing stronger

The #1 concern noted in Vistage’s recent report Decision Factors H2 2018, is rising costs.

As we near the end of the current economic cycle, for the first time, in a long time, in addition to a typical cyclical tightening, we are also experiencing inflation. Wages are rising, the Fed is raising short term rates, and commodity prices are rising. Add to that the tariffs and businesses are under cost pressure that has not been with us for a long time.

The resulting profit declines are a double-edged sword as the impact is on both you and your customers.

What to do?

Joe Gavin, Vistage chief research officer, offers these suggestions:

  • Raise your prices – 56% of Vistage members are already saying they have, or plan to raise prices. Now is the time to get ahead of the expected continued pressure on price.
  • Talk with customers about their long-term plans – A transparent conversation can lead to a strategic discussion of how you can best serve your customer in this environment.
  • Use technology to lower costs –  Whether its cloud computing, updating your ERP or CRM or even investing in robots and AR, the cost of these technologies is going down while the cost of labor is rising and the labor market is tightening.
  • Restructure your debt. If you haven’t yet restructured your debt, this is probably your last chance to do so at a decent price, says Joseph Quinlan Managing Director and Head of Market Strategy for U.S. Trust, BofA, Quinlan.

And one note of caution. What is happening to you, is also happening to your customers and suppliers. Be sure to monitor both to ensure you don’t extend credit unintentionally. For some insight into which segments of the economy, i.e. industries, to watch most closely, check out this blog from ITR Economics: Director’s Cut: Are Your Profits Following the Crowd?

 

Are You a CEO or President of a Privately Held Business? If you are also a lifetime learner, and want to learn more about Vistage, click here.

You can read more of my blogs and leadership quotes here.