Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Market research, the backbone of all business decisions

Last week we discussed that with the shift in color on the leaves comes the time to address how to overcome resistance to change in your organization. Our most recent TEC Senior Managers’ Program lent insight into just that by understanding how to lead your employees through organizational changes.

How do organizations decide what changes are necessary in the first place? Just like with any decision we make in our daily lives, the process begins with gathering all relevant information, weighing the pros and cons and analyzing where opportunities and risks lie. Once that is complete, an educated decision can be made.

When making decisions on behalf of an organization, the variables and stakes are greater. So how do you begin to gather and stay current with all the pertinent information when it involves an entire organization or industry? Market research. Conducting regular, and specific, market research is vital to the growth and success of your business.

As stated in an article on The Business Plan website, without market research, it’s like packing for a trip without checking the weather conditions at your destination. The article also shares specific decisions that market research helps, including:

-    Whether or not to enter a market
-    Whether or not to launch a new product
-    Whether to continue with a service based on customer satisfaction
-    Compare the sales performance of your product to your competitors

For the full list, click here.

How have you used market research to make a critical business decision? Do you put more weight on some aspects of market research than others?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Turn with the leaves, Reflect on change this fall

Fall is a time where your senses are on overload -- the leaves begin to turn, the air becomes brisk, and the afternoon sun disappears more quickly. With your surroundings rapidly changing, your mind is forced to reflect on other revolving aspects of your life. Whether it’s how fast time has flown this summer or planning for company changes ahead, fall is a time to reflect on change.

However, oftentimes change overwhelms your employees. We learned from Dr. Jerry Jellison at the TEC Senior Managers’ Program how to effectively approach resistance to change, both at the individual and organizational level by using activation tools instead of persuasion. Tools to utilize include establishing open communication about change, tapping into your team’s creative skills to accelerate change, and establishing accountability to follow through on initiatives to complete change.

To begin the change implementation process and help your team overcome obstacles, reflect on a time when change was out of your control. Maybe it was moving somewhere new for school or work. Perhaps it was witnessing your company complete a merger or acquisition. Resistance to change is an emotional cliff. Taking time to think about what emotions are or will be present when change is on the horizon, will help you avoid the many ways leaders inadvertently create resistance to change. Taking a step back will also help build the trust of your team while you all go through a major transition.

How do you help your team overcome resistance to change? In your experience, what strategies work the best to facilitate seamless transitions?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Management: Disclosure

By Harry Dennis for BizTimes Milwaukee

You’re the owner or senior manager of a small- to medium-sized privately-held business. One day, an employee asks you:
  •         What are our annual revenues?
  •         What are our gross profits?
  •         What are our operating profits?
  •         How much does the owner take out?
Oops. Are you ready for this? Do you have a company policy regarding financial disclosure?

This month, I’ll explain the pros and cons, and then leave the decision up to you. Among our TEC members, the pendulum swings from one end to the other on this issue. Here are some examples:
  1. “We have been a ‘closed” company for 100 years. The family has never shared anything outside the family.”
  2. “We have a gain-sharing program in place. Our employees know our operating expenses and profits, and we share with them at that level.”
  3. “I share everything. Why shouldn’t I? Our employees know I took a great risk buying the assets of this company when it went belly-up with the prior owner.”
  4. “We share selectively on a ‘who should know’ basis. Everyone gets some information. No one gets all the information.”
Advantages of sharing information
First and foremost, it’s an issue of trust. The more you disclose in terms of financial performance, then the less likely that employees will complain that they always end up on the short end of the stick when it comes to raises or benefits, or especially employee concessions.

Second, it’s an issue of simply being informed. Every employee survey I’ve ever seen done by TEC members over the last 38 years always gets the same answer to the question, “How well do you think your company keeps you informed about its performance?”

Employees thirst for knowledge about your company. I hate to be the purveyor of bad news. But your e-mails, tweets and newsletters, in whatever form, do not get the job done. Disclosure, in face-to-face meetings with employees, is the answer, if you truly want your employees to feel that they’re informed.

Third, there are counterproductive rumors whether you have 15 employees or 500. The less employees know about financial performance the last quarter, the more they will fill in the blanks. Rumor always emphasizes the negative, not the positive.

Don’t kid yourself. Rumors affect morale and productivity. It’s like a bad infection. And it isn’t good for business. Disclosure squelches rumors and replaces them with facts, whether the news is good or bad.

The disadvantages
First, opening Pandora’s Box may confuse employees. Disclosure companies invest valuable time helping employees understand what the numbers mean – not just lines on computer graphs. There’s no point about talking gross profit results for the past 30 days if an employee has no clue about what gross profit means.

If you don’t handle the education process correctly, it leads to comments like, “They’re just trying to pull the wool over our eyes.”

Second, the issue is complicated if your company has a union. Your contract might address issues such as disclosure. The union might even have the right to approve or disapprove of financial disclosures not covered in the contract.

Third, in some companies, the performance results are totally due to the result of outside influences, none of which can be affected by employee performance. This is especially true in pure commodity firms, because performance results are determined solely by market influence.

Finally, there’s the subtle issue of owner compensation, in whatever form it might take. My personal preference is to keep this out of the financial disclosure discussion, because each business owner has a different set of ownership circumstances.

In TEC, I know I’m speaking for many of our CEOs who would say that they would never extract more financial reward from their companies than justified.

I believe strongly that while the pendulum still swings from one end of the other regarding financial disclosure, very few of our TEC members favor complete non-disclosure.

Until next month, I hope you’re doing the right thing for yourself, your people and your business.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Technology to make your work life easier

With today’s technology and the rapid increase of smart phone usage, there are many new tools available to help organize your work life. However, learning more about each of these new technologies that are available to us, and choosing the right one, can be an overwhelming (adventure).

Whether you’re a prolific mobile user or if you’re just looking for the right tool to help you organize your workflow process, we’ve organized a listing of a few of the most popular applications for busy business professionals.

Important Information Storage

One headache often encountered at work is having too many documents in too many different places. Whether you have files stored on your desktop, notes scribbled on napkins, or a briefcase overflowing with papers – quickly finding what you need can be challenging. Tools like Evernote and Dropbox store your important documents (files, photos, to-do lists, etc.), make them searchable and best of all, easily accessible wherever you are – and from any mobile device or computer.

Mobile Communications

For the traveling business professional, email isn’t always the ideal form of communication. For example, when trying to coordinate with your team in real-time, such as meeting up with a group at a conference, you might find value in a group text application. GroupMe helps you work more efficiently than sifting through otherwise lengthy threads of emails. If you’re out of the office a lot, it’s important to maintain that face-to-face contact with your team and clients around the globe. Skype offers features like group video calling, group screen sharing and file sharing, so that business can resume as usual when you’re not physically present.

Contact Lists and Relationship Management

Today, your professional contacts aren’t just on a business card in a Rolodex on your desk. They are in your email lists, your social networks and your mobile phone – all of which cross paths with your personal contacts. Losing track of an important email or a text message at work is unacceptable. Tools like Gist and Xobni help you categorize your contacts and keep your messages from all platforms in one place. Available in beta for Android mobile devices, the hot app is Meshin, an information communications application that makes you even more productive by unifying your email, texts, phone calls, and social messages into a single, intuitive interface.

What do you struggle with organizationally? What tools are you currently using the most to help keep your work life in order?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

TEC presents Senior Managers' Program with Dr. Jerry Jellison

TEC is thrilled to host Dr. Jerry Jellison at the 4th session of the 2011 TEC Senior Managers’ Program. Using the J Curve model of change that he developed, Jellison will present “Overcoming Resistance to Change” and explain how senior managers and leaders can accelerate the change process. By understanding people’s thoughts and feelings at each of the five stages of the J Curve, it is possible to help people over the emotional cliff that produces resistance.   

In this session, TEC members and guests will discover techniques to:

•    Understand the human dynamics of change at the 5 stages of the J Curve
•    Build the trust of your team to go through a major implementation
•    Create realistic and positive expectations for the change process
•    Establish a common language for discussing change
•    Avoid the limits of persuasion and start using activation influence tools
•    And many more tools to build enthusiasm for continual change

Sessions will be held the following dates and locations:

September 13, 2011 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
September 14, 2011 in Appleton, Wisconsin
October 19, 2011 in Grand Rapids, Michigan

To learn more about this event and how to register, please contact:
Rita Rehlinger at:                                     

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Keeping that back to school feeling in the workplace

It’s that time of year again – back to school time. A time when everything changes, the leaves, your schedule, your routine, and a sense of excitement and enthusiasm generates for what lies ahead.

How can we maintain that feeling and incorporate into our daily work life?

Make time for learning.
We can get so wrapped up in our work that we sometimes put our professional development and growth second. One way to be proactive is to make a commitment to seek out and read industry news and leadership books. Another way is through professional groups. TEC members are held accountable, by mentors and group members, to continually share knowledge that promotes individual growth and benefits the group as a whole. 

Analyze academically.
Often times we rely on our experience and working knowledge as the supporting elements for leadership decisions. Alter your thinking to an academic approach to ignite healthy debate and idea share: Propose a thesis, supply supporting evidence, defend against questioning from others.

Start a classroom. Talk to your human resources team for opportunity to literally study. Find out what is available to you and your team such as lunch and learns, webinars, conferences and conventions.

How do you promote active learning in your organization? What is the most difficult aspect in maintaining professional growth and development?