My business success depends on working efficiently with other companies and individuals. Still, in the past, I structured my business processes as if I were a lone wolf. Every time I developed a process that didn't take others into account and was effective for me alone, I risked catastrophe. Fortunately, as a business process improvement writer, I've been exposed to a bevy of tools that I've adapted for the size and scope of my business and used to future-proof my operations.
I hope these innovations are as helpful for you as they've been for me!
Low Code App Development
Mobile apps are all the rage, but it never occurred to me that I could build one. Instead, I spent hours pouring over existing solutions that I could never quite customize the right way.
Low or no-code application development involves leveraging a software solution to create an app that solves a specific business problem without prior coding or programming knowledge.
I built my first app for financial reporting in less than two weeks. It's designed precisely for the way I work with my accountant, and greatly streamlines our interactions!
Workflow and Collaboration Tools
I work on multiple virtual teams, all with different workflows. Although I'm an organized person, using too many collaboration tools (or worse, no tools at all) was confusing and led to small tasks slipping into the ether.
Today, I employ a tool that allows me to manage several teams and projects at once and do so according to individual needs. By updating and visually displaying tasks, communication and project goals in real time, I maintain a space shuttle view of my own master workflow and make it easy for team members to work with me no matter where in the world we are.
A slow and steady growth strategy wins the race—or does it?
Some new businesses take time to gain momentum and ultimately become profitable, while others go from zero to successful much more quickly.
As someone whose business was in the former category, I set out to learn the secrets of owners who experienced rapid business growth. What did they do, and could their growth strategy be replicated?
Address Customer Complaints
We've all heard that a major factor in a new business' success is whether that business fills a niche or meets an untapped customer need. But if you want to employ an effective growth strategy, you might want to take that idea a step further and provide relief to customers who are vocally expressing anger with a current state of affairs.
Erica Douglass, CEO of the Austin, Texas-based electronics repair shop 1Up Repairs, did just that.
“We noticed that mobile phone manufacturers were making it difficult to get products fixed or working optimally," Douglass says. “Our customers were waiting in lines longer than the DMV to get a cracked screen repaired. If a phone port broke, they'd have to mail the product in and pay upwards of $100. Their batteries would wear out and they'd be forced to buy new phones.
"We addressed an ongoing customer frustration by providing fast and easy repairs to items that most consider essential to their daily lives," she continues, "and in doing so went from a single shop to six in a few years."
Build a Memorable Brand
Will Robins, CEO of men's grooming venture Manscaped, didn't want his new company to be just another provider of razors or body lotion. As he conducted market research, he learned there was a serious deficit in safe, easy-to-use products to groom below the belt.
“That was our plug," says Robins. “Our new brand, Manscaped, offers men not just fancy electric trimmers and razors, but also ones that feature nick prevention—safety guards that prevent customers from getting into a hairy situation. Manscaped became associated with comfort, assurance and the removal of dread for guys ranging from tweens to 50 year olds."
Robins' growth strategy included fully expressing the brand, but in doing so, he and his team did more than develop a cool logo and tagline.
“Through our digital presence and content, especially our humorous videos, we created a unique voice that makes our audience laugh and in the process wins them over to trying the products."
The Manscaped brand caught so much attention that it was featured—and funded—on the ABC television series Shark Tank.
These are valid questions, but in our enthusiastic pursuit of answers, we are sometimes overzealous in implementing strategies we think will lead to greater work efficiency.
Let's explore a few!
Automating When You Shouldn't
Many leaders make the mistake of believing that because it's possible to automate something it means that you should.
Rather than indiscriminately automating huge numbers of processes so that you can save on labor costs and increase work efficiency, carefully consider each instance of automation.
Also consider how artificial intelligence and human workers can work together to achieve the best result. In most cases, you will need to have at least a few humans involved to provide oversight and ethical or moral guidance. (We futurists call this “human in the loop.")
Introducing Too Much Software
Admiring shiny new software and other business technologies that promise better work efficiency is normal. But if we bog our employees down with too many programs and apps that don't integrate with one another or are redundant in their functionality, we actually risk a productivity down slide. They could end up spending more time figuring out how to use systems than performing their actual jobs.
When considering a new tool, think through the value it will bring to your existing infrastructure and do a limited pilot to determine employee adoption and usage.
Estimating Numbers Instead of Documenting Them
Most business owners were more fastidious in the days when we worked with manual accounting processes every day. Now, in the name of work efficiency, we estimate numbers like revenue and expenses and don't look at the real amounts as frequently. We often underestimate expenses, which can lead to thinking our business is more profitable than it is.
Fortunately, many business credit cards include expense management tools that keep all business expenses in one place, reliably track and report on all the money funneling out of your business and simplifyreconciliation. By tracking expenses on a daily basis, owners can instantly see if sales and spending patterns don't line up, or if expenses in a certain category are running amuck.
It's easy to understand why entrepreneurs start multiple businesses. Taking risks and innovating are in their blood. However, even the savviest entrepreneur is human, and we can only focus our energy and resources in so many directions before our cash flow takes a hit.
Let's explore some tips for getting promising new enterprises off the ground while keeping a watchful eye on the business that currently earns you money!
1. Manage your cash flow.
If you need to put aside money for a side business, it's important that you appropriately navigate cash flow in your main business.
Ensure that you have a cash-flow-management plan in place, and review all of your accounts at least once a month so that you can optimize your spending in real time.
It's risky to funnel main business funds into side businesses because if the main business experiences an emergency or setback, you'll need a parachute. You may want to consider using small business loans to help cushion your businesses.
2. Mind your working capital.
Working capital is the difference between a business' current assets (cash, accounts receivable and inventories) and its current liabilities (accounts payable). Your amount of working capital reflects your business' financial health and operational efficiencies.
Ideally, both your main business and side businesses should have strong working capital at all times. Work with a human professional as well as accounting software to gain an immediate, up-to-date and accurate picture of your working capital. If you need to infuse a side hustle with capital, plan for the fact that some sources—such as small business loans—take time.
Rapport building is essential for effective collaboration, but it's not as easy as in the days when you just walked into your retail store or office and greeted your employees hello. As a business owner and member of several virtual teams, I've picked up the following strategies for establishing and sustaining solid relationships with remote workers you rarely see.
1. Outline your expectations for remote workers.
Not all remote work scenarios are the same, and both you and your employee should have a concrete plan for navigating the situation effectively.
Draft a document that outlines the specifics for work hours, environment, communication, collaboration tools and anticipated performance outcomes. If an employee is new to your organization or to remote work, I recommend a three-month pilot for all parties to gauge how the arrangement is going and to iron out the wrinkles.
Also try to systematize your remote work policies as much as you can. Offering individuals too many choices and trying to keep on top of a dozen different arrangements is likely to cause confusion and misunderstandings.
2. Be visible to your remote workers.
After the initial three months, don't assume your remote workers are on autopilot. Being in different physical locations does not negate the need for regular oversight of your employees' activities. If anything, it requires more consideration so remote workers don't feel isolated and disconnected.
Plan a team meeting—preferably by videoconference so you can see each other at least once a month—and schedule individual check-in calls to troubleshoot issues, provide essential guidance and big-picture perspective. During those meetings, reiterate that you're alive and thinking about them. And, if you're relying on remote workers for a real-time, accurate picture of your working capital, initiate contact weekly if not daily.
In this episode of Workforce 2030, Robert Dvorak, Chief Executive Officer and President of SilkRoad, joins Alexandra Levit to discuss disruptive changes affecting the workforce, today and in the future, as well as the importance of agility and continuous learning in this time of change. Dvorak brings more than 30 years of experience in executive leadership positions in strategic sales and marketing.
In this episode of Workforce 2030, Jennifer Fondrevay, Founder and Chief Humanity Officer of Day1 Ready™, joins Alexandra Levit to explore Mergers & Acquisitions and its effect on the Workforce. Jennifer works with forward-thinking business leaders, owners and executives to pre-plan their people strategy through the phases of M&A so their employees can contribute from Day 1.
In this episode of Workforce 2030, Ravin Jesuthasan, Managing Director and Global Practice Leader at Willis Towers Watson, joins Alexandra Levit to discuss applying automation and AI to jobs and how organizations can optimize human-automation combinations. Ravin is a global thought leader on the future of work, automation and human capital. He has been recognized as one of the top 25 most influential consultants in the world by Consulting Magazine, one of the top 8 future of work influencers by Tech News and one of the top 100 HR influencers by HR Executive.
In this episode of Workforce 2030, Marti Konstant, best-selling author of Activate Your Agile Career, joins Alexandra Levit to discuss agility and how to future-proof and take control of your career by adapting and responding to change. Marti has an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and is a former technology executive who has worked in Silicon Valley. She now works as a workplace futurist, keynote speaker, top-career influencer, best-selling author and expert in applying agile principles to workforce development.
In today’s rapidly changing business world, an agile business is a successful business. But how do you know when the best thing for the project is to change the plan, and how can you execute and communicate changes without destroying team motivation and momentum? The following strategies may prove helpful.
Any major strategic initiative should involve the upfront establishment of goals, milestones, and success metrics. But, as Tim Berry pointed out in his article for the Small Business Administration website, assumptions should also be considered in your initial planning. “Tracking your results, you want to be able to compare them to what you had planned or expected to see,” he said.
“Get your team members together once a month to review your plan and its results. “Take a hard look at your underlying assumptions and assess whether or not they’ve changed. If they have, there’s no virtue whatsoever in sticking to the plan you built on top of them.”
Berry suggested you look at the difference between what you planned and what actually happened. Some results will be better than planned, and some will be worse. “For each key difference you discover, and all of them combined, use your best judgment to determine whether the differences were caused by false expectations or unexpected good or bad execution.”
“Also, consider external and internal factors that may have influenced the results. Maybe your expectations were too conservative, or too optimistic. In that case, you revise your plan,” he said.
Common sense, remarked Berry, is critical. Although the project may be close to your heart, you want to remain pragmatic: for example, asking yourself if you were you wrong about the whole thing, or just about the timing? You also want to consider if something else has occurred in the market to change your assumptions.
For more where this came from, check out the full piece onHR.com.
Being a futurist means paying attention to new patterns or trends that are slowly percolating up through the market and/or society that have the potential to catch on in a major way. It's about coming up with possible scenarios for the future given these developments.For me, the ideal timeframe for futurist thinking is 5-10 years, because although no one can successfully predict the future, in this window you are more likely to be able to clearly see where things are going according to current operating models. Now, in 2019, I think anything beyond 10-15 years is reasonably futile because we bump up against the technological singularity (the time when machine intelligence becomes so sophisticated that it causes currently unfathomable changes to human existence).
The simplest way to imagine and prepare for the future is to devise intelligent strategies that will serve your company well. You can do this by reading a ton and consulting experts in your field about what they're seeing. Futurists use tools that systematize these recommendations including scenario planning, environmental scanning, Delphi surveying, and individual software programs like Fibres, Futures Platform, and Athena.
Through your research, you will probably determine that financial markets and corporate structures are likely to change dramatically in the next few years. Blockchain will democratize, streamline, and improve the efficiency of ownership. Other potential developments in the financial sector include the increased use of algorithms to boost trading effectiveness, and the inclusion of machines and machine learning in individual and corporate financial planning.
What good is performance feedback if it occurs in isolation? It's just like the saying: "If a tree falls in the woods..."
“This is where it’s important to have a system that enables a company to join up performance feedback simply and in one place, where they can get a quick view of everything,” says Cheryl Johnson, chief human resources offer at payroll company Paylocity.
Paylocity uses a proprietary tool that stores multiple data points related to the performance review cycle. Employees and managers journal regularly to keep quick notes and recap conversations or meetings, and feedback is consolidated in periodic reviews so employees always know where they stand. “We also maintain performance goals and recognition awards within this same system, so when we sit down to look at the holistic perspective of someone’s performance, we have all data points in the employee’s profile,” explains Johnson.
Johnson is quick to point out that certain data points carry more weight than others, so both leaders and employees need to understand how points are weighted in the overall context of performance.
Paylocity’s Johnson has mastered the notion that different departments have different feedback needs. “Many of our departments leverage the journaling function, which makes giving and receiving continuous feedback informal, yet documented in a place where it’s easy to access when the time comes for formal conversations. Some departments have these formal conversations monthly or quarterly; others have them annually. The cadence aligns with when individual departments can collect insights that improve performance,” she says. And over time, Paylocity has adjusted its continuous feedback approach so it doesn’t require overthinking, is less cumbersome, and is more focused on input that matters – as opposed to providing feedback for its own sake.
Have you improved your performance management system recently? What did your changes entail?
Today marks a very special occasion. Alongside my partner of 10 years, SilkRoad Technology, a global leader in strategic onboarding for workforce transformation, I am releasing a new podcast: Workforce 2030. The show features discussions with leading talent management experts, business leaders and industry disrupters on topics about the future of work and how the workforce will transform to meet the needs of 2030 and beyond.
In my tenure as a workforce futurist, I’ve spent a great deal of time on the microphone with fabulous hosts, and now the tables have been turned! The inaugural episode of Workforce 2030 features Robert Dvorak, CEO and President of SilkRoad. Bob was incredibly fun to talk to because he’s been working in the technology field for 30 years and as you can imagine, has witnessed an incredible amount of growth and change.
In our lively, 30-minute conversation, Bob and I addressed what makes a successful brand a successful employer, why establishing strong employee relationships must be a combination of high tech and high touch approaches, why there’s one human managerial skill that’s essential for effective onboarding, and how tech-based systems facilitate assimilation and prevent quit quits. You’ll also hear why Bob and I are against the word “retention” and why it’s now everyone’s job to be in continuous learning mode.
Whether you’re leading an organization or a team, whether you seek the secret sauce for your own successful career in the mid-21st century workforce, or whether you read Humanity Works and are looking for a bit more guidance, this is the show for you. Our next several guests include Jennifer Fondrevay, Chief Humanity Officer, Day1 Ready™ M&A consultancy, Grant Zallis, CEO, Founder IAR Consulting, and Ravin Jesuthasan, Managing Director, Willis Towers Watson. If you have a question you’d like me to ask these knowledgeable experts, please send it along!