Think Growth! Blog

I Have No Time to Sell!

11 Apr
by Bridget DiCello

How many small businesses face this dilemma?  When the work is piled high and the execution of commitments we’ve made to customers is demanding all of our time to meet the deadlines, focus on selling diminishes.  Even with a dedicated sales team, salespeople can lose focus on marketing and sales when they are onboarding new customers or transitioning them to the operations team.

Yet, as that workload lessens and the work is being completed, panic arises that there is not a great deal of work in the pipeline.  Salespeople hit the field full force and the newest wave builds.  It is then that we must take a moment to look at both our sales machine and our systems and processes in the operations departments.

Any activity done consistently will yield better results.  Sales efforts must continue, at least at minimum levels, at all times, to create consistent sales and to maintain company image to prospects and customers.

The challenges are often on the operations side when systems and processes for bringing on new customers or projects, dealing with exceptions and unexpected issues in executing, and consistently delivering a quality product or service, are not solid enough to handle spikes in workload.  As a result, operations may pull in salespeople or the salesperson may hold off on selling due to a perceived capacity issue.

What to do?

Insist on consistent sales efforts.  (Some salespeople will use busy times as an excuse not to sell – and that break in their sales activities will allow lack of confidence to creep in – and then they’ve got to get started all over again.)  Measure key sales activities – it may be as simple as # calls = # appointment = # proposals = # sales.  Have plans in place operationally to handle spikes in work without using your sales team to the point that it pulls them out of sales.

Build an operations team happy to serve customers.  Seem obvious?  Too many operations teams don’t have a passion for serving new customers which requires getting to know/understand new expectations, demands, and communication styles.  Operations people stereotypically like routine and execute it well – and that’s a good thing!  Build on that to teach and create the mentality of excitement not only about current customers, but about new opportunities and put in place the contingency plans to handle what the salespeople hope to sell – so we can all be excited about the growth.


What Creativity is Not

27 Mar
by Bridget DiCello

Creativity is not having unique and cool ideas that hit you out of the blue on a regular basis.  It doesn’t necessarily have to do with art in its many forms. defines it as “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, and interpretations.

Creativity in the professional business realm is firmly rooted in the ability to connect seemingly unrelated information, thoughts, ideas and strategies.  This requires a few key things:

  1. Expectations must be communicated.  If you ask people to be creative, they can interpret that in many ways.  Provide the framework.  Start with describing the situation – not the specific problem to be solved, but the situation – the destination in general terms, the constraints, the history, and the clear objectives.  To do this, you must make sure you do not solve 90% of the problem in this step.  Leave it open enough to allow for creative thought, while providing a framework with immovable constraints, company values and goals not up for debate.
  2. Describe the Creative Process.  If you ask people for ideas, and then don’t use any, tell them they are wrong or that their idea won’t work, you will stop the creativity from flowing.  “Yes, and…” is a good approach.  Explain that you want to brainstorm 100 ideas in 5 different areas.  Tell them what will happen next and how those ideas will be processed.  Involve others as much as possible in the steps of the process and the implementation.  You can elicit more involvement, especially from those you might think are not creative, by creating a safe and predictable place.
  3. Ask Questions to clarify.  The idea that someone puts forth first is rarely their best idea.  They are testing the waters.  If they are shut down, you will never hear the good idea.  Curiously ask them the How, What, When, Where types of questions to better understand their suggestion.  Most of us cannot clearly communicate what is in our head in 30 seconds or less, especially with a creative or unique idea or concept.
  4. Connect the Dots.  If you enter the creative process without ‘the solution’ in your mind, you have a lot better chance of combining seemingly unrelated ideas.  Group words on paper.  Create different categories.  Find multiple ways that different ideas connect.  Don’t jump too quickly to conclusions.  If you need an immediate solution, then have a meeting with your problem solvers and solve the problem.  If you want to stimulate creativity, give it time to grow and ideas to evolve.

Recognition Too Much Time, Energy and Money – and little ROI?

20 Mar
by Bridget DiCello

People thrive on recognition and praise.  Every leadership book will tell you so.  And many resources will give you a ton of ideas on how to recognize your employees.  And so many of these ideas take either a lot of time or a lot of money.  Make no mistake; your time and your money are both things that your employees appreciate.

However, many of these recognition strategies pale in comparison to a powerful conversation.  People grow and professionally develop both in small steps and in big ones.  Have you ever disciplined yourself to do something that may appear very small, like be on time for meetings?  To others, it may be a “well, it’s about time” moment, but to you, for whatever reason it was tough to make it on time, it is an enormous leap forward.

And I’m sure you’ve also make huge strides as well, like hiring a new key position, landing a large account or launching a new product.

When a member of your team makes a huge stride forward, it deserves recognition, praise and public acknowledgement.  However, we can probably all attest that some personality-challenging step forward like being on time, using a calendar consistently or routinely making sales calls can take a whole lot more energy.  The acknowledgement you give as the leader to these small steps forward does more to change a person to become the best they can be than any big bonus, award or public praise – as important as that is.

How to recognize small steps:

  1. Identify in each employee the potential they have that they are not currently realizing – talk to them about what you see that you know they can do and do better.
  2. Focus on seeing specific movement forward in those areas by those employees.
  3. Have a brief, but specific conversation about those mini-accomplishments when they happen.  “I noticed… great job!”
  4. Also have a brief conversation when you see them slip back into old behaviors, reminding them of your belief that they can make progress and you know they will succeed.
  5. Continue to have the brief, but specific conversations when you see movement forward, realizing it actually takes quite a long time to change a behavior and reform a habit.  People will slip back but as long as it’s two steps forward and only one back, they are still making progress.

Be careful not to be patronizing – don’t use some silly reward system or stars on a chart.  They may be small steps forward, but if they were easy for that employee, you wouldn’t have to be coaching them.

Pinpointing Strengths that Energize You

04 Mar
by Bridget DiCello

Skills are what you are good at doing, but do not necessarily enjoy. Strengths are what energizes you, but you may not be extremely good at them. However, strengths are where you have the greatest opportunity to improve your performance because they energize you.

The question is:  How do you know which is which – for yourself and your team members?

  1. Observe carefully. If you take a moment to observe both yourself and your team as they go about their daily duties, you will see the times when their faces light up, when they begin to work a bit quicker and when they put their nose to the grindstone and stay focused and determined. Those are the times they are working within their areas of strength.
  2. Listen closely. Listen to how your team members speak about certain tasks and roles. Are they animated, thoughtful and asking good questions? When do they talk more than usual? Or when do they think more than usual? These are times where they are probably talking about their strengths.
  3. Start a discussion. After you’ve observed and listened to those with whom you work, ask them what they enjoy doing the most. If you ask them to do a task or assist you in a certain project area, notice how they approach it and then ask them afterwards if they enjoyed what they did. If they respond with, “Sure, no problem,” ask more questions to clarify. “I really appreciate your assistance and need your expertise, but it seems like you’d rather I was able to do it on my own or get someone else to help me?” Then, be ready to do so.

People-pleasers. The challenge with the above activities is that there are different personality types that make pinpointing strengths difficult. There are people who will never say “No!” would never admit they did not want to help and will always step in with a smile. You must observe them much more carefully in order to see what is really energizing to them, and what they do out of need to please others. Rarely is the desire to please others their actual strength.

Grouches. The other challenge is those people who have tried very hard to cover any energy they might have in a veil of grouchiness. In order to protect their ego, their personal space or their fears, they respond almost always with a lack of energy. You may need to watch them carefully for a longer period of time, offer extra recognition and appreciation for what they do for you, and encourage the things they are good at to see if you can uncover some energizing activities.

Strengths are not always the things you are best at, but certainly can be. Pinpointing what you are good at can be a decent place to start if you are struggling to identify strengths.

What about you? What activity are you doing when your energy levels the highest during the day?

Five Biggest Mistakes made by Successful Business Owners

19 Feb
by Bridget DiCello
  1. Not Following their Vision. A successful business owner sees possibilities, has strong opinions how things should be done and how the product or service should be delivered. Over time, that vision may get eroded due to obstacles, people who tell them their expectations are too high (employees, managers or peers), or getting plum worn out. No one sees the exact vision of an entrepreneur (yes, that can be a lonely place to be), but that also creates an extremely valuable niche and competitive advantage, which should not be ignored, buried or seen as too idealistic. It may not be achieved tomorrow, but if the owner remains the driving force, it will be realized! Their vision of the future needs to be shared, embodied in the written goals which are communicated to the team, and success measured against this vision regularly.
  2. They get bored.  Yes, despite all that is going on, successful business owners have an ongoing desire to innovate, intense drive towards a unique path, and a strong focus on improvement. Because of these factors, the owner may find themselves getting bored maintaining consistent business practices, accountabilities and adherence to quality standards – all necessary to run a successful business well. This is the point where they must have a team who can maintain the success they’ve created and still find time for the owner to innovate and drive new initiatives.
  3. Blinded by success. I would never assume that my four-year-old who plays soccer is the best he will ever be at the game. However, owners may tend to assume that as adults and professionals they have stopped growing. Sure, they may learn new technical skills, but they also need to be willing to work on themselves and their team members, even the star players, to grow professionally. Both successful owners and key team players must be challenged in order to not lose motivation, and this must be a purposeful activity.
  4. Forgetting their least favorite basics.  In order to start a business, you have to get a lot of things right, and not all of them are an individual owner’s favorite things to do consistently and purposefully. These might include:
    1. Hiring the right people, through a careful process
    2. Measuring performance and providing routine accountability
    3. Innovation in sales and marketing
    4. Providing structure to enable the team to be successful
    5. Watching the profitability and not just the growth in revenue
    6. Watching the top-line revenue and not just the profit margin
  5. Too much, or not enough, delegation.  Out of a desire for life balance after working so hard to bring the business to this level of success, owners may move too far out of the business, assuming their wonderful team can handle it without their leadership involvement. On the other hand, the owner may also desire to micromanage what is most important – often an area they may have a greater ability to execute than anyone on the team. Certain things need to be delegated, and others don’t. When tasks are delegated, certain reporting structures and accountabilities must be in place to ensure the owner still experiences the results they desire.

Has your level of success been stalled due to one of these mistakes?

The Real Difference between a Manager and a Leader

04 Feb
by Bridget DiCello

Managers do things right. They create and ensure adherence to processes. The measure performance and hold people accountable. They increase efficiency, speed and outputs.

Leaders do the right things. They inspire trust and engage others to follow their vision. They rally the troops. They build strong teams. They innovate, think long term and challenge the status quo.

Both roles are important, and critical to success.

These are typical definitions of a manager and leader, and they miss something VERY important.

Recently, I heard Osama bin Laden and Hitler referred to as effective leaders because they were able to rally their followers towards a vision and build a strong team. This pinpoints what the definitions above are missing.

Leadership is about two things:

  1. Having a unique vision and being able to rally others towards it, AND
  2. Bringing out the best in the people who work with you.

As human beings, we are each created with a purpose in life; strengths, talents and skills to be able to accomplish that purpose; and both obstacles and assistance that meet us along the way. We are at our best when we are using our strengths to become the best that we can be. When we only have a manager, they help us use our skills and knowledge to accomplish things, but not necessarily to become a better version of ourselves (Matthew Kelly has brilliant work on this topic.)

Leadership is about connecting with a person to help them to access their amazing potential, of which most people never get anywhere near discovering even half of it, experience success, and applying that towards the inspired vision of an entrepreneurial leader. Leadership towards something that is immoral or unethical is simply manipulation. People are not created to do evil. We may not all agree with each person’s vision, and hence the bountiful variety of people, businesses and charitable efforts. However, a leader is not a leader if they don’t work to bring out the best in those who work with them.

Assume the Beast

31 Jan
by Bridget DiCello

As the leader, you focus on seeing the best and acknowledging the strengths in each of the people on your team.  At that same time, you also have to realize that they each have weaknesses, challenges, and things they are not good at. When someone on your team does something that is irresponsible or inappropriate, make sure you respond after you separate their intentions from impact they have.  

Just because they messed up on a process, does not mean they were not focused, didn’t care, or were not paying attention to what is important. They may have a weakness in their skill set that caused them to make that error, despite their best intentions.

Knowing the weaknesses of each of your team members will allow you to coach them to improved performance instead of solely being disappointed with their mistake. If someone is a perfectionist with little tact, you need to coach them on how to be more effective, instead of being frustrated and disappointed in their lack of tact.

When you “assume the beast”, you acknowledge that even good employees have areas where they are weak, and you must assume their very best intentions despite their mistakes.

Are they complaining because they are unhappy with you? Or are they complaining to cover up their lack of confidence, and frustration with the situation? As a leader, your assumption about why they are doing what they are doing has a significant impact on not only your reaction to them, but your desire and ability to coach them ongoing to improve performance.

When you find yourself frustrated with what one of your employees has done, take a moment of Opportunity Space before you respond to think about the weaknesses that person has, empathize with their struggles and coach them through that part of who they are to greater levels of performance and success.

The Honest Fallacy of Yes/No Questions

20 Jan
by Bridget DiCello

Questions like, “Do you understand?”  “Does that make sense?” and “Will you do that for me?” elicit responses that may have the best intentions, but may not be correct.

When you delegate or assign a task or project, whether it is to a colleague or employee on your team, the final step is to test that they understand what you have described.  The best way to do that is to ask them questions to ensure they are ready to move forward, like questions about what they will do first, what they see as the main components, and conversation about timelines and project steps.

However, what many busy people do instead is explain ‘very clearly’ what needs to be done, twice if necessary, and then ask a question like:  “Does that make sense?” to which most people will respond, “Yes.”

And the problem with that is….?

  1. They may think they understand, but the journey from your head to your mouth is long enough, let alone the distance to their ears and their mind!  Things get lost along the way.
  2. They may have received too much information and need to go process, so they need to tell you “yes” so you let them go and start working on it.
  3. They know what they will do, whether or not it is exactly what you have asked.

And these things are usually done with the best of intentions.

But, that is the problem with “yes/no” questions.  A “Yes,” like the nod of a head, tells you very little.  People think, process and begin to act based on what they are thinking.  People do the most thinking when they are talking, not when you are.  They way to get them talking about the subject at hand is to ask effective questions.  And the worst question, even for a two-year old is, “Repeat back to me what I just told you.”

So, how do we ask better questions?  First, you must be more curious than you are rushed.

Then, ask questions that force the person to process the information, like:

  • How do you see yourself going about this project/task?
  • What will you do first?
  • How will you determine the first step?
  • What will be the most difficult part?
  • What are you most concerned about?
  • What is a question you have right now?

All this must take into account the fact that there are analytic thinkers in our organizations who need some time to process the information in order to figure out the first step.  In these cases, the conversation does not end with, “Do you understand?” but instead with, “Take 24 hours to think through what we’ve talked about, and let’s get together tomorrow at 10am to discuss your first steps, and so I can answer any questions that have come up since then.”

Yes-No Questions will rarely get you the true picture, despite how honest your team is trying to be!

Managing Your Boss

14 Jan
by Bridget DiCello

Skills are activities you are good at doing, but do not necessarily enjoy.  Strengths energize you, but you may not be extremely good at doing them.  Big difference.  Your success depends on you developing your strengths far more than your skills.

Do you happen to work for a boss who has been promoted based on the skills they have to complete specific tasks, but is still a pain to work with?  Success is based on building upon your strengths, but often promotions are based on skills.  The problem with that… is that there is passion associated with strengths but often not with skills.

Natalie is very good at organizing meetings.  She solicits input from everyone, sends out an agenda prior to the meeting, starts on time, keeps things on track, gets everyone to commit to their action items and ends on time.  The problem is that she is not energized by this process, and no matter how organized she is, and how well she communicates minutes and progress to her superiors, there is no passion for what she is doing.  Becky is the passionate leader who is slightly less organized, may not have complete minutes, and may not catch the attention of corporate with her sometimes “off-the-wall” ideas, but her meetings are full of passion, bring out the best in her team, discover potential and move forward in unique ways.

Do you work for a company that would value Natalie or Becky more?  For which boss do you most enjoy working?  Realizing who your boss most resembles, and pinpointing your preference, is your first step.  Then realize that you also have strengths and skills and that working on things that energize you as often as possible will yield the greatest success, even if that is not a promotion with your current employer.

If you are the boss, move forward from consistency and task completion to passionate pursuit and development of your strengths, and encourage your team to do the same.

By the way, as the employee and a fellow professional, nothing says that you can’t have conversations with your boss about their strengths – things they are passionate about.  Offer to work with them on a project, ask questions about how one of their strengths-related initiatives are going, and work a little harder on those things they are passionate about.  It benefits you in the end if your boss discovers not only success in the form of raise or promotion, but also in discovering their potential as a leader.

Inexpensive Ways to Say Thank You

26 Nov
by Bridget DiCello

You could write Thank you on their Facebook wall, send a Text, “Like” their work on LinkedIn, or drop them an email, but how about a few more old fashioned ways of saying Thank you?

1. Say it!  Give them a call for no other reason than to say “Thank you!”  If they are within walking distance, walk to their desk and say, “Thank you!”  Just make sure you are specific about what it is you are thankful for.  Everyone likes to be thanked, but it makes much more impact when you’re specific – and they cannot read your mind.

2.  Write a handwritten Thank you note.  Again, be specific about what it is you appreciate.

3.  Send that handwritten note to their home address, so they open it with family or friends around and receive further acknowledgment.

4.  If they are an employee, give them an hour, half-day or day off without pay.  It seems like the most valuable commodity today is our time – so many demands upon it.  Give them something very valuable to them!

5.  Recognition with their peers in a staff meeting.  Not everyone likes public praise, but in a staff meeting of peers, where the comment is specific and linked to business results can be very impactful.

6.  Encourage one employee to say or write a thank you to another employee.  Ensure they include the specifics of what they are thankful for.

7.  Buy a small “perfect” gift for someone.  When you buy something small but well suited to their likes or hobbies, it means you have been listening to what is important to them.  It doesn’t need to cost much.  Rubix cube fan?  They love Chik-fil-A, but hate McDonalds?  Have you been listening enough to do this?  Leave it on their desk with a little note.

8.  Pass along a compliment from a client.  Put it in writing, share it with their boss or peers, or tell them what keeping that client happy means to the business overall.

9.  Wash their car – without them knowing while they are at work.  Getting your hands dirty is a great way to show your dedication and appreciation.

Your time, attention and focus on what is important to them is most powerful.  

What ideas do you have?   Join our Discussion on LinkedIn on this topic!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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