Business ownership

Plan for Consistency in 2012

04 Jan
by Bridget DiCello

When writing goals, the focus is on what we want to be different, how things will be improved and the areas we want to tackle in the upcoming quarter or year.  However, it’s important to not overlook what you really want to remain consistent.  Things that have enabled you to be successful this year and in the past might be taken for granted.

Doing the same things and expecting different results is the accepted business definition of insanity.  But more than that, doing the same things and expecting even the same acceptable results may be a lot to ask.  Things change.  People change.  Things do not stay the same.  People are not machines and consistency must be purposefully planned for.

What are the core components of your success that you need to remain consistent in 2012?  What is it about your approach, your systems, your customer service, your processes and your values that are the keys to your success?  Do you know?

When writing your goals for the upcoming month, quarter or year, take an inventory of what you consider to be your keys to success, identify the most important components, and determine what it is that will ensure continuity.

What is it that has brought you success?

  • If it is a single key employee that makes things happen, cross-train others.
  • If it is the way a process is running, document it, create checklists if necessary and ensure your team knows how important how they are doing things really is.
  • If it is the connections the owner, managers or key employees have nurtured, pinpoint the key activities that make those possible, should a key person take on a new role or need to leave, or you wish to increase the results you are achieving.
  • If it is your management team’s ability to make good strategic decisions, determine what makes that possible and expand the number of people with these capabilities.

If you want consistent success, the components that have made you successful need to be purposeful and routine.  If creating processes or systems is not in your nature, you need to task someone on your team with those skills with the role of pinpointing and systematizing those key components.  Otherwise, when a part of your success begins to slip, you try to play catch up, which may distract you from the new and exciting goals you have set for the future of your team.

Your Nemesis & the Battle Plan

08 Jul
by Bridget DiCello

Your Nemesis – that one thing in your business that continually haunts you and inhibits your success. Identify it and Battle it.

Maybe this situation describes where you are right now: You are experiencing success. You have a good team. You have a plan to get better, to grow, to expand and to reach 2011 goals. But something is holding you back from the greatness you could achieve. Although you can picture even more success, it seems to be just out of reach.

Maybe just when things are good, you have turnover in your team and that slows you down.  Maybe when sales are being closed left and right, you lose a large existing customer and the back door seems as open as the front door. Maybe although your employees do a good job, there are just enough errors to make the fire-fighting a significant part of your week. Maybe your employees do what you ask, but don’t seize opportunities they see and add to the potential of the team. Maybe everyone does a good job, but there is tension between key managers or key employees. Maybe… The list could go on.

What is it for you that keeps you from achieving an even greater level of success that you know you could or that your boss is demanding that you do?

What to do? Identify your Nemesis and Correct it.

Identify Your Nemesis. Finish this sentence: “In an ideal world, we would…” At some point we all let mediocrity take over. Even successful companies rest on their laurels in certain areas or at a certain point in their success. Reach back to what you really want to accomplish and determine what is in your way to achieving that.

Then summarize your quality issues, fires fought, frustrations for you as a leader, expectations not met and customer complaints in the first half of the year. Pinpoint common themes and the root causes behind them. What is the problem or challenge that repeatedly comes up? What is your Nemesis?

Correct it. If this problem or issue was easy to correct, you would have done it already, it wouldn’t be recurring and it wouldn’t be your Nemesis.

How to correct a Nemesis? You’ve got to come up with a battle plan. If you want to win against your enemy in battle, try these tactics:

Know your enemy better than they know themselves. A quick look at a recurring problem and an easy solution is not the answer to address something that recurs consistently. Your Nemesis will only be addressed if you really understand it. What is the problem? What is the root cause? How is it affecting us? When does it occur? What have we done to try to correct it? What are best practices in our industry? Why does it occur? How does each person contribute?

Arm yourself with the right weapons. When you know the enemy/problem well, you learn how it fights, what makes it occur and you must identify how to attack it with what it won’t expect. This may mean your managers need new and different tools in their leadership tool box, new technologies or software, or good old fashioned face time with customers, vendors, colleagues or employees.

Attack with the element of surprise and destroy the enemy’s will to fight. In business, this means that you can’t just try the same old approaches and expect they will fix a long term problem. You might need to do something a little crazy. Although it’s hard to “destroy the will” of a turnover problem, the other side of that is your team being committed enough to fixing the problem that they stay focused and committed. When you are successful, the risk is that your team will tell you, “We’re successful. We are doing great. Why upset the applecart by addressing this issue – it’s just part of doing business in our industry. It’s always been that way. Our competitors face the same issue.” And on and on. A true Nemesis takes a lot of courage to fight because it’s a long term problem that may be seen as acceptable.

Fight on the terrain where you are strongest. In the Bible, the Israelites win a battle with foot soldiers against chariots because they are in a valley deep with mud. Use your strengths and your team’s talents and abilities to engage the problem.

You and your team can accomplish greatness! What is standing in your way? Identify your Nemesis and work diligently to correct it.

Can you not see the forest for the trees? A true Nemesis in your business is not easily discovered or corrected. Sometimes it requires a set of eyes from the outside. Someone outside your company can often lead you through the analysis and resolution of a long term, recurring problem. Contact Bridget if you’d like to talk about setting up a company meeting or team retreat to take your company to the next level.

What does Top-of-the-Line Service Look Like in Your Industry?

01 Jul
by Bridget DiCello

In the May 2011 edition of Entrepreneur Magazine, The Best in Business Travel article compared different levels of hotel service, and the description of top-of-the-line Premium service was inspiring!

It described how the hotels in this class remembered a guest’s allergy to feathers and adjusted the bedding, remembered his favorite wine and provided it complimentary, provided an outdoor temperature reading in the room so the guest could dress appropriately, had an enormous fitness center with 30 complimentary classes per week, delivered comic books instead of a newspaper because of the guest’s offhanded remark, and made a special trip to purchase a case of a guest’s preferred type of bottled water.

While I have never held a job in this top of the line hospitality environment, I think it would be incredibly fulfilling.  Or can we provide this level of service in every one of our businesses? Logistically, it requires two things to excel in service – employee time and resources (labor costs) and money (to purchase preferred wine, bottled water outside of a purchase agreement, etc.).  Many businesses, if they don’t charge premium prices, don’t have the revenue or profit margin to add awesome customer service perks.

So, unless you are a 5-star hotel or a Nordstrom’s, are you out of luck?

Ask yourself, “What is it that the guests really like about this Premium service?”   In order to answer that question, we need to look at two types of premium service that I have experienced:  Perks Service and Custom Service.

Perks Service – This is where every amenity is present.  Anything that you think of is readily available at no additional charge.  From the example above, that would be the 30 complimentary fitness classes a week.  This level of service is expensive to provide because each of these perks cost the company money, but the return on investment can be significant depending on your product and your customers.

Custom Service – This is where the customer service is tailored to each customer’s needs and wants.  This requires that we listen to each customer to hear what they really want and what is important to them.  From the example above, this is delivering the guest’s favorite wine or comic books that they mentioned the last visit.

Both levels of service require that we listen to the customer.  The Perks Service requires we listen to them as a group and offer what is important to our customer base as a whole.  The Custom Service requires that we listen to an individual, remember what they’ve said and deliver that customized service next time we interact with them.  This is more difficult, more often overlooked, can have a tremendously powerful impact and has the potential to cost a lot less to implement than the Perks Service.  But, it requires that you hear and remember what the customer says.

Listening is like riding your bike next to someone who is walking.  You can think at 400 words per minute and most people speak about 100 words per minute.  The danger in listening is that your brain is thinking about something else with that excess capacity.

It doesn’t cost anything to listen to someone, and often it doesn’t cost much to customize the service they receive to some degree.  Where are those opportunities in your business and your industry?

Top 10 Productivity Tips – A Focused Mind

16 Jun
by Bridget DiCello

With summer officially ready to start next week, have you finished your spring cleaning?  Spring cleaning is not only about pulling out the cleaning products and getting rid of clutter.  These practices are great and can clear your workspace and make you more productive.  However, productivity also comes from a clear head which allows you to be focused and efficient.

Top 10 Productivity Tips – Try them and see if you ‘spring’ forward:

1.  Make the right decision every moment of every day. This is my definition of good time management.  It’s a realization that we make many decisions every day of how to spend our time, whether planned or unplanned.  The more we can make those decisions consciously, according to clear goals, the more productive we will be.  Most people welcome distractions to some extent – as a relief from something stressful, difficult or unpleasant.  Act very purposefully in each moment of the day and pinpoint those times you tend to make decisions to do things not in line with your goals, however small.

2.  Revisit your goals. Dust them off.  Clean them up – do the reality check and adjust the ones that are unrealistic, get excited again about ones that might be a stretch but that you are passionate about, tweak others given your knowledge of the year so far.   And if you never did write them down, do it now.

3.  Identify what must be done this month, this week and today/tomorrow to achieve your goals. One of the best ways to be productive and make the best use of your time is to be focused and plan.  I’m not talking about the strategic five year plan.  I’m talking about knowing the 3-5 non-routine things that you want to accomplish this month to ensure you are further ahead and closer to your goals than when you started the month.  Then, decide what 2-3 things you need to do this week to make that happen.  Then look at your plan for today or tomorrow and decide what 1-3 things you need to do in those 24 hours to move forward on the week’s goals.

4.  Know your Best Time of Day. We all have a time of day where we are most productive.  Are you a morning person?  A night owl?  You only really wake up at noon?  Observe your productivity and effectiveness.  What time of day are you at your best?  When you determine when that is, schedule your most important activities at that time.  Avoid doing trivial tasks or putting out fires during that time.

5.  Schedule your day, week and month. Very few of us have schedules that never get interrupted or rearranged.  But, that is not a reason not to plan at all.  Plot out your month, schedule your week and map out your day.  Leave some “Wing it” time to fit in the little things that pop up.  Schedule a block of time to do the emails, phone calls, etc. that fill your day if you are not careful.  When at the end of the day you have not done everything you wanted to because of fires and interruptions, immediately reschedule the activities that you didn’t do for tomorrow or later in the week.

6.  Get rid of the Things to Do List. They haunt most of us.  Instead of putting something on the list, simply schedule it somewhere in your day or week.  If you cannot find anywhere to put it, that means it is really not important enough to you to get done, so don’t torture yourself with leaving it to haunt you on a list.  You may want to keep a “To Do Someday” List for those things that are great ideas, but are just not a priority right now.  Then, put it away and only look at it periodically.

7.  Schedule appointments to talk. If you plan to meet with another person and have a conversation, do it purposefully.  If you just ‘stop by’ their office or give them a call without a plan, you may end up wasting both of your time.  And they may do the same with you.  If you need to talk to them, plan a time and day and have an “agenda”.  More thoughts on that next week…

8.  Do a time log. After you have planned your month, week and day, and taken all the things to do list items and scheduled them somewhere, for just a few days – record what you actually did.  Compare your reality to your plan.  Maybe you need to adjust how you do what you do, become more effective, learn to say no, or delegate more.  Unless you have a good picture of what you are actually doing, it’s hard to have a basis for productive change.   And no, you really don’t know what you spend your time doing until you log it.  Try it and you’ll see!

9.  Stop Procrastinating. Many managers and leaders are procrastinators.  I never believed that about myself until I understood the connection between procrastinating and being a perfectionist.  For the perfectionist, it is rarely ever the right time or there is not enough time to do it right so, “Why do it?”  Not to say that perfectionists are not productive, just that certain things that are new, different or particularly important get put off for the more immediate, urgent and familiar tasks at which they can more easily succeed.

10.  Keep track of information. You may mistake being able to do a lot with being organized.  It’s amazing how much time we spend looking for something, finding information twice, having a conversation or part of it a second time, or sorting through the volumes of information we use to run our business.  Review your systems for collecting, sorting and using information in your business and to develop your team members.  Do they effectively support your mission or do they slow you down?

Comment here or join in our LinkedIn Discussion.

Top 5 Mistakes Leaders Make when Promoting from Within

03 May
by Bridget DiCello

He was a great employee.  He was the perfect choice for the management opening.  His talents and skills, his focus on results, his expertise with customers and systems – all made him a great choice for the promotion.  Why then is he doing such a terrible job as a manager?  Did you make the wrong choice?

Too often, leaders forget that a promotion to management requires a major transition.  From being great at what they do to taking on a whole new set of tasks, to measuring their own success in completely different ways, to losing their peers who they knew and liked and gaining employees from whom they need to keep a distance, it is a traumatic experience.  Are you there to help them through it?

Here are the Top 5 Mistakes that you might have made in the transition:


1. Assumed their tactical expertise would directly translate into management expertise. Many leaders have their own story of how they were thrown into a management role and had to figure it out the hard way.  Some survive that way and some don’t.  Internal promotions also assume that the person has more knowledge about the bigger picture or that the expectations from above are clearer than they are.


Create a training outline. Every new role, whether it be for a new employee or a promoted employee, should be prefaced with a training outline – the list of things that they need to know in order to be successful in the new position, when they will be taught or expected to know/master each area, and what mastery looks like.  If there are things that they already know, they can be quickly checked off.


2. Failed to teach them the management skills necessary to thrive. Managing people requires they understand how to create and communicate expectations, connect with their direct reports, inspire them to do well, and engage them in productive accountability discussions.  These are not natural skills to most individuals and must be learned and then coached by their supervisor.


Do an honest inventory of these skills, and plan to help them to learn more in the areas which they are weak. Provide them books and resources, the opportunity for a mentor and key leadership relationships, classes or a leadership coach, and teach them yourself the areas in which you excel.  Don’t ignore a lack of skills that you have noticed from their time as an employee!  Use that information.


3. Did not set your expectations clearly. There is an incredibly long distance from what is in your head to what comes out of your mouth.  Your new manager cannot read your mind. There are many things you may expect that you have never clearly outlined or discussed, even if you have worked with them for some time. “Improve morale” may mean one thing to you and something quite different to the promoted manager.

Clarify your expectations. Ask yourself:

§what the most important tasks are that they will do

§what results you hope they will achieve

§how you’d like them to do the job – detailing only necessary details to keep them focused but giving them room to do it their way

§what other managers have done that you do not like and wish the new manager not to do and

§what deadlines you would put on each of these expectations and how you will measure whether or not they have been a success.


4. Offered no accountability. Even the best employee who takes initiative and tries their hardest will not thrive without some degree of feedback.  This step is critical and is often seen as unimportant – especially if you already know this person to be a start employee.  In order to meet your expectations and company goals, they must receive input as to what they are achieving and where they are falling short.  If delivered along the way, they have time to tweak their performance, not just to fail or survive in the end.  If you don’t provide feedback, yet let them continue to under-perform, shame on you!  If you don’t provide feedback in the areas they are doing well – don’t expect that behavior to continue!

Provide routine, expected, conversational feedback. Set a routine conversation, with a set agenda (of focus areas, new skills to learn, tasks to perfect, action items, successes, challenges, etc.).  The conversation is scheduled, the appointment is kept and the new employee is expected to be the one to prepare for and report on the agenda you have set.

5. You never asked them to think. Transition to management can be a traumatic one.  Suddenly, they are in charge and powerful, yet they’ve lost their peers and their comfort zone.  They are no longer rewarded for doing the tasks they are good at, but expected to think strategically and develop other people as well.  There are very few right answers and very few set processes in management.  Management and leadership are about getting to the results, using processes in place, improving them as necessary, solving problems and developing people. If they are not thinking – you’re in trouble.

Get them to think. Getting them to think requires that you set the direction, ask questions and get them talking about how they see the situation, possible solutions and approaches and why they will choose the avenue they choose.  Too often managers of managers still want to be the one to solve the problems even though they have a manager to lead their team to solve a problem.  Thinking through a situation can be facilitated greatly by a manager who asks the right questions instead of giving the solution.  You want your new manager to be independent, so ask them the questions and get them to think!

What mistakes have you made when promoting someone to management?  What have you done right?

Are you Happily Married to Your Business?

20 Apr
by Bridget DiCello

People say that there is no difference between ‘finished’ and ‘complete’.

I say there is…..

Marry the right person, and you’re ‘complete.’

Marry the wrong person, and you’re ‘finished.’


This joke immediately made me think about business ownership.  Owning your own business has some parallels to marriage.  So does your business complete you or finish you?

A few secrets to a business that completes you are:

- Your tasks ‘fit’ you.

- You have a passion for what you are doing.

- You are using your talents and strengths where there is demand and profitability.

Your tasks ‘fit’ you. Do you enjoy the tasks you do on a daily basis?  Do you look forward to going to work and tackling your things to do list?  Granted, most business owners jump in and do whatever needs to be done, whenever it needs to be done, given their dedication and investment.  However, you can enjoy jumping in when needed, knowing that your primary roles and tasks are those you enjoy.  And depending on the stage that your business is in, you may need to do some things that you don’t particularly enjoy until your business matures in certain areas.  For example, you might need to spend more time selling than you would prefer until the level of sales supports hiring that next salesperson.  However, if sales are not your favorite thing to do, you at least know that delegating those tasks is on the horizon.

You know you’re ‘finished’ if most of the tasks you do on a daily basis, you really wish someone else was doing, you’re not that great at them, and there appears to be no end in sight to this dilemma.

You have a passion for what you are doing. What energizes you?  What is it about your business that is incredibly exciting to you?  Or is it just a job?  Is your business something that you have a great deal of enthusiasm about and desire to dive in to, build, nurture and grow?  Are there multiple moments throughout the day and week where you feel totally fulfilled?

You know you’re ‘finished’ if you see your business as simply a job that has great potential to make you money.  But, on a daily and weekly basis, you feel more tired and overworked than you do energized.

You are using your talents and strengths where there is demand and profitability. Being passionate is only part of the picture.  I might be passionate about riding horses, but my talents and strengths are not nearly enough in this area to create a demand for my riding abilities.  There may be a demand for what you are passionate about, but are people willing to pay what it takes to be profitable in this area?  If you have no profit, you do not have a viable business, no matter how massive you can make your revenue numbers.

You know you’re ‘finished’ if you enjoy your work and do things that energize you, but selling the product or service is incredibly difficult, both because people are not real interested and those who are interested are not willing to pay a price that you must command in order to realize a profit.  If you cut your prices to extremely minimal or no profit margins to get the business going, you are definitely in trouble later as you try to turn a start up into a viable and profitable business.

What else is important to determine if your business completes or finishes you?