company building

When you have trouble making a business decision

Young businessman sitting in front of a chalkboard and trying to choose the right doorOriginally published on September 15, 2016 as a Guest Column in The Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/small-business/sb-managing/what-to-do-when-you-have-trouble-making-a-business-decision/article31750482/

All too often, I watch business owners freeze in the process of decision making. They might be considering a big, strategic change, or shifting a few team members into new slots. Often, however, they delay making the call. It’s as if they are waiting for the perfect answer. They’re hoping for an epiphany or, better yet, a genie in a bottle to make all their business problems go away.

Well, 25 years into my entrepreneurial journey, there’ve been no epiphanies for me, and certainly no genies.

Sooner or later, we are all faced with gut-wrenching decisions that can affect the future of our business and, as business owners, the well-being of our families. But no matter how challenging or unnerving they may be, we still need to make decisions and act on them, or our businesses could come to a grinding halt.

How can you break out of decision-making paralysis? I distill the decision down to its simplest possible form, using a highly scientific process I call: “Is it yummy or is it yucky?”

Let me explain.

As a young entrepreneur, I once found myself stalled when I had to make a key decision on the direction of my business. At dinner one night I asked for the advice of a successful businessman. I was expecting a deep, analytical response – but what he said instead has stuck with me for decades. He picked up the sugar bowl in one hand and the salt shaker in the other. “I want you to make a gut decision,” he said. “Is the opportunity yummy, or yucky?”

A simple, but profound question.

Why? This experienced, self-made business leader knew that I’d done a lot of legwork leading up to this point of (in)decision. He knew that I had thought about which customers my new direction would most likely engage, and how many clients it might alienate. He knew I had studied what the competition was doing, and that I knew where my market was headed. He knew I had run the numbers backward and forward to see where a “wrong” decision might leave the company, and my family.

In short, he knew that I was fully capable of making an informed choice – or, as I now think of it, an “informed gut decision.” For me, this is when you meld your thoughtful analysis with the broad gut understanding of your business that you have developed systematically over time.

One of my clients, Greg van den Hoogen, CEO of Pharmasave Drugs (Atlantic) Ltd., likes to call this the “art and science of decision making that comes from truly knowing your business – the facts and figures, as well as the bumps and bruises that come from having worked in it for a long time.”

Ironically, decision making should be quite simple. I mean, there are only two real decisions that you can make: Yes or No. This isn’t just cheery Mary Poppins optimism. As Jack Welch, the legendary former CEO of General Electric, once said, “Simplicity is an indispensable element of a leader’s most important function.”

Yes, you have to do your homework and know your business. But that doesn’t mean you need to overcomplicate your decisions. Once you have the information you need to solve a problem, take a breath. Often, a problem appears daunting just because we’re too close to it; all we can see is the complexity. Step back and trust yourself to make a right decision, grounded in evidence, experience and thoughtfulness.

Of course, there are no guarantees. You learn to choose the sugar over the salt based on the indispensable, acquired knowledge inherent in your management style and experience.

When I learned to trust my informed instincts, the “yummy” decision quickly became obvious. No one expects you to get it right every time. But as you learn to trust your gut, you’ll find it gets easier and easier to make the best decisions for your business.

Please pass the sugar.

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Reimagine Your People Practices to Deliver Transformational Results

attract-retain-perform-cogsBeing a strategic people practitioner for more than fifteen years it has become clear that there are three key areas within people practices that will make or break your business.  These areas are like three integrated gears with the spokes of each gear driving the advancement of the others.  The three gears are Attract, Retain and Perform.  These gears are of varying size with an interdependence and sequence to them.

 First in the sequence is Attract.  For organizations to operate they must have an employee brand that speaks to prospective employees, draws in people that align with the company’s values and have the needed talent.  Today to be able to compete for prospective employees companies must satisfy their desire for an experience not just a job.

With the chosen employees now in place the company’s efforts turn to ensuring they stay.  Retain is the next gear in the sequence and is all about delivering on your brand promise made during the hiring stage.  Organizations must get to know their employees as individuals, what they need to succeed and provide them with the tools and environment to be the best they can be.

 The final, and in some ways, most significant gear is Perform.  While business can’t operate without having the right people in place through attract and retain, I’d argue that the largest opportunity for leveraging an organization’s results comes from this area.  Through a culture of innovation, leadership practices, team effectiveness and employee engagement organizations can measurably impact performance.

 In the coming months a more in depth look will be taken at each of these three critical stages in the employee life cycle with the goal of enabling companies to re-imagine their people practices to help organizations realize transformational results.

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Will Your Next Hire Help Your Brand or Hurt Your Brand?

In our day-to-day lives, we have all had memorable moments when we’ve had wonderful, helpful service and also occasions where customer service was so dreadful that we’ve wondered what the company was thinking when they hired this person.

As a marketer, my job is to think strategically and creatively on my clients’ behalf and recommend design, communications and customer experience opportunities to help them build their brands.  So, why am I about to stick my nose into the human resource department?  Because often your human resource team members may be disenfranchised during the branding process even though they’re the people who are hiring and indoctrinating your brand ambassadors.  They’re also the keepers and distributors of your corporate culture and behaviours, essential building blocks of your brand.  Kim Vogel, an experienced strategist says  “When HR is closely partnered with the business it creates consistency of message, produces company alignment and leverages an organization’s people resources to their fullest potential.”

So, how do you include human resources in the branding process?

First… encourage them to hire people whose values mirror your brand values.  Your recruiters are often at the mercy of job descriptions which emphasize credentials ahead of character.  Just because someone has a Fortune 500 company on her resume doesn’t make her a good fit with your culture or brand.

Second… support HR with internal communication that’s as well thought out as your external messaging.  After all, your employees are the ones who have to make your brand come alive on the front lines as they work with your customers.  There’s nothing that can kill a communications campaign faster than lax execution.  Let everyone in your organization know that they have skin in the game when it comes to branding.  And third… encourage dialogue between the people who communicate your brand and the people who deliver the brand experience.  They’re the employees who are closest to your customers.  When they have the tools to excel, so will your brand.

With the recent addition of Kim Vogel to the Spyder Works thought leadership team, look for more posts and blogs on strategic people practices in the near future.

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