Constant Progress: Keep Your Eye on the Ball

Successful business owners know that the only way to thrive is to grow and change with the market by making use of smart strategic planning and clearly defined annual goals. Where many companies flounder, however, is in their commitment to those annual goals. Juggling day-to-day demands and unexpected emergencies doesn’t leave much time to even breath, let alone to devote to making progress on longer-term goals. Making time for those goals, however, is often the factor that sets a great company apart.

As you completed your last 3-5 year strategic planning exercise and determined what your company needs to accomplish over the coming years, you likely put much time and effort into creating S.M.A.R.T. goals, that is, goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound. If not, start by reviewing your list of goals and revising them to be better formulated. Be specific not only in what you want to achieve, but also who is responsible for achieving it, and make sure that you’ve set a specific date by which this goal needs to be realized. “Someday” or “sometime next year” is not going to cut it – you need to hold yourself (or the goal owner) accountable for achieving the goal in a measurable amount of time. Equipped with your goals, you’ve already laid the foundation for achievement, but you absolutely must follow through to ensure success.

A regular goal review meeting is a critical tool for following through on longer-term goals and pushing everyone within the company to continue making progress against those goals. On monthly or bi-weekly basis, company leadership and managers with ownership of goals should gather together for 30-60 minutes to discuss the status of each goal, in particular focusing on any goals which aren’t progressing or are at risk (e.g., need scope clarification scope, require resource reallocation, or are experiencing budget issues). In addition to creating openness and improving communication, a dedicated review meeting fosters a clear sense of accountability across the company and builds a strong incentive for employees to carve out time each week to devote to longer-term goals, lest they show up to the meeting empty handed in front of their supervisors and peers.

To ensure constant progress a goal review meeting should strive to follow certain operating procedures:

  • Measure progress. With measurable goals and a set deadline, it should be easy to map out major milestones that occur every few months. Hold goal owners accountable for reaching those milestones and at each meeting ask them to provide a numerical estimate (50%, 80%, etc.) of how close they are to achieving the next milestone.
  • Leverage tools. A graphical chart or color-coded spreadsheet that can be projected for everyone to see gives a clear at-a-glance picture of which goals are on track and which aren’t. Utilize a Green/Yellow/Red system to denote which goals are at risk and assign one person who will be responsible for updating the tools before, during, and after each meeting.
  • Prioritize meeting time. Spend the first 5 minutes of the meeting reviewing recent accomplishments and celebrating hitting big milestones on time. The rest of the meeting should be devoted to discussing goals in progress, particularly those that are at risk.
  • Brainstorm together. With all of the company leaders and managers in the same room, there’s a lot of talent and experience in one concentrated area. Use this resource to run quick brainstorming sessions to generate ideas for overcoming challenges and unblocking goal progress. Focus on three key areas, scope, resources and timeline.
  • Set expectations. End the meeting with a quick rundown of who is responsible for doing what by the next meeting so that no one leaves without a clear understanding of what is expected of them. Even better, assign an individual who is responsible for keeping notes and sending a list of action items out via email after the meeting.

DataKey Difference: Strategy is directly connected to tactical planning throughout the organization to ensure successful implementation.  The best laid plans can easily go awry if they aren’t constantly monitored. DataKey has the tools and experience your company needs to create and align effective goals and to help you gauge progress against those goals by designing an efficient review meetings process specifically tailored to your company’s needs and culture. With DataKey as part of your team, goal owners are held accountable for achieving company strategy and equipped with the know-how they need to get there. Take your long-term strategy off the back-burner and start achieving your potential today.

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Get to the Next Level, a Blueprint for Succession

You remember the days when it was just a handful of employees, working hard and sharing responsibilities to do whatever was needed to get this business off the ground. It was an exciting – albeit stressful – time and the possibilities seemed limitless. Many years later, after countless hours spent winning customers, investing in growth, and cultivating employees, you’ve built a successful business. And now you’re ready to bring your team to the next level: expanding responsibilities, growing the company, improving strategic thinking. Is your team up to the challenge?

The key to ensuring the future of your business is to develop the skills and knowledge your team needs to succeed. Company leaders must be recognized and equipped with tools they can use to drive business objectives and catalyze growth and change throughout the organization. With a strong leadership team in place, major challenges like expanding the company and long-term strategic planning can become shared responsibilities with improved prospects of success.

Building a talented leadership team is no small feat. It takes a deep understanding of the business, the management team, and the corporate culture to envision the path to future success by investing in the people you have today.

In order to prepare your team for the next level, consider the following areas:

  • Determine the select few in your company today will have the abilities and influence to lead the company. You need to begin cultivating those employees today to equip them with the skills and know-how they’ll need to succeed.
  • If processes are learned by experience, without reliance on documentation, that needs to change. Routine processes that are easy to understand can be moved lower in the organization, freeing you and your direct reports to look ahead and work on transitions. Document the appropriate processes and train other employees to take responsibility for them, while you focus on the future.
  • If you have a major goal in mind, you must examine how your current business will enable you to reach that goal. Provide opportunities for your direct reports to work on these company changing goals and put them in the spotlight to help you confirm your decisions about who’s ready to lead.
  • Who in your company thrives in the existing culture? Every company has innate strengths and weaknesses in the corporate culture. It’s important to understand who can effectively leverage those strengths and overcome
    weaknesses to achieve strategic outcomes.
  • Establish a timeline. Determine what the organization should look like by the time you’re ready to put more responsibility on the shoulders of your direct reports. Work with your leaders to ensure that those people who are stepping up to the plate have the right set of capabilities and tools to do the job well.

It takes time and dedication to reflect on these topics, consider the potential risks and opportunities, and devise effective solutions. However, this process is absolutely essential to achieving larger, long-term objectives. Bringing your company to the next level is entirely dependent on having a solid team in place to drive progress.

DataKey Difference: Real-time coaching designed for immediate, practical application. The DataKey team has the experience and expertise needed to channel your team’s energy into productive skill-building. By integrating your management team into the Key Leaders network of successful peers and outside experts, DataKey can help equip your company’s leaders with the practical knowledge that will drive future success.

Much like in the early days, the possibilities are still limitless. With professional assistance from the experts at DataKey, you can set the business you’ve built from the ground up on a path to ensured future success. Now is the time to take control of your company’s destiny.

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Increase Accountability to Drive Results

You already know that accountability is key to driving results in any business. You create goals for your employees and evaluate them against their objectives in annual performance reviews. You have a vendor scorecard to make sure you’re getting the value you need out of your suppliers and contractors. You even rate your customers on their reliability and value-add. As the owner of your business, who is keeping you accountable?

The long-term success of a business relies not only on the day-to-day performance of employees and suppliers, but also on dedicated planning and the leadership team’s adherence to the company’s vision. Executive teams must look beyond basic metrics of revenue, profitability, and productivity to see the big picture. What are the best practices for our industry? Where are our competitors pulling away from us? Where is our market going? Are we prepared for the future?

It’s difficult to focus on these larger questions when you’re tasked with everyday management and keeping the business “in the black” in an increasingly competitive economy. However, failing to dedicate time and resources to create a long-term strategy could be a fatal mistake. If your competitors are planning ahead, you could be left in the dust.

Myopic planning prevents a business from growing and adapting to the ever- changing demands of the market.  As your company’s leader, it is absolutely essential hold yourself accountable for the future of your business.

Tips to maximize accountability at the top of your organization:

  • Look ahead 5 years from today and assess the strategic direction of your company. Consider environmental and competitive factors.
  • Create 3 to 5 well-defined, written S.M.A.R.T. goals to drive your business and your management team towards the desired state. Measure strategic, long-term progress with KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) alongside traditional financial metrics. Create benchmarks to assess your starting point and measure progress.
  • Achieving strategic goals is a top priority! Each strategic goal will have an owner on the leadership team, including you. Each owner is responsible for achieving the goal with the help of the organization, while proactively identifying risks and clearing obstacles that are in the way.
  • Share your goals with a business advisor, board, or other leadership group. Making the commitment outside of your company brings more focus to your effort and strengthens your dedication to achievement.
  • Keep the goals posted where they’re visible day to day. Stay on top of your progress towards goals with scheduled monthly review meetings where the management team holds each other accountable to making progress.
  • Conduct more formal quarterly and annual business assessments to discover strategic opportunities and performance gaps. Understand where changes and improvement are most needed, and make the corrections immediately.
  • When you reach a goal, celebrate! But remember that you’re not at the finish line. Always be looking to improve and go further.

DataKey Difference: Real-time coaching designed for immediate, practical application.  Long-term planning and evolving the vision of your business are not easy to do on your own. By partaking in our Management Coaching programs, you can leverage insight from peer CEOs who are struggling with the same questions. DataKey keeps you accountable by providing an objective outside voice that can help you manage towards your strategic direction while delivering expertise and understanding wrought from years of experience.  Bringing more accountability to your business will drive long-term results and ensure your company’s future success. DataKey can help you get there.

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From Average Joe to Top Performer: Motivating Improvement

Every executive and manager wants to improve their skills, but having the discipline and motivation to invest time and resources into self-improvement is difficult when tasked with the daily operations of maintaining a successful company. But how can any business leader bring their company to the next level without enabling the people within that company to invest in themselves? The answer, quite simply, is that you can’t.

Motivation for self-improvement is something which must be built into the culture of a company and ingrained in the fabric of the company’s corporate values. Employees and managers must see that the leaders of the company take the time to invest in themselves, and must be given opportunities to do the same. Motivating self-improvement is one case where “talking the talk” is absolutely not enough. To truly inspire change and set the company on a path to continued future success, it is imperative for the company’s leaders to “walk the walk” by setting an example and empowering employees with the tools they need.

Individual or team coaching is an excellent tool for enabling executives and managers to learn about best practices, analyze their own abilities, and develop practical plans to improve their skills.

Coaching can help to motivate the entire organization to improve by:

  • Inspiring the highest levels of company leadership to strive to improve the business and the performance of employees.
  • Accelerating learning beyond what is achievable in everyday business settings to improve employees’ capability to contribute to the business.
  • Fostering accountability to follow through on resolutions by engaging the entire team in an interactive dialogue about tough problems.
  • Encouraging employees to be open to new ideas and motivated to improve, thereby enabling them to leverage lessons learned from coaching to accelerate the objectives of your business.
  • Empowering employees and leaders with the insights, knowledge and skill they need to become the top performers they’ve always wanted to be.

DataKey Difference: Real-time coaching designed for immediate, practical application.  With management coaching options ranging from team or individual coaching to advisory boards, DataKey has the tools you need to bring professional development within your company to the next level. Leverage the insight and experience of professional business coaching by DataKey to inspire your team to excel.

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Keys to Serious Strategy and Planning

Every company, large and small, needs a long term game plan to sustain, and better yet, improve their competitive position. Strategic planning is the only way to ensure that the long term plan for a company evolves with the change in environmental factors, the company’s core capabilities and the competitive factors in the industry.

You believe the leadership team of your company is aligned and working toward the same outcome – growing a competitive, increasingly valuable business. You work hard; your team works hard; managers do their best; employees are loyal.

It’s all great, until you realize that your business metrics are stuck – or worse – sliding in reverse. As a business owner, you want those metrics to be improving every day, every month, every year.

Companies have difficulty fully realizing their vision. Planning is difficult in the face of strong competition, declining market share, and shrinking profit margins. DataKey recommends that the Strategic Planning process be conducted over a short series of working sessions to understand the longer term company strategy and business goals. The best companies tackle strategy and planning to take advantage of new market opportunities, improve profits, and grow the business.

Below are top tips and characteristics to accelerate your strategic plan.

  • Capitalize on your company’s unique strengths which introduce a truly fundamental advantage in the marketplace. Make a move that increases your differentiation; the competition follows you.
  • Clarify the future direction of the company, the desired state over a longer time horizon, as well as, the specific steps needed for near-term success. Your strategic progress needs to be measureable.
  • Facilitate the development of a robust challenge statement and strategic vision that will have the full support of the management team. Your strategic intent must stand up to challenges. Unless your leadership team is aligned to the right strategy, nothing changes.
  • A clear, concise, written strategy will stand the ‘test of time’ and be the compass for business decisions and execution. The leadership team needs true consensus at the strategic level to guide day-to-day decisions and action.
  • Strategies for creating value have shifted from only managing financial or tangible assets to include measuring intangible pieces critical to your success such as brand recognition, internal growth and customer goodwill.
  • Establish goals for the upcoming year or two, and develop the annual action plan to move the company towards the desired state. Action plans need to consist of measurable objectives with target deadlines.
  • Each goal must be assigned to an owner from your management team, who is responsible for detailed planning, progress and proactive risk mitigation.Goals must be fully developed down to specific action plans with budget assigned.
  • The management team can hold each other accountable through a monthlygoal review process to ensure progress towards the goals by managing obstacles and risks.

DataKey Difference: Strategy is tightly linked to tactical plans throughout the organization. By following the above recommendation your company mission, strategic objectives and business goals will be thoroughly defined, aligned and integrated.

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Getting Out the Gate: Driving Internal Change

 Inertia is a difficult force to overcome. Driving internal change is dependent on a company’s ability to mobilize behind an objective, make continual progress, and see the project through to the end. And no one person can enact change on their own; to truly be successful, change must have support throughout the entire organization. Almost every company has struggled with internal change. Even with a brilliant strategy and enthusiastic leadership, all too often those leaders will find themselves in the frustrating position of being within sight of the finish line but unable to reach it. This is rarely due to shortcomings of individuals or of the plan itself, but rather due to the nature of the beast. Change is hard.

Typically, the leadership of a company has a clear picture of where the business needs to be in a certain timeframe. Grow this division to $500M in revenues in 5 years, or double the volume growth rate of a particular product line by next fiscal year. With a goal in mind, the management team sets to devising a plan to reach that goal, or maybe brings in an outside consultant to provide unbiased expertise. A plan is wrought, everyone seems to be on board, but soon it’s apparent that something’s not working. Progress reaches a plateau and won’t budge for weeks. Meetings are spent rehashing the same old issues instead of focusing on what’s next. Before long, the project is abandoned and it’s back to the drawing table. What went wrong?

Unsuccessful internal change is generally the result of a variety of factors which compound to prevent real change from ever getting out of the gate. Change requires organization, planning, socialization, flexibility, and dedication. It requires an understanding that it’s not going to be easy, and that there may be bumps along the way. It requires accountability, tracking, risk management, and good old fashioned hard work. Most of all, change requires confidence.

Everyone involved must believe that they, as individuals and as a team, have the ability to push through difficult or uncomfortable situations in order to reach a common goal.

To drive successful change throughout your organization:

  • Start with a comprehensive plan. Detailed, measureable, achievable goals are great, but also consider risks and countermeasures to anticipate and resolve problems before they happen. Do you foresee clashes in the personalities involved or opposition to tinkering with long-standing processes? The more you are prepared for in advance, the easier it will be to address issues as they surface.
  • Set your team up for success with the right tools to assign responsibility and track progress against goals. Goals should have clear ownership by individuals. Regular status meetings give everyone the chance to share successes and will keep each team member accountable for delivering on time.
  • Before implementing a plan, socialize it with all of the key stakeholders. Make sure that everyone the plan depends on is bought in, from the top of the management chain all the way to the mail room. Even an entry-level employee can undermine a major initiative if there is not broad support and dedication established.
  • Make it a priority. Management needs to be vocal about why this initiative is important and how it will benefit everyone within the company, and also needs to solicit (and react to) feedback. Employees must have confidence that the project is supported by the people at the top, and that those people will do what it takes to make sure it’s successful, even if it means taking constructive criticism.
  • Always be looking to improve. Once the process is complete, reflect back on which aspects were successful, which weren’t, and why. Document this learning and be sure to incorporate the lessons from this project into the next.

DataKey Difference: Strengthens and energizes client organizations by becoming part of the team to accelerate key initiatives.  Sometimes change requires an outside catalyst to really make it stick. DataKey integrates unbiased leadership and world-class expertise directly into your team to get the results you need fast. With proven tools, dedicated capacity, and best practice experience, DataKey can help your team hit the ground running.

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