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Energy Sucking Black Holes in Business
I meet a wonderfully wide range of people in a typical week, and this one has been no exception. Despite the huge differences, a common theme has been emerging – the phenomenon of Energy Sucking Black Holes. We all have things we know we should do, but haven’t acutally done yet. There is a variety of reasons for this – we’re busy doing other things, the job is not something we enjoy doing or the project is just too big and scary to even think about. Sounding familiar?
So this job sits on the ‘to do’ list… glaring at you! It starts to haunt you – it interupts your sleep and invades your private moments of solitude and reflection. It begins to take on a life of its own. As a consequence, whatever the reason you haven’t got around to doing this thing seems to become more real also – if the job was scary yesterday, its terrifying today! If you might have found 5 minutes to make a start on it yesterday, there’s no way you can do that today… you're just too busy!!!
You know the job is important, or else you would have crossed it off your ‘to do’ list days ago. Bad things will happen if it doesn’t get done. That makes you afraid. Fear breed paralysis. And saps your energy. Before you know it… you’ve created an Energy Sucking Black Hole. To an outsider, they’re easy to spot. The person your talking to is distracted. They’ve got 100 good reasons why the job hasn’t been done yet. They are busy doing other stuff. But you can see the energy being drained and performance drops. The spiral is self-perpetuating.
STOP! Step outside yourself for a moment, stand next to me and look at the situation as an outsider. We don’t have the emotional baggage, things are much clearer from out here. How to tackle this sucker? Here’s a few techniques to get you started.
Forget an A+, you just need a ‘Pass’. Perfectionists often set themselves very high standards. Often, this is a good thing. But not when it makes the bar so high you’ll never get over it. Aim to get the job done… just done. Nothing fancy, just finished. There is more good in a project finished to a reasonable level than the best project in the world never getting off the ground.
Take a different approach. If the idea of walking into your office, turning on your PC and writing that report fills you with dread, don’t do it. Put on a Hawiian shirt, grab the laptop and find yourself at a table at that cool café on the beach. Or take some fancy note paper and a purple fountain pen. We’re after a result here, it doesn’t matter how it gets done.
We all know how to eat an elephant. One bite at a time. So make your first step breaking this huge, scary monster of a project down into cute little bite sized pieces.
Step 1. Write your plan. Make a fancy title page. Turn off the PC and celebrate the completion of Step 1 with a nice glass of wine. Just make sure you come back for a similarly easy Step 2 tomorrow.
Sorting out your filing cabinet, writing your marketing plan or making an appointment with your bookkeeper can be daunting, but the pain of dealing with an Energy Sucking Black Hole is far worse. Go on… just do it!
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From a young age, you are being encouraged to ‘be nice’, ‘play fair’ and ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. It all makes perfect sense.
But it can be difficult. Especially in business. It’s easy to forget these basic rules when you are bombarded with messages of negativity - like the 6PM News, and often it feels like everyone is out for a piece of you. Internet scams, telemarketers and an avalanche of marketing urging you to buy, buy, buy! Is there a place for kindness in this materialistic, self-absorbed world?
If the sound advice of your grandmother is not enough to convince you to live a life of kindness, how about medical evidence that it will help you live longer and better? Dr David R. Hamilton has written a book called ‘Why Kindness Is Good For You.'
It’s a great read, but here is the basic message in a nutshell.
We have been designed to be kind to each other. When we are, our body functions better, is more resistant to disease and aging and we feel better.When we turn our back on kindness, our blood pressure rises, free radicals roam our bloodstream doing us harm, and we are prone to depression.
Other facts about kindness, happiness and compassion:
It’s contagious – the human brain is tuned to detect and mimic kindness.
It’s addictive – displaying compassion releases endogenous opiates and these powerful chemicals can replace the highs produced by morphine or heroin with a ‘helper’s high’, a far more natural and positive experience, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Happiness makes us richer. People sometimes equate money with happiness. In other words, if I have lots of money, I will be happy. Dr Hamilton references research that suggests things work the other way around. He cites a study by Robert A Emmons that measured the happiness of a group of US college students over 16 years. Those who were happier at the beginning of the study actually earned more during the evaluation period. The happiest in the group earnt $25,000 more per annum than the least happy!
But don’t take my word for it… give it a go and see for yourself.
Click the picture below to reveal a list of 50 random acts of kindness to get you started. I look forward to hearing your results.
In the world of coaching, we spend quite a bit of time discussing PRICE as it has a fundamental impact on profitability.
We are used to seeing ‘2 for 1’ offers, in fact Harvey Norman promises us MASSIVE DISCOUNTS almost daily. How do the words on this sign make you feel? What was the shop owner thinking when they wrote them? I, for one, am impressed, and I’m guessing these drinks are pretty good.
Let’s have a look at pricing theory.
“A very old puzzle in economics is the relation between price, value to the consumer, and cost of production. It is tempting to say that the price of a good is determined by its value to the user. Why, after all, would anyone buy a good for more or sell it for less? But if this is so, why are diamonds, which are relatively unimportant (most of us could get along quite well if they did not exist), worth so much more per pound than water, which is essential for life?
The answer is that price equals both cost of production and value to the user, both of which must therefore be equal to each other.” Price Theory: An Intermediate Text by David D. Fridman.
Our clients often wonder how to price their goods or services. I recommend consideration be given to several factors.
Cost of production. Calculate both the direct and indirect costs of production. Direct costs would be the materials or time directly associated with production – if prcing a steak meal in a restaurant, calculate the cost of the steak and accompaniments and the labour required to produce the meal. Indirect costs would include an appropriate contribution towards gas, electricity, rates, insurances and the myriad of other overhead expenses. Once these costs are known, add a profit margin to give you a selling price.
Competitor’s pricing. Go out to the market and see what your competitors are asking for a similar product or service. Take note of where you sit within the range – is your product at the higher end of the quality scale? If so, that’s where your price should also sit.
Preceived value. Think back to the diamonds. The price of a diamond is almost exclusively based on percieved value. What is your product or service worth to your customer? If your product is unique and has little or no competition, your asking price will be very much based on ‘what the market will bear’, in other words, how much a customer is willing to pay. Obviously, for your business model to be sustainable, your product must deliver or its value will quickly erode.
Test and measure. You will see these words a lot in business. The art of business lies in creativity. The science of business lies in the evaluation and refinement of your current practices. Fix a price. Test it in the market – you can do this by tracking your sales, obtaining feedback from your clients and surveying the market place. And then adjust your price based on the feedback your receive and test again…
The subject of pricing can be daunting for many business owners but careful and ongoing evaluation of your pricing policy can reap rich rewards.
Differentiate Yourself From The Competition- Get Creative!
"Ideals are like stars: you will not succeed in touching them with your hands, but like the seafaring man on the ocean desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them, you reach your destiny." Carl Schurz (1829 - 1906)
Occasionally, you will encounter a new idea that is so simple, yet so powerful, you will be amazed. And quite often your next reaction will be ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ Take Zumba for example. It is estimated that 7.5 million people in 105 countries around the world are embracing this new, fun-filled form of exercise. There are now more than 3000 Zumba instructors in Australia alone. That’s a lot of wiggling hips and goofy grins!
How about Twitter? Or the 24-hour access gym? Or that nifty little scanner ‘Digiframe’ that scans photos and receipts and saves them as electronic files. My last example (I could go on… ) - a the company that converts blog pages into coffee table books – now that’s a turnaround!
As you search for a way to differentiate yourself from your competiton, original, creative ideas are gold. I learnt recently that our creativiety declines dramatically as we age, if we allow it to. But if you are looking for an edge in business, creativity is essential. Use your creativity to solve your customers’ problems more efficiently, or identify a problem that doesn’t yet have a solution and get creative finding one. Find a new way to deliver your existing product – the square pizza, the Cruizer pie, the ultra-concentrated detergent, the dentist check-up reminder via SMS.
Heres a few current trends you might want to focus on:
Make a great idea even better with personalization. Facebook is a great idea. Now you can pay creative types to ‘pimp’ your Facebook page to stand out from the crowd. Ikea revolutionized home furnishings, but for Canberrans, our closest store is in Sydney. A smart Canberra-based business now provides a delivery and assembly service for Canberra residents. A little further afield, a Dutch company, Mykea, allows you to customize your Ikea products by converting your personal photos into adhesive stickers which you attach to the furniture. Boardshorts were a welcome step forwards in the evolution of men’s swimwear (somebody point this out to Tony Abbott, please!), Shortomatic.com allows you to customize your shorts so you’ll always stand out in the surf.
Go Green. Many of us would like to ‘tread more lightly’ on Mother Earth and use eco-friendly products. If you’re a hairdresser, source enviro-friendly hair products. A new chain of carbon-neutra,l eco-friendly dry cleaners has just landed in Australia. And within the printing industry, those at the cutting edge are using vegetable-based inks and recycled papers. My newest client, Liz from Bali Flags, is developing eco-friendly signage solutions.
Love the Boomers. We hear daily about the aging population - the number of Australians aged between 65 and 84 will double in the next 40 years. Will you react with new products and services for this wealthy, mobile, discerning market? If you are a personal trainer or gym owner, tailor a program that focusses on maintaining flexability, builds bone density and adds a social context and fill those ‘middle of the day’ gaps. Home and garden and maintenace providers – look at how you can better serve the needs of this growing market.
Other ‘tribes’ with growing influence – women, the time-poor, social media junkies, pet owners…
Get creative, may the next big idea be one of yours!
Many of us are familiar with the process of an annual performance appraisal. I was taught to follow this format:
• Look back
• Review the good and bad
• Look forwards
• Set goals, focus on areas for improvement
Sounds like a plan!
Perhaps there is another way? Consider this approach:
• Look back
• Identify what you are good at and and enjoy doing
• Look forwards
• Plan to do less of the stuff you don’t enjoy, or are not good at, and more of the stuff you are good at
Let’s face it, its easier to spend time doing what you’re good at. It adds more value, causes less grief. Hopefully there’s someone else in the organisation who loves doing the stuff you don’t. If not, go external.
We’re all good at something. Are you aware what your strengths are? Here are some clues to help you identify your strengths. You know your good at something when:
• Time flies by when you are engaged in this activity – you’re in ‘the flow’
• What seems difficult to others is effortless for you
• Others seek you out to assist them with this activity
• Your hobbies and outside interests include this activity – for example you are a member of Rostrum because you love communicating with others or your personal blog page looks amazing because you love design
• Some of your greatest triumphs have been built around this strength – the great deal you negotiated, the project you managed
Any bells ringing yet? You may not be able to identify your strengths right now, but it is imperative for your future success and achievement that you begin the process of discovering ‘your gift’.
Do you spend the majority of your day in that activity? Many of us may be aware of our strengths, but are in a role where we are not able to fully exploit them. Change this. Actively seek out positions that allow you to use your strengths on a daily basis. This may take time, and involve some risk, but the benefits are huge.
As the body of human knowledge expands exponentially, it is no longer possible to be a successful ‘generalist’. No single scientist can grasp all the key concepts of such a broad field. In the field of medicine, specialists are becoming more and more focussed as their areas of expertise become more complex. The point is, specialists are in demand. And it is highly unlikely that you will develop expertise in a given field if you are not passionate about it. On the other hand, if you build your career around your area of expertise, you are leveraging your strengths to offer something truly special, and valuable.
Often business owners start a business to allow them to indulge in their passion. The keen fisherman opens a Tackle Shop, the amateur photographer turns professional. Along the way, the business of business can overwhelm them and the passion may be lost, or pushed to the background. Businesses succeed when they are built and operated with passion and when their owners are specialists in their field. Are you the best at what you do?
One of my clients, Sharon, owns a hair salon. She employs a team of 6 ladies, the youngest is just 16. I’m sure you can imagine, she has her hands full keeping the team focussed and working together. It’s not because they’re not good at their jobs, it’s a challenge business owners face every day – it’s just human nature. The juniors feel threatened, the seniors feel they are not being listened to… and why can’t we read our text messages at work?
We thought a workshop on Organisational Culture might be a good way of addressing a range of issues effectively. Here’s an outline of what we’re going to cover.
Definition of Organisational Culture
• Very simply, the way we do things around here. The shared values and beliefs of the team.
Why Are We Here
• Our organisational culture impacts on how we deliver our brand and our customer service. And these impact our sales. Get it right, we grow. Get it wrong, we close!
Where Do We Start
• We start by agreeing the Vision and Mission of the organisation. These are largely dictated by the business owner as the business should be a reflection of the owner’s dreams and aspirations. We are planning to invite the team to make a contribution to the Vision and Mission statements, as both should include a team member’s perspective. But at the end of the day, the owner has the last word. “It’s my bus, if you want to come for the ride, you do it my way”.
We’ve been doing a lot of work refining the Vision and Mission of the hair salon and we think we’ve got it just about right. Briefly, Sharon has many years of experience and, after seeing ‘how not to do it’ she is keen to get it right. She loves the skill and artistry of long hair styling and works very hard to keep up with contemporary styles and techniques. She and her team regularly receive training from some of Australia’s top stylists and Sharon provides paid skills training to her team every Wednesday. (In case you haven’t realized it by now, she is serious about ‘getting it right’!).
Code of Conduct
• We then move on to discussing the specifics of a ‘code of conduct’. How are we going to treat each other at work? Rather than produce a huge list of rules – do’s and don’ts, we will be focussing on shared values. For example – ‘respect’. Sharon is keen for the juniors to give their more experienced colleagues the respect they deserve, but of course, it goes both ways. We should all treat each other the way we would like to be treated. We will look at these values from the perspective of ‘The Team’ and ‘The Business’. What does each team member expect? At least a ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. What does the business need to deliver to it’s customers – the phone to be answered promptly and courteously by the person closest, even if that person is a junior who may not know all the answers.
Some other values we hope to share – a customer focus, professionalism, recognizing achievement, shared contribution… we’ll see what else comes up.
Who Is The Enemy?
• In any hierachy there is bound to be some competition. We are hoping to turn that competitive focus outwards. Instead of competing against their colleagues, Sharon is hoping we can direct these competitive energies into outrunning her competitors. And winning doesn’t mean crushing them into the ground, it means rising so far above them that they are no longer in the same race.
I’m looking forward to it. The team are a great bunch and I’m sure, after the workshop, they’ll realise that work is a fun place to be when everyone agrees to work together.
The concept sounds attractive, but can it be done? ‘Work Less, Achieve More’ is actually the title of a book by Fergus O’Connell, an Irishman famous for his project management skills. (No, this is not a joke!). In his book, Fergus uses simple language to outline how applying a few ‘guiding principles’ of time management can actually allow you to achieve more by doing less work. He applies the principles to managing your job, improving the efficiency of your organisation, and, without getting too deep, your life.
Here are the basic principles:
• Work efficiently. Fergus acknowledges the work of David Allen and his Getting Things Done approach as a great starting point. Fergus, and many others, have a great respect for David’s approach to ‘efficient time management’.
• He takes this one step further. He notes that for the vast majority of us, no matter how efficient and organised we are, we will not be able to get through all the work that we believe we need to do. His answer - don’t do some stuff. He calls this ‘extreme time management’! Here’s his ‘filter system’ for doing less – say ‘no’ nicely, but often; prioritise viciously and use a little planning to avoid a lot of ‘firefighting’.
The key to making this system work is knowing what your priorities are. If you have a clear idea of what is important to you, you will know where to focus your time. Things like your health, your family and your livelihood will take priority. Now drill a bit deeper. What are the key elements that drive success in your job? Keeping your existing clients happy is probably high on the list. Finding new clients is probably also important for many. What are the fundamentals of success in your role?
Do you know what is on your ‘Big List’ right now? Take a moment and write it down. If you don’t know, it’s probably a good time to do some deep thinking.
How many things on your current ‘to do’ list are crucial to achieving these things, how many are ‘sort of’? Cross the ‘sort of’ jobs off right now. Do the ‘vital few’, turn off the lights, go home and take the dog for a walk.
One of the ‘vital few’ things you should do each day is plan for the following day. Make sure that whatever is on the top of your list is the #1 priority for the next day. Fergus gives this tip for determining your top priorities. “I have to get this done today. Planets will collide, stars will fall from the sky, bosses/wives/my business coach will be grumpy, share prices will nosedive if this thing isn’t done”.
With this insight for you to ponder, I will finish this week’s blog post with a promise to share more next week. Now, what’s next on my list? Richard Everson
Small Fish Business Coach Murrumbateman www.smallfish.com.au
A Focus On Leadership
We are blessed to have children who love to read. They each devour a pile of books in a week, which means frequent trips to the local library. My wife often grabs something she thinks I might enjoy, or something she thinks I might find ‘interesting’. Her latest offering was ‘The Leader’s Way’ by His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Laurens Van Den Muyzenberg. I loved it! It is a positive, practical guide to leadership based on the fundamentals of Buddhism.
What are the fundamentals of Buddhism? Put very, very simply – Taking the Right View and Doing the Right Thing. Think positively. Act in a way that has the most positive impact – not just for you, but your team, clients, customers, community. Be mindful of the impact your decisions will have. Companies demonstrate these qualities when they discuss ‘triple bottom line’ accounting - that is looking beyond raw profit to consider the ‘greater good’. It has been proven that businesses who have vision and mission statements that go beyond profit to embrace positive values are more likely to succeed – they attract better management and staff and their reputation as good ‘corporate citizens’ make them attactive to government agencies and customers alike.
Leaders who embrace this management philosophy report the following benefits:
• Increased ability to deal with a crisis. The Buddhist way of dealing with a crisis is to remain calm and meditate.
• Better decision making. Working with a clear set of values makes decision making less subjective and more consistent.
• Better relations with their staff/team. Seeing an issue from all angles allows a leader to relate better.
• Fewer meetings and better execution of decisions. Giving total focus to the matter at hand makes for clearer communication.
• More creativity. Focussing on the solution that best serves the customer, rather than the ego of the leader, leads to more creative results.
• High levels of enthusiasm for their job. An awareness of serving the greater good and positive achievement gererates enthusiasm.
Whilst the team at Small Fish don’t claim to have extensive Buddhist training, we do share similar values and a positive outlook on life. If you would like a fresh perspective on leadership, give us a call.
Robert Kiyosaki, author of Rich Dad Poor Dad (the most popular book on personal finance ever written) often describes the life of an entrepreneur, or business owner, as a choice of freedom over security. He makes the point quite well when he reminds us that the term ‘maximum security’ refers to prison. Being in ‘maximum security’ is definitely not being free!
My wife and I have been self-employed since 2003. We love it. We love being able to attend the children’s school assemblies, to head off to the gym at 10 AM when it’s quiet, to go for a run in the middle of the day. The kids think it’s great that we can be at home when they are sick or on holidays. Heck, I’ve only worn a tie about 10 times since my last ‘proper job’ and no boss is going to tell me to get a haircut! These are just a few of the privileges of small business ownership.
Why isn’t everyone doing the same thing? Well, there is always a catch. Business ownership is risky, the stakes are high, many will fail. To enjoy the many privileges of business ownership, there are also many sacrifices to make. Long days, late nights, the responsibility of paying not just yourself, but your team. The endless procession of costs, some anticipated, many not – machinery breakdowns, industry memberships, insurance.
Business ownership is never easy, but a strong vision of what your business can deliver to you and a well-considered plan how to get there dramatically increase your chances of success. And the look on your children’s faces as they notice you standing in the back of the assembly hall with a handful of other lucky parents is worth it.