Archive for the 'Organizational strategies' Category

Beware of the personal red herring

English foxhunters once dragged a red herring in front of their hounds to distract them from the scent of the little furry guy. In time, this practice produced the metaphorical “red herring,” which is an attempt to win an argument by diverting attention from the real issue.

Introducing a red herring in a negotiation can be a handy defensive tactic. But sometimes we use personal red herrings, which is essentially when we lie to ourselves. It’s one thing to use red herrings as a communication tactic, but when we use them on ourselves, it’s unproductive at best and destructive at worst.

Shakespeare addressed this issue in perhaps his most famous play: Act I, Scene III, of Hamlet, Polonius said to his son, Laertes: “This above all: to thine own self be true.”

If you can’t be true to yourself, you can’t be true to your dream. And a false dream is an entrepreneurial atomic meltdown waiting to happen.

Perhaps the most difficult challenge is knowing when to continue to keep believing and when to move on. And the dilemma on these horns could range from a small piece of your plan all the way to the actual validity of your vision and viability of your business model.

One of my mentors taught me how to face a “go—no go” decision by asking this question: “Do you have a fighting chance or just a chance to fight?” The key to success in business, and indeed in life, may be as simple as divining the answer to that question.

One way to tell if you’re dragging a stinking fish across the trail of your own dream is by doing something another mentor taught me: checking your position.Here are three examples:

1. Have you conducted enough due diligence to find out if your plan has a chance of success? Just telling yourself things will work out is a red herring.

2. Is your activity resulting in ANY success? If nothing is working, convincing yourself that you just need to work harder may be masking reality.

3. Are your assumptions performing? If you’re only consuming resources without creating opportunity, you must ask yourself: Am I on the wrong trail, or the wrong journey?

When even small successes can be found mixed in with the failures, you may have a vision merely in need of adjustments and worthy of extra effort. But in order to evaluate all of this, small business owners need all the facts they can get their hands on. And they need the truth from all parties — especially from themselves.

Use red herrings for foxhunting and negotiating, not on yourself.

Write this on a rock … This above all: to thine own self be true.

Leading change successfully in your small business

There isn’t much different about change today from any other time in human history. A computer is just a fancy wheel.  But there is one thing about change that is so different that it has been taking our breath away for the past 15 years or so: It’s the velocity of change.

What I mean about velocity of change is that the time between one generation of change and the next one has been compressed.  Where a new strategy, product or plan might have lasted a year or more in past generations, today may be obsolete in 90 days.  Consequently, business leaders can’t just accept change or even manage change; we have to lead change.  Managing change requires acceptance and execution; leading change requires those things plus vision, courage and world-class leadership skills.

How can you lead change in your small business in the second decade of the 21st century? Recently, I talked about this on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, with Rick Maurer, a long time member of my Brain Trust and world-class expert on world-class change leadership. He is the author of several books, including Beyond the Wall of Resistance and Why Don’t You Want What I Want.

Please, take a few minutes to listen to what Rick and I have to say on leading change, and be sure to leave your own thoughts. Listen Live! Download, Too!

Ladies, solve problems, don’t just manage them

Since 1997, I’ve devoted many hours of programing on my radio show that focuses on issues that are at least more dramatic, if not unique, for women small business owners than for men.  I conducted this programming with women who are either experts on the topic of women making their way in the marketplace, or they are women who have overcome these challenges, or both.

Debbie Meyer is both. She’s an inventor, an entrepreneur and she’s a highly successful business owner. Debbie invented the Green Bags, among other innovations that make life easier, and is co-CEO and co-founder of Housewares America, Inc. And she’s a member of my Brain Trust.

Recently, Debbie joined me again on The Small Business Advocate Show and I asked her about my theory that one of the problems women bring on themselves is thinking that it’s enough to manage a problem instead of find a way to solve it and get rid of it. Debbie agreed with me, and we discussed this issue. Take a few minutes to listen to my conversation with Debbie and, as always, leave your own thoughts. Listen Live! Download, Too!

How GM’s bankruptcy could become a cautionary tale for small business

At the beginning of each year I publish my predictions for that year. This was one of my 2006 predictions:

“Prediction: At least one U.S. car manufacturer will file Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It will probably be GM. All three have too much 20th century employee benefits baggage to be viable in the 21st century global marketplace. The other two will follow.”

Turns out my vision was pretty good, if not my timing. After 101 years of operation – for decades the largest automobile manufacturer in the world, and one of America’s great industrial success stories – General Motors succumbed to what I believed was inevitable over three years ago and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Chrysler, also once a venerable industry force, had in recent years taken a circuitous route from a publicly traded company, to being acquired by Daimler Benz, then a private equity firm, and finally, on April 30th of this year, went into Chapter 11. One of the main reasons Ford hasn’t filed for bankruptcy, nor took government assistance funds, as GM and Chrysler did, was because it raised capital from mortgaging many of the properties it owned, which old Henry had paid for decades ago.

It’s important to remember that the so-called Big Three represent the remaining American car companies, not the entire U.S. automobile industry. While the other companies, represented by foreign owned firms that have established factories and successful distribution in the U.S., are not exactly thriving in the current economy, none are in peril of failure.

So what sets the two auto industry groups apart? Primarily two things unique to the Big Three: 1) Bad management; and 2) United Auto Workers Union (UAW).

Bad management can be replaced with good management. Indeed, this has happened with the foreign companies from time to time, and could have happened in Detroit. But the one thing the Big Three couldn’t overcome was the current and residual baggage imposed by generations of unsustainable wage and benefits concessions in the UAW contracts.

At the very moment that two of the Big Three are experiencing the most ignominious circumstances for any company, bankruptcy – fully half of which blame must be laid at the feet of the UAW – there are lawmakers pushing a bill that would increase the ability of unions to organize more easily in smaller and smaller businesses. Without any sense of irony, Congress is bailing out one union-laden industry, while trying to make forming unions easier. It’s a story that would be perfect in a Bizarro World comic book.

The bill in question is called the “Employee Free Choice Act” (EFCA). This is a misleading title, because one of the markers of this bill is to remove the secret ballot provision, long required by labor laws, and replace it with the ability for a union organizer to push a ballot in front of an employee and require them to vote in front of them. There is more bad news for small businesses in this bill, but isn’t imperiling the sanctity of the secret ballot, a hallmark of America, enough to oppose this legislation?

If the Employee Free Choice Act ever becomes law, the following year I will be forced to include this in prediction: “Hundreds of thousands of small businesses will make these three unnatural management decisions in reaction to the EFCA: 1) off-shoring jobs; 2) limiting growth of the business to keep them under the number that EFCA allows; 3) and some will just close up rather than unionize, knowing that to do otherwise would merely prolong the inevitable experience of GM and Chrysler.”

Recently, on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked about the EFCA and the dangers it poses for small business. Take a few minutes to listen, and be sure to leave a comment.

Small business success through life-long learning

In the second century B.C., the Roman statesman, Cato, began learning Greek at the age of 75. When asked why he was undertaking such a challenging educational enterprise at his advanced age, he replied, “This is the youngest age I have.”

No matter what we do, no matter where we go, owner or employee, and now more than ever before, we must continue to study, train and learn. Everyone in your organization. Everyone. Everyday. Life-long learning.

Are you feeling threatened, maybe even frightened these days with all of the economic challenges, plus the changes brought on by the advent of the information age? Me, too. Sometimes it seems we’re like Alice - running as hard as we can just to stay in one place. And in our Wonderland, everything is changing so fast that what we learned today may be obsolete tomorrow.

The irony is that the thing that is creating so much potential for anxiety is also the thing that can help you stay competitive: Technology. Specifically, the unprecedented wealth of information available on the Internet.

When I feel threatened by all of the new knowledge and capability that’s emerging, I just make a point to learn something new everyday, with emphasis on social media and e-commerce, or how my industry is adapting to the virtual marketplace. Anything. And when I acquire that new understanding or capability, I smile like Alice’s Cheshire Cat because learning makes me feel stronger, as if I’ve gained a little ground in the marketplace. Maybe today I put the heat on a competitor. Advantage: Me.

Give it a try. The only thing better than your garden variety smile is one that comes from knowing that you just got a little smarter. And remember the wisdom of the statesman: This is the youngest age you have.

Recently, on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked about this topic with e-learning expert, Anita Rosen, author of “e-Learning 2.0,” and one of our outstanding Brain Trust members. Take a few minutes to listen to what this smart lady had to say. And, of course, be sure to leave a comment.

Small business survival lessons from a cherry

It’s difficult to imagine a more succulent image than a bowl of cherries. Indeed, if you had to choose one flavor that all things had to taste like, wouldn’t you choose the sweet cherry?

And every parent knows that the active ingredient of bad-tasting medicine has more chance of getting inside a child if it’s delivered with the motivating ingredient of cherry flavor.

Even the most earnest plea known, “Pretty please?” can still be raised one more notch on the pleading scale by adding, “…with a cherry on top?”

But there is something about this vermilion varietal that begs a closer look because everything about it is not sublime. Alas, the cherry’s single blemish is its pit - that tiny little seed that you can’t, or at least shouldn’t, eat.

This dense little kernel is so potentially dangerous that some restaurants no longer sell cherry pies because if just one seed is not removed, teeth can get broken and a lawsuit could ensue.

So with that much potential danger to be found in a whole bowl of cherries, if such an offer were made to you, why would you still smile with sweet anticipation? Why wouldn’t you think first of the pits? Aren’t you afraid of them?

Well, the answer is yes; you are wary of cherry pits. But the fruit is so sweet you think of that first, which helps you overcome pit-o-phobia. Plus, you’ve learned that if you take the time to remove the pits properly, a wonderful and safe experience will result.

What would happen if you thought of challenges in your small business like you do cherries: a sweet opportunity to be had if you can first remove the potential danger? Perhaps the Chinese said this first because their word for crisis is spelled with two characters that mean danger and opportunity.

What if you saw the fruit of an opportunity first, instead of the potentially dangerous seed of a problem? How would your world change if you could learn how to do this?

The Blasingame Cherry Principle (BCP) proposes that finding opportunities among small business challenges is like eating cherries: Step one - remove pits; Step two - eat fruit. But how does the BCP reconcile with the worst recession since the Great Depression? Actually, in at least two ways:

1. While there are plenty of ugly things about the economy actually in evidence, one could argue that the really bad stuff is found more between our ears than in front of our noses.

2. Experience teaches that the crucible of tough times often produces the most creative work. Don’t waste this crisis!

No one wants this recession, but we have it. Look past the pits and seize whatever sweet opportunity is possible.

Write this on a rock… When dealing with a crisis, focus on the cherry, not the pit.

Recently I talked about the BCP on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show. Take a few minutes to listen; and, of course, it’s always great if when you leave a comment.

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