Tag Archive | "business"

These 5 Mistakes Make Meetings a Huge Time Waste


Meetings can be some of the most rewarding, collaborative parts of your workday, reports Entrepreneur. They can also be some of the biggest wastes of time. As an entrepreneur, you’ll be deciding when to have meetings (and you’ll be directing them), so it’s on you to make sure each meeting is as smooth and productive as possible. Considering that one bad meeting could waste dozens of hours in cumulative time, you might be tempted to throw meetings out altogether, but don’t forget that meetings can be valuable opportunities to learn, brainstorm, solve problems, and reconnect as a group.

The key is to avoid these five major meeting mistakes, which prevent a meeting from achieving its potential as a collaborative unifier:

1. Neglecting the agenda.

The agenda is the most important part of the meeting, as it states the purpose of the meeting and dictates a general direction for its course. The meeting may head in some new directions based on the contributions of its participants, but the agenda provides an underlined goal for the entire event.

For example, if your meeting is to decide on a new logo for your brand, the agenda would exist to make sure the meeting stays more or less on topic and fixed on completing that goal. It also helps other members of the group arrive prepared and ready to participate. Going into a mystery meeting means fewer people will arrive with meaningful insights or contributions.

2. Inviting the wrong people.

Some bosses have a habit of inviting everyone they can think of to a meeting. This is enabled by technology; on most email clients, you can easily scroll down your list of contacts and invite new contacts with just a click. Before you know it, you have 15 people attending a meeting that could have done fine with just eight. It may not seem like a big deal to you, since it doesn’t take much time, but each person you add multiplies the total amount of time your meeting occupies. If you invite someone who doesn’t need to be present, you’ll add zero value to the meeting but increase its cost to the company. Instead, only invite parties who can positively add to the conversation.

3. Tolerating tangents.

As I mentioned before, it’s okay to veer slightly off course if it’s in the interest of achieving your meeting goal, but going on tangents is a bad idea. For example, when discussing the new company logo, one participant might mention a possible new marketing strategy, which can launch into a separate conversation that only a fraction of the attendees can participate in. This wastes time for the other participants, delays the achievement of the original meeting goal, and derails the original conversation. Whenever this happens, acknowledge it, earmark the topic as one that requires future exploration, and return to the agenda at hand. It’s your job as the meeting organizer to keep things on track.

4. Allowing lopsided participation.

Participation in meetings, assuming every participant is meant to be there, should be relatively equal. If a participant doesn’t bring anything to the meeting, his/her participation is a waste. Anything he/she learned from the experience could have been sent in a more digestible form. If a participant takes over the meeting by talking constantly, similarly his/her contributions could have been reduced to a more digestible form.

Conversation and balanced exchanges are at the heart of a productive meeting. To maintain this balance, serve as a moderator; choose the right people to include from the get-go, then make adjustments during the meeting to ensure everyone participates equally, such as calling people out when they contribute too much or not enough.

5. Failing to summarize action items post-meeting.

A successful meeting concludes with some meaningful new discovery, new action items or a final decision made. These findings should be effectively and concisely summarized at the end of the meeting, and sent to everyone who didn’t participate but is affected by the decision.

Summarizing action items is important. If you can, create a detailed, name-based list that recaps exactly who is responsible for what as a result of the meeting. This keeps everyone on track and prevents any miscommunication that could have occurred.

Avoid these five big mistakes and your meeting will be in good shape. As you have more meetings, pay careful attention to who participates, what conditions lead to more participation, and generally how much value you get out of each meeting compared to the cumulative time you’ve invested in them. Stay as concise and limited as possible, improve your selection and organization process with each iteration, and before long, you’ll have a perfect meeting rhythm to use in your business moving forward.

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Women In The Workplace: Three Questions To Ask Your Leaders


As a mother of a professional working daughter, the under-representation of women at every level of the workforce concerns me, reports Forbes.  Women are 33% more likely to gain a college degree than men, and make up 47.5% of the country’s labor force, yet the gender gap remains.

In 1972 Katherine Graham of the Washington Post Company became the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 firm. Today 4.8% of Fortune 500 companies are led by female CEOs, while the percentage of women executive officers has remained flat at around 14% since 2010.

New research entitled “Women in the Workplace,” conducted by LeanIn.org and McKinsey, surveyed 30,000 men and women at 118 North American companies, and paints a disturbing picture of how much work needs to be done to reach gender equality in the C-Suite. In fact, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and Co-Founder of LeanIn.org says it will take more than 100 years to reach the progress my daughter and I are looking for in the workforce.

Challenges In Reaching Gender Equality In C-Suite

The barriers to progress are well documented in the Women in the Workplace report. While 74% of companies reported that their CEOs are committed to gender diversity, less than half of employees believed that to be true. Meanwhile, companies which have flexible programs for men and women find they are underused. More than 90% of men and women feel that taking the family leave they are entitled to will harm their careers.

This is particularly troubling as in just under 10 years Millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce and Millennial women are seeking out employers with a strong record on equality and diversity. According to recent PwC survey of 40,000 Millennial respondents across 18 countries, entitled Next Generation Diversity: Developing Tomorrow’s Female Leaders, 82% of female Millennials identified an employers’ policy on diversity, inclusion, and gender equality as an important factor when deciding whether or not to work for an organization. Employers must do more than “talk the talk,” on gender equality. Instead, they must put into place a mix of inclusive talent and advancement strategies, which demonstrate results. The business case is simple: every company is waging a war for the best talent to meet the ever-accelerating rate of change. Why would any CEO want to cut out 50% of their options?

Three Key Questions to Ask Your Leaders

Let’s assume you are in a meeting and want to dig deeper on how your organization is progressing on gender equality. Here are three questions to ask your senior executives:

1) Where and in What Roles Are Women in Our Talent Pipeline?

The easy first question is: how many women hold senior executive positions in the organization?

The tougher question is: how and where are women moving through the talent pipeline, from entry level to high potential, and what targets if any are being set by the organization?

Marc Benioff, Co-Founder of Salesforce, recently created the Women’s Surge and set a target: achieve 100% equality for men and women in pay and promotion and make sure that at least one third of all participants at any Salesforce meeting are women. As a first step, Benioff asked his senior team to identify their top female executives who would then receive additional leadership training.

Once the pipeline is visible then the next question needs to be asked: what percentage of women is occupying line and staff roles?

In the USA, about two thirds of women in Fortune 500 companies start in line positions (positions with profit and loss responsibility) but with time these numbers are reversed with two-thirds of C-Suite women in staff positions. Women in the Workplace research notes that more than half of women at the VP level hold staff roles.Men, on the other hand, are more likely to hold line roles at every level of the organization. This difference poses a potential problem because line roles frequently feed into senior leadership.

2) How Is Our Organization Dealing With Unconscious Bias?

One of the biggest barriers to making progress in gender equality rests in the minds of men and women, and it is known as unconscious bias. Catalyst, a non-profit organization promoting inclusive workplaces for women, defines unconscious bias as an implicit association or attitude about race or gender that operates out of our control, informs our perception about a person or group of people, and can influence our decision making and behavior toward a person or group of people. Companies deal with unconscious bias in various ways from formal training on the topic to recognizing it exists and setting goals to change it. The latter is much more effective as we how difficult it is to move from awareness to changing behavior

One company that stands out for their commitment to closing the gender gap is Kimberly Clark, who since 2009 has seen a 90% increase in the number of women holding director-level and above leadership positions, and received an award from Catalyst in 2014 for making developing diverse talent one of the metrics by which it judges its leaders across the globe. It even ties bonus money to it. “To be an exceptional leader at Kimberly-Clark Corp, you have to develop talent that looks, thinks and behaves like the people who use our products,” says Sue Dodsworth, Chief Diversity Officer for Kimberly-Clark Corp.

Recently the company put into place a Rule of Two: for appointments at the VP level and above, leaders must bring three candidates for consideration and no more than two of them should have a similar demographics profile.

3) Now What: What Policies Can We Put into Place to Move Our Organization Toward Gender Equality?

While acknowledging unconscious bias is a first step toward understanding how stubborn the barriers are to making change, companies also need to put into place a range of new policies to effect change. Anne-Marie Slaughter, in her recent NYT article entitled A Toxic Work World, proposes a number of policy changes companies need to consider to compete in the global war for talent, and they include:

  • High quality and affordable childcare and elder care;
  • Paid maternity and paternity leave;
  • A right to request part-time work;
  • Comprehensive job protection for pregnant workers;
  • Higher wages and training for paid care givers;
  • Reforms at elementary and secondary school schedules to meet the needs of our digital workplaces.

To this impressive list, I will add one more: not just paid paternity leave, but mandatory paid paternity leave. Sounds far fetched? Some countries are already doing this: Sweden offers a generous family leave policy of 16 months of paid time off to care for newborns, and this is split between both parents. A new law will go into effect in January 2016 requiring fathers to take a mandatory three months of paid paternity leave, encouraging fathers to take part in bonding with their child. This also is a major step in reducing the perception that childcare is a women’s issue.

Are you a working Mom or Dad? What policies would you like to see your company offer you? How can women be more equally represented in the C-Suite and in executive leadership positions in your company?

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10 Realizations Every Entrepreneur Eventually Has


While some people pursue entrepreneurship for the promise of wealth or leadership, others are more interested in the journey of creating and nurturing something. Either way, certain realizations about life, management and business come with the territory, reports Entrepreneur.

After a few years of entrepreneurship, regardless of whether you become rich or successful, you’ll walk away with a “wealth” of experience and knowledge that you can use in future enterprises, new jobs or just life in general.

These 10 realizations are ones that every entrepreneur has at one point or another:

1. Making a decision is always better than avoiding one.

When a decision has potentially harmful consequences, it’s easy to get intimidated, and possibly paralyzed by the choice. Experienced entrepreneurs eventually realize that in these cases, a decision — even a wrong one — is better than no decision at all, as action is always better than inaction.

2. The fear of risk is overblown.

Incorporating perceived risk into your decision-making is vital, as it helps you understand the possibilities for each potential choice. However, “risk” in general is not something to fear, and after making enough risky decisions, every entrepreneur learns this. Risk is just a complication for an opportunity, and even if things go wrong, there’s almost always a chance to make up for it.

3. You can’t control everything.

As the entrepreneur, you’re the chief decision-maker, and you’ll be far more in control than you were in your previous job. However, that control is partly an illusion; you can control only so much in your business. The rest is the product of random chance or factors beyond your control. How you react to those unforeseen developments will dictate your eventual success.

4. Work is life, and life is work.

The line between “work” and life” becomes blurred when you’re an entrepreneur, and “work-life balance” becomes difficult, if not impossible. Your business will become an integral part of your life, and work will start seeping into areas you never thought it could. The thing is, you won’t mind, because work won’t feel like work anymore. It becomes a part of you.

5. Data gets you only so far.

When you first start out, you may insist on making your decisions as logically as possible, using data to back all of your choices. This is a good thing, generally, but data can take you only so far. You’ll have to use emotional reasoning and rely on your instincts a little — a realization entrepreneurs often have after their first year or two.

6. You aren’t the best at everything.

You may be in charge of the whole operation, but that doesn’t mean you know everything about all of your individual departments. It’s best to hire people who are better than you; for example, you should hire an experienced financial advisor to head up your accounting department. Find those people who are the best at the skills you lack. Surround yourself with them.

7. Ideas rarely turn out the way they were conceived.

Ideas are what drive businesses forward, but great ideas alone aren’t everything. Just because you cook something up in your head doesn’t mean it will turn out the way you imagined. Ideas are fragile, and unforeseen variables can prevent you from implementing them. The best entrepreneurs realize this, and work around those obstacles.

8. Motivation is everything.

This realization applies to the founder as much as to members of the team. If you’re motivated to solve a problem, there’s nothing that can stop you; if your team is motivated to solve a problem, they’ll solve it. The key is to find that motivation, and take action when initial solutions don’t work..

9. Mistakes generally aren’t a big deal.

When you start out as an entrepreneur, you may be intimidated at the notion of making a mistake — after all, even a small one has the potential to disrupt or compromise your business, right? However, most entrepreneurs eventually realize that mistakes aren’t generally that big of a deal. Instead, they’re learning opportunities that entail brief, conquerable setbacks.

10. There are almost always more chances.

No matter how many times you make a bad decision, screw up or let things go to hell, you’ll almost always have more chances as an entrepreneur. You can take new paths and drum up new opportunities, and if things get really bad, you can start a new enterprise.

It’s one thing to read these realizations on a screen, and another to learn them firsthand. You can walk away from this article with a bit more knowledge and insight to the entrepreneurial journey, but if you really want to benefit from them, you’ll have to experience them for yourself.

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7 Habit Changes That Will Rock Your Business in Unexpected Ways


When was the last time you changed anything that you did in your day or anything in your company, especially something that isn’t working well?

Change isn’t a one-time thing. But small changes done regularly in business can have a huge impact, reports Small Business Trends.

Did you know that Toyota became a huge multinational corporation in part due to its unique and innovative process improvement system — a system based on continuous change? Yes, the huge corporation was itself once a scrappy small business. In the 1940s, it developed something called the “Toyota Production System.”

In the Toyota Production System, small, continuous improvements drive high quality of work and competitiveness. Today, Toyota shares this process with other organizations. The goal is to help them make great things happen.

Toyota partnered with filmmakers to create a series of mini-documentary films called The Toyota Effect to document some of these impactful projects. I was able to draw a number of lessons from the films about habit changes, and have outlined seven below.

Then, see if you can come up with any other lessons like these seven:

Get an Early Start to the Day

Starting work early gives you time to orient yourself to the day’s requirements. It gives you time to think before the demands of customers and employees monopolize your attention. This way you can focus on your goals. Leadership also sets an example for everyone in the company. It’s hard to demand that employees get an early start if the boss rolls in at 9:30 or 10:00 every day.

Fix Something Little — Every Day or Every Week

Most companies have processes that could stand some improvement. That’s particularly true for growing companies. A process that worked when the company was smaller and had fewer customers may begin to break down as volume increases.

St. Bernard Project, a non-profit engaged in rebuilding New Orleans flood-damaged homes, realized with help from Toyota that becoming more efficient needn’t be a huge initiative. It can be as simple as fixing little things. While they may seem small, collectively those little fixes help overall performance significantly.

Set and Review Goals Daily or Weekly

Without goals, it’s all too easy to drift along and never change anything. Establish a few goals for your personal productivity, and then establish a few goals for your departments and managers. Start with simple goals. Your personal productivity goal could be “Get to work by 7:30 am each day.” Or a goal for a department might be: “Cut one day out of the shipping cycle.” To stay on track, review goals regularly — at least weekly.

Establish Teams to Solve Problems

As the owner of the business, you don’t have to do everything. In fact, you can’t do everything. Get in the habit of establishing teams to come up with ideas. Make continuous improvement everyone’s job.
For example, at ACE Metal Crafts, the team set out to fix the problems in the shipping department (which one employee called “a shambles”). They didn’t implement a complex high-tech solution. Instead, by applying principles of the Toyota Production System, the team came up with a simple yet innovative solution: taping off a section of the shipping floor the size of a truck. Team members could stack parts in it throughout the day. That way, every employee could see exactly when they had a full truck load of parts.

Find Fun Solutions

Encourage team members to get in the habit of finding fun solutions. Fun solutions get employees and teams engaged — that’s the real power of fun.

Reassure People It’s About Fixing the Process, Not Fixing Them

When you bring up change, some employees will have fear — fear that their jobs may go away. Or they fear that process improvement is really a ploy to identify poor-performing employees.
But as Jean Pitzo, CEO of ACE Metal Crafts, discovered with help from Toyota, process improvement can actually help employees perform better and feel good about their jobs. Emphasize that it’s about fixing the process — and that by doing so you are respecting them as employees and helping them.

Celebrate the Wins

Celebrate “wins.” It’s so motivating when people see that the things they do make all the difference.

Publicly congratulate someone for accomplishing a new milestone. Throw a party when a major efficiency breakthrough happens. Put up a whiteboard to show progress toward goals. Or follow a time honored technique, and get a large glass jar and place a marble in it each time something good happens. Before you know it, the jar will fill up and become a visual reminder of your team’s accomplishments.

Remember, small things done regularly can make a huge difference in efficiency and productivity.

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Let’s Pop the Bubble on Startups, Ideas, and Investments


Maybe it’s because business schools teach it that way. Maybe it’s because it’s easier to write about. Maybe it’s because of the dream and the glamor involved. Whatever the reason, there is widespread misunderstanding about the reality of business ideas, startups, and investors, reports the Small Business Administration.

This misunderstanding results in a stream of questions on social media, blogs, and entrepreneurship sites. They come with different wording around these core concepts:

I have a great new business idea, but no money. Where do I find investors?

I want to start a business but I have no money and no contacts. Where do I get investors?

I have a great idea for an existing company. I don’t have the resources. How do I sell it to them?

I have a great business idea but I don’t have experience or resources to execute. How do I sell my idea?

Let’s look at reality in this area.  Consider this a reality check.

1. Very few startups get outside investors. 

Only two or three of every 100 real startups get outside investment from angel investors, and about one per 1,000 get venture capital in the beginning. That’s a hard number to track down because statistics vary and they depend on definitions. The SBA reports about half a million startups with employees per year, but there are about five times more businesses without employees than those with, so I figure anywhere from half a million to two million startups per year in the U.S. alone. The Angel Capital Association says there are only about 75,000 angel investments and 5,000 venture capital investments per year, and many of those are duplications, second and third rounds, or new investments in already-existing companies.

Those numbers make sense to me. After all, outside investment is a special case in startups, related to the best of the best, normally only startups with a lot of potential growth, experienced teams, and product-market fit. Investors need companies that aren’t just likely to succeed, but likely to succeed and sell out within five years or so.

What doesn’t make sense is how many people think the natural, normal process of starting a business involved getting somebody else’s money. That’s the exception. The rule is elbow grease and shoe leather, struggling to get the first customers, focusing on a subset of the larger vision, starting with what you have, not what would be ideal. This is the realm of the normal, in which entrepreneurs turn to friends and family for help, they borrow from house equity, and they work their startup in their spare time. And sometimes, when they have a business plan and some minimal startup resources, they go to their local banks and get an SBA-guaranteed loan through the bank.

For those who complain that they can’t get startup investment, as if that were a natural right, I say welcome to entrepreneurship. Nobody is entitled to startup investment. Build a startup that’s a good investment, and you’ll get investment. Do the work.

2. Nobody invests in business ideas.

No offense, but your idea, no matter how good, has no value. What gives it value is the work involved in getting started. You develop the idea, gather a team, do a product prototype or minimum viable product, and prove the concept with actual users, subscribers, customers, distributors, or whatever consists of traction in that business.

You don’t even own that idea. If it’s an invention, you have to design and describe and win a patent to own it. And patents don’t always protect against imitations. You can own a creative work with copyright, which covers books, software, pictures, and art. You can own commercial words, images, sounds, and such with trademark. But you don’t own a business idea.

Companies don’t buy ideas. They don’t even listen to idea-holders wanting to pitch ideas.

3. You have to do the work. 

A business idea doesn’t make you an entrepreneur. It doesn’t entitle you to investment. It puts you in the same boat as the rest of us, facing the journey of execution that turns an idea into a business of value. You aren’t entitled to financing; your business has to earn that with milestones met and progress made.

Does that sound daunting? Here’s the good news: If you’re there, at the start of the journey, you’re in good company. Millions of entrepreneurs have done that already, the vast majority of them without somebody else’s money to help. Solve a problem, give value, make the world better for your potential customers, and you can do it. Do the work.

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7 Tedious Office Tasks You Can and Should Automate


Why work harder when you can work smarter instead?

Several office tasks are perfect candidates to automate — without sacrificing the well being of your business, reports the Small Business Administration.

In fact, some of these tasks not only save time, but also can actually be done better through automation. Automation makes it less likely that (a) you’ll forget; (b) tasks will fall through the cracks if an employee leaves; (c) mistakes will occur through repetitive entry of information.

Here are seven tasks that you can and probably should consider automating to get things done faster and more reliably:

1. Paying Bills

Instead of spending your limited time paying bills each month, use a service like Bill.com to manage all of your payments.

The service works with any bank and even integrates with Xero and Quickbooks. You won’t have to go cut checks or manually enter them into your accounting system.  You can manage all of those payments online in one place. Bill.com claims that it can cut users’ bill-paying time in half.

Or, just check directly with your bank.  Many now offer bill payment services, sometimes at no extra charge.

2. Delegating Customer Support Issues

Handling customer communications via email can become a nightmare as your business and the volume grows. Instead of letting one employee’s inbox get buried in messages, while other members of your team are in the dark, employ a ticketing system or online help desk like Groove or FreshDesk.

Help desk solutions provide a central place to access customer issues and communicate.  Set up a contact form on your website, and route communications by type to central inboxes, where assigned individuals on your team can answer them.  These solutions also help you create a knowledgebase of commonly asked questions. This becomes a self-serve portal for customers, eliminating the need to answer many questions individually.

3. Managing Marketing Communications

Those who successfully use marketing automation report that it’s like having another employee or two in your business.  Marketing automation software like Infusionsoft and Hubspot gives you a way to automate large chunks of your online marketing, by establishing a series of steps for generating leads on your website, and then designating follow-up activities. For instance, you can send a series of follow-up emails to people who have visited your site and filled out a lead form for one of your free downloads.

4. Filling Out Online Forms

This is a personal productivity enhancer. Inputting your name, company, address, and contact information time after time in online forms can be tiresome. A software program like Roboform stores your data so you don’t have to manually enter it each time you come across one of those pesky online forms.  Or simply use the similar functionality built into browsers such as the Chrome.

5. Backing Up Data

Despite our good intentions, too many of us forget or put off this important activity until it’s too late.  And it’s not just us — what about our employees?

Today there are so many inexpensive tools on the market that automatically back up data at scheduled intervals (example: Carbonite), that there’s no excuse for data loss.  Or if your company’s data is mainly in the form of documents, pictures and similar files, use one of the central cloud storage platforms, such as Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, or Apple iCloud, to store everything in the cloud.

6. Scheduling Meetings

When scheduling meetings with many people, finding a time good for everyone’s schedules can be a daunting task. Instead of going back and forth in a long email chain, set up a scheduling app like ScheduleOnce to simplify the process.

ScheduleOnce allows users to connect their existing calendars from sources like Google or Outlook. So when you need to schedule a meeting or appointment, you can invite others to view available dates and choose an open time that works for them.

7. Managing Your Inbox

Email can be one of the most time consuming tasks on an office worker’s daily to-do list. When it comes to sorting emails, you can set up labeled folders for different types of emails, like newsletters and communications with clients. You can even enable Smart Labels within Gmail, so that the platform will automatically sort some of your emails, like promotions and social notifications, into separate folders.

When it comes to responding to emails, there are likely some responses that are going to be the same or at least similar. Set up canned responses in Gmail or email templates in Outlook instead of re-typing those messages over and over again.

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