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FOCUS StrategyNavigating Your Professional Growth
By John Canavan
Balboa PressCopyright © 2012 John Canavan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneManage Your Time
Time management is something that's easier described than done. How many times have you attempted to budget your time and failed? It takes a lot of focus to keep from going over or under—and either way, you do not achieve what you want. Time management is essential to your ability to progress in a deliberate and organized manner.
If, for example, you're working on a project and do not have a grasp of how to budget your time, you'll find yourself actually wasting it. Time is a perishable commodity—you will never get it back. Not only will that particular project be slowed, but so will your overall progress.
This is not to say that some things don't take time to work on or complete. But having a strategy and focusing on time will make a difference. Think of some of the people you work with who you must constantly revisit or contact for additional information or other things. They are wasting your time because they are not managing theirs.
Chapter TwoBe Decisive
Making decisions sounds easy enough, but it's not always. A situation often comes up in which you're either afraid to make a decision or you think you need to check with your supervisor, directors, board members, and so on—when, in reality, others want you to make the decision. Why? Because it saves them from having to make it and allows them to focus on more pressing issues. Of course, there are matters that require some deliberation. Your judgment is important here. Ultimately, though, there's nothing more impressive than someone taking the initiative to make a decision.
Chapter ThreeRun Meetings Efficiently
Keep meetings to the point and get them over with quickly because no one likes them. Preparation is one of the keys to running meetings. An agenda can help you stay on track, but because variables always present themselves, it's difficult to hold a meeting within a concise timeframe. This shouldn't stop you from trying.
Understanding what you are trying to get out of a meeting and what points you are attempting to make allows you to set the pace. Everyone has his or her own style and management techniques, so creating a consistent and predictable format allows others to be more prepared.
One thing you don't want to do in meetings—especially with six or more attendees—is get bogged down in discussions that pertain to only a few. Discussions headed in that direction should be cut off, and a separate, more focused meeting on that topic should be scheduled.
Chapter FourGet to Know Potential Employees
Hiring is a trip into the great unknown, no matter how much research and background-checking you do. If the potential employee is going to work directly for you, the best thing you can do is converse with the individual. His or her mannerisms will give you the core information you need to make an assessment on a personal level. This doesn't mean you're going to go out clubbing with this person, but you want him or her to have your interests in mind. We are not cyborgs; we are social by nature, and we need to feel comfortable enough to manage, delegate, and work through issues without personality conflicts.
Testing for specific answers within a hiring matrix is good, but it shouldn't be the complete basis for hiring. Some people know how to work the answers, and those are the kind of unnatural and deceptive individuals you really want to stay away from. They may become derailers or outright troublemakers who will lower morale and stifle creativity. The saying "One bad apple spoils the bunch" didn't come out of nowhere. There's a reason for it.
Now, how do you go through the process of hiring? Yes, have your hiring matrix prepared and complete the scoring in the traditional manner. Once you've completed that, though, lighten up the interview. Some people are very nervous in interviews and actually perform much better in a less formal environment. There's nothing wrong with that. Other people perform well under pressure. Either way, it's good to have both tracks available to assess the candidate and bring in the right person.
Initiate a more personal conversation within the context of the business, something to the effect of what the candidate is proud of, what his or her references and people close to him or her would say, and what kind of passion the person has for business or the position. What kind of details are involved in what the candidate is describing? Having the potential employee elaborate will give you insight into how he or she sees things, and hence how that person may perform on the job.
Chapter FiveEncourage Innovation
If you're not innovating, you are falling behind. There's much to say about this topic, but the bottom line is that the ideas must keep flowing, and whether you implement many or few, you must at least be discussing potential innovations. Many companies will simply copy another's innovation. Honestly, there's nothing wrong with that; they save a lot of capital. And that in itself can be a form of innovation—perhaps to enhance the product or service.
In any event, if you don't have the imagination or creativity yourself, find those who do and discuss ideas with them. Imagination, creativity, innovation—these are what keep things moving.
Create a culture of innovation within your company. It's one of the first principles of having a successful business. The leaders of a company, department, project, and so on need to foster a creative environment. Without it, you have the normal, mundane, day-to-day, business-as-usual mentality that simply oppresses and suppresses any kind of motivation to generate ideas and innovate. It's deliberate persistence. It's the difference between Apple and everyone else.
Chapter SixAvoid Micromanagement
One of the worst things you can do is micromanage. It's an ego-driven process and a setup for failure. Type A personalities are good, but they are the best candidates for making this mistake. Okay, you know everything, but you don't know everything. Bring the details to the surface, but don't overanalyze to the point where the bigger picture becomes obscured because you're obsessing over something that someone else should be handling. Micromanaging is an annoyance to others and actually stifles growth by minimizing contrary ideas, which is never a good thing.
CH7[ Look Out for Leaders
There's a saying that being critical of a situation is a sign of intelligence. My guess is that this comes from the difference between a leader—someone who thinks—and the led—a sheep, basically, accepting and moving through situations without much thought.
I'm not saying this is true in every case, but if there's an employee showing some unhappiness with the status quo, chances are that employee is smart and ambitious. This is the type of person you want pushing things through. Sometimes these people need training and refinement, but the cost is worth it. Would you rather settle for sheep who are more interested in maintaining than producing? ]CH7
CH8[ Understand the Particulars
When meeting with subordinates, it is important that your executive committee and managers—whether in private meetings, group meetings, board meetings, or executive-committee meetings—listen to and understand the particulars of what is said and asked. It must be communicated that if these leaders are unsure of what is being said or required, they must feel comfortable and confident enough to ask. Policies and procedures are considered and made based on many variables that impact clients, employees, and operations. No department is isolated, segregated, or autonomous.
The particulars of what is said are important. Distinguishing between what is being communicated and the ideas behind that communication is critical. Is it a directive, suggestion, or recommendation? Again, the listener must be sure, as that is the only way the policy or procedure will be implemented properly.
What happens when people make assumptions? The action or remedy that is assumed results in other actions based only on an assumption; hence, other actions and presumed remedies are carried out under a false belief. Time is wasted, additional meetings are necessary, and productivity, policies, procedures are inefficient or delayed.
A deliberate momentum must be the norm. Otherwise, we are simply maintainers and not managers. Listen to the particulars of what is said. ]CH8
CH9[ Empower Your Employees
Most people—though not all—like to be challenged. It's nice to come home from work or play and have a story to tell about something you've accomplished. One of the most important things to keep in mind when managing is that you do not have a monopoly on ideas. Acting as if you do is arrogant and, at a minimum, will suppress creativity and competitiveness. When you empower employees to make suggestions, it gives them an opportunity to be a part of the organization, encourages quick and strategic thinking, and allows you to set and meet priorities. Give them the reasons, and allow them to create the agenda to get there. ]CH9
CH10[ Devise a Turnaround Strategy
Turning around an organization that is in deep trouble is probably one of the toughest things to accomplish. It can be done, but you must stay focused on a strategy. The key points are austerity; cost containment; crisis challenge; transformation and opportunity; proper staff; and radical changes. Let's take them one by one.
What does this mean? Stop spending! When you know how to do something a certain way—when it's fixed in your brain—one of the hardest things to do is to change that process. For example, once you've traveled first class on a plane, it's difficult to go back to coach. Once you've driven a foreign luxury car or sports car, it's very difficult to make the switch to a lesser vehicle. But austerity means to stop spending on the things you can stop spending on, and seek alternatives or eliminate them. It's not easy, but you must do it.
This is different from austerity. Cost containment refers to everything from labor and related costs to just-in-time purchasing to stretching dollars through smart managing of all costs. The trick here is to not sacrifice quality. Your clients will be able to tell in a moment, and you will then lose the most critical element to your survival.
Yes, it's a crisis, and you are being challenged. While you're in a turnaround mode, all aspects of the business must be scrutinized and assessed (not overanalyzed). The word crisis demands that your attention be focused. The word challenge demands that you confront with honesty the predicament you are in—and believe me, if you are involved in a turnaround, you are in a predicament. A key way out is to take on the challenge in crisis mode, which allows you to create ways of strategizing your business to profitability.
Transformation and Opportunity
How are you transforming? Out of what you were and what got you here in the first place. What's the opportunity? A new way to conduct your business with a creative, innovative and focused strategy. Again, if you're in a position that you're even considering turnaround, the business needs to be transformed, and this very initiative creates opportunity. Opportunity opens all kinds of doors, and when looked at with flexibility in thought and change in mind, a bologna sandwich can actually be changed. Just think through it.
Whether you have employees or you alone are the staff, either way, it has to be proper. What does this mean? Everyone must be in the same frame of mind, or a turnaround just won't happen. You can't have someone working against you, and you can't work against yourself. This is not to suggest that you have a derailer on staff, but it may suggest that the staff is not grasping the crisis or even the term turnaround. Everyone must feel empowered to share in the ideas, creativity, passion, innovation, and sacrifice. Your staff, including yourself, will make or break you in this situation. Get rid of people who will not help you through, as it makes no sense to keep them on.
A radical shake-up is called for, from your marketing to your service or product to the culture of your business. Making a radical change doesn't mean doing a 360 wrapped differently; it means doing a 180 in a better wrapping. You need to figure it out. Think!
If you're in a turnaround, you've lost your way. You can find your way back by thinking and working through the steps above. They don't give you the complete answers or the Holy Grail, but they are an important part of a focused strategy. None of what you do will show results immediately. It's a slow, grueling process, with setbacks, insecurities, and self-pity. But slow and steady wins the race. 0
CH11[ Be Innovative
To be innovative, you must anticipate what customers want and what kind of values apply—and then have the flexibility to make the slightest changes when that want and value point need refining. When innovation is taken seriously, it creates a momentum of its own. One idea feeds off another idea, leading to more questions and then answers. The momentum is undeniable. You're constantly moving forward in some way. What's the one constant in the world? Change. Innovation is change. It's important to your business because it shows clients and customers that management is thinking and acting with care. 1
CH12[ Set the Tone
When dealing with staff, how do you make your approach? It's a very important matter, because you will set the tone for future interactions and directives. Have you ever heard it said that we all act in accordance with our surroundings? What this means is that people act differently depending on who they are interacting with. Sometimes it's subtle and hard to detect, but other times it's not so subtle. The point is that if you set a "Mr. Softy" tone right from the beginning, it will be difficult to get control afterward; once your staff has started to take advantage, it's almost impossible to reverse the process, and unfair to the employee who you allowed to get the upper hand in the first place.
Of course, you also don't want to go in like it's Gestapo headquarters. That would destroy morale and suppress any creative thinking before you can even say the word tone.
So what's the right approach? Understand your staff members and their talents and weaknesses. What you're trying to do is find a fit, and adjust your approach to that fit within your organization or department. Your tone in dealing with these talents will create a culture that allows you to manage effectively. You need to go in tough and somewhat aloof, but not to the point at which they feel uncomfortable and unsure. There should be consistency, predictability, and firmness. That's the tone.
Intelligent people know when you're not sincere and lack leadership skills. Intelligent people do not like to be spoken to in a condescending manner, like "Great job!" Praise is good, but not in that fashion. What they want, like, and need is a leader who sets a tone of respect and high expectations.
One last thing about tone is to be careful of the more progressive approaches that some business schools are pushing. Command and control are definitely out—that's a good thing for all sorts of reasons. But the "we are the world and like to be pampered and coddled, so don't correct me harshly" approach is not correct either. 2
CH13[ Prepare for Change
Change needs a strategy. Change is a talent, an art. How do you do this? How do you know when change is necessary? Knowing is instinctive. There are so many variables that can or cannot describe when change is required that it would be unfair and disingenuous to give examples in that sort of detail. Whatever the signals or thought going into it, doing it involves a plan. You need to know the basis or reason for the change and the likely outcomes once the change is made. It's like a balloon: squeeze one end, and it fills the other end. The other term for that is cause and effect. When making changes, some are small and in no need of a committee meeting, like changing the toilet-paper brand. You need to use you judgment. 3
CH14[ Resist Complacency
Complacency is your enemy. It suggests a standstill, being stuck in neutral. You can use whatever term you want for it, but the bottom line is that if you're complacent you will fall behind, and your position—whether as a business owner, manager, or CEO—will be called into question or worse. You always have to know what you're thinking; you always have to be asking questions. Human beings are lazy by nature, so it takes a strong will and mind to break or stay away from complacency. Looking for things to improve your department, division, company, product, or service is a necessary constant. If you become complacent in your efforts, I promise your subordinates will as well. Remember, if you're not growing, you're dying.
Excerpted from FOCUS Strategy by John Canavan Copyright © 2012 by John Canavan. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A great read. Easy to understand and easy to relate. I am looking forward to Vol. II.
Wise concepts by an experienced professional, a MUST-READ. The real genius in the book lies in a flexibility of it's use - advice in it could be used in a food-and-beverage industry or transport and logistics. Real gem. Made me brighter