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Channel: Remote COO | Fractional COO - Fractional CMO - Kamyar Shah

15 Ways To Onboard New Hires Efficiently (Even During Busy Times)

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15 Ways To Onboard New Hires Efficiently (Even During Busy Times)

Create A Complete Feedback Loop

One of the rather easy ways to evaluate and improve onboarding, be it in a high- or low-stress environment, is having a complete feedback loop with all stakeholders. This would allow for feedback from all levels, including the new employee. This kind of dynamic feedback allows for quick tactical pivots to improve the onboarding quickly and effectively. – Kamyar Shah, World Consulting Group

by Kamyar Shah – Interim COO


15 Tips For Tactfully Turning Down A Potential Client

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Stick To The Facts

Polite and factual statements are virtually always the best way of approaching most conversations, even the difficult ones. In this particular instance, it is just as important what is being said as how it is said—conveying that a relationship may not be as productive and effective while encouraging them to find alternatives would be the optimal approach. – Kamyar ShahWorld Consulting Group

By Kamyar Shah – Interim CMO

15 Tips For Navigating Family Business Challenges

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Keep Family Issues Out Of The Business

Though there are many different ways that may help avoid family pitfalls, one of the safest ways is a clean-cut separation of family and business. Creating a formal separation in which personal and family issues do not carry any merit when it comes to business-related matters will have the best chance for long-term success. Alternatives are more susceptible to occasional and repeated failures. – Kamyar ShahWorld Consulting Group

Check out my Part-time COO and/or Part-time CMO services

Overwhelmed? 15 Ways To Set Better Boundaries For Work And Life

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Overwhelmed? 15 Ways To Set Better Boundaries For Work And Life

Enforce The Consequences Of Your Boundaries

Boundaries are less about explicit expression than actions. For boundaries to be of any impact, there have to be consequences that are obvious enough. Those actions and consequences can be as simple as making sure the other side notices that they have been ignored on purpose, or as complex as explicitly and publicly emphasizing that they have been ignored for a specific reason. – Kamyar ShahWorld Consulting Group

Check out my Business Consulting and/or Management Consulting services.

Keep Your Stakeholders In The Loop With These 14 Communication Tips

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Operate With Consistent Integrity

Though communication is the obvious answer, there is more to it. Communication at its face is great; however, in order to have the proper impact on stakeholders, those communications have to be above board. That usually translates into being accepted as a person of consistent integrity that will report objectively at all times. Without that perception, communication is not effective. – Kamyar ShahWorld Consulting Group

By Kamyar Shah – Chief Operating Officer

Financing Your First Business? 16 Expert-Recommended Funding Tips

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Financing Your First Business? 16 Expert-Recommended Funding Tips

Seek To Self-Fund First

Though there are many tools and platforms that make fundraising more accessible, there is still a lot to be said about self-funding. A self-funded company tends to signal several positive attributes that are highly desirable, including self-discipline. Though this may not apply to all business environments, it should be the first option to be considered. – Kamyar ShahWorld Consulting Group

By Kamyar Shah – Chief Marketing Officer

12 Up-To-Date Lead Generation Tips For The Modern Salesperson

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12 Up-To-Date Lead Generation Tips For The Modern Salesperson

Look In ‘Little Ponds’

The simplest way to exponentially grow inbound leads in later stages of a business is to adopt the “big fish, little pond” methodology. Secondary venues, or “little ponds,” that are unlikely to be overcrowded by others will allow the business to be the “big fish.” This approach, however, requires an immense amount of creativity and experimentation to find the proper and converting “little ponds.” – Kamyar ShahWorld Consulting Group

By Kamyar Shah – Read more about Management Consulting & Operations Management

Job Seekers: 13 Important Things To Look For In Your Ideal Recruiter

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Job Seekers: 13 Important Things To Look For In Your Ideal Recruiter

What They Do With The Information You Provide Them

Much like any other service provider, recruiters depend a great deal on information to provide the best possible result. Hence, it is important to be proactive and provide them with a complete background as well as a “narrative” of what you are trying to accomplish. The more details and guidance one provides, the more likely that the recruiting efforts will result in the desired outcome. – Kamyar ShahWorld Consulting Group

By Kamyar Shah –  Remote COO


Is Your Company Growing Too Fast? 14 Red Flags To Watch For

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Is Your Company Growing Too Fast? 14 Red Flags To Watch For

You’re Putting Out Daily Fires

Rapid growth entails change, which tends to create friction. That sort of friction tends to manifest in a wide range of symptoms such as quality control issues, customer dissatisfaction as well as internal conflicts. Those symptoms are just that—symptoms. The underlying causes are virtually always within growth and scaling projects that were not planned or not executed properly. – Kamyar ShahWorld Consulting Group

By Kamyar Shah – Remote CMO

15 Culture-Building Tips For An All-Remote Team

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15 Culture-Building Tips For An All-Remote Team

Encourage Cross-Collaboration

As someone that has worked 16-plus years remotely, the single most important cultural tool is cross-collaboration. Remote teams that integrate cross-collaboration among team members tend to create deeper and more personal relationships. It ultimately tends to translate into deeper personal bonds that not only help maintain but also evolve the organizational culture. – Kamyar ShahWorld Consulting Group

By Kamyar Shah – Business Consultant

Don’t Be Embarrassed To Ask These 14 Common Leadership Questions

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Don't Be Embarrassed To Ask These 14 Common Leadership Questions

When should I stop?

In my experience, one of the least asked questions is, when do we reach the dreaded “diminishing returns?” Many entrepreneurs and senior executives incorrectly assume that all things have to consistently improve, which in turn results in some repetitive non-ROI-yielding activities. It is extremely important for advisors to be mindful and reiterate the need for factual evaluation. – Kamyar ShahWorld Consulting Group

13 Mistakes Business Owners Make When Trying To Differentiate Their Company

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13 Mistakes Business Owners Make When Trying To Differentiate Their Company

Always Comparing To Others

Though product and services comparison may work, it is a short-sighted approach. Comparison in a crowded market may, in some cases, even be harmful by providing additional exposure for competitors. A more sustainable approach, however, is a combination of providing education and creating a customer-centric organization. These organic differentiations are long-term and not subject to fads. – Kamyar Shah, World Consulting Group

By: Chief Operating Officer

Seven Things Every Business Should Avoid When Using Crowdfunding

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Seven Things Every Business Should Avoid When Using Crowdfunding

Not Being Honest About Concept And Needs

Crowdfunding is no different than any other business relationship: folks trusting you and investing money in you and your business. Hence it is important to be authentic—be honest about your concept and needs, be honest about intentions and, most importantly, maintain consistent channels of communication. All those actions will lead to trust, which in turn is helpful if anything goes awry. – Kamyar Shah, World Consulting Group

By: Chief Marketing Officer

15 Coaches Share Their Top Advice On Creating Multiple Revenue Streams For Your Business

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15 Coaches Share Their Top Advice On Creating Multiple Revenue Streams For Your Business

Ask If It’s Viable Right Now

It is not really hard to create additional revenue in most businesses. The real question is if it is feasible or does it interfere with any other aspect of the existing business model? Is the timing correct? Will it cannibalize existing revenue streams? Once those and similar questions are answered, additional revenue streams can be explored and implemented. – Kamyar ShahWorld Consulting Group

By: Business Consultant

15 Ways To Build Better Co-Worker Relationships For A More Positive Workplace

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15 Ways To Build Better Co-Worker Relationships For A More Positive Workplace

Be Genuine

If the intent is to have a long-term “fix,” there is really only one sure way: be genuine. There is a mutual self-interest on both sides of the relationship. Your co-worker is likely to be just as interested in a relationship that will help their career as you are. Start by asking them how you can help with their work and career goals, which will lead to the same question from your perspective. – Kamyar ShahWorld Consulting Group

By: Business Consulting


Want To Develop Internal Talent? 13 Strategies For Creating Your Future Leaders

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Want To Develop Internal Talent? 13 Strategies For Creating Your Future Leaders

Take A Long-Term View

Talent development is a matter of taking the long-term view with the matching resources and patience. Be it in education or the real-world, cultivating human capital in a dynamic and comprehensive way requires appropriate time and resources. Too often companies either lack the vision or the resources to implement consistent education, mentoring and period evaluation, which leads to failure. – Kamyar ShahWorld Consulting Group

By: Management Consulting

Avoid Making These 14 Critical Mistakes When Promoting Yourself Online

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Avoid Making These 14 Critical Mistakes When Promoting Yourself Online

Overselling Yourself

One of the rather repeated mistakes in self-promotion is “overselling.” Self-promotion is one of those propositions that fall in the “under-promise and over-deliver” category. Additionally, it is substantially more desirable for the results to be evaluated and praised by others. Hence leading to less “self” and more “promotion” that can’t be doubted or second-guessed. – Kamyar ShahWorld Consulting Group

By: Business Consulting

16 Ways Leaders Can Get Comfortable With Not Having All The Answers

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Admit You Don’t Know, But Resolve To Find Out

Say it with me: “I don’t know. I will get back to you on this.” This particular phrase is the best friend of any true leader. It is an absurd assumption that someone knows it all. This is also a good way to gauge a new team or team member: If, in a meeting, anyone has all the answers, it should be considered suspicious. – Kamyar ShahWorld Consulting Group

By: Public Relations Consulting

15 Effective Strategies For Increasing Productivity Without Adding Stress

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15 Effective Strategies For Increasing Productivity Without Adding Stress

Refine Skills And Practices

Stress in a productivity context is a moot point because it is a symptom of other issues, including time and task management skills, prioritization, and perception. Stress in this setting is almost always addressable via refinement of skills and practices that are readily and publicly available. – Kamyar Shah, World Consulting Group

By: Business Consulting

The post 15 Effective Strategies For Increasing Productivity Without Adding Stress first appeared on Kamyar Shah.

Feeling Negative? 16 Ways To Boost Your Optimism

15 Key Qualities That Define An ‘Agile’ Leader

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15 Key Qualities That Define An 'Agile' Leader

Adapting

The concept of an “agile leader” is an unfortunate subcategorization that is both vague and conceptually already covered in servant leadership. Agility, in terms of adaptability in decision making as well as process management, has and will be one of the cornerstones of time tested business practices that have been successfully utilized for decades. – Kamyar ShahWorld Consulting Group

By: Business Consulting

 

The post 15 Key Qualities That Define An 'Agile' Leader first appeared on Kamyar Shah.

Giving Feedback? 15 Ways To Keep It Constructive


16 Top Tips For Building Company Culture From Scratch

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16 Top Tips For Building Company Culture From Scratch

Define Your Wants And Needs

Defining your wants and needs is by far the most significant step that should supersede any other. Without a clear outline of the “what, when, and how,” every other action taken is either meaningless or destined to fail. This should be followed by leading by example — don’t ask your team to do something you wouldn’t do yourselves. – Kamyar Shah, World Consulting Group

By: Business Consulting

The post 16 Top Tips For Building Company Culture From Scratch first appeared on Kamyar Shah.

15 Steps To Take When A Company’s Profits Plummet

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15 Steps To Take When A Company's Profits Plummet

Don’t Panic

The single most important action should be understanding the reason behind the nosedive. Though it sounds elementary, it is surprising how many stakeholders jump to action without knowing what the proper action needs to be. Don’t panic – use qualitative and quantitative methods. The time to take action is after you are sure you have found the issue(s). – Kamyar Shah, World Consulting Group

By: Business Consulting

The post 15 Steps To Take When A Company's Profits Plummet first appeared on Kamyar Shah.

How To Treat Your Customers Like Humans: 13 Tips For Startups

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How To Treat Your Customers Like Humans: 13 Tips For Startups

Treat Them As You Would Like To Be Treated

The best rule of thumb is to treat your client the way you would like to be treated. The size of the company is not relevant — a one-man shop or a national brand — without happy customers, no business can sustain itself in the long run. Don’t complicate it; use your personal experiences as your guide. – Kamyar Shah, World Consulting Group

By: Business Consulting

The post How To Treat Your Customers Like Humans: 13 Tips For Startups first appeared on Kamyar Shah.

What is Strategy Consulting (and Why You Need It)

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Strategy Consulting

Leading a business to success requires a good amount of knowledge about operations and day-to-day tasks.

These are what keep your business afloat. But you will likely miss out on market opportunities. That is unless you are incorporating yearly strategy sessions into your planning cycle. Worse, you may find that your competition has outpaced your business and your company is no longer relevant.

Businesses that use strategy consulting as part of their yearly cycles are more adaptable and stay ahead of the competition. Having a better understanding of what strategy consulting is, and how it can benefit your business, is the first step in bringing real value to your company.

Strategic Planning for Your Business
Strategic planning usually occurs annually. It is the process where a business analyzes its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Then, the business creates a set of strategic initiatives to whittle away at for the next year or five years.

Strategic planning is difficult, both in the planning as well as the implementation phase. Keeping everyone in your company keyed into your businesses‘ strategic plan is important. It is what keeps employees engaged and committed to improving their workplace day after day, year after year. And, it is important for every team member at the company to advance strategic goals and include them in their daily tasks.

The number of strategic planning sessions and duration, who is involved, and who are the strategic plan “champions,” are all things to consider when putting together your company’s strategic plan. To stay relevant and outpace your competition, you will need to use several strategic planning tools. These tools will give you insight into your competition’s capabilities. They will also highlight your businesses’ own strong suits.

PESTEL Analysis Tool
To launch a successful annual strategic planning process, focus on external influences to your business first. Market research will help kickstart your analysis. It will also lead to better decision-making. This is because the more information you have access to, the better informed your decision will be.

A great tool to use as a starting point for this external analysis is the PESTEL. PESTEL stands for Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental, and Legal categories.

Businesses do not exist in a vacuum. They occupy space in a particular location with their own competitive landscape. Here we drill down into each category of the PESTEL to better understand the particular influences that could be affecting your business or industry.

Political
Political leaders, policies, and the level of governmental control all affect business. When governments approve new policies they can be business-favorable or unfavorable. Trade policies, protectionism, and trading restrictions are a few examples of policies that can affect your business.

Be aware of leadership’s political affiliations and the threats or opportunities that a political party or leader poses to your business. If a particular party has promised tax breaks or other incentives, plan for a worst-case scenario anyway.

Finally, stay abreast of changes and keep your ears to the ground. Policies can morph quickly. Assume your competition is keeping tabs as well. Your competitors are smart and capable. Underestimating them and their capabilities can be detrimental to your long-term business viability.

Economic
Currency exchange rates and the strength of the stock market are examples of economic influences that affect your business. Business locations in areas where residents tend to have more disposable income create a favorable economic opportunity. On the other hand, inflation and high wages can have negative consequences for your finances.

Some governments have programs where they cut taxes to create business opportunities. This can also have a profound effect on your business operations. Take the time to outline the economic background of your business. This includes taking into account key economic drivers in your industry or geographic location.

Social
Knowing the social landscape is important for every business. Customers may be more or less likely to demand certain products in various countries. Proximity to other countries, or size of country and population, can affect business as well.

Not only do social implications concern customer demographics but they concern labor preferences as well. For example, customers in certain locations may put more pressure on businesses to source ingredients ethically or sustainably. Labor may also organize more effectively in one country than another. It is important to note that these social implications can be tied to political ones as well.

Technological
Where your business is located may mean that you have easier access to technology, or not. Protections on innovation like patents can also keep your business’s proprietary information safe from competitors, or not.

Access affects your ability to remain swift and responsive to market changes. Protections on technological advances give your business a competitive edge for a certain amount of time.

Environmental
Governments may regulate with a heavy or light hand on environmental issues depending on the country or location of your business. This can affect your business operations as well as any fees or overhead you incur from damaging practices.

Consumers may also buy only from environmentally-friendly businesses. Both of these factors drive the market for goods and services and must be taken into account.

Legal
Laws are borne of governmental policies and legal challenges alike. Both can have an impact on your business as an external influence.

For instance, if your company monopolizes the market, certain countries can lodge an anti-trust suit again you. Or, certain countries have minimum wage laws that prevent the exploitation of cheap labor. Knowing your legal environment can help you understand what your cost of doing business will be.

Porter’s 5 Forces Tool
The Porter 5 Forces Tool was created by Michael E. Porter as a framework for understanding the industry climate. The 5 Forces strategic analysis tool highlights the competitive landscape of your industry as well as its strengths and weaknesses as a whole.

The tool provides context to the business when each of its five categories is explored. The five categories include the threat of rivalry, entry, substitution, suppliers, and customers. These categories are outlined below.

Threat of Rivalry
The threat of rivalry category asks you to list the major players in your space. How much market share does each have currently? What are the projected forecasts?

Furthermore, consider the maturity of your market or industry. Is it stable or changing? Or is your industry on a growth trajectory versus a decline? Where do your rivals fit into this picture?

Threat of Entry
The threat of entry category exposes the rivals of tomorrow. Staying one step ahead of the future’s competition will ensure your business keeps its blind spots in check.

To remain competitive, your business will need to consider not only current rivals. Tomorrow’s rivals likely will have improved technology and processes that you will need to adapt to stay relevant to consumers.

Threat of Substitution
Will your industry be replaced by a future market? This threat of substitution is difficult to identify. But like the airplane eventually replaced boats for across-seas travel, the threat can completely undermine your business.

Substitutions must be considered and adapted to if they pose a serious enough threat. Not every substitution will need to be dealt with in the next five years. But keeping your eyes on the horizon will help your company succeed in the long-run.

Threat of Suppliers
Changing conditions in your supply chain will affect how you make your product and in what time frame. Because of the threat of suppliers, the delivery timeline to consumers can be affected. This is another way your competition can best you.

Parts expense can also be prohibitive. If suppliers cannot produce parts cost-efficiently, it may indicate a threat. Perhaps it would be better to bring production in-house. This is something to consider at the strategy initiatives stage of the strategic planning process.

Threat of Customers
Customers have bargaining power that varies in degree across locations. When customers have the ability to organize effectively to pressure your company, you have a threat to customers.

The amount of leverage that consumers have will impact your decision-making. Operations will likely be affected at your business as a result.

Now that you have an idea of what opportunities and threats exist in your industry or market, you can turn your gaze inward. Use the following strategic planning tools to discover key internal capabilities and strengths. Also, pay close attention to your weaknesses – this is likely what your competition will be focusing their attention on as well.

VRIO Analysis Tool
Understanding your value chain and rating each piece of it gives you insight into your internal capabilities and weaknesses. Start by mapping out the pieces of your value chain bit by bit. This can be done as a drawing or on a computer file. Just be sure you can add to it easily, as the list will likely grow during the analysis phase.

Examples of Value Chain Capabilities
Over time, businesses build up capabilities in different departments and processes. These can be developed to such a degree that they become significant strengths. They can become so strong that they are difficult for the competition to imitate.

The technology development component to your value chain could be successful in innovating new market solutions. Your human resources department could be adept at recruiting, training, and retaining talent at your organization. Your procurement platforms could be one step ahead of that of your competitors.

More examples of value chain capabilities include your sales and marketing team, customer service, and supplier assembly. Consider each of these value chain components at your business. Are they strengths or weaknesses for your organization?

You may need to consider the competition when analyzing your value chain. Think about your marketing department in comparison to your main rival’s marketing department. Which is stronger? Why? Asking these questions will help you in the next step of the process.

Label Each Value Chain Component
The point of the VRIO analysis is to identify strengths and weaknesses in your value chain. VRIO stands for valuable, rare, inimitable, and organized. If your marketing department is valuable, and it is, consider next if it is rare. Does your main rival have a similarly built-up marketing department?

Then determine if your marketing department is easy to imitate. If it is not because your marketing department has built up a valuable network of clients and a solid consumer pipeline, then move on to the last consideration.

If your organization has the ability to organize your marketing department effectively in response to change, then this is a key competitive advantage that your company holds. Be honest during this stage of the process. Consider only current capabilities when building out this analysis. This will help you build strategic initiatives that are valuable to your business. This, rather than initiatives that speak to a future state.

SWOT Analysis and Building Your Strategic Initiatives
As a business, you do not want to compete in an area where you have little to no competencies. You will want to minimize risks, weaknesses, and threats. But to compete effectively you must exploit your strengths and opportunities first and foremost.

The SWOT analysis is the meat of your strategic planning session. You will use it to inform your strategic initiatives and improve your businesses’ strategy. SWOT simply stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Create a 4 x 4 box and label the X-axis as strengths and weaknesses, and the Y-axis as opportunities and threats. Try different combinations in each box: SO, ST, WO, and WT. Take a look at examples and more information online if you are having trouble visualizing your SWOT table.

From these combinations, you will create your strategic initiatives. For example, to minimize an external threat, you will focus on a key internal strength you have identified. Ideally, you will have about 12-20 strategic initiatives that you will then pare down or combine to about three.

Three is a great number of strategic initiatives to have at the end of your strategic planning session. That number of initiatives is easy for everyone to remember and incorporate into their daily improvement process.

Consider Different Outcomes With Scenario Analysis
What do your company’s distinct futures look like? To be most effective, choose three different scenarios. Create a basic forecast and modify that base case to reflect three distinct future outcomes for your business.

For instance, your company may face a high-revenue and low-revenue future based on the effectiveness of your new sales strategy initiative. You can create a model that shows these futures and their monetary impact on the company.

Scenario analysis and sensitivity analysis tools help you visualize best and worst-case scenarios and present these to your management team. Some factors have a greater impact or are more sensitive to change. They can have high risk but also high reward. Decide as a team what strategy is best for you given the current external business and industry environment.

Implementation is Strategy Too
It can be easy to forget, after putting so much effort into creating strategic initiatives, that implementation is just as important as planning. Be aware of how you communicate your new strategy to your team. A good communication plan and the use of project champions can help move your initiatives along positively and productively.

Human resources can be especially helpful at this stage of the implementation process. Allocate personnel to the strategy team early on. They will help your business stay on track and keep employees informed at every step. Remember: no strategic leader can disseminate information solo. Rather, a strategy is a team effort.

Easy access to training information is important for your team members, especially ones that will be directly affected as a result of strategic initiatives or changes. Ensure that each employee has access to key information well ahead of deployment dates of changing technology or processes. Consider interactive, feedback-oriented sessions to increase buy-in.

It cannot be overstated how important implementation is to the success of your strategy. Alignment is key. Your company will not be able to move its strategy forward without buy-in and employee engagement. You can have the smartest strategy in the world and not be able to execute it.

Strategy Mapping
Strategy mapping can be an effective way to communicate strategic initiatives with your team members through the use of visual aid. Prioritize your strategic initiatives in order and place them on a color-coordinated map for deployment and training purposes.

One purpose of using a strategy map tool is to explore how your strategy affects four key aspects of your business: finances, customers, operations, and learning or growth at the company. Fitting your strategy to address these aspects forces you to think about the consequences and implications of your strategic initiatives. It also helps you think about why this strategy is a best-fit, and what goal it helps you achieve in the long-run.

Try to tie all strategic initiatives through the map back to specific departments or employees. This process can also help your team members understand how their actions affect the whole. This keeps them well-engaged and focused on value add work.

Some of us are visual learners. Presentation is everything. Executing a clear and colorful strategy map can help you disseminate important information to your employees. It can be a best practice for helping get everyone on the same page and working toward a common goal.

Balanced Scorecard
How will your team measure the company initiatives’ success or failure? How will the company’s team members know that they have achieved their goals?

The balanced scorecard is borne from your strategy mapping process. It also incorporates the four key aspects of your business: finances, customers, operations, and learning or growth capabilities.

Set clear metrics and targets for your team. Then, make sure everyone is aware of the business direction moving forward. Prioritize what your team measures and provide examples or templates of key resource documents.

A poorly executed balanced scorecard can be detrimental to employee motivation. It is important to only measure what is important. Furthermore, you must not be unrealistic in your measurable goals. In the worst-case scenario, this can encourage fraudulent behavior or the fudging of results.

When executed well, a balanced scorecard can provide a baseline for improvement. It can also be incorporated in year-end bonus negotiations or annual celebrations.

The best balanced scorecards are indeed balanced. Team members should not be able to succeed by performing in only one priority, category, or strategic initiative. Performance should be measured more holistically.

The balanced scorecard does not need to be the most complicated document in the world. It should be standardized for use across the company. The balanced scorecard should also be simple to understand.

Capturing Your Blue Ocean
In business-speak, there is an ideal state called a “Blue Ocean Strategy,” a term coined by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. Finding that market that holds opportunity and for which you are particularly well-suited is the ultimate goal.

On the flip side, your business will want to avoid a red ocean, where competition is fierce and the only way to compete is by lowering the price of your goods or services. Nothing can spell a quicker disaster than this scenario.

Avoid the red ocean and exploit the blue ocean by implementing these strategic analysis tools. The next point to consider is whether an in-house strategy team or an outsourced strategic consultant is best for your business.

What is Strategy Consulting, and Why Do I Need It?
Strategy consulting is when businesses bring in third-party consultants to perform the strategic planning cycle. Many companies find value in bringing on a third-party rather than performing strategy planning in-house. There are a few reasons for that.

Executing strategy planning can be a daunting and time-consuming task for any business owner. Furthermore, some businesses simply lack the resources to invest in a proper strategy team. Everything from your company’s position in the maturity cycle to your employee’s capabilities as strategists can indicate the need to outsource. This, as opposed to keeping your strategic planning in-house.

Strategy consulting relies on outside consultants to map your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats for you. This is so that you and your business leaders have more time and energy to focus on daily operations.

This can be a great option for entrepreneurs and start-ups, or businesses that simply need an outside perspective or fresh pair of eyes. Having consultants take part in your strategic planning process can help keep you honest. It can also result in the best strategies for your business if taken advantage of correctly.

Why Hire a Strategy Consultant?
The stress of running a lucrative business is high. Your business leaders can be stretched enough as it is. Excess time is hard to come by and hiring an internal team, for whatever reason, is not feasible. This is the environment at many businesses, which can make the choice to hire outside an easy one.

You may also lack the expertise necessary to perform strategic planning. Perhaps your company needs outside help for clarity, feedback, and fresh ideas. Blind spots are present at every company. It is important to consider every angle thoroughly and without bias.

Lastly, your company may not have access to the latest and greatest technology for market research. Working with a strategy consultant that has access to these tools can bring value to your business.

When you shoulder a high level of responsibility at your company already, feeling alone when making decisions about the future of your business is possible. Helpful support and collaboration can alleviate this feeling. Strategy consultants provide this service to business leaders at all types of companies.

Different Types of Strategy Consulting
Strategy consultants can specialize in particular areas depending on their education and career background. Different consultant or consultant companies may have different time ranges of availability.

Bringing a third-party strategy consultant onboard comes with the decision of which type of consultant might be best for your planning process. Here we will discuss several different types of strategy consultants and the value they can bring to the table.

Brand Strategy Consultant
A brand strategy consultant can help you understand your company’s product and overall brand positioning in the eyes of your customer. This can help you develop an idea as to your brand identity. Developing your brand strategy can also help you be more effective in product messaging and retention of customers.

Brand strategy consultants can also offer strategic advice on brand protection and durability, or the deployment of a brand new logo design. Introducing a new product to capture a different market segment? Depending on your branding needs, a brand strategy consultant can help you develop a winning strategy.

Marketing Strategy Consultant
When you need robust and accurate market research, turn to a marketing strategy consultant to chart out changing market landscapes effectively. This type of consultant can also help you develop your business product’s value proposition.

When you need a successful marketing strategy, a marketing consultant can help you develop customer profiles and use data analytics for maximal impact. Categorize segments and explore product choices by outsourcing your marketing strategy implementation and development.

Financial Strategy Consultant
There is no quicker way for you to go out of business than for your company’s finances to be mismanaged. But understanding taxes and tax impact, how to forecast or budget, and other important financial topics is difficult and time-consuming, to say the least.

Leave it to the experts to conduct a product line profitability analysis. Financial strategy consultants can give you the best, most up-to-date information on asset depreciation and investment or disposal moves. And capital gains and losses can seriously impact your liability and cash flow. For expert assistance in all matters financial, collaborate with a third-party financial strategy consultant.

Operations Strategy Consultant
An operations strategy consultant assists with operational efficiency strategy generation. If your company needs a serious look at cutting costs or overhead for higher levels of profitability, operations strategy consultants can be just the ticket.

They can also help with effective implementation. Everything from training modules to the strategy deployment schedule can be worked into the strategic plan.

Risk Strategy Consultant
To prevent financial or other value loss, a business must avoid or mitigate risks in their environment. This goes back to the PESTEL and 5 Forces analyses – if you have threats in your industry or geography, these can affect how you do business.

Having a risk strategy consultant on your team can help you identify risks and develop mitigation strategies to deal with those risks. Industry experts can be excellent choices for this type of strategic consulting. They have the experience that translates well to your needs.

Technology Strategy Consultant
Many companies install new technology or software solutions into their business to help them achieve higher levels of profitability. They also install them to help the business remain competitive in a changing industry or market landscape.

Technology strategy consultants can help install new technology, identify risks with that technology, and communicate results to management and employees. New software and technology integration can seriously improve business operations. Enlist a technology strategy consultant to help keep you moving forward effectively.

Acquisition or Merger Strategy Consultant
Mergers and acquisitions are notoriously difficult to manage. Business identity and politics can prevent effective mergers and lead to mass talent exits.

To plan for and mitigate these negative consequences of a growth acquisition or merger strategy, hire an acquisition or merger strategy consultant. These consultants can assist with everything from full acquisitions to joint ventures, considering everything from legal to operational consequences of the move.

Online Business Strategy Consultant
COVID-19 and the resulting pandemic have had a serious impact on normal business operations. There is an increased need for remote, on-demand expertise. Online business strategy consultants can provide comprehensive or specialized assistance, depending on your needs.

Your selection of the right strategy consultant depends wholly on your business and the particular risks you face. Plus, expertise needs can differ drastically for small businesses versus large businesses.

Strategy Consulting for Big & Small Businesses
There is no doubt that running a small business is very different from running a large company. This is because the number of team members you employ is different. But also, your consumers have different needs as well.

Because of these reasons, small businesses will have different goals and track results differently than large businesses. Strengths and weaknesses will depend on market size and the number of employees you have.

Additionally, the guidance you need on strategic next steps and implementation advice will vary. Setting goals may be a one or five or twenty-year process depending on the size of your business and the maturity level of the industry. Because large and small businesses have different amounts and types of resources, the allocation of those resources will be different.

Are you expanding or downsizing? Bring in a strategy consultant for help on moving in or out of the small or large business space. But be sure to let your consultant know how your growth will help you achieve your long-range goals. Being clear on your overarching goal from the outset helps you get the most out of your experience with a strategy consultant.

What to Look For in a Strategy Consultant
Many strategy consultants will have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in business management. Beyond credentials, however, you must vet for skills and experience.

The best strategy consultants will have high-level critical thinking skills. They can see the big picture and long-range goals as part of the development process. But they are also adept at performing detail-oriented work and getting into the specifics.

Communication is key. Your strategy consultant must be an excellent facilitator and very people-oriented. Change is difficult for many employees. The better your consultant can communicate, the easier the transition into a new and changing strategic path will be.

Because things change quickly, it is important that your strategy consultant can go with the flow, so to speak. Being flexible and adaptive, yet results-oriented is important. The business must keep in mind its ultimate goal at every step of the process.

The bottom line is that considering your strategy consultant’s background and career expertise is a great starting place. But more importantly, your company’s new strategy consultant must have the ability to mesh with your team members. If this key puzzle piece is missing, the process of strategic planning may fall apart quickly.

Pricing Your Strategic Project
The cost of hiring a third-party expert strategy consultant can vary widely. Start with creating your company budget. Spending on strategy is important and cannot be de-prioritized. But ensure that your budget is also realistic and there is wiggle-room in case the project extends longer than planned for whatever reason.

The costs should be split into two categories: pre-planning strategy generation phase and post-planning implementation. Determine whether your company or business will require both or just one. This depends on your internal capabilities and capacity.

Depending on the firm reputation and level of expertise, you may pay more or less for a qualified strategy consultant. Be sure to do your research before scouting out the best fit for your business. Doing this will help keep your sights on realistic options rather than setting your sights on consulting above your price range.

Many consultants charge by the hour, at an average rate of $150 per hour. Price can vary depending on geographic location, demand, and timing. If you search for a consultant near the end of the year, when many other businesses have their fiscal year-end, you may pay a surcharge due to high demand timing.

Choose the Best Consulting Firm For You
It may go without saying, but choosing the right consulting firm is a highly personal choice. Your business may choose to work with a local consulting firm for one project and a large consulting firm for the next. Or, your business may keep it consistent by retaining the same strategy consultant each year for the yearly strategic planning process.

There are upsides to each, which again can only be determined by your specific needs. Everything from your location and access to quality strategy consultants, to project needs or specific challenges, will help decide what company or firm is right for you.

Resiliency During the Pandemic
The pandemic has changed the face of business for the long-term. COVID-19 has left its mark on the way we work from home. It has determined which industries are essential. The pandemic has even reinforced online markets and delivery services.

Small and large businesses alike are having to rearrange their business models and reinvent or scrap previously profitable product lines. The threat of the pandemic has also created an opportunity to connect more with consumers digitally.

An online strategy consultant can help your business weather the pandemic as part of the annual strategy process or not. The best consultants can give you information on new stimulus packages, loans, or government business incentives.

These impacts are changing quickly and can be hard to follow in the news. Having a trusted consultant at your side to keep your business moving forward is important now more than ever.

Although consulting used to be a travel intensive industry, travel is largely on hold these days. This does not mean your business must forfeit expert consultant third-party advice.

To maintain resilience during the pandemic, consider working with a strategy consultant to help you through the worst of the economic downturn. Flexibility and adaptability have always been the name of the game. The pandemic has just sped up the competitive process.

Kickstart Your Business’ Path to Success
Keeping a business moving toward its goals is the primary objective of every business owner or leader. Incorporating an annual strategic planning session into your yearly calendar can help you keep your eye on the ball. It can also help keep your business competitive and responsive to every opportunity.

Your business’ strategy consulting pathway to success starts by hiring the right third-party consultant expert for your team. For more information on how to keep your business competitive, and more business strategy tips, check out our blog.

The post What is Strategy Consulting (and Why You Need It) first appeared on Kamyar Shah.

Strategy Consulting vs Management Consulting

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Strategy Consulting vs Management Consulting

Are you wondering whether your business needs strategy consulting vs management consulting? While at face value they might seem the same, but there are key differences.

In this in-depth guide, you’ll get to discover what strategy consulting is and isn’t, and what management consulting is and isn’t. Read on to explore how consulting can help your business succeed whether it’s becoming more profitable, fixing problems, or standing out in the competition.

What Is Consulting?

Consulting is when a business gives expert opinions to a specific field or person. It’s giving advice to different businesses based on organizational structures, strategy, management, and operations.

A consultant will bring their experience to help businesses succeed. While the base term of consulting doesn’t require certifications, firms, or degrees, management consulting and strategic consulting often do.

It’s about helping a person solve their problem and move from the current situation to the desired state. For example, say someone who is an accountant makes about $60,000 a year.

Maybe they’d make more working for a company, but they have entrepreneurial goals. A management consultant or strategic consultant can work with them to help go after their desired goals to make more money and stand out.

Some consultants will reach out to other experts to ensure that they’ll deliver the results the client is looking for. For example, an accountant looking to grow might require learning digital marketing to stand out online.

Why Hire Consultants?

Many hire consultants for 3 main reasons. The first reason is that they don’t want to waste their efforts or time. They want a proven system to follow.

The next option is that although they might have an idea, they’re not quite sure how to implement it. The last reason is that they know the problem, but aren’t sure how to solve it.

Obtaining Goals Quicker

While some might be patient and take time exploring the best methods for problems, many want the reward as quickly as possible. They realize that if they try to learn it from the beginning, there might be mistakes along the way, and it’ll take longer.

Proven System

Management and strategic consultants will have the education and expertise necessary to give businesses a proven system. It’s up to the business to implement the system after the consultant leaves.

What Is Management Consulting?

Another term for consulting at a base level is giving advice. When you take a look at different types of consulting, for example, IT, they help their client with IT problems.

Management is about combining the different departments and functions of a company. Management consultants work on business problems at a top-level. That includes the Board of Directors, Boards of Management, CEOs, etc.

Another term for a management consultant is what’s known as a management analyst. Their goal is to help businesses come to an outcome whether that’s to be competitive, profitable, or solve a problem.

Management consultants can break down into different functions such as IT or inventory control. They can also have specialties within an industry such as education, manufacturing, and healthcare.

Identify Problems

A management consultant works with a leadership team to identify the different problems in order to come up with a solution. They can be found in teams or self-employed working with different businesses. Most work for a consulting firm and will help different businesses.

Responsibilities:

  • Review company data such as payroll information
  • Inspire faster utilization
  • Meetings with clients
  • Communicate the work product or results
  • Go over the scope of the work
  • Plan out schedules
  • Research a client’s business challenges

What Is Strategy Consulting?

Strategy consulting is where the consultant has experience in what they’re providing expert advice on. This can include future directions or strategic issues so the value and growth of the company improve.

This can include marketing and corporate strategies. The marketing strategy can include relating products with products of the competition for customer experience, channels, and pricing. Under the corporate strategy, it’s about market positioning, growth, etc.

Scope

Since management consulting is a broad term it can refer to different niche areas of business management and handles different problems and issues of an organization. It’s about taking a look at data gathering, recommendations to management, defining problems, and being part of the implementation process.

Under strategy consulting, it’s about taking a look at the overall strategy of the management team. While it falls under management consulting, it takes a look at specific issues that those in management experience.

All strategy consulting firms fall under management consulting. Not all management consulting firms are strategy consulting firms.

A Breakdown of Management Consulting

Certified consultants will gather research and data for their company. They spend a large amount of their time doing the necessary amount of research.

They’ll take a look at different focus groups with 3rd parties, research industry reports, interview company employees, and take a look at internal financial figures.

This can include large files with raw data. Management consultants are organized and will have this data on an Excel sheet to better understand it.

Client Meetings

The consultant will meet with them to further discuss the project and plans. Every meeting doesn’t have to be with a C-level executive, but instead, the consulting team that you as the client approves.

This can include directors, VPS, etc. You’ll receive updates every few days or weeks from the point of contact.

Understanding Objectives

Your management consultant will spend a large amount of time with their management team in order to have a clear objective in mind before beginning.

Discussions can include interviews with employees or taking a look at financial information. Many consultants will start with a hypothesis for a solution and what data they’ll use to test this idea.

Suitability Differences

Both strategy consulting and management have different methods when it comes to business situations. Strategy consulting comes up with plans for a certain period of time to ensure that there are cost reduction and promotion of a new product.

It’s about solving a problem for the client to have satisfaction. Strategic consultants are a good idea when there are issues that need to be solved. Whether that’s unexpected events, developing a new business, etc.

Management consulting is about developing a method for faster solutions. They’re good when there’s a known opportunity or issue. Or, when there’s a tested solution available.

Why Work With a Strategic Planning Consultant?

They’ll come up with a competitive business strategy for different businesses with a detailed action plan. Different methods and tools will be provided to meet the goals of the company.

It can include:

  • Everyone involved
  • Documentation
  • Notes on all discussions
  • Coaching
  • Advising
  • No short cuts

Since a strategic planning consultant is from the outside they can give you a new perspective without being influenced by the company’s culture. This can lead to new ideas and suggestions that’ll help the business gain clarity.

Conducting Research

They’ll collect market intelligence and analysis on markets, competitors, industry trends, etc. This research will help businesses in evaluating and identifying opportunities that lead to growth.

Developing a Plan

They work with management to come up with a business strategy that works for a business. This includes taking a look at the budget, tasks, strategies, goals, and other needs of the strategy implementation process. It lets a company know what will be done, and what will be the goal.

What To Look for in a Management Consultant?

A high-quality management consultant will make a company’s issues and business a top priority. A management consultant will ask business questions during the sales process to dig deeper.

There are industry specialists and generalists. While a generalist might not have that special quality, they can solve and see different problems and opportunities from a fresh perspective. A specialist in that industry can bring in an understanding as well.

They See the Gray Areas

As a business, it’s important to see the gray areas to develop and use them in businesses. A strong management consultant will see the gray areas in order to see the difference between OK and good opportunities.

Before hiring a management consultant, find out who you’ll be working with before you begin. See if they take into consideration the gray areas as well.

Easily Translate

The right management consultant will create reports in a timely manner. It’s harder to find one who will give you measurable results as well, but it’s possible.

They’ll help with building out new ideas into the real world. A firm that can take a look at tactical and conceptual ideas is important as well.

Strong Outcome

A management consultant should have the outcome as the most important part of the process. A company’s interests should always be at the forefront of what a management consultant does.

Understanding the Project

Before hiring a management consultant, it’s a good idea to find one who understands the scope of the project. After they pitch to a business, a company should decide whether the consultant understands the problem and their needs.

Responds to Questions

Ask the management consultant how often before a response will be received, or questions a business may have. A consultant with a strong response time is important to ensure that there are no steps or questions missed.

Avoid a consultant who will walk around the question and make a response to salesy. Pick someone who will listen to the needs of the business to ensure that they understand the facts. Make sure that the business will receive the specific answer to that question before proceeding with that consultant.

Experience

Look for a consultant who has the experience necessary to help. While each business will have different requirements, it’s a good idea to find a management consultant with plenty of experience.

Understanding the Differences

To understand the differences between strategy consulting vs management consulting it’s important to take a look at examples. Imagine a restaurant that’s having trouble with getting new customers.

Maybe they had a commercial to advertise their products but it fell flat. Also, say this company underpays its staff who is also overworked. They also don’t have healthy options so lack variety.

This restaurant keeps going to the same methods and hoping something will change. Strategy consultants and management consultants will handle this situation in a different way.

The Strategic Consultant Way

A strategic consultant will provide advice on specific management topics instead of identifying the problems as a whole as a management consultant will do. To help the business, they might reach out to different consumers and conduct surveys and interviews.

They’ll also take a look at different data to analyze and test different hypotheses they come up with. The conclusion is what path they’ll take to help this failing business. As a strategy consultant, they’ll take a look at one management issue and come up with a plan to fix it.

The Management Consultant Way

A management consultant will take a look at the restaurant’s entire business operation. They’ll take a look at the different components that are behind the company’s problems. This can include different parts of the organization such as IT, marketing, finance, etc.

It includes taking a look at the different concerns from the different parts of the organization. They’ll provide either advice or actionable solutions that the organization can take.

This can include a new plan from new market research, or even creating a healthier menu. It might also include improving the training for the restaurant managers.

They might also recommend higher pays for the employees and how this can be done. Objective opinions, guidance, and advice can also occur as well. A management consultant will use their understanding from different businesses, problem-solving, and other professional experience to solve the problem.

How To Pick the Right Consultant?

When looking for an external consultant, find one who has strong experience. Whether you’re looking for a strategic consultant or management consultant is up to the needs of the company.

Choosing a Consultant

For example, for more of a consultation to do with the business, choose a strategic consultant. For a broader sense of multiple issues, they’ll want to pick a management consultant.

Communication Skills

A strong management consultant will have good communication skills in writing and speaking. Also, one who will listen to the needs of the company they’re working with.

The management consultant will listen to the business and current needs in order to help. If a management consultant doesn’t listen, then it’ll be harder to come to a strong conclusion.

Organized

The right management consultant will be organized with the information when they come up with a solution. Not just organization on their desk and in papers, but in their mind as well. They’ll be able to formulate a solution that best fits the business based on their past experience.

Adaptable

Every business and client is different. Whether it’s the same business or completely different, a management consultant will need to be able to adapt to the needs of each business.

Creative Thinking

Since each situation and client is different, a strong management consultant will be able to think creatively in order to achieve results. There will be no cookie-cutter approaches, and instead, they can take a look at the weak points of a business. They’ll take a look at what needs to improve, the different facts and figures, and solutions to the problems.

Writing Skills

The ideal management consultant will have writing skills to fill out different manuals, reports, and other types of documentation. They’ll be able to communicate their different reports to you as well.

Time Management

A high-quality management consultant will be great with time management. This is due to either being paid with a fixed-fee agreement or per the hour.

Management Consultant Job Description

In order to become a management consultant, a person must have at least a Bachelor’s degree from a strong institution. They must have strong attention to detail, knowledge on researching, presentation, and analysis knowledge.

They must be independent contributors who can work alone or with others. They’re self-directed and don’t need guidance.

Preferably, they should have a few years of experience under their belt, and an MBA from a top institution. They need to be strong in PowerPoint, Microsoft Suite, and Excel as well.

A management consultant needs to be confident in what they say and be able to work in a team environment. They also need to be able to work with heavy workloads. Some management consultants will have different certifications such as a Financial Modeling & Valuation Analyst.

The Different Types of Management Consultants

Under the umbrella term of a management consultant, you have different consultants such as information technology and strategy. An operations consultant is someone who provides the business with guidance for business practices.

A financial advisory consultant gives advice to clients regarding acquisitions and mergers. Human capital consultants give businesses solutions as far as organizational changes.

Main Roles

The main role of a management consultant focuses on research and white papers. They contribute to the pieces. As time goes on they normally pick a specialty to focus on.

A management consultant’s role is about giving solutions to different businesses. It can include strategy development, process optimization, new technology introduction, etc.

Management Consulting Facts

When hiring a management consultant, they help businesses grow. Whether it’s guidance or help in solving one problem or multiple, a management consultant can help. Management consultants can help identify problems that businesses aren’t even sure that they have.

Different Results

Some think that management consultants are only hired when advice is necessary. The truth is, they can be hired as well for improving profits and efficiency as well. They can help with standing out in a competitive market.

Various Methods

Different methods are used in order to come up with a plan of action. For example, that can include interviewing management and employees. They do so in a manner that won’t interrupt a business.

Can Be Self-Employed

While some business management professionals can work for a business, some are self-employed. Whether a business wants to work with a large, small, or self-employed firm is up to them.

But, with a self-employed firm, there’s that personal touch. You can find consulting firms within public institutions, big corporations, private equity funds, and non-profit organizations.

Typical Consulting Projects

The length of time a management consultant will work with a company varies from 3 months to 1 year. It can start out with signing a short-term contract of about 2-3 months, and then change from there.

The fees involved depend on which consultation team you choose. Consultants charge more because they work with other consultants across the world for different ideas.

Work Schedule

Many management consultants work overtime to meet the needs of the different companies they work with. The role tends to require travel whether that’s by car or plane. They spend very little time in the office and are often out and about from place to place.

When To Hire a Management Consultant?

A management consultant should be hired when a business is looking for temporary help with a problem or skill. When a problem comes up in a business and they’re not sure how to solve it, a management consultant can help.

Consulting vs Supporting

In the supportive role, they’re similar to consulting but slightly different. For example, function specialists are within the function support center. In the research and intelligence role, they’re in offices providing support for projects in multiple locations.

A more popular supporting role is what’s called an implementation consultant. It’s similar to a consultant since they work with clients. The focus of their work is mostly on the implementation of recommendations from past projects.

Do Consultants Help Clients?

The advice given by a consultant comes with conditions that must be met by the business. While some are done properly, others are not.

Consulting is known to be a prestigious field and many go into it. Many who start out in consulting may eventually go into other roles as well.

Consulting Track Levels

There are different tracks for consulting such as entry and ranks. Entry is for those with a background in any education. Business knowledge isn’t required.

Some consultants might have a background in Math, engineering, etc. Next is what’s known as different ranks.

At different firms, there will be different ranks, but normally 3 groups. There are project owners, managers, and staff.

After consulting, you might find some switching to other roles such as corporate strategies, entrepreneurship, operational roles, etc. They can also head into finance and work with Corporate Finance or Private Equity firms.

Who Should Hire Strategy Consulting?

Strategy consulting is great for an entrepreneur who doesn’t have a plan of action. Many who own their own business often make the mistake of taking a look at the competitors and what they feel comfortable with only.

Why Strategy Consulting?

While some might wonder why employers can’t pull employees from different departments to fix an issue, it has to do with focus and time. Strategic consultants have the experience necessary to guide a business with the right strategies.

Strategic consultants are normally hired for a set period of time. During this time they’ll place their effort, time, and energy into different problems.

Executives at businesses are busy running their business. That’s where a strategic consultant comes in. They’ll be able to focus on the different implications of changes within the business.

Also, they’ll bring new ideas instead of just the company’s ideas. They won’t have judgments or sensitivities that an employee might.

Whether they’re managers, board members, or executives at businesses, they’ll have stakes in the business they won’t want to risk. Having a consultant come in will bring a fresh perspective that can help.

Strategic Consultant Skills

Being a strategic consultant involves analytical thinking. Along with this, there must be problem-solving skills as well. Under strategic consulting, they’ll have a specialty as well.

Along with these, a strategic consultant must have time management. This is due to being able to research, meet with clients, and meet deadlines.

Since they work with people they must have strong communication skills. They’ll also need to be able to get down to the problems a business is facing.

Flexibility is important as well since no one knows everything. This means that there will still be parts of a business they’ll need to learn to come up with a solution.

This includes coming up with new information and trends. Strategic consultants often work with CEOs of different companies.

Questions a Strategic Consultant Will Ask

A strategic consultant will take a look at whether or not you want to launch a new product. At that point, they’ll decide how the business can stand out from the competition, and if it’s possible.

They’ll also find out whether the company wants to collaborate with other companies or not. Also, how they’ll market for the future.

Requirements of a Strategic Consultant

Plenty of experience will be a requirement for a strong strategic consultant. They’ll need to understand how to be professional with executives, and have an effective approach.

They’ll need to be confident in the results and advice they give. It’ll take a few years before a strategic consultant will meet the requirements to be a successful consultant.

A strategic consultant will have at least a bachelor’s degree, often in the business field. Having a bachelor’s degree doesn’t guarantee a position, and it often requires an MBA.

This is due to firms wanting candidates who have knowledge of business management and problem-solving skills. They’ll also develop analytical skills from the MBA as well.

How To Choose a Strategic Consultant?

First, look for a strategic consultant who has experience within the business industry. Choosing one who specializes in the field is another option.

Next, decide what services they’ll be offering you, and if they fit the business needs. Some consultants might only provide you with a report on how to proceed, but others will give more in-depth knowledge.

Next, decide on the budget of the business. While it’s important to find one who has experience within the industry, they need to be within budget as well. Some strategic consultants charge a flat-rate project fee, while others charge by the hour.

Research

Next, check online to identify the right consultants for the business. Do they have reviews online? If not, businesses can ask for testimonials from previous clients.

While asking friends and colleagues for referrals is an option, every business will have different needs and requirements. After the research process, you’ll need to interview the consultants.

Interview

It’s important to ensure that not only will the consultant fit within the budget, but they must bring what they claim. It’s a good idea to interview different strategic consultants to find the right one for each business.

Next, decide whether a self-employed consultant or one who works for a firm is the better option. Look into the different expertise that the consultant has as well.

Facilitation Skills

You’ll want to find a strategic consultant who has facilitation skills. Facilitation is what can help you succeed in your business.

Facilitation is an important part of the complex components of the business. When a facilitator comes in they’ll be able to take a look at the different personality types within a business to see what’s working. They might make adjustments to the discussions for the most effective results.

Experience With Multiple Industries

Another advantage is having a strategic consultant who has experience in various industries. While it’s important for them to have experience within a certain industry, they can bring more to the table with multiple backgrounds.

A consultant who has experience in multiple industries can provide curiosity and versatility. This can lead to success within the business when they’re given a fresh perspective.

Professional Knowledge

A strong strategic consultant will have experience, confidence, and competence. They’ll have a strong portfolio to back up what they say and communicate it properly.

A strong strategic consultant will be able to speak with different employees and help them gain confidence in what they’re doing. Without building that rapport the employees may fail to deliver the requirements.

Encourage Transparency

Before hiring a strategic consultant, it’s a good idea to encourage honesty and transparency before beginning. A consultant who is transparent about the good and bad about a company is vital for a business.

Even going with a strategic consultant, it’s a good idea to find one who has open communication and will let a business followup with questions. A business should understand too that while a strategic consultant will provide a plan, it’s still up to the business to run it, in the end, to be successful.

Open to Recommendations

Businesses should be aware that as they choose a strategic consultant, they’ll need to be open to extending deadlines and other recommendations. While it’s important to be open to recommendations, it’s also vital to understand why a consultant can’t meet the deadline if they promised a certain date.

Strong Solutions

When a business interviews each strategic consultant, they should see if the solutions they brainstorm make sense for the company. Ask the consultant how the solution will address the needs of the business and how it’s better than other choices.

Communication

Picking out a consultant who can communicate in a clear way is important. While a consultant who speaks in hard-to-understand jargon might be appealing, it’s important to understand what they’ll do and why.

Fee Structures

Some consultants charge for the whole project, others by specific tasks, and some by the hour. Some might offer the option to break the project into different sections. Within each section is a fee. It’s about ensuring that these fees are affordable for the business as well.

How Many Projects?

How many projects is the strategic consultant currently working on? Do they have the time necessary to take on another project?

Or, do they focus on one project at a time? Find out the time frame they’ll be able to finish up the different work requirements.

Future Help?

Once the contract ends, will they answer questions? Even after the report ends, it’s a good idea to find out if they’ll be open to helping with any questions a business may have. While not every business needs ongoing support, it’s a good idea to find out whether a consultant does provide it just in case.

Management Consultation Cons

Being a management consultant can have cons. For example, they might experience a large amount of stress.

Businesses can demand a large amount from a management consultant. While they’re providing exemplary results, it’s about balancing the needs of the client, meeting the requirements for solving a problem, etc.

While there’s much critical thinking involved in the role of management consulting, creativity is limited. At a junior role, they’re more involved in analyzing data and gathering research. For creatives, it’s not the best role.

No Tangible Results

Being a management consultant there aren’t tangible results. At the end of the day even with strong research and support, it’s up to the client to follow the guidance given. Seeing these results is rare since when the project is done they’ll head to the next project.

Independent Consulting

Independent consulting is when a person chooses to run their own business around what they know. This is when they choose to be self-employed instead of working for a company.

Many can be found online building their business. Also, independent consulting can be on a broad range of expertise.

Corporate Consulting

This is often when someone has years of experience under their belt in a particular industry. This can include technology, software, and IT. It can be B2B consulting, in-housing consulting, etc.

Delivery Models

The different types of consulting can include online programs, individual coaching, group coaching, done with you consulting, and done for you consulting. Done with you consulting is where the consultant and the client split the work.

It’s not providing the entire service, but instead, just a section. It can include receiving a part of the service but still receiving advice on the other methods.

Done For You

This is where the services are delivered by the consultant. For example, maybe you’re helping a business increase their sales you’ll offer lead generation. This is the most time-consuming delivery option for consultants.

Group Coaching

This is where a group of clients will receive help at the same time. It can include 20 people or 3. Whether on a phone call or through the internet, there are different options available.

Online Programs

This is where a consultant creates a course or program that can be viewed by as many people as they’d like. This allows clients to learn different information in their own time.

Some consultants choose this method since it’s a more passive option. There isn’t a time commitment required with this method. They receive the course and then implement the methods taught.

Before Choosing a Consultant

Before choosing a consultant, businesses should request proposals that state project goals, the budget, and time constraints. This helps both the consultant and business decide if they’re the right fit.

The post Strategy Consulting vs Management Consulting first appeared on Kamyar Shah.

Strategy Consulting vs Business Consulting: What’s the Difference?

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Strategy Consulting vs Business Consulting

There is every chance that at some point in your career you will need to take on advice on where to take your business. Maybe you will get this from a peer, a previous colleague, or it might be your manager. Either way, it might turn out they do not have the answer you need.

This is ok, not everyone has every answer available at their fingertips at all times. Sometimes you need a little extra help, and that is where consulting firms come in. With so many businesses dedicated to consulting, however, what type of consultancy do you need?

This article will delve into both strategy consulting vs business consulting. By the time you have finished reading, you should have a good idea of what both directions can offer you and which you should be aiming to hire.

Why Might I Need a Consultant?

There are a large number of reasons why you might require a consultant, generally. It could be that you are losing money, or you might not be making the deals you wanted to make. You could have conceived of a strong concept for your company but when it came time to actually implement it you may have had problems.

In general, a consultant should be coming to your company with a strong sense of who you are and an intent to improve your business in a variety of ways. They may already know what the problem is, or they might need to spend time investigating your issues from the ground up.

Given enough time and freedom to make suggestions, a consultant can help your company plan for the future of your industry. They can also give both general and specific advice on how to improve your potential in your friend.

It may be that you are missing opportunities that come up due to putting out fires in your own workplace first. If that is the case they will suggest reorganizations you can do to make the most of the situation as it currently stands.

One of the best things about a consultant is they can give you an outsider’s view. This will likely be far more objective than any viewpoint currently espoused within the company itself.

Third-parties are much more likely to see problems and talk plainly about them. Whereas insiders often cannot see the woods for the trees or feel they must hide behind etiquette.

Generally, consultants can assist you where your own teams have failed and can be a boon for any company looking to be self-reflective. So long as the company has the follow-through to improve, they can take what they get told on board.

Strategy Consulting vs Business Consulting

Both the use of strategy consulting and business consulting can be a time to reflect. They are often used to improve your company’s processes one step at a time in a way that should improve your approach. Which one is best for your company depends on exactly the situation you are trying to resolve.

In a very broad sense, business consulting is generally focused on business processes. These are things like human resources, finance, building maintenance, and health and safety. A consultant would look at these and discuss methods by which money could be retainable in each area.

They would also search for areas of liability and determine where you may get in trouble in the future. This can be so the efforts by the consulting are not in vain at a later time.

Strategy consulting, on the other hand, will focus itself on a specific concern. It may be that your company is losing money to a competitor. If that is the case they may focus on what makes you and your competitor unique to find a unique selling point for your product.

Strategy consulting is often described as a niche in management consulting. It will often advise the highest echelons at a company.

Alternatively, it could be that one of your products underwent a market perception shift. If that is true, they may be able to inform you of how to remarket yourself towards a new vision for the product.

There is a lot more to both approaches, however, and you should be aware of exactly what each one entails before deciding on a path for your business.

The History of Strategy Consulting

Strategy consulting began as a part of the larger concept of management consulting. This started in 1886, formed by a group called Arthur D. Little Inc.

Their first major project was with General Motors’ initial research and development branch. In this area, they gained a fast reputation as being able to solve any problem.

In the 1930s, however, a boom in the economy led to huge growth in the demand for such services. Multiple companies opened their doors to assist other groups. Many new businesses needed advice, and such consultancies were champing at the bit to prove their worth.

By the 1980s, the industry had grown in leaps and bounds. In this decade, there were at least five consultancies with over one thousand employees. By the ’90s, this had exploded to over thirty firms.

One of the main reasons for this was the sudden surge in information technology needs. This meant a great many people needed advice on how to set up and maintain I.T. infrastructure.

This new technology pushed the strategy consulting business in new directions. They took advantage and expanded their ability to promote themselves.

These days, even governments hire strategy consultants. They do not take part in decision-making. Instead, they evaluate government entities.

Government strategy consultants evaluate existing industries or publicly-owned groups. and provide reports on their success. This entitles the governments they work with additional insight into these areas. Areas where the government may not have personal experience or good business acumen.

Strategy consultants are also often seen these days as people who focus on trying to change company culture from within. Directives such as the FISH! Philosophy or diversity groups present themselves as this kind of consultancy in action.

The History of Business Consultancy

During the history of management consulting, a specific set of niches developed. These were for when companies needed to focus on their internal processes, such as finances, law, marketing, or human resources.

Many of the same players as in the strategy consulting world got involved with business consulting from an earlier stage. It was only when different forms of consulting began to take shape, however, that business consulting became a form in its own right.

These days, business consultants get brought in earlier and earlier in a company’s timeline. They are often focused on companies in a period of growth and upheaval. Therefore, they tend to assist when a human resource division needs to be set up.

Alternatively, they get involved when companies install various legal frameworks. They enter at this stage to ensure the company follows appropriate guidelines to ensure its legal position.

Over the history of business consulting, they have grown more and more focused on specific areas. At the start of the consultancy industry, you might have one consultant for your whole business. These days, you would tend to require one for each area where you are having difficulty.

As the Internet has become more ubiquitous, business consultants have been able to stay more and more in contact. This has allowed niche consultants to remain off-site and get called on for specific tasks more often and not always be on call.

Despite the disparate nature of such consultants in this day and age, the market for business consultants has now grown. It now stands at over one hundred and thirty billion dollars. This has made it a very healthy place to work and thrive.

Who Are the Big Players in Business and Strategy Consulting?

Business consulting, or management consulting, is a very large part of the consulting industry. Because of this, most consultancy firms have dipped a toe in its waters.

Due to this lack of focus, the business consultancy industry has split itself into multiple spheres of interest. These include information technology, recruitment, or employment agencies. Each of these spheres has skewed into the consultancy business to take advantage of the profession’s needs.

Regardless, some companies hold onto these branched firms. They continue to consolidate themselves into corporations with significant reach. This allows them to reach dizzying heights in the industry and beyond.

The four primary consulting firms, known as “the big four”, include:

  • PricewaterhouseCoopers, an English and American conglomeration that operates in over 150 countries
  • KPMG International, focusing on tax, audit, and advisory services in over one hundred and fifty countries
  • Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, a private company in the United Kingdom consisting of multiple firms
  • Ernest & Young Global Limited, a British-based service with nearly three-hundred thousand employees.

The above four consultancy firms make up over thirty-nine percent of the consultancy market in terms of business share. This makes them a significant player in the area.

With the rest of the top two hundred entries, they add up to around eighty percent of the market. This shows that these four hold a significant amount of clout.

As time goes on, both the market as a whole, as well as these four’s shares, continues to grow. There are huge gains still available even for those who are not currently in the top four.

Booz Allen Hamilton, for example, recently won a contract with the US Department of Transportation. They are showing that even the big players are beatable in the open market.

What is Unique About Strategy Consulting?

This method of consulting focuses only on the proverbial levers it can pull to deliver the intents of the business. It is externally-focused. While it may change things within the company, its goal is wholly the grand success of those it grants consultancy for.

Changes it may choose to make could be from a wide set of areas, examples include:

Challenging organizational structures: This is to ensure employees are well-managed. They will ensure members of staff follow processes appropriately. Older companies are prone to stagnation, meaning a shakeup can help discover areas of issue.

Encouraging transparency: Ensuring the top level of the organization has eyes on all of those underneath them. This is so that management can make decisions with the highest level of scrutiny and knowledge available.

Preventing micromanagement: This is often done by retraining management and executive teams. After this, they will have greater trust in those underneath them. If necessary, hiring and firing of others must occur so that the executive team can have faith in those they are overseeing.

Investigating the current strategy: To ensure management aim the company in the correct direction. If money is being wasted on superfluous tasks, the consultant will discover it. Those in charge can then ensure things are moving forward wisely.

Checking human capital: The consultant can ensure the business’ human resources are well-assigned.  This is to make sure the correct amount of human resources are available to reach the company’s strategic goal. They will be able to inform a business of exactly how much they need to upscale or downsize in each area.

Discovering specific concerns: A strategy consultant will interview individual team members. This will occur to find weak links in the chain. They will then make recommendations on retraining or reassignment as needed.

What is Unique About Business Consulting?

Business consulting is usually aimed at senior management. It aims to focus on the business’s processes to find areas of concern in how they organize themselves.

Executives hire business consultants for one specific purpose. For example, a company may wish to focus on ensuring their team does not limit customer growth. Or will encourage the company to innovate in a particular area above everything else.

Business consultants will investigate that one concern above all others. They will then iterate on methods to boost the company’s ability in that regard.

Some of the consultant’s roles may overlap with those of a strategy consultant. A business consultant, however, also attends to organizational matters. While their role may involve discussing a new strategic plan for the company, it will not come down to them to put it in place.

Example tasks for a business consultant may be to focus on:

Outsourcing: Determining what the company can remove from their docket by pushing it to an external agency. This will assist the organization by allowing them to focus on important and complex matters. This is in contrast with day-to-day problems which the company can move elsewhere.

New Technology: A business consultant may investigate a new IT system, especially if the old one is holding the company back. They will make use of the resources at their disposal to upgrade the company with minimal cost.

Optimization: Some companies have a definitive output. such as software iterations or discrete products. In these situations, a business consultant can look at the internal processes by which the company produces its product. They may make recommendations on new flow, systems such as Agile development or lean architecture.

Is Either Of These the same as Management Coaching?

Management coaching has often been mistaken for business and strategy consulting. This is due to such consulting sometimes needing to improve management’s outlook.

Management coaching is a process by which those in an organization’s decision-making tier improve their methods. There are many methods by which this can happen. Examples include direct teaching and training, or by allowing managers to shadow other members of the company.

Business consultants may encourage the upper echelons of a company to undergo management coaching, but it is not the same process. Similarly, strategy consultants might ask for managers to gain a better understanding of how to succeed. It is still not the same, however, as other things happen at the same time during a consultancy period.

When Might You Need a Strategy Consultant?

A strategy consultant is often required when you notice a company has lost its direction. This may be due to several reasons, but a common symptom will be that it tries multiple methods of changing its output in quick succession. This often suggests it is struggling to find its feet after a failure.

In this situation, the effectiveness of the company’s current strategies has been somewhat lacking. They may need an outside perspective.

Internally, their organization may be performing poorly and morale may be at an all-time low, leading to a failure to output products. Externally, the perception of the company may show confusion and it may be hard to ascertain what the company’s direction is.

If external impressions are that the company can travel in a straight line. If that continues, it will start to lose clients as they feel like the organization cannot match their needs.

As someone in charge of the organization, you should remain aware of this possibility at all times. Other symptoms may include increased defensiveness from senior staff. This will likely be due to them wishing to justify their position.

Alternatively, problematic behavior from non-management staff may suggest such problems. This will be as they feel aimless or pulled in multiple directions.

There is often not one reason for this to be the case, but you should investigate which it is. Different problems may lead to you requiring different forms of strategy consultant to react in unique manners.

There is a great diversity in the disciplines of strategy consultants. As this is the case, being able to communicate your needs well is a good first step.

Then again, you can always hire a strategy consultant to perform the diagnosis first.

When Might You Need a Business Consultant?

Sometimes you may find your output slowing down when there has been no need to pivot. This is often a good sign you should hire a business consultant. It will often be a symptom of an internal problem rather than a concern with the business’ direction in the wider world.

Another area might be if you find yourself falling behind technologically. Sometimes tech has simply been an area you have not ficus and therefore you do not have the internal expertise to diagnose how to improve. A business consultant can interface with your I.T. specialists and ensure you get the best upgrade possible.

Other areas of business consultancy include attempting to reassert an appropriate company culture. This can be very difficult, especially if you wish to pivot to a new line of thinking within an existing space. Business consultants are well-placed to assess your company and determine how to go about this.

They can investigate how your employees currently work, then determine how best to change that. Trying to enforce a new culture from the executive level down rarely works. Instead, they will foster a culture that fits your employees and gets the best work out of them.

If you find your company growing, remember that you do not always need to set up internal processes yourself. If you require a new HR department due to your company growing, business consultants can help get them off the ground.

Alternatively, you might all-of-a-sudden find your business not needing a portion of the company. This may be due to an internal redundancy or a market change. In these situations, business consultants will look at your company’s needs and perform a variety of roles to determine how best to move forward.

What Are the Signs of a Good Strategy Consultant?

When you bring a strategy consultant onboard, you will want to ensure they are up-to-speed on the company’s history. You will also want to make sure they are aware of existing strategies.

This requires they be a fast learner and able to pivot to working how your business currently operates. If they do not, they will fall behind. They will be unable to evaluate your position in the market and provide methods by which you can seek to improve.

A consultant must work with many external businesses. Because of this, they should be able to adapt to any situation no matter what they get thrown their way.

You do not want someone who uses the same methods again and again, because they worked with previous companies. You want someone who is highly adaptable and able to work with you to produce results despite not being in the same location they were before.

When working with a strategy consultant, you want to ensure they are self-motivated enough to get going without your oversight. They are the ones who should produce reports on how to improve your company, not you. You are, however, expected to follow their advice.

When working with a strategy consultant, you should also ensure they have a strong understanding of the market as it currently stands. There is no use in having someone focused on strategy when they do not know how to move. It would be like playing chess and not being able to see your opponent’s pieces despite knowing how they can move.

Finally, trust your gut. If you feel you do not trust a strategy consultant to have the best interest of your company at heart, you can always ask for a new one. Sometimes someone might simply not be a good fit.

What Are the Signs of a Good Business Consultant?

Similar to a strategy consultant, make sure any business consultant you bring on has your specific company in mind. If you get the feeling they are peddling out the same tried solutions to everyone, show them the door and hire someone bespoke. If they are not invested in making your company the best it can be, they are of no use to you.

A good business consultant will also not give you one solution. They should have a good range of knowledge and also allow your business to make its own decisions based on many options. Therefore, a consultant who knows their stuff will be able to offer a range of solutions.

You will then be able to pick one which matches your culture and budget. This will get much better buy-in from your staff than receiving a mandate about what they should do at every turn.

Good business consultants should also have a solid network of contacts. If you hire them to assist you in building an HR team or an IT infrastructure, they should have multiple people who they can draw on to assist. If they only know of one group who can help you with a particular problem, they are either accepting bribes or are terrible at networking.

Finally, you should know that the best choice for consultants is someone who cares about improving a company, not pushing methods. They may love Agile, lean processes, waterfall, or many other things. That does not matter, however, when it comes to the fact your company’s output should be the priority for them.

If the consultant is pushing a personal favorite methodology, maybe it does work. They should also be aware, however, that your company might not work with that process.

Making Sure a Strategy Consultant Can Do Their Job

Ensuring a clear line of communication between the management team and a strategy consultant will be the best way to empower them both. Without this, the consultant will not be able to ask questions when they need to and the managers will be unable to learn what to do next.

This often starts with focused meetings and interviews with those in charge but can go a lot further than that.

Ensure the managers know the reasons the consultant will have involvement in the company. There needs to be buy-in from all affected levels, so they need to understand and own up to their own failures. If they do not, the company will be unable to move forward even with the consultant’s assistance.

Regardless of what kind of consultant you have, you also need to make sure they get feedback. Consultants thrive on knowing how they are performing and how the team is responding to their suggestions.

One of the biggest problems a strategy consultant can come across is a team that does not trust them. The consultant’s credentials and attitude should speak for themselves. If this is not the case, however, work with them to improve the situation.

Sometimes the best thing a consultant can do is be honest about the reasons behind their purpose there. Even if there is a chance their feedback will have wide-reaching repercussions for the future of the company.

It is better for everyone that their interactions be from a position of transparency and honesty than finding out the worst later on. If that happens, it will taint any further interaction. You do not want to find yourself with a consultant whose expertise is no longer put to use as they are not trusted.

Making Sure a Business Consultant Can Do Their Job

Working with a business consultant to make changes in your company can have many benefits, but their hands need to be free to make those changes.

To ensure this happens, make sure to get them up-and-running with whoever it is they need to be working with.

As they will be new to the company, introduce them to whoever their main point of contact will be and make sure they have an open line to them whenever needed. This will prevent them from finding bottlenecks as they start to work and allow them to get answers to questions fast.

It is very unlikely they will need as much onboarding as new employees, as they will not be actually working within the processes of the company. It is important, however, to ensure they get the same literature as the rest of the company. Handbooks and other documents may reveal issues with the internal policies which ripple into other areas.

You should also be aware that sometimes consultants try to move outside of their assigned field. If someone is there to set up a new HR department, then they attempt to look into hiring and firing processes, you should not be afraid to question it.

They may be acting with the best intentions and may even believe these are part of their role, but you want to focus them on their primary task.

What you should do is define a direction for the consultant, communicate expectations, and have them show they understand. It is not a problem to put limitations on someone if that is all they are there to do. On the other hand, be aware that you may do this when it is not required and you should be aware of your own motivations at all times.

When Might You Need Both Consultants?

Sometimes it is very important to get different outlooks on a particular issue. Some firms, therefore, choose to hire one consultant for advising on strategy. Then they adjusting the business based on the results of that consultation with another consultant.

This may be for a variety of reasons, but one of the most significant ones is that some firms are better at some tasks than others. One might be better at the analysis of a problem in a company, whereas the other might have a better network of people who can assist with a solution.

Be aware that you have formed your company out of disparate demographics. The consultants who work with the executives may have buy-in from your CEO, but that does not mean a shop floor or group of programmers will trust them. The reason the consultant works well with the CEO might be that they think alike, leading to a culture clash with other sections of your company.

Alternatively, the issue may come down to money. A consultant for your business may pitch a different estimate for costs for different kinds of consulting. Make sure to talk to multiple companies about what they can offer and for how much.

Also, be careful of hiring both in at the same time. The last thing you want is different firms vying for your attention at different times. Most will be too professional for such a thing to happen, but it is not outside the realms of possibility if two groups compete.

Which Consultant Will Cost You More?

According to popular comparison websites, consultancy rates can vary depending on several factors.

Unfortunately, most consulting is a well-kept trade secret. This is because companies wish to charge different rates for the same services based on the client. This means there is only limited advice available to work with.

Rates can go from $50 an hour for a business consultant all the way up to $350 per hour for someone working for a leading strategy consultancy firm, or more.

In general, however, most fees are not related to the types of consultancy which are occurring. They are instead more based on the firms which are providing the service.

As expected, the top four firms are those who will be charging you the most. In exchange for that, you can expect a level of professionalism. Many people, however, prefer a small independent outfit for the bespoke service they provide.

Also, you should be aware that a consultant may start to discuss “retainer agreements”. These are a flat fee for a service, rather than for hourly work. If you begin to trust an individual, this may be more beneficial to you as a business to save money.

Business consulting will often be likely to only take up one smaller project, rather than ongoing work. For this reason, a strategy consultant kept on over a longer period of time will likely ask for a retainer. This is up to you if you choose to go for it, but just be aware of how it may affect your annual or monthly budget.

How Might Consultants Affect Employees?

There are potential differences between how those in the workforce perceive different consultants. Most of these relate to who they interact with and produce very different results.

If a consultant is only working with the executive team, as strategy consultants often do, employees may perceive them as aloof. There may also be a lack of trust if they work with an adversarial exec group. This would be part of a larger problem, so you should be aware of it as a possibility.

The perception of business consultants is far less likely to be similar. This is due to them focusing on improving specific business areas. They are far more likely to make enemies if they tread on people’s proverbial toes. If they make sure to work with other employees and prove their worth, however, you should not have issues.

Those in your company may welcome a business consultant, but make sure to remind them that the individual is not a part of the company per se.

Not only will that improve morale once the contract is over and the consultant must leave your services, but there are legal reasons for this also. You do not want to confuse the matter of whether or not the consultant works for you as a full-time employee or not.

The post Strategy Consulting vs Business Consulting: What’s the Difference? first appeared on Kamyar Shah.

Fractional Chief Marketing Officer vs. Chief Marketing Officer

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Fractional Chief Marketing Officer vs. Chief Marketing Officer

Have you ever had the perfect dinner at your favorite restaurant and the waiter brings you the dessert cart?

The temptation is real as you stare at those decadent creations but you know you can’t finish one. All you need is a bite to make you happy.

That one bite is very similar to the feeling you’ll get from hiring a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer. You’ll enjoy the flavor, without the burden of a full portion.

In this post, we’ll discuss what you need to know about a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer vs. a Chief Marketing Officer. Keep reading our in-depth guide below.

What Is a Chief Marketing Officer?

Whether you are starting a business or getting ready to invest heavily in sales or marketing, you could benefit from having a Chief Marketing Officer. If that investment or startup includes starting a major commercial website, an advertising campaign, or an SEO-driven content marketing initiative a Chief Marketing Officer would be an invaluable asset.

Chief Marketing Officers can go by a variety of titles like Marketing Director, Global Marketing Officer, or Chief Commercial Officer. Regardless of the title, the duties remain the same. The CMO is responsible for all things marketing within an organization.

A good Chief Marketing Officer job description will include oversight in marketing communications, brand management, public relations, advertising, market research, distribution channel management, product pricing, product marketing, and customer satisfaction.

As a member of the C-level management team, the Chief Marketing Officer in most cases will report to the Chief Executive Officer. If your business doesn’t include a C-level management team that won’t preclude you from bringing in a CMO. You probably have the structure in place already without the C-level titles attached that a CMO can effectively operate within.

The Challenges Facing a Chief Marketing Officer

The Chief Marketing Officer is much more than a salesperson. They must possess a diverse skill set to help them manage the brand from concept to customer satisfaction. CMOs will coordinate efforts between research and development, operations, manufacturing, and sales.

They will create a marketing strategy for profitable growth that increases brand recognition while mitigating risk and reducing and controlling costs that might easily spiral out of control.

Research and Development

Any research and development efforts will be closely monitored by the Chief Marketing Officer. New products must be forecast into the sales process, both financially and from a marketing perspective.

They must be developed to dovetail into the CMO’s vision for the future. Otherwise, they will create contrasting perspectives to the overall brand.

Online Sales and Website Development

Your Chief Marketing Officer will work closely with your Chief Information Officer to develop a website that captures the CMO’s vision of the company brand.

The CMO will also be involved in any online sales platform you may need or use to ensure that customer satisfaction is achieved throughout the online sales process. This will include capturing critical data from the online sales and marketing process to help improve and grow the brand.

Manufacturing

If manufacturing is part of your business model, your CMO will work closely with your Chief Production Officer or manager responsible for overseeing the production and manufacturing processes.

Their communication is critical to effectively manage the sales process, especially when running promotional campaigns. Your CMO will strike a balance between production and sales that doesn’t overwhelm one while shorting the other.

In-Person Sales Channels

Brick and mortar sales channels present their own challenges for a Chief Marketing Officer. Brand management is critical across multiple retail outlets.

Your CMO will develop advertising campaigns to include signage and other advertising through online, television, or radio channels. Overall store decor and even employee uniforms or dress code fall under their oversight to ensure the brand’s vision is realized.

Distribution

They will also coordinate the distribution effort between manufacturing and operations to ensure timely delivery of your product. While your Chief Marketing Officer doesn’t get involved in shipping arrangements directly, they will need to forecast effectively the needs to support both the regular and promotional sales efforts.

Navigating the Marketplace

Good Chief Marketing Officers are able to react quickly to changes in the marketplace, whether they be environmental in nature, new competition, or the creation of new vertical markets. Often they will predict what will happen before it does, which could give you an edge over your competition.

Their ability to reshape your company’s strategy and execution plans in a fast-paced environment can be the deciding factor to successfully navigating market fluctuations.

Analytical Ability

Chief Marketing Officers will constantly analyze sales and marketing data looking for trends both positive and negative. They will take critical customer demographics, product sales, and sales channel effectiveness to help plan for the future.

The results will then be communicated back to the CEO for review and together they will plot the future efforts of your company, sometimes a year or more in advance. At this point, the cycle starts over again with R&D, manufacturing, operations, distribution, and sales planning.

This takes a deft hand to unite these departments which can often seem at odds with one another. Your CMO will need to be an expert communicator and motivator, and in many ways a politician because they must bring together these teams to pull in the same direction.

What Is a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer?

A Fractional Chief Marketing Officer is essentially what the name says it is. They have the ability to meet all of the above challenges, yet they will only perform a fraction of them. Basically, they are brought on in a part-time or temporary capacity, but that will depend on you and what your business needs and can support.

This fraction might come in the form of time. You can hire a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer to work 10, 15, or 20 hours per week during which time they will work the entire marketing plan from R&D to customer satisfaction. They will then spend the other fractions of their time with other companies.

Most Fractional Chief Marketing Officer arrangements are set at a six-month minimum, regardless of the model. This is essential because most efforts take time to come to fruition.

What Will a Fractional Chief Operating Officer Do?

When you first begin discussions with a candidate, you should have an idea of what you want them to do for you. Once hired they will focus on these predetermined tasks, but they will also offer their expert opinions on a variety of subjects within your organization.

They will assess your operation and make recommendations as to what else they could or should be doing. This doesn’t mean you can’t pick and choose which recommendations to move ahead with. It simply gives you an idea of what they believe will be helpful.

Remember also that they are marketing their services and any good marketer will make a compelling argument. They should always present these recommendations with a return on investment.

Implement Entry Into a New Vertical Market

You might hire a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer to oversee specific challenges, like planning entry into a new vertical market. This FCMO will work with your management group to assess the individual departmental challenges your company will face.

These challenges will include internal production and sales issues, as well as specific issues you will face unique to the new vertical market. They will then create a plan that unites the team and drives the company forward to successful implementation. Upon completion, the FCMO will move on to other clients.

Rebranding Your Company

If you are planning to rebrand your company then hiring a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer can help. They will work closely with the CEO or company strategist to capture a new vision and create a new brand.

This effort will tie together all aspects of your marketing and sales to fit within the brand concept. Your FCMO will work with research and development to ensure they work with future products to fit the brand. They will also forecast and create advertising campaigns to present the new brand concept to your customers.

Aggressive Sales Campaigns

You might feel like you are missing out on reaching the entire market for your product and you wouldn’t be the first company to realize this. Aggressive sales campaigns can be scary because, by their very name, aggression can be risky.

An FCMO will review your intended results and create a measured approach designed to help minimize your risk while staying aggressive. This might include a unique multi-media advertising approach or bundling products and services.

Regardless of the campaign, they have the experience and knowledge to implement it effectively and keep the risks and costs manageable.

Company Expansion

Many businesses have a great product, a great manufacturing program, and a great sales team, yet need a little help taking the company to the next level. Maybe you’re considering taking your product from a regional market space to national market space, or maybe national to global.

A Fractional Chief Marketing Officer can help you make this jump in a deliberate way. They will assess the new market’s growth potential, forecast the cost to expand from a distribution standpoint, and provide feedback to the manufacturing department to help them forecast for the new demand. They will also develop a sales and marketing plan to address the new market space.

Unify Your Sales Team

Sometimes a company’s growth occurs organically and they find themselves operating at levels they hadn’t originally planned on. You might end up with a national sales force that might be producing just fine, but with distinctly different processes.

This can result in uneven production and fulfillment issues which ultimately cost you money and customer satisfaction, limiting your future growth potential.

A Fractional Chief Marketing Officer can help implement a national strategy that keeps everyone marching to the proverbial beat of the same drum. An FCMO will create national proposals that reinforce the company’s brand and product. They can also implement new software to assist in both the prospecting process and the closing of new sales to streamlining your distribution efforts.

New Product Lines

If your company has developed a new line of product or products you could benefit from hiring a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer. This is especially important if your new product is outside your original scope of products offered, and even more so if your new product has the potential to revolutionize the way people do things.

Your FCMO will need to work closely with all areas of your company to ensure consistency with your brand and your new product. Marketing and sales presentations must be developed to highlight your new capability.

Advertising must be deliberate and targeted to reach your customer base and make them aware of your new product. Your manufacturing team must be ready to handle the forecasted increase in sales and your distribution and fulfillment channels have to be prepared as well.

Benefits of Hiring a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer vs. a Chief Marketing Officer

As the Owner, President, or Chief Operating Officer of a company, your time is always precious. You are responsible for all aspects of your company’s success.

If you’ve created a solid organization with capable managers at every level, then perhaps you can manage to perform the duties of a CMO while delegating other duties.

However, the question always comes down to competence, and marketing is a unique animal in the business jungle. If you don’t have the experience to handle the myriad of duties, you are better off hiring either a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer or a full-time Chief Marketing Officer.

1. Not Ready for a Full-Time Marketing Professional

One reason you should consider hiring a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer vs. a Chief Marketing Officer might be because you are a small to medium-sized business and simply don’t have the budget to support a full-time CMO. In fact, this is the most common reason to bring one in.

An FCMO affords you access to C-level leadership without the cost of hiring a full-time CMO. In most cases, this ultimately ends up with you hiring a CMO full-time because the initial effort has grown your business enough to support one.

2. You Lack a Consistent Marketing Message

Your business may be functioning okay but there is no consistent message being presented to customers. This could be a lack of marketing material. That leads to individual sales representatives producing their own flyers, proposals, and more.

Chief Marketing Officers and Fractional Chief Marketing Officers can create a consistent brand message. They do so through marketing materials, proposals, and presentations. They can also create training programs to help the sales team speak with one voice.

If this is only one of a few skills you are looking to find, an FCMO can handle it at a lower cost than a full-time CMO.

3. You Need an Effective Sales Technique

For decades, salespeople have been negatively stereotyped as particular types of people. They’ve been called everything from sharks to snake oil salespeople. There’s no question that some industries have earned their reputations.

Car salespeople have had a notorious reputation for the longest time. Car salespeople have a stigma that many dealerships are looking to remove. It’s because they realize the negative connotation doesn’t sit well with consumers anymore. It comes down to trust. No one likes walking away from a purchase feeling they didn’t get a fair deal.

Companies today realize this and are careful to craft a sales approach that doesn’t offend consumers. If your company doesn’t have a sales process that consumers can trust, a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer can craft one for you.

This is true whether you need a consultative approach, a formula-driven bidding process, one based on addressing needs, or some other method that your industry embraces. An FCMO can create one that works for you and your customers just as well as a CMO, but for a lower cost.

4. You Don’t Have Marketing Savvy

Marketing savvy in this case speaks to having the proper knowledge to make good marketing decisions. Too often companies will create a website because someone said they needed one.

Or they might jump on the pay-per-click bandwagon because that’s what SEO experts tell you is another hot way to market your business. Sometimes they invest in branded giveaways like shirts or coffee mugs to give away at conventions or sponsored events.

A Fractional Chief Marketing Officer and a Chief Marketing Officer possess the skills and knowledge to identify where your marketing dollars can be best spent. They do this by evaluating specific metrics within your industry and your company in particular.

They then develop a strategy to spend your marketing dollars wisely, getting you a positive return on your investment. Everything your FCMO does will be to drive revenue and growth. Most importantly, they will not succumb to frivolous spending for the sake of spending.

Chief Marketing Officers and Fractional Chief Marketing Officers both must get results to justify their salaries. However, a CMO is held to a slightly different standard for delivering results than an FCMO. A CMO is a permanent, full-time employee with a high salary, excellent benefits, a robust commission structure, and even profit-sharing in some cases.

These are all great perks for your CMO when they succeed. But what happens when their intended results fall short? They are far more likely to try riskier endeavors to keep themselves employed.

An FCMO has a contract with a term that expires, with or without results. They are far more likely to ride out their plan and show a marginal gain, rather than spend more of your money on riskier projects. Spending frivolously doesn’t have any upside for them.

A savvy FCMO knows that even marginal gains can create a return on investment and they can build off that for future contracts. These will come as part of a proposal to extend their services, complete with detailed ROIs on any new initiatives.

5. You’re Late to the Marketing Party

What if your company is well-established in the industry and has been operating for years or even decades, but you’ve never had a marketing manager? You likely will benefit from hiring one.

Times change, now more so than ever. Technology, social media, and global markets can catch companies like this unprepared. Have you suddenly seen your sales or market share dropping and can’t understand why?

Hiring a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer vs a Chief Marketing Officer can address this concern effectively without the full-time investment. They will develop a strategy to bring your marketing program into the modern business environment.

They can take advantage of technology and other mediums like social media to build brand awareness and make you more competitive.

6. You’re In-Between Chief Marketing Officers

You might be a well-established company that has employed a full-time CMO for years but the position has recently become vacant. Hiring a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer vs. a Chief Marketing Officer in a rush is a bad idea.

It can be detrimental to the long-term success of the position and your company to hire too quickly. An FCMO can help bridge the gap while you take the necessary time to search for a permanent replacement.

7. Audit Your Existing Marketing Program

If you’ve been working with the same marketing program for years, you could benefit from hiring a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer vs. a Chief Marketing Officer. Having them conduct an audit of your program is smart. You might have a marketing manager already and simply want to give them support, or you might be considering adding one.

Regardless, they will come in with a non-biased perspective and assess what you are doing. This can be very helpful to companies whose growth remains static within their industry.

An FCMO will review all aspects of your marketing and make a list of recommendations. In many cases, they will help you implement new strategies as part of an ongoing consulting agreement. You won’t find a CMO for a temporary assignment like this.

How Do I Find a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer?

Fractional Chief Marketing Officers are usually highly qualified, experienced marketing executives. They aren’t consultants, per se, yet they can be brought on in a consultative manner. Typically though they are contracted for a minimum of six months up to two years, sometimes with extensions built into the contract.

Marketing is a fast-paced, ever-changing field and might be the single most important element to a successful business. You could have the best product on the market, but if you aren’t marketing it properly you may never succeed. Good marketing can take a good business and make it into a great business, so don’t undervalue it.

Finding the right Fractional Chief Marketing Officer is critical to the continued growth of your business. A strong leader in the marketing department is challenging, especially in a small to medium-sized business. There are some important steps to take when searching for a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer to ensure you make the right decision.

1. Conduct Your Own Internal Assessment

You should begin with an assessment of your marketing operation. This can be done by the CEO or another operational manager, or you can bring in a business consultant. Either way, you need someone to review your processes with a critical and unbiased eye.

You’ll be looking at a number of key measurables first. How much are you spending on marketing? Where are you spending that money? What, if any, is your return on investment?

Marketing is a costly endeavor and the money can disappear quickly. Knowing how, where, and why are important measurables that will help you plan for the future.

Once you get through the financial part you need to look at what kind of demographic information you’ve collected on your customer base. Who is buying your product? Who isn’t? Are they male or female? How old are they?

These are important insights you should be collecting. If you haven’t been collecting them by now then you most certainly need to create a system moving forward. This information can help you spend wisely.

After a demographic review, you want to drill down a little more. You should be looking at advertising campaigns you’ve run in the past. You want to look at the materials and methods you used during these campaigns.

You’ll also want to look at the company or companies you worked with to create these marketing materials. It doesn’t matter whether they be print, radio, television, social media, or something else.

Also very important is a review of your company’s operating philosophy and culture. Be sure you can easily describe these things.

A casual workplace with break rooms that feature video games, massaging recliners, and a well-stocked and free snack bar is much different than a business-professional environment that is fast-paced and bottom-line focused. These will be important considerations during your search because you’ll want to find an FCMO who blends well with your culture.

2. Set Goals for the Future of Your Marketing Program

Once you’ve completed your internal assessment, you should have a clear picture of what, if anything, is working. You’re probably starting to get an idea of where you’d like to improve too. Now it’s time to set some goals.

Your goals should run the gamut from easily achieved to wildly optimistic. Don’t sell anything short because good marketing can make almost anything a reality. Assembling a variety of short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals is the best approach.

A good short-term goal might be to revamp your company’s proposal package or create some new, modern advertising flyers. You might also consider creating several advertising campaigns targeting specific demographics you know to be consumers.

Mid-term goals might include an expansion into a new vertical market you know has a need you can fill, but you haven’t yet attempted to reach. This could also be true from a regional expansion perspective. Entering new, untapped markets outside your area of influence can prove profitable.

Long-term goals might include a rebranding of your company or product line. As previously stated, times change. Your product may still be useful, but if you are targeting a stale market you won’t realize your full potential.

Regardless of your goals, keep in mind they aren’t something you can necessarily complete on your own. That’s the point of hiring a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer.

3. Search for Qualities That Will Help

At this point you should have a clear understanding of what you’ve done right, what went wrong, and perhaps even why. You also have an eye toward the future of your company and its marketing program. Now it’s time to start looking.

All your candidates will have the qualities you would want in a Chief Marketing Officer. That’s why they do what they do on a fractional basis. However, you should look for those with experience in what is important to you.

Start with your industry. Anyone with experience in your industry will shorten their learning curve. This is important when it comes to understanding how to market your company.

If one of your goals is to expand into a new vertical market you’ll want to find candidates with this experience. They will have met similar challenges and be better equipped for such an endeavor.

Perhaps one of your goals is to revamp your sales process from the ground up. Maybe you wish to install new techniques, equipment, and technology. Someone with a record of success with this type of work will be more beneficial than a candidate without this experience.

Maybe you want to get into rebranding your company. Someone with a track record in creating brand identity and awareness will work better than someone without it.

One important quality you should be looking for is will their personality fits with your company’s culture. As previously stated, the casual work environment is different than the suit and tie business world. Your Fractional Chief Marketing Officer will need to fit in with whatever your culture might be.

4. Have Them Submit a Statement of Work

This doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out proposal. A good Fractional Chief Marketing Officer will submit an overview of their qualifications. They should relate to what your stated needs are. The more specific you are upfront, the easier it will be for them to give you a comprehensive Statement of Work.

As part of their Statement of Work, they should include measurable actionable items. These should also include some rough pricing information at the least. They should know what these things will cost you. Your return on this investment should also be explained.

Some of these actionable items are easier to quote than others. A good FCMO will be very detailed when presenting a proposal to you. They should also come with timeframes for completion.

5. Negotiate a Contract

You’ve found the right marketing professional, congratulations. Now it’s time to sign a contract.

Everyone has a different idea of how much they are worth. As a rule, you should check the current salaries for Chief Marketing Officers in your industry. Salaries can vary by region as well, so be conscious of this fact. If your company is in New York City, you can expect a higher salary than say for Boise, Idaho.

If you are contracting for a certain number of hours per week, you should take the annual salary and divide it by the number of weeks. From there you then divide it again by the number of hours you’ll need them. This is a fair number for most people and a good place to start, but, they will be submitting their price to you.

You always have the option to turn them down. Negotiating a different price isn’t considered bad form either, but not everyone will. If they are an experienced and desirable Chief Marketing Officer, they might be able to pick and choose their clients. This will seriously limit your ability to negotiate.

That said, if they have the requisite skillset you need, then you should feel good about hiring them. If they fit with your culture, and their Statement of Work is one that offers a good return on investment, you should feel good about signing a contract.

An integral part of the contract negotiation should center around time. Not only the hours per week you will need them but the length of time of your contract. Some will be willing to go with monthly contracts, but most are looking for at least a six-month agreement.

They will need time to implement their plans and changing a marketing program isn’t like turning your car around. It’s more like changing the direction of a cruise liner in a tight port. It must be done carefully and without rushing.

Another element of time to consider is what will happen at the end of the contract term. Will your Fractional Chief Marketing Officer be available to stay on? Will an extension be month to month or a simple six-month renewal? Will there be an option to hire them permanently?

Be prepared for the worst here, because there’s a real possibility they will want to move on. They are highly skilled individuals with a unique mindset to create solutions. Once things are running smoothly they may have a natural desire to find their next challenge. They may want to stay on, too, but it’s always better to plan for the worst and hope for the best.

And the best thing you can do is to put a consulting clause in the original contract that gives you an easy way to invite them back for special projects. At least this way you have someone who helped design, build, and implement your marketing program only a phone call away.

What if I Already Have a Marketing Agency?

There’s nothing wrong with having a relationship with a marketing agency while looking to hire a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer. In some cases, having a relationship might be beneficial. Your FCMO will likely need some marketing material to be produced, and maybe in several different mediums, so the agency you have could be the answer.

Many marketing agencies need a contract that can prove burdensome, especially if you consider taking on an FCMO at the same time. Often the contracts come with a retainer fee built-in and billed monthly, quarterly, or semi-annually. This retainer fee works like a draw on services provided.

If you have a $10,000 retainer fee you essentially must spend that money on marketing services with them. They will provide you with suggestions on how to spend it and will develop the material which you will have final control over.

Yet you won’t get the level of expertise you would from a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer. A marketing agency will have subject area experts, but probably no single person at the agency will possess the C-level skillset of an FCMO.

You’ll have a cancellation clause with your marketing agency so you won’t want to cancel. If you are considering hiring an FCMO then you are probably not satisfied with your marketing agency on some level.

A good idea would be to plan on hiring a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer shortly before your marketing agency agreement ends. You’ll give your new FCMO a chance to review their prior work, evaluate the services they offer, and decide which they would like to keep.

If your new FCMO is interested in keeping them on in some capacity, he can handle negotiating a new contract.

Is It Time to Hire a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer?

This answer is dependent on your particular circumstances. As previously detailed, an FCMO brings a unique skill set focused entirely on marketing. If you are a small company just starting out, hiring a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer vs. a Chief Marketing Officer is the right choice. Hiring a full-time CMO is likely too expensive.

If you already have a steady revenue stream and are ready to invest in the future, an FCMO is an investment in that future with tremendous upside.

The post Fractional Chief Marketing Officer vs. Chief Marketing Officer first appeared on Kamyar Shah.

Fractional Chief Operating Officer vs. Chief Operating Officer

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Fractional Chief Operating Officer vs. Chief Operating OfficerWhen a company begins to scale up, it may find itself faced with problems it just doesn’t know how to solve. When this happens, it may be time to consider bringing in a Chief Operating Officer (COO). However, that may not be the right fit for every kind of company.

The goal of this article is to analyze the differences in the roles of the Fractional Chief Operating Officer vs. Chief Operating Officer. It is important to determine which one is right for each growing business.

Understanding what a Fractional Chief Operating Officer is, and the ways the role differs from a traditional Chief Operating Officer can be pivotal to setting a growing company up for long-term success.

What is a COO?

Before making any decisions, it’s important to understand the complicated role of a Chief Operating Officer. According to Accenture, the COO is “perhaps one of the least understood roles in business today.”

Yet, having a COO can be vital. Especially in times of rapid growth and transformation, when the risk for business execution is highest, a COO can make all the difference.

Keith Rabois, former COO of Square, describes the COO like a doctor in an emergency room. This means they will be the ones fixing and diagnosing problems to see if they are minor or serious. If a company faces an uncertain future, a COO could be the critical component to completely transform business operations and ensure long-term success.

When a company is ready to scale up, a COO can serve as the leader of the necessary change efforts a company needs to make. They define needed changes, lead the charge, and manage the change efforts. Perhaps most importantly, COOs celebrate each change’s success.

Often, the COO will serve as the glue holding a company together. They are a vital part of rounding out the leadership team.

What Makes for a Good COO? 

Well, there are many different types of COOs. In fact, the COO position is one of the most varied positions in the world of business. It’s rare for any two COOs to come from the same background, have the same experience or operate in the same way.

Commonly, COOs should at the very least have deep knowledge of marketing, sales, and operations. It is their job to integrate all aspects of a company’s revenue cycle, ensuring that a CEO’s vision leads to actual profit.

In fact, a COO is generally regarded as the CEO’s second-in-command. They need to be able to have strategic competency. This means they can analyze and lead the implementation of necessary strategies to help businesses turn a profit.

Bringing in someone with a fresh perspective, but deep respect for the CEO’s vision is key.

Common Traits of Effective Chief Operating Officers

The Ability to Think Both Large and Small

A COO must have the ability to keep their company’s high-level strategy front and center while making detailed decisions about day-to-day operations.

A People’s Person

Someone who values and appreciates talent. At the end of the day, a COO should have the ability to recognize how to find the right people for each job.

No Ego

If a COO spends their time trying to usurp the CEO, the partnership probably won’t work out. They need to be trustworthy and respectful.

Data-Driven

Being able to study the minutia of daily-data can ensure that high-level vision translates to profitable operations.

Ultimately, the role of a Chief Operating Officer is to bring a company together. It is their job to ensure a more efficient, and therefore more effective, workflow.

On occasion, a Chief Operating Officer may even be someone with more experience than a CEO. This can be vital, as a deep understanding of business operations on all fronts is a necessity. Also, they should be someone who can think about a high-level, while still maintaining a deep focus on day-to-day operations.

What Makes a Chief Operating Officer Different from Other Roles?

The role of the Chief Operating Officer can be difficult to define. It is a role that is unique structurally, socially, strategically, and politically. It is also a role that is extraordinarily situational.

In fact, when examining COOs as a class, the Harvard Business Review found that there were almost no constants. Salespeople and marketers have been successful in the role, as have Financial and Human Resources executives.

Despite their many different ways of operating, they found that anyone from any background could succeed in the role, as long as they meet the needs of the company, and more importantly, the needs of the CEO.

The Many Types of COOs

As previously mentioned, there are many different types of COOs. It is not a one-size-fits-all type of role. Many times, the function of a COO is dependent on the specific needs of a company.

The main purpose of a Chief Operating Officer is to fill in the gaps of expertise that a CEO may be lacking. Because of this, the COO position is unique in that it is less related to the actual nature of the work, and more related to the needs of the CEO as an individual. However, in some cases, a COO’s position may be more related to the specific needs of the business itself.

The main thing that sets a Chief Operating Officer apart is the high level of trust established between them and the CEO. This should be a close working relationship, with extreme respect between both parties.

Traits that set a Chief Operating Officer Apart

Selflessness

A COO may be responsible for a bulk of a company’s operations, however, they usually receive little of the credit. The CEO will always have a larger spotlight.

A COO’s work is almost always done behind the scenes. Therefore, a good COO must be someone who recognizes the importance of their work without needing public attention.

Communication

COOs must be excellent communicators. They must be able to communicate effectively with executives and the teams and departments they oversee. A large part of their role is the ability to mediate conflict and negotiate among stakeholders.

Besides, they will have to act as a spokesperson for both the staff and C-suite executives of a company. Generally, they control the flow of communication, so attentiveness to messaging and communications is vital.

Ability to Think Strategically

The COO is there to transform the CEO’s abstract vision into a profitable reality. They have to be able to achieve measurable results. Aligning company goals with day-to-day operations is pivotal. They have to be sure they can think both at a high-level and in the daily minutia of operations.

Delegation

Delegating tasks is a key function of the COO role. It is imperative COOs know which tasks should go to which departments and teams. This requires a unique understanding of each departments’ skills and strengths to ensure that everyone on every team is working at their most effective level.

It is important for the COO to understand the overall vision of the company. This is because they are also in charge of ensuring every team is working toward the same goals.

It Takes All Four

A good COO will have all four of these major traits. That’s a unique ask from one single employee, but that high level of skill is what sets Chief Operating Officer apart from everyone else. COO is a demanding position that requires a highly skilled employee.

At the end of the day, the COO is there to make the CEO’s long-term vision a reality. This means that a COO must have ultimate trust in the CEO’s vision. On the other hand, the CEO must have ultimate trust in the COO’s ability to implement that vision.

What Are the Different Types of Chief Operating Officers?

As previously stated, the role of COO is a varied one. They come from many backgrounds, with all manner of unique experiences and leadership styles.

However, according to Harvard Business Review, COOs can typically be put into one of seven categories. These include:

The Executor

When most people hear the term COO, this is usually what comes to mind. Executor-style COOs are focused entirely on day-to-day operations.

This leaves the CEO free to focus on the larger vision, public relations, and high-level decisions. This type of COO minimizes the CEO’s need to keep close tabs on the minute details and inner workings of the company.

The Change Agent

This type of COO is usually brought in to help a stagnant company get moving again. When growth vision stalls or market performance is weak, these COOs can come in to reinvigorate public interest in the company.

Usually, they have a unique set of skills and experiences. Sometimes, they even come from a different industry with fresh ideas to shake things up.

The Mentor

Sometimes, the CEO may be new to the business world. They might have become CEO thanks to a novel idea or invention, but lack the business acumen to lean on.

If the CEO is inexperienced in business, the mentor-type COO can help guide them through difficult business decisions. Usually, this type of COO is a highly seasoned professional.

The Other Half

Here, the COO and CEO complete each other. They almost function like the left and right sides of the brain.

This type of COO stays grounded and logic-oriented. This allows the CEO to think more abstractly and unpredictably. This COO will ensure their workforce receives consistent instruction, information, and communication.

The Heir Apparent

This COO is often being prepared to follow in the CEO’s footsteps. If a CEO is planning on retiring or stepping down, having their next-in-line serve as COO can be a great shadowing opportunity.

This COO is mainly there to learn the ropes of managing a company. This is a great way to streamline CEO transition.

The MVP

This is when a former staff member rises to the rank of COO. Typically this happens when a team member displays a high level of value to the company.

Promoting them to COO can be a good way to keep them at the company, providing them with higher status and compensation. This will make a great employee much less likely to leave the company to chase competing offers.

The Partner

This COO helps to round out a leadership team. For some CEOs, having a team can make them more efficient. This provides CEOs with the ability to bounce ideas off of another person, while also drawing useful knowledge and skills from an experienced individual.

Though the CEO will slightly outrank the COO, they are more close in standing when in this kind of relationship. Similar to The Other Half, they operate almost as one entity in terms of managing the company.

Striking the Balance

Each of these types can bring something unique to a fledgling company. Based on the needs of the CEO or the company itself, finding the right type can supplement a company’s strategy.

Additionally, these seven roles are not mutually exclusive. Though it is unlikely that one person could serve in all seven roles, it is not far-fetched to imagine a single COO wearing one or two of these different hats. However, the distinction between them makes it clear why outlining the role of COO is such a difficult task.

At the end of the day, however, the most important factor in finding a COO is for the CEO to find someone they can trust completely. They must be able to fill the role most needed by the CEO. According to Wendell Weeks, who went from COO to CEO at Corning, the CEO-COO paring needs to be a “true partnership, in every sense of the word.”

As a CEO, finding the right type of COO can turn a good business into a great one.

When Is the Right Time to Get a Chief Operating Officer?

Most companies do not start out with a Chief Operating Officer. For the early stages of business development, they aren’t really a necessity. However, as a company begins to grow, so does the need for efficient operations.

Many companies wait until it’s too late to hire a COO. Sometimes this is because of budgetary restraints or the idea that COO is an unnecessary position. It’s important to have an understanding of where a company is at and where it’s going to understand their need for a COO.

Basically, a company should begin thinking about bringing on a COO right before things go bad. If a CEO realized their company is beginning to scale up, odds are they’ll soon be overwhelmed by the workload. Hence, the use of a COO will be necessary.

Another reason to bring in a Chief Operating Officer is if there is a specific business need or area of expertise the CEO lacks. COOs can be pivotal in filling in those necessary gaps, which in turn will ensure long-term success.

Signs a Business May Need a Chief Operating Officer Very Soon

CEO Stretched Too Thin

A CEO is spending too much time working in the business instead of on the business. They do not have the capacity to shift their focus to long-term goals and vision.

Daily Struggle

Many in the company, but especially the CEO, are feeling overwhelmed. There is a daily struggle to ensure appropriate operational efficiency.

Time to Scale Up

A business is maintaining a steady profit. There is a specific need to begin scaling up. Without the ability to scale up, the company’s growth will stagnate and stall.

Leadership Gaps

A company needs a stronger leadership team. Without it, everything may begin to unravel.

Questions a CEO Should Ask

There are important questions you should ask to determine if it’s time for a COO.

  • What is your company’s current bandwidth? How much revenue can you currently generate?
  • Will you be able to successfully reach your yearly revenue goal?
  • What is your maximum capacity limit for operations? When will you reach this capacity?
  • How much capital do you have available? How much capital will it take to reach your revenue goal? When will you need a capital infusion?
  • Are your prices set correctly? Or, are you undervaluing your product or service?
  • How many more sales are necessary to reach your yearly revenue goal?
  • Are your current marketing efforts supporting your sales team in reaching that revenue goal? Do these efforts generate enough leads?

If a CEO can confidently answer these questions, a Chief Operating Officer may not be necessary. However, if they struggle to come up with the right answers, or see far enough ahead into the future, it’s probably time to start looking for a COO.

What if I Can’t Yet Hire a Full-Time Chief Operating Officer?

Many growing businesses may find it difficult to bring on a full-time executive. The costs can be astronomical, and they might not even know what exactly they want or need from the position.

For these companies, it might be counter-intuitive to bring in a full-time COO right off the bat. There are many things that go into bringing on a new executive, such as building a new executive office, creating a unique hiring process, and putting together an expensive perks and benefits package. Doing all of this could put a company even farther into the red, which isn’t great when trying to scale up.

Luckily, there is another option. If a fledgling business is not yet ready to bring on a COO, a Fractional Chief Operating Officer may be the answer. Fractional COOs can ensure more effective business operations for a growing business, while still maintaining budget-appropriate costs.

What Is a Fractional COO? 

Simply put, a Fractional Chief Operating Officer is a highly-experienced consultant who operates as a part-time COO. This allows a business to retain the insight of a COO without having to bear the full-time costs.

This is perfect for small businesses and start-ups who need the support of an operations expert, but cannot yet afford a full-time executive. The main purpose of a Fractional COO is to provide leadership support and cost flexibility for those up-and-coming businesses trying to scale up in a competitive market.

Hiring a Fractional COO can mean the difference between successful business scaling and harmful stagnation for any company on the upswing.

What Exactly Does a Fractional COO do? 

Often times, Fractional COOs may be more useful to a small business than a full-time executive. They provide businesses with the flexibility they need while remaining laser-focused on the company’s needs.

To begin, a Fractional COO will get to know a company’s business model. Once they’re well versed in that, they will begin to work within that framework to bring a business the leadership and accountability in any area of the CEO’s choice.

A CEO may use a Fractional COO to:

  • Head up senior operations in areas the CEO isn’t able to
  • Analyze business data, including KPIs, analytics, etc, and produce detailed business reports
  • Provide unbiased and insightful strategic input in areas where the CEO’s expertise may be lacking
  • Oversee staffing procedures, including interviews, recruitment events, and outlining necessary hiring requirements for each position
  • Delegate tasks to the appropriate teams or team members
  • Lead sales and marketing departments while offering key innovations
  • Innovate better ways to produce products or services, including more efficient technology
  • Strategize the company’s business growth goals by using more detailed or innovative success metrics
  • Serve as second-in-command or interim CEO when necessary

Often times, a Fractional COO is brought into a company to completely overhaul operations. By introducing new strategies and processes, Fractional COOs can be the key component in bringing businesses to the next level. This creates a smooth scaling-up process.

Different Types of Fractional COOs

A Part-Time or Temporary Contractor

This type of Fractional COO will be with your company for a set amount of time, serving until a company no longer has a need for them, or is ready to hire a full-time COO.

On a Project-Based Level

These Fractional COOs may assist a company with one or more projects. Then, when those projects are over, so is their involvement with the company. This type is useful if there is a very specific business need.

An Advisor Without Team Involvement

This type is often brought in to assist the CEO. They serve as a consultant to the CEO, providing advice without necessarily taking over any operations.

Choosing the right type of Fractional COO is entirely dependent on a company’s immediate needs, as well as any budgetary constraints. But, one of the key benefits of hiring a Fractional COO is the flexibility to choose what is actually needed.

What Are the Benefits of Hiring a Fractional COO?

The most obvious benefit is the cost. Hiring a Fractional Chief Operating Officer allows a company to customize the level of involvement the Fractional COO has with a business. Therefore, this allows a company to customize the necessary compensation package for the Fractional COO based on the company’s budget.

In addition, a Fractional COO is oftentimes more laser-focused on a specific area. This means when a company has a very specific need, a Fractional COO could provide the necessary expertise to fill in any gaps. For example, if a company struggles with innovating in the realm of marketing, they can bring in a Fractional COO who specializes in marketing processes.

Fractional COOs can also supplement the current CEO’s knowledge. They may be able to pick up in areas where a CEO’s genius might be lacking. So, while a CEO might be more attuned to focusing on high-level vision, a Fractional COO can come in to clean up day-to-day operations.

Another use of a Fractional COO in a growing company is to help build or advance talent and teams. They can help oversee the hiring process and ensure a business is recruiting the right people for the job. With their guidance, a company can build teams that help them reach new levels of dominance in their sector.

Fractional Chief Operating Officer vs. Chief Operating Officer: Which is Right for My Company?

Fractional COOs and traditional COOs can have many similarities. But, for some businesses, one may be better than the other based on their specific needs and areas of interest. Here are some specific benefits of hiring a fractional chief operating officer vs. chief operating officer.

Remote Workers

Fractional COOs usually work remotely. Even when they do not, they usually do not require a separate executive office, whereas a full-time COO would.

Easy on HR

There is no elaborate hiring process when selecting a Fractional COO. Usually, Fractional COOs are already experienced leaders who have worked at an executive level. Often, they will come with proven track records for success.

A traditional COO might require a completely unique hiring process, which could put a strain on an already small Human Resources department.

Inexpensive

You do not have to provide a Fractional COO with extensive benefits, bonuses, or perks, as they are hired as contractors. This could save your business thousands.

Trial Runs

Hiring a Fractional COO lets you “test run” the COO position. This can help your business decide what you actually want and need from a Chief Operating Officer, without any major commitment.

Easier to Let Go

It is much easier to let a Fractional COO go if things don’t work out. Releasing a full-time COO from a contract might be much more difficult. They can often get tied up in legal stipulations and expensive payout packages that complicate matters.

Since fractional COOs are contractors, letting them go is usually a relatively easy process.

Rounding Out Teams

Fractional COOs are there to help you build. This means, they can find the right talent for you, and in some cases, even help you find their full-time replacement.

Proven Expertise

Fractional COOs usually have years of proven results. This could mean bringing on someone with much more experience than someone new to the Chief Operating Officer position.

Flexibility

Perhaps most importantly, Fractional COOs are flexible. For a growing business, this means they can roll with the often unpredictable punches that come with scaling up a business. Fractional COOs can usually work as much or as little as you need, or as your budget allows.

Size Matters

All of this being said, there are some cases in which hiring a full-time Chief Operating Officer might be the better option. For larger businesses, or those growing at a truly exponential rate, hiring a COO could see greater stability in the long-run. It could also help build a stronger long-term relationship between COO and CEO.

However, for most small to mid-level businesses or start-ups, the Fractional COO might be the best choice. Fractional COOs can help mitigate costs. At the same time,  they can help a company to build both day-to-day and more long-term business operations strategies.

In addition, businesses with very specific operations needs or questions would also likely benefit more from the help of a Fractional Chief Operating Officer. Fractional COOs are more likely to come in with specific experience in one area. This can be especially helpful to businesses that need laser-focus in, particularly weak spots.

Common Mistakes in Hiring COOs

Once you’ve decided whether a Fractional COO or COO is right for you, it’s important to make sure you find the right person for the job. When doing so, it’s also important that you stay away from these common mistakes when hiring COOs.

Seeking out a Director or Vice President of Operations

Sometimes, companies will hire below a C-suite executive level in order to cut costs.

These people are then expected to operate at the level of an executive but without the benefits or necessary experience. Because of this, they often fall short of what is actually needed by the business.

Lowballing the Chief Operating Officer’s salary

Again, this is done to cut costs.

Here, we once again have a business that is forced to hire someone at a Director or Vice President level. People without the necessary experience typically cannot function at the executive level.

Not Distinguishing the COO Hiring Process

Occasionally, companies treat the hiring process for Chief Operating Officer as if it were any other position.

COOs have very unique, highly specialized functions. This requires specialized hiring processes and unique labor structures. Without that, the COO is often doomed to fail.

Why do companies make these mistakes in the first place?

Well, there is usually one of two reasons:

  • They cannot afford the talent they actually need
  • They don’t understand the inherent differences of the Chief Operating Officer position vs. the other positions in the company

COO can be a complicated position. A fledgling company or new CEO may not have an understanding of how to make the role most effective.

This Is where a Fractional COO comes in

Before making these common hiring mistakes, a company might consider hiring a Fractional COO to see what they actually need from the position. This can also ease the financial burden of hiring an executive until the company is actually able to scale up in terms of profit.

Even so, there are still some important considerations to make when choosing any COO, Fractional, or otherwise.

The most important thing when choosing a Fractional COO or full-time COO is finding someone the CEO can really trust. The CEO and COO should have a natural rapport and the potential to develop a good relationship.

There Must be Trust

Remember, the CEO and COO will be working very closely together toward a common goal. It is important any potential COO understands what a company wants and needs at the current phase of its development.

This also means that any Fractional COO or COO that is hired should trust that the CEO has the best vision for their company. They must respect the work that has already been put in to get the business to its current level. However, they should also challenge the CEO to expand their thinking.

When bringing on a COO or Fractional COO, the company should be prepared for some major changes. While the COO can and should work within the established business model framework, it is also their job to do a complete operations overhaul.

If the CEO or the rest of the company is not prepared to trust the COO to make the right changes, the partnership will not be successful. In addition, the CEO must trust that the COO only wants what’s best for the company.

Give and Take

According to Harvard Business Review, there are several things a CEO must be prepared to give their COO upon hiring. These include:

Communication

Those vying for the COO position typically understand that it is their job to embrace the CEO’s strategy and vision. However, they can only achieve this if the CEO is clear in their communication. CEOs must be direct and unafraid of being honest with their COOs.

Clear Decision Rights

It is vital for both the CEO and COO to define which responsibilities will fall to which role. Setting explicit and reasonable lines of demarcation between the CEO and COO can help smooth out the relationship.

Though the lines may sometimes get blurry, and overlap is often required, setting clear lines at the start of the professional relationship can help the COO to feel more valued in their role. Often, these decision-making lines are drawn based on the particular competencies of each party.

A Lock on the Back Door

When a COO is brought into a company, a new layer of management is added. Executives who were previously able to address the CEO directly must now flow through the intermediary of the COO.

It is the CEO’s job to ensure that line of delegation is followed. This ensures the lines of responsibility are respected. When the lines of responsibility are respected, the CEO and COO are able to build a more trusting relationship.

A Shared Spotlight

Many COOs understand that the CEO will be largely in the spotlight. They typically come into the position knowing that it is their job to make the CEO more successful.

However, a CEO should be deliberate in ensuring the COO is given credit where it is due. They should communicate with the company and the public the importance of their COO. This creates a more trusting relationship, as everyone likes to be appreciated.

Building a Strong Relationship

If the CEO is prepared to make these changes for their COO, they can often build a more trusting, and therefore more successful, relationship. In any case, it is imperative the CEO find the right person whom they can really trust. Only by finding the right person, will they achieve any success in adding the COO role.

Whether they are Fractional or full-time, a COO can be the necessary ingredient for large-scale and long-term business success. They can keep any business from growing stagnant, so it is important to find one that is trusted and respected, both by the CEO and the industry at large.

Having the Right COO by Your Side Could Make All the Difference

It’s is imperative a company chooses the right COO, and the right type of COO, to oversee their business operations. Without total trust and effective communication, the growth of a business may stall entirely.

Deciding between Fractional Chief Operating Officer vs. Chief Operating Officer, and then choosing the right person for the job, might be a difficult and complicated process. However, understanding and undergoing this process could help your business reach new heights of success.

The post Fractional Chief Operating Officer vs. Chief Operating Officer first appeared on Kamyar Shah.

Product Development 101

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Every product started as an idea. The difference between products that outperform in their market and those that fail before taking off isn’t just luck. The best products rely on solid product development strategies to set them up for success.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • What product development is
  • The history of modern product development
  • Why teams need solid product development strategies
  • The core steps in product development
  • And who determines your project’s success

What is product development?

Product development is a term that describes the steps that turn an idea into a product. Essentially, this is the entire life of your product from start to finish. Using solid product development strategies from the beginning helps you avoid complications down the road. Even more, when you decide upon the approach you will use before even coming up with your idea, you can generate ideas that are already more likely to succeed.

Sometimes, even the best ideas can fail, much like how unlikely candidates succeed. Using a tested approach and understanding your market ensures your product will profit. Thanks to years of trial, error, and meticulous documentation, companies don’t need to experience a failure themselves to find a reliable path to success. This is why we have modern product development.

What is the history of product development?

Product development strategies didn’t start with one company. In fact, they evolved from a natural human process. Humans are idea-generating powerhouses. You could say that product development began with the advent of the wheel, agriculture, or the industrial revolution and be equally correct. Ultimately, the date you choose depends on which part of the process you’re looking at. Everything from the initial idea to the physical product is product development, and the process is as old as we are.

Modern product development has its roots in the early 19th century. Industrialization made it possible to mass-produce goods while constantly making the process more efficient. From the early 1900s to the 1950s, the most significant developments involved breaking the production of physical products into smaller tasks to speed up manufacturing. The assembly line is one example of modern product development methods as we use them today.

After that, the 1950s until the 1980s brought about improvements in mass production. This increased worker safety and reduced waste. Now, it’s understood that the health and happiness of your team directly impact your business’s success. but in the earlier days of product development, this was a relatively new idea. Over time, workers’ conditions improved and gave way to more effective processes within companies.

From the 1980s on, technology took hold of the business world. Technology companies applied the same strategies used in the production of material goods, but they needed changes to bring about the same success. For example, it’s easy to see the effects of changes to an assembly line. If you use a different material, you can see that it’s stronger or more delicate. If you change a line of code in your software, however, you need new testing procedures to see its effects.

Since the 1980s, technology has brought about new product development strategies for organizing teams and creating goods. Now, the internet makes these available to anyone with the will to learn and create.

Why do you need a good product development strategy?

A good product management strategy benefits your team throughout the whole product lifecycle. Think of it as using a map when visiting a new place. Thanks to those who drew that map, you can get you to where you want to be and avoid trouble along the way. In product development, you’ll rarely run into a situation that’s exactly like yours. However, you can use what was learned in similar situations to plan for your best outcome.

A well-tested product design strategy reduces the “wandering“ that you do during your product development. This shortens the time it takes to create your product and reduces errors. In addition, these strategies get your team working together from the start instead of picking up one task where another left off. For example, your legal team might work with your development team in the early stages to ensure that their ideas for a product have no obvious compliance issues.

If you think back to the assembly line example, you’ll see some significant differences between this approach and those used with software development teams. Unlike people working on an assembly line, your team won’t handle just one very specialized task. Instead, your team members will each perform multiple tasks instead of one specialized part, and they will learn from the other parts of your company during the process. Frequent interactions with other departments help them understand how the rest of the company contributes and help them work together more harmoniously.

What are the stages of product development?

You can break down product development into five stages. The Interaction Design Foundation defines these as:

  • Empathize
  • Define
  • Ideate
  • Prototype
  • Test

While your team won’t necessarily go through these steps in a linear order, they must include all of them to stay on track. No matter what product development method you choose, they will all cover these steps.

Empathize

You may be reading this article with an idea for your product already in mind. However, even though you see a need, do enough people experience it to make your product profitable? Market research lets you empathize with your customer and find out what they need to solve the problem at hand.

In this case, it’s best to start by surveying them about a problem that you want to solve. First, identify the people that experience this problem and document their opinions. Some use focus groups, others use surveys, but any kind of feedback from your demographic will show you the best path to solving their problem.

Though some other steps in product development do not happen in a linear order, this step must always come first. Without understanding your product’s users and environment, you can’t guarantee its success. So, in this stage, your team will research the people that you’re trying to target, understand their needs, learn about their outlook on the world, and see the details of their current situation.

Define

Finding a problem to solve is only one part of the equation. Next, you have to find out how driven people are to find a solution. Are they willing to pay for a fix, or is it a mild inconvenience at best? Marketing can help people understand the problem and the benefits your solution brings, but it can’t take the place of starting with a well-thought-out approach. If the people with the problem crave an answer, you will have a much easier time designing a successful product.

The best way to define your potential solution is to outline some possible ideas. Think creatively, and don’t worry too much about the details yet. Think of this as a brainstorming session. Rather than saying no to ideas, get everything you can on the board, either by yourself or with your team.

Much like the empathy stage, the defining stage must occur in a linear order, at least for the first time around. If not, your team risks funneling effort into an impractical solution and misusing their resources. The defining stage is where your team breaks down the information collected during the empathy stage and comes to conclusions based on your data. Here, you can create buyer personas and user stories to align the rest of your efforts. The Interaction Design Foundation recommends creating a narrow problem statement at this stage so you can pinpoint exactly what it is you’re trying to do. A finely targeted effort helps your team pinpoint their efforts and stay on track.

Ideate

Now that you have a couple of ideas to work with, you can develop them into concepts for your product. Here, you can be more critical of what’s practical and what might not work one applied to your customers’ situation. Do these ideas solve the issue? What would the potential cost look like? Is there another solution like this on the market?

Start with the wider goals and break them into smaller tasks. If you find out your encountering questions that are too broad to address, break them up even further. For example, you could break up the task of reducing manual data errors to creating a system that automatically tracks inventory without requiring extra data input.

Prototyping

This is the stage where you act on the steps you’ve outlined during the ideation stage. Prototyping creates an early version of your product so you can have a tangible understanding of your idea. Now that you have something that performs the essential functions, you can see how the features interact. New ideas may come up that help you find new opportunities to address your customers’ issues.

This phase will come up several times during the product development process. Each time your team identifies a new idea, you will prototype it and then test it in the following stage. Frequent jumps between the prototyping and testing stages ensure that you’ve found the most effective way of helping your customers.

Testing

The testing stage is one of the essential steps in product development. Here, you take a prototype you developed in the last step and begin using it in the same scenarios as your customers. Testing involves people both within and outside of your team and will continue even after launching your product. Eventually, when your team is satisfied, and your customers provide positive feedback, you will have your finished product.

Tech is constantly changing, so even your “finished product” may not be the final version. New feature releases, software updates, and bug fixes will be a regular part of your processes, and they will give valuable insights into the market. Your team can harness these and create new products based on these ideas.

Who is involved in product development?

Good product development involves your entire team. It may be easy to think of software development as something handled only by your development team, but realistically this isn’t enough. The most successful products involve help from the entire company, starting in the early stages of development.

The method you choose will decide who needs to be on your team. For example, your team will need to bring on a Scrum master if you select the scrum framework. That said, you can find outside experts with skills that complement your team no matter what methodology you choose. Here’s a brief overview of the roles you will find on most product development teams.

Your project manager determines your success

You can think of product managers as extensions of your CEO. A project manager combines your business goals with your technology and gets a big picture view of the overall requirements. Your product manager should posse a wide array of skills to help your project reach its fullest potential. Often, these skills include engineering, sales, leadership, and business development. Larger companies will need more project managers to achieve their goals. Each product manager will oversee their product’s lifecycle from beginning to end.

Smaller teams may bring in outside talent for this part of a project. For example, a fractional Chief Operating Officer, or fractional COO, is essentially a part-time COO with experience from multiple companies. They can guide your team and assist with planning while keeping the project within its outlined budget.

Similarly, a fractional Chief Marketing Officer can guide your team from the empathy stage, so your product stays aligned with its customers and turns a profit. A fractional CMO offers the unique angle of a marketer’s point of view, which can help your marketing team understand exactly how to highlight your product’s best features to your customers.

Conclusion

Approaching product development without a plan is like going on a trip without a map. You may get where you need to be, but it’s much faster and safer with reliable guidance. A team with a well-thought-out product development strategy is already on the road to success.

Now, you understand what product development is, how modern product development methods came about, the benefits and components of a good strategy, and who drives your team to success. Now, you can explore the finer details of product development to get the most out of your ideas. These strategies

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Intermediate Product Development

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Intermediate Product Development

Every year, over 30,000 products hit the market. However, according to Clayton Christensen, professor at Harvard Business School, 95% of these products will fail. Beating the odds doesn’t depend on luck. When you understand product development, you learn why so many products fail, and most importantly, how to create one of the 5% of products that succeed.

To recap, successful product development strategies involve non-linear steps that incorporate interaction from your whole team. They need frequent testing and tweaks and ample market research. Now that you know the basic steps, we’ll show you:

  • A breakdown of common product development frameworks
  • How product development strategy helps you avoid failure
  • What you need to build a successful product development team
  • And intelligent ways to set product development goals

Common Project Development Frameworks

If you work in software, you’ve likely heard of product development methods such as scrum or lean. These methods fall under the larger umbrella of agile product development frameworks. All of these methods embody the same principles, but they have different ways of acting on them. The differences in these frameworks let you choose a technique that amplifies your team’s strengths and makes efficient use of your resources.

Here, we will cover the basics of Kanban, Scrum, Extreme Programming (XP), Feature Driven Development (FDD), Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM), Crystal, and Lean.

Kanban

Kanban is a framework that visually breaks down projects into individual steps. To do this, teams use a chart divided into three columns called a kanban board. The columns, marked to-do, doing, and done, categorize the team’s tasks within the project. Kanban tends to be more fluid and less structured than other methods like scrum, which allows greater flexibility for projects where the requirements frequently change.

Scrum

Scrum follows a similar method to Kanban, relying on a visual form of tracking tasks. It also uses a grid broken into columns and groups to show the team’s progress. However, one main difference between kanban and scrum is that scrum only focuses on one piece of the project at a time, referred to as a “sprint.” These sprints channel more focus into each part of a task and grant teams more control over their requirements and deadlines.

In addition, scrum teams include two unique roles. These roles are the scrum master, who directs the team’s overall efforts, and a product owner, who maximizes the team’s potential. These two rules help guide scrum teams through each sprint to the eventual completion of the project.

Extreme Programming (XP)

Extreme Programming is a close relative to scrum but includes extra features that help software companies produce higher quality software with more considerations for the wellbeing of their development team. XP uses intervals and sprints like scrum, as well as visual breakdowns found in kanban.

A unique feature of XP is its 12 processes that are specific to software development teams, which make it uniquely advantageous to tech teams. These  processes, according to the Agile Alliance, are:

  • The Planning Game
  • Small Releases
  • Metaphor
  • Simple Design
  • Testing
  • Refactoring
  • Pair Programming
  • Collective Ownership
  • Continuous Integration
  • 40-hour week
  • On-site Customer
  • Coding Standard

Feature Driven Development (FDD)

Feature-driven development is another framework specifically made for software design. Every two weeks, the team creates a software model and a plan to develop the features. When you compare FDD with extreme programming, the main difference is FDD’s unique ability to accommodate larger teams and more complex features.

In contrast to extreme programming, FDD breaks down its processing into five groups. First, the team develops the overall idea of the project. After this is done, they outline a feature list. When that’s finished, the team breaks the required features into actionable steps. The team then designs the component and finally builds them.

Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM)

DSDM is a software development framework that focuses mainly on speed. It shares many similarities with other agile frameworks for software teams but allows for even more frequent reworks. The idea behind this is that reversible steps make it easier to align the project with a later goal than a rigid, complex framework.

Ideally, a flexible team will have a higher probability of success than one that rigidly sticks to its structure. Its principles, according to AgileKRC, are to:

  • Focus on the business need
  • Deliver on time
  • Collaborate
  • Never compromise quality
  • Build incrementally from firm foundations
  • Develop iteratively
  • Communicate continuously and clearly
  • And demonstrate control

Crystal

Crystal isn’t one framework so much as a grouping of similar approaches. Crystal frameworks include options such as Crystal Clear, Yellow, Orange, Orange Web. These let teams select a framework that matches their level of urgency, type of project, and team size. Some of the methods, such as Sapphire and Diamond, include delicate steps that suit projects involving safety risks and sensitive information.

Lean

Lean is one of the most commonly used project management frameworks. It channels the focus on communicating with all team members throughout the design process and standardizing steps to repeat successful outcomes. Lean takes extra steps to eliminate waste and keep efforts focused on the end goal. Additionally, it considers human nature, so it becomes a benefit to the process rather than a hindrance or afterthought.

Avoiding Failures with Agile Product Development

If the teams that launched over 28,500 failed products a year knew how to avoid those failures, we can assume they would. This is why it’s essential to understand why your team is creating a product in the first place and who it serves. Ultimately, the goal of any product development project is to provide value to the customer. Most failures can be avoided by learning what your customers are looking for before investing efforts in the development

This is not to say that your team can avoid every possible failure during the development process. However, agile product development methods make it easier to learn from these mistakes and avoid them in the future. If something works, repeating it can save time. If it doesn’t, knowing what led you there will prevent further complications. Good documentation and well-tested project processes reduce the effort needed to create a functional, successful product.

With suitable documentation and reliable leadership, you empower your team to take on new projects and reach for consistently greater heights. Resilient teams persist despite their failures, and these teams are those that succeed over and over again. Instead of focusing on what was done right or wrong, focus on learning every step of the way.

What are the Components of an Agile Product Development Team?

Agile teams work because they think and operate differently. This means that each person on your team will possess traits that help them thrive within this framework. Your group can provide its members with training and resources that encourage them to develop these skills.

Here is are the components your team will need for successful product development:

  • Collaborative Planning: Instead of using a handoff type of system, lean and agile product design teams work together at nearly every stage of the process. This prevents miscommunications and encourages frequent feedback. If your team already embodies this in their projects, they will adapt quickly to an agile or lean framework.
  • Self-Motivated Style: Top-performing teams are comprised of people that prioritize their time well and work independently. Managers on these teams encourage others to develop their skills while trusting them to get the job done. Micromanaging is not compatible with this kind of dynamic, so if your team has already mastered self-motivation, each following step will be even smoother.
  • Learner’s Mindset: While prior knowledge of a subject is always helpful, the most important thing is that your team continues learning. Nobody will know everything right off the bat, but when people know where to find the knowledge they need, they will overcome challenges faster with better results.
  • Well-Documented Procedures: Well-developed processes will help you repeat your success and avoid future failures. Your team only has to learn a lesson once, and their experience can provide them insight on where to improve. If your team has a track record of keeping reliable logs of their efforts, implementing an agile framework is even easier. Make sure to use flow charts, physical diagrams, clear language that accurately describes the purpose in the process of each step, and detailed explanations of the requirements.

Special Considerations for Targeted Guidance

Your team may not inherently have the expertise to succeed on its first try. This is where you can bring in outside help to guide your team through the development process. A full-time option is not always necessary, especially when the goal is to teach your team how to handle the task independently the next time around. In these cases, a fractional Chief Operating Officer or fractional Chief Marketing Officer provides expert-level guidance to accomplish your goals.

A fractional COO with experience in your chosen framework has participated in many projects like your own. They bring the unique perspective of someone who has witnessed many companies’ successes and failures, translating into expert wisdom for your team. A fractional COO brings together the different members of your team to keep them focused on the end goal of your project.

A fractional CMO, like a fractional COO, also has experience working with multiple different teams. However, they also can involve your marketing and sales team and show them how they can position your product for success during the sales stages. Even the best products have faced difficulties because of a disconnect with their own sales and marketing teams. Overall, the right staff and goals will set you up for a smoother product development process.

What Do You Need to Set Realistic Goals?

When you’re ready to start your goal planning, you will have to break down and organize your goals no matter which method you choose. The most effective way to do this is by each step’s priority level and timeline. These six categories give you a solid working framework.

Priority Levels

Needed – Needed features are the basic requirements your product needs to solve the problem at hand. These goals are non-negotiable and form the foundation of your product’s functionality.

Wanted – Wanted features are what help your product stand out. Users will not choose the bare minimum when there’s another better option. Overall, this category affects how well your product will perform in the market.

Wished – Whished features are what make a good idea into an excellent product. This is where your product can shine. If you focus on at least one area where your product performs exceptionally well, your can lock down a unique selling point that increases its likelihood for outstanding sales. High-quality features make it easier for your marketing and sales teams to sell your product.

Timelines

Short – Short-term goals are goals that span from a few days to weeks. These should be somewhat rigid in their timelines and requirements, especially with needed and wanted tasks. This section can be more flexible with wished goals than the previous two but should still keep a tight timeline.

Medium – Medium-term goals can happen over a few weeks to a few months. Because of the additional allotted time, they have slightly more flexibility than short-term goals. However, as mentioned before, the higher the goal’s priority, the more rigidly your team should stick to their plan.Long – Long-term goals have the most overall flexibility. They can change to suit what you find in the earlier parts of your product development. As these get closer, their level of detail and priority level can change if you find a new way to do what you set out to achieve.

Closing Notes

A carefully chosen product development framework backed by a well-equipped team can help your business create one of the 5% of products that succeed every year. Now, you understand the most common product development methodologies, how a good strategy prevents failure, the elements of a functional product development team, and how to set your team’s goals.

Remember that product development is a constant learning process. As long as you set out to improve wherever possible, even your challenges will bear the fruit of future success. For extra tips on improving your product development strategy, see how a strategy consultant can help.

link to basics article

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Advanced Product Development

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The Marketing Research Association reports that of all the developed products, only 40% make it to market. Even more shocking is that 40% of those that do make it don’t generate any revenue at all. Careful planning increases the chances that your product will not only make it to market but profit.

First, choose a product development framework to organize your efforts. Next, you will need a practical means of implementing the framework you’ve chosen. This involves training and your team as much as the resources you have at hand. Successful product development depends on using the right technology.

Which concepts does modern product development use?

Over time, product development teams found methods that let them repeat their successes faster and with greater consistency. These methods evolved into concepts like flat design, style tiles, and live style guides. By understanding these concepts, you can find more effective ways to keep your team’s work organized and achieve faster results.

Flat design

Since most agile methodologies use heavily visual breakdowns of the project management steps, companies have identified several ways to organize these graphics. Over time, users recognized that simple, brightly colored graphics are the easiest way to convey ideas. This concept was termed flat design. Flat design, as its name would imply, relies on two-dimensional graphics and simplistic design to quickly communicate ideas. For example, the logos and images featured in Google’s 2013 redesign use this principle.

Another benefit of flat design is that its images appropriately scale to your screen size and load quickly. This stands in sharp contrast to detailed, three-dimensional graphics that require additional rendering. Buttons made with flat design contribute to the overall user experience, being that they’re easy to locate and use.

Style tiles

Technology has also evolved to make it simpler to duplicate design elements. For instance, grouping design elements together in “style tiles” allows your team to keep them together for future projects. These elements could be colors, fonts, and text sizes, and other features. These enable design teams to quickly conceptualize ideas and present them to the rest of the project’s stakeholders.

Live style guides

Another way to keep design elements together is to use a live style guide. A live style guide is a webpage that keeps track of your style elements, letting everybody see what is currently there and what is missing. Matching colors to the site’s current palette and maintaining consistent fonts is faster with a reliable log of what the site uses. Later, these elements can be logged and applied to other apps or web pages to keep the brand’s style consistent.

Expanding the product development mindset

Much like how designers generalized elements that worked to create a widespread practice, your team can take the methods from its product development and apply them to other areas of your business. The concepts of product development don’t have to stay within your development team. Use the essence of your chosen product development framework to optimize other processes in your business.

1.   Standardized processes

For example, consider how agile methodologies involve standardized processes. Unifying the procedures in your marketing department can help the team avoid mistakes and quickly onboard new staff. Similarly, your customer service team can learn how to evaluate customer feedback and communicate potential solutions to different parts of the company.

2.   Open communication

Another beneficial concept from product development is open communication. Management should welcome and encourage feedback from their teams by opening frequent discussions. Often, product development methodologies fail because even though your team is following the steps, they neglect the method’s core values. If you decide to use lean or agile thinking within your company, make sure that you fully commit to reap the rewards.

3.   Connected teams

Another tip to get more out of your lean and agile methodology is to keep designers within your team. While freelancers are a frequently used option, ultimately, you can save more time with a staff designer. This reduces training and knowledge transfers that would come with each new iteration of your project. What seems more cost-effective in the short term may have more significant financial impacts in the long run.

4.   Good reasoning skills

Another way you can help your business embrace these methodologies is to use a scientific mindset. A scientific approach can encourage your team to think critically about their solutions and the best way to enact them. Analytical perspectives separate teams from their personal attachment to an idea. This often stems from habit instead of function. Overall, inquisitive thinking helps teams approach problems with a creative, curious mindset.

5.   Company culture

Think about what’s most important in the culture of your team. Does it foster trust? Does it bring out the courage in your team members? Do decisions come from a humble place that welcomes change in learning? If you’re unsure about any of these answers, consider current obstacles that prevent you from reaching your goals. Sometimes, what stands in the way has to do with your team’s overall mindset. Get together and identify what changes can help your team. Then, don’t stop there. Act and make the change.

How do you overcome challenges in product development?

Over time, your team will eventually encounter hang-ups. This will happen with any project, and preparing yourself from the beginning can help you learn the skills to tackle the problem and succeed after the fact.

Proper planning and documentation are your most valuable assets. Involve team members who value education and learning to steer clear of significant issues. Even in the worst cases, documentation and analysis turn a challenge into a learning opportunity. Here are several situations you can avoid while creating your product.

Unclear priorities

Good ideas awaken the drive to pursue them. However, trying to pursue too many good ideas creates conflict around which priorities should take precedence. While these ideas may be of similar value, group them by compatibility so your efforts aren’t spread too thin. For example, if you have a list of features you want, break the list down into groups of the most closely related ideas so you can accomplish more with less work.

Remember that while your team thinks that something may be an excellent plan, your market ultimately will ultimately decide. The data you collect on your potential customers will tell you what does and doesn’t work. Good market research can help you narrow down your ideas to the most practical, then guide you to the most effective ways to channel your efforts.

Getting beat to the market

Speed is not the end goal of product design, but that doesn’t negate its importance. Even the best ideas have failed just because someone else released a solution quicker. This setback doesn’t mean that their product is inherently better or that your idea wouldn’t have worked, but it does mean that there’s room to rework your strategy.

If you find yourself beaten to market by a competitor, first, acknowledge yourself for taking time to plan your next steps. It takes strength to be flexible. Make sure you document your current processes and the next steps you take. This will help you replicate them faster and shave time off of reworks. Do your research again and learn from your competitor’s successes and failures. The faster that you learn and apply your knowledge, the faster your products will flourish.

Intense competition

Some teams may jump into a market knowing that there’s a solution much like theirs. Think of Uber and Lyft, for example. What if your competitor already has the product and you want to take advantage of the demand?

Naturally, this seems like a good setup as you can see that there are plenty of customers available. However, this approach sets you up for fierce competition with someone who already holds on the market. While you may find limited success with this, especially if you have a unique selling point, this is not one of the most effective strategies and takes great effort to pull off.

You can use your competitor’s experiences to draw your own path. Start by redoing the initial market research yourself. What problem is this product trying to solve? Do the customers still have unresolved pain points? Are there other ways that your team could address the issue with a different solution? Going back to square one can give you a new, unique perspective and tap into a market that you already know craves change.

Lack of funding

Even the best ideas are still subject to your company’s budget. Ultimately, how you use your resources is what determines the fate of your product. You may have a clear picture of what you want and how each feature works together, but you have to articulate each piece’s importance to every part of your team.  When the value of your project isn’t clear, the overall product suffers.

To avoid the kind of issues that stem from a tight budget, make sure that you justify each funding request. Remember that you have to understand the purpose yourself and explain it to people who don’t have the same hands-on knowledge. If you can clearly articulate why each milestone needs funding, you can then show them how it increases revenue in the long term.

Lack of direction

Another issue that may cause snags in your development is not understanding the independent purpose of each of the project’s requirements. Is there a reason you think that your customers would prefer one feature over another? Do you have statistics or info to back it up? Executing tasks for the sake of completing tasks may give you the illusion of progress but ultimately will not bring you any closer to your goal. If you find your team taking on bits of your project without understanding why ensure that your research provides the details you need to understand the project’s purpose.

On a related note, remember that common knowledge is not always the best approach when developing a product. Even though your team may feel that your users will want a given feature or have a particular problem, remember to use a scientific approach and check. This extra step will confirm that you were on the right path or align with your market before misusing resources.

Feature fatigue

What do you do when you have great ideas, can justify the budget, but find yourself adding more and more to the final design? The original project may have vastly different funding when looking at the budget numbers than what you currently have. Is it worth it? Some features may not create enough value to justify the work put into them. Reel in your features list and focus on what your customers need. When in doubt, go back to your research. It’s never too late to learn more.

Bug infestations

Imagine this, you’re right upon your release date, and your team finds a major issue in your product. How could this have happened? In an environment where your team does not feel encouraged to speak up or maybe even feel free to announce that there is an issue, errors could go unnoticed until it’s too late. To avoid this, test your product frequently and remember to be calm, open, and honest when someone lets you know that something is going on. Remember that this small gesture can save you intense frustrations later on.

Lack of internal training

If everything seems excellent about your app and your research shows that your users like it, the issue is likely not with your development team. Check-in with your marketing and sales departments to ensure that they understand the product, its overall value, the market that will be using it, and why they can benefit from your software. It’s never a bad idea to have your team demo the app to the rest of the company, as they have an equal part in determining your product success.

Short-staffed teams can call in a consultant to organize training and align their efforts. Two options include:

  1. Fractional CMOs
  2. Fractional COOs

A fractional CMO has experience working with sales and marketing teams and showing them the best ways to communicate the value of a product. They can organize demos and knowledge transfers with your engineers and gauge their overall understanding. The more experience your fractional CMO has in your industry, the more relevant their input will be.

A fractional COO looks at the processes your company uses and helps organize your team. Look for someone that has worked on projects like yours in the same. Before selecting someone to work with, take time to check their references and evaluate the outcome of their efforts.

Closing Notes

Every product design process has its challenges. Understanding what some of these may be and what tools are available to address them will help you organize the right approach. Assembling a team of experts and planning ahead prevent the most severe challenges to your product’s success. So, plan wisely, think ahead, and keep up on new techniques. For more information about different approaches and resources in product development, read through more thoughts from a business consultant.

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Growth and Scaling 101

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Growth and Scaling

Where do you want your business to be five years from now? How about in ten years? If you haven’t thought this far, you’re not alone. In 2018, only 63% of businesses surveyed reported they had planned for more than a year in advance. Though more than half of businesses don’t use it, they’re missing out on an invaluable tool. Businesses that focus on their long-term planning find substantial opportunities for growth and are more resilient than those who only plan for the short-term.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

  • The differences between growth and scaling
  • The basics of both growth and scaling
  • The history of strategic growth planning
  • What benefits you can expect from it
  • And what you need to make growth possible

Growth VS Scaling

One common misconception is that these two terms are the same. After all, both of them imply increasing a business’s financial gain. While they do have that in common, their ways of getting it differ. The truth is that your business will need a little of each to thrive. In order to make the wisest choices for your business, it’s essential to understand what each term means for your strategy.

What is growth?

The end goal of growth is to increase a company’s revenue. When most people talk about growth, they think in linear terms. It essentially means that growth would imply a steady increase in how a company uses its resources to increase its revenue. For example, hiring more sales representatives gets more clients and then increases revenue.

One important thing to note is that growth requires an upfront investment. Hiring more sales representatives costs money, bringing a period of brief financial loss before the coming gain. Growth is also not a constant, sustainable process. It wouldn’t make sense to continue hiring more sales representatives and onboarding new clients if there wasn’t an underlying plan.

As your company invests in its plans for growth, keep in mind that there will be alternating periods of investment and payoff, so the myth of a linear growth process will not become a reality. Remember that you must also prepare the other areas of your business to support these changes. Growth is temporary at best unless you have a solid foundation to keep it.

What is Scaling?

Scaling, like growth, has the end goal of increasing your company’s revenue. However, unlike growth, scaling does not imply linear expansion, nor does it mean a heavy financial investment preceding that return. Scaling focuses on what steps a business can take to increase revenue using its current resources.

Think of an email outreach campaign where the marketing team sends monthly emails to 500 people. Increasing the amount to 1,000 people would not require a significant investment, such as hiring an extra person or creating a new plan. Instead, the team can use the resources and plan that they currently have to generate more revenue with new clients from that campaign.

Now, if that business takes on a significant amount of new clients because of that gain, they will have to grow to accommodate the need. The team may require more account representatives or customer support personnel to handle the new demands. However, the resources will already be there when the team makes the investment. The initial investment needed to start is the most significant difference between growing a business and scaling a business.

The History of Strategic Growth and Scaling

Strategy itself is as old as humankind. Before business, strategic planning was used in politics and war, managing other aspects of human interactions. However, following the industrial revolution, manufacturing became a significant part of society. As new businesses popped up, newcomers noted the qualities that successful companies used and applied these to their operations.

The shift to modern strategic planning began in the 1950s with Peter Drucker, who introduced questions that helped businesses identify their role in the market in his 1954 book, The Practice of Management.  He proposed that the customers, not the business owners, determined a business’s place and function as they are the driving force behind revenue.

Philip Selznick, a professor of sociology, introduced the concept of “distinctive competence” in 1957, which makes business owners think about what makes their business “distinct” from the competition and how that makes them more “competent” than the other options available to their customers.

This idea would eventually evolve into the SWOT analysis, which is a technique that outlines a business’s strengths and weaknesses in the context of the opportunities and threats they face in their market. Modern business advisors adopted the original concepts from manufacturing to the technology industry to maximize their results. Now, growth and scaling strategies exist to guide businesses in all sectors.

What Benefits Come from Proper Growth and Scaling?

Businesses that think long-term fare better than short-sighted counterparts. A temporary setback has less of an effect on a company that sees its significance in its future goals. A slight loss in revenue from a strategic change may only be a hiccup before a burst of growth. Those who persevere and understand their underlying purpose are bound to reach their goals.

When you invest in growing and scaling your business, you can expect the following benefits:

  • Efficiency – A team that invests in a plan knows where their efforts pay off. Prioritized goals focus a team’s energy where it creates the most benefit. Efficient businesses see more success as a result.
  • Consistency – Teams that use the well-documented processes grow larger, work faster and reach higher than those that don’t. Good strategies help you repeat success and avoid ineffective methods. Frequent updates improve how you perform tasks and keep your company working at its best.
  • Preparedness – A business with a plan doesn’t have to scramble when its circumstances change. Companies that focus on growth invest in their strategies and plan for these kinds of obstacles. Not only do they know how to overcome them, but they know how to use them as an opportunity for future growth.
  • Endurance – When a business constantly analyzes itself and its surroundings, it sees where changes are happening. This analysis allows teams to imagine where they want to be when change happens so they can come out ahead.
  • Competitive Edge – With all of these assets, businesses built for growth stand out amongst the competition. Their hard work will only become more evident as changes test their strength.

What do You Need to Grow or Scale a Business?

Financial resources aren’t inherently necessary when scaling a business. Any business that is open and willing to change can find success in growth or scaling. More than tangible resources, like revenue or staff, there are certain principles that a business must have before successful changes take place. Here are the fundamentals of any growth and scaling efforts.

Well-Defined Market Identity

Your market identity does not exist in a vacuum. In fact, without a well-defined market identity that lives in the context of your industry, your business will be vulnerable to the factors affecting its environment.

What does your business do, what does it do differently than its competition, and how does that benefit you? Constantly revising and updating your stance is crucial. Pay close attention to customer behavior, changes amongst your competitors, and the overall financial climate. Like Kodak and Blackberry, many once-giants fell hard and never recovered when they missed signals that change was coming.

Targeted Growth Plan

Growing for the sake of growth will not bring your company sustainable success. Why do you want to grow? How will that help you serve your customers? When your business does something well and sees increased profits. As a result, it is tempting to repeat it and expect the same satisfaction. However, knowing your end goal will keep you on track for consistent success.

Consider a company that creates smartphone cases. If they have a high-performing model that sells well, they may consider diverting more resources towards producing that case. However, there is only so much demand in this area, and at a point, more expansion will not result in more revenue. However, if the company uses its success with smartphone cases to launch a tablet cover line, it can sustain its growth.

Process Documentation

Small businesses and startups live for creativity. Their new ways of approaching old problems give them a competitive edge that many larger companies lack. For this reason, many smaller companies have yet to embrace good process documentation. This may seem like an unnecessary complication to a business that has done seemingly fine without it. However, that misconception holds them back from reaching new heights.

Well-documented processes allow a business to understand how they achieved success as well as failure. How will you repeat successes if you don’t know how you got there? More importantly, how do you prevent your team from making the same mistakes if no one is sure how they got there? A business process review can show you how your processes currently take place. Then, standard operating procedures let you put your flows on autopilot and save your creativity for where it’s really needed.

Who Are the Key Players?

Strategic growth will require input from your whole team. Though your C-Suite executives will be the guiding force, every employee should understand their role in your business’s development. The final decision of who performs what function in your company depends on which skills they possess. Here are a few examples of who can help with your growth and scaling.

  1. CEO – Your CEO has a high-level view of your company’s place within the market. Their input helps on a conceptual level, providing valuable feedback on past challenges, future predictions, and its current state.
  2. Senior Management – High-level managers offer a more granular view of how each part of your company will contribute to the primary goal. They have unique insight into the functions of each department and can draw from their specific expertise, adding detail to the plan.
  3. Business Advisors – An outside business advisor looks upon your company with a fresh perspective. This helps you pick up on details you may have missed. For example, they can provide insight into how your processes actually take place instead of how your team imagines they should happen.
  4. Fractional Chief Marketing Officer – If you work with a small team or want expert-level input, consider bringing in a fractional chief marketing officer for guidance. They get experience from working with various clients and can show you where you stand out in the market.
  5. Fractional Chief Operating Officer – Like a fractional CMO, a fractional COO comes in on a part-time basis to plan your growth and scaling strategy. Unlike a fractional CMO, however, a fractional COO focuses more on optimizing the processes and technology your team uses.

Closing Notes

A well-directed investment in your company’s growth helps secure its future. Now, you have a working knowledge of what growth and scaling mean for your business, their history, benefits, and what you need to make it happen. With this information, you can take the following steps to solidify your business’s growth.

Remember, knowledge matters only when coupled with action. Don’t stop here. Keep up with your industry’s news, plan out your next steps, and keep moving forward. For more advice on strategic planning, see what skills consultants bring to the table.

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Intermediate Growth and Scaling

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Intermediate Growth and Scaling

How many businesses have failed by trying to stay the same? In reality, the only constant is change, and the harder you try to resist it, the more problems your face. Thankfully, a reliable strategy that plans for your growth will save you endless future headaches.

Strategy is what makes or breaks a business. Neither good times nor bad times last forever, and a solid strategy is what will help you get the best out of both. There’s no such thing as staying stagnant, so plan out your areas and timelines for growth. Thoughtful planning sets your business up to overcome its future challenges.

  • A breakdown of common growth and scaling methods
  • How strategic planning helps you avoid failure
  • What you need to build a successful growth strategy
  • And intelligent ways prepare for your future

Growth and scaling methods

Understanding the standard methods to expand your business can help you choose the most effective approach. You’re not bound to using only one of these methods and combined them when suitable. If you find that you have questions on a particular method in business, you might seek help from:

Before consulting with anyone, however, you should understand the basic approaches and what each method entails. Here’s a quick breakdown of common growth and scaling strategies.

Growth Strategies

Your team, resources, and goals will guide how you select a growth strategy. Here, we will cover four of the most common approaches. These are:

  • Market penetration
  • Diversification
  • Product expansion
  • And acquisition

1.   Market Penetration

Market penetration is a strategy used when your product already has competitors within a market. The way you succeed in this scenario is to take up a more significant market share than your competitors. You can measure this by revenue or products sold compared to your competitors.

The strategy can be challenging due to the existing competition. What you are bringing to the market may be close to solutions from your competitors, so you will need a strong product and a coordinated marketing team to showcase it. Even though you know where your product is different, you need to translate that knowledge to your customers.

When using a market penetration strategy, you need to provide something that sets you apart from the existing products. These can be extra features or a lower selling price. If you perform market research early in your development, you can find out what the users of your competitors’ products lack with the current solutions.

Diversification

Diversification, like market penetration strategy, is one of the more challenging approaches. Diversification involves releasing a new product in a different market, which requires extra investment to succeed.

This approach is one of the more challenging strategies because it requires research into a new market. You have to know the new industry well and understand its competitors. Additionally, you have to understand and communicate how this benefits your company more than other available strategies. Otherwise, you risk launching two disjointed products that spread your efforts too thin.

That said, you will find success in this strategy if you know why you want to break into this market. Maybe it overlaps with your current market or adds something to your existing product. Whatever the reason may be, the outcome of this option depends heavily on your company’s strategy and your understanding of your business.

Product Expansion

Product expansion is similar to diversification, but rather than broadening your efforts to target a different market, you add features to your existing product to increase your market share.

The strategy is more straightforward than diversification or market penetration because you can leverage your existing knowledge and clients. For example, you can send a survey to your current clients asking for their input on new features. You already have researched your market and its needs. So, if you choose this method, you can pursue it with fewer resources than the above two methods.

Acquisition

Acquisition combines the fundamentals of diversification and market penetration. However, this method is more reliable than the two taken on separately. The reasoning behind it is that rather than entering an entirely new market, you find and procure a company that already has success in the market, knowledge of how it works, and a solution that their clients use.

You can think of this as penetrating a new market without having to start from scratch completely. The financial investment to acquire another business may be steep, so your strategy needs to include a plan to raise funds for purchasing another company.

Steps to scaling your business

A well-thought-out strategy for your business should include elements of both growth and scaling. When is scaling your business, you need to:

  • Plan your approach
  • Identify your resources
  • Fund your plan
  • And take action

1. Plan your approach

When you set realistic goals, the rest of the planning flows naturally. Let’s say, for example, that you plan to expand to another area. What do you need to succeed there? Do you understand the market and the differences from your current space? Have you studied how other businesses have performed with similar tactics?

Make sure you outline and ask any questions you have here, and call in an advisor if you’re unsure about how to proceed. They have the skills and experience to guide you through these transitions.

When you’re thinking about your strategy, take some time to go over what indicators you can use to track success. Metrics like overall customer satisfaction with your service, monthly churn if your company runs on subscriptions, or new clients onboarded and help you understand how close you are to achieving your goals. More so, when you look at these together, you get a clearer picture of how sustainable your growth is.

2. Identify your resources

What resources does your company have available? Think about your team, their skills, your technology, and your processes. Here, you’ll want to get specific data on how you’re performing so you can scale it to support the goals you’re reaching for.

For example, if you took on 100 new clients, could your customer support team handle the tickets? If you want to launch a new product, can your marketing team handle the new leads with their current software?

In this step, you can use the metrics that you identified while planning your approach to test these variables. For example, if you have a 10 to 1 ratio of customer service tickets to representatives per hour, you would need to:

  • Increase in the number of representatives on your team as tickets increase
  • Find better software to help them take on more requests
  • Or change your approach to generate fewer tickets

Once you’ve worked out a theoretical model to handle your expected growth, notify the most effective ways to support it. An excellent initial plan prevents complications by anticipating where you’ll need resources and how to get them.

One growth strategy in business is market penetration. A small company uses a market penetration strategy to market existing products within the same space. In this case, growth is measured by the company’s overall market share.  Market share is the percent of unit and dollar sales a company holds within a particular market versus all other competitors.

One way to increase market share is by lowering prices. For example, in markets where there is little differentiation among products, a lower price may help a company increase its market share.

3. Fund your plan

Some of these techniques may require low investment, but none of them will require no investment. The plan may include funds for new software or even hiring new employees. In the previous scenario, you’ll find which options will let you handle the new business most efficiently.

Keep in mind that a dollar sign does not always define efficiency. Ultimately, what efficiency boils down to is using your money wisely to invest in solutions that require less maintenance and financial investment over time. For example, paying an employee slightly higher than the going rate and doing what it takes to retain them ultimately cost less than having a higher turnover rate and re-training a new employee from scratch.

When considering funding, look at what other businesses similar to yours are using and investigate new ideas. Investors and grants are two common ways to find financing for your project. You can also enter competitions and look for partnership opportunities. Make sure that you understand the process of applying for these options and what steps they require. That way, you can efficiently use your team’s time and maximize the chances of receiving funding.

4. Take action

Now that you’ve got your plan, resources, and funding lined up, it’s time to take action. At this point, you understand the risks and what to expect. You have identified the guidance you’ll fall back on when you face challenges. Now, Keep looking at your next milestone and revisit your plan often to make sure it’s headed in the right direction.

Frequently revisit your plan to make adjustments rather than waiting for problems to happen. Some scenarios aren’t easily planned for, such as natural disasters or changes to international trade. While you can never plan for everything, you can visualize how you would handle a problem if it came up. This may involve having advisers on hand and knowing where you can slim down if you need to reduce your expenditures.

You can find help from professionals on either a part or full-time basis. Some options include:

Management advisors and business consultants guide you in a specific area of your business. Look for someone with quantifiable results from their past projects. Ask for references, case studies, and other proof of their skills.

Fractional chief operating officers have a higher level of experience and act as a part-time member of your C-suite. Many companies form long-term relationships with these individuals. This option allows for a consistent stream of advice from someone who is invested in your success.

Similarly, the chief marketing officer takes a hands-on role in guiding your company’s decisions. Their specific experience helps them translate your product’s features into selling points and communicate them to your sales and marketing teams. This process reduces any disconnect that could affect your messaging.

Regardless of what’s out there, you’ve got your plan, you’ve got the knowledge, and the only thing missing is action. Any kind of movement is better than none, and mistakes help show you what to avoid, steering you down the path of success.

Closing Thoughts

Good planning is your best defense against the unexpected. By taking the time to understand and create a solid growth strategy, you ensure the future success of your business. Keep your goals clear, your resources managed, and your advances steady. Even when faced with challenges, a well-thought-out approach will make the next steps easy without unnecessary stress.

Remember, there are always resources around to help you. Check up on publications that talk about your industry, strategic planning, and what businesses like yours experience in similar situations. Sometimes, you can use an extra hand to make sure that you were on the right path. Read more here about the specific ways a business advisor can help your company.

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Advanced Growth and Scaling

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Advanced Growth and Scaling

How many times have you missed the perfect opportunity because you waited too long? Don’t miss out on the benefits of growth because of a lack of action. A good plan is only as strong as its implementation. Here, you will find the tools to help you move forward confidently with your business’s growth.

After you’ve settled on the approach you want to take, take the time to outline the methods and resources that will help you reach your goals. You can choose from diverse industry experts, technology, and learning approaches to understand your market.

Here, this article will take you through:

  • The technology used in scaling businesses
  • When it’s time to upgrade your software
  • How to handle growing pains
  • And which experts to call on and when

What technology helps with growth and scaling?

Imagine trying to keep track of inventory with a notebook or logging support tickets with sticky notes. This method might be okay if you only work with five customers, but these options leave no room for growth.

The technology you choose for growth and scaling depends on your business\s needs. If you are selling material goods, consider what technology you need to track inventory in orders. If you work as a software provider, look for a CRM that tracks your clients, which version of your software they have, and their open support tickets. Make a list of which of your processes are not currently scalable, and then find software for that need.

The more your data interacts, the more insights you’ll receive. Consider finding a solution with add-on functionality for uses that you expect you’ll need in the future. Here are some examples of technology that helps you grow and scale your business.

  1. CRMs – A CRM, or customer relationship management program, keeps track of your perspective and existing clients. A good CRM does not come in shape, but when you consider its long-term benefits and the time saved, the investment pays off. Many CRM such as Salesforce and Hubspot let you integrate your marketing team to work closely with insights from sales.
  2. Email automation – How many of the same kinds of emails do you send out a day? Templates may work on a small scale, but when you’re sending out tens or hundreds of emails at a time, it doesn’t make sense to perform an identical task manually. Email automation lets you consider your contacts’ specific needs while sending information faster. Speed improves the overall customer experience.
  3. Reporting software – As your business grows, you will generate more and more data that is indispensable to your future projects. This data can help you evaluate how much time it takes to close a sale, the overall cost to acquire a new customer, and what your most and least efficient processes are. Look for visual interfaces and sharable reports.
  4. Human resources software – As your team grows, you’ll need better human resource management tools. Human resource management software can help you visualize benefits, hiring, and training for your team.
  5. Document management software – It’s not uncommon for small teams to have documents that live on one employee‘s computer. This method seemingly works until they change departments, experience tech issues, or train somebody new. Spend some time researching document management systems that can grow with your team’s needs and includes cloud storage, so documents don’t get lost or accidentally deleted.

How to tell when you need to upgrade software

Most businesses have time to plan for changing software needs. However, there are a few signs that can help you prioritize when to replace a current system. If you find that you’re experiencing the following issues, it’s time to take a look at upgrading your software.

It’s time to upgrade your software when:

  • There are frequent mistakes in your data
  • Your team grew significantly
  • Your customer satisfaction is dropping
  • You need to increase leads for sales
  • It’s taking more time to complete your processes than it had before
  • You’re finding it challenging to complete all the tasks needed to run your business

Challenges to adding software

Once you have divided upon software to improve your operations, ensure no significant barriers prevent its success. Who will be using this software, and what is their technical knowledge? Questions like these will help you avoid unnecessary struggles when implementing new software.

Budgeting restrictions are one the most common challenges that small companies face when adding new software. Ultimately, it comes down to what problem the software solves and how much it costs to live with that problem versus addressing it.

Budget problems often result from communication errors where benefits aren’t conveyed. Thankfully, this problem has a simple fix. Break down the cost of your current situation, including details like acquisition costs, hourly staffing costs, customers lost because of the issue, and how the numbers would change with your new software. You can also present another approach as a comparison and show why this solution is your company‘s best option.

How to address growth and scaling problems

The owner of a company can only do so much to grow and scale the business alone. The company is a team and will work only when it functions like one. Issues rarely come out of their intentions. More often than not, there’s another factor at play, like lack of training or not understanding the purpose of a task. Here are some situations that businesses can experience with growth and scaling.

1.   Your team isn’t using the technology

The best technology available can’t help if your team won’t use it. The first step to finding out why your team isn’t using the software is to talk with them. Make sure to approach the topic in a nonconfrontational way. Otherwise, you will not get honest. Remember that you’re looking for a solution, not for blame.

Ask your employees if they understand how to use this software or if there’s a more efficient approach that they already use. If they know the software and don’t have a more efficient method, they may not understand the purpose behind the change. Be open to answering their questions and involving them in your planning. They hold insights that can help you find a better way of reaching your end goal.

2.   Your team isn’t invested

Your team is the most significant determining factor in your company’s success. So what are you do if they don’t want to help? This is a matter of your company‘s culture. Do you have a clear mission statement that lets your employees understand their purpose? If it’s not clear, make sure you know the mission statement and that your words align with your actions.

Ask yourself how your managers handle change. If something deviates from the expected outcome, do they learn or reprimand their team for the failure? If learning and growth are not encouraged with verbal and non-verbal responses, your culture resists growth. A business or management consultant can develop a plan to change cultural barriers to success.

3.   Your customers’ needs changed

Ultimately, your business exists to provide your customers with something they need. So what happens if they don’t need your “something” anymore? This is where you can look at alternative strategies for growth and find a new way to remain in the market. First, look at why your customers’ needs changed.

Take, for example, a company that matches people for house sharing. In normal times, booming cities with higher rent would depend on services like these. However, during a pandemic, people are much less inclined to live with a stranger. One way of navigating this kind of shift is to see what new needs your market has. Then, you can see how to re-organize your resources and provide them. For instance, you can change your service to match people with food and medicine with those who need it. You can use challenges like these to evaluate your old approach’s strengths and weaknesses and adjust accordingly.

4.   Your plan is not performing as expected

Experiencing failure is part of life. Inevitably, some parts of your plan will not have been exactly as you imagined. First, look at your data. Where does it deviate from expectations? Think creatively to think of reasons why your metrics may have changed. Are your sales dropping? Take a look at the market. See what options customers choose instead, like a competitor who offers a solution at a lower cost. Don’t be afraid to survey your team and your clients to get more information.

5.   An unexpected event changes the market

Even with our best planning, events happen that change our priorities. For example, natural disasters and changes to industry regulations signal the need to readjust your priorities. In this case, proceed calmly and invest in a plan. Revise your deadlines, take inventory of your resources, and give yourself credit for responding calmly in the face of an unforeseen challenge.

Which experts can help with growth and scaling?

Expert guidance can save you time and resources when you create your growth plan. Most companies no longer rely on a full-time staff member for advice. Instead, they bring in consultants and advisors to advise on a part-time basis.

You can call on the help of a consultant or advisor when:

  • You’re developing a plan for growth
  • You have a plan and are ready to implement it
  • Your current strategy isn’t performing as expected
  • You found a new opportunity you want to take

While there are a few drawbacks to soliciting advice, a basic understanding of problems that similar businesses’ problems can help you avoid complications. A fractional chief operating officer, for example, works with various companies in your field and diagnoses issues before they cause problems. These issues can include processes that lack oversight, underperforming software, or a lack of training for your staff. Results, not ego, should drive your fractional COO. Ask how they measure performance before making your choice.

A fractional chief marketing officer works specifically with your marketing and sales teams to unify your messaging and aggressively drive sales. Suppose your product is ready for market and you want to guarantee its success. In that case, fractional CMOs bring invaluable experience to your team. Look for someone to audit your current process, provide feedback, and design an approach that can grow with your company.

Closing thoughts

The way that your company uses its resources when planning for growth and scaling ultimately determines its success. Your technology, team, and planning have to work together harmoniously for your business’s success. Flexible business owners that pivot instead of panic will ultimately come out on top. Good planning and guidance will help you get there.

No matter what happens during your growth and scaling process, remember that any progress is a step in the right direction. Many businesses hesitate before taking action, which makes them vulnerable to a host of new dilemmas. So, no matter what comes your way, keep putting one foot in front of the other and learn every step of the way. Remember to check back for resources with more tips that will help you set up your business for success.

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7 Reasons Your Startup Needs a Project Management Office

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Project Management Office

Keeping track of projects is easy with a small team. Many startups do just fine with informal procedures and close communication. However, this setup only works until you start experiencing real growth. The growing pains companies experience when they have no project management office in place can cut growth before it starts. Like most problems in business, prevention is the only cure.

As your business starts expanding, you’ll need a way of communicating your projects, policies, guidelines, and processes. Think about what you do if someone left and you had to train their replacement from scratch when the information lived in your employee’s head. Or, how would you keep a department organized if it were to double within the year? These are all questions that a project management office, or PMO, would address.

In our last article, we reviewed the structure of project management offices, who’s involved, and what systems support their operations. Here, we’ll discuss why you need a PMO, including the benefits you’ll reap and the problems you’ll avoid by having one. Let’s get started with a review of what a PMO is and its purpose within your company.

The role of your project management office

A company’s project management office provides a backbone to its operations. They closely monitor progress and support teams so they can adhere to deadlines, especially in tech operations. This department designs the best practices that companies will use and ensures that they’re implemented properly. Especially when a team works across different time zones, the extra support keeps things running smoothly.

A PMO serves as the liaison between upper management and staff. They define the milestones and metrics that will measure success and communicate them to the stakeholders on a project. Another aspect of their role is ensuring that your team has the resources, time, and tools to complete their projects. It’s their job to communicate with the team to see that all relevant needs are being addressed.

Once a task is complete, your project management office will archive the materials and use them as a template for future endeavors. They will note what went well, the challenges the team faced, and how you can use this for better direction in your future goals. This is only a brief overview of what your project management office will do. Their day-to-day tasks will include far more and fit specifically with your company and its goals. Next, let’s move on to why you should prepare a project management office for your startup.

Why do successful startups have PMOs

Often, startup owners are concerned that documenting their project management will smother the creative energy. In fact, teams function better with structure. Choosing where you need to be firm and where you can allow flexibility directs your energy and more productive ways. If you’ve been doing something well, documenting it and repeating the process locks down your procedure and frees up more mental energy for new developments.

Don’t confuse your startup’s PMO with that of a larger company. There will be significant differences, such as size, resources, and duties. For example, a project management office in a startup will typically be smaller and rely on technology more than those within a larger company. Often, they will look for more efficient ways to do the tasks that keep your company organized. While part of their job will involve reporting, like larger companies, these reports will be more tailored and typically over shorter periods of time as compared to their larger counterparts. Ultimately, the goal is to replicate the strategies used in larger organizations to pave the way for growth.

The reason that successful startups have project management offices is that these organizations plan for the future. Rather than limiting your thinking to the current moment, look to the future to see what your later needs will entail. In few circumstances will a business intend to stay small. Even in this case, having a plan in order allows you to prepare for training new staff and taking on new projects. Remember that part of this is documenting your success so you can later repeat it.

Now that you understand what a project management office is and what it means to your startup, let’s move on to seven reasons why you need to create one within your business.

Why do you need a project management office?

We’ve gone over the benefits of project management offices. But what do you do when you’re already experiencing issues? Often, these problems will come up without an obvious cause. However, when you look deeper, the root of these problems has to do with a lack of organization and oversight. This issue will not always have an easy fix. However, the sooner you handle it, the sooner your team can move forward. Some instances where you’ll want to implement a PMO in your startup include when:

  1. Your team is constantly missing deadlines
  2. Your projects come in routinely over budget
  3. You don’t have reliable training procedures
  4. You’re struggling to organize a distributed team
  5. There’s a disconnect between management and staff
  6. You lack accurate reporting
  7. Your startup is experiencing rapid growth

Let’s look at each of these in more depth to understand how a project management office affects the outcome.

1.   Your team is constantly missing deadlines

Miss deadlines are not unheard of in the corporate world. However, there’s a difference between occasional missteps and a larger systemic problem. Teams that consistently Miss deadlines often lack structure and organization. A project management office will document their current procedures and the software that they use. Then, they’ll step in if they see that a part of the task is running behind schedule. Their role in this instance is to step in and see what the team needs to keep moving. If it’s more resources or a different approach, they’ll be the ones to organize this and translate the needs to upper management.

2.   Your projects come in routinely over budget

Without the proper structure, budget tracking can be one of the more challenging aspects of your operations. If your team is frequently coming in over budget, this signifies that there is a larger problem with resource tracking and allocation. When your project management office analyzes previous tasks, they’ll have a more accurate reference for what similar endeavors cost in the past. Since this will be one of their dedicated rules, they can devote more time to log in, tracking, and predicting expenses for your team. This division of roles prevents your team from becoming overwhelmed with the administrative parts of their job and lets them focus on the specific details of the task at hand.

3.   You don’t have reliable training procedures

This problem is most evident when your team is trying to hire a new member. You’ll experience the most growing pains when you’re building off of your core team. You may have done fine with a small group of individuals in the past, but if someone leaves or you need to hire a hand, translating their knowledge can get messy. Often, this will start as soon as the hiring process. Your team may not know exactly what they’re looking for, making it harder to sift through the resumes and find candidates for interviews. Later, during the training process, you’ll find that training sessions involve mostly verbal walkthroughs of what the rule will have to do on any given day. However, they lack structure, printable or downloadable materials, or procedures that they can reference in a common drive.

A project management office will work to document your rules and procedures before it’s time to train someone new. While you can expect your new hire to take notes, it’s important that they have a place to reference back to in case they need extra information. Even though your team may recount the details of their roles as well as they can from memory, there are always parts that get left out. Usually, this is because they’re so routine that they hardly realize they’re doing it. Giving a reliable framework lets the new hire design their approach to each task without missing out on the crucial aspects of the job.

4.   You’re struggling to organize a distributed team

Distributed remote teams are becoming more commonplace, not only for startups but for established companies too. One challenge of this arrangement is organizing your team when they live in different time zones, but it requires more planning than having your team together in one office. Your PMO will keep track of each person’s contributions to a project and communicate needs from one individual to the next. The extra hand helps you avoid delays, especially if one person’s morning is another person’s evening. Think of your PMO as an extension of each department. They’ll lend an extra hand and connect each department’s ideas, making sure that each project is delivered on time.

5.   There’s a disconnect between management and staff

Often, you won’t realize that there’s a disconnect between management and staff until something boils over. One example of this is when your team needs resources to complete a project but management either doesn’t understand the purpose or doesn’t know what they need. Both sides end up frustrated, deadlines get missed, and often, the project comes in over budget. This can be avoided with structured communication and organization.

Your project management office communicates with your employees and management, making sure that each side has their ideas expressed clearly and finds a way to get their needs met. While there is a responsibility for both parties to communicate and follow up on their requests, your project management office facilitates the process for both sides. This makes communication easier and projects flow smoother overall. An address bonus of this arrangement is that your team will experience lower turnover rates as their interactions with management will be clearer and more productive.

6. You lack accurate reporting

How many times have you gone to take a look at your analytics and not found the results you need? Can you really tell the performance of your campaigns if you can’t see the results? Sometimes, this results from unclear priorities about analytics and reporting. However, it also indicates that your efforts may be focused on the present rather than structured so they acknowledge your successes and failures in the past. If your team is zeroed in on the task at hand and doesn’t have the knowledge gained from the past, they’ll struggle when looking to the future and anticipating their needs.

Your project management office aids team members by planning realistic goals based on what they did in the past. Then, because of the reporting needed to keep them on track, you’ll have more accurate data to pull from when analyzing how effective your campaigns have been. This makes it easier to convey the needs and results of your projects to internal and external stakeholders. Then, you can fine-tune your efforts and perform better than next time.

7. Your startup is experiencing rapid growth

If your startup is growing at a rapid pace, now’s the Time to get your project management office in order. The extra support will help you find, onboard, and retain talent while pushing further with your operations. Don’t wait until you start experiencing issues to invest in your project management office. The best time to set it up was yesterday. The second best time is now. Even a little bit of effort can save you from major issues that could happen later, so especially if you’re seeing rapid growth in your business, meet with a professional who can help you design your project management approach.

Closing thoughts

When your business is getting along just fine, it’s harder to see the impacts stemming from underinvestment in your project management. However, with even a little thought towards the future and where you want your company to go, the effects are clear. A project management office provides unmatched support for established companies and startups alike. Read up on your options and when you’re ready to act, consult with a professional who can help you put your plan into action.

You’re not alone when it comes to your project management office. A fractional CMO or fractional COO can help you organize your approach and find the best way to implement it. Each of them has its specialties, and it’s as important to know about your company as it is your choice for fractional c-suite positions. So, do you need a fractional CMO or a fractional COO for your PMO? For more information on who can help, see our article here on improving your process management.

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7 Clear and Empathetic Communication Strategies

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Communication Strategies

How important is a clear communication strategy? A study by Watson Wyatt showed that companies that used effective communication were more than 50% more likely to report below-average employee turnover. Companies look at a yearly loss of nearly $27,000 per year for each employee.  A communication strategy isn’t just nice to have–it’s a necessity for a successful business.

The logistics of your communication strategy align your culture with your outside presence. Reducing the disconnect between who your company is and who it appears to set reliable expectations for both staff and customers. In this article, we’ll review the benefits of designing a clear, empathetic communication strategy and give you tips to get the most out of your plan.

What to expect from your strategy

A good idea is only as good as its implementation. Remember that even with a fool-proof strategy, you need steady, consistent follow-through to achieve your goals. Otherwise, your efforts will only amount to wishful thinking. Consider what you want to accomplish, what resources you have, and who will help implement your plan.

First, decide what you want overall. It could be something like increased compliance with your policies or reduced turnover. Keep these goals in mind and consider your resources. Do you have a budget for the project? Do you have an existing strategy that you can alter? When you’ve finished writing down what you have at hand, then, identify who will help. Many benefit from bringing in a consultant to develop their strategy. These can include a fractional chief operations officer or a business consultant. Keep in mind that even on a limited budget, a consultant can money overall by working faster and more efficiently.

Next, let’s take a look at seven results of a clear and empathetic communication strategy.

1.  Reduced absences

Goal: A healthier workplace

Sick leave costs companies billions of dollars a year. Setting clear expectations will let employees choose how they adapt to your company’s culture and plan for their health. According to Mindtools, some of the biggest factors leading to increased sick time are:

  • Stress and emotional tension
  • Unhealthy lifestyles (including diet and lack of sleep)
  • The tension arising from the workplace
  • Lack of positive feedback and encouragement
  • Overall lack of work-life balance

How can communication reduce absences? Think about the last time you had a boss who didn’t make their expectations clear. When your employees know what to expect, they can plan realistically and avoid the stress of wondering if they’re meeting expectations. This extra step reduces uncertainty, which in turn helps your team avoid stress-related illnesses.

Make sure that if there are any significant changes in your policy that you keep employees informed. Consistent training keeps the expectations clear and creates a healthier working environment. Remember to include your employees’ voices in the discussion to get feedback on the policies. This gesture gives you an advantage with direct input on new ideas to create a better workplace.

2.  Increased engagement

Goal: Invested employees

When your employees know what they can expect from your management and culture, they become more engaged at work. When you create a clear communication plan, you set clear expectations for how your team can interact and share ideas. Engagement involves communication from both sides, unlike simply telling a team member your expectations. This dynamic opens a channel for new ideas and improvements to your current strategy.

Ultimately, employees need a result following their engagement. For example, if you talk about adjusting your policies with staff, there must be a follow-up action taken to implement these changes. Following through on your actions builds trust and increases engagement over time. A lack of results erodes trust over time and decreases engagement, in turn lowering morale.

Engaged employees routinely perform better than their disengaged counterparts. This is not to say that employee engagement is easy or simple, but the cost of neglecting engagement undercut nearly all of your other efforts. High turnover rates are stressful on your team and their operations. Acting now to engage your employees saves you from having to fix more problems down the road.

3.  Improved culture

Goal: A desirable workplace

The adage says that people don’t quit jobs; they quit bosses. No one wants to feel fearful of talking to their boss, especially if they’re unsure how they will react. By creating structured ways to channel your internal communications, you provide a framework for positive interactions. This kind of dynamic aligns your internal and external messaging into the cohesive company culture.

Transparency is invaluable in positive working cultures. Especially now, individuals hold their treatment almost equally with pay when accepting jobs. There will always be companies offering the same salary as yours, but your culture is unique. Take advantage of your communication plan and create something truly valuable.

4.  Streamlined hiring

Goal: Approachable leaders

Some people are naturally good communicators. Others are not. When hiring for openings at your company, place a particular focus on individuals who value two-way communication. Remember that members of your staff, especially leadership, should embody the following qualities:

  • Honest
  • Authentic
  • Open-minded
  • Mindful of body language
  • Concise when speaking
  • Active listener
  • Teachable
  • Inspiring

Your leadership will have to inspire the rest of their team to do their best. This is why you want someone who leads by example. Offer regular training so other team members can improve their skills and so others can keep their abilities fresh. Consider using mentorship opportunities to invest in your team’s personal growth.

5.  Empathetic leadership

Goal: Fair, constructive dialogue

Receiving feedback from your boss can be tricky. Your communication plan should guide your management and staff through complicated interactions with both parties in mind. Go over your plans with both parties and ask for feedback. This care will ensure that the input is usable and provides valuable information about how effective the method behaves in practice.

Whenever possible, encourage small, regular feedback sessions so communicating becomes second nature to your team. Yearly reviews provide a long-term perspective that can help team members develop, but at the same time, they place unnecessary weight on both parties going in. Encourage extra thought into how a message will be received in interactions, and don’t forget to apply these practices yourself.

6.  Organized processes

Goal: Company-wide accountability

Collaborative projects, especially with remote teams, thrive on transparency and organization. When you outline your communication plan, make sure that you identify which project management software you use and how to use it. All conversations regarding specific tasks will be accessible to anyone who needs them. Solid organization techniques help projects move quicker by reducing repeat questions and centralizing knowledge. You can also go back and see what worked for previous tasks, which keeps you from repeating mistakes.

Even if your team misses the mark with a project, use this as a learning opportunity. Sit down with your team and detail the steps and timeline of what happened, being careful to avoid blame, and identify where you could have avoided problems. Following this, sit down and develop a new procedure for smoother progress in the future.

When a project goes well, document it just as much as you would if it hadn’t. Freely give praise to your team for what they did well, encourage input about new ways you can improve, and use this as an opportunity to plan for future success. After this, work these discussions into your broader communication playbook so you can draw on them later.

7.  Improved brand image

Goal: Genuine word-of-mouth referrals

Word-of-mouth referrals are the most powerful way of gaining new business. This means that prospective customers consider what they hear from your employees, previous customers, and others who interact with your business. Keep clear feedback channels with your staff and clients and make consistent improvements to use this to help you reach new clients. If someone has a good experience with your brand, they will recommend it and become advocates.

Keep listening to your market, and it will return rich insights. Use social listening to see what your customers look at when choosing with whom they do business. Make your company values and mission statement available on your website so potential clients can easily find this information. Your internal communication plan, through your employees, translates directly to the external interactions with your customers.

8.  Increased compliance

Goal: Structured procedures

As your company grows, you may find yourself outlining more of how your procedures flow. To some, this comes during training when you have to explain the details of a position to a new employee. These procedures give structure to your operations and show your team what expectations they need to meet. However, even with the best methods, sometimes they’re not followed as designed.

What do you do in a case like this? The goal is to see why they are not being used. As you can imagine, approaching staff with anger or complaints about them not being followed will make people apprehensive about speaking up. There could be something better than what they’re using or another piece of valuable information that you should include. Refer back to your plan for handling these kinds of conversations and use it to gather information. By the end of this talk, you’ll have a new approach for the project and more backing from your team.

Compliance with internal procedures is one thing. Compliance with legal requirements is another. Both of them have substantial implications for your business’s success, but there is little flexibility with outside regulations. Use your internal compliance as a gauge for your company’s overall behavior when it comes to following the rules. Often, lack of compliance stems from a general lack of understanding. Frequent training, open dialogues, and interest in your team’s input create conversations that lead to change.

9.  Adherence to deadlines

Goal: Increased efficiency

Communication has a vast, hidden impact on your team’s delivery. According to a survey by the computing technology industry association, 28% of survey responders selected that poor communication was why they failed to deliver a project within the specified time frame. Even further, a second study by Forrester noted that communication tools could reduce up to half an hour of lost productivity time each day. Sometimes there are valid reasons for changing a deadline, but frequent late deliveries signal a more significant underlying issue.

If your team is not obviously suffering from missed deadlines, the results of a scattered communication plan may be more subtle. Projects make it delivered on time, but the quality may not be as high as it potentially could be. Another possibility is that your team provides high-quality results but could do it in a shorter time frame. This adjustment in communication style would allow you to complete more projects in a shorter time with improved outcomes.

Closing thoughts

Your communication plan structures who you are as a company. It paints one coherent picture for your internal and external interactions and keeps expectations clear. Every other action you take as an organization relies on communication first, so be firm and consistent when enacting your plan.

Ideally, this work should come at the beginning of your process documentation as a company. The sooner you incorporate this plan into your procedures, the faster you’ll see its benefits. Implementing a communication plan later in the game will take extra time and effort, but it’s easier than continuing without it.

If you find that the programs you’ve been implementing have not seen success, now is the time to look at your current communication plan. Refer back to our article here for more pointers on how to design your plan. Also, don’t forget to consider who can help you create and execute your communication strategies.

Bringing a fractional CMO or fractional COO to your team lets you balance commitment with expertise. A fractional COO can align your team’s strategy and ensure compliance, while a fractional CMO will match it to your external communications. However, make sure to do your homework before deciding on how you can benefit from a fractional CMO or COO. To see what kind of professionals are available to help, read more here and learn about fractional c-suite professionals.

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7 Tips to Improve Your Business’s Profitability for Retailers

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Rarely do any business strategies involve staying the same instead of trying to grow. So what do you do when your profit and loss sheets indicate little or even negative change? Paying attention to your profit and loss statements can help you find new ways to improve. When you get an idea of where you are, you can identify the most promising opportunities to get ahead.

In our last article, we reviewed where to focus on your financial reports and how to measure your business’s profitability effectively. Now, we will show you how to pick areas for improvement and design approaches to increase your profitability. Your approach doesn’t have to be the same as Walmart or Amazon, but you can use your own strands to carve out a niche in your industry.

Reviewing your progress

You can’t plan a route to your destination before you know where you are. Before looking at ways to improve, collect data on your finances for several months to get a baseline view of your progress. You want to take and look at documents including:

  • Balance sheets
  • Income statements
  • Statements of shareholders’ equity
  • Cash flow statements

See first if these numbers meet your current key performance indicators and then understand why. For more depth on these numbers, get in touch with the specific departments that determine the results. For example, talk to your sales department if your income for a given quarter was not what you expected.

As mentioned in our previous article, these kinds of reviews should happen weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly to keep your goals on track. Now that you have a context for your operations, start looking at the performance of other businesses within your industry. This will depend on which sector you’re in and your geographical area: the more data you have when comparing your numbers, the better.

According to Vend, profit margins were the highest in beverage manufacturing (65.74%), jewelry (62.53%), and cosmetics (58.14%). The lowest numbers were seen in alcoholic beverages (35.64%), sporting goods stores (41.46%), and electronics (43.29%). Once you have the numbers for your specific industry, plan to outperform them within a reasonable margin. Be careful to measure out small, progressive improvements in favor of larger overhauls.

How can you do this? Take a look at your biggest assets as an organization. You can see more here about the different methods you can use to evaluate your business’s strengths and weaknesses. Once you’ve identified what makes you stand out, bring a strategic adviser to help you understand the most practical ways to use your strengths to increase your overall profitability.

And outside hand can help you ensure that all of your efforts are well placed. However, a good business advisor will help you understand your options and lead you to the right choice. Let’s take a look at ten methods that a business advisor might suggest for helping you improve your profit margin.

7 Tips to Improve Your Business’s Profitability

Now that you understand your place within your industry, your team and advisor can look at your next steps. These tips will Leverage the resources you already have at hand, such as your website, your branding, or the knowledge within your team. Take some time to think about how each of these strategies would look when applied to your business. With some preliminary reading, you can come to your conversations prepared with new ideas and strategies to discuss.

1.   Get specific with your audience

It’s harder to decide when faced with too many choices. Instead of covering all the possible products you could offer your customer, narrow your selection to a few high-quality choices. This way, your customers can not only make their choice faster but be more satisfied with their decision and return for more business. If you offer several similar products, provide your customers with detailed, easy-to-read information for their choice. One of the ways to avoid confusing your customers what’s similar options is by giving them enough information to understand why they’re different and how this applies to their choice.

You can collect information from your current website users in the form of analytics and surveys to understand what parts of your online shopping experience do and don’t work. For example, you can see which pages your users view last before navigating off your website. Or, you can create a survey to send out by an email with a small incentive to tell you what they think of your current products. Once you have enough data to see the impact that a closely targeted product line would make on your return on investment, you can design your exact plan of action.

2.   Prioritize your current projects

Take a close look at the current projects within your company. Which of these add the most value to your business? Every project that your team completes should have a clear dollar value attached to it. This could be a program that helps your employees develop, which increases retention and time lost getting them up to speed. It could also be a website redesign that helps your customers find relevant pages faster and increases searchability. While you don’t necessarily have to give up on a project unless you can’t define any profitability from it, prioritize projects that show a higher return on investment to increase your business’s overall numbers.

Before making your choice, identify and write down your reasoning. Come up with reasons for and against your choice and check it next to alternatives. Sometimes, the overall value of a project may not be immediately obvious, but cutting it mainly into unexpected results. Talk to those working directly with the projects to make sure you’ve got the full picture. Then, discuss the plan and have those in the department help you with the transition. Be sure to inform them how the new approach will redirect their department’s efforts in the impact that they will have.

3.   Maximize how you use technology

If your operations are struggling in an area such as customer support or their internal organization, there are technological options that you can help with. Using technology does not mean replacing your company’s human touch. In fact, it’s imperative to make sure you don’t over-rely on technology. First, clearly identify the problem that you’re experiencing with a department. For example, your customer support staff may be overwhelmed with tickets that could be easily answered another way. If you notice that your team gets frequent questions about shipping and return policies, you could explore how an automated chat or easy-to-use help articles could show them the answers instead of being routed to your support cue.

Remember to test before and after you make the change so you can properly measure its results. If the campaign isn’t performing as expected, get more information from your staff and customers to figure out why. Frequent adjustments help you stay in tune with your customers and their expectations.

4.   Boost your brand

Your products and tech aren’t all your clients see. The methods you use to convey the values and mission of your brand bear heavy weight on your customers’ choices. Putting extra work into your brand increases the perceived value of products from your company. They want to interact with your products and the part of your mission that speaks to them as an individual. Make sure that you place your mission statement clearly on your website and participate as an active voice in the causes that you represent. Be authentic with your words and follow through on promises.

If this is the first time you’re seriously considering an overhaul for your branding, tie in your marketing and sales teams to design an approach. Since they work closely with your customers and your branding, their insights will come from direct experience. In terms of your upper management, look for speaking opportunities and other means of building authority in your industry. This is a subtle but potent way to build your brand value without directly changing your product.

5. Increase your efficiency

Your business’s growth depends not only on its outside environment but the framework with which your stunt operates. Clear, coherent processes help your team stay organized and reduce wasted time and resources. First, have your team document the current way that they do things. Have them test these steps by repeating them exactly as designed to see what’s missing. More often than not, steps get forgotten because they’re performed habitually and not thought of each time someone goes about the task. Next, have them document them and put them in a publicly available system.

Once your procedures have been documented, set them up for regular updates and ensure that your team follows them. Your procedures are only half of the equation. The other half is compliance. See more about setting up solid process management within your company in our series of blog articles.

6. Sell more by with each purchase

Sometimes, prompts to sell customers items that help them get more out of what they’re already buying can add a significant boost to your profit margin. Take, for example, a shoe retailer who prompts their customers to buy new leases and socks after adding a pair of shoes to their cart. Or,  a company could offer a camera bag, lens wipes, and a strap to someone who purchased a new digital camera. These are items that your customers will likely need regardless. If you can encourage them to purchase them in the same place, then you can get an extra sale instead of risking losing them to a competitor.

These kinds of prompts also improve your customers’ overall experience with your brand. When done right, highly relevant prompts like these leave your customer feeling more satisfied and like you added an individual touch to the process.

7. Give smart discounts

Discounts encourage customers to spend more because they perceive the savings before the overall value of their purchase. However, offering too many discounts can hurt your bottom line. Instead of offering blanketed discounts such as a 30% off sale on everything in the store, consider who you can target and which departments of your store need increased sales. For example, if you are an electronics retailer, consider what electronics kids will need for school and offer a slight discount on them in late summer and early fall.

When offering discounts, use your marketing and sales teams to spread the word and generate more business in anticipation of the sale. You can also incorporate referral discounts for those that bring new customers and options for feedback on how you’re performing. Take fast-food restaurants that offer a slight discount or free item in exchange for filling out a survey. Take time to write out how you can use discounts to increase sales and overall revenue while also collecting information to tailor your approach.

Closing thoughts

These are only seven examples of how you can increase your retail business’s profitability. When you sit down with an experienced advisor who can design your plan, you’ll find many extra ways to leverage your business’s best traits. Take time when choosing the individual who will guide your decisions. You may be fortunate enough to have experienced in-house talent, or you might get extra value out of bringing in an external consultant or fractional c-suite professional.

Whoever you choose and whatever path you take, do your homework, be sure in your decision, and most of all, act. The biggest risk to your profit is resistance to change. If you’re willing to take a realistic look at your state of operations and do what it takes to improve, you’ll set yourself up for success despite changing surroundings.

Still curious about who can help design your plan? You’ll have plenty of professionals to choose from who can help you improve your profitability. A fractional CMO or a fractional COO can help you plan a strategic approach from an executive level with more flexibility than an in-house staff member. Fractional CMOs have a special focus on the marketing and sales aspects of your company, while a fractional COO looks internally at your processes first. Take a look at our article about the differences between hiring a fractional COO or an in-house COO.

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10 Project Management Myths Debunked

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Project Management

The concept of project management is simple. Organize your efforts to see improved results. However, the execution of this idea often turns out to be more complex. If you’re struggling with your project management, take a look at the reasons behind your challenger, but avoid falling victim to common project management myths on the way.

In our previous article, we went through the purpose, methods, and results of good project management. This breakdown gives you an idea of what your project managers do and how they’ll do it. Take a look back to give yourself a refresher if you’re still waiting to build your project management team or you’re already experiencing challenges. In this article, we’ll take you through some of the common myths that lead to poor project management and show you how to avoid and fix the underlying issues. First, let’s take a look at what you should and shouldn’t expect from your project management team.

What to expect from your project management team

Your project management team is the operational backbone of your organization. So, if it seems like your processes are lacking structure, this is the first place to look. You should expect transparent, frequent communication from your team members and improvements in how your team completes their work. If there are any major hang-ups, your project managers should let you know and clearly explain what’s happening and what they need.

With that said, you shouldn’t expect your project managers to be mind readers. If your team has an issue that they’re not clearly communicating to the PMs, they won’t understand what’s going on or know how to help. Frequent communication does not mean micromanaging. In fact, micromanaging staff negatively affects their productivity and may make them hesitant when approaching new projects. Your project managers should guide without smothering your staff.

If you expected a different outcome from your project managers, first, put yourself in their part of the situation and imagine why you would have approached it that way. If something still doesn’t add up, ask the team for more information. Often, if you’re aware that there’s a better solution and they didn’t choose it, they may not be aware of the better choice. Rarely do people intentionally make bad decisions. So, understand the problem, fix it at its source, and move on before it affects your team’s productivity.

Tips on project management that appear to be common knowledge may not be as simple as they appear. This is why it’s crucial to understand the myths about project management so you can steer clear of the resulting confusion.

Knowledge is power

Failure is a part of success. If you aim to have a perfect result for every project, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Instead, learn every chance you get. This is the only true way to protect yourself against the challenges that will inevitably arise. For your staff, this may mean frequent training, webinars, industry talks, or shadowing more experienced professionals. Ensure that you incentivize your employees to learn and that you don’t miss the opportunities to apply their knowledge. Understanding a concept is not enough. You have to be able to put it to work.

External learning resources are not your only option for avoiding trouble. Make a note of your past projects and see how the steps you followed led to the eventual outcome. This method especially helps because your team experienced the situation firsthand. Look at it as a case study. Approaching it from a distance avoids unhelpful criticism and instead fosters growth. Encourage your team to pick apart their experiences to gain further knowledge.

Common myths about project management

While searching for answers, our brains tend to gravitate towards the simplest solution. However, there are cases in which the simplest solution is not necessarily the correct one. Knowledge is the best defense against these errors and can help you understand the bigger problems at hand.

Rather than giving in to frustration, arm your staff with knowledge and encourage them to learn if you find your team playing into the mix of project management. Here are a couple of the most common myths and tools to tackle the larger problem at hand.

1.   You need constant change

As we discussed in our article on decision making, inaction is also a form of action. Choosing not to act is a decision that bears equal weight on your progress. While changing your current approach gives the illusion of productivity, it may derail well-planned efforts. Approach change with care and make sure that there’s a good reason for it. You can protect yourself from falling into this trap by coming up with reasons why you shouldn’t alter your course of action as well as why you should. This helps you think more critically about your options and choose the most appropriate follow-up.

Like any other employee, project managers will have busier and slower days. This doesn’t mean that they are less productive. Providing they’re getting the right results, a calm day means that they’ve planned well and can resort to a more oversight-based role. Reporting should back up the results and point to a well-structured approach.

2.   Everybody understands the end goal

Communication is not often as simple as it seems. Even though you may understand what you’re trying to communicate, the message’s recipient will interpret it with their own filter. Make sure that you ask detailed questions to clarify that you’re on the same page. If not, your idea of success and the other persons may be fundamentally out of sync. Make sure that you do this with all stakeholders on a project, so your result is what both you and your client expect. Like many things in life, communication is key.

3.   You can get by fine without project management software

While you may be able to do some parts of project management without using specialized software, it will be more resource-intensive and demanding than using the appropriate software in the first place. If you spend time researching what software you need and planning out how you’ll use it before purchasing it, you’ll make up for the investment in the time and materials you’ve saved with proper organization. Don’t be afraid to schedule demos and take time making your choice. That said, be sure to make your choice and stick with it. If you need project managers, you need project management software. A expecting a team to work without the means of performing their job is like asking a carpenter to build a house without any tools.

4.   Anticipating issues leads to failure

Some individuals might be apprehensive to consider future problems because of a nearly superstitious mindset. Ignoring risks will not make them go away. Instead, carefully analyze your approach and test each element. Discuss the pros and cons of each step with your team and imagine where you might encounter challenges. This way, you’ll know what to look out for and can plan to deal with the issues if they do come up. This step also helps you minimize your risk and choose a balanced approach for the project at hand.

5.   You must finish the project exactly as designed

After investing a good deal of time, effort, or resources into a project, it can be hard to admit that something needs to change. This is partly because of the sunk cost fallacy in which we look at our past efforts instead of the current situation when evaluating our plans. If you’ve been trying to make your approach work with no results, stop and consider where you are now. Do you want to keep investing more time and effort into something that doesn’t work or try a new approach that may make the process easier? Consider your previous investment a learning experience. Document it, see how it happened, and use this knowledge to avoid future complications.

6.   Your employees should perform multiple roles

Versatile team members are desirable assets within small companies and startups. However, spreading your employees too thin means that they won’t have the opportunity to fully devote their efforts to any one goal. Sit down with your team and plan what they will and won’t work on to make wiser choices with their time and resources. This keeps him focused on the task at hand and minimizes distractions. Then, your results reflect the full capability of your team instead of a mixed effort spread across multiple projects.

Even though many people like to think of themselves as gifted multitaskers, evidence shows that people function better when they focus all of their efforts on one goal. Even if you have a staff of multi-talented employees, encourage them to focus on one area and learn all the skills needed for that particular task. Don’t risk missing an opportunity to develop new competencies in favor of doing what they’re already good at.

7.   Your customer knows how to get exactly what they want

Let’s be frank: if your customers knew how to get exactly what they wanted, they’d be doing it themselves. They may have an end goal in mind and may know some of the steps they think will help them arrive at that goal, but ultimately you are the experts in your field. Take your clients’ feedback seriously but do not let them direct the entire plan. Ultimately, if you allow too much interference, both parties will end up frustrated at the lack of results. This disconnect damages your overall relationship. Instead, consider the essence of what they’re asking for and suggest constructive ways that will get them there. Don’t be afraid to break down the reasoning behind why you’re doing what you’re doing and answer their questions. Again, while they may understand what they want, you are their guide to getting there.

8.   Your process defines your outcome

Well-documented processes are an important factor in project management. However, they’re only one of the elements that determine your overall success. Problems with your project management are not always problems with your processes. When you see issues with your processes, check that your staff understands the reasoning behind the procedures, how they work, and how to use them successfully. If they understand these factors, see why they lack buy-in and address that issue at its root. Getting their input on the issue will show you how to address it.

9.   Documentation comes second to action

Human beings gravitate towards action. However, make sure that you carefully plan before taking your next steps. This helps you calculate your path and consider all of the choices at hand before resorting to impulsive moves. The best way to do this is to write out the reasoning behind your next step in the context of the existing plan and then come up with reasons that both justify and negate your choice. Afterward, you can examine what decisions did and did not get you closer to your goal and the reasoning behind them. Now, add in the new information, review the logs, and use them to get a better outcome with your next task.

10. You can solve all of your problems with technology

While there’s something to be said for the costs of avoiding technology, they’re equal arguments against relying too much on it. Technology can support a good plan but does not fix issues that run deeper than your tools. Before spending unnecessarily on new software, consider what need you’re trying to address and any other approaches that can resolve the situation. It can be challenging to get your team to shift to one new program, let alone several, so make sure that you’re not overwhelming them with too many tools. This extra step makes sure they can use the tools they already have more efficiently.

Closing thoughts

Project management is a necessary function in the business world. However, while necessary, it’s not always easy. When you find that your project managers are experiencing problems, take the time to sit down and think critically about the challenges they’re facing and the real reasons why they’re happening. You’ll often find that previous assumptions you had about how things work will be proven wrong. Though counterintuitive at first, being proven wrong is a gift that helps you align your thinking closer with reality. When you do this, your planning will direct you closer to the outcome you seek.

If you and your team are struggling to identify the root of your problems, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are a multitude of professionals trained in developing better project management approaches, including small business advisors, fractional CMOs, and fractional COOs. How can you take the first steps? Do the best you can to identify and resolve your problems first, and then bring in an extra hand as soon as it’s needed. Better yet, bring in a professional when designing your approach so you can avoid problems in the first place. A fractional CMO or fractional COO can help you get started and advise you from the start. For more information on who can help and how to see what a small business advisor can do for you.

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Employee Growth: Further tips for employers

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Employee Growth

Investing in your employees’ growth is more than providing raises and promotions. The goal is to find out what’s important to each person on your team and give them ways to develop in those areas. According to Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends 2015, millennials valued training and development more than any other job perk, including flexible hours and cash bonuses. Employees’ values in the workplace are shifting now more than ever. Investing in their growth within your company helps retain and engage your staff.

Even teams with fewer resources can build out a plan for employee growth. Focus on what you have available, like experienced senior staff and learning resources, to design your approach. The only thing that every company must have is the desire to help their employees grow. The rest is unique to you.

Why invest in employees’ growth?

Growth opportunities at work have a direct correlation with retention. A 2016 study by Deloitte showed that 71% of employees who wanted to leave in the next two years show dissatisfaction with developing their leadership skills in the workplace. 63% of all people surveyed noted that these skills were not being fully developed. That means over half of all employees were dissatisfied with their development, and some of the most likely to leave cited it as a reason.

Investing in your employees’ growth pays off by:

  1. Creating talent you can promote
  2. Reducing turnover rates
  3. Staying up-to-date in your industry

Create promotable talent

When you need someone for a new leadership role, promoting internally is often safer than hiring externally. Internal promotions give your team an opportunity they can strive for well, encouraging them to develop their skills. While promotions are not the end-all-be-all goal of growth, they do provide an incentive. You know how someone performs when faced with pressure, new challenges, collaborative projects. Investing in the development and training of your staff prepares them for these roles. Then, you reduce the time and effort needed to fill openings.

Reduce turnover rates

Speaking of training time, hiring new employees is a time and resource-heavy endeavor. Not only do you have to consider the direct costs incurred by your team’s latest addition, but also the lost productivity and project time from the rest of your team. Often, new hires will ask why they’re hiring for the position in the interview process and will be apprehensive of companies with high turnover rates. On the other hand, if you create a team with high retention rates and job satisfaction, they will advocate for your company and funnel higher quality talent into your team.

Stay current in your industry

Your team’s overall skills are not as critical as their ability to learn. Every industry will experience significant changes in its technology and knowledge over time. Rather than making sure your team knows today’s industry, prepare them to continually step outside of their comfort zone and learn new skills. This way, they’ll be on the lookout for new insights and techniques that help you stay ahead rather than trying to catch up with the inevitable change.

How to design your plan

Naturally, helping your employees and their personal development benefits them as well as the company. However, when you design your plan to help, you need to structure it around your employee. Remember that even though it benefits the rest of the team, the goal is to know what’s important to each person and find a harmonious way to structure their learning plan.

Start with a survey asking your employees about their interests. You can include areas like technology, current events, and even their interests outside of work. See what they’re passionate about, even if it doesn’t seemingly have anything to do with their work life. For example, consider a team member who enjoys playing music in their free time. You may not have many opportunities for them to play guitar at work. Still, they may want extra training on public speaking or presentations to become a better performer outside of work. Then, you get a person who’s invested in their job and trained for opportunities like presentations for clients.

The critical component to an employee development plan is consistency. Set regular training schedules, be consistent in your promises, and encourage feedback from your employees so you can improve. If your mission statement says that you value learning, but it’s difficult in practice, employees will become disillusioned with the gap between your words and our actions. Pay employees for their training time and make sure that there’s room in their schedule to do it. The benefits for you are worth far more than the initial investment.

What to include in your plan

Ultimately, what you include in your employee development plan depends on your available resources. Some of these may be obvious, like your training budget and existing programs. Others may be less apparent but equally beneficial. Take into consideration some of the following factors.

1.   Software

First, look at the software your organization uses. Often, the technology you use has knowledge base certification courses that employees can use to boost their experience. They also develop a higher level of proficiency in the software you already use, which increases their productivity and helps them train newer team members. As their overall skill level rises, so will their confidence, and they will be more prepared to take on new challenges.

2.   Talent

Next, take a look at who you have in your organization. For example, you may have a team member who worked in event planning for a previous job to train newer staff in that skill. Consider having your team fill out a survey about their strengths and what skills they’d like to learn. Then, you can match your more experienced staff with those looking to learn their skills in a mentorship program. This also builds a collaborative dynamic that encourages your team to work together when approaching the new subject matter.

3.   Industry

Your resources are not limited to what you have as a company. Take a look at how the leaders in your industry get ahead. Are there networking events that you can send your team to? Are there mentorship opportunities outside of your business? Have your employees identify their main professional goals and someone they can look up to in the industry. Then, they can understand how they got to their place and ways to replicate their success in a way that works for them. Letting your team identify their opportunities builds trust within your organization and their investment in professional growth.

Ideas for investing in your employees’ growth

Now that you’ve got the fundamentals start planning out exactly how your growth plan will look. This should include a list of how you will train your employees and what kind of structure it will take. Apart from the training, imagine ways your team can put their skills to use. Here are a couple of ideas that you can incorporate into your employee growth plans.

1.   Create a training “menu”

While it’s important to let people drive most of their own training initiatives, you will need to create its overall structure. For example, once your employee has identified their training goals, use these to build a calendar and resource “menu” for their plan. You could let them choose one training goal per month and the tools they’ll use to reach it. This could include courses available through your team’s software, mentorship opportunities, events, and projects. Make this list of resources readily available to whoever wants to learn. This way, you can vet the resources they’ll use for quality and steer them towards the best options.

2.   Set challenging goals

The point of learning a new skill is to apply it. Though certifications matter, you want to see the results of their unique knowledge in action. Have management sit down with their team members and identify ways to use their new skills in their department. These goals should be challenging and involve resources that they have not used before. Take a moment to plan out who they can go to for help and what resources are available if they get stuck. The best opportunities for these projects are low risk and high reward. Ensure that there is room for failure and that it’s documented and used to add to the learning experience if or when it happens. Even knowing what doesn’t work helps you find out what does.

3.   Offer cross-departmental collaboration

Some employees don’t want to stay in their niche forever. If they’re looking at a career change, help them explore their options within your company. For example, if you have a software developer who would like to learn some marketing, consider letting them sit in with your marketing team and participate in some of their projects. By now, you can trust that they have a learning mindset if they’ve been following through on their personal development goals. Regardless of whether they choose to stay with your company long-term, their experience will be a positive one. If you need a new marketing team member, you already have one on hand. Or, if they do leave, they will advocate for your company’s growth culture.

4.   Think with a long-term plan

Remember when you asked your employees to identify their long-term goals? Here’s where that comes into play. When you structure out each month’s activities, set them up to build on each other and culminate in the skillset they want. For example, if somebody wants to become a manager, identify which skills they’ll need and what software they’ll have to use. Then, break down month by month goals starting with the most straightforward and approachable tasks. Over time, include progressively more challenging goals until they have the skillset and experience required for a management role.

5.   Demonstrate your trust

Learning is not a straightforward process. There is no instance in which people will not make mistakes. What matters is that when mistakes are made, the person does their best to learn from them and make sure it will not happen again. If you have the skills that an employee is looking to grow and notice that something is wrong, put yourself first in their place and imagine how you can turn this into a constructive conversation. However, if the risks are low, allow the employee to learn on their own and ask questions that make them think about their choices. Most importantly, do not hover over your staff as they build their knowledge. Trust that they are doing the best they can and that by hiring them, you saw that they would add value to your company.

Closing thoughts

Employees invest themselves in companies that invest in them. Show genuine interest in your staff and you’ll create a company culture that attracts top talent. Not only will you see benefits such as lowering turnover rates and creating talent that you can promote, but you’ll create a reputation as a great place to work. Even without significant financial resources, you can still find ways to show interest in your employees’ lives in and outside of work.

Expert management sets an example that the rest of your team can follow. Some examples of who can help include fractional CMOs, fractional COOs, and small business advisors. A fractional CMO or COO assists on a part-time basis as a c-suite professional so you can get the knowledge and leadership your team needs without the commitment of a full-time addition. A fractional COO or fractional CMO uses their knowledge to mentor your staff and create procedures designed for your company’s growth.

While the goal of this endeavor is to help your employees learn, remember that part of learning is using their skills. You invited each of these individuals to be part of your team because you saw something valuable in them. Even when things don’t go as planned, show the trust you have in your employees by allowing them to experiment in structured ways and learn from their mistakes. Eventually, this experience will mean far more than what they could have learned without applying what they know in the real world. The result? Talent that carries your company further.

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Expert Tips for Analytical Decision Making

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Analytical decision-making

Life is full of good and bad decisions. Thinking back to our youth, we can all come up with a few examples. As we mature, we learn that bad decisions are usually made because of factors like a lack of knowledge, impulsivity, or not taking the time to think things through. We’re not perfectly rational creatures, but there are some things we can do to make up for that. Understanding the barriers between us and rational decision-making can help us as much in our personal lives as it does in our business lives.

Our previous article reviewed the factors involved in analytical decision-making, different ways to evaluate each department, and resources to learn about making wise choices. This article will review some of the factors that lead us to make bad choices and learn how to avoid them. We’ll also cover a few ways that you can improve your ability to make better decisions. Let’s get started by reviewing what moves people to make bad choices.

Why do we make bad decisions?

We like to think of ourselves as rational creatures who are not affected by emotion or flaws in our logic. The truth is, the more that we believe this about ourselves, the more likely we are to fall victim to our own nature. The human brain likes to run efficiently, like a computer, and we rely on our own habits and patterns to make quick decisions about our lives. However, this means that much of our decision-making goes on underneath our conscious awareness. Some examples of choices that you likely make without thinking are:

  • Which route do you take to work
  • What time do you eat your meals
  • Which apps do you use daily
  • How you go about your day-to-day routine

You’ll notice that these are all habitual decisions. Is each choice the best option available? Probably not, but sometimes it’s easier to continue doing something that’s causing no problems than to put extra effort into finding a more efficient solution. We run off shortcuts that save us mental energy because it allows us to save more “processing power” for the bigger decisions in life. However, letting so many choices run under our awareness leaves us vulnerable to the consequences of these decisions.

Sometimes, even though we’re aware of the consequences, the force of habit pushes us to continue to make bad decisions. If we know something is not the right choice, why do we still do it? This isn’t an indicator of a wider moral failing; it has to do with the following patterns that many people use when processing information.

The sunk cost fallacy

Consider this example. You’re three months into a project, and the contractor you hired just isn’t performing. However, it’s too late to find someone else for the job. It’s better just to continue with what you have now and hope that it gets finished. Does this sound familiar? This is an example of the sunk cost fallacy where you justify continuing to make a bad decision by looking at the time, effort, or money you’ve already invested into your choice.

The fact of the matter is that the contractor probably won’t change if you’re already three months in. It doesn’t matter whether or not you stay with the same person. You won’t recuperate the money and time that you’ve already spent. If you look at the future as a clean slate, would you choose the same person again? Logically, it will be best to drop the existing plan and find someone who can work better with your specifications. However, most of the time, people can convince themselves that there’s still a chance they’ll get their desired outcome despite all the evidence against it.

This fallacy has to do with our perception of loss versus gain. Often, people will value an option that they perceive will help them avoid loss over one that will return a larger gain with a slightly higher risk. We think in chronological forms, like reading a story. This thought pattern assumes that the story ends with the “failure” of the plan instead of a lesson learned and applied.

The action bias

Especially in Western cultures, we have a bias towards “doing.” Sometimes, the best thing to do is nothing. Consider a plan that’s working well with no issues. If all of your metrics point to success, why do you still feel the need to act? This boils down to our survival instincts, in which those who acted when faced with a threat survive longer than those who remained passive. As our personal experiences develop, we remember situations in which inaction caused great harm, which motivates us to take action even when necessary.

Taking action makes us feel like we’re in control. When we’re doing something, it makes us believe that we are changing the outcome. In a sense, we are, but that outcome may be divorced from what we have planned for in the past. Those who are more confident often fall victim to this bias more than their hesitant counterparts. If people believe that their action gives them control over an outcome, they’re less likely to wait, even if a plan is going well. While not completely absolved from this bias, their more reserved counterparts tend to be more careful and wash current results before taking action.

Choosing inaction when all is going well is a skill that you can practice over time. Think of rest as an action in itself. Rather than going into a task ready to make a change, analyze your data and see how things are going first. Then, you can decide whether the task should be left as it is or whether an intervention is needed. Over time, this will come more naturally to you and serves as a lesson in patience and observation. As the adage goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

The anchoring bias

Humans use comparisons to understand the world around them. This manifests in how we use the first information that we’re presented with to judge later information. Think about discounts at a clothing store. If you see the original price crossed out and replaced with a lower price, your first reference will be the higher cost. Then, you’ll see the new information with the discount which will influence your choice. Who doesn’t like to save money? This is one way that the anchoring bias is used to affect your decisions. The overall cost of the item might be higher than what you’d like to spend, but the idea that you’re getting a lower price influenced your choice.

In business, this can skew your judgment in situations where you’re presented with new information that contradicts older data. Your staff may be more likely to go with the first idea that someone voices and contribute less input. This can take the form of a psychological effect called priming, where the first piece of information you receive serves as a reference point for later reasoning. Think back to the game where you have somebody repeat close rhymes to the word fork and then ask which utensil they use to butter toast. If you do the game right, they’ll automatically respond with the word “fork* even though the answer sounds ridiculous in context. This is one clear example of how the anchoring bias leads us to make illogical choices.

The anchoring bias is one of the more difficult biases to overcome. While you can’t entirely avoid it, you can mitigate its effects by taking your time with decisions and thinking about reasons why your choice would be inappropriate for the situation. This way, you can clearly visualize the pros and cons of each decision.

Choice overload

Have you ever stood in the supermarket looking at 10 types of cereal that seem to be more or less the same? It’s hard to make a choice when you have a larger selection of options. Choice overload leads to a slower decision-making process even when time is of the essence. We want to ensure that we’ve got the right solution, but filtering through so much information isn’t natural for us. In business, you may see this for example when choosing software for your team. Unless you have a clear differentiation between your available options, it’s difficult to see your best choice.

We have more choices than ever and few mental resources to make them. This can lead to a draining, stretched-out, and unfulfilling decision-making process. Those who have choice paralysis also tend to be less satisfied with their final decision. Our expectations tend to be higher when we have more choices, so we become harder to please. This bias affects people that strive for perfection more than those who are content with good enough, though there’s merit to both mindsets.

Collecting information can help you overcome this bias. When you go into the situation knowing what you’re looking for, you can easily weed out the options that don’t fit your needs. For example, if you’re picking software, know your budget, the number of users, the features you need, and the use cases before selecting your option. Then, you can easily filter out the noise and choose the best option for your company.

How to improve your decision-making abilities

Despite all the challenges, there are ways that you can get better at making smart business decisions. Don’t expect them to be perfect, but be decisive and do your best. Even making the wrong decision is a learning experience that will point you in the right direction the next time. Some ways that you can make better decisions are:

  • Becoming aware of your cognitive biases
  • Writing out your ideas
  • And learning how to overcome your hesitation

Let’s take a deeper look at each of these points and examine some practical ways to apply them.

Become aware of your biases

Though we reviewed several cognitive biases above, there are many more that affect the way you think. Examine your thought processes when you go through your decision-making process and think about why you make certain choices. This will show you how your experiences affect your decisions in the future and help you learn from past mistakes. Read especially into other biases that many people use without noticing and educate your team on them. Don’t focus on changing things just yet. For now, just become aware of what you’re doing. Once you fully understand that, you can go ahead and make the change.

Write out your ideas

Have you ever noticed that your ideas become more coherent when you put them in words? You may have seen this happen when explaining something to a coworker. The reason behind this is that when you turn your ideas into words, you’re forced to organize the details in a way that others can understand. This makes the finer parts clear and solidifies your plan. When making important decisions, you can filter out extra noise from others’ input by writing out your ideas instead. The extra step adds an opportunity for you to clearly evaluate your ideas before putting them into action.

Overcome your hesitation

Inaction is also an action. Except in cases where your plan is already going well, this is one of the most detrimental choices you can make for your company. Keep moving forward, no matter how that may be. If you’re striving for perfection, keep aiming for it but realize that it’s a goal, not a necessity. Much like how choice paralysis keeps people from making decisions, striving for impossible ideals stunts your efforts before they have a chance to thrive. Aim for the option that has the best balance between risks and benefits. Then, make your choice. No matter what you do, the results provide invaluable information to direct your future choices as a business.

Closing thoughts

Human beings are not perfectly rational creatures. However, we can strive to understand our limitations and overcome them. This undertaking involves looking critically at our current plans and breaking habits that keep us from reaching higher goals. While this is no easy task, it’s essential to your operations and their success.

The more expertise and educated opinions you can include, the more bad decisions you can avoid. Consider bringing a fractional c-suite professional onto your team to help, such as a fractional CMO or a fractional COO. These individuals can help you understand the implications of your choices, your biases in thinking, and how to plan for better outcomes in your internal and external operations. Read more here to see how a fractional CMO or fractional COO can help your team.

Sometimes, our familiarity makes it difficult to see the flaws in our planning. This is where many companies would want to bring in a fresh pair of eyes. One way companies do this is through a business process review. Take a look at what process management involves and who can help in this blog article.

The post Expert Tips for Analytical Decision Making first appeared on Fractional COO - Fractional CMO - Kamyar Shah.

More Ways to Use Facts for Better Decision Making

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Analytical Decision Making

Influential leaders are efficient decision-makers. Your overall success as a company depends on your abilities to evaluate information and make rational conclusions. At times, you may find that there is no easy choice to make. In these cases, you’ll need to rely on the quality of your information and your ability to interpret it. This skill puts you on the path to leading your company in the right direction.

In our previous article, we reviewed the more analytical aspects of making intelligent decisions using data. Here, we will elaborate on several methods covered and give you tips to apply them in your everyday decision-making. If you’ve got an important choice to make coming up, don’t stress. We’ll walk you through what you need to make the right choice confidently.

The steps to sound decision making

You can think of good decision making like how a scientist would conduct an experiment. You want to start with a question, review the available information, clarify your question with the new knowledge you have, conduct your research, and analyze your data. Then, you can come to a conclusion. However, there are some details in each step that could make or break the entire process. For example, what do you do if some of the information is not reliable? How would you know in the first place? First, let’s review the steps in a little more detail.

1.   State the decision

In this example, you want to state the decision you have to make and as much detail as possible. For example, imagine that you’re trying to allocate your marketing budget for the quarter. You have two options for your ads budget: LinkedIn or Facebook. Here, you’d want to identify the campaign that you’d be promoting and your options to choose from. Make sure that you include the desired result to see which of the two options would get you closer.

2.   Gather your information

Here, you’ll spend your time gathering more information about your decision. For example, what kinds of advertising does each platform offer? Who will be involved in making a final decision? Have you tried a project like this before, and what were the results? This step will help you clarify what the most feasible options are in your next step.

3.   Define your options

Using the information you gathered in the last step, layout the most promising courses of action. Going off the above example, you may have decided that promoted posts on each platform fit your needs the best. Perhaps the other options didn’t work within your budget or had been tried before in a similar way with little success. Now, you have the most realistic paths to accomplish your goal.

4.   Perform your research

Now that you have your options laid out, you will start researching to decide which option you will ultimately take. In this case, you may want to look at the demographics of who you’re targeting and then see which platform they use the most. If you’re targeting consumers, you might favor Facebook for its focus on individuals over businesses. Or, if you’re working in a B2B industry, you’d likely find more probable clients on LinkedIn. Next, you’d look at the potential cost and results from each campaign based on what you’ve done before as a company and research from other sources. When you’re done with this, identify the pros and cons of each choice and present your findings.

5. Make your choice

Now that you have all of your information, you can commit to your decision. It’s important to note that, more often than not, there is no perfect choice. What you’d like is the better of the options that you have. If you did your research correctly, you’d have a solid foundation of knowledge backing up your choice. Execute your plan and then move on to the next step.

6. Evaluate your results

What’s your project is complete, document everything that happened from beginning to end. This step aims to gather the information that can help you make better choices in the future. Did the campaign perform as expected? Did you reach your goal? Were there any unexpected costs or consequences from your selection? No matter what happened during the project, the information that you collect now will help steer you in the right direction next time.

Following these steps will help guide your decisions in the right direction. However, with a little more detail and consideration, this guidance can go even further. Next, let’s check out a few steps on making sure that you can trust the information you find during your research.

Evaluating your information

Misinformation usually has enough facts to sound reliable, but ultimately its message can lead you astray. How can you tell what information you can and can’t trust? There are a few skills that you can build that help you evaluate the quality of data. Especially when you need to make an important choice, the information you use needs to be reliable. Even smaller options based on questionable information can have serious consequences. Ensure that you go into your project prepared and do your due diligence when choosing how you support your decision.

Unreliable information usually gives itself away with one of the following tells. We’ll outline some questions to ask when gathering information and explain affect its quality. Let’s take a look at some pointers to keep in mind in your research.

1.   What is the goal of the information?

When you start reading through a piece of information, think about what they’re trying to do with the article. For example, a newspaper article provides information, usually about a specific place. Videos online may serve to entertain, and blog articles or marketing materials on a business’s website often serve to sell products. Other pieces like personal blog articles and editorials in magazines try to convince someone of a particular idea or advocate for a cause.

Also, think about who they are trying to reach. Sometimes it’s easy to tell the intended audience of the information. You could safely assume that a video on how to train dogs is targeting dog owners. Commercials for toys cater to children. Pieces like newspapers and magazines may be a little broader, but you can generally tell who they’re trying to reach by the subjects that they discuss. When you put these two questions together, you can get an idea of who they are trying to reach and what they want them to do.

2.   Is the author an authority on the topic?

The next questions you want to ask concern the author of a piece. Is the author’s name clearly available? Or, if an organization wrote it, is there contact information easily accessible? Do a quick Google search on the author or publishing organization of a piece of information. If the author is an individual, check their education and experience on the topic at hand. Do they have a history of providing information in a specific area? Are they affiliated with any organizations that may affect the credibility of their work? Check to see if they mention any universities, nonprofits, affiliated businesses, or agencies that they work with.

Next, look at where and how the information was published. If you found the information online, is it a personal website from the author or associated with a larger organization if you found the information online? If it’s a book, look at the publisher to see if it’s related to a university or a large commercial publisher. Both of these entities will take extra time to check the information that their writers produce. If you’re using a newspaper or a magazine, go back to the first question and notice if it serves for entertainment or education.

3.   How accurate is the information?

Even when information appears to be common knowledge, the author should include links to outside sources that verify their claims. Check for hyperlinks online that link to external sites. They should both be reliable and verify the information from the first source. If the information you’re reading includes any kind of statistics or factual information, check that you can back it up with another source. If you find the source of information and can view the study, take a look at how researchers collected the data and if the author can say that the conclusions were valid.

4.   How recent is the information?

Sometimes, you need current information in order for it to be accurate. These circumstances could include planning for your next steps in a quickly changing industry. You wouldn’t want to read a market forecast from 10 years ago when making decisions for today. Some information, especially regarding established science, doesn’t need to be current as long as the information is still accurate. Historical information also serves a unique purpose with some projects. If you’re reading a book or an article, check the publishing date printed on the cover or the first few pages. If your source is online, some pages have the information listed in the footer. Websites are typically more difficult to date than print media.

5.   Is the information fact or opinion-based?

Opinions have value in the decision-making process, especially when founded on facts. For example, it may be your opinion that you should choose LinkedIn marketing over Facebook because you read that more of your Target demographic uses LinkedIn. However, the most important part of this is that facts are indeed involved when forming an opinion. When you do your research, look for fact-based articles. Misleading sources often use some facts, but draw conclusions from them that may not follow. Look especially for emotionally charged language, including words like humiliated, smashed, infuriated, and destroyed. These words will often play off a reader’s fear or excitement. If you find that the article is mostly based on fact, double-check their citations with the tips above and rest assured that your source is trustworthy.

The extra time you spend verifying your sources pays off in your end result. A little bit of homework now can save you an avoidable headache later. Now that you have a reliable method to make fact-based decisions, let’s finish up with a couple of pointers for the execution.

Perfecting your method

When you’re making your decisions, it’s important to stay focused. Often, you’ll find that you’re confronted with conflicting ideas and opinions from those around you. Do your research independently and invite collaboration when it’s appropriate. For example, rather than asking what to do on a particular step, decide on how you would do it and then ask for a pointer on a specific detail of your plan.

On a similar note, don’t strive for perfection with your project. Nothing is perfect in practice and expecting perfection only makes your team hesitate when taking action. Instead of planning exact outcomes for each step, plan where you need to be firm and where you can be flexible in the execution of your project. This helps you adapt quickly to change while maintaining the structure of your plan.

Closing thoughts

Fact-based decision-making helps you achieve your desired outcome. By taking care of steps to align your planning with your goals, you will see more reliable results and get information that benefits your future endeavors. Structured planning allows you to take greater risks that yield rich rewards. By understanding the possibilities that come with each course of action, you create a unique edge for your company within its industry.

You’re not alone in your quest to make better corporate decisions. A fractional CMO or fractional COO can lend a hand in directing your team and showing you the pros and cons of each choice. They balance experience with availability, serving as a part-time c-suite member for your team. A fractional CMO provides a unique edge for developing your marketing and sales strategies and a fractional COO guides your organization from the internal processes forward. Do your research and see who is the best for your team.

Careful planning is not all. Next, you’ll want to consider the environment in which your project will take root. This includes your employees, your resources, and the greater implications of your industry. Take a look at our article here to find out how you can engage your employees and make them an active part of your company’s success.

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Taking Control With Strategic Planning

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Strategic Planning

Often, advice tells us to live in the moment. It keeps us from getting wrapped up in hypotheticals and denying the present reality. This method doesn’t mean renouncing control and letting life direct us instead of us directing our lives. The same concept applies not only to our personal lives but within our approach to strategic planning in business.

Taking control of your company strategy acknowledges your present situation while planning for the future. This strategic approach involves taking a detailed look at where your company stands and at the environment surrounding you. While it may be tempting to continue with a day-to-day routine that’s working “good enough,” this mindset leaves you vulnerable to the ebbs and flows of your industry. Instead of getting washed about in the tides, ride the wave of success by planning for the future.

In our previous article, we discussed some of the methods and models for strategic planning. Now, we’ll review the more significant implications of a sound business strategy. Let’s start by looking at some signs that you need to update your business’s approach.

When to update your business’s strategy

There should never be a time where you are not updating your business’s strategic plan. Change is a consistent factor in the corporate world. Current events will shape your industry, and new technology invites greater capabilities within and outside of your company. Avoid falling behind by setting regular meetings with your team to revise your strategy. Ideally, these should happen every month with the major stakeholders in your business.

Monthly meetings facilitate more minor changes. The frequency of these meetings invites slow, progressive change, as opposed to major periodic overhauls. Upending your staff’s routine with significant changes affects your company’s morale and reduces productivity. Instead, create a culture of learning by introducing slow changes early on. This gets them used to slow, constant shifts and makes it easier to adapt over time.

After you’ve sent your monthly strategy review meetings, choose a date for a yearly planning review. In this meeting, look over all the data from the smaller changes you’ve made and how they impacted your business. Then, you’ll use this data to structure our approaches and goals for the following year. These will likely change from the original plan to some degree, but you need to choose a logical direction for your business using all the information available.

The ingredients for a sound strategy

Strategic planning is a group effort. There are many elements that help you realize your success. When you meet for strategic reviews, you’ll want to include not only your high-level management staff but also members of other departments. These include people who work directly with your customers, the product, and other significant pieces of your product and its success. Have them come prepared with insights from their specific functions. For example, those that work directly with your customers should report any important trends that they found in their support tickets. A software development team could note the most common feature requests. Bring data on information that contributes insight to the conversation, including market reports and publications within your industry.

Dedicate a specific part of this meeting to reviewing your key performance indicators from the previous year. Each department should present its data and provide its insight into the results. If you majorly deviated from your expected goals, conduct additional research to find out why it happened. These can include surveys, focus groups, and comparisons between your company and the industry standards for that time.

After reviewing your performance, look at ways that you can take advantage of the following year. Based on the changes in your industry, you can find further opportunities. For example, you can adopt a new piece of software that helps you run your processes quicker or discuss acquiring another company. One benefit of having everybody in the same meeting is aligning your internal and external procedures from the planning phase on. For example, if you plan to take on more customers, you can simultaneously look at the software to help you handle them. Or, if you’d like to increase customer satisfaction, you can find what your team needs to improve their experience.

What to expect from your plans

How will you plot a path if you don’t know where you’re going? Much like a good map, a strategic plan aligns your business with its goals. Even more, solid planning helps you understand your business in more depth and see it in the context of its industry. Companies with a reliable plan should expect to see:

  • Increased efficiency
  • Happier teams
  • Higher profits
  • Resistance to challenges

Let’s take a closer look at how these manifest.

Increased efficiency

No company’s resources are infinite. Having a clear-cut plan sets priorities in line so you can dedicate resources to what’s needed the most. By keeping sight of your goals, you can increase your business’s revenue and then fund less urgent projects when the time is right. Teams that understand their overall direction work more efficiently and invest themselves more in the outcomes of their team. For more information on aligning your messaging with your goals, see more in this article about the importance of communication.

Happier teams

People thrive on consistency. Aligning your strategy with your business’s actions provides team members a clear sense of priority and direction. Rather than inadvertently working against each other’s interests, your communication plan will ensure that each stakeholder understands their common goal. Often, individuals work better with some restrictions rather than full, open creativity. Providing a framework for your company’s efforts and stability where you need it and allows flexibility where it benefits you the most.

Higher profits

A reliable plan will help your company work together, which makes operations more efficient. Increased efficiency leads to savings across the board and more opportunities for creative solutions. Freeing up your team’s energy with good planning results in faster project completion time, a higher return on investment, and a competitive edge. Teams that plan ahead consider their surroundings and stay in tune with new developments in their industries.

Tracking your strategy and results allows you to compare your performance with your expectations. This shows you what is and is not working so you can tailor your approach for better results. Then, you can allocate your resources to the areas that need them and plan more efficiently. Over time, you’ll see improvements to your overall return on investment and overall market share. Then, you can position yourself to improve consistently.

Resistance to challenges

Let’s clarify: being resistant to challenges does not mean that you’ll be immune to them. It does mean you’ll be prepared to deal with new developments and that your staff will have the tools to pivot when faced with change. Since you’ll frequently be reviewing your plan, you can look at it in the context of the overall industry and adjust it when you see change happening. Unlike businesses that rigidly stick to their plans despite new information, flexible businesses account for new developments and move with them. Often, there are new opportunities that many businesses will miss by ignoring them in favor of following their current plan. Think, for example, of the opportunities missed by Polaroid, Blockbuster, and Sears when their industries changed.

How to evaluate your business’s strategy

The goal of your corporate strategy is to make a specific impact. You can evaluate this by writing down exactly what you want to get done and then tracking your current efforts to see their results. Your strategy should point you in this direction, and your leadership staff guides the implementation. Meet with your team and identify the metrics you’ll use to determine your success.

Each one of the policies that your company implements should be tied to a specific goal. Rather than thinking about these goals in an individual context, incorporate them into your larger mission. How will each one of these contribute to your aim? Make these planning documents available to each stakeholder involved, so they understand the purpose behind these guidelines and generate accountability for adhering to the plans.

Setting achievable goals

Make sure that your goals are as specific as you can get them. Vague goals are hard to reach. Think, for example, of someone who claims they want to “grow their business.” What exactly does that mean? Is there a specific revenue goal that you’re trying to reach? Does it have to do with your market share? Be specific when planning your next steps.

How will it appear when you’re there? You should visualize the end result of this goal as a complete experience, as clear as an image or a movie scene. Revisit your goals often, preferably at the start of each strategy discussion. Habit and repetition solidify these ideas and keep them fresh in each person’s mind. It’s better to be overly specific than overly vague.

If you’re having trouble deciding on your goals, pick something, no matter what, and stick to it. Be decisive. It doesn’t matter if it’s the end goal of your company for now. It’s more important to choose a direction to go in and stick to it. If it’s not right later, you’ll find out when you better understand the path you should be on. If you choose a vague goal or none at all, you can expect your results to be aimless as well.

Making your goals public fosters accountability. Ideally, they should go on the same part of your website as your mission statement. Your team and your clients will understand what’s important to you and align themselves better with your mission. Transparency is your biggest asset.

After planning your goals and making them public, set both deadlines and rewards for their completion. The extra steps provide motivation to reach farther instead of only doing what’s required at the moment. Rewards for your team can include bonuses, recognition, time off, or any incentives that they value. Remember that your incentives must be important to the people receiving them, as they must build their personal motivation to work towards the goals.

Fine-tuning and troubleshooting your strategy

Once you set your goals, evaluate the progress and fine-tune your plan. Even when your strategy is perfect, other factors implement its effectiveness. When you evaluate your strategy, look at the following areas to find out where you can improve.

  1. How practical is the plan?
  2. Is your team consistent with its implementation?
  3. Does your plan’s environment support its requirements?
  4. Do you have all the available resources to carry out the plan?
  5. How much risk must you take?
  6. How restrictive are your deadlines?

The first deterrent to your plan’s success is a lack of practicality. This involves conflicting goals or values. For example, if your goals were to provide customers with more app features and also to streamline their experience, you would have to find a way to either consolidate or prioritize the conflicting aims. In this kind of scenario, it’s important to know the essence of what you’re trying to accomplish. Here, it would be an improved customer experience. Focus on the meaning behind your goals and align better steps to reach them.

Once you’re sure of the practicality, check how consistent your team is. They should have clear procedures that direct their efforts in complementary ways. If you find duplicated work or conflicting priorities, this is the first place to look. Also, check that their environment and resources complement the tasks at hand. If they’re missing key tools or support for the projects assigned, the results will not meet expectations. Projects with unrealistic or restrictive deadlines create additional stress and turn counterproductive in the long run. Make sure that you evaluate your deadlines and the overall risk of each project, so your team has the right resources to meet your goals.

Closing thoughts

Strategic planning helps your business in every aspect. It prepares you for the future and creates an environment conducive to growth. Companies with better strategic planning outperform their competitors and become leaders in their industries. Success means something different to everyone, so define what you value and then design the steps to get there.

There are resources in and outside of your company that can help you fine-tune your planning. For example, many companies choose to balance experience with availability and work with a fractional COO or CMO. Each has a distinct way of helping your company plan better for what’s ahead. Much like an in-house member, fractional CMOs and fractional COOs provide expert-level guidance for your business. How do you get started? Make sure you do your homework and evaluate all options. For help designing a specific plan for your business, see what a fractional COO can do to help.

The post Taking Control With Strategic Planning first appeared on Fractional COO - Fractional CMO - Kamyar Shah.

What Is Team Cohesion? The Ultimate Guide

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Team Cohesion

Most people don’t know that 85% of workers in the United States alone experience some kind of conflict in the workplace on a daily basis. If people work in an office or in any other work environment that involves interacting a lot with coworkers, they would know that getting along and working together can be much harder than it sounds. Luckily, that’s why team cohesion exists.

If team cohesion sounds unfamiliar, people might wonder what it is and how it might work to reduce team conflict and increase successful teams. Fortunately, this is the right article to find answers to. In this article, it’s possible to discover the secrets behind what it takes to start working as a team.

By the end, people will find that creating cohesive teams and increasing workplace productivity has never been easier. First, let’s take a closer look at what team cohesion is exactly and why one should incorporate it into one’s workplace as fast as possible.

What Is Team Cohesion

Most people probably have worked as a team several times before in the past. They might have been part of a sports team or a club of some kind. In those teams, they might have not have had any problem working together and reaching common goals.

However, when the team they’re in is part of their job, there is a bit more stress and strain involved. After all, sports teams and clubs focus more on fun while work teams, of course, need to focus more on work. This, however, doesn’t mean that working in teams in the workplace always has to be a painful experience.

On the contrary, working in teams can be very rewarding and enjoyable if people know what they’re doing. The problem with teams at work is that every worker is unique and they most likely all have their own opinions and own methods when it comes to reaching deadlines and goals. This is one of the many reasons why conflict tends to break out when working as a group.

So, what can people do to make sure their teams at work aren’t always recipes for disaster? The answer has to do with team cohesion. Team cohesion is all about ensuring that the people in teams stick together no matter what.

Team cohesion also involves everyone working together as a unified force rather than as a bunch of different people scrambling and arguing for different things. People might assume that this is all easier said than done, and that would be correct. However, with a bit of determination and motivation, team cohesion can be a much more likely result than it sounds.

After all, no one wants to argue if they don’t have to. Arguing is exhausting, but how can people avoid it and promote team cohesion?

Why Don’t Teams Have Team Cohesion?

If anyone has ever been part of cohesive teams in the past, it’s important for them to think back on them for a moment. Think back to what made them special and well-oiled compared to less successful teams. What did those efficient teams have in common and what did they try to avoid?

These questions are important because they can help people put into perspective what details can either make a good or bad team. It might be hard to believe, but even the smallest details can make a big difference when it comes to how coworkers work together (or don’t). One of the details that tend to make a difference is that successful groups tend to care more about working together than reaching their goal.

This may sound a bit counterintuitive but think about it for a moment. If everyone in a team is focused on reaching a goal, they’re all going to try and reach that goal in different ways. This, of course, is not ideal for the quality of a team since trying to reach a goal in several different ways at once usually doesn’t work out.

This is because everyone will be more concerned with their own strategies that they might forget that they’re part of a team in the first place. If people in a team feel that they’re working individually, there obviously isn’t going to have a great team dynamic. Of course, it’s great that everyone has their own special skills and ways of approaching problems, but it’s not so great when one’s trying to get a team to work together.

On the other hand, people are likely to have a much better result when teamwork is promoted instead of individuality and independence. Unity and team cohesion allows coworkers to rely on each other, but how can people promote this?

How to Create a Cohesive Team

The mistake that many might make when trying to create cohesive teams is that they might expect team cohesion to happen all of a sudden. Many people make this mistake since it seems that as long as they tell everyone in their team what they need to do, team cohesion should follow. However, this is not necessarily the case since team cohesion needs a lot of time and patience.

This is not to say that team cohesion is so hard to achieve that people might as well not try. Instead, they’ll have to try especially hard and keep everyone in their team motivated. After a bit of time, they’ll start to see how people adapt to working together and thinking together as a team.

The reason why it takes so much effort to work as a cohesive team is that everyone in the team will need to forget how to work individually in favor of working as a team. This can be very difficult for some people, especially those who are used to working on their own and completing projects independently. Learning to accept the opinions, actions, and thoughts of other people can also be frustrating when trying to work towards a common goal, but it’s not impossible in the slightest.

Another problem that prevents the creation of team cohesion is self-awareness. If people in one’s team are not self-aware, they might not realize how their thoughts or actions can frustrate others or make it more difficult to reach a certain goal. This does not mean that these people are not material for a good team, but rather they need to become more self-aware in order for a good team to come together.

Self-Awareness and Team Cohesion

If anyone has ever met a person who is not very self-aware, they’ve undoubtedly become irritated with them at some point or another. This is because those who lack self-awareness are (as the term suggests) unaware of the influence of their actions. Because of this, those who lack self-awareness also tend to not understand other people.

This, of course, is not ideal when a person is trying to get everyone to work together as a unified group. A person who has no self-awareness will start to feel like they are not part of the group and the other people in the group will feel no need to incorporate that person. While this may be an easy and temporary solution, it is not viable or preferred in the long term.

The problems continue to worsen if several people in a team are not very self-aware. In general, a lack of self-awareness can easily cause arguments because everyone wants things to be done in their way and often without any compromises. A good way to make everyone in a team more self-aware is to allow everyone to consider their strengths and weaknesses.

After all, if they don’t take into account their own weaknesses, those weaknesses will inevitably come back to bite them when they’re working on a project. Once everyone understands what they’re good at and not good at, they will slowly start to become more self-aware. They will also start to rely more on each other.

Becoming more self-aware also involves recognizing different work styles. For example, some people love to work hard all the time while others prefer to procrastinate. These two work styles will never work well together, especially if the people who have these styles lack self-awareness.

By acknowledging the differences, working together can be much easier.

Choosing the Right Roles for Team Members

Continuing on the previous topic of work styles and how they can affect team cohesion, it’s also very important to understand that not everyone in a team can play any kind of role. This is not necessarily a bad thing. As a matter of fact, by understanding what roles might best fit different workers, one is likely to have a much easier time creating a successful team.

For example, not everyone likes to be the leader of a team and not everyone has the skills to be the leader. If one puts an employee who lacks leadership skills in charge of a team, the team is most likely going to crumble fast. Even if a person does have some leadership skills, he or she might not enjoy a leadership role and in this case, the team will still suffer.

A team is most likely to succeed when every member is in a role that they enjoy and are good at. Giving everyone a designated role is also important for attributing responsibility. While unity is very important, unity doesn’t mean that everyone has to act the same and do all the same things.

By giving everyone specific roles in the team, they all become part of a well-oiled machine. For example, one person might be responsible for writing up reports while another person might be responsible for analyzing and collecting statistics, and so on. A big benefit of having clear roles is that roles give people purpose and they decrease confusion throughout the group.

Clear roles can also make the team more efficient since no one will be stumbling around wondering what they need to do. So, when putting together a team, be sure to consider everyone’s strengths and weaknesses before assigning any roles.

Activities to Improve Team Cohesion

As seen so far, self-awareness and roles are both very important when it comes to creating a cohesive team. However, what can a person do to take these aspects into perspective for a team? How can a person get everyone in the team to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses as well as how to better work together as a team?

More often than not, someone will need to call everyone into a meeting and have a long talk about these subjects to ensure that everyone is on the same page. However, the problem with a meeting like this is that some team members might find it boring or unnecessary and therefore won’t pay much attention. If this turns out to be the case, the team members won’t be better off than they were before the meeting.

So, what can one do to make sure the team members understand the importance of team cohesion? Using certain activities or actions tends to be a great solution. For example, coming up with fictional scenarios or problems for team members can be a fun and useful exercise for improving a team’s dynamic.

These scenarios won’t put much stress on the team members and they will allow them to really think through various problems and solutions. It will also allow them to better consider their roles in the team and how they can interact with other people in the team who might have other roles. Through various team-building exercises and activities, everyone in the team can start to understand each other better.

Fictional scenarios can also prepare team members for similar but more stressful scenarios that they might face in real life. The final result (which might take some time to achieve) is a team that understands itself and works together without any problems.

Build Trust within the Team

Among the many activities to try for a team, building trust is one of the most important, and it’s easy to understand why. However, building trust within a team tends to be much more difficult than it sounds. Even though it can be difficult to build trust, it should not be ignored since trust is a big part of what makes teams successful.

One of the first ways people can start building trust in a team is by making it clear that team members shouldn’t be afraid to speak their minds and voice their opinions. If team members don’t feel heard and appreciated, they might not feel like there’s any point in voicing what they have to say and there would be no reason for them to place trust in other team members. This goes beyond talking about the goal of the project.

If a team member has a unique idea for approaching or completing the goal, he or she shouldn’t be hesitated to elaborate upon it. For this to happen, the management level should also be more trustworthy with its workers. After all, if team members feel like the management is secretive and isolated, they might not feel like there is much of a reason to be trustworthy among themselves.

This is the beginning of a terrible problem having to do with a lack of communication. If a team member feels that other members of the management are secretive, he or she might decide to be more secretive as well. A good way to prevent this problem is by talking openly about different ideas and aspects of the project a team is working on.

By demonstrating that open communication is a good thing and even preferred, team members will also be more likely to communicate openly.

Provide Development and Training

No matter how hard a person tries to promote communication, trust, and unity within a team, in some cases, it can seem next to impossible to accomplish. However, nothing is impossible, especially if people go the extra mile and provide development and training opportunities for team members.

Some might think that developing and training is unnecessary, but they might be surprised at how might these two aspects can help to promote team cohesion and make team members more self-aware. Training is also very important for making team members better workers in general.

For example, some workers already have certain skills that they are good at and not good at. When working as normal, these workers will tend to focus on work that will help them improve upon skills that they are already good at. On the other hand, the skills that they aren’t so good at they tend to ignore, and these skills will only get worse over time as a result.

This won’t happen if people provide training opportunities for their team members. Training allows team members to identify their roles and their skills, and training also provides team members with the materials to better themselves. This is ideal because it will allow team members to improve upon skills that they might be lacking in and it can help them further refine their skillset overall.

Training is not only beneficial for a worker’s job performance, but for a worker’s self-esteem as well. If a worker feels that they aren’t very good at their job, they might not try as hard. On the other hand, if a worker feels that they are getting better with certain skills that they used to lack, they may feel more confident and produce better results at work as well.

Don’t Ignore the Little Victories

Humans in general are driven by rewards. If workers feel that they are working hard for nothing, they will stop working hard and start working only as little as they can. This is because they will feel that there is no point in working hard since they will only be rewarded the same as when they work very little.

When it comes to working as a team, this can be a recipe for disaster. If all of one’s team members feel that there is no point in working hard, the team’s production will suffer. To fix this and to motivate workers, one might need to provide small incentives or celebrate a team’s small successes.

By acknowledging a team’s successful work, people can make the team members feel more appreciated and valued. Acknowledging their work makes them feel like they are working for a purpose and aren’t being ignored after all their effort. Simply thanking team members can go a long way.

This way, everyone in the team feels appreciated and feels that they did a good job. More than that, team members will be more likely to share their small victories together. The overall result is increased work satisfaction, which of course, is highly beneficial.

If workers aren’t satisfied with their job, they can easily become apathetic. On the other hand, if people compliment workers on their work every once in a while, they will be more satisfied with their work and they will be motivated to work harder. This is because they will want to improve upon their past work because they know they will be rewarded.

So, even with a busy schedule, don’t forget to appreciate the hard work that the team members are putting in.

Improve Employee Engagement

Employee engagement tends to go hand-in-hand with job satisfaction and work recognition. Employee engagement is how involved employees are with their work. All employees are required to have a certain level of engagement otherwise they might be fired.

However, there is a big difference between a worker that does as little work a possible compared to a worker that always goes above and beyond for the company. Of course, if all companies and teams were filled with workers who always went above and beyond, work production would always be in great shape. But this is not the case in real life and someone will need to figure out what to do with people who radiate high levels of employee disengagement.

Employee disengagement can happen for many reasons and it’s not good for anyone in the workplace, especially within a team. If there are one or two people in a team that refuse to do much work, the rest of the team will quickly become irritated and other members might not be sure what to do with the members that barely want to work. The way to fix this is by understanding why employee disengagement happens in the first place.

As mentioned before, if team members don’t feel very valued in the company, they most likely won’t be very motivated to work hard because they don’t see the point. However, there are other reasons for employee disengagement that go beyond a lack of recognition. Another common reason is a lack of growth opportunities.

Even if some recognize the work of some team members, they still might not see the point of working hard if they are going to stay stuck in their positions forever. Boredom is also another contributing factor, so try not to ignore these issues.

Structure The Team’s Goals

The point of a team is to work toward a common goal, but if a team hardly knows what that goal is, it can be very hard to achieve it. After all, if a team only has a vague outline of a goal, many team members might be confused, and when team members get confused, they may be embarrassed to ask for clarification or they work very slowly. This problem can be fixed by clearly structuring the team’s goals.

Instead of having a quickly thrown-together outline, having a goal pyramid is a much better idea. One of the many benefits of a goal pyramid is that people can divide it in different ways if they want to highlight goals for the company, goals for the team, and even individual goals. People could also have many small goals or goals that slowly increase in size rather than having one large and difficult goal.

The benefit of this is that when goals are more manageable, they’ll never be as daunting as one big goal. More than that, smaller goals are better able to give team members the feeling of progress because they are better able to look back on their work. Every time a team completes a goal, they will feel one step closer to the final product and ultimately more motivated.

On the other hand, team members might struggle when working towards a goal that will only happen in the very distant future and that will take a lot of hard work to complete. Working in this manner does not promote motivation among workers. Instead, the workers might easily become exhausted and might feel that since the goal is far away, there’s no use in working hard on the project since the reward won’t be for a long time.

Using the Goal Pyramid to Work Together as a Team

The goal pyramid is not only useful for breaking apart a big goal into smaller and more manageable goals, but it is also important for highlighting the roles of different members of a team. As mentioned before, people can break the goal pyramid into different parts such as company goals and individual goals. More than that, because of the pyramid’s shape, one can create a hierarchy that visualizes the importance of certain goals over others.

The traditional structure of a goal pyramid usually involves smaller goals, resources, and responsibilities at the very bottom of the pyramid. The bottom of the pyramid is the team’s foundation. It also encompasses the material the team has at its disposal.

By utilizing the materials and completing the tasks at the bottom of the goal pyramid, the team can slowly make its way up the rest of the pyramid. The higher the team progresses up the pyramid, the more goals the team members will complete. Having a diagram of the team’s goal pyramid can also be very motivating since the team members will be able to check off completed goals and look ahead to see what goals they need to face next.

The top of the pyramid is reserved for the largest and most important goals. The team members won’t be able to complete the final goal without first completing the many smaller goals before it. The final goal is usually something that changes the company in a significant way.

By the time the team members reach the last goal on the goal pyramid, they will undoubtedly feel relieved and satisfied with their work. It is very important to acknowledge the team’s hard work after completing such a goal since the team member’s satisfaction could quickly turn into disengagement if they don’t feel appreciated.

Better Define the Company and Team Values

When a company cares only about its own success, it shows. On the other hand, if there is a mismatch between worker and company values, problems tend to arise. To fix this, one will need to identify the values of the team and the company.

To start, superiors will need to identify what workers find important. Do the workers want to move up the ladder? Do they want more recognition?

Do workers want to make a difference in the company? Whatever the case, once one starts identifying different values among workers, progression is inevitable. Once one understands the values of workers, one can examine how they correlate with the company’s values.

A company should never care only about itself. A company like this will never last long because it will have no internal support. On the other hand, if the company’s values align with the values of the workers, the workspace will blossom along with the company.

It’s also important to align team and company values with other goals. If there is no alignment, then it will feel like there is not much point in working toward a goal. People should also make sure that team members understand team and company values.

Understanding is the basis of a good relationship between a company and its workers. Understanding is also important for reducing arguments and confusion. By understanding the values of team members, they can do better to motivate them.

When team members are motivated and satisfied, they will do better to reach goals. So, if team members are struggling, be sure to take into account their goals. No doubt, there will be a big improvement among the workers after this.

Empower The Team Members

If team members feel like they aren’t capable of much, they won’t do much. If any team members have low self-esteem at work, it needs to be fixed fast. When workers don’t feel proud of their work performance, they won’t contribute much to a team.

Some workers might not feel very capable because they don’t have many responsibilities. After all, if other workers are doing all the important work, a team member with few responsibilities may feel inferior. A worker may also feel inferior if their ideas aren’t heard or taken seriously.

To fix this, ensure that all team members feel empowered. But where should it all start, some might ask? Try giving the team members more authority and responsibility.

This will ensure that the team members feel like they have a purpose. It will also give them more motivation to engage in projects and complete goals. Beyond providing them with responsibility, don’t forget to acknowledge their work as well.

Also, be sure to spread the responsibility evenly throughout the team. It wouldn’t be fair to have some members have large responsibilities while others have small and few responsibilities. Workers with smaller responsibilities may feel that there’s not much of a point in working hard if their work isn’t as valued as the work of others.

To solve this, try to break up different responsibilities. No task should be drastically larger or more important than another for team members. The exception could be for the leader of the group.

Even so, the leader’s responsibilities shouldn’t overshadow the tasks of the other members. If this is the case, there won’t be a very good team dynamic. This is because everyone will want to rely on the leader.

Understanding the Cause of Team Conflict

Conflict is inevitable in and out of the workplace. Whenever many people come together, opinions and values will clash and create arguments. Conflict can be detrimental to a team since it can ruin team productivity.

If members start to dislike each other, they won’t want to work together. This is never good for any team.

So, what causes team conflict in the first place? What can one do to prevent it? More than that, what can one do to solve it once it occurs?

Fortunately, there are many things people can try to prevent and solve team conflict. First, they’ll need to understand why team conflict happens in the first place. After all, if they try to solve conflict without knowing why it’s happening, they’ll have a hard time.

Understanding that every person is unique is very important. When creating a team, they shouldn’t expect everyone to work and act the same. Everyone will have different ways of meeting goals and performing tasks.

Priorities and values will also be very different from person to person. By understanding these differences, they’ll be on the right path to improving team cohesion. They should also know that differences aren’t always bad and they shouldn’t try to eliminate them.

Differences are what make results diverse and unique. But they need to figure out how to align differences in a way that they don’t clash. The first step is by allowing team members to acknowledge their differences.

Everyone should also try to understand that just because one opinion is different doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Once everyone understands their differences, team members can start to work together to resolve their conflicts. But where does the resolution start exactly?

How to Manage Team Conflict

After people understand the problem, they need to create steps on how to solve it. Much like the goal pyramid, having a visual aid is always helpful for overcoming conflicts. A good way to understand a conflict is to draw out the problems.

Once they do that, they should try to create various steps that can solve the conflict. This may be difficult, especially if team members have very different opinions, but it’s not impossible. Even if the team is currently not conflicting, some should create a blueprint or flowchart to prevent or solve conflicts.

For example, if a team encounters a problem, the team members will be able to consult with the chart. By following the variations in the chart, team members will be able to solve any issues and avoid conflicts. This will save team members a lot of time and energy that they would have otherwise spent arguing.

Whatever visual aid is necessary, it should take the team’s values and priorities into account. Of course, if a visual aid doesn’t reflect a team very well, it won’t work. Once a team gets used to the visual aid for conflicts, there should be far fewer conflicts in the future.

This is because the team members will be able to sort out their problems together. They will also be able to better respect other’s opinions even if they are different.

Everything to Know about Team Cohesion

By the end of this article, the concept of team cohesion should be very clear. Team cohesion can be difficult to obtain, but it is very important for a successful team. By ensuring that team members are self-aware and engaged, a very efficient team will be possible.

To learn more, don’t hesitate to contact us here.

Citations:

Common workplace conflicts and how to overcome them. CSP Online. (2021, October 21). Retrieved January 12, 2022, from https://online.csp.edu/resources/article/common-workplace-conflicts/.

10 steps to improve team cohesiveness in the workplace. Indeed Career Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved January 12, 2022, from https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/team-cohesiveness

Huhman, H. (2013, August 5). 8 ways to build a cohesive team. HuffPost. Retrieved January 12, 2022, from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/8-ways-to-build-a-cohesiv_b_3390565

Molony, S. (2020, October 23). 7 ways to improve group cohesion and achieve goals faster. Zoomshift. Retrieved January 12, 2022, from https://www.zoomshift.com/blog/group-cohesion/

MacDonald, L. (2019, December 4). 7 strategies for developing cohesive teams. Your Business. Retrieved January 12, 2022, from https://yourbusiness.azcentral.com/7-strategies-developing-cohesive-teams-21456.html

Wroblewski, M. T. (2020, January 21). Seven strategies for developing cohesive teams. Small Business – Chron.com. Retrieved January 12, 2022, from https://smallbusiness.chron.com/seven-strategies-developing-cohesive-teams-17354.html

Study.com. Research Schools, Degrees & Careers. (n.d.). Retrieved January 12, 2022, from https://study.com/academy/lesson/becoming-a-cohesive-group-using-team-building-to-increase-group-cohesion.html

The post What Is Team Cohesion? The Ultimate Guide first appeared on Fractional COO - Fractional CMO - Kamyar Shah.

Chief of Staff: Overview, Job Duties, Education and More

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Chief Of Staff

45% of Chiefs of Staff in large companies with more than $2 billion in annual revenue were at a Vice President level or higher. A good Chief of Staff is a strategic advisor to the President or CEO.

Sometimes a Chief of Staff holds another role, but oftentimes that is their only role. They come from a variety of departments. These include operations, finance, business development, and business transformation.

So, what is a Chief of Staff? What do they do?

Keep reading to learn more about the Chief of Staff role. And discover how they support the CEO in daily operations and projects.

What Is A Chief of Staff?

A Chief of Staff is a leader that supports a CEO, President, or Vice President. They have a variety of skills and serve as problem-solvers, communicators, and decision-makers.

It’s hard to truly define the Chief of Staff role because the tasks vary by company and industry. A Chief of Staff in the technology industry will have different priorities than one in the retail industry.

They provide essential support that keeps an organization running. They serve the CEO in a manner. They also advise and recommend operational strategies and projects.

They act as a “Jack of all trades” that bridges the gap between executives and teams. They also drive improvements, processes, and strategies to meet organizational objectives and goals.

A Combination of 5 Different Roles

A Chief of Staff role is a combination of five different roles. While delivering support, a Chief of Staff can take on many different roles and projects. Those include:

  • Administrator
  • Gatekeeper
  • Counselor
  • Proxy
  • Implementor

The Chief of Staff delivers continuous support to the CEO. And that support can vary across several functions. These functions are all basic duties of the below job titles.

Administrator

A Chief of Staff oversees the administration of processes and personnel. They serve in this capacity to serve the CEO to the best of their ability. But they also ensure everything runs smoothly and on time.

They clarify roles and responsibilities, processes, and objectives for team members. They also manage processes, collect metrics and facts, and engage with stakeholders.

They are often tasked with managing performance and personnel metrics. This can include dashboards and analyses.

Gatekeeper

The Chief of Staff serves as a gatekeeper for the CEO. This is to protect their time and make sure they focus on priorities.

This means sometimes the Chiefs of Staff handle difficult conversations. Or they take on problems that the CEO would normally handle. They enforce rules, fire employees, and mediate disputes.

They also manage the CEO’s agenda and schedule to include only the highest priority tasks.

Counselor

A Chief of Staff is a confidant, advisor, and consultant to the CEO. They provide thought leadership and strategic recommendations. They also serve as a sounding board for new ideas.

They ultimately counsel a CEO on several topics but also listen to issues and ideas. They are the last line of defense and the voice of reason for potentially bad ideas or business decisions.

They are there to guide and advise on urgent or high-profile matters.

Proxy

A proxy is someone who is legally allowed to represent someone else. The Chief of Staff represents the CEO in many functions. They may attend meetings, convey messages, or negotiate on behalf of the CEO.

They may meet with the board of directors or stakeholders. They’re oftentimes tasked with decision-making when representing the CEO.

Implementor

The CEO empowers and enables the Chief of Staff to execute priorities, initiatives, and strategies. The Chief of Staff often works with stakeholders, teams, and leaders to deliver strategy and implementation.

They hold cross-functional teams accountable for their part in executing plans. They drive the top and most important initiatives based on the CEO’s determination.

Is a Chief of Staff an Executive Role?

An executive is someone that directs a function of an organization. Chiefs of Staff direct many functions and support daily operations. Most of the time, Chiefs of Staff are in executive roles!

Each organization has its own definition and job description for the role. Some companies may give a Chief of Staff much more authority than others. The essential job functions determine if the title is an executive role or not.

Deciding whether the role is an executive position is up to the company, its leadership team, and the person in the position.

Alternative Titles for the Chief of Staff Role

Sometimes a company has a different title for the same job functions. These titles include:

  • Staff Director
  • Chief Business Officer
  • Chief Administrative Officer
  • Personnel Manager
  • Chief of Personnel
  • Chief Business Administrator

Though the titles may change, the essential job functions do not. The role is one of authority and organizational leadership.

Industries With a Chief of Staff

Any industry can have a Chief of Staff. The role depends on if the organization has it in its organizational chart or not.

Companies of all sizes can use Chiefs of Staff. Some companies make the role from scratch. Others use industry job description templates to develop the role.

Some companies decide to place someone as Chief of Staff after the executive team voices the need for help. Executive Assistants can only go so far.

What Does a Chief of Staff Do?

A Chief of Staff is a comprehensive role that encompasses a lot of functions. They are advisors to the CEO, recommending strategies and direction for the organization. They often set priorities for the CEO and take on the tasks that aren’t included.

They evaluate the progress of projects to help keep CEOs on track. They optimize the time of the CEO through scheduling and planning. They are responsible for many functions, including:

  • Team management
  • Meeting preparation
  • Project management
  • Daily support
  • Communications
  • Recruitment and hiring
  • Program management
  • Operations Management
  • Business consulting
  • Mentoring and coaching
  • Process enhancement
  • Strategic planning
  • Business management

Read more about each responsibility below.

Team Management

The Chief of Staff manages the CEO’s team. This could be Executive Assistants, Speech Writers, Marketing Specialists, or any other role in the office. They often translate strategies and objectives, so the team members understand their role.

Chiefs of Staff are motivators who inspire and empower employees. This can be done through coaching, leading by example, and servant leadership practices.

They delegate tasks, track performance, and mentor junior associates. Chiefs of Staff are leaders and advisors first. They ensure teams meet their goals while improving performance.

Meeting Preparation

Chiefs of Staff are usually front and center in executive or board of director meetings. They facilitate open discussions. They also keep the conversation focused on the objectives of the agenda.

They prepare necessary materials and distribute them to the attendees before the meeting. During meetings, they track the time to ensure it is well spent and productive.

Sometimes, Chiefs of Staff plan retreats or conferences. Other events, such as company parties or discussions are also planned by the Chief of Staff. Any sort of meeting or event the CEO attends will also include them.

Project Management

Oftentimes, Chiefs of Staff are responsible for operational, strategic, or improvement projects. These projects can be specifically for the CEO office or be organizational-wide.

They offer guidance in planning projects and track activities to meet deadlines. They facilitate collaboration and often bring together decision-makers and stakeholders to define requirements.

An important aspect of project management is decision-making. Chiefs of Staff have to be confident and decisive leaders who know what direction projects need to go.

Throughout projects, they will assess data and benchmarks. They also offer recommendations to the Project Manager. These recommendations can be about how to improve the project or streamline the process to meet milestones.

Daily Support for the CEO

Internal and External Communications

A Chief of Staff conveys information from the CEO to others. They can be internal or external professionals. The roles range from team members to media representatives.

They can communicate verbally or through documents, correspondence, or press releases. They have a set communications strategy and follow it at all times to maintain the company’s image.

Manage and Maximize Time

A Chief of Staff supports the CEO with whatever they need. This not only saves the CEO time but also helps them to maximize the time they have to focus on other projects.

CEOs delegate the time-consuming tasks that every leader has to do, like reporting or correspondence, to the Chief of Staff. This allows everything to get completed within deadlines without there being too much pressure on the leaders.

Recruitment and Hiring

Chiefs of Staff often support the human resources (HR) department in the recruitment and hiring process. They also support people management. These functions include:

  • Posting job descriptions
  • Creating interview processes
  • Screening candidates
  • Hiring staff for the CEO office
  • Delegating tasks to the team
  • Evaluating performance
  • Offering constructive feedback and coaching

A Chief of Staff is an important piece in the team leadership puzzle. They must be strong leaders. And have the qualities needed to motivate and empower employees.

They are often liaisons between the CEO and the team. Building strong relationships and communicating clearly is an important aspect of the Chief of Staff role.

Program Management

Chiefs of Staff can sometimes oversee programs. Programs often are complex and detailed. Some span across several departments or the entire organization.

A Chief of Staff must have organization, delegation, and leadership skills to manage programs.

They often oversee programs to help grow the company or motivate a specific department. They design programs to advance the company forward and to meet the organization’s objectives.

While managing programs, Chiefs of Staff will manage many smaller projects that make up the program as a whole. They ensure they execute strategic initiatives during this.

Operations Management

Chiefs of Staff manage the daily operations that keep the company running. They are responsible for projects and functions that the CEO has delegated to them. These can be tasks from any department, such as:

  • Talent acquisition
  • Process or system updates
  • Improved reporting processes
  • Budgeting
  • Effectiveness measurement
  • Support for HR, IT, or finance
  • Liaising between departments

Chiefs of Staff wear many hats, and they can change direction at any time. They are in a position to support the CEO and the demands of the business change daily. They can expect to manage operations in some form or fashion daily.

Business Consulting

Since a Chief of Staff is an advisor and strategic planner, it makes sense that they would serve as a business consultant. Many of them are experts in various operational areas. They leverage that knowledge to help a company expand and grow.

Many of them were in leadership roles in past positions. They take the lessons they learned about frameworks, strategies, and models to recommend strategic changes to the CEO.

Chiefs of Staff often measure performance and analyze operations. They are in the perfect position to offer consulting on how to increase productivity and profitability.

Mentoring and Coaching

A Chief of Staff is a mentor and coach to the team members and the executive they advise. With teams, they’ll assess performance and company metrics to coach team members in improving.

If the CEO they support is new to the executive role and the Chief of Staff is a seasoned leader, they can mentor them while advising on strategic decisions.

They are problem-solvers who also motivate and inspire the teams they lead. A big part of leading a team is mentoring and coaching. The best leaders also empower their teams through these functions.

Process Enhancement

A great Chief of Staff not only creates new processes but also enhances existing ones. They understand that employees have to have a clearly defined process to do their jobs.

They regularly assess existing processes to see where they can improve. Chiefs of Staff know that operations, teams, and even the industry change all the time. So why wouldn’t the company’s processes?

Chiefs of Staff make sure to document and outline processes in handbooks and playbooks. And they conduct regular reviews to make sure every process is still in alignment with the company’s vision and mission.

Strategic Planning

An effective strategy not only focuses on the future but also the present. What state is your company in? What steps get the organization from point A to point B?

A talented Chief of Staff can recommend the direction for strategies. They also can lead the planning process for new strategies. Strategic planning is an ongoing activity for most businesses. Chiefs of Staff implement improvements consistently and are always assessing to identify opportunities.

Chiefs of Staff may represent the CEO in strategic meetings. Or they may have owned the entire process permanently. Either way, they refine it as needed to ensure continued profitability.

Business Management

When all the skills of a Chief of Staff are combined, it’s a given they can oversee the business management function. Business management is all the above functions in one strategy.

Whether they are advising the CEO or translating the company’s vision to team members, the Chief of Staff has a hand in the overall business management for the organization.

They offer recommendations, create processes, meet goals, and evaluate performance as a part of this function. The core of business management is to coordinate and organize all activities that make a business run. A Chief of Staff has a lot of knowledge to contribute.

Differences Between a Chief of Staff and an Executive Assistant

An Executive Assistant and a Chief of Staff both support the CEO, but the similarities end there. A Chief of Staff is in a position of leadership and guidance. An Executive Assistant coordinates and organizes while leading a team.

Executive Assistants manage tasks that keep the CEO focused and the department running. Essential job functions of an Executive Assistant include:

  • Manage calendars for several leaders
  • Sending correspondence and invitations
  • Plan and schedule events
  • Coordinate travel
  • Secretarial and administrative functions
  • Office management
  • Personal assistant tasks
  • Payroll

A Chief of Staff manages operations and people. They are strategists that guide the CEO in making sound business decisions.

Their main tasks are to execute and lead teams. The Executive Assistant completes all the tasks that build up to the bigger picture.

Executive Assistants enable executives to do their jobs by handling everything else.

Differences Between a Chief of Staff and Chief Operating Officer

The biggest difference between a Chief Operating Officer and a Chief of Staff is that a Chief Operating Officer is not seen as a support role. The Chief Operating Officer operates the entire company. Their role includes:

  • Serving as second in command behind the CEO
  • Overseeing daily operations
  • Handling internal affairs
  • Executing the business plan
  • Aligning the business model with goals
  • Facilitating organizational change
  • Mentoring younger executives
  • Planning company expansion

A Chief of Staff supports the CEO in delivering many functions like the above, but the Chief Operating Officer is in charge of them. Both roles offer a form of support to the CEO.

And both roles are important to keeping the organization running smoothly and without issues.

What Education is Required for a Chief of Staff?

As with most corporate jobs, a Chief of Staff requires at least a Bachelor’s degree. A lot of companies prefer a higher degree, like a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

Professionals looking to start a career as a Chief of Staff do have other options. They can take professional development courses or certification programs. They can also mentor or shadow executives to learn new skills.

A lot of companies offer on-the-job leadership programs. This would be a great way for them to gain hands-on experience and show their leadership ability to the company’s decision-makers.

On-the-Job Training

As mentioned above, some companies have leadership development programs. Others have specific career progression development programs. When someone decides they want to pursue a Chief of Staff role, they should discuss their goals with their managers.

A company that values and invests in its workforce will help them to gain the skills they need to reach their goal.

Books and Online Courses

People can learn a lot about leadership, time management, and managing a business by reading books. There are thousands of available books written by people who have been in the same position.

They offer advice, instruct on how to develop skills, and can be a great resource to create the mindset needed to be a great leader. They can’t learn all skills this way, but many can advance their knowledge and capabilities.

Candidates can study the books and understand what steps to take next. There are many online courses, several of them created by the authors of the professional development books, that will help to strengthen skillsets.

More knowledge is never a bad thing. When someone decides to focus their career path on becoming a Chief of Staff, they should take all the steps they can to make it happen.

Certifications and Programs

There are many certification programs available that could help someone to get the skills needed to become a Chief of Staff. Some of these programs focus on:

  • Thought leadership
  • Design thinking
  • People leadership
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Strategic leadership
  • LinkedIn Learning courses
  • Project management
  • Program management
  • Human resources
  • Financial management

Since the Chief of Staff role compasses so many aspects of operations, most certifications will help. There are many skills that are beneficial in the Chief of Staff role. So, continuous professional development is an advantage.

A potential Chief of Staff candidate should understand their strengths and weaknesses. And then plan their professional development accordingly. A good Chief of Staff is an excellent communicator, problem-solver, leader, and mentor.

For example, say a candidate communicates well and has strong leadership skills, but panics when there is a crisis. They could find a course or program to help them develop their problem-solving skills. This turns their weakness into a strength.

And it also sets them on the path to success.

What is the Salary Range for a Chief of Staff?

The salary range for a Chief of Staff is wide and it varies. The position has a different definition depending on the sector and industry. Most job descriptions show a salary starting at $120,000 and going up.

The Chief of Staff role is still relatively new in the corporate setting. This means it changes often and the requirements shift. To find the most accurate salary range, it’s important to search the area and location of where the open job position is.

How Many Years of Experience Should You Have Before Becoming a Chief of Staff?

The answer to this question isn’t as simple as it should be. Most job descriptions need between seven and ten years of prior experience before applying for a Chief of Staff role.

But it depends on how intelligent you are and what kind of leadership skills you possess. Someone with more education would be considered even if the experience doesn’t meet the requirement.

A Chief of Staff role should be someone who has led people before. And someone that is good at executing strategy and understanding the bigger picture when looking at operations.

How to Become a Chief of Staff

To become a Chief of Staff, it’s important to plan ahead and gain the skills that are needed. Chiefs of Staff think like Chiefs of Staff long before they’re in the role.

They do the following:

  • Think and act like a leader
  • Take on more responsibility
  • Expand skills across departments
  • Network to increase opportunities
  • Strengthen their interpersonal skills
  • Gain experience in executive-level operations
  • Understand the company’s strategy and vision
  • Possess strong collaboration skills

The best way to become a Chief of Staff is to learn as much as possible, develop professional skills, and strengthen leadership abilities.

Key Qualities to Display

A Chief of Staff is a leader and advisor. To be a good Chief of Staff, there are a few key qualities they should have. These include:

  • Leadership
  • Adaptability
  • Communication
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Problem-solving
  • Critical thinking

A Chief of Staff that has these qualities will be able to do their job effectively and seamlessly.

Leadership

Strong leadership skills are vital for a Chief of Staff. They often act on behalf of the Chief Executive Officer. This can range from leading teams to facilitating growth strategies.

Since a Chief of Staff advises the Chief Executive Officer, it’s important they showcase adequate leadership abilities. CEOs don’t want someone incompetent or someone who is a weak leader helping them guide the company direction.

There are ten key aspects to a quality leader. They are:

  • Possess integrity
  • Delegator
  • Communicator
  • Self-aware
  • Grateful
  • Agile
  • Influential
  • Empathetic
  • Courageous
  • Respectful

Learn more about each below. Does the Chief of Staff at your company own these traits?

Possess Integrity

Anyone in a leadership position should have integrity and trustworthiness. Leaders who display this are more valued and respected by their teams.

A Chief of Staff is guiding an organization and helps to make important decisions. Employees and clients want to know that someone they trust is in this position of power.

It’s important companies make sure their leadership team understands how important it is to show integrity in their daily functions. Whether establishing a partnership or mentoring a team member, it’s an important aspect of a good leader.

Delegator

An effective delegator understands it’s more than assigning tasks to your team. When delegating, they must think of the strengths of their employees and determine which employee would be best for the task.

Delegation should help teams to grow. The assignments for team members should be challenging but also rewarding. Great leaders focus on empowering and growing the skills of their teams.

Delegating leads to better decisions across the board. It also fosters cohesion among team members and provides autonomy.

Communicator

A good leader is also a good communicator. This is both written and verbally because they’ll communicate with internal and external professionals in both manners.

The ability to communicate in different ways is also important. An empowering leader coaches individuals, but they also inspire and motivate them. Leaders are also tasked with translating strategy into daily terms and goals.

Knowing how to communicate in several ways is a very important trait to have for a good leader.

Grateful

If leaders want their teams to feel appreciated and respected, they’ll show them how grateful they are for the work they deliver. This could be a simple thank you. Or maybe an email telling them how much their efforts helped the company.

A good leader knows that showing gratitude to the team is an important part of effective leadership. Teams that feel appreciated will be more willing to work and have better employee satisfaction.

All those in positions of power should showcase sincere gratitude to their team members.

Self-aware

A good leader is a self-aware leader. Do they know their strengths and weaknesses? Do they understand how they are perceived at work?

Do they actively try to change the perception if it’s not the greatest? Are they humble and show up at work as their best self?

A self-aware leader will consider all of these questions. And make changes accordingly. No company or team wants a leader who isn’t aware of how they act or show up at work.

Agile

Being an agile leader means you think quickly and clearly in situations where you don’t know what to do. Agility is important with changing markets or industry changes that impact their business.

Agile leaders lead to more productive and satisfied teams. Many companies adopt an agile method across their operations. This can increase employee enthusiasm and help everyone to become more flexible.

Embracing an agility mindset may mean implementing new tools in their team. Or maybe they give up on micromanaging them and let everyone set their own schedule.

Whatever they choose, an agile mindset is an important trait for a leader.

Influential

Influencing employees and even external professionals is an important quality. When someone is truly influential, they inspire and convince others of their idea.

Truly influential leaders appeal to their audience with logical and emotional reasons. They are passionate about the changes they are trying to make and show everyone how exciting it could be to embrace the change.

An influential leader possesses emotional intelligence. They also have good communication skills, can build relationships, and are trustworthy.

Empathetic

Leaders who are emotionally intelligent and effective are also usually empathetic with their teams. Empathy is when a leader understands someone else’s emotions.

Empathy is also putting themselves in the position of someone else and seeing things from their point of view. Being empathetic means being a good listener and offering sound advice.

Showing empathy for their team members can build stronger relationships. And it can help the team to trust their leadership team more.

Courageous

A courageous leader is one that handles conflicts and problems proactively. They aren’t afraid to speak up with the situation warrants. This could be providing constructive feedback or voicing an innovative new idea.

A leader who is courageous empowers their teams to also speak up and voice opinions and issues. Problems that simmer are not a good thing for the workplace, so ensuring leaders who will resolve these situations are in place is essential.

Respectful

To earn respect, leaders must treat others with respect. A respected leader is a respectful leader. Not only does treating each employee with respect boost morale, but it can also create a culture where teams thrive.

Respect happens in many ways, such as:

  • Recognition for a job well done
  • Active listening
  • Assessing all perspectives
  • Open communication
  • Clear processes that employees’ had input in making
  • Empathy

Many traits of a great leader feed off the other traits. When Chiefs of Staff combine all these qualities, leaders can become unstoppable and highly respected. Showing all of the above traits can increase employee satisfaction and performance.

Adaptability

A good Chief of Staff is adaptable. Working directly with the CEO to offer support is stressful. And they’re usually in a fast-paced, changing environment.

They could be balancing deadlines, many projects, and meetings while trying to find a new candidate for an open role. A Chief of Staff is an advisor, so they need to react quickly to situations.

And handle problems and changes with a level head and open mind. This is especially true when a company is going through a growth stage. They must remain adaptable and focused to ensure profitability.

Communication

Chiefs of Staff communicate with internal and external professionals every day. They interact with the CEO, team members, stakeholders, and the public. Some may even engage with vendors or media representatives.

Having effective written and verbal communication skills are vital for a Chief of Staff. Whether they are writing a press release or providing a performance evaluation, they are representing the company.

And companies want on-brand and nice reputations. When offering recommendations and advice to the CEO, Chiefs of Staff must be able to communicate clearly and articulately.

They communicate in a way that allows teams to know exactly what they expect of them. And they often serve as a messenger for alerts, updates, and changes from the CEO. They have to do this accurately.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotionally intelligent leaders are empathetic and supportive. People with this skill can evaluate, perceive, and control emotions. How leaders respond to emotional situations with team members is important.

Strong emotional intelligence means that leaders will respond to situations with high emotions in an appropriate manner. Chiefs of Staff are responsible for emergency and crisis situations. Possessing strong emotional intelligence will help them to remain calm during these situations.

Utilizing their skills in emotional intelligence can ripple throughout the entire company. By remaining positive and upbeat during challenging or stressful situations, leaders can set an example for their teams.

Problem-Solving

Chiefs of staff manage many fires. They handle situations with employees, external professionals, and executives. Having a strong set of problem-solving skills is very important for these leaders.

Effective leaders assess problems and determine the root cause. They don’t just brush situations off to keep operations going. They leverage problem-solving abilities to find clear and lasting solutions.

Problem-solvers are able to look at the bigger picture and understand how one problem can impact several areas of operation.

Leaders who embrace problem-solving are the best. They see problems as an opportunity to improve the company’s operations, not a challenge.

Critical Thinking

Chiefs of Staff that apply critical thinking to situations are empowered and strong decision-makers. They thoroughly analyze what is going on and weigh their options before choosing a course of action.

They may also apply these skills to recruit new talent, define strategies, and create new processes. Before making decisions, they look at the pros and cons of each direction.

They always have an eye out for improvement. With strong critical thinking abilities, leaders will assess operations and performance to identify ways to ensure continuous improvement.

Strengthen Your Business Today

Does your company have a Chief of Staff position you want? Or perhaps you’re thinking of creating the position for the business you run. No matter the reason, Kamyar Shah is here to help your advance your skills.

With services focused on management, operations, and leadership, you can’t go wrong when choosing Kamyar as your business consultant. He can serve as a remote Chief Operating Officer or Chief Marketing Officer. Or he can offer guidance on strategy, budgets, performance, and talent.

If you’re ready to complete business coaching for your Chief of Staff to improve your operations, reach out to us today.

The post Chief of Staff: Overview, Job Duties, Education and More first appeared on Fractional COO - Fractional CMO - Kamyar Shah.

The Ultimate Guide to the Benefits of Hiring a Business Consultant

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Business Consultant

Over 627,000 new businesses open each year in the US alone. Many of these businesses expand into large organizations, some with thousands of team members and millions in revenue.

How does a small business become a major success without succumbing to obstacles or efficiency problems?

One major reason why many business owners can sustain a major business in the long term is that they don’t do it alone.

Enter the business consultant: a professional expert who offers advice to business owners and solves major organizational problems.

Hiring a businesses consultant does more than helping a business stay afloat – they help them thrive by quickly and efficiently meeting the company’s goals.

The following is a guide explaining everything that business owners need to know about business consulting and why they’re necessary figures for a growing organization.

What is Business Consulting?

A business consultant is a professional who offers expert advice in a particular industry such as digital transformation, operations, human resources, or marketing. They can offer advice that covers multiple fields or serve clients in a niche or expert field.

Clients hire consultants because they save time, increase revenue, and maintain resources. Often, a business consultant can solve a problem that has gone unresolved or even unknown by business leaders for years.

The consultant adds value to the company by solving a speck problem or making processes more efficient.

Business consultants can either be internal – someone who operates within an organization – or external – someone who is hired for a temporary basis. External consultants will have multiple clients, while internal consultants will work only within their organization.

The goal of a consultant is to provide a deeper level of understanding on a topic than a business would have access to otherwise, and to only have this service provided as much as needed.

What do Business Consultants Do?

Business consultants have a wide range of services that can apply to almost any business need an executive might have. Though certain consultants might have expertise in certain areas (as explained below), most business consultants can tackle any problem.

Some of the most common services that a business leader would receive from a business consultant include:

  • Identifying areas that are working well and ones that aren’t
  • Finding specific obstacles that are impeding growth
  • Determining which changes need to be made
  • Bringing a fresh perspective
  • Taking the lead on new programs
  • Firing and hiring staff
  • Analyzing productivity
  • Looking over a company’s budget
  • Suggesting changes to prices
  • Finding allies or partners
  • Creating an investment or financial plan
  • Training staff

Regardless of whether or not a consultant takes a more specific or general approach, they can be expected to have strong analytical, social, and time-management skills.

There may be some confusion about the difference between a business consultant and a business coach. The answer lies in the types of tasks that they perform and how they perform them.

A business coach is a more broad service while consulting typically can be much more narrow.

Coaching centers itself around mindset.

For example, a coach could help a business owner identify limiting beliefs and behaviors they have and help them to overcome them for better performance. Coaches will take a more preventative approach to problems that could be affecting a business leader.

Meanwhile, a consultant focuses on finding solutions.

Consultants will analyze and modify existing business operations to make necessary changes. They won’t focus on a business leaders’ mindset as much as they’ll see if performance can become more efficient in certain areas.

Types of Business Consultants

While many business consultants have experience in a variety of areas, some specialize in certain industries. They’ll often serve specific clientele and be more selective about the problems they solve.

Businesses often don’t need to go for a select type of business consultant. Most of the time, any experienced consultant can provide valuable advice.

However, a business with repeated problems in one area or looking to expand a certain part of their business may want to look for a certain type of business consultant.

Operations

Business coaches with a specialization in operations will cater their services toward helping a business owner run the day-to-day functions of your business. They’ll analyze the current operations and figure out how to improve the business model.

For example, an operations coach might help apply the 80/20 rule to operations, which states that the top 20% of inputs are responsible for 80% of output.

They’ll help a business leader discover just what that 20% of inputs is and figure out how to center all operations on those actions.

Consultants who focus on operations will also focus on the quality of a product. How can a business produce the same item at a fraction of the cost and the time? Together the coach and business exec will tweak the process for better results.

Strategy

Strategy-based consultants will use their industry expertise to help grow a business. This could be anything from advanced scaling strategies to finding more opportunities.

First, the business owner has established their target market. The strategy consultant will then help them expand into that market by creating more brand awareness.

They’ll refresh the business model so that it’s ready to take on new capabilities. They’ll also help the business leader decide the best course of action for growth.

Every business needs a cost-effective strategy before expansion. The consultant will apply their expertise to creating this gameplay.

If a business is already in the process of growing or transitioning, the strategy consultant can act as a neutral middle-man to keep everyone in check.

Tempers may be running high during big changes. Having an extra set of hands could mean the difference between a calm transition and a chaotic one.

Financial

Financial consultants will do exactly what the name suggests: they’ll take a deep look into the depths of a company’s finances.

This isn’t to say that a more general consultant can’t give a business an overview of their financial health.

It’s merely that ones with specific financial expertise may be more useful to a business if it’s experiencing repeated problems with its finances.

Financial consultants help with decisions ranging from day-to-day financial choices to long-term investments. They can also help a business owner determine how to handle their assets and debts.

Some financial consultants offer even more specific services. This includes going through daily expenses or advising a business leader on their taxes.

HR

HR consultant firms exist to make a team a more cohesive unit. Businesses often hire HR consultants to assist their HR departments or to fill in tasks of an HR department instead of hiring a team.

These consultants are responsible for many tasks that HR managers would take care of, such as recruiting and communicating with new employees, managing payroll, keeping track of performance, and running administrative functions.

Marketing

A marketing consultant will help a business find its branding strengths. Together, the consultant and business leader will expand on these advantages. This will boost brand awareness and exposure.

Marketing consultants often offer similar services to public relations consultants. This could include a social media overhaul to a complete digital marketing strategy.

Integrated Consulting Services

Many consultants offer the specific services above. Many other consultants like myself offer services that combine elements from them.

For example, we offer business consulting and management consulting. Both of these combine elements from all of the consultant niches listed above.

As a management consultant, I offer expert services to help management teams improve their performance within their organization.

Regardless of the problem, I analyze the company and solve problems with recommended strategies.

Instead of hiring a financial consultant or an operations consultant, hiring a more general management consultant will look at both of those areas.

What to Look for in a Business Consultant

The relationship between a consultant and their client is the key to making successful changes in a business.

If they can work well together and listen to each other’s opinions, they will be able to build off one another’s ideas to achieve unprecedented business transformations.

To find this relationship, there are several factors that a business owner should look for in a consultant, from their knowledge and training to how their personalities fit.

Knowledge, Training, and Experience

A great business consultant doesn’t need to have extensive academic training. Practical experience is much more important – and they need to have this in spades.

Some academic knowledge is helpful, though. A degree or other qualification in a business-related field shows that the consultant has a foundation of knowledge that guides their decision-making.

It’s also a good sign if they’ve taken the time to complete continued learning courses or other self-improvement initiatives.

When it comes to experience, the more a consultant has, the better they’ll be able to help a business. If they’ve worked with many other firms that are similar to a business owner’s, they’ll already know how to create solutions that work for those problems.

Business owners can determine how knowledgeable a consultant is by looking at a CV, browsing the consultant’s website, or even asking the consultant a few direct questions about past work experience.

Assessing a consultant’s experience can be done by looking at testimonials and references. Prior clients will be honest about their experience with the client and will be an accurate source of information.

The consultant will not be offended that you want to know more about their experience and knowledge – a great consultant will be happy to discuss their background.

Trustworthiness

Trust is a crucial factor in any relationship. It’s especially important for a business relationship when a business owner’s livelihood is at stake. Business owners need to have complete trust in their consultant and feel as though the consultant cares about their business.

People at high trust companies reported 50% higher productivity and 76% more engagement. The same logic goes for the relationship between a business owner and a consultant.

The more trust between the two, the more open each will be to one another’s ideas and the more motivated they will be to better the company.

Business owners will be sharing private details about a business. As such, they need to be certain that the consultant will give advice that stems from a place of caring.

A great consultant will always be honest, even if it’s what the business owner doesn’t want to hear. They’ll give recommendations based on what will be best for the business, even if it costs the consultant business down the road.

The best way to determine someone’s trustworthiness is to speak with them multiple times before deciding on a relationship.

Before agreeing to anything, a business leader should have no doubts that the consultant has integrity. When in doubt, take time to consider the decision and even interview other candidates to compare.

Niche or Industry Focus

Many consultants have expertise in numerous fields They’ll be open to a broad range of clients. Many, however, will only work with firms of a certain size or specialize in a particular field.

Business owners should research a consultant before working with them. This will ensure the consultant has had experience with businesses like theirs. The consultant also needs to be open to working with that business.

In some cases, a consultant may turn down a certain business. They may not wish to work with that kind of organization anymore.

Furthermore, business owners should know that it’s not really necessary for a consultant to have specific experience in their field to be helpful. Many consultants still provide invaluable advice.

A consultant who serves a particular niche is usually the most helpful if an organization is experiencing a repeat problem in a particular area. For instance, a business with constant employee turnover may need an HR consultant.

Personality

A business consultant’s personality should also be taken into account. A consultant needs to be someone with whom the business owner is completely comfortable. Otherwise, contact throughout the relationship will be difficult.

Everyone has a different personality style. The consultant and business leader should be open about how they communicate, solve problems, and work with others. This will help form a relationship on a solid foundation.

For example, a consultant may be very blunt, but their client may prefer kinder delivery. The two need to be open about these personality traits.

The business leader should feel positive about all suggestions made by the consultant. This way, they’ll be motivated to implement them.

Personality traits to look for in a consultant will depend on the client. Some business owners may want humor, while others will look for a harsh approach.

The one personality trait that every consultant should have, though, is empathy. The best business consultant will understand that a business means far more to an owner than its financial success. They have their emotional stakes in the firm, too.

Accordingly, a consultant will look to understand the emotions that drive a business owner and build a relationship that acknowledges those feelings.

They’ll deliver positive and negative feedback with empathy, which will make the client view the feedback as more effective.

Communication Skills

A good consultant is one who can clearly articulate ideas to their clients. They’re able to condense all of their research into an actionable game plan that business leaders can follow. They’ll make sure to deliver plans both orally during meetings and in written memos.

Consultants will deliver the best advice after they listen to and understand your needs. This may sound simple in practice, but only a great consultant will be able to absorb what you say (and what you don’t say) and transform it into a plan that will benefit the business.

To do this, the consultant will learn to ask the right questions at the right time, which will give insight into a business owner’s thinking process and decision-making style.

A great consultant will also need to recognize which response from them is necessary at each moment. Sometimes, a client will need a concrete plan delivered as soon as possible. Other times, they will just want a sounding board for a new idea.

The best consultants will recognize when they need to act as a consultant, a mentor, or even just another pair of ears.

If a consultant is speaking to a client with lots of buzzes and business-speak, this often isn’t a good sign. A talented consultant will make their language and advice accessible for the listener – one who tries to impress is likely hiding their own flaws.

Cost

Consultants should make the life of a business owner less stressful. If the cost of hiring that consultant is far out of a business’s price range, even the best consultant won’t feel like a solution.

Business leaders should consider what a consultant charges and other practicalities before hiring them. For instance, different consultants may charge in different ways. Their fees can be by the hour, by project, or on a retainer basis.

Some consultants even work on a part-fee, part-bonus basis. They’ll charge you a fee upfront but will only charge a bonus depending on the success of their efforts.

A consultant should also provide a contract that specifically outlines all cost expectations and what services will be provided based on the costs. Will the contact be open 24/7? Will they work during a time that is convenient for the business owner?

Return on Investment

The best consultants are typically the most successful in two cases: solving critical problems that are losing the company money and finding opportunities by optimizing workflow efficiency.

Say a business leader hires a consultant to resolve a small error that costs $100 a month. If they spend 5 hours fixing it at $200 an hour, it will be almost a year before the business sees any gains.

$1000 spent on a consultant, in this case, would seem almost pointless.

But say a consultant is hired to fix a process that causes 40 workers to waste 4 hours a week at $40 an hour. The consultant takes 40 hours to fix it at $200 an hour, which will cost a total of $8000. That’s $6400 a week the business owner will save or the equivalent of $332800 a year.

In this case, the $8000 spent on the consultant would be just a drop in the water compared to the total savings.

Business owners should always determine what problems they’re looking to fix and what the calculated ROI will be for solving these problems. Sometimes, a consultant may not be the right answer. In other cases, a consultant is 100% necessary.

9 Benefits of Having a Business Consultant

Business consultants do everyone from providing insight into new markets to making company operations run more smoothly.

But they also can provide numerous other benefits that many business owners may not have considered, such as stronger team culture, an additional layer of accountability for business owners, and better goal-setting mechanisms.

1. Save on Costs

Many business leaders have initial concerns about hiring a business consultant because of the cost. Consultants cost anywhere from $50 to $300 an hour, a number that may deter many executives.

But a consultant will end up saving businesses money in the long run for several reasons.

First, a consultant is an independent entity, rather than an employee. Business leaders will only be paying for the consultant when they actually receive services, rather than paying for a salary. They also won’t have to cover vacation days, retirement packages, or time off.

Second, an effective consultant will give executives an ROI on their investment. Their business operations and decisions will be more effective, so their business will gain value.

2. Set Better Goals

There’s a reason why management consulting is a $250 billion industry – it works. One reason for this is that business leaders set better goals with the help of a business consultant.

Goal-setting alone can be difficult – how is it possible to determine what’s in the realm of possibility? How long of a time frame is reasonable?

Business consultants will have set goals with numerous previous clients and will have a good understanding of the time and resources it takes to accomplish specific goals.

They’ll then use this expertise to set goals with a business leader that are measurable, attainable, and relevant to their business.

3. Additional Accountability

Sharing a goal with someone higher-up or more successful than oneself will keep that person motivated.

Even more difficult than setting goals, though, is staying on track with them. The first week or two always begins smoothly, but it gets difficult to stay on task later.

Having a business coach is like having an additional layer of accountability during a time of transition or change in a business.

While it may be easy for a business leader to tell themselves that they’ll save designing that important strategy or re-working that project for later, a business consultant will ask them at their upcoming session if they’ve made any progress.

If the business leader hasn’t done what they were expected to, the consultant won’t be able to move forward.

And being accountable to a business consultant is even more effective than being acceptable to a lower-level team member or a peer.

Research shows that sharing goals with someone who is at a higher ranking or who has more expertise will keep that individual more motivated.

4. Focus on Specialization

It’s common to take on more responsibilities as a business grows so that everything can get accomplished. But it’s actually better for the company if business leaders keep their focus on their area of specialization.

Specialization has long been considered the best business tool to have.

Mastery will reduce the risk of making mistakes so businesses provide more value in both time and dollars.

A specialist will be able to complete tasks more quickly and more effectively since they won’t be switching from one to another. And they’ll likely experience less stress by getting to focus on just one area.

Having a business coach will allow a business leader to recenter their focus on the tasks that are their forte. Additional management, operational, or financial tasks can be assigned to the coach as the business exec stays on track with their tasks.

5. Fill in Knowledge Gaps

Every business owner will have their strengths and weaknesses. It’s natural to be an expert in certain areas of running a business and a novice in others.

Hiring a business consultant will let the business owner play to their strengths. They won’t make detrimental mistakes due to a lack of experience or knowledge. The business consultant will fill in these gaps.

Companies often have a variety of projects or change initiatives they wish to accomplish. Many of these will require different areas of experience and knowledge. Having an outside consultant gives them the flexibility to start these programs confidently without committing to a full-time hire.

In many cases, company leaders may take on more than they’re capable of during a business transformation.

The result is decision fatigue: difficulty in making a good decision after a long session of decision making. The more decisions that the business owner has to make the worse these decisions will become.

A business consultant will use their knowledge to make decisions that are relevant to their area of expertise. They’ll then leave the other decisions to the business owner. Decisions will therefore be made by the appropriate authoritative source.

6. Create a Stronger Team Culture

Culture is an important part of the work experience for employees and managers alike.

35% of US workers said they would turn now a perfect job match if the corporate culture wasn’t to their liking. 91% of US managers said a candidate’s fit with a company’s organizational culture is more important than their skills and experience.

But while the majority of managers say that company culture is important, businesses often fall short. Even with resources dedicated to improving company culture, business leaders difficulty relating to their employees and implementing effective changes.

Business consultants will come in as an unknown. This will give them a greater ability to connect with employees than an established leader of a business.

For example, they can create a feedback system or experiment with ways to observe employee behaviors naturally. They could also provide resources for team members to present their ideas about what would make a better team culture.

7. Objective Solutions

Business leaders and top employees may have a hard time making an objective decision about how a change should be made within the company. Independent consultants can provide a neutral perspective on these business challenges.

Since they’re not members of the company, they can see things that employees cannot.

What’s more, they’ll tell a business owner what to do without fear that their job may be affected. Whereas an employee within the company may be afraid to speak up, the consultant knows it’s their job to be as honest as possible.

A consultant’s objectivity is especially important in family-run businesses or organizations in which the relationships between team members are stronger than the typical workplace dynamics.

A neutral presence may be the catalyst for team members to open up and have a real discussion about the business.

8. Take a Fresh Look

Everyone’s brain is full of cognitive biases.

Whether it’s the conservatism bias – the tendency to revise one belief even when presented with new evidence – or salience bias – the tendency to focus on items or ideas that are more emotionally striking – every business leader is likely blind to at least a few areas of their business that need changing.

A business consultant will take a look at a business with fresh eyes, pointing out what’s running smoothly and what isn’t. A change that seems obvious to them may have gone unnoticed by the business leader for years.

A business consultant can also be blunt with a business executive as they see fit. If old ways of thinking are impeding a business, they’ll express that.

9. Better Form of Trial & Error

Business owners encountering an issue for the first time may have several options for how to solve it. But they won’t know what is effective until they’ve tried different processes.

Meanwhile, many consultants will have worked long enough to know the best practices of every industry. Their experience will help them create solutions that will actually work for the client.

They’ll save their clients time by focusing on the quality of a solution. They’ll be saved from trying different things that don’t work out. Trial and error will be reduced to just one or two different strategies rather than numerous methods that may not be effective at all.

Tips for Working With a Business Consultant

Business consultants can work wonders for businesses. But they can only be effective if the business owner does their part.

Working with a business consultant requires honesty, the ability to take feedback. It also calls for open communication and responsibility.

Be Honest About Weaknesses

Putting on a brave face in front of employees and competition does have its place in business. It ends up being a hindrance when working with a consultant.

Consultants need complete transparency to be effective. If they don’t know the extent to which a problem is going on, they won’t be able to make the right recommendations.

Business leaders need to remember that a consultant has seen everything before. They’ve worked with companies that are failing and need a major transformation. They’ve also worked with growing organizations needing to scale quickly.

Consultants will not be shocked or deterred by any situation. If anything, they’ll be more impressed with honesty.

Take Constructive Criticism Graciously

Over the course of the partnership, the consultant will likely tell a business owner numerous things that they don’t want to hear.

As a business owner or executive, they must take the business consultant’s advice positively. They shouldn’t interpret it as an insult.

The consultant is not trying to downplay anyone’s hard efforts or say anyone is failing. Rather, they are bringing their objectivity and fresh viewpoint to help a business become more successful.

Because a business executive is so close to the business, any constructive criticism may feel like a personal attack.

In these situations, they should remind themselves that both they and the consultant have the business’s best interests in mind.

Once they’re at a point where they can accept criticism without taking it personally, the business can see real changes. They’ll be ready to implement the consultant’s suggested changes swiftly and effectively.

Understand Responsibilities

Business consultants and business leaders often handle the same problems.

However, the purpose of hiring a business consulting is to hand off those responsibilities. Almost always, the consultant has more expertise.

To avoid stepping on each other’s toes, a business leader and consultant should set aside a time to meet. During this meeting, they should outline specific responsibilities.

The business leader needs to understand their key role in the process. Often, it’s to go about their normal responsibilities and make changes as necessary.

Business leaders don’t need to follow every recommendation made by the consultant. But they should recognize that these recommendations come from a place of greater expertise than their own. Often, they’re the best choice.

Establish The Length of the Relationship

A business leader may hire a coach for indefinite feedback. But they will likely hire a business consultant to solve a problem over a given period.

During initial meetings, they should bring up their expectations about the time frame of the relationship.

By doing this, both the business leader and the consultant understand what deadlines they have to work with. They can also determine what results are reasonable given the set amount of time.

If they have unrealistic hopes for what can be accomplished, the consultant will tell the business leader. The plan can then be adjusted.

Creating this time frame will also give an executive more peace of mind later down the road went they give the consultant more freedom.

When they know roughly what to expect at each stage, they can take a step back from the process and focus on their tasks instead.

Be Committed to Change

Even with the most intelligent solutions, a business consultant won’t be effective if the business leader doesn’t implement the recommendations.

Before starting to work with a consultant, business leaders should ask themselves if they are ready to follow the advice of the business consultant.

Are they prepared to make a company-wide transformation if necessary? What if the constant recommends letting go of a significant number of employees?

Without a commitment to change, a business leader may have difficulty benefiting from a business consulting company.

They need to mentally prepare themselves for the tough decisions and strategic overhauls that consulting often brings.

Getting Started With a Business Consultant

Hiring a business constantly is the next step for any company looking to expand.

From solving problems as they arise to finding growth opportunities, business consulting services will give business owners the insight necessary to move forward.

Learn more about solving problems within your organization by signing up for an appointment. Fill out our contact form and we’ll be in touch.

The post The Ultimate Guide to the Benefits of Hiring a Business Consultant first appeared on Fractional COO - Fractional CMO - Kamyar Shah.

How to Build an Effective Business Strategy

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Business Strategy

If there’s one thing certain about business, it’s uncertainty, and that’s a sentiment that millions of business owners will understand. In 2021, a record was struck when 1.4 million new businesses formed, and this year is likely to be no different. Some of those businesses will flourish while others won’t make it through the year.

However, whether a business is just an idea or it’s been around for a decade, every business could use a business strategy to help ensure its success. Let’s talk about how to develop a proper business strategy in the new year.

What Is a Business Strategy?

Essentially, a business strategy is a plan of action to help implement the vision and goals of an enterprise. Because businesses vary so widely in their operations and objectives, this strategy can take many forms.

Consequently, it’s important for every business to develop and implement its own strategies, as no two are alike. This will help with internal processes as well as external, such as acquiring funding, complying with regulations, and storing important data.

Why Would a Business Need a New Business Strategy?

Briefly, let’s mention that while business strategies are most often associated with new businesses, there are plenty of reasons why a business owner would need to draft a new one.

Honestly, there should never be a time when a business isn’t updating its strategy in one way or another, as it is always a work in progress. Trends change in marketing, business, finance, and internal to industries all the time. Consequently, business owners and executives need to keep up with the times.

Getting Started

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, we need to discuss what businesses need before they even apply for a business loan, permit, or anything else. First, they need an idea of what type of company they are trying to pursue. Let’s talk about that.

Defining Mission, Values, and Vision

The first page of a business plan will display the company’s mission, values, and vision. Here, business owners have total control, so it’s time to shape the company exactly how they want it.

Now, the reason this is important is that (among other reasons) a clear vision, mission, and message are essential parts of branding. Developing a clear and recognizable brand identity offers plenty of benefits to a business, and the sooner this is developed, the better.

To understand how beneficial a clear brand identity is, let’s do a word experiment. Picture a white void with four colors; red, blue, yellow, and green. What brand comes to mind?

Most people would say Google, which is correct. They’ve spent so much time solidifying their brand identity in our minds that such a simple description could remind the average person of their brand.

It isn’t just giant companies either. There are thousands of makeup brands, rock climbing gyms, and other niche companies with specialized markets who benefit from the same instant recognition. Any company can with the right strategy, but it has to start early on.

Developing Products and Services

Of course, a business can’t meet demand without a supply. What’s the easiest way to make sales? Having something good to sell.

By spending time developing the company’s products or services, a business can position itself best to make early sales and find what works.

While there are multiple approaches to product lines, the most common at the start are either to niche down or expand. For example, In N’ Out burgers offer only a few menu items, whereas McDonald’s offers dozens, but both are very successful in their own right.

Now, both strategies carry their own risks. If a business tries offering a hundred products or services and most don’t work out, then it may have lost a lot of initial resources. However, if nobody likes niched-down products or services, that’s hard to recover from.

Proper market research and competitor research are certainly important to developing a proper supply. Whatever is favored, owners must choose wisely. From there, it’s time to set reasonable prices relative to industry standards.

Defining Their Long-Term Goals

Both growth and financial goals are critical to understanding long before launching a business. Once the owner understands the nature of their business, along with their products and prices, it’s time to conduct some market research and get a general idea of the business’s goals.

How much revenue should the business expect in the first six months? First two years? How is the business going to grow in the future? Answering these questions and more is crucial to a business strategy.

Acquiring Funding

No matter how successful a business is, changing strategies often requires capital. In many cases, that will require outside funding for businesses to succeed in their strategies.

First, let’s mention the importance of a business strategy when it comes to acquiring funding. When an owner establishes a business plan, it needs to be rock solid for investors and financial overseers. We will help you along the way, but both lenders and investors need to see a quality business strategy to feel comfortable offering their money.

Before we even consider launching our business, we need to have a plan for acquiring funds. A lack of funding is the primary reason why 90% of businesses fail. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to acquire these funds nowadays. However, we first need to have a set amount in mind.

Crunch the Numbers

Before heading to a bank or looking for investments, businesses need to determine their budgets for the duration of their strategy. To determine how much they need during this period, they need to add up all of the expenses they know of and consider the ones they don’t. Essentially, they should plan for the worst and hope for the best.

For example, if they know that they need thirty employees to pay X amount weekly, which is usually the largest expense, then they should factor that in with:

  • Cost of equipment (permanent fixtures and disposable supplies)
  • Rent
  • New locations/expansions
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Covid-19 PPE
  • Business and liability insurance
  • Licensing and inspection fees
  • Sales tax
  • Benefits premiums for employees (if applicable)

The list goes on and will be different for every business. Once they have considered all of the expenses they know of, owners should always plan for the worst. Expect to pay on the high end for each of the costs mentioned above and others that you discover, and plan for unexpected expenses as well.

If they believe operating costs for the next six months will total $100,000, then they should plan for $120,000 just in case. Ideally, they want to use cash on hand for as many expenses as possible in their strategy, but it isn’t always enough.

Of course, they can always look for opportunities to save as they go, which may leave them with a surplus. However, as the expression goes: “it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.” Essentially, you can always pay back loans early if you need to, but you may not be able to apply for more.

1. Bank Loans

Business loans are the tried-and-true method of gaining business funding, but they are heavily dependent on the owner’s personal credit history. Bank loans should be considered a form of self-funding, as you are responsible for repaying that loan.

There is one major advantage that makes bank loans ideal for companies in need of new revenue, and it’s that you know how much you need to pay back. If you take out a loan for $100,000 at a 6% interest rate, then you know you will only pay $106,000 in return.

Contrary to investments, bank loans don’t take equity from your business, allowing you to control your business entirely if you rely primarily on loans. Once it is paid back, that equity is entirely yours.

However, bank loans are riskier for the business owner. If you don’t pay them back, it could destroy your credit and, by extension, prospects for future business and personal loans. Also, if you have poor credit, or if the bank doesn’t trust you for whatever reason, you may have a difficult time securing a loan.

Also, you will often need to use collateral, especially for larger loans. Likely, this will be your house or the largest asset you own, which means that a failed business could be a major personal loss.

2. Private Investors

Private investors are a saving grace when you can’t get enough funding through loans. Also, you may not feel comfortable seeking that much debt in the first place. Either way, investors can purchase equity in the business with cash for a mutually-beneficial arrangement.

As an undeniable benefit, there is less of a personal risk when using investors to fund a business. A business owner will not destroy their credit rating or lose collateral if the business fails. Instead, it will simply be a loss for the investor.

Of course, the obvious downside of using investors is that they take equity from the business owner. As a business grows, you will owe them more when they decide to liquidate.

3. Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is when you post your initial offering on a crowdfunding website along with a detailed business plan and (usually) small-time investors may choose to invest. Keep in mind, these are still private investments.

A major benefit of crowdsourcing is that it’s convenient and readily available. If one investor says no, you don’t have to continue looking for others. One post is all that it takes.

However, similar to finding investors the traditional way, you will be exchanging equity for cash.

4. Incorporate

If the business really needs cash, the owner may consider incorporating the business, allowing for equity to be publicly traded. However, the initial public offering (IPO) does have to be in compliance with the SEC.

There comes a time when gaining private investors simply isn’t enough to stimulate growth anymore. Incorporating is a major step for a business that can drive capital into the hands of companies in need from public investors.

In most cases, but not all, businesses will only incorporate once they have steady revenue and enough brand awareness to get on Wall Street’s radar. However, that’s not always the case.

You will not have the same control over the business as you would with a sole proprietorship, but you will have easy access to potential investors, both big and small. It’s a trade-off many companies choose to take.

Prior to incorporation is also one of the most common reasons why business owners would need to write a new business strategy. Well, let’s talk about how to start.

How to Build an Effective Marketing Strategy

After a lack of funding, a poor marketing strategy is the next most common reason why so many businesses struggle to grow. Every business needs to develop an effective marketing strategy, one that is both effective in the short term and building toward something greater for the long term.

If an owner doesn’t have any marketing experience, they may consider taking on some marketing services or business consulting. They will have to sacrifice one of their most valuable resources; either their time or their money. Either way, here’s how to get started.

Build a Website

We highly recommend seeking professional web design services, as a business website needs to live up to the standards of the time. We cannot stress that enough, as a company’s website is easily the most valuable asset for growth, no matter what type of business it is.

No other asset affects advertising, organic traffic, email campaigns, social media activities, and every other tactic as much as a website. If a website is the center of a company’s marketing strategy, then it needs to be designed properly.

With a proper user experience (UX) design, a business will see a boost to its conversion rates from ad campaigns (and other marketing efforts) as well as a boost to organic traffic from search engines. The more that’s put into it, the more you will get out.

If a business owner does not intend to allocate much funding toward their website, then they need to dedicate time to build one properly. Websites are essential to compete in the business world these days, especially considering their role in marketing.

Also, websites are the best possible place to showcase a brand, including its mission, values, and aesthetics. Ensure that every page of the website is on-message and on-brand.

Paid Ads

In terms of making short-term gains, there is nothing better than advertising. The best part is that there are so many great options to choose from, some of which will offer a free boost to new users.

For example, when a business uses Google Ads for the first time, they typically receive early credits of up to $300 for new businesses, which is excellent to help them experiment with your campaigns early on.

Just remember to target your ads as closely as possible. Initial market and competitor research is needed to prevent unintended waste in your campaigns. You need to use the right keywords and filters to maximize the efficiency of your ad and avoid losing money.

Consequently, you should set an advertising budget in advance and list it within your business strategy. It’s recommended that small businesses allocate between 7% and 8% of revenue toward marketing efforts, and advertisements will likely make up the bulk of that early on.

Of course, if you don’t have revenue, then use those same percentages with your overall cash on hand. Focus on improving your conversion rates to get the most out of each campaign, especially early on. Ads are a great way to generate fast revenue, so spare no expense.

Use Free Marketing Tools

Fortunately, we live in a world filled with endless opportunities to build free traffic to our websites and, by extension, new customers. Social media and email marketing are entirely free to start, and they’re very effective ways to build brand awareness, drive traffic to your site, and retain existing customers.

Not only will concrete strategies in your business plan help you build funding, but they will help you implement the appropriate strategies moving forward. For example, you may have a content strategy for social media in advance. From there, you will only have to time your posts correctly.

Social media and email marketing are great places to develop your brand, build brand awareness, and interact with your audience appropriately. Branding should be a key part of these strategies early on. However, it won’t matter if nobody sees them.

Both of these tools should be used to increase customer retention, as an increase of 5% in customer retention leads to an average of 25% increase in profits. It pays to keep your customers.

Social media is a great place for businesses to interact with existing users and customers, allowing them to stay up to date with the brand’s latest news and promotions. An even more effective tool is email.

To build your email list, you should leave prompts throughout your website at the time of purchase, top or bottom of every page, or as popups. It doesn’t cost more money to send an email to ten thousand people than it does to send to ten, so start growing your list as soon as possible.

To build a social media following, use organic options like hashtags, trends, and proper content timing. Comment on viral content, share user content, and run promotional content to help spread the word about your company. Remember, this is all free, so use it to the fullest extent possible.

Optimize These Tools

A plan for social media and email marketing should include proper timing and content creation. Marketing teams and planners should discuss, plan, and implement a schedule to time their content.

Moreover, there are best times to post on social media, and best times to reach someone via email. When businesses time their content correctly, they expand their reach for free.

While this can be done with advanced automation software, marketers can also create content in advance, set a timer on their phones, and post or send the content at the appropriate times.

Using the right templates, visual imagery, and trends will only help expand your reach and improve the efficiency of a marketing campaign without spending an extra dime. Businesses would be remiss to ignore such an easy advantage.

Building Organic Traffic

Now, with a little research and groundwork, this is another entirely free marketing strategy that has the potential to drive free traffic for years to come. The best way to do this is with a content marketing strategy that is focused on quality.

Once you have a quality website (which is essential), the foundation is set. From there, you can build a blog, podcast, or any other type of content you want to promote. However, don’t just do it for Google.

Even if organic traffic is your goal, Google has penalties for low-quality content that manages to rank higher. Consequently, the only way to ensure long-term success for your content strategy is to promote quality content.

No matter what type of content you produce, use a healthy mixture of long-tail and short-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords will help you drive more incremental growth, but that growth will come sooner.

Your end goal should be to rank on the top page for relevant short-tail keywords, as these have the highest traffic (but also the highest competition). For example, a fitness center would use short-tail keywords like “gym” or “health club” and long-tail keywords like “cycling classes in Providence, RI” or “personal training services near me”.

Sure, fewer people search for the latter two, but they are easier to rank for. Also, the traffic they bring in is highly relevant and much more likely to generate leads and conversions. Organic marketing should be a part of every business strategy in 2022.

Using Proper Analytics Tools

Business owners need a way to track important metrics related to their marketing campaigns so they can make adjustments as needed. For that, you need to use the right analytics tools.

Google Analytics is a great way to start, as it can measure key metrics on their website to determine how people land on their site, how long they stay, and how they interact with it. This insight will let business owners and marketers know what’s working and what isn’t, which will save them money in the long run.

Not only that, but they can also track their ad campaigns, email, and social media as well. Anything digital can be tracked, and there are plenty of available tools for it. Business owners must find which ones work for them and use them in their marketing strategy.

Marketing Integration

One of the biggest mistakes business owners make is to not integrate their marketing strategy. SEO, PPC, and other modes should not be viewed as their own categories, but rather as a piece of a much larger puzzle. Businesses large and small can benefit from integrating their marketing strategies to allow for maximum growth.

For example, if a business has a specific page where they want to direct users, then using this as a landing page for PPC and email campaigns, sharing it on social media, and optimizing it for search engines will ultimately yield the most favorable results.

Physical Marketing

Especially if the business is local, then there are plenty of ways businesses can use physical marketing to their advantage. Flyers, business cards, and word-of-mouth marketing are great ways to start, but it doesn’t stop there.

Hosting events, affiliate marketing, getting listed on local directories, and any other type of marketing you can think of will go a long way. The best part about physical marketing for local businesses is that you’re targeting the right people for little to no expense.

Another essential part of physical marketing is customer relations. Customers are a business’s best marketing tool, considering the effectiveness of word-of-mouth marketing. Improving a company’s customer experience will ultimately help grow customers but, more importantly, retain existing ones.

Figure Out Staffing

Part of your strategy should involve improving your onboarding process, specifically involving both recruiting and training. Some businesses rely entirely on one person, a team of freelancers, or something for customers to download. However, most businesses rely on their employees, who often play essential roles in business operations.

Whether full-time or part-time, one job or thirty, businesses need to determine how they intend to staff their business. Here’s how to build and manage a quality team.

Have a Recruiting Plan

Recruiting is a lot like marketing. There are so many online job boards and freelance marketplaces to list the jobs or gigs that businesses have available, and most only require a small fee.

First, business owners must determine which positions need filling. Do they plan to hire marketers, general laborers, cashiers, app developers, or anything else? Depending on the updated business strategy, a business may require a lot of new staffing.

Many positions are specific to industries, so we won’t list specific positions. However, planners must determine which positions need filling before recruiting practices can take place.

From there, they will post available jobs. Highlight specific reasons why people will want to work with your company, including company culture (or the one you seek to establish), benefits packages, salary, time off, schedule, mission, and more.

Also, diligence is key with application screening. Take the time to review resumes and applications thoroughly and only call people who are qualified. Once a business has consistent revenue, owners may begin taking chances on potential candidates, but not during the early days.

From there, recruiters can interview each potential candidate and ask them everything they want to know about their prospective teammates. Employees have some of the most control over business operations, so recruiters must ensure that they are choosing the right personalities and qualifications for the jobs that need filling.

Properly Train Employees

Setting appropriate expectations with your employees upfront and offering proper training will ensure that your daily business operations work at their best from the beginning. We mentioned the importance of customer experience, which should be a large part of training for employees who interact with customers.

However, there’s a lot more to it than that. Ultimately, it pays to continuously train your employees. Business owners should always seek to facilitate employee growth throughout their tenure, which all starts with proper training.

When businesses develop and implement an appropriate training plan for their employees, they will see improvements in their performance.

Remember, training is also an ongoing process. Try to allocate some funding for training and potentially ongoing training or education for your employees, depending on the nature of your business. However, this can be done later.

If you don’t have the budget for all-staff training, you can offer specific workshops or classes as a professional development option for your staff. When employees take courses outside of work, they can boost their resume and performance, and they’ll bring their skills right back to the workplace.

Ongoing Evaluations

Performance evaluations are an excellent way to offer specific feedback to employees over time. When employees receive this individual attention, they are more likely to understand and retain the advice provided to them.

Once every six months or so, managers should sit down with employees and discuss their performance. Businesses should always keep a paper trail of these discussions and make notes afterward to follow up on the next evaluations.

How to Write a Business Plan

Now that you know more about company planning, this knowledge won’t go to much use if you don’t know how to write a business plan. Planning in your head doesn’t cut it. Not only do you want to write it out to show potential investors or lenders, but you want to have an organized reference to return to as needed.

In the first couple of years of operating a business (and beyond), business leaders would be far more effective if they had a point of reference to review when making important decisions. Here’s how to get started.

Have an Organizational System in Mind

As you can tell simply by the length of this article, there are plenty of important aspects of a business strategy that require attention. Because of this, you need to develop a strong organizational system for your plan.

If you want a hard copy, then get a binder with tabs and label them based on each plan. Breaking sections into categories and subcategories is highly recommended. For example, a “marketing strategy” category with “organic marketing” and “paid marketing” subcategories is appropriate.

However, if you intend to keep your business plan digital, then use a program that will allow for proper organization.

Either way, this will help investors and lenders understand and review your strategy and make it far easier to use as a reference in the future. You don’t want to have to skim through a hundred pages to find your budget information.

Make Decisions Based on Facts

One of the biggest mistakes for business owners is operating on “what-ifs”, wants, and dreams. A clear vision is critical to the success of a business, but it has to be entirely rooted in reality. An attitude of “my product is the best, so this is going to work no matter what I do” is almost guaranteed to fail.

For example, if a business isn’t generating any revenue, then the business owner having “faith” that it soon will is not a concrete solution. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but there is no evidence to suggest that it will.

Instead, the appropriate response is to accept the fact that revenue needs stimulating and work to address it immediately. Having a plan for that in the first place is the best solution. In general, business owners should develop the habit of using facts in decision-making.

Start With a Rough Draft

Structure your rough draft exactly how you want your business plan structured and fill in the blanks. Think about it the entire time as if it’s the final product, but don’t give up once it’s finished.

Generally, you should start with an executive summary, which is the first page of the plan. Here, you will briefly summarize the vision, mission statement, and primary focus of your enterprise.

Next, you want to list your business objectives and goals, both long-term and short-term. This is a great time to discuss funding, monetary goals, and how much money you intend to earn/spend.

After that, you will need sections on your business and management structure, products and services, marketing and sales plans, and financial projections and analysis. These will all require individual sections. Anything else that is relevant to your own business, along with an appendix at the end, should be included after.

Remember, you will be showing this either to a bank or to investors, so it needs to be perfect. From there, review the entire plan section by section and make adjustments as needed.

Ask for Expert Help

If you’re a first-time business owner, we understand how overwhelming it can be to develop and implement all of these strategies on your own. There are too many learning curves between marketing, funding, and managing a company, so nobody is expected to learn it overnight.

Well, business consulting services can help you learn the ropes in as short of a time as possible and help you develop your business plan. Ultimately, this is the best way to set a business up for success, possibly before it’s even launched.

Don’t Forget About Ongoing Performance Management

Once our business is launched, we are not done by any means. Business owners work hard and if that doesn’t sound like it’s right for you, then it may be best to invest your money elsewhere and look for more passive means of earning an income.

Analyze Performance

You can’t properly manage or change an existing strategy if you don’t know how it’s working. Continuously analyze financial statements, marketing strategies, and other key performance indicators (KPIs) to understand how to make appropriate adjustments over time.

Also, ask customers for feedback regularly. They are your most valuable asset when it comes to understanding business performance, so ask them to fill out surveys or leave feedback both in the digital space and in person.

Make Daily Processes More Efficient

Through proper process management, work to get the most out of your employees, as well as day-to-day operations. Just like with your marketing campaigns, the more efficient you make all of your business processes, the higher your profit margins will be.

Asking for employee feedback is a great way to generate ideas. They are the ones who experience the most inconveniences and challenges (as a whole) throughout daily operations.

For example, if a team of three thousand employees experiences ten minutes of interruptions each day, that’s the equivalent of losing 500 hours of work.

Consider Outside Help

Whether it’s with your business strategy or the actual implementation, the business world is unforgiving. Fortunately, you can set yourself up for success with the right consulting services. However, you may not know which services are right for you.

Well, learn more about strategy consulting vs management consulting to help make that decision. Either way, you should take all the help you can get, especially early on when a business is most sensitive.

Build Your Business Strategy Today

Now that you know the key elements of a business strategy, how to write a business plan, and how to implement one, there is no time like the present to get started. The sooner you do, the sooner your business can take off. Stay up to date with our blog for the latest business tips and feel free to contact us with any questions.

The post How to Build an Effective Business Strategy first appeared on Fractional COO - Fractional CMO - Kamyar Shah.

What Is Change Management? 10 Principles to Be Aware Of

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Change Management

Change is the only constant in business – yet change initiatives are often cited to fail a staggering 70% of the time.

Although business leaders frequently introduce change into their organizations, many find it difficult to translate the statistics and proposed gains into an actionable plan that motivates employees to embrace the change.

And without support from the people that make up the organization, no leader will be able to make the change work on their own. Enter change management, the way for business leaders to instill change that motivates their team.

The following is a guide that explains what change management is, the 10 principles of change management, and the other factors that go into making a change management program either a success or a failure.

What Is Change Management?

Change management is a systematic approach and use of resources, knowledge, and tools to instill change in an organization. The goal is to change the way a business is connected to adapt to challenging or growing markets.

It may be easy for business leaders to assume that with the best product management strategy and the most cutting-edge solutions, any new initiative will achieve success.

However, when a seemingly perfect project fails, it may be difficult for leaders to determine what went wrong.

How could something so well-planned do so poorly when another similar project achieved such success?

In most cases, this failure is caused by an inability of leaders to focus on everyone who will be impacted by the changes. And large change has more to do with the people involved than the change itself.

Change management takes people into account directly by creating effective management change for every member of every level of an organization.

However, just like any other initiative, effective change management can be misused or misinterpreted by leaders. Executives may not dedicate enough time or budget to comporting the project.

Why Change Management is Important

Change management is key for a successful business. A few key reasons why change management is so important to include:

Raising employee morals: When employees are included throughout the change process, they feel as though they are a more valuable asset to the company.

This is key to keeping them engaged and motivated to grow in their positions. And feeling valued will make them more loyal to the company when it experiences growing pains throughout a change.

Saving money in the long run: Any large change in a company will be a financial risk.

Setting up a change with change management gives you the framework to modify and improve the change as you go, which will save you on reworking or rescoping your project later.

Meeting delivery results: It is common for a transformation to meet the outlined requirements without the results.

For example, a digital marketing initiative may get all employees to start using a company’s new software, but the intended results of higher customer satisfaction don’t happen.

Change management initiatives focus on the benefits of the solution for everyone, rather than just implementing the solution, so it’s more likely that the results will actually happen.

Principles of Change Management

Any executive who has been responsible for a major change program that even with proper planning, programs fan fail. Turning a plan into a feasible outcome isn’t easy, and no amount of numbers or statistics can determine what will make a product successful.

But what factors make some companies leader in change implantation, while others seem to miss the mark every time?

Research from McKinsey shows that three themes play a critical role in the success of a program.

  1. Organization-wide commitment to change
  2. Ability to focus on the changes
  3. Deployment of the right resources

Google recommends a similar approach for implementing change. It says that the three most important elements of a successful transformation are

  1. A fun, engaging communications plan
  2. Executive sponsorship
  3. Innovation councils to sustain the change

Both Google’s and McKinsey’s approaches prioritize commitment to change that is organization-wide. But just how that’s done can be explained by using the following 10 guiding principles for leading change management.

1. Mold with Team Culture

The first part of any change management strategy is leading with the company culture. What are the shared goals and passions of everyone on the team?

Instead of trying to change the existing culture – which is a difficult feat – leaders should draw energy from it instead. Use what team members already care about to inspire change, instead of trying to redefine what they care about.

It’s important to understand that when trying to initiate large changes, people will be more receptive to it if the change is aligned to the ways in which they already think, work, behave, and feel. Work with the cultural current instead of against it, and it will feel like less of a battle to implement changes.

2. Start at the Top

Changes should begin at the top with management and top leaders. The CEO needs to create a well-aligned group of executives who are willing to put on a united front in order for changes to be effective.

If just one member doesn’t follow the same standards as everyone else, their attitude will trickle down the company until fewer and fewer people adapt to the new strategies.

Work must be done before making a change to get top team members on the same page.

Executives should engage in discussion and listen to others’ points of view to come up with one final plan that reflects the concerns of everyone. No change can go into effect without proper collaboration.

3. Involve Everyone

But getting top executives involved is only the first step to implementing changes company-wide. Leaders need to include every single member of every single layer within the company.

Many strategic planners often don’t take into account how important mid-level and frontline employees are to put a change into action. People on the front line have the closest connections with customers and will be able to give input about customers’ reactions and logistical issues that need to be considered.

In addition, having mid-level and frontline people on board will make the transition much smoother. If they are resistant to change, it will show in the end product.

Top leaders can involve every employee by leveraging the roles of those employees for the best possible outcome.

For example, employees who work directly with customers should have outlets for making suggestions on customers, while those working in research should be able to use those skills to implement the change.

4. Use Rational & Emotional Logic

Leaders will often try to promote change on purely a strategic basis. For example, they’ll use phrases like “we’ll enter new markets” or references statistics or future growth.

While using logic-based objectives is certainly necessary for implementing change, they shouldn’t be the only metrics to encourage employees to get on board.

Statistics aren’t effective at reaching team members emotionally. And it’s an emotional commitment that will ensure that individuals stay loyal to the cause.

In general, team members will respond well to calls to action that will both evoke mental stimulation and engage their hearts. They need to feel as if they’re part of something larger than themselves.

To reach employees at an emotional level, leaders should draw on the company’s culture and traditions. Having a personal connection to team members through shared values will be far more effective for overcoming obstacles than just a number.

5. Lead with Action

Many directors of change assume that people will begin to alter their behaviors once they’re presented with it and company-wide measures are put into place. While these formal measures are necessary, they may be too broad of an approach in the earliest stage.

Daily behaviors are the most critical part to getting a change initiate off the ground. Once smaller behaviors change, employees understand their role in the more formal elements – like training or reward systems.

For instance, say a formal element of a change process would be a new reward system for team members. They get a bonus once they reach a certain number of 5-star ratings from customers who are satisfied with their customer service experiences.

Employees will want to reach this level of competency, but may not know where to begin. They may feel frustrated after negative customer reactions.

Leaders could establish a few critical behaviors for these employees. Some could include opening the conversation with a positive phrase, listening without accusing a customer, and reaffirming customer feelings.

Small actionable steps will make it easier for employees to begin implementing the change.

It’s key that senior executives visibly model these behaviors as a way to motivate team members.

In this example, the leader of the customer service team should use the actionable steps in each customer service interaction. Doing this will demonstrate to his team members what is effective.

6. Keep Everyone Engaged

Leaders often believe that conveying a strong message of change at the beginning of a program will show people what they need to do and keep them involved.

But it takes active communication and attention – especially during longer initiatives – to keep employees engaged with a project and motivated to work hard.

Even without a change initiative, employee engagement is difficult to maintain. Year after year, Gallup polls show low employee engagement statistics – in 2021, the number of engaged employees was just 36%.

What this means during a change management program is that leaders need to create a special strategy to keep engagement levels high.

Engagement can be improved in a number of ways:

  1. Living by team culture
  2. Investing in employee’s success
  3. Training employees properly
  4. Recognizing and rewarding employees
  5. Asking employees for feedback

During a chance initiative, all 5 of these engagement strategies should be implemented. Leaders should view relationships with employees as an investment in the company.

Consider how expensive a change management program costs; it can range from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.

Disengaged employees cost a business 34%  of that employee’s salary in lost productivity. With the stakes already being so high, disengaged employees could be the difference between a successful and a failed change strategy.

7. Let Others Lead

Change has the best chance of transforming an organization when everyone has some power in implementing it – research from Gartner shows that shifting implementation planning to employees can raise the chances of success by 12%.

In addition to the formal members of an organization who hold power, executives should look for other opportunities to involve employees in change that will give them duties that are appropriate to their current level of the company.

These informal leaders are special forces who will encourage the more reluctant team members to get involved.

Respected field supervisors, well-liked receptionists, and experienced project managers will be able to reach mid-level and front-line members in ways that top executives won’t be able to.

And people at the lowest levels can be given duties that will reflect how changes are made on upper levels.

For example, a company looking to institute a new customer service software could ask front-line team members to track their interactions with customers both before and after using the software, then provide recommendations to their supervisors about changes that may need to be made.

8. Integrate Formal Solutions

Persuading people to change their behavior won’t happen unless formal elements of the company support the change. Otherwise, the change just seems like additional work with no benefits.

Formal elements that leaders should take into account are training programs, operational changes, structural changes, reward systems, and development opportunities. Change management should present new ways for employees to move up within the company or learn new skills, so they feel like they’re getting returns on their efforts.

For example, take a firm that wants employees to learn more about new software in order to perform their tasks more efficiently. A training program was introduced. In the beginning, it was successful.

Members were interested in learning about the software but soon realized that the program would require 4 hours a week to complete within 6 weeks. In addition to their full workweek, these 4 hours didn’t seem like a reasonable time investment. New training without a reward made them feel like volunteers.

When the company introduced a reward system for employees who mastered the software, though, employees began to learn the software within a few weeks. Because the formal structure of the company recognized their efforts, they were incentivized.

9. Integrate Informal Solutions

But even with the formal elements of a change program in place, informal solutions like the established culture can undermine them if people don’t want to change their behaviors. Formal and informal solutions must work together to encourage team members to go out of their comfort zones.

Take a technology company trying to improve the quality of relationships with customers after focusing on cutting costs.

New procedures were put into place, like training courses for team members and rewards for those who receive positive feedback, but employees didn’t fully embrace the changes until informal measures happened.

When the company asked every team member to live by the new motto of “quality first”, change leaders encouraged every employee to have a personal stake in the change and embrace it into their work styles.

Customers won’t embrace changes in a compact until employees embrace them first, and informal approaches will be the turning point for reluctant team members.

10. Assess and Adapt

Effective leaders will assess and adapt their change management strategy both during the implementation and after the initiative is complete.

Leaders should leave room for some flexibility in their programs so that certain components can be amended to better fit employees’ and customers’ needs.

After a change program is successful, it will be natural to claim victory and move on.

But even a program with great results still has room for improvement. Executives should take time to analyze what worked and what didn’t so future initiatives are even smoother.

Failing to assess a program following its competing will lead to inconsistency in the next program. All organizations will go through multiple large transformations during their life cycles, and previous change efforts should be able to provide insight into the next ones.

The 10 above principles provide a comprehensive guideline for leaders who are dedicated to creating effective change within their organization.

The rest of this article will discuss the necessary components necessary for change management execution, how change management works in the digital age, and why programs fail.

Key Components of Change Management

The 10 principles above are the guidelines to implement a change program. But before the change is introduced to employees, certain elements of the program need to exist already.

Those elements are ready preparation, sponsorship willingness, a structured method, applicable strategy, communication plan, and management training.

Readiness Preparation

Once a set of changes has been agreed upon, top executives need to expect that these changes will not be accepted by team members, right away, and will also not occur as planned. They should sit down and begin planning for contingencies.

Leaders should first consider how employees will receive the change:

  • What challenges are we expecting to face?
  • How big of a change will this be for which groups?
  • Which groups will be affected?
  • How do we expect different groups to react?
  • Which team members could we work with to get more difficult groups on board?

What incentives will encourage individuals to support the change?

Leaders should also think about how they will face setbacks:

  • What are the weaknesses of this plan?
  • What is the riskiest element of our strategy?
  • How will we handle setbacks?
  • What will we say to frustrated team members?
  • Where will we direct complaints or suggestions?
  • How will we modify the change as necessary?

Answering these questions will help leadership decide how ready the organization is to begin.

Sponsorship Willingness

CEOs and other company leaders will play key roles in implementing the change. They need to be prepared for their roles before changes occur.

Team leaders should meet and establish their commitment to the program. Who will be able to handle a larger role? Who will step out and let other leaders take the lead?

Once leaders have established their responsibilities, they should create their own actions plans and roadmap for participation. Certain executives will work closely with one another, and others may work more independently.

The leader of the initiative, likely the CEO, should establish a way for all management officials to communicate with each other as they plan the initiative. Executives need to be all-in before the changes are underway.

Structured Methodology

Depending on the size of the change, a structured methodology will need to exist for leaders to work with their teams.

A structured change methodology will ensure that teams don’t have a “hit or miss” approach when it comes to change. If one team does all the right things and the other misses key steps, it will lead to imbalanced results and friction among team members.

Leaders should establish with each other which parts of the program can be flexible based on the department, and which elements of the change need to be standardized for every employee.

For example, if a change is designed to reduce waste via a new inventory system, leaders need to agree on what steps will be required for all employees. Maybe each leader will oversee mandatory training that needs to be completed by a certain period.

In other areas, leaders could have more flexibility, like choosing different ways for team members to express feedback.

Applicable Strategy

But a methodology shouldn’t be so structured, so it makes it too specific for most departments of the organization. A change management program needs to be applicable company-wide.

The goal of change management shouldn’t be a step-by-step “what to do” guide, but rather to establish a set of core values that guide you on how to approach a variety of situations.

The change tools should be repeatable to achieve similar results, but not one that requires a strict following of every step.

Team members should be allowed to use their judgment on a case-by-case basis to determine which parts of the change methodology will work for each situation.

Team leaders should think of effective change management as a malleable solution that can be molded to different needs and customers. While the core stays the same, it can take on different forms as needed.

Communication Plan

Communication is the central issue of any change management program. How information is delivered could be the difference between a hostile department and an open one.

Leaders should establish a communication plan that has a unique structure for the change program.

Communication plans need to involve planning for company-wide messages and department-specific memos. Plans should include how to reach all members of the company, typically through an email or company portal.

Change program leaders could plan for departments to meet once a week to discuss progress, and then report these findings to upper-level management. On an individual level, team leaders should establish ways for employees to reach out either openly or anonymously.

Management Training

A survey taken by the Society for Human Resource Management revealed that 84% of U.S. workers say that poorly trained managers create the most unnecessary work and stress.

The majority of these individuals say their managers would benefit from more training.

All levels of an organization need to be adequately trained on both their current positions and the additional responsibilities that change initiatives will require. It’s best that they complete this training before any changes are officially rolled out to lower levels.

How Change Management Works in the Digital Age

From small program changes to complete overhauls, it’s more likely than not that your change management program will include digital elements.

For a change management strategy to be successful in the digital era, you’ll have to approach it as you would any other part of your business: with a future-looking mindset that embraces technology.

Consider how change management historically operates. The change was always top-down and took slow and deliberate efforts to achieve.

Change always occurred linearly and was often executed without a test for how well they matched the organization. And training always matched the top-down approach, with lower-level employees acting as the learners and upper-level employees acting as the teachers.

In the digital age, change has become a process that involves all levels of the organization, with information able to be accessed by every team member.

Because access to information is much more open, change has to be accepted by bottom levels in order for it to fully work.

Change can happen much more quickly, and change activities can happen in parallel with one another instead of from the top down.

Most importantly, learning happens on many levels. Peer learning and web-based education are the new way for company members to acquire new skills, rather than requiring leading – perhaps unrelatable – team members to convey information.

To make a change management program successful, executives will need digital leadership skills that include the following:

  • An understanding of the digital market
  • Knowledge of who will be affected by which digital changes
  • Analytic-based decision-making skills
  • Ability to adapt to different employees’ skillsets
  • Leading changes with digital elements
  • Provide feedback in real-time on digital programs

Understand that the digital age requires a flexible approach that caters to multiple learning styles, lifestyles, and work styles.

Change Management Secret: What’s in It for Me?

Even the noblest causes will always have an element of self-interest and self-actualization. Change management program leaders should embrace that everyone has these tendencies and cater to their programs to give employees as much self-satisfaction as possible.

Individual employee motivation is encouraged by appealing to different levels: individual growth, company culture, customer satisfaction, and community impact.

“What’s in It for Me?”

The change program strategists will always start with the smallest level first: what’s in it for the individual? How will single employees be motivated to embrace change?

Here strategists will conduct research into what team members want and where the company may be lacking. For instance, employees may have expressed a desire to pursue online learning opportunities.

One route for an effective change management program would be to integrate these online learning programs into the intended change.

“What’s in It for the Company?”

Next, strategists will leverage individual motivation into a collective goal: caring about the company.

Employees will learn about the benefits of change management to the company, and how that will benefit their work experience.

For instance, introducing a new digital customer service platform will increase retention rates and reduce stress at work.

“What’s in It for the Customer?”

Once employees embrace how their lives will improve by accepting the program, they’ll be open to learning about how their actions will make others’ lives better.

Adding an additional layer of helping others will give workers a deeper sense of purpose – it’s why 96% of people who volunteer say it enriches their lives.

Top executives should explain how customers will benefit when the employees embrace the chance. For example, one benefit to a new digital customer service platform will be the ability for customers to interact at any time, increasing satisfaction and retention rates.

“What’s in It for the Community?”

The highest and most expansive level of motivation is the community. Contributing to the community will give many employees a feeling of self-actualization.

Change program leaders should discuss the clear benefits to the company when the program is successful.

For instance, they could discuss how the company will be to hire more jobs in the community, how product waste will be reduced through better customer communications, or how the company will initiate a charity program with the money saved from the initiative.

Why Change Management Programs Fail

The most difficult roadblocks to change management are not usually the frameworks or plans, but typically the mindset of the people or the psyche of the company.

Here are the top 8 reasons why change management programs fail – most of which have to do with the people involved, rather than the plan itself.

1. Hyprocital Instructions

Commitment from all levels is necessary for change. Otherwise, a rule put into place from top executives that only mid-level and frontline team members have to follow will just become a source of resentment.

Lower-level team members feel as though senior company members are hypocritical, while those top members will feel as if their people have become more hostile.

Remember that employees are perceptive and will pick up on the messages top executives send through their adherence or lack of adherence to their policies.

2. Avoiding the Change

Another common problem in company leadership is approaching change with a “business as usual” mindset. Executives avoid dealing with the change and hope it will go away on its own.

However, this barrier to change will mean that when a leader does try to implement a change management policy, the team will be more resistant to it.

Because they’ll have been used to avoiding changes or dealing with problems, they’ll be reluctant to get on board with this one.

3. Company Politics

The larger the company, the more faction that will exist within it. Even with strong company culture, there will be informal and formal cliques among it that will dictate the social norms.

These groups may make it difficult for a change management program to be effective. Even if everyone agrees on the intended results, the execution of how to reach those results might lead to friction.

Change leadership needs to address the politics of different groups and harness dissenting opinions for change management programs to work. Occasionally, snubbing certain groups or working around individuals may be necessary in order to work past roadblocks.

4. Addressing Symptoms Instead of Solutions

Leadership will often be reluctant to change and would prefer to treat the symptoms of a problem rather than implement a necessary transformation solution. It is always easier to treat the outward symptoms instead of the cause.

But by failing to solve the root problem, a change management program won’t be successful. It may work in the short term, but team members will soon experience the same difficulties as before.

And in some cases, addressing the symptoms maybe even worse than doing nothing at all. Employees may harbor resentment because they feel like executives care more about appearances than their experiences with customers.

5. Using the Wrong Team

A change initiative will require a dedicated group of team members with specific responsibilities.

Company leaders may be reluctant to pull their best players away from their routine to take the lead on a change. They’ll instead fill the change team with misfits or less popular employees.

But doing this will send a negative signal to the rest of the organization. It will show that the change program is not a valuable endeavor of the company.

Instead, leaders should mix well-liked, notable employees with ones who are newer or less sociable. This will create a team that is representative of the whole company.

6. Forgetting the Individuals

Company leaders may be so eager to implement a change in their company that they focus too much on the big picture, forgetting that it’s the individual employee who makes a change management strategy possible.

At the end of the day, a company is the collection of its employees, corporate culture, leaders, and the broader implications of what they do for society.

When a company leader focuses only on what the big changes will look like, without thinking about how those changes will feel for individual employees, there’s a disconnect between the elements of what makes that company a complete unit.

Any change starts with the individual: their motivations, skills, and aspirations. They also need to overcome their fears and doubts.

In order to access these emotions, company leaders must integrate change in a way that matches the culture. They need to establish strong relationships and encourage them among co-workers.

7. Underbudgeting

Leaders may view change management as just one step on a long list of goals on their checklist. To them, initiatives may just be an afterthought and be funded accordingly. Change programs are thus often underfunded, but expected to yield maximum results.

But without funding the change adequately, its impact will be minimal. It will likely fail and leave a negative impression on company officials when a future change program is suggested.

8. Losing Morale

Any transformation is going to involve setbacks. Leaders may get so caught up in their hopes for an initiative that they may not be prepared for when something does go wrong.

They may end up losing morale or showing a lack of faith in the project, both of which will harm the project greatly.

If leaders don’t believe that successful change is a likely outcome, their employees certainly won’t believe it.

And as soon as a momentary setback occurs, they’ll disengage en masse, says a University of Chicago study. The project will surely become a failure.

Leaders need to expect setbacks and treat them as what they are: small obstacles that can be overcome. Keeping a cool head during the moment will lead to changes that stick in the long term.

Implementing Change Management

Change is never easy, but implementing it with the proper change management strategy will transform how an organization operates. Once the culture and team members embrace change, a company can grow to new levels.

Learn more about solving problems within your organization, getting change management support, and growing your business by signing up for an appointment. Fill out our contact form and we’ll be in touch.

The post What Is Change Management? 10 Principles to Be Aware Of first appeared on Fractional COO - Fractional CMO - Kamyar Shah.

How To Maintain Team Cohesion: The Ultimate Guide

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Team cohesion can make or break the workplace – 86% of employees and employers say that lack of collaboration and communication is the cause of workplace failures.

Almost everyone, from company leaders to front-level employees, agrees that team cohesion is one of the most imprint elements of a successful company. Even the best product or most powerful service won’t survive long without a functioning team behind it.

So why is it so hard to achieve and maintain?

While this may be a difficult question to answer, it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for companies to create a team dynamic that is effective and connected.

With the right approach and organization, businesses can become more successful with a better team environment.

The following guide explains the seven steps of creating and maintaining a cohesive team workplace that’s here to stay.

1. Establish a Mission

The first thing business owners should do when looking to build team cohesion is to work with their team on creating a business statement.

Businesses will likely already have an existing mission statement. But if it’s not working, it may be time to create another one that more accurately reflects the values and culture of the company.

If business leaders do want to keep their existing mission statements, they can work on an additional statement designed for team members.

The bottom line is, though, that some statement of purpose should be created with the team. Even businesses with larger teams should find a way to include everyone, whether it’s hosting a conference for the team or having managers work with their employees and send feedback to the CEO.

Include Vision

But what exactly should be in this mission statement? The mission statement should describe what makes working at that company unique. Maybe it’s the employees’ sense of humor or work ethic.

Mission statements should never be focused on making the most money or attracting the largest number of customers. Instead, it should show how a business values its community.

For instance, consider Starbuck’s mission statement: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”

Its mission statement says nothing about coffee or being successful. Instead, it focuses on creativity and building strong relationships with its customers.

When a mission statement talks about values like creativity, connection, and building something meaningful, it creates a vision.

This vision is a way for team members to imagine a future together. Having something to work for that’s not a tangible goal like money or profits will bring teams together during times of stress and remind them what’s important.

Establish Expectations

In order for teams to be effective and execute the team mission, they need to understand how they should be working together. Creating ground rules will be a way to establish expectations that everyone on the team will follow.

For ground rules to be effective, everyone on the team needs to agree to share the responsibilities and follow them.

Ground rules can cover areas ranging from how long meetings should last to the way team members should bring up problems.

For example, consider the area of communication expectations. Ground rules could answer questions like:

  • How should communication go during team meetings?
  • How many people should be in a meeting at a time?
  • How quickly should team members respond to emails?
  • When should email be used instead of text?
  • How should everyone be informed on progress?

A sample set of ground rules could look something like this:

Texts should be used for questions that need to be answered within 24 hours. All other questions should be sent through emails. A weekly email will be sent to team members, updating them on progress.

Discuss the Decision-Making Model

Understanding the decision-making process within a company plays a huge role in how teams function. And even established companies may not have clear guidelines about how decisions are made.

Company leaders should explain their decision-making process and apply it to the team’s ground rules and mission statement. How will this decision-making play a role in enacting the company’s value? How will it affect the expectations for each employee?

For instance, say a new goal is created for all front-level workers of a retail company to reach a new commission goal that’s higher than the last one. Should just the upper-level management have a say in this,  or should the front-line employees have a role in the decision to establish what would be realistic?

Different areas of a company will require different decision-making processes, and these should be clearly established so teams know how they should function.

2. Set the Right Goals

Once the business establishes its mission – whether it’s a company mission or a manifesto for employees – it should use this written guide as a way to set goals.

Setting goals build team cohesion because it gives everyone at the company a common purpo