Employee Engagement is an Outcome, Not an Initiative

Employee Engagement“I just wish my employees cared like I do – or some days even cared just a little bit!  I wished they used their brains and thought through their actions.  I wish they were truly engaged in their work instead of just collecting a paycheck.”

(And now every one of my clients will think I’m writing about them personally – this conversation has played out that often.)

Employee engagement is the dream and passion of many a business leader. For a lucky few it is a realty, while for most it seems a far off fantasy, a mirage in the desert of management life.

There are no shortage of articles and books of how to chase the rainbow. No lack for opinions on how to find the engagement pot of gold.

There’s just one problem.

Most advice on employee engagement is incomplete, misleading, or just down-right wrong.

It’s the Wrong Question

Most advice on employee engagement stops at the question, “How do I achieve excellent employee engagement?”  From there, the discussion invariably changes to initiatives and strategies to take to attempt to improve employee engagement.

There’s just one problem.

Employee engagement, like motivation and so many other people issues in business, is not something you can do anything about directly.  Rather, it is an outcome.  Specifically, it is the result of solid leadership.

So the real question is not “How do I achieve excellent employee engagement?” but rather, “How do I improve my leadership and what impact will that have on employee engagement?

You can’t ignore the real cause, the real basis, Leadership.

Let me take another example, sales.  Let’s pretend your revenues are down and you want to do something about it.  You could decide that you will make more sales calls on your existing customers and new customers and that should increase your revenues.  And you could stop there.  But you’re ignoring one important thing: Marketing.  By spending effort on marketing, you establish the environment into which you sell, and sell more easily.  And your sales should go up.

By spending time on leadership, you establish the environment which encourages employee engagement and motivation, and it’s through these efforts that you see improved employee engagement.

So How to Lead for Employee Engagement?

The beauty about realizing that employee engagement is the result of quality leadership is that the core focus can remain on building exceptional leadership of the business and employee engagement will continue to improve.  There’s no need for specialized initiatives, and in fact, unless an initiative addresses core leadership, it no longer makes sense.

There are core leadership principles to highlight as especially important to employee engagement.  Those include the following:

1) Clearly Communicate Direction

It is no accident that this article is coming right after my three week series on Business Values, Vision Statements, and Mission Statements.  It is absolutely key to creating an engaging environment that employees know how and where they fit and what they are working toward. That especially includes having clarity on these business fundamentals.  These things are so fundamental that many people take them for granted or don’t take them seriously.  Don’t make that mistake. Have them clear. Share the clarity with your people.

2) Flatten External Client Engagement Where Possible

Research shows that employees are more motivated and engaged when they understand their place in the system. One thing you can do as a leader is to flatten that system wherever possible. Let’s use the idea of a manufacturing plant.  Can you think of ways you could humanize the orders?  At Caterpillar’s large engine plant, the name of the customer and where the engine will be going hangs from every engine as it travels through assembly and testing.  It’s not “just an engine.” It’s a customer’s need.

3) Equitable and Salient Rewards

Getting pay, bonuses, and rewards right can feel like more of an art form than a science, but it’s an important one.  There is nothing less engaging for employees than seeing what they perceive as unfair rewards, or being rewarded in ways they don’t care about (e.g. – more money when they’d prefer time off).  Today’s modern assessments can help determine these opportunities. Contact us for more information.

4) Meaningful Feedback

Meaningful feedback means feedback that enables improvement.  Constructive criticism as well as praise.  Environments that foster employee engagement tend to be characterized by leaders who are focused unquestionably on “What can we do better?” without dwelling on “What did we do wrong?”

5) Performance Management & Accountability

Employee engagement happens when leaders lead. People actually want boundaries. They actually like the word accountability.  They don’t simply like it for themselves, they like it for others around them.  They want everyone to be held accountable to promises and find it very demotivating when other employees “get away with things.”  Performance management and accountability levels the playing field so that everyone has a fair work environment.

Achieving Your Employee Engagement Outcome

There is nothing about the items above that is special to employee engagement.  There is nothing there that constitute an employee engagement “campaign.”  These are simply good, solid leadership principles.  There are many more and the more you implement, the stronger your business will be because of it.

The key is to remember that you establish the engaging or disengaging environment and the employee takes care of the rest. You will not win over all employees.

But the primary question is what can you do through leadership to establish as engaging an environment as possible?

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Vision Statement Nirvana in Four Easy Steps

Vision StatementWhether your business is a start-up or you’ve been at it for years, whether by intention or accident, there comes a moment when you long for greater clarity about what it is that you’re striving toward.

There comes a moment when you realize you’re in search of a vision statement – the meaningful embodiment of everything you want your business to become and the benefits you want to see from it.

Getting square on your Business Values is an absolute prerequisite for crafting a successful Vision Statement, so if you haven’t done that, go check out this article before continuing.

The Case for a Clear Vision Statement

In case it’s not self-evident why focusing your efforts around a vision statement is a good thing, let’s take a closer look at that and what a vision statement is.

You do not hire employees simply to fill a role in your company.

You hire employees because their particular presence is required in order to achieve your Vision Statement and fulfill your Mission Statement (which we’ll get to). You hire them because they provide value toward the value your business is trying to provide to you and your customers.

It makes sense, then, that those employees you hire ought to be crystal clear on what the Vision Statement is and how they fit into it.

In their simplest form, the Vision Statement is about what the business is and the value it provides you, where as the Mission Statement is about what the business does and the value it provides the customer.

The Vision Statement, then, is about the business as an entity.  The Vision Statement is about what the business is aiming to become; not necessary where the business is today, but the vision for where the business is headed.  The vision statement isn’t directly about the clients and the value the business provides, but about the business itself, what it is and what it will be  (as opposed to the Mission, which is about the value the business provides).

To get even clearer on what the vision statement is about, here’s a a good compare and contrast between the vision statement and the mission statement:

The Vision Statement is:

  • Directional vs Definitional – It gives the business a bearing, staking the ground with an industry to operate from, a customer to serve, and an offering to go to market with.
  • Future-Focused vs. Here-and-Now – It describes what the business is striving to become in the future in deep detail.
  • You-focused vs. Customer-focused – The Vision Statement is about your business and the results you want to see from it.  While the customer will never be ignored in the process, your goals come first.
  • Aspirational vs. Rooted – The Vision Statement should aim big for the future.  Put it this way: if you  just aim to “keep the doors open” and miss, you’re out of business.  Aim higher.  Leaders who aim for a sound, substantial vision put better building blocks in place.  And if they miss, they’ve got the power to rebound.

How We Lose Our Way

It’s remarkably easy to drift away from the clarity of a well-formed vision statement. Here are the most common ways I see it happen:

  • Never really start with a vision statement to begin with.
    I’m never surprised by the size of business I find that has more of a vision cloud than a vision statement – a loosely collected fog of ideas of what the business should be rather than a crisp set of definitions regarding what the business will be. It’s just easier that way. We’re afraid of being wrong, or looking foolish. Afraid of putting down on paper impossible things.A vision statement provides needed definition. If you’re afraid your vision statement doesn’t ring true or isn’t achievable, usually this means you haven’t defined it with respect to your own values and it does not captivate you. Simply try again until it rings true.
  • Outgrow the old vision statement.
    In the best of cases, we’ve taken the time to define a vision statement. And then time goes by. The business changes. Opportunities come and go. Technology changes. Things that are possible now weren’t even dreamt of when we crafted the vision statement. We’ve literally outgrown it.That’s why it’s important to not only revisit the vision statement at least once a year, but to incorporate it into daily management; to talk about it, set goals from it, and achieve those goals.
  • Time Suckers.
    Steven Covey calls these things “urgent but not important.” I call them time suckers because they suck the time from the day and the life from your soul. These are all the must-do tasks that keep you occupied in a heads-down fashion, unable to look to the future and see if you’re still on course for anything that matters. It’s not unusual to go for months or years chained to time suckers, but the result is usually burn-out, questioning the meaning of your efforts.

Maintaining vision takes constant vigilance to maintain first focus on things that build ultimate value in your business.

The Secret to Crafting Clear Vision

What Doesn’t Work

The usual advice for writing your vision statement typically says, “Picture what you want your business to be like five years from now and describe it in detail.” For very few people – very few – that works well. If that includes you, great. For most of us, that fails miserably because we have no connection of our own to “five years from now.” We don’t value “five years” in a meaningful way, and it’s hard to picture it.

Instead, we’re going to go through four steps that do work and that you can relate to.

The Four Steps to Crafting a Vision Statement

1) First, Each Owner Works Independently

It’s quite typical for the owners to have different opinions on what the business is, or what value it should produce. This may be a simple difference in perspective, or it may be because the owners are in different life positions with regard to the business. For example, one desires to get out and retire, while the rest remain focused on growth.

These perspectives are not necessarily at odds with one another, they’re simply different perspectives. As such, they’re best explored and developed independently. For this reason, I always ask my owners to initially work alone when doing their vision statement pre-work.

2) Identify a Reach Goal Based on What You Value

A critical step in crafting any vision statement is to establish a “reach goal” – a stretch goal that envisions the business well beyond where it is today. As I’ve already said, the typical but ineffective way to do this is to is to pick a time in the future and imagine the business at that time.

There’s a much better way, and it begins with your Business Values.

Pick the top one or two business values that matter most to you and establish your reach goal in those terms.

For example, say that your #1 business value was Reward. Then in that case, think in money terms.  If you’re a $10M business, what would it look like to be a $20M or even a $30M business. Use that as your guide as you follow the rest of the steps an envision your company.

Perhaps the #1 value of your organization is Service, whether for-profit or non-profit. Then if you currently reach 5,000 clients, what would it look like to reach 10,000 or even 15,000 clients?

Putting your reach goal in these terms – your business values – makes the goal much more meaningful to you personally. It makes it real and tangible, and easier to imagine the realities that would have to be brought about in order to bring about this vision.

So your output for this step toward crafting your vision statement should be a clear reach goal that stretches the imagination of your organization, but which does so using the language of your business values.

3) Answer Simple Questions

No matter what business value you started with, and no matter what reach goal you set, other things must come true in order to fulfill that vision.

In this step, I simply want to ask you several questions. Your job is to answer those questions within the context of what would be required in order to make your reach goal come true. Don’t answer about your business today. Answer what must happen to achieve the reach goal.

  1. What business is the business in?
  2. You will have annual revenues of: ?
    Through what product lines? Distributed according to what %?
  3. You will have annual profits of: ?
    Through what product lines? Distributed according to what %?
  4. Do you get paid for providing a commodity, providing solutions and consultation, or both?
  5. Is your business based on one-time, recurring, or continuity (fully-automatic recurring) transactions?
  6. Whom do you serve? Consumers? Businesses? Government? Which is best, and why?
  7. Where will the business be located? Headquarters? Other locations? Regional? National? International?
  8. How many FTE employees will the company have?
  9. Provide the most detailed description you can of your Perfect Client for your services. Include at minimum:
    Their demographics – Age, gender, location, buying power, title, typical company profile, etc.
    Their needs/issues – What they worry about, why they switch vendors, what makes them angry, etc.
    Their psychographics – Are they quick/slow to decide, assertive/passive, outgoing/reserved, steady/hectic, etc.
    Their profitability – What is the perfect client worth to you, and why. What aspects make them good financial risk.
  10. What will your personal gain be?
  11. What will your organization be known for?
  12. What is the over-arching purpose of the organization?
  13. What accomplishments, achievements, or awards will you have attained?
  14. How will your customers regard you, think about you, or speak of you to others?
  15. To what are you committed?

Pay particular attention to these last five questions. Many people find them challenging, but they can also be the most rewarding.

4) Combine Your Work and Craft a Statement

By this point, when you look at the answers you’ve written, certain words or phrases should start to jump off the page. Trust me, you’ll know them when you see them. They ring more true. They resonate with you. They inspire you and make you want to strive to attain them. Underline them, circle them, do something to call your attention to them.

Get the owners together and review those underlined, circled, and bold-faced words. Which ones appear again and again? Which stimulate someone to have a good thought that clarifies things just that much more? Which most clearly embody what the business is, what it delivers, and why?

The goal here is to start drawing down to commonalities that inspire. Your purpose is to identify those words that can be strung together to make it clear to your staff and the world what it is that you do.

While there is no one “template” for a great vision statement, I look for two key things in a good vision statement to know the organization has their sights set high:

  1. A statement of what the organization is, put in terms of the value it provides.
    Don’t simply say you’re a software company, or a concrete contractor, or something else that I could easily find out from the phonebook with zero help from you. Tell me how you being a software company provides value.
  2. An indication of what the organization wants to achieve.
    Given the value you provide, what is your vision for what your organization will achieve?  Why does it matter?
  3. Bonus – tell me how.
    If you’ve got the inclination and the room to include it while still keeping the vision short, some people like to say a brief word about how they will achieve their vision. This may mean talking about your key values, or some key strategy you may take.

Perhaps the best way to get a feel for vision statements is to take a look at an excellent example, like this one from a group I’ve worked with:

The Greater Woodinville Chamber of Commerce
is an essential community asset
dedicated to a vibrant and growing
business environment
in partnership with the larger community.

Notice all the elements I talked about are there. They didn’t give a boring phone book definition of “we’re a chamber of commerce.” No! They said we’re “an essential community asset.” Now that’s vision and commands a level of action. The rest of the statement outlines what the goal to be achieved is: a vibrant and growing business environment. And the statement even includes mention of a key strategy through which the goals will be attained: through strategies.

Pattern your vision statement after this and you’ll be ahead of the game.

Living Your Vision Statement

Now that you’ve got it, how do you make the most of your vision statement? Here is what I have found to work best:

  1. Save your pre-work. Refer to it often.
    While the vision statement is catchy and inspirational, the pre-work you did when you were answering the questions is where a lot of gold is. For instance, you’re not going to put your profit goals in your vision statement, but staying firmly in touch with those long-term profit goals is absolutely critical. For this reason, I view this “vision story” to be every bit as important as the vision statement and keep the two constantly in the minds of the owners I work with. Do the same with yourself.
  2. Set goals based on your vision statement and vision story.
    Hopefully, revisiting your vision is happening as a part of a broader effort of strategic planning. If so, use both your vision statement and your vision story as a starting point for goal setting.
  3. Share your vision broadly
    Make certain to share your vision statement with your employees. Help them to understand how they fit in and what the benefits are to them of helping fulfill the vision. But don’t be bashful – share it also with your customers and even your suppliers. Your customers in particular, if they are the right customers for you, will get excited that they are doing business with the right company for them.
  4. Measure others by your vision
    Live and die by your vision statement; it won’t simply happen, you must make it happen. Ruthlessly measure others by your vision. If employees cannot ascribe to fulfilling the vision statement, they are working for the wrong company. If suppliers cannot meet the tolerances your vision statement demands, they must change or you must move on. You are either taking active steps to move toward your vision, or you are sliding away from it. Get moving.

When you establish a clear vision statement, communicate it broadly, and use it as a guide for your goals and actions, you’ll be amazed at the level of clarity you’re able to both attain and maintain.

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Break All the Rules: Business Lessons from MasterChef

MasterChefI have to admit I have this love/hate, moth-to-the flame relationship with reality TV: I resent that it’s the nearly the only thing made any more, and yet I keep getting drawn back in.

But what really fascinates me is when, like last night, an episode of MasterChef can serve as an advertisement for the importance of market research.

If you didn’t see it, the final challenge of the night pitted Red Team vs. Blue Team in true Gordon Ramsay style to cook the best hamburger for hungry truckers.  The truckers determined the winning team by voting in true trucker style – by pulling a would-be air horn cord rigged to a counter.

But the really interesting part was what happened in each of the teams.

Red Team began as a complete disaster, producing a product that frankly never made it to market.  Their burgers wouldn’t cook, wouldn’t stay together, and couldn’t even make it onto a bun let alone be eaten.

Blue Team, by contrast, had their plans perfected into a tried-and-true recipe and produced a consistent product right out of the gate.

Then the fun began.

Red Team, under the emerging leadership of Sharone, broke all the rules.  Actually, that’s not quite right.  They realized the rules Blue Team was apparently playing by weren’t actually rules at all.

Red Team didn’t just get their act together, they changed their recipe. And when that worked, they made it better. And when things were going great, they made it better still.  (How do you make a trucker burger great?  Dip it in bacon grease and double the size.  Yum.)

While Blue Team, under the emerging “leadership” of Jake stood still and stuck to their product, Red Team 1) Found out what their customers liked about their products, 2) Made it better, and 3) Introduced new features to make it better still.

Call it artificial constraints.  Call it stubbornness.  Blue Team got stuck in it.  Red Team broke free, reinvented themselves multiple times within the span of one meal service, and came back to win.

My favorite moment: Even after they lost, Jake of the Blue Team said, “We had the better hamburger.”  If only I a dollar for every business owner who decided what their customers want without consulting them and gone out of business with their convictions intact.

What assumptions do you make about your customers and their desires?  How do you know those assumptions are fact-based?

Most importantly, what steps can you take right now to begin separating fact from fiction?

Six Ways to Improve Signal-to-Noise with Roundtables

Board RoomOur thirst for information is far outpacing our growth in need for money.

If you’ve had business success, you already know access to information is critical, so this may not surprise you.

But according to U.C. San Diego’s ongoing “How Much Information?” study, the average American’s daily consumption of data – things like phone calls, emails, videos, television shows, tweets, songs, even books, magazines, papers and the like – has ballooned to more than 34 gigabytes per day, up from a still staggering 10 gigabytes per day in 1980, just 30 years earlier.

That’s an annual growth rate of about 5.4% in the information we consume in order to try and keep up.  Compare that with monetary measure of keeping up, inflation, which as of this writing stands at just 1.05% and just 3.39% for roughly the last hundred years.

Information is king.

(Oh, by the way: the U.C. San Diego study doesn’t even include data you consume while at work, so the real tally is far higher.)

There is zero doubt that we are information ravenous and trending toward gleefully gluttonous.

Despite our digital selves, the truth remains that it’s not simply “more information” that’s important for creating success.  Endless information quickly leads many leaders to impasse, inaction, and overwhelm.  When facing the challenges of lagging sales, tapped credit lines, creditors calling, and clueless employees asking for raises, an owner doesn’t need a 13th off-base idea from a self-proclaimed internet guru. He needs real advice from real people who have faced his situation before.

It’s “right information” that counts.  If anything, our digital bounty makes more obvious the need for critical thinking and for the savvy business leader to have tools to lift signal from noise.

Among the best “signal detection” tools for those desiring high performance are executive roundtables.  Also sometimes known as peer groups or mastermind groups, some roundtables may be enhanced by the power of the internet, but here are at least six excellent reasons for you to unplug and work on your business.

Community of Business Peers

The New York Herald Tribune said that “doing business without marketing is like winking at a girl in the dark” – not very effective.  Similarly, leading from isolation is like recommissioning Alcatraz in your mind.

Imagine instead a group of 8-12 dedicated professionals at your same level of leadership, convening every month to focus on you.  Unlike a number of high quality social clubs focused on networking or contributing to society, this group is focused specifically on helping you identify and seize business opportunities and overcome challenges.

Never again feeling alone in business is an important benefit of roundtables, but most members are gratified by how much they are able to bring their own expertise to bear on the businesses of others.  This cooperation creates a community of leaders who are committed to achieving monthly gains in performance and helping each other achieve the same.

Designated Time for Improvement

If you’ve experienced it, there is little arguing with the power of setting aside dedicated time for improvement and growth.

That’s why unplugging is so important.

I’m not talking about time where improvement is the primary among many focal activities (aka distractions).  I mean time where improvement is the only mission and the unitary purpose.

Feel free to call me out: am I the only one who checks email, does paperwork, or even takes the occasional call during webinars?  There is no substitute for the focus imposed through scheduled blocks of invested time backed by the power of social norms.

Imagine the advancements possible if no less than once a month you took dedicated time to focus on your business.  Invest your time through your engagement in a quality roundtable and your business will profit.

System for Continuous Improvement

Some of my corporate consulting clients have looked at me with healthy confusion when I have suggested that they also seek out coaching in the form of a roundtable… even from one of my competitors.

Good roundtables are based on a system of thinking about the health of a business.  Regardless of a theme, the very best develop a focus on corporate leadership, foster alignment of people and planning, enforce performance management concepts (more later), and build personal and professional skills.

These facets align perfectly with my own corporate consulting and coaching, so I urge my clients to seek out roundtables.  Increased thinking about how to achieve success reinforces my own work and speeds my client’s success.

Problem Solving

A key component of overcoming “Alcatraz of the Mind” – and one of the most powerful aspects of roundtables – happens when members engage in problem solving with each other.

Look for a roundtable format that offers you the chance to voice a current challenge in your business and enlist the support of your peers in solving it.  These interactions have led to some great moments of resource sharing, solution creation, and even the occasional business opportunities.

Learning and Professional Development

Earlier I mentioned continuous improvement, and learning and professional development is central to that.

My preference is for monthly discussion of a topic of need or interest to the group.  For example, finding and winning more business, or hiring and retaining key employees are two popular topics with most groups.

The cornerstone is that the topics are driven by the needs of the group and that they stimulate informative, lively discussions that equip the members with immediately applicable information.

Coaching and Accountability

It’s easy to say we’re going to accomplish something… and then not actually get it done, as long as nobody is looking. That gets tougher when a dozen peers are staring back at you every month with just one question: “Did you make it happen?”  This alone is priceless for many.

Combine that with one-on-one coaching from a professional facilitator.  These monthly sessions are designed to be more focused on the individual needs of your company to guide you through trouble spots.

Do note that not all roundtables feature one-on-one coaching, so be sure to choose according to your preference.

Finding Your Group

Remember that executive roundtables are built on trust as well as degree of match, so it may take a few tries to find the right fit for you.  You should always seek a group with businesses your approximate size, and should never enter a group with your competitors.

For groups that are already formed, expect to interview and be interviewed by both the facilitator and the group at large, who will vote on your membership.  For groups still forming, the facilitator will take pains to carefully match members.

For more information or to join a group that matches your needs, contact Dustin Walling Associates.

When you invest in the right executive roundtable, your signal-to-noise ratio will go up, and your profitability should follow suit.

How to Grow Your Business

GrowthWe’re drawing closer to fall which for my business tends to be a busy time – a time of renewal as business owners and managers get back from summer vacations… and begin looking forward to Christmas vacation.

I really got stuck on the idea of touching the pulse of as many savvy people as I could to really find out what the top issues are right now.

So last week, I did something that seemed logical at the time – I asked the folks on my list a very simple question:

What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing right now in growing your business?

Responses have been coming a *wee bit* more steadily than planned.  There are definitely some common themes, and I’ve really enjoyed the chats and email conversations I’ve had, but it’s tough keeping up.

So I’m doing the only logical thing – I’m asking for your help.

Below, I’ve paraphrased some of the responses I’ve gotten so far, and even combined some.  All names have been removed (to protect the innocent!) and the stories have been changed a bit to mask identities.  But the concepts are the same.

***Yes, I have left company names out; in some cases I have materially changed facts (e.g. line of business) to protect identities.  The concepts, I assure you, are still the same.

What I’d like from you:

  1. Read through the responses.
  2. Find one that you know how to solve, or for which you have a helpful suggestion.
  3. Leave a comment with your answer. (Remember, you can post under an anonymous “name.”)
  4. If your response is on this list, check back here for what people suggested.

Here are the top themes and issues people reported as challenges when trying to grow their business right now:

How to Find and Win Clients

Diversify or Die
As an ad agency, we’ve had some solid accounts in a few good markets for several years now.  Frankly, some of our big name clients have been dumb and gone under these last few years.  We DON’T want to follow their lead.  We have to break into new markets.  Two markets in particular we’re looking at are 1) game companies, and 2) clean tech companies.  We have a lot of related experience that maps well. But how can we best communicate that and how do we best approach and position in these two markets?
– Ad Agency
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Too Affordable for our Own Good
Frankly, it often turns out that we’re quite a bit more affordable than our competition – and because of that we struggle!  When buyers find out we can accomplish the same thing for so much less than the competition, they lose confidence instead of getting excited.  We’re finding it challenging to find buyers who are cost-conscious and in search of innovation in a sea of buyers looking for tried-and-true.  How do we profile and prospect for the innovator?
– CleanTech Public Utility Consulting Firm
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They’re There, They Nibble, They Don’t Bite
We’re recognized experts in our specialized niche market.  Sure, the economy is down, but we’re still seeing lots of opportunity in our market place.  The problem is nobody is taking advantage of it.  Nobody is going after work!  So it’s hard to find people who actually need our services rather than just “kick our tires.”  How do we find, qualify, and land ready-to-buy leads into clients?
– Construction Management Consultants
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Diversify or Die #2
We sell heavy equipment to construction companies.  Construction companies… are not buying.  We need to sell to someone other than construction companies.  Pretty simple.  Other than there are a limited number of non-construction buyers and most of their budgets have been downsized, too.  We’re already much more focused on service, overhauls, parts, and the like.  But we’re all ears.
– Heavy Equipment Dealer
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Winning A Bid or Two
Most of the bids coming in on construction projects these days are straight out of Disney – complete fairy tales.  On the one hand, you’ve got guys cheating the system by designating everybody an owner of the company so they don’t have to pay certain fees, taxes, and prevailing wages.  On the other hand, you’ve got people returning bids below *cost.*  I haven’t figured out a way to win a bid at break even, let alone a profit.  Thoughts?
– Plumbing Contractor
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Cash Flow is King
Don’t get me wrong – we love big projects.  But all the general contractors we do work for have stretched their payment terms out so long that it’s not practical to be in business with just them as clients – and they don’t seem to understand that, or care.  We need faster cash.  We either need from the general contractors, or we need it from somewhere else.  For the moment, we’ve taken to focusing a good amount of effort on growing our service line back up because it provides same-day payment.  Any thoughts on speeding up the generals, or cash in general?
– Electrical Contractor
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How to Survive on Fewer Resources

Do More With Less
Our clients have no budget for anything but the basics.  That means we need less staff.  But that means service sometimes suffers… putting us at risk of losing clients.  Ouch.  The questions are 1) how to accomplish everything at high quality with fewer resources, and 2) how to develop new business when people are pinching pennies?
– Professional Service Firm
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Striking a Balance With Resources
As technical consultants, we live on a teeter-totter. Either we have too many people and too little work, or we win a contract and we’re scrambling to find people.  It never feels comfortable.  To complicate things, we deliver best-of-breed results, so we’re not big fans of bringing in short term contractors to fill gaps due to the quality of work we’ve received.  So what are we supposed to do?
– Technical Consultants
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Blind Resource Cuts
Our company implemented across the board departmental cuts.  That means when engineering has the same workload but less people, the only resource we can use to make up the gap is technology.  But IT was given an across the board cut, too.  So they don’t have any resources to deliver what we need.  So now nobody can get their job accomplished.  People are overloaded.  Profit falls.  Morale drops.  People leave.  How do we convince somebody to stop managing this place like a Dilbert cartoon?
– Fortune 50 Manufacturing Company
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No Credit = No Sale
Our customers don’t have any money or credit to purchase from us, and we can’t get any credit to extend favorable terms or expand into new areas even if we wanted to.  All that means sluggish sales and makes it hard to pay off the lines we do have.  What can we do when it seems credit is the issue?
– Advertising Agency
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How to Do Marketing

Nobody Understands What We Do
We’ve created innovations in eCommerce and Fair Trade that are so revolutionary that they’re hard to put into words.  We’ve put a great deal of effort into trying to communicate clearly about our capabilities, innovations, and what our platform can do. But it seems that we still struggle to explain them simply in a way that people understand and care about.  As a result, it remains tough to find start-up funding.  How do we crack this nut?
 – eCommerce Start-up
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I’m trying to reinvent our message to get back in front of clients that think they already know us.  There’s more that we can do for them.  I’m trying to create campaigns complete with calls, emails, postcards, webinars – you name it – not only to capture new customers but to wake up established ones, too.  How can I get going in a unified way?
– Non-Profit Advocacy Group
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Internet Marketing
I have inspirational art targeted at coaches, consultants, speakers, and bloggers.  Whatever emotion you’re trying to elicit, I’ve got the perfect piece of art, paired with the perfect quote.  Now what I’m trying to do is figure out the easiest and best way to run an eCommerce Marketing test to market my work.  How do I get started?
– Artist
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How to Do Leadership

Getting Unstuck
Knowing where and how to grow, and how to start.  Knowing that I can do it.  Just simply getting unstuck.
– Professional Services Firm
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Finding Time to Delegate
The manager knows he’s spread too thin and needs to delegate more and “do” less, but he doesn’t seem to find the time.  As a result, we two senior leaders aren’t taking an active roll.  This is all made worse by the addition of two new hires that just slow things down, and a remodeling project that slow it down more.  How can we get things moving again?
– Security Contractor
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