MEDIA: The Diversity Files

I was recently interviewed by CBC News Network Radio regarding a story about an organization devoted to the advancement of women in the workplace having selected a man as the Chair of their advisory board. Although I’ve never been one to point to my gender as impacting my career progress, it served as a reminder of what an important issue this is.  I’m taking the opportunity to discuss this topic in a new blog segment, The Diversity Files.

Having women in leadership positions provides a tremendous role model opportunity, in terms of what can be achieved in the business world.  I was fortunate to grow up in an environment where I believed that anything was possible, in terms of the career that I could have.  It was not until I was much older that I appreciated the fact that not all girls (and boys, for that matter) have this experience.  There are also many points in a person’s career where discouragement could set in; being passed over for an advancement opportunity or pay raise, encountering difficult co-workers, or the boss who doesn’t support your efforts (or, perhaps, has the audacity to take credit for your work!).  These moments can call into question if it’s worth the effort, if that lifelong goal is really achievable.

It’s no secret that, even in 2017, women are still underrepresented in a number of senior level roles, including that of business owner, the executive ranks, and on governance Boards.  In too many cases, women are so badly underrepresented, it is difficult, if not impossible, to explain.

Studies have found that companies who employ more women in the C-Suite are more profitable, and those who have women on their Boards generate better performance at the governance level.  Since strong financial results and better corporate performance are integral to building shareholder wealth, it begs the question: why are there not more women in the senior ranks of so many companies?  Why?  Based on these findings alone, it doesn’t add up, not to mention what it means on a human level; the very thought that one being is somehow lesser than another.

This reality points to the business world itself.  Could there be something systemic that makes it less likely for women to progress to senior levels?  Unlocking the code to resolve this problem isn’t a casual matter; rather, it is integral to driving better results and fostering inclusion.  It is also simply the right thing to do.

It is not as if there is a lack of qualified women, educated in business and in the corporate world, to fill these roles.  Solutions lie in more women pursuing senior level positions, being supported when they do, as well as given their fair amount of the opportunity; they have earned it!  Women, without question, have the ability to perform well in senior roles, and doing so just doesn’t drive results; it represents a powerful opportunity to set an example for the next generation.  Heaven knows, they are watching.

NEWS: Executive Business Builder Program Now Available!

As the lead instructor, I’m pleased to announce that the Executive Business Builder Program is now available!

This program is designed to help business leaders build a future-ready company, including building value and best practices, through courses, mentorship, and access to a powerful network of inspirational, like-minded people.  Learn practical strategies for building a company that can generate solid performance and be positioned for transfer to someone else in the future.  Value doesn’t just happen, and leaders need to take tangible steps to enhance their company.

The first course, Strategic Business Planning, is already available, and additional courses are already in development.  Don’t miss out on this opportunity to move from business leader to business builder!

When Leaders Get it Wrong

As a business advisor, I’m always amazed by leaders who don’t act in the best interest of their own company.  It’s something that happens more frequently that one would expect, and examples of this non-productive behavior include:

  • Ignoring obvious problems
  • Hiring people who don’t have the skills and ability to do the job
  • Needing to be the “smartest person in the room”
  • Not being receptive to advice that could help them to be more successful

And the list goes on.  From my perspective, the most bizarre of these are the last two on the list.  Both tend to be related to ego and insecurity issues that end up taking precedence over the company at hand.  People who exhibit these behaviors miss the opportunity to build a better company, which, in turn, would reflect well on the leader.  A complete disconnect!

Consider the following alternatives, both of which lead to better outcomes:

  • Surrounding yourself with the smartest, most competent people is one of the best things that a leader can do.  Not only does this significantly raise the likelihood that a company will perform better (to the benefit of all involved), but it also provides a powerful opportunity for a transfer of knowledge.  A collaborative learning environment strengthens the senior team, as well as the leader.  In my own experience, the smartest leaders I have known have never been afraid to say “I don’t understand it”, while taking steps to do so.  Why is this important?  Because even the smartest, most accomplished people know that there is always more to learn, and they are never diminished by saying so (in fact, it makes them better leaders).
  • Experienced advisors bring a wealth of knowledge that can improve almost any situation.  Why would a leader not be receptive to such a powerful opportunity?  Not recognizing a good idea when they see it?  Ego?  Insecurity?  Thinking that the issue has already been resolved (when it hasn’t)?  Poor judgement?!  Whatever the reason, this lack of receptiveness will eventually catch up with the company, often at the worst of times.  Investors and financial partners screen for this tendency, and those who aren’t receptive to advice often don’t end up on the financing list.

I’ve long since had a theory that there are lots of business leaders who will opt out of what is in their own best interest, as well as in the best interest of their company.  Ironically, these people are the ones who tend to need the most help, not the least, and they might just have to learn this lesson the hard way.

NEWS: Strategic Business Planning Course Now Available!

I’m pleased to announce the launch of my new Strategic Business Planning Course, the first course in the new Executive Business Builder Program at The Knowledge Bureau.

It might be news to a lot of CEO’s and entrepreneurs that most business plans are not prepared very well.  Although a company’s management might find the plan useful, they tend to fall well short of what external parties, such as potential financial partners, require in order to make a financing or investment decision.  This course provides sound business planning guidelines for both internal and external use, putting leaders in a better position to pursue the necessary capital to support the next level of growth.

Getting it right involves developing a thorough and complete business model, strategy, and plan (including a financial forecast), as well as preparing to make the approach to potential financial partners.  Gain insight into a range of important areas, from the perspective of a former investor, including:

  • The key sections of a business plan and what should be included
  • What to consider when building a business model
  • How to identify and select a target market(s)
  • How to select and position products and services
  • Guidelines for developing a marketing strategy
  • Developing an organizational structure, including identifying key roles
  • Guidelines for preparing a financial forecast, including assumptions
  • The perspective of external parties, such as financial partners
  • Guidelines for approaching financial partners

Details and registration are available here.  Stay tuned for additional courses in the Executive Business Builder Program!

EVENTS: Winnipeg Franchise Expo

Join me at the Winnipeg Franchise Expo on Saturday, March 25th for Don’t Forget the Numbers: What Non-Financial Leaders Need to Know

Many companies are led by people with strong technical or service backgrounds and limited finance knowledge; this can diminish the results that leaders work so hard to generate, such as financing, growth, and profitability.  There are many financial literacy resources available on a personal level; however, the focus on business is really just emerging.  Unlike traditional accounting education that is too complex or difficult to implement, this seminar brings a plain language approach to accounting and financial management.  Focusing on the key areas that leaders need to understand, topics include how accounting “works”, financial statements, improving results, budgeting, forecasting, cash flow, and accounting roles and qualifications.  Session participants will learn:

  • How the accounting function “works”, in simple terms, as well as practical approaches that can be used to improve financial performance
  • Tips for identifying the right team members, by understanding the various roles and qualifications in an accounting department
  • Tips for avoiding the costly mistakes that leaders make, when it comes to seeking financing and capital, due to a lack of financial knowledge.

Details and registration are located here

Getting Started: Preparing for the world of entrepreneurial adventure (Finale)

Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

Over the course of this series, we’ve considered a number of skill areas that are helpful to companies in the startup stage of development.  Whether they realize it or not (and many will not), startup companies need much more than technical skills and enthusiasm to build a business that will grow and prosper over the long term.  Some of the skill areas that we’ve identified include opportunity-based thinking, risk management, and the ability to handle and overcome rejection.

For those who are keen to find a young venture and start contributing, it often takes much more than skills and enthusiasm (sound familiar?) in order to find the right fit.  Startup companies can flash and burn like a shooting star in the night sky, and it can be difficult to identify which way a situation is trending until you’re on the way down.  Perspective is critical, and in order to ensure that you’re investing your valuable skills into the right situation, it’s important to understand some of the cold realities about start up companies.

  • Most will fail: Bottom line, the vast majority of startup companies won’t survive, ranging from quick failure to becoming stagnant and fading away over time.  Don’t be fooled by those who achieve quick notoriety or attention, as many a startup who graced the pages of magazines or TV screens went on to subsequently fail.
  • They consume without apology: Like a young child that relies on adults to feed, clothe, and keep them out of harm’s way, startup companies are all about consumption.  They can require (or ineffectively use) an abundance of resources, including human, financial, and time.  If you’re not careful, a startup company can consume your time and energy around the clock.
  • They often don’t know what they need: Many entrepreneurs are new to both their venture and running a business and are typically not in a good position to understand what they need in order to move forward. This is why so many advisors are able to earn a living (for those who seek help) and also why so many startup companies fail (for those who don’t).  The category that the startup  you join falls into can impact your future in a big way.
  • The work isn’t glamorous: Building anything is a “hands on”, trial and error, messy business.  Whatever the roles in a particular startup company might be, far more is required in order to keep moving forward.  Recognize that joining a young company means performing lots of less than glamorous tasks, and if you’re not willing to get your hands dirty (literally), you will likely be happier doing something else.
  • Things can change really, really quickly: Young, emerging companies require agility, in order to chase opportunities, stay ahead of market trends, and make modifications in order to get closer to customers.  What the focus is one week can quickly change, requiring the team to quickly adjust, adapt, and move forward.  Surviving in this type of environment requires comfort with constant change, as well as the ability to work within it.
  • It happens in real time: For all the planning that needs to be done in order to develop and move a venture forward, managing the business is live, not a dress rehearsal.  Teams are often small and they rely on individuals to have the ability to determine what is required and take action; there are no layers of checks and balances here.  Although this might sound exhilarating to some, the reality is that startup companies face and endure risk every single day.

If this doesn’t sound like an environment for the faint of heart, that’s because it isn’t.   Having said that, the rewards are many for those who are up for the task.  Like the childhood fairy tale, you will likely have to kiss a lot of frogs until you find a prince (or princess!); that right startup opportunity.  If you recognize that this is what’s required in order to get started, the focus can be on the journey to find “the one”, as opposed to being on the setbacks that emerge along the way.

Getting Started: Preparing for the world of entrepreneurial adventure (Say Yes!)

Ice splashing in cup of water

Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

It’s been said that some people see the glass as half empty, while others see it as half full.  Some people don’t even see the glass, much less believe that it actually exists!  Related to this idea are people in the business world who assume the role of naysayer; nothing is good enough, no idea will work, the road ahead is a minefield of challenges and despair.  This is perspective that the last thing that a startup business (or any company, for that matter) needs.

People who hold this “no glass” perspective are focused more on why things won’t work instead of why they will.  While it’s true that startup companies, rich with new ideas and ways of doing things, might face more challenges than the average business, it doesn’t mean that that success can’t happen.  It can, does, and there are startup companies out there who find success every single day.  The key is bringing the right perspective to “get to yes”, and in doing so, make the world your oyster.  Sounds a lot more interesting than doom and gloom, right?

Why it Matters

Since there is no shortage of people who can tell you why things won’t work, those who see otherwise are of real value.  What’s more, people who can find practical ways to advance an initiative or resolve a problem are extremely valuable.  Any seasoned executive, who’s been there and done that, recognizes just how true this “getting to yes” skill set is.

Think about the last time you were in a situation where good, or at least, interesting ideas were put on the table, only to be quickly shut down by others.  What could have been the outcome if even one of those ideas had been further investigated to find a workable solution?  Even more compelling is a situation where you see a competitor move forward with an idea that you had considered, but didn’t invest the time to make something of it.  Your competitor ended up with money in the bank, while all you were left with was a missed opportunity.

Get Started

Startup companies need people who can apply creativity, ingenuity, and a positive attitude to make things happen.  Seeing the glass as excitingly half full takes practice, something that can change your mindset over time.  Getting started is as easy as adding these approaches to your to do list:

  • Let every new idea have a life: Make it an unspoken rule that any idea that can be clearly articulated has a life; even 10 minutes of time will do.  Talk about it, consider who could utilize the outcome, what success would look like.  Keep track of the concept, so that you can rank it in priority in rational terms, as compared to other things that could be pursued.  If you can’t make this change in your current workplace, try doing so on a personal level.
  • Practice seeing the other side: Every good debater knows that there is more than one side to any situation, and solely focusing on the position of personal choice won’t advance the argument.  Have an opinion, but take the time to thoroughly understand alternative viewpoints, as this can be valuable to finding solutions to move forward.
  • Take on a project: In situations where others dump an idea, consider exploring it a bit further on your own.  You might be surprised what you find, resulting in the opportunity to take a more fully developed concept forward at a later date.  Don’t be surprised if others are impressed by what you’ve been able to achieve.
  • Learn how others get it done: Successful entrepreneurs and executives are skilled in finding ways to get things done, as they understand how valuable it is to be able to do so. Work closely with them to learn what they know; it will be some of the best experience you ever receive.

In a world that so many see as stacked against them, you can set yourself apart by shedding light where they see nothing but grey.  Even better, once you have some examples of initiatives that have been successfully advanced, despite the odds, others will begin to take notice.  “Yes” is the word, indeed.

Getting Started: Preparing for the world of entrepreneurial adventure (Opportunity-Based Thinking)

ThinkstockPhotos-82186105

Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

One of the fundamental ways that a startup company can find success is by focusing on opportunities.  This could include new ways of doing things, a better solution, or markets where demand exceeds supply, to name a few.  Being successful in this regard requires a special perspective, one that understands customer needs and wants today, and also in the future.  It requires the ability to look beyond the company at hand and pay greater attention to the marketplace, outside your window.

Corporate jobs are often more about focusing on what’s in front of you, ranging from tasks that relate to the past (think audits and tax returns) or immediate future.  Although you might look forward from time to time, as in the case of budgeting, forecasting, or planning initiatives, sitting back and considering what the future might look like and the opportunities that could be created isn’t typically in the mix.  This is a much different range of view and represents a successful entrepreneur’s golden time.

Why it Matters

You might have been asked at some point in your life to “read between the lines” or observe “the negative space”.  Both of these concepts require a person to see what isn’t obvious at first blush, and some people find it quite difficult.  It requires looking past what’s in front of you and connecting the dots to arrive at what could be a very different answer or idea.  Apply this concept to a startup company (or any business looking to expand its horizons, for that matter), and you will begin to understand what opportunity-based thinking is all about.

Businesses need people who can bring this important perspective, in order to be successful over the long term, as many simply do not have this ability.  Missing opportunities in the marketplace has led to the failure of many companies, as well as career setbacks for a host of business leaders, entrepreneurs, and senior team members.  Prepare in advance by learning how to make the marketplace your new BFF, providing access to the powerful opportunities that await!

Get Started

In a world of glancing in the rear view mirror, you can begin to practice the key skill of looking forward in advance of when it’s actually needed; here’s how:

  • Take on forward looking projects: Bring a new approach to organizing your workload, by separating tasks or projects that require a past or present perspective, as compared to those that look forward.  You will likely find that you have far more work that involves looking backwards or at what’s in front of you, so seek out projects that look ahead to balance the scale.  Projects that involve budgeting, forecasting, and planning can be a good place to start.
  • Trend is your friend: Taking on tasks that involve research or an external focus will help you to understand what drives markets, key trends, and where the opportunities are.  Once you spend some time doing this type of work, it will become obvious just how different the perspective is.
  • Look outside of your own organization: Challenge yourself to spend a portion of every day thinking about what goes on outside of the four walls of your organization, such as with customers, competitors, and industry/market developments.  Start with 20% of your time and progress upwards from there to develop a meaningful external perspective (and, no, 50% is not too high!).
  • Check in on a regular basis: It might be relatively easy to make some changes in routine for a short period of time, but seeing opportunities that will propel a company forward only starts to happen after you’ve developed the necessary skills to do so. Whatever you call it; a mind shift, a fresh perspective, or creative visioning, it won’t happen unless you “check in” with yourself periodically to ensure that you haven’t fallen back into a focus characterized by short term, internal matters.  Change your perspective for good.

The ability to look forward in advance of when it’s needed spells opportunity, no matter how you slice it.  What’s more, it can lead to opportunities for you to play a key role in the startup companies that need this perspective more than either of you know.

Blue Chip Tip: Just Show Up

After observing some of the worst service providers I have ever seen over the past year or so, either directly or hearing about the experiences of my clients, I’m reminded of what should be a simple rule for anyone in business: Just Show Up!  It’s amazing to see the number of businesses that can’t seem to perform the most basic of tasks: return a phone call or email, demonstrate interest in a customer’s needs, or deliver on what they said they would do.  What on earth do these companies think they are in business to do?

Smart business leaders can use these awful examples as a reminder of what’s important to do every single day: Just Show Up.  Here are five tips to live by:

  • Every customer is important, so don’t treat the “small jobs” as anything less.  You don’t know who your client knows; their personal network could include business leaders, professionals, and those who need your services, and you will never get referrals if their experience with you is poor.  Speaking from experience, you can trust me on that!
  • Do what you said you would do, and don’t think that your customer won’t know the difference.  Map out deliverables in advance and deliver.  Don’t change the plan unless there is a compelling reason to do so, and only with sign off from your client.
  • Meet timelines, as your customers are depending on you to do so.  Too many businesses act like they’ve got nothing but time; newsflash: your customers don’t have time to waste.
  • Get it in writing, in advance of starting the work, so everyone is on the same page from the beginning.  Treat every customer engagement in a professional manner, otherwise your efforts will look like more of a hobby than a business.
  • Be accountable, especially if something doesn’t go as planned.  Customers will be more understanding if you take responsibility for getting the job done, as opposed to making excuses, deflecting concerns, and pulling other distractions.

Think that this list is too basic to be of use?  Experience says otherwise.  By showing up and doing the job right, you’ve already left over half your competition in the dust.  Now, just think what you could do if you really put your mind to it!

Getting Started: Preparing for the world of entrepreneurial adventure (Attitude)

ThinkstockPhotos-176797481

Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

Although you’ve completed years of education and gained some experience, there is still much to learn.  Whether this reality hits you as daunting, exciting, or somewhere in between, you probably don’t realize just how much your attitude matters when facing future learning.  Many of us were raised with reminders to “think positive”, but probably didn’t realize just how important this is when facing something new.  This concept is particularly relevant in the startup world.

Generating success isn’t just about getting something new to “work”; but rather, in the case of startup companies that require assistance and investment from others, it’s more about what comes along with the quest for capital.  Investors tend to have many choices where they can put their money, and there are often far more options than what can be financed.  For this reason, those with capital have the latitude to select the opportunities that represent the best “fit”, in terms of returns and the ease of getting there.  A big part of this has to do with attitude.

Why it Matters

One of the “screens” that early stage investors tend to use to evaluate investment opportunities is the attitude of a company’s leadership, particularly in terms of responsiveness to advice.  For all that is known, there is much more to learn, and investors typically bring a host of knowledge that is critical to moving a young company forward.  Although they might not understand all of the intricacies of a startup’s technology platform, investors understand enough to generate success, as well as many other things that entrepreneurs typically don’t have the depth of experience to appreciate.

What is powerful is when experience and emerging ideas come together to build something that is both competitively advantageous and soundly executed.  In order to do so, startups need to be receptive to good advice and demonstrate an ability to work well with those who have more experience than they do.  What many startups don’t realize is that investors have better things to do than fight with entrepreneurs who will never see the light, and, as a result, will bypass these situations for more productive opportunities.  Don’t let this happen to your business!

Get Started

Experienced investors know that smart entrepreneurs will do whatever they can to reduce the risk of rejection.  Since grace in times of what could be a hearty dose of reality isn’t a given, take the opportunity to get some practice; here’s how:

  • Learn how to focus on “breathing”: If you’re not in the routine of receiving constructive criticism, it’s time to get used to it.  When facing times of difficult questions or advice, learn how to respond.  Practicing how to reflect on the question, “count to 10”, or give all ideas a “positive life” for a period of time can help.
  • Reflect on what you don’t know: Step 1: Accept the fact that you don’t know everything.  Step 2:  Accept the fact that there are things that you will be wrong about.  Step 3:  Make an active effort to learn about what you don’t know.  Step 4:  Reconcile the first three steps and move forward with a positive attitude, not grudgingly or with resentment.
  • Refresh research skills: Although it might be easy to find information online and think that this alone addresses the question or combats the advice, this is only half the battle.  Investors know that understanding what to do with the information is what really matters.  Think about it.
  • Practice developing responses: Startups seeking capital will be asked a lot of questions and face a great deal of advice.  Make the most of these opportunities (yes, these are opportunities!) by learning how to address inquiries directly with responses that are thorough and relevant, yet concise, and then utilize “smart advice” for all it’s worth!

There are lots of entrepreneurs who take the position that pushing forward with reckless abandon is what matters; be difficult, be original, never surrender.  The reality is that when investment capital from others is needed, this type of approach just doesn’t cut it, and although some things might be worth fighting for, the list should be short.  Failing to do so can result in alienating the audience that startups have such a critical need to engage in order to move forward; one that’s counting on your positive attitude.

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