The Voice of Business Growth is coming to the VoiceAmerica Business Network

Michael Couch will be hosting a weekly one-hour program that will explore the
fundamentals of business growth.

Premieres Monday, April 27 at 1:00 PM EST


Coming Attractions:

Dramatically Improving the Impact of Human Resources: How to Run HR Like a Business
May 19, 2009
Workshop presented by Michael Couch to the Westmoreland County Human Resources Association

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The Secrets of Fastest Growing Companies

I had the opportunity this week to hear a panel discussion involving the leaders of four of Pittsburgh's fastest growing companies. The companies represented four very different industries, addressing both consumer and business markets. They all have experienced double or triple digit growth.

The discussion was both enlightening and satisfying. Enlightening because it was great to hear some practical suggestions from successful entrepreneurs. Satisfying because the key themes from their discussion match the fundamentals that I've emphasized in The Voice and in my practice. Those themes/fundamentals are:

  1. A robust strategy that is in sync with the marketplace and that focuses on delivering value generates wealth and,
  2. If you don't get the talent right, your business will never fulfill its strategic potential.

I took copious notes so here is a summary of some of the comments grouped by these fundamentals.

Value Driven Strategy

  • The best way to address declining margins is by aggressively showing and selling value to your customers.
  • Maintain growth by "imbedding yourself" in your customer's business. Find solutions for their business first.
  • Growth comes from the top. Spend more time with the end-user and expect your people to do the same.
  • Relationships are important but not as important as maximizing value for the customer.
  • Be willing to do more for your customer in tough times. One Fast Growing company helped a customer speed development by taking on prototyping for the customer's product.
  • Be "paranoid about being absolutely the best" for your customers.

Getting Talent Right

  • "It's all about your people." Spend a lot of time hiring. One entrepreneur checked 10 references on key hires.
  • One leader felt he could have grown revenue even faster if he had built more depth underneath him.
  • If you have good people, you can worry less. Find people that can run a piece of the business without your involvement. Find talented people so that you can "let go" as the business grows.
  • Hire people based on fitting the culture and their potential, not just because of their resume. One Leader described his team as "very aggressive people with big hearts". Another described his approach as "maintaining a culture of growth." One initially experienced turnover because he ignored this "fit".
  • Find and develop people that can act as your agent. Treat your employees as you treat your customers. Make employees feel like owners and treat them that way.

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Who to Keep and How to Keep Them

I had a discussion recently with a business owner who was concerned about having to reduce his staff. His questions were simple - who should he keep and how can he retain them after this change. I'm sure this is a common leadership concern in these times. Here were my recommendations to him.

Who to Keep

Cut with precision and purpose. Across-the-board reductions will not allow you to power through the downturn and will drive unplanned voluntary turnover.

There are two groups of keepers. First are employees that have demonstrated that they are agile learners, are flexible, are comfortable with change, and that are natural leaders or strong contributors to team efforts.

Second is a group called "High Professionals" or "Seasoned Pro's". These folks may not be leaders but are OK with change, contribute to team efforts and have key knowledge or relationships.

Exit those employees that fight change and pull down productivity. These are the employees that no one wants on their teams, that are abrasive, who just don't get it or have not been able to keep up. Compassionately move these folks out of the company.

As I discussed in the February edition (See Getting Your Talent Right), the best way to identify talent in these categories is through an objective review of each employee by facilitated leadership teams. It's important to your leadership team on the same page

How to Keep Them

High potential employees are retained by promoting and challenging them in roles that make a difference. These mission critical positions and functions are directly linked to wealth creation and value delivery. Place high potential people in these roles. Give them or allow them to choose the best team members. Pay them above market.

Keep high professional/seasoned pros by allowing them to stay on top of their game in their field. Companies often cut training and conference budgets first. Don't do it for this group. Get them in front of customers and link their projects to key business results.

Research also shows that high engagement employees will leave a company due to stress and work-life balance issues. Help them keep things in perspective and make sure that you emphasize that family comes first.

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The Three Rights of Executive Coaching

Executive Coaching is one of the fastest growing business services and is popular with companies of all sizes. However, there are right ways to assure a return on the time and money invested.

  1. Coaching Is Focused On The Right Players

    The best opportunity to achieve a payback to a coaching investment is with high potential or high professional employees. Helping these "game changers" at critical junctures in their careers usually has a quick and sustained payoff.

    I have often seen coaches employed to handle an employee that is seen as "broken". The goal of the coaching assignment is to "fix" them. The coach is imposed on the reluctant employee, a lot of personal and organization stress ensues, and the usual result is that the employee disengages (retires on the job, quits) or ends up being terminated (which probably should have been the action in the first place).This is not the optimum use of coaching resources.

  2. Coaching Is Applied In The Right Situations

    Coaching is not a panacea for all development needs. There are a number of opportunities where coaching can make a difference.

    • Transitions
      Starting a new position with a company, moving to a new role within a company or taking on new broader responsibilities are critical junctures in a career. Providing a coach to design and facilitate a transition process can have substantial benefit.
    • Preventing Derailment
      The causes of career derailment are well known. Even high potential employees fail, most often due to over-use or over-dependence on a strength. Coaching can help prevent derailment by helping the employee identify potential failure modes and by developing specific preventive and contingent action plans.
    • Addressing a specific need
      This is the more typical coaching situation. We have all seen it - an otherwise promising employee lacks a specific skill or exhibits behaviors that impact his relationships with others. These can be derailers but are more often opportunities to coach good performers with a blind spot into well-rounded, great performers.

  3. The Right Coach Is Used
  4. Not everyone is cut-out to be a coach. The skill set for an effective coach is unique. Here is a short list.

    • Business Acumen
      Coaches need to be good business people first. They must be able to understand the market challenges and business priorities that their clients face. They need to be able to understand and use the language of executives.
    • Expert Facilitation
      Effective coaches are often top-notch facilitators. They understand group processes and process consulting and can guide individuals and teams through effective questioning, analysis, planning and decision making processes. They can read individual and group dynamics quickly and respond appropriately.
    • Credibility
      The best coaches have had business or other experience that can allow them to maintain a perspective. They build credibility quickly by showing that they have "been there, done that". Credibility does not come from a bag of tricks. Beware of a coach who only has a "one-size-fits-all" technique or instrument that they apply in any situation.
    • " Interpersonal Savvy
      Being able to relate to all kinds of people, build rapport and relationships easily, listen, use tact and diplomacy, and diffuse high tension situations are all hallmarks of an effective coach.

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Plant, Tend and Grow
By: Carolyn Maue, MSW, CEAP
The Maue Center: Catalyst for Growth

"In Bad Times, Seed Sales Grow." This headline for a recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article caught my eye, causing a double-take that nearly resulted in a spill of my Saturday morning coffee. Fleetingly mistaking it for a business article, I read on, surprised as I felt inspired by a gardening article. "Most of the seed companies are fairly recession-proof on the vegetable side," says Burpee (large seed-sales company) chairman George Bale, Jr. "It's sort of the Victory Garden phenomenon. Gardening not only takes your mind off things but it is very cost-effective."

As a consultant working with leaders who struggle to clarify and realize their visions for growth and success, the metaphor did not slip by me. A leadership coach and business owner, I am preoccupied, as are my clients, with headlines of the day that drudge on about financial crises, bail-outs, corruption, stimulus packages, downsizing and lay-offs. Over-worked staff, unrealistic budgets, dismal forecast and difficult conversations with people who are losing their jobs conjure images of dry, parched dirt, rather than the rich, verdant soil necessary to grow things beautiful and new.

The reminder to plant, tend and grow ideas is one we all need during these difficult times. I am here to remind you as a leader that even during these bedraggled days and sleepless, worry-filled nights, you as the visionary, the risk-taker and leader of your valuable team can indeed tend, in small yet important ways, to your vision for what's right and new and just. As Thoreau said, "The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling. Yet we do not treat ourselves nor one another thus tenderly." Indeed, especially during a recession.

It may seem counter-intuitive but this really is the time to plant the seeds for future growth. As you and your team are asked to do more with the less, with the "skies darkening" with dismal forecasts, as budgets, revenues and business leads are down, this really is the time to get ready for the future." Problems are opportunities in work clothes." Henry Kaiser reminds us. Your future rests with you and you're your team. Here's a reminder of the tools you have available at your fingertips, day and night:

  • Inspiration - Inspire others during this time of difficulty. Help your teams see this current phase as part of a cycle and enlist them in helping you get ready for the future. Richard Leider, in Leaders to Leaders, says, "We must continually remind ourselves that our lives and our partners and followers are not problems to be solved. They are callings to be answered, mysteries to be lived." Lead by walking around. Hold conversations with your staff. Remember that impactful leadership is possible in any interaction. Tell your story - how you got here, the obstacles you overcame those who helped and inspired you. They will help your staff, and you.
  • Rejuvenation - Carry a notebook and pen in your pocket and write down new ideas whenever and wherever they come to you. Sometimes write with your non-dominant hand to unleash new, goofy and creative ideas. Try something new, even if it's really small: take a new route home, taste a new food, pick up a different magazine at the corner. Doodle. Track those new ideas.
  • Efficiency - Steve Jobs said, "You cannot mandate productivity, you must provide the tools to help people become their best." Create an environment that is ready for positive change and growth. Look at the way you use technology and help your staff learn to use it more efficiently. Learn new systems, get rid of waste. Clean closets and drawers. Get ready for what is to come.
  • Planning - Take time out of your harried week to do some planning. It reduces worry. The more you have some control the better you will feel. You cannot control the big picture but you can control the "little plot of land" that is your turf. Focus on the future. Call upon us, your coaches and consultants, and people you trust. Even though you can't start a new project right now we want to help you implement the aspects you didn't have time to do with old projects. And we want to be a trusted resource for you.

You too can be a gardener, and tend to people, ideas, and new ways of getting things done.

Carolyn Maue is a leadership coach and consultant who helps leaders excel and grow and implement new programs. She can be reached at The Maue Center at [email protected].

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