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Survival Tips from the Pandemic

Survival Tips from the Pandemic

A Business Owner’s Perspective

Running a business in 2020 presented challenges that many business owners and executives had never experienced. The pandemic impacted different industries differently. Some, like outdoor recreation, had record years that may never be repeated, while others, including commercial aerospace, have been devastated. As 2021 began, I interviewed the leaders of numerous businesses, some of which benefited from the pandemic and some of which were negatively impacted, about what steps they took in 2020 and what they plan for 2021 in order to survive this pandemic. Three common themes emerged from these interviews: diversification, internal efficiencies and leveraging the customer base.

Nearly every business leader I spoke to recognized that serving a wider range of industries or a wider customer base is key to surviving any economic downturn. Companies in oil and gas, automotive or aerospace have experienced significant economic downturns throughout this century. The difference is that this pandemic affected nearly every industry. The challenge this time was to either pivot to an area that wasn’t impacted, or expand their offerings within their primary industry in order to keep their employees working. Here are some approaches that have worked for successful companies:

  • Expand reach among existing customers. One concept that proved true during the pandemic is that customers aren’t thinking about suppliers. They are focused on their business and the best way to survive or thrive during the pandemic. However, the pandemic also created an opportunity to connect at a deeper level with customers, suppliers and others. Taking the time to reach out to those people in our professional network allowed businesses to develop a deeper relationship with those individuals. 
  • Calls like this also provide an opportunity to educate your customers on other products and services that you or your company might offer. Alex Goldfayn, author of Selling Boldly, urges his clients to pick up the phone and call their customers. Customers aren’t thinking about what products and services you provide. By calling and talking with them, you can offer to help them during this time. If that approach feels uncomfortable, think about the last time someone called you and offered to help. And how did you feel? Was that relationship weakened or strengthened? I personally know that this approach increased business for one of my clients by 15% in less than six months.
  • Expand offerings within the same industry. Regardless of what industry your business currently serves, there are always opportunities to provide additional products or services. During the shutdown, many of my clients spent their precious R&D efforts developing new products. In some cases, it was an idea that had been percolating in someone’s head, or an adjustment to meet a perceived need due to the new economic reality. The challenge with this approach is that once these new offerings are developed, you must take action to educate your customers about them. By reaching out to them as discussed above, you are proactively educating your customers on new ways you can help them.
  • Pivot to another industry. The pandemic required businesses in some industries to completely pivot to another industry. Nate Lindquist, owner of Pinnacle Metal Works, said he realized that as the aerospace industry was grounded (pun intended), he needed to do something to keep his employees employed. He made the decision to pivot to the home gym industry, which was booming during the lockdown. While he plans to maintain his foothold in aerospace, establishing a business in a new industry has allowed him to gain new experience and knowledge, including how to grow his online presence and how to adjust his manufacturing plant to meet the differing needs of his new customer base.

Internal Efficiencies
Over the past four years, the US economy has remained strong, which has resulted in growth across nearly every industry. As the saying goes, profit covers sin. So as the economy ground to a halt, most companies began to look at ways to cut costs. Beyond reducing headcount or across-the-board pay cuts, other strategies included cross-training employees, streamlining flow through the plant and bringing outsourced services in-house. Outsourcing included pre-fabrication in the shop versus in the field, while outside processing could include machining or nondestructive testing. In some companies, that meant acquisition of companies providing complementary or down-stream services. 

As companies began to rearrange their processes to allow for social distancing, equipment and processes could be redesigned to redeploy employees while reducing waste. For some manufacturing processes, that included having one employee operate multiple pieces of equipment or perform multiple operations in series. A number of companies also reduced WIP (work in process) and moved toward “Just In Time” manufacturing. 

Understanding that most businesses will go through these cycles, many companies took this time to strengthen their processes. Russ Gallagher, president of Bescast, an aerospace company, tasked his managers to begin strengthening processes and ensuring that when demand picked back up, they were able to handle increased throughput, smaller batches and more complex parts. These downturns are an opportunity to try new technology, develop creative approaches to resolve nagging issues and explore new products in order to reduce costs or find a competitive edge. 

Construction companies found that utilizing their resources and equipment in the shop reduced waste and costs in the field. To do that, they needed additional engineering to ensure the design accurately fit the footprint and met the needs of the customer. Most firms found they could redeploy existing resources in order to achieve this initiative. This meant faster completion of projects, resulting in higher profits and greater capacity.

Focus on the Customer
The pandemic allowed the opportunity to deepen relationships with customers and suppliers. During periods of stress, it is often difficult to look beyond our immediate situation and focus on others, but this outward focus allowed many companies to grow and thrive during the pandemic. Eric Doering, founder of Vulcan DC, had to find other ways to generate sales when home shows, the company’s primary method for reaching new customers, were cancelled. He began calling former customers and asking for referrals, which turned out to be a great way to find new projects while strengthening relationship with his customer base.
Hank Jamerson, VP of Sales and Marketing at Kyanite Mining Company, tasked his team with reaching out to all his customers and checking in on how they were doing. He realized that during the past several years, he hadn’t been proactively calling his customers, but instead was only responding to incoming inquiries. As he and his team started calling his customers, he realized how much he’d missed talking with them and how much they had missed hearing from him.

Even more importantly, he realized that taking the time to truly connect with others was one of the bright spots in an otherwise difficult time.

As we move into 2021 and start the long journey towards a life that mirrors pre-pandemic times, I challenge you to take time to reflect on how you can enhance your relationships with those around you. While business may be the reason these relationships began, I do believe this pandemic provides an opportunity for us to deepen those relationships and carry them forward into a prosperous future. 

If you would need some assistance on the best approach to enhance your customer relations, send me an email. I’d be happy to share best practices and get you on your way.

P.S. I promise my chicken articles will be back next week.  I just needed a little time to grieve the loss of Caramel Corn.  


Are Your Employees Free Range?

Are Your Employees Free Range?

For the past few weeks, l’ve been writing about employee engagement. Although employee engagement has been on the rise for the past few years, 35% engagement isn’t a number that we should consider success. My last article described a company that judged productivity in terms of availability. While that may make sense for some companies, I’d urge you to find a more compelling measurement for yours.

Not surprisingly, this conversation brought me back to my chickens. Yes, I still have chickens — but I’m not sure how many. As you may recall, after spending the month of April building a beautiful coop for them, we inherited five chickens from a friend. On day one, I learned that chickens can fly much better than I realized. They flew the coop.

They are now free to range wherever they want and will occasionally come back to the coop for food or to lay an egg. I have learned that the Easter egg hunt was born out of the need to find where the hens had chosen to lay their eggs, outside of the established nesting box or boxes.

So, what do chickens and eggs have to do with employee engagement? Read on, my fellow readers.

The purpose of my having chickens is for eggs. Of course, it would be easier for me if I made them stay in their enclosure all day. I’d be able to harvest all my eggs and ensure the hens were safe from predators. However, the eggs wouldn’t be as healthy as when the chickens are free-range.

So there’s a trade-off. If I want them to be free-range, I have to give up control over them. I worry about their safety, and I don’t get to collect all the eggs they are laying. But they forage for berries, bugs, and who knows what else, which produces healthier eggs for me to enjoy.

Giving up control over how our employees do their work can be uncomfortable. But it also gives them the freedom to explore and grow, and they may produce a higher-quality product.

I was listening to a podcast that referenced “The Impact Filter” (Dan Sullivan, The Strategic Coach). This filter provides managers with a tool that outlines an idea, project, or goal and provides the structure to be clear on the purpose, importance, and outcomes before delegating the work to another person. If both parties are clear on those items, the manager is able to delegate the project, and the employee can find the best way to get it done. But if the manager hasn’t done the work up front, he may feel the need to micromanage, or Monday-morning quarterback, neither of which will result in an empowered employee.

So, I challenge you to be clear on what you want your employees to accomplish and let them be free to create the desired outcome. This will lead to engaged and empowered employees.

If you find yourself unsure of how to empower your employees, I can teach you a proven process that will allow you to get the most out of your business.

The Reward for Pushing Beyond Your “Perceived” Limits

The Reward for Pushing Beyond Your “Perceived” Limits

A few weeks ago, I was lamenting that our plans to climb South Sister in July were cancelled. This is the first summer in six years that l’m not training for some adventure. I’ve completed Hood to Coast and Cycle Oregon, climbed Mt. St. Helens and trained for the Camino Frances. But, due to COVID-19, I found myself adventure-free this summer. I’m sure this fact was on my mind when I was scrolling through Facebook and saw that a good friend of mine was competing in a local “virtual” triathlon. Without hesitation, I agreed to do it with her.  Of course, the fact that I hadn’t swum in over 10 years, biked in nearly two years, or run in six months seemed to have escaped my memory. (I do think the adult libation I was enjoying at the time might have been partly responsible.)

The next morning I realized the foolishness of my idea. I did commit to my friend, but there was another reason I didn’t back out. At the recommendation of another friend and colleague, I started reading Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. While this book has amazing application to business and leadership, the chapter about checking your ego and trying something you might fail at really resonated with me. I know intellectually that in order to reach my full potential, I have to go beyond my comfort zone. But applying this truth in my life isn’t something I embrace at the frequency that I should.  

So, I dug out my running shoes, dusted off my bike, and headed down to the lake with a few butterflies in my stomach. 

It felt so great to swim in the open water. The biking was great until the rain started. But we persevered and finished with a wet 3-mile run.

In the end, I was rewarded by meeting some great people, talking shop with another business owner, and pushing my body in a way I hadn’t done in quite some time.

Trying something at which you might fail doesn’t just apply to sports.  It is also necessary to see growth in your business, your career path or your relationships with others.  In a recent engagement with a mid-market company, the CEO realized that a key employee wasn’t performing at the level required in order to ensure successful implementation of the company’s turnaround plan.  His initial response was to ignore the problem.  But, as the Board pointed out, this approach had gotten the company into the current situation.  So, now, he had to make a choice: fire her, redeploy her or invest in her development.  He chose to invest in the employee and brought me in to coach the key employee.  The end result was a more engaged employee, $125,000 in annualized profitability increase and praise from the Board.  

Another client was in the process of assuming control of the company from her father.  The transition plan had been agreed to by all parties, but when it came to implement the plan, her father refused to follow the plan.  Imagine the stress, on both sides. If this wasn’t handled appropriately, the end result could be the degradation of the father/daughter relationship and instability in the company resulting in reduced business valuation.  I coached the daughter on how to address the situation, encouraging her to find the third solution, that elusive solution that we often overlook.  As we talked, she realized that while the transition plan was solid, her tactics needed to be modified.  She changed her stance, softened her approach and her father responded.  The transition was completed, the company was strengthened and the father/daughter relationship was preserved.

If you find that you are stagnating in business or personally, it may be time to push yourself. This means searching for solutions which don’t initially seem apparent, trying ideas that may seem unreachable or being open to feedback from previously unwelcome sources.  If you aren’t sure where to start, let’s connect.  One thing I’ve learned from my years in sports and business is that accountability is the driving force behind reaching one’s full potential.  

Fearing or Forging the Path Forward?

Fearing or Forging the Path Forward?

I finished my chicken coop and have just a few details to wrap up before I bring the chickens home to roost (I’ve been waiting my whole life to say that). But surprisingly, behind these details has been some fear, almost paralyzing enough to keep me from finishing the job. Can I handle the added responsibility of caring for chickens? How will my daily routine change? What if I do something that causes a chicken to die?   

I spoke with a good friend who’s a chicken owner, and she reassured me that the benefits of owning chickens far outweigh my fears. Yes, I will have to adapt my daily routine. And chickens do die – sometimes of natural causes. But, in the end, the experience is a lot of fun! 

I wonder how many of us are facing this same kind of fear right now. Fear of not knowing what our post-COVID life might look like. Fear about keeping our families safe. Fear about the future of our businesses.  

I’ve spent time reflecting on some of my fears. And I’ve learned that nothing worthwhile is ever accomplished without some fear and uncertainty.  Have you ever been through an event that caused you to change, either by choice or by circumstance? Did this event bring about a worthwhile outcome?

The Chinese word for change is made up of two symbols – Danger and Opportunity. If we know that our current reality is going to change, then we have a choice to look ahead with a positive mindset. And given the choice, I choose to see this uncertain future as an opportunity for growth.

There are countless examples of how people and businesses are adapting to this new world – distilleries making hand sanitizer, Ford making ventilators, Subway delivering groceries. There are many opportunities for you and your business to pivot toward a new reality. In order to do that, you need to adjust your mindset to see beyond where you are and focus on where you could be.  

If you are struggling to find where you fit in this uncertain future, please reach out to me. Together we can get you and your mindset focused on a future full of opportunity. 

Enjoying the Small Moments

Enjoying the Small Moments

If you are like me, this quarantine has lost its novelty.  I’m ready to go hiking, have another person cook a meal, and hug someone other than my husband (though I do like hugging him).  But I know that we are not quite at a point where we can resume our normal activities.  This has forced me to work through my frustration with the situation while striving to make the most of it.  

 Every morning, after I finish my workout, I take the dogs for a walk and throw the ball.  Actually, I’m throwing the ball for Marlee, while JacX is biting Marlee’s collar trying to slow him down. In February (before the yearlong March), we had JacX spayed.  This required us to keep her on a leash during these morning walks.  She didn’t like it. Being on-leash meant she had to watch as her brother chased after the ball.  But she did make the most of it by grabbing the ball when he dropped it in front of me. She’s adroit enough to get him to chase her, even though she’s on a six-foot leash.  Her hair up, loving the chase, she dashed behind me and dodged away from Marlee. Marlee, for his part, quickly tired of the game and resorted to staring at me to get the ball back for him. I, however, found this whole exchange very amusing! 

We can either act like Marlee or like JacX.  Marlee – asking someone else to correct the situation – or JacX, making up a game that she can still play!

Our lives are often marked by the big moments – weddings, birth of a child, holidays – but what I think makes life more meaningful is enjoying the small moments. 

I challenge you to find joy in the situation in front of you. Borrowing from Gary Larson’s cow philosophy, “As you travel life’s highway, don’t forget to stop and eat the roses.”

PAID to Act: A Proven Process to Assessing Employees

PAID to Act: A Proven Process to Assessing Employees

There comes a time in nearly everyone’s management career when he or she must decide whether to keep, redeploy or release an employee. A number of factors need to be considered when making this decision, and while the emotions should be removed, this decision also requires compassion. I thought I’d share my process, which I call PAID to Act, for helping clients ensure they’ve considered all the factors.

Does this employee demonstrate a desire to be in the position? This comes across in more than just words; it includes actions, non-verbal cues and attitude. What signals are they sending to let you know they have the desire to perform at the required level?  Do they exhibit energy when assigned a new task?  Are they willing to spend the extra time to make sure a job is done right? Or are they out the door at the end of their day?

If an employee has the passion, the next question is whether they have the skills needed to perform. There may be times when the employee needs training or coaching in order to increase their skill set. If the employee lacks competence but shows a desire to improve, then it’s still possible to retain the employee and develop their skill set. But there are times when it isn’t possible for the employee to develop the needed competence in order to fulfill the position. And that is when managers must make a hard decision: release or redeploy.

An employee might have the desire and aptitude to be in a position but might not understand its importance. Some positions come with a higher salary but also demand more time, a higher profile and the ability to make difficult decisions. Many people, especially younger employees, express a desire to be a supervisor manager without really understanding the responsibilities that come with those positions.  Some management positions can mean additional hours and stress without any added glamour. Without a doubt, though, entry-level managers and front-line supervisors are the backbones of many companies. These individuals are often tasked with implementing the company vision while responding to each employee’s needs. No matter the role of the employee being evaluated, it is critical that he or she understand and embrace the responsibilities of the position.

You can’t make this decision without doing some internal reflection to ensure you have created an environment that provides the greatest opportunity for success. This can be a difficult thing to assess, but you must do so honestly. This includes asking yourself the following questions:

  • Have I provided honest, direct feedback on the employee’s performance?
  • Have I provided the tools the employee needs in order to thrive?
  • Have I listened and understood the employee’s responses?
  • Can I say with peace that I have done everything I could to provide an environment for success?

If you believe you have done everything possible for a successful outcome, then the time has come for action. This action needs to Be Bold. Don’t hesitate or second-guess your decision. The longer you wait, the greater the risk for unintended consequences, including built-up resentment, degradation of team performance or spreading discontent to customers or suppliers.

Do you need help deciding on the best course of action?  My proven process will assist you in reaching a decision.  Call or email me today so we can decide the best course of action with all parties involved.

Learning from Others

Learning from Others

The Underlying Cost of Not Being Bold

Last week, I gave an example of a client who chose to be bold when addressing an employee-performance issue.  In that case, the results turned out to be positive for both the employee and the company.  Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way. So, if you’re hesitant to deal with an employee-performance issue, you might want to consider what that issue is really costing your business.

According to Gallup, disengaged employees have higher absenteeism, lower productivity and lower profitability.  Gallup estimates that a disengaged employee will cost their employer 34% of their salary, meaning that a disengaged employee making $50,000/year will cost you $17,000.  Multiply that by 10 employees, and you’re losing $170,000/year.

That number seemed a little high at first, but then I went back and looked at some recent engagements and what each client’s situation was really costing the business.  Here are some examples:

  • A mid-sized professional services company had a department manager who didn’t have the skills to manage his team, resulting in reduced productivity, more mistakes and a lower-quality product leaving the department.  The owner estimated that this was costing his $40M business about $325,000 across the entire company, in key employee losses, additional installation labor and product redesigns.
  • A $20M low-tech manufacturing company was struggling with lack of engagement in the supervisor who oversaw its highest-revenue, most technical department.  Over a period of six months, the company missed more than $1.2 million in shipments and $300,000 in revenue and 50% of all shipped product was rejected by the customer.  These two issues nearly put the company out of business.
  • A manager at a highly technical manufacturing company lacked the interpersonal skills to manage a rapidly growing department.  This resulted in a $457,000 drop in profitability in just three months due to numerous errors in quotes to customers, inefficient processes and a growing scrap rate.

If you have concerns about how a key employee is performing, are you ready to Be Bold and take action?  Email or call me today and we can immediately begin to take steps to correct this situation.

Be Bold!

Be Bold!

As I was writing my last newsletter, on 10 Mind-Altering Tips to Maximize Your Impact in 2020, one tip I wanted to include was “Be Bold.”  Having a list that can go to 11 is good, but I didn’t want to overwhelm your altered mind.  So I stuck with 10.

But I believe being bold is key to success.  So, what does “Be Bold” mean in business?  It means making the decisions that you know are the right ones even if they might require hard work to implement.  It means having the courage to say no when you feel like you should say yes.

A client recently had to face the realization that an employee in a critical position wasn’t performing at the level they needed in order to achieve their strategic vision.  I was asked to assess the employee and his contribution to the company.  Could the employee be coached for success or was he subject to the Peter Principle?

Fortunately, I was able to recognize the areas that needed coaching and development and work with the employee to augment those areas.  The employee emerged with a stronger vision of leadership, a sense of direction for his department and the skills to hold his team accountable for results.  This engagement increased departmental productivity, resulting in an annualized profitability increase of $125,000.  While the end of this story was a good one for the company and the employee, sometimes the difficult decision has to be made to free the employee to excel in another organization.

Many businesses will accept reduced performance from a long-time, loyal employee.  But at some point, every business reaches the conclusion that not addressing the issue will impact the health of the company.  The business owner willing to Be Bold will see that issue and take steps prior to allowing it to impact performance.

Do you feel like you could be bolder in your leadership?  Are there opportunities for your employees to increase their performance?  If you answered yes to either of those questions, call me or email me.  I can help you address those areas and get you on the path to profitability.

10 Mind Altering Tips to Maximize Your Impact in 2020

10 Mind Altering Tips to Maximize Your Impact in 2020

We just started a new decade! The following list was created to get you started on achieving your 2020 vision.

  1. Be crystal clear on what you want to achieve. I was recently reading the book titled “Train Your Brain for Success.” If you tell your brain where you want to go, it will start working on how to get there. But if you aren’t clear, the brain will wait for further clarification. The analogy the book used was this: imagine telling your GPS you want to go to a bank. It will start searching for banks, but will wait for further instructions before it begins developing the route.  It is imperative that you tell your brain exactly what you want to achieve.  As soon as you do, it will get to work on making sure you achieve it.  This applies to individuals and to organizations. If your team isn’t sure about direction, they will stay on the same path until they feel comfortable that a new direction is set.

  2. Instill the necessary discipline. I’m not big on having structure. I like the freedom to do what I want to do. But I know without the necessary structure, I won’t get to where I want to be. So I’ve been working on putting the framework together to ensure l’m completing the necessary activities to achieve my goals, without overburdening myself with too much structure. Ask yourself, what structure do I need to put in place to keep me on track? Be honest with yourself. Then build that structure into your weekly schedule and honor that structure.

  3. Don’t confuse activity with accomplishment. I think many of us get caught up in the busy-ness trap. But being busy doesn’t mean we are being productive. Do you know what you need to accomplish on a daily, weekly or monthly basis in order to achieve your goals? Most people don’t schedule time for those important things because they are busy doing the more fun and easy things. I recommend that you look at what you need to do in order to achieve your goals, and then schedule those first. Then fill in your time with the other, less important tasks.   My greatest gains come from the tasks described as “important but not urgent” in Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Those tasks may require more thinking and less doing. But if you spend more time on them, your productivity will skyrocket.

  4. Be open to new experiences and ideas. For years, I have heard about the value of meditation, but I kept pushing it off as a new age movement. As I found it harder and harder to focus, I started searching for ways to reduce the clutter in my brain. Turns out, meditation is a powerful technique that people have been using for thousands of years. Teaching my brain to be more present helped reduce stress, increased focus and provided more calm. After incorporating this into my life and enjoying the benefits, I realized there have been other areas in which I have been close-minded. So one of my goals for the past year was to try something new every month. This goal has helped me expand my mind and be open to new experiences.

  5. Be aware of the limitations you place on yourself. Have you listened to the words you say to yourself? Negative thoughts impact what we believe we can achieve and what we are willing to attempt. If you want to reach your full potential, be mindful of this. Henry Ford said it best when he said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t—you’re right.”

  6. Be authentic. When I hear the word authentic, I think of Brene Brown, but l‘ve also heard many other people talk about the importance of being authentic. This is something I’ve been working on as it isn’t something that comes naturally to me.  However, I do know that when I share my authentic self, I have the opportunity to connect more deeply with individuals around me, and I am continually reminded of just how precious those connections can be.

  7. Take care of yourself. Let’s face it, we aren’t getting any younger, and we only get one body for this journey. Eat well, drink lots of water, exercise and sleep. You can’t perform at the level you desire if your body isn’t healthy. And remember, taking time to care for yourself isn’t selfish, it is essential if you want to love and support those around you.

  8. Look beyond yourself. It is possible #7 and #8 are at odds but I don’t think so. If you care for yourself, then you’ll have the energy to look beyond yourself. And while I find myself to be very interesting (I mean, who doesn’t), I find helping and caring for others much more rewarding. Put yourself in another person’s shoes and try to see a situation from their perspective.  Then act in a way that acknowledges that you see them and value them: the personal reward will be priceless.

  9. Never stop learning. My father turned 80 years old last year. He continues to expand his mind through reading, learning foreign languages and keeping up on the latest technology in his field. Together with my mother, he started a foundation that serves the underprivileged in Haiti; he also volunteers his time at a local free clinic and spends time with his family to help them reach their full potential.  He is a great role model for those of us who want to continue to grow and expand our mind.  What areas do you want to gain knowledge in? Those areas may not be related to your field of study, but they can help enrich your life.

  10. Enjoy the journey. Not every day is going to be fun. There will be times, tasks and experiences that you won’t automatically enjoy. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to enjoy them. In a book called The Highest Goal, author Michael Ray introduces “Live-Withs.” The idea is to find ways to make the most of things that you don’t enjoy. If you have a traffic-filled commute, how could you learn to enjoy the commute? For me, it would be to listen to a great podcast (Revisionist History) or practice my Spanish. But the idea is to find ways to bring enjoyment into areas that are lacking.  So, I’ll challenge you by thinking about how you can change your vantage point in order to “enhance the ride.”

Do you feel you have areas that need some strengthening in order to maximize your 2020 impact? Do you or your team need help becoming crystal clear on what you want to achieve in 2020? If so, give me a call or send me an email. In a short 90-minute meeting, we can outline your goals and identify the critical success factors to help you start this decade with a clear direction and a sense of purpose.