Posts on Apr 2020

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 17 :: People :: Onboarding

The struggle for talent is real. Hiring managers kiss lots of frogs on their way to finding a well-hidden prince or princess. And when they find a stellar employee, the organization is challenged quickly to find the best way to engage them in meaningful work and give them opportunities to lead and grow. And, maybe more importantly, those employees must work seamlessly with a new team that must quickly produce results where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Onboarding is the key activity to accelerate the integration and productivity of newly hired employees. Successful onboarding starts even before the hire, continues through the offer and acceptance and wraps up a few months into employment.

For purposes of this week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge, we’re going to assume that during the recruiting and hiring process you made sure the new employee is a good fit with the company’s culture and embraces the company’s core values. If that is not the case, the onboarding activities are all paddling upstream and will ultimately end in the employee’s soon departure.

Let’s jump into this week’s exercise. I’m going to list several things newly hired employees need to understand and experience. During the 30 minute exercise, I’m going to ask you to open a Word document or pull out a notepad and, item by item, identify opportunities in your current onboarding process where new hires can get that information and experience. Then I want you to customize those items, so they work for your organization. Finally, I want you to think about who could most effectively deliver the information and experiences – it might be you.

  • Pair the new team member with someone who models the culture fully and can explain it in detail. You already checked for culture fit during the hiring process, but onboarding is the chance to flesh that out. Remember, culture must be caught AND taught. I suggest using an employee commitment document that spells out the employee’s commitment to the organization, team members, customers and personal growth. If you want a sample employee commitment, email me.
  • Explain the company’s value creation activities. How does the company create a product or service that customers are willing to pay for? What are the key components of the process? Where do the key activities take place? What benefits do customers derive from the product or service? What tangible or intangible advantage does the customer receive that makes him/her willing to pay more money than what it costs the company to create the product or service?
  • Explain how the new team member’s job fits in that value creation process. How does their work create a better customer experience, make the product of higher quality or drive costs down? How can they increase economic value creation for the company or experiential value creation for the customer? Implicit in this conversation is an explanation of the team member’s new job responsibilities.
  • Attach purpose to the work. Companies must make money to survive, but they must not exist solely to make money. It’s comparable to saying that humans exist solely to breathe. We must breathe to exist, but we all aspire to more than just breathing. Help the new team member attach greater meaning to the work of the organization. Maybe you give families more leisure time by making everyday responsibilities faster and easier. Maybe you provide a venue where guests can make vacation memories that will last for a lifetime.
  • Understand the new team member’s personal and professional goals. The most effective way to manage employee development is to align the employee’s interests with the interests of the organization. To make that happen, you must understand the employee’s goals and aspirations and craft growth plans where those goals intersect with the organization’s future needs. Every employee wants to be good at their job. Help them get there AND simultaneously realize their own personal growth goals.
  • Help them integrate into the organization. Marcus Buckingham’s important work documented in First Break All the Rules details the importance of relationships in the workplace. Happy employees have a “best friend” at work and have someone speaking into their personal and professional development. The nuances of relationships in the workplace are impossible to address in a short post but let me make a few quick observations –
    • The goal is integration not assimilation. Don’t push team members into molds, instead encourage them to contribute their unique skills and perspectives.
    • Build trust that makes room for frank conversations informed by multiple differing perspectives and opinions.
    • Encourage both autonomous work (flexible schedules, work from home) and collaboration (ad hoc groups and projects).
  • Explain the mechanics of working in the organization. Help them understand the org chart (bosses, peers and subordinates), how to access benefits (insurance, retirement, PTO), how to use the technology (equipment, access to data) and how to navigate the physical facilities.
  • Explain how they can leave their mark on the organization. We all want to impact our corner of the world. Help new team members block out time for deep work. Ask what “flow” typically looks like for them. Explain big problems and big opportunities that exist in your industry and your company and encourage them to engage in the discussion. Ask new team members to be on the lookout for ways to do things better, faster and cheaper. Encourage team members to speak to problems and opportunities that are outside their discipline. Explain how to communicate ideas to pivotal people in the organization.
  • Explain how to “pull the ripcord”. Even with rigorous screening, hiring and onboarding processes, occasionally you’ll make a hire that just doesn’t work. Explain to the team member what to do if they feel like the new job is just not working out.

Check in periodically in the first few weeks to make sure the new team member is productive, connected and well informed.

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 16 :: Culture :: Lifelong Learning

None of us, no matter how skilled, can afford to stay the way we are. Our industry, employees and customers change and so must we. Even if the founding generation and current generations have done everything right in steering the organization to its current state, their work may not be applicable in the future. We must be lifelong learners.

Lifelong learning embraces the idea that we never will “arrive”. Our business acumen, industry awareness and personal skills can always improve. Gary Keller, in his book The One Thing, reminded us that we must commit to running our organizations “the best it can be done” not “the best we can do it”. The “best we can do it” imposes the limitation of our current capacity and intellect. “The best it can be done” introduces the possibility that we can seek out new information and new skills that will make us better managers and leaders.

Not only must we as leaders be committed to lifelong learning, but we must build lifelong learning into the culture of our organization. Every team member must see personal and professional growth happening in those who lead the organization and must have opportunity, tools and accountability to affect their own personal and professional growth.

Let’s jump in to this week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge. The goal this week is two-fold. Use your 30 minutes to –

  • Think through everyday tasks and recreate them as learning opportunities
  • Create tools and time for team members to deliberately grow personally and professionally


Reframe Tasks – Stephen Covey reminded us to “Begin with the end in mind”. When navigating the mundane, fixing the urgent problem or capitalizing on the immediate opportunity, work to identify and verbalize how that task pushes the organization towards overarching initiatives (strategic plan, new sales campaign, etc). To illustrate, let’s say one of our new long-term strategic objectives is to decrease product delivery time from four days to two days for 90% of all orders. Today’s issue has to do with billing for an order from a brand-new customer. The customer wants to set up an account and be billed since they plan on doing more business with us in the future. However, upon submission of their billing information, we find some problems with their credit information and even find some unfavorable credit reporting in an industry reference publication. We could work with the employee who reported the problem to get this new customer set up and billed (and we should), but it would be best to reframe this problem and examine it in the light of our strategic initiative. In order to get this new customer his or her order in two days (in fulfillment of our long-term initiative), do we need to make changes to our order process to identify problems like this earlier? Do we need to look for a way to programmatically check credit reporting when the order is submitted online? Do we need to change the sales process so prospective clients with credit problems are excluded from the sales pipeline? Reframing problems – and slightly expanding their scope if necessary – attaches larger meaning to the problem and makes solving the problem tactical instead of operational, moving the organization closer to reaching its long-term initiatives and making everyone involved in the process better equipped for the future.

Put Employees First – When urgent problems surface, they are, most of the time, screaming to be solved right now. Our natural reaction is to solve them ourselves or get them quickly to the person who can solve them best and fastest. What about using urgent problems as a training opportunity. Take an employee who has the requisite knowledge to solve the problem but has never had the opportunity and walk them through it as you solve it. Or pair them with the staff expert in solving the problem and let them walk through it together. It might take slightly longer, but afterwards you’ll have a deeper bench. If today’s urgent matter is an emerging opportunity, show the employee how you step through an evaluation to make the determination whether to pursue it further. This helps the employee to see how you evaluate opportunities in the light of the organization’s mission, vision, values and current long-term initiatives.

Go from the Outside In – In the press to make to make problems go away or make the internal processes behind our mundane tasks easier for us, we occasionally make decisions that generate unintended consequences. Many times, the recipient of those consequences is not us, but our customers. By making life easier for us, we make it harder for them. Amazon famously sits an empty chair in every meeting. That chair represents the customer. It’s a physical reminder to make decisions that get the customer better products and services, make transactions more frictionless and deliver more value for their money. When problems surface, start with the customer perspective and work inward, navigating through the company’s internal processes. Solve the problem so the customer wins. Team members engaged in this exercise build a stronger customer orientation.

Embrace Cross-Discipline Problem Solving – In his book Range, David Epstein tells the story of two labs working on the same problem at the same time (proteins they wanted to measure would get stuck to a filter, which made them hard to analyze). One lab, staffed by only E. Coli experts, took weeks to solve the problem – experimenting with multiple methodologies. The other lab, staffed by scientists with chemistry, physics, biology, and genetics backgrounds, plus medical students, figured out the problem in their initial meeting. Were the staff members in the latter lab that much smarter than those in the former lab? Unlikely. Those in the latter lab had the advantage of a much broader base of knowledge and a larger pool of diverse experiences. To build lifelong learning in an organization, leverage the knowledge of employees with diverse skills and experiences. Turn the finance people loose on an operational problem. Invite the IT people to weigh in on a sales problem. Create cross-discipline meetings and encourage collaboration to solve problems. Let team members experience the problem-solving methodologies of people from other departments.

Be Deliberate – Finally, provide resources for growth. Start a business book club inside the organization led by the CEO or GM. Meet once a month during lunch to discuss a chapter. Encourage employees to attend classes and webinars. Ask them to report back to the organization on ideas they found especially helpful. Encourage cross-discipline learning. Pay for a salesperson to take a Python or accounting class. Formally recognize those who are learning and growing both personally and professionally.

The goal is to bake the actions that promote lifelong learning into the culture.

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 15 :: Technology :: Evaluating Productivity

When I was listing the topics I wanted to cover in the One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge, Evaluating Technology Productivity was an early entry. I knew it was important and that it represented a struggle for business owners and managers. But, the fact that it defies succinct diagnosis, lacks easy measurements and has a “more than I’m comfortable with” amount of subjectivity pushed it this far into the schedule.

Certainly, the ROI of some technology is apparent. A customer-facing e-commerce site generates sales numbers that can be compared to the cost of running the site. The return on other tech investments is tougher to quantify. If you invest $20K in security and never have a customer data breach or never have a bout with ransomware, what’s the return? It’s hard to quantify the value of an event that never happens. If you invest $2000/month for a CRM subscription for your entire customer-facing team and the sales funnel is always full and customer problems never fall through the cracks, can you calculate how much of that is directly attributable to the CRM?

That being said, I’m a big believer in tech-enabled enterprises. I like measuring metrics for web, email and social performance. I like tracking every touch with current and potential customers using a CRM. I like ERP systems that integrate supply chain, human resources, transformation activities and finance. I like collaboration tools that supercharge organizational learning. But the question remains – am I getting my money’s worth?

For those pieces of tech where the ROI is a bit squishier, I want to offer some tools for subjectively measuring tech effectiveness. Like many of the One Year, Thirty Minute Challenges, this would be best handled with your leadership team. Get them together and work through these questions, one tech tool or application at a time? It will work for both in-house and hosted applications.

Process Support – Could you do your work without the tech tool or software? Is it integral for scheduling, manufacturing, distribution, communication or personal productivity? Does it make the work easier or faster? Are there shortcomings in the tool that frequently surface that make the work more difficult, make it take longer or stop the work altogether?

Integration – Is the tech tool or software easily integrated with other pieces of software or hardware in the organization? Can you easily pass data back and forth between other tech tools in the organization?

Reliability – Is the tech tool or software always on? Is it frequently down or unavailable because of maintenance?

Ease of Use – Do most employees use the tech tool or software as you intended or do they look for ways to avoid it? Do they opt for a manual workaround or use a personal tech tool instead? Do they complain about functionality (too many screens, too many clicks required to get to the information needed), the user interface or lack of available reporting? Is information readily available when it’s needed to resolve an operational issue or solve a customer problem? Do they complain about lack of vendor support?

Support – When the tech tool or software is experiencing a problem, does the vendor respond and repair the problem in a reasonable amount of time? When the tool is scheduled for an upgrade, do the upgrades work without causing additional problems? Do you have consistent communication with the vendor so that you are aware of new capabilities, new products, subsequent revenue or savings opportunities or improvements to the employee or customer experience?

Ease of Configuration – Does the tech tool or software make it easy to add a new product, change pricing, add a discount, change a process or affect other operational changes? Do you have to call the vendor for changes you feel like you should be able to make yourself?

Security – Is the data stored inside the tech tool or software secure? Is the data and application infrastructure “hardened” against physical attacks, cyber attacks and internal breaches by employees or vendors? Is there sufficient user-level security – only allowing users access to information they need for their work?

Reporting – Does the tech tool or software provide readily-accessible, accurate and actionable information? Is information presented in sufficient granularity so that you can evaluate the performance of individual employees, customers, products and services? Is the information accessible to every person that needs it?

Money – Does the tech tool or software allow you to drive additional revenue? Can customers schedule online, purchase online, add complimentary products, see additional available services or easily pay online? Does the tech tool or software save money for the organization by automating tasks, improving accuracy or reducing defects?

If the tech tools or software in your organization don’t measure up in the light of these criteria, it might be time for a change. Depending on the complexity and the level of integration, it might be as easy as stopping one subscription and starting another or it could be an extremely complicated and long undertaking. Don’t hesitate to get help if it’s needed.

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 14 :: Strategic Planning :: Agility

I’ve probably used the phrase “survive and pivot” more in the last week than I have in the last 15 years. It’s the order of the day. This week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge is about agility – the skill that allows you to successfully survive and pivot.

Up until now, for most of us, our ability to be agile has been the difference between –

  • capitalizing on an emerging opportunity or missing out
  • quickly fixing an emergency operational problem or allowing it to linger a little too long
  • shifting staffing or methodology to meet a deadline or waiting too long to make a change and missing the target completion date

We might have been disappointed when we missed out on a couple of bucks or took some heat for missing a target, but the stakes are considerably higher now. Our inability to be agile now could jeopardize the future of our organization.

Agility isn’t a 30-minute exercise, it’s an organizational discipline that gets stronger the more it is practiced. So, the goal of this week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge is to lay the groundwork for agility. We want to introduce some attitudes, vocabulary and tools that you can introduce during team meetings (even on Zoom) and begin to utilize as you read and react to a business environment that is changing rapidly every day.

Face Reality – Jack Welch admonished us to, “Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be.” Get out the P&L, the list of receivables (by client) and payables (by vendor), and the balance sheet. No rose-colored glasses allowed. Make sure everyone around the table understands what they’re seeing. Call out the things that are good and the things that are troublesome. Talk frankly about people, products, service delivery and the future (as you know it today). Even the most sacred of the sacred cows should be evaluated.

Question Assumptions – All plans are built on assumptions – the number of customers that will walk in the front door, the products they will buy, the amount of money they will spend, that employees will show up for work, that credit will be available. Many of those assumptions are most likely wrong now. Create a new set of assumptions that you’re going to use going forward.

Embrace Ambiguity – Change is the new constant. The world is not picking on you personally nor on your business. Take in new information, test it (to see if it’s true) and then add it to your knowledge base. The best NFL running backs read and react. They see the holes opened by their offensive line (planned) and they see holes opened by defensive missteps (part of the changing environment) and run through them. In times of rapid change in the business environment, chart your course similarly.

Innovate Effectively – Use changing circumstances to supercharge innovation. We mistakenly think that the best innovation comes from freewheeling, wide-open, unlimited-budget brainstorming. Nothing could be further from the truth. The best innovation comes from very narrow constraints – How can we solve this problem with $1000? What changes to the customer onboarding process can we decide on before we leave this room and implement before the end of the week?

Leverage Existing Resources – What products or services could we deconstruct and sell separately? What products or services could we deconstruct and recombine to make new products more suited to the current environment? Who has existing expertise that we are not utilizing now? What underutilized inventory could we liquidate to invest in operations or in new inventory that we could turn easily in our new environment? If we are fiscally solid right now – what loans could we buy out and save money in the long run? what agreements for needed products or services could we strike with vendors now when they desperately need cash flow?

Think Broadly and Deeply – Agility requires the most effective cross-discipline work your organization has ever done. To paraphrase David Epstein in Range, “mental meandering is a competitive advantage.” If you and your team were afloat in a sinking ship, everyone would be encouraged to bail water, not just those with a job description that included “water bailing”. So it should be in an agile organization. Team members should be encouraged to contribute across departmental boundaries. Good solutions are the goal and egoless team collaboration is the methodology.

Make Small Targeted Investments – As new ideas surface, test them as cheaply as possible. Do things by hand at first until you know they merit having a process built around them. Go to market with a “minimum viable product”. Fail fast, iterate and try again. When you’ve finally, by iteration, hammered out a workable new product, service or process, begin to economically build systems around it. As Jim Collins reminded us, “shoot bullets, then cannonballs.”

Remove Cumbersome Bureaucracy – Organizations that are agile embrace entrepreneurial-style decision making – pushing down decision-making to the lowest level possible. When speed is a competitive advantage (and most of the time it is), layers of red tape hinder progress. Leaders should quickly “clear the path” for those creating or recreating a new product, service or process.

This week, deliberately introduce one or more of these agility-enabling tools into interactions with your team and encourage adoption. It can be one-on-one or in a group setting. Over the course of the next few weeks, keep introducing more of these tools.