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Unconventional Wisdom for Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs


As a business leader or entrepreneur, you should never stop learning, learning from your own experiences and from those of other leaders. Here are some practical tips that can help you become a better leader, implement a high-performance culture, develop winning strategies, and drive organizational excellence.


LEADERSHIP

Allow your next-level leaders to witness your decision-making process

Most of the critical business decisions that shape the future of the business are judgement calls based on supporting evidence or projections! While you make them, allow your next-level leaders to witness and gradually become part of the decision-making process. There is no better way to create an organization where leaders take decisions with speed and consistency.


Appoint someone who can hold a mirror in front of you and can demand accountability

Identify someone that you trust internally or hire an external coach to monitor your behaviour and highlight your blind spots. Very often, organizational values and culture are defined by strategists in consultation with business leaders; business leaders in turn expect the entire organization to demonstrate that culture but the leaders themselves often fail to internalize these traits. The behaviour of the workforce is more influenced by their experience with their leader rather than what is expected of them. This can only work if you volunteer to have someone watch you and commit to working on areas of development.


Engage your leadership team in expansive thinking, unrelated to your business

Staying focussed on “getting things done” can be too exhausting, curtailing creativity, and restricting the mind from thinking big. Every once in a while, getting together with teammates in an informal setting, and having casual conversations on matters beyond work, such as strategy for your favourite sports team, or geopolitical developments, or debating the meaning of life & universe, discussing disruptive technologies, etc, will be a refreshing change, will help develop perspectives, and act as social stimulant.


Play a sport to improve your leadership skills

Not only will sports help you stay active and healthy, it is also a great way to develop important leadership skills such as the ability to work with teammates, develop winning strategies and techniques, build rigor and discipline, quick thinking and decision making, handle pressure and adversity, etc. You have a good head start if you feel inspired by the determination, motivation, perseverance, competitiveness, or unique style of your favourite sports personalities.


PEOPLE & CULTURE

Implant the organization’s purpose and mission everybody’s subconscious mind

Keep reiterating the organization’s purpose and mission; make it part of every presentation and every display board in the office or digital workspace; constantly remind the workforce of its purpose and mission; and drive it into their subconscious mind. It helps to keep the workforce motivated and always aligned. You will be surprised to see your teams self-regulate and recalibrate when they begin to drift away.


Define success criteria for every role before hiring

Define success criteria for every operational role, even before hiring. Other than for some roles that come with fluid responsibilities or extremely long gestation period or may require rapid pivoting, most of the operational roles should require clear and timely outcomes. Make sure these are published for every role in as few words as possible, preferably with 2-5 key metrics, and regularly track and publish them.


Find the balance between role expectations and recognition of achievements

Recognition of high performers and achievers is important; but even more important is to ensure that it is done only when expectations are exceeded, and done immediately upon achievement; and when done, it is always accompanied with the performance metrics for everyone to see. This will have a disproportionate influence in driving better than expected outcomes. Frequent recognition of the same group of individuals is a sign of bias which can crush the motivation of the workforce, or a sign of suboptimal use of your best talent which means lost opportunity.


STRATEGY

Sales team can be your biggest disruptor, if only you allow them to be

Product and/or service delivery leaders may be experts in the subject matter and thought leaders in their own right, but the sales team is closest to the market and can sense market trends much better. Letting the product/ service delivery team define offerings and operations within their comfort zone/ based on current expertise, will be detrimental for business growth and expansion, and will adversely impact the ability to capture emerging spaces. Allow the sales team to challenge the marketing and/or product and/or service delivery teams, to push for innovative problem-solving, to influence organizational capabilities, and to help the business push boundaries and grow.


You have no idea how strategic and talented your next 2 level leaders are, until you try them

Broad base your business strategy and planning team to include heads and their next levels from sales, product, service delivery and operations, information technology, finance, and human resources, and encourage them to be bold in their thinking. The optimal strategy will emerge when market analysis, geographic expansions, customer segmentation, sales channels and approaches, pricing, and deal structuring, is all done collaboratively by these stakeholders, with a bias for achievement! The leaders will also work towards collective success when they jointly sign-up to the plan.


EXECUTION

Stop wasting your time and everyone else’s productivity with too many meetings and reports

Do not exhaust your team with too many team meetings and reports. If you can and want to invest time in your team members, use it to work together on specific opportunities or deliverables. For example, help a sales manager perfect the standard sales pitch and develop an approach to deal with non-standard opportunities; no amount of internal guidelines, reviews, forecasting, or tools will help you predict or influence customers’ decision making process; if there is anything that can help accelerate deals, it is to engage with the customer at multiple levels. Organizational excellence will come from focusing on performance metrics, and regular and objective feedback. Your ideal operating model should be light on process and high on competency development.


If you have hired someone to do a job, trust them to do the job

If you have hired someone because they have the right expertise and experience to be able to perform a role, repose faith in that person and be confident of your judgement. If monitoring and mentoring their work is important in the initial days in a new role, make a conscious effort to create elbowroom over time. And never jump to conclusions too early; everyone has their own working style, allow them to work the way they want to and focus on the outcomes. Your team is competent and trustworthy unless proven otherwise.


Learn to say no to unreasonable customer demands or unacceptable behaviour

Yes, customer is king. Yes, your business is irrelevant without customers. Yes, you should strive to please the customers. And yes, your most demanding customers are the greatest source of learning. But every now and then you will come across a customer who is excessively demanding but unfair with contract terms, demonstrates toxic behaviour with your employees, or just does not value your products/ services despite your best efforts. It is best to avoid such customers and not let your team get demoralized; rather focus on customers who value your products/ services and go the extra mile.

 

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