One of the neat things about writing your own blog is that you can pretty much write about whatever you want – you don’t really answer to anyone! And while ...
In the book It Takes A Village by Hillary Rodham Clinton and attributed to African proverbs, the concept that it takes a whole village to raise a child, to me also speaks to the idea that for businesses to truly succeed, it takes much more than just a good leader. Rather, it takes a whole team of committed and enthusiastic employees to make that success – and then to continue the momentum over time.
In my last blog post I talked about the need to stay relevant, to change with the times, and how that is critical over time as organizations transition from start-ups though mid-life and then to future generations. I mentioned that it also needed to be a team effort. I very much believe that this is not only true, but really the cornerstone of success. Even the true visionaries and genuine thought leaders of business were only able to succeed with the “buy-in” of those that did the day-to-day work. It is those who embrace the leader’s concepts and also push themselves to advance that will make a difference. Over time, this effort not only helps a business grow and succeed, it also allows the individual to grow – to achieve more and contribute ideas that will advance their career path.
Within organizations, both small and large, you will find individuals that have different roles. Some are directly involved in generating new business/sales, or in nonprofits, the ones who bring in the donor support. There are others that manage the day-to-day operations – keep the machines running, manage workflow, schedule services calls, etc. We also need people who will take care of the wide variety of regulations that all organizations need to pay attention to – HR, legal, etc. Some of these roles we may have been hired in to – others we found ourselves assuming responsibility for when no one else was available. This concept is also very interesting, in that for many rapidly growing organizations, responsibility is not given, but rather it is taken. When our team members look to grow and contribute more than what is asked of them, then that is when forward momentum begins to happen. And when multiple people combine their efforts, then really great things happen!
Teamwork can also come from outside of your organization as well. Consider your employees that are tasked with a certain objective and they take it upon themselves to reach out to their friends or others in the community to gain knowledge or different perspectives. Perhaps they lean on a trade group or industry association for assistance – or seek out advice from a local community college or Chamber of Commerce. These resources can provide valuable information to help an organization grow beyond its internal limits.
When organizations are growing, especially at fast rates, the challenge of building teamwork is often easier. A culture of excitement and a desire to prove yourself as an individual that can help the organization grow is dominant. Each person quickly rises to the challenge, or if not, then the core group looks to move on with finding other worthy team members. As organizations mature however, the challenge becomes one of continually reaching for new achievements and adapting to the industry changes. If not, and the team becomes complacent or comfortable, then momentum can be lost!
How is your team positioned?
In keeping with my last blog post’s theme, the need for organizations to keep the momentum going, is truly an ongoing challenge. Whether you are a small business – medium or large, or even a nonprofit organization as well, there are often major shifts in the business climate that can drastically affect your ability to stay relevant. And sometimes, even though they may be significant shifts, they might well not be easily recognized right when they are happening – rather it might take a little time before we fully realize the impact.
For instance, while almost all of us will acknowledge a very real convergence of economic meltdowns centered around the 2008 recession, I would suggest that at about the same time frame, a number of technological shifts were also surfacing. As a result of these changes, the demand for new job growth and employment needs were actually lessened, right at the very time that we needed this new growth to fully recover. For instance, why would the financial industry need to hire “bank tellers” when now you can just scan a check from your phone to make a deposit! And while this is just one small example, many other businesses – including the print industry, found that significant changes in technology and communication formats had a “life changing” effect on how they do business.
In fact this effort to remain relevant is fueled by the concept of change. Whether through technological change or just the need to keep the company spirit moving forward, change is critical for companies to deal with especially as they shift from the initial “start-up” phase, through any “mid-life” crisis points, and then as they look to transition from one generation to the next. Long term business success is not a given. In a recent article in Inc. magazine, Jason Fried of the company Basecamp, talks about potential lessons learned from long-time business owners, and how we can all learn from them. Those businesses or organizations that have passed the “test of time” know that it takes much more than just a good idea or product. There must be a real value proposition for their clients to see and understand. There also needs to be a motivation and drive within all business team members to contribute to this value proposition in order to make it real, and then be able to shift and create new products or services to adapt to the changing business climate while still remaining true to the company values.
One advantage that start-up businesses have is the “all-in attitude” amongst its employees – their desire to make a mark and please the customer is second to none. As time passes though, complacency and the comfort of initial success can be hard to overcome. It is those organizations that can deal with this and adapt to change as well – to stay relevant, that will truly succeed.
How is your organization looking to stay relevant?
Over the course of the last several weeks, or even months I guess, I have heard numerous financial reports on how the economy is on a slow track to recovery. We are definitely in a growth mode, just not very fast! Predictions have been made that growth would be over 3% this year, then we had a rather harsh winter blast that seemed to throw everything backwards. Now growth in the first quarter was actually negative, but even still it is expected that we will top 2% for the year. But hang on, because things will surely change! Heck it seems like when some positive reports come out you would expect a good day on Wall Street, and just the opposite – we end up dropping 50 points. But then, on seemingly not so good news, wait for it… bam – the stock market shoots up!
Through all of this noise and clutter, most of us in business find ourselves just keeping at what we can control. At the start of the year we make our plans – put together a marketing strategy, look at new markets or perhaps try to bolster existing ones. And if we are smart, we stick with the plan without major changes. It is important not to get too caught up in the day-to-day fluctuations, but rather focus on the big picture!
Having said this though, it can be increasingly tough at times to keep the forward momentum going! It seems like all of us – and our employees as well, keep hearing the ups and downs, and this can begin to wear on you. Keeping up the positive attitude, looking to even just stick to the plan – all of this can be pretty tough at times. Yet it is our role as the leaders of an organization to fight the battle and keep pushing. We need to stay up with the latest industry news and trends to pick up new ideas or look for encouraging news that we can share with those at work. We need to plan company wide activities or gatherings that engage our employees and encourage teamwork. We need to push to find new ways to share our marketing message or to attract new clients.
All of this takes a good amount of energy and renewed passion from within ourselves as well! It can be very stressful to always be the one at the front – or the one that your staff looks to for the answers. In fact many times it is this pressure that causes owners to give up the fight and close the doors of a seemingly successful business. All the more reason to take some time now and then to re-charge your own batteries, and to make sure you have the momentum yourself to keep moving forward!
So how do you keep pushing?
A couple of weeks ago I had a rather busy day scheduled out. The first part was participating in the Axelson Symposium – an annual day-long educational event for nonprofit organizations in the Chicago area that is presented by The Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management at North Park University. As one of the sponsors of this event we are able to not only have a booth to share our services with the attendees, we are also able to participate in the presentations throughout the day, which are very insightful. Following this event, I was also scheduled to attend out local United Way dinner the same evening – suffice it to say that this was going to be a long day without much of a break!
I will admit though that I was very interested in hearing especially two of the presentations. The first one was at the Axelson event. The closing session was “Life is What You Make It: A Concert & Conversation with Peter Buffet.” While most everyone has heard of his father Warren Buffet, certainly I thought, that Peter would no doubt have some very interesting thoughts and insights as well. And that he did… while a fairly short presentation, Peter did share much about what his upbringing was like and how each of us is challenged with decisions in life with regard to taking the path of least resistance, or the path of potentially greatest satisfaction. As a musician and also a philanthropist, Peter combined his passion of music with his life experiences and philosophy on giving as well.
The second part of the day – actually evening, was an opportunity to not only meet up with many other community members that help support our local United Way, but also to hear the keynote speaker – Scott Parazynski.I was rather looking forward to hearing Scott talk, as I had the chance to read a little about his life experiences through the program book that we had printed in advance of the event. One could easily suggest that he is the classic overachiever – during a 17 year career with NASA, Scott had flown on 5 shuttle missions and conducted 7 spacewalks. In addition to this career, he was a commercial pilot and is also a physician – currently the Chief Medical Officer at the University of Texas. And oh by the way, he has also climbed Mt. Everest! It was truly an interesting talk that he gave – sharing his drive to achieve all that he has set out to do – and continues to do! More than one of us at the dinner made comments with regard to that even though we ourselves might have achieved much in our lives, compared to Scott, we did not match up that well.
Which ultimately brings me to the real point of my blog post today, and that is now two weeks later that I have had the chance to read thru the book that Peter Buffet had written and shared with us at the Symposium, entitled “Life Is What You Make It.” I was able to get some great insight and thoughts on what helps shape each of our lives – from the very beginning, thru some of the difficult decisions each of us make – including mistakes as well. One section in particular – What we mean when we say “success,” was a great read that suggests success is not just measured by the money we make, or even the achievements we reach – but rather by the value that we ourselves place on a given goal and what we feel in our own inmost hearts. And hence, even though we may not achieve the life of an astronaut, mountain climber or physician like Scott Parazynski, that does not mean that each of us cannot, or in fact do not, lead a very successful and rewarding life as we ourselves see it!
So what is your passion?
I had an opportunity this last week to participate in a unique community event, called On The Table. Actually, it was part of a much larger regional event coordinated by the Chicago Community Trust, that was designed to bring together a large number of small groups of people to talk about what was important to them in their communities. Looking back, 99 years ago, this was how the Chicago Community Trust was founded – by interested and community minded individuals meeting to talk about how they could make a difference.
Fast forward to today, and the vision of CCT was to again have individuals get together and share their thoughts of what is working well, and perhaps not so well within the whole Chicago land region. All together there were well lover 11,000 individuals represented on Monday night, the 12th of May. Locally in McHenry County, our own Community Foundation sponsored over 20 different “table” discussions, and then other organizations and individuals added several other gatherings as well.
At the table that I had hosted, the discussion was interesting and varied. Our main topic seemed to focus on the concept of volunteerism – how it is a real strength within our county and communities, and has been for some time, although we are beginning to see it start to wane somewhat. The talk was that this seems to be generational in nature – the youth seem to be more focused on volunteering for a given event rather than an ongoing organization or membership commitment. We also discussed the need for job growth, vocational skills and the elderly – which for McHenry County is the 4th fastest growing population sector in the state of Illinois! For other tables that met, transportation was a key topic, state taxes, education and much more were discussed.
The idea of getting a wide range of people together to share their ideas freely is really pretty unique. Often times there is a political driver behind these types of gatherings, which can stifle the conversation. This was not the case here – rather an open dialogue and the opportunity for people to meet others that they would not normally have a chance to talk with. I definitely enjoyed the opportunity to participate, and hope that both the McHenry County Community Foundation and the Chicago Community Trust can use the discussion information gathered to help foster better communities for all of us to share in for the future!
Yes this is a special day… for all of our Mothers. Not only did they bring us into this world, but they helped us get through many of the tough times as well. We learn a lot over the years, and hopefully we hold onto most of it! In the beginning there was doing all the things that we could not do for ourselves – like feeding us and cleaning up after us, then helping to teach us to read, and write – sure we went to school for this, but without Mom there to practice it at home, I am not so sure it would have stuck quite the same. Of course we all had a lot of No’sspoken to us along the way, but that is okay too – at some point we all need to learn what we can and cannot do.
Along the way my Mom had the opportunity to teach all of us how to help out around the house and even do some chores – mine involved cleaning the bathrooms! To this day my wife Julie still appreciates this fact as I will chip in and do the bathrooms at least on a fairly regular basis. I am also thankful for the good manners she helped teach all of us kids – that too is something that you will never lose out on. In fact, much of what our parents teach us we find is what we have learned to pass along again to our children, and so again I am thankful to both of my parents who did a good job with us kids. Of course it has also been suggested that at some point we all become our parents to some degree – something to look forward to Jenni!
So on this Mothers day I say thanks Mom, for all you have done! I know there is so much that we probably cannot remember it all, and that is fine – I know I cannot either.
Over the last several months I have either read or found myself involved in various conversations that have all included some aspect of the notion that significant change is happening within a variety of different employment markets. No doubt that this happens all the time, but I would maintain that there are a number of factors that make this particular point in time somewhat unique!
For instance, not only are we still slowly coming out of a rather serious recession with still high unemployment overall, but add in the significant explosion of technology advancements that really started to take hold right about the same time as the recession hit. Consequently, some industries – one of them being the printing industry for instance, were challenged with competition from the online digital media formats that severely cut into market share. Over time the competition is beginning to sort itself out somewhat now, but still the effect was dramatic. Many other examples exist as well – just look at businesses such as Blockbuster Video for example!
Another factor that is coming to the forefront is an issue very prominent in the state of Illinois, but also evident in other states as well – the problem with underfunded pensions.Why is this affecting employment you ask? Well consider a report that suggests nearly one-third of the faculty professors at the University of Illinois will be applying for retirement this summer! And another report that suggests nearly 4 times more applications for retirement from state workers was received in Illinois due to the fact that their benefit package was expected to drop significantly if they waited to the following year. It does not take a brain surgeon to figure out that there could be a real shortage of qualified workers to take their places next year!
I happen to serve on an Advisory Committee at Illinois State University for their Graphic Arts program – which is where I graduated from some 36 years ago. At our last meeting a month ago, the discussion came up that one of the major challenges facing all of the businesses represented – both large and small, was the aging workforce. Not that I am getting any older mind you, but the bottom line is that for many businesses, the “baby boomers” are rapidly getting closer to retirement – and quite frankly, there are not enough of the next generations that are in place to fill the gaps! Oops, another problem.
Yet another thought came to mind based on something I had read recently – with some of the rapidly changing technology that we are seeing, it is not out of possibility that someone entering college as a freshman today in a specific program, might well graduate in four years and find out that this program is obsolete! Or at the very least, they had better hope that their instructors have been staying current with all the new trends and advancements. One would hate to graduate with a significant debt load – and not a viable education!
All of this is certainly a little scary and definitely makes for interesting times. Or, on the hand, it could also make a tremendous opportunity for the right-minded individual. Employment Which side of the coin will you choose?
So I just finished up today taking part in this year’s Human Race – a local 5K event that benefits a wide variety of nonprofit agencies throughout McHenry County. It is rather unique in that it attracts well over 1,000 participants, each of which selects the charity that it will raise funds for. All in all, it is a great event that not only brings together a large number of people to help raise money, but it also does a good job of helping to raise awareness as well. I was quite grateful to all those who helped support me again this year in raising money for the McHenry County Community Foundation – this was my chosen cause, and one that I am proud to help support and play an active role in.
Having said this, I will admit that at times leading up to the run that I was not so sure if in fact I might even finish! It has been a tough year for me from a training standpoint, and I also had a pulled hamstring muscle that bothered me for quite a while. I was fine when just walking, but anytime I started to jog or run, it just became a pain.At some point I figured I might have to just walk the whole way – and yet, that did not quite seem the right thing to do. Maybe it was just the old “stubborn male pride” thing, but I kept telling myself that no matter what, if I said I was going to run this 5K and I was raising money to do it, then by gosh I was going to do it!
Well as time passed, the hamstring got to feeling a little better. And while the weather conditions were not so great – in the low 40’s and quite windy, I did manage to make it through as planned! No record time for me, which is fine, but at least now I can say I followed through on what I said I would – which if you know me, is a pretty big deal. In fact, truth be known, I could probably go out and run another 5K this evening just to say I did two in one day!
Or, maybe that is just that stubborn male pride thing talking again…
If you are responsible for the marketing of your organization, I can pretty much guarantee that this is a statement you will find yourself thinking somewhere along the line… “It seems like we just did this!” And if you are doing things according to plan, you would be right.
For instance, we are in the process now of updating our website, not a major overhaul – that was done a year ago at this time, but none the less enough of a change that someone will notice a new look. Likewise we will be adding updated videos (Google likes this you know) and content as well over the next couple of weeks. We are also in the process of planning a new seminar for clients, which we do several times a year, as well as other marketing strategies such as newsletters, a blog compilation, an exhibit booth at a conference and several others. All of these we do on a regular basis, several times per year.
The point in this discussion is that in order to succeed in marketing your business there are many things that can have a major impact – three of which I will outline here, but none more important than the last one.
- Important to do things right - in other words make sure that the message you are sharing is crafted correctly, your methods of distribution are well-coordinated, the follow-up is routine, and that you are following “best practices.”
- Good to be Lucky - or maybe this should be better stated as being in the right place at the right time. This is obviously not any “textbook” strategy that you will read about or learn in a marketing class, but I would maintain is very much part of many success stories!
- Consistency makes a difference - without a consistent follow-through of your plan, none of the first two even have a chance of working! Think in terms of Nike’s classic slogan – Just Do It! This is where the idea that you will get tired of what your messaging is well before most of your client’s and prospects even recognize it.
So while it is always important to look for new ways to communicate and share your message, it is even more important to continue to follow a plan and do the things that you said you were going to do, even when they become repetitive. It is in fact the redundancy factor that helps brand your product or service, to be in the right place at the right time.
What is it that you are repeating right now?