Employee Development: Who Should Take Responsibility?

Training Development

Having been on both sides of the manager-employee equation, I sometimes wonder who should take responsibility of an employee’s growth and development.

This because I am a firm believer of self-awareness and constant growth of an individual.

Finding the Way

The process of identifying a development area and then working on it is now ingrained in me and I consciously work on it. However, some aspects of an individual are harder to identify and work on, than others. Some habits if not identified and worked on in the nascent stage can become an annoying trait.

These annoying traits can come back to bite an individual in the most crucial times.

I believe that in addition to an employee taking responsibility for their growth, managers should also take the time to give timely and appropriate feedback.

On Strengths and Weaknesses

Of all of my personality traits I have worked on over the years, some were easily identifiable by me. However, there were a couple of weaknesses that if not pointed out by my manager, I would never have identified the root cause and possibly never worked on them.

From my experience, each and every aspect of an individual can be worked on by carefully identifying the root of the problem and then coming up with appropriate steps to correct it. Having an understanding mentor or coach is the key to this process especially for those problems that are harder to work on.

Sometimes a couple of different solutions may have to be tried before one can completely fix a problem but the key is to keep trying.

Performance Reviews

What I have often seen is that most managers (if not all) dread when the time comes to giving performance evaluations to their employees.

This begs the question why?

  • Evaluating an employee’s performance should not be such a fearful process.
  • After all aren’t managers are also supposed to be coaches for their direct reports?
  • Isn’t annual review the time for employee growth and development?
  • Shouldn’t performance evaluation be the time where managers can be proud of their coaching skills?

Well, there is only one explanation of why this happens. These managers don’t give direct feedback to the employees all-year-round and wait for the yearly performance evaluation cycle. Some companies conduct mid-year evaluations. Even if companies don’t mandate a mid-year performance evaluation, managers should make it a habit to give feedback to their employees throughout the course of the working year.

Be Wise, No Surprise

Another important aspect of the review process is that any feedback should not come as a surprise to the employee at the performance evaluation time. If the feedback is a surprise, it would certainly make the process difficult and dreadful.

Coaching employees is one of the most rewarding skills for a manager and they should make it work to everyone’s advantage.

I would urge all managers to not let any annoying habit fester in an employee. Help them identify the root cause and work with them to correct it. It is quite possible that they may not be fully aware of the issue and simply need an empathetic guidance.

So how are you doing at identifying your personal and professional needs for growth? And better yet, how well are you doing this same thing for the people that you lead? What can you start doing TODAY to provide the helpful feedback your people need to help them learn, grow, and develop better performance? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Aditi Chopra
Aditi Chopra is an experienced leader in the software industry
She is a consultant, writer and a leader
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Leading Individuals for Organizational Health

Help Your Employees Navigate Healthcare

Healthcare Costs

Today, employees need quite a bit of help staying and keeping healthy in order to live a good life and keep your organization healthy.

But with seismic shifts in the landscape of healthcare costs and options, many employees can get lost in all the confusion.

Costs and Care

The Affordable Care Act has made remarkable strides toward improving Americans’ access to care. Since its 2010 debut, about 16.4 million previously uninsured Americans have obtained coverage. Those gains stem from healthcare marketplace purchases and young adults receiving coverage through parents’ plans until age 26.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, while the law has reduced America’s uninsured rate from a little more than 16 percent in 2013 to barely 10 percent today, it hasn’t been so effective at reducing costs — affordable care is still out of reach for many Americans.

A Families USA report found a quarter of insured adults skipped necessary care to avoid costs. The Kaiser Family Foundation cited 48 percent of uninsured adults said care is unaffordable, even though more than 70 percent had at least one full-time worker in their households.

And because so many Americans receive employer-sponsored coverage, businesses are feeling the hurt, too. With the average annual premium for employer-sponsored family coverage reaching $17, 545 in 2015, company leaders are struggling to provide workers with reasonably priced coverage.

Without proper care, workers are less reliable and less productive.

Fortunately, there’s a solution that can significantly diminish the burdens of care for employers and low-income working Americans.

Healthy Options

Medicaid for American Families and Businesses

The ACA expanded Medicaid to those with incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, but it remains underutilized by working families.

Medicaid provides comprehensive coverage comparable to or better than most private plans. Enrollees enjoy minimal to no premiums, deductibles, copays, or pharmacy costs, as well as benefits like vision and dental care, non-emergency transportation, and substance abuse treatment.

When a parent enrolls, their children and spouse are also covered. Unsurprisingly, Medicaid recipients are just as satisfied, or more satisfied, than those with private coverage.

Medicaid expansion has also brought opportunity to business owners. Employers in the 31 Medicaid expansion states can transition eligible employees off of company-sponsored plans and onto Medicaid, freeing up thousands of dollars in premium costs per year.

Get Employees Covered

Business leaders can assist in transitioning eligible employees to Medicaid by following a few simple steps:

1. Arm employees with facts.

Medicaid is sometimes stigmatized as being only for poor, unemployed individuals. However, this attitude is based on misinformation; millions of hard-working, employed Americans receive Medicaid. Clear up misconceptions by providing employees with reputable information:

  • Display comparisons between Medicaid’s costs and the costs of the company plan. For a family on a budget, these costs speak for themselves.
  • Explain that family coverage comes without additional dependent costs; outline Medicaid’s benefits for children.
  • Avoid stigmatizing terms like “welfare” or “charity care,” and answer employees’ questions calmly and factually.
  • Send or summarize studies explaining Medicaid’s benefits to skeptical employees; encourage them to do their own research.

2. Begin with new hires, then expand.

Rather than transitioning all eligible, interested employees at once, have HR first discuss Medicaid with new hires. It’s the perfect opportunity to get happy, compliant workers. Just don’t coerce employees to opt out of the company plan — it’s illegal.

Then, have HR set up one-on-one meetings to help other employees determine eligibility based on income information. If this proves too cumbersome for HR, consider contracting with a third-party enrollment service.

3. Cross the T’s and dot the I’s.

Make sure you, HR, or your third-party vendor follow up with employees after the process has begun.

Offer employees time and resources to complete their application at work — a time when they are much more likely to give their full attention, rather than during off hours. Have HR check that enrollees received mailed Medicaid cards; this part is crucial to maximizing the company’s savings.

4. Assist with annual renewal.

Many Medicaid enrollees don’t realize they need to renew coverage on a yearly basis, and this process leads to significant attrition. This could mean employees end up right back on company plans — an unnecessary financial burden for the employee and the company.

Keep employees covered by alerting them when the renewal period is approaching. Remind them to bring renewal forms to work for assistance from HR or your third-party vendor.

Health insurance enrollment is open until Jan. 31, so now is the perfect time for business leaders to introduce employees to the Medicaid option. Medicaid isn’t something to be ashamed of — it could be your team’s path to better health.

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Benjamin Geyerhahn

Benjamin Geyerhahn is the founder and CEO of BeneStream
Benestream guides employers and employees through the Medicaid process
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Imaginary Leadership (Part 2 of 2)

Ending the Persecution of People, Productivity and Profit

Empty Suit

Many leaders may be imaginary, but the pain, problems and privation they cause to people, productivity and profit are all too real!

In part one of the two-part series, I compared the profile of Imaginary Leaders to that of Real Leaders—a distinction with a profound difference—and introduced what I consider to be the top three practices of Imaginary Leaders:

  • The persecution of people by proxy
  • The persecution of productivity by process
  • The persecution of profit by policy

Now I want to spend some time breaking these down a bit, so they’ll be easier to spot for Real Leaders and those who endeavor to make the transformation to Real Leadership.

Persecution of People by Proxy

A “proxy” has the authority or power to act as a substitute and, in this case, it is the Imaginary Leader playing the part. It could also be the Manager who confuses his roles and supplants Real Leadership with Managership. In either case, the persecution of people occurs when their:

Personal strategies related to aspirations and conduct

Interpersonal strategies related to one-on-one interactions with others

And organizational strategies related to using systems, structures and resources to influence the thinking, behavior and performance of others actually promote a defensive/unadaptive operating culture.

Punishing Pratices

I’ve written elsewhere about these types of unhealthy cultures and the damaging effects they have, so I won’t go into detail here other than to reinforce the idea that they devastate people through the Leadership-Culture-Performance Connection.

Below are a few of the more popular punishing practices that emerge in a cause-effect layout, along some ideas on alternatives for your consideration:

Personal

  • Withholding information from someone who could learn, change and grow from it or could actually fix/ improve the system as a result of having it.
    • Effect: “An individual without information can’t take responsibility. An individual with information can’t help but take responsibility.” – Jan Carlzon
    • Alternative: Follow Meg Wheatley’s advice in Leadership and the New Science: “…create much freer access to it….everybody needs information to do their work….it is no wonder that employees site poor communication as one of their greatest problems. People know it is critical to their ability to do good work. They know when they are starving.”

Interpersonal

  • Using fear to manipulate performance (e.g., annual performance/ merit review, management by numbers/ objectives, as well as outright threats, intimidation, bullying, etc.) or allowing fear to be propagated by others.
    • Effect: Personally, fear is an extremely limiting emotion. According to Dwoskin in The Sedona Method (Chapter 3), it is just above Apathy and Grief in the hierarchy of suppressed emotions, limiting our energy to the point it is mostly painful. Organizationally, it creates loss from “…an inability to serve the best interests of the company through necessity to satisfy specified rules, or…a quota” and “…where there is fear, there will be wrong figures.” – Deming, Out of the Crisis (Chapter 8).
    • Alternative: Deming suggests driving out fear (Point # 8 of 14, Chapter 2) through embracing new knowledge—to discover by calculation whether performance deviations are out of control with respect to other conditions—for improving the system and also eliminating annual performance appraisals/ merit reviews (Deadly Disease #3, Chapter 3).

Organizational

  • Applying extrinsic motivators, otherwise known as reward and reprimand or “carrots and sticks.”
    • Effect: Destroys intrinsic motivation and any value in the work itself, as well as pride and joy in workmanship.
    • Alternative: Commit to removing the demotivators (e.g., micro-managing the down-line, telling them that their “job is to make you look good” and holding them accountable for things they can’t control) and barriers to successful work that exist. Use the Deming/ Scholtes-style of MBWA—not just walking around, but knowing what questions to ask and stopping long enough to talk to the right people and get the right answers (e.g., Genchi Genbutsu or Gemba)—as a strategy for finding out what those demotivators are. This “go and see at the real place” approach will provide feedback from the voice of the customer (i.e., the employees) and the voice of the system (i.e., the process) that will invariably require something the leader must work on improving, whether related to him/her self or the system.

Stop and ask yourself this:

To what extent am I relying on these strategies as part of my personal leadership platform?”

Then yield to an awareness that produces learning, acceptance that produces change, action that produces growth and achievement that produces new levels of Real Leadership.

Persecution of Productivity by Process

The persecution of productivity (and I include quality and competitive position in my use of the term) occurs when Imaginary Leadership doesn’t understand the work that they or their down-line are responsible for and, as a result, can’t do much of anything to measure or improve performance.

Deming once quipped:

If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing.”

He also said in The New Economics:

We should work on our process, not the outcome of our processes.”

The Heart of Quality

As Scholtes taught in principle number two of his six Principles at the Heart of Quality:

Leaders must understand their systems, processes and methods in terms of capability and variation. Data gathered on the variation of systems and processes over time will help leaders understand the characteristics of work performance in their organization.

When managers don’t understand the variation inherent in their systems and processes, they make themselves vulnerable to some serious problems:

  • They miss trends where there are trends.
  • They see trends where there are none.
  • They attribute to employees–individually or collectively–problems that are inherent in the system and that will continue regardless of which employees are doing the work.
  • They won’t understand past performance or be able to predict future performance.”

Understanding Process

But how many leaders today still don’t understand processes—not to mention the system; what Deming defined as “a network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish the aim of the system—or, if they do, still focus more on process outcomes (results) than on the process (effort) itself?

This isn’t a hard question to answer. Just check to see how many of your current metrics are defined around outputs vs process or inputs. Better yet, just think about where you spend most of your time.

Is it truly on understanding characteristics of work performance like variation around materials, methods, equipment/ machinery built into the end-to-end process or on trying to improve certain outcomes of a sub-process (usually by focusing on the attentiveness, carefulness and speed of individual workers) that you know “the boss” is going to ask about?

Deming would again suggest that this invariably leads to optimizing the sub-system at the expense of the total overall system.

Persecution of Profit by Policy

This may seem harsh, but research and reality suggest that, as mission and operating philosophy (e.g., goals, strategies and policies) emerge as part of any organizations maturation and development process, ways of people relating to each other and their work are collated into a comprehensive framework of “the way to do things,” and much of that operating philosophy is not conducive to improving financial performance.

The persecution of profit occurs when Imaginary Leadership continues to deploy policies that constrain organizational value-creation for customers, whether related to innovation, quality/ service, speed or cost.

These include policies that are intended to govern/ control who, what, where, when, why, how and how much a company purchases in products/ services, attracts/ trains/ retains talent, measures/ improves performance, et al., and the outcomes typically effected include things like teamwork, turnover, earnings/ sales volatility and net profit after taxes (NPAT).

For what to do instead, I’ll simply refer the reader to an article on The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog by John Hunter: Nobody Gives a Hoot about Profit, which includes an incredible video with Dr. Russell Ackoff about Values, Leadership and Implementing the Deming Philosophy.

Ending the Practices of Persecution

It is not going to be easy, but it is worthwhile. It starts with changing your point of view and I’d refer the reader back to Continual Improvement (CI) in part one of the two-part series. This commitment to transformation must come from you, personally…there is nothing anyone else can do.

Personal transformation can’t occur without your permission. It is a choice, and herein lies a danger that both Deming and Drucker pointed out. It is not mandatory. No one has to change. Survival is, and always will be, optional.

Choose wisely!

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Richard Dillard

Richard S. Dillard is Founder/ Managing Partner at Dillard Partners, LLC
Pursuing Success at the Speed of Leadership!
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Leaders: You Do Not Need to Be Nice to Be Kind

Kindness is not softness, it is not weakness, and it doesn’t always have to be nice.

In fact, sometimes kindness requires you to be tough and direct. I have seen the misinterpretation of this word negatively impact many organizations.

Leadership Mistakes

Leaders, in an attempt to be kind, move under-performing employees from position to position in the hopes that they will finally succeed or at least survive. Others allow deadlines to pass without repercussion or avoid having that fierce conversation that is needed in order to drive improvement and productivity.

Many of these leaders have adopted this style of kindness out of a reaction from working with or for a tyrannical ruler. They have witnessed how ineffective fear is in motivating people and driving an organization forward.

However, in an effort to be the antithesis of what they witnessed, they too have become ineffective.

Some are just new to their leadership role and worry about being liked. They lack the self-confidence needed and therefore, spend much of their time trying to please who that work for them.

But, neither of these is true kindness.

Leadership Wisdom

People need to understand where they stand, how they need to improve and what is at risk if they don’t.

Kindness requires empathy, honesty and trust. It means that at times you must be a mirror, reflecting back to a person the impact of their habits and behaviors.

Feedback, constructive criticism and accountability are all forms of kindness. People need to understand where they stand, how they need to improve and what is at risk if they don’t.

Leadership Looking Glass

It means that at times you must be a mirror, reflecting back to a person the impact of their habits and behaviors.

It may be counterintuitive, but letting someone go from their job could be a great act of kindness. For that individual, it very well may be that you are releasing them from the pain of being in the wrong job, giving them the freedom to finally pursue one that better fits their skills.

It could also be that difficult but teachable moment, where someone with a sense of entitlement finally realizes in fact they are not. Although no longer employed by you, they are now much better prepared for their next employment opportunity.

Maybe most importantly, it is an act of kindness to the rest of the organization.

It can be so demoralizing to be hard-working, a driven performer and not see those who aren’t be held accountable for their lack of performance.

Leadership Courage

When we care about others, we don’t want to be the cause of any pain or suffering.

No one relishes having difficult conversations or enjoys taking tough action. When we care about others, we don’t want to be the cause of any pain or suffering. But, avoiding those conversations and failing to take the needed action can be far more damaging in the long run.

Not only damaging to that individual, but also, to the efficacy of your own leadership and to the organization as a whole. Kindness requires that you push past your own discomfort and insecurity to take the needed action that best serves the interest of the company you help to lead.

You do not need to be nice to be kind. But, you must make people feel heard, cared for, valued and respected.

It is also essential that you always act with integrity and honesty and, that you have the conversations and take the action needed to best serve the organization you represent.

If you do all that, you are in fact a kind leader.

Remember: You do not need to be nice to be kind.

Thanks for reading.

Please join our GROW Community. We will share helpful articles, tips, tools and videos. We will never share your email address.

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Elliot Begoun

Elliot Begoun is the Principal Consultant of The Intertwine Group, LLC.
He works with companies to Deliver Tools that Enable Growth
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L2L Infographic: 7 Ways to Improve Your Email Signature

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3 Sacrificial Ways to Conquer This Year’s Goals…or Not

Leading with Honor Video Coaching from Lee Ellis

Should you set any personal or professional goals this year? Why or why not? Lee shares his valuable guidance in this clip.

If you’re feeling some anxiety or struggle about goals for the New Year, here’s my advice for relieving that pressure: fail fast and avoid the drama. Just avoid making goals altogether.

Seriously, you say?”

However if you decide to make New Year goals, these 3 sacrificial ways reveal the most successful path between goals and success…

Read Now

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Lee Ellis

Lee Ellis is Founder & President of Leadership Freedom LLC & FreedomStar Media.
He is a leadership consultant and expert in teambuilding, executive development & assessments
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His latest book is called Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton.

 

5 Ways Entrepreneurs Use Time Inefficiently

Stop Wasting Time

Becoming an entrepreneur is a dream that many people have. However, it is more difficult than many people on the outside understand.

There are a lot of different things that people who start their own business must do in order to succeed. Learning how to manage time efficiently is one of the most important aspect of owning your own business. Here are five ways that entrepreneurs use time inefficiently.

5 Ways Entrepreneurs Use Time Inefficiently

1) Urgent Issues

Many business owners spend all of their time on the urgent issues of the day. Although it may seem important, many issues that are faced are really more urgent than anything. Understanding this difference is a huge step forward for anyone who wants to improve their time management.

There are a lot of people who want to have more time during the day. If this is something that applies to you, start by concentrating on things that are important more than urgent. Over the long-term, this will make a huge difference in the amount of time you have to use on other aspects of your company.

2) Social Media

Another area that many people waste time in is social media. Many business owners understand that social media can be a great tool that drives in a lot of business. However, many people who own their own business get distracted in what they do on social media.

Instead of doing this, make sure that you set time limits in the amount of time that you spend on social media.

If you are a business owner, you do not have time to waste. If you want to take your business to the next level, this is an essential element of the time management process. There are many people who simply take breaks from social media for several weeks at a time. This may be something that applies in your situation.

3) Worrying About Minor Issues

Worrying about minor issues is something that many business owners deal with. Anyone who has the ambition to start their own business probably has a personality where they want to be perfect. However, worrying about minor issues detracts from other things that you could be working on.

Taking on a mindset that is more long-term is something that is essential.

Anyone who wants to start getting more done needs to quit worrying about minor issues in the business.

4) Not Enough Training

Many entrepreneurs feel as though they do not have enough time to train workers. However, when looking at this over the long-term, influence training is one of the most important aspects of running a business. No matter how talented an entrepreneur is, they need to have help in various areas of their life.

There are many people who are interested in training within various companies. Use the talents of people who are naturally inclined to train other people in order to ensure maximum effectiveness.

5) Valuing Money Over Time

There are many people who say they value time over money, but there are few people who actually practice it. Many entrepreneurs have a really bad habit of valuing their money over their time. Although this will lead to more money in the short-term, over the long-term it will decrease the effectiveness of your business.

There are many people who are unable to build companies that scale.

As a business owner, it is important to concentrate on the process that is going to be used in order to take your business to the next level. Instead of just running around trying to sell customers on your products and services, take some time to get above the issue and build systems that scale.

Although this will take time and energy in the short-term, over the long-term this will lead to more free time that you can use to concentrate on other areas of your business.

So, how many of these five time-wasters are you guilty of? What can you do to rearrange your thought patterns so that you can get out of these type of traps? Do you see other areas in your business that could be changed to be more efficient? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Dennis Hung

Dennis Hung is a Business Consultant specializing in Mobile Technology and IoT
He’s spent most of his career consulting for businesses in North America
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8 Quick Tips Every Startup Should Know

Success and Failure

According to the United States Small Business Association, there are over 28 million small businesses operating in the US. These small businesses are responsible for 54 percent of domestic market share.

If you are launching a startup and want to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward, here are eight tips you’ll want to keep in mind.

8 Quick Tips Every Startup Should Know

1. Carefully Consider the Competition

No matter what type of business you’re launching, you need to be aware of the competition and the industry standards. For example, you may feel it’s reasonable to charge by the hour only to discover others are charging piecework or by project.

Learn about standard deposits, pricing, turnaround times, promotions and accepted unwritten rules before you embarrass yourself or drive away potential clients.

2. Define the Scope of Your Business

New businesses often struggle to define their parameters at the start, especially if clients are asking for services you may not have considered. If you launch a venture that offers printing for brochures, business cards, and training materials, clients may also start asking about billboards, banners, graphic design services and other related products.

Know where your scope ends and where to direct clients if you can’t meet all of their needs. Resist the urge to say yes to every requested job or you may find yourself mired in projects you are wholly unprepared to handle.

3. Enumerate What Makes Your Venture Attractive to Prospective Employees

The Wall Street Journal lists broad job categories, a customized position, more flexibility, opportunities for growth, and better employee treatment as ways to lure quality talent away from huge corporations. New startups often make the mistake of only worrying about attracting clients, but you also need to think long and hard about how to entice the best employees to your door.

Put together a list of potential benefits you’re willing to negotiate. Some, like flexible hours, may cost you nothing at all. Others, like offering quality health insurance and short-term disability insurance, may be worth the cost if they get you top talent.

4. Define Short and Long-Term Goals

Entrepreneur Magazine recommends setting goals of varying time frames so you are able to judge your progress with your own yardstick. For example, if you simply want to run a small side business from your home with perhaps one part-time employee to help you during the holiday season, there’s little sense comparing yourself to a startup venture where the owners are pushing to go public in five years. Know where you are going and where you want to be.

5. Organize Your Finances

Your startup may not make a profit for a while and you may also want to reinvest any profit back into the business. Make sure you have an adequate emergency fund and startup capital so you won’t be juggling your office lease with your mortgage.

If you will be doing your own bookkeeping, learn the software before you go live to avoid costly and time-consuming errors.

6. Know Where to Find Assistance, if You Need it

If you have an accident, get sick or need surgery, having someone you can trust to step in for a while can save your business. You also need to consider if you’ve networked enough to get professional assistance when you need it, especially if you anticipate large projects in the future.

Consider the “what if” scenarios now before they happen.

7. Keep a Reasonable Schedule

Launching a business can easily eat up your every waking hour. Exercise, time with loved ones, meals and even sleep can start to take a back seat to the demands of your startup. From the beginning, define your schedule and keep to it as much as possible. If you want to shut off your business phone at five each evening, do it. If you won’t respond to emails on weekends, make that clear from the beginning. Don’t allow your ambition to overrun all other facets of your life.

8. Make Certain You’re Properly Insured

The Small Business Association enumerates the various types of business insurance available, and the options are broad indeed. General liability insurance can cover everything from slip-and-fall accidents at your shop to legal fees for libel or slander.

If you produce a consumable product, you may want to consider product liability insurance. Meet with your insurance agent early to discuss your venture’s details before a situation arises where you should have already been insured. A single lawsuit could put you out of business, so it pays to explore all options.

Launching your own business is an exciting time. By keeping these tips in mind, you’ll be better prepared for the process and can avoid costly, frustrating errors.

Do you have any other additional tips on how to be successful in a startup business? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Robert Cordray

Robert Cordray is a freelance writer with over 20 years of business experience
He does the occasional business consult to help increase employee morale
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Company Culture Key to Surviving Success

How to Prioritize Organizational Values Above Growth

Company Culture 2

There is a contradiction within most organizations that usually goes overlooked: success can be hazardous to culture.

We tend to overlook this fact because it is so counter-intuitive. If things are going well, we might ask, then how can that be a hazard to anything?

Losing Sight of Cultural Values

Unfortunately, larger or growing organizations can easily lose sight and influence over the importance of their culture. Consequently, this makes refocusing on cultural values a more complicated prospect after they have been ignored or neglected.

David Hassell, CEO of the Silicon Valley-based startup 15Five explains it this way:

Generally, the trend has been you go from small and nimble to large and bureaucratic. I don’t know that that’s the way it has to be, but that’s the trend.”

Hassell’s company works with organizations facing cultural dilemmas; that confusing state when a company has grown, but its culture hasn’t grown and adapted along with it. Business is good, because culture is commonly neglected, even in successful organizations.

Row in the Same Direction

One of the first things [an organization needs to do] is ask: who are the early, founding members?” Hassell says. “Why did this group come together—what is their common vision, their shared values, their world view?”

Hassell’s advice echoes a popular sports analog from the crew world that implores teams to “row in the same direction.” This is fine advice, if your only goal is to move the boat in an inflexible path forward.

But when teams exist as an organization, whether it is a business, a corporation, or even a department, the goal is rarely as simple as just rowing in the same direction. More likely, the team’s goal is to both move the boat and to simultaneously grow it.

This requires things like:

  • Developing talent
  • Investing in technology
  • Growing the team and each team member
  • Taking on more ambitious projects
  • And so on…

We Need a Bigger Boat

This is where maintaining culture, preserving foundational values, gets complicated. The boat is getting bigger, and in time, rowers are replaced with motors and engines. Suddenly you find yourself shouting over a massive, powerful machine for everyone to “Row in the same direction!”

But nobody is rowing. They are all specialized, siloed, and focused on all sorts of segmented goals, driven by whatever motivations they happen to respond to.

Your boat—your organization—may not sink immediately, but neither will it be as maneuverable, as responsive to change, or as resilient in the face of obstacles because it is no longer held together by a healthy culture.

The Culture of Growing-Up

Company CultureOf course, aligning values is easier when an organization is small. But something happens during the scaling process. It feels a lot like success. Or even outright victory.

This is because the things that got you started are paying off. The team is growing, revenues are increasing, and you suddenly have demand for things you didn’t need before.

These are things like:

  • An HR department
  • Employee handbooks
  • Benefits
  • Insurance

As well as justification for investing in others that you’ve always wanted:

  • Specialists
  • An-house design team
  • Remote sales reps
  • Marketing department

The mistake that many organizations and leaders make that lead to the sort of bureaucratic growth on which Hassell laments is to think that a good strategy can overcome any organizational ailment.

Culture Trumps Strategy

Implementing yet another top-down solution doesn’t restore intimacy in communication, repair trust in leadership, or fill any of the voids that a keep a culture healthy and resilient.

Everybody knows that culture trumps strategy every day of the week,” says Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University.

Crow, understands the challenges of taking on a neglected, discordant culture. As part of his role at the university, he decided not just to transform his organization (the school), but to take on something much bigger: the culture of an entire country.

His strategy? The same as Hassell’s advice for startups and young companies: seek out like-minded thinkers and work to attract more people who are a good cultural fit.

Start at the Beginning

I’m not arguing that we need to go in and ‘change culture’ or drive cultural changes across people; what we have to do is find ways to understand our cultural heritages better,” says Crow.

To achieve this, Crow helped facilitate a partnership between ASU Online and the Mayo Medical School, in part to change how future doctors and nurses are trained in medicine.

The ultimate goal? To change how America thinks about health, wellness, and medical care.

But he is tackling this outsized goal the same way that small, start-up companies approach their niche goals. He is doing with a strategic partnership, rooted in a common vision.

Recruit With Wisdom

All the key challenges of leadership such as motivating, innovating, and empowering are directly impacted by the recruitment decisions being made, and the cultural values that inform and dictate how recruiting occurs.

Small organizations have it easier because they are at the beginning of the cultural evolution and they can put the focus on hiring for culture right from the start. But as Crow’s initiative demonstrates, rebuilding an unhealthy culture can start the same way.

Conversations about values, goals, and motives are the building blocks of company culture. It is never too late to initiate these conversations—but it is a lot easier to start having them early on.

So how important is a healthy, strong, and growing culture at your organization? As a leader, what steps can you take to get a clear picture of your corporate values structure and continue to improve them for a better culture? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Edgar Wilson is a Writer, Consultant, and Analyst
He follows trends in Education, Healthcare, and Public Policy
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Image Sources: enterrasolutions.com, blogging4jobs.com

 

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