Leaders: Looking to “Find Your Next” Competitive Edge? | Read Andrea Kates

New ideas intrigue me. So when I was contacted by Andrea Kates to comment on her newly released book, Find Your Next: Using the Business Genome Approach to Find Your Company’s Next Competitive Edge, I was all in. I was taken by how my business fitness metaphor for individual success aligned with Kates’ business genome metaphor for maintaining competitive business advantage. Innovative thinking and questioning, especially during uncertainty, are a must for every leader. 

It’s mistake if you’re thinking: 

  • “I’m not really a ‘business’ leader. I just direct a small work group.”
  • “I’m responsible for internal services, so I don’t have to think about the marketplace.”
  • “In my company, decisions about competitive edge and growth are made by the big execs. I’m not in that loop.” 

Everyone in a leadership role affects the future growth, competitive advantage, and sustainability of his/her company. 

Why? Because every function, no matter how big or small, has an effect on the business’s ability to out-perform and out-innovate the competition. 

If you need to be convinced, Andrea Kate’s book, Find Your Next: Using the Business Genome Approach to Find Your Company’s Next Competitive Edge, provides compelling insights. 

A powerful metaphor 

Scientists reveal the mysteries of our biology through DNA genome mapping. In a similar vein, Kate’s reveals a “genome” map of these six elements of business success. 

  1. Product and service innovation—the invention of offerings that resonate.
  2. Customer impact—a sustainable community of support.
  3. Process design—alignment of the ‘how’ of a business with the evolving ‘what’ that customers need.
  4. Talent and leadership—the culture that will move a business forward.
  5. Secret sauce—the recipe of differentiation and competitive advantage in a new world of unprecedented transparency.
  6. Trendability—the foresight to see the future more quickly and adapt more rapidly to shifts in the landscape. 

With an understanding of these elements in hand, what’s a leader to do? 

The answer is simple: ASK QUESTIONS. Lots of them. Make them challenging, unnerving, disturbing, pointed, wild, and complex. 

Then resist rejecting answers before you really examine, understand, deconstruct, and test them. 

Great leaders learn not to be afraid of innovative thinking, new direction, disruptive change, and paradigm shifts, even though they may be tempted to resist what they don’t immediately understand. 

Find your next … 

Leadership is about defining reality and then laying out a path for success. Every function in every organization is ripe for improvement, change, and innovation in order to keep up with best practices or to forge new ground. It’s the same whether its human resources, financial planning, product design or marketing. 

Kates lays out the struggle every leader faces: 

We are all facing new realities: the mountain of facts is huge, the speed of change is impossible to keep up with, the information that used to keep us ahead of our competition is now instantaneously available, our customers are talking about us to each other more than ever before, business dynamics have turned global, and the expectations for competitive advantage are rising at record speed. 

When it comes to thinking strategically, the model most leaders use is SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats). Instead, Kates suggests business genomic thinking: 

  1. Sort through the options for your company and assess your hunches.
  2. Match your genome to successful businesses that have already steered themselves in the direction you want to explore.
  3. Hybridize your company by grafting the ideas that work in other companies to your own.
  4. Adapt and thrive by breaking out of old habits and fostering new traditions in your business that will enable you to take advantage of a rapidly-evolving business environment. 

To Kates, the key to competitive edge is looking at how you perform in any aspect of your business compared to businesses much different from yours. Even though apples and oranges are different on the surface, they are both fruit with attributes that are good for you. 

The leader’s coda 

Find Your Next is “based on the idea that the possibilities for what a business leader can do next must come from somewhere other than what they did last,” Kates writes. 

One of the smart moves of business fitness is to implement new ideas. To do that you need to think about what’s really going on in your business, how it addresses the vortex of marketplace change, and then what course of action to take. Kate’s book is filled with approaches, insights, and a wide-range of case studies that will help you find your next.

Employees Underperforming? Get Their Attention! | Supervise for Accountability

Work’s piling up. You’re worn out. Finally, you get the okay to hire.  You’re pumped. Relief is in sight. Truth is: Employees are work. Actually, they’re your job.

Employees, especially new ones,  mean that you’re faced with:

  • Job orientation and training
  • “What do I do now” questions
  • Reluctance to make decisions when you’re not around
  • “I didn’t think that was my job” disclaimers 

So where’s your relief? You’re not totally free of the work you hired for, because it’s still in your head, and the people you hired to do it feel like an added burden.

Take heart. The time you invest developing your employees will deliver big rewards.

Be clear about employee accountabilities. 

The biggest mistake is hiring people to complete a string of tasks. Look at your job descriptions. My guess is that they describe responsibilities, duties, and/or tasks.

If you want employees to lighten your load and add value to your business, hold them accountable for results. That means the tasks/duties they complete must be the means to the ends that you need.

Here’s how you link tasks and accountabilities (also referred to as results or outcomes):

  • Process customer claims (task) within 48 hours, ensuring a positive interactive experience for the customer (result)
  • Maintain product inventory (task), ensuring availability to meet monthly demand (result)
  • Market services to clients (task), averaging 5% conversion to sales monthly (result)
  • Complete administrative reports (task) within the first 5 days of the new month (result) 

Employees need to know what they are expected to contribute to the success of the business. It’s not just about being busy doing tasks. It’s about doing work that counts.

The next big question, of course, is: “How do supervisors and business owners motivate employees to do their best work?”

Being “in” on things matters most. 

Repeatedly, studies have been done on what motivates employees. We always think that must be money, but it isn’t. Actually, we all want to feel like we’re important enough to be in the know.

Supervisors who want to bring out the best in their employees share relevant information and make them part of what’s going on.

They can pump up the motivation and ability of employees to do their “best” when they:

  • Engage employees in decision-making about things that will affect them (i.e., scheduling, work processes, equipment purchases, working conditions)
  • Involve them in the root cause analysis of work that “went wrong” (i.e., customer problems, accidents, equipment failure, miscommunications)
  • Ask them for ideas, innovations, and insights (i.e., new products, procedures, work processes)
  • Give them visibility with customers, vendors, suppliers, and management
  • Take them to see similar business operations in other companies or to visit departments they impact in their own company
  • Give them business cards, reminding them that they are representatives of the company and impact its brand

 Talk to your employees. 

Reinforce each employee’s accountabilities monthly. That means a face-to-face dialogue about:

  • how they are doing
  • what they may be uncertain about
  • how ready they are to take on more responsibilities
  • what help they need from you, and
  • what they can do to get better 

This is where the two of you talk about your expectations and how you can  support to each other. It is not a performance review;  it a conversation.

Becoming the “best” is a team effort. 

Setting the bar attainably high is the best thing you can do for your business and your employees. Employees who think they’re being set up for failure won’t make the effort. Those who believe their supervisor is counting on them to succeed will knock themselves out to deliver. If that isn’t the case, then that employee is the wrong fit and may need to move on.

Supervisors who use the smart moves for achieving business fitness with their employees create an individual development culture that delivers success all around. Nothing beats an employee team making it happen!

What approaches have you experienced that helped employees become their “best”?  What made them work? Any cautions? Thanks.

Besieged by Problems? Out of Ideas? | Circle Your Masterminds

In the dumps? Disgusted? Feel like no one’s struggling with career frustrations and business uncertainties the way you are? Makes you ask yourself, “What’s my problem?” Well, that’s how I felt. 

It doesn’t matter whether you’re an employee, a business owner, a budding entrepreneur, college student, or unemployed. We just don’t have all the answers.

Finding answers is about accumulating knowledge. 

And it isn’t just about information. Knowledge includes insights, perspectives, conclusions, and us

Yes, the most important knowledge we bring to our work is self-knowledge. Are you aware of what motivates, frightens, energizes, and limits you? Do you understand and deal with your strengths and weaknesses? Are you an effective problem solver? 

This is heady stuff that we often overlook. But it’s the real stuff of career and business success. 

The best route to that understanding is through people who want it too. 

Find like-minded people who trust each other. They’re gold!

 This is what mastermind groups are. You can get a group together around any issue you face: 

  • Career decision-making and job hunting
  • Building your small business
  • Creating better marketing strategies
  • Personal or professional development
  • Expanding your network
  • Increasing your self-confidence
  • Developing new products or services  

(If this is new to you, read Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. It’ll amaze you.) 

I needed a mastermind group when I started my solo practice. 

Here’s the scenario: I’d left a big corporation and the handsome, every-two-week paycheck to start my consulting business. The risk was hefty. 

I worked all day, six days a week alone—no employees, no meetings, no one. 

I knew three former colleagues who were also starting new businesses, two with a real sense of urgency like mine. We were all struggling with the same issues: 

  • no colleagues for idea sharing, support, or accountability
  • difficulty staying motivated in isolation
  • trouble staying focused and resisting procrastination
  • dealing with uncertainty, negative thoughts, and discouragement 

So we formed a mastermind group that we called Gold Minds and met monthly for three years. 

Being held accountable by others makes us more accountable to ourselves. 

The Gold Minds met at my dining room table from nine to noon. Our meetings included agendas, assignments, roundtables, grillings (always constructive), status reports and laugher. We: 

  • confronted each other about our foibles and fears
  • shared leads and made referrals
  • reviewed and approved our annual goals
  • challenged each other on our quarterly performance results
  • conducted information exchanges; discussed  books read in common 

We were a kind of board of directors, committed to each other’s success.

It’s not much fun going it alone. So don’t!  

Career and business challenges never stop. The right mastermind group can be a huge relief. For these groups to be successful, you need to manage expectations up front. 

In our case each member agreed to:

  • Be trustworthy and hold our conversations in confidence       
  • Accept all members as equals
  • Adhere to the goals and agendas set by the group
  • Be kind, patient, supportive, and sensitive
  • Demonstrate a positive, can-do attitude
  • Learn from others and communicate openly
  • Have a good sense of humor

You get back what you put in. 

Mastermind groups can cultivate a generosity of spirit that attracts positive results. Like-minded people committed to helping each other are an empowering force. Through them we become more business fit, finding success our way as they find it their way.  

Have you had a mastermind group experience? What went well and what didn’t? Any suggestions you can add? Thanks, as always!

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