If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being around business owners, it’s that the problems and challenges of starting, growing, and running a business never go away; they just change in scope and impact. What seems a distant possibility might turn into a better-act-now opportunity. Or what seems annoying today might be threatening to the company’s survival tomorrow.
Two weeks ago, the Coleman Center held an event in Naperville called “Been There, Done That: Experienced Business Owners Address Your Business Challenges”. The idea behind the event was peer-roundtable-meets-panel-discussion. A group of experienced entrepreneurs would be presented with challenges and obstacles faced by the audience, and would share their own experiences overcoming those issues or offer questions and guidance based on their experience.
The experienced business owners were:
- John Fairclough, Founder & President of Resicom
- Mark Hattas, Co-Founder & CEO of Geneca
- Jill Hebert, Owner & CEO of Matrex Exhibits
- David Navarro, Owner of Chicago Oakbrook Financial Group
What follows is not the challenges presented by the audience and the accompanying responses – that could fill a book – but rather key points and insights made by the panelists. Some of them you’ve heard before and some might be brand new. But all are tried-and-true practices employed by business owners who have “been there and done that”.
- “Police the org chart.” First, create an organization chart and articulate the roles and responsibilities of each position. Then hold everyone to their place in the chart, including partners/co-owners. Make sure people are given autonomy to do their jobs and freedom to make decisions, yet are doing what they are expected to.
- Set metrics and hold to them. Create measurable criteria and common objectives against which each employee’s performance can be held. Engage your people in setting them, and then use the criteria together in gauging performance.
- Stay ahead of your market. Today’s customers are more proactive, informed, and selective. Stay on top of market trends by talking with customers, competitors, and suppliers. Keep up with (or one-up) their savvy be being transparent. Try new sales and service practices to distinguish your company from competitors.
- Value the importance of values.
If your employees don’t share the same values as yourself and/or the company’s, they may not be the right employees for your business. Articulate those values on a regular basis, see how people respond, and take appropriate action.
- Over-communicate. Many people complain of not knowing what’s going on at work yet few complain of too much information. Have informal discussions, formal staff meetings, email missives, weekly dashboards, company blogs, etc. to keep everyone in the loop. Periodically, ask your team if there is more you can do.
- Develop your people. Set aside plenty of time for feedback loops, performance discussions, and training opportunities. Ask employees to do a SWOT analysis on themselves, list their own core values, and self-assess their performance. Let them meet with peers, as well as supervisors and subordinates.
- Create “organizational clarity”. Make sure everyone is on the same page and knows where, and how, they fit into the grand scheme. Be sure the metrics and objectives for each employee are supportive of the goals you have set for the company. Keep sending the same message over and over again. Remember – you cannot overcommunicate.