What are you prepared to do?! (cue Sean Connery)

What are you prepared to do?

Eliot Ness knew when to double down. And don’t bring a knife to a gun fight either!

Business success requires you to get down in the dirt and fight. It’s not theory in a business book. It’s day to day, minute to minute, choices.

Your “non” choices can hurt you even more than your active choices. “Decision by not deciding” is usually more deadly than making a wrong choice. Unfortunately, it’s not all that uncommon. There are no points in life for “not deciding” your way into a mess, but we often treat the messy results as “not my fault” because we didn’t actively choose our path.

So what are you prepared to do?! (Feel free to re-enact Sean Connery saying this line in The Untouchables. It will make you smile.)

1. What are the five most important things you need to do to immediately impact your success?

2. What are the five problems/situations/people you’ve been dodging/ignoring/sweeping under the rug?

3. What are five things you’re currently doing that aren’t driving revenue/creating the change you want but still need to get done? Can you delegate them, minimize them, automate them?

Taking Action:

Sit down for  15 minutes. Make the lists. Title them: Do, Deal With, Delegate. (I’m hoping you can tell which is which!). They don’t have to be perfect. They do have to be items that would have significant impact on your business revenue/project success/ enjoyment of life.

Next Step:

Do, deal with or delegate one thing on each list. Right now. Yes, now.

No, not next week. Not when your horoscope suggests you turn over a new leaf. Not after American Idol. Now.

And decide which thing you will Do, Deal With or Delegate tomorrow.

Eliot Ness and Jim Malone would be proud of you.

Need a reminder of what a blood oath is? Watch here.

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Taking Stock of this Week: How Effective were You?

time management

The year is already one quarter gone, what did you do this week?

It’s Friday. How did you measure up this week?

Did you:

1. Drive revenue?

2. Cut expenses in a way that will allow the business to grow?

3. Solve an ongoing challenge in a way that will allow the team to move forward?

4. Open a new market, test a new product, develop a new strategy for growth?

5. Say no to the things that weren’t working and cross them off your list?

6.Seek out a new perspective or new methodology that might help your team move forward?

7.Hold meetings that were relevant, valuable and not “birthday parties.”

8. Pull the tooth?

9. Look for new talent?

10. Have that uncomfortable conversation you’ve been dreading?

If not, what can you do to make sure that next week you spend your time on the things that really matter? (need some more ideas? try this)

Get your free copy today of “Reading the Terrain” by subscribing in the email box. It will help you have many more effective days!

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3 Tests for Business Books. Or why I don’t own a Button shop.

questioning business books

Ask a few tough questions before dogmatically following any business advice.

My friend Kimberly has a very wry sense of humor, I often threaten to collect her retorts and package them into a book called “The Wisdom of Kimberly.”  Years ago, we both enjoyed and subscribed to a magazine called Victoria. Beautifully designed, with gorgeous photography and articles on gracious living it also often featured 1-3 page articles on (mostly) women entrepreneurs who ran shops or small artisan businesses. The articles were beautifully photographed, filled with close ups of the stunning details of the products, or representations of the services provided.  The businesses ranged from small letterpress printers, to event planners, jewelry designers, potters who designed garden planters, even a woman who ran an antique button store in Manhattan. Ina Garten (Food network) was featured. The magazine developed a devoted, but small, following. It published several books as off shoots, including one on women owned businesses and another devoted solely to business cards. It published from the mid 80’s until about the mid 90’s, and then folded.

About 6 years ago, Victoria revived itself. Taking note of the very loyal following, the new publishers managed to assemble much of the original staff, writers and photographers, then sent out subscriber cards to former subscribers. Kimberly and I dutifully re-subscribed. The first few issues arrived, beautiful to look at, with many of the same type stories: houses, gardens, fashion and women entrepreneurs. And I looked at all the beautiful detail and went “meh”. (Okay international readers, picture someone shrugging and just not being impressed. That’s “meh”.) I reached out, called the intrepid Kimberly and asked her why the magazine left me unimpressed. After all, I still lived in a 100 year old home, liked many of the products and fashion designers that were featured, work in my garden and try to entertain occasionally.

Kimberly summed it up in a single line. “Because we now know that the only way anyone runs an antique button store successfully is if they are married to an investment banker.” Bless you Kimberly. Right again.

Which brings me to business books. If you write a business book with your favorite theory you’ve got to find shining examples that support your theory. And you may, or may not, ignore anything else about those businesses that contradicts your theory or might indicate they might not be around for the long run. (Good old confirmation bias at work again!).  If you look hard enough you can probably find business books that celebrated the leadership of Enron, Bear Stearns and any number of now defunct businesses.

So before you decide to fully embrace a business theory or business plan, consider these three things:

1. Is it Replicable with the resources available to a person or company in your current position?

You can learn great lessons from the experiences of many different business leaders, but it is important to dig below the surface to make sure you’re seeing the whole story. Were the connections or resources available to them vastly different than yours? Don’t let it discourage you, but do factor it into estimates of your ramp up time and need for resources. Realize these sorts of details are often glossed over or even rewritten for better storytelling.

2. Were other factors more critical to the final success than the theory being promoted by the author?

“Great Customer Service” as a leading strategy for business success is the subject of several thousand business books on amazon.com. No doubt it is critical to many businesses and can be a key component in success. But were there other factors that may have propelled the featured business to prominence? Was it time to market? Position on adaption curve? Uniqueness of position for a period of time? It’s rare that a business will cop to “lousy customer service” when telling their story, but what else made that business successful in combination with “great customer service?”

3. Just how deeply did the author probe for statistically measurable indicators and answers, or is most of the information cited on the companies profiled derived from self-created press releases, motivational anecdotes or puff piece stories?

Just yesterday someone brought my attention to an article profiling  a business known for “Great Customer Service”. The author, however, had apparently never even Googled the head of the company who had led a similar previous company to a particularly public and notorious flame out. Ironically, this was published in a local paper, where a mere check of their own archives would have detailed out this info. Now perhaps this could have been a great story on lessons learned and new beginnings, but the past was not even given a nod. Anyone with a reasonable knowledge of that company and in that industry would have called “BS” in ten seconds (most especially some of its creditors). But what if you were reading it and didn’t know that history?

Business books, entrepreneur profiles, even blogs like these, can often leave out key pieces of information. Read broadly, take great ideas and learn from others’ mistakes but don’t discount your own experience. Play devils advocate; have others succeeded by doing the exact opposite of what is being touted as the “key to success?” Critical thinking is key. What will YOUR path look like?

P.S. I have no idea if the owner of Tender Buttons in Manhattan is/was actually married to an investment banker, but I do salute anyone who can make an antique button store run for over 50 years. Happy Birthday Tender Buttons! and may there be many more.


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Just Say No

Sometimes just saying "no" is the most powerful choice you can make.

Sometimes just saying “no” is the most powerful choice you can make.

What if you could free your day from the “Should do’s” “Ought to do’s” and only focus on the things that really move you towards your goal? What if you said, “This just isn’t going to happen” and crossed it off your “to do” list.

  • Say no to the networking event that never yields anything.
  • Cross off the “nice to have” product improvement that is sucking energy and time from your team but wont measurably increase usage or sales.
  • No, I’m sorry, we’ve done all our pro bono work for this year.
  • No, we’re not going to pursue that business line.
  • No, that sales/tech/ superstar just doesn’t fit our culture, lets stop pursuing him/her and find a different solution.
  • No, I don’t have the bandwidth for that.

What would you get done TODAY if you just said “No”?


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Pushing a snowball uphill? How to keep your focus!

snowball uphill

Focus can help you decipher the “Important” from the “Busy”

A few years ago I started trying to evaluate every action in terms of maximizing the results that could achieved by allocating my time in the best productive manner. That meant eliminating lots of busy work that checked off boxes, but never really advanced me towards my goal.

Sounds so simple to say, but it’s often harder in practice as you first get started. When you’re elbow deep in a huge project and have the feeling you’re spinning your wheels it’s tempting to be able to check ANYTHING off your list no matter how low a priority. (If you ever call me and I tell you I’m rearranging my closet on the weekend it inevitably means I’m avoiding facing some larger, far more vital project.)

This article in the HBR gives a great synopsis of refocusing your thinking can help you achieve.

How have you honed your focus to maximize your results? Share in the comment box!

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Thinking about making a move? Size up your Corporate Landscape or any other company you may be thinking of moving to by using our free guide, Reading the Terrain. Get your copy today by putting your email address in the subscription box at right. And no, we won’t spam you, you’ll just get our weekly update of articles.



Rule# 6: Build a Measuring Stick.

Find a way to measure the benefit of your plan, bonus points if you can tie it to costs or revenues!

Find a way to measure the benefit of your plan, bonus points if you can tie it to reducing costs or increasing revenues!

I was raised to be “of service” to others. My mother is the first to volunteer for any task that needs doing and we all developed a strong sense of duty towards others.  Most likely that is why I spent much of my early career in government and non-profit work before turning to the corporate world.

I was very effective in getting financial and executive support for my projects because I had a secret weapon. I majored in accounting in college, and it gave me a firm grasp of the numeric value of any activity and the importance in being able to attribute activities to the revenue or expense ledger. At a non-profit or government agency I was always the person trying to measure our results, determine the activity’s value relative to costs or expense and then find someone who would be willing to pay for it.  We were famous for having all of our employees able to recite chapter and verse how many people we had helped at what cost and with what results, preferably tied to a monetary measurement. Later, when I worked for an insurance company and had to evaluate non-profits for partnership opportunities, an instant mental “No” was rendered when they couldn’t reasonably demonstrate some quantifiable results or outcomes, and the “No” was doubly reinforced if the staff gave me significantly different answers than the director or development director.

It’s not easy to measure things, some defy easy quantitative measurement.  If I keep fifteen teenagers in an after-care program that keeps them from going home alone in the afternoon and possibly getting into mischief, how do you quantify it? Graduates of your program may not have made it to college yet, so you don’t have a warm fuzzy story for the fundraising brochure (but as soon as one of them does, put that kid in a college t-shirt, on campus, holding a bunch of textbooks and get that picture! Sells ’em every time).

In for-profit businesses there are initiatives that can also defy easy quantification. What does “deliver better customer service” translate into in dollars and cents? What about community outreach or sponsorships?  What exactly does reducing customer response time yield that will make a dent in earnings season?

Find a way to measure it. There is almost always a way.  Talk to people in similar arenas, and talk to some not in the industry.  Talk to your Human Calculator, give them all the approaches you came up with and have them get creative.

If you can measure the value it adds or the costs it saves, and if you chart incremental progress, you can demonstrate success, which keeps enthusiasm high for your project, even if there is a bobble along the way.

So how DO you measure the Teenager After-Care example?

One approach:

Studies show that kids between 13 and 15 are X times as likely to get pregnant  and Y times as likely to get into trouble that will do Z to their criminal record when they go home alone after school.

A pregnant  teenager costs the American taxpayer (or county taxpayer or city taxpayer) $___, while a juvenile arrest costs the taxpayer $____.  By funding aftercare for these 15 teenagers we are greatly reducing the odds of these things happening, and saving taxpayers $(all of the above multiplied by the results expected if the 15 kids weren’t in care) which is ten times (or hopefully some other ridiculously high number) the cost of providing funds for the program. So we save our community 9 times every dollar we spend!

How have you found ways to quantify things that defy easy measurement? Share in the comments below, you’ll be helping everyone!

By the way one of my favorite Albert Einstein quotes is “Everything that can be
counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily
be counted.” Very, very true. But to sell your idea, you need to try to count it!

Want to see all 10 Rules for Beginning a Turnaround? Start here.

A Field Guide to Help You Speed Read the Corporate Landscape.



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Rule #4: Do the Math: Follow the Money

Like it or not, the trail of money will direct your path.

Like it or not, the trail of money will direct your path.

Make a business plan! It’s the number one rule for all new ventures. Every business book, every “get rich quick” book, every project management handbook insists upon it.

What the experts often fail to say is just how important it is to be realistic.  You can make any business plan work on paper if you’re creative enough. “We will quadruple our revenue by selling 4000 additional widgets next month!” “How many did you sell this month?” “35, but I’ve got a GREAT plan!”

It’s entirely possible that your change strategy is so brilliant, so life changing, that it’s the next Apple computers or internal combustion engine (please feel free to write me so we can interview you for our “Five for Fridays”). But more likely, you are not the exception.  And that’s where doing your math homework comes in.

What is the team doing now (selling, closing, producing, treating, turning).  What does your proposed change do to that number? What is the cost of the change? Have you factored in the opportunity costs involved (see Rule #3)?  What extra incidental costs will result (support staff, additional technology costs) if your project comes to fruition?  Don’t base it on the best month your team ever had. Base it on an average month. And if your year is seasonal, run it for each quarter, using an average per quarter.

Is it worth doing? Is the potential disruption of processes and routine worth the net result of your activity?  And even if you think so, would anyone else agree?  Get someone from outside your industry to punch holes in your strategy and to ask lots of questions. It may uncover some other areas you need to look at.

Moving results into dollars and cents, either in terms of revenue growth or cost savings, can go a long way towards advancing your strategy.  Numeric arguments that show they’ve taken all the factors into account will win every time.

And for those of you in the government or non-profit sector who don’t measure all activities in terms of dollars and cents, we’ll talk a great deal about how you can measure in Rule#6.

Want to see all 10 Rules for Beginning a Turnaround? Start here.

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Rule #3 Weigh the Opportunity Cost

Joseph Schumpeter

Joseph Schumpeter, economist and Master of opportunity cost

During my freshman year’s eight o’clock microeconomics class one of the few things that made absolute sense to me was the concept of Opportunity Cost, a theory by Friedrich Von Weiser.  It was an “aha” moment of epic proportions where I could finally explain the best way to determine the true cost of making one choice over another.

Simply put, if you have finite resources, when you choose one path of action, you will be using some of those resources up, and they will no longer be available for other activities. If you plan a course of change that will require 400 hours of IT time, without additional overtime or staffing, you would be making those resources unavailable to other departments or projects.

Opportunity Cost forces you to run the overall value of any planned activity or change against the resources it will use up. Is it worth 400 hours of IT time to update a website?  Maybe.  Is it worth 400 hours of IT time to update the website if it will slow customer service response time for your internet customers? What other projects will need to be put on the backburner in order to pull the IT team for 400 hours?

This is why you will need to be able to absolutely quantify the net savings or revenue that will result from your plan of action. You must show that the resources you require are the highest and best use of those finite resources.

P.S. Unfortunately about the only other thing I recall from my very early class was of Von Weiser’s fellow Austrian, Joseph Schumpeter, not his economic theories, but his desire to be known for three things; “To be the world’s greatest economist, the finest horseman in all of Austria, and the greatest lover in Vienna.”  He claimed to have achieved two of the three. Clearly he weighed his opportunity costs.

Want to see all 10 Rules for Beginning a Turnaround? Start here.

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Thinking about making a move? Size up your Corporate Landscape or any other company you may be thinking of moving to by using our free guide, Reading the Terrain. Get your copy today by putting your email address in the subscription box. And no, we won’t spam you, you’ll just get our weekly update of articles.  

© Jeanne Goldie 2015