The short answer is…really, really important. All businesses have a culture, whether you recognize it or not. And that culture reflects on everything from how your employees treat each other to how they treat your customers to how you treat them. A strong, positive, healthy culture can improve your company’s reputation, productivity, quality, employee and customer retention. While a negative, in-congruent, unhealthy culture can lead to your company’s eventual demise.
Culture in business can be defined in many ways. However, Josh Bersin’s definition seems the most succinct “culture is the set of behaviors, values, artifacts, reward systems, and rituals that make up your organization”. This basically means that everything that goes on in your company and between your company and your customers and vendors defines your company’s culture, and in essence makes up part of your brand. It’s what people “feel” when they interact with your company. Which supports the answer to the question about how very important culture is for your company.
Unfortunately, if you think you may have a culture that is not helping your brand or meshing with your mission or values, you need to work to change it. And changing a company’s culture is no small task. The first step is understanding and defining your company’s culture so you know where you stand, and how much work you have in front of you.
We offer a free cultural assessment to help you do just that here.
Once you have a grasp on what your culture looks like, you can take steps to begin to transform that culture into one that matches your goals, mission, and values. And in today’s highly competitive and fast-paced business environment, even small companies need to understand that “it’s not about who’s bigger, better, brighter, or faster; it’s about who is empowered to leverage the power of culture to optimize an organization’s bottom line” (Denise Pirrotti Hummel, Oracle). In other words, you need to care about your culture, and take care to groom your culture to keep your company competitive, locally or globally.
Mahalo and much success,
Bersin, J. (2015, March 13). Culture: Why It’s the Hottest Topic in Business Today. Retrieved from Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/joshbersin/2015/03/13/culture-why-its-the-hottest-topic-in-business-today/
Groth, A. (2013, January 22). Workplace Culture Is More Important Than Anything Else. Retrieved from Business Insider: http://www.businessinsider.com/workplace-culture-is-important-2013-1
Hummel, D. P. (2012, May). Understanding the Importance of Culture in Global Business. Retrieved from Oracle.com: http://www.oracle.com/us/corporate/profit/archives/opinion/050312-dhummel-1614961.html
Luanne Kelchner, Demand Media. (2015). Importance of a Healthy Corporate Culture. Retrieved from SmallBusiness.Chron.com: http://smallbusiness.chron.com/importance-healthy-corporate-culture-20899.html
Morgan, J. (2015, January 23). The Importance of Corporate Culture. Retrieved from Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacobmorgan/2015/01/23/the-importance-of-corporate-culture/
Vaishnavi, V. (2012, September 26). The Importance Of Maintaining Company Culture As Your Business Scales. Retrieved from Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/vickvaishnavi/2013/09/26/maintaining-company-culture-as-the-business-scales/
If this is your first business, or your fifth, you know that many days it’s difficult to stop working because there’s so much to do. But in the back of your mind, you also know that if you don’t stop working, and get some down-time and good sleep, your brain turns to mush and your energy levels go to rock bottom. And you also know that sometimes, even though you stop working, your brain is still running through all the problems and issues that are keeping you from switching off and possibly from sleeping and enjoying time with your friends and family.
We’ve gathered some tips for you that should help. But “switching off” whether you’re just starting out or a serial entrepreneur with million dollar businesses is a learned habit that needs consistency and practice just like anything else. So use these tips and make a routine that works, and stick to it until it’s a habit.
- Make a List of Issues and Priorities
This is one of the most helpful tips I’ve ever used. At the end of your day, take 5-15 minutes and either write or type a list of all the issues that need to be taken care of over the next day, week, month, and year (you can choose your timeframe, but at least do a list for the next day). Then prioritize the list. Some people use numbers, some use letters, but prioritize the list. Just writing down all the issues and getting them out of your head will greatly help you be able to shift from work to personal time. And it will help you be more organized the next day.
- Plan Tomorrow
I’ve always been much more successful when I’ve planned my day the night before. Take the priority list you created and spend 5 minutes planning which 3-5 items absolutely need to be accomplished tomorrow. You can even use the Franklin Covey method, and make a secondary priority list…just in case you end up being super-efficient and needing more tasks to accomplish.
- Write Down Your Daily Achievements
I didn’t realize how powerful this was for my focus and stress relief until I tried it. If you take a few minutes before you go to bed and write down at least 3 things you achieved that day, you’ll be able to end the day on positive note. And it really helps your thoughts as you fall asleep. Obviously results vary, but I found that my sleep was less restless and my dreams were more positive (instead of stressed out nightmares with crazy images and a tired brain). I would just jot 3 things down in an app in my phone, but you could use paper or your laptop, or just a quick meditation.
- Start and Stop at Regular Times
If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking “Yeah, right, I own my own business…I’m not one of my employees…there’s no way I can start and stop at regular times”. But it is possible. Take it from someone who’s almost always worked and ran a business at the same time. This doesn’t mean you need to have banker’s hours (no jab to bankers). But if you set specific start and stop times for your business, you’ll find that it not only becomes a habit, but you will become more effective during the hours you allow for business. There’s something about human nature that makes us less efficient if we don’t press ourselves to complete our tasks in a specific timeframe. So make your priority list, and schedule your start and stop times. You’ll see a change for the better in no time.
- Develop a Regular End of Day Routine
There are many, many relaxation routines you can come up with. Some people watch an hour of TV, some people wash dishes, some spend time with family or friends, others meditate. And even multi-million dollar entrepreneurs have their routines. My routine consists of running the dogs, then feeding them, then feeding me, then working until about 8pm. Then I’ll watch an hour of brainless TV (if I can stay awake that long), then take a really hot shower. Boom! Out like a light. And don’t forget your start of day routine…that’s important too. In fact, routines in general, make you more effective. These routines help our brains learn and understand when it’s time to focus and when it’s time to relax.
- Schedule Time for Yourself, Family, and Friends
Develop communication with your family and friends that will allow you to plan around fun time and work time. Even if you plan only a few hours on certain days, it’s better to have something that you can work into your schedule, then to let your business take over your entire life. Down-time increases your energy and productivity, and it can improve your creativity, which can give you more ideas how to improve your business and manage your time.
As business owners, we often feel the demands of the business affects our personal lives. Use these tips to help you take back your time, while also pushing yourself to get more done in each day. The articles I’ve referenced provide even more ways to help you manage your time.
Mahalo and much success,
Brown, J. (2015, August 12). You can Achieve Work-Life Balance as an Entrepreneur (Even With a Newborn). Retrieved from Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2015/08/12/you-can-achieve-work-life-balance-as-an-entrepreneur-even-with-a-newborn/
Focus: Achieving Your Highest Priorities. (2015). Retrieved from FranklinCovey: http://www.franklincovey.com/tc/mediaengine/public/files/fl_focus_v6.swf
Foster, J. O. (2011, September 23). How to Switch off at the End of the Day. Retrieved from Love Your Small Business: Profit with Purpose: http://loveyoursmallbusiness.com/work-life-balance/switch-day/
Shamini Jain, S. L. (2015, January 10). A Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation Versus Relaxation Training: Effects on Distress, Positive States of Mind, Rumination, and Distraction. Retrieved from ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6514209_A_Randomized_Controlled_Trial_of_Mindfulness_Meditation_Versus_Relaxation_Training_Effects_on_Distress_Positive_States_of_Mind_Rumination_and_Distraction
Simmons, M. (2015, August 26). How Miilionaire Entrepreneurs Shutoff Work in the Evening. Retrieved from Inc.com: http://www.inc.com/michael-simmons/12-essential-night-time-rituals-of-millionaire-entrepreneurs-part-2.html
Simmons, M. (2015, August 26). How Millionaire Entrepreneurs Hack Their Sleep. Retrieved from Inc.com: http://www.inc.com/michael-simmons/12-essential-night-time-rituals-of-millionaire-entrepreneurs-part-4.html
As entrepreneurs and small business owners, we all know this is very difficult. No matter whether you’re working full-time and running a business or running a business full-time and juggling a family and friends, managing your time so you meet all your business and personal goals and objectives is one of the most difficult things you’ll face.
When I was running my dressage training business, I was also working full-time as an engineer for an aerospace company. My idea of time management was to focus on my engineering career for 50-60 hours per week, and use all my other time to run my training business. After 16 years of that kind of stress, I was beyond burned out…and didn’t even know how much fun a “vacation” could be.
No matter what you’re situation, I highly recommend using the following tips to manage your time effectively so at the very least you don’t burn out, and at the very best you employ a balance that will increase your creativity, effectiveness, and accomplish your goals while enjoying life as much as possible.
- Define what is truly important, what are your goals, and what makes you happy
Understanding what is important to you and knowing your goals for your business and personal life will help you focus on where to spend your time. Clearly define what makes you happy, and what doesn’t. Work up an initial plan to prioritize your goals and define work times and personal times in a schedule. Make sure you schedule in time for things that make you happy even if it’s just 10-15 minutes a day.
- Understand yourself and your patterns
Take the time to really understand your patterns and how you work best. If you’re an early riser and do your best work in the morning after a good workout and light breakfast, then schedule your most challenging tasks for that time. It’s also a good idea to put a little stress on yourself by not being too generous with deadlines. If you are the opposite type of person, and everything is urgent, try using a system that allows you to prioritize tasks and allow yourself more than ample time to complete them. You will develop a better sense of accomplishment and completion which will lead to more positive planning and an increased ability to push tasks out of the “fire” and in line with your goals.
- Delegate when possible
If you’re have employees or a virtual assistant, delegate. If you give the right work to the right people, you will allow yourself time for the tasks that only you can do. You really don’t want to do it all yourself if you have options and can delegate some of it. This is true for business and personal life. For example, if you can afford to pay to get your car washed, do it. You can use that time for something that is much higher on your priority list.
- Manage your environment
This is critical. I’m so guilty of not effectively managing my environment I could be the poster child for this. I’ll have my priority list for the day, go to my office and start working and then start playing with the dogs, put the laundry in the washer, take out the vacuum, feel guilty, and stop everything and go back to work. Not only is this terrible for my concentration, I get so much less accomplished. So don’t be like me. If you work at home, schedule time or days for household chores, your family and your pets. If you are a phone or email checker (you know who you are), schedule specific times each day to check the phone and your emails. If you have an open door policy at your business for your employees, ensure that you have “office hours” for them so that they don’t constantly distract you. It’s good for your employees to learn to plan their time as well. And unless the building is burning down, there isn’t usually anything that is so life-threatening that it can’t wait until specific office hours.
- Separate work and personal times
When you plan your daily time and your weekly and monthly schedules, it’s really important to include your personal appointments and schedules as well as your business appointments. I used to be in the habit of scheduling all my business and work tasks and appointments, but I never scheduled any time for family, friends, or even exercise. You can imagine where that led. It may seem really tedious and time consuming at first…that’s the excuse I used to use. But it’s so important and incredibly helpful.
- Remember why you work so hard
Mahalo and much success,
Chapman, A. (2015). Life Balance, Happiness and Life Change. Retrieved from BusinessBalls: http://www.businessballs.com/life_balance.htm
How to Get Your Work-Life Balance Right in 2015. (2015). Retrieved from xero: https://www.xero.com/us/small-business-guides/business-management/work-life-balance/
Kanarek, L. (2010, December 20). 10 Ways to Balance Your Work-From-Home Life. Retrieved from Entrepreneur: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/217996
Pisolkar, K. (2014, February 26). 5 Easy Ways to Balance Your Business and Personal Life. Retrieved from Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kim-pisolkar/5-ways-to-balance-business-and-life_b_4854882.html
Pollack, B. W. (2013, January 22). Balancing Work and Personal Life with Your Business. Retrieved from SBA: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/217996
According to the US Census Bureau in 2013 there were 400,000 new businesses created and 470,000 existing businesses were closed. That’s approximately 117% termination rate! In today’s connected and technologically advanced world, where the tools are so readily available to start, run, and be successful at business, I’m astounded to hear those facts. I bet you are too.
Of course you and I as business owners are thinking “well that’s not me, those businesses must have made huge mistakes”. Right? But when you look into the research, here are some common causes. See if you can relate to any of these.
- Lack of funds
There are numerous reasons your business could fall short on funds. The annual report by the Corporation for Enterprise Development indicates that 37% of experienced business owners fall short of the cash they need to cover their expenses. That could be you if you don’t see the warning signs.
Consider these potential warning signs for your business:
- Over-extending or growing too fast.
- Not starting with a minimally viable product or service (MVP or MVS).
- Expenses becoming too costly such as labor, marketing, supplies, office space, and equipment.
- Unprofitable business model and revenue streams.
- Inability to attain additional funding from outside sources (such as loans, venture capitalists, angel investors, or personal funding).
- Competition and customers
Both underestimating the competition and not understanding your customers can be a large factors in the ultimate demise of your business. A 2014 study by Accenture revealed that 66% of consumers in 1 out of 10 industries changed to a different company due to customer service issues. And 82% of consumers felt that the company they left could have done more to prevent them from switching companies.
This could be you, especially if you don’t ask yourself the following questions.
- Do you know who your competition is and what differentiates your products and services from theirs?
- Do you know how your customers feel about your products and services?
- Do you have your feelers out for new technologies or advancements in your industry that are attracting consumers?
- Are your competitors implementing changes or technologies that you have overlooked?
Another aspect is the overreliance on too few customers. Some small businesses are completely reliant on one or two large customers. If you have all your eggs in one basket and the basket decides to get up and go somewhere else that could be the end of your business. Yikes!
It’s critical in today’s hyper-fast-paced business world to not only research and understand your competition, customers, and your market, but to quickly react to changes that move your business to the front lines. Even if you think you’re in a very steady and reliable market with plenty of customers and very little competition, it only takes one competitor with one great product or service that resonates with your customers to rock your boat.
- Operational inefficiencies
Now is the time to flush out operational inefficiencies and focus on a lean, mean business machine. But what exactly are operational efficiencies? Operational inefficiencies can be broken down into a number of more specific areas such as:
- Wasting money, time, supplies, inventory, and products.
- Repetition and/or replication of tasks, duties, services, and paperwork (duplication of effort).
- Paper vs online everything.
- Inefficient or ineffective communications…this is a huge waste of time and money!
- Imbalanced workload. Too many employees doing too little, or some employees doing too much and others not enough.
- Owner and/or managers having to redo the work of employees not performing properly.
- Inadequate or unorganized inventory management system.
- Inadequate or unorganized bookkeeping system (tracking expenses, receipts, usage, inventory, etc.).
- Owners and/or managers doing the majority of the work, and not training and delegating to their employees.
- Paying for marketing that is not generating a sufficient return on investment (ROI).
- Inability to negotiate terms for rent, labor, and materials leaving with higher costs.
These are just a few areas to address, but major players in becoming an efficient, lean business and increasing your bottom-line.
- Dysfunctional management/leadership
While leadership and management are not technically the same, both play a huge role in a company’s performance and ability to succeed. Especially in today’s economy and employee landscape, it’s essential for management and company leadership to not only present a united front, but provide a model for the company culture, focus, and vision. The following list represents some areas where management and leadership need to concentrate to provide a solid foundation for company success.
- Owners and/or managers with lack of focus, vision, planning, communication skills, and motivational techniques (all stick, no carrot).
- Owners and/or managers lacking standards and values, consistency, non-partiality, inter-personal skills, foresight, and conflict resolution skills.
- Lack of succession plan: nepotism, power struggles, poorly qualified replacements.
- Owners and/or managers using conflicting messages and communications (for example: lecturing employees about cutting costs, then bragging about their new expensive vacation or house).
- Owners and/or managers without management skills or training. This is true for many entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs aren’t always great managers of people, they can be, but not always. They are often better leaders than managers.
- Owners and/or managers that can’t get out of their own way. They are stubborn, risk averse, conflict averse (need to be liked by everyone), perfectionists, greedy, self-righteous, paranoid, indignant, insecure, etc.
- Owners and/or managers not taking enough participation in the accounting/bookkeeping side of the business. It’s critical that the owners and managers are very involved in the pulse of the business including the income, expenses, profit, and loss.
- Owners and/or managers more closely involved with front-of-house or back-of-house versus overall focus. This can be seen as favoritism, or worse lack of knowledge in that particular area. A manager that is perceived to lack knowledge in the area he manages (which would be all areas if you’re the owner) can be huge cause of disengagement in employees.
Changing your own behaviors and that of your managers can be one of the most difficult aspects of owning a business. Start by recognizing the behaviors or actions and work from there.
- Disgruntled employees
Herein lies one of the most elusive aspects of business. And it’s not just disgruntled employees, but all variety employee issues. And if you fall into the dysfunctional management category above you might not even realize you have disgruntled employees.
- Disgruntled employees
- Unengaged or dispassionate employees
- Untrained or insufficiently trained employees
- Unchallenged and/or over-challenged employees
- Under-utilized and/or over-utilized employees
- Inability to hire or attract qualified employees (and in some cases any potential employees at all)
So there you are. Based on these five categories of potential reasons, even if your business is doing great, you may need to reflect potential areas of concern. It doesn’t hurt to consider the potential hazards presented here and do some analysis and planning to make sure you are ready when and if these issues pop up. Feel free to use our EDITOR process model to assist you in determining if you have any of these potential problems and developing a plan of attack to stop “failure” from happening to you and your business.
Mahalo and much success,
Goltz, J. (2011, 1 5). Top 10 Reasons Small Businesses Fail. Retrieved from New York Times.
Pofeldt, E. (2015, 10 13). 11 Common Reasons Small Businesses Fail. Retrieved from CNBC.
Thorpe, T. (2014, 7 17). The Top 5 Reasons Small Businesses Fail. Retrieved from Inc.
Wagner, E. T. (2013, 9 12). Five Reasons 8 Out of 10 Businesses Fail. Retrieved from Forbes.
Zimmerman, E. (2011, 1 5). How Six Companies Failed to Survive 2010. Retrieved from New York Times.
Let me give you an example to illustrate how this works. But keep in mind that this works in any industry where you have direct communication with your customers.
When I started my dressage training business in 1989 (horse ballet), I had two clients and they were both friends that I knew from the stable and they weren’t even paying me. Well, not money. I told them I would help them if they could help me start my business. So I started helping them.
I quickly realized that I could see a lot of things I needed to teach them and their horses, but that we weren’t on the same page when they came for their lessons. The stables was a very busy place with crowded arenas and many trainers in many disciplines. My students would come to their lesson and want to chit chat first. I was an engineer on a tight time schedule after work and chatting was farthest from my mind if I wanted to turn them into award-winning dressage competitors.
At the same time, I was always participating in clinics and lessons with well-known and Olympic long-listed trainers. And when I’d go to my lesson, I realized that my trainers didn’t want to talk either. But I did. That’s when it occurred to me. I wanted to talk to my trainer because what they had tried to teach me wasn’t working very well and I needed help before we moved on to the next thing. So…I knew right then how important it was for me to talk to my clients and get their feedback on the previous lesson and what worked and what didn’t work or what they hadn’t understood.
Up until that point, my growth rate had been maybe 1-2 new clients in 6 months. But as soon as I started taking a few minutes before starting each lesson and chatting with my clients about what they thought worked and didn’t work, and what was hard and easy, and what their goals were, I all of sudden noticed I had a crowd on the fence listening in and asking for lessons.
So I changed my style, and my business grew super-fast. In two years, I had almost 30 clients. As a part-time trainer (training after work and on the weekends) that was insane. I even had to hire an assistant. I also discovered that more of my clients were interested in competing than I had originally thought, just not at the level I wanted to compete at. Plus, my clients spread the word so well and so fast, I was being asked to teach clinics at other stables that didn’t have dressage trainers.
This very useful lesson in communication made me realize how to really listen to what my clients wanted and even improved my aerospace career. This lesson became a cornerstone of my success in my many different ventures over the next 25 years.
We all have bad days and good days. Customer service and communication skills training tells us that the minute you walk in the door, you leave it all behind. But let’s be realistic, that doesn’t always happen. And sometimes, your bad day happens at your business.
So the rule of thumb is: count to 10 before you respond. What happens if that isn’t long enough? Some people say it’s the 24 hour rule, but that doesn’t work if you’re right there in front of the person who is the potential cause of your bad day. And you can’t just say “I’m sorry, you’re pissing me off, I need to walk away and come back in 24 hours to answer you”. Where’s that “Easy” button when you need it?
So, what to do?
Here’s a few recommendations. Some are easier to do than others. Most will take practice. But all are effective and can become second nature if practiced often.
- Focus on the complainant’s words and make mental notes (or actual notes). This often acts as a deterrent to an emotional response and gives your brain something to do in the background (coming up with positive solutions).
- While listening, tell yourself that the person could be having a bad day for other reasons that are contributing to their reaction to the current situation in an unreasonable and over-reactionary fashion. This makes the situation somewhat bearable and allows you to focus on possible things that may have happened to that person. Plus it allows your mind to transfer into an empathetic state, so you can be more aware of keywords that might help tone down the emotional side of the discussion and focus on solutions.
- When the other person takes a break from talking, quickly and simply summarize the main points they were making. Ask them if this summary seems correct or accurate. This often fizzles the emotional input by confirming to the other person that you are listening and that you care about what they are saying and the issue they have.
- Breath. Believe or not, breathing does help. If you feel your temper and blood pressure rising, and your instinct is to fire off something that most likely will not help, stop and breathe. You can focus on breathing and still listen. Resist the temptation to retaliate. It won’t end well.
- If you feel that the conversation is straying from emotional control, and straying from the facts, and is starting to venture into a non-reality based blame or accusation session, acknowledge the person’s grievances and very politely ask if you could continue the conversation at another time when you are both calmer. Make sure you have another time in mind, that is within 24 hours, and that you set up a specific appointment and location. This will provide the complainant some minor satisfaction and may allow them to calm down some as well.
- Remind yourself that a bad day in your world may be someone else’s good day. Sometimes, even though this is cliché, it helps. I know when I’ve had what I consider to be a really bad day, I’ll take a call from a vendor or client who is having a miserable day, and it really helps to put things in perspective.
These tips should help diffuse many situations. Feel free to customize these to your own style and communication skillset.
I hope this helps.