Putting It All Together

jigsaw-puzzle-1315356_1920Having just graduated from my MBA program, I have done a lot of reflecting about what I took from the program and how much of it I will be able to apply to my new job. A few of my classmates held a presentation on a joint independent study project that really helped to showcase the knowledge and skills we gained. All three work for the same company and took on a different area of operations to review and provide recommended changes to improve operations. Throughout the presentation I thought to myself the methods and ideas they used were taken straight out of the material covered in the classroom. It could not have been a better-timed experience.

After thinking about the presentation, there are a few things that came to mind about important takeaways from my MBA program. This list is not everything I took away, but the larger concepts that I feel allow for the other important elements and ideas to come together.

  • Strategy: Strategy and its various elements have been a major subject of focus for me over the last ten years, but the level of detail that was covered in one of my courses really help to get into the fine details of not only creating a strategic plan and operating plan, but the “why” and importance of each as well. The importance of what I learned is in taking the highest level vision and creating the architecture infrastructure that will make it happen.
  • Business Process: Another major idea that was covered is looking at the actual design of how the various processes of a business are put together. By mapping out how things are being done and what needs to happen at each decision point, it is much easier to identify where improvements can be made.
  • Change: This topic is one of, if not, the most important of my entire MBA program. While all of the other information is highly important, being a successful change agent can make or break an attempt to introduce positive improvements in an organization. The books we read and discussions in class really hit home the point of how to approach and initiate change in both a personal and professional landscape.

By chance, these three topics were the main focus of each of my final three courses. This helped to bring everything in the program together for me at the perfect time. Ultimately, the best thing I took away from my MBA program was acquiring available tools and understanding the right questions to ask to find a path towards success. I found the time spent to be extremely valuable and am actively working to implement as much as possible into my professional career.

Check out the website for my new company, EnBio Industries.

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Building The Bridge As You Walk On It

QuinnI just finished reading the book Building The Bridge As You Walk On It by Robert E. Quinn for a class on change. Like most of the other books assigned by this professor, I walked away with new insights on an idea I had previously felt well-informed. There were so many revelatory ideas in the book, at least to me, that I found it difficult to limit myself to just describing a few. Below are the top concepts that came to mind, but I recommend checking out the book for yourself to find what speaks to you.

  • Fundamental State of Leadership: One of the main elements of the book is the idea of the fundamental state of leadership; the state of mind where individuals “enter into a creative personal state that gives rise to a creative collective state.” In order to enter this state, we much change the way we approach situations.
  • Change ourselves before others: The main theme of the book comes down to this simple idea; we must take charge in first changing ourselves before we can hope to change anyone or anything else. I view this idea in several lights; being that we have to show others we are willing to take the necessary steps and being seen as genuine in our efforts. When reading the book, I look back and see that I was truly only able to make change when I had allowed myself to put purpose as the priority and not myself.
  • Increased integrity: Something Quinn mentions is that integrity is the “alpha and omega of leadership.” I feel this is a powerful statement as I agree that integrity is a process, not a destination. In order to address and lead change, we must confront our own gaps in integrity; what we say we do vs what we actually do. We have to monitor our own integrity and address our own hypocrisy. This self-reflection allows us to focus on purpose, rather than ourselves. This allows change and Quinn describes his 8 leading change characteristics converge on integrity.
  • Addressing our own hypocrisy: An idea that really struck me was this idea of hypocrisy; first having to address the biggest hypocrite – the one we see in the mirror. We often go into situations and don’t like what we see, but try to change everyone else, but not ourselves. A major example of this idea is of a CEO going into an organization and telling everyone below them to change, without willing to change themselves first.
  • Group discussion: A specific idea that I have been involved with and hope to continue to refine is the idea of using a group of individuals to share ideas and provide feedback. Working with entrepreneurs, I see this a lot, but would like to see it more with groups of managers, owners, etc. In a closed environment, trust can be built, and real solutions and advice can be shared. Quinn refers to these groups as being in a “sacred place.”
  • Real-time learning: Change is not a matter of applying past actions to a present situation. It is about being able to learn in real-time and create the solutions that are needed for those particular set of circumstances. For me, this helped me to redefine how I approach situations requiring change. It is not about applying traits or actions, but adjusting to ask the right question(s).
  • Not being present for the initiation of change: The last element I will discuss here is the idea that change agents must accept that they are likely not going to be present for the change they work to implement. Most organizations and leaders are comfortable where they are and proposed change is fought against. Change agents are often fired for attempting to alter the status quo, but the lingering questions and seeds planted from their attempt remains. This requires leaders of change to be more centered on purpose than themselves.

These are just a few of the great ideas I took away from Quinn. I would encourage anyone looking to help enact personal or organizational change to read the book. It is just as important to read the words, as it is to reflect on your own past actions to come up with plans to improve your processes for the future.

Check the book out by clicking here.

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Purpose: The Foundation for an Organization

pillars-purposeOver the last decade, I have been surrounded by the idea of using a vision, mission, values and purpose to define an organization. I read and heard about what each element represented and the reason it existed. However, it wasn’t until a class last semester that the idea of using them all together really sunk in for me. It was definitely an “ah, ha” moment that helped to clarify how to better use them as a whole.

  • Vision: The vision of an organization should clearly define where that organization is going. This is subject to change over time as realities change with the organization and its surrounding.
  • Mission: The mission is the who, when and how for getting to where the vision has set out. These are similarly subject to change over time and as the direction of the organization shifts.
  • Values: The values of an organization are the “rules of engagement” or norms of behavior. While these can change with time, they should be more steadfast than the mission and vision.
  • Purpose: Purpose is the “why” for the organization; why they do what they do. Unlike the other elements, purpose should never change. The purpose should be the single pillar to guide decisions when conflicts arise. If a newly developed mission doesn’t fit within the purpose, then the mission should change.

In the past, I have looked at each of these elements as individual pieces, not a single flow of items to help guide an organization’s direction and employee behavior. The several posts I have made about Vision and Mission still hold true, but should be looked at within a greater context. The purpose of the organization is the baseline in which everything else should be generated.

For an organization to be truly successful, especially in the startup phase, there must be a shared purpose. A great example of purpose that was used in my class is from the University of TexasTo transform lives for the benefit of society. This purpose clearly describes the basis for everything that goes on at UT and should guide the behavior of those charged with fulfilling it.

When thinking about where you work or your own company, is there a concrete purpose? If you have trouble finding or thinking of one, try to develop one. If you want to take it a step further, if it is where you work, bring it up to your boss for discussion. If you are the boss, then discuss with those you work with to see if a shared purpose can be developed.

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Company Culture: Setting the Tone

Business_MeetingThe basis for everything that happens in the work environment, good or bad, can be traced back to a single major factor – the company culture. The culture of a company is the sum total of the group behaviors within the organization. I have seen and lived in very positive and also negative company cultures, which has given me a very particular belief on the subject. Culture has also been a major topic within the coursework of my MBA program. There are several key lessons I have learned about creating and changing culture.

Like most everything else in life, starting with a clean slate is the easiest way to create a company culture. With no baggage, past practices or status quos, there is a unique ability to set the tone for what the culture will become following the startup phase. It is vitally important that specific decisions are made, early on, to determine what type of culture is desired and will be carried into the future. This topic could easily be pushed aside as not important, but like a mission statement or values, establishing the culture of a company is another crucial element for setting a strong foundation. As a leader, setting the tone by deliberately creating policies and practices that fall in line with the company’s mission will start down the desired path. These practices then need to become what is lived every day.

There are fewer opportunities to create a culture from scratch. It is more likely that a culture will be in need of change. This doesn’t mean that a culture was started off on the wrong foot, but it does mean that there is a desire to change current beliefs or practices. In order for this to happen successfully, and truly take hold, it must come from the top. A lead is entirely responsible for setting the tone and establishing any change in culture. It is very difficult for an entire organization to change without initial adoption from the man or woman in charge. And, it can’t be for show, only authentic adoption will lead to the desired results.

The most difficult cultural process is attempting to make a change the leader has not, or will not, adopt. This is, in my opinion, an effort in futility. Should you try to establish a, slightly, different culture in a department you oversee, then that is possible. The reason is because you are the leader and have the power and influence over those in the department. However, it cannot be radical enough to interfere with the culture established for the greater company. Even if using your department’s unique culture to find success, the company leadership must buy in for any other department to be able to mirror that success. The reason for this is coming up next.

Finally, the least effective means of changing culture is simply benchmarking, copying, another successful company’s practices and assuming the new culture will come as a result. By simply imitating the practices without understanding the underlying basis for how a culture started will lead to undesired outcomes. When United attempted to copy the success of Southwest Airline’s customer satisfaction and aircraft turnaround times, it wasn’t able to achieve the same outcomes. The reason? United’s efforts only copied was they were able to see on the outside, and weren’t able to copy Southwest’s heart and soul.

Culture is the basis of everything that happens in a company. It can’t be forced and any changes that happen can only come from those in charge. It has to be organic and connect to the values at the core of what a company is based upon. Anything less will fail to take hold and be brushed aside. This does not have to be the end-all-be-all, but are needs to be considered if you are planning an attempted culture change.

To read about best cultural practices from my own experience, read my next blog post.

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5 Important Questions for Building a Strong Business Foundation

BusinessAs I have stated several times, how you get started often has a direct relationship with your level of business success. Putting your best foot forward drastically increases your chances for success over the long-term. I see this all the time working in the Nevada Small Business Development Center. No matter the type of business or organization, I believe there are several key building blocks within a strong foundation. Below is a list of questions I ask each client when they are getting started.

  1. What makes your idea different from everything else out there? And, is it profitable?

There needs to be something that sets you apart from everyone else. This can certainly be small in nature, but it needs to be distinct. Why would I buy your product or service, when I can get the same thing down the street? And, it may be a good idea, but will anyone actually buy it?

Doing your homework and talking to the right people is crucial. There is a fantastic network of Small Business Development Centers around the country and free quality advice is hard to find these days. If there is not an SBDC office to assist you, then let me know through a comment below and I will help you find resources.

  1. Have you started to create a foundation for your business – your mission and values?

I have written about both mission statements and values in other blogs, so click over to learn more about creating each. The important thing to remember is these are key foundational elements that are meant to help you make decisions about how you do business – both the easy ones and the tough ones.

  1. Have you created a business plan and used applicable research to form your conclusions?

A business plan (or organizational plan) is the framework that is built off of the foundation you place with a mission and values. Using a template off of the internet is easy and a great place to learn what needs to be included. Search for examples to compare from within the same industry to get additional ideas – perhaps things you haven’t thought of before.

  1. How many points are listed out on your action item list?

First, have you started an action item list? If you have, it is likely that your list will need to double. I wouldn’t be surprised if each point requires something else to get you to where you want to be. What does this mean for you? You will probably need to do more research and estimate more time in the process of starting up. Never hold yourself back by putting off your launch date, but spending several hours or an entire day getting critical information is not a delay or a waste of time.

  1. Were your financial projects constructed from real-world estimates?

Even if you are creating a non-profit organization, finances must be accounted for. In business, finances are what make the difference between profitability and closing the doors. The projections created for the business plan must be based on relevant and timely information. If you haven’t had experience with finances or accounting, it is very important someone with that experience is helping you out.

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This list is not everything that must be done, but it is where I think that everyone should start. They are all basic items I believe must be accomplished and separate the line between success and failure.

Once you have completed these initial steps, there are even more items that must be considered. The Small Business Administration has a helpful list. Now don’t put it off any longer. Follow me on Twitter to get helpful insights from others in the industry on finding and continuing success.

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Your Mission – For Business and For Life

ConstructionWhen starting a new business, there are many items that must be worked out, taken care of and secured. To me, one of the most important is defining your mission. Why? Simple – because the mission for your business should be the foundation you build everything upon and for making almost, if not, every decision.

The mission for a business will generally mirror those of the owner(s) because what drives them is what will drive the business. So, with that idea, the concept of defining a mission is a deeply personal endeavor. If you have already gotten your business started, or even been in business for years, the importance of creating a mission is just as high and can make just as much of an impact.

Long or short, the length (almost) doesn’t matter; just the content. As an example, energy company ConocoPhillips has a very short mission statement – Use our pioneering spirit to responsibly deliver energy to the world. This is short and straight to the point. People reading this, and even the company itself, can be reminded about what drives them. The reason I said that length “almost” doesn’t matter is because mission statements can be too long; such as H&R Block’s. The message can be lost if no one wants to read through it.

When looking to write your mission statement, there are a few points you should think about before you get started.

  1. Be honest and write from the heart – The last thing you want is for people to read your mission and not believe it truly represents you or your business.
  2. State your ideal situation – If you want to be the best, world-famous, put your customers first, grow to be the biggest company in your industry, then put that in there. This is as much about what you want to be, as it is how you want to be seen.
  3. Don’t limit yourself – Your mission statement should remain the same throughout the life of your business. Therefore, if you only sell baked goods, but in the future you would like to expand into coffee, then don’t just state you want to be the best baker in the world.

If you need inspiration, I found www.missionstatements.com, which has a multitude of examples for almost every type of mission statement to get the creative juices flowing. Once you have put together your mission, get some feedback from those you trust and then start using it as your guide and post in for the world to see.

Finally, because the mission can be short and covers a broad level of what you do, other items can be created to help clarify who you are and what you are about, such as a vision and values, but I will save my thoughts on those for another time.

As a small push to get started, and if you are feeling brave, please write a one line personal mission statement in the comment section below.

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