StrategyDriven Practices for Professionals Article

Ten Mistakes People Make In Business And How To Avoid Them

StrategyDriven Practices for Professionals Article
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Making mistakes is fine. We all do it, from small mistakes to life-changing disasters. So it is with people in business. Embarking on a new venture can be rewarding, and the chances of getting things wrong are high. But then again, nobody’s perfect, not even experienced business owners with inflated egos and know-it-all attitudes

Whatever your position in business, take heed of the following mistakes that many people make along the way.

Having no vision

You need to have a vision for your company. Without one, you are destined to fail. You need a business plan, so you know where you are heading. Consider your target demographic, budget, and your goals in both the short and long term.

Being second best.

Maybe you have a business selling cushions. You may think you are the greatest cushion maker there has ever been. However, there are a lot of other cushion sellers out there, so you need to be able to compete with them to stand out in the market place. Check out the competition and find ways to make your product unique, in design and affordability. No matter how busy you get, don’t get corners. If your product is not up to scratch, it is not going to sell.

Doing everything

Sadly, no matter what you think, you are not superhuman. You may be able to take on some or all of the tasks your business needs, but you will be tiring yourself if you try to do everything. Find people who can help you, such as hiring new staff or an accountant for financial matters. Ultimately, it is better to be a master of a few things rather than everything.

Poor marketing

All good businesses use the power of the internet  for their services. Whether you own an actual store or are setting up a business when working from home, you need to get online. Create a website to sell your product. Make a social media account, Facebook or Pinterest for example, and rally a legion of followers and customers. Send out business cards and flyers, through email and the post to local houses and businesses. Hire somebody with SEO skills to ensure you are featured prominently on search engines. Take out ads in the local media, including radio and newspapers.

It is rare that people will just stumble on to your business, so make it easy for them to find you.

Not budgeting properly

Many companies fall at the first hurdle because money dries up. You need to plan right at the beginning of your business, be it through saving capital or taking out a bank loan. You will run at a loss initially, but with the right marketing and selling tools, you will eventually make money.

Money invested into the business should not go towards the new TV you always wanted, so have separate bank accounts for business and personal use.

Most of us buy insurance cover to protect our lives and homes from potential damages. Doing the same for our business is equally as important. There are different types of business insurance, covering your assets, employees, and liability in the event your product harms somebody after purchase. It may cost a little in the short term, but is vital for the long term.

You still have a life outside of your business, so in budgeting take into account other important expenditure such as family, bills, and food!

Not taking it seriously

There is a lot of hard work involved in setting up a business, so it is important to take it seriously and not treat it like a hobby. Check out the competition when considering prices, spend time maintaining your website, and do all the legal and accounting paperwork. Cutting corners in any area of the business may cause problems down the line. Yes, it is hard work, but it should be worth it down the line when you start making a profit.

Poor leadership

If you have a small or large team working with you, it is important to communicate with them clearly. Share with your team the company vision and work collaboratively in making it come to fruition. Be honest about your feelings towards them, giving praise when it is due and pulling individuals up if they are slacking. Good communication is a two-way process so listen to the opinions of your team. Be a good role model, inspiring the trust of those around you. A good leader is one who knows what he wants and delivers on his promises. It is important to give equal respect to everybody on the team, to ensure you get the same in return.

Ignoring customer needs

Without customers, the business is not going to go anywhere. Therefore it is important to understand the needs of the customer. For example, help them to save money by offering promotional deals and allowing for free shipping of your product. Listen to any feedback and take action on it. When a customer raises a question, don’t wait a week before you answer them. Remember, there are probably hundreds of businesses like yours, so maintain customer loyalty, and consider these customer service quotes.

Forgetting their personal lives

Of course, you want to make a good go of your business, but don’t forget other areas of your life. Spend time with family and friends, and enlist their moral support in both the good and the bad times. Make sure you eat well and maintain a healthy lifestyle, including exercise to build up your physical and mental health. Being happy in both your personal and professional lives is important as if you fail in one you may fail in the other.

Giving up

You aren’t going to get rich overnight; it could take years to achieve. Whatever pitfalls you encounter, don’t give up too early. You need to persevere, seek help where you need it and be prepared to eat humble pie occasionally. If it doesn’t work out, well, at least you tried. Whatever mistakes you make, learn from them.

StrategyDriven Practices for Professional Article
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StrategyDriven Practices for Professionals Article

A Joker Not Up For The Job: How To Make The Business World Take You Seriously

StrategyDriven Practices for Professionals Article
Photo courtesy of Annette Wamser via Wikimedia

Being the joker isn’t always a bad thing. Who doesn’t dream of making everyone laugh at a dinner party? But, there’s no place for jokers in business. In fact, being the laughing stock could cost you custom, respect, and success. So, keep the jokes to yourself, and practice that poker face. If people consider you a serious individual, they’re more likely to put trust in you. They’ll know that you mean business, and won’t let them down. In short; it’ll make a world of difference. We’ve put together a quick-fire list of tips that should make people understand how serious you are.

Credentials

You may have thought you could escape the scrutiny of your credentials when you went it alone, but you’re out of luck. Professionals looking to do business with you will want to know what qualifies you to handle their money. People with qualifications carry more weight. If you turn up with nothing behind you, the chances are that you’ll get laughed off the table. For example, an engineer may not be given much time of day in a business setting. But, if that engineer has an engineering management masters, it’s a different matter. Credentials are also the main thing you can use to set you apart from the competition. For the most part, you will always be fighting others for sales. If you’re more qualified, you’re in a better position to get the deal. And, it’s not only qualifications that boost your credentials. Doing business with the right people is another thing to add to your list. Everyone will take you seriously if you’ve worked with the big boys in the past.

Remember You’re Always on Display

As the face of your business, you are always on display. This applies to your personal life and your business pursuits. You need to be on your best behavior. One wrong comment could come back to bite you later down the line. Get into the habit of censoring yourself before you speak. This even applies to your personal social media accounts. Once people know who you are, you need to stay squeaky clean. It’s also important to note that you must stay professional at business dinners and nights out. The wine may well be flowing, but you can’t afford to get wasted. What associates will take you seriously if they saw you dancing on the table the night before? Keeping a clear head is the best way to avoid a slip-up.

Ruthlessness Works

People who make it big in business are often ruthless individuals. Bear that in mind on your quest to become a serious business figure. If people think they can walk all over you, they’ll do so. You’ll become the joker all over again, and this time it’ll cost you. If you feel someone is taking advantage, make sure you call them out on it. Threaten to pull out of the deal, and watch them come crawling back. You can bet they won’t try the same thing twice.

StrategyDriven Resource Management Article

Time Is Money; Spend It Well

It’s an old adage and one that proves true in business every single day of the year. You pay for your employees’ time. You pay to keep the lights on and the network running. You invest in the tools used to do the job. When time is wasted, the money you spend on the things mentioned above is wasted. So, what can a business owner do to master time?

StrategyDriven Practices for Professionals Article
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Time is about priority

For the individual, good time management is all about what you spend your time on. If someone isn’t used to the duties of a business, they may not entirely be aware of which tasks on their workload are of the most important. Make sure that proper priority is taught throughout the business. Talk to employees more often about their workload and make sure they’re focused first on the tasks most important and most urgent. Creating a matrix on those lines can help them much better manage their own workload in future.

Availability can make the difference

The business runs on its own schedule as well. It runs on a schedule of project deadlines and the availability of certain resources. Keeping everyone synced to that schedule through things like project management and room scheduling software is vital. Without such tools, people will hold projects up and employees will clash when trying to use the same meeting room. Keeping the business schedule visible to everyone in advance of the plans they make will make it a lot easier for everyone to navigate around one another.

Eliminate downtime

Another wide-reaching issue is business downtime. In manufacturing, in construction, even in the office, equipment failure is by and large the biggest cause of downtime. A proactive maintenance schedule is the best way to avoid more downtime, but you should attempt to have backups available more often than not. Whether that’s a backup generator in the premises in the event of a power cut or an alternative internet connection to use when the regular one fails. Don’t let downtime dominate the workplace.

Deal with distraction

Back to the individual, there’s one issue that’s all about the human aspect of the business. We’re talking about distraction. The average worker loses 759 hours a year because of it. As a business owner, if you were to calculate how much those hours cost you, it would probably be enough to burst a blood vessel. Sources of distraction need to be sought and warned against regularly. Whether that means talking about appropriate use of social media or email management within the work schedule or creating a system of communication that ensures that requests to help from their colleagues don’t interrupt someone in the middle of their own tasks.

Stop déjà vu

Another way you will easily lose time is neglecting to keep hold of the information that’s going to save the business time. This might be the way of simplifying certain tasks or how you train new individuals. Don’t tread the same steps time and time again. Record more sticky information about how the business runs so you can catch people up in no time.

The better use of time, the benefits of collaborative scheduling, and the importance of keeping knowledge in the business can create a much more efficient and effective business. Never think that you can afford to waste time. The money spent on that wasted time builds up much quicker than you might realise.

StrategyDriven Practices for Professionals Article

It’s A Dog-Eat-Dog World Out There, But Only If You Allow It

Business is often described as a dog eat dog world. But things only usually get that bad if you let them. Here is some advice from entrepreneurs who learned serious lessons through their own experience on how to avoid getting screwed over by their business partners, and the people that they work with.

Always Avoid Emotionality

StrategyDriven Practices for Professionals Article
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It’s great that passion motivates the positive aspects of your business and drives you forward to new heights. But passion in business can get you into trouble, especially when emotions turn negative. Things will go wrong in business. People will try to take advantage of you, colleagues will lie, and business partners will let you down. The key to running a successful business is to always remain cool and calculating in these situations. Losing your head can lead you to make damaging decisions that could ultimately be harmful to your business in the long run.

Meditate

StrategyDriven Practices for Professionals Article
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Meditation and entrepreneurs don’t seem like great bedfellows. After all, entrepreneurs are all about living life at 100 MPH, and people who meditate, usually Buddhist monks, are interested in the precise opposite. But when it comes to entrepreneurship, meditation is actually of critical importance. The reason is that our brains tend to make new connections and come up with original ideas when our minds are clear from other worries. Many entrepreneurs like to meditate in the shower and are sometimes referred to as “urban shower monks.” Being able to get away from the mayhem often allows you to think about how you’ll deal with a difficult situation better at work.

Set Clear Parameters With Your Stakeholders

One of the biggest problems companies face is defining relationships between their partners, vendors, stakeholders and colleagues. Often these agreements can get out of hand, and you can find yourself losing out. This is why so many companies now use contract management software to stay on top of all their relationships with their customers. It allows them to make sure that all of their contracts are in the best interest of the company and easy to find. It also helps organizations that need to scale rapidly manage their risks in real time.

Be Strategic

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Command and control entrepreneurs don’t usually do all that well. They think that people are working for them because they really want to and they believe in the company, but most of the time it’s just so that they can put food on the table at night. Some business leaders think that all they have to do is tell their employees what to do by force of will and they will obey. But this isn’t how people work. Instead, interacting with people is more like a game of chess. It’s strategic, and often people will do and say things that lead to their strategic advantage. For years Donald Trump ingratiated himself with the highest echelons of society. Now he’s bringing them to their knees. It’s all about long-term planning and cunning. Think carefully about what is actually motivating the people who work for you and with you.

Sharon Drew Morgen

Questioning Questions

Decades ago I had an idea that questions could be vehicles to facilitate change in addition to eliciting answers. Convention went against me: the accepted use of questions (framing devices, biased by the Asker, that extract a defined range of answers) is built into our culture. But overlooked is their inability to extract good data or accurate answers due to the bias of the Asker; overlooked is their ability to facilitate congruent change.

What Is A Question?

Questions are biased by the expectations, assumptions, goals, unconscious beliefs and subjective experience of both the Responder and the Asker and limit responses accordingly. In other words, questions can’t extract ‘good’ data. They’re certainly not designed to lead Responders through to real change or accurate revelations. (What? Did you really say what I think I heard? offers a broad discussion of bias.) Here are the most prevalent ways we limit our Communication Partner’s responses:

Need to Know Askers pose questions to pull conscious data from the Responder because of their own ‘need to know’, data collection, or curiosity. An example (Note: all following italicized questions are posed as a mythical hairdresser seeking business) might be: Why do you wear your hair like that?

These questions risk overlooking more relevant answers that are stored beyond the parameters of the question posed – often in the unconscious.

Pull Data Askers pose questions to pull a range of implicating data considered useful to ‘make a case’ in a ploy to obtain their desired results (i.e. sales, leadership, marcom, coaching). Don’t you think it might be time to get a haircut?

These questions run a high risk of missing the full range of, or accurate, responses. Certainly they offer no route to enabling choice, decisions, or collaboration/buy-in. They encourage resistance, partial/missed answers, and lies.

Manipulate Agreement/Response Questions that direct the Responder to find a specific set of responses to fit the needs and expectations of the Asker. Can you think of a time you’ve felt ‘cool’ when you’ve had short hair? Or Have you ever thought of having your hair look like Kanye/Ozzy/Justin? Or What would it feel like to have hair like Kanye/Ozzy/Justin? Wouldn’t you say your hairstyle makes you look X?

These questions restrict possibility, cause resistance, create distrust, and encourage lying.

Doubt Directive These questions, sometimes called ‘leading questions’ are designed to cause Responders to doubt their own effectiveness, in order to create an opening for the Asker. Do you think your hairstyle works for you?

These narrow the range of possible responses, often creating some form of resistance or defensive lies; they certainly cause defensiveness and distrust.

Questions restrict responses to the Asker’s parameters, regardless of their intent or the influencer’s level of professionalism and knowledge. Potentially important, accurate data – not to mention the real possibility of facilitating change – is left on the table and instead promote lost business, failure, distrust, bad data collection, and delayed success. Decision Scientists end up gathering incomplete data that creates implementation issues; leaders and coaches push clients toward the change they perceive is needed and often miss the real change needed and possible. The fields of sales and coaching are particularly egregious.

The cost of bias and restriction is unimaginable. Here’s an especially unfortunate example of a well-respected research company that delayed the discovery of important findings due to the biases informing their research questions. I got a call from one of the founders of Challenger Sales to discuss my Buying Facilitation® model. Their research had ‘recently’ discovered that sales are lost/delayed/hampered due to the buyer’s behind-the-scenes change issues that aren’t purchase-driven and sales doesn’t address – and yay for me for figuring this out 35 years ago.

Interesting. They figured this out now? Even David Sandler called me in 1992 before he died to tell me he appreciated how far out of the box I went to find the resolution to the sales problem (He also offered to buy me out, but that’s a different story.). The data was always there. I uncovered this in 1983. But the CEB missed it because their research surveys posed biased questions that elicited data matching their expectations. Indeed, even during our conversations, my Communication Partner never got rid of his solution-placement (sales) biases and we never were able to find a way to partner.

What Is An Answer?

Used to elicit or push data, the very formulation of conventional questions restricts answers. If I ask ‘What did you have for breakfast?’ you cannot reply ‘I went to the gym yesterday.’ Every answer is restricted by the biases within the question. I’m always disappointed when I hear sellers say “Buyers are liars” or coaches say “They didn’t really want to change.” Or therapists or managers or leaders say “They’re resisting”. Askers cause the answers they get.

  1. Because we enter conversations with an agenda, intuition, directive, etc., the answers we receive are partial at best, inaccurate at worst, and potentially cause resistance, sabotage, and disregard.
  2. There are unknown facts, feelings, historic data, goals, etc. that lie within the Responder’s unconscious that hold real answers and cannot be found using merely the curiosity of the Asker.
  3. By approaching situations with bias, Askers can only successfully connect with those whose conscious biases align with their own, leaving behind many who could change, or connect when their unconscious data is recognized. And conventional questions cannot get to the unconscious.
  4. Because influencers are unaware of how their particular bias restricts an answer, they have no concept if there are different answers possible, and often move forward with bad data.

So why does it matter if we’re biasing our questions? It matters because we are missing accurate results; it matters because our questions instill resistance; it matters because we’re missing opportunities to serve and support change.

When sellers ask leading questions to manipulate prospects, or coaches ask influencing questions to generate action, we’re coaxing our Communication Partner in a direction that, as we now recognize, is often biased. Imagine if we could reconfigure questions to elicit accurate data for researchers or marcom folks; or enable buyers to take quick action from ads, cold calls or large purchases; or help coaching clients change behaviors congruently and quickly; or encourage buy-in during software implementations. I’m suggesting questions can facilitate real change.

What Is Change?

Our brain stores data rather haphazardly in our unconscious, making it difficult to find what we need when we need it, and making resistance prevalent when it seems our Status Quo is being threatened. But over the last decades, I have mapped the sequence of systemic change. Following this route, I’ve designed a way to use questions as directional devices to pull relevant data in the proper sequence so we can lead Responders through their own internal, congruent, change process and avoid resistance. Not only does this broaden the range of successful results, but it enables quicker decisions and buy-in – not to mentiontruly offer a Servant Leader, win/win communication. Let’s look at what’s keeping us wedded to our Status Quo and how questions can enable change.

All of us are a ‘system’ of subjectivity collected during our lifetime: unique rules, values, habits, history, goals, experience, etc. that operates consensually to create and maintain our Status Quo; it resides in our unconscious and defines our Status Quo. Without it, we wouldn’t have criteria for any choices, or actions, or habits whatsoever. Our system is hard wired to keep us who we are (Systems Congruence).

To learn something new, to do something different or learn a new behavior, to buy something, to take vitamins or get a divorce or use new software or be willing to forgive a friend, the Status Quo must buy in to change from within – an inside job. Information pulled or pushed – regardless of the intent, or relationship, or efficacy – will be resisted.

For congruent change to occur – even a small one – appropriate elements within our Status Quo must buy into, and have prepared for, a possibly disruptive addition (idea, product, etc.). But since the process is internal, idiosyncratic, and unconscious, our biased questions cause the system to defend itself and we succeed only with those folks whose unconscious biases and beliefs mirror our own.

  1. People hear each other through their own biases. You ask biased questions, receive biased answers, and hit pay dirt only when your biases match. Everyone else will ignore, resist, misunderstand, mishear, act out, sabotage, forget, ignore, etc.
  2. Due to their biased and restricting nature, your questions will not facilitate those who are not ready, willing, or able to manage internal change congruently regardless of the wisdom of your comments or their efficacy.
  3. Without the Responder being ready, willing, and able to change, ACCORDING TO THEIR OWN CRITERIA AND SYSTEMS RULES, they cannot buy, accept, adopt, or change in any way.

To manage congruent change, align the Status Quo, and enable the steps to achieve buy-in – I’ve developed Facilitative Questions that work comfortably with conventional questions and lead Responders to:

  • find their own answers hidden within their unconscious,
  • retrieve complete, relevant, accurate answers at the right time, in the right order to
  • traverse the sequenced steps to congruent, systemic change/excellence, while
  • avoiding restriction and resistance and
  • include their own values and subjective experience.

It’s possible to help folks make internal changes and find their own brand of excellence.

Facilitative Questions

Facilitative Questions (FQs) employ a new skill set that is built upon systems thinking: listening for systems (i.e. no bias) and Servant Leadership. Even on a cold call or in content marketing, sellers can enable buyers down their route to change and buy-in; coaches can lead clients through their own unique change without resistance; leaders can get buy-in immediately; change implementations won’t get resistance; advertisers and marketers can create action.

Using specific words, in a very specific sequence, it’s possible to pose questions that are free of bias, need or manipulation and guide congruent change.

Facilitative Question Not information gathering, pull, or manipulative, FQs are guiding/directional tools, like a GPS system. Like a GPS they don’t need the details of travel – what you’re wearing, what function you’re attending – to dictate two left turns. They lead Responders congruently, without any bias, from where they’re at to Excellence. How would you know if it were time to reconsider your hairstyle?

This question is a guiding mechanism to efficiently enable a route through the Responder’s largely unconscious path to congruent change.

Here’s the big idea: using questions directed to help Others efficiently recognize their own route to Excellence, and change as appropriate vs. using questions to seek answers that benefit the Asker. This shift in focus alone creates an automatic trust.

An example is a question we designed for Wachovia to increase sales and appointments. Instead of seeking prospects for an appointment to pitch new products (i.e. using appointments as a sales tool), we designed questions to immediately facilitate discovery of need, taking into account most small businesses already have a banking relationship. After trialing a few different FQs, our opening question became: How would you know when it’s time to consider adding new banking partners, for those times your current bank can’t give you what you need? This question shifted the response to 100 prospecting calls from 10 appointments and 2 closes over 11 months, to 37 invites to meet from the prospect, and 29 closes over 3 months. Facilitative Questions helped the right prospects engage immediately.

When used with coaching clients, buyers, negotiation partners, advertisements, or even teenagers, these questions create action within the Responder, causing them to recognize internal incongruences and deficiencies, and be guided through their own options. (Because these questions aren’t natural to us, I’ve designed a tool and program to teach the ‘How’ of formulating them.).

The responses to FQs are quite different from conventional questions. So when answering How would you know if it were time to reconsider your hairstyle?, the Responder is directed by word use, word placement, and an understanding of systems, to think of time, history, people, ego, comparisons, family. Instead of pulling data, you’re directing to, guiding through, and opening the appropriate change ‘boxes’ within the Responder’s unconscious Status Quo. It’s possible Responders will ultimately get to their answers without Facilitative Questions, but using them, it’s possible to help Responders organize their change criteria very quickly accurately. Using Facilitative Questions, we must:

  1. Enter with a blank brain, as a neutral navigator, servant leader, with a goal to facilitate change.
  2. Trust our Communication Partners have their own answers.
  3. Stay away from information gathering or data sharing/gathering until they are needed at the end.
  4. Focus on helping the Other define, recognize, and understand their system so they can discover where it’s broken.
  5. Put aside ego, intuition, assumptions, and ‘need to know.’ We’ll never understand another’s subjective experience; we can later add our knowledge.
  6. Listen for systems, not content.

FQs enable congruent, systemic, change. I recognize this is not the conventional use of questions, but we have a choice: we can either facilitate a Responder’s path down their own unique route and travel with them as Change Facilitators – ready with our ideas, solutions, directions as they discover a need we can support – or use conventional, biased questions that limit possibility. For change to occur, people must go through these change steps anyway; we’re just making it more efficient for them as we connect through our desire to truly Serve. We can assist, or wait to find those who have already completed the journey. They must do it anyway: it might as well be with us.

I welcome opportunities to put Facilitative Questions into the world. Formulating them requires a new skill set that avoids any bias (Listening for Systems, for example). But they add an extra dimension to helping us all serve each other.


About the Author

Sharon Drew MorgenSharon Drew Morgen is a visionary, original thinker, and thought leader in change management and decision facilitation. She works as a coach, trainer, speaker, and consultant, and has authored 9 books including the New York Times Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity. Morgen developed the Buying Facilitation® method (www.sharondrewmorgen.com) in 1985 to facilitate change decisions, notably to help buyers buy and help leaders and coaches affect permanent change. Her newest book What? www.didihearyou.com explains how to close the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. She can be reached at [email protected]