Vol. 10, No. 2 – Feb. 1, 2010

February 1, 2010


The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information
for managers, leaders and entrepreneurs

1. The Seven Deadly Sins Of Business Owners

Consultant Sam Allman says most businesses fail because of their owners’ sins. In Executive Excellence, he notes most of those owners work hard, but succumb to these seven deadly sins:

  1. Drift and squander: The owners waste resources because they have no vision or dream, or fail to set strategies that drive growth. They “do” business — serving customers personally — rather than “run” the business.
  2. Waste cash: Cash tempts leaders to spend, and sometimes they forget that cash-in-hand is not spendable cash. Prepare cash flow statements to guide you.
  3. Run in the dark: More broadly, make sure you get timely financial statements and compare to budget such items as sales, gross profit margin, expenses, accounts receivable, inventory as a percentage of sales, accounts payable, sales per salesperson and employee, return on assets, and current ratio.
  4. Operate from the hip: Most companies could double profits if they avoided errors like botched orders to suppliers, mis-measures, overlooked tasks, resources wasted on searching for something, and inefficient employees scrambling to fill in for co-workers who call in sick.
  5. Copy your competitors: The best you can do when you imitate competitors is look like they do. Find some value to offer that they don’t.
  6. Seek mere satisfaction from customers: Satisfied customers don’t come back nearly as often as loyal customers.
  7. Ignore employees’ productivity: If your employees are putting in just enough effort to keep their jobs, your profits are suffering.

2. Five Non-Financial Rewards Most People Want

There are five non-financial rewards that people say they want, consultant Bruce Tulgan observes:

  • More control over their own schedule: A lot of people will work more hours if they can exert some control over when they actually have to work.
  • Relationships: Whom do they need to work with? The individual may not like working with a certain boss, vendor, or customer.
  • Tasks: They want to do not the grunt work but the really choice task. One general in the United States Army told Tulgan, “I always say not every soldier needs to take a turn cleaning the latrine.” And Tulgan agrees: You should give the choice tasks to the best people as rewards because it’s something they really care about.
  • Training: Employees want to learn marketable skills to become more valuable somewhere else.
  • Location: They want to choose where they work, be it the specific city (if you have several locations) or the side of the building with a good view of the lake. If they are forced to operate out of a cubicle, they may want their poor location offset by, say, being able to bring their dog to work.

“Those are the five non-financial rewards people care about. They also happen to be the five things that managers have the most control over. The question is, are you using those non-financial rewards you have control over to drive performance every step of the way?” he asks on his Rainmakerthinking.com web site.

3. Improving Your Reference Checks

Getting an accurate assessment of a job candidate through reference checks can be difficult, with past employers often unwilling to give an honest assessment. Serial entrepreneur Ben Casnocha suggests an intriguing test that starts with getting a number of references from the candidate and then calling those folks, either at lunch or after hours, when they are unlikely to take the call. That sounds a foolish time to call — but it is a test.

Leave the following message: “Jane Jones is a candidate for X position in our company. Your name has been given as a reference. Please call me back if the candidate was outstanding.”

If the candidate is outstanding, he suggests on his ben.casnocha.com blog, you will immediately get responses from the references, who will want to help. But if not many call back, that is also a signal — one they can give without saying anything potentially libellous.

4. Who Spreads Your Word?

Marketing guru Seth Godin says that in the dark ages — 10 years ago — the only way to spread your idea on a large scale was to do it yourself through ads and promotional material.

These days, idea spreaders assume that marketing role for you, talking up your service and your company. But he asks: What are you doing about it? Have you figured out which portion of your base of users are the talkers? Are you finding, courting, and delighting them?

“The number one cause of an idea that’s not spreading or a business that’s not growing is that they don’t have a committed group of people spreading the word about them,” he writes on Seth’s Blog.

5. Zingers

  • Minimize e-mail ping-pong by making suggestions (“Should we meet at 10:00 a.m.?) rather than asking open-ended questions (“When should we meet?”) (Source: Paul Hemp in Harvard Business Review)
  • If you have a serious message you want employees or customers to stop and read, try placing funny cartoons or humorous attention-getting posters next to it. People are more likely to stop for the humour, and then read the message. (Source: The Hump Day Humor-Gram)
  • Add value every time you “touch” a customer, advises Erica Stritch, general manager of RainToday.com. Don’t just call, for example, “to see how things are going.” Have a reason to reach out that helps the customer, such as calling to answer questions or sending an article that may be of interest. (Source: RainToday.com)
  • Some times you need to bite your tongue, count to 10, and leave things unsaid. The best way to leave things unsaid, advises writer Gretchen Rubin, is to leave them unthought — or if you have thought then, not to dwell on them. (Source: The Happiness Project blog)
  • Store related items in your workspace together — stamps near envelopes, pens near notepads, and ink near the printer. (Source: Gina Trapani at Harvard Business School Blogs)

6. Q&A with 8020Info:
Which Issues Need Attention?

Question: Newspapers are jammed with articles about global issues that could affect business. Which, if any of them, should I worry about?

8020Info Associate Harvey Schachter replies:

David Foot, co-author of Boom, Bust & Echo,says that demographic data explains two-thirds of everything. He is prone to exaggeration in many of his comments, but certainly demographics can explain a lot about our economy and business success, so maybe you should start there.

The first baby boomers are now in their sixties, contemplating retirement — or new working relationships — as their financial portfolios start to return to better health after the recent tailspin. Generations X and Y are about to play a greater role at work. How specifically will that affect your organization, in terms of the people it serves and the people who work within it?

Other issues often hit business through government intervention. In Ontario, future electrical generation is uncertain, and prices bound to rise. With climate change, carbon will eventually be taxed in some way. And water is seen as an even bigger long-term issue than carbon: Be prepared to have to figure out your water footprint, and pay more for the water you use.

That’s not to say climate change isn’t vital in itself, and some of the impact — erratic weather — appears to be affecting us now. But business will probably feel the impact more through government legislation, or falling behind competitors who, spurred by a quest for sustainability, find eco-efficiencies or new opportunities.

Governments will also tighten their belts in coming years. If you depend on senior levels of government for some — or a lot — of your revenue, you might find tougher times ahead. With tax hikes considered unseemly, look for subterfuge — new fees and levies that raise revenues more quietly.

Newspapers are jammed with stories in which speakers assure us their subjects are the most important challenges facing us. And many of those issues are vital. But the list above should give you enough to focus on for a start.

7. News From Our Water Cooler:
The 3-Minute Rule

Here’s an idea we’ve been passing along recently — an interesting tip from Cue Ball’s Anthony Tjan, published on Harvard Business Review Blogs. He calls it the 3-Minute Rule — a test that forces you to see the bigger context:

“What is your customer doing three minutes immediately before and three minutes after using your product or service?”

Your answer may point you to a cross-selling opportunity, a way to improve workflow or a way to make things easier for your client. It could apply to anything from a household product or software to a professional service.

Tjan offers the example of a firm in the business of providing investment analysts with financial data — three minutes after each download, they discovered, analysts were busy translating the data into an Excel spreadsheet. Providing a plug-in to make that task easier boosted the firm’s sales.

What happens just before your clients call you? What happens just after you finish delivering your service? And of course we have to ask: What are you doing three minutes after reading this?


8020Info helps teams develop, communicate and implement their marketing communications, research and strategic plans more effectively. We would be pleased to discuss your needs and welcome enquiries at (613) 542-8020, or by email at watercooler@8020info.com.

8. Closing Thought                                                                 Top

“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.”

— Jim Rohn