Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Radical Read

I enjoyed reading David Platt's book, The Radical Question and A Radical Idea.  It wasn't what I had expected.  In fact, there was one point in the reading (the small book makes it a quick read, but must be read with the whole brain open), where I considered not reading it.  I think it was partly my own interpretation and partly Platt's bluntness in how he writes.  He mentions that scripture does not state that one must accept Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior in order to be saved.  While there is proof to contradict that statement, I believe the point Platt was trying to make is that the act described should not be all that we do in order to be Christians.  We are called to do more, such as become disciples, make disciples, take care of the orphans, widows, and the poor, etc.

I found the book to be a keeper for referring to often.  I liked Platt's writing style as well as the information that isn't typically covered in most Christian books or books on Christianity. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The E Myth Book Review: Helpful Advice for the Small Business Owner

The E Myth is a very popular business book with huge success because the author, Michael Gerber, included so many great useful principles for running a business in today’s market.  It would be difficult to include them all in one blog posting, but I will include what I consider strategies that any sign shop owner can apply today. 

As Gerber explains it, the E Myth, or the Entrepreneurial Myth, is based basically on two parts: 

  • The myth that most people who start a small business are entrepreneurs

  • The myth that an individual who understands the technical work of a business can successfully run a business that does that particular technical work  

In other words, the myth is the idea that most people who start a small business are entrepreneurs, risking capital to make a profit.  This idea leads to two misconceptions:

  • The Entrepreneurial Seizure, a misconception that lures people to start a business to gain freedom and independence from their existing jobs

  • The Fatal Assumption, or when an individual who understands the technical work of a business can successfully run a business in that industry.  

The work which used to be love and joy for the technician will turn into forced chores, and eventually the business will be too much for the technician to handle.  While the principles in the book are many, today I will focus on three major factors that can help you in your business today.

I. Wearing three hats
In the book Gerber explains why so many small businesses fail to grow, and where they stumble when they try to grow.  Gerber says that to grow, you as the business owner need to have three characteristics or traits.  These are the characteristics of:

  • Technician
  • Manager
  • Entrepreneur

The problem is that very few small business owners are capable of being all three.   The challenge is recognizing which of the three you are and bringing in the other two people to fill the other roles. 

When you understand your unique talents, knowledge, and skills, you can continue to develop them while you find others with the talents and skills that you currently lack.  This doesn’t mean that you cannot learn the other roles, it just suggests that instead of putting the time into trying to learn another function of the business, it is usually wiser to bring someone in that already has the natural abilities needed. 

For clarification, Gerber defines the roles of each characteristic:

  • Entrepreneur is to supply the vision.  This person is more of the dreamer focusing on the future

  • Manager is to bring order to the business by putting systems in place

  • Technician lives in the present and is more hands-on supplying the output

All three are necessary for creating a productive and profitable business.  As Gerber says, “Suddenly the job he knew how to do so well becomes one job he knows how to do plus a dozen others he doesn’t know how to do at all.  He discovers he must become three people in one.”

Ø      Key Point: Know thyself.  Know your role in your business.

II. Understanding the why
In The E-Myth, Gerber uses the story of a fictional character named Sarah who sells pies.  Gerber tells Sarah that, “…the purpose of going into business is to get free of a job so you can create jobs for other people.”  It is a matter of first determining why you are in business.  Once you have the “why” firmly in your mind, you can then create a plan to follow for your business.  The reason shouldn’t be to be free of a boss, but rather to go further in your field and to create something great out of your life’s work that makes a difference, and which naturally requires more organization and resources.  

The key question is not how small Sarah’s business could be, but how big it could naturally become with the right systems and organization in place.  So, the first and most important thing to do is to crystallize firmly in your mind where you want to go with the business and then put this goal in writing.  Gerber says that “any plan is better than no plan.”  

Most great companies set out with a vision of where they want to go.  Tom Watson, founder of IBM is quoted as saying, “I realized that for IBM to become a great company, it had to act like a great company long before it ever became one.”  Watson had a template or vision and each day he tried to fashion the company after it, however farfetched it seemed.  He had a picture in his mind how the company would look.  You can do the same with your business. 

Ø      Key Point: Know why you are in business.  Crystallize your answer and put it in writing.

III. Taking care of business
Gerber states that, “Contrary to popular belief, my experience has shown me that the people who are exceptionally good in business aren’t so because of what they know but because of their insatiable need to know more.” 

The key is to work on the business and not in the business by using systemization and business development. 

Gerber learned though his years of consulting that people in small businesses generally work far too hard for the return that they get.  He recommends:

§ Put systems in place that helps you to orchestrate your business.  You have to organize and standardize your business down to the smallest details, because the only certainty in your business is that the people that you hire will act unpredictably.  With proper standards, systems and accountability, you cut out that risk, and as a result the customer gets what they want all of the time.  

§ A business is like a machine that generates money.  The more you standardize and refine the machine, the clearer its value will be.  Gerber asks, “What does a master craftsman do when she has learned all there is to know?  She passes it on to others.  In fulfilling this duty, your skill can be multiplied many times.  Orchestration through a business system leverages what you know.” 

§ What are needed are idiot-proof systems and procedures that enable merely good people to do extraordinary things, or a way of operating that guarantees customer satisfaction, not by individual people, but by the system itself.  If you can build a great business around ordinary people, says Gerber, you don’t have to worry about finding extraordinary ones.

Ø      Key Point: Put systems in place so you can work on your business and not just in your business.

If you get a chance to pick up the book, please do.  Until then, strive to implement the three points outlined here.  Take your time working on them and try to remember the three personality types.  Remember that the Technician’s only model for his business is work, whereas for the Entrepreneur, the model is the business itself, and the work is secondary.  This is why Watson’s remark in the book is so timely today: “Every day at IBM was a day devoted to business development, not doing business.”

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Tips for Better Business Writing

As a proofreader of business writing, I see many of the same errors made again and again. Errors in your writing (be they in advertising copy, correspondence, or a web site) are more serious, I believe, than most people realize.

Why? Well, the standard of your writing has always been important. Today, though, more than ever before, FIRST IMPRESSIONS COUNT. We are bombarded by the written word in its many forms -- books, pamphlets, magazines, signs, e-mail, web sites and many other media.

We are all suffering from information overload and are forced to find ways of screening out as much as we can. We thus tend to make quick decisions on what to read and what not to. First impressions increasingly determine what we read and what we don't, and poor writing leads to a poor first impression.

The following list of tips should help you to avoid some of the most common slip-ups.

1. Capitals: Avoid the temptation to capitalize words in the middle of a sentence Just To Provide Emphasis Like This. If you want to be more emphatic, consider using bold face, italics, color or larger text.

2. Commas: The most common use of the comma is to join together short sentences to make a single longer sentence. We do this with one of the following small joining words: and, or, but, yet, for, nor, or so. For example:

We have finished the work, and we are looking forward to the weekend.

Notice that the two halves of this sentence could each be sentences in their own right. They thus need to be separated with a comma and joining word. In the next example, though, we don't need a comma:

We have finished the work and are looking forward to the weekend.

The halves of that sentence could not stand alone, so no comma was used.

3. Ellipsis: The ellipsis is a series of three -- and ONLY THREE -- full stops used to mark missing words, an uncertain pause, or an abrupt interruption. Avoid the temptation to use six or seven dots -- it looks amateurish. For example, we write:

Niles: But Miss Fine's age is only ... Fran: Young! Miss Fine's age is only young!

4. Excessive punctuation: Only one exclamation mark or question mark should be used at a time. Consider the following over- punctuated examples:

Buy now!!! Great bargains!!!!!!!!!!

Excessive punctuation looks too much like hysteria and detracts from your credibility. Avoid it.

5. Headings: For long works, establish a clear hierarchy of headings. Microsoft Word's heading styles are great for this. (They also allow you to automatically create a table of contents.)

6. Hyphenating prefixes: Most prefixes don't need a hyphen; i.e. we write "coexist", not "co-exist". There are exceptions, though. The prefixes "self-" and "ex-" are almost always hyphenated.

7. Numbers: Numbers of ten or less are normally written as words.

8. Quotation marks: Users of American English should use double quotes (" "). Users of British English should choose either single quotes (' ') or double quotes and stick with them for the whole document. Incidentally, British English usage is increasingly moving towards single quotes.

9. Spaces: Modern style is to use a single space at the end of a sentence, not two. Also, most punctuation marks (e.g. commas, full stops, question marks) are not preceded by a space.

10.Tables: Set table text one or two points smaller than the main body text and in a sans-serif font such as Arial or Verdana. Avoid vertical lines as they tend to add unnecessary clutter.

Armed with these simple guidelines, your writing should be well received every time.

Good luck!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

An Outline Makes Business Writing a Snap

Here are several ways to simplify the writing process. One of the quickest and most easily adaptable ways is to create and follow a simple outline for all of your business writing. While you don't need a detailed, four-page outline that encompasses every point you want to make or every theory you purport, a simple outline can assist you in organizing your thoughts, narrowing your topic, helping you decide exactly what you want to say, and ensuring that you cover every important aspect of your subject. An outline also helps you jump over the writer's block hurdle that plagues nearly every writer at one time or another. Organize Your Thoughts Before you even begin to write, spend some time brainstorming. Grab a sheet of paper and a pen, or a blank computer screen and a keyboard, and write down everything you can think of that relates to your topic. Include ideas that are only slightly relevant, ideas that you may eventually discard, but don't filter your thoughts at this point. Spend about 10-15 minutes writing down EVERYTHING you can think of about this subject.

When you're finished, go back over what you've written and eliminate duplicate thoughts, unnecessary or irrelevant ideas, or anything else you don't want to include.

Now you have a fairly thorough list of the general ideas you want to discuss.

Narrow Your Topic

Next, look at your ideas more closely. Do you really want to cover every one of them? Are some of these topics better left unsaid or some such common knowledge that you don't need to mention them? Only you can decide what's important, but focus on what you really want to say. Ask yourself some questions, such as:

• Who am I trying to reach with this writing?

• What do I want my readers to understand?

• Are each of these ideas necessary to my central theme?

• Have I left anything out?

Decide Exactly What You Want to Say

Once you have each general topic area defined, it's time to think about each area in more detail. Decide what makes each thing you've written down important. Determine what it is that you want your readers to understand about each specific idea. Write your first draft at this point, being careful to fill in every detail you can. It's much easier to edit and cut extraneous material than to try to go back and fill it in later.

Cover Every Important Aspect of Your Subject

After you've written your first draft, you'll want to go back and evaluate every sentence, and every paragraph. Have you covered every important aspect of your subject? Should you expand an idea more fully? Can you rewrite a sentence or a paragraph to make it read more clearly or professionally? Now is the time to do your best work. Ensure that your subject is covered fully and completely and that you have said exactly what you intended to say.

Consider Hiring a Professional

Most small business owners and entrepreneurs must wear many, if not all, of the hats in the company. While it's easy to recognize the importance of your business communications, it's also easy to allow them to crucial documents to exit your office without full consideration for their impact on your bottom line.

Consider this... if you don't communicate clearly and effectively with your clients and prospects, you'll lose their attention -- and their business!

That's why, if your business writing skills are less than professional, you should seriously consider hiring a professional writer and/or editor to assist you.

Often, the first thing your audience sees is your written communication, and if you fail there, you'll never get the chance to show them what great products and astounding customer service you can provide!

Article by Fred Holt

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Written Word

Books, books, books. There are tons of books all around me. I pull one off the shelf to read and another takes its place. I am bone tired, but determined to read all the books in the room. Sitting at an old wooden desk, I begin reading when I hear a screeching sound to my right. I look up from my book to find the wall is opening. On the other side of the wall is another room much larger than the one I'm in. Inside the larger room are more shelves with more books. Thousands of books stacked from floor to ceiling. I know I have my work cut out for me so I begin reading again. I just finished page 11 when I begin to smile. Ah, books. I am no longer tired, but energized. Page 12.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Listening--Why Bother?

Below is an article that summarizes some key points to help us understand why listening is so important for success. Listening, communication, core values & principles are key aspects of HR Remedies's true North. That is why you will continue to see these as recurring themes in our blog.

The article was written by Bruce Wilson, executive coach & trainer and featured on the business listening site.

Practical Benefits of Better Listening for Leaders and Teams

Besides the deep implications of listening for leadership explored in decades of leadership models, listening has a number of direct, practical benefits for executives, managers, and team members.

Experienced management trainer Madelyn Burley-Allen identifies the following immediate tangible benefits from listening in the work place:

A Bond of Respect. Genuine listening generates respect, rapport and trust between talker and listener. In particular, employees like, and respond better to, supervisors who they think are listening to them.

Productivity. Productivity will be higher and problems solved more rapidly if people working to solve problems are encouraged to explain problems and start working though solutions out loud before "advice-giving" begins

Cooler Heads. Focusing on listening helps both the talker and the listener stay cool--and helps them cool down--when dealing with a crisis or discussing an emotionally charged topic.

Confidence. A supervisor who listens well will tend to have better self-esteem and self-image because they will get along better with others.

Accuracy. Better listening leads to better recollection of important facts and issues later on, resulting in fewer miscommunications and fewer mistakes. Thus, attention to good listening technique is even more important when complex issues are involved.

Parts of this section were inspired by the book Madelyn Burley-Allen, Listening, The Forgotten Skill. A Self-Teaching Guide (Fireside (Simon and Schuster), 1995 (Second Edition)) (>, with interpretation and analysis by Bruce Wilson.
Other motivational benefits of listening in the work place:
Innovative solutions to problems and new production methods are incubated by listening. When a leader tells someone exactly how to do something, or tells them to stop thinking and just keep doing it the way it's always been done, the organization misses out on any improvements that someone might discover by applying their fresh eyes and unique background to solving the problem.

From a different perspective, by not listening to the people who have to get the job done a leader not only chills innovation but also de-motivates by reducing feelings of responsibility, control, and importance.

Finally, it bears noting that Six Sigma, the latest system for total quality management, explicitly recognizes not only the value of the employee viewpoint, but the value to the employee of being listened to. Listening makes employees feel better about themselves and the problems they are working on seem more within their control.

Aren't some of us just too darn effective already to rely much on listening? Even General George S. Patton, the flamboyantly egocentric but highly effective U.S. Army tank commander during World War II, once said:

"Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity."

Cultivating the Work Environment. At IDEO, the company's leaders seek out the creative voice of team members and encourage team members to listen to one another in order to build an office environment that promotes cooperative teamwork and inspired problem-solving.- IDEO uses empathic listening to discover ways to make the work environment comfortable and attractive in order to recruit and retain top people.- IDEO treats the work environment as one of its product development projects. They brainstorm, prototype, and take feedback from team members to zero in on what works.- This approach to work environment encourages a flow of creativity and problem solving rather than focusing team members on barriers and obstacles in their path, such as "who's getting a window office."

Encourage Prototyping. Like brainstorming, prototyping is a way to solicit input from team members and develop empathy with customers. Prototyping is the process of creating and experiencing multiple early versions of your products of services, perhaps with alternative features, before your "final" version is ready for sale.

For example, when facing a one month deadline, try to come up with 5 different flavors of primitive outlines or prototypes after the first week and get feedback from team members about the prototypes to see what directions look most promising. Then prepare a final version. Don't begin by preparing a final version of "best guess" for completion and delivery on day 30, then get feedback after its too late.

Prototyping early and often breaks log jams, builds momentum, and allows course changes before smacking straight into obstacles.


2. Do you ever stop to consider how many people in
your team could be feeling that way right now?

I bet all I have that question #1 made you go back in time & clench your teeth even at the brief resurfacing of those old feelings.

That frustration that invariably leads to an increased employee issues, wasted time and sooner rather than later productivity loss? Well,just because it is not happening to right now it does not mean that those feelings are not lingering in your corridors right as you seat reading this coffee in hand.</span>

Funny thing is how much of this can be solved by the simple act of listening. Not the plain old listening, but the kind of intent listening that must take place during team meetings and any other gatherings, the kind of listening that does not involve the ears. The body language- listening, the results-listening, and the listening for one's team mood.

If something does not sound quite right, to your ears, your eyes, then action is a must. One of the key issues we find arise during this intent listening sessions is team construction and pairing.

The magic of pairing. We insist that people must be able to work with anyone and be flexible at all times. True. Ideally that should work, and so should communism.

But the reality of it is that if you put two people that usually don't see eye to eye to work together for an extended period of time this won't translate into rewards of any kind. No matter what level of maturity, skill and professionalism is at work, if the heart and collaborative spirit is not there, you lose, and so will your company and your bottom line. History shows us that good partnering is essential to any great achievement, why ignore such tried and true wisdom?

While it is true that working with folks who have different points of view is likely to enrich us, if philosophies< and personalities are diametrically opposite,the enriching part won't ever matter, because personal issues will inevitably blindfold & undermine more positive attributes.

The right pairings and team building won't take place overnight. This is an art with almost no science to it. So listen. Ask questions. Take the time to re-evaluate who sits next to whom, who seems unhappy to work with whom, what pairs/teams feed of each other's ideas and energy, and begin taking into account your team member's input when designing groups that will work side by side, departments, and shifts.

And why not go as far as to take more drastic measures and even consider having your current employees interview new hires that they'll work with? Studies show that companies that invest on that initial time to get to know potential new hires have a much lower turnaround than companies using more traditional interviewing/hiring methods.

Something to think about.