The importance of a support group

Being a solo practitioner, or a lone wolf, it sometimes gets lonely. No one to discuss business ideas with, no one to help make important decisions and no one to give you advice when you are off track. That is why it is so important to surround myself with a good support network. I am fortunate enough to have friends and family who are there to help and offer advice when needed. I am also fortunate to be a part of a global community of consultants who, like me, run their own practices. I have a forum to test out new ideas and strategies. How else can one be successful?

You cannot make business decisions in a vacuum and it is impossible to know all angles of an issue or solution without outside help. Some of the loneliest colleagues I meet are Presidents and CEOs because they have a great deal of responsibility and ultimately the final decision-making power.

Life is better when you have a support system, regardless of your job or your pastimes. We need to spend more time developing personal relationships and spend less time making faceless connections through technology. Those personal relationships are rewarding and beneficial, so why not spend more time cultivating them?

BP taps new CEO

BP has tapped an American, Robert Dudley, to take over as CEO in October. This will allow Tony Heyward to presumably save face by completing the clean up of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Do you think there is any coincidence that Dudley is American? I think not. This is a shrewd move by BP's Board because the next few years are going to be integral to the future success of BP in the US. There will be new legislation, the ongoing clean-up effort, and of course, the eventual request to do more drilling. Having a "local boy" from New York, might just help BP grease the skids (no pun intended) to a better future for the company.

On a similar note, the amount of oil drilling that goes on in the US certainly does not show any indication that they are moving to alternate sources of energy anytime soon. I realize this is not an overnight change, but there does not really seem to be much momentum for removing the world's dependency on oil.

A Refund from Rogers?

I know, this sounds unheard of, and no, I did not put in this title just to capture your attention. This actually happened. Imagine my surprise when I arrived home from the office the other day to find a letter from the head of customer service from Rogers Communications. The letter explained that upon reviewing my account, they realized that I had not been receiving the proper discount for the services that I have. This was a nice surprise. As I read further down, it mentioned that I was to get a credit on my next bill for almost $1,000. Can you believe that? I almost hit the floor with disbelief. A $1,000 credit for services? Wow, I was impressed. That is money that I would have continued to pay, not knowing that I was being overcharged.

I have never been overly complimentary about Rogers and their customer service department. In fact, I have been very critical at some points. This was a nice change, a company admitting their mistake and compensating me for it. I understand that their motivation is to keep customers in the wake of some serious competition coming into the marketplace, but I must give them credit for being proactive in reviewing customer’s accounts and letting us know about mistakes that were made.

Does this mean a whole new era of customer service for Rogers? We shall see, but it certainly shows that a little competition can only benefit the customer in the long run.

Ditching the Blackberry

Last week, my wife and I spent four days in Algonquin Park, about three hours north of Toronto, camping and canoeing. Beautiful wildlife, beautiful scenery, great exercise…but the best part about it – no cell phone reception. Now I am the first to admit that I rely fairly heavily on my Blackberry to stay in touch with clients and friends and family, but this was a nice change. No email, no phone calls, no text messages and no interruptions for four whole days. It made me realize that life without my Blackberry goes on.

Does this mean that I had some epiphany that will change my life? No, but it was nice to get away from things for a few days and it made me realized that instant communication is not always necessary. Email and cell phones have created an expectation of immediate results, that we need to return emails and phone calls within minutes. This is not always the best way to do business. Sometimes we need to spend some time thinking about our decisions before we communicate them.

Try going a day without you cell phone and see what happens. It is a liberating experience and one that may change your perspective just a little on how to best use technology.

A Lesson in Egotism from Lebron James

A few days ago I wrote that we could learn a lesson in humility from Lebron James and the way that he has handled his free agency situation…my apologies, I take it all back. After last night’s self-agrandizing display, I may be off the Lebron train. He staged a one-hour, primetime special on ESPN to announce his decision to play in Miami…an announcement that took all of 5 seconds. So why the big show? Because marketing, branding, promotion…that seems to be the new normal for some NBA superstars. I am not upset he went to Miami, he deserves to do what is best for him. I am glad that he donated the proceeds from the show to the Boys and Girls Club, but why such a spectacle?

For the past seven years, I have been a big Lebron fan, both as a player and as a person. I think he has handled the situation of being the NBA’s best player admirably, which is why I was so surprised at the way he announced the signing.

Two other great players made announcements yesterday, but made them in a low-key way, not requiring a film crew and the attention of the entire basketball nation. I can’t even say “kids these days” because this is a 25-year old man. Anyways, Lebron, I wish you the best of luck and hopefully now you can put basketball ahead of self-promotion.

Speed, Efficiency and Productivity

I went on a tour of a hospital research facility and got to see the inner workings of one of the labs. We walked into a large room that was dominated by a piece of machinery, the centrepiece of which was a robotic arm about four feet long. As we arrived, the robotic arm was taking samples out of a container and putting them through a series or tests. I was mesmorized by the actions of this robotic arm.

When I snapped out of my trance, I asked the researcher how the machine was helping her do her job. She answered “it helps us with speed, efficiency and productivity. The robot can do things faster, better and with higher quality than any human, and it would take 8-10 people to produce the equivalent amount of results. Now, I start the machine in the morning, check in a couple of times to see the results, and spend my day doing actual research work.”

This got me thinking…this is exactly what every business needs, although it does not need to be robotic or expensive. Small changes can have a huge impact on your business. The goal is to find your “robotic arm.” What changes can you make that will have an impact on the speed, efficiency and productivity in your business?

A Lesson in Humility from Lebron James

I don’t usually purport that we can learn good life lessons from most athletes, but I think we can learn something from Lebron James, the NBA’s best player and a free agent. With Lance Armstrong accused of doping, Tiger Woods an admitted adulterer and many other superstars convicted of gunplay, there are few elite athletes who have (or at least appear to have) no baggage or bad habits. Lebron seems to be one of those athletes. His handling of his current free agent situation has been admirable. While many of his peers are discussing how much money they are going to make, what celebrities they have met with and which billionaire is taking them to dinner, Lebron has gone about his business, meeting with a few different teams and quietly making his decision. One would not think a lesson in humility would come from the NBA’s best player and one who has the opportunity to turn the league upside down depending on with which team he signs. You get the feeling that this is a smart man who understands the magnitude of this decision on him as well as others and also realizes that only he can make this decision. Lessons in humility come from strange places and it is nice to see them coming from a 25-year-old athlete about to make $120m. Some of our politicians and business leaders could take a page out of Lebron’s playbook on how to handle success.

Job Creation

According to the Kauffman Foundation, 64% of job creation comes from business that are less than five years old. Almost two-thirds of jobs are created by new businesses…..that is an astonishing statistic. It sort of makes it easier for governments to focus on how to help stimulate the economy without having to dish out handouts. Here is my three-point plan that should help both in the short-term and the long-term:

  1. Offer incentives for new businesses to grow – this could be done through grants, loans, subsidies, tax breaks, lower rent, etc. The key is to encourage businesses to grow because when companies grow, they need to hire more people.

  2. Offer expertise on how to grow – most businesses want to grow, but most do not know how to do so effectively. Put together a team of experts that have had success in helping organizations grow and give new businesses access to their expertise.

  3. Teach business skills early and often – incorporate business skills into high school. Teach the students about how to be an entrepreneur, the essentials of a business plan and the importance of people in a successful business. You can’t teach students how to come up with a great idea but you can teach them what to do when they have one.

There is no shortage of great ideas and great people to develop them, however, the problems arise when companies grow bigger and faster than the owners can handle. Two-thirds of jobs are created by young businesses and 80% of businesses fail within the first five years. Learning fundamental business skills like how to develop a business plan and which experts are needed would go a long way in helping companies grow. It is not that difficult…..find the areas in which most businesses fail and offer support in those areas.