July 2020
Theme: Process

Are you too busy mopping the floor to turn off the faucet?

In my Organization Development experience, I heard of the concept of being too busy mopping the floor to turn off an overflowing faucet. While the author of the original quote is unknown, the query requires us to introspectively ask: Are you focused on the symptoms or cause of your challenges?


My personal philosophy is that a great objective without an effective process is not sustainable.  This is why I analyze process and not just numbers. With the global COVID-19 pandemic, business owners had to change not just what products and services they offered, but also how they did business. 


The more I talk with business owners, the more I’m finding that necessity sparked great ideas they will maintain even when the pandemic ends. I touched base with a couple business owners to hear about what changed and how what they’re doing changed; what I learned was fascinating.


First I heard from Melissa Mazzeo, owner and CEO of Merry Go Rounds, a children’s resale store in Easton, MA. And I heard from Sean Kline, President and CEO of Turbotek, a managed services provider in Manchester, NH. Mazzeo has changed products and services, consolidated locations and added two new services. Kline’s company has not changed services offered; but is functioning remotely for the majority of the time. For both, business procedures have changed. Their experiences weathering the pandemic are useful for all business owners and leaders.


John Kotter, a business professor from the Harvard Business School, developed an 8-step model for managing strategic change. This can be used both for capitalizing on new opportunities or minimizing the threats. The Kotter 8-Step Model is one method I use to analyze business processes and to develop new strategies for growth and change. I turn to it now to understand the effect of COVID-19 on business processes. 



I encounter businesses in my practice that are struggling to respond to changes in the external business environment. There are others where a business leader has new ideas and needs to generate a sense of urgency to get the company on board. In March 2020 COVID-19’s ravaging impact created the urgency.  Kline pivoted to business processes that were nearly 100% remote. Mazzeo had to temporarily close her two brick and mortar stores.



A vision helps stakeholders understand what the company is trying to achieve and the timeframe. With COVID-19, the vision for most was survival. Mazzeo shared, “Out of our two stores, we ended up closing one permanently. We reopened the other one July 1 and will continue our brick-and-mortar sales there; however, we see brick and mortar as being a declining portion of our overall revenues going forward. We think that the future of our business is online for many reasons, not just the pandemic -but again, that gave us a much more forceful push than we would have had otherwise.” In other words, the shift away from relying exclusively on brick-and-mortar was vastly accelerated by COVID-19. 



Communication creates employee support, acceptance and buy-in. For this to be successful, take employee concerns, opinions and anxieties seriously. Kline is doing this both with employees and his customers. He stated, “We are able to perform well remotely. I would love to get back for cultural reasons, but it is not worth the risk.”



Being in dialogue with employees and customers helps business owners understand what might prevent an employee from being able to carry out the vision or from a customer being willing to make a purchase. Mazzeo paid attention to both safety and consumer desires. While customers were preventing from physically shopping, Mazzeo and staff created two personalized virtual shopping experience for customers. Her company “launched an online store, where customers could buy individual items. We also launched a virtual personal shopping service, where customers would tell us what they're looking for such as size, gender and item type and we'd pick out options for them. We would then either video chat with them or send photos, and they'd pick out the items they wanted. And third, we launched a subscription box service where customers fill out a style preferences quiz and we curate a box of outfits based on their responses.”


Short-Term Wins 

Wins and successes create momentum and resolve to continue. Kline’s vision of both safety and adaptability has been a boon to his company. He shares that they “are doing more remote work rather than face-to-face executive and technical meetings - leveraging video and web. Workers typically engage from home and only come to the office when necessary -e.g. equipment pick up or configuration.” Kline’s staff has adapted well to the changes and he has improved their customer pipeline by changing the sales process. Kline has also utilized PPP and EIDL to shore up the strength and stability of the company. This success will lead to future growth and expansion. 


Consolidate improvements

Improvement needs to be a continual process in order for it to stick. Mazzeo’s business is a great example of this as they continue to evolve in the face of the pandemic and in the realities of the retail industry. She shares, “the online store and subscription boxes are definitely here to stay. Both of these were part of our medium-term growth strategy and we were planning to implement them sometime in 2020. The pandemic simply forced us to implement them much sooner than we were planning to, and therefore to figure out the systems/processes as we went along. This was probably actually a good thing for us, because now they're up and running rather than still being in ‘idea mode’. More importantly, we were able to continue serving our customers while our doors were closed."


Changes hold when the new ideas, processes and procedures become part of the core of the organization. Both Mazzeo and Kline’s discussion of business process changes were characterized by optimism and focus as they prepare for the next stage of operations in the COVID-19 climate. 


Kline maintains and updates a business continuity plan which includes communication with customers. Mazzeo’s continuity strategy has continued evolving multiple times since March 2020. Continuing to meet the needs of customers while keeping employees safe are the current dominant objectives. Both companies have achieved these objectives because they have been willing to change their processes. While these company CEOs have figured it out and have great teams executing the plans, not every company has figured out their pandemic pivot yet. They may be too busy following processes that no longer help them achieve their company objectives. Not everyone has the bandwidth to evaluate and analyze the needs while keeping the company afloat and that’s a great time to bring in an outside consultant. 


Wondering if you are in that position? Ask yourself: Are you too busy mopping the floor to turn off the faucet?

June 2020
Theme: Resilience

How well can your business handle operational disruptions?

How do you evaluate if your business is at risk and plan for mitigating the risk? Are you aware that this is a vital part of planning to keep your company solvent and sustainable? 

One place to begin is simply listing situations that pose a risk to your business. This is necessary whether you have an engineering firm, a non profit food agency or any type of enterprise. Examples include: natural disaster, COVID-19, or a data security breach. Double check with key stakeholders as to what they believe are risks for your company - by building a list from multiple perspectives (employee, C-suite,  vendor, etc.) you have a better chance at being prepared. You cannot solve a problem that you’re unaware of. 

Now that you have a list of potential risks, the salient question is how to evaluate them and plan for them? How well-prepared you are for this risks is the company’s organizational resilience score. There are multiple parts to this and it can be very in-depth. Often, it’s better to have an outside consultant conduct the analysis and create the plan so that unconscious biases don’t get in the way of having the most objective plan.  

Some common components of the organizational resilience score are evaluations of disaster vulnerability, gaps in operational capacity, supply chain vulnerability, and understanding of your organization’s culture and employee commitment level. Rating scales can help you understand how important an identified gap is to getting back up to speed quickly after something disrupts business operations. And rating scales help you take a larger picture view and see all of the identified risks in context and how they interact with each other.  

Once identified and rated, then it’s time to plan for risk mitigation. Are there risks that could be eliminated? Risks that could be addressed easily without major cost? Risks that would ruin your business if you encountered them? Which ones should be addressed first and why? 

If you can answer all these questions, that is excellent and you are well on your way to having an organization with a high degree of organizational resilience. If you cannot answer those questions, the time to act is now. You cannot afford to wait until things are “going well” or “less busy”. The reality is that time marches on and problems arise on their own timetable, not ours. If you don’t know where to begin, reach out to a consultant who specializes in business resilience and continuity.  

The right consultant offers multiple levels of services: pointing you in the right direction, completing an organizational resilience evaluation or the development and the implementation of a comprehensive plan for resilience and strategic growth. Also, the right consultant can help you address a full breadth of operational disruptions - whether its human resource based, natural disaster based or even another global pandemic. Regardless of your goals, the time for action is now and there are many risk assessment services ready to catalyze your journey towards greater sustainability. Finding someone who will work with your budget and your needs doesn’t have to be hard either, just click here. It could make the difference between having a long-lasting business and and complete disaster. To receive a free, 6-point assessment to determine how to ready your business is for disaster and to learn specific next steps, click here

May 2020
Theme: Structure

Hiring and Adaptability

We don’t hire smart people to tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do. ~Steve Jobs

Sage words from Steve Jobs; what do they have to say for business owners and leaders today?

Three things:

  • Your employees are your life blood.
  • Your hiring process is directly related to your bottom line.
  • Your employees’ ideas might be better than yours.

You had a great idea for your business or mission for your organization. It’s grown and now there are days that you just can’t say that you’re any closer. Examine how you & your employees are spending time. Your employees are your lifeblood. Make sure no one’s time is being wasted by ineffective processes or with busy work. Look to see how tasks are related to the overall goal. If there’s no relationship, you as a leader are the reason for lack of progress! Get rid of what doesn’t connect to the goal.

Notice I said ‘what’ and not who. Sometimes you can have an amazing person but you’ve wasted their time with pointless tasks. Other times you really do have a problem employee. This cannot be determined subjectively. Hire smart, hard-working you can trust. Give them work that’s related to the overarching goals of your business. Then do something else- listen. Listen (with an eye on your goals, not your ego) to their feedback on what works & what doesn’t work. Accurate feedback, when implemented, will enhance your bottom line and increase employee satisfaction.

Which brings me to my last point- your employees may have better ideas on how to accomplish your business goals than you do. Why? Often, they’re closer to the marketplace than you. Also, innovation often comes in the midst of slogging through trying to rectify a problem. This is why you should hire people you trust - so when they speak on marketplace trends or on innovative ideas, you can listen.

Continuing to evolve and succeed as a business requires adaptability. This advice from Steve Jobs provides insight into one type and we should heed his advice.

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