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As a business, have you expressed your culture in written format? Does your business have a culture? Is that culture unique?  

In this video, I discuss what culture is and why it is important for a small business to have one. I further explore how a small business like yours can start building a culture that would benefit you. 

What is culture?  

Culture is who we are as a company and how we do things. A Harvard Business Review article defines culture as the following: 

Culture guides discretionary behavior and it picks up where the employee handbook leaves off. Culture tells us how to respond to an unprecedented service request. It tells us whether to risk telling our bosses about our new ideas, and whether to surface or hide problems. Employees make hundreds of decisions on their own every day, and culture is our guide. Culture tells us what to do when the CEO isn’t in the room, which is of course most of the time.”  

Brian Chesky, founder of AirBnB, similarly defines culture as 

 “… simply a shared way of doing something with passion. Our culture is the foundation for our company.” 

What determines “culture”?  

Culture is determined by your core values. 

AirBnB, Zappos, and Netflix—US-based startups that have grown into large businesses—all say the same thing: that culture is the embodiment of one’s core values. 

Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos says that it is  

… necessary to come up with core values — essentially, a formalised definition of our culture — in order for us to continue to scale and grow.”  

Core values are, as defined in Netflix’s Culture Manifesto, “are the behaviors and skills that we particularly value in fellow employees.” These values determine “who gets rewarded, promoted, or let go.” 

So, in a nutshell, culture is a way of doing things, and it is guided by what the company values. 

Why is culture important? 

  1. It guides you on who to hire or even which clients to take on. Are you hiring someone who will work well with the team—someone who shares the same values and beliefs as everyone else? In small businesses, hiring is something done usually on a gut feel. For the most part, it works, but this can go sideways on a bad day. Having those values explicitly described in a statement provides one with something to reflect on during those days when the gut sends mixed signals. 
  2. It allows the team to “retune one’s focus.” It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day operations of a small business. A written statement is a great way to remind us of why we’re doing what we’re doing, and it’s useful in getting everyone along a guided track. 
  3. Great culture and fun is one of four traits one needs to succeed in business, as I discuss in a previous video. 

How do you build a company culture? 

With AirBnB and Netflix, culture is determined by the top. The founders have a clear idea of what they value and what they want to see in the future for their company.  

With Zappos, they didn’t have any formal core values in the first six or seven years of the company’s history. When Hsieh decided that it was time to put things to paper, Hsieh got everyone’s input and put that in writing—specifically, he sent an email to everyone describing each core value in detail. Every new hire gets the same email, and are asked to sign a document signifying that they have read and understood the document. 

Should you have a written company culture? The short answer is yes. The top companies of our time all have their company culture and core values spelled out and written down. These statements serve as a beacon—a reminder on how one should think and do, and a guide when making decisions, particularly tough ones. Culture, after all, is a way of doing things—and having it written down makes it easier for everyone to remember how things should be done. 

What if you haven’t written it down? There are few things you can start doing now.  

  1. Write it down. For small businesses, the culture is very much determined by the owner. Where else to start but with you. What do you stand for? What values to you hold sacred and important? 
  2. Maybe you’re little unsure if you have everything covered? You can do what Zappos’s Hsieh did and ask everyone for their two cents. This is easy if you have a small team. But if you’re unsure about whether to get everyone involved or how to do it, why not talk to a handful of people you trust in your organisation and see what they think. 
  3. Get some help. Like many small businesses, the owners of Whole Kids Australia (link forthcoming) did not have their culture statement written down in the beginning. However, as the business expanded, they decided that they needed to be explicit about their purpose and values, and so they hired a consultant to help them formalise this statement.

Most importantly, as a business owner, you need to champion these values. You live them everyday. You hire people based on these values. You decide who gets promoted based on these values—and the ones who are let go.   

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great. 

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While the global pandemic has disrupted economies and industries around the world, many small businesses are fighting back by pivoting and creating disruptions in their own market. What emerges are inspirational and admirable examples of how businesses can respond to challenges that are outside of their control.

In this video, I talk about three small businesses, how they pivoted and adjusted their businesses, and how they took advantage of the changing needs in their respective markets during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The global health crisis has brought about sweeping changes in how we work, where we eat, where we go, and how we go about our daily lives. While many have been negatively impacted by the pandemic, there are some businesses who have been able to turn things around and make the best out of this situation.

This is exactly what three businesses—Single O, Walks, and Education Perfect—did. In what is now known as a #covidpivot, these businesses have been able to create a new business model, a new product, and a new market for their business, respectively.

New business model: Single O

Founded in 2003, this café based in Sydney serves customers with ethically sourced coffee. Before the global pandemic, they operated three cafes, a stall at a local farmer’s market, an overseas branch in Tokyo, and also a thriving wholesale business.

When social distancing restrictions were imposed, they immediately switched to a takeaway model. More notably, within 48 hours, they created a special blend they called “Stimulus,” which was meant to give people a “caffeine hit and a boost in productivity” because they wanted to bring something uplifting to an otherwise difficult situation.

They didn’t stop there. They added a pantry that sells like butter, eggs, and flour because they knew that supply of these essentials would become an issue. They also started making restaurant-quality ready-made meals; vacuum packed for people to enjoy at home.

They also partnered with their wholesale customers in a program they called “Kickback,” where their customers earned 30% in coffee credit if they ordered directly from them, thereby creating an incentive for customers to come back and order from them again and again. They also launched “Parachutes,” ready-to-go, single use bag of coffee grounds. They’ve also partnered with new businesses and hosted brewing masterclasses on Instagram.

They are still innovating. They are redesigning the café customer experience for the post-covid new normal. This includes, among others in their pipeline, the world’s first self-service batch brew tap system.

New product: Walk’s Tours from Home

Founded in 2009, Walks is a tour company that offers walking tours of cities in Europe and the USA.

The travel and tourism industry is one of the worst-hit industries in the world. To support Walk’s guides, to keep their customer base engaged, and to nurture brand awareness, the company launched Tours from Home, a virtual city walking tour where guides, chefs, and storytellers engage their customers in the comfort of their homes.

According to their website, these special “Tours from Home” feature limited time only content covering topical, provocative, and fascinating subjects not generally covered on existing Walks tours. While these tours provide an entirely different experience, these provide measures to help keep the company afloat, support their partners, and continue to engage their customers.

New market: Education Perfect

Based in New Zealand and with offices in Australia, United Kingdom, United States, and Singapore, Education Perfect is an education platform that claims to “enable transformative learning and learning experiences for lifelong learners.” They offer education platforms for home, school, and work.

As schools physically shut down across the world and learning moved to the home, Education Perfect grabbed the opportunity to push its platform to new markets. They offered free licenses for institutions in Asia at the beginning of the outbreak, which they allowed  schools to use until May. They expanded their offering worldwide as more countries were forced to lockdown and keep people home.

In the process, they were able to sign up more than half a million users in over 100 countries.

Single O Café, Walk’s Tours from Home, and Education Perfect are just some of the many businesses around the world that have adapted in response to measures introduced during the pandemic. This is by no means an exhaustive list of business models that have emerged. Do you know of other businesses who have successfully pivoted? I would love to hear these stories, send me an email, and let’s chat.

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The most common productivity advice is to begin with the easiest tasks first and then move to the more difficult ones. This is to help create momentum to push us to become more productive.

But is it really the most productive way of tackling our to-do list? In this video, I explore what productivity experts are saying and why doing what is contrary to the commonly held advice might lead to better productivity.

People tackle different types of tasks every day. Some tasks are more important than others. People make decisions on what tasks to tackle first in their daily to-do list. Some tasks are easily accomplished, and some are more complex and take a bit more time.

As we go through this list, we make the very conscious decision on how to prioritize the tasks so that we can get as much done as possible. The goal is not to appear busy—the goal is to be productive and to get as many tasks ticked off the list as possible.

The question now is, what is better for productivity? Do we tackle the easy tasks first, then proceed with the more difficult, more complex ones later? The short answer, according to productivity experts, is to address what is difficult first. Doing so is better for the long term.

Now you might ask: if the goal is get as much done as possible, why tackle what takes a long time to do? Let’s take this step by step.

We already know that tasks aren’t created equal. If we go by the urgent-important matrix, more commonly known as the Eisenhower Decision Matrix, there are 4 kinds of tasks.

  1. Tasks that are both important and urgent
  2. Tasks that are important, but not urgent
  3. Tasks that are not important, but are urgent
  4. Tasks that are neither important nor urgent

How do we prioritize these tasks?

Productivity experts say that if the task is …

  1. … neither important nor urgent, you should stay away because these are distractions.
  2. … not important, but urgent, you should delegate to someone else.
  3. … important, but not urgent, you should do this later.
  4. … important and urgent, you should do this immediately.

To understand why we should focus on the difficult tasks first over the easy ones lies in understanding the last two tasks. Important but not urgent tasks are usually tasked long-term tasks, while the important and urgent tasks are short term tasks.

However, we also need to be mindful that some tasks become urgent today because we didn’t plan out for or didn’t accomplish them yesterday or last week or last month or even last year, when they were clearly not urgent.

The problem with prioritizing urgent tasks today is it makes us more reactive, than proactive. I will acknowledge that there are some factors that are out of our control that contributes to the urgency of some tasks, and so we need to focus on these urgent and important tasks immediately. But the context of our discussion is on the important tasks that we have set aside because they were not yet urgent at that time and because they were probably difficult and complex that we decided to put it off for another day.

Why do we do this? Why do we favour the easy over the difficult?

We tackle them first because they are easy and getting these tasks out of the way gives us a sense of accomplishment—we get more done in half the time. The problem is when we hide behind these tasks because we are procrastinating on the more important and more complex tasks—focusing on the easy tasks now become counterintuitive. We think we’re accomplishing more, but it takes time away from tackling what truly matters.

If you feel that this is you, you are not alone. A lot of us do this for many reasons. One significant reason why we put off the difficult but important tasks is that it takes us more time to do, and we’re more likely to make mistakes in the process vis-à-vis doing what is easy.

So what should we do?

The first thing we need to keep in mind is to focus on what is important. You don’t necessarily need to ALWAYS choose the difficult over the easy—but you need to be conscious about what is important for you and your business both in the short term and in the long term. Then find a balance so that you can address both needs.

You also need to change our mindset about how much time it takes to finish a difficult task. Yes, it takes more time than usual. Yes, we’re likely to make a mistake or two (or even more). But don’t think of that extra time as a wasted resource. Think of it as our time investment towards learning the task. Mistakes are great teachers—and if we learn our lessons well, then we’re likely to do better as we progress in the task.

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.

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While being professional entails knowing how to manage our emotions to allow us to work despite pressure, studies have also shown that emotions influence productivity. Happy employees are more likely to be professional.

In this video, I explore what determines an organisation’s emotional culture and how this impacts team performance and team productivity. I further discuss what team leaders can do to nurture a positive emotional culture.

One of the pillars of professionalism is self-regulation. This means that we need to have the ability to work under pressure. However, the flip side of this coin involves what experts now call psychological safety and the need to take care of our mental health.

A recent study by Google concludes one key factor that differentiates mediocre teams from high-performing teams is psychological safety. These findings suggest that emotional culture play an important role in organisational performance as emotions affect team productivity and performance.

What is emotional culture?

There are many facets of workplace culture. The most recognised facet is organisational culture, which defines a set of understanding on how to do things to achieve a goal.

But there is also emotional culture which “predicts many important work outcomes, including employee absenteeism, teamwork, burnout, satisfaction, psychological safety, and objective performance outcomes like operating costs.”

What determines emotional culture?

Emotional culture is contagious—and it trickles from the top. How managers behave and react to different circumstances sets the tone for the team’s emotional culture.

How does emotional culture affect productivity?

Imagine what could happen if you have a manager who consistently reacts negatively to mistakes. Or, what if this manager is prone to blame members of the team for mistakes caused primarily by circumstances out of their control? What if this manager focuses on putting blame rather than using mistakes as opportunities for team members to learn and improve? How do you think the team will react?

  • Team members will be afraid to make mistakes or try new things. This instantly “kills” the growth mindset.
  • Team members will be more focused on doing what they think the manager thinks is right and appropriate, rather than what is good for the team. They will afraid of disappointing their manage. When things go wrong and team members are afraid, it sets off their fight-or-flight response, which instantly “kills” their ability to be creative or innovative.
  • When team members are focused on “not making a mistake,” they’re likely to only focus on just the job or task at hand, and not finding new ways to improve the process. This kills productivity right away.
  • There is no psychological safety because no team member will feel safe in taking risks and making mistakes and doing things differently. If team members are not allowed to learn, grow, and be innovative, there is no incentive for anyone to perform well.

If you have a team leader who consistently focuses on mistakes and putting blame, you are unlikely to build and nurture a high-performing team. What you have is a team of robots or “yes” people who will do only what they are told and nothing else.

And when the environment becomes even more unbearable, team members are likely to jump ship and find work somewhere else. In this scenario, you are more likely to lose the best people in the organisation.

How do you nurture a positive emotional culture?

  • As a leader, keep your emotions in check. Observe how you react and see how your own employees react.
  • Replace blame with curiosity. In my video on How to Build High-Performing Teams, one of the key things to change is mindsets—and one that redirects the focus on issues and root problems, rather than on people.
  • Take a step back and take care of yourself, the leader. Perhaps you are stressed, which is affecting everyone else in the team. In the video, Maximising The Best Asset in Your Business, I discuss how rest is important to encourage creativity and problem solving in the long run.
  • Ask for help. When we have been doing the same things for a long time, it is easy to develop blind spots. Because of this, we tend to think that how we do things is “normal” and “acceptable.” Perhaps they are, but there may be things that are not as acceptable or maybe some things that need improvement. It’s hard to see beyond our blind spots, so we may need someone—a person looking from the outside in—to show us what we don’t see. This someone can be a mentor, a trusted colleague, or a business coach.

Do not let your pride limit you on what you can do in your business. I personally seen successful businesses be ruined by the business owner due to the individual’s perception that only he knows what is best for the business. I have seen his team members leave the organisation, and yet he stubbornly refuses to change his mindset about the business. The result? He is now working alone on his business and struggles to make ends meet. Please do not make the same mistakes as he did—ask for help.

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.

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Do you delegate your work to others so that you can do more? Do you find delegating easy? If you find handing over control over certain tasks difficult, this video might be for you. I discuss mindsets that prevent us from delegating and how we can overcome our resistance to delegating.

Do you resist delegating things to other people? Do you like doing things yourself? Perhaps it’s time to reconsider and be more open to ‘delegation’.

Sir Richard Branson famously said, “If you really want to grow as an entrepreneur, you’ve got to learn to delegate.”

One important reason to delegate is that it frees up your resources as a business owner. Time is a very important resource—and so is mental space. When you delegate tasks to others, you are not only freeing up time but also your mental capacity to focus on the important things. When you free up your resources, you’ll have more resources to use for the most important things in your business—matters that only you, as a business owner, can do or decide on.

But why does delegating still feel so difficult? I’d like to share with you some statements that I found in my research that support the notion that delegation is difficult.

  1. I’m used to doing things myself and worry whether someone else can do these tasks the way I would do them.
  2. It will take me a lot of time and effort to train someone else before a task is done the way I do it.
  3. My business operates on a very limited budget and I may not be able to afford to employ new heads to delegate these tasks to.
  4. I love doing these things, and I do them well!

Do any of these statements apply to you?

I am not immune to the resistance to delegating, and I can identify with a few of them, especially on point number 2. I admit it, I am with everyone else on this. But how can we change this thinking? How can we shift the mindset that is preventing us from delegating work to others?

Instead of thinking about and concerning ourselves with what we will lose in the process of delegating or outsourcing—control, we focus on what we would be gaining if we let of certain tasks. Take a sheet of paper and write down the pros and cons of delegating tasks to other people.

One disadvantage of delegation is losing absolute control. It sounds like a dictatorship, doesn’t it? But it’s true! There will an increase in costs and there will be a variation in the results, which can frazzle you if you are a perfectionist.

But the advantage is less stress and increased free time, a resource you can use to focus on your business—and focus on growing your business. Your free time can be used to work on your business, rather than working in it.

Here are 4 ways to shift that mindset of giving up control into gaining time and mental space:

  1. You may think that you’re the best person to do certain tasks—and perhaps that’s true, for now. But what if you find someone who does it just as well as if not better than you? Wouldn’t that be better for the business? Instead of using your time to do all of these tasks—and using up so much mental space on so many tasks that someone else can do, why not use your time and mental energy to plan for growth, to strategise, and to execute these plans?

In my video, Your business can only grow as big as you can manage, I discuss how you—yes, you, the business owner—can be holding your business back by continuing to do everything. The reality is, the business owner alone cannot manage all of these areas singlehandedly. Your business can grow no bigger than what you can effectively manage.

What can business owners do instead? Take things off of your plate and retain only the things that will help you achieve your goals. Delegate or outsource the rest!

  • It does take time and it does take effort to train people to takeover certain tasks. Some people may need more time than you probably needed to be efficient in these tasks. But instead of thinking about it as time and effort wasted, why not shift that mindset and think of it as investing your time on something that can help free up your time in the long run? Time is not wasted when there is a return—and regaining back that time is a worthy investment!

Time is the most valuable asset—it is limited and non-renewable. In my video, Managing your business’s most important asset – your time, I provide tips on how business owners can make the best use of their time by focusing on the tasks that matter the most—the tasks that only you, the business owner, can fulfill and accomplish. What to do with the rest? Delegate, of course!

  • You don’t need to employ people full time to get help. There are many ways to get help without increasing overhead. You can hire someone part time, or hire a virtual assistant through online market places such as Upwork or Freelancer.

Outsourcing is one if the three things you can do to take your business to the next level as I explain in my video, 3 ways to improve your business today. Many times, particularly for small businesses, it makes much more sense to outsource certain areas of the operations (such as IT and database management or even payroll and bookkeeping) rather than upgrading systems or hiring new staff, which will only increase overhead costs and erode profits.

There are also many small businesses in Australia that outsource non-core operations to other businesses or professionals. For example, Whole Kids Australia (link to video forthcoming) keeps their operations small by focusing on what they are great at—and that’s marketing and product development, and delegating the rest, such as warehousing and distribution. In this way, they keep their operations small, which is their vision, without compromising on the quality of their products.

  • For any entrepreneur, time is an important asset—and so is your focus. Multitasking hurts you more than you think. In my previous video, Is multitasking hurting your business?, I share what scientific studies say about multitasking (hint: it’s not good for you!), and what you can do instead, which is to focus on the important tasks and delegate the rest!

So, think about what you can delegate and then find the resources to invest in that process. This will be the start of your continued business growth.

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.

Read more >