12 Questions to Inspire your Business

Think of the best place you’ve ever worked in your career, or the most highly reputable business with whom you have been involved — what was the magic formula that made the workplace so special?

One of my favorite business books,  First Break All the Rules, offers the closest formula of 12 business attributes that have been distilled from thousands of interviews with the world’s most successful managers and organizations.  The book frames business wisdom in the form of 12 questions that are easily asked by any manager in any organization.  If your business answers these 12 questions with a strong positive correlation, you likely run a top notch group or organization that is inspired, motivated and achieving consistent business results.

Without giving away all of the secrets of this book, the 12 questions provide common sense clues to building an inspired team or organization.

For example, rank your department between 1 and 5 (1=never, 5=always):

“I have clear expectations of my job”

“I have all the resources I need to do my job”

“I have been given feedback (positive or constructive) within the last 7 days by my supervisor”  …..and so on

Those questions where your team answers in the lower quartile?   you probably need some work in that area.  I have used this 12 question template several times to create a baseline of morale and capability when joining a new department.  It’s a great tool to define opportunities for business change, inspire new business capability and build improved results within a team.

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3 Reasons Why You Need a “Black Cloud” in Your Business

My unofficial middle name is “The Black Cloud”.  There’s a funny story behind how I got this name…

Several years ago, my husband was golfing in a charity tournament with 3 new acquaintances.  As is customary in golf, the foursome members shook hands, introduced themselves and shared where they worked.  One of the gentlemen was a Vice President at the company where I was employed.  Over the course of the next few holes, the golfers exchanged pleasantries, and chatted about those people they might know in common.

My husband said, “Do you know Meryle Corbett?”  The vice president replied, “Yeah – we call her The Black Cloud!  You should see how she comes around to our department trying to clamp down on our spending.  If there’s a new rule out there to batten down and take control, she’ll find it and enforce it.”

A few holes later, the vice president finally asked, “How do you know Meryle, anyway?”  My husband replied, “I sleep with her!”     The vice president’s jaw dropped, he turned beet red and back-pedalled big time.  My husband, a prankster, enjoyed the awkward moment and then smoothed over the incident.  I do remain pretty good friends with that vice president to this day, even though I now work elsewhere.

So… Why do you need a Black Cloud in your business?

1)  Black Clouds will identify business risks that you may never think of.  There is a natural tension between the accounting, risk, legal departments versus sales, marketing, customer service departments.  Black clouds will flag the risky possibilities in a business, so your management team can plan to mitigate the worst case scenarios.  Walking into a new opportunity with only half the picture can be fatal.  Black clouds will protect you.

2)  Black Clouds will introduce and maintain discipline and best practices in your business.  Marching down to ask a senior manager not to charge hotel porn movies on his travel expense account may not be my favorite job, but someone’s gotta keep the top of the spenders’ bell curve in line.    Black clouds will help keep all employees disciplined with the right procedures and practices to support the business and protect it from out-of-control costs or problem audit findings.

3)  Black Clouds will always tell you the truth.  When you are a senior manager, some employees suck up and tell you only the good news.  Others will try to snow you with gobbledygook information, or will hide the bad news from you.  CEOs and senior managers need the brutal truth in business if they are going to find the issues, manage them and fix them.  Your Black Cloud is usually the kind of person that will not lie, and who likely won’t sleep very well at night if they think you need to know certain information.  Black Clouds can be depended on to provide an honest viewpoint –  their job depends on the truth.

Still not convinced?  My friends joke about the Black Cloud story, and I often tell new groups how I got my middle name. There is a fun laugh behind this article, but I hope you seriously consider that the CFO or controller or accounting manager in your life, while appearing negative sometimes, is actually your best friend — we are here to help you, protect you and work with you to solve your business problems.   Make sure you have a little bit of Black Cloud in your own business!

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3 Signals Your Boss Might View You as “High Maintenance”

In the past two weeks, I have run into numerous conversations with bosses and subordinates dealing with emotional issues.    The common theme:  supervisor feels he/she deserves a promotion/sabbatical/special recognition and boss doesn’t believe the supervisor has earned it.   In all of those cases, the supervisor was significantly annoying the boss and didn’t even realize it.

Signal #1  –  I have approached my boss twice in the past year to discuss promotion / recognition and what I deserve

   –  I have approached other senior managers to state my case in the past year

–  I approached my boss first

–  I have interrupted my boss more than once for these discussions

Signal #2  –  I spent at least 3 hours this week, and more than one meeting,  arguing my case with the boss.

–  We talked about my career and I presented my arguments for why I deserve a promotion/ sabbatical/ special recognition.

–  I stated the same reasons more than once, in more than one meeting

–  I spent way more time talking about my career/ issue than I usually spend with my boss

Signal #3 – My boss repeated the same message to me in each meeting (the message didn’t change)

– My boss told me I wasn’t ready for what I requested, and gave me examples

– Other managers answered me in the same theme, similar message as my boss did.

–  Others have stopped approaching me about my concerns;  I always approach them.

If more than half of these signals could apply to you, then your boss possibly views you as a “high maintenance” employee who needs calming down or recognition periodically in order to keep you motivated.  Repeated conversations with senior managers on the same theme will not convince your bosses that you are more capable or more deserving.

Remember that bosses look at RESULTS.

– What have you delivered in your role?

– What new skills and deliverables have you provided in the past 2 years?

– Compared to others in the roles / situations that you aspire to, do you have the same years of experience?

– Do you have the same track record of delivery (volume/size, dollar value, project or technical complexity, political,team-building experience, people-handling)?

– Try to be honest with yourself.

– If you do have a solid history of delivering results at the same level of complexity, size, risk and strategic level as your benchmark competitors, you may have to leave your current company to be recognized.   If so, good luck!

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