Adapt When Your Plans Fall Through

Plan-A-Plan-B-change-600x439If you went to the mall this past weekend (or anytime this month really) then you’ve been elbow to elbow trying to get some last minute shopping done. This could have all been easily avoided of course if you had just made a plan beforehand and then tackled it strategically.

The interesting part is that not everyone leaves all of their shopping to the last minute on purpose. I know many people who make detailed shopping plans that list everything from who the gift is for, to where they’ll buy the gift and even the exact price. With such a detailed plan, you would assume that getting everything done would be simple since all you have to do is tackle each piece one at a time. Things don’t always go as planned though, and even the most detailed plan can fall apart due to unforeseen circumstances…. See what I’m getting at?

Most entrepreneurs easily recognize this scenario, as a detailed business plan or planned acquisition can fall apart, leaving you scrambling to find alternatives if you’re ill prepared. Cases like this is where you need to be adaptable enough to find other solutions, instead of staying stuck on what could have been. But how?

Always Have A Contingency Plan – No matter how bullet proof a plan may appear to be, you always always need to have an ace up your sleeve. There have been many instances where an organization has been brought to their knees because they had all their hopes on a major acquisition or something similar, only to have it fall through. In essence, since these organizations thought that this one particular action item in a plan would pan out and essentially set them up for success, enough to the point where they don’t even attempt to get new business. Once things fall through, there’s a period of time where everything slows down because you need to build up momentum again and get over the failure – which not everyone does. This is where the contingency plan is useful, because you’ve already detailed what you need to do in the worst case scenario. All that’s left afterwards is to follow that plan.

Don’t “Fall In Love” And Rush In – An old Elvis song says “Only fools rush in”, and I think this ties in nicely with the previous point because the reason a lot of companies don’t have a back-up plan is because they’re completely in love with the potential ROI one of their created plans has to offer, and blindly chase it without considering the downsides. I’m not saying that being determined on a certain item is a bad thing, but I am saying that you need to be realistic about certain things. Get your team together and objectively assess whether or not this plan can come to fruition, and if you’ll have to change details that you might have been “in love” with.

At the end of the day, you can’t depend on anything realistically working out for you. Even those who work their tails off can have things blow up on them. It’s in these moments though that true leadership shines, as how you navigate these stormy seas can sometimes determine your organization’s success.

Escaping Negativity

escape-negativityYou know those days? Those days where everything seems to go wrong, be it on a technical level or something else entirely? Those days are extremely difficult to cope with, but that’s all they are – just single days. The trap to be weary of is letting these days turn to weeks, then weeks to months until you’re consumed by this negativity.

Doing your job becomes incredibly difficult when you constantly create barriers that stop you from performing well. As cheesy or clichéd as it sounds, your state of mind has a tremendous effect on your surroundings. I won’t turn this into a debate on whether you believe me or not, but I do want to offer some points on how to evaluate your negativity to see if something productive can come from it.

Talk It Out With Someone – This of course works with most difficulties in life, but its important to talk this out. Discussing your issues with different people in your life will give you a different view of your situation. You’d be surprised by how many coworkers might be going through the same situation you are. Don’t limit it to coworkers either. Friends, family, significant others… There are rarely any problems you experience that haven’t been dealt with by someone else. Perhaps you won’t like what you hear, but at the very least you’ll have a different opinion.

Pinpoint Your EXACT Cause – After you’ve discussed why you’re feeling so negative with other people, I imagine that you’d have a general idea of what type of negativity is consuming you. What’s important though is that you figure out EXACTLY why you’re being negative. Was it something that has been building over time, a bad experience that you can’t shake or do you feel unfulfilled with what you do? Pinpointing the exact reasons for of your bad vibes can have a better understanding of how to resolve these underlying problems.

Look At The Big Picture – After you’ve talked it out and narrowed down the exact reasons of your negativity, it’s time to act. This will depend entirely on you. Consider the options though, and don’t act on instinct. Perhaps you are long overdue for a vacation, or there’s been something brewing between you and your manager for a long time coming. As drastic as it sounds, you also have to consider that you are simply not happy with the organization you’re with, and its time to move on. As difficult as that might be, in the long run staying somewhere that makes you feel negative isn’t beneficial for either party.

Escaping negativity isn’t easy, but you’ll be thankful once all is said and done.

Make The Most Of 24 Hours

24-Hours24 hours in a day – to some people it seems like that’s never enough to accomplish anything, but then there are the people who seem like they can get everything done in that time, plus still have time for their family, friends and a million other personal tasks. Your gut reaction might be to be envious of these people, but it’s not as if they’re cheating and getting an extra hour from somewhere. We ALL have 24 hours to make the most out of, which means that it really just comes down to time management.

Managing your time really is an art. It takes a lot of practice and experience to know how to best use your time, especially when you’re a sales person. Selling isn’t as simple as calling random names in a phonebook (which admittedly is a dated phrase), sending random emails and then patiently awaiting the results. You’ll need to be tactical of how you organize your time to ensure that you’re getting the best results while taking advantage of the time you have. I’ll provide you with a few insights from years of selling:

Write EVERYTHING Down – The key to any form of time management is to keep track of your day. Eventually you’ll be able to adjust and plan ahead, but to first start things out you should just write down everything that you’re currently doing in a typical day. This way you’ll get a solid understanding of how you currently spend your time. You’ll also get a very stark view of how much time you’re not using effectively, which might be difficult to accept. Everyone likes to believe they’re productivity machines, but we all fall victim to distraction.

(Try To) Limit Distractions, Or Schedule Them In – Once you get an understanding of how you’re using your time and see how you’re distracting yourself, the next step is to try and limit your distractions. I put an emphasis on “try” because I know that it’s not as simple as just cutting yourself off from the internet or turning your phone off. At the end of the day, we’re all human and can’t keep working hours on end without some form of distraction. What you can, and should, start doing is penciling time to be distracted. That way, you’ll make the most out of the bit of time that you have. Keep in mind though, that there will be many times when you can’t predict things coming up, and you’ll need to just act on instinct.

Know When You’re Good – Not everyone is an early bird, and not everyone is a night owl. Every person is efficient at different times of the day. For example, those who prefer working early mornings will tackle their most important tasks first thing, while those who are more functional in the afternoon will focus their mornings on less vital tasks and preparing for the tasks ahead. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to this. Figure out what works best for you and try to work around it. If you can prove results to your manager, you can even try changing your working schedule to accommodate this!

Like I mentioned, each step might vary slightly based on the results that you find, but once you find out what works for you, stick with it and you’ll find yourself using time a lot more efficiently – both in your work life and personal life.

Setting Standards and Expectations

setting-expectations-and-standardsSurely you’ve heard people mention in passing that they live by a “code”, but what does that mean exactly? While I could delve into many different territories here, something that I believe all “codes” follow is that they set certain standards and expectations.

Standards and expectations are important because they dictate vital elements of how your business will operate, like how you’ll treat your clients and who’s accountable in your organization. If you try to operate your business without setting any form of standards to follow, the results are guaranteed to be disastrous.

To me, these are the three most important people you need to set standards and expectations for:

For Your Clients – This should naturally be your priority. Who will be the point of contact for clients? How will you communicate with them? What type of tone will you use, professional or casual? How do you want them to perceive your organization? These types of questions may seem arbitrary, but if nothing is set in place before your team starts liaising with clients, the disorganization will be obvious. There are few things more annoying than multiple people from your organization reaching out to a client to ask the same questions.

For Your Co-workers – Another equally important set of standards that you need to have in place are for your coworkers. You may think that you have them in place, but are you sure that everyone truly understands what they are? This goes far beyond simple things like a dress code. This means that everyone understands deliverables for each project, how much time to allocate for different clients and who will deliver what work. Again, this may sound arbitrary, but you might be surprised once you discover what people on your team are expecting from each other – and from you.

For Yourself – This point ties in with what I was discussing earlier when I mentioned living by a “code”. When you set standards for where you work, then it makes sense that you should set standards for yourself, correct? While everyone’s idea of ideal expectations will differ, sit down and pencil out what exactly is important to you. How will you treat your clients? How often do you want to regroup with your coworkers? Are you realistically making enough time for yourself and your loved ones? These things matter in the long run. Once you have an idea of what people can expect from you, make it known to them.

One last thing I want to mention about expectations and standards is that once they’re set, don’t neglect them. While not having standards can be pretty rough, setting them and not following through is much worse.

Say No Without The Guilt

NOAs entrepreneurs we generally want control of everything within our company, which means that when someone hands something off to us “yes” is the first thing that usually comes. That isn’t always a good thing because when you say yes without really thinking about it, things don’t always work out.

Whenever we need to say no but never end up saying it, it’s usually because of guilt. We feel guilty that if something goes wrong with a project it’s because we, personally, didn’t do something about it or simply because we don’t want to offend our peers.

You might not realize it, but saying no can actually save you from many headaches that you have to deal with. Here are some ways to say “no” without feeling guilty.

Think About It First – ‘Yes’ is often the answer we give people almost instantly without even thinking about how this may benefit you or potentially damage you. People would much rather have a well thought out no rather than an instant response without any consideration. A simple, “Can I think about it and get back to you later?” can work wonders for you, and it will generally lead you to an answer that you’re happy with after the fact.

Aces In Their Places – Sometimes we accept tasks because we simply want control over the situation. This is where delegation is critical. You should know the strengths and weaknesses of your team members, and who would be the best person for each task. If someone else can do the job as well as you can, it’s worth it to delegate. Entrepreneurs are busy people, so you need to prioritize and maintain balance.

Learn To Accept “No” From Others – If you can dish it, you have to be able to take it too. Learn to accept no from others. You need to understand that other people’s priorities aren’t always aligned with your own, and know that it’s almost never personal when someone says no.

You Can’t Do Everything – Is it really going to kill someone if you say no? No, it is not.  You can’t do everything. Do things that you genuinely want to do for others and not just because you feel like obligated.  It will make the things that you participate in much more rewarding and the 100% effort will be recognized because it’s genuine.

Make your commitments genuine by saying no to things you are not particularly interested in or do not have the time to do. You only have 24 hours in a day so use them wisely.

3 Things I Would Tell My Younger Self

YoungerSelfI’ve made plenty of mistakes during my time as an entrepreneur. While I could have dwelled on them and got crushed by them, luckily I’ve always used them as lessons to push me forward. That being said, there’s a reason why mentors are usually those who are older than us.

Simply put, they’ve lived through the mistakes first hand and as such, know how to deal with any new problems that arise by thinking back on how they handled previous problems and applying these lessons to their current situation.

Now that I’m at an age where I frequently mentor young entrepreneurs, I honestly wish that I could tell my younger self some key lessons. Although there are many of them, here are my most important ones.

Learn to Say No – This one is one of the most difficult things to learn because we often see any new opportunity as an opportunity for growth. However, not all opportunities will be valuable in the long run. Take the time to evaluate your opportunities and cut the cord if it will act as a roadblock to your success.

Learn to Listen – Two ears and one mouth – they should be used in that order. Few people actually stop to take the time to listen, preventing them from truly understanding and learning. There are often times when you need to slow down because your deeper understanding of a subject that you got from listening will take you to the next level.

Don’t Be Afraid to Be You – We spend our childhood trying to fit in and our adult years trying to be different. Sometimes we never grow out of the desire to be like those around us. However, trying to be someone that you’re not will lead to an unfulfilled life. The best thing that you can offer those who you do business with is your genuine self. Your unique personality and insight is what your clients are truly after, since those traits and talents shine through your company.

These are the pieces of advice that I simply didn’t understand when I was younger. In fact, even I was to go back and tell my younger self this, I’m not sure if (a) I would understand or (b) if I would even listen. I believe that, for better or worse, people learn from harsh lessons rather than always heeding advice from others. It may not be simple, but try to keep your mentors advice in the back of your mind the next time you make a big decision.

Ups and Downs of Working on Holidays

working-on-holidaysFor many of the Canadian business owners I know, this past two day weekend turned into a four day Canada Day long weekend – for better or worse. While some entrepreneurs may be taking a well deserved break, the majority that I know will probably be working in some capacity during these days off.

Throughout my years of working holidays, I’ve come to discover that although there are many advantages of working those extra hours, there are also disadvantages that you don’t fully realize:

Disadvantage #1: Missing Out on Family Time: Long-weekends were made for family-gatherings. When working all weekend long, you miss out on time spent with your family that you will never get back. Take the time to put down the laptop and set aside the work, and just enjoy good company. Surrounding yourself with the love and kindness of your family will help you get back to your work with more purpose.

Disadvantage #2: Burning Yourself Out: Taking a break has actually been proven to increase your productivity. If you continuously work yourself to the bone, when the time comes for you to meet an unexpected deadline you simply won’t have the energy or stamina to do so. Pace yourself.

Disadvantage #3: Draining Your Creativity: Putting all your focus on one project may seem like a good idea, however, it’s not beneficial if you are trying to come up new creative solutions. Taking your mind away from a project will allow your mind to wander and come up with incredible new solutions to old problems.

Of course, working during a holiday definitely has its advantages:

Advantage #1: Capture Opportunity: When the rest of the competition is sleeping during the holidays, working allows you to capture opportunities that would have otherwise been taken by your rivals. Entrepreneurs want to maximize their business’ potential and continuous hard work allows us to do that.

Advantage #2: Momentum: Like I mentioned in a previous post, once you stop, it’s hard to start again. We’ve all heard that before in many different aspects of our lives, and work is no different. Keeping a steady working momentum allows entrepreneurs to keep pushing forward because they almost forget how to stop. As any entrepreneur will tell you, achieving success requires persistence.

Advantage #3: Cut Down Your To-Do List: As you run from meeting to meeting, your to-do list often gets larger and larger. Now that you have those extra couple of days, it’s time to cut down some of that list. In fact, this might be the perfect time for you to focus on lesser tasks you’ve been pushing aside, leaving the priority tasks for your return to the office.

As much as we want to continue pursing success by working hard, balance is required to get there. The best entrepreneurs don’t have a fully “off” mode. They’ll lounge by the pool or lay on the beach relaxing, but something will always spur their next great idea.

How Do You Keep Moving Forward?

Keep_Moving_ForwardBy nature, an entrepreneur runs head first into things regardless of the risk, meaning that sometimes we make mistakes that make us want to quit. Though it’s hectic and overwhelming, especially when dealing with multiple businesses, you need to learn to move past these small missteps to truly succeed.

Throughout my years of being an entrepreneur, I’ve realized that wanting to quit is inevitable – but failure isn’t. Every time I want to throw in the towel, I know that it’s time to take a step back and re-evaluate before I move forward again. The real question is, what can you do to ensure that you keep moving forward instead of quitting?

Take a Step Back and Look at Yourself – Take a second to examine the path you’re taking. What’s brought you this far? Determine whether you’re the person stopping yourself from your own success. Sometimes the problem is simply self-doubt and in that case, you need to find ways to overcome it.

Be Brutally Honest With Yourself – Take the time to question if you’re making excuses or whether a certain venture is a bust and you need to start over. If you can’t move past a particular mistake, is it due to a missing skill-set? If so, why haven’t you reached out to someone to overcome this? You need to be resourceful and keep on asking why until you get to the source of the problem.

Clearly Define Your Goals – When you’ve clearly defined where you’re going, it’s easier to pick up momentum and keep going forward.  Your small positive efforts will turn into larger positive returns in the future. It’s important, however, to create a plan for yourself so that you know which steps to take next so you don’t burn yourself out. Even if your steps are small, every step is a step forward.

Put it in Writing- Do you ever break contracts with your clients? I sincerely doubt that you’ve done it on purpose, so why would you a break a contract with yourself? Write down your commitments and put it somewhere that you can see everyday so you’ll always feel accountable.

It’s important to realize that you’re not the only one experiencing these challenges. A challenge may end up sucking your energy for an entire day or even a week, but that doesn’t mean that you have to call it quits for good. How do you keep pushing yourself forward when you’re close to calling it quits?

Failure Isn’t The End

Failure-Isnt-The-EndThere’s a big misconception when it comes to failure. Ever since we’ve been children, we’ve seen that failing is nothing but a negative experience. Teachers would be disappointed and parents would yell at you for failing a test. If you failed a course, you’d use up your valuable summer time taking make-up courses. There has always been negativity associated with failure.

Things change once you’re an entrepreneur. By no means am I saying that failure gets easier. It still sucks, and it still stings and lingers with you for quite a while. However, when either your business or your product fails, it doesn’t mean that you should call it quits and give up. Quite the opposite, actually. I’ve touched on this in a few previous blog posts, but I thought it was time to dedicate an entire post on the often not discussed upsides of a failure.

It Makes You Stronger: As I mentioned in my previous post, when an athlete experiences failure, they don’t let it crush them. How many times have you seen a team lose a game, only to have the whole team give up? Obviously they don’t and neither should you. There is no one failure that should completely make you give up entirely. You need to dig deep and find out what you could have done to prevent the failure. If you couldn’t have prevented it, at the very least the experience will make you a better person and teach you about yourself.

It Teaches You Multiple Lessons: Besides teaching you about yourself, you’ll also learn a lot about your business. Specifically, it’ll teach you about the strengths of your team, which is always valuable to know. While you shouldn’t necessarily blame a team member for the failure, you’ll know what areas they can improve on, and where you can mentor them to become better. If the failure revolves around a product launch, you’ll be able to pinpoint what needs to be changed about your product and why the market didn’t latch onto it.

It Makes You Re-Evaluate: Once failure teaches you a lesson, the obvious next step is to re-evaluate. As hard as it might be to accept, perhaps there simply isn’t a market for your product, or perhaps there’s a crucial element that you’ve over looked. This is the time where you make changes to your work formula and make some tough decisions to continue moving forward. This is also the time to listen to any feedback that you’ve received, particularly negative feedback, as this is what will accurately tell you what you need to reconsider.

At the end of the day, don’t let one or even multiple failures stop you. You need to build your own path, and stay strong while you’re on the road to greatness. I’m curious to know what failures you’ve had as entrepreneurs, and what lessons have they taught you?

The Holy Grail of Leadership

Like most Canadian boys, I grew up playing hockey and like most of them, dreamed of one day playing in the NHL. Needless to say, I was never quite good enough to play professionally, but over the past few years after determining that I needed to de-stress and have some male bonding time, I decided to get back to playing in a beer league with some old friends. Besides working up a good sweat, I find it therapeutic at the end of a hectic work week to kick back and relax with the guys and have a few pops after the game. What I think I get most out of it though are the same things I took from the game growing up, which is how important discipline, teamwork, passion and fun are in life and in business. The early morning practices, trying your hardest, working together as a group and the camaraderie that comes with it is truly fulfilling, especially seeing the pride in my father’s eyes after I had a good game, not to mention the dollar he gave me for each goal!

Well now that I’m older, I still enjoy the game, in some ways even more than I used to as a kid, no pressure, it’s truly just fun now. However I’m blessed to be on a team called the Screaming Eagles and we are quite the passionate bunch of thirty and forty something’s. Although we aren’t playing for money, the Stanley Cup, or a Gold Medal for our country, you would never know it by our passion and our strong will to win. Something happened in a recent game that really made me reflect on things. It was after the first period and as our goalie George Benak was changing sides and came over to the bench for some water, out of the blue he yelled at me to move my feet out there and skate insinuating that I was standing around. Well, you can probably guess my reaction, probably no different than any of my employees who I’ve called out before, I was pissed! However, that being said, deep down, or not that deep down, I knew he was right. In fact I was just thinking to myself that my lack of intensity on the back check probably caused a goal, but what upset me was that Benak noticed! So my inner voice started off with the usual “who the heck does he think he is?” and “well he should worry about himself and stop letting in soft goals!”.

As we started the second period I had a decision to make, I could mail it in and chalk it up to a bad game and let my ego win, or I could prove Benak and myself wrong and turn things around. So I really dug deep and skated my butt off and it made a difference. Afterwards in the dressing room, as Benak walked in he yelled out in front of everyone, “Hey Frank, hell of a game out there!”. I couldn’t believe the feeling that came over me, I was beaming and smiling from ear to ear just like I was eight years old again and my father was walking into the dressing room and complimented me on my play. At first I couldn’t believe that I was reacting this way, I mean Benak’s a great guy but I’m the all-powerful CEO of many businesses, I’m the one who usually inspires and motivates people to action, how had I fallen for such a simple compliment? Well, it reminded me that holding people accountable is the right thing to do for them and the team, and it reminded me that praise ALWAYS works.

A few days later in our company wide sales meeting, I told this story, and what we all took from the story that I hadn’t thought about was the power of peer to peer accountability. Unlike professional or even organized youth hockey, there are no coaches on our team, we have to self govern in a way while we are in the play, we don’t have much perspective besides when we are on the bench in-between shifts.  Accountability is often lacking in most companies, it’s what separates good performing businesses from poor ones, and in most cases even when it’s present it comes from management. Don’t get me wrong it needs to be there from management, but in my experience, the exceptional companies always have peer to peer accountability in them. It’s when a colleague calls you out to do your best, or you want to excel in your job not only for yourself but because you don’t want to let the team down and you’re looking for their respect. This peer to peer accountability is what every team should be striving to achieve, and when as a leader you achieve this within your team, you’ve achieved what has been termed, the Holy Grail of Leadership.