Let’s set aside our nostalgia for the good old days when we could assure our businesses would succeed with a little more hard work. Allow yourself to appreciate, as a memory, the days when your business was well served by your personal effort and use of your natural talent or tactically applied skill. Today matters are a little more complex.

We need to lead and manage our entrepreneurial businesses with a crisp and well-understood vision. We need to commit ourselves to be continuous students of the complicated skills required to manage a team of people working toward a common goal.

As our businesses grow, we need to reserve more time and energy for the leadership and managerial responsibilities mentioned above. We need to delegate.

Let’s define delegation first.

Delegation is when a leader assigns a personally held task, project or responsibility to someone else while maintaining accountability. For this to occur effectively, a leader must define the scope of the responsibility, discuss how this task relates to the larger picture of your business (if required) and state clearly what success looks like.

Effective delegation assigns a team member in your organisation to be the tactical implementer or the “doer.” Meanwhile, you—as the leader—become the manager of the processes and standards of your business. Eventually, as your business grows and this delegation process continues, you may find yourself managing managers. These managers, in turn, will delegate tasks to their immediate staff. One day you will more than likely find yourself beaming with quiet satisfaction at the well-oiled machine of your team working independently to implement your vision and performing peacefully within the structures of a consistent, fair and inspirational managerial process.

You might be asking yourself, “Is this really necessary to build a sustainable enterprise?” The simple answer is yes.

I don’t believe it is necessary to grow your business to the size where you have managers of managers. However, I do believe it is necessary to grow your business past the limitations of the founding talents on which the business was created.

Hopefully, each leader reading this article can think of someone in your organisation who is amazingly better than yourself at some task or skill that your business requires.

What is the prescription for delegation?

• Is your current and future-looking personal leadership for your company producing a sustainably successful business? Make sure your vision is consistently tested for accuracy versus the constant pressures of a changing marketplace.

• Is your value proposition still valid? If not, your team is counting on your leadership for some adaptation that will keep your company completely relevant to your marketplace.

• Define the standards and structures that will define your employees’ relationship to your company. Everyone who accepts leadership and direction from others will perform best when they know what we as a company are trying to accomplish and what my role is to the group.

• Build the strongest team possible. Hire talented people. Empower them to exercise their unique skills and talents within the constraints of the company’s communally understood goals.

• Watch your company’s delegation and accountability processes. In a growing company, just about everyone should be headed toward a slightly different job. The natural progression of delegation with accountability should best position everyone to contribute to their greatest potential. Please remember that as “doers” get assigned a blended managerial role or even a totally managerial role, they will more than likely need support. Superior “doers” do not necessarily morph into great managers without support. You will need to provide for their learning and transition.

• Require of yourself to be a “manager in training” forever. It is hard and complicated work. Be a role model of managerial excellence to your direct reports. They will make the connection to their own efforts.

• Delegate with accountability and the appropriate KPI’s  – never abandon. Communicate. Manage. Learn to manage even better. Enjoy the fruits of a sustainable and prosperous business.

One final point: I think the practice of quality delegation is way up there on the list of important markers of great business leadership. Making sure your vision is correct is the most important marker. There is always more work to be done than there are hours in the day. This truth is a constant.

A strong tradition of continuous delegation within our organisations is quite simply this: good for your business, good for the careers of your staff, good for you and your family life.

Lead On. Manage on.


Creating & Implementing Your Referral Marketing System

Advertising concept: black text Referral Marketing under the pie

So far we have discussed the benefits of referral marketing and some great referral marketing ideas to get you started. Now let’s focus on developing your referral marketing system. This post will discuss when and how to ask for a referral, and how to capitalise on those referrals by bringing them on has clients.

When to Ask for a Referral

As discussed in 4 Referral Marketing Ideas to Jumpstart Your Referral Marketing Program, at least 80% of your communication with referral sources should not focus on asking for referrals. Rather, these conversations should focus on the referrer. Naturally, conversations with current clients will mainly focus on the current project. Communications will all sources—client and non-client—can be centred on educational topics (for example, about business, their industry, their target market, etc.) or more personal areas of interest. Take care to learn about your top referral sources’ interests and hobbies so you can develop a more meaningful relationship with them.

The time does come in any referral relationship; however, for you to come right out and ask for a referral! Here are some tips on when it is appropriate to ask different sources:

  • Prospects: Whenever you meet with a prospect who declines your service, ask them for a referral. Most people want to say yes, so give them a chance to say yes after they have said no to using your service.
  • Clients:
    • When you provide something above and beyond your normal service.
    • When they say thank you for something, say: “The best way you can thank me is to refer someone to me.”
    • At a status meeting or review (if applicable) as part of the evaluation process.
  • New Clients: Ask for referrals from new clients shortly after they become your clients. They will be very positive as a brand new client and will be more open/willing to recommend your service to a colleague. Be sure that they have received some value first.

How to Ask for a Referral

5 Steps to Unlimited Referrals recommends you ask: “Would you do me a favour? If you think of anyone that could use my product/service would you mind sending me their name and number so I can follow up with them?” It avoids putting them on the spot.

  • Keep Control: If a referral source identifies a referral for you, be sure that you agree to a specific plan to contact the prospect. They may forget to contact them or just send an email. Instead, ask if they’ll take it a step further to place a phone call or arrange a meeting with the prospect.
  • Appreciation: Once a referral is received, ensure the referral is treated extra special and that the referral source is shown great appreciation.
  • Testimonials: Instead of asking for referrals too often, you can also ask for testimonials – either written, video, or on LinkedIn.

Some people are naturally reluctant to ask for referrals. You may feel that you are imposing, or perhaps you’re not confident that your product or service is worth referring. John Jantsch explains in The Referral Engine that you need to believe in your heart that you are doing your sources a favour by permitting them to introduce your service to their colleagues.

Always remember that, by ensuring that your business is worth referring, your referral sources will be helping their colleagues, friends, and/or families by referring your business. In Andy Sernovitz’s Word of Mouth Marketing, he found that the two main reasons why others recommend you are because 1.) they like to help people they care about and 2.) because it makes them feel good.

Converting Referral Prospects into Clients

OK, you have a referred prospect. Now what? The following are best practices for converting referred prospects to clients:

  • Key Question: When you first meet with a referred prospect, ask them this: “Mary suggested that you consider my product/services. Why do you think she referred you?” If someone they respect refers them to you, this question will cause them to thoughtfully consider why they need your product/services.
  • Customised Offering: Collect as much detail as you can on the prospect from your referral source. This will allow you to present your service in a customised way that will best fit that prospect’s pain points.
  • Special Offers: Offer prospects something special since they were referred. Perhaps they can sample your product or service for a period for free.
  • Validation: Allow referral prospects to validate with another positive client of yours. Try to find the client who is the best match for the prospect either through industry, area of expertise or behavioural profile.

That wraps up our series on referral marketing! What are some referral marketing ideas you have tried that worked well? What doesn’t work so well for you?


A Better Way to Prioritise Projects

Steering wheel covered in notes as a reminder of errands to do

All businesses and especially small/medium business owners struggle with priorities. The Tyranny of the Urgent ensures that the important and urgent get done. Otherwise, the business would not exist. The key to the more successful businesses is that they also figure out how to work on Covey’s Quadrant 2 tasks: those that are important but not urgent.

Many businesses find some time to do a strategic planning workshop or similar session – even informally – to give some thought to the Quadrant 2 activities. These are always invigorating sessions that lead to many good ideas about how to move the business forward. What often happens is that near the end of the strategic planning workshop everyone is enthused because they’ve finally found some time to focus on the future – and how much better things might be if they could only get to Quadrant 2 tasks.

The enthusiasm quickly turns to reality when they look at the 30 or more different tasks and projects that came out of the brainstorming. They have all kinds of great tasks on the flip charts…but they still have the same Quadrant 1 tasks (important & urgent) waiting for them in the office and the same staff.

The way a typical team will tackle this is to prioritise. Everyone will give their votes on importance. Maybe the team circulates a spreadsheet with all the tasks to vote on. Regardless of approach, this inevitably results in almost all high priority tasks! Most businesses do not have a method to create real separation in all of their good ideas to help them focus on those that will “move the needle”. Inevitably, nothing gets done and it’s back to firefighting.

So here’s a better way forward. Put all of your important tasks & projects into a spreadsheet. Distribute it to your leadership team and ask each of them to prioritise. But, do NOT use a simple “rank 1 to 5” mechanism – where almost everything comes out a 3.5. Instead, give each executive 100 total votes to allocate across the tasks in any way that they see fit. If someone feels very strongly about an item, they can allocate 25 votes to it – leaving 75 to distribute across the other items.

Using this type of system helps everyone think very hard about what is truly important. Once you collect and tally the results, a handful of priorities will rank significantly higher than the others. This creates true separation and therefore gives the business owner a small set of Quadrant 2 activities that he or she can finally make progress on.

This is just an example of the type of technique that a facilitator/business coach has up his or her sleeves to help business owners be more successful. The strategic planning workshops that we offer are filled with these kinds of techniques to establish a thoughtful plan that leads to meaningful results.


Create a Planning Team for Decision-Making

Heads or tails
In a small or medium-sized business, it’s common to be the only one making decisions about every aspect of your company—thus the saying, “it’s lonely at the top.” No matter how large or small your business is, being the sole decision-maker for the company can be difficult and may impede your company’s success. It can become challenging for one person to constantly think of better ways to improve the business or make sure he or she has the most innovative ideas. Having the contributions of a planning team will help your company grow and become more successful, and should be an essential part of your strategic business plan.

Planning teams are comprised of your company’s top executives from each of your functional departments. The goal of the planning team is to have candid discussion on all business planning and action items essential to moving your company forward—from resources to operations to company strategy. Our corporate planning team follows the Business Builders Blueprint process and has experienced great success utilising it. Busines Builders Blueprint provides a structured and organised framework for your team to productively discuss and plan the strategic direction of the company.  The Strategic Plan element is only one of 10 different elements in the completed Blueprint. Other elements include Business Diagnostic, Personal and Company Vision, SWOT analysis, Strategic Differentiation, Company Values and Brand, Accountability, Financial Performance and KPI suite. Remember: always make sure your planning team stays in alignment with the owner’s personal and business vision.

Once you decide to implement a planning team, it is imperative to have established guidelines before the first meeting and to continue to follow these guidelines at each meeting. Reviewing them before meetings will help keep your planning team focused on the group goals. For example, we use “TABenos” as our communication guideline. TABenos represents communication defined by honesty, respect, trust and openness with yourself and the other planning team members. This specific guideline enables each member of the team to experience an environment conducive to idea sharing and exchange.

Here are a few simple guidelines to keep in mind when forming your planning team:

  • Stay focused on the main issues
  • Avoid solving/micro-managing
  • Avoid interruption as much as possible
  • Inform the employees who are not on the planning team about plans and progress, as well as the necessity and importance of having planning team meetings
  • Never cancel your planning team meetings unless absolutely necessary
  • Meet as frequently as you can. Our team meets weekly, but at a minimum, you should meet once a month.If you can’t meet on a monthly basis, you should always schedule meetings, at the very least, once per quarter
  • Occasionally invite other project managers to the meetings to update the planning team on various projects, as necessary. This gives team members a sense of contribution to the company.

To ensure each planning team meeting is productive and time-efficient, revisit the rules and guidelines often. Also, spend time with individual planning team members to make sure they understand the value of a planning team and how their individual contributions help to foster a positive planning team experience. When conducted effectively, a planning team can be and should be inspiring and be liberating for the business owner and team members.

Jason Zickerman is President and CEO of The Alternative Board


Five Exercises to Improve Your Negotiation Skills


By guest blogger, Nick Rojas

Want to improve your negotiation skills? You certainly can, utilising these exercises during daily negotiations.

Negotiations are a big part of life, and you may not even realise it. You negotiate at home, work, the gym and even with the family pet. Negotiations simply can’t be avoided.

Harnessing the power of negotiation skills should not be avoided either. People who possess powerful negotiation skills get the most out of life. But being a savvy negotiator does not always mean someone has to lose.

“A good negotiator will work toward a win-win scenario, always considering the deal from the other side’s perspective,” according to Fortune.

How do you become a powerful negotiator? Employ these exercises to enhance your negotiation skills, and get the win-win in nearly every aspect of life.

1. Negotiation Skills Begin with Saying No

The word “no” is not something most people say very often. You may have trouble saying no to your friend who needs help moving, or someone who wants to cut the line at the supermarket.

However, saying no is an essential exercise for honing your negotiation skills. Saying no more often will allow you to become more comfortable with saying it, and you will be more successful.

Warren Buffett says, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.”

2. Exercise Your Research Muscle

Research is another vital aspect of honing your negotiation skills. Before you approach any negotiation, you need to have done your due diligence.

Whether you are buying a new sofa or closing a million dollar business deal, research is at the forefront. Exercise your research muscle by learning best practices.

You want to become a master at following breadcrumbs that will get you the answers you need for the win-win at any negotiation table.

3. Become a Body Language Expert

You may have heard that nonverbal communication accounts for 90 percent of communication. Some believe this to be true, and some think it’s less, explains Dr Jeff Thompson in a Psychology Today article.

Whether nonverbal communication is 90 percent or 55 percent, it is an important element of your negotiation skills.

Excessive blinking and uncomfortable shifts in a chair are subtle hints that can give you better insight into another person’s mind and decision-making process.

Unfortunately, the only way to use this exercise is to practice a lot. If you like people watching, you are in for a treat. Start with people you know, and expand to strangers when you’re ready for a challenge.

4. Practice Makes Perfect, Employ Negotiation Skills Everywhere

Practice certainly makes perfect, and this remains true when developing your negotiation skills. The more you negotiate, the more savvy and confident you will become.

Exercising your negotiation skills everywhere will make you a better speaker, and you will also begin building a rhythm in each negotiation. From doing the dishes to the boardroom, never stop negotiating.

5. Negotiation Skills Depend on Your Active Listening Abilities

Active listening is one of the most essential elements of becoming an expert negotiator. You may think you’re a great listener. However, “listening” and “active listening” are actually quite different.

You need to paraphrase, inquire, and acknowledge for powerful active listener development. Active listening will allow you to ask crucial questions and respond to your negotiation partners in a meaningful way.

According to Harvard School, “The skilful negotiator orchestrates these aspects of active listening to draw out the other party’s concerns and feelings, with an eye toward asserting his own viewpoint and engaging in joint problem-solving.”

Exercise those negotiation skills and become more confident in every aspect of life. You will find success following those newly honed negotiation skills, and you will begin negotiating everything. Personal and professional development are important, so take a powerful approach with negotiation.

Need more help boosting your negotiating skills? Check out our webinar, Getting to a Win-Win: How to Hone Your Negotiation Skills, presented by P.J. Timmins of TAB Ireland.