Challenges All Businesses Face
Over the years all businesses have had to address challenges created by macroeconomic cycles, technological innovations, changing customer expectations, new competitive landscapes, globalization, industry consolidation, supply chain disruptions, and increasing governmental regulations. Some have succeeded in overcoming these obstacles to prosper and grow, while others have failed.
Our company has been fortunate to successfully grow our sales and profits, and therefore our ESOP stock value since we were founded in 1954. This blog is intended to share what we think are some best business practices that have helped us maneuver through the many challenges stated above. We will also share some of the tools and partners we have utilized to assist us in the process. We hope that some of these may also benefit your company.
#1 - Creating a Culture of Employee Engagement
Cross Company is widely recognized as having a truly engaged workforce. Visitors and employees comment on this frequently, and it has definitely become a competitive advantage for us. The following practices are ingrained in our culture, and are the primary drivers that have lead to our widespread employee engagement:
Establish Core Values
Company culture starts with its leader. The core values that she exhibits will permeate the entire organization from top to bottom. Companies with high employee engagement have the following core values:
- High integrity and ethics
- Respect for others
- Individual accountability
- Servant leadership style of management
Establish a Vision
A leader must have a vision for the company and be able to articulate it in a way that generates widespread buy-in. This vision must be long term, far reaching, and create excitement (often referred to as a “BHAG” - Big Hairy Audacious Goal). It is also vital to relate how each employee in the company has a specific role in achieving it.
You cannot have employee engagement unless they trust you. Here are a few simple things that can be done to build employee trust:
- Always tell the truth
- Provide frequent communications on business performance - both good and bad
- Ask for their input, and listen to it
- Publicly admit your mistakes
- Manage by walking around
Trust your employees to do their jobs well and encourage them to push the envelope without fearing repercussions. If you encourage employees to take appropriate risks and do not chastise people for their mistakes, you will unleash a plethora of good ideas and potentially experience unimaginable business improvements.
Create a fun-filled environment and celebrate success with all employees. Everyone wants to be part of a winning team. And winning often breeds more winning. Celebrating successes along the way can be a powerful morale builder.
#2 - Effective Strategic Planning & Execution
All the data show that creating a comprehensive strategic plan that is well communicated and executed will greatly enhance an organization’s success and results. Here are the key elements to creating an effective strategic plan:
- Hire a facilitator
- Get inputs from all stakeholders
- Complete SWOT and competitive analyses
- Conduct an off-site retreat with senior management
- Establish a vision, major goals, key performance metrics
- Identify appropriate strategies to achieve the goals and related action plans
- Create a discipline for reviewing progress on a regular basis
- Regularly communicate progress on the plan to all stakeholders
Cross Company has had to re-engineer itself several times in our long history. Had we not done so, our ESOP would not have prospered and our company might not have survived.
We could not have successfully made those transformations without a comprehensive strategic plan, and the discipline to execute and refine them. These plans were also essential in fostering on-going employee engagement.
#3 - Attracting & Developing Human Talent
Two of the biggest challenges facing businesses today are attracting and retaining talent and next generation leadership development. Here are a few ways to address this critical need:
- Elevate your HR department to a strategic level in the organization
- Use your website to sell candidates on your company and why they would want to work there
- Identify core competencies for each position in the organization
- Utilize assessments to assist in reducing hiring mistakes
- Make sure the potential new hire fits your company culture
- Build a robust performance management system
- Identify high potential candidates within the company
- Create Individual Development Plans (IDPs) for high potentials and all succession candidates
- Create a standardized succession planning process and appropriate forms to document it
HR has become much more than simply an administrative function responsible for compliance with workforce regulations and dealing with employee problems. It is now responsible for the future lifeblood of your company!
#4 - Turning Sales & Marketing into a Collaborative Partnership
Customer expectations have changed dramatically. And, they have neither the time nor the desire to see “salespeople.” Instead, they want trusted partners that can provide them a solution to their problem - and only when they need it. How do they find and determine who those potential trusted partners might be? Through a generic web search! This trend will only accelerate as our younger workforce takes a more prominent role in making supplier and purchasing decisions.
This has caused a transition from outbound marketing techniques (think email blasts, newsletters, traditional advertising) to inbound marketing. Potential customers conduct searches and make decisions based on their experiences with selected websites. If your website does not provide a great customer experience, they will move on quickly. Also, customers want access to information 24/7 with the ability to see technical content, price and availability information in real time, and on any one of a myriad of mobile devices.
Therefore you must ensure your website is near the top of page one of a search. That’s why Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is so important. Blogs, videos, and whitepapers will significantly increase traffic to your website. Constantly evaluating your website’s performance using analytics is also essential.
Customers will also research salespeople on the internet before agreeing to meet with them. It is essential that they have professional profiles on LinkedIn and have content that provides credibility as an expert in their field. They should have published blogs, videos, and whitepapers on their site to differentiate themselves from their competition.
In the final analysis, salespeople need to embrace marketing to help them promote the organization's value proposition to attract new opportunities, and to also help create a competitive advantage for themselves.
Of course, there are many other best practices that help create successful businesses. But the four above have been the cornerstone of our company’s success. We hope they can be for you as well.
Below are some of the tools and services we have used to assist us in our business and strategic planning. Please click on the associated links to see if they can also be of help to your business.
Business Planning Tools and Services
Business Smarts Assessments are designed to allow businesses to gather data on key business factors for more effective decisions. Three assessments are available:
- Business Smarts Profile™ 3.0
The Business Smarts Profile™ allows organizations to quickly identify and prioritize how leaders of the organization are dealing with the critical issues facing that organization. Scores are reported on each of the following nine perspectives: Strategy, Culture, Finance, Operations, Product Development, Human Relations, Customer Satisfaction, Sales Force, and Marketing.
- Marketing Smarts™ 3.0
The Marketing Smarts Profile™ allows organizations to quickly identify and prioritize how leaders of the organization are dealing with the critical Marketing issues facing that organization. Scores are reported on each of the following eight perspectives: Marketing Strategy Mindset, Brand & Identity, Web, E-commerce, and Social Media, Competitive Positioning, Market Research, Product Research, Marketing-Sales Integration, Marketing Savvy.
- Strategic Smarts™ 3.0
The Strategic Smarts Inventory™ allows organizations to quickly identify how leaders effectively prioritize Strategic issues facing an organization. Scores are reported on six key areas related to the organization’s strategic effectiveness: Strategic Information, Strategic Intentions, Strategic Tactics, Strategic Minded Culture, Strategic Thinking, and Strategic Assets.
ITR provides the economic intelligence that allows companies to minimize economic risks and enhance profitability. Some services they offer are:
- Economic forecast subscriptions
- Historical sales related to correlating economic and industry indices
- Company specific forecasting services
- Business consulting
About the author:
Steve Earley is the CEO of Cross Company, a 100% employee-owned ESOP headquartered in Greensboro, NC. Their mission is “applying technologies to improve machine and manufacturing process performance.” For more blogs from Steve, please read his Leadership Series.
You can contact Steve directly by e-mail.