Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Group dynamics

Whenever meeting in a group, be sure to consider the dynamics of the individuals in it. Often we spend to little time anticipating the emotional reactions of our peers. This leads to hurt feelings, less than optimal performance and eventual leadership failure. Change in leadership can yield defection, dissent and unrest. It also provides an opportunity to bring higher performance and increased profitability for any organization. And who doesn't want a bit more profitability? A few keys:
  • Solicit feedback from all members of the team. This is particularly true about introverts or analytic types as they may be less likely to share.
  • Be careful of the "loudest wins" syndrome - sometimes the minority has the right answer, so be sure to judge on quality of response and idea, not necessarily the most enthusiastic or loudest.
  • Beware the naysayer! Those who are perpetually negative may not be engaged in the current process or problem - there may be more to the story. Keep them and the group on track.
  • Be kind & earnest - have integrity, and be sensitive to people's feelings.
  • Use the principles of team to have the work of the group better than the work of a single individual.
  • Seek first to understand (thank you Covey, it is still true).
  • Start and end on time with a clear focus / objective.
  • Know who the leader(s) is(are) and allow them to perform their function.
  • Avoid sabotage / defection. If you have a problem, go DIRECTLY to the person first. If they continue to be a problem, then engage other solutions or bypass them.
  • Dissent or "storming" is normal. Allow it to happen, don't take it personally and know it is simply part of the process.
There are more. You get the idea. If you want to share any of your keys to group dynamic success, please post!

Monday, September 28, 2009

A question of decorum?

"Manners are too little, morals are too much." So says, Lord Chesterfield on the nature of decorum. We in the US of A tend to have lost sight of decorum in our interactions not only in public, but in private. There is a certain kind of genteel grace in apropriate topics discussed in appropriate ways. Forms and rules followed. People are prepared to listen.

I have found that in various public meetings, there is a form in which communications are well received. Deviate from that form, your message may be well crafted, but is effectively not heard. You might win short term popularity by shouting (aka - "You LIE!" by Congressman Wilson), but it doesn't win you points in the long run. At the same time, we live in a society which values deeply the idea of free speech. We should be able to state what we feel (even if it is repugnant to some or even most) without fear of retribution. I observed an interesting dance around this topic between a City Councilman and a set of policies generated by City Staff for City Council meetings. Though there have been issues which are contentous, there was a restrained but clear smouldering anger as a result of this set of policies, on both sides. Attempts to change the format of meetings is a surprisingly volitile issue. Be careful of breaking those unspoken, but fairly clear rules!
When communicating with clients or in public, make sure your message is in the right form to be well received. Treat people with respect during delivery. Be sure to know confidently the material you are communicating. Be passionate. Have decorum. Also, thanks for the photo Jimmy! It is "Fading Glory" - apropos for the topic, no?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Moving and a good photo

So this really nice photo was taken of Anthony and I by our friend Scott D. (thanks!) at Bryce & Annika's wedding last weekend. I wrote about it in an earlier entry (Weddings, Friends & the Circle of Life). In addition, I had the opportunity to help our cousin Susan (and her significant other, Sean) , move today.

Wow do I hate moving! It is such an unpleasant task, but it did give me 4+ hours of steady, low intensity cardio and lifting work. Couches, foldout beds, dining room tables and televisions (not flat screens) are really bloody heavy! We moved them from Long Beach into Seal Beach. What does this have to do with business? Well, in a phrase - opportunity cost! Remember gentle reader, that all the actions we take have a direct cost in the form of what else we could have been doing other than what we chose to do. For example, Folsom Street Fair was this weekend - special shout out to all those who might read my blog who went - as it is a Bachnallian festival of unbridled sexual and physical abandon - would we have loved to have gone? Sure! Could I have done paying client work on Sunday rather than move them? Sure! Could Anthony and I have done something else? Sure!

Instead, we opted to help. So remember to evaluate not just the effort the activity itself but the lost opportunity for other activities. Next time, I think I will just contribute in some other equally meaningful way for the move. Still, happy to have done it. What opportunity cost example can you identify in the last week?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Friday, September 25, 2009

Operational Agreemets, Stocks and Spouses

When should you have an operational agreement? What about stocks in your company? When is the right time to establish roles and investment value?

In a word: NOW!

When it is time to do it; it is too late. At that point, something has gone south: trust in the partnership, money is suddenly very available (or not at all!), new investors are coming in or leaving, someone dies (yes, business owners die too!), business contraction, change in local codes or state laws, legal action and other unexpected events in the business' life cycle. Look to have at least two documents:
  • An operational agreement - which outlines how powers and monies are shared. It also helps the owners have segmentation in their duties and responsibilities.
  • Shareholder's agreement - the financial and legal transfer of ownership of the business. This outlines when, how and for how much the ownership can change. It also gives conditions of "first refusal" - when the business or partners have the right to buy shares in advance of their transfer or sale outside of the current business structure.
All this is important in the advance of life changing events like marriage, divorce or death. So if you don't have it place now, be sure to get it. When you say? NOW. See, I am not kidding. You will thank me later.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

HR Realities - Being the Hammer

Sometimes when working as an embedded consultant within a business, human resource functions fall under my contract. Within this realm as we all know is the hiring and terminating of individuals from the business. This is often not a fun process and I admire those in HR who are able to sever relationships with people at one level and maintain it at another. Though it may not be fun, it is necessary and a single question ultimately should guide you: What is BEST for the business?

I know this seems simplistic, but it is the best tool I have found to make clear determinations about the action of hiring and firing. We ultimately deal with jobs and performance. To think that we are in the business of "helping people" (at least as a consultant) is not the case. What surprised me today in "being the hammer" was how easy it was. In this case, the individual was a liar, an under performer and the team had to create "work around" for his emotional and personal outbursts. When I notified some distributors and suppliers of this change, the universal response was "what took so long?"

I was both surprised and then a bit chastised by these comments. What had taken me so long to make this move? I stopped asking the ONE KEY question and started asking other less meaningful questions, or worse, I started making statements. "We are in a recession, times are tough." "Won't coaching and counseling help?" "He is good at [insert skill here], doesn't he deserve one more chance?" In retrospect, these questions seem silly and even sophomoric, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I gave every opportunity for the individual to come on board. The enormous sense of relief, stability and resolve I felt after today validates the one key question. It was best for the business, and ultimately will be best for the terminated individual.

So, be the hammer - or ask you consultant to do it for you!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Nominal Group Technique

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a Nominal Group Technique (NGT) session for Command College at a police department. It was a facinating exercise where key stakeholders came together with a facilitator (who was a police officer working through a graduate like course) to examine an issue in alignment with both trends and events.

What it reminded me of as a business advocate and consultant is the myriad of factors which play a role in business life. My role as a consultant is to evaluate the business and create strategic documents (plans) which help predict events and improve outcomes (usually sales and profitablility). This NGT experience was a tool which use in our businesses and communities. Special thanks to the SB Police Department for including me in the focus group. The key issue was the potential decentralization and diffusing of the typical police hierarchy via a neighborhood policing model. It reminded me that many of the services we expect as residents and business owners, like police and fire / emergency response services are also employees who need a paycheck. What happens when a community goes bankrupt? When police are placed in a a position where side jobs are no longer a consideration but a necessity. How does that change services? Makes you think.

ps - why this photo? Cause I liked it! lol

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Weddings, friends and the Circle of Life

This weekend I had the opportunity to do two very special things:
  • Attended an amazing wedding of my friends Bryce & Annika. They have somethings in common with Anthony and I. They are a mixed nation couple as well (Swedish & US) as Anthony and I are (UK & US). It was a gorgeous ceremony on Naples Island and a fantastic reception.
  • Crewed for a triathlon team for a relay. The Long Beach Triathlon occured this morning and Dave, Julio and Scott all did one leg of the relay. Their time was just under an hour and half. It was amazing to see the dedication of the participants. Not to mention they were all up around 4 am or so to be in position by 6:30 am or so. I met Chris McCormack http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_McCormack_(triathlete) who was super cool and very chill. Talk about being in front of the pack - he did this tri in under 53 minutes.
What do these two things have to do with small business and this blog? Well, both events were directly related to clients. Thankfully, they both have become more than just clients, they have become friends and advocates for Black Marble Consulting and me personally. Also, it was amazing to meet Chris (though it was just for a couple of minutes), he is an inspiration for performance in all things - not just athletics. We are all part of the Circle of Life in our business, athletic and personal lives.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Twitter like a business plan?

Ok, so why is Twitter like a business plan? Because both are ultimately burst style communications.

People like to think that a business plan is an involved document with labyrinthine financials, compelling marketing or segment analysis, strong managment bios and a fully articulated executive summary. The irony is that while some of that may be true, the best business plans I have written and have been funded are relatively short (usually less than 25 pages) and as Guy Kawasaki says in The Art of the Start, emerges from a mantra. I have spoken about this before in the blog. The mantra is really a core statement of purpose and explanation for the business model.

Twitter requires you to get your thought across in 140 characters. Can you express your business in that short a window (including spaces & puncuation)? I can. Black Marble Consulting: helps innovators transform their ideas into strategic documents. That is 64 characters and eight words. So remember to try to distill your ideas into clear, burst style communciations. You can always talk more, but if you are inefficient communicating an idea from the get go, it only annoys and confuses your listener. Go ahead and try it! When you have an idea you need to get across - be brief, be clear and be passionate.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cross connections

So I thought I would make an entry which connects to my LinkedIn profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/setheaker

Feel free to connect!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Are we on the map?

Businesses need to be identifiable. As consumers we need to be able to locate those that offer both products and services. Is your business easily locatable? Can customers find you in a myriad of ways? Online, print, newspaper, blogs, etc. . ? In today's crowded marketplace, you need to be on as many platforms as possible. Look to your Chambers of Commerce, City Clerk or other resources to ensure that you have a valid business license and can be on printed materials that these organizations produce. Look to be on the map!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Creating excitment

When working with businesses, it is critical to not only understand the product or service, but you have to be an advocate for the industry. When working on a business plan for Diabless fashion on Melrose Ave. in Los Angeles I had to understand the nuances of women's retail and how clothing is selected, designed and imported. It was a fabulous education which has subsequently helped me connect other insights for clients.

One of the most powerful steps in being a consultant is to be excited and enthusiastic about the business. If you don't want to help the client, why are you working for them? Enthusiasm breeds yet more energy and drive for the client. They reflect and amplify these emotions not only among their own team, but also to their customers. So go ahead, get excited!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Inventory Management

One of my clients, Main Street Cyclery is a retail bike shop on Main Street (obviously) and we are nearing the week of Interbike - the annual show for all things cycling. This year it is in Las Vegas and there are hundreds of vendors, distributors, retailers and enthusiasts all in attendance. For more information go to www.interbike.com

Anyway, one of the issues we have this time of year is the management of inventory. New 2010 models are coming out (though only some are available now, the rest in January or April depending on brand and type), some 2009 models are sold through and some 2009 have too many leftovers (think upcoming fall sales!) so inventory is a critical issue. My client, Dave has a simple strategy "Don't change a winning game, change a losing one." Seems simple right? LOL - if only.

Some models we know do well: beach cruisers for example. Why? Because our shop is three blocks away from the beach. You can see the Seal Beach Pier from our front door. Great! But which cruisers are the winning game? We look to sales volume, profit margin and the distributor cost of the product. There is also the opportunity cost - there are only so many bike "slots" in our shop for display product. Dave likes an open air feeling in the shop. This gives it a great customer experience, but allows us to showcase a smaller amount of product. Still seems simple, right?

Then we enter the world of fortune telling! What colors are hot? Will fixed gear continue to be a fast moving segment or will it slow? In the world of BMX, should we continue to have some retro bikes, some entry level or should we move to something more high end in terms of construction. Do we get behind which new models? What about the technology - is it still in early adopter phase or is it mature? What about changing demographics in the cycling world? Will more people go for bikes as alternative transportation rather than stylistic statements on their "bling" or fashion?

This is part of what I love about my consulting practice - there is a myriad of opportunities to analyze, evaluate and then predict future behavior. You win, the business continues to be profitable and inventory is "Just in Time" like my grad econ professor liked to advocate for. You lose, you end up with product not giving you the margin you need, a clutter of merchandise and a poor customer experience. Whether or not you are in retail, service, goods, transport or other items, inventory management can be a huge factor - even if it is just your office supplies! So take a moment and think about inventory. The more you control it, the better it will perform for you!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Decisions on Lifting

So I have made a decision - I am going to start training for a bodybuilding competition. That means training every day, radically changing my diet and focusing on only value added activities not only for me, but for my clients. I will simply have to modify my time to make the gym even more of a priority. I have to add about 10 lbs to my bulk mass (currently I am about 230), then cut down to 215 or so. This photo is from 2004 with Anthony and I at one of my best friend's (Jim) former house in Atlanta. One of my best looking body times. Now I will have to exceed that a lot. I am super pumped up about it!

Saturday, September 12, 2009


So there is this new program called "Glee" on TV this fall. It is relevant to local business because it actually has something to do with the local school district (Los Alamitos Unified) and also the Orange County High School of the Arts. You can read more about it here: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/ralph-school-choir-2561274-high-matt

What is most interesting to me though is the impact that passion has in life and success. It is a reminder to all people who are entrepreneurs - you should love what you do, be passionate about it and love it in a deep way. To feel otherwise will not allow you to embrace success. So even if you don't tune in on Glee, remember to behave in a "gleeful" way every day with what you do. After all, we are only here for a visit.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Truth and Lies

I recently had an experience that reminded me about the importance of integrity. The world we are in (at least the developed world) has become remarkably "flat" - in the sense that most facts about people are relatively easily and quickly verifiable. If you have ever been published, photographed, written content or submitted your work, you are likely "googleable" - plus, what is the point of fabricating about yourself?

In business as in life, the consequences can be dire. You can lose not only a friend, but potentially contracts, jobs and even your own self worth if you are not careful. We all may exagerate or enhance who and what we are, but outright fabrication is truly a karmic irony. I also wanted to share love and fondness for two of my friends who I haven't seen since I moved to the West Coast - Brad and Mark. The three of us were like the three muskateers of fundraising for the Sapphire Fund and I miss them. Both are men of great integrity and I am happy to be in the "three monkeys pose" of See, Hear and Speak No Evil! Miss you guys! So remember gentle reader - honesty is the best policy!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A start of a new week - affirmations

In business it is often key to reflect on abundance and risk. We as entrepreneurs take risks in the pursuit of both passion and abundance. When each week starts, I try to focus on a few key affirmations which help focus my activities for that week. After the legislative mixer and so many opportunities, the following seem key:
  • There is more than sufficient time and skill to accomplish all that needs to be done.
  • My business attracts money and success.
  • My clients expectations are always exceeded and their business increases in both sales and profits.
  • More than enough resources are available in all aspects of my life.
  • Creativity and insight flows freely to all projects and activities I touch.
  • Work is filled with joy and fun with lasting success.
  • Participation in the community leads to positive change and even better results for all of my friends and neighbors.

Go ahead and give it a try - find your own affirmations and start your week out right!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

El Presidente

I was elected President of the Seal Beach Chamber of Commerce on the 4th. I am honored and priviledged to serve my consituents and the business community of Seal Beach. I feel so excited about the opportunity to help make our town even better. This represents a culmination of two and half years work advocating for business at the local level. Most importantly, the team of board members are all hard working, engaged leaders in the community. They are ready to bring even more great things to the City. Can't wait to start work. . .