Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Resolutions, or just GOOD Goals?

We’re around two full months into 2013. How are your New Year’s resolutions going?

Not so good? Don’t worry, you're not alone.

Breaking our New Years' resolutions seems to be a national pastime. This may not be the first time you’ve watched New Year’s resolutions go down in flames before your calendar turned to March - or even February!

Rather than beating ourselves up over broken resolutions, let’s look instead at how we can make positive and necessary changes a lasting force in our life. Here are some ideas on setting and keeping goals:

When you set a goal, tell someone about it. Simply knowing that others are aware of your goal might keep you on the right track to achieve it. Tell a spouse or a colleague; post it on Facebook or Twitter; write it in an email to your siblings; or, make a bold move and write a professional goal in your company’s newsletter. Peer pressure can work wonders even (or, especially) for adults.

In addition to telling others, be sure you write it down. A journal or notebook works fine, but think about other places that might serve as active reminders. Write your financial savings goal on a sticky note stuck to your ATM card so you see it each time you make a purchase. Write your healthy diet goal on a piece of paper under a magnet on your fridge so you are reminded each time you choose a bite to eat. Write your commitment to more family time on a note by your computer monitor so a board game or bedtime book with your kids doesn’t get intercepted by after-dinner web-surfing.

Finally, when setting your goal, be specific. “Working out more” or “spending more time with family” or “eating healthier” are excellent, worthy goals – but what do they mean? Pledge to a reasonable, practical, and achievable change that you can clearly define for yourself. Change the elusive, too-broad goals to things that you can quantify, like these: “work out 3 times a week for an hour”; ”eat 3 servings of vegetables each day”; ”play games twice a week for at least an hour with the entire family”.

Goals that are shared with others, written down, and include the right amount of details give us something to measure. And more importantly, they give us something to CELEBRATE when they’re achieved!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The 5 P's of Budgeting

A budget is a financial tool, but it goes far beyond columns and rows of numbers to the values and priorities of a business, an organization, or a family.  While budgeting can be a complex and sometimes ambiguous process, keep in mind that a budget reflects 5 important things: it is a Proposal, Promise, Priority, Purpose, and Prediction.

A budget is your proposal to your stakeholders or your stockholders. Through your budget, you are proposing what you will do with the funds entrusted to you and your organization.

Similarly, a budget is also a promise. You are making an assurance that your resources will go for specific things. A budget is often used as a tool for accountability; it is a way to make sure your resources have gone to where you intended them to go.  

A budget is also a priority, in two unique ways.  First, your budget reflects the priorities of your business or organization, and also, it should ultimately be a priority in and of itself. Having and following a plan that complements your strategy and direction should be a priority to assure your organization is ‘on track.’

Likewise, budgets allow organizations to do things with purpose. Budgets have a managerial purpose for a business or organization. They establish a ‘steering’ function by providing efficiency in planning and control.

Finally, a budget is a prediction. When creating a budget, we are working in the realm of possibility and presumption. The unexpected occurs in both the “expense” and “income” columns of a budget, so it might simply be our ‘best guess’ of where resources will come in and out during a period of time.

Everyone in your organization is likely to view the budget quite differently. A board of directors may be interested in the ideology of a budget and how likely it will lead to wealth accumulation or perpetuate sustainability. A Director or CEO may place the managerial aspects of a budget at the forefront, using the budget as a planning and management tool for assuring the organization runs smoothly. Additionally, a bookkeeper, accountant, or treasurer is more likely to focus on the processes and technically-driven aspects of the budget so it can be executed well.  

Recognize that a budget isn’t ONE thing, but MANY things to many different constituents; that is the first step in an effective budgeting process. It may not be simple, but it will certainly be beneficial, when you allow your budget to serve a broader purpose than simply adding and subtracting your dollars and cents. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The REAL Value of Budgeting

The word “budget” strikes fear in the hearts of many, and there are several reasons why.

Creating a budget may evoke images of shoe boxes spilling over with wrinkled receipts and checkbook registers with columns of numbers that refuse to add up. Living on a budget sounds like a constricting and fun-diminishing way to approach life. Understanding a budget might appear to require a daunting level of expertise in spreadsheets and number-crunching.

But put aside for a moment the images of number-crunching, calculating, and balancing.

Instead, think about what a budget truly IS, and what it DOES. Sure, a budget is associated with accounts and balances, but in reality budget has a lot less to do with dollars and cents and a lot more to do with values and priorities.

In simple terms, a budget is the way your business, organization, or family allocates its’ limited resources among a number of competing interests. Journalist Gloria Steinem is credited with saying, “We can tell our values by looking at our checkbooks.” Your budget speaks volumes about what’s important to you, because where your resources go is likely where your priorities lie.

The term “values-based budgeting” is a term commonly invoked by government entities, highlighting their attempt to reflect constituents’ values in their budgeting process. But nearly all budgets – businesses, nonprofit organizations, families, departments, and even families – implement some level of values-based budgeting. If your business places value on cutting-edge technology, you may prioritize a tech upgrade over new furniture in the employee break room. Likewise, if your family values outdoor recreation, you may see more money going toward skiing equipment rather than fast-food meals or a bigger television.

So if you are one of the people who fears budgeting because it seems too complex, restrictive or confusing, don’t focus as much on the MECHANICS of the budget but rather the MEANING it represents.

To be effective with a budget in your business, organization, or family, you don’t need a degree in accounting, and you don’t need to be an Excel spreadsheet expert. Instead, you need to understand your priorities, communicate your values, find ways to compromise, and ultimately, be flexible.

A budget goes far beyond columns and rows of numbers to the heart of a business, an organization, or a family ... that is the REAL value of budgeting. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Leader or Manager: Who are YOU?

 The terms ‘management’ and ‘leadership’ are often used interchangeably, but don’t be fooled – they are unique and distinct in a multitude of ways. While both are critical to any organization or business, they require different capabilities and talents.  

Leaders and mangers: both are important and both are necessary. Which one are YOU?

Consider the roles or tasks you feel most naturally drawn or inclined to. What kinds of work do you choose to do, when the choice is yours to make? What tasks or roles do you enjoy the most?

You are probably more comfortable and more experienced in one or the other. Once you know where your natural comfort and skill is found, think about how to build up the other. 

Do you have some leadership muscle, but need to build up your management strength? 
  • Read and become familiar with the concepts of project management and process improvement for your industry.
  • Identify and list all the ways you could better organization your office, your department, or your business/organization, and tackle one organization project each week.
  • Find a colleague who you deem competent in budgeting and ask to shadow them as they work on budget-related tasks.

Do your management skills shine while your leadership skills need some polishing?
  • Develop broader knowledge of your business or industry. Look to and learn about other departments, partners, or sectors, both internally and externally, to become more ‘generalist’ than ‘specialist.’
  • Focus on relationships – with subordinated, peers, clientele, and managers. Building relationships help you gain influence in meaningful, multidirectional ways.
  • Find ways to partner with others. Sharing responsibilities, risks, and rewards will help you gain trust and support others in their success.

Mastering all of the skills for both leadership and management is a tall order. It may not be accomplished quickly or easily, but knowing the differences – and above all, knowing YOURSELF – can help you build your leadership AND management capabilities. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Leadership vs. Management: KNOWING the difference can MAKE a difference

Are you a manager, or are you a leader?

The terms ‘management’ and ‘leadership’ are often used interchangeably. Some people approach leadership and management as synonymous, considering them “one in the same”. There certainly are similarities. Both typically have influence over employees or constituents, and both possess some level of authority or power.

Aside from these similarities, leadership and management have a great deal of distinction.  So what are the differences? Let’s first take a look at how to define each of these important roles.

Management usually deals with making systems, people, and resources work together over time. This might involve several different functions, from planning and budgeting to organizing and staffing. Administering and evaluating projects, maintaining order, and taking a problem-solving approach are all key roles of a manger. A good manager will assure order and consistency while getting the job done, and getting it done right.

Leadership, on the other hand, is focused less on planning and organizing and more on visioning and setting direction. A leader needs to be strategic and motivated, aligning the right people around the right opportunities for the future of the business or organization. Possessing a long-range perspective, a leader is innovative and creative when approaching the future.

Leadership sets the course, while management navigates it. Leadership builds trust with the team, and management provides accountability and structure. Leadership dreams and develops “what might be” in the future, while management maintains and strengthens “what is” in the here-and-now. Leadership’s eyes are fixed on the horizon, while management’s eyes are fixed on today.

Do all leaders make good managers? Probably not. Do all managers make good leaders? Not necessarily.

If not the same person, it is ideal that leaders and managers cooperate with each other. Leaders might establish long-term and visionary goals, while a manager is tasked with planning and organizing the organization around those goals. While managers focus on the logistics of a team, leaders focus on the relational and interpersonal aspects of a team. Organizations and businesses need both management and leadership to succeed.

So, we’ll reflect again on the opening question: Are you a manager, or are you a leader? Knowing your own strengths and matching them to the needs of your organization or business will help you develop in your leadership and management roles.


Monday, December 3, 2012

To COMPETE, or to COOPERATE ... is that the question?

Our society has been touting the benefits of good ol’ fashioned competition for centuries.

We laud being competitive because “…it brings out the BEST in us,” we’re told. “Competition makes us smarter, faster, and stronger,” they say. “You must compete to win…!” is a phrase I’ve heard more times than I can count.

Competition is important, I certainly agree.

But does it really bring out our best?  Sometimes ….while other times it can bring out our ‘beast’, our worst qualities and characteristics.

Are we really getting smarter, faster, and stronger through competition? Possibly … but how fast can you run when you are looking over your shoulder at who is closing the gap?

Do we really need to compete to win? Maybe … but what if ‘winning’ isn’t always the goal? Striving to do well might not always result in a ‘winner’ and a ‘loser’.

In many cases, competition might spur personal and professional achievement.

However, decades of research in business, education, economic development, health care, and even professional athletics are demonstrating that something else drives innovation, creativity, profitability, and overall success even more than competition.

That “something else” is cooperation.

Usually seen as the antithesis of competition, cooperation is becoming the hidden secret to success in a variety of interesting ways.   

Business leaders who rate high on scales of cooperation and openness are seeing faster rates of growth and profitability in their companies. Students who are learning in cooperative learning environments are scoring higher on standardized tests and demonstrating higher rates of learning retention.

Corporations that are viewed by the public as cooperative and community-oriented have a greater sense of public trust, and a greater market share to go with it. Professional athletes who train cooperatively with a partner or team rate higher on overall scales of fitness and longevity in the sport than their counterparts who train solo. 

So what does being cooperative in today’s society mean? How about some good ol’ fashioned cooperation – instead of, or in conjunction with, competition – to REALLY benefit our personal and professional pursuits?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Cooperation in a Competitive World

To paraphrase Sigmund Freud, “Competition is the royal road to success.” 

However, businesses and organizations that are known for their cooperative efforts rather than their competitiveness do better on most scales of success: faster growth, increased profits, stronger sense of public trust, and longer sustainability.

Cooperation in a competitive world is difficult to understand and even more difficult to execute. Can you have both … can your business or organization be cooperative while remaining competitive in the world today?

It may not be easy, but it certainly is worth it. From the corporate board room to the pee wee football team, cooperation can be encouraged in a number of ways.

Place your highest priority on doing your best.  Doing your best and winning are two different things. One requires focus on your own performance, while the other requires a focus divided between you someone or something else. Concentrate on you or your team’s top performance as your ultimate goal so you can maintain focus on things you can control.

Be patient and allow ample time. Cooperation takes more time than going solo. If being cooperative is your intention, known that it doesn’t happen quickly. It may seem like a “waste” of time to go at a slower, cooperative pace. But if you consider how much time disagreement, failed negotiations, resentment and misunderstanding can take, cooperation isn’t such a waste of time after all.

Share the leadership responsibilities and rewards. When there is an increased sense of ‘ownership’ by all members of a group or team, the environment is more cooperative and typically more productive. Delegating or having team members select which parts of a project they will lead creates instant buy-in from more of your team, and buy-in is necessary for

Reinforce and reward team efforts. Rewarding individual stand-outs might make one team member more competitive, but praising the entire team promotes everyone’s cooperation and, in the long run, everyone’s success. Maximize a productive team by recognizing group efforts that require the input, energy, and cooperation of your team, department, or committee.