work-47200_640Are you thwarted by complacency in your organization? It is a common problem especially in successful companies.

Complacency is an expensive habit to practice. Resting on your corporate laurels lulls you into a feeling of security that is counterfeit. There are dangers lurking everywhere.

Having experienced successes, people relax to enjoy the results of their hard work. It’s not only great to celebrate but it is also important. Be careful not to get stuck here.

In order to move forward as a healthy company, adopt a sense of urgency. Your long term success depends on it. Be mindful not to demotivate your people by giving short shrift to the small steps they have accomplished in pursuit of a goal.

For example, a young woman I know was working to lose the weight she had gained during her second pregnancy. She proudly announced to her husband that she had lost five pounds. His response, “When are you going to lose the other fifteen?” I could not hear her response. The look on her face was not an endearing one.

Strike the balance between enjoying success and striving for the next goal with a sense of urgency. In a learning organization, you never arrive at the place you can stop improving. When you hear someone say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” be alert. The complacency habit is developing.

Use these steps to ramp up the sense of urgency:

1)      Have clarity about the purpose and mission of the company

2)      Articulate the goals that achieve the purpose and mission

3)      Listen to the people responsible for executing the goals to be sure they are doable

4)      Give and receive feedback consistently about progress

5)      Celebrate small steps along the way to the big goals

6)      Hold people accountable for the parts for which they are responsible

7)      Debrief to discover the successes, what you learned, and where you can improve

8)      Repeat the process.

Consider this. The company has business booked. The revenue stream looks promising. All that hard work of marketing and selling has been worth it. He’s so proud of his team and himself. “We did it.”

Can you anticipate the hidden danger? Regardless of the company size, consistently bringing in new business is key to sustainability. An empty pipeline is the danger zone. Not only new business but also improved customer care as well as up to date products/services are elements of continued success.

In other words, urgency for success is an ongoing. See step #8. It is hard work. It is an opportunity not only for people to earn a living but to learn and to contribute. What are you going to do when you come face to face with complacency when there’s important work to be done…….urgently?

© 2017 Ann Elliott All Rights Reserved

It is true. Words are free. Underestimating their power is costly.                               

Haven’t we all said something we later regretted? In some cases, we are unaware of the impact of our words for good or ill. Words have power; choose them wisely.

Business leaders, for example, unwittingly stymie creative thinking with “Have you thought about this ______?” How can a simply question shut down the very behavior a leader wants to encourage?

By virtue of your position as the leader, your words carry significant weight. From the boss, “Have you thought about this….” is more a directive than a question. When the boss suggests something that’s permission to act without owning the decision. If the action has a bad outcome, it wasn’t your idea. After all, the boss told you to do it, right?

Command and control is an efficient style of leadership. First, the boss knows best and he has the path to success mapped out. The only thing employees have to do is show up to do what they are told. Thinking, creativity and innovation are not valued. These behaviors can be messy.

In addition, it’s difficult to engage people when the only idea that matters is the boss’s idea. Businesses with this culture have a track record of high defection.

Make the most of the words you choose. Flattery and hyperbole hold empty promises which are easily detected. Blatant lies and falsehoods—well, no need to state the obvious.

Use your words to build an engaged team that understands how they contribute to your company’s success. These questions are a good place to start.

Five questions every good leader must use:

1)      How did you arrive at this conclusion? It is an interesting idea.

2)      What impact will this have on our bottom line? Our customers? Your team?

3)      What’s the worst that can happen by moving forward with your idea?

4)      What is the cost for not implementing this idea?

5)      How can I help?

To sum it all up. Words matter. Questions make a difference. How can you use your influence as a leader to encourage thinking, creativity and innovation?


©2017 Ann Elliott All Rights Reserved

Let’s face it. Repairs and maintenance are not glamorous. They are, in fact, an inconvenience.  Many tool-384740_1280entrepreneurs put it off. They are simply too busy running their businesses to maintain equipment, update software, train employees, and revise procedures, for example. 

If you do not have time to maintain the parts of your business you rely on to serve your customer, how do you have time to do it when they break? And, they will break. It can take as long or longer for the required fix than staying up to date. It can be more expensive as well. The interruption to your business when something goes haywire may be the most costly part of deferred maintenance. Have you noticed it usually happens at the worst possible time?

Seven reasons entrepreneurs put their businesses at risk by avoiding maintenance:

1)      Production stops or slows down.

2)      Planning is required to schedule maintenance and upgrades.

3)      People must learn new ways of doing things.

4)      Nothing appears wrong with the current way of operating, at least not yet.

5)      Often it takes time to see the return on the maintenance.

6)      The drama of the frenetic activity is quieted so it seems nothing important is underway.

7)      Maintenance is not free.

Let’s start here to find a solution. To keep your business operating at optimum efficiency acknowledge maintenance is required. But only if you want your business to be sustainable. Next, plan for it in your financial projections.

Identify the parts of your business such as marketing, sales, client care, product development, physical space, technology, equipment and people. All the parts contribute to your success. Nothing stands alone.

Finally, in the next 12 months, where do you intend to invest in maintenance, upgrades, or training? Factor this decision into time and financial requirements. If your busy season is spring, do not schedule a website overhaul for your online business from March – June. Avoid equipment maintenance for your fleet of 12 vans at the same time.

Your customers want excellent products and service. That’s why you should care about maintenance. Your business can provide a fantastic experience when the parts of your company are working together because they are well maintained. It warms the heart of an entrepreneur to know her clients are happy. It’s a glamorous thing. Plus it saves time and money.

©Ann Elliott 2016 All Rights Reserved

Productivity is not what matters most. Making an impact matters. You probably know people, surely not you, who are running from pillar to post. They even complain (or boast) about how busy they are all the time. Busyness does not equate to influence. yes-685044_640

For example, checking off items on your long “to do list” keeps you occupied, but really important, impactful work is untouched. And, you are exhausted. At the end of the day have you ever wondered, “I’ve been working steady all day but what have I accomplished that has an effect?”

Since we have all the time available, squandering it on low impact activities is expensive. Valuable resources such as time, money, creativity, and energy are depleted without much to show for it.

Activity has its own rewards for its own sake.  Plus, it keeps you from doing something else that’s harder and more involved. Others can conclude you are really important because you are so busy. We even are praised for such hard work. Nobody is asking what difference you made.

How to get out of the productivity trap and in the impact zone?

  1. At the start of your week, make a list of what you must accomplish to have a high impact week
  2. Day 1, list what you must accomplish to have a high impact day. These will come for your list for the week.
  3. Address first the activities that have the most effect with the least effort.
  4. Next address the activities that have the most effect with more effort.
  5. Day 2 assess the remaining items on your master list for the week. Repeat the process each day.
  6. Practice your discipline of saying “no” to requests and activities which have little impact.
  7. Remember “less is more.” The number of items on your list is not what makes a difference.

For example, consider a firm that pays trained staff to prepare tax returns, or create legal documents, or draft architectural drawings. Until the returns, or the documents or the drawings are reviewed and signed by a certified professional, they cannot be released to the client. The firm has paid the staff to do the work but the firm cannot collect the fee from the client. A high impact activity is to review the work so it can be released to keep the cash flowing in the right direction. Low impact activities such as reading professional journals or shopping for office supplies or surfing the web are resource zappers.

Regardless of their role, when everyone understands they matter in the success of the company, it is easy to determine what activity has an impact. You can make wise choices in how to invest your energy to make a difference. Get into the impact zone. It matters because you make a difference.


© 2016 Ann Elliott All Rights Reserved


meeting-1002800_1280Employee reviews are not only time consuming, they are also dreaded by the giver and the receiver. How can an employee review be truly useful with so much fear and loathing?

Saving your feedback for an annual review, reminds me of “Wait until your father comes home.” There is a better way.

Such companies as Goldman Sachs, IBM, Accenture, Adobe, GE, and Microsoft have revamped the employee review process. The annual performance appraisal may be going the way of the dinosaur.

The intent of the employee review is to help people improve job performance. With improved job performance, they make a bigger contribution to the success of the company. When they are aligned with the vision, mission and values of the company, employees are engaged. They see what they do matters. They are more likely to want to stay. It’s expensive to have a revolving door of employees who seek employment where they feel appreciated.

Seven steps to improve employee reviews:

1)      Have clarity about what an employee is expected to do to contribute to the success of the company.

2)      Create goals that are simple, measurable and important.

3)      Transform feedback to coaching regularly and frequently.

4)      Use a monthly to quarterly schedule to coach [a.k.a. give feedback] your team.

5)      Make it a two way conversation: “How can I help you?” and “What do you need from me?”

6)      Separate coaching and compensation.

7)      Develop a nonthreatening, feedback rich environment.

When you have frequent meetings with your team to provide coaching, you set up an environment of trust. With the purpose to support employees not to punish them, you improve communication which is the life blood of an organization.

Make frequent coaching with your team, a standard of excellence in your company. That’s what the experts are doing. 

© 2016 Ann Elliott All Rights Reserved

Although many business owners enable dysfunction in their companies, they do not do it on purpose. No leader would intentionally drain the profits from his company. No leader would diminish productivity in her company intentionally.  5464666175_763a63ae7b

“Failure in the function of a system” defines dysfunction. Simply put, things aren’t working right.

For example, a small but growing company has two partners who cannot be in the same room. One of them disagrees so fiercely with three recent hires that he has vowed never to come back to work in the office so long as they are there. Please bear in mind, after these employees were hired, work got done faster and with fewer errors. Plus, the atmosphere dramatically became more positive.

Consider how expensive it is to operate in a dysfunctional culture:

Despite its cost, companies and leaders tolerate dysfunction for multiple reasons. “This is how we do things.” “We know how to work with it.” “We do not know how to fix it.” “It’s too hard to change.” These are a few reasons leaders allow dysfunction to take root and to continue.

How do you create a culture that’s working right? The short answer is one step at the time.

1)      Own the dysfunction. Be honest about the situation. It’s the only way to move forward.


2)      Build trust. Admit no one has all the answers, including the leader.


3)      Focus on critical areas of success. Spend energy on what leads to success not refereeing fights.


4)      Define clearly the direction of the company. Identify the priorities so everyone knows how to allocate resources.


5)      Be accountable to goals, deadlines, and commitments. But only 100% of the time.


6)      Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Deliver the same message in countless ways.


7)      Be consistent. A leader’s actions must mirror her words. See #2.


To transform your company to one that’s working well in all areas, takes time. It takes a firm commitment to make the required changes, too. It may not be a bed of roses. Well, all right. It is hard to do. But oh so worth it.

What first step in your business would make the biggest difference? Congratulations. If you are willing to convert your knowing to doing, you are on your way to profitability and productivity.


© 2016 Ann Elliott All Rights Reserved

photo credit: Dysfunction Junction Sign - Cold Spring, NY via photopin (license)

Most entrepreneurs are structure averse. Why cramp your style? It’s so easy to make it up as you go. building-1346883_960_720 (1) Plus, it's a lot more exciting.

Granted. Rules, systems and structures can feel restrictive. I’ve even known managers who enforce the rules to wield their power. It is counterproductive when your business is there to support the structure and not the other way around.

Recently I learned of a small business growing rapidly from $1 million to over $4 million. Three employees could manage the company at $1 million and less. However, the founder recognized the need to introduce some structure in order to sustain and support the business. Her two employees, however, created a lot of resistance. “We don’t want to become a big company. We like it just the way it is.” This spells trouble.

It’s expensive to run your business without the appropriate structure. Consider, for example, your company ships a product to customers. Without a standardized way of packing, shipping, and invoicing, the opportunity for mistakes is high. They are guaranteed to happen. Customers who get the wrong item are not happy. If the shipment goes to the wrong address, no one is happy. If you forget to invoice the customer or charge the wrong amount, no one is happy. Unhappy customers leave. Your company loses money.  Your company earns a bad reputation.

A simple structure to standardize the way you handle packing, shipping and invoicing, produces consistent, predictable results. If you are not getting the results you want, look at the process first. No process? Develop one.

The reason many entrepreneurs do not have structure in their companies is because it takes time to develop the process. It can cause a slow down until people learn the new process. It may seem faster to “just get it done now” than devise a structure. It costs time and money to fix mistakes caused by no structure.

Where do you start to put the right structure in place in your company?

1)      Identify the area where you have the least consistent, predictable results. 

2)      Identify your key processes in this area [for example, client intake process, bid process, implementation/installation process, billing process, equipment maintenance process, etc.] 

3)      Which one of these key processes needs the most improvement? 

4)      What can you standardize so you have consistent, predictable results? 

5)      Develop a written process and train your team to use it.  

6)      Adjust the process as needed.  

Here is a situation where structure paid off. Toastmasters International recommends a club vote in potential members with a formal process. This is important in case a club wants to terminate the membership of someone. “If you don’t vote them in, you cannot vote them out.” I saw this play out when the membership of a disruptive new member in my club was terminated. It was necessary to maintain the health of our club. We followed the process precisely and were grateful for the structure.

Creating structure for your company puts you in a position to grow. With the right structure, you are conspiring for your success.

© 2016 Ann Elliott All Rights Reserved

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Having an inspiring vision and well-crafted goals are no guarantee your business will achieve them. It is often the norm to put a vision and goals on the shelf so you can get back to work.

This frustrates people, especially if they have been part of the process to craft the vision and define the goals. Nothing changes. People you need for your business to succeed lose heart. This is expensive and leaders lose credibility.

The root of the problem is people, even smart people, are willing to tolerate the current reality rather than experience change. Asking someone to change, even if it’s beneficial to them and the organization, is losing something. This is scary. When people are afraid, they do what is necessary to return to “normal.”

Recently I worked with a division in a large organization. We created a vision and the objectives, goals and strategies to achieve the mission and to move closer to the vision. It is hard to do this important work. The management team and staff did a remarkable job.

At the conclusion of our second day together, I asked them to answer the following question, ”In order to move closer to our vision and to achieve the goals we have set, what is it ‘we must do’ and what is it ‘we must not do?’”

The following are their responses:


1. Embrace the direction of change with honest display of values

2. Review the goals, objectives and strategies monthly to stay on track

3. Be disciplined and focus on the work and time frames that are set

4. Listen and trust in staff’s knowledge and expertise

5. Make data driven decisions


1. Filter everything through old habits, previous practices, etc.

2. Overcomplicate the process

3. Do programs and services that do not meet ROI

4. Shut down dialogue

5. Get bogged down in the details and create more work than is needed to successfully accomplish each

Regardless of the size of your business or the industry, these ten responses are excellent guidelines. It’s never too late to outsmart the saboteurs. Recalibrate and get back on track so you can move forward.

© 2016 Ann Elliott All Rights Reserved

Photo credit


seed emerging

Regardless of the size, leading an organization is hard work. It is like gardening. You can’t just plant it and forget it and expect to receive a bountiful harvest. If you approach gardening with this mindset, you are in for a big disappointment.

Being the leader of an organization and being a gardener have much in common. The results of your efforts can be rewarding but not always, no matter how hard you work.

After hours of toiling in the hot sun, my two 4 x 4 raised garden beds were ready for planting. I had visions of summer vegetables just like Monticello. To my dismay, I did not harvest one thing. It did not thrive on neglect. Plus, a hot, dry summer did not help.

To assure the best results, here are some guidelines from gardening to leading:

1)      Create an environment that is conducive to what you are growing. Till the soil; remove impediments such as roots, rocks, or construction debris. Make it as easy as possible for your team to work with the right lighting, proper tools whether those are software or jack hammers, and clutter free.

2)      Choose the right plant for your location. An orchid does not thrive in freezing temperatures. Hire the right people. Give them the training and support needed to do their job well. Do not put a shade loving plant in a place getting 12 hours of sun.

3)      Pay close attention. A wilting plant is screaming for water. With the right opportunities, your team can express what it needs to make a contribution to the success of your business. You can use short, well run meetings to find out what’s working and what is not working.

4)      Remove problems. Small weeds are easier to eliminate than big ones which have taken over. This applies to employees who create a toxic environment. Regardless of how smart they are, these folks take the energy from others on your team.

5)      Keep track. Like Thomas Jefferson, use a journal to manage what you are growing. The right key performance indicators give your team and you feedback on how your business is doing. You can see what you need to do more of or less of for success.

Each spring I take soil samples to Clemson University Extension Service to get expert advice on what I need to grow centipede grass, perennials, azaleas and camellias. The county agents are eager to help. Recently I explained I prefer to garden organically. The smiling agent said, “Ah, the eternal optimist.”

Whether you are growing a business or a garden, expecting the best results is a set up to succeed. Do your part to create a good outcome and celebrate your success. Learn how to improve and keep going. And, remember to wear sunscreen and insect repellant.

© 2016 Ann Elliott All Rights Reserved

Giving is a worthy career-1019998_640 (2)endeavor. It has its downsides, however. It can be dangerous on the high road of giving.

Adam Grant writes in Give and Take that givers are some of the most successful people. There is more. Givers are on the other end of the spectrum, too. They are the least successful.

If your time, money, and creativity are flowing in only one direction, away from you, it’s a set up for burnout and depletion. To do your best work, you cannot be operating on an empty tank.

When I think of giving, I am reminded of my dear friend. She looks for ways to give just because she can. It is her nature. Plus, she is brilliant at her work in the field of communication with a lot to offer. She takes giving to an extreme. So much so her bank account is on life support; her health is at risk; she is baffled. It is so natural to her she does not understand why everyone else does not operate with the same generosity. Well, they don’t.

And, that’s the problem. People interact in different ways. Using Grant’s model, there are three types of social interaction: 1) giver—expect no payback; 2) taker—get more than they give; and 3) matcher— keep the exchange even. The lines between these approaches to interacting with people are blurred. In the work place the takers are the norm. It’s mostly a zero-sum game. For you to win, someone must lose.

To me, giving seems the best way to go. Especially because some of the most successful people I know and admire are givers. Why not minimize the risks of giving and maximize its power?

In the first place, it’s easier to give freely because someone needs your help. Or asks for your help. To have to keep score of what they owe you in return takes a lot of effort. By the same token, to be vigilant to take every opportunity so the deck is always stacked in your favor is draining.

To be smart in giving, be alert to takers cleverly disguised as givers. Agreeableness is not the same as giving. A cranky curmudgeon can be a giver at heart with the behavior to back it up. Remember the wisdom of Maya Angelou, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

If you are not at the level of generosity you would like to be, start with a few small steps for little or no cost. Build your giver muscles. Make it a habit to be generous. The more you do the easier it will be to do more. Here are some simple steps to get you going:

  1. Give anonymously a $25 gift card to someone you know could really use it.
  2. Find a task “that’s not my job, man” and offer to do it for a colleague.
  3. Pay the toll for the car behind you.
  4. Go to an event with the goal of connecting someone you meet to a resource of value to them.
  5. Let Whole Foods keep the $.05 rebate when you bring a reusable bag. Those nickels add up.
  6. Ask for help. It starts the flow of giving by providing the opportunity for someone to give to you.

Consider this revolutionary approach to success. While giving can be dangerous, the benefits of giving far out way the risks.

PS. In Give and Take, Grant provides 10 Actions for Impact. It’s an excellent read. I recommend this book.

© 2016 Ann Elliott All Rights Reserved