Opinion by Thought Leaders
Read the latest opinions from tech & business pros across the globe.

Small Business Needs More Diversity in Leadership

 

In a not too distant past, diversity at the leadership level was not as common; nor was it commonly agreed upon beneficial practice. Though still not at desirable levels such practices are more widely discussed and accepted. However, most discussions around diversity tend to be around midsize and larger organizations; supposedly having a “trickle-down effect” if those larger organizations lead by example.


Before going into its necessity for small business, let's agree on a couple of simple principals for this article:

  • Diversity should almost never come at the expanse of qualification.
  • Diversity is proven to have a positive impact on revenue and profits.

Now that we have established some ground rules, let’s move on to why small business should be the main place where inclusion and diversity takes place.

Why?

It doesn’t matter what school of thought you prescribe to and it doesn’t matter where you look: small business is the backbone of United States economic growth engine. It equally employs the largest number by leaps and bounds. So one would wonder why we expect large companies to lead the way of having more diverse and inclusive leadership. The answer is: we shouldn’t. We should expect diversity and inclusion to “trickle up” from small businesses not only because of their unparalleled dominance but even more importantly because of their inherent flexibility, nimbility and adaptability.

How?

So, since Small Businesses (SMB) are so dramatically dominant how would or should they go about such diversity and inclusion? Most of the conversations on SMB starts around entrepreneurs and their ability to succeeded in highly competitive markets where the competitions is not static: not only is it likely that they are already either competition with established businesses but also trying to create interruptions, but they also have to wrestle with the traditional challenges of SMB including funding, human resource management, production and quality assurance as well as consumer dynamics.

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Are You Maximizing Your Investment in Your Experts?

 

In the ever-evolving business world in which technology enables rapid changes and evolution providing more robust tools, paving the way for better and more effective business management, it is hard to argue with the impact of prospective. Be it the burning the desire to be more data driven or the ability to have near complete operational awareness; the access and subsequent analysis of such data is likely to result in even more questions and potentially more doubt about the validity of such analysis. Without going into intrigues of data analysis and bias i.e. information bias, selection bias, and confounding, let’s have a look how it can be reasonably mitigated in a startup setting.

The basics

Let’s start with a realistic assumption: startups have some inherit limitations, mainly around resources i.e. funding and attraction of high quality talent. Both of those are equally relevant to decision making at macro and micro level, hence it stands to reason that decision making at both levels are limited. This particular conclusion, though semi subjective has a real impact on the explicit and/or implicit expectations of virtually all stakeholders.

Mitigations

Once the realization of those limitations are taken into account, the next step would be seeking a method to mitigate those perceived shortcomings. The usual reaction tends to be an increase in resource allocation to either tools or human capital; and frankly there is nothing fundamentally wrong with that approach. However, it raises the questions about feasibility, effectiveness and efficiency.

Human capital vs tools

It is no secret that previously mentioned advancements in business related technology has resulted in an amazing array of advanced and sophisticated tools that allow even non experts to compile, visualize and interpret a wide range of data points. The real question is however the utility and impact: can such tools replace expertise? The answer is not straight forward: generally speaking, even amazing tools that democratize availability of complex data cannot be expected to provide appropriate strategy within the context of individual organizations. Sure, the data sets and factual conclusions that are not a matter of “opinion” are a great start; but how the decision makers can use that business intelligent in the context of specific setting are a point of contention.

Tools, no matter how sophisticated are truly at the mercy of the user. We all have heard the expression – tools are only as good as the user; and there is a lot of truth to that. Simple factor such as the breadth and depth of the tool its elves can have an immense impact on the output; which brings us back to the human capital i.e. expertise. But does that imply that human capital re: expertise trumps tools? Again the answer is not that “black and white”: essentially those two function symbiotically. In an optimal setting the end user has an expert level knowledge of the tool combined with matching expertise to use the conclusions both tactically and strategically in context of the field and said organization.


External vs. Internal

Now that we logically concluded that the said expertise has to be in context in order to maximize the output of the tool, it is important to explore the human capital strategic impact.

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Growth and Scaling Downfalls – Part IV

 

In the previous post “Growth and Scaling Downfalls – Part III” we discussed strategy aspects of a scaling project. The next topic on the scaling preparation “to do” list is measuring success and failure.

Scaling and growth both depend a great deal on experimentation: be it at tactical level deciding who will do what to strategic level defining success or failure. That being said that kind of decision making naturally requires a great deal of analysis; qualitative or quantitative.

Quantitative

Data driven quantitative analysis is or should be the basis of virtually all business decisions. Though an established field, the quantity of data that has been previously inaccessible or impractical for usage has changed the field. The same quantity of the data sets that are now available have also created several other side effects for small and mid-size organizations; ranging from increased cost for proper analysis to “analysis paralysis”. Hence, the usage has to be defined in terms of practicality: both the collection and analysis of data have to be defined within the context of cost and impact.

Qualitative

In a previous discussion about decision making we discussed the usage of qualitative decision making. Those parameters previously discussed i.e. strong pattern recognition as part of the qualitative decision making are particularly applicable when it comes to growth and scaling. In practical terms it translates to a combination of using practical experiences both industry related as well as general business experiences to decide on both tactical and strategic level: the industry know-how combined with generic business experience will provide the sort of “umbrella” coverage that will leave little room for “guessing”.

On the front line

Interestingly enough there are some unique aspects to data usage when it comes to scale and growth: though the basic methodology of collection and analysis is the same, the decision making direction should entail a more dynamic version of “bottom to top” or “top to bottom”: Micro decisions vs. Macro decisions: 

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Growth and Scaling Downfalls – Part II

 

In the previous post “Growth and scaling downfalls” we discussed human capital aspects of a growth project. The next topic on the scaling preparation “to do” list is financial resources.

It goes without saying that pre-planning for financial resources needed to meet scaling goals is not only essential for obvious reasons, but it also important in contributing to both tactical as well strategic decision making.

Who?

So, who should be involved? Granted that there many different methods, it stands to reason that such determination should be a “top down” approach, as in starting with the project manager. Additional team members should include project sponsor, member of operations management as well as finance. Of course, it is understood that the CFO (used here generically to refer to the leadership of the financial division) had to be involved in the initial SOP creation for such projects.

How?

The mechanics of a budget creation are certainly widely known and not a subject of this discussion, however there are couple of points worth mentioning:

• Realistic budgeting: one of the rather common issues in budgeting for growth is the ability to understand the nature of such project. It is extremely vital to understand that unlike other projects, the uncertainties in growth and scaling dictate building a larger margin of errors into the budget.

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Growth and Scaling Downfalls – Part I

Many of us have either been part of a “growth and scaling” project or have led such efforts. We all have some battle stories of what worked and what didn’t; yet we hardly ever hear about the preparation that goes into a successful “growth and scaling” project. In this series, I will address several of more important considerations and factors.

The Beginning

Scaling and growth both as principal as well as in practice are simply a function of evolution: a given organization reaches some specific benchmark that leads to a need to grow the business. Those benchmark can be as objective as following a road-map that specifies steps or as subjective as the executive team deciding it is time. Without exploring the details of the decision making, let’s look at one of the most fundamental factors: The Team.

The Evolution

Even without extensive business experience, logic simply dictates that growing or scaling a business can only be successful when the said business has the resources, i.e. human capital and financial means. To keep the discussion on point, I will forgo discussing the bootstrap version of this topic. 

Human capital or the team that is going to be in the front line of those growth/scaling efforts needs to be able to execute the directives that are designed to stimulate and augment the overall growth path. In order to do so some basics, have to be in place:

• Quantity: the team size has to be realistically feasible in relations to the workload

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Is Your Digital Transformation Strategy for Real?

 

Digital transformation is a good thing and it's been talked about the last several years as CIOs, CEOs, and other execs look to make a move. However, lately it's just become a "buzzword," generating a lot of hype. How can you ensure you have a solid digital transformation strategy?   Many businesses, large and small, are attempting to transform their processes using digital tools. Many cases of transformation have been successful, creating solutions that enhance problem solving while driving efficiency and bottom line gains, says Forbes. Digital transformations are even tougher than traditional change efforts to make work. However, the most effective transformations usually rely on certain factors for success. Here are some things you should be doing.

1. Secure Strong Leaders

Digital transformations demand change at all levels of your organization, particularly from key decision makers and tech-savvy leaders. Research has shown that companies that engage a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) to be a supportive force behind their transformations are nearly two times more likely to have a successful digital transformation than those that do not. When people in leadership roles are heavily involved and invested in the planning and execution, the transformation is far more likely to succeed.

2. Take Inventory

Once your key decision-makers have committed to making a digital transformation strategy work, it's time to take stock of your company's tech stack, including competencies and gaps, as part of your email marketing, CRM and internal collaboration systems so you can better streamline your processes. Often times, digital transformations stem from a desperate need to re-platform. Maybe your current system is obsolete or maybe your existing system just isn't working for your employees and users any longer. Whatever the case, changing your technologies can reawaken your whole business.


3. Craft a Digital Roadmap

Creating a vision to strive for is important because digital transformation isn't just about implementing new technologies and stopping there. Rather, it's a systemic grassroots effort that needs to be fueled by a well-thought-out vision. Know how you will leverage your digital tools as part of a detailed plan for execution across your whole company.


4. Reiterate Your Goals

Take another look at your goals, going over your digital transformation agenda over and over, making sure you have included:

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CEOs Must Invest in Digital Transformation

 

Does your company have a digital boss? What we mean by that is, do you have a leader on board who can easily leverage new technology advancements in order to grow your business? In today's business climate, this "luxury" is no longer an option. In fact. Raconteur says that "data is the new oil." They both generate substantial wealth and power global economies, but one crucial way in which they differ is their longevity. Oil is a finite fossil fuel, meaning it will come to an end at some point. Data, by contrast, is infinite. Just take this example: within the next couple of years, 40 zettabytes of new information will be created, translating to four million years of HD video.

So, then, it's a no-brainer that CEOs must make significant investments in digital transformation. Indeed, it's a strategic imperative for any business that wants to surge ahead rather than just limp along. Digital resources are taking on a new importance, making them serious contenders as asset classes that are well worth the investment. The big challenge, then, is to blend the strengths of the old with the opportunities of the new, requiring tech-savvy CIOs to dive into and own the data themselves to interpret, analyze and align.

A Climate of Exponential Digital Growth

Think the Industrial Revolution was a frenzied pace of advancements and breakthroughs? Well, it was -- then. But it pales in comparison to the exponential pace of digital transformation now. The next decade alone will bring furious growth into many sectors, from 3D printing and neuroscience to digital telepresence and cryptocurrency, points out New Scientist. Therefore, it's not really a choice to embrace technology enablement; rather, it's mission-critical to the survival of every company. CIOs and CEOs don't necessarily have to be tech experts themselves; however, they must have a clear appreciation of how technological advancements will redefine their business models, operational processes and customer experience engagement, says CIO.

How Industries are Evolving

From retail and banking to media and healthcare, new technologies are injecting themselves into all sectors -- in many cases, pushing out traditional companies through the leveraging of digital advancements. There is no more room for ignorance. Just look at the Blockbusters and Borders of the world that failed to migrate into new territory as smoothly as icons like Netflix, Amazon, Google, Airbnb and Zappos.

So, what are these relatively new entrants into traditional industries doing right? They have been able to build market share fast by:

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What Do Boards Really Want From CEOs?

 

Designating the right person to lead a company in the CEO position is perhaps one of the most critical roles of a board of directors. Second most important is monitoring that leader's performance on an ongoing basis to ensure consistency. The right CEO, says Forbes, is someone who can assist the board in developing and implementing strategic and business objectives while driving performance to achieve those objectives in a sustainable way. At the heart of it all is collaboration. No board wants to hire a CEO that goes his or her own way, with little input from others as to which direction to take the company. Rather, the ideal situation is when both parties work in conjunction to stay the course.

This doesn't mean there aren't clear roles between the two. By nature, a CEO's role is to manage, while the board's role is to govern. Board members also known as directors, are elected by the corporation's shareholders. Their role is to provide guidance and strategic planning to the company’s top officers, who are often busy running the daily operations of the business. Another main role is to hire, oversee and, if necessary, fire the company’s top officers, including the CEO.

The CEO's role is to determine and communicate the organization’s strategic direction, balance resources (capital and people), foster the corporate culture consistently, make the final call on all decisions, and oversee and deliver the company's performance, points out Entrepreneur.

What's the connection between the two entities?

Built on a foundation of trust and honesty, boards expect their CEOs to achieve two things: apply skills, industry knowledge and experience to fulfill company objectives; and commit to an open yet constructive relationship with the board. These objectives are all well and good, but how can they be quantified? What happens during the scouting, recruiting and hiring process whereby a board decides on the ideal candidate?

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Keeping Your Goals in Focus

 

Eyes on the prize: this is the mantra of many leaders in business. This laser focus commitment to goals is certainly noble, certainly something to aspire to. But in reality, it can be quite difficult to keep those goals front of mind, especially when you're trying to lead a company fraught with distractions at every turn. You're likely confronted with many choices every single day: bottom line vs. company direction, sales vs. strategy. Sometimes the two can coexist. Sometimes they can't. So how can you keep your goals for success in focus as the leader of your organization?

Persistence

Self-doubt. Negative thoughts that stifle creativity. Lack of change despite efforts. All of these things can creep in and threaten your ability to remain focused on the end goal. But even when your goals seem out of reach, the key is to stay motivated. Try these strategies:

  • Surround yourself with positive people. Feeding your soul with positivity surrounded by those who only have your best interests at heart can bolster your resolve and lift you up. Brainstorm. Ask for opinions. As a result, you may find a solution you never realized was right in front of you. Isolation can be the biggest road block to goals of success.
  • Keep the big picture in your crosshairs. When your attention sways to the daily minutiae of company operations, your focus on the end game can shift all too easily. Sometimes just having a big sticky note or picture of your goal in front of your face all day, every day, can serve as the reminder you need to stay on track, says Entrepreneur. We all need to be re-energized every now and then.
  • Reach out for help. If you're stuck in a rut, don't be too proud as to fail to ask for help. Go to your boss, a manager or a mentor. It doesn't always have to be someone above you. Just the act of reaching out can bring a new light to your dilemma and open the door you need to step forward.

Perseverance

If you, like everyone else on the planet, has ever developed a goal and then failed, you probably know the crushing defeat you feel. Sometimes you even forget what your goals are. You may even get frustrated, feeling that your plans failed you. However, it's actually the other way around. Every goal set is achievable; it's usually the person setting the goal that gives up on it mid-way. The goal setting is the easy part. Even the implementation is easy. It's the follow-through that gets most people by the throat.

Distraction isn't taboo. It's normal. Embrace it, know it will happen, then do all you can to avoid it. Try these strategies to persevering even in the face of the apathy that can creep in so slowly you don't even know it's there until it's sapped you of your will to reach your goals.

  • Narrow down your goals: If you find yourself losing focus too easily, it could be that you're over-burdening yourself. Instead of setting a checklist of lofty goals, stick with between one and three. Don't even think of other goals until you can check those off. Reaching your full vision on two goals is much more effective than making partial progress on five goals that never see a resolution.
  • Compile a vision board: This is essentially a collection of pictures and images that represent your goals and dreams. Designed to help you more clearly visualize your end goals, a vision board can inspire you to take consistent action, points out Business Insider. It can also remind you of your goals every day when you glance at the board, so put it in a prominent place in order to reinforce your goals daily.
  • Break down your goals into manageable chunks: One overwhelming goal can actually distance you from the vision. Instead of setting one large goal, break it up into several small ones that you can check off after you've achieved them. This will reduce the chances of discouragement and procrastination. Taking a breather in between can bolster your confidence and inspire you to go on.
  • Track results: How can you know if you're getting closer to your goal if you don't track results? Identify one to two performance metrics and review them daily or weekly, whatever works for you. View them as a connection to your end goal -- a weathervane of guidance, if you will. Use these metrics to stay on track or adjust your plan as needed.

The crux of any goal is to create a set of action plans, followed by immediate action to keep positive momentum moving forward. Success can only come about by persistence, perseverance, and consistent follow-through.

 
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