Businesses of all sizes must make strategic decisions to ensure its operations and outputs are optimized, functioning at an effective level to help them grow, increase speed to market, improve ROI, etc. One tool which helps to achieve those metrics, and more, is outsourcing. For the purposes of this paper we’re define ‘outsourcing’ as the act of packaging internal work to be sent outside to an external supplier to facilitate on behalf of the company, now client. There are many positive attributes of outsourcing, yet there are a bevy of deltas which accompany outsourcing if the client doesn’t carefully vet and manage their suppliers. Outsourcing, a valuable strategic business tool, is best experienced where expectations are managed while relationships are allowed to develop overtime. This produces fruitful outcomes for both client and supplier.
Author: Travis Smith
Contributor(s): Bill Colone, Achilles Young
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Developing a strategic and consistent process to evaluate and therefore acquire suppliers before you need them is vital to our ability in growing our company. When we utilize a systematic process we eliminate bias and emotion from the decision making process which allows us to make decisions which are capabilities and needs based rather than emotions. Your ‘minimum expectations’ list serves as a road map for decision making and comparison shopping as you engage with each supplier.
Author: Travis Smith
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The world of startups and small business can indeed be an exciting place to be. Its commonly characterized as highly collaborative, fast pace, less bureaucratic and wildly innovative. While this sounds great in theory, in practice the world of a startup can be rife with challenge, including heavy amounts of stress and uncertainty. It’s vital we as professionals analyze our personalities and professional behaviors to assess whether or not we would do well in the startup world - before we actually jump in. Knowing what you’re up against before you dive in will allow you to determine if it’s appropriate for you to consider the startup space, small business and or entrepreneurship.
Author: Travis Smith
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If your company lacks a ‘gold standard’ for its product design practices you are inevitably wasting time, resources and funds. Implementing and running a gold standards program is essential to operating at peak performance. Start by developing a best in practice plan. From there setup a review plan to provide feedback on all work performed. Once the infrastructure of your new gold standard system is established you’ll want to assess the skills of your team and develop a training program which can be offered to both new and existing employees.
Author(s): Travis Smith & Tim Humphrey
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Co-Authored by Trisha Aure & Travis Smith
Many of us have been confronted as of recent with a reality which isn’t the status quo from before. As we continue to evolve and adjust our business and professional lives around COVID-19 inevitably many things will change for us in the short term.
How we adapt to those changes makes or breaks our ability to grow personally while continuing to excel professionally. As social distancing continues to be a requirement in order to deal with COVID-19 companies and their employees are finding themselves in one of the biggest predicaments of arguably the last 40 years – the way we’ve done things in the past won’t work in the future. One of the biggest changes companies are having to adapt to is their employees not being able to come into the office, resulting in hundreds of thousands of people working from home – and doing so for their first time.
We’ll be the first to tell you it can be a rather jarring experience if you don’t go about ‘working from home’ in a methodical fashion. With the freedom which comes from working at home also comes great responsibility – a responsibility that can be downright tough for many of us as distractions are a plenty.
Below are 15 tips for working at home you can implement to ensure your time is efficient while succeeding with a masters grace:
Creating a new ‘work from home rhythm’ as close to our normal routine as possible will be the quickest way to staying on track with work and personal life. Schedule your day everyday and communicate that with your team and manager. You will find you’ll get more work done, often in a quicker timeframe.
This is not a time to panic, this is the time to adjust and keep moving forward. A positive mindset and an openness to change are the keys to success here. Remember, things will resume like usual at some point soon. Keep your head up, smile, wash your hands and remember to be kind to others. We got this!
Growth in hiring is typically a good thing. Why thank you Captain Obvious. While growth in hiring may very well be a good thing, successfully navigating the hiring process is an entirely different story.
Successful hiring can make or break the performance of a company. Unsuccessful hiring on the other hand creates all sorts of fun challenges for folks like you and me. In fact, Harvard Business Review identifies 80% of employee turnover is due to bad hiring decisions.
What does this mean? First, let’s look at the potential tangible repercussions.
According to Dice, one of the larger online job boards, a poor hiring decision for a candidate earning $100,000 per year could cost, on average, $250,000, and that expense comes right off the bottom line. That’s scary stuff! Basically, if the hiring decision you made ends poorly you can expect that mistake to represent 2.5 times the cost of whatever the salary is of the person you are hired.
Rather than fearing the hiring process, or having it work against us, we should approach it with a strategic and open minded process to ensure success.
Want to improve your hiring practices? Employee (pun intended) these 15 tips:
1. Why Would Someone Pick You/ Your Company?
No longer is it realistic for employers to have the notion that just because you are in the drivers’ seat administering the interview means you have all the power. In fact, it’s quite the opposite as the current market is more in favor of the job seeker as they have plenty of options to choose from, you being one of them. If you want the best of the best you have to be able to speak to WHY people should consider you and your company. Your story must resonate with your interviewees.
2. Character Over Competency
The best leaders use this philosophy – hire people who will bleed for your cause and will make the right decisions even in the darkest of hours. Competency in most jobs can be taught, character is what the person has developed well before you came around so don’t think you can change it easily, if at all
3. Behavioral Based Interviewing
A great tactic while interviewing is to ask people what they would do in certain situations. This causes people to have to think and adjust in the moment. You aren’t trying to catch someone doing something wrong here, more or less understand their thought process and how they handle certain tasks or situations
4. Know What You Want Before You Interview
All too often I hear people say, “we need to interview some people first to better understand who we are looking for”. You should never need to interview someone in order to help you understand who or what you are looking for. If you use this practice most often what it means is you don’t know what you’re doing from a leadership perspective. Tough love I know but it’s highly important you know what you want and need before you go looking for it during interviews. Wasting people’s time so you can figure out your direction with hiring isn’t advisable and it’s unprofessional.
5. Consult Others
Before you go about the interview process speak with other managers about their experiences and your plans for your hiring process. The best advice typically comes from those who have been there and done it before that way you can learn from their successes and mistakes
6. Make Sure You Know And Understand Your Vision
Somewhat similar to number #1 however this focuses on you and your specific team. Put yourself in the shoes of the person interviewing and think “Why would I want to work for her/ him?” “Does this vision excite me?” “What is my role in the future of this company?”
7. Best Foot Forward
A helpful reminder if nothing else, remember when people are interviewing you are witnessing their ideal self, seeing them at their best. Asking questions which will give you better insight into who they are day-to-day, not just during your interview, are always good ways to get a better glimpse into who they are in a very day setting.
8. Tell Them Your Leadership Philosophy
This is especially important if you are hiring the person to join your team. This is also very different than #6 which talks about the vision for your team or company. Here you are sharing with your interviewee how you lead and what you believe in. A great precursor question to this is asking the candidate what type of leadership they like and want in their next career
9. Interview Tests
It’s a great practice to test candidates on their abilities on the spot, so long as the test is directly relatable to their core job function. If you are interviewing a Mechanical Engineer, for example, it is highly suggested you test them on the exact work they would be doing for you (ie Solidworks modeling)
10. The Reference Trick
I personally think references are a waste of time. Why? Because the people on the other end of the phone are doing nothing but singing the praises of the person you are interviewing. In over a decade I can name on one hand the number of reference checks I’ve performed which brought about a poor review. Here’s how to get around it – when you are on the phone with the reference which was provided by your interviewee ask who else the interviewee worked with and then try to phone that person. This person won’t be prepared for your call and may provide you with more realistic insight into the persons’ work ethic and behaviors.
11. Put Yourself In Their Shoes
Interviewing isn’t easy. In fact it can be downright terrifying for some people. Try looking beyond the interview. Just because someone’s interview isn’t a glowing success, or they may seem overly nervous, doesn’t mean they aren’t a good catch. Just because someone interviews well doesn’t mean they will perform well in the job.
12. Job Description = Performance Expectations
It’s time we ditch the HR job descriptions and actually write and talk about what the newly hired employee will be expected to do from a performance perspective. If you’re hiring for sales, interview your candidates based on the quotas and metrics you’ll have in place. Ask how they will achieve those goals, what their strategies will be, etc.
13. Know Your Non-Negotiables
What are you not willing to tolerate? When I’m in a position of hiring my two non-negotiables are attitude and integrity because both of these are things we have 100% control over. Knowing that I then ask questions around those two to see how they view my perspective on my non-negotiables. Asking interviewees their non-negotiables will also give you an idea of where their priorities land
14. Challenge Your Own Mindset
One of the most common mistakes leaders make when hiring is they select candidates that remind them of themselves or select candidates that are beneath them skill wise. Great leaders surround themselves with people who are not only competent but will challenge the leader to be better.
15. Don’t Hire If It Isn’t What You Want
I hired an employee that was most of what I was looking for but through the interview I uncovered some things that were less than great. Up to this point I had interviewed so many people that I just decided to move forward with this particular candidate and did the whole ‘cross your fingers’ bit in hopes they would work out. From that experience I can tell you it is always better to not hire when in doubt than hire because you need to fill a spot.
Author: Trisha Aure
It seems nowadays there are no safe places for thoughts, comments or posts. There will always be someone that will have a negative response no matter what the content is. I was reading a post on LinkedIn about a company that hired their first woman board member. This is something that should definitely be talked about and celebrated. But then I started reading the comments, and it was talking about everything this woman was not:
“That’s great, but it would be better if she wasn’t Caucasian.”
“How is she going to stand up to her male counterparts?”
Why can’t we see the actual message here instead of seeing everything that it is not? What would life be if we celebrated what we should instead of tearing down things that don’t align with our personal goals? We all have different goals, different paths and different stories. And this is exactly as it should be. We should be uplifting and supportive of one another, even when we disagree.
Having a healthy mindset is not the easiest, and I have come to find out, this is an everyday activity. I’m sure there are many speculations on why our minds are triggered to see the bad rather than the good. The news, social media, celebrities, and pure gossip are just to name a few.
I started thinking about this during a conversation I had with a friend of mine about my road rage. I realized that I get frustrated when someone would cut me off or drive too slow because I would take it personally. As though the driver saw me and said to himself “I’m going to cut that girl off…. haha.” My friend put a bit of perspective out there for me and brought up that this person could be driving their hurt kid to the hospital or frantic because they received some heart wrenching news. This struck home because it made me sound egotistical as though the world revolves around me; why did I think that?
What does this negativity do to us? It creates stress and an unhealthy lifestyle.
“Emotional stress can weaken the immune system and cause high blood pressure, fatigue, depression, anxiety and even heart disease.”
In fact, it is estimated +75% of the physician office visits which occur in the USA annually are for stress related ailments. It’s also the leading cause of death. It’s a wonder why we react the way we do to certain actions is the first step. We need to change our daily habits in order to begin a healthy lifestyle. This can include:
Key Take Away
Slow down and live life. Stop holding yourself back from happiness, success, family or anything else that you are striving to. Stop worrying about things that are out of your control. If it is out of your control, you can’t do anything about it, so why worry about it? Why get upset about it? Why lose sleep over it? By taking stress out of your life, things won’t look as dull. Our minds are so powerful, that if we train it to see things for what they really are it would be full of more rainbows than icy storms.
You don’t know everyone’s story and why people act the way they do. We only have control over our own actions. Instead of judging someone, talk to them, lend them a hand, or let them pass. Humor is a big stress reliever for me. You can’t stress when you are laughing. If something works for you, share it. Sharing is caring people.
We’re constantly bombarded with a litany of articles, studies and discussions highlighting the generational differences in the workplace. These discussions often confuse and mislead readers by zeroing in on ‘key characteristics’ which supposedly define a generation while subtly stereotyping it at the same time. One of the topics that comes up often in these discussions is what makes for a good employee. This topic has permeated the business world for decades long before Gen-Z and Millennials entered the workplace over the last 10+ years causing a current day telenovela in the business world.
While the generations entering the workforce, and or exiting for that matter, may have a difference of opinion on what they want out of their careers and what they need in order to be happy in their jobs, there is one common trait which is synonymous with all generations and all employees for that matter. This common trait, or behavior, defines what a good employee is regardless of the stereotypes and or characteristics which accompany the respective generation.
When we take away generational characteristics, race, religion, gender and everything else used to categorize and therefore sort and stack people we’re left looking at people’s actions. Their behaviors. What I’ve found true over the years is behavior is indicative of the true nature of a person, not their words. If we say one thing but then do (act) another, our behaviors become the defining force for who we are, not our words. This is certainly true for employees and their effectiveness as we look at whether an employee is ‘great’ versus ‘average’, or worse.
So, what’s the difference between a great employee and an average one? An employee who excels versus one who mails it in operating at a mediocre level of performance. The difference is a little behavior known as INITIATIVE.
I know what you’re thinking, “that’s not groundbreaking information. I’ve known this for years.”
While we may know this, or have seen it in person, what’s remarkable are the number of people who actually deploy ‘initiative’ in their jobs.
In my 15 years’ of business experience, of which 13 of those years have been in management, and 4 owning a business, I’ve experienced both first and secondhand the difference initiative makes in an employee and leader. When we strip away all the categories and demographics, mentioned above, this behavioral trait is the one that keeps rising to the top distinguishing the great performers from the average, mediocre and under performing employees.
Initiative is everything!
What does initiative look like in a business setting?
When I think of great initiative in the work place the first thing that comes to mind is a situation I witnessed firsthand with an employee of mine several years ago. We had a client who was flying into Orange County to visit with several suppliers, our company being one of them. My employee, Megan, took it upon herself to pick up our client at the airport, coffee in hand, and bring them to our office for the meeting. Talk about service, yet her initiative to provide a great experience for our customer didn’t end there. She also took the client out to lunch in Laguna Beach (our client was from Idaho and had never seen the amazing beaches of Laguna). The client had also forgot to pack a bathroom bag for their travels so Megan took him to Target to pick up a couple items. After all this was done Megan shuttled him back to the airport.
Yes, this was an amazing effort by Megan yet what made it truly remarkable and just as memorable was the fact that she did this all on her own. She didn’t ask for permission; she just took it upon herself to deliver top notch service. Memorable service at that.
I still think about the initiative Megan displayed during this time and marvel at how impressive it was. Needless to say the client sent us an overwhelming email of appreciation thanking Megan for her time and willingness to shepherd him around. He said and I quote “It was the best business trip I’ve been on, I appreciate you [Megan] taking the time to ensure I had a good visit.”
While that story sounds great it’s certainly not the norm.
Rather than focusing next on the lack luster initiative most employees display at the office perhaps its better use of your time and mine to discuss the ways an employee can change their mindset and actions to better align with an initiative based work approach. Consider the following:
Possessing good initiative at work makes or breaks the quality of employee you are and often times how you are viewed in the organization. Are you a blessing to your team and company or are you dead weight? Having good initiative is the one behavior you can 100% control which in turn can directly impact in a positive way your job and career.
Stop making excuses for why you don’t act at work. Next time you see a problem or issue come up at the office which you are directly or close too take a chance and stand up and get involved. People who say ‘YES’ I can do that rather than ‘someone else can do that’ frequently experience better career
As a child I dreamt of being a business owner. While the other kids in the neighborhood were talking about being pro athletes I always imaged myself starting a business. At the spry age of 10 I opened my first business in the early 90's in my parents basement in rural New York selling used skateboard parts. It was exciting! I had a business sign which proclaimed ‘Sk8 Parts’, a rack to display my shoddy products for sale and even a chair to sit on while waiting for the sales to come rolling in. After a summer being in business I had only made one sale a set of dirty and worn out skateboard wheels for a measly fifty cents to a kid down the street. That sale bought me a pink panther ice cream from the neighborhood ice man. While the business didn’t rocket me to instant success like I had envisioned I was hooked on the idea of being a business owner in the future so I could buy the whole ice cream factory, not just one pink panther.
As I got older I tried my hand at inventing all sorts of things, products that I thought would get me rich, if I could only figure out a way to sell a few million of them. First it was a gaming chair, then workout towels and even a handheld flashlight projector. My entrepreneurial dreams ended at the time with a website I tried to start in 2006 that would allow people to ask questions and get advice based off real life business situations they were dealing with. That was a $2k boondoggle which went nowhere.
It wasn’t until the summer of 2015 that I would find my way, diving head first into entrepreneurship by starting Square-1 Engineering. Thankfully I had a lot of help from many close people around me (wife, parents, friends) who all were incredibly supportive. Four years into my current entrepreneurial journey I’ve learned and experienced firsthand many things which have helped me navigate my way to present day. Of all these experiences, learning lessons and awareness gained there are eight which have brought about the biggest positive impact in helping me weather the entrepreneur start up storm:
1.Get A Mentor
This is the single second best decision you’ll ever make in business. The first best decision is to become an entrepreneur. Mentors have experience which you can learn from helping you avoid mistakes along the way.
2.Support Gets You Over The Hump
Make sure those close to you understand your vision and support it. They don’t have to buy in 100% but if it’s you against the world there are going to be some very long nights in store. If you are married it’s vital your spouse understands the opportunity and supports it, even in the down times.
3.Some Things CAN Wait
Some people will tell you it’s important to write a business plan, vision, mission, blah blah blah, right away. Unless you’re in a situation where you need to ask for capital to start the business the best thing to do is put those things aside and focus all your efforts on how to make money. Ultimately being an entrepreneur means you’re selling something to someone so the more time you spend on how you’re going to get paid for the product or service you’re providing the better off you’ll be.
4.You Can’t Be Everything to Everyone
I failed miserably here. When I did start to get customers I tried to offer them everything under the sun in order to get their business. Some times it worked, often times it created a nightmare for me as now I had to deliver the goods. Never over promise, you’ll most likely end up under delivering. Find one or two areas you can become an expert in, one or two problems you can solve for your customers. Do that and only that before you start getting into other areas of opportunity.
5.Having a Plan-B is Dangerous
I’ve read countless articles about “the power of having a ‘plan-B’ ” or an alternative course of direction. I hate that advice. As an entrepreneur if you don’t believe in what you’re doing and have a plan-B set up in case you fail you’re almost destined to set yourself up for disappointment. I’m not saying it’s not important to plan ahead for bumps in the road but if you’re going to start a business that should be your one and only focus. Anything other than a mentality of success has no place for you. Visualize to materialize.
The first several months I attempted to handle all the accounting and finance portions of the business only to realize two things: 1 – I’m not good at it nor do I like it; 2 – I created more problems than I remedied. Best advice I got was to pay the money to get a reliable CPA that understood my business and could help scale it up by making good decisions. Best money I’ve ever spent was a CPA.
7.The Power Of Saying ‘No’
Crucial to your success as an entrepreneur is the ability to politely and professionally say ‘no’. Similar to ‘you can’t be everything to everyone’ saying ‘no’ is harder than it sounds. Naturally you want to say yes to everyone, making everyone around you happy, especially if it’s a customer. Unfortunately, when we do this we get pulled in a hundred directions which causes us to deviate from our destined course. If you are asked to do something and it doesn’t align with your top 2 or 3 priorities politely decline and thank the person for the opportunity to be considered, even if it is a customer.
8.Breathe, It’ll Be Okay
Very few things in life actually have the ability to stop you from moving forward in your new business. When bumps in the road momentarily derail you (you will experience plenty of bumps along the way) take a deep breath and be thankful for the opportunity to learn and grow as a professional. Stephen Covey put it best when he gave us the 90/10 principle:
“10% of life is made up of what happens to you, 90% of life is decided by how you react.” – Stephen Covey
I recently finished reading a powerful book called ‘The Dichotomy of Leadership’ which is a follow up to the number one best selling book ‘Extreme Ownership’ by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. The authors who happen to be highly decorated Navy SEALS share their inspiring and at times scary tales on the battlefield, relating how those experiences blend with real world business and board room leadership challenges.
The book ‘The Dichotomy of Leadership’ struck a cord with me as I’ve struggled over the years with the balancing act which takes place in leadership. This balancing act, or dichotomy, is an ever present daily tug of war often between two extremes which are intrinsically linked yet incredibly challenging to consistently toe the line successfully.
Dichotomy itself is an interesting word rife with conflict. Dichotomy is defined as a contrast between two things that are, or are represented as being, opposed or entirely different. (ie – in leadership there is the push and pull of how friendly you become with your employees – too friendly and you lose their respect and or ability to make tough decisions, whereas not being friendly enough alienates you as a leader and keeps you from knowing your people)
As I’m reading this book one of the dichotomies the authors spoke about which is a consistent challenge for leaders is the contrast between leading and following. There’s a strong misconception in the world of leadership which aligns with the idea that if you’re in a leadership role you must always be leading. Decisions should be made by those in leadership, strategies engineered and dreamed up by those in leadership. This of course is an ego-centric mentality and quite frankly one which is incredibly out of date in todays’ business world. Yet this same idea, leaders must always be leading, permeates every facet of business in most companies we encounter on a daily basis.
My awakening as a result of this book came about as a result of my own shortcomings, and yes ego, as a leader. I too thought, “As a leader it’s up to me to decide the direction we’re taking and therefore the decisions we’re making.” Unfortunately this thought process is incredibly short sided.
The true nature of a good leader, as the book artfully describes, is a person who understands they can be in a leadership role and simultaneously lead while following. Sounds strange at first yet it’s possible, more importantly it’s highly impactful in an organization. The act of a leader willingly following sends a powerful message to the leaders team and company that they are out to do what is best and necessary for the greater good, not just themselves as the leader.
Here’s how following as a leader plays out.
A CEO of XYZ company has a tough decision to make when it comes to the direction of her company and the potential new markets they’re looking to develop. Traditional leadership has dictated the senior most person, often times the CEO, makes the decisions for the company. They may collect information from their subordinates on options or alternatives to consider however the senior most leader is the one to make the decision based on as their position and respective authority demands they be the one to blaze the path forward.
However, a leader who possesses the ability to balance the dichotomy of leading and following can recognize that while they are in a leadership seat it doesn’t mean they always must be leading. Sometimes following can produce more impactful results. It also means these leaders are able to recognize their ego and set it aside for the betterment of the company.
Going back to our CEO of XYZ company, as she’s considering where to take the company into the future she may get advice from an employee in the company which provides a great opportunity for growth and future success. Leaders who are successful in balancing leading and following would then lean on that employee to drive said initiative recognizing what’s important isn’t where the good idea comes from just that it is implemented successfully. Our leader, rather than leading, makes a conscious decision to follow and allows the employee to step up with their idea and help lead the company through it. They empower the other person while giving them an opportunity to shine. The leader, in this case our CEO, allows their employee to receive the credit for the idea while also helping them to get it up and running. Our CEO is now following and doing so because they know this decision is what is best for the business.
Key Take Away:
One of the most challenging things to balance as a leader is knowing when to lead versus when to following. Leaders who lead all the time lose sight of what is best for their company while also struggling with humility to give others the opportunity to shine. When we step aside and follow as a leader we encourage others to deploy their ideas while creating a vacuum for our employees and peers to step up, offer suggestions while increasing their likelihood to take additional ownership in their work. Leaders must recognize their ego drives many of their decisions and actions, one of the best decisions we can make is acknowledge our ego and set it aside to make room for others to take the wheel while we encourage them to do so.
If you struggle with the balancing act which comes with leadership, in particular the area of ‘leading versus following’ I highly suggest picking up the book ‘The Dichotomy of Leadership’ by Willink and Babin. The nuggets of knowledge, insight and real world practical examples these two authors share more than once will open your eyes to new and alternative approaches to successful leadership.
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.