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Peer Coaching a Near Religious Experience

August 11th, 2009

Accountability to each other really works

Rick Spence, Financial Post  Published: Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How do entrepreneurs learn from each other? And how do you get them to do the things they want to do, and need to do, but never seem to find time for?

Last week’s column focused on one answer to those questions: peer advisory boards. These are confidential forums in which owners of non-competitive businesses meet regularly through a trusted facilitator to share problems, explore solutions and encourage each other to keep going.

Last week, I told you how I was invited to sit in on the meeting of one such group, an Oakville, Ont., chapter of The Alternative Board, a Colorado-based group that manages peer boards across Canada and the United States. Although these meetings are strictly confidential, I was allowed to observe the process on behalf of the Financial Post as long as I didn’t name names.

The first hour involved basic leadership coaching and member updates. After that, things got serious. Facilitator John Womack (the only participant I’m allowed to name) asked his members what progress they had made in the business plans they’ve been working on for the past month.

Howard looks guilty: His plan called for a 10% sales increase for this year. So far, he’s been struggling just to stay even. He’s been working on introducing some new products, but the launch has been delayed. And he’s been meaning to work with his partners to complete a shareholder’s agreement, but no one has had time to sit down and get ‘er done.

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Advisors can be cop or coach to entrepreneur

July 27th, 2009

‘Leadership not what most people think it is’

By Rick Spence, The Financial Post  July 21, 2009

I wrote a column recently on peer advisory boards, and why every smart entrepreneur should belong to one. These confidential forums bring business owners together to talk shop, compare notes and mentor each other. But then I named a few of those organizations, which wasn’t so smart. Because it’s too easy to leave people out.

Sure enough, I got a call from an organization I’d neglected to name: The Alternative Board, or TAB, which has 1,000 peer groups across North America, each dedicated to helping their members make better business decisions.

To prove it, they invited me to sit in a top-secret session.

We met in a boardroom on the second floor of a printing plant in Oakville, Ont., owned by one of the members. Chairing the meeting was John Womack, an experienced manufacturing executive and entrepreneur, and now a business coach and certified TAB facilitator.

He used to teach a leadership course called “From Cop to Coach,” and as the meeting kicks off he announces he’ll be sharing excerpts from that program during the next few months.

“Leadership is not what most people think it is,” Womack says. It’s basically “working as a true team toward shared goals,” using three key tools: communication, motivation and respect.

He sees lots of companies, he says, where there is no internal communication, no standards, no shared goals. It’s a common problem with a simple solution, he says: “Just talking about your company’s goals, and measuring progress, that’s motivational.” Sounds easy, right? But then Womack asks the owners at the table to write the names of three good leaders they’ve met in their lives. The tension is tangible.

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Strategy Support Network Opens in UK

July 6th, 2009

Financial Times

By: Andrew Bounds

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Strategic Course Changes Turn Potential Disaster Into Success

June 15th, 2009

Course changes start by revisiting your company vision and making revisions based upon a new set of realities

By Allen Fishman

Times are tough for small and mid-sized businesses. Economic factors outside your control may even be threatening your company’s survival. The approach you take to confront these challenges can mean the difference between success and failure.

The economy is a threat not within your control. But you can take charge of how your company responds to this threat. Historically, business owners who make strategic course changes and adopt a planning process and the leadership techniques to turn potential disaster into success.

An error many business owners make is to counter a recession with panic or knee jerk reactions. They head straight for the Company Action Plans and push and pull, trying to reshape old plans to fit new economic pressures. But course changes take more than just shifting your plans. Those plans need to lead towards your vision of success and your current vision, the one you were shooting for before the economic crisis hit, may no longer be realistic.

A company vision is typically a long-term dream of success. Course changes start by revisiting your company vision and making revisions based upon a new set of realities. Company survival may require radical changes, but more often, a single or less drastic adjustment to your business model is all it takes to achieve your vision. You need to spend time identifying your Company SWOTs (the strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats that can benefit or hurt your success).

The SWOTs will give direction upon which to build the plans to execute successful course changes. 

First rule, put it all in writing: your Company Vision, your SWOTs and your company plans. Written documentation will also help you clearly articulate course changes to your employees so there is no confusion over the changes and how you intend to make them happen.

For many business owners, course changes in this economy will include a strategy for what costs to cut and what deals to offer. Get creative like the company that offers a discount to first-time buyers or the technology company that offers customers extra features for free rather than slash prices. Remember, it’s a mistake to cut back sales efforts during a recession. Instead, see what other areas can be cut back to redirect funds to your sales budget. And don’t try to copy someone else’s business model. You don’t know what part of that model created the success. If it were that easy to replicate a winning model, Starbucks never would have stayed on top of the game for so long.

Before making any changes, consider the following:

What is the evidence urging the change?
What are the intended results and measures?
What challenges can I anticipate?
What have I learned from similar course changes?
What will effect the greatest change?

Business owners can often be their own worst enemy when it comes to proactively addressing roadblocks that hinder course changes. Lead with confidence and don’t be afraid to admit when you make mistakes. Clinging to the wheel of a sinking ship just to prove you were right is a guaranteed route to failure. If you’ve got a company culture in place, make sure you are living it. It’s not just there for employees to follow, and how can you expect them to respect a culture if you don’t. And if you don’t have a company culture, get busy making one, preferably one that positively embraces change.

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CEO Roundtable Registration

June 10th, 2009