Perspective

Most of the posts included on this page were published in The Bromberg LLC perspective, a bi-monthly (as in, every other) email newsletter, but some are original thought-pieces.
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Nov2012
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The Value of Operating Expertise

The link below contains a blog post, published on Nov 6, 2012, that does a fantastic job describing the importance / value of having operating expertise in a business. Said in another, shamelessly promotional way, it captures how I help visionary business owners to build sustainably growing and successful companies.

Business owners who attempt to juggle vision / sales and daily operations can only do one thing at a time (because they’re human!). Companies grow and increase their value when these activities are routinely happening in parallel. Focus owners and employees, and you speed progress. Diffuse efforts and attention, and you inhibit growth.

Please take 90 seconds to read the post. If after reading you realize you know a “V/O” owner (or two) who might benefit from reading this and/or meeting me, I’d love an introduction.

The Link: http://www.inc.com/les-mckeown/when-youre-too-good-for-your-start-up.html

Sep2012
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Five Easy Pieces

Where Are You Going?

How often do you climb into the driver’s seat, start the car, and begin driving – without knowing your destination? In that same spirit, do you know where your company is going?

When driving, you usually know at least your destination’s address. Do the same with your business: pick a place you want to go, and start driving. Keep it simple – but make it a reach. My clients are looking to do stuff like:

  • Grow revenues 15-25% per year, every year
  • Increase company value by making valuable assets enduring and transferable
  • Own companies where people love to work
  • Work at companies they love to own

If your goal or route isn’t working for you, adjust it. You can change your route / mind, but do be a little patient, and think. Constant change will probably just have you driving around in circles, and I’m guessing dizzy isn’t your destination.

Quick Thoughts:

Focus on serving clients and supporting employees. Pay little attention to the competition.

Having decided where you want to go and why it’s a good idea, take action, observe, think, discuss, correct / adapt / adjust, repeat. Creating detailed plans slows progress and often set unrealistic expectations.

Manage to the result you want. What result do you think you’ll get if you don’t?

Bumper sticker: Don’t believe everything you think.

Every leader needs a counterpart, a co-conspirator, a foil to make sure they are staying on target, on point, focused, accountable, and reasonable.

Keep the Culture Alive!

Companies need to grow if they are going to provide better wages, benefits, training, and the other tools driving employee performance and customer satisfaction – and a good return for the owner! A major contributor to slowed / stalled growth is often the fear of how change may destroy what has made the company special. But that ought not be the case. Growth does not require surrendering values and character. In fact, results will be stronger when you treat company culture as a core objective to be consciously maintained. A focused and happy workforce is one that delivers growth.

Questions I Like to Ask

What business are you in?

How does customer experience and satisfaction figure in to your approach to work?

What slows your business down, and what propels you the fastest? Are your efforts aligned with your answers?

How is your time divided between looking ahead and reacting to current problems?

What are you doing that makes you confident your company will earn more revenue and bigger profits?

What advice do you give to others that you don’t follow yourself?

Check out the new website!

I am very excited to announce the new Bromberg LLC website. Big thanks go to Andy, Wes, and the other teenagers over at Modernist Media; Noelle Grattan at –ing designs; several reviewers, and those generous souls providing kind-hearted testimonials. The new site provides better information for potential clients, referral sources, and the general population, and features moi in four short videos! Cutting edge, baby, cutting edge. Visit often, send your friends, and enjoy.

Jul2012
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Ops Leaders Improve Owners’ Lives

Owners of small and mid-size businesses face a significant challenge with their day-to-day focus: how much time can they spend on the activities they like and do best versus all the other work that needs doing?

Guess what? It depends.

When the company is starting up, every employee pitches in and does whatever needs doing. Without much staff – or money – the owner doesn’t get much choice on how to spend her time. Owners are responsible for developing, implementing, and selling their vision, but end up also handling hiring, marketing, HR, etc.

When those visionary-salespeople-business owners are phone-screening candidates and vendors, or writing marketing copy, or figuring out everyone’s schedule, they are not delivering the greatest value to the company, and are thereby inhibiting company growth.

At some point, and anecdotally I’d suggest when revenue is somewhere in the $1-2MM range, the leader must get help. And – are you ready for this – I recommend getting Operations help, even part-time. (Gasp!)

An Operations leader is a business generalist who will make sure the business delivers increasing revenue, solid profit, and – very important – an enjoyable work environment. For example, my approach emphasizes (in no particular order): structure, roles, and responsibilities; people and process development; pricing; messaging; and general business management. Others may have a different mix.

All great Operations people are rabid about results. We love to make things better than they already are.

An Operations leader enables the business owner to focus outward (what do clients want, need, dream of) because the Ops person is focused inward (what do employees want, need, dream of). When the organization is running in a smooth and thoughtful manner, it becomes easier for the business owner to play to their strengths and the company’s greatest benefit.

As a successful Ops Leader, I find the following five questions guide my actions:

  • What can we do to drive revenue and profitability growth?
  • How can we leverage current activities / data to help the company achieve better overall results?
  • How do we keep all employees happy and focused on doing their respective jobs (more productive)?
  • How do we keep improving (everything)?
  • Am I providing upbeat, determined, and supportive leadership?

In the vast majority of cases, folks start businesses because they hope to achieve recognition and financial reward. The reward is greatest when the business is no longer dependent on the owner (or any single individual). The earlier that an owner can begin to build an organization to do the work, the easier it is to accomplish that important goal.

The job of the Chief Operating Officer is, in many ways, to build a freestanding, successful organization, and enable business owners to focus on the work they like and do best, and enjoy their lives even more.

May2012
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Let’s Drink to Process!

Have you ever found yourself in assembly hell the night before a kid’s birthday or the December holidays? What made it hell, besides you and your partner competing for recognition as the bigger control freak?

There are a number of possible answers. Of course it could be simply that the kit was missing that oh-so-critical #12 screw, or hammers and plastic don’t work well together, or even that you over-poured the vodka. (Did you really believe it would help you follow directions?)

The more likely scenario is that the assembly instructions were, um, lacking. Somehow there was a jump in logic, a presumption that the at-home assembler would just magically know that small detail enabling the correct progression.

The fine art of writing clear assembly instructions is a great analog for solving problems, designing process, or writing software code. (Disclaimer: The closest I get to coding is while working on my beloved Excel spreadsheets.) The challenge is to define the component pieces which, when put together, yield the desired solution.

Over the years, I have heard repeatedly that I am a “process guy.” Hearing that always made me nuts (well, more so). I never wanted to be a process guy. What’s the fun in doing the same thing over and over? What’s the fun in following the rules? It’s all about freedom and creativity, baby!

Recently though, I realized that being a process guy has made me invaluable to my clients. It means that I am good at figuring out how to go from Point A to Point B. It means that I am good at bushwhacking to find that elusive little cottage in the woods. It means I have the ability to visualize and articulate the sequence / series of thoughts and actions that pave the way to targeted outcomes.

So how do I do this? I believe there are eight overarching actions.

  • Focus relentlessly on where you want to go / what you want to achieve.
  • Remember what or whom you know that may prove helpful.
  • Decide if it’s more comfortable for you to build your sequence going forward from where you are now, or backwards from where you want to end up.
  • Consider both what’s needed to drive a process step and what you will get or know as a result of a completed action.
  • Imagine yourself on either the giving or receiving end of each step. Can you imagine that? Could you personally execute the step? If not, why do you believe someone else could? If you’re still not feeling it, then that step needs further breakdown.
  • Notice how often you use the word “should” in your process description. “Should” is hopeful, not helpful.
  • Write down the sequence. Read it over. Do you believe it will lead you to the promised land? If yes, take action. Start doing. If no, fix what doesn’t feel right. Then start doing.
  • Collect data as you go. Maintain relentless focus on the goal. If you feel you’re drifting off target, adjust. Keep doing.

There’s also a very important psychological component to all this. You have to be able to accept that any step may prove wrong. Don’t judge if / when that happens, just adapt and correct. Judging doesn’t solve problems; it’s a distraction.

Realize that every step equals progress; feel good about that and then keep moving.

But watch out for the vodka.

Mar2012
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It’s Your Fault. Don’t Do That.

As I’ve grown older and oh-so-much wiser, I’ve learned that assigning blame is a spectacularly destructive and unproductive act. And a real turn-off.

Where’s the benefit in making someone feel bad? How does that help advance the cause?

I blame you. It’s your fault. You screwed up. You prevented something good from happening. It’s not my fault. I didn’t do anything wrong, or at least not as bad as you did. I really am tall, handsome, erudite, charming, and always right.

Not helpful. Not appealing. Don’t do that.

When considering the question, “why didn’t this situation turn out as hoped?” each of us must focus inward. Jim Collins writes in Good to Great, “[Great] leaders look out the window to apportion credit to factors outside themselves when things go well (and if they cannot find a specific person or event to give credit to, they credit good luck). At the same time, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility, never blaming bad luck when things go poorly.”

We all want great results, and we all know that the road to success is rarely smooth and straight. Bringing blame into play is to make someone else feel bad, takes our eyes off the prize, and wastes time. You’re not moving closer to a solution. It’s being emotional when the situation calls for rational.

To be clear: it’s central to our jobs as leaders to help the folks around us to raise their game and reach their potential. Doing so includes giving both praise and critical perspectives (hopefully at about a 4:1 or 5:1 ratio). Critical comments must be phrased in a way colleagues can hear, which probably isn’t all that different from how you’d like to be told.

If you like your life and work simpler, happier, and more productive, then define the result you’d like to achieve and accept that the path to success has all manner of twists and turns. Don’t get caught up in shoulda’s, just stay positive and focused on delivering the goal. Keep asking, “What do we do now? Where are we relative to our goal, and what are the best next steps?”

The job of leadership, at all levels, is to make good things happen. Stay focused, positive, determined, and enjoy the challenge. Treat those around you the way you’d have them treat you. (Kind of a golden rule, don’t you think?)

Feb2012
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Smart Parents

You’re a leader. You know what needs to get done. You either tell people to go do it, or you do it yourself. That’s how you roll. Simple.

So let me ask you: How often do you, or someone who works for you, take an hour or two to really think about how work is organized and executed in your company? Monthly? Quarterly? Annually? As often as Carrot Top is funny? Continually improving your people, processes, and products will drive successful delivery of innovation, quality, and value.

Quick story:

Bob P is an incredible thinker with a beautiful soul. He’s a former boss; co-founder at Eidetics. I ate lunch with him just about every week for 13 years.

Bob and I would tussle from time to time (I was only slightly more predisposed to such behavior back then). One of our favorite disputes was over the role of management. Bob wanted less, I wanted more.

“We hire well,” Bob would intone. “Smart people do the right things.”

“I agree that’s a great start,” I’d counter, “but smart kids need parents, too.”

Smart Managers

Hiring well is a fundamental and critically important task for a leader. Step one involves defining clearly both the job you want to hire for and why hiring will benefit the company. You then search for that someone you sincerely believe will do great work and you’ll enjoy working with. Finding the right person – and with patience you will get it right – is an investment that pays huge dividends.

But it can’t stop there. For roughly every five to seven workers, you need to hire someone whose job is to look after the group and how the work is getting done. “But they’re overhead,” you whine. “Where’s the economic benefit? How are they going to deliver revenue?”

It’s a simple answer: A good manager makes all the other really good employees even better. Better as in more productive, cost-effective, quality conscious, creative, and maybe even nice to their colleagues. It’s just like the new “overhead” person is generating revenue, except that their revenue is coming through the employees.

Oh, one more thing. How badly do you want to be the one dealing with people issues? You’re the leader and/or owner, what work do you want to be doing? That manager’s starting to look a bit more useful, eh? Hey, even the best pilots benefit from a sidekick, a copilot.

Building a successful and scalable company does involve hiring well, and good hiring is the output of a considered, goal-oriented focus. Having hired well, you can’t then simply leave the rest to fate. Companies do better when the work is organized and executed thoughtfully. Smart kids do need parents. Bring that thinking and soul to work and you’ll see happy results. Bob P did.

Nov2011
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Dancing On Plans

“Oh man, I hope the truth doesn’t get me in too much trouble.”

A group of us were sitting around the table at the first meeting of our new networking group. Since most of us didn’t know each other previously, introductions included explaining who we are and what we do. I was explaining my work as an outsourced COO when one of my new friends asked, “So when you start with a new client do you prepare a strategic plan?”

It really wasn’t a question I was expecting – in fact I’d never been asked that before – and I was concerned my response would not be well received. I took a deep breath and responded. “Nope.”

“Good,” my questioner responded. “I see it all the time. Consultants come in and charge $25-35K for a strategic plan that goes on the shelf, never to see the light of day.”

KICK SAVE AND A BEAUTY! Happy dance. Happy dance. Happy dance.

I’m not a big fan of plans. Planning to me is torturous. And too often, it can actually stall progress. What do we guess is the right sequence of activities? What obstacles can we dream up? How do we set a course of action that’s a sure thing? How do we know when we’ve done enough planning?

I am in favor of thought (been known to try it a couple times). I value analysis (I love Excel). But more than anything, I believe that smarts, teamwork, instinct, and action present the best path to progress.

To be clear, I’m not declaring an all-out moratorium on planning.

Business leaders naturally establish targets by having goals in mind: exit timing and sales price; products and services they want to make available; even what work they personally want to do. Knowing the target — defining what success looks like — is a great and necessary first step.

Once you know where you’re aiming, necessary “planning” likely includes defining the roles and activities comprising the desired steady state, developing cost estimates for both the transition and the routine, and getting input from colleagues and advisors to make sure you aren’t overlooking the obvious. But then, it’s time to act.

Once in motion, maintain unwavering focus on the goal. Monitor performance against expectations and forecast. Know that hiccups and missteps will likely occur, but unless and until you see that you can’t get there from here, keep driving.

Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans, right? Live life. Do your own happy dance.

Sep2011
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Pass It Over Here – I’m Open!

While we all would like to believe there are sharp distinctions between our personal and professional lives, the similarities are frequent and sometimes quite striking. Consider this comparison between entrepreneurial ventures and … youth soccer.

When kids start playing soccer at an early age, the parents on the sideline are very entertained by “magnet ball.” In this early version of athletic endeavor, the kids all run to the ball, clustering around it, kicking in all directions, more likely to connect with each other’s shins than the ball.

Well, except for the one or two kids who are aimlessly strolling around the pitch, watching birds, or looking for flowers or really cool bugs or mom and dad.

In this version of the game, the ball periodically emerges from the scrum, shooting away with one or two of the more skilled youth initially in pursuit. Almost immediately, the mob re-forms, some yards down the field, all desiring to make contact and perhaps even score a goal.

As the years go by, the players’ skills improve and coaches start introducing strategy and game-planning to the mix. Players are taught to play positions, no longer congregating around the ball, no more sky-gazing, no more carefree waves to parents and friends’ parents. Passing the ball, running set plays, communicating, and focus are now required, and when done well often result in success.

So now look at your own early-stage company. The entrepreneur begins with a passion for an idea, a product or service which they know can be produced or delivered better than history has demonstrated. They pull in others to help, to play with them.

For the initial phase, the company works together, congregating around the work. Communication is easy, because more often than not there aren’t any walls (literally or figuratively). Whatever needs to be done gets done, usually with less concern for formal roles or responsibilities.

It’s an exciting and energizing time. The market is validating the team’s beliefs and efforts, and growth seems easy, a sure bet for the future.

But at some point, maybe with annual revenues in the $1.5-2.0MM range, progress slows. The leader, and perhaps others in the company start feeling the frustration, the roadblocks.

“I have a stack of leads on my desk and no time to get to them.”

“Why do all the decisions have to go through me?”

“I’m exhausted.”

When leaders hear themselves uttering the statements above, it’s time to start playing positions, developing and applying strategy, and passing the ball. This is when companies establish more specific targets, track performance, implement process, and define roles and responsibilities.

Many companies fear this stage, believing that the result will be bureaucracy, metrics posted all over the walls, and the loss of company culture. It doesn’t have to be this way.

You’ll still get to run after the ball. You’ll still get to wave to mom and dad. You may even now have time to stare at the sky and centipedes. But the forward march - progress, success - will be smoother and more satisfying.

Gooooooooaaalllllllll!!!

Jul2011
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Summer Harvest

Many of the folks walking the beaches of Cape Cod are looking to collect shells or beach glass. Me? I try to collect my thoughts. What follows are the realizations, conclusions, and recommendations developed during two weeks of peaceful beach vacation.

There he was out on the tidal flats of Cape Cod Bay. A man alone with his thoughts. And his dog. And his voice recorder.

Business development (sales) is not nearly as intimidating when you look at it as just helping someone else solve a problem.

Does anyone else out there think they could turn reading and writing email into a full-time job?

Being successful doesn’t eliminate problems. It just means a higher percentage of your problems emanate from a desire for continuous improvement.

Small company forecasts / budgets should be reviewed and refined on a rolling, quarterly basis. This deemphasizes calendar year, but provides useful trend data and a tighter view of economic reality.

Focus your efforts on cash management. It’s only some people outside the company who need the fancy reports. So if you’re not working with those people, don’t waste your time.

Hiring is a binary activity. The candidate is either 100% right for us, or wrong. Always hire optimistic and determined individuals.

Problem solving: Where are we now? Where do we want to be? What do we know? How can we use what we know to achieve our goal? If the answer is a big hairy deal, break the problem into component pieces and work on those.

Although I think Youngme Moon’s book Different is about 200 pages too long, I do agree with her. Focusing on competitive response brings companies to sameness, not difference.

I really don’t care what competitors are doing. I care what clients want and need; that employees want to work for and with their employer; and that the focus is always on doing really great work.

You have to believe in the people around you, and treat them as though you believe in them.

Repurposing IP is a great way to generate new revenue and to build the value of the business. In most cases you can do this while letting your innovators focus on creating new IP.

Modifying how your company operates does not require changing company culture. If you like your company’s personality, identify the underlying vibe and protect it.

I love my voice recorder. I consider it my “pensieve” (a la Harry Potter) – a great way to avoid mental overload (not usually a big worry!). I record thoughts as they occur, knowing I will later transcribe them to an action item list.

Them’s my thoughts. What have you been thinking about? Want to discuss it?

May2011
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Going Nowhere to Get Somewhere

It’s getting so close I can almost smell the ocean air.

Every year in late June my family and I head down to Cape Cod for a couple weeks of R&R. I love this time because my typical approach is to leave the computer at home and just soak in the beauty, warmth, and onshore breezes.

At least twice a day I take long walks. These walks are very special to me, as they are concurrently aimless and productive. I don’t plan what to think about, but let my mind go where it will. Invariably some of my thoughts are about work, but the absence of both urgency and the ability to act produces a truer sense of calm and perspective, and frequently generates some pretty cool insight.

Years ago I decided that my time on the Cape affords me 14 days to process the data I’ve amassed during the previous 50 weeks.

Of course, none of us can limit our analyses to two weeks per year. We are collecting and processing data every day. But it is critically important that we make the time to step back and think more broadly about the work we do. Where are we going? What’s important to us?

It was in this spirit that I recently asked one client to consider the following:

Picture you and your business one year from now. Imagine feeling happy about how things are going. Answer these six questions:

  • What’s your role?
  • What work have you been liberated from?
  • What is your company selling and doing?
  • What’s the industry buzz about your company?
  • How’s your company’s cash position and pre-tax profit percent?
  • What are your company’s three greatest strengths?

There was silence on the other end of the phone, until he finally said, “That’s really good. I do need to answer those. Send me the questions in an email. I’ll give these some thought and we’ll then get folks together to discuss.”

We all get so caught up in what’s happening now, email, putting out fires, and administrivia. But our actions must address our larger-scale goals. We must know where we want to go to make sure we’re not simply traveling aimlessly.

  • Get In Touch

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    Email: jeremy@brombergllc.com
    Phone: + 978 254 5474

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