Research shows that 62% of small and midsize businesses do not have a current strategy in place for managing cybersecurity or safeguarding against cyber attack. Michael Markulec, Vistage Chair and partner & co-founder of Harbor Technology Group shared the following insights on how process is essential to managing network security for your company.
Watch the webinar ‘Cyberthreats and Solutions for Small and Midsize Businesses.’
Managing cybersecurity can be like managing accounting, manufacturing, or even sales. Small and midsize businesses (SMBs) have accounting systems in place and follow generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). They also might follow standard rules for their manufacturing environments with lean manufacturing or ISO in place. Even in sales, processes are in place for sales teams to ensure success.
But as SMBs look at cybersecurity, it’s mistakenly viewed as some kind of black art. The use of proper frameworks and regulatory guidance are important steps for SMBs to be successful in defending their organisation, and more importantly, their organisation’s data and intellectual property.
Know your frameworks
NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, originally developed a cybersecurity framework for federal agencies. NIST has now come out with version 1.1 of their framework, which focuses on SMBs, giving them authenticator tools and frameworks that they need to be successful. Frameworks are key for managing your plan.
5 tactics for addressing cybersecurity
- The process starts with identifying your critical assets, understanding where your data is, and understanding who has access to that data. Not all employees need access to all files, and certain measures like acceptable use or confidentiality agreements can protect your data.
- The next step is a protect phase, where organisations put measures in place to protect their data. Consider the defensive controls that are in place as well as the technologies. At times, companies might overspend on the technologies, thinking that is a magic bullet. There are other measures to consider in this phase.
- The third phase is a detect phase. How do you detect when something bad has happened? Most businesses that are hacked typically don’t receive a warning. Ransomware is easy, it comes with a warning. Business email compromised, you know when they transferred funds. Sony only learned of its hack once the information was published on the internet.
- Once a company learns of a compromise, they need the ability to respond, which is the fourth phase. This is one of the areas where most companies fall down. Even if they have robust defenses, they may not have an incident response plan for when bad things happen. A communication plan is essential. What are clients told? How are customer support folks kept abreast of developments during the process of handling a breach? What other partners and vendors need to be notified and when?
- And finally, you need to be able to recover. You need to get your feet back underneath you and drive your business forward. This looks like a disaster recovery plan. Just like a plan that is in place for a fire or natural disaster, consider a plan for your cyber assets as well.
This framework provides CEOs with a set of controls and clearly stated tasks that can be reviewed with their company’s IT professionals, whether they are internal or external, to address cybersecurity concerns and mitigate risk for the organisation.
About the author: Anne Petrik
As director of research for Vistage, Anne Petrik leads the design, deployment and analysis of member surveys for Vistage, capturing the sentiment and practices of the Vistage CEO community. This analysis, in collaboration with perspectives from experts and partners, helps create insights for SMB CEOs through the thought leadership published by Vistage.
While most of us are sleeping, a professional, cyber-military-trained team is attempting to fight off wave after wave of cyber attacks. And that’s necessary in a world in which cybercrime has become a professional industry, causing trillions of dollars in damages every year. Companies like Westpac take cybersecurity seriously — dedicating a war room and a highly specialised team towards identifying and mitigating the most powerful threats. Smaller businesses may not have the resources required to hire military-trained staff, but that doesn’t mean they are powerless.
The State of CyberSecurity in Australia
Cybercrime is the second largest threat to Australian GDP. Westpac alone experiences cybercrime up to three times a day. Cybercriminals are aware that small businesses have assets that they need to protect, but that they often don’t have the money to invest in the best software and hardware. Due to this, cybercriminals attack small businesses more than larger enterprises, as they are seen as having vulnerabilities that a large enterprise does not.
Though your business may not have the resources that a company like Westpac does, it needs to protect its core assets with just as much vigilance. This often has to occur through the use of advanced cyber attack technologies, which leverage the use of cloud resources to provide superior protection with minimal cost.
These solutions use complex algorithms to detect potential cyber attacks without having to have a team of professionals available to counter each and every malicious event. When not protected, businesses may experience a wide array of negative effects, such as the following.
1. Cybercrime ultimately leads to significant and direct financial disruption
Cybercrime is a reality that Australian businesses need to be prepared for. Organisations experience cyber attacks every day, which cost Australian businesses a total of $29 billion a year. Most businesses will experience a cyber attack during their operations, but by the same token, most businesses that experience a large-scale cyber attack will find themselves out of business within the year. In fact, in the United States, 60% of small businesses struck by cybercriminals will go out of business within the next six months.
Not only does cybercrime have a detrimental impact on profits, but it can create long-term damage to a company’s reputation and ability to grow. Nevertheless, many small business owners find themselves unable to protect their organisation, as they don’t have the resources necessary to monitor their networks.
2. Business disruption and lost productivity follow cyber attacks
On an individual level, cybercrime can be debilitating. When a cyber attack occurs, a business suffers from costly and time-consuming disruption. Not only must businesses invest in repairing and improving their systems, but they must also re-train their employees and manage damage to their reputation.
Even after the cyber attack has been dealt with, the damage remains. Despite the fact that many organisations will experience a cyber attack during their operations, a large-scale cyber attack causes substantial harm to an organisation’s reputation. Ultimately, this leads to lost contracts and lost client relationships, as the business must struggle to repair its public relations.
3. Long-term damages from a cyber attack include loss of reputation
Businesses don’t just need to invest in new security and mitigating the direct damages of their attack. Often, they must also deal with the loss of financial information or the loss of their IP. Businesses may need to audit and move their financial accounts, as well as attempting to recover their stolen IP. The business may never be able to fully recover the value of its lost assets.
Of course, the assets themselves also involve significant disruption. Cash can be lost due to ransomware and other cyber attacks could lead the organisation without the cash buffer it needs to survive. Confidential IP could be lost that may be imperative to the company’s continued existence. This happens because IP can be sold in other nations where other companies are free to use them.
Small businesses must educate themselves on cybersecurity if they want to protect themselves from both short- and long-term financial damages. A full-scale digital transformation can ultimately lead to the implementation of advanced security measures, even if they may not be able to deliver the full “war room” experience that companies like Westpac strive for.
Professional cybercrime is a growing industry, and organisations throughout Australia may be at risk. Getting the C-suite on board with major technological changes can be difficult. If you need advice about evolving your business to survive in this new environment, TEC can help. The Executive Connection is a single, consolidated network through which business owners and entrepreneurs can connect to share information, experience, and support.
In commercial and business-to-government markets, competitive tenders are the very first transaction that sets the tone for how buyers and suppliers do business together. They have been around for a long time now. And buyers will argue that they are working – to a point. Unfortunately, however, the competitive tendering system is broken in ways that buyers simply don’t get to see, because suppliers are too scared to tell them.
Recently I surveyed a range of suppliers to find out what they really think of competitive tenders and dealing with procurement. All of the survey respondents were employed in organisations that need to pitch for business via competitive tenders in Australia. 53% were from commercial businesses; 31% from professional services firms; and the remainder worked in not-for-profit organisations that compete for block-funded government service delivery contracts. 63% were from large organisations with 200 or more employees, with the remainder evenly split between medium-sized organisations (50-200 employees) and small businesses fewer than 50 employees.
The resulting comprehensive report, Smiling But Sinking, examines the attitudes and experiences of suppliers to competitive tendering and dealing with procurement in three key areas:
- The timelines suppliers were given to respond to competitive tenders,
- Their experience of buyers’ tender response requirements, and what they needed to submit within those deadlines, and
- Their backend experience of the feedback they received from buyers about their tender submissions, and its usefulness for continual improvement purposes.
Their responses show that competitive tendering is increasingly challenging and difficult for suppliers, mostly in ways that are entirely preventable.
Key findings – timelines and deadlines
Tender timeframes have dramatically decreased, and suppliers are now given only half the time that they believe they need, to respond. At the same time, buyers’ information requirements either haven’t changed, or are increasingly onerous, while deadlines are often rubbery and prone to change. About a decade ago, the most common response timeframe for a competitive tender across industries was four weeks, but this has changed.
Most survey respondents said that they are now given two weeks to respond to a tender in their business or industry (52.8%), while almost the same percentage (50%) said that they believe four weeks is a reasonable response timeframe. 97.6% now say that tender deadlines are getting shorter, while response requirements either have not changed or have increased. Two-thirds of respondents also said that in the last 12 months, they received at least one tender with an impossibly short deadline.
Shorter deadlines are putting pressure on suppliers to redeploy staff at short notice, and to significantly redistribute their internal workloads in order to respond. A third of respondents said they had ‘very often’ been forced to take staff out of their day jobs for a significant period of time when they were not expecting to, in order to cope with the demands of a tender. A whopping 72.2% also said they had ‘often’ or ‘very often’ received a tender at a difficult time, such as the week before Christmas, with a requirement to respond over a holiday period or peak working period when they were short of resources.
Key findings – tender response requirements
Vague, inadequate and confusing tender documentation comes at a cost to supplier response time and resources, and affects the accuracy of submissions. Requests for scope clarification frequently go unanswered, or are answered too late to be useful, and duplicate or irrelevant questions continue to complicate the task of responding to tenders. In the last 12 months, the majority of respondents (58.4%) said that they had ‘often’ or ‘very often’ found tender questions difficult to interpret and or answer. The remainder said that this was an issue for them occasionally.
More concerning, three quarters of respondents had ‘often’ or ‘very often’ seen poorly defined tender requirements that generated confusion among, and questions from, themselves or other suppliers. As a result, a third said that they had ‘often’ or ‘very often’ asked clarifying questions about a tender to the customer’s nominated representative, only to receive no answer, or an answer that came too late to be useful. Half of respondents said that this happened occasionally, and only a small minority said that it had never happened. A similarly large minority (41.7%) of suppliers said that they ‘often’ or ‘very often’ found that buyers put out multiple amendments and addenda to their tender documents, forcing them to re-work parts of their tender response.
Key findings – customer feedback
Despite the significant effort they expend in responding to tenders, suppliers continue to get inadequate feedback to help them improve. There is a lack of feedback overall, and a lack of specific feedback beyond (too high) ‘price’. When feedback is given, often it’s considered generic, and in some cases, may even come across as if the buyer has not read the tender that they are providing feedback on. In the past 12 months, 50% of suppliers said that they ‘often’ or ‘very often’ received no feedback; a further third said that they didn’t receive feedback on some occasions, and only a small minority had not had this experience.
As one respondent put it, ‘Any feedback would be great.’
A solid majority (63.9%) had also been told they lost a tender because of their ‘price’, without any other useful feedback on their submission. Suppliers were also asked to nominate what frustrates them the most about customers’ decision-making process and feedback on their tender submissions. ‘Lack of honesty’ was the top answer, closely followed by lack of confidence that the buyer had actually read their submission, and then the absence of useable feedback.
What happens next?
To change any relationship for the better, we first need to consider our own part in it. This means looking at our own habits and patterns, and the reaction they invite from the other party. This is true even in buyer and supplier relationships, where buyers hold the purse strings and therefore, the majority of the power. These preventable problems with the competitive tendering system have major implications for buyers, who are missing out on valuable insights from suppliers into how they can compete better and do business better. As well as the supplier feedback, Smiling But Sinking also contains three quick wins buyers can implement in each area – tender timelines, response requirements and giving feedback. My hope is that this study will break down some of the communication barriers that exist between buyers and suppliers, helping buyers to make improvements to the competitive tendering system that will generate goodwill, collaboration, and better results for everyone.
About the author: Robyn Haydon
Robyn is an engaging and authoritative speaker and business development consultant specialising in competitive tendering. Her clients have won and retained business worth hundreds of millions of dollars with many of Australia’s largest corporate and government buyers. She is also the author of three books, including Value, Winning Again, and The Shredder Test: a step-by-step guide to winning proposals.
From Twitter to SnapChat, many of the most recognisable corporations in the world are making virtually no profit. Square, FedEx, and Amazon aren't just industry giants; they also weren't able to make a dollar for five years. That hardly makes them unsuccessful businesses — rather, key success measures have changed. Organisations across all industries are finding that they need to develop their reach before moving into profitability and that, indeed, they may not be moving towards traditional monetisation schedules at all. It's possible for an organisation to make money for shareholders without making money for itself — and it's also possible for a business to grow dramatically without income.
Customer Satisfaction and Brand Reputation
Customer satisfaction is one of the most critical success factors for a business — and for good reason. It takes time to build faith with your customer base, while losing faith can be accomplished overnight. Profit can be built internally, but turning around the public perception of a brand takes a good deal of outreach. A business must be focused on meeting customer needs and managing how its brand is perceived by its customers. A single , from Qantas to McDonald's. Mitigate this potential damage by keeping track of public sentiment, and by measuring customer satisfaction following interactions.
Company Culture and Employee Retention
Do your employees work hard for your business? Are they likely to stay with your business or do they already have one foot out the door? Employee culture and satisfaction is a key component to the longevity and sustainability of a business. Employees are more likely to achieve high productivity when they find meaning in their work, feel their contributions are valued, and feel their job utilises their strengths and talents. Moreover, high employee churn ultimately leads to high costs and poor customer care.
A satisfied employee won't just be more productive, they will also work to improve their organisation through innovation. They will go above and beyond for customers and management, and will therefore be able to improve upon the company's overall reputation.
When it comes to a scientific study, the study itself is only as important as the accuracy of its data. Studying company success is no different. If you cannot successfully manage and analyse your data, you won't be able to determine whether you're moving toward or away from success. Knowledge management systems are designed to track and analyse indicator metrics, thereby making it easier for an organisation to learn about itself. Without appropriate knowledge management, a business cannot know whether or not it is truly successful.
Knowledge management comes from internal discipline, processes, and continually evolving strategies. Businesses must be willing to audit their knowledge management processes, adjusting it as they go. They must be able to utilise their performance metrics across all levels, from employees and management to logistics and shipping, and must be able to create real and actionable conclusions from their reporting.
Digital Return-On-Investment and Customer Acquisition
Twitter, Facebook, and even Uber — the key to their success isn't measured in profitability, but rather in customer acquisition. These businesses may not be making tremendous profits, but they are scoring revenue, by managing their advertising return-on-investment and by expanding aggressively into new markets. This is quite a different world than what the C-suite may be accustomed to.
Businesses today need to consider not only their revenue streams but also their potential for supporting new growth. As they continue to expand, they also push out the competition. Sometimes breaking even is all they need to do; in fact, some businesses like Uber are willing to operate in the red for some time with the knowledge that they can outlast the competition.
This is where customer acquisition becomes important. As long as a business is acquiring customers it is building value. Customers themselves have value, as it is possible in many ways for the customer to become the product.
Social Media and Brand Awareness
Modern organisations rise and fall based on their social media presences. A social media presence can suddenly bring a business back from the brink of death; as well, it can close the casket on a thriving business that has taken a highly visible misstep. Social media is everywhere; information about businesses can propagate like a flash fire. It's your job to make sure that information about your business is positive, and that if anything goes viral, it's marketing.
Brand awareness, in and of itself, is a measure of success. A highly recognisable company name has intrinsic value, even if the company has not reached profitability. Investors will look upon a business favourably if it has built out its influence in this way. There are many businesses that have been able to build their social media reach and brand awareness while still being pre-revenue.
Modern organisations are looking at a substantially different landscape than before. They must be willing to measure success differently, in a world in which businesses are often building value without building their financial performance. By exploring alternative methods of success scoring, businesses can focus on what they do best — building value for their shareholders.
TEC: The Executive Connection
Disruption is going to continue occurring, and business is going to change dramatically even in the next ten years. Mentorship and connections with colleagues can help in navigating this difficult terrain. With The Executive Connection, you can connect with like-minded individuals throughout the world, learning about trends, and growing as an executive with the advice and direction of others.
At a roundtable recently, The Executive Connection discussed how new and emerging technology will change, and already is changing the way people work; evolving to a point where capability is no longer just human.
The automation of a range of jobs and workplace functions is speeding up processes and driving efficiency by automating the predictable, most repetitive and dangerous jobs.
However, as technology replaces the repetitive it does not replace the need for human interaction, but rather it enables employees to work in new and different ways.
In fact, by allowing machines to complete mundane tasks, employers can liberate their staff from their desks, and the clock; providing them with the environment needed to take on new challenges and opportunities anytime, anywhere.
Helen Wiseman, The Executive Connection Chair says, ‘The role of technology means that many undesirable jobs will disappear; putting less pressure on employers to entice workers into jobs that much of the workforce doesn’t want to do. This offers organisations huge opportunities to transform their attraction and retention programs by putting skilled workers to better use.’
Understanding the benefits of technology and how to apply it will allow leaders to capitalise on human potential in new ways.
Anthony Kittel has taken REDARC Electronics from operating out of a tin shed to a multi-million dollar company with its own purpose-built advanced manufacturing facility. Purchasing the business and taking over as CEO and Managing Director in 1997 after its founder, Bob Mackie, sadly passed away, Anthony’s business journey is one of innovation, fast-paced growth and a huge amount of hard work.
Targeting markets as they emerge
In the late-1990s, REDARC was still making its signature product – a voltage converter that mainly targeted trucking vehicles. However, by 2001 there had been a major technological change, and new products in the market meant that REDARC’s own service looked like it could become obsolete. Taking into account this considerable risk to the business, Anthony decided to look at diversification.
He started to develop products for the four-wheel drive and caravan industry, which at the time was just beginning to take off in Australia thanks to the start of the retirement age for baby boomers. What product did REDARC come up with? A solar-enabled battery management system that allowed people travelling around Australia to charge their batteries without having to go to a powered site.
Realising the need for constant innovation in business, Anthony decided to set up a research and development (R&D) business called REDARC Technologies in 2002. Each year, Anthony invests 15 per cent of REDARC Electronics’ sales into this business. ‘We’ve gone from one engineer to 35, and that R&D investment has been a significant factor in our success. It helps us design and manufacture the best products, not only in Australian markets but globally as well,’ explains Anthony.
The next big milestone for Anthony was building REDARC’s own purpose-built manufacturing facility in Lonsdale. Investing $5 million in it at a time when REDARC’s overall revenue was only $5 million, it was a big step. ‘It was a significant risk for us – we only had 34 employees at the time – but I had confidence that it would succeed.’ This was certainly the case – REDARC now has 175 employees, turns over more than $50 million in revenue annually and has a growth target of $100 million in revenue by 2020.
The three pillars of success
Anthony aims to achieve this growth by exporting to new markets, particularly the US and Europe. As always, R&D will be a key pillar of this. “We want to continue to remain relevant, both at home and abroad, and R&D will help us achieve this,” says Anthony. REDARC will also invest $20 million in doubling the size of their current factory. ‘We’re going to introduce a whole lot of new, highly advanced manufacturing equipment, so that we’ve got one of the world’s best manufacturing facilities.’
R&D is only the first part of what Anthony believes makes a great business. Developing great people and having the best service in the industry are the other two foundation stones Anthony has built REDARC on. For example, the company funds all of its employees’ training needs. ‘If someone wants to study an apprenticeship, a degree or a Masters, we’ll fund that for them. I believe that, if we can develop the best people in the world, we’ll be one of the best companies in the world,’ says Anthony.
Anthony has also worked hard over the years to build a reputation for great customer service. REDARC’s employees are available across email, telephone and social media at all times, and provide for all their customers’ needs, big and small.
R&D, employee development and excellent customer service – these three foundation pillars have certainly seen success for REDARC. In the past five years, the company has been awarded Telstra Australian business of the year, two gold excellence awards in manufacturing, has won manufacturer of the year and was named in Westpac’s top 20 businesses of tomorrow.
The camaraderie of TEC
Anthony got involved in TEC when he was looking to ramp up REDARC’s growth, seeing TEC membership as a great opportunity to create an advisory and support network. ‘It can be a lonely journey as a CEO – you don’t have that support that you’ve had before. TEC offers a way of overcoming that. You’re able to discuss complex issues in your business that you wouldn’t share with anyone else, and get feedback from CEOs who’ve gone though it all before,’ says Anthony.
He also spoke of the camaraderie of TEC. ‘I enjoy getting to know everyone on a personal level – TEC isn’t just about business, you develop a strong bond because of that trust you place in the other members.’
TEC are so happy to have people like Anthony on board. His hard work, emphasis on innovation and developing his employees, and the many successes he’s seen as CEO of REDARC are lessons we can all learn from.
Established in: 1979 (Anthony took over 1997)
Industry: Electronics manufacturing
Size: Two production sites, $50 million in revenue, looking to expand to $100 million by 2020.
Markets: Australia, US, Europe, New Zealand, South Africa and the Middle East. Over 5,000 customers in Australia alone.
Product range: Sell over 500 products.
4.1 hours — that’s the amount of time the average person spends checking their work email every day. It’s easy to see why: email has essentially replaced many other methods of business communication.
Rather than having face-to-face meetings or getting on the phone, we are now funnelling everything straight into our inboxes in an easily digested format.
Email is essential, especially as a CEO, and there are undoubtedly a multitude of emails that you need to read and respond to every day.
But as critical as email is, it can also be a distraction. Email connects you to every business contact you know 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; if it’s a replacement for face-to-face meetings, it’s like having everyone you know in a single room all the time.
It’s a situation that can quickly spiral out of control without the appropriate discipline. It’s easy to fall into email habits that can make your email usage less than productive. Gaining control of your inbox can often mean gaining control over your day.
Reserve time to respond to emails
An average person checks their emails 15 times a day. Yet research by the University of British Columbia found that checking email only three times a day could reduce stress.
Checking email at the beginning, middle, and end of your work day could be the first step that you take to improving your productivity and your mental energy.
- Turn off your notifications. If you keep hearing the bing of emails coming in, you’re really just ramping up your stress.
- Let everyone know you’re trying something new. Once those around you get used to you being available at certain times, they’ll adjust accordingly.
- Limit the amount of time you spend on emails. In addition to scheduling your email, try to get your work done within a specific amount of time.
Of course, as a CEO, there are times when there are emergencies, but that’s what phone calls and text messages are for. As long as everyone knows that email is not for high-priority activities, you should be able to manage your email more effectively in far less time.
Utilise email features
In just the last decade, email technology has come quite far. Yet most people are still using their email the same as they did ten years ago — and failing to leverage the technology designed to make their lives much easier.
When properly used, email technology can promote higher priority emails, strip out unimportant emails, and take care of tagging and categorisation for you.
- Star high-priority emails. If there are emails that you need to follow up on or get back to later, set their priority as ‘high’ or star them, depending on the system that you use. This makes it less likely that something will be missed.
- Label your emails intelligently. Use basic keywords to describe your emails, such as ‘marketing’ or ‘HR.’ This will make it easier for you to sort through your emails later on, especially when used on a department basis.
- Mark emails Read and Archived when you’ve dealt with them. Keeping your inbox clear of clutter is one of the first steps towards taking control over your communications.
- Avoid overly elaborate folder systems. Though it may feel as though you’re organising your emails, you’re really just setting them aside for later — and the more folders you have, the more likely something is to be overlooked.
- Schedule and automate your emails. Systems like Gmail’s Boomerang make it easy to schedule emails automatically and to send email reminders. Anything you do regularly can be automated, such as responding to reoccurring emails.
Know when to pick up the phone
Picking up the phone has become a last resort, but it’s actually the fastest way to have a complex conversation. If you don’t want to email someone back and forth 20 times (or if you’re finding yourself playing ‘email tag’ with someone), you can simply pick up the phone and get the situation resolved immediately.
Phone calls are best for:
- Immediate responses. If you want to be able to relegate your emails to certain scheduled times of day, you may need an answer fast. A phone call gets you the information you need right away.
- Details. Any time you need to ask questions and then follow up with additional questions, a phone call is usually faster. This also goes for anything that would be needlessly long to type up.
- Miscommunications. If the other person doesn’t seem to understand your email, a phone conversation may be exactly what you need. Some concepts are just more easily understood when talked through.
Limiting email within your business
Change has to occur from the top down when it comes to something as ubiquitous as email usage. By requesting that employees limit email throughout your business, you can transfer your own newfound productivity to the rest of your employees.
Encourage your employees to send consolidated emails rather than emailing throughout the day and urge them to use phone calls or instant messaging when they can.
An overabundance of emails throughout a business often leads to workloads being shifted around rather than actually completed. Instead of finishing a document, employees may send them back and forth asking extraneous questions, and while that still amounts to work, it reduces productivity. By reducing the amount of email usage in your business overall, you can increase the amount of actual work product.
Boost your productivity
There’s no doubt that email is one of the best communication tools available today, but it’s also often stealing more time than it should. Email is overused, and it has to be managed effectively. It can easily become a time sink if it’s allowed to spiral out of control.
Once you’re able to reduce the amount of time you spend on emails, you’ll also find that you’re actually getting far more done.
By taking action to reduce your email usage — and your company’s email usage — you can foster more effective communication habits.
But it isn’t going to happen overnight, especially in a world that is as reliant upon email as this one. Through TEC, you can connect with professionals and leaders and court their opinions on better productivity, communication, and business processes.
Sign up with TEC today to gain access to an experienced and global peer-to-peer network for CEOs, entrepreneurs, and leaders.
From stand-up scrums to sit-down sessions, meetings take up a large portion of time for any organisation. When managed effectively, a meeting is an opportunity to optimise business operations. But when managed poorly, meetings become disruptive and distracting.
It’s estimated that $37 billion a year is wasted on meetings that are unnecessary — and meetings themselves can offer a false sense of productivity that gets in the way of legitimate accomplishments.
What’s the difference between an effective, powerful meeting and a waste of time? It often comes down to leadership.
Leaders are what set the tone and course of a meeting; they are the ones who decide whether a meeting is necessary, what format the meeting should be in, and how long the meeting should take.
As a leader, you need to take steps to make sure your meetings are living up to their potential.
1. Create a highly structured agenda
Meetings tend to bounce from one topic to another as related concerns arise and an extemporaneous discussion begins. While this type of exploration can sometimes be useful, it’s more often distracting.
Creating a highly structured agenda will keep your meeting focused on the issue at hand. When creating an agenda, ask yourself:
- What are the goals of the meeting?
- Who is necessary for the meeting?
- When is the best time for the meeting?
Expand on your agenda with a thorough outline of the meeting’s discussion topics. A narrow, specific agenda is the most useful agenda; the broader your meeting topics are, the less likely you are to be able to get anything substantive done.
2. Only invite those who belong to the entire agenda
A shorter, smaller meeting is almost universally desirable. Additional members will only expand the scope of a meeting, encouraging it to run longer and reducing its capacity to focus.
Meetings should be as short as possible and should be limited to attendees who are necessary. If team members feel that the meeting is not relevant to them, they will often become distracted. They may even derail the meeting entirely, in an attempt to bring it towards topics that are more relevant to them. Even if they remain silent, their time will still be wasted.
Irrelevant meetings burn out employees — and over time, they encourage employees to ‘zone out’ during meetings even when they are relevant to them. Improving the relevancy of your meetings is the first step towards ensuring that employees are attentive and alert.
3. Stick to the agenda
It’s easy for unexpected issues to arise during a meeting. After all, team members may find themselves suddenly in the room with a large number of people who could solve the problems that they’re currently encountering.
This encourages them to discuss issues that are relevant to their current tasks. But for a meeting to remain efficient, it’s important to avoid being side-tracked.
When an issue that’s not on the agenda does arise, acknowledge it and have it recorded. Make it a point to discuss it in subsequent meetings.
Ensuring that the issue is properly acknowledged is important; otherwise, team members may feel as though they have been brushed off.
Likewise, it’s important to schedule a meeting to discuss the issue if it is a valid one, as otherwise people could forget about the issue.
4. Debrief and follow up
Once the meeting is over, give an overview of the key points the team has discussed and the information that has been gained throughout the meeting.
If it is desirable to get undirected feedback, set aside a time at the end of the meeting for meeting members to address any of their additional concerns.
A report should be compiled to include the meeting’s minutes, and team members with newly assigned projects or tasks should be followed up to make sure they’re on track.
Ideally, every team member involved in the meeting should walk away understanding the issues raised, the solutions presented, and their role in implementation. Written documentation will further improve the process as team members will be able to refer back to the documentation later.
As a leader, you have the unique ability to direct the meeting — and an effective meeting is all about direction. Keep your agenda close, and you’ll be able to keep the meeting on track and moving swiftly.
But meetings aren’t just about structure and process; they’re also about practice and experience. Connecting with other leaders is an excellent opportunity to acquire tips from others. Contact TEC today to find out more about connecting with a peer group of thousands of leaders, entrepreneurs, and mentors.
TEC’s Confidence Index Report revealed that 35% of CEOs consider time as the major barrier to innovation. Time is a precious resource — it cannot be purchased, bartered, or sold. And this is especially problematic given that 52% of CEOs have cited new products or services as the centrepiece of their growth plans. To develop these new products and services, innovation is critical. And that requires finding the time.
Make the best use of available time
Innovation and operational effectiveness go hand-in-hand. When running a business, it’s almost always easier to reduce expenses than it is to increase revenue.
Time operates similarly. Though you cannot create more time, you can use the time that you have more effectively. Automating repetitive tasks, making better use of technology, and outsourcing intelligently are all ways that a business can make the most of time as a resource.
By analysing your business for inefficiencies and improving productivity, you can make more space across the board for innovation. Your most talented employees will be working on the tasks that they are best suited for — and they will be able to focus on new products and services rather than routine, mundane, and repetitive tasks. The more productive the business become, the less time will be a concern.
Don’t try to rush innovation
Innovation takes time: there’s no way around it. But it can be difficult for a business to pour resources into a process that appears to be remaining static. Business owners may feel as though brainstorming, researching, and market testing isn’t producing tangible results — and consequently they may feel as though they need to rush it.
But rushing innovation can ultimately lead to mistakes. Innovation is something that cannot be forced. The best a CEO can do is create a culture and environment that fosters innovation; after that, it is often required that they wait.
Innovation must be continuous
CEOs must set aside time every month — or even every week — to collaborate and explore ideas with their teams. Employees will not generate ideas for the company in their spare time; they need to be directed.
Teams of individuals work far better than individuals alone, as they are able to bounce ideas off one another. In a team set-up, it’s easier to point out loopholes in ideas and good ideas will be encouraged. By getting your employees on board, you’ll be able to increase both employee creativity and employee engagement.
Innovation cannot be something that has an end goal, such as one more product or service. Rather, innovation has to be a continuous process — this is how a business can continue to improve and remain competitive.
Develop a clear process
Innovation begins by identifying a problem, and this can range from internal to industry-wide. Consider your current clients and your future clients, and think about emerging trends and market changes.
Once you’ve identified a problem that either exists or that will arise, you can then find a solution to that problem or to that inefficiency. The goal is to find a way to solve the problem that your company can excel at.
The best and most talented employees are experts at innovation. But other employees can still learn — and they should. The process begins by educating your employees on the process of innovation and ensuring that they understand that any employee can be instrumental to the process. Innovation doesn’t require a tech background; it merely requires a solid understanding of a company’s customer base and industry operations.
By refining your creative processes and improving business productivity, you can develop new products and new services that will not only compete with other companies but potentially even disrupt them. Naturally, the process begins with a solid understanding of your own company’s fundamental operations, in addition to brainstorming and creating confidently.
Big data is currently a global industry worth an estimated $130.1 billion — and it’s expected to grow to more than $203 billion by 2020. Businesses in all industries have begun capturing and analysing large volumes of data to produce superior business outcomes, but not all businesses are using this data as effectively as they could. Businesses that aren’t utilising the data they have — or that aren’t capturing the data that they could — are missing out on a significant business advantage.
Develop a data strategy
Every business, regardless of size, should develop a data-driven IT strategy. When properly implemented, data strategies can help an organisation in everything from reducing employee absenteeism to improving upon worksite safety.
A complete data strategy should include how data will be obtained, analysed, and utilised — in addition to setting specific metrics that can be used to determine the success of the strategy.
IT strategies include exploring and identifying the technologies and platforms that are most useful to the business, in addition to creating a roadmap for the strategy into the near future. This strategy will grow and adapt with the business.
Though big data is most often associated with marketing and e-commerce, it has an incredible number of applications. Logistics, shipping, repairs and maintenance, and employee performance are all examples of business processes that can be analysed for improvements and inefficiencies.
There are numerous suites that are designed to collect and analyse data related to physical assets, shipping and fulfilment, and human resources tasks. These suites make it easier for an organisation to identify potential bottlenecks within their business processes and to resolve them.
Train employees to embrace big data
By providing the right software and training, your organisation can empower your employees to make faster, better decisions. Rather than getting bogged down in the heuristics of decision-making, employees can instead use advanced analytics and insights to explore issues and produce solutions.
But employees need the right tools in order to be able to make use of their data. They also need to select the right metrics to track and improve upon performance. A true understanding of data analysis is often needed in order to drill down to the most important points for an organisation.
By establishing a data-driven company culture and providing the appropriate training and tools, employers can foster a healthier relationship between employees and their data. Employees who are not resistant to change will often find that data analysis can greatly improve their results and simplify their own work, by automating tasks and providing for better overall business outcomes.
Track your data on a regular basis
A data strategy isn’t something that is created and then left to run its course. Instead, data strategies are living elements of a business, which must be continually tracked, checked, and optimised. Businesses need to be exceptionally conscientious of the data that they create; otherwise, it’s very easy for a business to fall into the trap of creating and storing endless volumes of unrelated or unimportant data.
Part of a data strategy should lie in setting up weekly or monthly reviews. These reviews should include metrics such as goals and key performance indicators, which will identify whether the business is currently improving and whether there are any newly evolved inefficiencies that need to be resolved. Without these metrics, it becomes impossible to tell whether a data strategy is truly working.
Helpful tools for collecting and managing data
Not every business has dedicated data scientists on their staff — but they also don’t need to. Advanced tools have been developed that make it easier for businesses of all sizes to collect and manage their data. Modern data science is a far cry from prior years, in which data might include simply looking at monthly sales, inventory data, and income and expense reports. The data provided and analysed by modern business tools is extremely robust, often specialised, and invaluable. A few different types of tools include:
- Business Intelligence (Microsoft Power BI, ClearStory, IBM Watson Analytics). Comprehensive Business Intelligence suites are designed to analyse a company’s core business processes, identifying inefficiencies at all levels of the company’s own internal operations.
- Website Analytics (Google Analytics, Quantcast). Many businesses today rely upon their websites for customer service, outreach, and acquisition. Website analytics engines provide detailed information about website traffic, demographics, and user behaviour.
- Customer Relationship Management (MailChimp, HubSpot, Marketo, Salesforce, Zendesk). CRM suites are designed to foster customer relationships. It does this by tracking information related to the customer’s journey and reporting on the relationship the customer has with an organisation.
- Data Sharing and Storage (Dropbox, Google Drive, Google Cloud). Data is useless if it cannot be stored or shared; these tools are designed to keep data in a centralised repository through which it can be accessed.
- Trend Identification (Buzzsumo, Google Trends). Businesses need to be up-to-date on current trends if they are to reach out to certain marketing demographics. These analytics engines provide information about what’s currently trending, usually through the internet and news.
- Inventory Management (TradeGecko). Logistics, shipping, supply, and demand can all be greatly simplified through inventory management suites, which can analyse a company’s inventory to determine the best products to stock.
There are additionally more specialised tools, such as Klipboard (which manages employees out in the field), Maptive (which transforms raw, location-based data), and Tranzlogic (which provides credit card data analysis for merchants of all types).
Using data to drive business growth
There is no one-size-fits-all data strategy. Business data comes in all shapes and sizes, purely dependent on the metrics that an organisation wants to track and its goals for improvement. Regardless, data is an incredibly important driver for business growth today — it is absolutely essential for businesses that wish to retain a competitive edge and improve upon their operations. Businesses today have more choices than ever for analytics and data-related tools, and they need to get started now if they don’t want to be left behind.
TEC provides resources for organisations that are moving into the modern era and taking advantage of the new technology available to them. If you are interested in learning more about the benefits that technology can provide, you may want to discuss analytics and data with other like-minded individuals. Contact TEC today to find out more about how the world of big data is changing and how your business can begin to change with it.