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.
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.
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.
Throughout Fortune 1000 companies, change management has been estimated to only have a 50 percent success rate. Some estimates even place success rates at as low as 20 percent. Acquisitions, mergers, down-sizing — all of these are critical events expected to happen throughout the organisation. With the fast-paced evolution of technology, employees will experience change constantly. Whether it’s the introduction of a new service offering or implementation of a sales tool, the success of change within an organisation often lies in the hands of its employees. Change is inevitable, but successful change can be evasive.
Transparency and consistency
More than anything else, employees value an open line of communication with upper management. When employees believe that they can easily reach out to the management team, they become 54 percent more likely to be engaged. On the other hand, when employees do not feel that their management is open and approachable, engagement is only 2 percent, while 65 percent are actively disengaged.
All of this underscores the importance of transparency and consistency. Employees are concerned about the ramifications of changes at work as it can impact their lives. Organisations may be concerned about expenses and income, but employees worry more about how it can impact their families, their health, and their personal time. As this change occurs, this type of uncertainty can translate into poor work performance.
Before, during, and after change, communication needs to remain active and transparent. Often, this will require a communication management plan.
Introducing employees to the change
The initial communication between you and your employees will set the stage for further interactions. Organisations must be able to communicate change clearly, honestly, and empathetically. They must explain why change is occurring and how it will be occurring.
Everyone absorbs information differently, as well as at different rates and this is something you need to consider. Although you can communicate the mechanics of the change in multiple ways, it is best done face-to-face as an announcement or in a meeting. You’ll need to highlight why this is necessary, how it impacts you, and more importantly, how it impacts them. Be transparent about the potential effects and address their concerns right away by outlining your contingency plans. At the end of the meeting, send out a wrap up email to solidify the discussion and highlight important points clearly.
At the beginning of the change management process, CEOs must not only clearly communicate the facts of the change to their employees, but also give employees information about how to further connect with their supervisors and discuss their potential concerns.
Communicating the benefits of change
At all levels of an organisation, concerned parties will be wondering why the change is occurring. It’s imperative that stakeholders understand the direction that the company is headed in, as well as upper level management. Don’t overstate or over promise. Instead, inspire, motivate, and be honest.
Benefits should always be emphasised that may directly or indirectly impact employees. Remember that information will trickle down from the top. Apart from company-wide communications, information will transfer from executives to managers and from managers to employees. Each time, some of that information may be lost to misinterpretation and only the major talking points will remain.
The organisation as a whole can transition more smoothly towards change if everyone views it as a positive experience. If individuals within the organisation feel that change is unnecessary or even potentially harmful, they will be less eager to participate.
The impact of change
In addition to the positives, you also need to be realistic about the negatives. Part of being a leader involves quickly and directly addressing issues that may arise before rumours circulate and they go out of hand. Don’t try to hide the negatives; if this is what will happen, it will come out eventually. Be honest and empathetic and let all employees know what they are in for. It is important to build an atmosphere of trust with your employees. They will be better prepared for the negatives to come and will most likely weather through it if they are properly advised ahead of time.
Employees understand that negative issues can arise. They simply need to know that they are under solid, confident, and honest leadership. By being honest, you can inspire your employees to work harder. Discuss the complexities of the change and what they will have to endure, and then tie it into the rewards and benefits that they can expect as soon as the change is complete.
Prepare your contingencies in advance
Not all negatives and drawbacks are certain. There are a number of complications that could arise that must be planned for. Communicate these potential complications as well as the contingencies in place to address them. All parties involved will rest easier knowing that their concerns are being addressed, and they will be better prepared should these possibilities become a reality.
Open lines of communication are important: if there are contingencies that you have not considered, employees and management must feel as though they can report them to someone higher up and have them addressed. This is critical to success, as it ensures that employees will feel comfortable addressing any potential blind spots.
Following up after success
Your job isn’t complete after the change has taken place. You must also make sure to celebrate the success. You owe it to the employees to reward them for their hard work and trust. The next time change arises throughout your organisation, your employees will remember this and be more willing to pitch in.
Organisations able to manage change successfully are 350 percent more effective than their peers. Managing organisational change is often a matter of knowledge, skill, and experience. With a tremendous number of moving parts, change management requires both logistics and social skills. If you want to improve upon these skills, you may need the help of peers and mentors. Contact TEC to find out how monthly meetings with a CEO peer group can help you deal with different types of organisational change.
Consolid8 is an accounting firm that was originally built on the experience Managing Director Tanya Titman developed providing management accounting solutions. From that basis, Tanya realised there was a significant need for greater financial literacy among business owners, a focus she believes is a great differentiator for the business. There’s also been a focus on cloud accounting solutions, a fact that has seen the company recognised by Xero for its contribution to the industry.
However, Consolid8 hasn’t just made a name for itself in the way it serves its clients. The company is in the unique position of offering subsidised onsite childcare for its staff – a model that other businesses have expressed their desire to replicate. The childcare facility has provided challenges to the firm over the years, but it is well-established as a key part of Consolid8’s culture. The ongoing benefits it provides Tanya and her team have been well worth the effort.
The challenge: Balancing business ownership with a young family
In the last practice Tanya worked in before starting Consolid8, trying to look after two children (there are now four in her family) meant she experienced challenges often associated with being a working parent.
“[When] having a baby and running a business, you don’t get to take six months off or 12 months off and just enjoy motherhood. It’s like business, it never stops,” Tanya began. “I went through the challenges of trying to look after a baby while balancing that with work, and it was really, really hard.”
“At the end of it I thought ‘no woman should have to go through this’, so when I went out on my own from day one I set up the on-site childcare.”
Tanya approached the inclusion of the childcare facility with no real strategy, but a desire to make it happen so other women could avoid the stress of what she went through. This resolve was put to the test even before the facility’s doors opened. It was originally meant to be a joint venture, but the day the centre was to open was the day the GFC hit, so the other business pulled out.
The solution: Creating a family-friendly working environment
Tanya’s experience in an industry that wasn’t able to offer the flexibility working parents desired was a key catalyst for the on-site child care centre. Women across the accounting sector were being discouraged from coming back into the workforce after having children, leaving them to make the tough decision between their children and their career. At Consolid8, that’s not a choice they have to make.
“Amongst my peers and people I’ve gone through uni with, there’s some amazing talent and I’ve seen them rise really quickly through various firms and do amazing things and then they’ve had a child and it’s all come to a grinding halt because they weren’t offered any sort of flexibility,” Tanya explained.
“If I can present these amazing women with an opportunity to bring their kids to work or have their baby with them and be able to be breastfeeding and not have any of the barriers to being in the workforce… no one has to make the choice between work or family”.
Unfortunately, the process of setting up a child care centre wasn’t as simple as it sounds, especially as Tanya was essentially a pioneer for this model of creating an on-site variant. One of the core decisions concerned whether the centre could be government-funded without incurring significant amounts of red tape.
“If we were to become a fully licensed childcare facility, we could access government funding but to do that essentially we’re becoming a commercial childcare centre, and there’s a whole lot of regulation and a whole lot of requirements for that that made it cost-prohibitive,” Tanya says.
The results: An engaged workforce and a defining culture
The effects of the on-site child care centre have been wide-reaching, and influence more than just the working parents that bring their children into Consolid8 each day.
“A graduate can come on to our team and know they’ve got a lifelong career here if they want it, and they’ll never have to make that choice,” Tanya says. “I’ve had some of my male team members come on board and be able to bring their children to work so that their wives can go back to work.”
Most importantly, the centre is shaping Consolid8’s culture and changing the way staff engage with each other, while also attracting the next generation of employees.
“The parents that are on the team are very connected because their children are growing up together in child care.”
“The talent we get is incredible and we have a lineup of people wanting to come on board,” Tanya notes. “In an industry that is really quite competitive for great staff, it means that we have the edge over many of the larger firms because they can’t match what we can offer in terms of that work/life balance.”
Tanya’s desire to challenge herself while developing Consolid8 led her to TEC, where she finds she is able to be influenced by people from business outside the accounting industry. Importantly for Tanya, the group isn’t just there to congratulate her on what went well but rather exists to question and challenge her – and each other – for the purposes of improving the business and her role within it.
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.
Businesses need to move with the times, something that Tom Eckersley quickly realised when he took over his father’s company, Eckersley Group, with his brother in 1991. Providing a broad range of printed materials to businesses across Australia, the introduction of the digital age has meant Tom’s had to update his product and service offering frequently in order to remain relevant.
Keeping pace with digital transformation
“The advent of digital technology has completely changed the way both our customers and we as a business look at printed products,” explains Tom. “Marketing has undergone huge transformations – our clients are connecting with their customers in completely different ways, everyone is trying to decide on the best medium to communicate through, and there’s now a far greater range of products to choose from.”
Rather than seeing the digital transformation as a challenge to overcome, Eckersley Group chose to work directly with new technology to provide a range of innovative, highly relevant products. These mainly focus around targeting printed media to increase engagement. “Instead of printing a generic brochure that goes out to 100,000 people, we’ll now produce 1,000 but they’ll be aimed at a specific sector or group. We’ll use data to individually personalise content, and through this we’ll increase engagement.”
From the business end, the technology Eckersley Group uses to produce material has changed dramatically over the years. Tom’s invested in a range of new technologies to keep up with this, particularly digital production equipment. “We decided it was best to concentrate on a few core activities rather than a broad range of service offerings. This has meant we’ve been able to carve out a niche slice of the market without over-stretching ourselves.”
A dynamic duo
The print industry is one where, as Tom explains, dynamism is key. “We need to be incredibly responsive to the market, we can’t work on one model from yesteryear, we need to change our business model constantly in order to keep up with the pace of technological transformation.”
Tom and his brother realised that, in recent years, there’s a clear need for an end-to-end supply solution in the print industry. Eckersley Group responded to this by focusing on logistics. “We’re no longer just providing the product. Instead, we’re looking at end-to-end solutions, including supply, warehousing and distribution into our offering,” says Tom.
It’s this dynamism that’s gotten Eckersley Group to where it is today – a highly successful business that’s developed and grown over the years, taking on a number of other printing companies and adding them into the core. This has enabled Tom and his brother to receive acclaim from the print community, winning Craftsman Awards consistently for the quality of work they produce.
An outside perspective
In a family business like Eckersley Group, where meetings can take place around the dining room table as much as in the office, it’s essential to get an outside perspective. For Tom, TEC was able to provide that objectivity. “I met someone many years ago who was having a similar experience to me in terms of running a family business. He mentioned TEC and suggested that I go along to one of the meetings. From there, I never looked back. TEC’s given us that broader range of input and objectivity that we needed. When you’re in a family business, you’re so involved with everything and you have been all your life, so it’s important to get some perspective.”
As well as talking over issues around the table, Tom also enjoys hearing from the public speakers that TEC brings in. “The speakers bring a different dimension, they bring a lot of expertise to a particular topic, whereas with the group we can get that broader advice. Both have worked really well in improving my decision making at Eckersley Group.”
Established in: 1971 (Tom and his brother took over in 1991)
Size: 30 staff and around 1,000 clients
Markets: Australian SMEs, corporates, governments, some individuals especially book publishers
Product range: 1,000s of productions over 100 different categories, covering all marketing materials, printed matter and business stationery, both from a digital production and a traditional offset production point of view
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.