Preparation, a Critical Ally for Greater Personal and Organizational Success

I have spoken to people that believe that planning and goal making are not really for them. They believe that if they plan, they will be constricted, and if they make goals, they will just set themselves up for failure. I guess that is one way to look at it, and I can understand the latter part of that. I admit that I don’t know everyone in the world (not even close), but I have never heard a successful person say something like that. There are people that seem to have a lot of luck in life, but for the rest of us, we need to prepare ourselves for success, and we need to plan for it. Graveyards are riddled with good intentions, lost hopes, failed dreams, and plenty of regrets.

Definition of "Preparation"

Preparation, Prepare, Preparing

Preparation is a part of life. We grow-up with it in everything we do. Washing our hands before dinner, getting dressed to go somewhere, brushing our teeth before bed, and a million other mundane tasks – ingrain in us that “preparation” is an important part of life. Somewhere in life, many people get tired of preparing, perhaps they failed at achieving some goals, perhaps they got sick of chasing the dream. When it comes to personal or organizational success, we always have to be preparing. How do we prepare:

  • Read books that improve our knowledge and skills
  • Hire a coach to improve accountability and learn new methods
  • Be a part of a mastermind group to improve accountability, collaboration, and meet new people
  • Attend social events and conferences to learn and increase our network
  • etc… etc…

Everyone is preparing for something, are you preparing for success, or preparing for failure? If you don’t prepare, its unlikely you’ll make it to where ever it is you want to go, in fact you may not ever start.

Definition of "Plan"

Plan, Planning

I have been talking about planning all week in the posts I’ve shared. We can prepare all the time, by reading books, getting a coach, but hopefully all that is a means to an end, an end that brings you success, happiness, security, or what ever it is you are after. Sitting down and making “a decision about what one is going to do,” and then designing a road-map to get to that destination, will bring clarity.

  • Clarity about what is more important
  • Clarity about who is more important
  • Clarity about your purpose
  • etc… etc…

If you don’t plan, you don’t know where you’re going or how you are going to get there. Whether it is organizational objectives and plans, or personal objectives and plans, they both bring greater purpose and action. Don’t be the kind of person that reads lots of books and is always preparing for something, but never sits down and makes a plan to obtain that something, and use those skills. Graveyards are riddled with smart, brilliant people, that didn’t plan or execute.

What are you going to do to start preparing and planning? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Great Planning CAN Save a Bad Strategy and 19+ Questions to Answer in a Strategic Plan

Strategic-Plan-Execution-Plan-Leadership-Todd-NielsenI have seen a lot of failed strategies with companies, as I am sure you have as well. These strategies come in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes they are an idea on the back of a napkin. Sometimes they are a copy or slight modification of a competitor’s strategy, sometimes they are a fancy PowerPoint full of charts with hockey stick curves. The same is true for the personal strategies to get us where we want to go in life.

It is easy to get excited about an idea or a strategy that you just “know” is going to work and make you successful. It is easy to rush in and start executing on that strategy to bring it to fruition as soon as possible. On the other end of it all though, it is not a pretty sight to see an organization, or person, fall flat on their face, after being filled with so much hope and grandeur of success.

When an idea comes about and you just have all the confidence in the world that it is a great strategy, create a plan, DO NOT rush into it without getting things figured out. In the technology industry, where I have worked with a lot of organizations, I have seen many organizations, get into some new technology, association, service, or other supposedly great idea. They often will rush into it and then realize that on the backside they are losing money because of how difficult it is to support or bill the product/service. This is true across many industries and strategies.

When you begin to develop a plan for a strategy there are several things that have to be figured out:

  1. What is the market for the strategy?
  2. What niche(s) will you be focusing on?
  3. What is the viable target(s) within that market and niche?
  4. What is the expected penetration ratio for that niche? (Don’t do this: “If only .01% of the market buys our product, we’ll be making a killing…”) You need to look at research, talk to potential customers, and determine the true demand.
  5. How will you deliver on this strategy?
  6. What are the costs to deliver the strategy?
  7. What is the make-up of the offering for this strategy?
  8. What materials will need to be developed to sale and support the strategy?
  9. How will you support the strategy?
  10. What is your process for selling and marketing this strategy?
  11. How will you make money with this strategy?
  12. What is the true cost of the strategy?
  13. Do you have enough people, or the right people to effectively deliver this strategy?
  14. Do you have the right systems to deliver the strategy?
  15. How can you test the strategy to ensure it will work?
  16. How much work will be involved and at what cost to implement this strategy?
  17. Why is the strategy a good idea?
  18. How will you measure success of the strategy?
  19. Is this strategy in line with your mission, vision and values?
  20. and lots more…

Many of these points are for a strategy consisting of selling a product or service. Some of the questions still apply for other types of strategies. An acquisition strategy will have potentially hundreds of questions.

The point is you have to ask the right questions, and then answer them. The field is not always greener on the other side. By properly planning for a strategy, sometimes that planning will reveal that it is not a good strategy at all. In that case you can scrap it, and focus on more important strategies. If the plan reveals it is a good strategy, now is time to covert that strategic plan into an execution plan, and start executing.

Many people I’ve worked with on planning, think that planning has to be this long arduous task, and that if they took the time to plan out a strategy, the opportunity would pass them by. That is rarely the case. If that is the case with a strategy, you are probably already too late anyway. If you were to plan things out, you might realize that there are ways to modify the strategy to make it better than a competitor’s.

There are many types of plans, and a strategic plan is something to take seriously. No organization or person wants to end-up falling on their face, broke, and with lots of regrets.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Vital Elements of an Execution Plan that Optimize Success for Leaders

Execution-Plans-Todd-Nielsen-Success-ElementsMany people have a hard time with planning, or do not realize they do… It is easy to have an idea in your head and then stare at a blank piece of paper trying to figure out where to start. This is true for personal plans and also any kind of business plans, be it Annual Plans, Quarterly Plans, etc… On that same token I have seen people who think they are good at planning, and end up putting lots of notes into a document that are cryptic and hard to figure out.

Let’s talk about some needed elements that are important for creating great execution plans. There is a lot that goes into complex planning, such as business plans, annual sales plans, and annual marketing plans (to be covered in another post), but when it comes to execution planning, these are critical elements to make sure you achieve what you are aiming for.

When working on plans, you first have to know what your goals and targets are. A plan is not meant to make people busy, a plan is to move toward something. That “Something” is usually a goal. I won’t go into S.M.A.R.T., but yes goals need to follow the S.M.A.R.T format.

I’d also add that if you can make your goals sound more inspirational it will help your execution and those of your team toward that goal. For example, instead of “Add $250,000 in Sales by June 30th,” make it something like, “Improve the financial security of our company and employees by adding $250,000 in sales by June 30th.” They why behind the latter format is much more inspirational to work towards.

When you have your goals set, then it is time to create a plan. This item now, is where I have seen a lot of people fail in planning. Each goal will usually have a lot of tasks, projects, and milestones under it. These items need to be organized and prioritized into the correct order. Once you have that, you must give assignments to each task, project, and milestone. Who is going to be in charge of completing each item, needs to be determined. Additionally, it is important to add the dependencies to each item. You might have someone in charge of a project or task, but often times they are dependent on others for information. It is important to list the other dependent people that the task or project relies upon so that they can see their part of the plan from the onset.

Every item in the plan, that supports the goals, needs completion dates. A plan where every task has a completion date at the end of the period is not a plan, it’s only a hopeful list.

Before you call your plan completed, you now need to figure out if it is even possible to achieve. Especially in business when everyone has a “day job,” it’s important to weigh the plans and goals against things that could impact availability, such as:

  • People being on vacation
  • People being at conferences
  • Other projects or initiatives that are already ongoing
  • Company events
  • etc…

Great execution plans drive execution and accountability, and they produce results. Bad plans, are hard to follow, are unclear on the priorities, and cause stress, overload, and frustration. With mediocre plans, you may still accomplish a lot, but the old quotation, “Time spent in sharpening the axe may well be spared from swinging it,” is very applicable. If good plans can reduce frustration and overload, then they also help in building a positive culture that is not overworked and stressed.

Please share your questions and thoughts about planning in the comments section.

Stop Talking About it, and Start Doing

If we took all the time in our lives that we thought about doing something, and planned on doing something, and compressed that together, I bet we’d have years of inaction that prevented us from achieving many things. I have been involved in many projects where team members wait until the last week of the quarter to start on their part and then they don’t get it done. I have consulted and coached with individuals that knew what they had to do, but every excuse in the world prevented them from acting. I have seen business owners spend thousands of dollars on training, and then they do absolutely nothing with that training to help their company.

The last year I have had some stresses that have taken a lot of my energy. Wait… hold on… do you see what I just did? I just made an excuse. Sure I had a tough time, but I could have moved an inch, instead of not moving at all. I can’t blame my inaction on anyone but myself. The same goes for you. Don’t be one who says they’ll do something and doesn’t follow through. Create a plan and act. Even if your action is small, you’ll be closer and closer to your objective.

To Execute, and Be Productive – You Gotta Clean House…

I have been through many different training courses on productivity and read a lot of books, and while I don’t practice a particular one,  from them I have formed my own personal methods and processes. One time I was hired for a consulting engagement because as the client said, “You get an amazing amount of things done, so I want to work with you to learn how to do that.” Recently though I felt as if I was bogged down and wasn’t getting as much done as I wanted to. I had trouble making decisions, and was making dumb mistakes on things that I should not be having trouble with.

I knew what one of my main issues was, and I dreaded tackling it. It is the thing that is the Achilles heal of executives the world over… email! I have various email accounts for different purposes. Over the course of the last year as life has been stressful and frustrating, I let them dwindle into chaos. It took me over a week, to delete over 30,000 emails (yes that is correct). Most of them were just old stuff I had no reason to be saving, or were from lists I have signed up for and a ton of articles I emailed myself to review again at a later time. It took a while, but when I finally got my inboxes down to zero, it felt like a huge weight came off me and I could feel my mind clear.

In order to be productive you can’t rely on caffeine, or other stimulants to make you work longer. You need systems, tools, and processes.

My system for email is Microsoft Outlook. I have tried many email clients and still have yet to find one that performs as Outlook does. My process for dealing with mail in my system comes from many places, but is as follows:

  • I use ONE folder for mail storage. I used to be a filer and since I switched to one folder that is conveniently called, “@Archive” my email life has been so much easier. Searching capability in Outlook and other email systems is a hundred times faster than 5 years ago and it just does not make sense to need dozens of folder for storing
  • I have a folder called, “@Action” which contains email I need to act on within the next week or so.
  • I have a folder called, “@Deferred” which contains email I have sent to someone, and for which I need a response to soon. The purpose is to easily be able to follow-up with people.
  • I have a folder called, “@Someday” which contains email I want to act on, but for which there is no pressing time frame.
  • I have another folder called, “To Review” which mostly is articles I have emailed myself, but also might be some list email or something else that I want to review when I have some time.

I have a few pother folders. but they are all temporary. So when I have a big project I am working on, I might have a folder by that project name to keep all my email until the project is over. When it is over the email all goes to the Archive folder and the project folder is is deleted.

I try to keep my inbox down to zero, but it takes diligence. Usually I am on top of it, but this year it slipped. I try to review my folders on a weekly basis during my weekly planning, and process anything I can to keep it clean. That is in addition to my daily planning as well.

The point of this is that keeping your email organized, your desk organized, your computer files organized, and your life organized – will bring greater piece, confidence and success. You will be able to accomplish more, communicate better, and achieve a lot more than you ever thought possible.

Silos – If We All Don’’t Get There, No One Gets There!

silo-silos-leadership-management-Todd-NielsenSilos are Ugly! Some time ago I worked with an organization that offered telecommunication services (60% of revenue) as well as IT services (40% of revenue). The two service types were very complimentary to each other, and each had the potential to boost and feed revenues and profits on both sides of the company. Unfortunately, there was a big frustrating and annoying problem that caused contention, fighting of resources, hurt feelings, and lack of innovation. That problem was a big wall, which in the business world, we call… silos!

Silos can exist between individuals, teams, departments, offices, and divisions. It is frustrating to see the jockeying of power, political games, finger pointing, and contention set in and begin to rot the company from the inside out. I remember talking to an employee at this company and he told me that whenever his boss asks him to do something, he just shakes his head say’s “OK,” and then goes and does what he thinks should be done instead. Even within the teams there were silos of individuals.

There was another team that was in charge of projects. That team and the others were constantly at war with each other over resources. During projects that involved telecommunication and IT, the two sides often fought on architecture and other tangible resources that caused projects to go consistently sideways . They fought over marketing dollars, and other resources. Then after it was all said and done, poor customer satisfaction caused the pointing of fingers at each of the teams and then at the sales department for supposedly selling the project too low. It was a sad state of affairs. 

The idea of, “If We All Don’’t Get There, No One Gets There,” is meant to encapsulate the idea that a company is made of its parts, all the way down to the individuals, and the entities in the organization that the individuals belong to. One department or team, rarely can be successful on its own. They require tangible (People, reports, etc.) and intangible (Time, collaboration, etc.) resources from other areas of the company.

Destroying Silos

For these reasons, silo destroying should be a super power that all leaders strive to master. To overcome this problem at this company I walked the entire organization through a workshop and series of steps as defined below. These are not end-all steps and depend in some respects on the maturity of the organization and depth of the problem:

  1. Define The Core Purpose – I know this looks and sounds like a mission statement, and it could be, depending on the situation, although it can take more than one form. The idea was that people need to unite under ONE core purpose. Most mission statements are long and boring and full of mind numbing language. A good one is short and inspiring. The same is true for a mission statement, manifesto, or whatever else you call your core purpose. Once we defined this core purpose, people began to see that their “world,” in their team or department, was actually pretty small compared to the encompassing purpose of the entire organization.
  2. Define The  Core Objective – Now that you know why you exist, what your core purpose is as an organization – people need to know where they are going. It’s important to have a unifying point that everyone is striving to achieve. Not three points, one point. This also needs to inspire people so that they realize that they will never live to see that day of achievement unless their activities promote collaboration from other areas in the company. They can’t get there on their own.
  3. Align Behaviors and Goals – This is usually a very complicated process, one in which I have met few that are skilled in. We setup short-term objectives and goals and aligned the behaviors and actions of everyone in the company with that core objective. I am simplifying this somewhat, but it brought down the inspiring purpose and objective down to each person’s everyday level and helped them see that their work effects the whole organization.
  4. Track Like Crazy – Goals and behavior have to be managed through. We tracked everything that we were trying to achieve, and were quick about making course corrections when we got off the course towards our core objective.
  5. Communicate Until It Is Annoying – Uncertainty was prevalent and to prevent a mass exodus and decline in morale, we met often, and communicated often. People just want to know what is going on and want to feel some security.
  6. Create a Culture of Learning – This seems a little off topic from the others. The idea is that now that you have people’s behavior aligned with the core objective, now is the time to feed them with knowledge that will help unite them, and foster innovation. When everyone is learning it changes and catapults the idea generation in a company. This was done through reading of books, training sessions, employee taught training, and other methods. Little spurs innovation like a bunch of people learning new things that make them more knowledgeable and able to perform their jobs.

Silos can be stressful, but by adapting the philosophy of, “If We All Don’’t Get There, No One Gets There!” and implementing these 6 steps, a leader can push through this and get the organization in sync with each other. Of course there is a lot of messy work along the way, but together you will be able to get through it much more easily.

Please share your thoughts on destroying silos in the comments section.

The Ultimate Annual Personal Success Plan – NOW FREE!

Ultimate_Personal_Success_Plan-Todd-NielsenAs we passed the half year mark I reviewed my long-term and annual goals and realized that if I wanted to achieve some of my goals, I needed to really help others achieve their goals. I have been using the Ultimate Annual Success Plan this year and it has been enormously helpful in assisting me to achieve my goals. I decided that it was time to give back to my subscribers and help make the second half of this year – your best year ever.

In case you are not familiar with the Ultimate Annual Success Plan, it is a Microsoft Excel Workbook that is meant to not only help define your goals, but it will help you to align, track, measure, and execute on the plans to reach your annual goals… and beyond.

It is something I have been working on for 3 years, and it continues to evolve and improve. I hope it can help you achieve your goals as well.

Below are a series of 5 videos that take you through the entire workings of the success plan. To get the Ultimate Annual Success Plan for Free just subscribe and your discount code and link will be sent to you.

Video 1: Define Your Goals

Video 2: Monthly Planning

Video 3: Weekly Planning, Tracking, & Review

Video 4: Dashboard & Notes Report

Video 5: Wrap-up & Extending the Tool

I hope and pray that this tool will help you be successful this year, and for years to come. Subscribe now to receive the link and discount code. If you have the discount code, you can order below.

Success Plan Triple Lines

How to Get the Ultimate Annual Personal Success Plan for FREE

Success Plan Triple Lines

The Ultimate Annual Personal Success Plan Excel Workbook sales for $79.95, but as a subscriber you get it for FREE!

If you are already a subscriber you should have received a discount code, if you have not subscribed, type your name and email below and a discount will be emailed to you right away.  if you have already subscribed and do not have a code, please contact me.

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Together – lets make this the best year ever!

Execution Explained – In a Tiny Nutshell

Execution-In-A-Nutshell-Todd-Nielsen“Everything is theoretically impossible, until it is done.” An American science-fiction author, Robert A. Heinlein, is responsible for capturing the essence of execution in these  eight simple words.

Execution is simply translating ideas into action. It is getting things done to achieve a goal, desire, or vision. People define success in business very differently; it might be by their profitability, their culture, their size, being “#1,” or a hundred other things. In the end, no success can be achieved if people can’t get things done.

Going from “A” to “B” in real life is never easy, or we would all be accomplished in our fields. So what are the specific steps of executing a purpose? Well for a business it can be complicated and far reaching, but if I had to throw a process that can take months into a nutshell it would consist of these basic actions:

Write Down What You Want To See Happen. Make it as plain and detailed as possible. Write it all down, then try to simplify and clarify the goals as much as possible.

Prioritize Your Goals. Which one is most critical? Which one will have the biggest impact? Start with that one—not the one that is easiest, or most familiar to you. Don’t assume you can do it all. It is better to focus on what you can achieve.

Evaluate And Examine It. Visualize this goal as a destination on a map, while you examine routes to get there. Which routes are possible, and by what means? Are the impossible routes really impossible? What if you were to create a route—be a trailblazer? Continuing this analogy, look at the landscape. What are the obstacles (the competition)? Where are your fallback routes? What or who do you need to reach your destination?

Research And Collaborate. Talk to people who know more than you do. Talk to people who think differently than you do. Get all the perspectives you can on your destination.

Make A Plan And A Timeline. Be specific. Write down everything, create your map. You can always modify the details later, but you cannot modify what you haven’t written down.

Break Down The Plan Into Small, Doable Actions. The biggest problem with execution is that most people look too far ahead when they need to be watching the road right in front of them. Break down everything; when things will get done, who will do them, how you will determine if you have achieved the small actions. A series of small steps can lead a long way toward your destination, if you have done all the preparation beforehand.

…and finally,

Don’t give up. Change of course if you have to, change vehicles when necessary; but if you’re ever going to get there… keep going.

Execution is what makes the world turn, and its what turns companies into huge successes. If you tell your spouse that you love them, but you don’t execute on those words and show your love, then its doomed. The same goes for business. You just gotta execute!

Ingenious Invention Plus a Thoughtful Culture of Execution – Equate Success

Ideas-Execution-Leadership-Todd-NielsenThomas Edison, undoubtedly one of the most celebrated inventors of the 20th century, was the quintessential idea man. Over the course of his career he generated almost 1,100 patents including those of the light bulb, the phonograph, and the motion picture camera. Edison’s prolific career was not just a result of his ingenuity. Though his ideas were certainly the start of his success, it was the culture of execution that he created that propelled those dreams into realities that could be held in the public’s hands.

One of the most important roles that any leader or manager can possess is the ability to execute. After all, effective leaders not only populate their organizations with the best dreamers, but they also provide the structure necessary to transform those dreams into reality.

Before any action can even be planned, it is imperative that a company define their purpose (Mission) a healthy belief system (Values), and a vision and goals for the future. These are some of the beginning elements to creating a foundational structure that will support vibrant execution.

Once a solid foundation is laid, team members’ behaviors can be more effectively addressed. Every organization already has a culture in place, but some are more conducive to effective execution than others. It may be necessary to redefine certain cultural aspects for increased productivity. Keep in mind, however, that such behavioral changes may take up to three months to successfully take hold, are most effective when accompanied by sound frameworks and clear accountability, and become an integral component to the daily routine. While it is perfectly natural for these changes to bring about a bit of tension, they will eventually become just another aspect of the new norm of a more productive behavioral climate.

Such an efficacious environment will be best supported by a sound framework for execution. The leader’s most significant tasks include keeping the team’s eyes on the company’s goals and core ideology, proposed evolution, future brand, as well as the steps necessary to achieve the goals for the future. Such scaffolding will ensure that all key parties are working to realize the same priorities.

Building a highly productive climate is the most difficult charge for any organization’s leadership. Thoughtful planning, meaningful training, and continual reassessment will be necessary to build a true culture of execution. The greatest business paradigm occurs when great invention meets thoughtful execution. By creating such a productive atmosphere, you will ensure that your company’s efforts will reach the public, just like those of Thomas Edison.

Leadership – Put Out or Shut Up

Leadership-Shutup-Todd-NielsenI usually refrain from posting articles about lessons learned from disasters, just out of respect for the events. This week though, a valuable leadership lesson was displayed to me and the words “put-out or shut-up” is what cycles through my mind.

Business owners, and individuals the world over have offered help in various forms to the disaster that has played out in Oklahoma. The outpouring of help and love has been tremendous. Unfortunately, as with any natural disaster, there is confusion about how to help, what is needed, and what kind of help will create the greatest impact. Leaders of organizations often know they should do something, but they are just not sure what. At JMARK Business Solutions, where I recently accepted the post as Chief Operations Officer, the discussion on Monday and Tuesday was not one of delay, and wondering if, where, and what help could be given. The decision was made in seconds that we were going to help. We quickly put together a team, equipment, and supplies and sent them in trucks to Moore, Oklahoma.

The leadership lesson in this is this idea of “put out or shut-up.” Leaders walk the walk, and talk the talk. They do what they say, and say what they do. While sometimes a decision needs to be analyzed and vetted, there are times when you just need to get off your butt, and act. It does not displace teamwork; it’s the team that maximizes the impact.

Sometimes you have to go forward in a direction, not exactly knowing the full impact of the decision. Our team has plenty of food, supplies, and equipment. They have lodging arranged and we have some initial contact with individuals and organizations in Moore that we will be helping, but a lot of it is just pure hope, that we can make an impact. We are not exactly sure what we will do, but do – we will.

The world needs more leaders and more organizations, that are willing to put-out and make the world, and their organizations, a better place. We need more leaders that don’t confuse helping, with wanting to help. We need more leaders that don’t just offer, they give.