Agreements: Key to your leadership success

The start of a new year, growth in your business, increasing complexity, new federal tax legislation, increasing competition, the introduction of new products or services… They’re just a few examples of business complexity that require strong leadership to chart a new destination and clarity to define success. 

The answers to, “What direction are you heading?” and “Why are you heading that direction?” require leadership. In almost all cases, you will need to work with others and clearly communicate to inspire them to your vision of success.


What can we do to more quickly build a framework that engages our team members, outsiders, and other stakeholders and propels everyone’s actions to reach our desired level of success? Let’s consider focusing in 2018 on better and stronger agreements. 

Agreements can be oral or written, simple or complex. The understanding on when and how to use an agreement in business is critically important to gaining trust, honoring relationships and putting dignity (“the state of being worthy of honor and respect”) into relationships, to create value and build a more profitable business model. Gaining agreement is not always easy, but it’s essential to any ongoing relationship.

Here are 6 items to help build strong agreements:

  1. Dream of the desired state and define why you desire it and what success looks like for you, your department and/or your company.
  2. Describe why the desired state is important to you, your team and your company.
  3. What must you do to achieve your dream and the success desired?
  4. Who is involved and needed to assist you in fulfilling and accomplishing your dream state?
  5. What are the specific messages you need to communicate, and what agreements are required to lead others to help you achieve this success?
  6. Develop a list of terms (the words and phrases that express the concepts required for a strong agreement). The terms must be clear to all parties involved in the agreement to achieve the desired outcomes. 

Without strong agreement, we operate from a position of unconscious and often conflicting set of assumptions. In that position, relationships are fragile at best and most of the time the relationships are far less successful than desired. 

When should you worry that your agreements might be weak? Consider these 3 warning signs:

  1. Employees or stakeholders refuse to share ideas, or their ideas are not acknowledged.
  2. Solutions to issues and problems are incomplete and not resolved, causing frustration and confusion.
  3. Complex challenges are not dealt with efficiently or in a manner quickly enough to make a real difference. 

When the people involved in the company struggle to see eye to eye on an issue, their implicit vague agreement causes a misalignment. Misalignment creates greater risk and destroys value. 

Most importantly, without clear agreements, our decision-making is clouded, and we fail to honor our own values. Leaders struggle to make timely and appropriate decisions, ultimately operating at a level far less than their potential. 

The same applies to employees. In the absence of strong agreements, we set them up for poor performance and failure. Questions left unanswered in the culture include: “How do we interact to achieve the desired results?” “What are the unwritten rules of the game?” “What level of autonomy and resource do I use to make an impact?” 

Clarity for both the supervisor and employee on responsibilities, accountabilities, duties and performance levels through strong agreement relieves the pressure and tension allowing for personal expression, business growth and the ability for the team to create value for the customer.

The use of agreements (both formal and informal) guides companies to make good decisions, and supports organizational capacity-building and maturity. 

If you would like to learn more about building strong and better agreements with your employees and stakeholders, contact a ThistleSea Team member. We would be glad to help you and your organization.

5 Areas to Improve Your Profit Margins

It's important to remember that "profit" is just a result of a well-executed plan involving many actions in your business to gain more resources than you have invested.

Most business owners and executives with profit/loss responsibilities have the desire to improve their profit margins. Some have mastered the process and others struggle to know what to do. While there are many things to consider, here are five areas to review and consider to take action.

  1. Listen to your customers.
  2. Look to create value.
  3. Do the math.
  4. Perform expert technical work.
  5. Lead your team.

(1) Listen to your customers.

Your customers are talking. Are you listening?

Your customers are talking. Are you listening?

While it may sound like simple advice, business today changes rapidly. Keeping the pulse of your customers, with their use of faster communication, is harder than it used to be. Process changes that impact how business is conducted are critically important to your profit margins. We recommend surveying your customers frequently to ensure you understand their perspectives and make adjustments to improve your performance in their eyes.

It's surprising how many leaders somehow forget this important step.

(2) Look to create value.

Increasing your value in the eyes of your customer may involve how you deliver and serve them, beyond the technical aspects of your produce or service.

Is there something you can do to help them be more successful that's in your wheelhouse? Would it create additional revenue for them? And would it increase YOUR value, your sales revenue or the volume of business you do with them? Is it a new product/service you could offer to gain more revenue?

(3) Do the math.

If you haven't done the math...

If you haven't done the math...

Are you developing realistic forecasts of your revenue, expenses and cash flow? This is the first step to understanding your current state, which can then be followed by "what if?" models. When you've gathered your numbers, you can ask questions like:

  • What if we offered more products or services?
  • What if we expanded our coverage?
  • What if we dropped a service or product line?
  • What if we focused differently?
  • What if we enhanced our sales department?

Asking questions and modeling the "what ifs," prior to a strong execution of the model, can have a tremendous impact on your profit margins.

(4) Perform expert technical work.

Really be good at your technical work! All the forecasting and planning will only do so much to deliver increased profit. You must deliver on your promise to your customers technically as well.

Invest in your team and continually help them enhance their skills in delivery for your customers. Are you getting great testimonials and referrals? If not, your work needs to be analyzed for needed improvements to ensure you're all working together to deliver great results.

(5) Lead your team.

It's good to share your vision and inspire your team members to follow your lead. Part of the vision is the desired levels of revenue and performance required by your customers.

Don't hesitate to try new ways to enhance your company's offerings, measure your results and adjust.

If you'd like to learn and discuss more about ways to improve your profit margin, just contact us.

"If they don't really want the job, they won't quit unexpectedly."

Or "Eating an elephant one bite at a time."

I decided to write this series after reflecting on my time as a client at ThistleSea (I'm the only one in our office who can do this). This may give you an idea of why someone might hire a business coach.

When you're working in a business that kind of has HR systems, the first major step forward is a big one. It's job descriptions. And it's not just job descriptions - it's the performance standards that go along with them.

When I realized that our hiring practices were tied fairly directly to my foot pain (see previous post), I decided that there was no avoiding the next big step. (After all, I was only 34 and I had only two feet that were supposed to last me for the next 60 years.)

Here's what I did:

  1. I listed every position in the company. There were 13.
  2. I figured out which job descriptions were the closest to "already done." (After all, we had job descriptions. They just weren't nearly detailed enough.)
  3. I looked at my calendar, and I blocked off time to work on this. I knew if I tried to do it during the work day, I'd just place it lower and lower on my priority list and it would never get done. So I selected Saturday mornings, from 9 am until 1 pm at the local coffee shop.
  4. I made a pledge not to work on the job descriptions at all, except the time I had set aside to do it.
  5. I showed up on the first Saturday at 9:00 am and got to work.

I won't sugarcoat this process. It wasn't easy, and it required tremendous focus. It took roughly 6 months.

As I finished my first draft of each position, I met with the manager who supervised that particular role. I asked him/her, "How'd I do with this? Does this accurately represent the duties and responsibilities you expect each employee in this role to do? What did I leave out? What did I capture incorrectly? You're the expert... could you share your expert opinion?"

  • Some managers had immediate feedback.
  • Some needed time to think. (Of course, I made sure to schedule a follow-up meeting.)
  • Some said, "This is good, but would it be okay if I got the employees' input? I bet they'll have even more feedback than I will." (<--Another lesson for me to use in the future.)
This is kind of what your company looks like to new hires when you don't have good job descriptions in place.

This is kind of what your company looks like to new hires when you don't have good job descriptions in place.

I shared that once we got the job descriptions the way we wanted them, I'd be coming around again for their expert opinions on the performance standards. (I set them up to be ready for the next round.)

This was a collaborative process and a challenging one, and I won't lie and say that every manager was enthusiastic about contributing. Not all were. However, when they were finished, a few things happened immediately:

  • Job candidates noticed and commented on our level of professionalism.
  • Some job candidates removed themselves from the candidate pool (Good news for my feet! If they don't really want the job, they won't quit unexpectedly and add 10 hours to my week.).
  • Existing staff members asked questions and gave suggestions about their current roles.
  • Communication increased overall.

As a client, I experienced the weight of the task of writing job descriptions and performance standards. So as a coach, I understand why clients are reluctant to do it and choose to focus on other parts of their HR systems. It's not always possible for the owner of a company to write them her/himself. But it must be done. Drop us a line if you'd like some help with yours.

Strengthening Your Workforce

By John Laslavic

Many businesses we talk to are in dire need of employees with two important characteristics; (1) their attitudes of service honor the business code of conduct and (2) they have the technical competency to perform in their position at a high level. 

Today, most owners and executives advertise for positions when an employee leaves (or right after the employee gives notice). Owners and HR departments perceive that they're competing for quality employees in their specific market segment. And they complain that there are no quality candidates to fill open positions.

Without denying that market factors can impact one's local labor market, we submit that there are three things that business owners and executives can do to reduce the number of open positions, quickly fill vacant positions, and improve the quality of work in the company's workforce.

  1. Stop hiring and start marketing!
    Take action to continuously network, market and accept applications and resumes. Don't be afraid to replace non-performers or those who bring down morale.

    Accept responsibility for the results you are achieving. Don’t make excuses or blame others. Your organization has a lot to offer, and you need to clearly communicate those benefits to your target potential employees.
  2. Evaluate performance.
    Identify each employee's role in the organization, and evaluate individual performance on an ongoing basis. Provide coaching and feedback to each employee, and follow up on all corrective actions to ensure improved performance. Replace employees that are not happy, not performing, and do not share your organization's values.
  3. Actively seek “on-deck” candidates.
    Create a bench of candidates that meet your company's requirements (also called "ondecking."). By creating a talent pool of qualified candidates, you can avoid long vacancies and continually identify more qualified applicants. That will improve and upgrade your organization's workforce.

ThistleSea can work with you to both evaluate your current system and coach your organization to improve it. Give us a call at 724-935-1930 to learn more about our capabilities.