Date: 7/27/2015 1:00 PM UTC

“Whatever you are, be a good one.” – Abraham Lincoln

These days, everyone is busy. Almost any time you ask someone how they’re doing, they’ll answer with some form of “busy”. Work, family, social, whatever – most people are always doing something. But is it the right thing?

Simple as it is, I really like today’s quote (maybe partly because it’s simple). Before you can be “a good one”, there’s a very important step that too many people overlook – what are you? No one can tell you what the answer is for you, but I can tell you what the answer isn’t – everything to everybody. Yet too often that’s what we’re all trying to be.

Think about your business. What is the core thing you do? The most fundamental thing? And why do you do that? Too many businesses focus on the thousands of tasks or activities that take up each day. But is those things really what you do? Take a step back from the details. What is the thing that really identifies you? If you keep that in mind, would that change what you spend your time on? If you keep that in mind, would that impact what you think you need to excel at?

Think about your personal life and ask yourself the same questions. What is the core thing I do? The most fundamental thing? And why? Some people are doing so many thing every day it’s a wonder they have time to eat or sleep. Are all of those things really adding to the core thing you do? No chance. In fact, I bet some of them are actually detracting from it. Identify the core of what you are and think about what that means for how you spend your time.

We’ve been conditioned by our societies to feel that busyness leads to success. The reality is that busyness only leads to success if you’re busy doing the right things. Otherwise it just leads to stress & disappointment. Unfortunately, most people who go down that path never really understand why things haven’t turned out the way they’d hoped.

Be good at whatever you are. Just don’t forget the first step – make sure you know what you are.


Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 7/20/2015 1:00 PM UTC

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” – Stephen Covey

I had an invigorating conversation last week with a business owner who’s currently in the middle of a big growth spurt. I asked him what his biggest issue was right now and he said, “We have so many opportunities I feel like I’m not doing any of them justice – I’m afraid we’re going to miss something.” He went on to list all the things they have going on right now. He was right – it was a lot. By the time he was done my head was spinning.

It seems like we all feel that way on a regular basis these days. He was lucky enough that all his issues were positive – around growth, increased profits, etc. But regardless of the specific issues, nearly all of us at some point (maybe on a regular basis) find ourselves thinking the same thing this guy thought: “I’m afraid I’m going to miss something.”

We have to be intentional about what we spend our time doing; no more running from one thing to another in complete chaos. Face it: not everything we do is of equal importance. Some things are critical and others aren’t. Our job is to figure out which is which.

Start off by thinking about all of the issues you could be working on. Then ask yourself to what extent each of those supports your business’s competitive advantage (you actually have to know what that is). Then ask yourself which of those issues presents the biggest opportunity for your business to improve, however you define improvement. Which scores the highest?

Or try thinking about it a different way. Think of everything you could be working on. Which of those things could potentially be handled by someone else? If somebody else in your organization is capable of doing it, shouldn’t they? Shouldn’t you be focused on those things which fall within your unique skill set? Focus on those critical things that others in your organization cannot do and delegate the rest.

Regardless of your approach, one of the most important things you can do as a leader is figure out what’s most important for you to do and then be intentional about doing those things. Sometimes it’s hard to admit that we spend time on things that really don’t matter, but it’s a reality. If you’re spending your time on things that aren’t critical to your organization – why? And what are you going to do about it?


Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 7/13/2015 1:00 PM UTC

“Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.” – Ernest Hemingway

There is a significant part of the population that suffers from a debilitating sickness masquerading as a positive character trait. The sickness is praised in many quarters as being a requirement for achievement, and many people who have it treat it like a prized possession. It’s perfectionism, and unless carefully monitored, it can ruin you as a leader.

There are certainly things that demand perfection. If somebody’s going to perform brain surgery on me tomorrow, I’d like them to aim for perfection. For most people in most situations, however, perfection is an enemy of action.

Too many leaders are afraid to make change “until everything is ready”. Something isn’t quite right in the market, something isn’t quite right with our people or products, etc., so we wait. And we wait. And pretty soon years have passed and we’re still standing in the same place – no closer to what we want to achieve. Eventually we’re so far behind we can never get caught up.

The same could be said for our personal lives. Similar excuses: It’s not quite the right time, or I’m not quite sure about this particular factor, or I don’t have quite enough information. So we wait, and eventually our lives are over and we’ve never done the things we always wanted to do. And we can never figure out why we’re not happy.

Yes, there are things that need to be in place before we can act – but are we really trying to put them in place? Or are they just convenient excuses to cover our fear and/or laziness? “It’s just not the right time” is more often an excuse than it is wise insight.

Think about the changes you need to make, whether personally or professionally. What reasons are you giving for not making those changes? Are they really things that have to be in place? Or are you using perfectionism as an excuse to avoid doing what you need to do? Don’t stand in the same place 10 years from now wondering why things didn’t go the way you wanted. Just start doing it – NOW.

do not wait strike action

Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 7/6/2015 1:00 PM UTC

“The secret to getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” – Mark Twain

I’m sure it would not come as a surprise to anyone reading this that succession planning is a critical issue facing a huge number of the businesses we work with. That’s true virtually everywhere. In the U.S. alone somewhere over 50% of privately owned companies will change ownership in the next 10 years.

And yet, there is a huge number of those companies that have not done anything to plan for that change. When you talk to leaders of those businesses they all acknowledge there’s a problem. They all acknowledge they should do something about it. But time continues to roll on by and they do nothing.

There are a lot of reasons why people don’t address key issues they’re facing, but I think one consistent factor is that they don’t know where to start. That’s true whether you’re talking about succession planning or anything else. People are faced with complex issues that have a lot of moving parts and they feel overwhelmed and uncertain about what to do – so they don’t do anything.

Unfortunately (and obviously), that doesn’t work. Not only do those issues not go away, but there are more and more complex issues every day. We live in an increasingly complex & unpredictable world, and if we can’t handle those kinds of things, we’ll soon drown.

So start small. Break down your complex issue into all its parts. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking time alone or with a few key people and brainstorming everything. Write it down and look at it. Chances are, your urge to feel overwhelmed will start kicking in again – “I can’t do all of this!” And you’re right, you can’t do all of this – right now.

What you can do is think about those pieces and ask: Which of these have the biggest impact on dealing with this issue? What would be the very first step? Then do that one thing. Then do the next thing. And the next. Maybe you start with things you think are easy, just to build some confidence. Whatever the case, start with something. One thing at a time.   And go from there.

We all tend to feel inadequate when faced with certain issues. That doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Failure only happens when you stop trying (or don’t start trying) to address the issues anyway. And the best way to address them is one piece at a time. Start now.

how do you eat an elephant

Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 6/29/2015 1:00 PM UTC

“If you don’t drive your business, you will be driven out of business.” – B.C. Forbes

I recently spent some time with a business owner in our area. He’s a nice guy, but it was exhausting. His view of the world is pretty simple: everyone else has resources I don’t have, I can’t possibly compete in my marketplace, my organization can’t get any more efficient than it already is, customers aren’t interested in buying, the government is out to get me. No matter what suggestion or question I raised, he answered it with some variation of those world views.

The end result is that in his mind there’s no point in attempting to do anything, because it won’t work. Now things have deteriorated to the point where he really doesn’t have many options. If he’s lucky he’ll be able to sell the assets he has – probably for much less than he wants – and that will (perhaps mercifully) be the end of it.

The problem is that there are a dozen or more businesses in our area doing the same thing he’s doing – and many of them are very successful. And there are literally dozens (hundreds?) within a radius of a few hundred miles who are doing what he’s doing. Guess what – many of them are very successful as well.

So what’s the difference? You know where this is going. The difference isn’t that everyone else has resources he doesn’t have, or that his competitors are just too strong (his competition is actually pathetic), or any of the other excuses. The difference is entirely in his view of how the world works.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of leaders out there who think like this guy. They think they don’t control anything, that nothing they do impacts whether they’re successful or not, that no changes they could make would help them be more successful, etc. Things just happen and they’re along for the ride.

But they’re wrong. We can impact the future. We can make changes that impact our success. The businesses like this guy’s that are successful are also aggressive, and taking action, and not just sitting there hoping something good comes along. They are actively driving the bus where they want it to go. And it’s working.

Someone once told me there are three kind of people in the world: Those who make things happen, those who have things happen to them, and those who wonder what happened. Be in the first group. Be a real leader.

a year from now

Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 6/22/2015 1:00 PM UTC

“The world is full of people that have stopped listening to themselves or have listened only to their neighbors to learn what they ought to do, how they ought to behave, and what the values are that they should be living for.” – Joseph Campbell

I like to give people credit for being fairly intelligent. I like to believe that everyone has at least a basic level of common sense. I like to think that there is a limit to how ‘dumb’ people can be. I also like to think that most people have some fundamental level of knowledge about what is right and what is wrong. Unfortunately, all of those thoughts are routinely tested.

It seems as though virtually every day we hear stories about businesses who are dealing with some sort of poor behavior. It doesn’t always rise to the level of being a crime, but it’s at least unprofessional or unethical or dysfunctional. Quite often it’s employees of the business who are behaving this way (although leaders are certainly far from exempt). And almost without exception the leader seems stunned that any of the employees would behave this way.

While there is no single, all-encompassing explanation for bad behavior, I do believe that at times in our organizations we take our core values for granted. Too many leaders assume that the people who work for them know ‘how to act’. Too many leaders make a speech every few years where they use a few words like ‘integrity’ or ‘ethics’ and then think they’ve done their job. Not enough leaders consistently and intentionally stress the importance of organizational values on a regular basis.

We’ve talked a lot in this space about consistently communicating the company vision so that it becomes ingrained in everyone who’s part of the business. When you’re communicating that vision, are you including the part of the vision that says what kind of behavior you value? Or is it just about growth, opportunity, etc.?

More importantly than just talking about them, are you modeling those values? You can’t emphasize the importance of certain behaviors one minute and then completely ignore them the next. Your walk has to match your talk.

Don’t make assumptions. Make it a point to emphasize those values that are crucial to you. Talk about it regularly. Live it always. I’m not suggesting that you’ll never have to deal with bad behavior, but it’s a lot easier to deal with when what you value is clear to everyone around you. Make sure your people know who you are.



Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 6/15/2015 1:00 PM UTC

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

I like using quotes from Einstein because they make me think. I think the quote above is just the nuclear physicist genius way of saying “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” Unfortunately, that seems like the accepted way of approaching problems for most leaders.

Not long ago I was working with a company whose key issue was growth. They had been attempting to reach customers and prospects via the same marketing channels that they’d been using for decades. After talking about how important growth was, and about how they were actually losing sales, their initial idea to fix it was to try harder at doing the same marketing that already wasn’t working. Their initial conclusion was, “This message isn’t successful in selling our products to Bob, so let’s try using the same message to sell our products to Bob only we’ll just do it more often.”

That sounds ridiculous, but ask yourself this: In your organization, how many times have you done this? It may not be the same scenario, but we’re constantly responding to issues caused by bad processes or bad people or changing marketplaces or any number of other things by doing more of the thing that already isn’t working. Stop it already!

If you want your results to change, you have to change your behaviors. You can’t treat customers today the way you did in the past, you can’t treat employees the way you did in the past, you can’t think about your business model the way you did in the past – I could keep going but you get the point. We have to rethink and reinvent everything we do on a regular basis.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to make revolutionary changes to everything you do every few weeks. Sometimes it’s just incremental change, sometimes you’ve hit on something that lasts longer. What it means, though, is that you’ve got to constantly approach how you run your organization with the mindset of continuous improvement – we’re always going to try and do things better today than we did yesterday, and better again tomorrow.

Is that already your mindset? Do you approach every facet of your business with a desire to change and improve? You’ve got new problems – time for some new thinking.

innovation road sign

Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 6/8/2015 1:00 PM UTC

“No is a complete sentence…I found developing the ability to say no expanded my ability to say yes and really mean it.” – Susan Gregg

There are very few things more precious in our personal and professional lives than energy. We have a limited amount, it’s easily used up, and we aren’t very good about remembering to replenish it when it’s gone. Unfortunately, we’re usually our own worst enemy when it comes to energy management.

Think about the things you spend your time doing. Don’t just think about work, but all day, every day. How many of those things are you doing because they truly provide someone (you or anybody else) with value? How many of those things are you doing that just aren’t in your wheelhouse, so you struggle and plod along, eventually producing a not-very-high-quality outcome? These kinds of things are all energy killers.

And what about people? Who do you spend time around that just sucks all the energy out of you? They’re called energy vampires, and they’re everywhere. All they do is take and take and take from you, and every time you’re done with them you feel exhausted. You know exactly who I’m talking about.

So why do we do this to ourselves? In some cases we convince ourselves that we’re doing something nice for someone else (even if we’re really not). More often we convince ourselves that there’s just no way out of it – somebody has to do this and it has to be me. The reality is that quite often nobody has to do it, and if it does have to be done, somebody besides you is better suited for it.

Try this: sit down and make a list of the five things you do that drain your energy. Now ask yourself if those five things really have to be done. Be honest. I guarantee at least one can either not be done at all or done by somebody else who would do it better than you.

Do the same thing with people (customers?). Who are the five people you interact with regularly that drain your energy? What can you do to minimize contact with them? If it’s somebody you absolutely must be around, ask yourself what situations with those people drain your energy the fastest, and see if you can avoid at least those particular situations.

I don’t know if there is any way in life to entirely eliminate everything that drains your energy, but we can certainly do better than we’re doing. And we have to do better. We can’t function at our highest level without enough energy. We owe it to ourselves, and everyone around us, to find a way.


Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 6/1/2015 1:00 PM UTC

“If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.” – Unknown

We’ve talked about priorities before in generalities, but today I’m thinking about something specific for any business. I recently was fortunate to spend time with a growing, dynamic service business that has hit a speed bump. They’ve found they have so many customers that they don’t feel like they have time to service them all and they don’t feel like they have time to go find any new ones. The real issue (which they’ve recognized) is they’ve spent too much time chasing every bit of revenue they can find over the years and now much of their time is filled with unprofitable, unfulfilling work.

To try and fix the problem, we talked about lions and zebras. Here’s the shortened version: over thousands of years on the savannah, lions have figured out that in order to provide the 2000 pounds of meat the pride needs every week, it doesn’t do much good to chase wild pigs. Lots of effort, little reward. They worked out that with a strategy to hunt the right prey they could exponentially increase their potential to survive. Everybody has a job – male lions provide security & continuity, senior lionesses plan & execute the ambush, junior lionesses move in for the final kill, etc.

What does that have to do with sales? A lion pride has a common goal & vision. They worked out what was their ideal prey (zebras), then they worked out plan (everybody has a role) and they execute that plan over and over and over. They’ve also learned to ignore the small game that distracts them and uses up energy they need to survive (special thanks to Mike Boyle at Banjar Group for the analogy).

Think about your organization. What prey (customers) is appropriate for your business? What industry? What size? What location? Who can connect you? Sit down with your team and ask yourselves if you understand what your zebra is, where it lives, who can help you kill it, and how you can best work as a team to get the job done. If you don’t, there’s a great chance your business is wasting it’s time on the wrong kind of animal.

We don’t have enough time or energy in our businesses to waste it on a customer who doesn’t fit. Save your energy (and that of your team). Find your zebra.


Posted by Matt Heemstra | 2 Comments

Date: 5/22/2015 1:00 PM UTC

For some of us, Monday is a holiday.  Here in the U.S., we spend Memorial Day weekend grilling or boating or really anything outside in the nice weather - it's the unofficial start of summer.  It's a holiday, but we're usually busy.  Remember to take some part of the weekend to rest.  In our society we don't put enough value on rest, or energy, or refreshing our minds.  We feel bad about ourselves if we're not constantly doing something "productive".  Yet restoring our energy is one of the most productive things we can do.  So take time with your family, or a book, or with a fishing pole.  Take a nap, or a walk, or a bike ride.  Look at the flowers, or the birds, or the trees.  Whatever recharges your batteries, whatever refreshes your mind & spirit, make sure to do that this holiday weekend.

See you in June.

Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

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