Paying it Forward: Becoming a Mentor

After leaving professional hockey, I was determined to break into the business scene. I knew that growing a business came with many challenges and I wanted to be able to address them as they arose, so I immersed myself in learning. Trust me, you learn a lot when you first start out, simply by doing and experiencing it.  I also used every opportunity I had to learn from other entrepreneurs that came before me.

After a while, I started building my own businesses, but I continued to search for others who could help me continue to grow, especially in those early days.  I met with industry leaders, read and researched a lot of business practices and stayed on top of the latest marketing trends.   

You don’t ever grow out of the need for mentorship and growth.  Now, I’m privileged to be in the position to pay it forward. Over the years I’ve learned that every person has different strengths and weaknesses, and being a good mentor involves recognizing those strengths and weaknesses and helping people to enhance their talents and acquire new skills. To be effective as a mentor, leaders should also help people identify professional development opportunities, whether that’s additional training, education, or another form of learning.

In this digital world where gaining knowledge on a subject is as easy as an internet search, I don’t want to see younger generations ignore the value of a traditional mentor.  Not only should entrepreneurs seek guidance from mentors in their space, but those already in leadership positions should proactively reach out to others who could benefit from their experience.

It’s a two-way street.  Those leaders (predominately the baby boomer generation) who have years of industry experience can benefit from relationships with millennials and the younger generations.  You are never too old to learn, and the new generation of entrepreneurs bring fresh perspective and innovation to the table. In turn, mentees can gain a better understanding for the advice you preach through your partnership and can apply those strategies to their own ventures.

I’m a huge advocate of technology, but still, nothing can replace hands-on interaction. So my advice for leaders, especially those who have personally benefited from mentorship, is to reach out to your team.  Let them know you’re available, willing to teach them the tricks of the trade and are interested in fostering the next generation of leaders.

5 Things You Need to Tell Your Team

Ask anyone who owns a company, and they’ll tell you that one of their most important considerations is retaining good staff. It’s difficult enough to find and hire the most qualified people, so once you have them on board you want to keep them. It’s always been a priority of mine to treat employees well so that they not only feel valued for their contributions, but also so they view their positions as careers rather than jobs.

For business leaders, communication with staff is essential, whether they hold management or front-line positions, or something in between. Here are five key things your employees need to know.

The company’s mission and vision.

It’s crucial that employees know the reason they do their work, and what they’re achieving collaboratively with co-workers. As such, it’s up to you, the company owner or CEO, to define your mission and vision in clear terms. There’s an automobile commercial in which assembly line employees address the camera and talk about the ownership they have of the part of the line they work. The point is that although they’ll never meet the end-user, or customer, they played a role in your driving and safety experience by installing a seat or attaching a rear-view mirror. By communicating to employees how their work impacts the big picture, you’re letting them know that no matter how big or small their actual task is, they’re an important part of a team that’s working together toward a common purpose.

How to treat customers.

In any company there are potentially several employee positions that serve as customer touch points. Because these employees represent your company in those interactions, they can have a direct impact on revenue. For this reason they need to know what is expected of them when those interactions take place. As just one example, a customer service telephone representative — say, at a cable television provider — might field one call from a genial customer who’s simply seeking information followed by a call from a disgruntled customer who is having problems with their reception during a power outage. The truly professional employee will handle both calls with patience while maintaining a calm demeanor. Because countless customer interactions occur every day, it’s important that customer-facing employees be clearly instructed on how to interact with the customers. It only takes one employee lacking in people skills to create bad word-of-mouth.

Goals and objectives.

All employees need to know what’s expected of them in terms of meeting and hopefully exceeding goals and objectives. Generally, it’s an employee’s direct supervisor who’s charged with communicating this based on the company’s strategic plan. In some companies it’s about numbers, such as producing a higher percentage of products than they did last year or increasing sales by a stated percentage. Other times, it might be cost reduction or some other metric. Sometimes it’s learning a new skill or further developing an existing on to better serve the company. The main point is that each employee needs to know what he or she needs to do to accomplish objectives.

Company policies.

Your company probably has an employee handbook or similar document, or perhaps a page on the company’s intranet site that defines policies in specific terms. If it doesn’t, it’s incumbent on company leadership to produce some form of documentation that lets employees know what they can and can’t do, as well as details related to processes, procedures and benefits. Equally important, employees also need what their rights are and how to address potential issues should they occur. In today’s litigious work environment it’s crucial to plan for any and every contingency.

How to provide feedback.

One of the differences between a “boss” and a leader is a boss can often act as a dictator while a leader will usually encourage feedback and input from his or her employees. If your employees take pride in their work and are inspired to give 100 percent to support the company mission and vision, it’s only fair that they be provided with mechanisms for providing their comments, asking questions and suggesting ideas. The concept of the traditional “suggestion box” can take many forms, from open forums with leadership, email messaging and an actual mailbox in the executive suite to an open-door policy established by the CEO. For example, some CEOs designate a weekly day and a time range during which they’ll meet with employees who have items to discuss. These types of policies can go a long way to engender a positive perception of company leadership.

Five Ways to Grow Your Small Business

A few decades ago, Bruce Springsteen wrote and recorded a popular song entitled From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come). Although the lyrics tell the story of a young couple’s adventures, the song’s title is a perfect metaphor for entrepreneurship. Many companies, maybe even the vast majority of them, begin life as small businesses. Someone has a good idea for making money, they do what it takes to get it up and running and in time, they’re self-employed.

Entrepreneurship has been around since nearly the beginning of time. What’s interesting, though, is how many small businesses, even one-person ventures, have grown into major companies and corporations.

If you’re an entrepreneur, or are thinking about becoming one, you have every opportunity to grow your business into a larger, more profitable company. Here are five ways to grow your small business.

Be an effective manager

As a small business owner, you’re learning the craft of management firsthand. If you hold an MBA for example, you’ve learned many of the fundamentals of running a company from your studies in school. But when you’re doing it hands-on, you learn the real-world applications of those lessons by doing them.

Learning how to become an effective manager is important because it plays a vital role in improving the overall success of the organization.

Look for growth opportunities

In your entrepreneurial journey you will be approached with potential business deals, partnership solicitations, investment inquiries, and more. You’ll also see opportunities to grow and expand by creating a new product line, opening a new location, enlarging your operations, and others. It’s important to learn how to identify growth opportunities that are right for your company, especially those that are new to your marketplace or audience.

Meet regularly with your mentors

In business, we’ve all benefited from those who came before us; and there’s a lot you can learn from seasoned entrepreneurs. Seek out people whom you believe will be great sounding boards and advisors. Many leaders will be more than glad to help you navigate your growth (and related risk) journey, and the information you’ll learn from open, candid conversations with them will help you make prudent decisions.

Maintain positive cash flow

Let’s face it: growing any business is difficult without the financing to make it happen. Sure, you can apply for business loans, but it’s not wise to start planning for growth until you have financial stability. One thing to consider is having a solid business plan in place as a guide for financial success.

Enlist the help of a team

A cardinal rule in business is being confident in the people who will be backing you up. You’ll want to attract and hire top talent who possess an acute understanding of your mission, vision and strategy and who are ready to help you carry them out.

The road to becoming a successful entrepreneur doesn’t happen overnight; but with hard work, dedication and the funds to support your idea, you’ll be on your way in no time.

The Benefits of a People First Business Culture

With so much going on in today’s world, it’s become easy to hide behind a computer and let it do all the work. Efficiency, afterall, is one of the most important components in business, correct?

Well, yes and no. It’s important to create efficiencies in your company and for your customers, but you also need human connection. Customers still buy from people and companies are populated by a collaborative workforce. Most importantly, leaders need to be visible to their employees and make them feel confident about the work they’re doing.

Your products and services might be the most creative and innovative on the market, but it’s the people behind them who make your company great. They work hard, often serve as the liaison between your company and your customers; and outside of work, they talk about their experiences at their jobs. They need to know they’re valued.

People are the backbone of an organization. This is why it’s important to create a culture that makes your team look forward to going to work every day. As the CEO, it’s important to let them know often how much you value the work they’re doing, and how they’re an integral part of the company’s success.

There are many ways you can do this. Some companies publicly recognize employees through an employee of the month program. These, and similar recognition programs are a simple way to say ‘thank you.’

Other companies form committees that allow staff members to gather periodically to discuss problems that need to be solved or suggest new employee incentives. Often, these committees will also plan employee outings, special lunches, cookouts, or team building events.

As CEO it’s best to be accessible to your employees. Some business leaders have an open-door policy and are open to visits from employees who wish to ask a question or discuss an issue. Other CEOs find it more effective to interact with employees casually, asking them what they’re working on, listening to any suggestions they might have and even praising their work in the process.

In addition to cultivating a positive culture, being present shows employees that regardless of your stature, you are still on their level. Remember, a boss bosses, and a leader leads.

Maintaining a people first business culture not only benefits the employee; interacting with the team and leading by example also goes a long way toward employee retention – and that means more for your bottom line.

What Playing Professional Hockey Taught Me About Business

As a child growing up in Toronto, like many young Canadians, my dream was to play hockey in the NHL, preferably for my hometown Blue Jays. I love the sport and was good at it. And although I didn’t get drafted by an NHL team, I did play professionally for four wonderful years in Europe. Then, when I returned home to Toronto, my brother and I started our company Array Marketing, and my/our entrepreneurial life began. We’ve enjoyed lots of success and I’ve since gone on to own or play a leadership role in many business ventures. 

I sometimes reflect on my time playing hockey and realize how much I learned through that experience that prepared me for my career as a business leader. Below are five lessons from my favorite sport that you can use to help you build and run your company.

The importance of teamwork and effective coach and team leaders

In business as in hockey, it’s crucial to have effective leadership. On the bench, it’s the head coach. On the ice, it’s the team captain. In the locker room it’s assistant coaches. Everyone needs to collaborate toward a common goal in the spirit of teamwork. While the wings, defensemen, forwards, and goaltenders give their all and do their best to play a strong game, the captains and coaches are providing motivation, management, mentorship, and guidance based on their own knowledge and experience to help the players. So too in business, leadership at a variety of levels, from the CEO to middle management to supervisors, is necessary to keep a strong, effective team of employees on their A-game.

Working toward a specific goal

Every professional hockey team begins every season with one specific goal in mind: to win the Stanley Cup. Everything they do during the season is directed at scoring goals, gaining points and making the playoffs. Goal-setting is a key part of business as well. Whether you’re marketing, selling, handling customer service, or taking part in another important function, you should be working to meet goals. Each year, and maybe even more frequently, effective managers meet with their reports to set new goals and discuss the progress being made toward current ones. Without specific goals you can’t track progress and grow the company.

Effective strategic planning

When one hockey team is planning to play another, they research their competitors to determine who does what and how they play. They need to know the other team’s strengths and weaknesses to prepare their own strategy. Then, when they take the ice, they know what to expect and how best to play to gain an advantage in both scoring goals and preventing the other team from doing the same. All business activities are similarly based on strategies. A strategic plan for a company is one of the most important documents you have because it sets goals and objectives and outlines how they are to be met. It also keeps everyone on the same page with regard to organizational priorities, while also defining what each department, office or work team is charged with doing.

Putting in the time

If you’ve ever watched a hockey practice, you’ve probably seen players doing the same thing over and over again, like shooting pucks at the goal again and again or skating around teammates trying to block shots and prevent them from shooting on goal. It’s a lot of work that requires an incredible amount of time and energy. And it’s often not that much fun. But it’s necessary for keeping players at the top of their game. There are major comparisons to be made in the business world, where entrepreneurs and corporate business leaders alike spend long hours working to achieve an objective, structure a deal, create a presentation, or manage a meeting. Nothing in business is gained unless you spend the time.

Being able to react when needed

In hockey, players work in “lines,” groups of teammates who work synergistically on the ice. Lines are sent from the bench to the ice throughout a game to maintain advantage. When the other team does this and you’re on the ice, you often have to react quickly to new opposing players who are suddenly in front of you, as well as unexpected things that happen as you’re zooming down the ice. Quick reflexes matter. In business, things are often changing as well, often in the marketplace,  and it’s up to us as leaders to be able to respond to those changes in ways that serve the company and its organizational goals. Being able to respond quickly and effectively can only help you as a leader.

The essence of all this is that when people, strategy and hard work come together, anything can be accomplished with the right amount of time and talent.

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