6 ways to BOOST YOUR VALUE to your business

Written by Jennifer Myers
Develop your personal network

The old adage is true: Who you know is more important than what you know. Applied to the upper echelons of management, it means the best CEOs know who to turn to for information and resources that help them get things done. “They can connect to what matters,” says Martin Parker, managing director of Waterstone Human Capital, an executive recruitment firm in Toronto. That’s why cultivating a diverse personal network is so invaluable.Networking is as old as the hills, but most leaders still don’t get it right. “It’s not about how many cards you collect,” says Catherine Bell, president of Prime Impressions, an Ottawa-based image consultancy, and author of Managing Your Image Potential. “It’s about connecting with people to exchange ideas, information and resources to effect change.”

The best networkers, says Bell, are good listeners who focus on others’ needs. She offers this example: If you do something nice for a colleague—say, refer them a potential client or hook them up with a source who can help with a vexing business challenge—you’re creating awareness of you and your company and they won’t hesitate to reciprocate.

So, who should be in your network? “People who can give you a referral and receive one,” says Bell. Find them at industry events or join a board or a peer group, such as the Entrepreneurs’ Organization or the Innovators Alliance. Successful CEOs can also leverage the “network of networks,” says Parker; for instance, working with your own board of directors gives you access to the boards your directors sit on.

Networking is a primary job function for Norine Bevan, president of Summerlee Office Solutions, a $17-million-a-year distributor of office products based in Markham, Ont. Three years ago Bevan joined the Toronto chapter of Women Presidents’ Organization, an executive peer group. She says there’s nothing like swapping ideas and challenges with those who have been there, done that: “It speeds up the learning curve.” It also provides a rare opportunity to discuss sensitive issues in a confidential environment.

Bevan and her management team also take turns attending local business functions, which she says raises her firm’s profile, plus industry events, where they pick up valuable gossip on what competitors are doing or what talent is available for hire. “The bottom line,” she says, “is that a CEO always has to be front and forward.”

Value Boosters:

  • Chit-chat is the first step to building a business relationship, so get comfortable with small talk. Prepare for every event by thinking of three or four topics of relevance to other attendees that you can converse easily
  • Cherry-pick the networking functions that will yield the biggest payback
  • Read Cracking the Networking Code: Four steps to priceless business relationships, by Dean Lindsay (World Gumbo Publishing, US$16)

Learn the tricks of great negotiators

You know that getting the best deals is critical to the long-term success of your firm. What you may not realize is just how much time you spend negotiating those deals—and, therefore, how much your bargaining skills can make or break your business. “It’s hard to think of a situation where a CEO is not negotiating, whether it’s with staff, clients, consumers, suppliers or partners,” says Allan Stitt, president of The Stitt Feld Handy Group, a Toronto-based firm that teaches dispute resolution and negotiation skills.

Too bad, then, that many leaders view negotiating as a form of verbal sparring. What’s more, they typically enter negotiations with a fixed position—and then stick with it. That’s a sure path to failure.

You’ll raise your negotiating quotient by viewing negotiating as an exercise in mutual problem-solving rather than a blood sport. However, warns Stitt, effective negotiating does not entail aiming for the proverbial win-win or compromising, which typically results in both parties getting less than they want. He says your primary concern is your own interests; worry about the other party’s interests only when the continuing relationship is important to you.

Other keys to successful negotiating are listening well and a willingness to be persuaded. Although the latter sounds counterintuitive, explains Stitt, your mindset is typically reflected in those you are negotiating with; thus, the more open you are, the more open the other party will be.

Don’t shy away from revealing your emotions, either-just do it carefully. Ranting and raving won’t win you much ground, but calmly noting that you are upset or concerned can.

Value Boosters:

  • Take a negotiating course. Professionals can give you valuable advice on dealing effectively with any negotiating situation
  • Negotiations are won or lost based on the amount of preparation you do. Before every negotiation, think of all the possible scenarios that might unfold and then role-play each of them
  • Take a few minutes after each business deal to review your performance. Ask yourself, “What did I do right?” and “Where can I improve?”
  • Read How to Negotiate: The fast route to getting the results you want, by Ann Jackman (Hamlyn, $19)

Sharpen your core communication skills

If you improve only one skill this year, start with communication. Why? Think about how many people you interact with daily and you’ll understand how vital your communication skills really are. “The variety of employees and other stakeholders a CEO communicates with in any given day is overwhelming,” says Parker. Whether it’s employees, customers, the media or shareholders, an entrepreneur must know and be able to articulate her key messages consistently.

Jim Clemmer agrees. The Kitchener, Ont.-based management consultant specializing in performance and leadership says a good leader has strong verbal communication skills, is able to think quickly on his feet and has the ability to articulate his company’s direction and values in a way that resonates with all stakeholders. In a nutshell, says Clemmer, “They are good storytellers.”

So where do most CEOs go off the communication rails? Clemmer says personality plays a critical role. For instance, a boss with a superiority complex won’t bother communicating with her worker bees, while a distrustful or cynical leader will share information only on a need-to-know basis. Either can be crippling, as employees perform best when they know what’s happening within their company.

Good leaders not only make themselves heard, but hear others. Listen “actively” to what people are telling you, and take that a step further by establishing mechanisms that encourage feedback and creating an environment that facilitates honest dialogue.

Value Boosters:

  • Establish the few key messages you want to communicate to your organization and take every opportunity to reinforce them through personal interaction, newsletters, reports and your intranet
  • Paint exciting verbal pictures using metaphors, analogies and specific examples
  • Identify your dominant tone. Then adjust it if necessary. Make it easier for people to listen and you will have a better chance of achieving your objectives
  • Avoid jargon and technical talk
  • Improve your public speaking skills by joining a local chapter of Toastmasters International (www.toastmasters.org)

Recharge regularly

Why do so many entrepreneurs sacrifice their personal life to grow their business? Guilt, the pursuit of status, a fear of delegating or simply “no time” are among the many reasons Dan Sullivan has heard. He doesn’t buy any of them—nor does he believe that the more time you spend on the business, the better your business will be.

As president of The Strategic Coach, a Toronto-based management consulting firm that helps CEOs achieve balance, Sullivan has seen first-hand how regular downtime can give a CEO new perspective, more energy and the creative juices to respond to any workplace demand. He has also seen how a dearth of “me time” can grind down an entrepreneur and make her less effective. (Look at it this way: the average employee needs time off, and he’s under less pressure than the CEO.)

“Fatigued, tired leaders over time are less aware of what’s happening in the marketplace,” says Sullivan. “They’re less responsive to customers and they lose the ability to communicate effectively. All these things lead to business failure.” What’s troubling is that most entrepreneurs don’t recognize the need for time away until it’s too late. Why? Sullivan says most people see “successful entrepreneur” and “great personal life” as contradictions.

Melding the two requires a shift in mindset that allows you to view time differently. The Strategic Coach teaches entrepreneurs to lump tasks (or the absence of them) into three types of days: Focus, buffer and free days. Focus days are spent on work that helps the business grow; buffer days are planning days; and free days are 24-hour periods totally disengaged from any business activity.

Of course, taking time off requires putting the right policies and people in place to run the business while you’re away. “It’s all about building an effective team around you and using your time strategically,” says Clemmer. “You can’t have everything funnel through you.”

Value Boosters:

  • Give yourself the right to have free days.
  • Start small, perhaps with one weekend a month. Because there’s always the temptation to get in a couple of hours work at home, try to get away physically
  • Identify how you can best contribute to your business. What are the two or three activities that you are good at and enjoy? Once you’ve determined them, delegate other tasks
  • Take that January trip to Hawaii. Even if you don’t deserve it, your business does

Focus on your people

Ask entrepreneurs what drives their firms’ success, and most will say it’s their people. It’s a cliché for good reason: No company can move forward unless its employees are onside. So it helps to be a CEO who people want to follow—a.k.a. a leader.

It’s much easier to influence the behaviour of others if they trust, respect and, yes, like you. “The most effective leaders are people magnets,” says Clemmer. They can create an emotional attachment that bonds employees to both the CEO and the company.

Luckily, extraordinary charisma is not a prerequisite for great leaders. Parker’s experience as an executive recruiter has shown him that style is less important than content. Sometimes the best CEOs are modest, unassuming leaders who connect with employees by building a culture of respect and trust

“You need to be genuine,” says Clemmer. “Our B.S. meters are really sensitive. We’re getting better at being able to tell when someone is putting on an act. So a good leader truly values and cares about people.” He has seen his share of CEOs try to fake honesty, integrity, fairness and compassion, noticing that the veneer typically wears off at the first sign of trouble: “They’re the ones who, when faced with the tough decisions, leave dead bodies in their wake.”

Value Boosters:

  • Build your self—awareness. Determine your motivations, values and personality traits, how you tend to impact others and how they view you. Adjust as necessary
  • Solicit honest feedback on your performance from colleagues, peers and employees. The process may be painful, but any revelations can make you stronger
  • Share stories that illustrate where your company came from and your struggles along the way. Don’t be afraid to show your fallibility. “People want to really connect with their leaders,” says Parker. “They don’t want leaders locked up in ivory towers”
  • Get coaching. Identify someone you admire and trust and ask them to mentor you. Or hire a professional coach to guide you on personal and professional issues

Look outside your box

If there’s one constant in business, it’s change, from evolving markets and economic trends to emerging technologies and the fickle customer. Your ability to anticipate change and how it will impact your business is crucial to the vitality of your firm. However, it’s no longer enough to know your own industry.

Smart leaders are also tapping into the know-how and skills of complementary sectors; they have resources in a host of areas. As more firms compete in the global marketplace, it’s also important to keep tabs on the global economy and international events that may have local repercussions. Think of information as the tool you need to compete and win.

The payoff: A head start on adopting new technologies and nascent business opportunities, plus distant early warning of coming threats.

Value Boosters:

  • Attend trade conferences and join industry associations. Constantly review how you can use information
  • Be creative. Build knowledge from numerous interactions and sources, including competitors, customers and leading companies in other industries.
  • What are those companies doing that your company isn’t? How can you improve on what they’re doing?
  • Read the “foreign” press: Delve into general business magazines or trade publications from unfamiliar industries to suss out new ideas and trends
Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com