Author Archives: Ray Silverstein

About Ray Silverstein

RAY SILVERSTEIN is an entrepreneur, author and speaker revered for his high business intellect and ability to communicate meaningful and practical concepts to those wishing to achieve success in business. As the President of Peer Advisory Training and President’s Resource Organization (PRO), he is instrumental in creating breakthrough moments for executives wrestling with an assortment of personal and organizational issues. Ray describes himself in metaphorical terms as both a corporate chiropractor, one who helps straighten out businesses and a corporate farmer, one who provides the corporate fertilizer that helps business grow. He currently presides over seven peer advisory groups in Chicago and Phoenix.

What If… You could Avoid a Bad Decision?

What If… You could Avoid a Bad Decision?

Who do you discuss your business thoughts and decisions? A PRO, Peer Advisory Member was asking his board about a potential business investment decision. The board did not feel this was a good investment, and also gave the person thoughts to improve the probability of success, if he made the investment.

A new member stated, “I wish I was a member before I made a major investment that did not work out. I needed someone to question me before I jumped.” Do you have someone to question You? Or, bring thoughts how You can increase the probability of Your success?

I am sure you know a Peer Advisory Board is a monthly meeting of non-competitive business owners, Presidents, CEO and C level Executives with an experienced facilitator who keeps the discussion on track and drives for conclusions. At each meeting a topic is presented start the meeting, and to get the discussion following. Most Importantly, each participant has an opportunity to bring their issues to the table for peer feed back. In essence, a think tank with action and accountability.

PRO, President’s has created and facilitated business owners peer advisory boards for over 25 years. Technology now makes it possible for business owners to participate in On Line Peer Advisory Boards with an experienced facilitator, mentor, and tormentor. This means you can participate anywhere and on any wifi comparable device.

To give you an idea CLICK Here for a digital copy of the PRO Small Business Toolbook. 83 pages of articles, worksheets on almost every small business issue. It will get your brain thinking! This is an example of peer advisory insight

It may take courage to bring ideas to an unbiased board, but the people who do this achieve better results. They know they don’t know it all, and are willing to learn to do better. They realize “That All of Us Are Smarter Than One of Us.”

Now you can participate in an On Line Peer Advisory board anywhere, and on any device. CLICK Here for the Small Business Toolbook and to learn more about ON LINE Peer Advisory Boards.

What If… You made a Bad Hire?

What If… You made a Bad Hire?

Many small businesses do not know how to interview or hire. When a person leaves their business they look at hiring as taking them away from their business activity. But, this should be looked upon as an opportunity. Having good people is your business.

At PRO, Peer Advisory Boards we discuss the hiring process. When someone is making a hire what is the job description? What is the performance expectation, and how do you measure this? At the minimum, what interview questions and procedure will you follow,

Today’s hiring market is difficult due to very low unemployment. In the past you could interview several candidates, have several interviews, and then make the hire. You could hire slow. Today you must hire fast. This increases the probability of a bad hire.

To improve your odds of success, Peer Advisory Board members recommend you identify the habits or actions you should observe at the end of first week, 30 days and 90 days of work. Many positions you are cannot measure or expect performance and results in a short time, but you can measure and observe if they are doing the right things to be successful. If you make a bad hire You Must make a change quickly.

I am sure you know a Peer Advisory Board is a monthly meeting of non-competitive business owners, Presidents, CEO and C level Executives with an experienced facilitator who keeps the discussion on track and drives for conclusions. At each meeting a topic is presented start the meeting, and to get the discussion following. Most Importantly, each participant has an opportunity to bring their issues to the table for peer feed back. In essence, a think tank with action and accountability.

PRO, President’s has created and facilitated business owners peer advisory boards for over 25 years. Technology now makes it possible for business owners to participate in On Line Peer Advisory Boards with an experienced facilitator, mentor, and tormentor. This means you can participate anywhere and on any wifi comparable device.

To give you an idea CLICK Here for a digital copy of the PRO Small Business Toolbook. 83 pages of articles, worksheets on almost every small business issue. It will get your brain thinking! This is an example of peer advisory insight

One Peer Advisory Board member had made a hire of a sales person. This person was to make appointments and go out with the sales manager to observe and learn the sales format of the company. At the end of the first week no calls or contacts were made to obtain an appointment.

The company made an immediate change. This person interviewed very well, but did not have the personality or interest to make appointments. His Peer Board told him You must observe and measure action to know if the person needs training or must go.

Now you can participate in an On Line Peer Advisory board anywhere, and on any device. CLICK Here for the Small Business Toolbook and to learn more about ON LINE Peer Advisory Boards.

What If… You could motivate Your sales force?

What If… You could motivate Your sales force?

Compensation to your sales people is a critical issue. What is the best way to compensate for your product/service, distribution channel, or targeted customer? Should the compensation be salary, salary plus commission, draw plus commission or straight commission?

What motivation plan works best for your product/service sales force? This is a topic key executives discuss at Peer Advisory Boards. By learning from others what worked for them and how it relates to your company will move your revenues up. Is learning what motivates better than trial and error on compensation decisions?

I am sure you know a Peer Advisory Board is a monthly meeting of non-competitive business owners, Presidents, CEO and C level Executives with an experienced facilitator who keeps the discussion on track and drives for conclusions. At each meeting a topic is presented start the meeting, and to get the discussion following. Most Importantly, each participant has an opportunity to bring their issues to the table for peer feed back. In essence, a think tank with action and accountability.

PRO, President’s has created and facilitated business owners peer advisory boards for over 25 years. Technology now makes it possible for business owners to participate in On Line Peer Advisory Boards with an experienced facilitator, mentor, and tormentor.

To give you an idea CLICK Here for a digital copy of the PRO Small Business Toolbook. 83 pages of articles, worksheets on almost every small business issue. It will get your brain thinking! This is an example of peer advisory insight

One member brought a sales commission issue to the table at his peer advisory board meeting. He had a software products that was difficult to sell in, and he was paying a substantial commission for the Initial sale, and he also paid the same commission for repeat sales. He was concerned about the sales persons’ motivation since he was receiving a significant commission and was not working not producing in the following years.

He basically knew the answer, and needed support to make the decision. His peer advisory board told him to cut the commission on the repeat sales and for a limited time pay a higher commission on new sales to motivate the sales person in the right direction.

On follow up discussions with his peer board he reported the sales person was initially not happy about the cut on commission for the current sales. But most importantly, he was now obtaining new customers, and making more money than before. The salesman is now happy and performing. This is an example of what a peer advisory board can accomplish.

Now you can participate in an On Line Peer Advisory board anywhere, and on any device. CLICK Here for the Small Business Toolbook and to learn more about ON LINE Peer Advisory Boards.

What if… Your product or service is impacted by Tariffs?

What if, Your product or service is impacted by Tariffs?

Businesses are changing faster than ever due to Government Regulations, technology, global communications, and distribution, etc. Leaders need to get outside their business to gain insights, opportunities, and awareness of the world around them from other business owners. They need to Be Aware!

At a peer advisory meeting find out from others who are impacted by tariffs their strategy to cope and benefit. Are they raising prices, how much, when? Have they purchased commodity contracts to protect their costs? Do they have long term fixed price contacts? These are just a few of the issues a peer advisory board will discuss on tariff impact. The essence is all of us are smarter than one of us.

I am sure you know a Peer Advisory Board is a monthly meeting of non-competitive business owners, Presidents, CEO and C level Executives with an experienced facilitator who keeps the discussion on track and drives for conclusions. At each meeting a topic is presented start the meeting, and to get the discussion following. Most Importantly, each participant has an opportunity to bring their issues to the table for peer feed back. In essence, a think tank with action and accountability.

PRO, President’s has created and facilitated business owners peer advisory boards for over 25 years. Technology now makes it possible for business owners to participate in On Line Peer Advisory Boards with an experienced facilitator, mentor, and tormentor.

To give you an idea CLICK Here for a digital copy of the PRO Small Business Toolbook. 83 pages of articles, worksheets on almost every small business issue. It will get your brain thinking! This is an example of peer advisory insight

One member, an importer of stainless steel bars, has tariffs as a major issue. The peer advisory meeting was a strategy discussion of raising prices in increments to learn where there was price resistance.

This member has significant inventory, and therefore could create short-term profit on their inventory, and has to be aware of building inventory in the future in case tariffs were reduced and would take a price beating on tariff purchased inventory. Some times we are so close to the trees we don’t see the forest.

Now you can participate in an On Line Peer Advisory board anywhere, and on any device. CLICK Here for the Small Business Toolbook and to learn more about ON LINE Peer Advisory Boards.

Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions

Blunders and Buses…

The Guys blunder through another great conversation about leadership challenges and opportunities. All ashore that are going ashore! Ray and Zen explore the work of Zachary Shore and his book, Blunder – Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions. Have you made any blunders in your business decisions? Many have and still do. How do you avoid the pitfalls of bad decisions?

Perhaps it starts with taking a look at ‘why’ they are made; some examples and studies exist. Inadvertently we sometimes get thrown under the bus, sometimes on purpose, too. The Guys’ producer gets thrown under the bus momentarily, and recovers nicely. False starts are easy to fix.

Blunder is a book about judgment calls.  It is the story of how smart people get caught in cognition traps and wind Blunder - Why Smart People Make Bad Decisionsup defeating themselves.  This book offers one possible explanation for why people blunder.  The author suggests that we all sometimes fall into “cognition traps”—rigid ways of approaching and solving problems.

Cognition traps are inflexible mind sets formed from faulty reasoning.  They are the stolid ways in which people approach and solve problems based on preconceived notions and preset patterns of thought.  Although cognition traps are forms of faulty thinking, each rigid mind set contain a powerful emotional component.  They affirm that our reason and emotions are often intertwined.  We can all make wiser decisions by cultivating empathy and imagination.

The book is one historian’s take on cognition.  When scientists study decision making, they create experiments in the present and watch as the future unfolds.  Historians in contrast, begin at the end.  They start in the present and work their way to the past.  After figuring out what people did, they then explore the options.  Historians grapple with the challenge of getting inside their subjects’ mind.

Cognition conundrums abound with this conversation and The Guys take you on a circuitous journey with a bit of wit and wisdom from their years of experience. It’s one thing to research and write; quite another to blunder through things and live to tell about it. As usual, you’ll love The Guys style as they explore some very real concerns for small business leadership.

Tune in to the Guys for the usual bantering about business and make sure to look into the other shows we’ve produced, white papers we offer and Ray’s great crib notes on popular business books. You can get this week’s Crib Notes just by asking for it below, or you can buy the book.

Enjoy the Show!

Get the new Small Business Toolbook – 25+ years of Advisory Group Expertise

The Art of Delegating – A Little Leadership Goes a Long Way

The Art of Delegating

To grow a business beyond a certain point, there’s a bridge every entrepreneur must cross. You must transition from “doing” to “leading,” which means stepping back from day-to-day operations in order to oversee it. In other words, you must learn to work “on” the business, not “in” the business.

Let’s go back in time to when you first formed your company. Of course you were involved in every aspect of it. But as your firm grew, you needed help to get things done. So you began hiring employees, and delegating tasks and (hopefully) responsibility.

Learning to delegate is an ongoing journey. Half the battle is hiring people who you feel comfortable delegating to. The other half is creating infallible work processes, and defining the amount of risk you are willing take and deciding what to delegate.

Some of this comes down to good ol’ communication. In many small businesses, employees wear many hats. As a result, they’re not always sure what their most important job is. It’s the boss’s responsibility to tell them…

• What their responsibilities/tasks are, and of them, what the priority is.
• What doing a good job looks like. Don’t expect workers to instinctively know; it’s up to you to define and describe it.
• Where each worker stands in terms of job performance. How can you improve without feedback?

Even if you haven’t implemented formal job descriptions and performance reviews—and many small businesses don’t–you can still communicate this information to employees.

But what if you don’t have the right people in place? What if you aren’t comfortable delegating to them? Well, there are several things you can do.

You can provide training designed to get their skills up to par. Not likely? Then move them into a less demanding position. Some employees don’t want the responsibility of thinking; they want to work on autopilot. Perhaps there’s a place for worker bees in your organization?

But if there isn’t, and nothing is working, you may have to take that difficult step of replacing them with people who eagerly accept responsibility. That takes courage. That’s leadership at its toughest. Peer boards give support and insight to take the necessary steps.

Until you get your business to the point where it almost runs itself, you won’t be able to disengage long enough to provide that essential vision. And once you reach that point, you’ll find it’s true: a little leadership goes a long way.

If you would like a “hands on” experience of a peer board please either call/text 312 593-5133 or e-mail ray@propres.com. I would be happy to invite you to attend a meeting as my guest.

Get the new Small Business Toolbook – 25+ years of Advisory Group Expertise

Great Minds Don’t Think Alike

Ways to Get Employee Involvement

So, with that in mind, how do you encourage freethinking in the workplace? Here are some techniques that some members of my peer advisory groups use:

• Encourage your employees to offer suggestions—after all, who knows the ins and outs of your business better? Whether through an old-fashioned Suggestion Box or a special email address, create a dedicated process for soliciting employee input. Perhaps each month, you could solicit ideas on a specific topic—say, “What do customers want?” or “How can we make this product better?”

• Recognize and reward your employees’ best ideas. It doesn’t have to be a huge reward to be powerful. Whether it’s a premium parking space for your “Great Thinker of the Month” or a paid day-off, recognition works. Implement as many suggestions as you can, even some of the weaker ones, in order to prime the pump.

• Cultivate a workplace environment that encourages innovative thinking and collaboration. Hold interdepartmental brainstorming sessions. Make sure employees know how to give each other positive, constructive feedback. Provide training if necessary.

• Similarly, don’t foster an environment where employees feel free to criticize and badmouth each other. This tends to shut people down. If you have an organization destroyer in your midst—someone who consistently undercuts morale—take action. Even if that person is one of your top performers.

• Take note of your own management style. When one of your employees makes a suggestion, is your knee-jerk reaction to quickly shoot them down? Train yourself to respond in a more positive way. Be more open to new ideas.

• Instead of running every meeting yourself, let your employees take turns being chairperson. This encourages others to talk and gets you in the habit of listening. Remember, as the boss, you are by nature intimidating. Your staff is pre-programmed to defer to you. You won’t invite anarchy by occasionally leveling the playing field a bit.

• Make a point of hiring different kinds of thinkers, as well as people with diverse backgrounds. Look for candidates whose strengths and styles complement rather than mirror your own. (Of course, they must share your moral standards and work ethics, but that’s a different story.)

The point is, you never know where—or from whom—your next great idea is coming from. Be the kind of leader that encourages innovation.

So let’s banish the expression “Great minds think alike.” I like this one by General George Patton better: “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”

If you would like a “hands on” peer board experience please either call/text 312 593-5133 or e-mail ray@propres.com.

Get the new Small Business Toolbook – 25+ years of Advisory Group Expertise

Inspiring Employees is Easier Than You Think

There are managers who “lead” through bullying and intimidation, but demeaning people doesn’t inspire loyalty, only fear. Dictatorship isn’t leadership, and most people don’t perform their best under stress, anyway. True leadership means creating a gratifying employer/employee relationship that starts as simply as treating others with respect. For example:

  • When employees talk, listen. Don’t interrupt; don’t shoot down their ideas or dismiss their complaints. Investigate their suggestions as well as their criticisms, and report back with your finding. By being open and responsive, you’ll earn their trust.
    • Recognize good performance. You don’t have to offer monetary rewards, but it helps to have a formal recognition program. Post an “employee of the month.” plaque in your reception area, reserve a special parking space, take them to lunch. Honor your people in front of their peers. Corny? Maybe. Effective? Definitely.
  • Give credit where credit is due. If someone offers a good idea, attribute it to them (even if you have to modify it to put it into practice). This will encourage more good ideas.
  • On that note, ask for suggestions regularly. Beyond the fact that people like to be heard, remember that your employees know aspects of your business you’ve undoubtedly forgotten. You never know where your next “eureka!” will come from.
  • Delegate. It will not only free you up to focus on the big picture, it gives employees a chance to grow and learn. It also demonstrates your confidence in them, and confident employees are creative employees.
  • Look for qualities to compliment, rather than criticize. When you critique performance, start with the positives and do it in a constructive way.
  • Don’t be mysterious about the business. Employees want to know the scoop; they have a stake in the business, too. When you have a big success—like picking up a big new account—celebrate as a group, even if just means springing for pizza or cupcakes.
  • Similarly, when things aren’t going well, be truthful, but frame the news in a positive, reassuring light. Don’t let the rumor mill run wild. When morale plummets, so does productivity.
  • Schedule regular monthly or quarterly status meetings, so workers can feel confident you’ll kept them in the loop. Share your goals and vision as well as your corporate status. Few things motivate employees like being in the know.
  • Similarly, create an environment where employees feel comfortable sharing with you, even when it’s bad news. That way, you can nip problems in the bud. Instead of placing blame when there’s an error, approach problem solving as a team effort.

While none of these are revolutionary ideas, sometimes the simple things are also the most effective. And when you take the trouble to inspire your employees, you may be pleasantly surprised to find that they return the favor.

If you would like a “hands on” experience of a peer board please either call/text 312 593-5133 or e-mail ray@propres.com.

Get the new Small Business Toolbook – 25+ years of Advisory Group Expertise

Goal-setting: The Entrepreneur’s Secret Weapon

Many entrepreneurs don’t set specific goals for their business, but studies show that goal-setting really does drive higher achievement. According to small business peer board members who’ve embraced this technique, goal-setting forces you to focus your energies effectively and develop real, viable action plans. It isn’t hard if you follow their lead.

Here’s how PRO peer board members put the goal-setting process to work for them.

Vision Goals: Where Do You Want to Be in Three Years?
Most people set goals in one-year increments. Think bigger. Research indicates that successful people plan out three years ahead.

“I had always established and worked on long term and yearly goals,” says PRO member Rocky Palmi, President of Ramcel Engineering, Precision Stamping and Manufacturing of Northbrook, IL.

“My perspective was enhanced when I was asked about where I had to be in six months, three months and thirty days, and what strategy and actions had to be completed to accomplish my near term goals to meet my year goals and move toward my long term objectives.”

So, where do you want to be three years from now? Think in measurable terms like dollars, percentages, and market share, as well as in terms of specific activities. Do you want to add new products to your portfolio? Hire a sales staff? These three-year goals are your Vision Goals.

365 Goals: Plot a Course to Reach Your Vision Goals
Now, let’s figure out how you’re going to get there. Break each Vision Goal down into manageable steps. Look at those initial steps—you’ve just identified your goals for the coming year. These are your 365 Goals.

For example, one PRO member’s primary Vision Goal was to attain 10% of market share. We determined that her primary 365 Goal would be acquiring 3% of market share. Her remaining 365 Goals included specific actions to help her reach her Vision Goal—i.e., hiring a salesperson, launching one new product and reworking her marketing plan.

If your 365 Goals look like action plans, you’re on the right track!

Now Goals: Jump-starting Your 365 Goals
PRO members report that the goal-setting process generates energy, excitement and ideas. These are valuable assets—don’t let them slip away. Leverage them by identifying one or two short-term goals that you can attain in, say, 90 days. These are your Now Goals.

Perhaps one of your Now Goals is to update your website or to join your local small business peer board. Whatever they are, get started right away!

Assign Due Dates to Your Goals and Action Plans
One step PRO members say is very important is to break those action plans down into small steps and assign each one a due date. This allows you to measure your progress and helps keep you on track.

Or, as I like to tell my peer boards: how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!

Put Your Goals to the SMART Test
Have you heard of the concept of SMART goals? SMART goals are grounded in the real world; they aren’t just fantasies. Set yourself up for success by making sure your goals meet the SMART criteria:

S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Achievable
R – Realistic
T – Timely

Put It in Writing: PRO’s Goal-setting Worksheet
Finally, write it (or type it) down! The act of committing your ideas to paper forces you to think in concrete terms and make your resolutions more real. It can also lead to brainstorming, which is always valuable.

Studies show that people who put their goals in writing are more likely to achieve them than those who don’t. It’s important.

Get the new Small Business Toolbook – 25+ years of Advisory Group Expertise

Work Smarter, Not Harder with the 80/20 Rule

Are your days so busy that you rarely get to the most important items on your to-do list?  According to small business peer board members, success came easier once they learned to concentrate on tasks that matter, instead of spending time on trivial activities. They learned to harness ‘the 80/20 rule’ and if you follow their tips, you can, too.

It’s tempting to spend time on small tasks at the expense of the big ones. They’re easier to finish, for one thing, and it feels good to cross things off your list. But “doing” isn’t the same as “accomplishing.” The key is to prioritize your activities, so you’re investing your time and energies where it matters most. That’s where the 80/20 rule comes in.

“I found that learning to delegate is one of the most important skills a business owner can have,” says PRO member Doug Timberlin, President of Cupp’s Industrial Supply Inc. in Phoenix, which manufactures gaskets, mechanical packing, seals, expansion joints, plastic fabrication and CNC machined parts.

“Get the little tasks off your desk so you can focus on the bigger picture.”

Understanding the 80/20 Rule

You’re undoubtedly familiar with the 80/20 principle in one context or another.

The concept was first proposed by Vilfredo Pareto, a 19th Century Italian economist, as far as I know. After studying Italy’s economy, Pareto concluded that 80 percent of Italy’s income was generated by 20 percent of its population.

‘Pareto’s Theory of Mal-distribution,’ as it was first known, suggests that 80 percent of output comes from 20 percent of input. Turn it around, and it means that a small percentage of our efforts generate a large percentage of our results—a fact just about every PRO member has found to be true.

Apply the 80/20 Rule to Your Workday

Now, apply the 80/20 concept to the way you manage your time. Of all the activities you engage in on a typical day, what tasks create revenue for you? What is essentially trivial? Identify which activities propel you forward and which ones hold you back.

That “busy work” is destructive. Once you’ve identified it, you’re job is to figure out how to get it off your desk.  Can you delegate it? Automate it? Outsource it? Forget it?

However, some of my PRO members find that there’s some ‘small stuff’ you can’t delegate. They’ve found that setting aside a fixed block of time to attend it, say, one afternoon a week, is a good way to keep it in its place. The goal is to keep your main focus—and big blocks of prime work time—to doing things that count.

Sometimes, we busy ourselves with small activities because we’re not sure how to tackle the big ones. In that case, create an action plan. Break a massive project down into small, concrete steps that you can tackle one by one. If you like crossing things off you list, this will work well for you.

Review Other Aspects of Business through the 80/20 Lens

It’s helpful to review other aspects of business this way, too.

For example, look at your customer base. What ‘20 percent’ of customers generate ’80 percent’ of sales? The actual number may vary, but the principle won’t. According to PRO members, the key is to analyze the characteristics that your best customers have in common, so you can target more prospects like them.

Or, consider what additional products or services you could be offering to these key accounts. How can you maximize the sales relationships that matter?

Or, study your workforce through the 80/20 prism. Are some employees doing the lion’s share of the work while others coast? Use this knowledge to manage your employees more effectively and ramp up productivity.

Put It in Writing: PRO’s 80/20 Worksheet

Your time and energy is finite. Applying the 80/20 Rule to your workday can help you use both more effectively. Be principled about it—put it in writing.

Get the new Small Business Toolbook – 25+ years of Advisory Group Expertise