Despite their best efforts, many companies base their decisions on faulty strategies, says Rick Howarth, president of the Strategic Thinking Institute and author of several books, including Strategy Espresso.
Here are the three most common strategic errors Howarth sees companies making — and how you can fix them:
Mistake #1: Planning instead of thinking. Many novice leaders substitute strategic planning for strategic thinking. When you jump straight into planning, you don’t fully explore your options and often miss out on a better strategy.
New way: When you encounter a problem or need, spend at least one hour with your team brainstorming all possible solutions. Then consider all the possible obstacles to success for each potential solution.
Mistake #2: Always saying “Yes.” No matter how bad you feel, sometimes “Yes” is the wrong answer. When you lack the discipline to say “No,” you’ll often waste valuable time and resources on projects and ideas that you know won’t work.
New way: Identify the best use of your resources so that when a new project or idea pops up, you can make sure it fits into your grand plan.
Mistake #3: Letting your budget dictate your strategy. Many organizations observe how much money is in the budget and then determine which strategy fits that amount. This means the strategy they choose isn’t necessarily the best one for the company.
New way: Hold a strategic-thinking session before you know your budget. Then use your budget to prioritize your initiatives.
If you’re like most supervisors, you were promoted to your position because you performed a set of tasks better than those around you.
Reality check: Managing your employees requires a different skill set than you brought to the position. Yet, many supervisors fall into the trap of leading in the same ways that they followed.
Good news: You can buck this trend. Avoid the new-manager pitfalls by keeping your eyes open for these common mistakes.
- Mistake #1: You continue to perform your old job rather than focusing on your new one. You have to make a clean break from your old position or you’ll never be able to focus on developing your team and solving new problems. Try this: Make a list of your new duties. Next to each item, outline how and why this component of your job differs from what you used to do. When you find yourself slipping back into the old position, consult your list for a wake-up call.
- Mistake #2: You view smart employees as your competition rather than as an asset to your team. If smart people worry that they’ll suffer for offering good ideas, they’ll keep their opinions to themselves — and eventually find a more welcoming manager to work for. Action plan: Let employees know that you’ll reward them for their creative and innovative ideas. When a particularly sharp employee steps forward, work with her to turn her ideas into executable strategies that work well for your entire team. Even better: Reward your employees for thinking outside of the box. You might recognize a successful idea in an email to the team, during a company lunch or through a small cash bonus. These rewards will motivate your team to work harder at making your company successful.
- Mistake #3: You are so afraid of making a mistake that you make no decision at all. Your indecisiveness will lead your employees to doubt your judgement and lose respect for you as a leader. And, your peers and supervisors may doubt that they selected the best person to lead and motivate your team. Try this: When you aren’t sure which way to go, try listing out the pros and cons of your choices. Then forecast how your possible decisions will pan out at each step down the road. Ask yourself: Is there a middle ground? What solution will maximize the pros and minimize the cons? Keep in mind that you can’t possibly make the best choice 100 percent of the time. However, you can make solid, informed decisions that take into account all foreseeable outcomes. You’ll get further by taking setbacks in stride than by not pursuing a path at all.
- Mistake #4: You attempt to maintain friendships you developed with your employees when you were just another member of the team. You can definitely be friendly with your staff members, but if you’re everyone’s best friend, you’ll have a hard time making unpopular decisions or forcing people to change their routines. Do this: Set the tone early in your management career. As soon as you are promoted to supervisor, let your friends know what your goals are and how you plan to achieve them. Ask them to work with you and to understand that your relationship may change. You’ll win your old friends’ buy-in if you implement your decisions fairly and consistently. As soon as you make exceptions for friends, you’ll lose your team’s respect and risk losing everyone’s support.
Strong customer service is the best — and often only — way you’ll distinguish your company from your competitors.
Unfortunately, many customer service managers make the same common mistakes. Here’s how you can avoid them — and save your business:
- Not training staff. No matter whether you have two employees or 200, you must thoroughly train each of them to deal with customers. Rude, incorrect, or apathetic service reps will send your customers running for the hills.
- Trying to win the argument. You’ll work harder to win a new customer than to maintain an existing one. Therefore, you should never argue with customers or try to prove that you’re right. Saying “I’m sorry this happened,” will accomplish much more than saying “I’m sorry you made this mistake.”
- Being inaccessible. Your service team must be available when customers need them. This may mean training service agents to work late evenings or weekends. However, if customers feel that you aren’t responding to them, they’ll go elsewhere.
- Standing by your policy. Your service agents shouldn’t rely on “that’s our policy” to explain any decision or change. Explain to your customer why you made the change or how the decision will benefit him.
- Breaking promises. When you make a promise to a customer, you must follow through. For instance, if you claim you’ll call back tomorrow, then you need to make sure you do. When you must break a promise, you should contact the customer to explain why.
- Giving the runaround. Nothing infuriates a customer as much as being put on hold or shuffled around to different reps. Work with a customer until you have resolved his problem. If you can’t resolve it, pass him up to higher management, not to your co-worker.
- Failure to listen. Your reps have 15 things going on, but that’s no excuse for not listening to customers’ complaints or concerns. Listen closely and then repeat what you’ve heard so that customers know you are paying full attention.