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Is Your Great Idea A Real Business?


No matter how often you scrub him, Sam, your 90-pound Golden Retriever, still stinks.

Then it hits you: dog cologne! You fire up a Web search and learn that, every year, 50 million U.S. dog owners collectively spend $43 billion on their pooches. Sam can’t be the only smelly one of the bunch; your idea can’t miss. You even have a name for it: Furry Fragrances. Or maybe Eau de Puppe.

We’ve all been there: drinking our morning coffee, reading the business section, washing our dogs, when–Bam!–an idea for a new gizmo or service that’s going to change the world comes crashing home. But before you liquidate your 401(k) for startup capital, step back and figure out whether your “great idea” truly translates into a money-making venture.

The first question you should ask: Do you have a compelling value proposition? This point is forever worth repeating: Great ideas are only great business ideas if you can convince people to pay for your product or service at a price above what it costs you to deliver it. Just because you think the world needs new canine cologne doesn’t mean anyone else agrees–or if they do, that they would be willing to pay enough to cover your electric bill.

You don’t need a 90-page business plan to convey a value proposition. In fact, you should be able to communicate it in a few sentences. If you can’t figure out why your product is great, your customers probably can’t, either.

Another common mistake that budding entrepreneurs make is “overestimating their originality,” says Toby Stuart, a professor of entrepreneurial management at the Harvard Business School. In other words: If you’ve thought of it, chances are someone else has, too.

Next question: Is there a viable market for your new product or service? Professional investors (like venture capitalists) don’t want to write checks to launch companies with limited growth potential, even if they’ll likely be profitable. And never count on creating a new market from scratch–chances are there’s a reason it doesn’t exist.

On the flip side, beware the temptation to grab for a small slice of a massive pie. That $43 billion in pet supplies may sound juicy, but that doesn’t mean the dollars devoted to doggie perfume are large enough to nourish a standalone business. Rather than trying to capture 1% to 2% of a giant global market, startups should aim to capture 25% to 40% of a niche market, advises John De Puy, chief executive of Oaktree Ventures, a San Diego-based venture capital firm. “Define and dominate,” he says. “That’s the secret sauce.”

Before you can dominate, you have to cover your development costs. “Most companies that fail do so because they are lacking capital,” says De Puy. The key here is honesty: However much you think you need to bring your product to market, figure in a healthy cushion. Add more for tech-heavy products that may–read: will–need extra months of tweaking. If you can’t scare up enough scratch to get out of the garage–no mean feat in the current economic climate–the market may be trying to tell you something.

“You won’t really know whether you have a business opportunity until you try to get funding,” says Charles Holloway, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

But don’t stop the analysis at the prototype stage. Lasting businesses need a sustainable competitive advantage. What’s yours? If it’s technology, can you patent it? If it’s a commodity item, can you brand it? Sure, you could sell or license your nascent technology and let someone else worry about how to wring profits from it, but is that a bet you want to make?

If you’re still convinced you’re onto a real business opportunity, ask yourself one last question: How hard are you willing to work? According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just two-thirds of new businesses make it past the two-year mark, while only 44% last four years–and that’s just survival, not success.

Bottom line: If you’re not ready to give everything (and then some) to your great idea, it probably won’t matter how great Sam smells.

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Breaking Your Glass Ceiling

Management Articles

Breaking Your Glass Ceiling
Reaching for the Top with Everyday Tools

Do you feel that you’ve gone as far as you can with your current employer? Despite knowing that you have much more potential, is there a limit to where “people like you” can go in your organization?

If so, you’ve hit what’s known as the “glass ceiling.” This is the point at which you can clearly see the next level of promotion – yet, despite your best effort, an invisible barrier seems to stop you from proceeding.

Traditionally, the glass ceiling was a concept applied to women and some minorities. It was very hard, if not impossible, for them to reach upper management positions. No matter how qualified or experienced, they simply were not given opportunities to further advance their careers.

Today, there are many more women and minorities in powerful positions. However, the glass ceiling is still very real. And it’s not always limited to gender or race.

Have you been pushed up against a glass ceiling? This can happen for many different reasons. Are you too much the champion of change? Do you have difficulty communicating your ideas? Are you quieter and less outgoing than the people who get promotions?

Whatever the reason, you have a choice. You can accept your situation and be happy with looking up and not being able to touch what you see… or you can smash the glass with purpose and determination.

If you do, indeed, want to break through that glass, here are some steps to take.

Identify the Key Competencies within Your Organization

Key competencies are the common skills and attributes of the people in your company’s upper levels. These skills are often tied closely to the organization’s culture and vision.

Companies that value innovation and strive to be leaders will probably promote individuals who are outgoing, risk takers, and not afraid to “tell it like it is.” However, if you work for a conservative company (such as a publicly-owned utility) chances are that top management are analytical thinkers, with a reputation for avoiding risk and making careful decisions.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are the values of your organization?
  • What behaviors does your company value and reward?
  • What type of person is promoted?

Understand what sets your company and its leaders apart. This is the first step toward discovering how to position yourself for a top leadership role.

To further clarify these ideas, read Core Competence Analysis and Deal and Kennedy’s Cultural Model.

Two universal competencies for top management are effective leadership and effective communication. Each of these is complex.

  • Read everything you can about leadership styles, skills, and attributes.
  • Communication skills will help you, regardless of the level you want to reach in your career. Start with the introduction to communication skills, and learn to use as many of these tools as possible.

Set Objectives to Align Your Competencies with Top Management

Once you know your target, set goals to get there. You’re responsible for determining your own career direction. Be proactive and go after what you want, because it probably won’t be handed to you.

Do the following:

  • Let your boss know that you want to work toward a higher-level position.
  • Ask your boss what skill areas you need to develop.
  • Work together with your boss to set goals and objectives, then monitor and measure your performance.

Remember to concentrate on areas of performance that you can improve. Don’t set a goal to achieve a certain position by a certain time: This can be discouraging if it doesn’t happen. For example, set a goal to consistently demonstrate assertive and clear communication. If you achieve that goal, no matter what job title you have, you’ve succeeded!

Build Your Network

You should also build relationships with other people in your organization. You never know who may be in a position to help you or provide you with valuable information.

It’s important to network in all areas and levels of your company. Many people tend to think it’s best to make friends at the top. However, to be effective and actually make it to the top, you’ll need the support of colleagues at other levels as well.

Try these tips:

  • Reach out to new people on a regular basis.
  • Get involved with cross-functional teams.
  • Expand your professional network outside of your organization. If you can’t break the glass ceiling in your company, you may have to look elsewhere for opportunities.

Use the climate in your organization to your advantage. While “politicking” is often seen as negative, you can help your career by understanding and using the political networks in your company.

Find a Mentor

Having a mentor is a powerful way to break through the glass ceiling. The barriers that you face have likely been there for a long time. Past practices, biases and stereotypes, and old ideas are often long established at the top of many organizations.

Is upper management reluctant to work with certain types of individuals? Do they exclude certain people from important communications? A mentor can help you learn how to get connected to the information and people who can help you. A mentor can also be a great source of ideas for your professional development and growth.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is there someone in upper management you can approach to help you?
  • Will your boss be able to provide mentoring support?
  • Are there people with strong political power who can offer you assistance?

Build Your Reputation

Ultimately, the way to get ahead is to get noticed. You want people to see your leadership abilities, communication skills, technical knowledge, and any other competencies that are typical of people at the top.

Develop your skills and network with people so that your name becomes associated with top management potential. To do this, you need to build a reputation as the kind of person who fits the description of top management. Visibility is very important. Remember, while you can see up, those at the top can see down. Make sure that what they see is you!

Follow these guidelines:

  • Seek high-profile projects.
  • Speak up and contribute in meetings.
  • Share ideas with peers as well as people in higher positions.
  • Identify places where your reputation is not what you want it to be, and develop plans to change them.

Know Your Rights

Finally, watch for discriminatory behavior. Sometimes biases and stereotyping can cross the line into discrimination. It’s unfortunate for both you and your organization when situations like this occur.

Don’t just accept frustration and failure. Know that you’re doing everything right, and arm yourself with a good understanding of your rights regarding official company policies and local laws.

Key Points

To get ahead and reach the leadership level you want, you need to champion and market yourself. That means proactively managing every step of your career. If you can’t seem to break through a glass ceiling, you might have to work harder than others.

We can’t all be exactly the type of upper management person our company wants. What we can do is develop the skills that the company values. Arm yourself with a development plan as well as the help of your boss, a strong network, and, hopefully, a mentor. You can then build and showcase the skills that will help you climb the corporate ladder. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone, and you may find new zones of opportunity.

Apply This to Your Life

If you’re frustrated with your career advancement, consider the following:

  • Do you have a career plan in place? If you don’t, now is the time to make one!
  • Does your boss, or anyone in your organization, know what your goals are? Unless people know what you want, they may keep you in the same position and assume you’re happy there.
  • Do you feel alone and unsupported in your career goals? If so, who can help you change that? We all need to make our own success, but most people don’t succeed all on their own. Ask for support and assistance – this is a sign of strength, not weakness.
  • What areas for skill development have been pointed out to you in the past? Are you making improvements?
  • Are you facing a glass ceiling? Recognizing that the ceiling exists is the first step… the ceiling won’t be removed unless you do something about it. Apply some of the ideas in this article, and monitor your progress.
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Motivating People Effectively, Without Authority

Management Articles

Does this sound like a job you’d want?

“You’ll be managing a diverse group of people from a variety of departments. They each have different areas of expertise and different ways of getting work done. The people don’t report to you, and you’ll have little to no authority over directing their performance. However, you’ll be held accountable for the team’s output. To accomplish the team’s goals, you’ll be expected, among other things, to motivate, facilitate, encourage, communicate effectively, build trust, and resolve conflict.”

This doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, does it?

When leading a team of your peers, these are typical challenges.

Leadership is a complex subject. There are visionary leaders, empowering leaders, charismatic leaders, and values-based leaders. For each of these styles, there are situations where that style is and is not effective. However, the one thing that traditional leaders can usually rely on, regardless of their style or situation, is legitimate power. When things get tough, a traditional leader has the status and position to demand how work is done.

But when you’re in charge of a team of your peers, your level of authority is often nonexistent. You might have a little status as the person to whom the work has been given – but is that enough to lead what is essentially a horizontal collaboration?

To lead a multifunctional peer group, you must have all the characteristics of great leaders – and then some. Here are the key skills you’ll need to succeed.

Master the Group Process

Learn to lead discussions and proactively manage different personalities. You never know what past experiences – good and bad – team members have had with one another.

Whatever the history, your role as leader starts by setting a positive foundation for the team’s interactions:

  • Establish a relaxed environment, where everyone is encouraged to share opinions and ideas.
  • Ask for input from everyone, and encourage quieter members to speak up.
  • Use active listening skills, like paraphrasing and asking questions for clarification.
  • Insist on respect for one another and, for tasks taking a lot of time and effort, consider developing a team charter to define your team’s goals and how the team will work.
  • Use participative decision making tools, and try to ensure active involvement and commitment from the team.

Empower Team Members

Leaders who give power to others can be very influential and motivating. When leaders use their power to help others accomplish great things, people often want to work very hard for them.

When you empower someone, you’re essentially saying that you trust that person. When people feel trusted, they may naturally want to take on more responsibility for the outcome, because they’ll share in the spotlight when success is achieved.

Empowerment, then, is a great motivator, and it can be used to recognize the efforts of team members. When leading your peers, be creative with reward and recognition – sometimes assigning a task or granting a level of authority can serve as a very effective reward.

Beyond this, work hard to motivate the people you’re working with and, in particular, give praise wherever it’s due.

Be Flexible

Rules, regulations and a heavy-handed approach can cause resentment and non-compliance in a team of peers. Use discretion, and learn to adapt to the changing environment – this can be essential.

You won’t always be the expert, and you won’t always know what to do. With a flexible leadership style, you can often deal with changing circumstances without compromising your leadership role. If you rely on a rigid structure and style, you may find yourself challenged often, and you may waste your energy fighting interpersonal battles instead of accomplishing goals.

Essentially, you need to help your team adjust to changes in direction, circumstance, and priority. Whenever you get a cross-section of people working together, there can be times of ambiguity and uncertainty. When you’re open to change, your team will see that, and they’ll be more likely to also accept change.

Set Goals

Few teams would get very far without goals. Certainly you need goals to point you in the right direction and to evaluate performance. When you bring together a diverse set of people, having a clear direction is even more essential.

All team members will likely have their own perspectives. These could lead your team down very different paths – if there’s no central direction to follow. Different paths can also cause conflict around resources and priorities.

You can avoid many of these difficulties with clear goal setting that’s based on agreed and valuable objectives. It’s much easier to keep people working together effectively if objectives are clear, if it’s obvious how the team’s output will help its customer, and if disputes are resolved by referring to the team’s goals.

From then on, it’s important that you develop an implementation plan and remain focused on your targets.

Support and Protect Your Team

Each team member usually has his or her own regular job to do in addition to the team’s specific tasks. This means that commitment to your team may be weakened from many directions. As the leader, and the one who is ultimately accountable, concentrate on getting the support and resources your team needs to do the job well.

Focus on these three key areas:

  1. Obtain resources – Your team may quickly lose momentum if it encounters resource shortages. If you get your team what it needs – when the team needs it – your status, influence, and ability to motivate can increase significantly.
  2. Manage stakeholders – Many people outside your team may strongly influence the team’s success. First, you may encounter outside resistance from various sources. For example, John’s manager may not allow him to work more than one hour per week on team projects, or the finance director may refuse to “spend one more dollar on that project.”

    There may also be key team champions. As a leader, your challenge is to figure out how to use the champions’ influence to persuade “resisters” to change their opinions. A great way to gain the respect of your team is to protect it from negative outside influences so that members can produce great work.

  3. Obtain management feedback – Your team needs to know they’re supported. Make sure you receive regular communication from managers and executives. You’re the liaison – the link – to ensure that management knows what’s going on, and that your team knows what management thinks.

    This can be a delicate balancing act, because you don’t want to run back and forth with too much information. Figure out what each side needs to know to remain satisfied, and then provide it.

Key Points

Leading a team of your peers is a definite challenge, and it can put all of your leadership skills to the test. From setting goals to involving team members in decision making to creating a climate of openness and honesty, you need to have it all – and more.

If you remember to put your team’s goal and its needs first, and if you work very hard to protect their interests, you’ll prove to them that you’re committed to and passionate about their success. When you demonstrate that you believe in the value of their work, and when you’re willing to work through any obstacles you encounter, your team will respect your integrity – and they’ll want to work hard with you, and for you, to achieve results.

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Performance Agreements – Increasing Personal Accountability

Management Articles

You sit down with Bill to discuss his performance… again. You talk at length about what you both need to feel satisfied with the work he’s doing. Perhaps you discuss some workplace adjustments to help motivate him, perhaps you offer coaching in some aspect of his job. And you clearly outline your expectations for improvement in his performance.

You both leave the meeting feeling positive, and Bill understands what he needs to do. You head back to your office, confident that, this time, you’ll get a good result.

But a few weeks go by, and you haven’t seen any improvement in Bill’s performance. He just can’t seem to follow through and make the improvements you discussed. Before you throw in the towel or take a disciplinary route, what more can you do?


Conducting a performance interview and providing feedback are only the start – the “front end” tasks of performance management. However, the middle and back ends of this process are just as critical.

It’s not enough to simply tell Bill what you expect him to do, and then place the sole responsibility for follow-through on his shoulders. Performance management takes more of a team approach – the person who’s doing the work needs to feel supported and encouraged for the duration of the process, just as he or she needs to feel personally held to account for the outcome.

Expanding the Performance Review Process

One of the most effective ways of doing this is with a performance agreement. This agreement defines accountability for specific personal and organizational goals. It defines the individual’s expectations. It establishes and agrees results-oriented goals that are aligned with the overall objective you want to achieve. And it concludes with the individual’s formal, signed commitment to the agreement.

When establishing performance expectations, the overall objective is to come to an agreement that supports your organization’s strategy. For individual performance goals, the objective is real, measurable improvement so that the person is in a position to help move the organization forward.

Performance agreements must clearly state agreed-upon objectives and how these will be measured. Document these things to help you avoid future disagreements about exactly what you expected the person to accomplish.

Without an agreement founded on the organization’s objectives, you may have to rely on defending your directives with “Because I’m the boss.” This will probably do nothing to build trust and respect with the person whose performance you’re trying to improve. However, with formal agreements in place, managing and leading your staff can become more objective, and simpler.

These are some of the many benefits you can achieve by using performance agreements:

  • Aligns personal and organizational goals.
  • Improves trust and understanding.
  • Encourages communication and feedback.
  • Assists career planning and development.
  • Ensures that what you agree upon is relevant and achievable.
  • Provides an objective and fair way to evaluate performance.
  • Holds staff members accountable for their performance.
  • Makes performance a shared responsibility between you and your staff.
  • Establishes a process to follow up on performance and development plans.

Performance agreements support a management by objectives approach. This is where managers help staff understand how their roles fit into the larger picture of organizational success. From there, each staff member develops specific performance goals and targets that are aligned with the company’s strategic goals.

Performance agreements not only ensure that performance is measured, they also set up a great communication system to regularly discuss individual performance. These agreements are essentially a way of making sure that everyone is aware of what they need to work on, and why.

Putting Together an Agreement

An effective performance agreement:

  • Reflects business needs.
  • Is achievable and relevant.
  • Outlines authority and accountability.
  • Can be evaluated or measured.
  • Is fair.
  • Holds people to account.

Follow these steps to put an effective performance agreement in place for your staff:

  1. Start with expectations

    Clearly identify the behavior that you want to see, explain why that behavior is needed, and identify the goals that need to be achieved.

    Build in milestones

    Identify specific points along the way to ensure that the goal is still relevant and that the person is still on track. The main reason for executing a performance agreement is to maximize success. Do what you can to make success as achievable as possible.

    In our above example, someone needing to improve communication skills may need to start by attending an interpersonal communication workshop, and this may have a milestone of completing it by a certain date. After attending the workshop, the person can move on to one-on-one coaching.

    If the person doesn’t attend the workshop, then the milestone provides an opportunity to ask why. Was there a scheduling problem, or is there a deeper issue to address? Either way, the person can’t move on to one-on-one coaching, so the second goal needs to be adjusted.

    With a routine performance goal, you need milestones to ensure that things are progressing smoothly. You don’t want a surprise when it’s time to evaluate a person’s overall performance, so build in checkpoints to stay on top of performance before it gets too far off track.

  2. Agree on the terms

    Performance agreements are a two-way street. If you simply dictate what the person will do, you may be disappointed with the outcome. When goals are agreed upon mutually, you’re more likely to see progress. Take time to develop goals together, and be prepared to discuss the “whys” at length. This is a joint process – it needs acceptance from both parties for it to work.

  3. Schedule accountability meetings

    Milestones form the basis for accountability. When people know you’ll be following up, they’ll be much more likely to quickly get to work on the goal. If they think you’ll simply forget about it, they probably will too. Schedule regular meeting times to review goals, discuss what’s happening, and make adjustments as necessary.

    This is the communication benefit of performance agreements. You’re much more likely to be involved in your staff’s development and performance when you agree to, and commit to, regular performance meetings.

  4. Establish outcome results and consequences

    Whenever you put together a contract, the other person probably expects to get something for fulfilling the terms of that contract. With performance contracts, this may be a bonus or reward, or it may simply be continued employment.

    Whatever the case, clearly state what happens if the goal is or is not met. This is especially critical for performance improvement agreements, because you need a next step if the person fails to improve within an agreed upon, and reasonable, amount of time.

    Make the performance agreement transparent – everyone should understand the consequences of action or inaction. When a formal agreement outlines specific and measurable expectations, it doesn’t leave much room for argument. If the person fails to live up to the agreement, then you have a process in place that you can follow.

Tip 1:
Because performance agreements are intended to help staff with their development, put in place at least one more chance to meet the expectation. Agreements that are too harsh can seem unreasonable, and they may contradict the spirit of supporting staff efforts to improve and contribute value to your organization.

Of course, if the person fails to meet these agreements, you may have fair and defensible grounds for dismissal. This can make the termination process cleaner for everyone involved – however, that’s judged on a case-by-case basis.

Tip 2:
Before engaging with this process in full, talk to your HR department. The approach may need to be tweaked to ensure that it complies with local employment law and corporate HR policies.

  1. Sign it and date it

    All that’s left is for the member of staff and you to sign the agreement and date it. Well, almost all… now you have to monitor and enforce the agreement, as well as hold up your responsibilities in terms of follow-up and support.

Tip 3:
Here we’re talking about using performance agreements to correct people’s behavior. Essentially, we’re balancing the benefits of using performance agreements to orient people towards desired goals, with the considerable managerial effort needed to draw them up and manage them, and suggesting that they’re used only in the most important situations.

However, in some circumstances (possibly in high risk situations, or where a great deal of unsupervised work is needed) it may be worth making performance agreements with all members of your team. If you’re thinking of doing this, make sure that members of your team are comfortable with the approach, and ensure that you don’t rely on them exclusively to manage performance. Everyone needs good levels of trust, respect, and communication from their boss!

Key Points

Performance agreements are a great addition to a performance management system. They enhance accountability for both workers and managers, and they establish clear expectations that staff can use to take responsibility for their own performance.

That’s really what good performance is all about – providing people with the understanding they need to do a good job and achieve the results that are expected of them. By identifying this information and setting up a contract, you can create a system for success.

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Everybody makes mistakes; that’s why they put erasers on pencils.

Management Articles

A group of children were playing near two railway tracks, one still in use while the other disused. Only one child played on the disused track, the  rest on the operational track.

The train is coming, and you are just beside the track interchange. You can make the train change its course to the disused track and save most of the kids. However, that would also mean the lone child playing by the disused track would be sacrificed. Or would you rather let the train go its way?

Let’s take a pause to think what kind of decision we could make…………….




Most people might choose to divert the course of the train, and sacrifice only one child. You might think the same way, I guess. Exactly, I thought the same way initially because to save most of the children at the expense of only one child was rational decision most people would make, morally and emotionally.

 But, have you ever thought that the child choosing to play on the disused track had in fact made the right decision to play at a safe place?

Nevertheless, he had to be sacrificed because of his ignorant friends who DELIBERATELY chose to play where the danger was.

This kind of dilemma happens around us everyday. In the office, community, in politics and especially in a democratic society, the minority is often sacrificed for the interest of the majority, no matter how foolish or ignorant the majority are, and how farsighted and knowledgeable the minority are. The child who chose not to play with the rest on the operational track was sidelined. And in the case he was sacrificed, no one would shed a tear for him.

The great critic Leo Velski Julian who told the story said he would not try to change the course of the train because he believed that the kids playing on the operational track should have known very well that track was still in use, and that they should have run away if they heard the train’s sirens. If the train was diverted, that lone child would definitely die because he never thought the train could come over to that track! Moreover, that track was not in use probably because it was not safe. If the train was diverted to the track, we could put the lives of all passengers on board at stake! And in your attempt to save a few kids by sacrificing one child, you might end up sacrificing hundreds of people to save these few kids.

While we are all aware that life is full of tough decisions that need to be   made, we may not realize that hasty decisions may not always be the right one.

“Remember that what’s right isn’t always popular… and what’s popular isn’t always right.”

Everybody makes mistakes; that’s why they put erasers on pencils. 

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