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Business Basics 107 – Creating a Unified System

After planning a course of action, managers must organize the company to accomplish their goals, including allocating resources, assigning tasks and establishing procedures. The managerial heirarchy includes top management, the highest level such as the president and other key executives who develop strategic plans. This often includes the chief executive officer (CEO), chief operating officer (COO), chief financial officer (CFO) and chief information officeer (CIO), although it has become more commonplace to see companies eliminate the COO position.

The CEO is often also the company’s president and is responsible for all top-level decision making, including introducing change to the company. Her tasks include structuring work, controlling operations and rewarding people to ensure that everyone works to carry out her vision. The CFO is responsible for obtaining funds, planning budgets, collecting funds and such. The CIO is responsible to get the right information to other managers so they can make correct decisions, and is more important than ever to the success of the company given the crucial role that information technology has come to play in every business.

Middle management includes general managers, division managers and branch and plant managers who are responsible for tactical planning and controlling. Many middle management positions have been eliminated in recent years due to cost cutting and down-sizing, and the companies have given the remaining managers more employees to supervise. Middle managers are an important role to most businesses.

Supervisory management includes those directly responsible for supervising workers and evaluating their daily performance, and are often known as first-line managers or supervisors.

People are typically not taught to be managers, but due to their skill move up the corporate ladder and become managers. They tend to become deeply involved in showing others how to do things, helping and supervising them, and generally being active in the operating task. The further up the ladder she moves, the less important her original job skills. At the top of the ladder, the need is for people who are visionaries, planners, organizers, coordinators, communicators, morale builders and motivators. A successful manager must have technical skills, human relations skills and conceptual skills.

Technical skills involve the ability to perform tasks in a specific discipline or department; human relations skills involve communication and motivation and enable managers to work through and with people, and also include skills associated with leadership; and conceptual skills involve the ability to see the organization as a whole and the relationship among its various parts. Conceptual skills are required in planning, organizing, controlling, systems development, problem analysis, decision making, coordinating and delegating. First-line managers need skills in all three areas, but spend most of their time on technical and human relations tasks, such as assisting operating personnel and giving directions. On the other hand, top managers need few technical skills and spend almost all of their time on human relations and conceptual tasks. Thus a person who is successful as a supervisor might not be competent at higher levels and vice versa.

Staffing is a management function that includes hiring, motivating and retaining the best people available to accomplish the company’s objectives. To get the right kind of people to staff an organization, the company has to offer the right kinds of incentives. Many people will not work for companies where they are not treated well or get fair pay. They may leave to find a better balance between work and home. A company with innovative and creative workers can go from a start-up to a major competitor in just a few years. Staffing has become an increased part of each manager’s assignment, and all managers need to cooperate with human resource management to get and keep good workers.

More recently, social media manager has become one of the fastest growing careers. Social media continues to grow in importance as it presents the face and voice of an organization. Social media managers need to be curious, able to adapt quickly, and understand the role social media plays in the organization’s goals. They also need skills in writing, graphic and video design, public speaking, customer service and community engagement, behavioral psychology, analyzing social media metrics and budgeting. Being proficient in some of these areas is more important than being strong in all of them.

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Business Basics 106 – Management and Leadership II

Planning and Decision Making

The number one upper management function is planning – setting the organization’s vision, goals and objectives. Planning is often described as an executive’s most valuable tool. Let’s break it down. It is a continuous process that often follows a pattern, answering several fundamental questions: (1) What is the situation now? This includes a SWOT analysis of the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunties and the threats it faces. Often opportunities and threats are external and can’t be aniticpated, while weaknesses and strengths are typically internal and can be measured and fixed. (2) How can we get to our goal from here? The answer to this question is typically the most important part of planning, and can take one of four forms: strategic, tactical, operational or contingency.

A vision is a broad explanation of why the organization exists and where it’s trying to go. It gives the organization a sense of purpose and a set of values that unite employees in a common objective. Top management typically sets the organization’s vision, and often works with others to create a mission statement. A mission statement outlines the organization’s fundamental purpose, and includes its self concept, philosphy, long-term survival needs, customer needs, social responsibility and nature of the product/services. The mission statement becomes the foundation for setting specific goals and objectives.

Goals are the broad, long-term accomplishments an organization seeks to attain. Setting goals is often a team process, aimed at buy-in from both employees and management. And objectives are specific, short-term statements detailing how to achieve the organization’s goals.

Strategic planning is done by top management and determines the organization’s major goals, along with the policies, procedures, strategies and resources it will need to achieve them. Policies are broad guidelines for action, while strategies determine the best way to use the resources. In strategic planning, top management decides which customers to serve, when to do so, what products or services to sell, and the geographic areas in which to compete, but it is important for them to engage those with potentially the best strategic insights, their employees. In today’s rapidly changing environment, strategic planning is becoming more difficult because changes are occuring so fast that plans quickly become obsolete. The idea is to be flexible and responsive to the market, allowing for quick responses to customer needs and requests.

Tactical planning develops detailed, short-term statements about what is to be done, who is to do it, and how it is to be done, and is typically a function of lower level managers. Operational planning is the setting of work standards and schedules needed to implement the company’s tactical objectives. It focuses on specific supervisors, managers and employees, and is the manager’s tool for daily and weekly operations. Contingency planning prepares alternative courses of action the company can use if its primary plans don’t work. In our ever-changing environment it is good practice to have alternative plans of action ready. Crisis planning is part of contingency planning and anticipates sudden changes in the environment. Rather than creating detailed strategic plans, the leaders of companies that respond quickly to changes in competition or other environmental changes often simply set a direction. They want to stay flexible, listen to their customers, and seize opportunities, expected or not.

Decision making means choosing among two or more alternatives, and is at the heart of all management functions. The rational decision making model is often followed to make intelligent, logical and well-founded decisions. Its six steps are as follows:

  • Define the situation
  • Describe and collect needed information
  • Develop alternatives
  • Decide which alternative is best
  • Do what is indicated (begin implementation)
  • Determine whether the decision was a good one, and follow up

Sometimes, however, managers have to make decisions on the spot and can’t go through this six step process. Problem solving is less forman than decision making and usually calls for quicker action to resolve everyday issues. Problem solving techniques include brainstorming, coming up with as many solutions as possible in a short period of time with no censoring of ideas, and PMI, listing all of the pluses for a solution in one column, all the minuses in another, and the implications in a third, with the goal to make sure the pluses exceed the minuses. Both decision making and problem solving require managers to use their best judgment.

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Business Basics – 101

Part 3 – The Importance of Entrepreneurs to the Creation of Wealth

There are two ways to succeed in business, either to rise through the ranks of a large company or to become an entrepreneur. Working for others offers the advantages that somebody else assumes the company’s entrepreneural risk and provides you with benefits, like paid vacation time and health insurance.

Becoming an entrepreneur is risker but more exciting. Owning your own business allows you to reap its profits or to fail. As an entrepreneur you don’t receive benefits, such as paid vacation, day care, a company car or health insurance. You have to provide them for yourself. But you gain the freedom to make your own decisions, opportunity and possible wealth, so the trade off can be worth the effort. Part of your due diligence before taking on the challenge of starting your own business should be to study successful entrepreneurs to learn the process.

Economists have identified five factors of production that seem to contribute to wealth:

  • Land/natural resources. Land and other natural resources are used to make homes, cars and other products.
  • Labor/workers. People have always been an important resource in producing goods and services, but many people are now being replaced by technology.
  • Capital. This includes machines, tools, buildings, and whatever else is used in the production of goods. It might not include money; money is used to buy factors of production but is not always considered a factor in and of itself.
  • Entrepreneurship. All the resources in the world have little value unless entrepreneurs are willing to take the risk of starting businesses to use those resources.
  • Knowledge. Information technology has revolutioned businesses, making it possible to quickly determine wants and needs and to respond with the desired goods and services.

Traditionally business and economics textbooks emphasized only the first four factors, but the late management expert and business consultant Peter Drucker said the most important factor of production in our economy is and will always be knowledge.

When we compare the factors of production in rich and poor countries, we find that land is not the critical element for wealth creation; numerous poor countries have plenty of land and natural resources. Nor is labor. Most poor countries have plenty of laborers who need to find work to make a contribution, thus they need entrepreneurs to create jobs for them. In addition capital, such as machinery and tools, is now fairly easy for companies to find in world markets, so capital is not the missing ingredient either. In fact, capital is not productive without entrepreneurs to put it to use.

What makes countries rich is a combination of entrepreneurship with the effective use of knowledge. Entrepreneurs use the knowledge they have learned in order to grow their businesses and increase wealth. The business environment either encourages or discourages entrepreneurship, which helps explain why some states and cities in this country grow rich while others remain relatively poor.

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Why you need a great accountant on your business team

Whether you’re operating a for profit or a nonprofit enterprise, you need a great team of advisors helping you out. Surrounding yourself with people who are not only there to answer the questions you ask, but to ask questions you haven’t thought of yet is key to your success. And one of the most important team members (next to your BauerGriffith attorney, of course!) is your accountant.

Now when I say accountant, I mean more than a bookkeeper, or someone to fill out your tax returns. Both of these skills are very important, but there are so many opportunities to save money and structure your business for success that many business owners miss without the savvy advice of an accountant.

Here are just a few key issues to think about:

  • Are you paying and collecting sales tax when you need to, and only when you need to.
  • Have you classified your workers properly as employees or independent contractors, and how can making a few tweaks to the way you work with your staff potentially save you a ton of money.
  • Are you capturing all the possible business deductions you can for expenses.
  • Are you classifying your expenses properly to capture all possible depreciation for your building or capital purchases (think desks and chairs, not just buildings and large equipment).
  • Are you monitoring cash flow on a monthly basis, even when some expenses are paid annually.
  • Are you budgeting for hidden expenses like credit card processing fees and employee related taxes.

Of course, the list goes on. Practically every business of every size needs to examine these issues in advance of closing the year-end books to make sure every advantage is captured. If all your accountant is doing for you is telling you how much to pay the IRS, then they’re not doing enough. So add this important team member to your list of advisors now to make 2020 your best year yet.