What Are Your Key Business Questions?


On Monday, we posted what has already become one of our most-read posts of the year, entitled “Who is Your Data Expert?” If you have not had a chance to read it, take a few minutes to do so now.

Enough readers have reached out with follow up questions about recruiting and hiring data analysts and scientists that we thought it a good idea to remind everyone of the critical step every company should take before employing your data expert.

You must know your key business questions (KBQs).

What is a Key Business Question

Key business questions are the questions that your data expert will be tasked with answering. They are the questions you have about business performance that are central to the overall strategy you are deploying, or considering deploying in the future.

The best way to define key business questions is to look at a few examples…

A key business question for Netflix (and most subscription-based businesses) is, “how long does each new customer stay with us?” The answer to that question will guide marketing and acquisition strategy. It will tell the marketing team how valuable each customer is, and what the return on investment is for each campaign.

Going a step deeper, another key business question could be, “what causes a customer to quit the service?” To become more profitable without raising prices, Netflix can lower the cost of acquiring new customers, or it could build strategies for keeping customers longer. It is only by knowing what causes a customer to quit the service that they might develop interventions that affectively keep people subscribed.

In this way, KBQs are the questions you ask to derive the key metrics you need to operate your business successfully. You may know the answers already, and you may not. But two things are supremely important:

  1. Knowing the answers without knowing the question doesn’t help you. This is like looking at a business dashboard that is overly complex and does not drill down into the key performance indicators that truly matter.

  2. Once you can agree on your KBQs, you need to ensure that you get accurate answers to those questions. Those answers are going to be what you use to drive strategy going forward.

Identifying Underutilized Talent in Your Organization


When it comes to hiring, there are three common complaints you are likely to hear if you spend any time with management teams in small and medium-sized businesses:

  1. Hiring the right people is one of the most difficult challenges we face,
  2. It is hard to find people with the right set of skills to accomplish our goals, and
  3. We do not have the budget to hire all of the people we need.

But often, there is a solution to these problems hidden in plain sight. And that is your current workforce.

Many smaller businesses do not have the same hierarchical structure that most large companies have put in place. This is a good thing when it comes to managing a team, but it can create functional boundaries that make hiring and professional development more difficult.

Because there is no clear upward path to new roles within the organization, your people often reach a plateau, wherein they can either look for new challenges outside of the organization or they can stagnate right where they are.

But new project, new priorities, and new strategies bring with them an opportunity for you as a manager to rediscover the talent on your current roster. Rather than immediately planning for an external hire to fill the new role in your plans, think about who you can tap internally.

Chances are, there is underutilized talent in your organization just sitting there, waiting to be discovered.

The following are some ways you can tap into that talent:

1. Cultivate it over time.

In order to encourage the talent that you already have to continue to grow and develop professionally, you should make that a regular part of working for your organization. Give people access to professional development opportunities throughout their tenure and follow up with those that take advantage to find out what they learned and how they enjoyed it.

2. Be transparent about future plans.

In order to give people the best chance of future success, it is important to be open and clear about where the company is going. When people know the types of roles and positions that are likely to be necessary in the future, they can begin to prepare and adapt to those roles today. This kind of thinking can guide their professional development, ensuring that they end up with the right types of skills the company will need tomorrow.

3. Incentivize internal moves.

Don’t sit by and assume that people will on your team will raise their hand and volunteer to take on new tasks. But incentivize them to do so. If your company does not have a traditional path to promotion, you need to motivate people to think outside the box. Encourage moves within and across departments with financial and non-financial incentives.

4. Establish cross-training norms.

To ensure that you don’t lose institutional knowledge when someone moves to a new position, it should be a regular practice within your company to make sure at least two people know how to do any one task. This also creates a sense of shared responsibility which can help teams grow closer. When each person is responsible to making sure that others are knowledgeable about their roles and assignments, we can eliminate some of the boundaries that make hiring and training so difficult.

How Do You Handle Business Failure?


No one is perfect. We all make mistakes. And because companies are made up of people, they make mistakes too.

One would hope that with enough planning and preparation, with enough people there to add their opinions and check our work, that companies would always get things right. But, alas, there is not a company out there who has not experienced at least one significant failure over the years.

So the question is not if your business will experience a misstep, but when. And what will you do when those inevitable failures come?

Don’t Plan to Fail, but Prepare for the Possibility

We never want to plan to fail. But knowing that failures do happen, it is a good idea to know exactly how to handle it when it happens.

Preparing for the possibility of a failure means doing a few things:

  1. Have a plan B. No matter what you are working towards, always know where the exits are. When you have a plan B that you can easily pivot to, the failures can turn into successes.
  2. Develop a communication plan. Put people in place to analyze and determine whether or not something is working as expected. If not, create clear lines of communication for those people to let the company’s decision makers know right away.
  3. Be honest with yourself, and with your staff. Sometimes, when we decide to go down a certain path, it can be hard to admit when it’s not working. But in order to rebound from failures, we need to be able to honestly evaluate our decisions after the fact and be transparent about all decisions going forward.
  4. Learn and grow. Part of being transparent means learning from past mistakes so that you don’t make them again. Companies that have processes in place to examine what went wrong and why are better prepared to succeed into the future.

3 Ways to Ensure Your Team Makes Better Decisions


A common myth abounds in business circles – the myth that good decision makers are born, not made. Untrue.

If we are honest with ourselves, we know that we can become better decision makers through experience and practice. Think about it right now. Are you better at making decisions than you were ten years ago? Chances are the answer, no matter how old you are, is yes.

As a leader, you are not just worried about your own decision-making ability. You are also worried about the ability of your team members make decisions individually, and your team to make decisions as a group. You want to lead a team that knows what they are responsible for, that knows the criteria for good decision making, and can be trusted to make decisions that are in the best interest of the company.

That is the only way for you, as a manager, to trust them. And you need to trust them in order to empower them, and develop the kind of effective team you need to succeed.

The good news is, there are things you can do to help them. Here are three ways to ensure your team makes better decisions:

  1. Help them with framing
  2. Let them fail
  3. Teach them to evaluate

Help Them with Framing

The key to any decision is putting it into its appropriate context. For a company, there should be a common set of goals that we are all working toward. Clear and transparent communication around these goals is key to framing every decision.

When confronted with a decision, large or small, we want our employees to ask themselves one simple question: How will my decision impact the company?

The answer to this question is not always obvious. For example, if I’m asked to choose between building out a marketing capability in house or outsourcing it to an agency, it is not going to be clear right away with option is better for the company. But if I know that one of our goals is to take more ownership over our growth, I know that building out a capability is a better fit for who we want to be as an organization.

You want your team to think about the outcomes of their decision. Will this help or hurt the company en route to its larger goals? And you can help them do that by being open about what those goals are.

Let Them Fail

We all make mistakes. As managers, we don’t like to advertise that fact. We like to pretend that we got to where we are today by making all the right decisions and actions along the way.

However, the truth is far from those perfect versions of ourselves. We stumbled and took missteps along the way. And yet, here we are.

As a manager, the first step to empowering your team to make better decisions is empowering them to make more decisions. And you have to get over your fear of failure, which we all harbor.

Your team will make the wrong decision sometimes. And that has to be okay. While we should not encourage failure, and we should address each one and learn from it, we have to admit that failing happens sometimes. It’s the only way to instill a sense of trust and openness on your team. And it’s the only way anyone is going to learn to improve going forward.

Teach Them to Evaluate

The last thing you need to do to encourage your team members to become better decision makers is to teach them to evaluate the decisions they make. This is a time for learning and growth.

We should evaluate all decisions – large and small. We should evaluate our winners as well as our losers.

There is always something to learn. In some cases, evaluation is all about examining the results. What went well? Did we meet expectations? What happened that we did not anticipate, and should we have seen that?

Through these decision post-mortems, you will learn to appreciate the things that are outside of your control, and to see the things that you do have control over. Each decision going forward will build on the decisions of the past. And the more we understand – through careful practice and honest evaluation – the more prepared we will be to make better decisions in the future.

Getting Your Team to Market Themselves


As an individual marketer, the desire to market oneself is obvious. The benefits for you are clear. The same way a brand or company would market themselves to potential customers in order to generate sales, you will market yourself to potential employers and clients in order to generate future income.

There are a number of ways you can market yourself:

  1. A blog
  2. Writing articles for established outlets
  3. Speaking engagements
  4. Getting your work featured online
  5. A large network
  6. LinkedIn references

And while the benefits for the individual marketer may need no further explanations, there is one benefit that does. But it’s not necessarily something that benefits the individual. Instead, it’s a benefit that the company they work for gets.

You see, the more a person establishes their own personal brand, the more valuable they become to the organization that employs them. The all press is good press concept. And if you are in charge of marketing your organization, it is incredibly helpful if members of the team market themselves effectively.

How can you get them to do that?

  1. Offer them guidance. Not everyone knows how to market themselves, so it is a good idea to offer personal and career development sessions for employees that focus on how to grow their personal brand (refer to the list above).
  2. Offer them an outlet. Create a space for your employees to self-publish, with your brand behind them. It could be an outwardly facing employee blog or a section of your website for articles that the team can submit to.
  3. Become their booking agent. Get people to go out for speaking gigs at live events across the country. Help them by out researching opportunities and crafting their pitches.
  4. Incentivize them. After you do everything you can to make it easy for them, make it a win-win. Offer them perks – like paid time off, free food, money or promotions. Create a special “Employee Engagement” program and reward the people that are most effective at building up their personal brands.

When your employees become experts in their field, you win twice. First, you get a team full of experts helping to pursue your mission. Then, you get the benefit of outsiders looking to your brand for guidance.