Thursday, April 29, 2010

Why Entrepreneurs Should Focus on Talent Management

A guest post by Paul Loucks, President and CEO, Halogen Software
With everything that's involved in starting up and running a business, it's easy to overlook the importance of talent management, especially when your company is small. But research is identifying some compelling reasons for putting good talent management practices and processes in place, right from the start.

What is talent management? It’s a full set of processes and management practices that support employee performance, development and recognition, from hire to retire. And it’s essential in today’s business world:

• The Hackett Group recently reported that companies with more mature talent management capabilities have on average18% higher earnings, 54% greater net profit margins, and greater return on equity and assets than their counterparts without mature capabilities.

• The Aberdeen Group's latest research finds that companies that integrate their talent management processes see significantly greater performance gains, and can measure a correlation between their talent management efforts and business operational results.

• IBM, HCI, IDC and others have shared similar findings.

Here's why talent management is so important.

* Give Employees the Direction, Feedback and Development They Need to Succeed

Study after study has shown that employees are more productive, effective and engaged when:

• they have clear goals and know what is expected of them in their work;
• they receive regular feedback about their work, what they are doing well and areas for improvement;
• they are given opportunities to develop, to prepare for career progression and to address skill gaps.

Good talent management formalizes these processes and ensures employees have what they need to develop and succeed. It includes the setting of SMART goals, identification of competencies key to the role and the organization, and establishment of development plans. It also provides employees with regular, formal feedback on their performance and encourages an ongoing dialogue on performance between the employee and their manager. All of this contributes to higher employee performance, productivity and engagement

Align Your Workforce
Having goals isn't enough. Effective talent management helps you align your workforce by tangibly linking each employee's goals to the organization's higher-level goals, mission and values. This gives employees a larger context for their work and helps them see the meaning and value of their contributions. For the organization, it ensures that everyone's efforts are focused on achieving the organization's mission, vision and values, not just completing tasks and collecting a pay cheque.

Develop Key Competencies
As our products and services become increasingly commoditized, our people become our only sustainable competitive advantage. In light of this, it becomes all the more important to identify and cultivate key competencies in our employees, right from the start. Mature talent management uses competencies as the keystones for job descriptions, performance appraisals, development plans and management, and succession plans. It helps your organization ensure you have strength in the competencies that set you apart from the competition.

Identify and Retain High-Potential, High-Performing Employees
Even in tough economic times, retaining your high potential and high performing employees can be a challenge. Yet these are the very employees who are key to your organization's continued success. Talent management helps by allowing you to accurately identify your high-potential and high-performing employees, and then enabling you to effectively challenge, reward and develop them, so they remain happy and engaged.

Address Performance Gaps
If you don't know what your weaknesses are, how can you address them? Mature, integrated talent management processes allow you to effectively identify and measure performance gaps, take actions to address them, and then monitor the effectiveness of your actions in terms of improved performance. It allows you to do this for individuals, for departments or groups and for the organization as a whole. It prevents challenges from going unnoticed or unaddressed, and helps you to foster a culture of continuous improvement and development.

Drive Focus, Accountability and Efficiency
Mature, integrated talent management processes help keep individual, group and organizational performance top of mind. Everyone is accountable for goals, competencies and development plans. This encourages managers and employees to regularly discuss progress, opportunities and challenges and improves focus, accountability and efficiency.

As entrepreneurs, we're all focused on the success of our business. By ensuring our companies adopt best-practice talent management processes right from the start, we set ourselves and our employees up for success.

Paul Loucks is President and CEO of Halogen Software, a talent management software provider based in Ottawa, Ont.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Leadership vs "Bosses"

Great leadership thoughts today from the NFIB's daily email newsletter, SmartBrief.

"The boss drives people; the leader coaches them. The boss depends on authority; the leader on good will. The boss inspires fear; the leader inspires enthusiasm. The boss says 'I'; the leader says 'we.' The boss fixes the blame for the breakdown; the leader fixes the breakdown.
"The boss says 'go'; the leader says "Let's go!'"

H. Gordon Selfridge (1864-1947),
U.S.-born retail magnate who founded the UK department store Selfridges.

Which kind of boss are you -- really?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Grand Entrepreneur Tour

The indefatigable Carissa Reiniger, President of Silver Lining, is once again on her “Committed to Small Business” Tour across Canada to motivate business owners. I caught her presentation last fall in Richmond, BC, and Carissa was very impressive in the way she used her own experience and smarts to advise entrepreneurs on the best ways to grow their businesses.

Having already stopped in Ottawa, Halifax and Moncton, Carissa’s one-woman show continues to: Markham (Apr 28), Toronto downtown (May 4), Carissa’s hometown of Edmonton (May 11), Calgary (May 12), Winnipeg (May13), Montreal (May 18), and Vancouver (May 20).

You can get the full details and register to attend, for free, at

Carissa has just finished her second book (or maybe her fourth, I've lost count), called I Will. In her presentation, she will encourage you to translate all your big ideas into a tangible plan and leave with your list of “I Wills,” to make sure you become one of those entrepreneurs who do what they say they will.

You have to credit the sponsors of the Committed Tour: Silver Lining Ltd., Staples, Rogers, Intuit, HP, Citi Cards, WestJet, and UPS. If you attend, count on special offers for small businesses on laptops, business software, travel deals, wireless discounts, shipping, and more.

Social Media - What is it good for?

Can the "viral" nature of social media really  produce breakthrough marketing campaigns?

I think the best answer is yes - but not often. I've been writing this blog for five years and I still haven't been featured on the cover of Time Magazine. (Though it did get me a few seconds on CBC Radio national news a few years back.)

Viral hits happen - like LOL Cats and the kid in the closet who loved Britney and the "Will it Blend" people. But they don't happen often, and almost never "on demand."

Except... the folks at Nestle set out to make a viral splash for their Kit-Kat bar in the Netherlands -- and darned if it didn't work out. Seems lightnng can be bottled, once in a while!

This is a fun video that explains the whole campaign. It's yet more mark-eting, of course. But that doesn't mean you can't learn something from it, about how to steal or subvert media conventions in order to win the attention of a heeldess, fickle public.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Best Entrepreneurship Quotes, Week 12

“If you don't have highly engaged people in a distribution business, you're going to be in trouble very soon. It’s the biggest driver of profitability.”

Jean-Francois Warlop, president, Quadra Chemicals Ltd., Dorion, Que.
Quoted in "How to Build a Super Staff," in the May 2010 issue of PROFIT Magazine

Shocked at the low results from a 2006 employee-engagement survey. Warlop worked hard to reconnect with his employees. He ousted three executives, improved employee communications, initiated an employee-recognition program, included more mid-level people in planning meetings, and replaced poor performers.

Result: Annual employee turnover is down to 5% from 15%; employee engagement is up by 52%; and profits have risen 40%.

Worth quoting, huh?
Click here for the full story.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Help for small employers

Can a government-funded program turn small businesses into better, smarter employers?

My column in this week's Financial Post highlights a federally funded program that is helping a more than 30 industry groups encourage their members to adopt more professional and strategic employment standards.

In particular, I look at the Canadian Food Industry Council, which has created an online Turnover Calculator, to help grocery store managers tote up the high cost of employee turnover. More importantly, it has also produced a Human Resource Toolkit for Independent Grocers, a $99 binder packed with tips, systems and templates to help business owners become more robust recruiters, better bosses, more caring coaches and more effective mentors.

Here’s an excerpt:
“While the same labor issues nag big businesses as well as small, [CFIC chair Cheryl] Paradowski contends entrepreneurs can seize an advantage because it's easier for them to create a more employee-centred culture. "If you don't have people skills, your employees won't stay. People leave bosses, not businesses."

To read about the HR Toolkit, which is NOT just for Independent Grocers, click here.

Getting the most from LinkedIn

If you're one of those people who joined LinkedIn but never learned how to use it, it’s time to re-engage. With 65 million members, LinkedIn has “made it,” and could become an essential business tool for you.

To get you started, UK consultant Annmarie Hanlon has written an article on about using LinkedIn to build relationships and drive new business.

She offers 10 practical tips to help you get more out of LinkedIn. Here are my choices for the top 5.

1. Complete your profile: Improve how people can connect to you by adding places you've worked and details of your higher education, activities and professional memberships. Do include information on your background, “How We Can Help Your Company,” and “Connect with Me.”

2. Add a photo: Once your photo is in place, it’s part of your personal brand. Stick with the same image, rather than changing on a regular basis.

3. Use a professional headline: Most people’s headlines (e.g., ‘Owner, ABC Ltd.,’ don't stand out - whereas ‘Dave Chaffey, Expert Digital Marketer – Consultant, Author and Speaker’ jumps off the page.

4. Get recommended: These are mini-case studies that showcase your talents. Every six months seek new recommendations from different people.

5. Join groups: Joining groups gives you access to a wider pool of contacts, allows you to display group membership on your profile, and enables you to network with a more targeted market.

See the original article here.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Best Entrepreneurship Quotes, Week 11

“Asking for help is a sign of strength and confidence that shows we're intelligently using all the resources available to us.”
Canadian management guru Jim Clemmer, from his latest book, Growing @ The Speed of Change

If you need help, Clemmer's book offers several intriguing suggestions:

* Find a coach, therapist or counselor to guide you using the emerging new principles of strengths-based positive psychology;
* Identify a complementary partner in your business, on your team, or in your personal life, whose strengths are your weaknesses. Work together to balance each other.
* Increase your friendships and grow your social circle.
* Join sports, hobby, craft or social groups or take classes to pursue your personal interests and stay connected.

Friday, April 16, 2010

My new Twitter feed: @CustomerFirst

For some time I've been collecting my thoughts and doing writing and speaking on the subject of getting closer to your customers. To be more precise, getting them to fall in love with you (in the words of the very wise Saul Colt).
Or as I call it, "Putting the Customer First."

To further explore this issue, I am pleased to announce the launch of a new Twitter feed at

I’ll be tweeting several times a week with new observations, links and stories about building your business around your customers – which will probably be the key business challenge of the decade.

If this interests you (and I hope it does), please sign on into Twitter and click on the “Follow” button at @CustomerFirst.

If you don't already have a Twitter account, I urge you to consider joining. It’s free, easy and fast. And you never have to write anything ("No Tweets for  you!”) if you don't wish to. Twitter offers plenty of value just in giving you multiple opportunities to read the thoughts, experiences and stories of people you're interested in – whether it’s friends and family members, celebrities, business experts or thought leaders.

It's like I hear their voices in my head - and I find it it informative, stimulating and inspiring.

A few sample Tweets to get you started:
* Love this core value from LuluLemon: “Our customers want to buy our product again.” How might that idea affect your thinking? Your staff's?

* Since start of the recession, almost every business I know wants to get “closer” to the customer. But very few have a clue how to do that

* Use data to get closer to clients

* Customer Service still matters! Read "Fed Up With the Web, Travellers Are Logging Off"

* Retweet From Feb. Post column: "It's your ability to earn and maintain customer trust that gives your employees a job and your business a future"

Learning from someone else's mistakes (for once!)

My column in this week's Financial Post looks at some of the key business lessons that Vancouver entrepreneur Mark Mawhinney has learned in his career so far – mainly through his own mistakes.

Do any of these hard-earned lessons resonate for you?

· Know your niche

· Manage your cash

· It doesn't have to be perfect

· Share the pressure with your employees

· It is not that hard to be exceptional

If so, check out the story here.

Or you can follow Mark's own blog here.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

10 Traits of Winning Entrepreneurs

U.S. technology entrepreneur Naveen Jain – founder of Internet companies Infospace and Intelius – is speaking at the Kairos Summit youth entrepreneurship conference this weekend in New York. (Along with Bill Clinton and Bill Gates’s dad.)
Jain’s speech includes a list of the top 10 attributes of a successful entrepreneur. In case you're not going to New York, here’s a sneak preview.

Jain believes that entrepreneurial success usually comes through doing “a superior job of blocking and tackling.” But here are 10 other qualities that make entrepreneurs great:

10. You must be passionate about what you are trying to achieve. “Passion can be infectious and ignite the same intensity in others who join you as you build your team.”

9. Great entrepreneurs focus intensely on an emerging opportunity where others see nothing. “Most companies die from indigestion rather than starvation.”

8. Success comes only from hard work. “There is no such thing as overnight success.”

7. The road to success may be long, so enjoy the journey, “and celebrate the milestones along the way.”

6. Trust your gut instinct more than any spreadsheet.

5. Be flexible but persistent. “You have to continually learn and adapt as new information becomes available.”

4. Rely on your team. “Seek out the smartest people you can who complement your strengths. It’s easy to get attracted to people who are like you; the trick is to find people who are not.”

3. Execution, execution, execution. Success doesn’t come from breakthrough innovation but from flawless execution.

2. Honesty and integrity must be at the core of everything you do. “Everybody has a conscience, but too many people stop listening to it.” Result: “Guaranteed failure.”

1. Success is more rewarding if you give back. “By the time you get to success, lots of people will have helped you along the way. You’ll learn, as I have, that you rarely get a chance to help the people who helped you because in most cases, you don’t even know who they were. When we are successful, we draw so much from the community and society that we live in. Giving back is simply paying back what we owe.”

(A lovely sentiment, that, and one which I was just explaining just the other day to a fundraising professional at Sick Kids' Hospital. So if you get a call next week to donate to Sick Kids, blame me. And please give generously.)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Best Entrepreneurship Quotes, Week 10

“Courage, sacrifice, determination, commitment, toughness,heart, talent, guts. That's what little girls are made of. The heck with sugar and spice.”

Bethany Hamilton (born 1990)
Award-winning competitive surfer.

While surfing in Hawaii in 2003, Bethany was attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark. She lost her left arm. She was surfing again within three weeks.
Bethany has since won one national title, and was awarded the 2004 ESPN Award for Best Comeback Athlete.

And you think you have it tough?

Are you an Entrepreneur Of The Year?

April 30 is the deadline to nominate your business for Ernst & Young's Entrepreneur Of The Year program. Now in its 17th year in Canada, E&Y's program ties into a global EoY framework, and it's probably the world’s most prestigious business award for entrepreneurs.

To nominate your organization or another one, check out You can download a brochure or nomination form, or submit info online.
You can also access the Frequently Asked Questions page here.

Nominations are by province or region (BC, Prairies, Ont., Quebec, Atlantic), and can include a variety of categories: by industry (BtoB, cleantech, health sciences, manufacturing, etc.) or specialty (Turnaround, Social Entrepreneur, Young Entrepreneur, etc.). If your business is doing outstanding things, they'll find a way to fit you in!

The judges are prominent business people, entrepreneurs and thought leaders from across each region. Winners are announced at gala banquets in the fall.

I served on the steering committee (and was a national judge) when EoY started years ago. It remains an exemplary awards program that has brought many benefits to nominees and winners alike. So go for it!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Putting the Customer First, Part II

What does your business do to make customers love it?

In February, I wrote a column for the Financial Post on how companies need to put their customer first – and then asked readers to write in to tell me how they do that.

My column in last week's Post discusses some of the responses I received. Good news: customer service is alive and well in Canada. From dot-coms to retailers to service and software companies, enlightened entrepreneurs are proving that the best way to succeed is to help your customers win first.

In Oakville, Ont., T-Shirtmonster Inc. combines online technology with client-first focus. In addition to selling customized T-shirts to sports teams and community groups, the company enables consumers and organizations to open virtual storefronts to sell their own branded apparel.

"We are the only company in Canada that prints and fulfills T-shirt orders in-house, on demand, and provides free store-hosting and online sales reports clients can view 24/7," says Roland Mackintosh, president and co-founder of the company.

The Breast Cancer Society of Canada opened a store on to sell shirts to supporters across the country for its annual fundraising event, "Dress Down Day." The society "loved the fact they didn't have to take on inventory or worry about order fulfillment or customer service," Mackintosh says. Supporters can even personalize their shirts. One design, for instance, simply says, "I wear pink for my ---," and invites you to complete the message by adding a name or photo.

Making things fun and easy for customers offers powerful payback, Mackintosh says: "If we hadn't impressed BCSC, we would have missed a major opportunity for their supporters to become regular customers of our own."

You can read the full story here.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

10-Point Test for Entrepreneurs

Chicago-based entrepreneur and business writer Barry Moltz doesn't respect conventional quizzes that test your entrepreneurial aptitude.

Just thinking you have an idea or wanting to fire your boss does not necessarily make you a successful entrepreneur. The question is, can you stand the strain, the discomfort, the uncertainty and the people pressures?

Moltz's stripped-down, quick and easy-to-read test is a great preview of the business life.Here is: "The Only Entrepreneur Test that You Need to Take"

Q1. Are you resilient? All entrepreneurs need to be able to ride the rollercoaster of good and bad times on a daily basis.

Q2. Can you ask for help? You don’t know everything. You need to be able to listen and evaluate the advice of the people around you.

Q3. Can you get people to follow you? Loners need not apply since entrepreneurship is not a solo sport. In order to build a business, you need to lead and delegate.

Q4. Do you like to network and meet people? Business is ultimately about people. You grow your business through the people you build a trustful relationship.

Q5. Do you like to sell? If you don’t have customers, you don’t have a business. For awhile, you will be the chief sales officer.

Q6. Do you do well in ever-changing chaos? Everyday is different. Some days are very different. Get used to it.

Q7. Can you live on a variable monthly compensation? You don’t collect a paycheck every month like at a job. You pay your employees and vendors first. Some months, there may not be anything left for you.

Q8. Do you have a good personal support structure? You will need it. When you have a bad day, you will need someone to pick you up. When you have a good day, you will want to celebrate a lot with the people you love.

Q9. Are you flexible with your goal setting? As an entrepreneur, you will need to set patient interim goals and change your target as you succeed and fail.

Q10. Can you hold a real job and work for someone else? If you can, do it. Having a job is probably an easier career especially in the short term.

Moltz suggests that if you said yes to 8 or more of these questions, you have what it takes to start your own business. If you scored less than eight, don't quit your day job.
And here's an intriguing thought: "If you no longer have a day job, consider joining a small business to get the experience you will need to venture out on your own."

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Canada's Biggest Tech Companies

Branham has just released its 2010 list of Canada's top 250 tech companies.

Disappointing news that the total revenue of the top 250 companies was down 6% in 2009, but it could have been worse. In all, the top 250 companies generated combined revenues of $71.32 billion.

For the first time in the seven years the list has been published, there’s a new No. 1 tech company in town (based on annual sales). Nortel has left the building. Replacing it, as you might guess, is Research in Motion, probably Canada’s top growth firm over the past 20 years. RiM's 2009 revenue: $11.9 billion.

Click here for the complete list and analysis from Backbone magazine.

Telecom guru Jon Arnold has his own analysis of the list on his blog. Here’s an excerpt.

"In terms of revenues, things fall off pretty quickly after RIM. Only 11 companies in the top 250 are at $1 billion, and only 18 are above $500 million. Stepping down the line, only 45 are above $100 million, and only 80 are above $50 million. In terms of the rest, roughly half the list - 120 companies - are under $25 million. Any wonder why so little funding finds its way into this market?"

You can read more of Jon’s post here.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Fredericton aims to be best!

The CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce has a great idea for making the New Brunswick capital the best city in the province - or maybe Canada - for starting and growing businesses.

As Susan Holt writes today in the NB Business Journal, "We know the tangible factors that make a city a great place to do business. It's about providing things like low taxes, a skilled-labour pool, strong institutions, and affordable space."

A recent KPMG study dubbed Fredericton the third most cost-effective city in which to run a business in the U.S. and Canada. "This is an impressive result," she says. But how do we enhance other values that are harder to create and measure, such as openness and entrepreneurial spirit?

"It's been suggested to me that Fredericton can seem resistant to change and unwilling to be flexible in supporting small business initiatives," Holt writes. "I've also heard perceptions expressed about Fredericton's consumers being conservative and hesitant to try new things."

Holt wants to see change all that. She wants Fredericton to become known as "a highly encouraging and supportive city... where consumers are quick to try new products, services and models - where Buy Local is a song we all sing daily."

She notes that a precedent already exists. Fredericton was apparently the first municipality to deliver free wireless Internet access to its downtown and business districts. "It's that kind of forward-thinking and business-friendly practices we need to celebrate, replicate and expand."

The Chamber of Commerce is now launching a campaign to poll local business people on ways Fredericton can improve. "We want to hear the stories of barriers you've encountered in setting up or expanding your business," says Holt. "The City of Fredericton is on-board and ready to help identify ways to improve services to our capital's entrepreneurs."

Holt believes Fredericton will succeed when the entire community "throws its support behind local businesses and leaders with their voices, votes and dollars."

I think this is exactly the right approach. It takes business, government and the public working together to build an entrepreneurial economy. It can't be imposed top-down, it has to bubble up naturally, in an environment where new ideas and new roles are eagerly embraced by all. And hopefully the schools will get involved as well.

Good luck to Susan and the Chamber. Let's hope this passion spreads across Canada!

And don't forget: on May 1, Fredericton hosts the 2010 New Brunswick Entrepreneurs' Summit. I saw an email this morning that says there are only 18 seats left!

See my previous post on this Summit to read about the exciting events and speakers (yes, including me). Or click here for more information or to register.

Startup Lessons from an MBA grad

In his blog, Internet entrepreneur Stuart Wall wrote recently about the lessons he learned in starting that he and his classmates never learned while getting their MBAs at Harvard Business School.

“It’s been an awesome experience,” he writes. “The past eight months changed my view of entrepreneurship, the value of a degree, and a few mistakes that recent grads (myself included) seem make.”

Here, edited, are some of Stuart’s lessons learned:

Execution Matters. VCs don’t care about your PowerPoint deck. Postabon got venture-capital funding only after it proved it could produce.

“Tech trends like cloud computing, coding frameworks and better browsers means most consumer facing start-ups (without inventory) are really cheap to start," says Wall. "With three months and ~$10K, we created a bare-minimum website and iPhone app that allowed us to iterate daily based on consumer feedback. No amount of time in Baker Library would have substituted.”

Group Think Figure out what’s popular, then do the opposite. (When 40% of Harvard grads went into finance, it was time to short the stock market.)

Team The person sitting next to you [in MBA school] is a bad partner. Your best partner is the antithesis of you.

Entitlement Your diploma won’t make cold calls. "Entrepreneurship is the truest form of meritocracy where “credentialing” counts for nothing."

You'll love the title of Wall’s post: Why MBAs Fail at Entrepreneurship.

Monday, April 05, 2010

What does your business do, and why should anyone care?

An entrepreneur wrote me recently to ask about a concept for marketing his business-services company.

Upon perusing his website I discovered that it does a poor job of communicating the business's fundamental value proposition. The home page explains why people should hire that business, without explaining precisely what the company does.

This isn't a rare problem: it's often difficult for marketers to put themselves in their prospect's shoes in order to understand how little the customer knows of their business, their industry or their specific solution.

So my response to the entrepreneur was simple: Before investing in ambitious new marketing techniques, get your story straight.

"I would urge you to get smarter and more focussed about your value proposition: how you save money for organizations and how you can help them earn more. After browsing your website, I could not see any specifics about the problems you solve and the unique way you do it.

I think you have to be a little bolder, first about what you say, and then about asking for orders. And I think that once you get your problem/solution value statement worked out, asking for the orders will get a lot easier."


Best Entrepreneurship Quotes, Week 9: Delegating

"The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it."

Theodore Roosevelt, 1858-1919

These words should hang on the office wall of every entrepreneur. Only by delegating to good people, and by supporting them rather than micro-managing them, can you grow your company to its fullest potential.

Roosevelt was an author, naval historian and cavalry officer, New York City police commissioner, governor of New York State, conservationist and trust-buster. Yet he was only 42 when he took over as President, following the assassination of William McKinley in 1901. (You can visit the room where he took the Oath of Office in Buffalo, NY, just two miles from Canada.)

Roosevelt died at the age of 60, due to complications arising from an earlier case of malaria.