If you’re starting your business, you’ll know that writing a comprehensive business plan can be time-consuming.

While you may eventually need a business plan in order to apply for a loan or obtain funding, do you really need to get all your ideas in perfect order before you start up? What if you’re still testing different ideas and what if you’re bootstrapping your business?

Enter “lean planning.”

Lean planning is a set of tools for discovering a business model that works, building an action plan to test your assumptions, creating financial models and a plan for a viable business, and tracking your performance so you can adjust your plan on the fly, quickly and easily.

The lean planning methodology doesn’t replace the business plan, it simply includes the steps that happen before – and in some places instead of – the formal business plan document.

Of course, you may need to deliver a formal business plan to someone at some point, especially if you are raising money for your business. (read more…)

For many organizations, as the new year begins, performance-management processes kick in.

When people think about performance management, they’re rarely enthused! The response to performance planning is typically neutral, at best.

My experience with clients is that their current performance-management systems are not as relevant to real work and real opportunities as they could be. Performance management today is typically not about developing new skills and greater contribution. Performance management is a “have to do,” so it’s done without enthusiasm.

In one job I had years ago, performance planning consisted of the boss giving each one of his six team members a photocopied list of the goals we were to put into our performance plan for the year. Our roles and responsibilities widely varied, but our boss wanted us to put in the exact same five goals. We put in what he told us to put in, and his bosses blessed our “thorough” performance plans. (read more…)

SmartPulse — our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership — tracks feedback from more than 190,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our e-newsletter.

Last week, we asked: How involved are you with “more senior” conversations?

  • Very — I always have a seat at the table: 25.73%
  • Somewhat — they include me when I’m the expert: 51.19%
  • Rarely — I have to fight to be included in those discussions: 14.06%
  • Never — I’m always kept at the “kids table:” 9.02%

Earn your seat at the table. To be invited to the table and involved in senior level conversations, let people know what you’re bringing. If you expect to sit in on those discussions based on your title or role alone, prepare to be left out of the important discussions. If, however, you bring a perspective that drives someone else’s agenda or objective function, you’re much more likely to be invited. (read more…)

Now more than ever great leaders are great storytellers. Storytelling helps executives weave rich narratives that inspire their organizations, set a vision, teach important lessons, and define the culture and values. Perhaps most importantly, stories explain who you are, how you got here, and what you believe most deeply about your work and about each other.

According to branding expert Dan Schwabel, storytelling is useful when leading change or making recommendations. It’s also good for approaching delicate issues like diversity and inclusion, or giving people feedback in a way that will be better received.

One leader who told a compelling story was Hubertus von Grünberg, a former CEO and chairman at Continental AG. In the mid-1990s, Continental, the world’s fourth-largest tire company, was a powerhouse in its native Germany but held a small relative share in the global market. Continental’s executives understood that for Continental to survive, it would have to build new core capabilities and grow its international business. (read more…)

Connection Culture Book CoverConsider this: Few of the 500 largest corporations from 50 years ago exist today. They failed to change and became irrelevant, left behind by emerging competitors more in tune with the market.

How is it possible that so many top companies made this same fatal mistake? The answer may lie in a simple explanation. Humans run corporations, and humans have a biological aversion to change.

Change creates stress. It boosts stress neurotransmitters in our brains and stress hormones throughout our bodies. It shifts brain activity from the cortex where we make rational decisions to the mid-brain where we are more likely to make rash decisions.

We can handle short periods of stress. Ongoing stress, however, kills productivity, wellness and well being.

As humans, we naturally avoid change, and when we do encounter change, we tend to handle it poorly. The best organizations recognize this, and cope with change and the accompanying stress through carefully designed workplace cultures. (read more…)