Some Key Takeaways When Running A Lean Team:
- In a crisis, many of us are seeing reduced sales, which is resulting in cut budgets, and unfortunately, cut staff.
- It is still entirely possible to be productive while running a lean team and, in some ways, even better.
- By adopting some basic mindset principles and finding systems within your organization that work for you and your company, you’ll be less overwhelmed, and your team will be more united because of it.
- If you are a receivable staff or credit analyst, tools like outsourcing and automation can be a huge time saver for you
I am a huge user of LinkedIn, and my connections are primarily financial executives and credit professionals.
Every business has had to re-examine its business model and make tough decisions to reduce payroll. So it should come as no surprise that a high percentage of my senior credit connections have been let go, leaving the job of managing billions of dollars of receivables to junior credit staff around the globe.
Running a lean team in junior credit team may mean they will be overworked and likely lack the knowledge to tackle more significant receivable issues within your firm. Imagine being given a task for which you have had little or no training, and the whole company is counting on you to figure it out-- quick!
People of all positions are going to have to step up and take some bigger bites. Company leadership is going to need to get very good at conducting an organization when running a lean team. It’s a delicate balancing act to keep staff fulfilled and holding everyone accountable at the same time.
It’s no different here at PCM. Many customers that come and visit our office are often surprised by how small our team is. I suppose it seems impressive that we can produce as much as we do with a close-knit staff of less than 20. As soon as they see our office size and get a glimpse of my typical workday, the questions start coming out.
“How many hours do you work, Brad?”
“How do you stay on top of this and effectively run a company?”
So today, I want to share with you exactly how we stay the most productive and efficient on a lean team. I am keeping these principles generic so that they can apply to your receivables or your business. In my opinion, mindset is an essential piece. If you can master the principles, your small team will be unstoppable. I’ll cover some mindset principles and move into some more practical items after.
My Mindset Principles When I Am Overwhelmed
1. Change the Way You Think About Your Day
If you look at your workload for the day and your first thoughts are:
“This is too much.”
“There is no way I can get this all done.”
“Whatever, I’ll just do what I can today.”
Or some variation of the above, slowly walk yourself off the ledge. The biggest mistake I see is people lumping all their tasks into one pile and staring at it like they are about to start shovelling a mountain of dirt with a teaspoon.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. I recommend determining the highest leverage activities and rank them in order of importance, then systematically work on each "rock" until completion. It can be a team effort or a single person, but whoever is given the task must own it to a conclusion, otherwise the project stalls.
For tasks assigned directly to me, I like to think of them as a quadrant. You may have seen this before:
As soon as I feel overwhelmed, I pull this quadrant out to re-focus. You should spend the MAJORITY of your time in quadrant 2. The tricky part is that MOST of us get stuck in quadrant 3 (myself included).
When a new task or project hits my desk, the first question I ask is, “If I complete this, will it contribute to bettering our clients or our team?”
If the answer is no, re-evaluate and re-prioritize accordingly.
2. Go back to your goals- what is the main thing you are trying to accomplish?
I know, another blog talking about goals. There is a good reason that goal setting comes up over and over again when talking about producing results in your business and life. Writing down your goals has shown to increase your odds of hitting them by 33%.
When you wear many hats, the tendency is to get distracted. Suddenly our primary goal becomes one of 7 goals, and we lose focus on what matters. Re-strategizing our goals can help us keep centred on what the vision is for the department and the company.
Questions to consider:
- What do I want to accomplish? Be specific.
General: I want to increase my cash flow
More specific: I want to reduce my DSO by 14 days this year à
Bang On: I want to implement an automated letter series that reminds every customer of their invoice the day it is overdue
- What do I need to STOP doing/ delegate?
- What should I do NOW? What should I do LATER?
- What is our mission and vision as a company? What can we do to contribute to that legacy?
3. Do not fall into the quick-sale mindset trap
One of the biggest mistakes I see organizations make when in a pinch is getting hungry for customers. Bob, who has a company specializing in roofing, now decides that he is going to offer HVAC, drywalling, and plumbing. Bob is going to provide whatever you need- as long as it’s a sale.
In the process, Bob also started getting more lenient with his credit applications and requesting partial payment upfront. Bob is focused on one thing- just selling something!
Bob is a great person. He truly wants to see his company grow and prosper. What Bob isn’t focused on is the one thing that he is good at- roofing.
The quick-sale trap takes us away from our vision and the things we specialize in and puts us in fight-or-flight mode. We put our company at risk for income, even if it’s debt-generating income. Yes, this sale may cover next month’s payroll, but we fail to see that it may result in more collection calls down the line- aka even more burden on your staff.
4. Effective Communication is More Important Than Ever
Have regular meetings when running a lean team and have them multiple times a week. Don’t just make sure you are meeting, though, make sure they are effective. The average business owner, when rating the effectiveness of their meetings from 1-10, gave their meetings a score of 4. If you are a typical company, then you know what it’s like to have endless meetings that don’t progress us forward.
If you have not read the book Traction by Gino Wickman, we highly recommend you look into it. This book is a must-have tool for any business owner, CEO or manager and is our guide for how to operate many business processes, including our meetings.
We sometimes run what Gino calls a Level 10 meeting, which in brief includes the following:
- Timed sessions (The meeting starts and ends on time)
- Issues rank from most to least important
- Idea time is set- no never-ending brainstorm sessions
- Meetings are ranked, and feedback is given from everyone present
If you want an example of how to run a Level 10 Meeting, you can watch this short video.
5. Beware of the “I'm just going to do everything” mindset
Even if you have been running a lean team, it's essential to work as a team and continuously evaluate what matters because you can't do everything. The over-achievers might need to hear this twice:
You are not going to get everything done alone. Nor should you want to.
Unlike large organizations where there are clear lines and boundaries of duties, small organizations must pick up the slack when they see it. It suddenly becomes easy to be the “everyman” who picks up everything he sees and takes it on himself.
Rely on your team. Use their expertise. They need you just as much as you need them.
The flip side of the coin is that you are the person who struggles to say no to work that you can’t handle. Our Brand Ambassador, Danielle Dahl talks about this frequently as she has had to overcome her “people pleaser” side and realize that by not being able to keep up with tasks assigned, she wasn’t pleasing anyone. Set loving boundaries that keep you focused on the task at hand. I love this article on how to say no to taking on more work.
6. Stay Positive
Harvard business review wrote an extensive article on how positivity in the workplace is proven to translate to better productivity overall. Our Vice-President, Alysia Lohner, talks about this regularly in team meetings. I asked Alysia what her top tips are in keeping a positive workplace culture; here were her tips:
- Stay connected - whether in office, remote or a combo of the two, continue to have your daily check-ins. Don’t forget to ask your staff about their personal life too. Get to know them and see things from their position.
- Have FUN - we are all people and want to have a connection - whether it’s sharing about yourself (Fun Fact Fridays) or having an instant message while running a lean team where you have GIFs and celebrate the wins.
For us, it's party horns. Whenever someone celebrates a small victory we all whip them out of our desk and create as much disruption as possible.
Clients on the phone during horn blowing always wonder what on earth is happening.
- Collaborate – Please, do not keep executive ideas in the executive boardroom for executives only. Allow your team to chime in! There are many benefits to doing this:
- You’ll come out with ideas you’ve never thought of before
- Your team will grow closer as they work together
- You pay your team members a massive compliment by asking for their feedback
7. Do not sacrifice time for reading, learning and resting
Do not be fooled that this is last on my list; it might just be the most important. Things like sleeping, learning and rejuvenation tend to be the first things to get nixed when we are running a lean team. I don’t believe this is intentional; things not put on our priority list just don’t get done.
I view personal growth as an investment in our company, that by daily improving the person that runs my company and my team, this could save me millions in the future. Some examples of ways I invest in myself:
-Training Seminars or 1-on-1’s
-Staying Healthy (Sleep, food)
-Meeting New People
These are a few examples; I’d love to hear other ideas of ways you invest in yourself in the comment section below.
Some Practical Tips
- Automate your repetitive tasks: I automate many processes so that I don’t have to add them to my list of things to think about; they just happen. I automate tasks such as making high volume calls, sending letters, sending emails, and having multiple reminders set up.
- Time block: Our production manager, Rola Pyper, is the Queen of productivity. The reason for this is because she has had to learn the hard way how to move from “rescue” mode to “productive” mode. Here is what she says: you HAVE to block out focused work time for "big projects" (analysis/planning/building), and you HAVE to stick to it. Or it just won't get done. Running a lean team, by nature, requires a lot of support, and it is easy to lose track of priorities if you slip into “fire-fighting” or constant support mode.
- Set up The Parking Lot: I'm not sure how it works at your office, but here we have a lot of people with lots of brilliant ideas. Since we do not want to tamper office creativity, we have a set place for ideas we call our Parking Lot. These are tasks/ ideas/ activities that we may want to tackle in the future, but are not priorities right now. They park there until we are ready to take action. Having a place to "dump" your thoughts and ideas prevents you from trying to hold them all in your brain.
- Have a To-Read Box: I have a specific email folder in my inbox for articles or emails that I would like to read but don’t have the time to as they come in. Having a separate folder allows my inbox to stay clear and for me to set aside a specific time for reading or personal development, which leads me to my next point:
- Get Systemized: Stay on top of the things that put gas in your tank, i.e. money coming in the door. Small businesses or companies with a lean staff need to account for every dollar, and cannot afford to take a hit due to disorganization. A lost invoice or a forgotten client could mean thousands of dollars.
- Outsource: We outsource a lot of our non-core functions such as SEO, certain accounting functions, custom programming, and other essential functions. The work gets done faster, and we gain the leverage of experts to get the job done, so we can deploy our people to focus on what they do best.
Apps & Tools We Use
Reminders: Having reminders set up in my calendar for calls to make, people to touch base with or things to do is a huge time saver. I even use it for small items like when to take my vitamins. We use Microsoft and outlook reminders, but any reminder system will do. Google and Mac have great reminder systems as well, or you could try an app like Cortana.
Move It Chrome Extension: Throughout the day at PCM, you will hear people jumping and running throughout the office. Most likely, they had a pop-up on their screen from this extension that tells them a quick exercise: 10 jumping jacks, jog on the spot, even rock paper scissors and the Mexican wave. It stops us from getting sucked into the vortex of computer-land, and studies have shown taking regular breaks increases productivity.
According to a recent survey by Tork:
- Nearly 20% of North American workers worry their bosses won’t think they are hardworking if they take regular lunch breaks, while 13% worry their co-workers will judge them.
- 38% of employees don’t feel encouraged to take a lunch break.
- 22% of North American bosses say that employees who take a regular lunch break are less hardworking.
- 90% of employees who took regular breaks were more productive, felt more creative, and had an overall improvement in mental well-being.
I don’t know about you, but this blew my mind. Please, prioritize breaks.
Microsoft 365 (Teams/ Planner/ OneNote, etc.):
Find a system that works for you (paper, digital or combo), plan a general framework for what you want to use and then try it. “Good, not great”- adjust your organization system as you use it. Being on office 365, I like to use all possible tools Microsoft has to offer to ensure the applications and systems sync together to ensure organization across all devices and platforms.
What would you say is your biggest tip for running a lean team and staying on track with your priorities and accomplishing your goals, without spreading yourself too thin? I would love to hear your ideas.