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Small Stuff and the Power of a Penny
by David & Lorrie Goldsmith

This is the second time this has happened. Once with a neighbor and again this past week at our rental property. A penny, a simple little penny disrupted a household by lodging itself between the wall and the spinning plate inside a garbage disposal. When it happens, this little penny can stop the workings of a kitchen in an instant.

Think about the stuck penny for a minute. When one flicks the disposal's switch, nothing happens. Not even a match for a fork attack or a torrent of water.

Large chunks of food sit idle. Decay. Inevitably, stench. Plus more problems.

Dishwashers are often connected to disposals as a primary or secondary crusher, so when the dishwasher starts to pump out its water, the sink starts to fill up. Fork and water attacks are followed by the plunger. Still, nothing works. From this point on, you might say the kitchen surrenders control to a simple, out-of-place penny. If there's only one sink, one can't clean dishes at all.

The resident's time, once used for productive activity or relaxation, is now spent working around a dysfunctional sink. Then come repairs. If the owner calls a plumber, he will pay for repairs or installation of a new unit. A do-it-yourself job will likely result in a helter-skelter mess under the sink, a combination of dismantled pipes and the water that's seeped out of them.

Eventually, the owner rescues the disposal from the invading penny. Then the process of reconnecting pieces and eventual cleanup takes place. All this for a penny. What power.

Well, that penny is like your business decisions or actions. One small decision or one small action can completely alter outcomes, even grind operations to a standstill, if you're not careful.

With only a few weeks left until the year ends, you can still make seemingly small decisions or take small actions that will have a huge impact on your organization in the upcoming year.

Here are a few:
  • Upgrade
    Outdated technology, old equipment and software slow you down and prevent you from competing at your best. You don't always have to have the newest state-of-the art items, but you can't afford to miss deadlines or turn out shoddy products, because your equipment isn't keeping pace. We recently revisited an old vendor to buy some marketing products. One employee explained how the owner almost went out of business a few years ago and complained that times were tough even now. A quick glance around the production shop told the story. Equipment was archaic at best. The vendor couldn't produce even the simplest of products for us by today's standards. She struggled her way through the job, losing our confidence. Because she couldn't output what she claimed, she had to compensate with products that we didn't originally want. She also put undue pressure on us as she blew our deadline. We won't be returning…nor, we suspect, will many of her other customers.

  • Buy
    Purchase reliable, portable tools to keep yourself organized. PDAs, phones with calendars and internet access allow you to stay on top of things even when you're away from your desk. We use the Treo products offered by most of the major players. (RIM the provider of the Blackberry currently has a $400 million to $1 billion patent suit that may affect several million subscribers, so step cautiously with this product for now.) Say you're at an event and you have the good fortune of meeting a very lucrative prospect. You're busy, he's busy, and the timing is just right to make a follow-up appointment to talk serious business. Your chances of making that appointment happen, of closing a sale, and of building a long-term business relationship greatly increase if you can strike while the iron is hot. Having your calendar in your pocket via one of these handy devices affords you the ability to seize opportunity now, rather than having to wait until you return to the office and have to navigate your way past the prospect's gatekeeper on the phone.

  • Strategize
    Visit your strategic plan and make adjustments. Our philosophy is that if management does not have their strategic plan on their desk regularly the plan is most likely useless. Think of it this way. When you travel you have your map or GPS with you and refer to it often. This means it must be in a form that key decision makers can use to plan their day every day for the upcoming year. David just worked with Infosys, a company made famous by its own merits and highlighted in Thomas Friedman's most recent book The World is Flat. During a strategizing session with members of the board and billionaire CEO Nandan Nilekani, the management often stated they've had 49 consecutive quarters of profitable growth hitting both revenue and profit projections while growing close to 45% per year. Sanjay, the Chief Strategist, spends his days making sure their strategy is on target. They expect to grow from $2.2 billion to over $3 billion next year. This from a group of people who each put $250 into starting the business. When they were all done, David and the team were able to put the strategy onto one page so that everyone was in sync. In addition, the plan has to meet its purpose, but its length needn't rival War and Peace. The most important thing to remember here is that you have to use the strategic plan as your road map to success in the upcoming year. Getting it down on paper is often the most challenging task, but by far, the rewards outweigh the time and effort you initially expend up front.

  • Learn
    Promise to put self-education somewhere on your list of goals this year. Assess the ways you currently feed new information into your brain. What means give you the biggest brain boost for the time and cost? Replace those that don't cut it any more. The good news is that there is a plethora of great books out there targeted to hungry leaders who want to do better this year than last. If you belong to a networking group or other professional club, ask around to see what others are reading that might be of benefit to you. Magazines are good for gaining awareness, but by nature (the lengths of articles are short), they can't compete with books in terms of providing depth and enough information to allow you to retain and utilize what you've learned as well. There are also some excellent programs for executives offered through continuing education departments at universities such as from online programs to classroom settings. The courses that David teaches at New York University are experiences in and of themselves. Business 2.0 also recommends University of Virginia, University of Chicago, and others (see their website) to appeal to those in various geographic areas.

  • Balance
    Schedule time to live your life amidst a busy work regimen. This can be tough for those at the management and ownership levels. What's the point of anything you do if your nose is so close to the grindstone that you don't see any fun in your life? Working long and hard is admirable and often yields great successes. But there's no guarantee that numerous hours of sacrifice will bring a proportional load of prosperity. In fact, workaholic martyrs find themselves spinning their wheels, because they don't have the mental breaks they need to rejuvenate themselves and bring fresh thinking to the table. The time you take doesn't have to be on a long trip far away. You can start by taking a 3-day weekend or a Wednesday afternoon just to clear your head. If travel is something you'd like to do, try going somewhere that would benefit your business: visit a vendor, attend a conference, tour a client's operations, study your craft at a course. You'll be able to justify the time and expense to yourself and get away at the same time.

  • Exercise
    This is not a New Year's resolution that you can let slide by the time February rolls around. And no, we're not stressing the importance of activity, because it will make you look prettier. Stress combined with a sedentary lifestyle will eventually take its toll on your heart or surprise you with other health calamities, if you don't take care of yourself. Exercise is NOT optional, it is as important as nutritious food and fresh air. Just 20 minutes of activity 4 times a week can greatly improve your health. If you're looking for an easy, proven formula that combines activity with eating healthfully, pick up a copy of Bill Phillips' book, Body for Life. You'll be inspired as well as informed. Besides improving the quality and length of your life, you'll improve blood flow to your brain, allowing you to make faster and better decisions on the job.

  • Spend
    If you haven't already, take an overall picture of your organization and determine where extra dollars can go to make improvements. Is there an unreliable computer in the mix or a crackly phone that deserves a slam dunk in the trash bin, now's the time to make changes. Not that we have anything against the tax man, but let's face it, some wise spending now will improve your tax burden as well as your operations. Just be sure to get purchases documented by the end of your fiscal year, whether that's December 31 or another date. We know, December is a month when you're distracted by holiday parties and the prospect of a few well-deserved days off with the family. Just make sure to keep the distractions in check and stick to the deadline. Also, if you're not sure where to wisely place those extra dollars, call in trusted colleagues or other outside advice. When it comes to your own work environment sometimes it's difficult to make an unbiased judgment call. Someone from the outside often can see your challenges because they are not stuck in your day to day work routine.

  • Deplete
    For those of you with mandated or restricted budgets, you may have to spend a certain amount to maintain budget figures for the following year-the old "use it or lose it" philosophy applied to budgets. This doesn't always make a lot of sense to the rest of the world, but if you can't avoid the process, there are some strategies you can deploy to stretch the benefits of in-a-rush spending. Your smartest options are to look at opportunities that require payment now but that can either be utilized or delivered at intermittent times throughout the upcoming year: conferences, training and development programs, services or products that arrive on a monthly or rotating basis, etc. Besides, projects paid for in advance don't get cut that easily. New projects are subject to the new year's scrutiny.
Not sure how to choose what tactics to employ? How about placing a numerical figure next to each one on a scale of 1-5 with 1 being the hardest to do and 5 being the easiest? Then rate the return on your efforts with 1 being the lowest return and 5 being the highest. Add the numbers together. Those with the highest number are obviously your top choices.

As you can see, even with only a few weeks left to the year, there are still options available to you to make rapid change to your organization. Adding just one of these tactics to your tool kit this month could transform the way you do business next year.

Copyright David and Lorrie Goldsmith. All Rights Reserved.

David and Lorrie Goldsmith are managing partners of their own consulting group. Their firm offers consulting and speaking services internationally. David was named by Successful Meetings Magazine as one of the "26 Hottest Speakers in the Industry." Jeff Gitomer say’s "David Goldsmith is unique in that he can see a 30,000 feet view of business and then delivers the hand-to-hand tools for combat."

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