Archive for November, 2012

Replacing Myself

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

Our guest this week is Lisa Taylor, President and Founder of Challenge Factory, a company that is changing how Canadians view the aging workforce. See below…..

I am the founder of Challenge Factory, a company that is changing how Canadians view the aging workforce. We talk about trends, demographics and experiential programs that spark innovation and competitive advantage. We work with individuals seeking meaning and satisfaction and the companies looking to employ top talent.

Recently, the business hit a milestone.  It had grown to the point that I needed a dedicated operations manager to oversee the quality of services we deliver and find ways for us to innovate as we grow.

It took several attempts to find the right person. I was, after all, replacing myself for many of the role’s responsibilities.

First, I explored using a virtual assistant and delegating tasks but quickly recognized that I wanted an employee who would be committed to the future and health of the business. Next, I hired a recent graduate thinking I would provide training and they would bring energy, new ideas and curiosity.  Six weeks in, the graduate hire asked for 8 weeks off to travel on a pre-arranged, non-refundable, non-negotiable trip.

Then I found Cayla.

Cayla had experience and came highly recommended. In our initial discussion I was explaining the administrative tasks that would be a part of this job. She responded by saying that she’d do the tasks for the first two months on the job and in the third we would automate whatever we could so that no one had to spend time on tasks that didn’t drive our goals. I swooned.

Next we discussed the more strategic elements of the job. I proudly shared the company history and plans for the next year. She started talking about plans for 2-5 years out and noticed areas where I had been very conservative. “Why don’t we charge for that service? We are the only company in the country that has that expertise. Why give it away?” I started to explain how the company had started and why we initially provided the service as a way for people to see just how different we are. And then I stopped.

I was overcome by a feeling that usually only surfaces when I am talking about my kids.

I am a mother to two boys. When I meet someone new and they ask how old the kids are, I proudly say “7 and 10.”  Most of the time, the response I get is “oh, little guys.” I am always surprised by this reaction. Little guys are the babies we held. Little guys are the toddlers we chased after. Little guys are the boys as they started school and learned to read.  My kids take the TTC, they have a cell phone, they know who Obama is. They are not little to me. Yet, in the scheme of things they are little with many more stages of growth ahead of them. That is what the stranger sees.

And the same is true of how new employees view start-up businesses.

It occurred to me that Cayla and I had radically different views of the company. To me, Challenge Factory is currently the largest and most successful it has ever been. It will continue to grow from here but I am proud of what it has already accomplished.

To Cayla, Challenge Factory is the smallest it will ever be. It is exciting enough to entice her to come and dedicate herself to the company – but not for what it is now. For what, together, we can build it into.

Replacing yourself is not easy. But as parents and business owners we know that our kids and our businesses will only rise to the level of expectation that we set for them.

More about Lisa:
Lisa worked as a strategy and technical consultant at Deloitte and Hewlett Packard. In her last role at Hewlett Packard, Lisa managed a workforce of over 12 consultants and uncovered a nascent trend linking working life expectation, longevity and employee engagement. Stepping away from corporate life, she created Challenge Factory.
Challenge Factory combines the latest demographic-based research with innovative career management practice. It provides highly experiential and practical programs for individuals and organizations. Challenge Factory and its clients have been profiled in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Vancouver Sun, Calgary Herald, Brandon Sun, HR Reporter, Ottawa Sun, Herald Chronicle, 24Hrs and Canadian Press.
Lisa holds an MB in Strategic Management from the Schulich School of Business, York University. She currently sits on several not-for-profit boards and is an active community volunteer and public speaker.
Lisa has addressed over 400 organizations in Canada, the U.S. and abroad and has a regular careers column in the Toronto Star.

If you would like to contact Lisa, email her at or at 416-721-8494.


When Is A Problem Really A Problem?

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

Sara Lear is the latest addition to our team of consultants. In the first of many blog posts, she shares a unique tip she learned while working with a client.

Determining how to prioritize business issues that must be addressed, can be very difficult.

I am currently working with a client and in an effort to help him allocate more of his time to work ON the business, I am currently working IN his business.

On a daily basis, I collect all the issues that arise from customers, vendors, etc. and at the end of each day we review them.

There is never a shortage of issues to address, but this client has an unusual approach.

The first time we sat down together I had organized the list several different ways. One showed issues by project, one by department and one was chronological. I thought that no matter how he wanted to see the information, I had all the bases covered.

Well you can imagine my surprise when we sat down at the end of the first day and the first thing he said to me was “Is it something money can’t fix?”

I did not know what to say – and for those who know me, this was a first!

The business owners I work with all face many challenges on a daily basis. As a strategy for prioritizing these issues, the ones involving money can often be set aside quickly.

Tackling the ones money can’t fix are the challenges that stretch and excite us.

As a project manager I have found several tools that are very effective to use on a daily basis applicable to personal management and client/corporate management. Keeping a detailed ‘issues log’ as well as ‘lessons learned’ database will help to track and identify the recurring themes that need to be addressed in your approach/operations.

So the next time you feel like the problems are mounting, just ask yourself “Is this one that money can fix?”

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Focus, Simplicity and Common Sense…..

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

I’m not a big fan of business journalists.

That’s because many of them talk at length and opine about how to run a company without ever having had a single day’s practical experience as an entrepreneur or business owner.

(Hmm, I guess that makes them like many consultants ………..)

But there are exceptions –Jason Fried and Norm Brodsky in Inc. magazine are 2 great examples. And this week I stumbled across 2 posts by Randall Litchfield on the site that caught my attention.

Litchfield was a journalist when corporate strategy was the focus of business schools, executives and strategy gurus. During that time he interviewed companies; spoke to academics and management consultants; and read every new strategy book published.

He made the switch to entrepreneur in 1990 and, since then, has made the PROFIT 200 ranking of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies 4 times.

Both posts reflect his somewhat unique experience, a product of this combination of careers.

In the first post Litchfield praises Richard Rumelt’s book “Good Strategy, Bad Strategy” as the best business book he’s read. Why does that push my opinion of him way up there? Because I agree and, if you follow this blog, you’ll remember I wrote 3 pieces from the book last year.

The first point he makes in the second post was that he realized that the really important stuff – how to achieve the goal—was getting lost as the strategic process became increasingly complex.

As a result he turned to examples of military strategy because “Corporations can hide a bad strategy (or no strategy) for years while ………military battles……tend to be over more quickly and the superior strategy revealed.” Nicely put!

Litchfield’s third point is that a military strategy can usually be articulated in a phrase or sentence of crystal clarity (e.g. Hannibal’s “envelopment” of the Romans or “Stormin’ Norman” Schwarzkopf’s “left hook”). However, in my opinion, it also suggests that some concepts are ageless and can be adapted to wildly different environments.

The final thing he says that I really like is that a good strategy boils down to a simple rule – bring relative strength to bear against relative weakness. This is the “indirect approach”, used by great commanders like Alexander the Great, Cromwell and Napoleon, who chose the line of least expectation and struck at the point of least resistance.

So for any company that has to take on larger competitors with resources that are much greater than their own, success will come by finding the competitor’s relative weakness and concentrating their relative strength(s) precisely there.

And that covers every company either in startup mode or which is a “small to medium sized enterprise”.

Here’s someone successful who has both theoretical knowledge and practical experience confirming that focusing on execution (the how to) is important; that things work better when they’re simple, not complicated; and that common sense delivers results.

You can read Litchfield’s 2 posts here and here.


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Strategic Success Comes From 3Ps

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

This week’s guest is Dick Albu, the founder and president of Albu Consulting, a strategy management consulting firm focused on engaging and energizing leadership teams of middle market private and family business to formulate robust business strategies and follow through on execution of key strategic initiatives.

If you are like many of our clients, you and your leadership team are getting ready to launch into your strategy sessions for 2013.  This is a great time to be reminded that the success of the strategic plan depends on three key factors (“3Ps”):

(1) How good is your PLAN?
(2) How committed are you to a PROCESS to pursue your goals?
(3) How committed are your PEOPLE to staying focused and on task until your goals are achieved?

Developing the right PLAN begins with a comprehensive analysis of the business, both from an internal and external perspective. Strategic thinking creates a realistic picture of the strengths and weaknesses of the products or services you offer customers, and your market position relative to competition. A good plan takes into consideration your company’s realistic capacity and capability for profitable growth. Strategic thinking sets the stage for identifying growth initiatives that are realistic, practical and specific to your unique situation.

Commitment to a relentless follow up PROCESS is the second stretch on the road to success. The driving force behind the process must come first from the President/CEO, and then be reinforced by the senior leadership team. Successful implementation of strategy is a continuous, long term process that evolves and strengthens over time. Commitment to monthly, quarterly and annual check-ups will refresh, revise and enhance your odds of success. At the same time, it keeps everyone in the organization fully engaged and focused on achieving the company goals.

The most important “P” for success is PEOPLE. Peter Drucker stated in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, “The distinction that marks a plan capable of producing results is the commitment of key people to work on specific tasks. Unless such commitment is made, there are only promises and hope, but no plan.” These specific tasks, which evolve from the PLAN and PROCESS, drive accountability and deadlines, while tracking results against agreed measures. In our opinion, seventy percent of success is the result of getting the full buy-in from key employees.

PROCESS and PEOPLE relate directly to excellence in execution. Research has found that 70% of companies fail to achieve their strategic plan goals, in many cases because they lack the process and people skills to enable a discipline for execution. A robust strategy execution management process can provide your organization with the most vital core competency of them all… the ability to execute your strategy.

Dick can be reached at 203-321-2147 or For more information on Albu Consulting visit

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