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Features vs. Future: Develop a Roadmap for Long-Term Success

Business savvy entrepreneurs continually achieve success through unremitting hard work, training, skill-building and practice in order to stay on top of their game. The same should hold true for your critical business tools like your ERP or CRM system. Getting these systems implemented and your staff trained are just the first steps in an ongoing effort to remain ahead of your competition. Here are three areas that you – and your software vendor – must focus on in order to remain competitive in the market over the long-term.

Plan for the future

Is your current ERP or CRM software vendor committed to delivering on product updates and enhancements throughout the year? When is the last time you looked at the product roadmap? To ensure a successful future with any business system it is critical for you to understand where the system is heading.

It is easy to fall into a rut and continue using a poorly supported or outdated ERP / CRM system that you and your employees are comfortable with. However, by sticking to your legacy software you’re missing out on cutting-edge features and new functionality that allow you to gain a competitive edge in the market.

Embrace integration

As your business grows, the number of technologies and applications that grow along with your firm continue to expand. Part of your plan for the future should include considering future integrations for your ERP system such as Business Intelligence and employee productivity tools. When your ERP doesn’t effectively communicate with other systems it creates data siloes and laborious manual processes.

Take it to the cloud

For many small- and medium-sized businesses, the move to the cloud is done for obvious business reasons—the first one being lower up-front costs.

But another significant benefit is speed to implementation. A 2014 survey by the industry analyst firm Mint Jutras reported that “respondents with SaaS implementations reached their first go-live milestone 19% faster than those with on-premise solutions”. Both of these benefits are possible because cloud computing eliminates the need for purchasing and installing hardware and software.

Additional long-term benefits of the cloud include:

  • Anywhere, anytime access to information by staff, customers and partners, since all applications are designed to run on mobile devices
  • No staff time required to maintain or upgrade hardware as the company grows
  • Data is safely backed up with a disaster recovery plan

Keep your eye on the prize

Ask to see a “Product Roadmap” of recent updates and future enhancements. How can a vendor help you move forward in the right direction if they themselves cannot move their own product in a positive direction? You should see it as a red flag If it has been a while since any new product enhancements have emerged from a vendor.

The modernization of your ERP or CRM system is really only the first step to optimizing your business processes. With the right training and focus, your business can realize benefits like streamlined operations, improved communications and more efficient workflows that free up your staff to identify and take advantage of new opportunities.

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The Problem with Construction Software

Legacy construction software can be costly and inefficient. The ongoing reluctance in the construction industry to adopting new technologies and eliminating data silos has led to serious and systemic issues such as poor productivity and cost overruns to be viewed as “normal” within the construction industry.

Overcoming Problems with Construction Software

In early 2014, as majority owner of Strategies Group, I made the decision to review other products available in the construction marketplace to see if we could better serve our clients by offering a modern construction software option. Simply put, I knew there were technological advances that were taking place that Sage and other legacy software vendors were either unwilling or unable to take advantage of in the construction software space. I spent 18 months researching the different options in the market and some potential players.

In January of 2018, the construction software market was changed dramatically with the announcement that one of the most technologically advanced, platformed based software companies in the world had developed a construction industry-specific product. Acumatica, a company that we have represented on the more traditional ERP (Manufacturing/Distribution/eCommerce) side of our business had changed the game. They are truly a technology company with some 73% of their employees dedicated to product research and development. The construction product was spearheaded by a group of industry experts who came from the Timberline heritage. They KNOW CONSTRUCTION and Acumatica KNOWS SOFTWARE.

Learn more about how the combination of the two resulted in an initial offering that anyone looking to change their Construction Software systems needs to consider.

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Dollars vs. Deployment: A Look at SAAS vs. On-Premise Solutions

For many small-to-medium sized businesses, SAAS (cloud) deployments have leveled the playing field with larger organizations that have access to greater resources. Think about it. Your project teams can execute complicated projects on-time, within budget. But managing an internal network, updating software and hardware, and troubleshooting issues just is just not in your wheelhouse – nor should it. Furthermore, researching and buying all those computers and other technical devices is a massive non-revenue generating responsibility. This blog will focus on the benefits of SAAS vs. on-premise solutions.

Here are some considerations when evaluating a SAAS vs. on-premise solutions:

Adaptability

Deploying to the cloud means shorter deployment time and lower operating costs. Modern technology should be built on mobile framework, enabling deployment of technology across an entire organization – all while reducing the learning curve for users.

A modern-built ERP solution offers end-users access to more integrations and more tools for users to leverage without deep product specialization.

Continual Improvement

We believe that the commitment to understanding changing industry and technology standards is critical for an ERP. Many software developers are comfortable maintaining the status quo and collecting yearly maintenance and service fees without adding any additional features or functionality.

Our mission is to collaborate with all of our customers and partners in delivering innovative technology that supports your business growth. Add to that acceleration – making it happen in a timely fashion. Stagnation for a company is paramount to closing its doors. Your ERP solution should eliminate stagnation from your vocabulary and your business.

Preparing for Natural Disasters

According to a study from EMC, data loss and downtime cost companies worldwide a massive $1.7 trillion (£1 trillion) in 2014.

Take a minute to think through these questions: Can you continue to do business if there is a hardware failure or if a place you’re hosting your solution goes up in flames? If you do experience a fire, what just happened to all of your data? How quickly can you recover from that? If your system is down for 2-3 days, what kind of business are you losing?  Are you going to be able to give your customers the same level of customer service that you would be able to give them under normal circumstances?

When you subscribe to a SaaS offering, your data is replicated into multiple geo zones. There are regular processes that take place to ensure you can get back up and running immediately, even in the event of a disaster. The data backups that are performed are tested regularly to ensure that the data is recoverable.

Avoiding Ransomware

While small-to-midsized businesses aren’t specifically targeted in ransomware campaigns, they may be more likely to suffer an attack. Frequently, small business IT teams are stretched thin and, in some cases, rely on outdated technology due to budgetary constraints. This is the perfect storm for ransomware vulnerability.

Fundamentally more secure business solutions have evolved over the past decade with an ongoing commitment to stopping ransomware breaches. Yet organizations continue to trust their critical business information to outdated twenty-year-old technology that fails to stand up when measured against the latest security requirements and innovations.

Focus on Security

Data security is critical to the overall health of your organization. Does your IT team currently perform penetration testing or compliance monitoring?

Cloud deployments take advantage of the benefits of Amazon Web Services (AWS). Security at AWS is the highest priority and end-users enjoy the benefit of a data center and network architecture built to meet the requirements of the most security-sensitive organizations.

Learn More about the Benefits of SAAS vs. On-Premise Solutions

Please feel free to reach out to us if you would like to further discuss how technology has changed for the construction industry. Let’s make sure your company is getting the functionality and ongoing commitment to improvement that you are paying for.

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Thanks to All New Strategies Group Clients for a Great Year

Since partnering with Dexter + Chaney in 2015, we have added many new Strategies Group clients! We are very grateful for the opportunity to assist these companies in their implementation of Spectrum® Construction Software. We look forward to partnering with you in 2017!

New Strategies Group Clients

We wish all of the new Strategies Group clients the best of luck in 2017 and beyond.

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Vision Casting…The Waterfall Effect

One of the hottest terms in leadership these days is “Vision Casting”. While the term itself has been both admired and admonished, the necessity of creating and sharing a cohesive vision in every successful organization is uncontested. When we hear a term like “Vision Casting” we often think about those creative types at Disney or Pixar who think of and develop the likes of Toy Story or we think of the CEO of a multi-billion dollar organization who spends his days thinking strategically about the future of his empire.

The fact is that every Vision cast by a leader no matter how grand or how small, offers the opportunity of other team members to develop their own vision of how they will participate in the overall corporate vision. To get buy-in and create excitement about the corporate vision, team members must be able to see how their departments, jobs, etc. relate to the vision.

An understandable and effectual relationship between the corporate vision and individual department or even functional visions is crucial. If a vision is to be defined as seeing things that don’t exist and imagining the world in which they do, then vision casting is charting a course to that world.

For example, Strategies Group’s corporate vision is straightforward, however achieving that vision is complex and must be inclusive of other departmental vision statements that support the overall vision. Actually, the departmental specific visions help to define our corporate vision. What does it mean to be successful? To be customer centric?

Each department needs to create those definitions and define what the end result looks like for them...a vision of the future of their department. A vision that should first be defined by how this success is felt and experienced by our customer. If our success is not their success, then we have charted a course to nowhere.

To accomplish this, each department must define those objectives for their own portion of the business. For example, success for the sales group is measured incorrectly aligning each client with all the tools necessary to help them manage their business more efficiently and more profitably. A customer care department is measured by the client’s satisfaction with the timeliness and helpfulness of each support request. The consultant’s vision will be to ensure that each tool introduced by our sales team will be used to its maximum efficiency. This combined “corporate” vision creates the world where everyone who interacts with the new technology will have a better work experience and therefore a better life experience because of our relationship.

We often get the vision process backwards. We think about what our company needs to look like in 5 or 10 years and then create a vision that fits that desire. I believe it is truly more genuine and more constructive to imagine what our clients will need to be successful over the next 5 or 10 years and then create a vision to help them get there. At Strategies Group, we have recognized this error in our planning and are in the process of re-imagining success for our clients and therefore for us.

Our first step was to align with vendors we feel agree with our desire to think of client needs both now and in the future and align their product development to that end. By connecting with customer-centric technology partners like Dexter & Chaney, we are beginning to chart a course that looks first at what the customer will need not only today but years from now to be successful.

We will be reaching out more directly to our clients as we develop this vision to ask what they see as their most imperative needs and most pressing challenges of the next five years. We want to know the toughest challenges ahead for our clients both now and in the future to help build a more secure path through the landmines to profitability and success.

Our vision must align with our clients’ vision or we become obsolete and our services unnecessary. In order to truly bring value, one must know what “value” means to their client. That value is always related to our ability and willingness to help the client attain their own vision.

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Ocular Business Myopathy

I was talking to a good friend the other day at lunch, and he was describing the first time he realized he needed glasses. He was in a business meeting and during a break, he jokingly picked up a pair of eyeglasses belonging to a business associate and put them on. He always thought the way he saw the world was the way the world really existed. The lines were blurred, the colors muted and to him, that was the reality until this moment. As he slipped the glasses on, he saw a world that, while it resembled the world he knew, it was much more alive with crisp lines and vibrant colors. A revelation like this both shatters our current perception of reality and gives us a new appreciation for the world around us.

How Ocular Business Myopathy Occurs:

I think many of us get Ocular Business Myopathy (a continual weakening of our ability to see the true nature of our business) over time. As our business lens adapts to the world around us, we start to see things as our continually weakening natural lenses allow us to see it. Our original mission, once so vivid and exciting, becomes compromised and diluted. The time altered view turns into something unexciting and the challenge and hope begin to fade. Our answers to the issues of the day are often based on old visions and old solutions using old tools. Because we don’t cognitively realize that our vision has weakened, we don’t see the need for a new business lens to view the challenges at hand.

Adjusting Our Lenses in 3 Steps

So how do we correct this degenerative disease and avoid the potentially damaging results?

While I’m not a physician (and I haven’t even played one on TV or stayed in a Holiday Inn Express lately), I have struggled with this dilemma over the years. I have found several courses of action that helped me to correct my degraded and damaged business lens. They all involve simply slipping on a new set of proverbial business lenses through which to see the world, but just like our eyeglasses, not all prescriptions will work for us. Make sure to choose the lens that allows the most clarity for your particular business vision.

1. Try On New Lenses

The first exercise to “try on a new lens” is easy and can be done in the comfort of your own home, your office or the nearest cozy coffee establishment. Buy a few books that your friends or business associates keep recommending to you and actually READ them. Digest the words with the intention of determining how the ideas expressed can help you understand your current business issues better or how they can help you correct your long term vision. Compare their ideas with the world as you see it. Look for those ideas and concepts that give you a clearer image of your current surroundings and challenge you to refocus. Then put some into practice.

2. Create Community With Mentors That Will Challenge You

The second vision improvement activity is to intentionally create fellowship with others in your industry who appear to be winning in those areas where your vision has become dull. You can do this through becoming more active in a local trade association like the ABC, AGC or CFMA or just call up an colleague in the industry and ask for some time over lunch to discuss what they are doing in their businesses or jobs that appear to be working. Be willing to share with them your view on the issues as well.

3. Repeat Continuously

Finally (and most importantly) no matter how you choose to “try on” your new business lens, make sure you choose the one that gives you the clearest vision and then keep it on. Just like our physical bodies, our business vision will become cloudy and blurred again if we don’t keep up these exercises. Embrace the new, vibrant business landscape and look for those answers that were hidden before.

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How Much Time Off is Enough?

How does your company handle it’s paid time off policy? Is it traditional? A banked system? Or something more radical and experimental? Employee benefits, including Paid Time Off (PTO), have become a much bigger consideration in the retention of good team members. With technological advances promoting the opportunity for remote workers, the inclusion of the Millennials and their ideas, many companies are breaking the traditional barriers of PTO policy.

In the old days, it was a black and white issue. New employees got two weeks of Paid Vacation and three sick days. I remember once early in my career when a co-worker called into our boss and said she was “sad” and would not be in that day. After that call was received, I remember my boss talking to his boss for what seemed like two hours to decide on whether this fit into the “sick day” policy. Not a banner moment in that company’s history. This dilemma was eventually erased with the first change in standard PTO policy when the “Sick Days” policy turned into a “Personal Days” policy in order to give the employee more flexibility.

Most companies today are looking at their PTO policy as a way to attract and keep good employees. The next wave of major changes to this policy started in the early 2000’s as companies offered “banked” time off that allowed employees to gain additional time with each year of seniority. A recent survey stated, “bank styled PTO policies have reduced turnover by 9% when compared to traditional systems.” As we look at total cost of operations, personnel expenses are growing dramatically. With the increased cost of healthcare, regulation administration and other burdens, it is more important than ever to get our policies right.

Today, a small number of organizations (and not surprisingly spearheaded by tech firms who deal with Millennials almost exclusively) are implementing unlimited PTO policies. These plans were put in place to hire the best of the best. Here’s my question….If you hire the best of the best, aren’t you hiring those people who will most likely work harder than the next guy and not take advantage of these “policies”? EXACTLY! That is the bet these tech companies are making. The staff now has the freedom to take the time off, but their own desire to succeed and move up the corporate ladder is their new master. Sure take the time off, but don’t get too envious of that corner office.

All of this maneuvering makes my head spin and my teeth hurt. I have never been a big fan of social engineering at the macro or micro level. My contention is that we should find people who fit in our culture, have the skill set to do the job we hired them to do and then treat them right. Plans and packages that intend to make people act a certain way are usually manipulative and counterproductive in the long run.  Hire right, treat them like individuals with respect and accountability and they will thrive and so will you!

If you’re looking for more consulting on hiring and retaining construction employees, contact Strategies Group today. We can help consult you on tactics that will help your business grow.

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CHANGE Management Process – Commit (or You Will be Committed to your Circumstances)

change management process

Having seven kids, my wife and I are always looking for ways to engage with them on their level to create shared moments of growth and discussion. One of the unlikely tools we have started to use is Netflix. While this method is probably not taught in any Human Behavior courses or change management process workshops, it seems to work for us. We pick a series and set a time for popcorn and the show (after homework of course). Our youngest kids are now seventeen and we decided to go retro and watch the show Lost that first appeared on TV over 10 years ago.

The premise of the show (well at least the naïve premise) is that 40+ people crash landed on a deserted island. At first, they stayed on the beach waiting for rescue, but as it became clear that nobody was coming they began to plan to “stay awhile”. These plans included moving off the beach and near a water source. Soon however, other forces began to negatively affect them. As their situation became more dire, one member of the group decided to build a raft and head out for the shipping lanes to find a rescuer. With little food and fresh water, a small group boarded the raft as the group pushed it out into the surf. There was no turning back. They committed to the concept of rescue or death.

Luckily most of our decisions don’t require option “B” as death; however, we often treat them as if they did. We wallow in our subpar circumstances and accept our poor performance. We too often only pull ourselves out of our stupor when our temporary “comfort” is affected by outside forces (Poor P&L results, loss of clients, etc.).

5 Factors for Your Change Management Process

Very few of us are willing to concede the idea that we even need a raft (change), much less undertake the process of building it (change management process). However, IF we realize that our current circumstances will not change by a passive or external force and IF we have the courage to effect active change then we can expect several outcomes:

The Dissonance of the Comfortable

Once we start to discuss change, there will always be a group of our co-workers who live to protect their comfort and fear anything that threatens that comfort. Even if the change is rational, the research is sound and the process is bulletproof, some in your midst will fight you.

The Support of the Uncomfortable

It always surprises me how many people think alike but sit in silence and accept their circumstances. Once the building of the raft is announced, supporters will almost always come out of the woodwork to learn more about the plan and provide support.

The Criticism of Everyone

This is your vision, even those who support you will have different ideas about how to achieve the results. Listen to them, revel in their support and embrace their individual input and experience but it will most likely be up to you to drive the change forward.

The Certainty of Uncertainty

No matter how much we plan, prepare, test and engage, you will always have uncertainty as your partner in this process. By proper preparation and planning, you can mitigate the more dire outliers as potential outcomes, but you can never guarantee the end result. While this is a part of the process, it should not be the catalyst to quit building the raft.

The Necessity to Commit

None of the above matters if we don’t launch the raft into the surf and trust our planning and our abilities. While lessons can be learned in the process, big positive change does not usually happen without that moment of commitment.

Who knew that 10 year old TV series could teach us lessons to apply to our business’ change management process. Actually that particular show has a running comparison of at least two different management styles among the leaders of those lost on the island, but that is a conversation for another time. I encourage you to inspect your circumstance honestly and see if it’s time to launch a raft.

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Watershed Moment

Whether you are basking in the glow of a prosperous and fulfilling 2015 or trying to forget the challenges of last year, we will all most likely have to face another watershed moment in the New Year.  A watershed moment represents a critical turning point when an important change happens. The decisions we make in that moment definitely affects the outcome of our year; however, the attitude and dedication with which we follow our new path will affect the rest of our lives.

Think back through your life to those moments that changed your path and drove your steps. Many of those seemingly monumental decisions are now forgotten in a stream of consciousness that dwells on the here and now. The new paths we take can lead either to new successes, dead ends or, even worse, dangerous areas.

In my experience, it is not the eventual destination of the new path that we dwell on in years after, it is the effort that was exerted to get there. Think about anything that you have accomplished that took herculean effort or think of those who have accomplished world-class feats such as climbing Mount Everest or completing an ironman triathlon.

When you speak to those people or think back on your own accomplishments, the end result is sweet, but the story they tell people is most often of the struggle and perseverance it took to accomplish the goal. To the Everest climber, it was the training and the ascent, not the eventual summit they are most proud of and love to tell their friends about. To the working father who finishes an ironman triathlon, it is the countless hours in the pool early in the morning before work or the late nights cycling while the family sleeps that others love to hear and the athlete loves to tell.

In October 2015, I had one of those watershed moments. The decision I made was risky but calculated. The plan was well thought out and the eventual goal was defined, visualized and eagerly anticipated. Those affected by this business decision were carefully considered and their successful transition was of utmost importance.

However, all of this planning did not fully prepare me for the road ahead. Within thirty days of taking this path, obstacles and new adversaries appeared that I hadn’t anticipated or (in my opinion) deserved. For me, clearing the path and helping others keep their eye on the destination provide me with the energy I need to keep walking. For Strategies Group, 2016 will be a year of sometimes exhausting path clearing, but the end result will be our ability to provide our clients with the best business solutions that will allow them to plan and execute their own watershed moments.

My encouragement to each of you is don’t dwell only on the goal, but get energy and fulfillment from the herculean effort that will go into creating the summit experience. The lessons learned during this time will be what you build your company or personal future on. Most of the summit moments will be just a fleeting memory, but the effort exerted will always be nourishment for your future growth.

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Trust

Let’s talk about how trust IS NOT developed. How many of us have been to a company team building outing where we are asked to do things like fall backward into the faithful arms of our fellow team members? Do we really believe that deep trust can be obtained because four other team members with nothing to lose catch you instead of letting you fall onto the ground and split your head open? What kind of sociopath would allow any human being to fall to certain injury like that? Is that the level of trust we expect in our organizations? If so, I am pretty sure I would not want to be a part of that organization. Trust isn’t developed in a contrived environment with no personal gain or loss on the line. Trust is developed in the daily interactions of our management team with our customers, our vendors and our employees.

If we as owners and managers aren’t loyal or honest to our customers and our vendors, we place a reasonable seed of doubt in the minds and hearts of our employees. I am a big believer that character is exposed best under the bright light of monetary risk. If our morals are such that our loyalty to customers and vendors change based on the financial risk at hand, how are we to expect our employees to think we would treat them any differently? It is incumbent upon us to EARN our team’s trust through our daily interaction with our company’s ecosystem. Our team must begin to trust us as they do the other drivers on the road. They need to know what to expect when they encounter us if they are to trust us with their best.

Ernest Hemingway once said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” I wish it were that simple. I would rephrase it to “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to watch them when money is on the line.” What can we do to build trust in our teams? The first step is to make sure we are trying to be trustworthy. Here are few places to start:

  1. Customer Relationships – Review our internal practices to determine if we are treating our customers fairly. Do we truly offer a significant value proposition to them or are we simply in it to maximize our profit? Do we communicate bad news as well as good news in a timely manner?
  2. Vendor Relationships – Do we communicate honestly to vendors about our payment cycles? Are we doing our best to pay within terms and communicating the bad news to them if we are unable to meet their terms?
  3. Employee Relationships – Do we really offer our employees a safe place to discuss their ambitions and discuss their place on our team? Are we willing to accept that we may lose some of our best team members because their ambitions lie somewhere else?

If we can honestly evaluate those areas and strive to become trustworthy in them, then our team will begin to accept us as they do the 3,000 pound car coming at them on the road. They won’t give our integrity a second thought because we have earned their trust in the corporate things we do every day.

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