Do I need cyber insurance for my business?

When it comes to cyber insurance, many people in small and medium sized businesses assume that the risks involved with cyber security don’t affect them, or that they are already protected. They say things like “We don’t take credit card payments so we’re not at risk”. Or, “We have anti-virus protection and the website is secure”. But when they learn about the different risks and areas they could be liable for, such as being responsible for client data, and data privacy laws, many are surprised.

Before you bury your head in the sand, consider one common cyber security incident:

What would you do if you had a security breach and had to tell your customers you’ve lost their data?

Data security breaches are a more common occurrence than you may expect, especially for SMEs. The Notifiable Data Breach Scheme managed by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner actually imposes certain threshold requirements where businesses are obligated to notify clients about the breach, and notify the Privacy Commissioner. Not only would this affect the company reputation, but also take up valuable time and resources to fix.

The Notifiable Data Breach Scheme applies to agencies and organisations that the Privacy Act requires to take steps to secure certain categories of personal information. This includes Australian Government agencies, businesses and not-for-profit organisations with an annual turnover of $3 million or more, and regardless of your annual turnover applies to credit reporting bodies, health service providers, and TFN recipients, among others.

So, it’s more than worth taking a few minutes to learn about common cyber misconceptions, how your business could be affected, what the potential costs might be, and what the options are if you need insurance cover.

How could cyber threats affect my businesses?

There are some scary statistics when it comes to the cost of cyber risks:

• $10,299 – the average cost of cyber crime for small to medium-sized businesses (according to Norton SMB Cyber Security Survey 2017)

• $1.9 million – the average cost for medium sized businesses (100-500 employees) if hit by a cyber attack (according to Webroot, 2017) with the figure over $1million for larger organisations (Radware 2018-2019 Global Application and Network Security Report)

• 25 hours downtime or more – was the number of hours it costs for one in four businesses hit by cyber attacks (according to Small Business Best Practice Guide 2017)

• Downtime is the main impact of a cyber security threat (39%), followed by expense for re-doing work (25%), inconvenience (27%), financial loss (11%) and data loss (13%). Of those that had lost data, over half (52%) had not been able to recover it.

• 54% of cyber attacks are from email or phishing scams (according to Norton SMB Cyber Security Survey 2017)

• Up to $2,100,000 fine from the OAIC for not complying with mandatory data breach laws for a company and up to $420,000 for an individual. (Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) Notifiable Data Breaches (NDB) scheme, February 2018)

• 59% of Australian organisations are affected each month by interruptions caused by cyber crime (according to Commonwealth’s Stay Smart Online guide for small business)

• 2,500% increase in the sale of ransomware on dark net sites since 2016 (according to The Ransomware Economy, Carbon Black 2017)

When people see these stats, they see that the relatively low cost of cyber insurance is dwarfed by the volume and range of potential costs that it covers for.

4 main reasons why SMEs are easy targets for Cyber Attacks

Attacks on small and medium-sized enterprises are on the rise due to:

1. Lack of resources 1 in 4 Australian small businesses have fallen victim to cyber crime (according to Norton SMB Cyber Security Survey 2017) as SME clients are focused on their core business offering – be it as a Real Estate Agent, Lawyer, Accountant, Doctor, Mechanic, Manufacturer or whatever industry they specialise in. SMEs often lack the time, resources or expertise to understand their cyber exposures.

2. Lack of education on Cyber Large organisations provide training to their employees on the importance of cyber security and the key risks to be aware of. Simple human mistakes like lost smart-phones or accidentally sending an email to the wrong person, are the cause of 30% of cyber incidents (according to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner Quarterly Report December 2018.)

3. Weak network security or IT infrastructure SMEs typically handle their own IT systems and security themselves, or outsource to someone as they lack the expertise. This contracts with more robust IT teams and operations in larger organisations.

4. Businesses hold valuable data There is a common misconception that SMEs won’t be a target of cyber threats as they have no data or information that is of value or worth stealing. SME data is more valuable that people think. Even if the SME isn’t the direct target, the SME might be a critical point into the integrated supply chain of their valued partners.

Costs associated with cyber attacks for businesses

The costs a business may incur due to cyber security breaches come under three main categories:

1. First Party Costs The businesses’ own cost to respond to the breach, including but not limited to IT Forensic Costs, Credit Monitoring Costs, Cyber Extortion Costs, Data Restoration Costs, Legal Reorientation Expenses, Notification Costs and Public Relations Costs.

2. Third Party Claims The businesses’ liability to third parties arising from a failure to keep data secure, including data held on behalf of businesses by either an outsourced supplier or freelancer, or cloud service provider for which businesses are legally liable. Insurance Coverage is available for claims for compensation by third parties, investigations, defence costs and fines & penalties for breaching the Privacy Act.

3. Business Interruption Reimbursement for businesses’ lost profits resulting from a Business Interruption Event. In a lot of cases policies provide coverage these days not only limited to malicious attacks. Coverage can be made available for Business Interruption Loss arising from unauthorised access, any damage to the business data and/or programs, and any system outage, network interruption or degradation of the businesses’ network.

Laws & regulations governing Cyber & Privacy Risks

There are many laws and obligations which businesses must adhere to in relation to cyber security:

• Privacy Act 1988

• The Information Privacy Act 2014 (ACT)

• Telecommunications Act 1997 and the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979

• National Health Act 1953 (NH Act)

• Data-matching Program (Assistance and Tax) Act 1990

• Crime Act 1914 (Crime Act)

• Anti-Money Laundering and Counter- Terrorism Financing Act 2006(AML/CTF Act)

• Healthcare Identifiers Act 2010 (HI Act)

• Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Act 2012 (PCEHR Act)

• Personal Property Security Act 2009 (PPS Act)

Security is simply managing risk

There are various ways businesses can manage cyber security risk:

• Reducing the risk businesses should seek to put in place procedural, technical and physical controls in order to reduce their exposures.

• Accepting the risk an internal process a business has taken to evaluate the risk versus reward

• Transferring the risk insurance should be seen as an additional layer to the security process, not an alternative

• Avoid the risk When the likelihood and impact from the risk to the business is too high businesses can remove the risk source, for example by deleting old data, deciding not to start or discontinue the activity.

What does Cyber Insurance cover?

Cyber Insurance covers a business for the cyber exposures it faces from both third party claims (for example actions brought by the Privacy Commissioner or clients suing for breach of privacy) and first party cover including Business Interruption and other expenses that might incur as a result of a cyber attack. The first party expenses a business might incur include, but are not limited to, costs to repair or restore systems, credit monitoring services if data has been breached and public relations expenses.

What can I do now to avoid cyber and data privacy risks?

In addition to considering insurance coverage, there is still lots you can do to mitigate potential risks for your business.

Nine Steps to tighten your Cyber Security

1. Network Security Protect your networks against external and internal attack. Manage the network perimeter. Filter out unauthorised access and malicious content. Monitor and test security controls.

2. Malware Protection Produce a relevant policy and establish anti-malware defences that are applicable and relevant to all business areas. Scan for malware across the business.

3. Monitoring Establish a monitoring strategy and produce supporting policies. Continuously monitor all systems and networks. Analyse comprehensively for
unusual activity that could indicate an attack

4. User Education and Awareness Produce user security policies covering acceptable and secure use of the business’s systems. Establish a staff training programme.
Maintain user awareness of cyber risks.

5. Home and Mobile Working Develop a mobile working policy and train staff to adhere  to it. Apply the secure baseline build to all devices. Protect data both in transit and at locations.

6. Secure Configuration Apply security patches and ensure that the secure configuration of all systems is maintained. Create a system inventory and define a baseline build for all devices.

7. Removable Media Controls Produce a policy to control all access to removable media. Limit media types and use. Scan all media for malware before importing on the company system.

8. Managing User Privileges Establish account management processes and limit the number of privileged accounts. Limit user privileges and monitor user activity. Control access to activity and audit logs.

9. Incident Management Establish an incident response and disaster recovery capability. Produce and test incident management plans. Provide specialist training to the incident management team. Report criminal incidents to law enforcement.

Want to learn more or have a question?

Polina Kesov is a specialist in cyber insurance and Director at ii-A www.ii-A.com.au. To find out more about the risks involved in cyber security and what your insurance options are, get in touch for a free consultation with Polina.

The Golden Rules of Goalsetting

Five Rules to Set Yourself Up for Success

Have you thought about what you want to be doing in five years’ time? Are you clear about what your main objective at work is at the moment? Do you know what you want to have achieved by the end of today?

If you want to succeed, you need to set goals. Without goals you lack focus and direction. Goal setting not only allows you to take control of your life’s direction; it also provides you a benchmark for determining whether you are actually succeeding. Think about it: having a million dollars in the bank is only proof of success if one of your goals is to amass riches. If your goal is to practice acts of charity, then keeping the money for yourself is suddenly contrary to how you would define success.

To accomplish your goals, however, you need to know how to set them. You can’t simply say, “I want” and expect it to happen. Goal setting is a process that starts with careful consideration of what you want to achieve, and ends with a lot of hard work to actually do it. In between, there are some very well-defined steps that transcend the specifics of each goal. Knowing these steps will allow you to formulate goals that you can accomplish.

Learn five techniques for setting effective goals.

The Five Golden Rules

1. Set Goals That Motivate You

When you set goals for yourself, it is important that they motivate you: this means making sure that they are important to you, and that there is value in achieving them. If you have little interest in the outcome, or they are irrelevant given the larger picture, then the chances of you putting in the work to make them happen are slim. Motivation is key to achieving goals. Set goals that relate to the high priorities in your life. Without this type of focus, you can end up with far too many goals, leaving you too little time to devote to each one. Goal achievement requires commitment, so to maximize the likelihood of success, you need to feel a sense of urgency and have an “I must do this” attitude. When you don’t have this, you risk putting off what you need to do to make the goal a reality. This in turn leaves you feeling disappointed and frustrated with yourself, both of which are de-motivating. And you can end up in a very destructive “I can’t do anything or be successful at anything” frame of mind.

Tip: To make sure that your goal is motivating, write down why it’s valuable and important to you. Ask yourself, “If I were to share my goal with others, what would I tell them to convince them it was a worthwhile goal?” You can use this motivating value statement to help you if you start to doubt yourself or lose confidence in your ability to actually make the goal happen.

2. Set SMART Goals

You have probably heard of SMART goals already. But do you always apply the rule? The simple fact is that for goals to be powerful, they should be designed to be SMART. There are many variations of what SMART stands for, but the essence is this – goals should be: Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Relevant. Time Bound.

Set Specific Goals

Your goal must be clear and well defined. Vague or generalized goals are unhelpful because they don’t provide sufficient direction. Remember, you need goals to show you the way. Make it as easy as you can to get where you want to go by defining precisely where you want to end up.

Set Measurable Goals

Include precise amounts, dates, and so on in your goals so you can measure your degree of success. If your goal is simply defined as “To reduce expenses” how will you know when you have been successful? In one month’s time if you have a 1 percent reduction or in two years’ time when you have a 10 percent reduction? Without a way to measure your success you miss out on the celebration that comes with knowing you have actually achieved something.

Set Attainable Goals

Make sure that it’s possible to achieve the goals you set. If you set a goal that you have no hope of achieving, you will only demoralize yourself and erode your confidence. However, resist the urge to set goals that are too easy. Accomplishing a goal that you didn’t have to work hard for can be anticlimactic at best, and can also make you fear setting future goals that carry a risk of non-achievement. By setting realistic yet challenging goals, you hit the balance you need. These are the types of goals that require you to “raise the bar” and they bring the greatest personal satisfaction.

Set Relevant Goals

Goals should be relevant to the direction you want your life and career to take. By keeping goals aligned with this, you’ll develop the focus you need to get ahead and do what you want. Set widely scattered and inconsistent goals, and you’ll fritter your time – and your life – away.

Set Time-Bound Goals

Your goals must have a deadline. Again, this means that you know when you can celebrate success. When you are working on a deadline, your sense of urgency increases and achievement will come that much quicker.

3. Set Goals in Writing

The physical act of writing down a goal makes it real and tangible. You have no excuse for forgetting about it. As you write, use the word “will” instead of “would like to” or “might.” For example, “I will reduce my operating expenses by 10 percent this year,” not “I would like to reduce my operating expenses by 10 percent this year.” The first goal statement has power and you can “see” yourself reducing expenses, the second lacks passion and gives you an excuse if you get sidetracked.

Tip 1: Frame your goal statement positively. If you want to improve your retention rates say, “I will hold on to all existing employees for the next quarter” rather than “I will reduce employee turnover.” The first one is motivating; the second one still has a get-out clause “allowing” you to succeed even if some employees leave.

Tip 2: If you use a To-Do List , make yourself a To-Do List template that has your goals at the top of it. If you use an Action Program , then your goals should be at the top of your Project Catalog.

Post your goals in visible places to remind yourself every day of what it is you intend to do. Put them on your walls, desk, computer monitor, bathroom mirror or refrigerator as a constant reminder.

4. Make an Action Plan

This step is often missed in the process of goal setting. You get so focused on the outcome that you forget to plan all of the steps that are needed along the way. By writing out the individual steps, and then crossing each one off as you complete it, you’ll realize that you are making progress towards your ultimate goal. This is especially important if your goal is big and demanding, or long-term. Read our article on Action Plans for more on how to do this.

5. Stick With It!

Remember, goal setting is an ongoing activity, not just a means to an end. Build in reminders to keep yourself on track, and make regular time-slots available to review your goals. Your end destination may remain quite similar over the long term, but the action plan you set for yourself along the way can change significantly. Make sure the relevance, value, and necessity remain high.

Key Points

Goal setting is much more than simply saying you want something to happen. Unless you clearly define exactly what you want and understand why you want it the first place, your odds of success are considerably reduced. By following the Five Golden Rules of Goal Setting you can set goals with confidence and enjoy the satisfaction that comes along with knowing you achieved what you set out to do. So, what will you decide to accomplish today?

Source https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_90.htm

How to Improve your Digital Marketing

1. Be a critical consumer of marketing material

When it comes to Digital Marketing business owners have to be critical consumers of marketing material. What this means is that owners need to ensure that they are examining the digital landscape for best practice and strong strategies for digital marketing. This might involve investigating companies within your industry or brands that you admire and analyzing what they are currently doing in the digital marketplace. In order to launch your own successful digital marketing campaign business owners need to be aware what current digital marketing works and be able to identify what makes a good or bad approach by being a critical consumer who analyses the good and the bad on any approach they find themselves exposed to.

2. Target your audience not everyone

Like conventional marketing you can’t possibly distribute material that will work equally with the entire potential market. Digital marketing depends upon your ability to segment out your customer base and analyse the demographics of those that are most susceptible to your service or product. To do this it is vital that you engage with your customers and record vital data about your interactions. There are a few ways to do this:

A. Seek feedback on your product or service through a means that is easy for customers to engage with such as verbal post booking sales, email surveys (short) or quick post trip phone calls. Easily captured, concise information in large quantities is the best kind of information.

B. Engage with customers across the entire digital landscape such as forums, social media (Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, TripAdvisor, Pinterest), email or through blog/website comments. It is vital that you store the information you gather.  Useful tools for monitoring your social media are Hootsuite, Sprinklr and Sprout Social.

C. Have a positive and consistent approach to dealing with complaints.

D. Conduct marketing research (small in scope, looking for specific answers) and feasibility assessments. A great set of tools for conducting small scale yet excellent market research are Google Trends and Google Surveys.

A digital marketing strategy that has all of this information at its disposal is that much more likely to have a higher rate of conversion and thus a higher chance of increasing your profit.

3. Talk to your customers the way they like

This point ties closely into targeting your audience however it is vital as there really is no point conducting a digital marketing campaign that isn’t seen. While most internet user surveys show that people prefer to receive marketing material via email as opposed to mail outs or phone calls there are large swathes of the population who find applications with ‘push notifications’ (Popup notifications about sales and discounts) and social media sales (limited time period) to be the best sales method. Those types of marketing systems target the often untapped market of the millennials.

4. Understand how Google and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) impact your digital marketing

Fully understanding how websites are ranked and tracked by the various search engines (Google, Bing and Yahoo etc) is a complicated subject area. With that being said a company doesn’t need a huge budget to improve their SEO. Below is a list of four methods that any person with an intermediate level of web design knowledge could look at to improve their websites Search Engine Optimisation.

  1. Structure: It is vital that your website contains the standard structure of most websites this includes such things as a site map, about us section, contact us section, services page. A great thing about this particular element is that most website design tools such as WordPress have templates that come stock built with the basic structures required for beginning web design. A further improvement could be to look at where your users are landing and to improve those major draws; this can be investigated using a tool such as Google Analytics.
  1. Content: A simple and yet hugely effective method of improving your SEO rankings is through producing high quality content on your website. This could be as simple as producing a high quality blog that utilises excellent industry keyword usage or more advanced methods like unique, branded tags and page descriptions. A great article that talks about the simple ways to improve SEO is provided by Xero the cloud accounting software provider. Click this link to check it out SEO For Small Business.
  1. Keywords: Keywords and how to use them is something that always comes up during any discussion about SEO and often there is too much value assigned to them. It is important to note that using too many keywords can be just as detrimental if not more so than using not enough to your websites ranking and search mapping. Keyword usage should be treated strategically; every page should not be stuffed with keywords that may not even make sense in the context of the page. Keywords should be used correctly, in context and only when it’s appropriate. A great way to use them is to tie them into the meta-tags on pages or include them in the content tags/categories and in image titles.  If you aren’t sure what keywords you should be using tools like Keyword Planner or Google Trends as mentioned earlier could be a great beginning step.
  1. Ease of access: The final short tip is to ensure that your website is accessible through the most common browsers and devices. In particular there has been a recent shift in SEO algorithms to prioritize those websites that have a functional mobile website. This is because recent internet statistics have shown that the mobile web browsing volume is growing at a substantially quicker rate than traditional web browsing.

5. Understand Pay Per Click advertising

Pay Per Click advertising is an excellent tool for targeting specific audiences based off their keyword searches. That being said it can be costly, business owners must very selective on the market that they want to target and how much they want to invest. Below is some useful information regarding Pay Per Click advertising:

  • You are only charged when a customer clicks on your ad and follows through to your website.
  • You can track the source of each click in detail due to a tracking code.
  • You can be very specific on who your ad targets.
  • You can trial a variety of keywords for minimal cost.

One simple but often overlooked complication about Pay Per Click advertising is the fact that while a customer may land on your website the conversion rate of that traffic to sale and therefore profit is dependent upon your website content.

This article is just a small taste and reminder about the basics to digital marketing. For further information regarding this topic it might be worth going back and reading the below articles:

1. Mass Marketing With A Twist: Data-Driven Electronic Direct Mail (eDM) Campaigns

2. 5 Great Ways to Improve your Social Media Presence

Managing Change – Three Ways To Manage Change In Your Business

Any business that is serious about innovation and growth will have to master the ability to manage change because innovation will always lead to change. Before we get into the five points of the article, it’s important to provide a little context regarding change management in business and why it is such a huge area for improvement.

A PwC Report in 2013 from the Katzenbach Center with over 2,200 participants from various levels of business highlighted that the global success rate of major change initiatives is only 54% and 65% of employees feel pressured to adapt to too many changes at once. Already we can see that managing change is a difficult process as just over half succeed and more than half of employees feel pressured by change. Furthermore 48% of respondents stated that their company’s lacked the skills to ensure that change could be sustained. While an astounding 44% of survey participants reported to not understanding the changes they were expected to make. With these seemingly damning results the conclusion from the report was that any change management process should focus on being culturally driven from the top down and should be characterised by open communication and clear purpose.

With this information in mind here are three ways to improve your ability to manage change successfully in your business.

1. Drive Change Through Culture

In the Katzenbach Center report it was outlined that 84% of respondents believed that an organisation’s culture was vital to the success of the managing change. What this points to is that it is vital when aiming to make any long term changes within your business to consider the culture of your organisation and to understand that any significant change will be affected by the culture. With that being said a great way to try to drive change with your culture is by getting your employees excited about the changes by outlining their personal opportunities for development and growth during the process. Nothing motivates people more than showing them the personal benefit in what they are doing.

Another approach that could be used is to create a ‘Cultural Change Board’ to help drive change. This board would be made up of key individuals within your business who hold influential positions and importance to the culture of the company. While the owner or director and managers may be driving the strategic implementation of the change, this board would help get the rest of the employees on board. An example of individuals that might be a part of this group could be an individual who has great personal relationships across the whole business; this individual could be asked to get the others excited about the transformation by talking about its benefits. Another individual might be a long term employee who can add some perspective on how the employees and business are going with the transformation to the executive and managers. Another individual might be a young, innovative manager who is typically known as an ‘ideas’ individual. All three members of your ‘Cultural Change Board’ should liaise with management to convey the opinions and feelings about the process transformation. This technique not only opens up a strong line of communication between the staff and management but also helps to more firmly connect the change to the culture, as other employees will see these influential staff members as willing participants. If you can successfully use your businesses culture to drive the changes you want to implement your chances of success and long term adoption increase significantly.

 2Role Modelling From The Top Down

This step of the change management process seems to be very simple but its value cannot be overestimated. It is imperative that from day one of the transformation process that the desired process changes are integrated into the daily processes of all relevant employees. This goes from the most junior floor staff all the way through to the director or board members.

Role Modelling of the new processes in manager and staff daily routines has a twofold effect. Firstly employees that see their leaders undertaking the process changes will feel inclined to participate themselves. Seeing your manager or director undertaking the proposed changes creates a personal accountability for the changes in each employee. The second effect is that employees that see others undertaking the new changes in their daily routines will have a support network to draw upon. If individuals are unsure of how to execute the process or change they need only look at their neighbour and mimic their execution.

Obviously this point is very self-explanatory but the impact of not holistically carrying out the changes across all levels of the business cannot be overstated. A lack of consistent engagement with the changes will kill the transformation very quickly.

3. Fully Engaging With Change

Engagement with the proposed changes goes beyond simply telling employees to undertake the process changes or modelling them yourself. Engaging with change is a process that is enriched by structured communication. Some businesses when undertaking significant change will hold large ‘Town Hall’ style meetings. At these meetings employees from all levels of the company are invited to discuss how the changes would impact them.

Another method of opening up communication and increasing engagement would be to host IC (Innovation and Change) Meetings where a smaller numbers of employees would meet with their direct managers and discuss how the changes impact them, how they (changes) will help them and talk about how they will go about implementing the changes. These smaller meetings are great opportunities for management to get a feel for how their employees are dealing with the changes and to get a macro view of the transformation process.

A fantastic idea for managing change that was used by a global publishing house was hosting an Internal Change Fair. This fair basically brought together all the various departments and management teams to produce a short presentation or display that highlighted how the changes were being introduced and managed going forward. It provides a great way for individual departments to showcase innovative thinking and for driving change by making it slightly competitive amongst employees.

Change management is vital to any evolving small-medium enterprise; never forget that change starts at the top and that most people struggle with it. The role of the manager is to facilitate the easiest pathway for their employees to adapt.

Sun Tzu’s Art of War As A Model For Business Management

Sun Tzu’s Art Of War As A Model For Business Management

The responsibility of being a manager is not something to take lightly at any level of the command structure, whether you are a team leader, department head, store manager, regional manager, general manager or executive your importance to the success of a business is critical. A manager’s role is critical because it is they and they alone who must prepare, select and manage the metaphorical battlegrounds that the business is looking to engage in.

At this point many of you may be wondering what Sun Tzu, an ancient Chinese military general has to do with business management…Well his treatise The Art of War, has and is still regarded by many military and business figures as being critical reading material for those who have to manage people, change and overcome obstacles or challenges. The Art of War has been used countless times by influential business figures, writers and teachers to teach basic management skills and behaviors. Just a few examples of business books based off Sun Tzu’s teachings are:

  • Khoo Kheng-Hor’s, Sun Tzu & Management
  • Gerald A. Michaelson’s, Sun Tzu – The Art of War for Managers: 50 Strategic Rules Updated for Today’s Business
  • Mark R McNeilly’s, Sun Tzu and the Art of Business: Six Strategic Principles For Manages
  • Donald G. Krause’s, The Art of War for Executives: Ancient Knowledge For Today’s Business Professional.

Bearing that in mind we will now outline the five principles that any manager or business owner should follow whether they are at work or on the battlefield…

1. Capture your market without destroying it or yourself

Sun Tzu:Generally in war, the best policy is to take a state intact; to ruin it is inferior to this…Do not put a premium on killing. To capture the enemy’s army is better than to destroy it…For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the peak of skill, to subdue the enemy without fighting is the peak of skill”

Sun Tzu’s teaching is very clear that it is better to capture your market without having to destroy it or destroy yourself. The goal of any business should be to survive and prosper but to do this a company must aim to capture and secure a hold on their market. This means that the business must drive from the market or diminish their enemy’s role in it. Companies can do this in many different ways but some of them are:

  • Attacking under-served areas of the market.
  • Use marketing campaigns to draw a response from competitors that can then be countered quickly and effectively.
  • Enriching customer service or service quality to improve your market reputation.
  • Engaging more actively with social media and community marketing events.
  • Engaging in more detailed data analysis of the wants and desires of your target market to better isolate and capture your customers.

The most important thing about whatever method of approach you take to capturing your market is that it is not destructive. As Sun Tzu says “to subdue the enemy without fighting is the peak of skill” or in other words, it is better to capture your market through alternative methods than engaging your competitors in direct, aggressive price wars as it not only damages your own bottom line but as a whole reduces the profitability of your market. Where is the logical sense in seeking to destroy something artificially that you wish to possess? Sun Tzu’s teachings encourage business owners to think beyond the simple goal or result. He emphasises that sometimes the most direct solution is not always the best.

2. Avoid your competitor’s strength and attack their weakness

Sun Tzu: “An army may be likened to water, for just as flowing water avoids the heights and hastens to the lowlands, so an army should avoid strength and strike at weakness”

This quote is perhaps the most easily understood of all those featured within this article because it counters the prevalent business idea that the only way to defeat your competitor is to take away his primary income. Sun Tzu is saying that armies or in our case businesses should not target where their competitor is strongest but in fact where they are weakest. To give a real world example. If you owned a travel agency and your nearest competitor was one of the strongest of your peers in their airline sales due to their huge discounting and extensive corporate flight networks, you would be better off targeting and stripping away their large but weaker (more highly priced) car rental packages as a point of attack. To try to compete with their discounting would diminish the profit of the flights for both businesses and also force you to outlay large amounts of capital to cover the discounts. Whereas the car rental packages you offer are already cheaper so you would just have to invest the time to develop an effective marketing campaign to pull clients away from your competitor.

Sun Tzu’s logic regarding attacking a competitor’s weakest point taps into the idea behind the ancient Chinese torture Lingchi or “Death by a thousand cuts”. While destroying your opponent’s largest business area would effectively defeat them, at what cost to you and the market would this occur? Stripping away all of the smaller and seemingly insignificant other business areas will cripple their business just as surely as a thousand small cuts would eventually kill your enemy. It is these considerations of strategy and end goal that a manager must consider.

3. Use Foreknowledge and deception to maximise the power of business intelligence

Sun Tzu: “Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril”

This lesson from Sun Tzu is all about knowledge or as we would call it in the modern business environment…data. Any business that wishes to overcome their competitors and truly dominate and understand their business environment must make data driven systems and approaches a focal point of their business. For some businesses this will be collecting customer data, analysing sales figures from specific campaigns or assessing staff conversion rates. That being said other businesses and managers; those truly wishing to be victorious and increase their profits might look at more advanced analytics, modelling and industry wide benchmarking or even predictive analytics for their marketing or purchasing campaigns. Every manager must know that knowledge is power and increased power for the savvy business owner or manager results in increased profits.

For more information regarding financial benchmarking, dashboards or setting up more advanced analytics please feel free to contact us.
4. Use speed and preparation to swiftly overcome the competition

Sun Tzu: “To rely on rustics and not prepare is the greatest of crimes; to be prepared beforehand for any contingency is the greatest of virtues”

This lesson ties directly into the previous lesson because for a manager to effectively take advantage of “foreknowledge” (Data) you must make your business into one that can exploit an opportunity or weakness; efficiently and quickly. In essence what Sun Tzu is saying is that business managers must aim to have their company’s well planned and agile in order to quickly react to sudden opportunities in the marketplace while also ensuring that the business has a long term vision that is well thought out and planned in advance. Ensuring that your company uses agile project planning methodologies could be the difference between making money and losing money.

There will be an article in the coming months covering the agile project management methodology.

5. Develop your character as a leader to maximise the potential of your employees

Sun Tzu: “When one treats people with benevolence, justice and righteousness, and reposes confidence in them, the army will be united in mind and all will be happy to serve their leaders”

A truly great leader who can develop and showcase these strategic concepts will maximise the potential of their employees. Sun Tzu is saying that a manager’s job is not only to demand the best from their staff but also from themselves. To do this a manager should first and foremost be reflective on their own duty and should always aim to be “first in the toils and fatigues of the army (workforce)” or in other words always be willing to work as hard as or harder than any of your staff. There should never be a job that you delegate that you, yourself wouldn’t be willing to do. Sun Tzu says that the leaders that truly inspire their troops (employees) place their own needs, ego and concerns behind those of their employees. A leader must in essence be exactly that, a guiding force from the front rather than a looming figure overlooking his or her staff.

The ideal character of an inspirational leader Sun Tzu characterizes as someone who is wise, consistent, honest, humane and courageous while also being strict.

So in summary while this article may not be showing particularly innovative managing approaches it is important to remember that sometimes to move forward we must first look at the past to understand the foundation of future action. Sun Tzu’s management concepts are timeless and if applied correctly can help managers increase their businesses profitability and their own professional practice.

Email Management: The Key To Workplace Efficiency

Email is one of the great contradictions of the modern workplace. Not only is email one of the largest drivers of productivity but it is also one of its most frequent obstacles. This is because while email is one of the most vital tools for any business owner or employee due to its ability to facilitate immediate communication, this immediacy is often also highly distracting and obstructing for deliverables. The process of managing your emails is a repetitive task that almost all workers must undertake to carry out their duties effectively. With that being said it is a thin line between obsessively controlling your email and being controlled by your email. To help people with this admittedly difficult task we have included in this article some tips for managing your email more effectively.

Control Your Email – Don’t Be Controlled

Some people will obsessively check their email to action, archive, prioritise and reply to any new email they receive. While others will wait until their inbox piles up with a sufficient number of unanswered emails that it motivates them to action them all by close of business or end of the week. While not everyone falls into one of these two management styles both are equally damaging to productivity and workplace efficiency. Constantly checking email can disrupt your train of thought or ‘work-flow’ thus impacting deliverables, while not checking or actioning your email can delay deliverables and cause communication issues.

Below are four excellent ways to ensure that you are controlling your email and not the other way around:

1) Restrict when and how many times you check your email during the course of a day. For example checking and actioning your email three times a day (Morning, Lunch and Afternoon) can help boost productivity by preventing distraction.

2) Establish email filters that automatically sort and categorise your received mail by the level of priority to prevent wasting time individually organising and sorting your new emails.

3) Restrict your email software from notifying you with audio tracks or visual prompts to further reduce the chance of being distracted from your working rhythm.

4) Create an automatic reply which informs people when you will be actively checking and actioning your emails.

Creating A Prioritising System

While most people will attempt to prioritise and action emails relatively quickly many people can’t or don’t. With that in mind, it is important to consider how much time you spend actioning emails each day as it can detract from delivering and as the old business adage goes  “time is money!”. This is why it is vital to master the ability to prioritise. There are dozens of ways to make email prioritisation more effective but we will discuss a few of them by using a brief hypothetical example.

Scenario

Contact: “Dave – Telstra – IT Support” Dave sends me more than a dozen emails a week and sometimes quite a few per day. His emails vary from those that can be actioned within a minute (simple requests) or more complicated projects and issues that may require a week or more of work. Dave manages a large team of staff who also liaise with me and as such I am often cc’d into many emails simply so I am informed.

Example Priority System

With Dave and the example in mind I have created a priority system whereby various levels of emails and requests are filed, categorised and scheduled. For example “Urgent” requests or those needing to be completed within a day or two are always filed within my “Urgent” folder or label, less significant emails to be actioned within a week or two are filed into the “Pending” folder or label. If an action or email is “On Hold” then I refile it into my “On Hold” folder or label. These folder or label structures are systematic and are applied to all my clients and contacts…always with no exceptions.

Consistently applying priority divisions using folders or labels can be a great first step towards controlling your email priorities.  Another useful organisational folder or label to use is “To Read”. Any emails where you are a cc or bcc receiver could be filed into the “To Read” folder. The best method to do this is not to waste time reading the whole email as your receive it but instead skim over it to determine if it is an urgent or actionable email and then file them to fully read later. In order for this simple folder or label system to work it is important to have a means to keep track of tasks and actionable deadlines within your email.

A great way to keep track of your emails is by utilising the built-in calendars most email services provide. Both Google and Outlook, in particular, have excellent calendars with a high level of functionality for setting reminders, colour coding, flagging etc. Being able to set reminders at later dates for specific emails can be great for time management and preventing yourself from being bogged down in your new emails. For example entering “To Read – Dave – Data Error 2/2/016” into a calendar tells you firstly who it is from (Folder – Dave), what it is roughly about and the date it was received. The date on your calendar is the date you need to action that email. While setting the reminders will take a small amount of time it is worth it for the organisational gains.

A more advanced method of email prioritisation could also be by creating email filters that automatically move and label emails as soon as you receive them. Almost every email service provider offers this functionality. An example of this might be that Dave sends me a daily email with the subject line “Report – Successful Data Connections”. This report requires no actions normally but is more for reference on an ad hoc basis as needed. To control this email I establish a filter within my Gmail to archive those reports automatically to the “Data Connections Report” folder or label. This means I have one less email in my inbox but it stores them effectively for use later if needed. There are many tutorials available online for creating filters but I have included links to two of the most popular services Gmail and Outlook.
Gmail: https://support.google.com/mail/answer/6579?hl=en

Outlook:https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Manage-email-messages-by-using-rules-50307363-0e79-4f6a-95c0-04b922a2ff13

It is important to remember that you have to find a system that makes sense to you and works for your purposes. Any priority system will be unique to each user but the most important things to remember are consistency, organising folders or labels and where you can automated reply’s and filters.

Fostering Positive Email Behaviours

One often underrated element of training and documentation in businesses is Email protocols. Establishing email protocols and standards of communication across your business can be very effective at limiting your internal email bloat. This could be as simple as formalising communication paths such as;

Emails to upper management from staff must run through their manager who then forward or action them to upper management
(Staff – Manager – Upper Management). Having this formalised within a memo or as part of a wider reaching training session would be helpful.

Another simple protocol that could be put in place is establishing a live chat application within your business such as WhatsApp or Skype. Often an email request that requires a very short response (less than 2 minutes) could be completed by a short, one line instant message that takes half the time to notice and reply to. Providing a means for employees to communicate without calling or physically communicating (interrupting another person) can be extremely beneficial to reducing email management demands.

In summary, email management is a vital component of any business or workplace. Business and workers that learn to more efficiently manage their email will see an improvement in their overall work productivity.

Daring To Dash…Business Intelligence Dashboards

This article will discuss what a business intelligence dashboard is, some of its benefits for small business owners and some of the difficulties dashboards face for large scale adoption among small to medium enterprises.

What is a business intelligence dashboard?

A business intelligence dashboard at its most basic is a piece of software that displays important information about your business in real time. A dashboard system automatically processes data from your business’s major systems (e.g. point of sales systems, customer relationship management software, accounting software, staff rostering software etc) and presents that data securely to you in a visual format in real time.

On business intelligence dashboards the metrics that may be displayed can vary greatly from business to business as it depends on the owners/managements needs and the available outputs from their internal systems (Where the dashboard gets all its data from). Some metrics that may be displayed might be sales (daily/weekly/monthly comparisons), number of sales (by department or store and or comparisons), revenue, net profit, gross profit, costs, transactions per staff or countless others.

Below you can find a generic example of what a business intelligence dashboard may look:

Demo Dashboard

 

What are the benefits of having a business intelligence dashboard?

A professionally constructed and implemented dashboard can be a very powerful tool for owners and management to monitor and improve their businesses. Just three of the major benefits of operating a business intelligence dashboard are:

1) Information Accessibility: A dashboard consolidates a large proportion of meaningful data that businesses produce. A dashboard makes the collection and aggregation of the data easy often displaying multiple systems worth of data in one to two pages using graphs and tables. The process of analysing data which may have taken days or weeks to gather and analyse before can be done in real time, as often as business operators would like from either their computer or mobile devices via the internet.

2) Business Improvement: A dashboard makes business improvement and strategic planning easy as it places all the information managers need right on their computer monitor or mobile phone. A dashboard provides all the analytic and comparative data needed to improve and review business practices. Without data a business can’t improve itself, a dashboard supplies the data needed in an easily accessed and reviewed manner.

3) Reduced Administration Time: A dashboard reduces the need for staff or managers to store, aggregate and analyse data that the business generates. Gone are the days of generating countless reports or creating complicated Excel analysis matrixes. The dashboard automatically processes the data directly from business systems and presents it in a ready to use format.

These are only some of the many benefits of a sophisticated business intelligence dashboard; other tangible benefits may include: Modernisation of record keeping systems, employee performance improvement, visual goal tracking, comparative analysis, data that is mentally easier to process.

What are some difficulties with implementing a dashboard?

There are always difficulties when implementing a new technology into a business, the two major difficulties for business intelligence dashboards are the selection of the dashboard’s metrics and of course the construction of the dashboard.

1) Metrics Selection: A dashboard being an informational tool is only as effective as the information it is told to display. What this means is that business owners and developers have to be thoughtful and informed about what are the “key” business metrics for your business and also what are the underlying metrics for those key data sets. For example, if a key metric for your travel agency is sales then important underlying metrics that might need to be displayed could be number of leads produced/used, quotes/invoices sent, uptake rate of quotes, sale closure rate and or average transaction value. What data your dashboard displays will vary greatly depending on your business industry and needs so it is something that should be thought about in detail prior to contracting a developer.

2) Dashboard Design: Building a dashboard is a sophisticated and detailed process which requires expert knowledge and superb technical skills. This is because a dashboard needs to not only gather all your important information automatically but also analyse and display it in real time. Luckily for business owners and managers there are some very capable business intelligence companies out there such as Resurg which can cater for their dashboard needs. If you are interested in possibly discussing or implementing a dashboard for your business check out our dashboard page and give us a call or email us.

Aim For The Clouds: Cloud Computing In Small-Medium Enterprises

This month the innovation article will be focusing on Cloud Computing. We will be talking about what it is, how it works, a major misconception about cloud computing to do with security and why it is important to small-medium businesses.

What is ‘the cloud’?  How does it work?

To put it simply the cloud is a term used in technology to define any service or storage system that is accessed through a network (Internet) from a different location. Unlike the name implies the cloud doesn’t just float around on the internet; the data or services are stored on immensely powerful servers within large, ultra secure data centres (Picture a warehouse full of servers). The types of cloud based services can range from simple storage services such as Google Drive/Dropbox to more sophisticate client record management systems such as Salesforce or even companies that offer complete ‘virtualisation’ which basically means all your software is run from their centre and streamed to your office systems. Those are just a small amount of the potential uses for cloud computing; their potential as a means for innovation and change is outstanding. To further explain how these types of systems work it is helpful to use the example of a cloud computing service we are all familiar with such as the internet banking website/app almost all banks offer their clients.

Example: The process of starting your internet banking app/website while being connected to the internet is the beginning of your cloud interaction. By entering your identification ID and pin you identify who you are to the data centre’s servers so they can do the hard work of retrieving the correct information for you. Any changes or actions you undertake to your account is conveyed to the servers where the changes are made and saved. The cloud nature of this interaction is that you can access your account from anywhere on any compatible device as long as you have a stable network connection (internet) and your required identification or passwords.

Put another way, utilising a cloud storage service or a cloud computing solution is like having access to a safe deposit box that is not only accessible anytime and anywhere but also like having an army of workers available to you to undertake complicated tasks related to the contents of that deposit box. The cloud is about more than just storage it is about utilising the processing power of these data centres to allow small, medium and large companies to undertake colossal tasks, easier and more affordably.

Misconception About Cloud Computing Security 

Within business particularly the small-medium enterprise market there remains some hesitance regarding cloud based services. The major cause for the hesitance for adopting cloud based solutions is fear. Companies fear that there are security issues by having information stored offsite and accessible over the internet. There are some obvious misconceptions fuelling these fears and a lack of understanding about the power, significance and potential of adopting a cloud based approach for your technology needs.

To dissolve this fear about security we have to consider the simple fact that the data centres used for major cloud computing operations are the banks of the digital age. Major data centres (Such as Equinox in Sydney and others) contain huge amounts of sensitive data from the private sector (banks, lawyers, financial services) and even government data. These data centres are almost always highly secure digitally and physically. A simple Google search investigating the security of these centres will show that most have 24/7 security guards, CCTV, gates, fences, pass cards, pin codes or even biometric scanning systems. On top of this all data centres always have disaster plans in place, whereby they are able to still operate or transfer your data to another centre in the event of emergencies. That is just the usual physical security features, almost all data centres also have full time staff who maintain the condition of the servers and also deal with any cyber security threats. In fact the hardware in the centres themselves is often specifically designed to be very difficult to hack into, certainly much harder than hacking into an office network or computer.

At this point after discussing what cloud computing services are, how they work and the major barrier to their adoption you might be asking yourself why is cloud computing important to small-medium enterprises? The answer is not simple in that because of their versatility and potential they can fulfil a number of roles for small to medium sized companies. That being said in a study conducted by MYOB, Australia’s most prevalent business management software provider over 1,000 organisations identified their reasons for utilising cloud based systems, which were:

– The ability to work on our data whenever and wherever we want (42%)

– Allows for one or more team members to work remotely when needed while maintaining work continuity (28%)

– Allows the company to reduce the number of IT issues they have to fix (26%)

– Their data was more protected within a cloud based system than on their own servers (23%)

– Reduced their IT software and support costs (18%)

– Allows real time connectivity to other sources of data accessible over network (e.g. banking details loaded into the cloud) (16%)

– Provides faster networking and processing than previous system (15%)

– Reduced cost and increased flexibility with IT software and services (15%)

– Removes the need to maintain and install software on office systems (15%)

* Information adapted and used from the MYOB Industry Research paper titled Australia SMEs & Cloud Computing

 

Upon reviewing these reasons given by leading SMEs who utilise cloud based services it can easily be seen how and why they can be so important to companies that want to grow and innovate their business.

Innovation In The SME Environment: Success As A Workplace Culture And Hurdles To Innovation

Rather than being ‘nice to have’, innovation should be a vital element in the way SMEs conduct business, collaborate and deliver to their customers.”
Joined-Up Innovation: Culturing Success, p. 3; Pip Marlow (Managing Director – Microsoft Australia).

Part 1 – Barriers To Innovation For Laggard and Cruiser Companies
Just as Pip Marlow stated in the research paper preamble we at Resurg firmly believe that innovation should be at the heart of business practice. This is part of the reason that we strive to offer our clients services that will innovate their business practices and provide tangible results. We do this by offering our business coaching and work groups services that offer business owners opportunities to discuss and implement best practice and innovation with the help of experts and their peers. On top of this we also aim to arm business owners with the data and information they need to drive change and improvement in their business through our benchmarking and dash boarding services. That being said enough about us; lets talk about how workplace culture and purposeful strategic decisions can encourage and discourage innovation and growth.

In the Joined-Up Innovation: Culturing Success research paper Microsoft surveyed and interviewed over 500 SMEs and their employees. This research made them categorise 33% percent of the sample as Leaders in innovation, 43% percent as Cruisers and 24% as Laggards. These numbers while just a small sample of the Australian SME environment highlight a surprising fact, innovation is actively pursued in 76% of companies interviewed. What this means is that just wanting to innovate and having an idea or two isn’t setting you above the curve, in fact it makes companies just average. So if that is the case let’s talk about the differences between Leaders, Cruisers and Laggards as Microsoft characterises them and how they can transition between those categories.

The Laggards
Microsoft characterised a Laggard as any company that had little to no desire for innovation. These companies may be profitable and they may even have a modicum of success which gives them little perceived incentive for innovating. That being said three common factors holding the laggards back were:

  • A lack of trust between employees and leadership,
  • Business structures that are linear and traditional
  • A sense of apathy.

To begin with let’s talk about the Laggard’s lack of trust. This element is primarily to do with organisations not trusting their employees expertise and as a result not allowing them to think creatively and critically to find new solutions for fear of failure or detrimental impact. Not allowing employees time or resources to explore ‘out of the box’ solutions diminishes their self perceived value in the workplace and makes the culture of the organisation potentially one of blame sharing. What this means is that when something goes wrong (And they will when innovating!) people produce excuses out of fear rather than taking ownership and creating solutions. This lack of trust can only truly be combated by fostering an open and communicative workplace where experimentation is encouraged and where all ideas are considered and valued. A method to encourage this failure free and open environment could range from providing an employee ‘suggestion box’ to holding team or company meetings where problems and goals are discussed.

The second issue regarding linear and traditional business structures is really about companies failing to allocate resources for innovation.  What this usually looks like in companies is that budgetary funds and personnel are often given to those individuals or departments that are purely assessed on KPIs. Often these business structures will have a very top down organisation where upper management dictates methods and means for staff to fulfil their jobs, diminishing their expertise. It is often the case that these traditional structures mean that money and resources are often dedicated to purely short term benefits (current deliverables) and not to providing or improving long term benefits (future deliverables). This cultural and structural issue links directly into the last barrier to innovation within Laggard organisations which is a deep residing sense of apathy. Two methods of fighting this particular barrier is to experiment with flat and more transparent management structures, where there are high levels of communication between leadership and staff. The second method that might work is simply creating a metric or policy where small amounts of time are dedicated to innovation or self reflective job journaling. Many large and highly successful multinationals especially within the technology sector now provide employees with up to or more than an hour a day of time to work on personal projects they think might benefit the long term goals of the company. One such company that employs this non traditional business structure is Google, a company that does not suffer from apathy for innovation, that is for certain.

It is the apathy for innovation which can be most difficult to remove from a Laggard company. This is for the simple fact that it requires not only changing employee’s mindset in regards to their roles but also changing the psychology of the leaders of the company. The apathy is created when the leadership of the company and its staff see no reasonable incentive to innovate (profit or reward) and they only perceive potential negatives at attempting to innovate (fear of failure and loss of resources). This barrier would be most aptly described as the “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” barrier. Companies that operate with ‘relative’ success or profitability, control a niche market or demographic or are simply small will often suffer from this mindset. In fact it was found in regards to company size that from the paper only 35% of businesses with up to four staff conducted innovative activities in comparison to 63% of companies with 20-199 employees. These relatively successful, niche and smaller companies are missing out on potential revenue by not looking to grow and improve their services. While apathy is difficult to cure especially if the ambition isn’t there it can be diminished by simple things such as incentive programs to reward innovation.

The above summarises the major barriers to innovation for companies that have little to no interest in innovation based off Microsoft’s research, which was a minority. The largest group in the study the Cruisers face interesting challenges in their own right.

The Cruisers
While the issues of the Laggards may seem difficult even ‘successful’ innovators are faced with issues, in particular the issue of delivery.  The Cruiser companies were characterised as having significant interest in innovative practices and may even have significant plans or ideas for the business underway but struggle to execute those plans (For the phases of development for working on an innovation project read this article). The reasons that the Cruiser’s innovation and changes often fell apart were broken down into three specific issues, which were:

  • Issues with the delivery pipeline
  • A frightened workplace culture
  • A lack of transparency and stability for employees

The first barrier regarding issues with the innovation delivery pipeline was characterised as often being due to the lack of resources and commitment. To use an old adage, the Cruisers very rarely gave it “110%”. Companies that were branded as Cruiser’s often showed an unwillingness to divert resources and expertise from regular workloads and projects. They did this often because they saw only the maintaining and growing of their traditional incomes as the priority for their business models. Inextricably tied to this particular issue is the second issue regarding a frightened workplace culture. This is twofold in that it pertains not only to employees being afraid of making mistakes on potentially costly innovative undertakings but it also relates to leadership being afraid to potentially sacrifice staff and income for “potential” long term gains from ‘risky’ innovative activities.  Companies that do not surmount this one-two punch of unwillingness to commit and being afraid of failing are often eventually relegated to being Laggards, as each successive failure or budgetary blowout for a new project is seen as evidence for the failure of innovation rather than a price of being cutting edge. This then slowly but surely entrenches the “let’s stick with what we know” mentality which eventually coalesces into a deep abiding sense of apathy.

At the end of the day an unwillingness to commit and a fear of failure on a companywide level can only be combated by two things; courage and planning. Any successful innovation project will only occur if it is planned, evaluated and implemented at a high level in a holistic and macro level. As to the courage part of the solution the answer is both simple and terrifying, as Winston Churchill the famous British politician said “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is courage to continue that counts”.

The final barrier to innovation within Cruiser organisations from the research report is both a structural issue and a cultural issue. Employees who lack an understanding of how their roles fit into the overall strategic mission of the company or project will not feel a sense of purpose or assurance of job security. By communicating to staff the objective of any innovative undertaking and creating a clear picture for staff that they are vital in that undertaking companies are opening up a number of positive opportunities. Firstly they are confirming for staff that they are necessary and valued team members whose work has greater meaning to the company other than immediate deliverables. Secondly they are providing employees with the ability to not just look at their tasks in a micro and isolated manner, they are allowing them to look at the whole problem and potentially use their prior knowledge and expertise to solve the much larger problem or objective. Indeed some of the greatest innovations can come from employees being given greater understanding of a company’s strategic plan and allowing them the job security to explore solutions to problems without the threat of being fired or reprimanded for it. One example of this in the business world would be Google’s recent development of an interface that allows users to determine if their house is a good candidate for solar panels. This was a side project by a engineer who saw that Google wanted to expand their environmental engineering contributions and used his knowledge of their mapping technology to make this possible.

So now that you know what the Laggards and Cruisers within the domain of innovation look like, let’s have a look at the Leaders. In the next part of the article we will be briefly outlining some of the strategies used by those who Microsoft characterised as Leader’s of innovation.

Part 2 – The Leader’s of Innovation

So far we have talked about two of the major categorising groups presented in Microsoft’s research into innovation; these were the Cruisers and the Laggards. From now on the article will be focusing upon talking about what makes the business practices and workplace culture of the top innovators (Leaders) so successful. The Leader’s in the research paper were characterised as being companies who are actively innovating within “dynamic and open workplace cultures” (p. 7). The paper further characterises Leaders as those who have an awareness of the need to innovate, a drive to innovate for the betterment of their customer outcomes not just their profits and those who have the internal structures and resources to effectively collect and deliver on ideas from staff and customers. With that brief explanation out of the way bear with us as we explore the often nebulous and tricky world of navigating and managing and implementing workplace culture and strategies to foster success and innovation.

Whenever any business writer or consultant is looking to talk about workplace culture there are always a number of reactions these range from boredom to confusion or frustration. All of these myriad of reactions are due to the fact that workplace culture is one of the most integral factors to a business’s success and it is also one of the hardest to manage and change. Now rather than begin with a rather wordy and over complicated explanation of what an innovative workplace culture should look like, I’m just going to present some deceptively simple dot points and then discuss them. So without further ado here are just seven of the most vital elements to a workplace culture as displayed and reported by Leader’s within the SME environment in regards to encouraging success and innovation:

A SME that is characterised as a Leader of innovation will possess a culture that is/has:
1) Non traditional leadership and communication hierarchies

2) Open communication pathways

3) No fear of failure

4) Flexible work agreements and conditions

5) A business vision that is clear to employees

6) A clear innovation project planning pipeline from start to delivery

7) Employing creative and team friendly staff

All of these elements are integral to fostering a work culture which will maximise a company’s ability to safely and successfully innovate their business practices and as a result improve outcomes for themselves and customers. With that being said some of those strategies are exceptionally broad and business owners may find it confronting when planning how to enact those changes in their businesses. With that in mind the next section will now be seven dot points which will provide one suggestion for fostering that change in your business. Some of them may seem simple or even familiar  as they may have already been discussed earlier in the article or in previous articles here.

1) Flat management structures or micro structures where the staff roundtable ideas and planning with leadership. This is an innovative structure popular with smaller companies as it reduces middle management and facilitates more efficient and healthier communication with staff to those that dictate company strategy.

2) Daily or weekly micro meetings discussing objectives, goals and problems; these meetings should be upon supporting collaborative problem solving. These meetings should also be held relatively informally to foster a safe and relaxed environment to brainstorm and problem solve within. Lastly and most importantly staff should feel free to express ideas as there is no such thing as a bad idea as one of my old university lecturers was fond of saying.

3) Always start any brainstorm or problem solving meeting yourself with an idea or a question for the other members. This will engage them and show yourself as an active participant rather than a judge. It is also important to use the time tested positive-negative-positive system when providing feedback for ideas. This method will diminish the self esteem hit staff will take if an idea is off target or disruptive. It is also important to not shut down that member if possible but offer them a means to save face by posing your improved suggestion or redirect as a question that is seeking their opinion.

E.g. “Your idea for improving sales speed is great because it….But it doesn’t really take into account “X”…That being said perhaps we could move from that and look into “Y” to improve the process?,  What do you think?”

While this may seem like a lot of work the value of having staff who aren’t afraid to share their ideas cannot be underestimated.

4) Allow staff to telecommute or work at flexible hours if appropriate. For example letting employees telecommute or allowing early leave on some days for appropriate reasons can be an easy way to foster positive relationships and to motivate employees to work at optimal levels, just make sure you monitor their performance as normal.

5) Include staff of all levels in your broad strategic planning and objectives outlining, obviously they don’t need to know everything but breaking down what’s pertinent for your staff will help them identify their wider role in the company and potentially boost productivity by granting clear meaning to their work.

6) See this article

7) Aim to have a diverse workforce. Injecting some young staff fresh from high school or university while initially presents a training cost due to their inexperience it can lead to real gains from their technological knowhow and fresh perspective.

To read the original Microsoft Joined-Up Innovation: Culturing Success report go to: https://www.microsoft.com/enterprise/en-au/business-leaders/joined-up-innovation/articles/read-the-report.aspx#fbid=4OWOw9AnO-q