Are you a driver or a passenger? It seems a lot of the things I’ve been reading and observing lately are related to this question. I’ll give you a few examples of what I’m talking about.
At a seminar I attended last summer, the presenter had the audience watch a video and afterwards tested us on what we saw in the video. While the group focused on the main subject of the video, a person in a monkey suit walked past in the background. When the presenter asked what significant things we saw in the video, almost no one remembered seeing the monkey. As a driver, you need to be focused on the task at hand, but also need to be aware of what’s going on around you.
To support one of my hobbies, I subscribe to many aviation publications that come at least once per month, and in many of the publications there are summaries of accident reports. I read these religiously, because in this case, I would rather learn from the mistakes of others, than learn from my own. In one case, an airplane with two pilots crashed when a warning indicator light came on and in an attempt to troubleshoot the problem, both pilots focused on finding the source of the failure, and neither pilot remembered to fly the airplane. The result wasn’t pretty.
Here’s one we all see every day: someone “driving” down the road while talking on the phone, sending a text message, eating, or you name it. They clearly are not aware of what’s happening around them because they don’t maintain constant speed, they wander about in their lane, don’t go forward when the light turns green, or any number of other obvious non-driver acts. I argue that many of these people are passengers in a car with no driver.
Here’s one last example that hits close to home: my mom once told me that when she and her friend travel together, one person is behind the wheel and the other is driving. I’m not sure what to think of that one.
My point to all this is, that when running your business (driving), and while focusing on the task at hand, don’t forget to pay attention to your peripheral vision. You might regrettably find that the task you’re focused on is being handled very well, while the business is crashing around you.
- Ken Hilton, President
When is it a good time to hire an outside professional? More often than you might think. You are probably really good at what you do in your career (or you should be doing something else). Even though you are an expert in your field, there are several things that go on in any business that are outside your area of expertise.
Since you’re reading this newsletter from Red Wing Software, I think it’s safe to assume you have some role that includes dealing with financial information. You might enter checks, record deposits, calculate payroll, or take a big picture view of the business using reports to analyze where the business should go. And, in some cases, you may be responsible for all of these things.
Even if you have a firm grasp on all financial functions in your company, it never hurts to get someone from outside the organization to review the information and give an opinion, or even audit how things are being done. I’ve mentioned in several columns that I believe if we think everything we do is being done the right or only way, we probably won’t make needed changes and grow the business or our own knowledge.
I’ll share an example of how Red Wing Software employs outside professionals. Although we have been producing accounting and other financial management software for 38 years and have many people with vast knowledge of accounting processes, employ our own in-house accountant, and have Certified Public Accountants on staff, every year we have an outside accounting firm perform an audit of our records and give their opinion, and have them prepare our corporate tax returns.
It never hurts to have an outside professional come in to your business and help it grow.
- Ken Hilton, President
I often write and talk about the great people we have working at Red Wing Software, and how long many of them have been with the company. Of course, when you have the kind of dedicated, long-tenured people we have, they eventually think they have earned the right to retire. Greg, one of our Senior Support Specialists, after 20 years with us, has rightfully earned his place among the retired.
Even though Greg will no longer be blessing us and our customers with his presence in the office, he will certainly not be slowing down.
Greg has been a go-to person on our support team with his vast knowledge of our products, and especially payroll processes and requirements. I’m sure many of you have talked to Greg over the years, and really appreciate his ability to answer any question you have without even thinking about it. Greg was thoughtful enough to give us many months’ notice of his retirement to prepare us for his absence. After February 3rd, when you call for help, and Greg is not available, you will have the opportunity to learn what a great job Greg did of passing his expertise on to the rest of our excellent support team.
We at Red Wing Software, as well as our customers will certainly miss Greg’s knowledge, but even more important, we will miss having Greg around. We were fortunate to have Greg as a member of our team for so many years, and we wish him the best in his new adventures.
- Ken Hilton, President
Good internal communication is important to the success of any organization. How often does someone know something that should really be common knowledge, but for some reason that information is not shared with others in the organization who could benefit from it? Obviously, there are some things that need to be kept confidential, like personal employee information protected by HIPPA laws, etc. But most information, while not necessarily public, should be shared within the walls of the organization so everyone has an opportunity to contribute to the success of the business.
At Red Wing Software, we use a weekly internal newsletter to provide employees with the happenings inside the organization. Leaders of each department contribute information from their respective areas that they feel the rest of the team should, or would like to, know. In addition to structured departments, we also operate many teams that are specific to a particular project and include members from multiple departments. This is where communication can break down.
In the team meetings, ideas for new features, changes, or even new products are created. As these ideas are discussed, requirements are defined and refined, user interfaces are designed, test scenarios are determined, programming and documentation are completed, and voilà, the project is complete. The only problem is, sometimes everyone on the team becomes so involved in the process and has spent so much time talking about every detail, that they assume it is common knowledge to the entire organization, so they occasionally, and unintentionally, forget to share an important detail. I only use this as one example of how information can unintentionally be kept secret, when it should be shared with the entire organization so they can be included in the excitement about new happenings in the organization. Does this happen in your organization?
- Ken Hilton, President
I’ve mentioned before in this monthly message how important I feel continuing education is for everyone in any organization. If we don’t continue to explore new ideas and start to believe that what we are currently doing cannot be done any better, the business will slowly fade away. None of us can be an expert in every aspect of the business, so it’s imperative that we get out of our offices and learn from the wisdom of others.
I recently attended two conferences for just that purpose. The first meeting was with a group that focuses on data standards and facilitating the sharing of information between different companies’ products for the benefit of their clients. This was the first time I’ve attended this particular conference, and the first day was a bit overwhelming. By the end of the meeting, I learned a lot that I could bring back to Red Wing Software to help improve our company. I won’t get into much detail, but one of the most interesting sessions at this conference dealt with Business Process Modeling and Notation (BPMN). Until now, I was not aware that there was a standard format for BPMN. There are many software applications that help companies put their processes into an easy to understand flow chart. This was a timely topic for me, as we continue to improve and document our internal processes.
The second conference was the annual meeting of a consulting organization that focuses on one specific market. I’ve attended this conference for 30 years. While I always learn new things at this meeting, one of the biggest benefits is interacting with peers in the industry, outside the formal meeting times. It seems at many events like this that through networking more education and business is taken care of after-hours than during the scheduled sessions. As with any organization like this, you only get out of it what you put in to it, and it’s important to be an active participant. Our own Julie Strain is currently serving as President of this national group, and was responsible for planning this meeting in Fort Worth, TX.
Even if you can’t seem to break away from your busy schedule for a few days and attend events in your particular area of expertise, there are many online classes and webinars available on almost any subject to get that important continuing education.
- Ken Hilton, President