Saturday, November 1, 2014

Pondering Policy in the New World

Regardless of the type of organization you are operating, all businesses need strategies, plans, practices, policies and governance. The only impact that size has is the budget and expertise at hand to develop these tools.

Today I am thinking about policy and the important role that it plays in business, especially in a world where texting and Facebook status is considered ‘communication.’  Here are some useful tips to consider incorporating into your business.

1.  How do you show up in the world?

“How you do what you do defines who you are”,  said one of mentors to me many years ago when I was working as a corporate planner for a large company.  The answer to this question is expressed through your principles. In drafting principles, here are some thoughts to help guide the process.

  • What is your purpose? 
  • What is your position on the treatment of people?
  • What is your position on pricing?
  • What is your communication style?  
  • What is your position with regard to giving back and sponsorship?

2. How do you do things? 

Policy is another word for “the way we do things”.  In my work as a publisher and strategy and communications consultant, I often see cracks in the way business is done which can place the business at risk.  Policy sets out what decisions will be made in various scenarios. These policies are supported by practices.  Following the practices leads to consistency, offsets risk and improves the communication process. People know what to expect.

3. Write it down. 

In the private enterprise world, who you are and how you do things needs to be documented so that those who need to know will know.

Policies are needed for human resources (if there are employees), communication (if you plan on talking to anyone ever including your employees, your community, your sponsors and affiliates and the media), pricing (if you plan on selling something to someone), privacy (if you are collecting personal information of any type) and social responsibility (if you are planning on giving money or services away).

When developing a policy think about the following:
1.  Who is the audience for the policy?
2.  Who are the users of the policy?
3.  What risks are being addressed by the policy?
4.  What is the purpose of the policy?
5.  When will the policy be renewed?
6.  Where will it be available.
7.  How will it be upheld?
8.  What are the consequences of the policy not being upheld?
9. What is the review / reporting process to ensure policies are upheld and effective.

4.  Communicate it. 

How policies are communicated are dependent on their audience. A communication strategy will help to define who needs to see the policy, what might their reaction be, how are they expected to use it, and what the feedback (if any) process will be.  All policies can and should be shared internally with staff. Policies can also be shared on the website and in company communications.  You just need to remember that what you write is what you must do.  

Monday, July 28, 2014

How I got here, and where I am going.

Who do I think I am?

I began with this question three years ago when this journey began.  And then the next question I asked was, what would I do if I could not fail?

My name is Lynn Armstrong. I am the owner of Lynear Thinking Strategy and Communications Ltd. and SKY Publishers Ltd., publisher of SKY Magazine and the soon to be launched book, ‘Pink Flamingo in a Brown Duck Pond.’  Until three years ago, I was a corporate planner working in large corporations, government, the credit union system and non-profit sectors.  I have had a front row seat helping executives and boards climb the hill of vision.

The term “entrepreneur” is defined as “a person who organizes or operates a business or businesses taking on greater than normal financial risks to do so.” Synonyms are "business people, enterprisers, speculators, tycoons, magnate and mogul.”

I am an entrepreneur who works with entrepreneurs to help them get to where they are going through strategy and developing and delivering appropriate communications to reach their audience.

My clients include all types of entrepreneurs in all walks of business and life, including yoga, fitness, banking, coaching, human resources, digital media, fashion, retail, restaurants, automobiles, business and convention centres and artists.

As part of my own planning process, I like to take a step back and look at where I have been, what I have learned.

Vision and the Glass Barn 

I graduated from the U of R School of Journalism in 1996.  My inspiration was to become a business journalist like Jan Wong and so I ventured into the world of corporate strategy to learn from the best.  My first job was at  Farm Credit Canada in the communications department, and then onto policy and planning.

I was given great opportunities, like producing the Annual Report for three years, each of which won Awards of Communications Excellence (ACE) and then I went on to writing corporate plans, which won the Auditor General Award of Excellence in Annual Reporting for each year, save one.

During my time at FCC, I was fortunate to be there when the organization was at the cusp of a new direction.  As a corporate planning analyst, I was invited to help create a strategy scenario for the executive’s consideration.  I worked with the company’s best account managers and we developed a customer focused strategy based on the best of the best.

The beginning of Lynear Thinking

I was invited to present a vision at a leadership event at FCC.  I created a vision of work, where each person is the CEO of his or  her own life, where there is no “no”, just “how”, and where vision is sought from each person in the company, not just the executive. The presentation was titled 'Lynear Thinking’.  I presented it to the executive team wearing black leather pants while Bon Jovi’s “It’s my life” blasted.  They did not fire me, but then I never thought they would.  From that moment on, I had my sights set on entrepreneurship with the creation of Lynear Thinking’s vision.

I refer to FCC  as my ‘nirvana’ job because not only did I learn how to lead and facilitate corporate strategy in a supportive and encouraging environment, I learned how to have vision and express it.   The skills I learned during that time continue to carry me through. My leaders and mentors of FCC continue to be my leaders and mentors today, 18 years later.

The Power of Many, as One.

I left FCC ready to take on a management role in the Credit Union system, where I learned about navigating autonomous systems of leadership in a cooperative model.  Working with Credit Unions was extremely inspiring, because  it was the first time I had come to understand the entrepreneur.

Credit unions are entrepreneurial and cooperative at their roots.  They are founded in a common set of principles that have guided the system from small community based credit unions to large urban credit unions.

On my first day of work as the manager of planning at SaskCentral, I wrote the word “one” on my white board.  I could see how this system of many operating as one could dominate the competitive market place if people could see what I saw. During my time in the credit union system, I designed and implemented a performance management system using a balanced scorecard framework, supported by a business line strategy model.

In 2005, the organization underwent a merger with Co-operative Trust, creating Concentra Financial.  I became part of the joint venture Corporate Services, which would support the operational requirements of both SaskCentral and Concentra Financial as autonomous companies.  As the manager of planning, I designed and implemented an integrated planning system that supported the autonomy of the Boards of both organizations, while integrating the operational entities in order to achieve the economies of scale objectives of the merger.

During that time, I developed a Corporate Services Client Service Agreement model that gave our clients a clear accounting of what would be delivered, when and how much it would cost.  The Client Service Agreement also gave the employees of Corporate Services a clear direction to pursue.  It was truly one of my proudest moments to see the managers coming to life in the process.

The Essence of Risk as Strategy

I traversed the corporate mountain to the top at my next job in a provincial crown corporation as the director of business planning and risk management. I was hired to design and implement an enterprise performance management and risk management system for the company.  The model would need to integrate with the government model being employed.

During that time, I also stepped into a 16 month temporary executive position as VP of Corporate Services. My portfolio of business planning and risk management expanded to include communications, community relations, responsible gaming strategy development and various other policy initiatives.  When I returned to my original position, having completed the task for which I was hired, I ventured onward and upward.

Some people stand and look at the sky. Others reach out and touch it. 

Lynear Thinking Strategy and Communications Ltd. came to life on June 15, 2011, inspired by my original vision to create a company that would inspire and support entrepreneurship and help them to not just stand and look at the sky, but to reach out and touch it.

Words are as important as money.

My business plan evolved as plans do. In the corporate realm, strategy and communications go hand in hand because strategy must be shared with the right audience in the right way to reach employees, owners, community leaders, and customers alike.  Communicating strategy is a fine balance of understanding who the audience is and articulating the story and messages for them. No matter the size and type of business,  words are as important as the money, and so it pays to hire a professional communicator who understands both the messages and the medium to reach the audience.

And so I went in search of a magazine model that would be the strategy’s voice in the market place of my clients, and quite serendipitously, SKY Magazine found me.

SKY Magazine:  The Place to Be Seen. 

One of my clients had seen SKY for sale on Kijiji September 2012 and by October 2012, I was publishing my first magazine, the “White Issue”, featuring Nadia Williamson, owner of NWL Dress Shop in Regina, along with many other amazing businesses that I proudly support.  On May 16, 2013, SKY Publishers Ltd. was created as the publishing company for SKY Magazine, as well as other publications. My seventh issue of SKY was just launched in July 2014, dedicated to cancer survivors past, present and future, and featuring the unstoppable Dionne Warner, eight time cancer survivor.

With each issue, the colour of the SKY word mark changes just as the colour of the sky is always changing.  I want my clients to be seen.  I work to create a beautifully presented, intelligent magazine that will inspire readers to turn the page, and learn about the great people and the business featured on the pages.  I make the investment to deliver to 32,000 homes and businesses to get the maximum benefit for my client’s investment.

When I ventured into the publishing business, I wanted to create a system that would reach audiences far and wide, and so I invested in the development of a social media network, creating, an online magazine, uploading to, and creating a communication and sharing network through Facebook, twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+ and blogging.

Strategic Direction:  Be Strategic. Be Seen. Be Heard. 

My entrepreneurial journey began with a vision of entrepreneurship that supports entrepreneurship. It began with a  vision where each person is the CEO of his or her own life.  That the word ‘no’ would not exist, but rather ‘how.’ That vision comes from within, not just from the promoted.

SKY and Lynear Thinking is a perfect fusion of my passions: helping people get to where they are going, and sharing their stories to inspire and engage people.

And so every day, when I look up, I see the sky, but I also see possibility, and together we will paint the sky with all the possibilities of tomorrow.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Fashion and Finance

This weekend, I attended Vancouver Fashion Week to watch my daughter's debut as a Canadian Designer.  It was a most amazing experience, and I am so happy that I was able to see her hard work being recognized by her peers.

For the remainder of the time, I spent easily 20 hours working with my accountant unfurling a mess that had been created over a period of time by other accountants.

I find this frustrating because I paid for services that were either not done or done badly.  It turns out you have to be an accountant to hold the accountant accountable.

Accounting is a business and it requires specialized knowledge and expertise. Since I am not an accountant, I hired in good faith and on good recommendation.  This is my third accounting company since starting my business in 2011, and I learned more about business in 20 hours than I did in the last 20 years, because quite honestly, the ball had been dropped, and I didn't know how badly because I didn't know what questions to ask, or how to hold them accountable to me.

This is a big problem for business of all sizes, but in a right sized business it can be the fine line between success and failure, between giving up or not.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Worst Thing You Can Do

The worst thing you can do is ignore me.  I am your customer.  I need your help. I trust you, otherwise I wouldn't be working with you. 

You are the person who understands my business and me. You get it.  So when I call or email, answer me please. When I walk into your shop, talk to me. Acknowledge me. It's that simple. I am your customer.

It doesn't have to be a big thing. I get that you are busy and have a hundred other priorities, because you have other customers - people who think you are as amazing as I do.

Talk to me in sentences and use words that make sense to me.  I get that you are brilliant at what you do, and that's one of the reasons I love working with you. But bring me into your world by using words that make sense in my world.  I am not an accountant, a techie, an engineer, an investor, a banker or an astronaut.  So if you talk to me as if I am, I have no idea what you are talking about.  And I am your customer, so that's a problem. We have a problem.

Talk to me in voice or in person so that you have my undivided attention. Emails can be great as a follow up, or just to say hello, but if you have technical information to share, please call me.  When I am working on a deadline and I get a technical email out of the blue asking me to do something, I feel like I've just been torpedoed. Seriously, my concentration has just been obliterated, and now I am reading your email with disdain, and by association thinking of you with disdain. Sorry, but you and your communication style are a package deal.

I love you, but I have needs too.  In the entrepreneurial world, I rely on the expertise of others to help me to be successful.  The thing is, I need what I need when I need it.  I am your customer, and I am loyal to you, but loyalty is a two-way street.  You might after a time realize that I am not around. That's because I had to move on.  

So if you are too busy, just send me a note or a smile and let me know that you see me and hear me.  That's really all I need.  I am your customer. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

How I made $800 in a year.

Helping people get somewhere inspires me. I love to write.  I love to see a plan come together. In 2011, I incorporated the vision that I carried with me since 1996. Lynear Thinking Strategy and Communications Ltd. was created  and I officially entered the world of the entrepreneur. My mission -to connect people with purpose and help them get somewhere.

Working with purpose for purpose has been my focus since the early part of my career.  I decided to fill my life exclusively with what I love to do. My mantra is to do good things so that good things happen.  I believe in the importance of integrity, good business practices and quality.  

Behind great businesses are great people who live and work with passion.  Now, three years later, I am in the business of helping people grow though strategy, communications, publishing and consulting services.  In my first year of business I made $800.00, falling just $90,200 short of my goal.

There were two reasons for this.

1.  I worked for free because I didn't  know how to ask for payment.
2.  My goal of $100,000 for my first year of business was nothing short of ridiculous.

The Entrepreneur's Reality 

I am going to just come out and say it. Private enterprise is not romantic.  It is about working harder than you've ever worked in your life for the least amount of money you have ever made. At least for a while.   This misconception is actually harmful because it hides the truth and therefore the solutions.

Private enterprise is about money - trying to make money and not lose too much at once. If it's not, it's called philanthropy.  In private business, you get to decide how. Easier said than done. Some people start with what they love and turn it into a business; others start from what they are good at and try and turn it into a business; others do something completely foreign and find experts. Who is to say? I think it depends on a lot of factors.

Beyond the product or service, you must become the marketer, the operations manager, the book keeper, the accountant, the service person, the sales person and even the janitor. If and when we hire employees to generate growth (why else?), there is a cost. People like pay cheques, benefits, vacations and the occasional day off.  All of that costs money.

In business, we have the freedom to make mistakes and make decisions. Yes, there is freedom to stay in bed. Yes there is freedom to take a bath in the middle of the day, or go to a yoga class, or maybe even take a trip. And that freedom lasts as long as the revenues are rolling in, or your investments are exhausted.

Private enterprise is about taking risk and managing risk.  Risks are dangers. They are not fears, but they are real.  Like Will Smith 's character said in "After Earth", roughly paraphrased', 'fear is not real, but danger is very real.'  The same can be said in business.  How you react to fear is a choice. But danger is very real. To be in business, it's all about balancing time and money and finding a way to optimize both. 

Lessons learned

1. Business plans must be lived first, then written.  

When I created Lynear Thinking, my intention was to offer my expertise in strategic planning, governance and communications to the private sector.

I did what we do when we start a business. I researched the needs of the market to determine how I could serve the market. I discovered that the number one reason for small business failure, according to Industry Canada, is lack of strategy and planning, and failure to access the expertise to support the business.  I could see that.  Entrepreneurs tend to be in business because they like to call their own shots and we are not very good at asking for, or wanting to pay for the expertise we need.

So I created a business plan that was focused on creating a shared services group of companies who would work together to offer an array of products and services to other businesses. We would offer  strategy, communications, marketing, human resources, financial and legal services.  The concept was based on a corporate shared services model that I had worked with in my previous life. 

There were problems with that corporate services model, such as our internal clients did not want to pay for our services.  In fact they pushed back on every single penny and hour. It became very difficult to be successful when the only measurable was how much did you spend and why did you spend so much.

It turns out the same problem exists in the private sector entrepreneurial shared services model.  First, how would it be capitalized, second, how would it make money, third, how would it share the profit, and fourth, would the market want it.

To date, this shared services model has been tucked away in the PowerPoint world of best intentions for now.

2. Working for free is not cool. 

No.  Don't do it.  Doing work for free does not serve anyone because it's not gratifying to do something for nothing, nor is it gratifying to receive something of no value.  In my first year of business, I did a lot of work for free.  I have a file cabinet full of elaborately written proposals that I submitted to win contracts.  Each one of them were fastidiously created as I had in my corporate life.   From a time alone perspective, each one was worth at least $500.00 - $1,500.00.  Despite my attention to detail I did not get the contracts. I was successful, however, in giving them a clearly laid out plan that they could follow themselves, or give to another consultant.

OK, I am an over achiever.  I was reminded of something one of my duck bosses used to say to me.  "Did give it all away upfront. Make them come back and ask for more." Clever.  I realized that if I wasn't going to get the gig, there was no point in giving it all away.  If I could pique their curiosity, maybe they would come back to me and eventually hire me.

3.  Reach out to people you trust.

There is a saying in the world of work. It;s not what you know but who you know that counts.  That’s true. In my consulting practice, I was hell bent on leaving my home to work, with the hopes of finding a new home elsewhere. I other words, I was looking to fly outta here and find a new place to live and work.  One of my mentors had moved to another province, and she was working with a major consulting firm that does all the things that I had envisioned in mine, with the exception of strategy and communications. Eventually, I was recommended for a consulting position which I was successful in attaining.

4.  Be remarkable, in a good way.

It's easy to be good, but can you be good enough for people to remark about it.  Being remarkable means delivering consistently on the promise. I means putting the client first and caring about their business or their story like it’s my own.  Being remarkable means taking care of business. Being remarkable means taking a stand when it matters and never compromising integrity.  Remarkable people are those who know that trust is earned every single day with each and every single interaction.  Remarkable people act from their heart and not their wallet.  Remarkable people do the right thing.  As an entrepreneur, my clients are the most important people in my life.

5. Do good things that feel good doing. 

It feels good to make a difference in someone’s life.  In my corporate life, promoting and facilitating corporate social responsibility was an area of special interest for me.  When I became an entrepreneur, I pledged that I would dedicate a portion of my resources to helping the community.  I am a Board member of a charitable organization.  I also dedicate a portion of each issue of SKY Magazine charitable organizations. I also sponsor my clients who are raising funds for charitable purposes.