Tag Archives: best companies

The PROFIT500

Every year, PROFIT Magazine turns successful entrepreneurs into the heroes of Canadian business through its Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies program. Now, to mark its 25th year, the ranking is expanding to celebrate 500 of Canada’s best and brightest companies. Once again, ViRTUS is proud to be a sponsor.

If your business has grown by just 50% or more in the past five years, apply now at PROFIT500.com.

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BIV Boardroom Strategy: What does it really mean to think strategically?

MikeOne of the things CEOs ask consistently is how they can foster more strategic thinking in their organizations.

Simply saying “I want to see you thinking more strategically” isn’t direct or specific enough to help guide people in the right direction. Thinking strategically is essentially a way of being – a mindset, a way of looking at things and linking them together.

Here are eight things you can do to improve strategic thinking.

Understand value creation and differentiation. Leaders understand the business and industry they are in, but it’s more than that. You need to understand how the industry adds value to customers and how your business differentiates that value equation from your competitors.

Connect “me to we” to “they to us” (operations to strategy). As a leader you need to be able to understand the overall corporate direction and strategy in the context of your team and your own personal areas of responsibility. Think of it like this: the strategic moves we make today are setting up the operational successes we have in the future. So the better understanding you and your team have of the connection between corporate goals and the work they do day-to-day, the more likely they and you are to focus on longer-term priorities versus staying mired in operations and shiny objects.

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BIV Boardroom Strategy: Creativity: Are you building it or crushing it?

When it comes to creativity, fear of criticism, judgment, of taking risks and putting your reputation on the line is a huge obstacle.

We’re born creative and continually experience the excitement of that creativity as we grow. Over time, our environment and experiences can cause us to fall into thinking patterns that get in the way of our creativity.

Your job as a leader is to help shift thinking and remove these obstacles:

Play is frivolous. We’re told that children play and adults are meant to be serious. This creates the self-limiting belief that if something starts to feel too much like fun then it can’t possibly be productive work. Start by changing your thought patterns around creativity. The more you let go of the existing beliefs and thoughts that limit you in thinking of new possibilities, the more you can explore creativity. Find small ways to be creative everyday while encouraging the same in others. If you’re interested in watching a truly outstanding creative process in action, search “IDEO Shopping Cart” on youtube.com and watch their process. (Thanks to Cactus Club CEO Richard Jaffray for recommending this video.)

Creativity comes from creative people. When people think that creativity is the job of marketing or PR, they disable their own creativity. Once they understand that creativity is a choice for all of us, not part of a select few people’s job descriptions, the realms of possibility open up substantially. As a leader, consider where you might be categorizing others as “creative” or “not creative.” Work on altering that thought pattern to embrace the idea that we all have that capacity by asking people for ideas on projects when you normally wouldn’t seek their input.

Deciding before you start. If you think you know the answer before you start the creative process, then you may be limiting yourself to a smaller set of possibilities. Instead, view your idea as only one possible solution and look at it from new perspectives. Curiosity creates leverage in brainstorming so ask a lot of questions, considering as many different view points as you can.

Believing there is a “right” answer. When we focus our problem solving on trying to find the “right” answer there’s a tendency to have a narrow focus. This prevents us from exploring the problem or opportunity in favour of trying to “fix it” as soon as possible. Try “reverse brainstorming,” where you reverse the problem or challenge by brainstorming answers to the question “How could we possibly cause this problem.” Once you have a number of ideas to solve the reverse problem, reverse them into solutions for the original problem or challenge.

Stinking thinking. The easiest way to kill a brainstorming session is with killer statements: “We’ve tried that before,” “That won’t work in this market,” “We don’t have the resources/budget” (this one’s my personal favourite). Next time you’re in a brainstorming session with your team, take a positive approach by first getting all the ideas out on the table before debating or discussing any of them.

Fear of failure. When it comes to creativity, fear of criticism, judgment, of taking risks and putting your reputation on the line is a huge obstacle. After all, your ideas may be a complete flop, so it just feels safer to stick to the status quo. As a leader, it’s your job to create the space for people to take the risk. Consider failure as feedback; focus on and celebrate learning, how to move forward, and what to do differently next time.

BIV Boardroom Strategy – Creativity are you building it or crushing it – Sept 2012

BIV Boardroom Strategy: Focusing on past corporate success to build future success

An enormous amount of time and energy gets devoted to solving problems within organizations, all under the pretence that solving those problems is the best way to achieve success, superiority, a competitive advantage and greatness. The challenge is that growing organizations are constantly changing, which inevitably leads to new and more interesting problems to solve. It’s an endless cycle of focusing on problems that means it’s impossible to solve our way to greatness.

Fortunately, there’s an alternative to the traditional problem-solving approach. Appreciative Inquiry was developed by David Copperrider and his associates at Case Western Reserve University in the mid ’80s. It focuses on doing more of what does work: uncovering the high moments in an organization’s history and using the commonalities of those experiences to build a plan to replicate those wins for the future. Sounds like more fun than constantly problem solving, doesn’t it? Here’s how it works and how it can be applied to your business.

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BIV Boardroom Strategy: effective organizational strategies and other Harvard insights

In the past month, I have had two unique opportunities: the first was to spend a few days in Boston with one of my clients and Frances Frei from Harvard; the second was a fireside chat with some fellow CEOs and author Malcolm Gladwell (Tipping Point, Outliers, What the Dog Saw). There were some great strategic nuggets interwoven into both conversations, and I want to share with you what I learned.

Frei is a professor in Harvard Business School’s technology and operations management unit and the chairwoman of the MBA required curriculum. Because Frei’s work focuses on how organizations can more effectively design service excellence, I was eager to hear her thoughts on organizational strategy. I was not disappointed.

Here are some key points I took away from the conversation.

Choose great over average. When you’re considering your points of differentiation as an organization the key is not to try to become five out of five on all aspects of your client value proposition; by diffusing your efforts as an organization among so many things you end up becoming three out of five (average) on everything.

Really great, standout companies figure out what they can sacrifice (areas where they are at about a one out of five), so they can truly be five out of five on the areas that count most to their customers.

Choose differentiation versus “me-too.” For true differentiation you need to do something that the competition can’t properly replicate. Consider the example of the Heavenly Bed Wars. Once Westin hotels rolled

out its heavenly beds campaign, all their competitors had to do was provide a similar quality of bed – a simple yet costly undertaking, the net result being that consumers now get better beds from all competing hotels. But each is still in the same price-competitive space: higher cost, lower margin and no differentiation. The trick is to focus on providing something to your customer that is difficult for your competitors to replicate. Continue reading

The value of a virtual office

More and more, CEOs, Executives, and Entrepreneurs ask me about our virtual office and how it works. For the first 10 1/2 years of our business we had three different offices. For the past year and a half we’ve been virtual. It has been one of the best things we’ve done for the growth of the company. Here is what we have learned along the way:

The Fear of Virtual

It’s amazing the misconceptions people have, primarily that if they were to switch to a virtual office that they wouldn’t know what their employees are up and productivity would plummet. They wonder what their customers would think: one of our largest customers said that our experience with being virtual was a key point in choosing us as a partner – they are actively moving 70% of their workforce to virtual in the next few years: 33,000 employees spread out across Canada and three continents.

If I can’t see ’em, how do I know they’re workin’?

The reality of the knowledge economy is that even if you have everyone in the same business you can’t actually see what they are up to. Sitting at desk for eight hours is not a sign of productivity. Look out your office door right now: can you see what people are up to? Are they working, chatting on IM, updating their Facebook profile, playing online poker, beefing up their linkedin profile so they can leave because you don’t trust them? In a physical office setting it’s easy to confuse activity with results. In a virtual office, results are all we see.

What Will Really Happen

Our experience has been the complete opposite of what most CEOs and Entrepreneurs that are worried about going virtual think. It helps that we ascribe to the ROWE (results only work environment) espoused by Daniel Pink in his book Drive!. Here’s what our experience has been so far:

  • We’re collaborating better than ever before (we wouldn’t have invested in the collaboration tools above if we still had a physical office)
  • We’ve had a significant increase in productivity (no commute time means productive time)
  • We make less assumptions around what others “already know about” and this has led to improved communication
  • We’ve moved outside of the box and into the future of tools that are out there to hold meetings, communicate etc. (yammer, Webex, etc.)
  • We have ability and autonomy to work from anywhere and that is priceless: increased efficiency, work-life balance, and adaptablility
  • We realized that it’s not where we are, but what we’re doing and who we’re with that gets the job done (being in the office doesn’t actually mean I’m accomplishing anything)
  • We have increased our levels of trust and put an emphasis on results-based roles or “job descriptions,” which motivates us far more than being in the office 8am-6pm.
  • We’re able to take care of family at home when they’re in need.
  • We have increased productivity and efficiency in work and personal life – less time around the ‘water cooler’ for the wrong reasons.
  • We are able to travel and fulfill life dreams – and still work to pay for them!
  • We feel empowered by the autonomy that working alone provides.

Viva la Technologie

The key to making a virtual office work is hiring people you trust and having the right collaboration technology. Since we run on Macs we have no need for an IT support budget and everything just works “out of the box.” Here’s a list of software we use and why:

  • iDisk – virtual server (connects to our Macs, iPhones, iPads)
  • Yammer – like Twitter but just for ViRTUS (private)
  • Webex – group video conferencing, document review
  • Skype – video conferencing replacing phone calls and face-to-face meetings
  • WikiSpaces – our wiki (similar to wikipedia but just for ViRTUS)
  • TELUS IP Messaging Auto Attendant (virtual receptionist)

My Favourite Question

As you continue to grow ViRTUS will you get an office or offices around Canada? The answer: no. Going virtual was part of our growth plan. The larger we get, the more being virtual makes sense.

Two Important Behaviours

  • Meeting Rhythms – we have a weekly Operations Meeting over Webex, a Quarterly Creative Strategic Plan Update, a monthly Financial Transparency update (over Yammer), and a monthly Strategic Execution Review. This keeps everyone up-to-date on the key priorities in the business.
  • Clear Deadlines – this is important in bricks and mortar as well but in a virtual setting it’s critical to give deadlines with days and times as someone may work best in the mornings or evenings and that might not correspond well with the timeline you have to complete your project or task when it requires their support.

Closing Thought

If you’re not convinced yet: I wrote this post in Whistler, on a Friday, after a day of virtual meetings in the morning over Skype Video and then skiing in the afternoon with my wife, replying to calls and emails from my iPhone. Right now I’m staring out over the lake watching the sunset…

Are you one of the fastest growing companies in Canada?

On behalf of the team at ViRTUS, I’m proud to announce that once again we’re partnering with PROFIT Magazine to find the fastest growing companies in Canada. Think you have what it takes?  Continue reading