Ken Keller: Make a difference with just five sheets of paper


If you take a look at the desks of most business owners, CEOs and entrepreneurs, you’ll see stacks of paper, files, books, magazines, knick knacks, Post-It notes, a coffee cup, a computer monitor with a keyboard and a printer nearby, a name plate and a business card holder.

Despite all this clutter, every leader needs to be aware of the most important pieces of paper that belong on their desk.

The most important piece of paper is the organizational chart of the company. If such a chart doesn’t exist, it needs to be created. This document shows the reporting structure within the company, a diagram filled with boxes and lines. Within the boxes are the names and titles of the people.

The lines show reporting structure.

This is a critical piece of paper because it visually lays out the organization.

It serves as a reminder to the person in charge that they have established a hierarchy of management; a business structure. The leader should not “jump the chart” and interfere with the day-to-day operations of a department or the actions of an employee without talking to the manager in charge beforehand.

To make the org chart more useful, the leader should write next to each name on the chart the last time a formal performance appraisal was given to the employee. Next to that date, in a different color ink, it should be noted if the employee received a merit increase in pay in conjunction with the appraisal.

Why is all of this important? If you have one or more employees, those people are your company. These are the people who deliver whatever it is your company sells.

The second piece of paper is the “Big Opportunity List.” The items on this sheet represent the future projects of the company that will provide an expanded client base, new products, new markets, internal improvements and it should also describe the Big Hairy Audacious Goal for the company.

The items on this piece of paper should be prioritized and a single person should be assigned the responsibility, with appropriate authority, for moving each project forward to a completion date.

The third paper is the reverse of the Big Opportunity List; it is the “Unfinished Business List.” There isn’t a company on the planet that doesn’t have outstanding issues from the past that need to be identified, addressed and resolved.

All too often these issues are buried because no one wants to deal with them. However, once they are put on a list, prioritized in order of importance, assigned to someone to deal with and discussed at least once a month, resolution is likely to take place.

The fourth page that should be found on the leaders’ desk is the daily cash flow report. The cash flow report is akin to an individual’s blood pressure and temperature; it provides a quick review of the financial health of the firm.

The cash flow report simply states the current bank balances, what additional monies are expected to be received that day; what payments are expected to clear that day and the expected cash on hand at the end of the day.

If cash on hand is increasing, things are good. If not, the leader needs to start investigating as to why payments are coming in slowly and what is taking place with payables.

Leaders understand cash flow but don’t often realize the importance of tracking it every single day. Having a laser-beam focus will soon become part of the company culture and will raise the level of awareness of employees about how important cash on hand is to the well-being of the company.

The final piece of paper that I recommend belonging on the leader’s desk is a summary of the business goals for the year. This sheet should have all of the current year goals highlighted, broken down by month, by department.

Every department should have between three and five concrete goals to accomplish before the end of the year.

NFL legend coach Vince Lombardi is credited as saying, “Some of us will do our jobs well and some will not, but we will all be judged on one thing: the result.”

The leader who takes the time to create and use these five important tools is going to be focused and will be almost guaranteed to have a successful year.

Ken Keller is an executive coach who works with small and midsize B2B company owners, CEOs and entrepreneurs. He facilitates formal top executive peer groups for business expansion, including revenue growth, improved internal efficiencies and greater profitability.Email: [email protected]. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of the SCVBJ.

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