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Work harder and smarter than ever

Are you working harder or smarter in your business? This familiar question serves as a challenge for business leaders to analyze whether you are actually being strategic in your actions. I find that most businesses stay on the defense but the truly great ones somehow make time to go on the offense. In a defensive mode, your days are spent firefighting, and at best, you maintain the status quo.  In contrast, being on the offense allows you to move your business forward and attack areas of opportunity. While nobody wants to be stuck in a defensive position, it can prove challenging to break that cycle. Neuroscience tells us that our brains are hardwired to like routine and to avoid change. Therefore, the people in your organization are conditioned to follow routines and habits whether they are good or bad.  As the leader, you want to help your team instill the habits of success. 

Greg McNeely, owner and CEO of McNeely Plastics, has committed his team to learning the habits of success.   McNeely Plastics, based in Clinton, is in its 27th year of business and manufacturers plastics and film for food and industrial packaging. The business was founded by Greg’s father, Earl McNeely, and Greg took over the company at age 32 in 2001 upon his father’s death. Greg is a lifelong learner and is committed to training and developing his team of 90 employees. Utilizing training materials from consultant and author Chet Holmes, Greg has achieved significant results in training his team on the habits of success. McNeely Plastics has grown to be one of Mississippi’s top 100 private companies and serves over 250 customers throughout the United States including Mississippi companies like Peavey Electronics, Simmons Catfish, Sanderson Farms and Cal-Maine Foods. A couple of the most impactful habits that Greg has utilized are summarized below:


Teaching Your Team to Manage Time

This is a fundamental skill that is the foundation for the other habits of success.  If your employees poorly manage their time, then they will likely continually stay on the defense. How much time are your employees spending on Facebook or similar sites? Are they planning their day and prioritizing their tasks? One of the most impactful ways to improve performance is to respect each other’s time better by avoiding “got a minute” distractions. Most employees constantly interrupt each other with “got a minute” questions or similar e-mails and texts. Most of these questions can be batched together and answered at certain times of day.  As a manager, you may want to designate certain parts of your day for “got a minute” questions.


Working “On” Your Business 

McNeely has each department in his company spend one hour per week specifically devoted to working on improving their area. According to McNeely, “While this is a tremendous time commitment of our time and resources, it has provided significant results as each team has proactively worked to improve the organization.” Employees of each department are engaged as they identify business constraints in their areas and are empowered to act to fix problems and pursue opportunities. One of the keys to the success of this weekly meeting habit is to make sure that it is focused and purposeful. No one likes to waste an hour of time. Meeting leaders need to have an agenda and seek active participation. At its best, each meeting should be a mini-workshop on improving the business. 

Despite the challenging economy, McNeely Plastics is in growth mode and staying on the offense while many others retreat to simply playing defense.  While these habits seem intuitive and rather simple, the real challenge is the execution. As demonstrated by McNeely, the key is for leaders to personally model and live out these positive habits.  By teaching the skills of time management and empowering his employees to devote time each week to making the business better, McNeely has committed his company to working smarter and not just harder, and I am sure that his company will continue to be a positive force in Mississippi for years to come.


Martin Willoughby is a business lawyer in Jackson. He can be reached at mew@msbusinesslaw.com.


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