Photo of Matt Heemstra

Matt Heemstra, CPA, AMSF+

Director of Growth & Profit Solutions

“For over fifteen years, Matt has worked with small and mid-size businesses helping them to envision their future and then make it happen. Matt spent the early part of his career in public accounting working as an auditor, providing his clients with assistance on primarily financial issues. As his career developed, he became increasingly aware of the disconnect between business leaders and change management. As Director of Growth & Profit Solutions at Cain Ellsworth, Matt’s focus has shifted to supporting business leaders as they implement change in their organization. Using his unique gifts and talents, Matt is able to help leaders assess where they are now, where they want to be in the future, and how they can get there. More importantly, he provides coaching and accountability to ensure that their plans get implemented and real change occurs. Matt is a thought leader on change management in the business community. Check out his newly published book “The Change Advantage” and his weekly blog at Matt received his B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Nebraska in 2000. He joined the firm in 2007 following several years at a regional accounting firm and a large insurance company. Matt and his wife, Alyssa, live on the family farm with their twin daughters. Whatever time isn’t spent chasing the kids is spent chasing the dog.”

Articles by Matt Heemstra

Busy or Valuable?Click to open Busy or Valuable?

There is a large segment of the population, including a lot of leaders, who value “getting stuff done”. The more tasks we complete, the more valuable we are. If we can keep checking things off our to-do list, then we must be doing our job well. What if most of the things you’re checking off the list aren’t worth that much? What if the tasks you complete aren’t that valuable? What if you’re busy doing things that don’t matter?

Less is MoreClick to open Less is More

“Strategy” is one of the oldest buzzwords in business. People throw around terms like “strategic planning” or “strategy development” or “strategic thinking” on a regular basis. One of the problems with strategy in most organizations is that there really isn’t any. If you’re the leader, you have a responsibility to break that cycle. You have a responsibility to emphasize the importance of thinking strategically.

Change or ElseClick to open Change or Else

It’s probably the understatement of the last two years to say that we live in an uncertain world. The military uses the acronym VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity – to describe certain chaotic situations, usually those involving combat. While we fortunately are not in combat situations, VUCA still accurately sums up the world our businesses are operating in.

Delegation’s Not for AmateursClick to open Delegation’s Not for Amateurs

I don’t know anybody who isn’t busy. I can’t remember the last time I heard someone, especially a person in a position of leadership, say something about how they just don’t have enough to do. And whenever people have lots to do, or feel like they’re too busy, they start to talk about how they need to delegate more. That’s a great idea, but there are a few things to keep in mind that most leaders don’t think about:

It’s Not About YouClick to open It’s Not About You

Mentor is a word that gets thrown around a lot. People talk about their mentors, or about people their mentoring. At some point in their careers, most leaders will end up mentoring somebody. It may be formal or informal, but either way the image of a wise older person sharing all their wisdom with a younger student isn’t necessarily accurate. More than talking, mentoring is about listening.

TeamClick to open Team

One of the things that gets mentioned a lot in leadership seminars and workshops is the importance of teams. Do you have a highly effective team? Do you do a good job of leading your team? Does your team achieve their goals? All good stuff. But what does any of that really mean? What does it really mean to have an effective team? How do we know when that’s happening? How do we make it happen?

An Ongoing BattleClick to open An Ongoing Battle

We as leaders – human beings in general, really – want to do things once, do them really well, and then move on to the next thing. We have a tendency to struggle with things that need doing over and over again. We want to motivate our employees once by doing something fantastic, and then we assume they’ll stay motivated for the rest of their careers. That’s not how it works.

Listen & LearnClick to open Listen & Learn

“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.” – Doug Larson

There is nothing more important for leaders than communication.  Technical skills are great, understanding markets and customers is important, but without communication none of that really matters.  Leaders have to be able to communicate with people on any level, whether they’re customers, employees, vendors, members of the community, governmental agencies – the list goes on and on.

Unfortunately for a lot of leaders, “communication” is just another word for “talking”.  Leaders get asked a lot of questions and get asked for their input on a regular basis, and soon they’re talking constantly.  Whether it’s a conscious choice or just a habit, it just becomes the norm that whenever they’re in the room, they drive the conversation.

The problem, of course, is that no matter how much fun talking may be, communication is a two-way street.  You cannot claim to be doing your job as a leader without communication, and you don’t have communication if you don’t listen.

Do you really think you have a monopoly on good ideas or information?  Of course not.  But how do the ideas of others or the knowledge you need make it to you if you don’t listen?  And your listening as a leader can’t be limited to just a few people.  You can learn from anyone, and great ideas can come from anywhere, and if you’re talking all the time you’ll miss them.

The next time you’re in a meeting, or on a call, or just having a conversation, pay attention to how much talking you’re doing.  It isn’t that you can never speak; but the idea that you should dominate every conversation you’re ever in is ridiculous.  Sorry to break it to you, but you’re not that great.

Practice being a productive listener.  Make a point to ask questions and then actually focus on the answers.  If someone comes to you with an idea, don’t immediately start talking about how great or terrible it is.  Listen to what they have to say without trying to direct the conversation.

Listening is the most important piece of the most important part of your job.  Don’t ignore it, and don’t pretend it doesn’t matter.  Make the effort to become a great listener, and watch the change happen.

You Can’t Be Aware by YourselfClick to open You Can’t Be Aware by Yourself

Being aware of ourselves is one of the biggest challenges leaders face. Everyone is watching you all the time and you need to recognize what they’re seeing. You need to be intentional about the messages you’re sending, and you can’t do that if you don’t know what some of those messages are.

What Does Leading Look Like?Click to open What Does Leading Look Like?

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists.  When his work is done, his aims fulfilled, they will all say, ‘We did this ourselves.’ “ – Lao Tzu

There are a lot of ways to look at leadership. For centuries, it almost meant something like “dictator”. Leaders ordered people around and people did what they were ordered to do. If they didn’t, there was usually some kind of punishment.

That is not the world we’re living in today. The majority of today’s workforce won’t just do what they’re told because you said so. You’re not just ordering people around; What you’re really doing when you lead in today’s world is influence those who are following.

Sometimes as leaders we prefer the old way; It’s definitely simpler. We say what we want and that’s that. Everybody gets the same message, and if they don’t understand it, too bad for them. We don’t have to take time thinking about what motivates and energizes people, and we certainly don’t have to worry about the fact that they’re all motivated and energized by something a little bit different.

If that’s what you’re hoping for, too bad. That method is gone and it’s not coming back. If you really want to influence people, you have to actually think about the best way to do that.

A good first step is thinking about the person or people you’re trying to influence. What gets them out of bed in the morning? If you’re asking them to change, or to try something different, or do something more, you have to understand what would make them want to do that. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but “because the boss wants me to” doesn’t motivate people. They’re not really interested in what’s in it for you. They need to hear what’s in it for them.

And why shouldn’t they? As leaders we all know we’re not some all-knowing being that people should blindly follow. People’s lives are their own and they have a right to know why they’re doing things. Besides, if you can’t explain why, then maybe you don’t really know either.

Your job isn’t to order people around, it’s to influence them. You don’t influence by making demands, you influence by helping others see why it’s in their interest to do what needs to be done, and then helping them do it.

Knowing Who You AreClick to open Knowing Who You Are

As leaders, we are continually placed in positions where we feel like we need to have answers about outside things. We spend so much time as leaders thinking and planning and worrying about how to handle situations and people outside of us, that we forget to think about how to handle ourselves. Your job as leader is to help others be successful, but you can’t be successful if you aren’t getting the things you need.

FocusClick to open Focus

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” – Zora Neale Hurston

In normal times, those leaders who are able to maintain focus in spite of all the noise nearly always outperform those who don’t. Being able to put aside things that don’t matter, or things they can’t control is one of the keys to their success.

Never has that been more true than this year. More than ever before we are bombarded with things we can’t control. Some of them may not directly impact us, and some of them change our lives permanently. Regardless, some days it feels like we’re drowning in problems and challenges and change and noise, and there doesn’t seem to be a life boat anywhere around.

Focus is the life boat. Being able to maintain focus on things that really matter and that you can control is what allows you to keep swimming. Which sounds great, but it’s easier said than done.

Here’s one place to start. If you’re going to focus on what really matters, then you probably better have a clear understanding of what really matters. What’s really critical to your business? What’s really critical to your people? What’s really critical to your customers? Too many leaders don’t really know the answer to those questions, so they spend hours chasing things that are irrelevant.

Here’s another idea. If you can’t control it, then stop obsessing about it. Being consumed with things we have no control over isn’t new, but in 2020 we’ve managed to take it to an entirely new level. We see things on TV or on the internet that we have absolutely no ability to impact, and then we spend hours stressing about them.

Be disciplined. When you feel yourself going down that rabbit hole, stop, remind yourself you have no control over it, and pull back. And pay attention to the conversations you have. Obsessing about scary things we can’t control is contagious. As a leader, you cannot allow yourself to drag everyone around you into the abyss. They’re already struggling with the same things you are. You can’t be the anchor that pulls them down.

Keep a list of what matters at your desk where you can see it. Look at it every day. Make sure that your time, your energy, your engagement is focused on those things. Stay focused on what matters and what you can impact, and let the rest fall away.

Today is SomedayClick to open Today is Someday

“Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.” – William B. Sprague

I hear the phrase, “It’s just not the right time”, or some variation, a lot. I hear it a lot regardless of what’s going on in the world, but right now it’s maybe at an all-time high. We always want to wait to do things we know we need to do until stuff quiets down, or until we get through this particular challenge, or until we’re not quite so busy. Then it will be the perfect time.

There is no perfect time. Things won’t ever quiet down, after this challenge there will be another one, we’re always going to be busy. But we keep telling ourselves that someday the right time will arrive and then we’ll be able to make the changes we need to make, to have the conversations we need to have, to create the business we want to be.

So start now. It will be hard. You will be busy. You will have to make some difficult decisions about how you spend your time. You will have to recognize that there are things that are taking your attention and your energy that shouldn’t be, and that you need to remove those things (or people) from your universe.

You may fail at first. You may fail a lot. That doesn’t mean you weren’t right to attempt to do what you thought needed to be done. Regroup and go at it again. Don’t let initial – or in some cases, repeated – failure stop you. If you are convinced that what you’re doing is right, then keep hammering away. Don’t just look for the easy button, because it doesn’t exist.

Look around your business. There are things you should be doing. There are things your people should be doing. There are critical, strategically important things that need to be done, but nobody’s doing them because it’s not the “right time”.

It is the right time. Make sure that you & everyone around you are doing the things that matter today and will matter tomorrow. Don’t wait until some imaginary “someday” when everything will be rainbows and unicorns and everything we touch will turn to gold. Get to work.