Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thanks for the freebies

On the awards shows the winners thank everyone from
Google Images: 123rf.com
the writers and composers to the family dog walker. On your birthday you thank someone who has given you a gift. At work you send a note to a new customer to say thanks for the new business.  And in the store you mumble a thank you when the checkout clerk hands you your change.

To whom do you say thank you?  And about what do you think a silent thank you?  If you are trying to cultivate an attitude of gratitude it's important to remember the everyday things that have the potential to bring joy to your day, if only you choose to notice them.  There are freebies all around you, all day long.  You can choose to be thankful for:
  • A beautiful sunrise or sunset
  • The sound of your favorite song on the radio
  • A gift of a sweetly drawn picture from your child or grandchild, niece or nephew
  • A helpful neighbor who keeps your trash cans from blowing down the street
  • A particularly delicious slice of pie
  • The coziness of your comfy sweater
  • A good hair day
  • The friend who calls you just when you need to talk to somebody
It's said that most salespersons drive past more business than they will ever do.  A similar thing is true of you and the things in your life for which you can be grateful.  They pass your notice because you are used to them being there.  Not everyone takes them for granted, and perhaps the ability to do so is the biggest thing of all for which you can be thankful.

What are you doing right now as you are reading this?  Are you sitting in a comfortable chair?  Are you wearing your favorite shoes? Are you sipping hot coffee or tea, prepared just the way you like them?  Stop, and say thank you.  No matter what else you want, or how much you think you need, you already have a lot right now.

Monday, November 23, 2015

It's OK to receive

Google Images: mixcloud.com

Do you have a difficult time receiving from others, whether it's a compliment, or a favor, or even money?  The proverb says that "It's better to give than to receive," but today's post is about what it's like to be on the other end of the transaction.

Has anyone ever circled the wagons for you?  Have they been there just when you needed them, giving generously and without question?  On those occasions how have you felt?  Have you joyfully accepted, with a grateful heart, or have you had inner obstacles that have prevented you from allowing your loved ones - or even strangers - the opportunity to give to you?

  • Pride -  Pride causes you to ask yourself, "How did I arrive in the position that someone else would feel the need to help me?"  Pride prevents people from asking for help when they need it, and pride spoils gratitude.  Excess pride causes you to feel one-down as the receiver rather than thankful for the help.
  • Worry - This is sometimes an extension of pride.  How will you ever reciprocate?  How will you ever find the resources to give back - not just to repay, but to demonstrate your own caring by being generous, by going all out?  Not all giving goes back to the original giver - at least not from you.  Sometimes your opportunity is to pay it forward, to someone else who needs the thing that you are able to give.
  • Shame - When you receive a compliment, can you simply say thank you, or do you feel the need to discount the nice thing that the person just said?  "This old thing?  I've had it for years, bought it for ten bucks, and see?  It has a little stain on the left lapel..." Don't call that nice person a liar or question their judgment in liking something about you.  Say thank you, thank you, I agree, or thank you, say it again!
It's a wonderful thing to be able to be there for someone else.  Let it be equally wonderful to discover the circle of care that surrounds you every day.  True generosity is not earned - release yourself from the need to deserve it.  Without questioning, without discounting, without protesting - say thank you.  Allow unqualified gratitude to wash over you.  There is something you've done, or there's someone that you are that has attracted that generosity.  It's OK  - it's good - to receive.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The balance between artisan, mass producer for biz growth

Google Images: trekearth.com
Does your business rely on "the hand of the artist"?  Certain products and services - works of visual or performing arts for instance - are valuable specifically because of the skills of a particular individual are used to produce it. They contain fingerprints of sorts, in technique, in subject, etc., that are characteristic of and unique to that individual.
Let's assume that you started your business because you have skills in a certain area.  When the business started you were (and maybe still are) hands on in everything.  You worked (or work) IN the business.  If you shift gears from that perspective and think about the prospect of working ON your business, you almost have to take into consideration the production limitations of the artist model.  

Health, vacation, family and/or other distractions all can detract from the ability to earn sustainable income.  So the artist turns to methods like recording and print making to multiply the number of customers that can purchase his or her single piece of work.  The selling price and perceived value goes down as the availability goes up - the rarest items are held as the most valuable - but for the artist the audience can be broadened as can the sources of revenue.

When Henry Ford started the concept of mass production in the assembly-line making of cars with limited available options he made tremendous advances in the availability of his product to a mass consuming public.  He systematized the process such that an employee only had to know how to do a very narrow part of the process well and could do it all day, all week, all year.  Yay.  How exciting and motivating for an employee to know that he or she attached umpteen sets of windshield wipers.

If you want to engage employees and thereby produce as much as you can from your investment in them, your approach has to be somewhere in between the artist's method and the mass producer.  Systematize what you can and engage employee brains wherever you can to continually improve and to manage the points of connection with customers.

In your business:

  1. What has to happen in the same way every time?
  2. What work contains innumerable repetitions (and may relate back to question #1)?
  3. What process has a lot of steps that you have to remember to replicate, with a specific sequence and timing?
These three categories are ripe for systematizing, and some of them may even be able to be automated, so employee brains (and yours) can be actively engaged somewhere else.

Let's talk about marketing for a moment.  Developments in software enable client companies to set up several sequences of marketing messages, enhanced by a decision tree, to help customers buy with no physical intervention from the company after the system was set up.  Wow.  No longer does an employee have to remember to send 5 different email offers, timed two days apart, to a prospect.  The offers would be identical from one prospect to the next, so the results of a particular campaign would be readily measured - and adjusted if necessary until it proved effective.

You don't have to be an artist to have an artist's mindset.  You might be in the business you are in BECAUSE you like to engage in the content of your business - repairing cars, designing websites, even practicing medicine.  You are an original in your own right.  But unless you systematize appropriate segments of your business you will be setting a limit on your revenue potential - AND potentially keeping products and services from customers who need and want to buy them.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Developing your unique brand

There are a few givens in today's world of work:   
Google Images: lynleystace.wordpress.com

  • Unless you are nearing the end of your work life you will probably have somewhere between 10 and 20 jobs over the course of your career.
  • You will be identified more by your individual "brand" than you will by an employer you have had.
  • Your recent roles and projects and results will help other people determine where you might fit into their scheme, their project, their team.

If ultimately your brand is you, how do you stand out from the crowd?  What makes you different from anyone and everyone else?  Are you quick to act? Do you attract people?  Do you have a visual eye that enables you to create something from scratch?  Are you a cocoon for people in trouble or in need?  Have you been gifted with a talent for discernment? Do you think in a way that is just a bit off the beaten path?

If you define yourself only by the seat in which you sit every day you will be missing the thrill, the strategic advantage, the peak performance that stems from unleashing your uniqueness. You do your job like nobody else does it, because of the talents and attitudes that you bring to it.  You could have the very same training as everyone else in your role in your company, yet the way you execute has your stamp on it.

Have you homogenized your performance to the point that your uniqueness, your personal brand, and your value to the business, have been diluted?  What if you were to allow your unfettered self to inform more of the way in which you do your job?

Let's take a simple example of individualism to illustrate. Think about painters whose art is widely known and highly valued:

  • Claude Monet - He enabled people to see images that were only suggested, not replicated, through brush strokes. 
  • Pablo Picasso - Picasso rearranged the perspective from which we view objects, converting them into juxtaposed planes. 
  • Salvador Dali - The best known name in surrealism sought to blur the line between dream and reality, to unlock the creative power of the subconscious mind.
  • Piet Mondrian - Mondrian is best known for his abstract grids of black on white, punctuated with squares and rectangles of primary colors.
You are an artist and you are ultimately your own creation.  The artists listed above assembled images in a new way.  Although they might be taught by others and inspired by others, an artist's goal is to express in a fresh way through the visual medium.  They might work in paint, like the examples above, or they might sculpt, photograph, or even crochet onto a tree!  The visual expression is simultaneously a representation of their world view and a demonstration of their skills and innovation in execution.  Each artist is unique in life experience, nuances of talent, training and geography.

When you develop the talents that make you one-of-a-kind you transform mere function into peak performance.  You can become the singular person that is best suited for this task, this challenge.  You might already be poised and ready - it's a matter now of noticing the opportunity to reveal your masterpiece.

Monday, November 16, 2015

HR isn't responsible for talent management

Google Images: eremedia.com
When a company is young and/or small the CEO is responsible for everything - sales, production, billing, collections, financial reporting, hiring, sometimes even sweeping the floor.  But as the company grows, at some point the owner brings on resources to help with some of the specialized tasks.  The owner is often relieved to be able to delegate to professionals in finance, and to human resources.

Part of the transition to an internal HR function is to reduce the company's risks of worker's compensation, hiring, proper management of documentation, even claims of discrimination.  Infractions and even simple oversights around the HR function can cost the business thousands of dollars.  So ultimately the business leadership relies more and more on either an internal HR professional or an outside HR contractor to keep things straight.

But perhaps business owners are trying to offload too much of the job onto human resources.  Several years ago, Josh Bersin posted on behalf of Deloitte that talent management "is a business problem, not an HR problem."  He wrote that senior leadership delegates too much of the responsibility there.  The management of the recruitment, onboarding, developing, deploying, and evaluating of talent has to align with the company's strategic direction.  And who owns the strategic direction?  The CEO.

Bersin says that the role of HR is to steward the process on behalf of the top executive in the company.  HR has the ability to obtain compliance around the company with its developed recruitment tools and performance management processes, but it cannot make the difference between company success and failure without the critical elements of strategic context and senior management direction and support.

What are you doing to involve your human resource professional in the strategic planning of your business?  In many plans a well-trained work complement is a critical success factor.  You won't achieve the plan unless your employees are selected and tooled to get it done. It's possible that your business's future success depends upon the talent recruitment and talent management processes.  Bring your HR professional into your plan so he or she can truly help you get it done.

Friday, November 13, 2015

New execs, old staff and the trust issue

"I'll admit it," she said.  "I have a crummy attitude, and
Google Images: Lifehacker.com
I'm sure it shows. I have no filter, so I say what's on my mind, and then I get in trouble for it."

These are the words of a middle manager who is bright and highly experienced in her function in her company. She has been through several leadership changes in recent years, reporting to a succession of other smart professionals brought in from the outside.  As each has come into the business, none of them has asked her for her opinion, the proven best practices in her department, or rationales for past decisions.  Instead they have made new decisions without consulting her.  She has decided that they don't trust her, and that's what has led to her current "crummy attitude".

From the executive's perspective
A new hotshot is brought in to "fix" a broken organization.  This guy believes that he has been brought in because

  1. He knows his stuff, and
  2. He is charged with changing things
So he feels a great sense of urgency to make improvements.  He works overtime, he strains his brain to look for solutions to long-existing problems.  And he makes changes.  And more changes.  He is frustrated that the changes are taking so long to take hold and show improvement.  And he is frustrated at the resistance he is receiving from the staff.  How can they not see that these are improvements that are going to benefit them and their customers?  Why can't they just trust him to do what's best for the business?

From the veteran employee's perspective
Here comes someone who has no idea about the company's clients, their employees, or their work processes. And they come in change things without asking anybody for their opinion.  Some of the changes they are recommending are throwbacks to the way things used to be, methods for running the business that were proven long ago not to work.

It's not that change is bad in the employee's mind.  It would be nice, though, to be consulted.  It would be nice to be involved in decisions that are going to affect one's own department.  Why can't the new guy trust them to run their departments?  It's obvious that he's taking on too much and trying to move too fast.  He's going to burn out, and the company's best people are going to get frustrated enough to leave.

What the incoming exec can do
The new guy will help himself if he takes some time to observe and learn before he takes action.  The folks in the business are not all ignoramuses awaiting his wisdom.  Yes, there is urgency for improvement.  Yes, he has been brought in specifically because of his expertise.  But he will be better able to rally the full commitment of the troops if he asks questions, seeks input, and opens conversation about the rationale behind some of the decisions he is making.  If he does these things, employees might not like his decisions, but they will understand them better, and they will be more likely to get on board more quickly.

What the existing managers can do
The veteran managers need to work on relationship building with their new boss, some of which can be accomplished by being proactive about communicating what they are working on and why.  The early months are important to the process of building an atmosphere of trust - they are going to need some relationship grease to help them through the friction that will inevitably result from upcoming changes. It's on them to avoid letting misunderstandings or discontentment stew until it leaks out in "crummy attitudes" or reduced productivity.  They need to address issues promptly with their new boss, and put the issues behind so they can get on with the work of change and improvement.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Accessibility - are you difficult to do business with?

How many ways are you accessible?  Is it important
Google Images: psuvanguard.com
for you and/or your business that people know where you are and how to reach you?  Who is in your circle of unlimited accessibility?

In favor of easy access
Accessibility, whether in the form of electronic access or physical proximity, increases the likelihood that people will be able to share non-critical but useful information with you.  When you make yourself accessible you open the door (literally or figuratively) to relationship building, which isn't always able to be confined to structured time frames or formal processes.

Accessibility tends to be the customer expectation at the moment, with all of the electronic means available through which to find and be found.  When you ask yourself and your colleagues, "Are we easy to do business with?" part of the answer is in whether you send customers through a voice mail gauntlet before they get to talk to a live human being.  When you've been on the caller end of the transaction the voice queue can be incredibly frustrating, especially when your hold time is long and, worse yet, accompanied by static-ridden muzak.

Being easy to do business with means that a customer can call you outside of business hours, or by email, or by text message.  Accessibility means that you have signage that clearly identifies your location, that you have parking readily at hand.  And of course, accessibility means that your products and services are easy to get to for people who have physical limitations. Does your building have too many steps, heavy doors, or do you use small print or big words in your written material?

In favor of limited access
Every now and then you (as an individual) need to go off the grid.  You need to be able to completely relax, shut down, and recharge your batteries.  You need peace and quiet to concentrate to envision, to plan, or to complete projects. This means no cell phone at your fingertips, no email, etc.  Think you can't get away without the walls of the business falling down?  If that's truly the case you have some work to do in developing processes and people so that the business isn't relying completely on you.

Sometimes you need to limit your access to other people for the benefit of the person right in front of you.  You show that other person how important he or she is to you when you don't allow noise (auditory or visual) to infringe on your opportunity to listen and relate to them with your full attention.

Last, limited access can increase value.  In professional services, lack of available billing time means that when time is at a premium, pricing can go up.  But there are other examples.  For instance, in town here there's a very specialized auto shop that specializes in repairs and restoration of high-end antique vehicles.  It's on an alley and is only marked by a tiny sign on its exterior.  Potential customers learn about it from current clientele, and if you were to drive past it you wouldn't realize that valuable cars were inside.  Collectors can do their transactions confidentially.

Are you using the accessibility factor strategically?  Do you need to be more accessible to do more business, or would you benefit from making yourself and/or your business slightly more exclusive?  Food for thought.