Friday, February 27, 2009

How often are you plugged into something else?

an important conversation
Originally uploaded by futurowoman

Take a close look at these two women. At first glance their forward posture and gestures might lead you to interpret that they are having an important conversation. Yet at closer examination you can notice that they are each plugged into a cellphone. They ARE having an important conversation, but it's with someone else. They are so engaged that they're not even noticing the person less than two feet away.

Anyone with a teenager will be all too familiar (and often frustrated by) this phenomenon. We've gone to the extent that iPods and cell phones are off-limits in certain situations - like the dinner table, for instance. Or if everyone's hanging out in the same area of the house we make a request that one ear stay unplugged so parents can get the music lover's attention without using a bullhorn.

Even during a trip through the store recently I saw a friend and said hello, but then immediately realized that she was intent on something being said to her through her earpiece. She didn't even know somebody was right beside her, she was concentrating so hard on the call.

How often are you plugged into something else? It doesn't even have to be an electronic device like your phone or the TV to distract you. You might be mentally plugged into things like:

  • The day you just had at work
  • Something somebody said to you that bothered you in some way
  • Making a list of chores (or groceries)
  • Rehearsing what you're going to say next
  • Money worries
  • Bad news that you're choosing the right time to tell
  • Good news that you're choosing the right time to tell
  • Somebody other than the person who's talking to you
  • How hot or cold you are right now, or whether the chair is comfortable

If you're plugged into something else you're contributing to the noise that prevents valid communication (that's two-way) from happening. And you're sending your own message, because the other person or persons are interpreting your distraction:

  • "They must not think I'm important"
  • "They must not value what I have to say"
  • "They aren't paying attention, so they are a good target"
  • "They don't want to be here"

The solution to this is one of the simple but hard things: unplug. Give yourself non-Blackberry time or create no-media zones. Make a list if chores or groceries or the information you need to tell are distracting you. Make eye contact with the person who's talking to you. Keep your mind quiet and pay attention to what they're saying. Apply your energy to the process of understanding what is being communicated, and to feeding back to them.

If you're not the one who's plugged in, you have a number of options:

  • Notice whether they're wearing a headset. This might sound obvious, but I've seen many a conversation go on for way too long before the sender realizes that the listener is engaged with something else.
  • Work with the other person to create ground rules (like "no Internet after 9 p.m.")
  • Wait for a better time for them, especially if it's really important that they hear and understand your message. You might even want to set an appointment or a date.
  • Ask them to unplug for this interaction. If they're really involved they might not even realize that you're trying to converse with them.

If you make a point to do these things consistently you should see an uptick in the quality of your conversations and an overall improvement in your relationships.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Send me your stories and win!

I'd like to know what's working for you in making changes and improvements in your company. Specifically I'd like to know
  • What you were trying to change and/or improve?
  • Why was it important to do so? (were you seeking particular rewards, avoiding potential consequences, etc.?)
  • What behavior changes were you trying to help your employees achieve?
  • What leadership behaviors or management techniques did you use that you found to be effective?
  • What were the results?
  • How long did it take to see the results? (interim results might be observable behaviors or activities, longer term results impacting customers, finances, management, growth and/or innovation)

There's something in it for you:

  1. I'll select one respondent to receive a free Attribute Index diagnostic (along with an interpretation debrief by phone)
  2. Another two will receive a free download of my ebook "Secret Messages - how your inner voice might be holding you back, and what to do about it."

Response deadline is Wednesday, March 4. Thank you, and good luck!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cost cutting vs. the growth plan

Stimulus Package
Originally uploaded by Tomitheos

Cost cutting and growth planning come from two different mindsets. It's my opinion that you can't cost cut your way out of a jam, at least not for the long haul, and succeed. Long term success involves building something, investing time, energy, and dollars in it.

The cost cutting mindset means hunkering down and waiting to be acted upon, but it's understandable:

  • When you cut a line item you know exactly what you're going to get - the cut line item.
  • When someone says they plan to grow you don't exactly know what you're going to get - what the result is going to be
  • It stems from scarcity mentality, from our early negative conditioning

If you're a growth planner and need to be persuasive with cost cutters, there are are several considerations to keep in mind:

  • Belief in and commitment to a positive result increase when the game plan (the specifics) are clear. Do your homework and lay it out in detail.
  • If you're in a high risk situation, or if you're having a tough time convincing others (or yourself) that your growth plan is feasible, develop more than one solution to your current or potential obstacles. That way the ups and downs of implementing your plan are less likely to cause an emotional roller coaster and the resulting knee-jerk, reactive decisions.
  • This is a time to underpromise and overdeliver. If the people you are trying to convince are in a scarcity-oriented, contracting mindset you're going to have a hard time suggesting that the outlook is white, instead of black as they're seeing it. Go for a medium shade of blue to be more believable. You'll still be making progress.

We really don't know the difference between an inspired plan and a hare-brained scheme until we see the results. If you're one of the skeptics, ask for details. But challenge your own assumptions about what is possible if the growth plan is solid.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What is your work style?

In case you haven't noticed (haha) there are several "camps" at work. I'm not talking about the cliques and departmental silos. These camps are defined by work style. Understanding your own and somebody else's preferences in how to go about work can go a long way to help you create good communication and prevent unmet expectations.

Answer the questions below:

  • Is it more important to you to have it done on time, or to have it done exactly the way you want it? (assume that you have to choose)
  • Would you rather have all the information before you start, or discover what you need to know as you go?
  • Do you work best in quiet, or with background sound of some sort?
  • Do you prefer to communicate in written form or orally?
  • Would you rather collaborate with someone or do your own thing?

Now that you've answered the questions above, what do you do on a consistent basis to work in the way you do best, and to help others do the same?

Sometimes when it feels like there's unnecessary pressure and/or tension in the workplace it's because people aren't communicating their preferences - either on the producer or the recipient side. It's possible, perhaps even likely, that a recipient of work is operating under the assumption that their preferences are known. It's also possible that a producer assumes that they aren't allowed the leeway to set themselves up in whatever way that helps them work the most effectively.

No matter whether you're the producer or the recipient, start asking questions. It's your responsibility to help make sure the work gets the intended results. Beyond that, the climate you help to set can help you establish outstanding performance that's sustainable over the long haul.

Monday, February 23, 2009

"I would like to thank..."

Daddy's Helping Hand
Originally uploaded by =Jess=

The words themselves almost become a part of the background (if you watch the Oscars or other awards shows) - "I would like to thank..." Now I'm not sure that people should take the time of millions of watchers to thank their second cousin's dog, but at least this gives them the opportunity and the expectation to express their gratitude.

Although we as spectators to the awards sometimes listen past the thanks in hopes that the recipient of the Oscar will make some outlandish statement, this is a beneficial ritual for all of us. Who among us doesn't have helping hands giving us a boost to the next step on our ladder of success? Or cheerleaders who help us celebrate when times are good? Perhaps a consoling shoulder for the days when it seems like the planets have aligned in the worst possible way? Nobody does it alone.

One of the most mortifying situations I can think of is to be on a world stage like the Oscars and to have to do what one recipient did - thank a person that he neglected to include on the film credits. Ouch. He did try to make it a bit better by thanking in words on TV, but I'm sure it's not quite the same as having your name circulate in every theater that shows your Academy Award Winning work, every time the movie runs.

So, at the risk of inadvertently leaving someone out, here's my list. You don't have to read it because it's mainly for them and for me, but it's important for me not to ask you to do anything I'm not willing to do, so I'm putting it out there.

  • Mom and Dad - you got me started on this journey and have supported my dreams, no matter how harebrained they might have seemed to you at the time
  • Jimbo - partner and best friend, for appreciating me even when I'm being the worst version of myself
  • My girls - for adding joy to my life and the promise of the future, and for inspiring me to be the person I'd like to be
  • Dave and Jay - for continuing to be creative, inspiring me to do the same
  • JET - for my first chance to be a supervisor
  • Mike, Lance and Phil - three great bosses who helped me learn how well leadership could be done back in my banking days
  • Joe and Linda - Linda is no longer with us, but the two of you helped me strike out on my own to create my own future
  • JG and David - mentors and friends who help me reach for a higher standard
  • Mark and Jerry - who help me keep my head screwed on straight, and it's not an easy task some weeks!
  • Tammy - who's always working to provide resources and support so I can succeed, and who listens
  • My B & B friends - you listen even when I'm blathering on
  • Mindy - for being my friend for almost 40 years now
  • Mr. Boyer - for giving me my first shot at singing by myself in public
  • Larry - for helping me discover what my voice could do
  • Mrs. Wallick - for my first big writing assignment, one that helped me meet Isaac Asimov, Col. Harlan Sanders, Bob Griese and Ray Charles, among others
  • The countless others who have shown the way, provided a hand up and/or a shoulder to cry on

Wow - that felt great! Now you go out and thank somebody. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, February 20, 2009

No flavors of the month!

Do you like variety? Do you like having a little change of pace? Tired of the same-old same-old? Well, if you lead a company save your fickleness for gelato. You'll mess up your company if you apply the flavor of the month concept to your direction, even to your staff development efforts.

Here's what tends to happen: a leader or leadership team makes a decision about a direction or initiative. Initially the organizational response is "Great, that's exactly what we need to do!" Then a few days, weeks, or months down the road people start to realize that if the company is going to change they aren't going to be able to live the life that they've been used to all these years. They are going to need to change themselves, and that doesn't go down very well. Storming ensues.

Here's the challenge - there are some decisions, perhaps the bulk of them, that don't show results right away. It's decision - delay - results. Oftentimes the organizational storming comes just when the delay has set in. The decision has not yet had the opportunity to demonstrate its validity and the natives are restless. Perhaps the leadership is also restless, impatient or bored with the new status quo.

Watch out if this is where you are. You might feel the pull to try a new flavor, to make a different decision that must be better than this one. That decision will be equally hard to implement, and after a brief honeymoon period you'll be dealing with the same resistance from your staff. Your apparent waffling (no food pun intended!) by changing your mind will be translated into lack of credibility in your staff's eyes.

When looking at personal habits, my coaching clients and I talk about the impact of rewards and consequences on our choices of behavior. Generally speaking, habits they identify as "bad" are ones that have short-term rewards and only long-term consequences. "Good" habits tend to be the opposite - they are hard to do right now because they require some sacrifice, and they don't tend to show their rewards until later - even much later.

This is what happens with your company and your commitment to positive change. This is why I call this type of leadership situation "putting a stake in the ground." If a tent is well staked even a brisk wind will not be able to tip it over. The concept is revealed by your determination to see a decision through long enough to give it an opportunity to produce the results you're seeking. You persist even though your employees aren't totally comfortable with it. You keep going even if YOU'RE the one who's getting a little squirrely. If it's the right thing to do you keep at it.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Changing your company (or your department)

There's quite a bit of debate as to where change should originate, and who's accountable to make sure it happens. On one hand we have the egalitarian approach, where change is expected to bubble up from the front lines. On the other hand we've got the top-down approach, where senior leadership establishes a vision and pounds the stake into the ground and everyone in the company is expected to line up behind it.

Today's post is about the latter approach, not because bubble-up ideas aren't valuable, but because really big changes can only happen via a process of resource alignment. And only the big guys can decide where resources are going to go. When looking at the people side of the alignment process, and making sure they're tooled up to go where you want them to go, I've seen companies try

  • The pilot project approach. This method is used in an attempt to "test and measure" an initiative before too many financial resources are committed to it. There are challenges inherent in the pilot project, including the variations among potential pilot groups that might skew the test results and the fact that the people with the smallest spheres of control are the guinea pigs. But the stickiest problem with pilot projects is that the organization is interdependent and newly trained "conforming" departments will constantly be confronted with the masses of still-unwashed, making it hard to sustain momentum. There's a certain critical mass (including the people with the juice) necessary in order to help the ship turn itself, and pilot groups usually aren't enough to do it.
  • The diagonal slice. Unlike many pilot projects, the diagonal slice includes people from all levels in the organization. That enables some decision makers to spread the new philosophy and to provide support for the other participants (by allocating resources, etc.) Because it's diagonal, the slice crosses departments, which can help cross-fertilize the new way of doing things. But because it's diagonal, I as a participant might have a boss that's not yet on board - my management ally is in charge of another department. So I'm trying to push change uphill, not a fun task, especially if my boss wasn't selected for the slice because he or she is somewhat entrenched in the old methods.
  • The top-down approach. While it might sound old-school and authoritarian, the top-down approach enables the company to get buy-in from leaders first. They can go through the forming and storming processes as a unit, wrestling with the new concepts and refining the approach before they are accountable to support the change in their respective departments. Each manager can thereby put his or her own stake in the ground for the future of the organization, aligned with the big picture drawn by the top folks on the org chart.

This isn't an instant process. Just like in any ecosystem, there are processes, relationships and chain reactions that become tests for the new vision. Count on a year to three years to fully integrate the new vision if it's substantially different from what has been. It requires the leadership's stake in the ground to prevent a backslide just because sustainable change is so hard and takes so long to do.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Nine tips for sharing bad news

One of the toughest communication situations is when you have to share bad news. If you're a "feeler" type of person your empathy for the other person and your own emotions about the news might make it a dreaded task. If you're more of a "thinker" type of person you might be uncomfortable with the unpredictability of the other person's potential reaction. Either way, here are some tips to help make the process as productive as possible:

  • Know what your intention behind sharing the bad news is. Are you looking for the person to change some behavior? Are you trying to prepare the person for something that is out of their control, but that you know is going to happen? Is your goal merely to demonstrate that you have an inside track on information? (That's not a valid reason to share bad news - that's just gossip.)
  • Make sure the news you intend to convey is accurate. Even if you're a physician and you believe that this person's illness is terminal you might not be aware of all of the cutting edge treatments, etc. that would change the prognosis. Don't preview an outcome that you're not sure will happen and then treat it as fact when you talk to them.
  • Make sure you're the appropriate person to convey the news. If you know the information second-hand its accuracy is already suspect, because you would have heard it interpreted by another person, then unconsciously filtered it yourself. This bad news might be none of your business. In addition, if the information is of a technical nature you might not be viewed as a credible source by the receiver, and thus you'll dilute the effectiveness of the communication.
  • Consider whether the person you're talking to can do anything about what you're telling them. This is an everyday example - if you're at lunch and your companion has a stain on his tie it serves no purpose to point it out. He's not going to change his tie at lunch - your message will only make him feel self-conscious. An exception to this would be if you know he has a big presentation after lunch and would want to replace his tie beforehand.
  • Really bad news should be told in person. Good communication is a two-way process - you need to see and be able to respond to body language that gives you feedback on their reaction to the information. You might not even be able to tell whether the other person heard you correctly if you're not right there providing an opportunity for dialogue.
  • Choose your words. In general, more words clutter your message. There are situations where you need to set some context before you get right into it, but give the person credit for being able to handle whatever you have to say to them. To do less is to treat them as though you're their parent, and when you do that you increase the likelihood that they'll react like a child.
  • Understand that they might get angry at you even if you're a neutral party. The receiver of the message will have feelings about it, and they need their space in which to react. Remember that no matter how they might lash out at you it probably isn't really about you. You're simply the one who's there, and if you can keep an appropriate level of detachment from the emotional content you are in a better position to be helpful to them. Empathy (seeing their perspective) is not the same as sympathy (agreeing with it.)
  • If there are potential solutions get right to them. Few people want to wallow in a bad state - help them to feel control or influence over their situation by talking through the actions or alternatives they can take to improve the outcome. This doesn't mean that you dance right past the bad news. When, for instance, it's a performance issue that's creating the potential for the person to be fired they might need to have some time to absorb the potential consequences of the problem before they're ready to commit to new actions.
  • Be wise about location and timing. Bad news is best told in private so the person can react without losing face. (Don't break up with somebody in a restaurant!) And unless it's a critical emergency upon which they have to act immediately, don't tell them the bad news right before they are getting ready to do something important. The will just distract them from doing their best, or from enjoying a moment that they deserve to enjoy.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The down-market case for training - part 2

Check out Jason Blais's blog The Recruiting Front Lines for part two of my guest post series on why it's important for companies to continue to invest in their people, especially when times are tough.

Thank you, Jason, for the opportunity to contribute to your blog.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Who do you love?

Don't worry - this isn't going to be some ooey-gooey post on how you should buy your honey a pair of diamond earrings, although I'm not saying it wouldn't be nice. (Are you reading this, Jimbo?) What I want to know is Who Do You Love?

I'll never forget the day ### years ago when I was a teenager and the pastor in my church talked about how love isn't a feeling - it's a behavior. So we can feel happy or sad, amused or irritated and we still can love. We can demonstrate to other people that they have value in our lives and they are worth our attention just because of who they are.

I think the best love is unsullied by an agenda. While many of our relationships rely on reciprocity, "You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours," it's really great to see giving that's just giving with no expectation of a return gesture. Altruism is love. Volunteerism is love.

I also particularly appreciate seeing love that's given when the person being loved is not particularly lovable. I love seeing people reach out to people who are different, or difficult, and I love it when these dear people persist until they eventually create a little crack in the other person's protective crust. Once that little crack lets some light in the "unlovable" can start to evolve into someone new.

You can't truly love other people unless you allow them to love you too. There are people in your life who want to do things for you. Sit back once in a while and be the recipient of a favor, or of a compliment, without trying to give them back. Don't tell them they're wrong for noticing something good about you.

Have a warm and wonderful weekend. Connect with whomever it is that you love. Cya next week.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Fourteen hats business owners wear

i wear many hats
Originally uploaded by C NOH

If you're getting serious about making your own success by starting your own company, you'll want to think about the many hats you'll need to be wearing. It usually can't be just about the hat that you're good or experienced at wearing, at least at the beginning, unless you're launching your business with enough capital to have somebody else wear one or more of the other ones for you. And even if you do have a decent amount of capital going in, if you're willing to put in some sweat equity instead of hiring hat wearers (services) you'll need to make fewer sales to obtain a return on your startup investment. Here are fourteen hats (roles) you might have to wear:

  • Strategic planning officer
  • Chief financial officer
  • Bookkeeper
  • Director of human resources
  • Director of training
  • Marketing specialist
  • Salesperson
  • Chief technician
  • Supervisor
  • Customer service representative
  • Head of research and development
  • Maintenance technician
  • Production manager
  • Production department

This is reality check time. It can feel glamorous to say "I own my own business." But with autonomy comes a lot of responsibility, and in some areas that might not be your favorites (or your current areas of skill.) Owners of really small businesses make their own trips to Staples, Kinkos, or other supply stores to prepare for their work. Sometimes they sweep their own floors.

Running a franchise

You might want to consider hooking up with a franchise if you want some decisions to be made for you (share some of your hats) and some proven structure for your business. In many cases the franchising company will even assist with site selection to increase your odds of success. If your capital is tight, though, this might not be a feasible option - some franchises have a pretty salty upfront investment requirement. You'll also want to find out what percent of your revenue goes back to them for marketing and other support.

Becoming a distributor

Some companies have a product already and are looking for hands and feet to get the product to prospective customers. As in a franchise, there might be an upfront investment for you to obtain a license to distribute their products. But some firms provide extensive training and an ongoing support system for you without taking a piece of your profits. In a distributorship situation you'll be delegating your research and development hat and your production hat, so you'll have product ready to sell and the ability to focus on your sales and marketing hats. Just do your due diligence about their new product development, shipping practices, customization, relationships with current distributors, etc.

Taking on partners

You can create a formal partnership, or form some looser strategic alliances with other small firms to share hats, or to add to your available capital. Either way, it's important to have a shared understanding of decision making and revenue sharing policies. If you're forming an actual operating partnership, draft a partnership agreement with the help of an attorney outlining these things so they don't bite you later. Oh, and don't make the partnership 50-50. At some point somebody has to take the lead, and you want to make it very clear at the beginning who that person will be.

Becoming a hat juggler

Some business owners are such because they enjoy the diversity of the many hats they wear. They like to swim upstream, to create, to learn new things. The challenge in being so diverse is that it can become easy to lose focus on the activities that are actually generating revenue. Designing your own rocking website doesn't matter if you aren't creating enough revenue to support yourself and your family (and to keep your business open.)

The good news is that virtually all of the skills you need to run a business are developable. The key is whether or not you start with (or create) the financial buffer to support your learning curve.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Have You Discovered Your Purpose Yet?

People have been talking, books have been written, all about determining and living by your purpose. It's been in the public awareness (at least in the circles in which I run) for a few years now. I'm bringing up the topic today because although the concept of purpose resonates with people, many of the folks I've talked to can't figure out what theirs is.

So what?
Why does it matter whether or not you've defined your reason for being? There are many reasons, but here are just a few:
  • Knowing your purpose helps you choose opportunities that are consistent with who you are and/or who you want to be. You'll get more value from them and probably will do them better because they hit your "sweet spot."
  • Corollary to the first point is that it's a time saver. You can avoid wasting your time in ventures that aren't in alignment with your really big goal for your life.
  • Your purpose can help hold you accountable when you're about to chicken out of something just because it's uncomfortable or inconvenient. If it helps you fulfill your purpose you do it, even if you think it's going to be difficult.
  • A sense of purpose helps you persist, even when times are bad and things aren't going your way.

Who does your purpose serve?

True purpose serves other people and/or serves the world - it is not selfish. Purpose is your way of contributing. The intent of defining your purpose is to engage the connection between you and your higher power, between you and the "ecosystem" in which you live.

How do you define your purpose?

  • If you need clues to help you determine what your purpose actually is, look at the ways in which you are investing your time, money and energy. Look for common denominators.
  • Think about the intentions you have behind the things that you do. Sometimes intentions can be more revealing of purpose than actions because (I know this will come as a huge shock) things don't always come off the way we intend them to.
  • I've written this before, but if you want a format for writing your purpose you can say, "I exist to serve by _________-ing ____________," and fill in the blanks. Treat your purpose statement like an affirmation, repeating it to yourself and/or keeping it in a place that's visible enough to you to reinforce it.

Now align your actions with your purpose

A purpose written on paper isn't worth much. On the other hand, a purpose that is revealed through intentional actions has huge power attached to it. This is where the accountability comes in. Look at situations and opportunities through the lens of your purpose, and choose your actions based upon the extent to which they will help you live in alignment with your life's reason.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Why training is especially important right now

Hey, I've got a guest gig on The Recruiting Front Lines, a blog by Jason Blais. Yesterday's post was Part 1 of a two-post series on The Down-Market Case for Staff Development. Some companies are under the impression that training, coaching, and development efforts are luxuries and should be the first thing to cut from their budgets. Not so. Businesses need their sharpest minds and swiftest hands on deck right now.

Check out Jason's blog (and my post from yesterday) at

Part 2 will be up on Thursday. Enjoy!

Monday, February 9, 2009

What decision would you make?

Sometimes you just have to decide whether you're going to go into it, and if you are, which door you're going to take. Yesterday I had the opportunity to hear someone make a completely incorrect assumption about someone I know. The situation involved someone who is well-intentioned but a bit old school.

This person saw a young man of color walking around a hallway in a public building, suggested that he should do something more productive with his time, and then later told a group of us about the encounter. There are two issues for me:

  • Who elected this person hall monitor?
  • More importantly, this person made assumptions and verbalized them that this young man must be "from the apartments." That's code for low income and a whole host of other not-so-nice characteristics.

I know this young man, I know that he's polite and thoughtful, and pretty mature for his age. I also know that his parents are professionals and they live in a beautiful, large new house. I am particularly prone to rising hackles when I hear this sort of thing, so I have a decision to make.

Now for my question for you, dear readers: how do you think the situation should have been handled?

  • Should I have ignored the whole thing and let this person continue the misunderstanding about this young man (and about a whole category of people?)
  • Would you think it would be better simply to clear up the misinformation and leave it at that?
  • Should I have pointed out that this person's view was patently racist and reflected old stereotypes that no longer apply?
  • Would it have been better to leave that part alone and ask the person who appointed them hall monitor in the first place?

I chose to clear up the misinformation and not go further than that. It was a fairly public setting, so I didn't think it would have been helpful for me to take the person on over the meaning of their comments. In all fairness I would have had to make sure that I wasn't making my own assumptions about the intended connotations of "I think he comes from the apartments."

When we hear comments that let us know that we're not completely past the racial divide in our country, do we have an obligation to get involved? Does our involvement place us inappropriately in a "parent" ego state? If we don't say something are we contributing to the problem's longevity? What do you think?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

What are you listening for?

We Are Listening
Originally uploaded by Modest and Jill

As we were sitting in the family room last night, my husband said to me, "I thought your parents would want to go to the cabin." Innocuous enough - had you not seen the look on our Lab's face. Cookie LOVES the cabin and she recognized the words THE CABIN. She went from what appeared to be a deep sleep to full alert in less than a second, staring intently at Jim to see whether he'd get out of his chair and start to pack her dog food and treats. No such luck for our dear Labrador last night. After staring at him for a few hopeful moments she realized it was a mistake, put her head back down and went back to sleep. What are you listening for?

  • Some of us, like Cookie the Labrador, are listening for a specific word or a specific piece of information. Years ago a Far Side cartoon showed a thought bubble over a dog's head that read "blah blah blah Ginger. Blah blah blah blah Ginger blah..." Much the same, when we're waiting to hear a certain word or concept we have the tendency to tune out everything else, including the full meaning of what's being said.
  • Sometimes we listen for a point of disagreement. We wait on tenterhooks until the person we're not supporting says something with which we disagree. I saw that all over the place last Fall during the presidential campaign (not that I ever did it myself, wink wink.) Last Fall we shouted at the TV set and ranted with our compadres, "Can you BELIEVE that thing they said!" In face to face communication our spine stiffens and we suck in a breath, ready to take the other person on and "straighten them out."
  • We can also tend to hear what we expect. You've seen it a million times - a young man asks the woman of his dreams out on a date and she says yes. His head droops and he replies, "Oh well, I didn't think you would anyway," and the girl has to repeat her message to get it through his head. "I said YES. I'll go to the dance with you." An abrupt smile spreads across the young man's face and a happy end to the story ensues from there.
  • Sometimes we don't listen at all - rather we use the time to rehearse our point. You've seen this demonstrated when you've been in a meeting and someone dropped into the conversation with a complete nonsequitur. They were mentally checked out while a question or controversy was cleared up, and now they repeat a question or backtrack in the discussion. The fact that their question or comment is well-formed is now irrelevant - it makes no sense in the context of the current conversation.

Just like we wear attitudinal goggles when we interpret events that we see, we do a similar thing with our ears - we turn down the treble and crank up the bass to create the input we want. It might not be the input that the other person intended, but it's consistent with OUR concept for the song. When we edit what we're listening to we might be missing the very part of the music that's the most important for us to hear.

So what are you listening for? What is your goal? Is it to have more complete information? Is your goal to look smart? Is your goal to win an argument, or to perpetuate a good relationship with the person with whom you're conversing? When you are consciously aware of the reasons why you're listening you are generally better focused on doing a good job of it. Food for thought.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Ultimately it's personal

What's the difference you see in working with a corporation and working with a small business? Some would genralize that small business is all about the relationship and a corporation is all about this transaction and the profit it will generate. Perhaps that's a jaded view toward large companies, but maybe it's not even about the size of the organization - it's the attitude a company of any size has toward its customers.

It's harder to maintain customer loyalty without a relationship. Yes, I'm attached to the convenience of the ATM locations that my bank has, but my staying there is more about the people who work there. The bank gets larger and larger, its name and its products change over time, but my relationship is with the people. Ultimately it's personal.

So how do you maintain that personal touch?

  • Make opportunities to listen, and then LISTEN and take action based upon their input.
  • Know customers' names - even if you can't remember a name, look at the credit card or deposit slip, etc. they hand you to help you.
  • Personalize your service. If they have preferences for shipping, do your best to accommodate them. If they're a regular and like a certain type of product, try to have it in stock, and let them know when you've got something fresh and/or new that you think they'd like.

If you're an executive and not the primary contact with external customers you have a tougher job, but one that's also important to the relationship with customers. Let them know you. Not just in your official capacity, but let them know YOU. Ultimately it's personal. Sometimes in order to hear the "real deal" from customers you need to let them hear the "real deal" from you first. Show them that it's OK to tell it like it is, not just the superficial "everyone's fine and isn't it great we're having weather" sort of conversation that contributes no real value to the relationship.

I won't go as far as to say that you should show customers the incision from your recent surgery. But people do business with people they know and people they like. Show them your likable self (OK, OK, maybe it's buried WAAY down deep - just kidding.) Let them know you. You'll pull them closer to your company in the process.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Where do you look for your luck?

Do you think you're lucky? Do you think that you're unlucky? Where do you look for your luck? (I dare you to say that five times really fast!) What are its sources? And where is your evidence?

OK, I'll admit it - I still read my horoscope every day, even though my husband busts me about it. I'm the first one to open my fortune cookie - although on occasion I've been convinced that I inadvertently switched them and gave one of my daughters MY fortune. But I don't play the lottery and I don't have special items of clothing that I think give me special powers or luck. (Well, maybe CERTAIN garments are lucky!)

Is luck controlling you?

Seriously, though, when you rely on luck where are you placing the control for your life? Outside of you. When you rely on being lucky you're saying that you don't have influence over the things that happen to you. I simply don't think that's valid.

You might not be able to control whether you get sick, but you can have a huge influence over the condition in which you maintain your body and the hygiene habits you develop. You might not be able to control whether your employer is going to do layoffs, but you can influence whether you're versatile enough and valuable enough that you're one of the last to be let go. Or perhaps you're well-rounded and educated enough that you're the first one to find a new opportunity.

Luck is in what you see

Luck is partly in your perception of events. Imagine a person who missed their usual train into Lower Manhattan on the morning of 9/11. He or she felt unlucky and stressed out - until the towers fell and they realized that their "bad luck" saved their life. Perhaps there are events in your life that you're interpreting as unlucky only because you're not looking beyond the surface. If you believe that all happens for good, then even seemingly unfortunate events have a beneficial nugget that can come out of them for you. You might have to dig a little, or wait a little while for the mud to wash off of them, but they are in there.

Make your own luck

Seneca, Roman philosopher, said that "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." Times of change and upheaval are also times of great opportunity. How have you prepared yourself to take advantage of the opportunities that are out there?

Even if you have not prepared well so far, today you have an opportunity to make a different decision on that front. Today you can decide to take a new direction and act on it - right now. With your luck, it just might be the best move you ever made.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Getting started in blogging

I've been getting a lot of questions lately from friends and colleagues who are considering dipping their toes into the water of blogging, but who aren't sure where to begin. So here are some quick off the cuff pointers from someone who is NOT a huge techno type. If I can get started, then you can.
  • Determine a focus that you're passionate enough about that you'd have something to say a few times a week. Posting frequency varies from blog to blog, but your post frequency should relate to your topic. A blog with personal observations and experiences doesn't have a defined sense of urgency. If, however, you do a newsy blog you won't attract readers if you're not updating frequently.
  • Find a blogging platform that you're comfortable using. I use Blogger because it requires little to no knowledge of html and there are templates to work from. Wordpress and Typepad are also popular blogging platforms that you might want to investigate.
  • Think about how your blog is going to relate to your website. Is it your complete site, or does your main site link to it? One of the great things about blogging is that it creates fresh content for your website.
  • Once you've got your blog up and running, make it easier for people to find you. Register with Technorati to become more easily searchable and get set up through Feedblitz if you'd like an easy way for your fans to subscribe to your blog. Both sites have widgets that you can insert into your blog layout by cutting and pasting code that's already formatted for you.
  • Gussy up your blog if you wish with photos. Blogger can help you upload your own pictures into posts, or you can find photos at a photo sharing site like Flickr.
  • Read other blogs to get an idea how you might format your posts, and to see the "voices" that bloggers use to convey their points. Some are talkative, some sling mud from time to time, some are a bit cerebral - you get the picture. Comment on their posts and/or include links to their blogs in your own posts. Reciprocity can create online relationships with other bloggers and generate a cross-pollination of regular readers.
  • Participate in the blogosphere. Some blogs (like ProBlogger) have contests from time to time that help other site fans find you if you enter. There are also blog carnival sites where you can post alongside other bloggers by topic. If you attract a one-time reader with an awesome post you might just wind up converting them into a regular blog follower.
  • Consider recruiting a guest blogger from time to time to change up your content and voice. A "celebrity" contributer, whether it's from the blogging community or from your home town, can attract new readers for you.
  • At some point you'll consider whether you can make money from your blog. Google Adsense is a way to earn revenue from your blog, but it requires reader traffic to do much for you. Also consider other ways to connect your blog to your revenue stream. Mine is focused on clients and prospective clients, so the connection to revenue is a little different than some other blogs might be.

I guess that's about enough for right now. But if you're thinking of getting started and have questions on how to go about it, shoot me a note and I'll be happy to help as much as I can. Good luck!