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March 2010

Changing Perspectives on Our Changing Surroundings

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is credited with the adage, “The only constant is change.”

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With 2009 moving farther into the rear view mirror, many of us are reflecting less on the changes brought on by last year’s economic headlines and instead are focusing on the questions ahead. 


"How will health care reform affect me or my organization?" "Will Toyota be able to repair its reputation?" and “Should I get an i-Pad?” are just a few of the new questions linked to changes already seen in 2010. Many more unforeseen changes certainly will follow as the rest of the year unfolds.


Reactions to change – as individuals and organizations – have a major impact on our ability to be healthy, productive and successful.


For individuals, handling change requires the ability to learn, adapt and apply wisdom to new circumstances. Author and leadership coach for several Fortune 500 companies, Kevin Cashman, says, "It's about developing an unshakable inner confidence that we can handle and learn from anything that comes our way.”


A five-year study of 97 active, productive people older than 100 years of age conducted by Dr. Leonard Poon of the University of Georgia found that, beyond genes and diet, there are six common characteristics that form a foundation of resilience needed to best handle change:

  • Support: From friends and family
  • Engagement: Active involvement in life
  • Relaxation: A tendency to be calm and relaxed
  • Optimism: A positive view of the past and future
  • Problem-solving: A sharp mind and a determined spirit
  • Adaptability to Loss: Ability to stay balanced by adapting to and accepting change and loss


For organizations, the challenge of anticipating and meeting change head on is greater than ever before. New technologies and business models in particular are leveling the playing field in many ways. The best-equipped organizations, according to best-selling author and Harvard professor Gary Hamel, will be those that have equipped their employees in two ways:

  • With the power to innovate
  • With the ability to do more than simply follow orders from senior leadership

Companies that have been practicing this philosophy in the past are now reaping the benefits. IBM, for example, had an on line "Innovation Jam" in 2006 in which 100,000 employees, customers, consultants and others shared their views with the CEO. Top management then gave funding to the best ideas, which are an important part of the company’s business offering today.


The bottom line is, without change, companies and individuals become stagnant. As we move ahead, remember that integrating the reality of change can be liberating and growth stimulating. Keep your eyes and ears open, work to cut through the layers of old patterns and discover the opportunities that will keep you ahead of the curve.

Do mobile apps breathe new life into the traditional coupon?

Screen shot 2010-03-25 at 11.05.09 AM I don't know about you, but I have a vivid memory of my mom clipping coupons out of the Sunday paper.  She even had this little Filofax coupon organizer.  We often chose restaurants, specific brands or family outings based on a current coupon.

Coupons have been around forever and the basic premise -- if someone is buying a product/service that feels like a commodity (one pizza place over another), a discount or $ off offer will often sway the decision.

With the web came printable coupons.  No longer did we have to wait for the newspaper or Valpak mailing.  We could search for what we wanted and print them off on demand.  

Now, phone apps take coupons to an all new level.

For example, Valpak recently launched phone apps for the Android platform, the iPhone™ iPod touch®, as well as for smartphones running the Palm® Pre™ platform.

They'll be adding the Blackberry® within the next 30 days, making mobile couponing through Valpak possible for the vast majority of smartphone users.

The phone app uses the phone's GPS technology to only serve up coupons in the vicinity of the phone.  So whether you are home or traveling, you can quickly and easily search for coupons in the following categories:

  • Dining
  • Auto
  • Beauty
  • Health
  • Shops
  • Leisure
  • Home
  • Professional
  • General 

You can then click on an offer and use the phone’s mapping function to get directions.  The app also allows you to simply tap on the business' phone number to dial, making it easy to call for more information.
 
“Never before has it been so easy and convenient to stretch your budget,” said Deanna Willsey, director of corporate communications for Valpak. “Our smartphones go with us everywhere, and now savings opportunities from restaurants and spa services to groceries and auto services are available whenever we have a few minutes to look for them.” 

We're just seeing the tip of the iceberg on how mobile technology is going to change many aspects of how we communicate, connect and conduct business. 

I'm curious -- will this sort of "just in time" coupon delivery change your perspective of Valpak, coupons or how you will make buying decisions?


~ Drew

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Nine Sales Habits to Work on in Q2

Planning requires a pointed focus on the goalsImage by wildphotons via Flickr

We are about to end the first quarter of the year and many of you are already looking ahead to the second quarter.  This is a great time to plan to start some new business development and sales habits or to improve upon the good ones that you already have.  Here are nine ideas.


#1 Planning

Great planning is more than just making a "to do" list for the next day or the next week. The "to do" list method tends to keep us focused on the most urgent matter. It is reactive in nature rather than proactive.

Great planning requires that you develop an understanding regarding what activities and projects are highly important, but not necessarily urgent. Make these things a priority by developing the habit of scheduling time for them each week. By the way, all of the ideas in this blog post are important, but not urgent.


#2 Execution

Many of us already habitually plan. Our real struggle is with execution. We could spend a lot of time talking about why people fail to execute their plans. Here is my simple explanation. 

We each have individual patterns, or HABITS, that dictate how we spend our time. These habits are strong like gravity. Like launching a rocket ship, getting beyond the gravitational pull of these habits takes an extreme amount of focus and energy. Too often, we simply just run out of fuel before we have broken free of one habit and replaced it with another.

This quarter, plan realistically and then commit to mustering the energy necessary each day to replace a few less productive habits with that of better execution.

#3 Reading

If a top sales person or a very successful business owner said that they would sit down with you for an hour a day for the next couple of weeks and systematically transfer what they know and and all it will cost you is about $25, would you do it? Of course! So why not get in the habit of reading their books and blogs. If you don't like to read, get their books on CD or find some podcasts with the content you want.

#4 Practice

When a professional athlete loses the desire to practice, they retire. As professional sales people or business owners, we expect to make more money each year but we rarely practice those skills that will lead to making more money. Pick a few sales skills that need improvement and establish a practice regimen.

#5 Social Media

Successfully using Twitter, facebook, Linked In, or a blog to develop business requires one to habitually use these tools over time. It is a long term investment. If you are reading this, you probably already are using one or more of the tools. Examine your habits and see what you can do to be more efficient and consistent.

#6 Relationship Building

Networking in and of itself does not necessarily build relationships. Establish the habit of once per week reaching out to at least one person in the business community whom you have met. Send them an e-mail, call them, invite them for coffee, send an article, tweet them, send a message on facebook, or send a hand written note. Anything just to "touch" them and build your relationship.

#7 Give Referrals

Everyone wants to get more referrals. Referred clients are better for so many reasons. The easiest way to get more referrals is to be great and giving referrals. Whenever you meet someone or engage with people in your network, habitually ask yourself the question, "Who do I know that would be a good prospect for this person?"

#8 Exercise

What does this have to do with increasing sales? Regular exercise will give you more more energy and help you to be more productive. More importantly, regular exercise will help you maintain a positive attitude. Let's face it. Bad days happen. A brisk walk or run won't change the facts, but it will change how you feel.

#9 Rest & Relax

Sales professionals and business owners have a real balancing act to perform. We must maintain a hyperbolic sense of urgency about some things all the time. After all, time is money. But on the other hand, we have to keep in mind that growing a book of business with a steady pipeline of new customers is a marathon, not a sprint.

To stay focused, motivated, and energized, you need to avoid getting worn down and burned out. Make rest and relaxation time a habit.

What other sales habits would you suggest to improve business development?

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I want out! (of this contract)

This way outImage by llamnudds via Flickr

You are in a contract and want out. Ask yourself the basics: How, when, why and will it be worth the expense?


Ask these questions in reverse order.


1)    Will it be worth the expense?

If a court finds that you breached or repudiated a contract, the court may 1) order you to complete the contract, 2) award the amount of benefit you already received to the non-breaching party, 3) award the amount the non-breaching party would have received in the contract, or 4) award the amount needed to return the non-breaching party to the same position it was in prior to the contract.


Most of the time, you will pay your own litigation costs.


In addition to these costs, assess other costs of breaching a contract. Will the breach cause:

-   a marketing/publicity fallout?

-   an insurance problem?

-   problems with other contracts due to cross-default provisions?

-   a conflict with who you are (as a person, a leader, a business)?

Keeping your “word” is worth a lot personally and in business. Following through on what you say sets the tone for ongoing business relations. Usually it is worth losing a bit of money to keep your good name. There are some exceptions. If you determine this time it is “worth it”, 1) address it early, 2) try to mitigate everyone’s damages, 3) put it in writing.

If it is worth it to get out, do you want out because the other party has breached, too? Was there a communication or mistake of fact between both parties? Are you unable to do what you promised?


2)    Why?

If THEY do something wrong:

-   Address it early: Early recognition of the problem gives everyone more time to make corrections which may solve the problem or at least mitigate damages. In most situations, parties have an obligation to keep damages as low as possible. Put another way, if someone sets your tablecloth on fire, you need to put out the fire, you cannot just watch it burn down the house and then say “your fault”.

-   Put it in writing: It you get into a fight down the road, it will be easier to prove your position if you document the problem.

-   Keep records: Proving expenses that need to be corrected is easier if you have accurate records.

If YOU do something wrong:

-   Address it early: See above. Mitigation of damages applies to both parties. Again, this allows everyone to address a problem before it balloons and becomes too expensive.

-   Decide if you can negotiate a forbearance or renegotiate the contract. If a business partner will not go broke renegotiating, you may find the best businesses will give up a little profit now to cultivate long term loyalty.

If there was a misunderstanding:

-   Address it early: If the misunderstanding requires court intervention, it is tough to believe someone who waited too long to address a misunderstanding.

-   Set out the misunderstanding in writing. Even if the original agreement is not in writing, documenting a misunderstanding will preserve information for later use. (Putting it in writing from the start can help avoid misunderstandings before entering into a contract).

If you CANNOT do what you promised to do

-   Address it early: See above. Addressing it early allows everyone to mitigate damages, renegotiate and avoid further conflict.


3)    When?

Communicate with others in the contract as soon as you are aware of the breach, mistake or misunderstanding. See above. Mitigate.


4)    How?

By penalty clause: Look at the contract for specific breach ramifications. Some contracts (often phone contracts) have a liquidated damages or forfeiture clause. These set out a specific result for breaching the contract.


By legally voiding the contract: Even if you believe you have a legal defense to this contract, you still must go through the analysis of whether it is worth it to breach your contract and go to court. You may win a fight with an 800 pound gorilla but will walk away with some bruises.

Legal defenses include:

Mistake

Fraud

Duress

Impossibility/ impracticability of performance

Failure of consideration

Unconscionability


Do not use an online dictionary to determine if you have a legal defense. There are many cases interpreting each of those terms. Also, there are many things that affect the interpretation of your contract. You must analyze not only the particular provision and other provisions that effect it, but you may also need to look at the circumstances leading up to the contract, the facts surrounding performance, and whether there is a statute or public policy governing the subject matter.


Also consider:

-   If the contract is in writing.

-   The length of the contract (does it span more than one year?).

-   Whether the contract is for goods or for services.

-   The total value of the contract.


By renegotiation: You may want to sit down and discuss options with the other side (informally or through a mediator). Open communication in the situation may bring about a creative solution. Perhaps you will be able to provide contacts to ease the burden on the other side. For example, a contractor who was unable to complete a job was able to get significantly discounted materials from a contact who had an oversupply. This allowed the other party to finish the job at approximately the same cost.


Getting out of a contract requires the same skills as getting into a contract.

· Read everything.

· Be thoughtful about what you put in writing.

· Be proactive in your approach.

· Look at the whole picture from marketing to business relations.

· Be honest.

Getting into the right contracts is a skill. Getting out of a contract gracefully is an art.

 

- Christine Branstad

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Are You Boring?

Gertrude SteinGertrude Stein via last.fm

Gertrude Stein claimed, "No one real is boring." She's right. The most interesting people I know are the ones who are genuinely who they are -- no phoniness, no pretense, no trying to impress. They're congruent.

Think of someone you know like that. They're true to who they are, unwilling to compromise their integrity and self-respect in order to satisfy the expectations of others or win their approval. You can count on them to say what they mean and do what they say.

Being real -- congruent -- is especially critical if you're in a leadership role. Not everyone may like your personality or agree with your decisions, but by golly, if you're authentic, they'll admit they like the fact that:

  • you'll be straight with them,
  • they'll know where you stand, and
  • you'll stay true to your convictions.

Impressing others isn't important to you; being true to yourself is.

Rosa Parks' intentions and words and actions were congruent on that December evening in 1955 when she was returning home on the bus at the end of a long workday. "I was sitting in the front seat of the colored section," as she tells it, "and the white people were sitting in the white section. More white people got on, and they filled up all the seats in the white section. When that happened, we black people were supposed to give up our seats to the whites. But I didn't move. The white driver said, 'Let me have those seats.' I didn't get up." Her one act of congruence became a defining moment in American history and made her a role model for the civil rights movement.

As leaders, if we suppress our authenticity we lose touch with the very source of our vitality and initiative.

  • We lack courage.
  • We lose hope.
  • We take ourselves too seriously.
  • We resist taking things on faith.
  • And thus, everyone loses.

Want to be more real? Ponder:

  • What triggers your desire to diminish or inflate your self-worth, to be something you're not?
  • When and with whom are you completely yourself? Why only them?
  • What would be the benefits of stepping fully into your authentic self and bringing your unique gifts into the world of work and home?

Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) said, "Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." ...and because, as Gertrude Stein says, you'll never be boring!

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Communication Does Impact Shareholder Return

3224486233_cd6f7372db Organizational communication is sometimes viewed by owners and executives as a wasted effort that has nothing to do with the bottom line. Towers Watson  published a significant study.

It shows that communication can improve shareholder return by 47 percent.

During times of organizational stress, which many companies are experiencing right now, communication excellence is needed to help cope with this stress. Communication excellence requires time, training and a commitment by leadership in thought and deed.

One other key point, communication excellence is a leading indicator of company shareholder return. Start your company comeback - communicate!

Flickr photo by elycefeliz

First Time Business Buyers and Due Diligence

Money!Image by Tracy O via Flickr

Buyers of a small business face the need for due diligence. And for that they may need expert help. The question: What should they do and what should they expect to pay for this service? 

For the financial due diligence of a business you will need to engage an accountant to complete the review. Before discussing approximate costs, there are several important factors to consider which will have a direct impact on the final costs for their services:

1. Make your offer subject to a "satisfactory" due diligence.

2. Hire an accountant who has experience in completing the due diligence reviews of similar businesses. (How would you find someone?)

3. Use an accountant that makes sense - you do not need a Big Three CPA to review a small business.

4. Lay out very clearly, what it is that you want the accountant to do along with what they recommend.

5. Have the accountant provide you with an estimated cost to complete the work.

6. Get a list to the sellers, defining all items you will require, as soon as possible after you have a signed purchase(?) agreement in place.

7. Do not start the review until you have all (or the vast majority of) documents and files required for them to complete their work.

8. Consider the timing of the due diligence schedule. If it's near the end of a calendar quarter or tax season your CPA may not be able to meet your schedule.

Be sure to review all of the documents that the seller has provided you with everything you have requested.  Make sure the documents are in the format your CPA requested (missing materials can be very expensive to you).  Plan on paying about $2,500 to $5,000 for a transaction less than $500,000. Most accountants will provide you with a very accurate quote of what they feel the final bill will be.

Buyers need to remember they are paying for a financial due diligence which will not reflect future opportunities and the potential of the business.  This area is a management decision.

See www.IBBA.org for additional information.


- Steve Sink

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Melting snow means rising waters

IowaFlood It certainly seems that spring has sprung. As I write my entry this week, most of the snow has melted and Thursday was absolutely gorgeous. Everyone I have talked to lately has a little bit of spring fever - which is fitting since we just had spring break. I am being optimistic about the upcoming weekend report.

While many of us are thrilled to see the snow leave, it doesn't depart us without an additional threat. Iowa has had it's share of flooding issues in the past. I am sure many of you remember the floods of 1993, as well as the floods of 2008. Flooding is such a concern in our state that Gov. Culver has proclaimed the month of March to be "Flood Awareness" month.

This is actually a good time to start thinking about those concerns as well. Flood insurance is not coverage that is provided in your standard homeowners or business owners policy. This coverage is sometimes confused with water back-up coverage. Though most policies can provide coverage for water back up and/or sump pump failure, it is not the same as flood insurance.

Flood insurance is actually a separate policy that would need to be purchased in order to have coverage for those damages. There is also a 30-day waiting period that applies before coverage goes into effect. 

One of the most important steps one can take is educate themselves about flood risks. There are many resources available that can help address your concerns and help you be prepared:

  • www.bereadyiowa.org - this site has helpful tips with creating emergency supply kits and evacuation plans
  • www.Floodsmart.gov - has a tremendous amount of information from what the definition of a flood is, to instructions on reading a flood map. They also have resources that can help you determine if you are in a flood zone, as well as assist you with the cost calculations of flood insurance
  • www.rio.iowa.gov  -  has excellent information about how our state is helping, legislation as well as other community forums

So if you are concerned about flooding issues, or want to know if you should be, check out these resources.

It will be worth your time.


Photo on Flickr by American Red Cross

Project Snowjob

Dog_poop_snow In the mere two weeks since my last post, all of the snow has quickly - almost miraculously - melted and evaporated.  Wow, go figure.  Of course, on my back patio, all of that snow was masking an entire winter's worth of doggy bathroom (we can guess which syllable of ShihTzu gets the emphasis).  So once the snow was all gone, I was left with an unpleasant mess to clean up.

Ick.

I've been thinking a lot about project rigor these days (some might call it bureaucracy).  You know what project rigor is.  It's writing status reports, holding meetings, tracking issues, writing a good business case, following procedures, maintaining a methodology, etc., etc., etc., etc. ad infinitum.  Certainly, the larger your project, the more safeguards need to be put in place to govern both people and tasks to ensure a successful delivery.  Is it possible, however, to take the amount of rigor too far?  (Psssst, the answer is yes.)  And that also leads to another question, why are you adding on more rigor than you need to manage the project?  Are daily status reports really needed?  Must you build an organizational chart on every project?  Is it that you think you are helping the project by adding more rigor?  Or are you simply piling on more snow to hide what is lurking underneath?

David Christianson, of the Dark Side of Technology blog, wrote an amazing piece a couple of years ago about project rigor.  The question isn't about whether you have too much project rigor; it's about whether you have the right emphasis on those things to which you must adhere.  As David bullets it out quite nicely, he shares where your focus as a PM should be:

  • Telling the truth about my projects.
  • Eliminating ALL activities that don’t contribute to the delivery of valuable working software.
  • Creating achievable commitments to deliver.
  • Managing focus of a project team.
  • Understanding and fulfilling the needs of the business.
  • Creating an environment that optimizes the ability of project team members to contribute.
  • This kind of project rigor is build on transparency and accomplishment, rather than hiding the layers of doo-doo under the snow of inactivity.  The one who ends with the most status reports and the biggest issues log does not necessarily win.  He just spent a lot more time on things that don't add value.
  • As you clean up the mess from under the snow, just remember who put it there in the first place.  Snow can only cover "crap" for so long before you see it and have to deal with it for what it really is.

    Don't Make the Customer Work

    A Vintage Sears Catalog Jewelry Page! - Free t...Image by HA! Designs - Artbyheather via Flickr

    Last week, I was analyzing phone calls and I heard a very interesting exchange. A veteran Customer Service Representative (CSR) received a call from an existing customer looking for some technical information on a part they ordered from my client. Here is a paraphrased excerpt:

    CSR: The information is in our catalog. Download it from our Web site.

    Customer: I tried getting it off your Web site.

    CSR: It's not on the website. Sorry. You have to download the catalog. It's in there.

    Customer: Can you just get it for me and send me the information?

    CSR: I'm not in a position to do it right now. Sorry.

    Customer: Could you put me in your voicemail? I'll leave you my contact information and you can send it later.

    CSR: (sighs impatiently) What's your number? I'll have someone call you.

    Ouch.

    Customers, in general, want two things: (1) They want their issue resolved and (2) they want us to care. If we don't resolve their issue or answer their question, the customer will penalize us in their dissatisfaction. In the conversation above, the customer sensed that the CSR didn't want to help her. She had already tried self-serving and it wasn't working for her. She was frustrated. That's why she called. The CSR insisting that the customer get the information only escalated the customer's frustration and rendered the CSR's insincere apologies profane.

    It is common to find companies who ask their customers to do the work and serve themselves. It presents and opportunity for those willing to differentiate themselves by serving customers well.

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    Expense reimbursements or income?

    Young Abraham LincolnImage via Wikipedia

    An old joke, sometimes attributed to Lincoln:

    '"Father," said one of the rising generation to his paternal progenitor, "if I should call this cow's tail a leg, how many legs would she have?" "Why five, to be sure." "Why, no, father; would calling it a leg make it one?"

    The tax law works that way, too.  Just as calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg, calling a payment of taxable wages a non-taxable expense reimbursement doesn't make it one.  Some members of Congress might be about to learn this the hard way.  The Wall Street Journal reports:

    When lawmakers travel overseas on official business they are given up to $250 a day in taxpayer funds to cover meals and expenses. Congressional rules say they must return any leftover cash to the government.

    They usually don't.

    Taxpayers can't help employees avoid taxes just by calling compensation something else.  If you give each employee $200 per day to cover "expenses," but you never make the employees turn in receipts to document what those "expenses" might be, the IRS will make you put it on the employees' W-2s while making you, the employer, pay some employment taxes.

    If you want to reimburse expenses of an employee without putting it in the employee's taxable income, the IRS says you need an "accountable plan" that passes three tests:

    1. There must be a business connection and the expense must be reasonable.
    2. There must be reasonable accounting for the expenses.
    3. All excess reimbursements must be repaid in a reasonable time.

    There are special rules where travel expenses are "deemed" substantiated without detailed accounting, but even those rules require certain conditions to be met -- they have to be incurred on a business trip, and the reimbursements have to be within federal "per-diem" guidelines.

    What happens if you have a fixed employee reimbursement plan that's not "accountable"?  The amount has to be included in employee W-2 income, and the employee can only deduct it as a "miscellaneous itemized deduction" -- often a bad result

    The Moral?  If you are reimbursing expenses, make sure that you require proper documentation.  If you have a per-diem travel expense reimbursement plan, make sure to follow IRS guidelines.  Otherwise you and your employees could both come out at the wrong end of a fight with the IRS.  That means you, too, Congressman.

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    It boils down to trust

    Toyota has long been one of the most heralded and trusted (and purchased!) automobile brands in the world.  They dominated the US market and I have no doubt that Honda, Ford and Chevy got very tired of seeing that Toyota logo up ahead of them as they all raced for sales.

    But of course, Toyota's recent troubles have put a shift into place.   Now all of a sudden, there's an opening for the other auto manufacturers.  To Toyota's credit -- their advertising post recall has been spot on.  In my opinion, it's been well positioned and the right blend of contrite but confident.

    Here's one of their more recent TV spots.  It's literally playing all over the globe.


    But there are some problems that marketing, even good marketing, can't fix.  I'm curious to see what you think about Toyota's potential to bounce back from this crisis of confidence.

    To me, in this case, the bottom line is a simple question that every consumer will have to ask and answer:  Would you feel safe putting your family in a Toyota day after day?

    If the answer is ultimately yes -- then their good marketing will have served its purpose.  If the answer is no, then it was in vain.

    What do you predict will happen to the Toyota brand?

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    Prepping for the Big Dance: We Supersedes Me

    March Madness: bracket picks, buzzer beaters, Cinderella stories and 60-plus men’s and women’s collegiate basketball teams battling it out for national championship titles. 96259936_March Madness


     “The Big Dance” is here and it’s a good time to highlight that invitations to the tournament aren’t addressed to star athletes – the selection committee recognizes team accomplishments with the honor of competing in this annual event. And every year, while following the three weeks of action, I’m reminded that team players make the difference on, and off, the courts.


    Even if you’re the titled leader of an organization, Tammy Erickson, Harvard Business Review contributor and McKinsey Award-winning author, says it’s important for all team members to feel like they are an integral part of the process. She cites research that says groups make better decisions than individuals, and she lays out these steps for leaders:
     
    1.) Ask great questions.
    Challenge the organization to meet goals that are intriguing, complex and important.  Don’t narrow the focus to the mundane or over-specify the way teams should approach their challenge.

    2.) Build relationships and trust deep in the organization.
    Be careful not to exclude input, increase competition among internal teams, or reduce investments in learning. Increase potential for success by all through relationship building and encouraging knowledge exchange.

    3.) Challenge the status quo.
    Ensure your team has regular ongoing exposure to opportunities that spark creativity. Bring in new people and new ideas – and take them seriously.


    Still, there are those who live by the motto: “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” However, if want your professional and personal success to be enduring, I would suggest taking a team approach. Consider this African Proverb: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” It is a great way of saying that lasting value is borne from collaborative efforts that draw on the strengths of each member of your department, committee, family, team, etc.

    Enjoy the NCAA tournament. While you watch, decide for yourself whether it’s individual prowess or five players on the floor functioning as a unit that takes teams into the late rounds. Sure there will be standout players. But it was John Wooden, arguably one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all time, who said, “The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team."


    Similarly, strong leaders in business and life succeed when they’re part of a great team.  Take time to go over the game plan with your team, identify their strengths, help them improve and determine how they can contribute to overall success. 

    Next Generation More Actively Engaged in Public Policy than You May Think

    Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa, after ...Image via Wikipedia

    As any business decision maker can tell you,  government policies can have an impact on bottom line of a business. Consider for instance, in the Iowa legislature current legislation being discussed over budgets, tax credits, property-tax reform, and business procedures, and how much money these new laws will either cost or save the business community.

    After a three-year effort, the Generation Iowa Commission, which the legislature formed to study and recommend policies to attract and retain young professionals in Iowa, was able to convince the legislature to place a member of the next generation on the various boards and commissions that recommend policy and legislation.

    YP Iowa, a subgroup of The Iowa Association of Business and Industry, and one of the few statewide young professional organizations in the nation, has successfully organized a "YP day at the Capitol" for the last three years. The legislature itself has seen a number of new members under the age of 40 in the last few cycles.  Even the heads of both the Republican and Democrat parties in Iowa are under the age of 40.  Former gubernatorial candidate and Generation Iowa Commissioner Christian Fong would contend we have no choice but to engage the next generation. Otherwise they will leave.

    The Pew research on Millennials had some interesting stats on Millennials and political activity.  Millennials tend to be more engaged in political matters than previous generations were at the same age.  This is great news, but it should come as no surprise.  The next generation has always been an active generation and the 2008 elections only cemented the notion of next generation political engagement. As a result, both political parties have seen “gold in them hills” and are increasingly shepherding and intensifying efforts to grab hold of the next generation as their new voting bloc.  Efforts of groups such as Act Blue and the Next Right have also emerged and writers such as James Carville and Robert Samuelson are claiming one side has lost touch with Millennials.

    No one for certain can tell you which way these Young Professionals will land on the political landscape, but it will continue to have an impact on Iowa.

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    Get on the same page with a sales process

    For many companies, there is a point at which a prospect will meet with multiple representatives of the company in a single meeting.  Many sales people or consultants will gather their team of experts or bring the boss into an initial sales meeting with the prospect to help understand the client issues.  This is especially true with consulting and professional service companies as they begin assessing the prospects needs.

    Using this multi-person, bring in all the experts, brainstorming approach to assess client needs without a formal Sales Engagement Process is most often clumsy.  Clumsy leads to guessing later on when a proposal is being written. 

    Guessing is not what experts get hired to do!

    Getting on the Same Page A formal Sales Engagement Process systematically...

    • identifies and prioritizes all of the client objectives (or needs)
    • leads to a discussion about client resources such as time and budget
    • uncovers how the client will decide whether or not to buy

    What happens with a team is that they are all following their own line of inquiry.  Consultant A may be asking a series of questions leading up to something she believes is important to uncover when Consultant B asks a seemingly related follow up question.  That leads Consultant B to ask another follow up question leading up to something he believes is important, but which is different than what Consultant A believed she needed to know.  

    They are not reading from different pages!

    Consultant A now may be faced with a tough choice.  Does she redirect the conversation which can be clumsy and demonstrate to the prospect that they are unorganized in their approach (not on the same page) or does she just drop the line of inquiry all together. 

    In other words, does she guess what the prospect would have said when putting the proposal together?

    Failure to be on the same page with a sales process has many other drawbacks, two of which are ...

    1. It makes it hard to control meeting time.  A lot of issues don't get explored simply because the meeting has to end.
    2. It makes it very difficult to get better at helping clients if you don't have a baseline process upon which you can improve.

    Ask yourself this question.  When delivering proposals, most of the time are you excited to share it with your prospects because you are 90 percent sure you hit the target, or are you anxious because you feel it's more like 50/50?

    If you are anxious when delivering proposals, it is time to develop or reexamine your sales process.

    Photo on flickr by photodaddy2

    Rituals Rock

    * Beschreibung: moderner, industrieller Schutz...Image via Wikipedia

    Remember your first day on your current job? What did you do? Did you sit in a room by yourself and read procedure manuals or don a safety hat and goggles and hop on the back of a forklift to tour the company's two-block-square warehouse?

    Studies show that how a new employee is introduced and assimilated into a new culture is one of the key reasons why over 55 percent of them don't stick around for more than two years.

    New employees walk through your company's door their first day on the job with certain impressions and expectations they got during the hiring process while you were "courting" them. After a few days on the job, will those impressions hold true? Maybe even improve? Or, will the employees be starting to think, "What have I done, coming here?"

    I'll never forget my first week on the job at Meredith Corp. Every day that week Meredith employees would pass me in the hallways, recognize me as a new employee, and say something like, "You're new. Welcome! You're going to love it here!" And I did. Employees weren't set up to say that -- they said it because they did -- love it.

    If you're looking for a way to on-board new hires in a powerful way so they'll stick around and voluntarily engage other new hires in a welcoming way, establish a ritual or two. A ritual engages new employees in activities that convey the organization's character while creating an instant bond. Taking part in that activity -- whatever it is -- is sort of a rite of passage. As a result of participating in the ritual, they now feel like they "belong."

    In the March, 2010 issue of Inc., Leigh Buchanan gives examples of company rituals:

    • Gentle Giant moving company in MA initiates new hires with a run up the steps at Harvard Stadium -- alongside Larry O'Toole, the CEO.
    • New employees at Foot Levelers eat popcorn, watch the movie Rudy,and cry together and then talk with CEO Kent Greenawalt about how Rudy's character traits and practices play out in their culture.
    • CXtec new hires are paired with a veteran staff member early on in their tenure and they spend a morning together serving donuts and coffee from a cart to everyone in the Syracuse, NY offices.

    As a result of these simple rituals, now these new hires "belong." And when they belong, they're much more likely to "love it there!" And stay. And be innovative and productive and a good ambassador for the company. And that rocks.

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    ESOPs: A Good Plan For Retirement

    3094635903_a3f43ca8e5 ESOPs are a powerful tool that allow average workers to accumulate some sizable retirement accounts.  Non-ESOP companies, on average, contribute close to 4% of wages into a 401k retirement.  Public ESOP companies contribute 6% of wages, and private companies contribute somewhere between 8%-10% into their qualified ESOP accounts (source NCEO)

    Some critics say that this is putting everything in one basket and is very risky.  The good news is that many ESOP companies also offer a 401k plan.  The logic would lead one to think that employees in an ESOP company would not contribute  into another retirement plan when they are receiving significant allocations into their ESOP.  A study by the NCEO that will be published in 2010, says ESOP employees are just as likely to contribute to a 401k plan as non-ESOP employees.

    Teaching and involving employees to be owners is a good plan to a happy retirement.  There are no guarantees, but there are no guarantees with a 401k stock accounts or that Social Security will continue to be available to those who retire.

    Flickr photo by sweetie pie rebecca

     

    Tips on reporting a loss

    Unhappy man on phone One of the questions that I am often asked is "What do I do if I have a loss?"

    Well, every insurance company has their own guidelines in their policy usually found under the title “Duties in the Event of a Loss.”

    While insurance companies can have some different language and requirements, there are typically eight basic guidelines you will find under most policies:

    1. Report the loss to the insurance company or agent
    2. Notify the police
    3. Provide a description of the loss to the insurance company
    4. Mitigate your damages – i.e. take all reasonable steps to protect your property from further damage.
    5. Cooperate with the insurance company with the investigation.
    6. Provide proof of damages. Prepare an inventory describing property, value and quantity of damaged or stolen property.
    7. Allow inspection of property, including: permission to obtain samples of property or make copies of material. Submit to an examination under oath if necessary.
    8. Send a signed, sworn proof of loss containing the information requested, within 60 days of the request.

    Now some of these guidelines may seem simple, however, if you haven’t had a loss you may not know what to do.

    Other helpful tips that aren’t specifically outlined in the list above would be:

    • Take photos – make sure that you document your damages. This is especially important if you had to fix something in an effort to prevent further damage.
    • Keep receipts – if you incur any additional expenses as a result of a loss – you may be able to get reimbursed. Having receipts of your damaged goods is also very helpful in proving your loss.
    • Have an inventory of your property – it is amazing how much stuff we can accumulate over the years – if you have good documentation of your property it can help you determine your damages too.

    Whether you suffer a loss or are a victim of one, it is up to you to prove your damages. Having good, clear documentation can help you be prepared for a loss and help streamline your claim process.
     

    I Dunno

    Pkrfc I'm on a new project now. Well, actually the project isn't new... I'm just the new kid on the block.

    So far so good.  I haven't dropped a ball, and my project leads and sponsor are all still talking to me, and everybody smiles when they see me coming (and not one of those oh-crud-here-he-comes-I'd-better-paste-a-smile-on smiles either... so there).

    We're in the planning phase of the project, which is normally a good thing... except...

    Many of our requirements are being driven externally.  Whenever this occurs (in ANY organization or ANY industry or ANY project), you run the risk of some information not being available when you need it.  Such is the case here.  There are some things we just don't know.  It makes it hard to estimate tasks when you don't know what you're doing.

    With some project managers, that can grind things to a halt.  I'm lucky enough to have a pretty smart team who can connect the dots and make some educated guesses.  We've had some discussions about not knowing all the specifics, yet being able to estimate for requirements and scope that do not yet exist.

    It's not quite so daunting as it may sound.  Martin Harris of Transient Technology wrote a great piece last month about estimates.  As he says, they are not the same as commitments.  Figuring them out is as "simple" as comparing against other similar experiences.  This is exactly what I've done with my team.  I asked them what they'd accomplished.  Then we talked through how to use this experience as a baseline.  As Harris pointed out in his article, there is a bit of a poker metaphor to this technique.  Figuring out what size or complexity "beats your hand" is important in making logical estimates.

    Example:

    Task 1 took four days and 10 effort hours to complete.  The only thing you know about Task 2 at this point (pending receiving your scope requirements) is that it is probably twice as complex as Task 1.  Hence, the logical thing to do is give it eight days and 20 effort hours.  However, you also know you are time-boxed and only have a week to complete it; therefore, the duration shrinks to five days while the effort hours stay constant.  But because you know the requirements are uncertain, and there may be some office politics involved in finalizing them, you may want to bump it up to 30 effort hours due to additional meetings and phone calls.

    Granted, that's a very simplified example, but the reality is the creation of estimates is simply narrating the path from the known into the unknown.  The other thing I've been telling my team about estimates is they are learning opportunities.  I don't use missed estimates for witch hunts; I use them for learning opportunities.  The caveat for this is to ask them to document any known assumptions used for building their estimates.

    So "I Dunno" is an acceptable answer for requirements.  That lack of knowledge should not be a road block to creating estimates.

    Carpe Factum!

    When Exceptions are the Rule

    That's one special customerImage by mag3737 via Flickr

    When it comes to customer service, you have to decide where customer service delivery lies in your overall branding and business strategy. Here are three examples:

    • Exceptional Service is an accident. This applies to the company who has no idea what their customers expect (they haven't asked), no idea what level of service they are providing (they haven't listened), and no real strategy for what customer service means to their brand, their customer or their loyalty. Our group recently finished a pilot project for a company who has branded themselves as the provider of quality products, but had not given much thought to their customers' experience calling the company. Results of a small customer satisfaction survey and corresponding Service Quality Assessment revealed that their customers were not happy with the level of service they received, and were more than willing to express that the service experience did not reflect the company's brand. When customers were getting good service it was because they were fortunate enough to get a good Customer Service Representative (CSR) on the phone.
    • Exceptional Service is an exception. This reflects a company who is committed to providing a minimal level of customer service. The masses can expect mediocrity that will typically not detract from, but certainly won't enhance, the average customer experience. If a customer has a problem and screams loud enough, the company will make an exception. Take a moment to read about and consider the experience of local blogger and PR Princess Claire Celsi with Dell Computers. After a long journey up the customer service escalation escalator, she sums up her observations to Dell's final response:

    ...there is no apology for the time I've wasted trying to get this situation fixed. And for good measure, they've let me know that making something right and trying to make a customer happy is not something they normally offer. [emphasis added]

    • Exceptional Service is the rule. There are certain companies who have opted to take the customer service high road, believing that consistently providing an exceptional customer service experience will differentiate them from their competitors. This makes me think of another client who, over the years, has invested in making sure their inside sales team and regional account managers are providing a consistent, exceptional service experience unmatched by any other company in their marketplace. They didn't start as a great service provider. They took the time to learn what their customers expected, measure what they were actually delivering, and set high expectations for their team. Their steady improvement and high standards have paid off. As a result they have been able outpace the competition, outperform sales projections, and maintain enviable margins throughout the recession while their competitors are going out of business.

    My experience is that most company executives will speak about customer service being important to the company and to the brand because it is politically expedient to do so. Let's face it, few executives would have the guts to broadcast that customer service is really not high on their priority list. The proof of a company's commitment to customer service is in the hundreds, thousands, and millions of individual customer experiences that take place each day.

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