The Best Investment You Can Make In 2014!

(Image courtesy of Abee5 via Flickr’s /CreativeCommons)

A couple of months ago, I was the keynote speaker for an association of Insurance Executives in San Diego, California. These professionals were top producers, business owners, and insurance specialists who had the daily challenge of caring for clients, running a business, and leading a small staff. I was there to speak on one of my favorite topics, Winning In The Trust & Value Economy. After my presentation, one of the participants approached me with a great question. He wanted to know, if I were him (if I had a lot to do, limited resources to spend, and wanted to stay top of my game), where and how I would spend my time and my money next year to get the greatest return on investment and get solid business growth next year.

Again, this was a great question, and anyone who has read my book or heard me speak on the subject knows that I speak about the fact that these are challenging economic times, and challenging times that I believe are going to continue. And yes, I know that does not sound too motivating, especially when you consider I am a motivational speaker. However, let me say in my defense that I also believe, while times may be challenging, it is also one of the best times to grow and develop your business! You just have to be a realist about it, and you have to make your investments of time and resources wisely. So again, this was a great question.

Think about it. We are living in uncertain economic times; no one can predict what is going to happen. Will the economy go up or will it go down? Will our customers stay loyal or go to our competition? Will government regulations tighten or pave the way toward business growth? And what will our competition do, let alone look like, three years from now?

If there is so much we can’t predict, so much that is uncertain, how do you run a business (let alone grow one)? You invest in what you can control and what you can predict. You put your time, your money, and your energy into the best investment you can make in 2014. The best investment you can make in 2014 is in learning. Put your time and your energy into developing yourself and your team, and you will see a high rate of return on investment. In uncertain economic times, the better you and your team are aligned, focused on the client, and understand the profit is in the details the happier your clients will be, the more efficient your organization will run, and the more your business will grow.

So how and where do you make these investments? You create a learning culture, where learning and development are both supported and valued. You follow this four step approach:

  1. Train – Want to motivate an employee? Want to increase their efficiency? Invest in them. You need to assess your team and define what skills they need to learn. Then decide how and when you will train these skills. Do a seminar, a lunch and learn, a workshop, or send them for formal training. It does not have to be expensive, and it does not have to be time consuming, it just needs to be done.
  1. Coach – This is one of the most powerful and underutilized investments today. If you haven’t already hired a coach, make sure you know what to look for & that you understand your expectations. Setting one-on-one time, weekly or monthly, to invest in allowing employees to discuss with you what they are struggling with, what they are working on to grow and develop, and what specific support they need from you will not only ensure a better experience for them and your clients, but will go a long way in increasing their productivity and investment in the growth of the company.
  1. Accountability – Yes, there needs to be recognition of a job well done and consequences when it is not. Accountability is key for a time-pressed leader who wants to increase results. When you hold the team accountable for results, training, and overall team performance, you let them know what is important, you understand as a leader how best to help and support them, and you send a clear message that you care about their success and the success of the organization.

  2. Reward – Shine the light on a job well done, both informally and formally. When you reward and recognize what is done well, you both encourage more of that same behavior and you also reinforce to all of your team what is important, what matters, and where to focus.

Yes, 2014 is going to be a challenging year, but it does not mean it can’t be a great year, or even your best year on record. But to get there, you have to stand out from your competition, and you have to be the organization and the team everyone is talking about. To get there, you must invest in yourself and your team.

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4 Steps to Ensure You Finish Strong & Start Fast In 2014

(Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

I was talking with a colleague of mine yesterday, Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, and we were discussing ideas on how to make the most of this last quarter of the year. Our focus: How do we finish up strong in 2013 so we can begin strong in 2014? For those of us in business, fourth quarter is always a tough time; you have to balance the holiday season with the demands of running a business.

Think about it, the holidays are a fun time in our personal lives; the holidays mean parties, family get-togethers, and a chance to slow down and enjoy the best part of our lives. The holidays are a great reminder of the reasons we work so hard throughout the year. However, they can also be a tough time in business. Just because the rest of the world is slowing down does not mean the costs of running a business are delayed. For those of us in business for ourselves, or those who have high expectations at work and/or are paid on commission, these are the times that can make you a little nervous as to how to keep the momentum going. We all can afford and actually look forward to slowing down between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but what do you do to ensure that the lag time does not roll into the first quarter of 2014?

The answer lies in understanding how to strike the balance. There is nothing more annoying than someone who is trying to get an appointment with you or sell you something during the holiday season, however, just kicking back and putting your feet up is not a good strategy either. So what is a professional to do?  Any successful person will tell you that the key to success is consistency and client connection. In other words, you have to stay in touch, moving the relationship forward, no matter what. However, how you do that has everything to do with the time of year, availability of your clients, and overall sensitivity to their needs and wants. To make the most of fourth quarter and to set yourself up for success in first quarter, you need a strategy specifically designed for the fourth quarter. You need the four steps that will put you in position to finish the year strong, and position you to start fast and strong in 2014.

4 Steps to Finish Strong

  1. Give Thanks – Okay, this is an easy one, but one I see so many professionals miss, and with that they are missing a great opportunity. Let me ask you, how many Thanksgiving Day cards and Holiday cards are we all getting in the mail right now or getting via email? Hundreds right? It is enough that these cards actually lose their power and their meaning. How valued do your clients really feel, knowing that your administrative assistant went out and bought cards and sent them to all of your clients, and at best you signed them? How valued do you feel knowing your cards are in a pile at someone’s office or house with everyone else’s cards? Or even worse, what if your cards wind up in the spam filter or the trash bin because you chose to be environmentally sensitive and send ecards? Now, I am not saying not to send cards; just don’t make cards your only strategy if you want to give thanks. If you really want to set yourself up to finish strong, and start strong, pick up the phone or drop by your client’s office. Give thanks in a way that is unique, personal, and will add value. You will be surprised how powerful this is. Right now, make a list of your top clients, the ones you really enjoy and the ones that build your business. Then find a way to thank them personally: a handwritten note, a drop in, or a call. Share with them how much you enjoy working with them, thank them for being your client, tell them how you hope they have a great holiday season, and mention that you look forward to partnering next year to help them reach even higher levels of success. A card is great but not enough if you want to finish strong.
  2. Look BackKathleen Burns Kingsbury uses this powerful strategy. Take this slow down in the holiday season to work on the business, rather than in it. Look back over your year, month by month and quarter by quarter, and ask yourself these questions: What did I do well? Where was my time, energy, and effort spent that really moved my company forward? Where and what did I do that either left me flat or took me backwards? Block time this holiday season to truly think about your business, where you have been and where you want to go, and make a list. This is a great team exercise if you work with a firm or a department that can get together. In business for yourself? Not a problem. Get together with a group of other professionals and spend an hour helping each other separate the effective strategies from inefficient strategies. You know you have accomplished this step when you have a list of what you want to keep doing in 2014 and what you want to stop doing in 2014.
  3. Get a Plan – With that list in hand, make a plan. Given what you learned from last year, what do you need to continue to do, or do more of, and almost more importantly, what do you need to stop doing? Then make a plan that guarantees you spend more time on tasks that move your company forward, and include in that plan the support you need to ensure you do not fall back into the same old traps and habits. What is your strategy to be more effective and efficient in 2014? Set milestones and goals for each quarter. Set up your 2014 goal and then divide it into two or three mini goals for each quarter. Get a plan, mark it on the calendar, and block the time now.
  4. Set The Stage – Then most importantly, if you want to start strong in 2014, you need to lay the groundwork in 2013. While you are thanking your clients for their business in 2013, set the stage to do more business in 2014. Let clients know you appreciate their business and you wish them a wonderful holiday season enjoying family and friends. In other words, solidly do step 1 – Give Thanks. Then set the stage by letting them know you are committed to their success in 2014. Tell them you will be in touch right after the first of the year to set up a time to talk about their plans, challenges and goals, and how you can support them in their efforts to make 2014 their best year on record. Share with them that your goal in going above and beyond for your clients begins with you planning to kick off the year by taking time to meet and talk with your very best clients, and of course, they are one. By setting the stage now, you set the expectation that you will be contacting them right after the holidays (and some may even want to set an appointment now), and before you know it, your first quarter is full with business and relationship-building efforts that will ensure you start strong.

Yes, holidays are a wonderful time of the year, and with a little adjustment in your strategy, you can set yourself up to strike the balance, enjoying the holiday season knowing you are in a position to finish strong and begin 2014 with a bang!

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Near the Net

The following is a guest blog post from my colleague Rick Chess, speaker, consultant, and trainer. Read Rick’s bio at the end of the article:

(Photo courtesy of xedoes4/freedigitalphotos.net)

Have you ever noticed that the best basketball players SLOW their game just before they get to the basket?  Please consider that you will need to do the same as you approach the key meeting with a money source. Slow your game so that you can focus on the critical moves which will drive your success.

The playoffs are when the very best shine in sports.  And the best players on the best teams all slow as they approach their goal.   Time stands still.   Only the ball and the goal are real.  The sounds, even the visual, of fans in the stands disappear.   The moment can last a lifetime.

When might that moment be for you?

  • PUBLIC COMPANY   The meeting on your road show as you step into the room with the decision makers at Fidelity.
  • PRIVATE COMPANY   When you click the first slide on your presentation to the high net worth investor considering an investment in your firm.
  • GOVERNMENT   Moments before your presentation to the funding committee of your legislative body.
  • ASSOCIATION   You are ushered into the office of the CEO of the company which could provide the dues to take your group from the red into the black.

Preparation for the “basket moment” requires outrageous amounts of work.   Accept as a reality that you will play as your practice.  Bad habits on off days will show up in a slip in your performance on the time near the basket.   Slowing down when the skills have not been honed will still result in poor performance.   Luck is great at the race track; it is not an acceptable business model.

For now, let us assume you have done the research and the reps and you are on your “A game” for our potential moment of glory.  How does a hard charger ever learn to relax? Won’t slowing down show disrespect to those in attendance?  If my pace is always fast, how will I perform on slow?

ALWAYS look at your potential moment of glory through the eyes of those guarding the basket. What do they need to allow you to succeed?  In sports, their job is clearly to deny you access. In the real world, your job is to help them see that your success will be their success.

The process starts with research on the funding source and the gate keepers. In sports, the players study videos of prior games played by the opponent. You will have studied the stories of others who have been in a similar meeting with this audience for clues on what works, and what does not.

Do not memorize your pitch. Your audience is too sharp to accept a canned presentation. Avoid a printed speech and NEVER read your slides. Better to have no slides that to risk reading them. When you are at the basket, you are the “what” being considered. It is neither your team nor your history. It is all you. Are you trustworthy? Is there a connection? How do you perform under pressure in the moment?

BOTTOM LINE Your audience will decide on funding your opportunity because they like you and believe that you will do the right thing at the right time to protect their investment. To them, this moment when you present is the easy part. If you can’t relax when you are telling your story, there must be something wrong with your plan or with you. Slow down as you approach the basket, and you will notice the nuance which will give you the insight needed to perform at your peak.

Rick Chess has over 30 years of experience in the business of F.I.RE – Finance, Insurance and Real Estate.  He is the managing partner of Chess Law Firm, PLC.  He has acquired over $2 billion of real estate and has raised over $200 million of equity.  He helped form a NYSE REIT and still serves on their board of trustees.  Rick wealth of experience also includes serving as a national president of the Real Estate Investment Securities Association (REISA) and as a Pennsylvania state legislator.   Find out more about how Rick can put his experience to work for you at RickChess.com.  Sign up for his weekly newsletter here.

 

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Yes, Believe It Or Not There is Leadership in Washington

(Photo Courtesy of  vitasamb2001/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

If you have listened to the news lately, then you are sick and tired of hearing about the continuous stream of reports on the gridlock, blame and just plain bad leadership going on in Washington right now. The lack of leaders and statesman on all sides truly reflects a sad time in our country. But, there is a small glimmer of hope, a small sign of some real leadership going on in Washington, and I wondered if you had heard about it. Yes, this is not a joke, there is leadership in Washington.

You would have to listen very closely to hear about it, and with all the negativity that the news programs are reporting, it would be easily missed. However, there is one story, which the reporters just barely touched on, that revealed there is leadership up there, and I felt that story truly needed to be told. While most of our elected officials are drawing lines in the sand, unwilling to negotiate and threatening to continue the government shutdown, there is a small segment (less than 20 percent in fact) that has continued to talk, work together and look for opportunities to move our economy and our country forward.

That segment? The female representatives of the Republican and Democratic Parties; both sides, no matter how fiercely they disagree, are talking, working together and looking for any and all common ground to move our country forward (click here and  here to read more). In fact, these political women have been continuously doing that on several issues — issues such as mental health, education and gun control. Issues, that whichever side of the political spectrum you fall on, have created such disagreement and anger amongst our politicians that no real resolutions can be found, because the desire to talk, listen and cooperate is not there.

Now, I for one think this is amazing, on so many levels, that despite the fact that these women are just a mere 20 percent of the elected population, and that they are receiving almost no publicity or reward for it, they still do it; they are still working towards a solution.

This fact, this bit of information, tells me the incredible need for women and our natural talents in this economy, and why, now more than ever, we need to step up to the plate and find our voice. Our country, our families and our society, quite frankly, needs the skills and talents that come to us naturally — skills such as composure, cooperation and collaboration.

Now, this is in no way a male bashing article. So, let me stop and say here that I love and value men, and I benefit tremendously from working with them. In fact, pretty much every mentor in my professional life has been male. Almost every time a career opportunity has come my way, it has been a man who opened that door, and most often, when I need help to get connected or to solve a problem, it is one of my male colleagues who makes it happen. Yes, I love working with men.

However, I am also a believer that men and women – we are different; we have a different set of skills and talents. Yes, I know, that is not politically correct. But it is what I believe and what I have experienced working in corporate America for more than 20 years. I believe, however, these differences do not make one gender less than the other. What is natural to one gender is not better or worth more than what is natural to the other, and it is not written in stone or true of every situation.

But from what I have experienced for the most part, men are competitive, aggressive and bold in their ability to ask for what they want and get it. They get over things easily and expect to hit roadblocks and have hard knocks along the way. Women are more collaborative in their efforts to succeed. We are team builders, relationship experts and far more connected and inclusive thinkers. Both sets of skills are crucially important for success, and, in my opinion, they are by design supposed to work together. There is much that we, as women, can learn from working with men, but as Washington is proving right now, there is much that men can learn from working with women.

So, back to my Democratic and Republican women friends, and the fact that they have, despite the egos, gridlock and competition going on in Washington, continued to come to the table, talk and look for any and all common ground and continued to  move forward. They reinforce for me why now is the time when, as professional women, we need to step out of the shadows, find our voice and embrace our talents and our skills and then share them, along with our ideas and our thoughts, to move our organizations forward.

You see, a mere 20 percent of us standing up and trying to make a difference is never going to solve the issues, the challenges and the problems we are facing. What is going on in Washington is somewhat reflective of what is going on in business today. We have far too few female leaders, and far too few strong and outspoken female leaders, and our organizations, our clients and our teams feel the impact. We do not wait for our organizations to build programs to make us successful, or wait until someone else comes knocking at our door. We need to do what our female role models are doing in Washington and use our skills and talents to solve issues and problems our way.

It is going to take us all, whether it be professionally or personally, on a small scale or a large scale, doing our part to ensure that our voices are heard, our talents are used and our skills are implemented in a way that supports forward movement and gets powerful results. Success in today’s economy, The Trust & Value Economy, is about relationships and working together to expand the market place. The fastest route to achieve this success is through ensuring that both sets of natural talents, men’s and women’s, are equally represented and implemented in our organizations! So women, this is your economy, so go out there and get it!

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The ROI of Investing In the Customer Experience

(Image Courtesy of Mr Lightman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

The best learning takes place far away from the classroom, and there is no better place to learn about customer service and the impact on your bottom line than paying attention to your everyday life. I am in Hawaii right now keynoting for one of my favorite clients, a financial institution that is innovative, creative and committed to taking it to the next level. We are currently working on a long-term project that requires me to be in Hawaii both speaking and consulting at least quarterly – I know, tough life, right? And when I visit here, I am given the luxury of staying anywhere I want to, in any hotel that I choose, on any area of the island. Yes, it is wonderful working for yourself!

Now, with that type of opportunity given to me in a place like Honolulu, you might think that I would try different hotels, on different parts of the island, just to get the full experience, right? Good point and I agree. When I first signed the contract, that was exactly what I wanted to do. I thought, “How fun is this! I can stay anywhere I want, from Waikiki to the North Shore and even give downtown a try.” Well, that was my intention when I booked the Marriott on Waikiki, a wonderful hotel which was reasonably priced, always trying to be mindful of expenses. I chose this hotel because of price, location and it had all the amenities I like: nice room, decent restaurant and a good workout space. The first time I stayed there, however, I have to admit they far exceeded my expectations. When I checked in, they called me by name, made sure I got credit for my stay on Marriott Rewards (and looked up past stays I had had at Marriott), had my favorite granola bar waiting for me in my room, and they even made arrangements to allow me into the workout facility on off hours, given my professional obligations.

All of these things were amazing, but it was actually my experience in the restaurant that put me over the top. Now, you first have to understand that breakfast is my favorite meal of the day; in fact, I think it’s one of the only reasons I pop out of bed in the morning. I wake up excited about eating. The breakfast dish I like the most is a big fluffy egg white omelet, no cheese, and jammed with veggies. It just so happened the restaurant at this hotel had an omelet bar. My first morning, I casually strolled over to the omelet bar and the nicest man, tending the bar, took my order and served it right up. The next morning, I again headed that way, only to find that my omelet guy already had it cooking; he started it when he saw me enter the restaurant. The third morning, he outdid himself by preparing the omelet open face on a bed of spinach with extra tomatoes, and on my fourth and final morning, he sautéed onions and mushrooms to put on top. He was exceptional and so happy to be doing this type of thing for me, and everyone else who came in for breakfast. So from check-in to check-out, this hotel was off the chart, and I could not believe how amazing Hawaii was, and was looking forward to my next trip.

As great as this hotel was, and as wonderful as my omelet maker was, I was still anxious to try a new part of the island; plus I was sure that my experience would be close to as good, right? So the next trip, I decided to stay closer to the downtown area and try a new hotel. The property I chose, which will remain anonymous for this article, did a fine job from check-in to check-out. The property was beautiful, had all the amenities I like, including an omelet bar, but nothing stood out, no one went over the top. No one knew my name, no one was excited to see me, and no one made eating an omelet so healthy and so much fun. In other words, no one made me feel special. There was clearly a difference, and while this hotel was a higher quality in terms of the room, workout facility, etc., it definitely lost points in the area of creating a customer experience, and given a choice, experience for most people wins out; it is what we are paying for.

Since that first trip, I have been back to Hawaii six times and will go at least eight more before the close of 2014 and each visit will be at least a week. While my original intent was to stay at a variety of hotels on different parts of the lsland, my second (less-than-exceptional) hotel experience cured me of that and has sent me running back to the Marriott on Waikiki.  I am a regular here now, and even though I come back consistently and they can count on my business, each and every time I visit, they go above and beyond to make sure I am taken care of, and somewhat spoiled as guest in their hotel. I now have a favorite table, my favorite waitress, and, yes, each and every day something new and different gets added to my omelet. There is always extra coffee and cream in my room, a few of my favorite granola bars and a special key to get me in and out of the workout facility as I need to.

Yesterday, I was reading the paper (eating my veggie omelet) and noticed an article in the paper about hotel occupancy rates and the economic struggles Hawaii has experienced since this economic shift began: falling hotel prices, low occupancy rates and some hotels struggling to stay alive as they wait for things to turn around. I looked up and noticed that this restaurant was full, and this hotel seemed quite healthy. It all made me think, given that this is off season, and the article I was reading clearly reflects that Hawaii is still feeling the impact of the economy, how this hotel has managed to remain profitable and successful based on empowering their employees to give over-the-top customer service.

So think about this as it relates to your business; I imagine you have a lot in common. They face the same challenges: buried in competition, struggling with a challenging economy and they are a luxury not a necessity. No one actually has to have a vacation to Hawaii; it is far more a want than a need. However, this hotel has invested wisely, found the true place to focus to gain competitive advantage, and understood that their facilities and amenities are not the right place to try and stand out. That place is customer experience and empowering their team to do what it takes. The result of that kind of effort breeds true return on investment!

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Easy Now – Hard Later: Three Lessons Every Leader Needs To Know In The Trust & Value Economy!

My nephew, Cab, spent last year’s fall semester of school in Patagonia in a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) leadership program. I know, tough life!  The goal of the semester and the NOLS leadership program is to spend a semester learning hands-on what it takes to truly be a leader; making tough decisions, calculating risk, handling adversity, inspiring leadership in others, and the list goes on.

The program lasted from September through mid-December, and for that entire time, he was completely cut off from the “real world:” no phone, no text, no internet and not even a letter to let us know where he was or how he was doing. To add to the challenge, the conditions were tough: Half the semester was spent on a glacier with wind chills well below freezing; the second half was spent day-in, day-out sea kayaking, carrying all his own supplies, and living on only what he could carry. To say the least, this was probably more than a leadership course; it was a true study in the human condition.

When he returned home, I was anxious to hear about the trip, what he had learned, and how he had changed.  After giving him the congratulatory hugs, kissing him more than any 19-year-old wants to be kissed by his aunt, and wading through all of his photos and funny stories, I asked him to go for a hike so we could talk, and I could learn what he had gained from his experience. As I listened to him, I saw a different kid in front of me; his passion and depth of understanding had transformed him from a teenager to a leader.

The list of his accomplishments and lessons learned was long and varied, but it was more how he learned than what he learned that caught my attention. See, the counselors took the role of advisor and supporter, allowing the leader within to emerge (or not) from the group. They created the culture and set the tone, giving the group advice and thoughts on how they should lead, but that, for the most part, is where their interference stopped and where the group’s struggle to lead began. While the group was given plenty of information, the actual decision on what to do and how to do it was ultimately theirs and so were the rewards and consequences of their decisions. It was in the rewards and consequences that the learning truly happened, and the leader within ultimately emerged.

Let me give you an example: Three of the best lessons that Cab walked away with both in terms of what he learned and how he learned them are as follows:

Easy Now – Hard Later
This is my favorite, thus the title of the blog. This lesson is, as a leader, you have decisions to make and work to get done. Whether you do it now or whether you do it later, the decisions and choices are still there. However, doing them now is often EASY while putting them off until later can result in them being HARD, harder than they have to be anyway.

Cab learned this one quickly and the hard way. While hiking in severe conditions, the counselors said that, despite the cold, the intense hiking combined with carrying 50 pound packs would mean they would work up a sweat and their clothes would get wet. To avoid rashes, athletes foot, and small rub burns, the counselors suggested they take their socks off at night and let them dry out. Now, this sounds like a smart idea, and it is, but you have to remember it was freezing. The first night, Cab elected not to do this, which was Easy Now. The result was a painful, long and very uncomfortable hike the following day. With small blisters and a rash forming on his feet, he learned the meaning of Hard Later.

This is a great lesson. Think of the times as a leader when you knew an employee or a client was a challenge, but you procrastinated on a decision. Did the delay make it any easier? No. Putting it off took what could have been easy now and made it hard later!

Prepared and Flexible
Before the course started, all participants were advised to arrive in shape both mentally and physically. This was not an adventure where you could fake it until you made it. Luckily, this is one lesson that Cab paid attention to, but unfortunately several of his team members did not. Getting in shape mentally and physically before Cab entered NOLS made sure he was prepared for conditions and events that were beyond his comprehension and gave him the confidence to be flexible and to understand that sometimes his value to the group was as a leader and others as simply a strong member of the team.

Those in the group who were not prepared actually became a drain on the group both in terms of the extra support and help they needed, as well as their lack of confidence and their fear. This impacted their flexibility which hurt morale and the groups’ overall ability to achieve.

So I ask: Are your leaders prepared? Do they invest in training and development, beyond what you provide? Do they need to build confidence? What is their commitment to growth, and their flexibility to teach when called to do so, and learn from others when the situation requires?

Enjoy and Align
The last lesson was never told to Cab, but rather one he figured out on his own through a strong role model. One of his guides was from India, and he was Cab’s favorite, because Cab said no matter what he was always happy. If the weather was really bad, he would laugh and sing through it; if the trail was tough, he would tell a story to distract the group; and when crisis struck, he would always look to find the opportunity and focus his energy there.

What Cab learned and began to practice was that, while you cannot control what happens, you can control how you react to it, and how you react impacts the team, the productivity and the overall experience. This information is vital in our Trust & Value Economy. And Cab learned that when he chose to enjoy leadership, no matter the conditions, and align himself with like-minded individuals, he had more fun, accomplished so much more and was more confident and proud of who he was and what he had done. He emerged as a leader who could not only excel at meeting a goal but inspire others to get there too and to go beyond their limits.

So I ask: Are these traits you look for in leaders? And as a leader, what type of leader are you? How do you handle tough situations and pressure? And how do you lead your team through it?

Again, this was an amazing experience, both in terms of what Cab accomplished and, more so for me, the innovative style in which he was taught to lead. This was so much more powerful than learning from the ‘masters’ best practices and top skills. Instead, he was given the skills to succeed, the support to try and the room to fail.

So I ask: How do you develop leaders? What is your leadership culture? Challenge yourself, challenge your team and create a culture of leadership that provides the skills, sets the tone and then steps back to watch the leader within emerge.

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Be a Mentor (Not a Tormentor) with Your Newer Service Staff

The following is a guest blog post from my colleague Marilyn Suttle, author and speaker. Read Marilyn’s bio at the end of the article:

I was asked to be on an executive panel for service and support professionals for an annual event. One of the more animated discussions focused on ways to best integrate young service staff into the workforce. Bright young workers have a lot to offer – fresh perspectives, a finger on the pulse of today’s young consumers, and total comfort using technologies that can sometimes rattle those of us who haven’t been using it since preschool.

Along with the positives, there are some challenges that service managers need to address in order to fully engage their younger service team members.

I was happy to see that most of the leaders in the room were eager to compare notes and take a positive approach to mentoring their newer staff. It isn’t always easy. With multiple generations working side-by-side, internal customer service needs to be taken just as seriously as external customer service.

A few months ago, I listened as an irate employee in her fifties gave me a laundry list of complaints about a young employee who worked beside her. According to the 50-something, her younger associate suffered from the following behavior:

  • She disrespected authority
  • She questioned policies and procedures
  • She took credit for things that the older woman had helped her to do
  • She wasn’t great at calming down angry customers

Of course, nobody wants to be disrespected, but I asked her if she’d play with me a bit. I asked her to find a positive quality in each of her negative judgments. For example:

  • “Disrespecting authority” can be seen as “preferring to be self-governing.”
  • “Questioning policies” can be seen as “being curious to learn.”
  • “Taking credit” can be seen as “wanting to be seen as accomplished.”
  • “Not great at calming angry customers” can be seen as “needing feedback to improve.”

These interpretations are not an excuse for unacceptable conduct. Instead, it helps you drop negative judgments and puts you in a more resourceful place to mentor employees. Imagine being mentored by someone who had a negative laundry list about you. Would that person become your mentor or your tormentor? Leaders who see the best in their staff, while holding clear and enforced expectations for service excellence, have the most success.

About Marilyn Suttle

Marilyn Suttle is the author of “Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan.” Marilyn delivers service excellence keynotes and workshops to multi-cultural audiences. She specializes in creating “Suttle Shifts” in the way people think and act to produce massive results. Marilyn can be reached at marilyn@marilynsuttle.com or visit www.whosyourgladys.com.

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4 Must-Have Strategies to Get You In the Door

(Photo Courtesy of ponsulak/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

This question has to rank among the top five most commonly asked questions from business development professionals. No matter whether I am doing a keynote, workshop, or one-on-one coaching, if I am speaking about business development, the question of how to “get in the door” always comes up.

Now this question is asked in a variety of ways including: “How do I get past the gatekeeper?”, “How do I get to the decision maker?” or the standard “How do I get a face-to-face meeting with the right person?” No matter the way someone asks the question, the answer is always the same.

If you want to get in the door, then you need to give the prospect a reason to open it. Why? The two most important things a business owner or professional have are time and money, and when you ask for an appointment, you are taking up both of those; so it better be worth it for them to meet with you.

Let me show you what I mean. Last month, I had a new client call with a request for some one-on-one coaching in the area of  business development, specifically challenged with the ability to get appointments with the right people, the decision makers. He was truly frustrated because he felt like he had tried everything: sales training, networking courses and countless business development webinars. All provided tips and ideas, but unfortunately nothing was getting him in the door, let alone putting him in front of the decision maker.

His challenge was that not only did he need to get the door open, but he also needed to get time with the CEO, the decision maker, the hardest door to actually get open. And no matter what he tried, what new and innovative techniques he has learned, nothing seemed to get him to the person who can pull the trigger and sign on the bottom line. Why? Well, after spending a couple of hours listening to what he was doing, the techniques and tips he has learned, it was clear that from all the time he has invested in sales training, webinars and courses, he had yet to learn the four must-have strategies to getting in the door!

If you want to be successful at business development, if you want to not only get in the door but also have a successful meeting, and leave with a definite next step, then you must know and follow the four strategies to get you in the door!

Top 4

Step 1: Walk a Mile in Their Shoes – Steven Covey said it best, “Seek first to understand!”  If you want to get in the door, then first you must understand why that door is closed and what it means to get it open. Time and money are the two most important resources and assets a business owner, professional or CEO has, and when you ask to meet with them, you are requesting them to give up a little of both of those. So, from their point of view, when your call comes in asking for some one-on-one time, the first two questions they are thinking are: Who is this person? And why should I give them my time? All too often, as business development professionals, we are only thinking about the sales calls from our point of view: why we need to get in the door and why we need this meeting. If you want to get the door open, then take the time to walk a mile in your prospects shoes, and get clear in your mind as to why it is worth it for them to give up both their time and money to meet with you. Shift your paradigm (and your body language and energy) to ensure they understand you respect what they are giving up to meet with you, and you are clear in your mind their Return On Investment (see also: The Power and ROI of Goals).

Step 2: Give ‘Em A Reason – Imagine you are sitting in your office, busier then you have been in weeks, and the phone rings, and your assistant wants to know if she can schedule an hour for you to meet with Bill Connor. You think Bill Connor? Who is Bill Connor? Do I know a Bill Connor? Your assistant hears the hesitation in your voice and says he is a relationship manager with VXT Corporation. You think VXT? What is VXT? Do I know anyone from VXT? Okay, you get the drill. If your prospect does not know you, has never met or heard of you, again, why should they meet with you? Would you give up your precious time or resources to meet with someone you have never met from a company you know nothing about? I would guess not. You need to have built your reputation to proceed itself and to have created a memorable impression (believe me if that were George Clooney on the phone, your prospect may not have met him either, but the door would open). If possible, you need to have found a meeting, a networking event, a connection, some way and somewhere to meet and/or connect with your prospect before you ask for a meeting.

Step 3: Make it Sexy – Yes, I just put business development and sexy together! But if you want to not only get in the door but stay in the door, you need to be a value added business development officer. Invest in their success, before you even think about them investing in yours. You need to be more attractive, more enticing than all the other business development officers out there, and I am not talking about losing ten pounds or buying a new outfit; that is not gonna do it. The only thing “sexy” to a business owner or CEO is how you can make their business more successful and their life easier. You need to be ready to do that early on and often, and beyond the scope of them just investing in your products and services.

Step 4: Stay In The Game – It is true, sometimes CEOs are just busy; they would meet with you, but truly, the timing is all wrong. Crisis happens both in their personal and professional lives, and fitting in one more meeting, no matter how valuable, is sometimes just not going to happen. If you want the doors to open, and if you want to land the business, you need to understand that sometimes it just takes time, and patience is a virtue. Your job is to stay in the game, continue to find ways to connect and add value, and before you know it, that door will open and the meeting will happen.

 

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The Undeniable Power of Your Brand: The Secret Tool to Create Competitive Advantage

Image courtesy of stockphotos/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A few weeks ago, my husband and I signed up to ride in a cycling event in our local community. Great event, gorgeous ride, fun people, and a terrific cause: raising money for disadvantaged youth. Yes, this was a win/win all the way around, and a good way to invest our time and energy.

The morning of the ride, we showed up early, eager to sign in and get all of our free goodies and our t-shirts. Immediately, I noticed a former client of mine was sponsoring the event. I was thrilled; for them, this was the perfect fit, and a perfect way to spend their marketing resources expanding their brand.

Let me backup and explain. I have worked with this client, one of my favorites, on and off for years doing several keynote speaking engagements, coaching of high potentials, and some consulting. Their goal in everything has been to grow and expand market share through raising awareness of their brand and using brand awareness as a way to create competitive advantage. They were/are in an overcrowded market place (like so many of us) and creating a strong brand was a key way to distinguish themselves from their competition.

I was thrilled to see them as a sponsor and even more excited to see they had an entire team (wearing their company jerseys) riding in the event and working the crowd. Why? Why was this such a big deal, and why did what they chose to sponsor and invest their resources in matter? Because in today’s economy, in the Trust and Value Economy, your brand is important, as it says volumes about who you are and what you stand for. These are the first things customers and prospects are looking for when they begin to “size” you up as a potential business partner. Remember, times have changed and the consumer is in control, what we sell has become a commodity, and how we sell it has become our competitive advantage. Customers are looking for both a reason to and not to choose us, and the first place they look is to whether our actions match our words. Does what you say, what you promise, match your actions?

Again, let me explain. My client is a healthcare organization committed to helping people live long and healthy lives. Their goal is to teach people about their health (body, mind, and spirit) and to empower them to take charge of their health. When we first started working together, many of their employees were terribly out of shape, their cafeteria served unhealthy food, and their marketing dollars were often spent on events that did not promote physical activity and one’s that served unhealthy food choices.

Now, you ask what is wrong with that? You don’t see anything wrong with a company promoting a little fried chicken and french fries. I mean we all like that now and then. Well sure we do, but when you are a company promoting health, in effect “selling” healthy habits, and pouring valuable resources and assets into telling people that the value of working with you is that they will gain the knowledge, skills, and promise of proactive health, then all of your actions suggest differently, well, you confuse your customers and create a lack of trust. It leaves them with uncertainty. Yes, it is subtle, but it is powerful.

However, if you are mindful of your brand, mindful of your actions, you will actually proactively create trust, and that trust (emotional bond) will differentiate you from your competition in the mind of your customer. Again, subtle but powerful.

The reason I was so happy to see my former customer sponsoring this event was that it said volumes about the changes they’d made and their level of commitment to their beliefs. This one event was a strong statement about who they are and what they stand for. Not only did they invest dollars to support the event, but their healthy team of fit riders also participated by cycling the century, working the crowd, and showing the community just how committed they are to a proactive, healthy lifestyle.

In addition, they have created and enrolled almost all of their employees in a wellness program and replaced their not so healthy cafeteria food with much healthier and fresher choices. Now, when you hear their name, you not only hear the promise of health, you see it, and you experience it.

This is an overcrowded market place, and consumers are overwhelmed with choice. What we sell has become a commodity, but how we sell it is our competitive advantage. The only thing making you stand out is how much your customers and prospects trust you and how much they believe you can add value. That all begins with the power of your brand; your true competitive advantage.

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Employee Engagement – Whose Job Is It Anyway?


If you own a business, run a corporation, or manage people, I am sure you are struggling with, among other things, getting employees motivated, focused, and engaged. It seems to be the challenge of the day with business owners and leaders. A poll recently released by Gallup estimates that the disengaged employee rate is at an all time high and is costing U.S. companies more than $450 billion per year; costs that reveal themselves in ways such as increased rates of absenteeism, turnover, quality control, and just good ole fashioned whining and complaining. All of these “little things” combine to create $450 billion worth of “soft costs” that are in addition to the already “heavy costs” of running your company. These so called “soft costs” sure feel hard when they squeeze margins and negatively impact your bottom line.

So Houston, we have a problem – and I would say a big one. And U.S. companies are trying hard to do something about it. In fact, a study put out by Bersin & Associates discovered that U.S. companies are spending nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars per year trying to solve the problem. The study went on to further explain that figure – high as it is — only represents about half of the $1.53 billion that Bersin & Associates projects companies will eventually spend on this challenge we call employee engagement.

And just to add insult to injury, not only are companies spending upwards of $700 million trying to improve employee engagement, but the research is proving that no matter the amount companies are dedicating and committing to the problem the problem is doing nothing but continuing to grow. It is not improving, in fact, it is getting worse; employee engagement is actually on the decline.

Now that is interesting, troubling and downright scary! We recognize we have a problem, we dedicate resources to it, we commit to solving it, and still the problem continues to grow. Makes you wonder: What are we doing, how are we doing it, and what about it obviously needs to change? If we want to solve this problem we call employee engagement, we are going to have to take a look at how we deal with employee engagement and then turn that process on its head. The one thing we know about what we are currently doing to solve the employee engagement problem is that it is not working!

We have to look at employee engagement and ask ourselves, “Whose job is it any way?” I mean can we really engage an employee? Companies are spending all this time, money, and resources on building employee engagement programs. They recruit senior-level leadership, hire high-end employee engagement consultants, and invest in the best training programs, all in an effort to engage employees.

And while all of the above are important and all are necessary steps in the employee engagement process, they all leave out one very critical step, the one thing you really need if you want to make employee engagement work, the missing link so to speak: the employee. If you want to engage your employees, if you want them to get more focused, more efficient, and more effective, then take a look at what is missing in your employee-engagement process – the employee. Oh, we think we “involve” the employee because we put them on committees, ask their opinion, and hold “town meetings” to ensure our employees participate in open communication forums. However, there is a very thin, I mean a very thin, line between telling people to get engaged and actively involving them in engagement. And it is that very thin line that holds the key, the secrets, and the missing link that increases profitability, morale, and customer satisfaction. People support what they help create, and to engage, employees must have skin in the game. Engagement is not something we can do for other people; it is a personal choice they need to make.

Now, that does not mean leaders get off scot-free. Your job is to create an authentic culture, and let me stress authentic, where employee engagement is encouraged, supported, and rewarded. But understand this is a two-pronged approach, with personal responsibility following to both members of the team – leaders and employees. You build the culture, a true employee-engagement culture, and they WILL come!

So I have you hooked right? Now, you want to know how to build the authentic culture, discover the missing link, and make sure you identify that very thin line that will increase profitability, morale, and customer satisfaction. Well stay tuned, because in this next series of blog posts we are going to “engage” you in exactly how to solve and actually master the employee-engagement problem!

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