Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Voice: Lessons for Business Leaders

" Winners embrace hard work. They love the discipline of it, the trade-off they're making to win. Losers, on the other hand, see it as punishment. And that's the difference."  --- Lou Holtz
Viewed by millions since its debut in April, 2011, The Voice provides opportunities for contestants to show their talents to be judged by successful music artists.  These judges have their backs turned to the contestants and buzz in if they want have that person on their team.  Though an interesting entertainment concept, the show also offers some good, applicable leadership takeaways. Here are four we can all use as reminders when it comes to dealing with employees:

1.) We learn more from listening to our team members.  The judges on The Voice are seated with their backs turned toward the contestant and are forced to listen without biases or making judgements based on appearances.  In the same way, leaders need to listen to what the issues are before making any rash decisions.  Those folks in the trenches may be able to provide helpful information that can save the company money or offer a better way of performing certain tasks. Give your employees the spotlight and the microphone and really listen.

2.) There will be some duds we will have to let go of.  Regardless of how some in government want to create schools where everyone is a winner, and nobody loses, we all know how it works in the real world. There are some that are talented, smarter, faster, and better than others. We want those on our teams.  We will have to send the others home or let our competitor have them.  It is wonderful to be helpful and charitable, but not at the risk of your business.  By building a strong, healthy business, you are able to give back more to your community, but you first need the right people in place.

3.) Be on the lookout for talent, even if they are already with another company.  Eyeing the competition for talented folks with a winning attitude is simply smart business.  Keep a watchful eye on who your competitors are hiring and snatch them as soon as they become available.

4.) Constant coaching develops successful team members.  The Voice judges or coaches work with their selected candidates and prepare them for doing battle on the stage against other candidates.  We can do the same with our employees.  Providing coaching on a regular basis not only increases the likelihood of a better performing team member, but also instills a sense of loyalty from the employee because of the realized effort we as leaders are putting toward their career success.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Don't Let the Government Run Your Business

" The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help." --- Ronald Reagan

On the Orange County primary election ballot is a proposal to guarantee earned sick time for employees of businesses of Orange County.  The proposal states that, "Orange County will adopt an ordinance providing that employees of businesses in Orange County earn up to 56 hours of sick time each year unless the business provides more- with pay required only in businesses with 15 or more employees as defined - to seek medical care, recover from illness/injury, care for a family member as defined, or use when necessary during a public health emergency, with such ordinance enforceable in court."

The ordinance is not needed.  In fact, the ordinance should have never made it to the ballot, (but that is another story and one that reflects unfavorably on our current Orange County Commissioners).  Businesses that already provide benefits for its employees are doing all that they can to attract the best talent in town.  Those businesses that don't, lose talent.  That is called competition in a capitalist market and one that has worked wonderfully for one hundred years.

Several states are going the way of government controlling how businesses operate.  In San Francisco (shocking!), Vermont, and within the Federal Government, part-time employees have the "right" to request schedules that revolve around child and elder care, school, and other activities outside of the business.  At this time, business owners are not required to conform, but they are required to listen and take such scheduling into consideration.  Government is looking over the shoulders of those business owners.  Business owners are waiting for the next shoe to drop.

While these may seem like harmless intervention by Uncle Sam, it is only a foothold into much more control to come.  To stay out of the spotlight and be told how to run your business, here are few key points or reminders to keep Big Brother at bay:

1.) Be nice -- Businesses with the greatest reputations of treating people respectably are simply doing the right things on a continual basis.  The smart players begin treating people right before the hiring phase begins, constructing want ads and holding job fairs in a way that attracts the best talent available.

The niceness continues after the team members are on board with generous compensation, great training programs, and fair benefit packages.  Simply treating people nice does work and helps to increase productivity and boost the bottom line.  Make sure your management team is being nice and follows your core business values and principles.

2.) Be prepared -- Unfortunately, groups will persuade government officials to force businesses to do things like offer mandatory sick time because they do enjoy a handout.  Some things you can't fight, but others you can prepare in advance for.  Things like having great policies in place and communicating those to your team members works wonders.  Keep everyone on the loop regarding new laws, regulations, and upcoming changes.  Communicate over and over again the direction the business is taking and what and why the business offers what it does.

3.) Be Vocal -- You, as the employer, still have rights, at least still in the state of Florida.  Times they are a-changin', but you can make a difference.  First, get really involved in your industry associations.  Every industry has some supportive organizations that provide a voice on your behalf.  Some are stronger than others, but all are worth getting involved with.  

Second, stay in tune with what your local government is doing.  Write or call your local representative to let them know how you feel.  Be prepared to offer solutions and not just complaints.  When they do something right, let them know by dropping a note or calling them.  The key is to stay in touch.

Finally, let your team members know what is happening in your industry.  Give them periodic updates in case they don't know and let them know how you will be addressing in issues that may affect them or your business.

You don't need or want government interference. Adopt these pointers today to protect your employees and your business.

Monday, July 14, 2014

World Cup Lessons

"Winning is not everything, but wanting to win is." --- Vince Lombardi

Billions were tuned into the final match in the World Cup between Germany and Argentina.  I can see why some consider soccer a dangerous sport because I almost passed out while watching it.  Well, more like dosed off.  I'm sure it is fascinating to some, because it is considered the number one sport in the world, it is just not my cup of tea.  However, I did pick up on some pointers from the World Cup that can be applied to business.

1.) Delegate the details.  With so much activity surrounding the World Cup, if the details aren't addressed, chaos can ensue.  Instead of trying to manage every portion of the game, the stands, the media, the travel, etc. World Cup officials put point persons in charge of various segments of the event.  Every point person reported back to the head organizer.  The same should apply to your business.  Instead of working on all the details, which will eventually lead to the death of your business, delegate areas of concern in your business to others. After you've delegated it, leave it alone.  Trust your people.

2.) Winning is not everything.  Brazil was trampled by Germany. Brazil knew they would win.  Their fans knew they would win. However, not only did they lose, but Germany embarrassed them with a score of 7 -1.  That is a big margin in soccer, but Brazil will continue to dominate future matches using what they've learned in this World Cup.  They will be on top again because the players, coaches and managers will review films, dissect plays, and improve on conditioning for future world matches.

3.) Keep your team energized.  Every team participating in the World Cup wanted to win, but all during the waiting and anticipation, the team leaders kept their players loose and motivated.  This can be a daunting task as the personality of each player must be in tune to the goals of the team and a clear-cut direction of the mission must be restated whenever possible.  Players can lose perspective and get distracted with all of the hype surrounding the World Cup.  The same is true with your business.  Distractions abound and without a repeated statement of vision and mission, team members can lose focus.

Like the World Cup, your business is in a competition on a daily basis.  You are fighting for contracts competing against others in your industry; you are fighting to ensure that all of the details of your business are addressed; and you are fighting to keep your team energized and focused.  The major difference is that the World Cup is once ever four years and your business is in it to win every day.  Make it a point to address these three key areas and remain in the winning game.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Don't Be Afraid

"We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light." --- Plato 
Business leaders have a lot to fear in today's market.  These are the days when it is good to have friends and peers to lean on and to share some of the problems and frustrations you face on a daily basis.  You can no longer look to the federal government for support; they are not your friend. State officials, at least in Florida, have been moving slowly toward a anti-business stance as well.  If you find yourself in a position with no one to voice your concerns and fears to, feel free to give me a call.  However, fear is oftentimes based on false assumptions.  Truth shines a light on fear.  Where truth can't be found, fear takes its place.  Here are three common fears followed by a bright light, or truth, to eliminate those fears.

1.) Fear of firing an employee.  During the Industrial Age, some businesses mistreated employees, used children for labor, and had unsafe working conditions.  Over time, the US government implemented laws to protect employees from these business leaders and to help ensure a safe working environment.  Through the years, these types of laws have increased to give employees more of an advantage over their employers and to make it easier for attorneys to make gobs of money representing terminated employees.  

Florida is an "at will" state which used to mean that you can fire an employee or the employee can quit without giving a reason.  Times have changed and it behooves the business leader today to document a case leading up to, during, and after termination to keep on file in case the employee decides to retaliate in some way.   Thankfully, Florida courts still lean in favor of the employer in termination cases as long as you can avoid issues currently under protection (e.g. "I fired him because he is handicapped," or, "I fired her because she is pregnant").  If you avoid the obvious and keep good records, you have nothing to fear when firing an employee.

2.) Fear of losing employees to my competitor.  This fear is understandable because you definitely don't won't your employees to jump ship, especially to go to a competitor and take your company knowledge with them.  There is a way to address this fear.  It may not be completely eliminated, but it can be reduced.

Communicate constantly with your team members.  Don't keep them in the dark about the condition or the direction of your business. Have a lot of face-to-face time with your employees.  Have a lot of meetings.  If you think you are meeting too much with them, meet some more.  Communication is key to keeping your talented team. 

According to the US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top three reasons people leave their jobs to go elsewhere is because they 1.) want a financial stake in their work.  They want to know that what they do for the company gives them a piece of the company; 2.) want more resources and responsibilities.  They feel a sense of ownership and are highly motivated by responsibility; and 3.) hate working on things they are not good at.  

Understanding the importance of constant communication and the reasons people leave their jobs will help to eliminate some of the fear of losing your people.

3.) Fear of employees failing.  This is a big one I see on a frequent basis.  Business owners tell me, "My employees won't do it like I did it," or "I have to micro-manage my team in order to get the project completed correctly."  My response is always, "Well, then fire them."  That, of course, brings up fear number one in the owner's mind and the sweat begins to form on his brow.  Simply, it all boils down to the hard fact that if you didn't hire the right person to begin with, it is your fault and you should get rid of him or her.  But note that the key is to hire the right person, which means one with the qualifications that you believe can help to carry out your business mission.  That is one way to get rid of this fear.

Another way is to learn to begin trusting your team.  It is true, they are not like you... thank God for that.  They have other attributes you don't have and other talents, skills, and knowledge you don't have.  That is all great and helps to make for a well-rounded team.  Hire right, train them right, then get out of their way.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Save A Life

"If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do."   --- William Zinsser

Writing in business is not easy.  Whether it is communicating via email, submitting a bid proposal, reprimanding an employee, or sending a newsletter to clients, writing is a chore, and doing it correctly can be a burden.

Delegating this task is probably the easiest way to handle it, but some correspondence requires your style and your voice.  Some freelancers can provide the communication materials that you need and that may be another option.

I've learned over the years of proofing and re-writing for various business leaders that there are some common recurring mistakes.  Until you sub it out to someone else, here are three common mistakes that you can eliminate to better communicate in the written form:

1.) Too many words.  Emails, letters, and memorandums can lose the effect of the communication if too many words get in the way.  There is no reason to state,"The implementation of the project should begin as early as next week, assuming we don't run into too many obstacles."

Revised: "The project will begin on Wednesday."

Or, "I am writing you to say thank you for your participation in the project."

Revised: "Thank you for your participation in the project."

After writing the letter, make a conscious effort to cut out as many words as possible without losing the intended message.

2.) Not seeing it from the receiving end.  Would you want a message that stated,"I requested that my team work on finding a solution to your issue..."?

Revised: "We will be on your property Thursday morning to fix the problem."

After you've constructed a letter, read it from the standpoint of the recipient.  In fact, get out of your chair and sit in another chair and read the letter as if you've just received it.  How would you feel?  What changes can you make to it?

3.) Using too many buzz words.  The bottom line.  At the end of the day.  24/7.  At this point and time. Awesome.  These are some of the overused terms that most annoy people.  Don't use them!  Stick to straight, sensible talk that communicates nicely.  Don't add additional flavors.  You are writing for business purposes and not for social media or to win a poetry contest.

I've uncovered many more mistakes in my freelance work, but these three are the most common.  Above all else, proofread before sending and have someone else proof it as well.  It takes a quick effort to ensure the recipient does not focus on your grammar and instead hears what you have to say loud and clear.  

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Applying Cookie-Cutter Business Practices to Improve Employee Engagement Doesn’t Work —- Just Being There Does

With all the talk, hype, suggestions, practices, and training that goes into employee engagement, I believe it is important that we first understand what is meant by employee engagement and from that starting point we can identify how our organization can improve this business concept.  In a nutshell, an engaged employee is one who is enthusiastic about his work and strives to do what is best for the organization.  We all want employees who are engaged and who work to serve the interest of our business, but what does it take to get employees not just engaged, but on fire at work?   There are three things your organization can do now to begin stoking a fire in your employees.

These three steps are simple, but often overlooked.  That is because many business leaders are looking to identify a problem with their employees when the first step should be to look inwardly.  Taking ownership of the responsibility for employee engagement is the basis for motivating employees to be engaged and setting your team members on fire.  

1.) Let your light shine.  A recent Gallup survey revealed that 70% of American workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” and are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces and less likely to be productive.  Currently, 52% of workers are not engaged, and worse, another 18% are actively disengaged in their work costing the US between $450 billion to $550 billion each year in lost productivity.

How about you?  Are you engaged?  Does your work energy exude a sense of engagement?  Leaders that walk the walk doing what they say their values are and working in line with what they say the company’s mission is, are more likely to have engaged employees that follow in their path.  

Look inward and see if there are areas of your work where you are not fully engaged.  Find out why.  It could be a lack of belief in one area of the direction of the business or a faulty understanding of the organization’s mission and vision.  Take the necessary steps to get back in the game.  Your team members are watching you.

2.) Talk about it.  Leaders that assume that their actions alone should be enough to inspire employees end up frustrated.  The smart players will talk it up with the troops taking every opportunity to discuss the direction of the company, various successes, and interesting challenges.  

In order to fan the flame of enthusiasm in your employees, it is necessary to communicate on a regular basis your vision for the future.  Weekly meetings, company parties, one-on-one meetings, and company-wide correspondence are just a few examples of tools you can use to help get your employees more engaged.

3.) Brag a little.  Don’t be ashamed to use peer-pressure to your advantage.  When you become aware of an employee’s success in a project or a customer service situation, broadcast it to the troops.  Share with everyone what that individual or team did to propel the organization forward.
The psychology behind this boasting session provides results that are twofold:  First, when others see what can be accomplished, and the positive reactions and consequences surrounding the outcome, they too want to strive for the same; and second, the team members being doted on now have internal flames that are burning all the more.  Acknowledging people is another way to ensure that your employees become more engaged in their work everyday.

These three steps are all controlled by you.  They are not a “formula of the day” to get employees  on fire and engaged in their work.  It is a foundational application that comes from within and one you can use to build upon.  Application of these three key points, that come from both the gut and the heart, will work in any workplace setting.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Exercise Your Mind

"You are your greatest asset. Put your time, effort and money into training, grooming, and encouraging your greatest asset."   --- Tom Hopkins

In the hustle and bustle of running a business, a lot of things can get overlooked--- some of them intentional and some just because there is never enough time to cover everything.

One of the most commonly overlooked, and that results in one of the most destructive actions, is omitting our own personal development plan.

This can be a costly mistake because of all the people in the organization, we are looked to for answers and are expected to provide direction and leadership.  This can be difficult to do if we are not at our best.

In order to stay sharp and at our finest, there are three things we can do on a regular basis to feed our minds and increase our leadership knowledge and skills.

1.) Be a Reader.  If you are not currently a reader or read only occasional magazine articles, consider upping your reading materials.  You may have heard it said that good leaders are good readers.  It could be that you feel you don't have the time to sit down and read a book, but you may be surprised to know that simply 15  minutes of reading per night should put you through a handful of books per year.  

Pick up some good books on leadership and begin applying tips and strategies that will help you to become a better leader.

2.) Connect with Other Leaders.  Pick one or two Meet and Greets in your area or visit a Chamber meeting to connect with leaders in your community. Those events are a good place to start, but if you are like me, you may find it more beneficial to have one-on-one meetings with another leader to foster a long-term relationship.  These meetings help you gain new insights and perspectives that you might have overlooked.  Your feedback can do the same for the other leader as well.

3.) Share Your Leadership Skills.  This tip doesn't seem like it will be too helpful on the surface, especially since you are trying to improve your skills, not share them.  However, sharing what you've learned helps to solidify your knowledge and provides a platform to analyze your knowledge and skills as you share with others.  There are several ways you can do this:  You can become a mentor to someone either within or outside of your organization; you can join a trade group or other gathering where you can be the guest speaker sharing your knowledge; you can offer your insights in written form by getting published in newspapers and magazines; or you can volunteer for a charity organization using your leadership skills.

Sharing your leadership skills and knowledge is a great way to expand your learning and hone your skills, talents, and abilities.  You will learn what works and doesn't work and you may even find that what you once believed about leading an organization no longer applies.

Try implementing all three of these strategies this quarter and begin feeding your mind.  You will find these tips will provide you with a refreshing new way of looking at leadership and what you have to offer to your company.
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