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Reposted from Inc Magazine
ALES SOURCE | Geoffrey James
May 7, 2013
Surprisingly, the best price and best value is at the bottom of the customer’s priority list. See what’s at the top.
Why does a customer buy from one vendor rather than another? According to research recently conducted by The Rain Group (detailed report here), customers tend to buy from sellers who are superlative at the following tasks:
1. Bring New Perspectives and Ideas
If customers could diagnose their own problems and come up with workable solutions on their own, they would do so. The reason that they’re turning to you and your firm is that they’re stuck and need your help. Therefore, you must be able to bring something new to the table.
2. Be Willing to Collaborate
Customers absolutely do NOT want you to sell them something, even something that’s wonderful. They want you to work with them to achieve a mutual goal, by being responsive to the customer’s concerns and ways of doing business. Ideally, customers want you to become integral to their success.
3. Have Confidence In Your Ability to Achieve Results
Customers will not buy from you if you can’t persuade them that you, your firm, and your firms offerings will truly achieve the promised results. It is nearly impossible to persuade a customer to believe in these things unless you yourself believe in them. You must make your confidence contagious.
4. Listen, Really Listen, to the Customer
When they’re describing themselves and their needs, customers sense immediately when somebody is just waiting for a break in the conversation in order to launch into a sales pitch. In order to really listen, you must suppress your own inner-voice and forget your goals. It’s about the customer, not about you.
5. Understand ALL the Customer’s Needs
It’s not enough to "connect the dots" between customer needs and your company’s offering. You must also connect with the individuals who will be affected by your offering, and understand how buying from you will satisfy their personal needs, like career advancement and job security.
6. Help the Customer Avoid Potential Pitfalls
Here’s where many sellers fall flat. Customers know that every business decision entails risk but they also want your help to minimize that risk. They want to know what could go wrong and what has gone wrong in similar situations, and what steps you’re taking to make sure these problems won’t recur.
7. Craft a Compelling Solution
Solution selling is definitely not dead. Customers want and expect you to have the basic selling skill of defining and proposing a workable solution. What’s different now though is that the ability to do this is the "price of entry" and not enough, by itself, to win in a competitive sales situation.
8. Communicate the Purchasing Process
Customers hate it when sellers dance around issues like price, discounts, availability, total cost, add-on options, and so forth. They want you to be able to tell them, in plain and simple language, what’s involved in a purchase and how that purchase will take place. No surprises. No last minute upsells.
9. Connect Personally With the Customer
Ultimately, every selling situation involves making a connection between two individuals who like and trust each other. As a great sales guru once said: "All things being equal, most people would rather buy from somebody they like… and that’s true even when all things aren’t equal."
10. Provide Value That’s Superior to Other Options
And here, finally, at the No. 10 spot (below everything else) comes the price and how that price compares to similar offerings. Unless you can prove that buying from you is the right business decision for the customer, the customer can and should buy elsewhere.
For any small business, your website is often the heart of your online marketing. But is your website really doing all it can to help attract and convert prospects into customers?
Or, are you losing visitors – and leads – because your website is missing important information or features? Make sure your site includes these 10 elements of a successful small business website.
1. Clearly Visible Contact Information
What is the primary action you want website visitors to take when they visit your site? If you want them to call, request more information, or visit your location, it’s absolutely critical to list accurate, updated contact information in a visible location on your website. This may seem like an obvious tip, but this is a big problem for many small business websites In fact, 60% of small- to medium-size businesses in the U.S. are missing a contact number on their home page, and roughly 75% of websites don’t list an email address!
To make sure your website visitors aren’t sent on a wild goose chase looking for contact information, make sure to at least include a phone number on each page of your website. If you don’t want to place your contact information on each page, consider this solution: build a web page that provides all of your important contact information, including phone number, email address, location with a map, and hours of operation. Then add a “Contact Us” button as part of your website design template or footer to make sure this is included on every page. At the very least, include your contact information on every landing page consumers visit after they click on your search ads or display ads. The more ways consumers can contact you, the better your chance of winning their business.
2. Contact Forms
Contact forms are the online data forms that prospects fill out in order to request information from you. They also serve as a lead-generation tool. But, according to research firm BIA/Kelsey, 66% of small- to medium-size businesses websites in the U.S. don’t have a form available for potential customers to submit. Website forms are a great way to collect important lead-qualifying data. Plus, they also provide your prospects with a place to express detailed questions about the information they’re seeking about your business.
3. Live Chat
Live chat is another contact method that can help you convert a website visitor into a customer. With this lead-generation tool, prospects can ask questions and learn more about your business during their visit to your site. By interacting with visitors and answering their questions, live chats build rapport with prospects at this important touch point in the buying cycle. When your prospect has the information they need and a positive rapport has been established, you’re another step closer to converting a visitor into a customer.
4. Social Media Icons
Social media is crucial in today’s connected business environment. Consumers expect to be able to communicate with businesses through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn (to name a few). However, according to BIA/Kelsey, less than 20% of SMB websites link to their Facebook page, with even fewer linking to Twitter and LinkedIn. Social media is an excellent way for customers to learn more about you, connect with other fans, and get the information they need in order to decide to do business with you. If you’re not on social media, it’s important to consider adding this as a regular business marketing process – and then add links to your accounts on your website!
5. Engaging Video
By including videos on your website, you can build credibility and attract visitors who might not want to read large amounts of detail about your products and/or services. Prospects will appreciate the convenience that videos provide during their visit to your site. Videos are also a great way to communicate the personality of both you and your business to your audience.
6. Balanced and Accurate Content
Avoid cramming too much information onto one page; rather than being helpful, information overload is just that – overload. Visitors will not spend precious time reading a webpage with too much information. If you’re unsure how to best arrange your website information, a professional Web designer can help you.
Also, make sure consumers don’t gather inaccurate information about your business. For example, remove information about products or services you no longer offer or profiles of employees who no longer work for you.
7. Modern, Simple Design
Leave the bad website design in the ’90s. Garish color combinations (think neon yellow against bright green, bright red against black, etc.), type in bolded all caps, multiple underlining of words, blinking or swirling of text, and other dated design elements all portray the image that your business is behind the times. And even if you aren’t an expert in design or website development, there are many services available to help you create an effective and pleasant-looking website.
8. Professional, Polished Logo
Your logo is an important part of your brand, so make sure it’s located prominently on your site. Use a high-resolution image on your webpage and consider featuring it in the upper left corner of each of your pages. Also, it’s a good rule-of-thumb to link your logo back to your home page so that visitors can easily navigate to it.
9. User-Friendly Functionality
It’s important to make sure the functionality of your website is a great experience. How long does it take for your page to load? Are all the links working and not broken? Is the formatting of your site up to date? For example, although it can create an interesting experience, using Flash may detract from your site’s effectiveness. Flash is not SEO-friendly because of how the format treats content. Also, using lots of Flash on your website can slow your website’s load time, which may cause visitors to abandon your site altogether. And, Flash does not display on some smartphones, so by using it, you may be alienating some of your mobile visitors.
10. Mobile-Friendly Experience
Consumers search and surf the Web using mobile technology (smartphones and tablets) now more than ever. In fact, at the end of 2012, nearly a quarter of Web traffic was from mobile devices. But the majority of small- and medium-size business websites still aren’t optimized for mobile devices. As mobile technology continues to rise in popularity among consumers, the need for mobile-compatible websites also rises. Have you ever checked out how your website looks on a tablet or smartphone? If so, what was your impression? Was it easy to call you, find your business location, or other information like your hours of operation? If your site isn’t mobile-compatible, consider creating a mobile site that contains 5-10 essential pages from your website to help visitors find information and more importantly, contact you. Mobile technology is only going to grow in use among consumers during the buying cycle, so make sure your website is ready and mobile-friendly.
How does your small business website stack up when it comes to these important features? If you’re not sure, take some time to audit your current site using this post as a checklist so you can see what areas you may need to improve. By equipping your website with the essential features that your prospects need to make an informed decision about you and your business, you can build a more effective website and ultimately increase your rate of consumer conversion.
Employers responsible for distributing a summary of benefits and coverage (SBC) to employees in connection with group health plan coverage will need to include additional language to satisfy new requirements under Health Care Reform becoming effective in 2014. An updated SBC template, which includes the new language, is now available for SBCs provided with respect to coverage beginning on or after January 1, 2014 and before January 1, 2015.
SBC Notice Requirements
Group health plans are required to provide, without charge, a standard SBC form explaining plan coverage and costs to employees at specified times during the enrollment process and upon request. For insured group health plans, the notice requirement may be satisfied if the issuer furnishes recipients with a timely and complete SBC.
New Language Required for 2014
The updated SBC template includes additional language indicating whether the plan provides "minimum essential coverage" (the type of coverage an individual needs to satisfy the individual responsibility requirement), and whether the plan meets the "minimum value" standard under Health Care Reform (meaning the plan pays for at least 60% of covered health care expenses).
FAQs issued simultaneously provide some relief for plans already working on preparing SBCs for 2014, where adding the new information to the template would present an administrative burden. To the extent a plan is unable to modify the SBC template for coverage beginning on or after January 1, 2014 and before January 1, 2015, a plan may use the previously authorized template, so long as the SBC is furnished with a cover letter or similar disclosure stating whether the plan does or does not provide "minimum essential coverage" and "minimum value."
Google Analytics is intimidating for most folks because of the sheer volume of information it provides. The screen offers an overwhelming amount of numbers and tabs – enough to cause many visitors to simply click out of the free service.
The small bit of consolation here is that even the most experienced marketers feel confused by all the data points offered up by the good folks at Google. So in that spirit we offer the specific metrics small businesses should look for when using Google Analytics to judge web traffic performance.
1. Branded Search Traffic. This one is straightforward: How many people are coming to your site every day by searching for your company? This illustrates brand recognition and how that changes over time. To find this number go to “Traffic Sources” on the left side of any GA screen within your account and click on “Sources.” Next click on “Search” and then “Organic.” That will lead you to a list of all the keywords (the words people typed into the search engine) to find your site. The final step is to enter your businesses name right here (see figure below) on the page, before clicking on the little magnifying glass.
Now the list will populate with all the search terms that include the name of your company. Obviously, you’d love for this list to grow over time, indicating that more and more people are searching for your brand. Brand searches also help other pages on your site because Google prefers brands to sites that offer nothing but low-quality content.
2. Non-branded search traffic. This data point is similar to — but very different from — #1. Non-branded search traffic shows you how many people found the site WITHOUT searching for your company name. This is a very good barometer of how your search engine optimization (SEO) program is going, because that’s really the goal of any long-term engagement with SEO: to bring people to the site who’ve never heard of you before.
So to find this number in GA you do everything you did to find the branded search except after you get to the list of ALL the keywords that send you traffic, click on “Advanced” as in the image to the left.
This will drop down a new field in which you can EXCLUDE the name of your company/brand. Now the list will show all the keyword phrases that brought you traffic that did not include your name. In effect, this is free traffic and therefore highly valuable. Hence you can know how well or poorly your SEO efforts are working with this data slice from GA.
3. Page views. This shows you how many page views each page on your site has attracted. There are other fairly complicated ways to see the click paths from page to page, etc. But this is a quick way to see people’s favorite pages. For example, we learned from GA that our How It Works page is extremely popular relative to other pages in our navigation, so we make sure to keep that page in excellent shape.
To find this data point go to “Content” on the left of any Google Analytics page. Then click “Site Content” and then “All Pages.” And as always, set the timeframe you want to look at in the upper right of the screen.
4. Referrals. Now that you know which search terms are sending you traffic, let’s see which SITES are sending visitors your way. To find the data, just click on “Traffic Sources” on the left rail of any GA screen. Then go to “Sources” before hitting “Referrals.” Note some of these might be paid links or ads from other pages – that’s okay. You can measure the efficacy of paid campaigns by sorting the results – i.e. via including or excluding certain sources – just like you did for keywords.
You can also exclude the paid sources and look at which “free” platforms are sending traffic. I.e. Twitter, LinkedIn, sites with links to yours, other blogs, etc.
5. Real-time traffic. This one is something of a guilty pleasure because it doesn’t show too too much; it’s just pretty cool (and addictive; beware). On the left of any GA screen just click “Real-Time” and then “Overview.” You’ll immediately go to a screen showing how many people are on your site “Right now.” You’ll also be able to see the referral source, i.e whether it’s from a keyword or referring site. Again, this page won’t help too much when it comes to reporting end of year data and so forth; it’s just fun to see visitors coming in in real-time.
This is by no means a complete list of the functionality of Google Analytics. But that’s the point: there are dozens if not hundreds of data sets in GA – so many that they can clutter your screen and then your mind. This list is just a framework for helping you and your small business get a sense of what may be important for growing your business.
Reposted from Inc Magazine, April 8, 2013. by Jeff Haden
It’s for your own good. Cut these things out of your day and you’ll see gains in productivity–not to mention happiness.
If you get decent value from making to-do lists, you’ll get huge returns–in productivity, in improved relationships, and in your personal well-being–from adding these items to your not to-do list:
Every day, make the commitment not to:
1. Check my phone while I’m talking to someone.
You’ve done it. You’ve played the, "Is that your phone? Oh, it must be mine," game. You’ve tried the you-think-sly-but-actually-really-obvious downwards glance. You’ve done the, "Wait, let me answer this text…" thing.
Maybe you didn’t even say, "Wait." You just stopped talking, stopped paying attention, and did it.
Want to stand out? Want to be that person everyone loves because they make you feel, when they’re talking to you, like you’re the most important person in the world?
Stop checking your phone. It doesn’t notice when you aren’t paying attention.
Other people? They notice.
And they care.
2. Multitask during a meeting.
The easiest way to be the smartest person in the room is to be the person who pays the most attention to the room.
You’ll be amazed by what you can learn, both about the topic of the meeting and about the people in the meeting if you stop multitasking and start paying close attention. You’ll flush out and understand hidden agendas, you’ll spot opportunities to build bridges, and you’ll find ways to make yourself indispensable to the people who matter.
It’s easy, because you’ll be the only one trying.
And you’ll be the only one succeeding on multiple levels.
3. Think about people who don’t make any difference in my life.
Trust me: The inhabitants of planet Kardashian are okay without you.
But your family, your friends, your employees–all the people that really matter to you–are not. Give them your time and attention.
They’re the ones who deserve it.
4. Use multiple notifications.
You don’t need to know the instant you get an email. Or a text. Or a tweet. Or anything else that pops up on your phone or computer.
If something is important enough for you to do, it’s important enough for you to do without interruptions. Focus totally on what you’re doing. Then, on a schedule you set–instead of a schedule you let everyone else set–play prairie dog and pop your head up to see what’s happening.
And then get right back to work. Focusing on what you are doing is a lot more important than focusing on other people might be doing.
They can wait. You, and what is truly important to you, cannot.
5. Let the past dictate the future.
Mistakes are valuable. Learn from them.
Then let them go.
Easier said than done? It all depends on your perspective. When something goes wrong, turn it into an opportunity to learn something you didn’t know–especially about yourself.
When something goes wrong for someone else, turn it into an opportunity to be gracious, forgiving, and understanding.
The past is just training. The past should definitely inform but in no way define you–unless you let it.
6. Wait until I’m sure I will succeed.
You can never feel sure you will succeed at something new, but you can always feel sure you are committed to giving something your best.
And you can always feel sure you will try again if you fail.
Stop waiting. You have a lot less to lose than you think, and everything to gain.
7. Talk behind someone’s back.
If only because being the focus of gossip sucks. (And so do the people who gossip.)
If you’ve talked to more than one person about something Joe is doing, wouldn’t everyone be better off if you stepped up and actually talked to Joe about it? And if it’s "not your place" to talk to Joe, it’s probably not your place to talk about Joe.
Spend your time on productive conversations. You’ll get a lot more done–and you’ll gain a lot more respect.
8. Say "yes" when I really mean "no."
Refusing a request from colleagues, customers, or even friends is really hard. But rarely does saying no go as badly as you expect. Most people will understand, and if they don’t, should you care too much about what they think?
When you say no, at least you’ll only feel bad for a few moments. When you say yes to something you really don’t want to do you might feel bad for a long time–or at least as long as it takes you to do what you didn’t want to do in the first place.
Reposted from Inc. Magazine Suzanne Lucas
Have you stopped to consider that your employees may talk about you the way you used to talk about your boss?
You have an open door policy, so of course your employees come to you and tell you everything that bothers them, and you work together to fix it. All in all, it’s a blissful place to work.
So why is your turnover through the roof? Because open door policy or not, it’s highly unlikely that your employees are telling you everything you need to know. Here are 7 things that your employees may be thinking, and what you should do about it.
You’re underpaying them. Are you sure this statement isn’t true? When you hired each of your employees, you negotiated a salary based on their skills, your needs, and the market demands. It was fair then, so isn’t it fair now? Maybe, maybe not.
The Fix? Pay attention to the market. If they could make more money elsewhere, you’re underpaying. If it would cost you $5,000 more to replace someone, you’re underpaying that person.
You never listen to their ideas. You’re the idea person. Your idea to start the company. You’re idea to hire. It’s your ideas that made their jobs possible. All that is true. But, you hired them because you needed them and their ideas. Are you listening? And by listening I mean actually considering their ideas.
The Fix? Show you are listening by actually studying out (or asking them to study out and present) what the ROI would be on that particular idea. Maybe you’ll find some good ones.
You need to fire someone. Employees hate it when bosses ignore bad (or incompetent) behavior exhibited by their coworkers. It causes a tremendous strain on the office, lowers productivity and makes for generally unpleasant workforce.
The Fix? Fire the jerks.
You need to drop a client. All clients are hard earned and we all know it’s easier to maintain a relationship than it is to go out and find a new client to replace them. But many businesses have at least one client that demands more than they are paying, causes more headaches than they are worth, and makes it difficult to meet the needs of the better clients.
The Fix? Ask your employees which clients are impossible to deal with. If there’s a consensus, study out if it’s truly worth it to keep this client around.
You are a micro-manager. Do you know every aspect of everything that goes on in your business? Sounds like you’re an awesome leader, right? Wrong. Let your employees handle what they need to handle. You’re should be the big picture person.
The Fix? Hire the right people and let them do their jobs. This may require sitting on your hands for a few weeks until you get the hang of this.
You are too hands off. You may well be the opposite of the micro-manager, but that doesn’t mean that you’re perfect either. If you don’t have any clue what is going on, can’t give direction and suggestions, and can’t see the big picture because you don’t know where any of the puzzle pieces are, you’re to hands off.
The Fix? regular (weekly!) one on one meetings with your direct reports. You don’t need to worry much about how things are done, but you do need to know what is being done.
Your relatives are a pain in the rear end. Your spouse who drops in just to say "Hi!" and stays for three hours, criticizes everyone’s work, and generally wreaks havoc among the staff, is not being helpful. Your (adult) child who you’ve just made VP is not capable of doing the job. She may be in the future, but too fast of a promotion doesn’t work even if there is blood involved.
The Fix? Evaluate your family members the same way you would other staff. If they aren’t being helpful, give them a (loving) kick in the pants and either bring them up to speed, or get them out the door. If it’s a relative who doesn’t work there, but simply visits, ask yourself if you’d allow one of your employee’s spouses to act this way. If the answer is no, it’s time for your spouse to stay out of the office.
Talking with your staff, keeping an idea on your own behavior, and being aware of what is going on can truly make your business the place people want to work for. And that’s good for business.
Businesss Owner Magazine is published by Global Resources, small business management consulting firm. This article is By John Kyriazoglou and is reposted with permission.
Consulting experience and various international studies have shown that business managers in all types and sizes of companies have very difficult and stressful jobs. In today’s tough, dynamic, resource-tight and uncertain economy, a company (or organization) needs strong managers to lead its staff toward accomplishing business goals.
But managers are not only leaders. They are problem solvers, coordinators, communicators, cheerleaders and planners as well. And managers don’t come in onesize- fits-all shapes or forms. Managers fulfill many roles and have many different responsibilities at each level of management within an organization.
Organizations abound in today’s society. Groups of individuals constantly join forces to accomplish common goals. Sometimes the goals of these organizations are for profit, such as franchise restaurant chains or clothing retailers. Other times, the goals are more altruistic, such as nonprofit churches or public schools.
But no matter what their aims, they’re made up of people and certain individuals are in charge of these people. These are the managers.
Managers appear in every organization because organizations want to succeed. These individuals have the sometimes unenviable task of making decisions, solving difficult problems, setting goals, planning strategies and rallying individuals. And those are just a few of their responsibilities.
To be exact, managers manage themselves, administer and coordinate resources effectively and efficiently to achieve the goals of an organization, manage context, manage relationships and manage change. In essence, managers get the job done effectively, especially if they manage both themselves and other people very well.
No matter what type of organization they work in, managers are generally responsible for the performance of a group of people. As leaders, managers must encourage this group to reach common organizational goals (at the general level), such as bringing a new product to market in a timely fashion and also reach specific objectives, such as improve profits by a certain percentage by the end of a given time period.
To accomplish these general goals and specific objectives, in an organizational products and services framework, managers not only use their human resources, but they also use inputs, methods and systems, to create outputs which can be translated into products and services for customers and a control system to achieve all these in the most optimal way.
When you take into consideration the full array of duties, roles and responsibilities in leading and managing their units, departments, organizations, etc., one thing becomes clear: business managers and professionals have difficult jobs. But how can a business manager and/or a professional handle this stressful environment? The following “guidelines” are based on in this various consulting experiences and sources and may be used when necessary to stimulate us mentally and morally, as a business manager or professional and help us resolve a troubling situation troubling us, with specific actions and activities.
Guideline 1: Make the necessary changes with harmony and balance
- Put happiness in its right perspective in your life.
- If you must change in order to become happy, do it with a calm attitude and patience and by respecting your limits.
- Balance happiness with other things in life.
- Look inside yourself for harmony.
Guideline 2: Make silence your useful tool
- Put silence in your life.
- Be silent for at least 15 minutes every day.
- Use silence to envision happiness and success.
- Breathe slowly and get rid of all your negative thoughts.
- Disregard physical pain and functions of the body.
- Allow only pleasant, happy and harmonious thoughts to fill your mind.
Guideline 3: Preserve yourself
- It is necessary to take care of yourself in order to be happy.
- This does not mean buy expensive goods or clothes, go on a spending journey and buy a lot of things of no value to you.
- It means eat healthy foods, rest daily, pray and exercise both body and mind.
- It means respect your limits and to take care to fulfill your dreams.
Guideline 4: Love nature
- Get up close and personal with the natural world.
- Ramble through forests, mountains, seas and fields.
- Get an intensive, hands-on learning experience.
- Study and photograph objects of nature like flowers, plants, rivers, trees, lakes, insects, birds, fish and other animals.
- Spend a day honing your identification skills for fauna and flora and discuss ecology, natural history, plant lore and the meanings of species’ common and scientific names with experts and members of ecology groups.
- Plant a tree in your home and local community spaces.
- Involve others in planting and watering plants and trees.
- Feed birds and provide them with small nests and water pedestals.
- Expand your understanding of the meaning and contribution of the natural world.
Guideline 5: Pray (meditate) daily
- The power of prayer and meditation is tremendous.
- Praying guards you against angry and irresponsible acts.
- It lowers your egoism and self-centeredness.
- It clears you from bad thoughts and acts.
- It demolishes injustice.
- It makes you more respectable and pious.
- It frees you to think more clearly and wisely.
- It opens your soul to hope and compassion.
- It enables your heart and psyche to seek friendliness and love.
Guideline 6: How to handle failure
- If I feel depressed: I will sing.
- If I feel sad: I will tell a joke to myself to laugh and I will read something cheerful and optimistic.
- If I feel uncertain about something: I will act in a more positive and powerful way.
- If I feel poor in material possessions: I will remind myself of the mental and spiritual goods I have.
- If I feel inferior: I will think of something wonderful that I have done If I feel insignificant: I will remember how precious I am to my family, friends and to my colleagues.
- If I feel too confident: I will remember my failures.
- If I feel too great: I will remember the moments of my shame.
- If I feel too proud: I will remember the times I was weak.
- If I am without a useful job to do: I will find something creative to complete.
- If I’m not disciplined in my thoughts and my actions: I will reduce my activities and readjust my priorities.
- If I feel anxious: I will think in a positive and optimistic way.
- If I feel that people are abandoning me: I will find ways to act with love, friendship and optimism.
Guideline 7: How to handle difficult people
- Take a short walk outside of the location where the conflict has taken place.
- Make silence your useful tool.
- Use silence to envision happiness and success.
- Breathe slowly and get rid of all your negative thoughts.
- Allow only pleasant, happy and harmonious thoughts to fill your mind.
- Think of a solution to deal with the difficult person or situation.
- Work out a mutually-agreeable solution with the person(s) involved.
Reposted from Inc. Magazine by Les McKeown
Feb 25, 2013
There’s one thing every leader needs to have to be great: time management. Struggling? Take a look at what may be hurting your leadership.
In my years of coaching founders, owners, and executives, I’ve found that one key skill is the doorway to just about everything else. Get this one thing right, and everything else follows. Screw it up, and you’ll face an uphill battle all the way.
What is this magic skill? In a simpler age, it was called time management. A while back, the terminology changed to productivity management.
Now, in the 24/7 information era, I prefer to call it environment control– the ability to manage the swirling, chaotic, constant flow of information, decisions and tasks that surround every leader.
Why is this seemingly mechanistic skill so important in the development of leaders? The answer is simple, but hiding in plain sight: I’ve found that most would-be leaders have the mental, emotional, and physical resources necessary to develop whatever skill or attribute is asked of them.
Whether developing as a leader requires you to work on the art of delegation, or more courageous risk-taking, or becoming more innovative (your mileage will vary), chances are you are quite capable of developing that skill. If you have the time and space to do it.
And there’s the kicker: you probably don’t have the time and space to do it. You start with good intentions, but the sheer pressure of other commitments and the constant inflow of new demands, new information, prevent you from taking a disciplined, structured approach to building the new skill you need.
Net result, six months later, little has changed. You’re still not delegating enough, not thinking strategically enough, not innovating enough. Taking a firm grip on the environment around you–getting to the point where you can control how and where you spend your limited resources–involves radically upending how you approach three key areas of your life:
1. Your Calendar.
If you regularly slough off meetings because you’re overbooked, end the day embarrassed because you failed to show for conference calls you were expected on, or spend your time scurrying from one late-running meeting to the next, you’re not going to develop as a leader. You’ll simply stay on the same hamster-wheel, trapped in a groundhog day of your own making. No excuse: Great leaders have the exact same 24 hours a day that you do. They just manage them better.
2. Your Commitments.
When was the last time you made an inventory of all the outstanding commitments you’ve made to others? Or even just noted down the commitments you casually added in one day?
Stuck leaders fail to realize that we can’t keep making commitments, large and small, without at some point overloading our ability to deliver on those commitments. If you’ve reached the point where others can’t trust you to do what you say you’ll do, you have a systemic problem–one that will fatally stall your ability to grow as a leader.
3. Your Communications.
Got 400 unread emails in your inbox? Looking at a reading pile the size of a small library? Do outstanding reports and presentations start yelling for attention every time you open your laptop?
If so, your ability to lead is being compromised–severely compromised–by the pressure to manage.
I wish I had a magician’s ability to make the problem of environment control go away overnight. I don’t. But I do know that until you fix it, you’ll never be the leader you want to be.
There is a solution, but requires hard work (sadly, not a popular concept in much of today’s leadership literature). Grab one of the many great resources on environment control, and invest the time needed to install systems and processes that will give you mastery over your calendar, commitments and communications.
Personally, I highly recommend David Allen’s classic guide, Getting Things Done (full disclosure, the author is a friend of mine, but I admired and benefited from his book long before we met), but there are many others out there. The issue is not a shortage of resources. The issue is your commitment.
Are you prepared to invest time to learn the only leadership skill you may ever need?
Reprinted from Inc. Magazine by Eric V. Holtzclaw
Forget cramming to learn your new industry inside and out. When you’re starting up, ignorance makes you more creative, unique, and effective.
Maybe ignorance really is bliss. I talk with entrepreneurs all the time who started their businesses without a real understanding of what they were getting into. It sounds crazy, but I actually think it may have been their single greatest asset.
Here’s why it pays to know as little as possible.
You’re willing to take bigger risks, with bigger rewards.
A little knowledge can make you cautious–and hold you back. So often we’re told that something isn’t possible, that we won’t be successful or that our venture won’t work because others have failed. That’s daunting. When you go into something new without lots of knowledge about who was there before, you aren’t held back by the way it was approached before–by the standard way of doing things. That opens you up to greater possibilities.
When I first started User Insight, many in the research space told me that you "couldn’t sell fixed price research and there was no way to turn it into a process"–that it was too risky to approach research that way. But I did it anyway. I turned research into a repeatable process, enabling my company to bid business on a fixed price basis anywhere in the world.
You bring fresh eyes.
If you have no experience in a space, you create new approaches to a problem that others might not have considered. You may bring something from another industry or experience to your current situation that is more appropriate.
I listened a group of entrepreneurs speak at a panel discussion the other night–one of them shared the experience of bringing a product to market. She recalled the moment when she was on the verge of signing off on the purchase of several hundred thousand dollars worth of molds for a bottle to hold the product.
First, she decided to bring everyone involved in the product’s manufacturing process into one room and have them talk her through it, from inception to delivery in the consumer’s hands. During this meeting, where she openly admitted to being the least knowledgeable person in the room, they identified several breakpoints in the process that would require major modifications to the molds she was ordering. This half-day meeting saved her start-up hundreds of thousands of dollars in mistakes.
The amazing thing–these industry experts, each with about 25 years of experience, said it was the first such meeting they had ever attended that took such a holistic look at the process for a product. All because she was ignorant.
You ask stupid questions.
Entrepreneurs who are new to a space ask questions to try to understand it. By having this outsider view, they can see gaps and opportunities others "on the inside" don’t see. As newbies, they have permission to ask questions like "why do you do it that way?" and, "have you ever thought of doing it this way?"
If you have a staff, encourage them to ask the stupid questions when they first start with your company. If the person answering the question can’t provide a solid answer with a specific reason, something might be broken: It might be a process or procedure to reconsider. Those so-called stupid questions may end up lending you the unique opportunity to be creative and solve a problem in a new and market-changing way.
It’s that time of year again, when snow and slippery conditions may make it difficult for your employees to travel to work. Consider the following guidelines that can help your company be prepared when bad weather strikes.
1. When an employee misses work due to bad weather conditions, whether the employee is entitled to be paid for the absence may depend on the employee’s exempt or non-exempt status.
Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers are not required to pay non-exempt employees for hours they did not work, including when the office is closed due to bad weather.
Exempt employees generally must be paid their full salary amount if they perform any work during a workweek. However, an employer that remains open for business during a period of bad weather may generally make deductions, for full-day absences only, from the salary of an exempt employee who chooses not to report to work because of the weather. Deductions from salary for less than a full-day’s absence are not permitted.
If the business is closed for the day as a result of inclement weather, the employer may not deduct the day’s pay from the salary of an exempt employee. The general rule is that an employer who closes operations due to a weather-related emergency or other disaster for less than a full workweek must pay an exempt employee the full salary for that week, if the employee performs any work during the week. This is because deductions may not be made for time when work is not available.
2. Some states require employers to pay employees for showing up even if no work is available or there is an interruption of work and the employee is sent home.
Although payment for time not worked may not be required for non-exempt employees under federal law, some states do require that employees be paid for a minimum number of hours for reporting to work, even if there is no work that can be performed (such as when the office is closed) or the employee is sent home early, for instance, due to an impending storm.
Often called "reporting time pay," these laws may apply to specific industries (e.g., manufacturing) or certain employees only, so it is important to check with your state labor department for requirements that may apply to your company before implementing any policy.
3. Plan ahead so your employees know what is expected of them and to help minimize disruption to your business.
Make it a priority to notify all of your employees, both exempt and non-exempt, of your company’s policy regarding employee attendance and pay during periods of inclement weather. Your policy should include information on how your employees can find out whether the office is open or closed, such as by email, radio broadcast, calling in to hear a recorded message, or other methods that all employees can access. Be sure to apply your policy consistently and fairly to all employees.
It’s also prudent to remind employees to use their best judgment and not to put their safety at risk when it comes to traveling to work during or after a storm. If possible, see if you can arrange for employees to work remotely from home on days when the weather makes travel dangerous.