It’s 2:30 in the afternoon on a sweaty Wednesday. You answer what feels like millions of emails, check a few items off your to-do list and take a lap around the office to stretch. You look sure that enough time has passed to make it 5 o’clock. But it’s only 2:35. Only five minutes have gone by.

It’s easy to get stuck in a summer rut. Unless there’s a BBQ and lemonade stand in each of your employee’s cubicles, being in the office is probably not an employee’s ideal location on a summer afternoon. It’s harder to stay focused and on track with projects and assignments when it seems like virtually everyone is on vacation or taking on new shift hours.

Don’t let the temperature and the temptation of playing hooky to go to the beach get to your employees before you can. Here are a few tips to keep your team focused while still having fun in the office all summer long.

Go on the occasional field trip

During the summer, I like to take my team on a “field trip” every now and then. We’ll walk to the nearest frozen yogurt establishment for a cool treat or to our local Starbucks to get just the right amount of caffeine to finish out the day.

It’s a nice break in the day that everyone appreciates. Sometimes it’s all you need to get motivated to finish out the afternoon strong.

I make it a point to get the team talking on our outing — do a little team building together with some quick exercises. Last summer, I asked my employees to go around and each say a word they associate with starting a small business and their favorite summer memory. Don’t be afraid to get creative!

Be understanding when it comes to time off

I am a firm believer in fully being a boss when I’m at the office and fully being a mom when I’m at home. As long as I work the absolute hardest I can during the day and get everything on my to-do list checked off, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to head out early to catch my son’s soccer game.

I apply that same principle to my employees. As long as they have everything done and done well, early dismissal and later arrivals in the morning every now and then is fine.  During the summertime, it’s important to be flexible with everyone’s schedules and work around them.

That’s not to say your employees should get out of the office for every little thing that comes up. But when something important unexpectedly happens, try to accommodate around that moment as best as you can.

Keep the watercooler filled

Obviously, you’ll be doing this for hydration purposes, but what I’m getting at here is to make sure your office has a laidback, summer-friendly atmosphere. Keep plenty of water available for everyone, a steady stream of A/C (with plenty of fans on hand) and a nice refreshing fruit bowl for a healthy summer snack.

It’s the small gestures that let your employees know that you have their best interest at heart, especially when it’s 104 degrees outside.

Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. Follow her on Google+ and on Twitter @deborahsweeney and @mycorporation.

Published in Columnist
Tuesday, 30 April 2013 20:00

Five strengths of the vulnerable leader

The biggest misconception in corporate America is the thinking that vulnerability and weakness are synonymous. They couldn’t be more opposite. If you don’t think so, think about the kind of managers

you want to work for and respond yes or no to the following:

 

 

  •  Has all the answers.

 

 

  •  Does not ask for suggestions on the ability to lead more effectively.

 

 

  •  Refuses to confront sensitive interpersonal issues.

 

 

  •  Frequently keeps office door shut with a sign on it that says, “Not Now!”

 

 

This last one may seem like a joke. It isn’t. At a particular organization, this is promptly displayed for all direct reports and those who pass by to see. Yikes.

To clarify, vulnerability in leadership is not reflected by managers who are quivering bowls of insecurity that freak out twice a day, questioning themselves out loud on every decision.  Vulnerability is demonstrated by managers who have both the confidence and courage to make tough choices.

Yet, in the process of these choices, they are willing to reach out for help, because it’s in the best interest of the organization as well their continued development.

The following are five areas that demonstrate the strong, vulnerable leader. Do a quick self-assessment as to how you measure against these:

Ask the opinion of those lower in rank.

Many managers view their competencies as milestones they passed, no different than a child who has learned to crawl then walk. Why look back? Yet, the perspectives of those under you not only builds morale and makes team members feel valued, managers may learn a fresh perspective they never considered.

Be willing to apologize and admit fault.

No one wakes up and thinks, “I can’t wait to screw something up so I can make a public apology!” Yet, the well-managed ego of a leader knows that both trust and character is on the line when it comes this one.

Get feedback from direct reports.

This is a distinction as the strong, vulnerable leader proactively seeks specific areas to be more aware and effective. This willingness to be enlightened is paramount for modeling continuous improvement.

Ask customers to critique your service.

Verbal critiques are best here so dialogue is involved. We have a propensity to bristle when those not making or selling our products or services chirp up. But the perch from which they view our approach to service not only offers a different vantage point, but one that may increase future business and referrals based on the openness of that relationship.

Tell colleagues to hold you accountable.

Empowering a circle of trusted advisers, above and below you in rank, creates a positive environment, one that knows higher trust, support and stronger likelihood of better performance outcomes.

Which one of these qualities resonates with you most? If you immediately have a couple in mind, that’s a good sign. If you are willing to openly discuss these with those you work with, that’s a great sign. Stay vulnerable, my friends.

Joe Takash is the president of Victory Consulting, a Chicago-based sales and leadership development firm. Joe is a keynote speaker for executive retreats, sales conferences and management meetings and he has appeared in many national media outlets. His firm, Victory Consulting, coaches executive teams and individual leaders, helping them maximize strategic execution.  Learn more at www.victoryconsulting.com.

Published in Columnist
Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:46

Great partnerships = great success

Peanut butter and jelly. Nuts and bolts. Lennon and McCartney. Love and marriage. What do all these things have in common?  They represent great partnerships — things that go together, like, well, a hamburger and fries (when I’m not on a diet, of course).

Great partnerships epitomize the concept of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Vanilla ice cream is great, right? And who doesn’t love an ice cold glass of root beer? But put the two together and you’ve created an American classic: the root beer float.

Business can be like this, as well. Your company may be doing fine, but perhaps it can do even better with the help of a well-chosen partner.

After many years of being an independent businessman, I’ve followed my own advice and taken on a partner for the first time ever.

I’ve always felt that to be successful, I had to genuinely believe in my products, so it’s safe to say that my high hits-to-misses ratio was precisely because I considered them all to be labors of love. The Gazelle, Body-by-Bison, Cheeks footwear — they’re like my children in many respects. Still, there are limitations to what one individual can do.

Look to expand

I’ve wanted to expand the reach of my products for quite some time, and the financial resources that a new partner brings are certainly a critical component to achieving this goal. However, the scope of the endeavor also means the partner that I choose must be able to provide more than just cash; they must understand the business I’m in, backward and forward.

Look at what a partner can bring to the table to supplement your strengths. If I approach things intelligently, I can work with my partner to get the right buyers with negotiation skills so we can source products at the best possible prices in order to make a decent profit.

Of course, having a partner who is also willing to put the money up to buy the products is also key because of the importance of having an equity stake in what you sell beyond just collecting royalties.

What makes someone a good partner may vary depending on the business that you’re in, but it’s critical to understand that a true partner contributes more than just money to the venture.

Decide if a partner is a good fit

At the end of the day, the decision to take on a partner will hinge largely on what you determine to be your ultimate goal for your business.

For me, at this stage of my life, it’s about expanding the availability of my products internationally and to broaden my retail distribution channels.  Some of it is driven by my desire to be the best I can be — but it’s also fair to say that I’m looking at monetizing the value of my trademarks, copyrights and patents so that there’s a tangible value to the company that can be sold someday.

The thought of giving up 100 percent ownership and control of your business to have a lesser share might be difficult at first. I admit it, I like calling the shots. But I also know that I can’t do everything at that level. The key is to focus on the big picture and try not to let your emotions get in the way of success.

Don’t let anyone tell you differently — nobody wants to run a company forever. And if you can build your company up to the point where it’s functioning well and is highly desirable, there’s a great deal of satisfaction in that, not to mention a nice pay day, when you can relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor — especially if they’ve been labors of love.

Tony Little is the president, CEO and founder of Health International Corp., and executive chairman of Positive Lifestyle International. Known as “America’s Personal Trainer,” he has been a television icon for more than 20 years. After overcoming a car accident that nearly took his life, Little learned how to turn adversity into victory. Known for his wild enthusiasm, Little is responsible for revolutionizing direct-response marketing and television home shopping. He has sold more than $3 billion in products bearing his name. Reach him at guestbook@tonylittle.com.

Published in Columnist

Jean Birch finds it quite difficult to pick a favorite item on the menu at IHOP. Actually, that’s not really true. She just has a hard time staying loyal to one item as her favorite when there are so many tasty treats to choose from.

“It switches just about every week,” Birch says. “Last Saturday, I ordered the Cinn-A-Stacks pancake combo. It’s like the inside of the cinnamon roll rubbed all over your pancakes. I can’t get enough of those. Good stuff, man.”

Birch, the president of International House of Pancakes LLC, sees herself as the restaurant chain’s chief cheerleader. The company finished 2010 with 1,504 IHOP locations and expects to add as many as 65 new locations this year, with an additional 330 units planned over the next 19 years.

Birch loves to get out and visit as many restaurants as she can fit into her schedule, but she’s not just there for the pancakes. She wants employees to feel her energy and see her passion for the business. That often takes some effort as many employees find it hard to see past her title.

“People tend to drop more dishes when I’m around,” Birch says. “They’re on their best behavior and they want to make a good impression, but I don’t personally see myself as any different than when I was a bus girl in the restaurant or when I was a manager in the restaurant.”

IHOP is owned by DineEquity Inc., a 17,700-employee company which also owns Applebee’s Restaurants and took in $1.33 billion in 2010 revenue. Before she came to IHOP, Birch recalls those younger days and the visits she had from executives who weren’t there to enjoy a meal or exchange a few laughs with the hired help.

“They were looking for things to be wrong in the restaurant instead of trying to find things that were working well and that we were proud of,” Birch says. “I have plenty of people in my organization that can tell people how to improve their business and what they can do to be better.”

Birch says her job is to break down any barriers that exist between her and her people, establish a rapport with them and get them as excited as she is about being part of the IHOP brand.

 

Show you care

One of the challenges Birch faces in building passion and energy is that IHOP is a franchise operation. Franchises thrive on consistency, and with the wrong approach, that commitment to doing it a particular way can restrain passion and create robots.

It’s up to you take the right approach.

“In a franchise community, you don’t just make a decision and send the word out,” Birch says. “In a franchise community, you want to engage the franchisees and make sure you fully understand their perspective on a particular issue. Enroll them in wanting to solve the problem in a meaningful way. It’s a lot more about vision and understanding what the big brand is all about, collaborating on how to solve particular issues and fundamentally we get where we need to go.”

You need to make sure people understand your brand and the things that you stand for and the vision that guides your business. That is a key to having a successful franchise operation.

“Without strong vision and leadership at the top, franchisees will tend to move in different directions as they see the world from their perspective,” Birch says. “These little decisions, if not tied to a cohesive strategy can get your brand off track very quickly. It becomes a different IHOP in L.A. than you have in Nebraska than you have in Boston, which undermines the strength of the brand overall.”

But just because you have a brand, you don’t have to, nor should you dictate every step and every action that your people take. You need to provide outlets for their skill and creativity to be unleashed and put to use on the job.

“We want their creative energy, but we want it channeled into the areas that are going to do the most good for our business,” Birch says.

Birch takes it upon herself to get out of the office as much as she can to provide opportunities for employees to feel more connected to her and to the brand.

“You have to have a lot of self-awareness,” Birch says. “The biggest thing you can do is listen. Ask an open-ended question and then listen. Tell me about your restaurant. Tell me your story. How did you get started at IHOP? Clearly, those are questions they know the answer to. This isn’t a trick question like, ‘What was your labor percent last week? What market share do you have here?’ This isn’t trying to trick anyone. Just tell me your story about why you’re involved in this business. What’s on your mind? What are you most proud of in your restaurant? You get people talking about those kinds of things and pretty soon, you’re just two people having a conversation.”

Show people that you’re not just there to dig up dirt and find excuses to complain, but to get them even more engaged in what your company is doing. Take a supportive and encouraging tone and you’ll garner a lot more loyalty.

“It’s not as hard as you think,” Birch says. “These folks are relying on myself and the team to do a good job of leading this brand and creating opportunities for them today and tomorrow. I don’t take it lightly.”

 

Put the work in

When you communicate with your people, you need to be aware of how they process information and which modes of communicating work and which ones don’t work. That’s going to be key to establishing the healthy rapport you’re seeking.

“We all have our way that we hear things or like to communicate,” Birch says. “It’s probably far more important that we understand how those who work for us want to hear things and want to communicate. It’s not about my dominant style. It’s more about what that individual who works for me needs. So how do I explain it in a way that makes sense for them?”

It’s a valuable lesson to learn ? the idea that you can’t just think about yourself and your own personal needs when you’re pondering the next step for your business.

“It’s not about the leader’s needs,” Birch says. “It’s about the subordinate’s needs and how they are going to work through this problem.”

You’ve got to put in the work to come up with solution that you and your team can execute. It’s not a solution you’re likely to find sitting behind your desk.

“You go to the people who do the work, the people who are in it every day that get a multitude of perspectives,” Birch says.

“From the dish washer to the franchise owner to the franchise business consultant to the people at the support center. If you talk to the right people, the real issues come to the surface. And the solutions to those issues, although never easy, they’re not as hard as they sound when you’re trying to do everything locked in an office by yourself. The people have the solutions if you can just uncover them and bring them to the surface.”

And when you engage people and show them that you care about their opinions and demonstrate that you need them to succeed and grow your business, you’ll have taken another step toward earning their loyalty.

“As a mid-level leader, I was confident I had all the damn answers,” Birch says. “I was ready to go off and just go do it and make sure everybody followed in line and I was just brilliant. Follow me and off we go. The more I’ve grown as a leader and the higher up I’ve gone, the more I’ve realized you don’t have to have all the answers. In fact, it’s probably better if you don’t start with all the answers.”

 

Stay in touch

If you find that you’re not getting a lot of ideas from your people, that’s not a good sign for you, for your business or for the two-way flow of communication in your business.

“If I stop getting a lot of good ideas from franchisees, I get a little worried that they are starting to withdraw and distance themselves from the brand overall,” Birch says.

Getting ideas requires more than just a drop-in by you at a distant location away from the corporate office. You need additional personnel who can fill in the gaps and provide a regular outlet for ideas on how to make your business even better.

“We have field-based franchise consultants that work day in, day out with our franchisees,” Birch says. “They are a collector of ideas for us. We have regular meetings with our franchisees, both formal and informal, which is consistently a two-way dialogue. Here’s what we’re doing and here’s where we’re going. This is what the consumer is involved in. These are the great things on the horizon for our brand that we’re getting ready to go. Then we open it up to, ‘What’s on your mind? What do you think we should be working on? What are some ideas we can save money on?’ We get a tremendous amount of really good input. When you start to do a number of those, you see patterns.”

One thing to keep in mind as you’re implementing methods to gather feedback is that in most companies, you’re not trying to solve matters of national security.

“It’s not like we have to go figure out a nuclear physics problem,” Birch says. “We’re in the restaurant business. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that it’s just that simple. Great food. Great service. Great place. Do that over and over and over again and you’re going to have a pretty good restaurant company.”

Birch says it takes special people to learn to manage their creativity and apply it to a business where they can’t do whatever they want to.

“The biggest challenge in leading IHOP would probably have to be this unique opportunity to be the leader of some really independent-minded entrepreneurs,” Birch says. “They are very involved, very active, very bright individuals that are running their businesses every day and have a very strong entrepreneurial spirit. But they have chosen to align their efforts with a proven brand and proven formula for success, which is what IHOP and franchising is all about.”

You just need to make sure you’re staying in touch, showing your passion and constantly engaging them in the effort to make your brand better. Don’t waste their talents. Find a way to harness them.

“As you look at this compared to other leadership situations, you really have to think through the fact that they are the leaders in their businesses and they are bringing so much value to the table day in and day out,” Birch says. “You can’t just command and control.”

 

The Birch File

Name: Jean Birch

Title: President

Company: International House of Pancakes LLC

Born: Boone, Iowa

Education: Bachelor’s degree, double major in economics and oriental studies, University of Arizona; MBA, Southern Methodist University

Who has had the biggest influence on you? I had a very strong mentor in one of my previous jobs. Aylwin Lewis. I worked for him at Pizza Hut and he was a tremendous mentor and role model. He told me what I needed to hear, not what I wanted to hear. I worked for him for about two and a half years. He mentored me for about 10 years.

It was mid career when I was at Pizza Hut as a district manager. He told me how the organization saw me, how I could be more effective, what I did right, what I did wrong and more importantly, because of the roles he created around me, he stretched me far more and far faster than I ever would have gone on my own.

Birch on looking in the mirror: I think it’s from “Good to Great,” the concept of the mirror in the window. The idea is, when something goes wrong, a good leader should first look in the mirror. What did I do that caused this not to go right? Did I not communicate well? Did I not research the project well enough? Did I not communicate effectively? When things go well, you should look out the window to your team and congratulate them for the great work that they did. That piece of advice has done more for helping me frame the best ways to get the most out of folks than any other piece of advice that I’ve had.

Learn more about IHOP at:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IHOP
Twitter: @IHOP
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/IHOP

 

How to reach: International House of Pancakes LLC, (818) 240-6055 or www.ihop.com

Published in Los Angeles