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How many of you make New Year’s resolutions? How many of you actually keep them? That, of course, is a rhetorical question. On a personal front,
I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I simply set S.M.A.R.T. goals, ones that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.

Move over David Letterman, here are my Top 10 S.M.A.R.T. goals to drive professional development:

10. Identify your “end game.”

Borrowing from author Stephen Covey, always “begin with the end in mind”… and commit your goals in writing, complete with timelines and measurements of success.

9. Read … and then read some more.

Knowledge is power. I, for one, am an information junkie. I also “follow” the best business minds in the country with the hope I’ll learn a thing or two along the way.

8. Find a mentor.

One of my favorite mottos is, “I am smart enough to know that I am not smart enough.” So I surround myself with individuals who challenge my thinking, give honest feedback and serve as a sounding board and source for inspiration. Put another way, I look for colleagues who “question my answers.”

7. Eliminate barriers.

An interesting exercise for all of us in business is to identify what, in fact, is standing in the way of reaching our goals ­— then developing an action plan to eliminate them.

6. Become a saver and sharer.

Create an effective electronic filing system to keep track of those interesting articles, blog posts and Web pages that resonate with you. Encourage those around you to also share documents and/or communications with you that would bolster your arsenal of information.

5. Schedule some “me time.”

Life is just too crazy to devote adequate quality time to yourself; but it is imperative that you do so. Find time and a space to think on a daily basis. I, for one, arrive early to work, get my coffee, shut my door, lean back in my chair, look out on the skyline and think. It’s amazing what can become clear in moments of quiet reflection.

4. Find a leadership coach.

Leaders often overvalue themselves by believing they have all the right answers. Right? Wrong! Leaders are just too engrained in their organization. Find a coach or trusted adviser. It will be one of the best investments of your professional career.

3. Have a vision.

Failing to have a vision in today’s competitive economic climate will quite frankly put you out of business. If you carefully define where you want to go and how you want to get there, you are already starting to out-distance yourself from the competition.

2. Post your goals.

At the end of the day, it is all about accountability. Post your professional goals on your desk for everyone to see. Share them with your management team and verbally reference them at company-wide meetings to keep them front and center for all to see.

1. Take time to smell the roses.

We Americans are spending more time in the office and less time with our family and ourselves. Your body and mind need the time off from work. Just remember, at the end of the day, you are No. 1. 

G. A. Taylor Fernley is president and CEO of Fernley & Fernley, an association management company providing professional management services to non-profit organizations since 1886. He can be reached at tfernley@fernley.comFor more information, visit www.fernley.com


LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/taylorfernley 

LinkedIn: http://linkd.in/15hu2TO

Twitter: @Fernley_Fernley

 

 

 

Monday, 30 September 2013 08:00

Understanding your ‘natural instincts’

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The animal kingdom has long been instrumental in teaching children about appropriate behavior.

A rabbit named Peter educated us on the importance of conflict resolution. For better or worse, Curious George was habitually inquisitive and, in separate incidents, three bears and three pigs taught us the importance of home security.

But despite a literary reputation as “big” and “bad,” according to Jack Hanna, “A wolf will feed the sick, the old and the young first.”

That’s a pretty impressive character trait for a creature so often maligned by the human race. Over the years, however, we’ve learned to expect Hanna to set the record straight on an important part of our world that most of us will never experience firsthand.

 

Following the footsteps of a legend

Inspired by wildlife pioneer Marlin Perkins, Hanna parlayed a fascination with animals and a position leading the Columbus Zoo into a television empire spanning 30 years. He’s had countless TV appearances on popular shows such as “Good Morning America” and “The Late Show with David Letterman.” In addition, he currently helms two television programs, “Jack Hanna’s Wild Countdown” and “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild.”

Not surprisingly, Hanna’s high regard for the animal population is also reflected in his view of the public’s acceptance of the animal kingdom: “Most people who say they don’t like animals don’t like people much either.”

Phil Beuth, former president of “Good Morning America,” observes, “With Jack, what you see is what you get — he’s a genuine gentleman.”

Hanna has set a simple benchmark for appropriate professional behavior, “I operate by The Golden Rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Of course, humans are animals too — complete with instincts, genetic predispositions, unique skill sets and laws to keep us from acting like predatory animals. Yet, prey we do — leveraged buyouts, hostile takeovers, foreclosures, etc.

 

Comparing workforces of nature

When asked about lessons human worker bees can glean from the animal kingdom, Hanna enthusiastically says, “Just look at ants and termites. They each have specific jobs to do.” By performing specific tasks every day, these creatures work solely to serve the greater good — ostensibly without complaining.

Animals = 1 Humans = 0

Hanna also points to an innate respect in the wild that does not always translate into the land of the bipeds: “The animal world does not waste food and animals do not abuse their own children. For example, gorillas may fight but they still work together.”

Working through issues to achieve top performance is apparently part of the natural order of things. It’s about survival. As the concept of business survival has never been more prominent, shouldn’t cooperation receive equal billing?

Animals = 2 Humans = 0

Though Hanna also marvels at the mysteries behind the instinctual and highly effective way animals communicate, many in the office marvel at some people’s overwhelming lack of communication skills.

Animals = 3 Humans = 0

Specifically, according to Hanna, “The elephant is one of the most intelligent creatures on the planet.”

So yes, it seems that without the benefit of an iPhone, Twitter or Outlook, an elephant truly never forgets.

Time to hire me an elephant. The Laws of Nature win every time. ●

 

Speaker, writer and professional storyteller Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of RediscoverCourtesy.org and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm in Naples, Fla. For more information, visit randallkennethjones.com.

Twitter: @randallkjones

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mindzoo

https://www.facebook.com/RediscoverCourtesy

LinkedIn: http://linkd.in/1cQ7A5J

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A marketing epidemic, to put it mildly, has been impacting most businesses — and it’s time to think about keeping your message simple if you haven’t already done so.

The roots of this epidemic can be traced back to two events.

First, during the economic fall of 2008, as businesses looked for ways to preserve revenue streams, companies hunkered down and focused on sales to preserve existing customers. Many cutoff or significantly reduced marketing budgets, and others shifted to digital media as a “low-cost alternative.”

The second event was the rapid spread of social media and the skyrocketing use of smartphones and tablets, which provide instant access to relationships, information and communication.

The social media craze and businesses’ desire to market on the cheap led companies to flood the marketing channels with content. Sales sheets, photos, videos, web pages — companies were suddenly all things to all people because they could push content to digital channels for “free.”

The problem — our marketing channels are now very noisy. As consumers of information, we respond to this noise with limited attention spans. The result — companies have sent confusing messages to the marketplace and people aren’t listening.

This current epidemic of marketing noise distributed across all channels leads to a common marketing need for all businesses — simplification.

 

Keeping it simple

So how do you achieve message simplification? It all ties back to the business. Here are seven steps to help get you started:

1. Identify three to four key business objectives for the next two years. Do you want regional growth or growth in a new industry? Do you want to sell more to existing customers?

2. Prioritize your objectives by placing dollars or number of opportunities next to them. This will help you focus on the most important areas.

3. Brainstorm a list of marketing tactics that can help you achieve each objective. Can you generate more leads from trade shows, your website, your existing customer list? What tactics do you need to adopt?

4. Write a succinct summary, or “elevator pitch.” This should be one to three sentences on how you benefit the people you are targeting in your objectives.

5. Compare your elevator pitch to your marketing tactics and existing materials. Review your website, brochures, email newsletter, social media accounts, videos, trade show collateral, etc. Notice how many “extra” things you say in an effort to cover all your bases.

6. Rework your message. Focus on the audiences for your key objectives. Identify the benefits for these audiences. Your marketing message should speak directly to these audiences so they can understand your value and usefulness to them.

7. Prioritize your marketing tactics. It’s tempting to be trendy and market on social media or through video, just remember to consider which tactics will best reach your audiences. You don’t need to be in every marketing channel, just the ones where your customers and prospects will hear you.

 

Finally, once you’ve simplified your message, stick to it! It is important so that people understand the benefits and value that you deliver. While it might seem repetitive to you, your audience will appreciate the clarity and with time, will remember what your business does best. ●

 

Kristy Amy is director of marketing strategy for SBN Interactive. Reach her at mailto:kamy@sbninteractive.com or (440) 250-7011.

Life has a way of presenting us with difficult circumstances. Sometimes it’s in our personal lives, and sometimes it’s in our business.

If the circumstance is severe enough, it can create a crisis, which can often cause a feeling of hopelessness. When things outside your control come at you in droves, it becomes difficult to cope with them. Entire organizations can be overwhelmed and pulled down by external circumstances, which if not dealt with promptly and correctly, can destroy the company.

The CEO’s role is to right the ship and rally everyone around a solution — and it most likely won’t be easy. People are always looking for the easy way out, but that path is rarely an option. When facing a difficult situation, you have to play the ball where it lies, which means the resources you have in people, dollars or equipment are all you may have to work with.

But challenges also present opportunities. Faced with a crisis, you and your leadership team will be forced to look at your assets in new ways. You’ll be required to take a careful look at your customer base, your market and your processes. This kind of in-depth evaluation may uncover not only a possible solution to your problem, but it may open your eyes to markets or applications you never considered before.

Take Netflix for example. The company was the king of DVD-by-mail, and had already knocked off the once mighty Blockbuster. With the increase in streaming video content, however, customers began moving away from DVDs, threatening Netflix’s main revenue channel. It reacted by creating not only streaming content, but also by creating its own unique content. Customers can stream video from many outlets, but it’s tough to beat Netflix’s reputation and ease of use.

Often, the resources you need are already at hand; they just need to be used in new ways. Netflix already had the capabilities; it just needed to apply them differently.

You may find that after assessing what you have, you have started to create a new path that leads away from the crisis.

At the beginning of a difficult time, you may not be able to see a way out, which can lead to despair. By starting with an initial step and continuing, however, you’ll soon see the light. Start by calling your bank or suppliers to ask for better terms or whatever it is you need, and then build from there.

No matter what you do, though, don’t compromise your integrity. Always do the right thing in the wrong circumstances, because depending on how severe your crisis is, your reputation might be the only thing you have to negotiate with.

If you work hard, do the right thing and stay positive, a solution will likely present itself. It may not always be in a form that you anticipated — you may need to change your products or your market — but if you keep an open mind and work with what you have, everything will work itself out. ●

Most weeks I get on a plane and attempt to have an out-of-body experience to deal with all the hassles of flying as I travel from point A to point B. When flying, I have a few simple rules. One, I almost never eat the food. Two, I attempt to talk to no one other than obligatory hellos. Three, I never argue with or say a cross word to flight attendants.

One other very important practice I follow on land, sea and especially in the air is that I constantly scan my surroundings for potential troubles and new ideas.

On a recent flight, upon boarding, I quietly and obediently proceeded to my assigned seat.

As I began to sit down, a gentleman asked if I would mind trading seats with him so that he could sit next to his wife. Like most seasoned travelers I try to accommodate reasonable requests. In this case it seemed a no-brainer to agree to move.

 

Notice the details

As I started to settle in and fasten my seat belt I noted that my new seatmate was very hot. No, it’s not what you’re thinking. I mean she seemed to be flushed and radiating heat, ostensibly from a high fever. I’m thinking, this is not good, plus it proves the age-old adage that no good deed goes unpunished.

In the next minute I had an epiphany, which happens frequently as I believe that many problems come disguised as opportunities.

I rang the call button and, when approached, asked the cabin attendant to please bring me two cloth napkins. I stated that the purpose was to construct a makeshift face mask by tying the two pieces together to prevent possibly contracting some dreaded disease.

I feared that my intentions could be misinterpreted if I were to don a mask without an explanation; this could cause a well-meaning passenger to drag me to the floor thinking I had nefarious motives.

The stewardess smiled, nodding approvingly of my plan. She then summoned all her co-attendants to my seat and proceeded to whisper what I was attempting. Otherwise, she explained, they, too, could misunderstand my appearance and cause me bodily harm.

As founder and CEO of Max-Wellness, a health and wellness retail and marketing chain, I’m always looking for that next special something to share with my team. Therefore, while burying my now masked face in a newspaper so as not to frighten or offend the sick seatmate, I began dictating a memo to my merchandise product group proudly asserting that I just had another “aha!” moment, for which I am well-known, among my colleagues. For full disclosure, however, I am sometimes known for being a bit “out there” on occasion — but no one bats a thousand.

 

Turn an idea into a product

This particular predicament gave me the idea to develop a product kit that we could sell to weary travelers in our stores and in airports. I suggested a handful of complementary products, including a mask, a disinfectant spray and, if all else fails, relief remedies. I also noted that it probably would be prudent to include a cigarette pack-type “Black Box” warning stating that the mask is not what some suspicious flyers might think, but instead it’s for prevention of disease only. I even proposed we market these kits directly to the airlines to dispense as an emergency prophylactic for passengers exposed to airborne (pun intended) pathogens.

 

Fleeting thoughts have value

A key role for business leaders is teaching a management team to use fleeting thoughts as a springboard, to pair common problems with sometimes-simple solutions.

Just because it is a simple fix, though, doesn’t mean the idea couldn’t be a lucrative breakthrough.

When something sparks an idea it needs to be taken to the next level before being pooh-poohed. Most likely the vast majority of these inspirations won’t see the light of day, but that’s OK. Just think — what if one transient idea translates into the next Post-it Notes, Kleenex or bottled water?

The next time you sit by a masked man on a plane, it most likely won’t be the Lone Ranger. Instead, you might be witnessing the incubation of the next best thing since sliced bread. ●

 

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. “The Benevolent Dictator,” a book by Feuer that chronicles his step-by-step strategy to build business and create wealth, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Reach him with comments at mfeuer@max-wellness.com.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013 05:41

Move beyond “shiny and new”

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Say the word “innovation,” and immediately you think about business legends like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos, as well as the companies they created – Apple and Amazon. Too often, however, we focus on the people who have been tabbed as innovators and the companies that develop those breakthrough products, services and solutions, such as Apple’s iPod and iTunes, or Amazon’s marketplace and unique ecosystem.

True innovation goes much deeper than a single leader’s vision. It is an all-encompassing philosophy that permeates an organization and defines its purpose for being. For me, at least, I prefer to think about innovation in its broadest terms, extending its definition to include corporate cultures and innovative management styles. Think about how Facebook and Microsoft are run, and how at both organizations employees are a key factor in the idea creation, or ideation, process.

Now, think about the breakthrough products that eventually went bust. Hopefully, you don’t have a basement full of Beanie Babies, boxes of Silly Bandz, or a home library filled with laser discs. It is more common to land on a singular breakthrough product that temporarily revolutionizes your industry rather than develop a product through a process that’s repeatable or scalable. And, just as true, no matter how innovative and creative your management team’s style may be, without the proper processes in place to push ideas through a system that takes them from mind to market, you’ll eventually have trouble keeping the lights on.

It all comes down to developing a culture imbued with innovation at its core. But this also requires having a servant culture in place where every person who works for the organization thinks about the customer first.

Consider San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels, where employees strive to create “Kimpton Moments” by going above and beyond with guests and delivering memorable experiences.

Kimpton overcomes the inherent limitations for creating new innovative products that being a boutique hotel chain includes by approaching innovation through its employee interaction – and then rewarding employees for their creativity. For example, when team members put in the extra hours to ensure world-class service delivery, the hotel chain has sent flowers and gift baskets to their loved ones. And when they create an innovative service experience, the company rewards staff members with such things as spa days, extra paid time off and other goodies.

And then there’s the Boston Consulting Group, a management consulting firm that’s known for developing innovative business processes and systems for its high-end clientele. Part of BCG’s internal process is a focus on team members maintaining a healthy work-life balance. When individuals are caught working too many long weeks, the company’s management team issues a “red zone report” to flag the overwork.

Talk about innovation! And no product, service or solution was developed, marketed or sold.

And finally, few organizations are more innovative than DreamWorks Animation. But beyond plugging out groundbreaking animated movies, the studio’s culture embraces empowerment and innovation. Employees are given stipends to personalize their workstations so that they create whatever inspirational atmosphere they need to succeed. And, as the story goes, after completing Madagascar 3, the crew presented a Banana Splats party, where artists showed the outtakes.

Not only are these three companies known for being innovative in their respective industry spaces, they also share the honor of being members of Fortune’s 2013 “Great Places to Work” list.

So how do you take the first steps toward transformation or put those initial building blocks in place to begin the journey? There’s no magic formula, but there are some common traits – and they revolve around empowerment and establishing a culture that cares. 

Innovation organizations

  • Are open-minded and ask “What if?”
  • Teach team members how to see what is not there and identify opportunities in the marketplace to take advantage of those gaps.
  • Develop cultures where innovation thrives through open and honest communication.
  • Flatten the organizational structure and recognize that innovation can come from anyone and anywhere.
  • Make innovation, itself, a cyclical and continuous process.

Stop and take an internal assessment of your organization, your team and of yourself. If you can’t check a box next to each of these five traits, stop and ask yourself why. Then begin your own journey to greatness.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013 18:48

Missed opportunities

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Nothing is more frustrating than missed opportunities — except when those missed opportunities were completely avoidable. For example, you and your organization put in the time and effort to drive prospects through the marketing funnel toward conversion. And then, when the prospect is engaged and reaches out to you, you’re not equipped to provide a timely follow-up response.

This happens entirely too often. But basic prep work on the front-end can help you avoid becoming one of those organizations whose well-planned marketing strategy is wasted.

Conversion means different things to different people. In retail, it may mean going to find a product — either online or in person. But in a different industry, it may mean that someone just wants to talk to you about helping to solve a specific problem.

Regardless of your conversion definition, the singular commonality is your ability to immediately follow up and act on the potential conversion. This is because when someone reaches out to buy a product or for help with a service, it is an emotional decision. He or she is claiming that they either need something (a product) or help with an area they do not have the expertise in.

The importance of this step in the marketing funnel is critical. Like it or not, we live in a world of instant gratification — both personally and professionally — and you must tailor your marketing efforts to accommodate it. When someone winds their way through that funnel by becoming aware of your services, having interest, and then being willing to engage and dig deeper to learn who you are, nothing kills those marketing efforts faster than failure to respond to that person.

Too often, we see conversion points that consist of a basic “email us” link on a website. It sends a note to a general email address that nobody regularly checks. Or, the company lists a phone number that reaches a general voice mail account that is rarely checked. In both scenarios, all the work required to lead a prospect to conversion is rendered moot.

Take steps to ensure conversion

So what can you do to reverse the trend and build systems that allow for more immediate conversion? Among the easiest to implement are

■  A phone number that connects with somebody who is dedicated to following up.

■  Online chat capabilities in real time

■  Marketing, through a website or other sales materials, that guarantee a 15-minute response time.

■  A well-designed form on your website that asks for four components: name, email, phone number and reason for the inquiry (any more information than that may cause prospects not to convert).

Keep it simple and swift

Many organizations simply fail to take the direct route, and as a result, they swing and miss.

Initiatives such as putting a map that points to your location as your prominent website “contact us” looks great, but how many people will actually get in their vehicle and drive over to see you?

Also, don’t underestimate the importance of offering multiple ways for people to reach you for a swift response. When it comes to today’s marketing funnel, there is no effective one-size-fits-all approach.

For example, let’s say you’re looking to refinance your house or buy a new one. This is an emotional decision. You do your research and find a company that you believe will offer the best possible rates. You reach out to them. And then, you don’t hear back for days. What happens? You lose interest.

But now, consider the result when you reach out to a company and get a return response within 10 to 15 minutes.

First, you get the information you need to make a decision. More importantly, though, that company has forged an emotional connection with you because they were responsive to your needs.

It is this emotional connection that can be highly effective in closing the final piece of the marketing funnel — conversion. And, if your organization’s marketing strategy includes optimizing your marketing spend, why would you ever overtly waste money by failing to have an effective — and immediate — follow-up process in place?

 

David Fazekas is vice president of digital marketing for Smart Business Network. Reach him at dfazekas@sbninteractive.com or (440) 250-7056.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013 02:34

F.U. or else!

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Calm down … those two letters in the headline are not what you might be thinking. However, it got your attention, for this leads to an important subject.

When you, or those with whom you work, don’t follow the principles of these two letters, problems occur. Not doing what these initials represent can be the difference between success and failure, cost big money, create disappointment and actually ruin relationships.

Hopefully by now you’ve figured out that F.U. stands for Follow Up. This skill is central to achieving objectives, supporting your people or customers, and maintaining your credibility. Too many people just don’t get it and consistently fail to make F.U. a part of their business regimen.

Words are cheap, but it’s action that makes the difference. Many promises are made every day such as: “I’ll get the answer and return your call soon,” or “My person will call your person so that we can get together.” Good intentions aside, if one does not make note of it, the call just might never happen.

Fortunately, only a relatively few get hit by locomotives because trains are big and people see them coming, but many are stung by bees. That’s the same with following up. Virtually no one would forget to pick up the big order, or neglect to attend a huge meeting, but too many let the smaller, yet important, matters slip through the cracks. This not only affects the person who didn’t receive what was promised, but also could significantly impede productivity.

As an example, an associate is to provide needed information first thing in the morning. Breakfast comes and goes and as the lunch hour approaches people along the line are sitting on their hands waiting. Do the math; count up what that could cost your business day in and day out. Frantically, and with a high degree of disgust, you track down the tardy offender and are appalled by the response, “Oh, sorry, it just slipped my mind. I forgot to write it down.” Sure, this can happen once but by the second or third time it becomes a pattern and the credibility of the perpetrator can be lost.

Following up is a reflection of respect. When people don’t have the courtesy of doing what they say, you begin to wonder if they can ever do it. In my companies, all those with whom I work quickly become aware of my sacrosanct F.U. policy.

Essentially after every meeting, whether a one-on-one or with a group, I assign a date for my own purposes of when what was discussed is to take place. If it was a task of significance, the date would be agreed upon with those who had to do the work.

When new employees receive a memo from me, with the unexpected “F.U.” initials in the bottom left-hand corner, many are initially stunned, thinking I’m giving them a crude ultimatum or don’t think much of their work. Fortunately, those with a modicum of common sense quickly realize that these two letters are not a pejorative as they are always followed by a numeric string that even a newbie can figure out represents a date.

I remind my team that I do not want to be their father or their baby sitter. Instead, when I ask that something be done by a certain date, and everyone involved agrees, it must happen.

Alternatively, the person assigned the task could always come back and say he or she can’t meet the deadline, don’t know how to do what was being asked, need help with the issue, or had figured out a better alternative. What could not happen is for the person assigned the task to pretend that no follow-up was required, or worse, that the covenant was never agreed upon.

Because so few follow up as promised, this presents your business with an outstanding opportunity to rise above others and create a rock-solid reputation for saying what you’ll do and then doing what you say. All it takes is a little discipline and respect for those with whom you work. It’s better to carry around a little string for your finger than run the risk of finding the proverbial rope around your neck as a result of errors of omission.

 

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. “The Benevolent Dictator,” a book by Feuer that chronicles his step-by-step strategy to build business and create wealth, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Reach him with comments at mfeuer@max-wellness.com.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013 06:24

Ready, set, think

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Thinkers solve problems.

Mark Zuckerberg found a better way to connect people with friends and family through Facebook. Larry Page and Sergey Brin invented a better way to search the Internet by creating Google. Steve Jobs showed us a better way to obtain and listen to music through the invention of the iPod.

None of these examples happened by luck. Each of these great thinkers spent a lot of time working to perfect their ideas. Great thinkers are not born, they are made.

To create great products and services, you have to develop the habit of expanding your thought processes and critical thinking skills. Why? Because the human mind tends to be lazy. It tends to repeat the same thoughts unless it’s trained to explore new ideas. Great thinkers put in the effort to analyze things in new ways and not accept the norm.

We live in a negative society where bad news trumps good news and the potential downsides of an idea outshine the potential rewards. It takes a lot of effort to retrain our minds to focus on the positives and the solutions rather than the ramifications of a failed idea.

Becoming a great thinker requires an investment of time; there are no shortcuts. You have to be organized and plan for it. Take time to think about the problems unique to your business or industry. Work through the pros and cons of any idea, looking for a way to make it work. Study competing companies and leaders and gain an understanding of how they think. It’s also helpful if you always do your heavy thinking in the same location, and it doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Some people do their best thinking in the shower or over a cup of coffee at a cafe.

But there is one major pitfall to avoid: Don’t equate change with new thinking. Just because you are changing something does not mean you are being a creative thinker. There might be several “accepted” ways of doing something within your industry, and changing from one of the accepted ways to the other isn’t doing anything different. The goal is to identify new ways of thinking and as a result, find a new solution to a problem that no one has thought of before.

Finding these unique solutions won’t be easy, but success never is. 

There may still be sand in their cars from summertime beach trips. Once Labor Day has passed, however, it is time for your employees to stop practicing their paddle boarding and dive back into their duties at work.

Unfortunately, getting employees to snap out of vacation mode and renew their dedication to work can take some doing — especially after three months of being pulled in a million directions by activities and obligations (kids’ commitments, family reunions, picnics, weddings, summer camp, graduations and vacations, to name a few).

Workdays get longer while the hours of daylight get shorter. Your staff will need focus and diligence to catch up on some of the things they may have set aside. But the time off may have been more useful for you and your people than you might think.

You know how great ideas sometimes surface in the shower? Well, June, July and August are like a three-month long rinse. The combination of increased dopamine in the brain, the opportunity to relax and the many distractions during summertime months is a trifecta that science has shown to be a breeding ground for creativity and innovation.

Your employees may just find that once they return to projects they’ve stepped away from, there may be some new insight waiting to surprise them.

Here are a few suggestions to get the neurons and synapses firing in the right direction again:

Rank and file

Nothing is worse than walking into an office littered with leftovers from everything you’ve been working on over the past few years. Getting back into the game is much easier when you start with a clean slate — and an organized workspace!

Purge what you don’t need, prioritize what you do, and file the rest for safekeeping. Figuring out what to tackle first, and what can wait a few days or weeks, will help everyone take those first few steps toward actually getting some work done.

If you build it, they will come

One of the best things you can do is to build structure into the workday. Plan time to follow up on loose ends that need resolution, and schedule meetings to put deadlines to deliverables to help employees stay on-task and avoid distractions.

Meet with middle managers that have the most impact on employee engagement and come up with some creative compensation strategies for employees who bring their “A” game to the table right out of the gate. Encouraging a little friendly competition can help get everyone fired up for success.

Connect the dots

Your workers are struggling to refocus their energies as much as you are after summer vacation, give workers a boost by getting them together for an informal jam session about your business.

Ask for their insights and hear their ideas — you never know where inspiration for the next innovation will come from. With our energies more focused on friends and family during the summer, giving everyone the opportunity to reconnect and get excited about doing business together can do wonders for egging on enthusiasm and putting attention back on productivity.

No matter how passionate or motivated your employees, it is impossible to avoid the occasional slump or burnout, and summer vacation can sometimes only add fuel to the fire. Put a smart plan into place for getting everyone back on track and your well-oiled machine will be chugging to the top again in no time.

Natasha Ashton is the co-CEO and co-founder of Petplan pet insurance and its quarterly glossy pet health magazine, Fetch! — both headquartered in Philadelphia. She holds an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. She can be reached at press@gopetplan.com.

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