Friday, 31 May 2013 20:00

Finding character and cultural fit

It is always difficult to find the right employees, not only people with technical skills but with other traits that will ensure long-term success for your organization.

Finding the right culture “fit” in terms of character and personality traits begins with the creation of the job requirements, preliminary candidate screening and the interview process. Preparation is critical before the interview to develop a series of questions designed to reveal the key traits desired of an employee.

At Clark-Reliance, our first hiring objective is to find candidates with superior technical qualifications and skills necessary to perform the tasks of a particular position. However, a candidate must also have the personal qualifications and skills to thrive in our corporate culture.

Identifying the major character traits that allow employees to fit comfortably into your organization and excel in their work allows you to create the appropriate interview questions. At Clark-Reliance, we have identified four major character traits necessary for an employee to have so that he or she will fit into our culture.

Self-awareness and personal accountability

Our goal is to find employees who have the ability to analyze and critique themselves. We want people to take accountability for their actions and success.

Continuous improvement

We want to find employees who are constantly seeking to sharpen their skills, which means either developing skills further or seeking skills they do not currently possess.

Passion

Simply stated, we want employees who have passion for their job and for our company.

Communication

We want employees who are willing to speak their mind as well as listen to other’s thoughts and ideas. A collaborative environment makes all employees invested in the development of the company.

In order to identify these traits in potential employees you should use behavioral type questions like the ones below:

Self-awareness

  

  • What are three accomplishments or significant successes that you identify with and take great pride?

  

  • What would your present or former boss say about you? What would he or she have liked to see you do differently?

  

  • Can you tell me about a mistake you made, either work or personal, that taught you a significant lesson?

  

Continuous Improvement

 

 

  • Where have you sought to improve yourself over the last three months?

 

 

  • How would a co-worker describe you?

 

 

  • What personal needs do you think this position will satisfy?

 

 

Passion

 

 

  • What has been your toughest job? How did you handle this job?

 

 

  • Has a job ever conflicted with your thoughts of what is right or wrong? If so, how did you handle it?

 

 

  • What work situations irritate you or make you angry?

 

 

Communication

 

 

  • If you were involved in a heated discussion with a fellow co-worker, would you be more comfortable in the role of the peacemaker or decision-maker? Why?

 

 

  • Have you taken the initiative to handle something that is technically out of your area of responsibility? Why did you choose to handle the situation that way?

 

 

  • How do you deal with your boss when he or she overrides a major decision that you have made?

 

 

 

Matthew P. Figgie is chairman of Clark-Reliance, a global, multi-divisional manufacturing company with sales in more than 80 countries, serving the power generation petroleum, refining and chemical processing industries. He is also chairman of Figgie Capital and the Figgie Foundation, a member of the University Hospitals Board of Directors, corporate cochairman for the 2013 Five Star Sensation and chairman of the National Kidney Walk.

Rick Solon is president and CEO of Clark-Reliance and has more than 35 years of experience in manufacturing and operating companies. He is also the chairman of the National Kidney Foundation Golf Outing.

Published in Columnist

Critical thinking: It sounds like it should be limited to academia; right? Wrong.

While critical-thinking skills are, in fact, central to academic research, they are equally important in the business environment.

As we explore effective techniques to increase visibility and influence in the workplace, we need to become the “professor” of critical thinking for our vital team members. We need to serve as a model for them to follow. Critical thinking, in its simplest of terms, is a questioning process. Consider these three questions to encourage your employees to start thinking critically about their own individual actions.

•           I hear your question. What’s your answer?

•           What would you do if I weren’t here?

•           Are you using your brain or your gut?

“I hear your question. What’s your answer?”

In their haste to keep projects moving, most management teams instinctively want to provide quick solutions when employees have problems or questions. This approach is archaic in today’s business world and does not foster critical thinking. It teaches employees to only rely on your strengths rather than developing their own.

Consider this as an alternative: Make it a policy that whenever an employee comes to you with a problem, he or she must also offer at least one solution. Force them to do some advanced thinking. This gives you, then, an opportunity to have a more constructive and fruitful discussion.

“What would you do if I weren’t here?”

Being a good manager does involve some parenting. Sorry about that. Your job is to use your leadership skills to coach employees to become self-sufficient. Continue to strengthen their critical-thinking muscles by turning the questions back to them, answering a question with a question.

•           “What are the downside risks if we take this action?”

•           “What if we did A instead of B?”

•           “What if the opposite were true?”

In most cases, that employee already knows the answer. Don’t do their work for them; but rather use it as a development opportunity.

“Are you using your brain or your gut?”

Many managers pride themselves on the soundness of their “gut instinct.” They often make quick decisions based solely on sudden flashes of intuition.

Bad idea! That’s not to say that intuition is invalid. But to be effective, it needs to be backed up with logic. If you’re modeling decision-making behavior based solely on gut instinct, you might be doing your associates a disservice.

Remember the old bumper sticker “Question Authority”? When an employee comes to you with a gut-based decision, you need to start questioning.

Consider the following questions in your dialogue.

•           “Why do you think this will work?”

•           “What assumptions have you made?”

•           “What alternatives might we consider?”

When an employee’s decision is successful, acknowledge it. Remember: praise in public (and criticize in private). If he or she makes a mistake, use it as a learning opportunity. Our job as leaders is, again, to be the catalyst for positive change. Serve as that role model for others to follow and use your “PhD in critical thinking” to move your company forward.

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.com, or for more information, visit www.fernley.com.

Published in Columnist

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

The fear of failure is something that even the most successful and gifted of employees can bring with them to the office.

They are afraid the product won’t be successful or the phone call won’t be returned. I can still remember being almost terrified to make a sales call on one of the largest food companies in the world because I was afraid I would fail.

If we don’t work through this fear, it will almost certainly lead to paralysis.

We procrastinate while waiting for better conditions to develop and remain “stuck” where we are, rather than where we want to be. I must admit I put off starting some new initiatives using that same fear-based rationale. I can clearly recall thinking, “Maybe I will launch my own business, once some additional favorable elements fall into place.”

I was stuck.

But it is our job to help our people overcome their fears and prevent them from becoming stuck. We need to create a courageous workplace. Here are a few techniques I have used to build a courageous workplace for my wonderful employees.

Pursue excellence 

The tool that best fights fear is the pursuit of excellence. It’s the vitamin shot that gives everyone the confidence to move forward. Teach your employees that their performance goal is excellence and giving their best effort in everything.

Aiming for perfection will drain an organization of its confidence and vigor. The goal is excellence! Write it on the office walls, put it as your email footer and repeat it often when you address the organization. Live it. The relentless pursuit of excellence should be part of the fabric of your company.

Embrace failures 

To paraphrase a brilliant sentiment by Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great,” we shouldn’t fear failure — it is mediocrity we should be afraid of. Failures mean people were trying new things, rather than standing still.

Encourage employees to take risks. Empower them to fail. Foster curiosity and innovation. Embrace the belief that mistakes are how we grow, and growing employees build strong, innovative and dynamic workplaces.

Overcome paralysis 

This technique involves getting the person to clearly decide a specific time when they will “stop working” on a project rather than a stop time. A stop time is far more helpful if they are already struggling to get it started or keep it moving.

In this way, the person moves on to another project, rather than feeling that frustrating, wheel-spinning experience of getting nowhere fast.

Stop time works at home, too. For example, instead of asking my teenage daughter when she will begin her homework, I ask her to set a time when she will stop doing her homework. “I will be done with my homework by 8:00 so I can watch ‘The Bachelor’ on TV,” she responds with a big grin on her face.

Be quick to encourage 

As the senior leader, your ability to encourage is essential for a healthy, courageous organization. You are watched closely by your people and are expected to “give heart” (which defines courage) as they pursue routine and difficult objectives. Remember — a courageous, encouraging heart is a talent multiplier!

As we help our employees overcome the fear holding them back at work, we begin to build their energy, confidence and freedom. And you need all three of these qualities flourishing in your people in order for you to operate a successful business.

Joseph James Slawek is the founder, chairman and CEO of Fona International, a full-service flavor company serving some of the largest food, beverage, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical companies in the world. For more information, visit www.fona.com

Published in Columnist

Egos are a big factor in business. Egos can cost companies a lot of money.

I learned this simple fact a long time ago, and to this day, it amazes me how much time, energy and resources are wasted by individuals unwilling to check their egos at the door and let their companies be successful. Believe me, I have an ego myself, and I have to remind myself that all the time.

We all know the type — the guy or gal who always has to be right and whose questionable judgment in business stems either from a sense of self-importance or is based upon what they feel others expect from them because of their position. This person can even be fairly pleasant and well-meaning. But when they turn out to be someone with whom you have a working relationship, things can go downhill very quickly, especially when they’re pushing ideas and making decisions for all the wrong reasons.

I sell a line of bison meat products, which is marketed as a healthful alternative to beef. One day, the company with which I was partnered hired a new marketing fellow who immediately wanted to change the packaging. It was clear that he wanted to make a big splash with his new bosses, but I was dumbfounded by his decision.

I argued, “We’ve been enjoying tremendous success, and our branding has been very clear. Why in the world would we want to change it when we have a winner?” I’m a pretty agreeable guy, but I also know when to dig in, especially when I’m fighting for something I believe in my heart is right.

After a brief internal debate, my partners agreed with my logic, and we happily continued on with our hit product.

In business, it is paramount that everyone looks for the perfect solution that works for everybody else. This isn’t about getting along with each other just for the sake of it but rather about learning to be successful together.

Ego, when it comes from a place of experience, confidence and wisdom, actually can be a tremendous asset if properly managed by the individual.

I’ve recently started working with a good friend of many years, and I totally respect his ego. He understands exactly what it takes to be successful and has the experience to enable him to accurately size up a situation and make sound business decisions. He also knows how to work with partners like me, creating a complementary relationship, not one in which there is constant bickering.

When you’re around people with healthy egos, they create an aura of chemistry and trust and can provide a nesting ground for others to be their best. These types of individuals don’t make radical changes on a whim, but they try to understand their business environment, then make decisions to either build upon existing success or fix what is not working. People like this aren’t afraid to make wrong decisions because they have the confidence — the ego — of knowing that eventually they will make the right decision.

In dealing with complicated business relationships, the most critical relationship is the one we have with ourselves. Always ask yourself the reasons behind your decisions, especially if you are challenged by peers, partners or others in trusted positions.

There is nothing wrong with standing up for what you truly believe in. But be sure you are guided by wisdom and a clear thought process with the intention of truly solving a problem or building upon previous achievements. If not, allow yourself to hear other voices and have a healthy enough ego to let them contribute to your success. ?

 

Tony Little is the founder, president and CEO 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

When you go to the dictionary to look for the definition of focus, you will see such lofty things as:

the point where the geometrical lines or their prolongations conforming to the rays diverging from or converging toward another point intersect and give rise to an image after reflection by a mirror or refraction by a lens or optical system.”

or:

a point at which rays (as of light, heat, or sound) converge or from which they diverge or appear to diverge.”

Luckily, for those of us that are not physicists, I did find one definition that makes sense when trying to understand the meaning of focus:

“a point of concentration or directed attention.”

What do you concentrate on the most with your business? Where do you direct your attention? These are the questions of focus. Over the years in my coaching and speaking, I have found them to be of utmost importance to the success of those in the workplace.

Let's look at 5 tips for improving your focus as a busy professional.

1. Stop doing what you are doing.

If you struggle with focus on a daily basis and you continue to think and act in the same manner – you need to stop and stop right now.

The quote that is often attributed to Albert Einstein speaks to us here: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Stop. Breathe. Assess. Evaluate.

This leads us to our second tip.

2. Determine what needs your concentration and attention.

In the workplace, too many people “fly by the seat of their pants” when it comes to what needs to get done. In most instances, it is pure laziness that sustains this way of doing things. It takes work to stay focused and be successful.

As I said above, you will need to assess and evaluate in order to determine what needs your directed attention. Hopefully you have goals in place for yourself and your team. Let those goals be the defining line for your focus.

This leads us to our third tip for improving your focus as a busy professional.

3. Clear all unnecessary distractions.

Once you have determined the areas and actions that need your concentration, it is time to laser target your focus. In order to do this, you must clear away anything that would disrupt, distract or lessen your laser focus.

Things like:

 

 

  • Cell phones

 

 

  • Television

 

 

  • Email

 

 

  • Social Media

 

 

  • Instant Messaging

 

 

  • Coworkers

 

 

  • Tasks that could be delegated

 

 

Make a list of all the things that you must stop doing in order to stay focused. This is the opposite of the normal to-do list.  It will make clear what needs to be cut out from your daily routine.

Some distractions are going to be hard to give up because they have imbedded themselves as habits – and habits take time to change. Development of laser-targeted focus does not happen overnight, but it must be practiced daily in order to achieve its mastery.

4. Work in 60- to 90-minute blocks of time and provide yourself a reward.

Do not expect too much from your focus. Saying that you are going “to work until it's done is an overload for most of us. It is also too vague and not goal-oriented.

Set aside a specific amount of time for a designated task. Studies have shown that we do well when we block off 60- or 90- minute time frames. This allows you to see the light at the end of the tunnel and know that a break is coming.

As we work, our alertness drops off, increasing the lure of distractions. Set a timer and take a break at the end of each cycle.

How about a reward? We all like rewards in one form or another – even if we are the one giving the reward. Say to yourself, “After this 90 minute session of work I am going to take a 10 minute break and walk around the building.”

Other possible rewards are:

 

 

  • A snack (be careful not to overindulge and get sleepy)

 

 

  • Text messaging

 

 

  • Fresh air

 

 

  • iTunes

 

 

5. Learn to say no.

I mentioned delegated tasks earlier. Many busy professionals struggle with delegation. We tend to hold the old attitude of“if you want something done right, do it yourself.”This might be true in the here and now, but in the long run it will lead to lack of focus and, ultimately, exhaustion.

Learning to delegate is a form of learning to say no. “No, not me, not now.” When we learn to say no, we are truly saying yes to our focus.

There are many other tips that one can use to stay focused. These are the five that I have found to be the most useful. Take the time today to try one, two or all of them. Your goals deserve your focus.  Your team deserves your focus. You deserve it as well.

DeLores Pressley, motivational speaker and personal power expert, is one of the most respected and sought-after experts on success, motivation, confidence and personal power. She is an international keynote speaker, author, life coach and the founder of the Born Successful Institute and DeLores Pressley Worldwide. She is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” Contact her via email at info@delorespressley.com or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.

Published in Columnist
Wednesday, 01 May 2013 14:25

The key to generating interest

The ultimate endgame in any marketing strategy is conversion.

While conversion means different things to different industry sectors, the actions of reaching conversion are universal. In retail, for example, it means searching for and buying a specific product online or in a store. In business-to-business, conversion could be when a prospective client reaches out with their contact information or and requests more information to engage with your services.

Conversion is a multitiered journey that consists of navigating through three steps — awareness, interest and engagement.

Awareness, essentially developing a brand message that resonates across all channels (such as Web, offline, print, mobile and video) is relatively straightforward if you have the proper brand strategy. You must define two things: who you are and what it is you’re trying to say.

However, converting awareness into interest, and eventually engagement, is where organizations most often lose their way.

I personally see this problem regularly manifest itself during a review of an organization’s website. Often, there are too many words and screens of text to sift through, and those words are either clichés or don’t really mean anything to the organization’s prospective — or current — clients.

The bottom line: The organization gained my awareness but lost my interest. Conversion is less likely a potential outcome.

This, however, is easily solvable.

One way to turn awareness into interest is by creating more consumable content, which is defined as providing, in a simple and nonoverwhelming way, the key points that will grab someone’s attention to learn more about what you do and what you offer.

Think of it this way: Develop clean, concise copy that clearly defines what you do and why you’re different from the competition and that articulates your value proposition, without being wordy. You should not have to scroll down more than one time on a Web page to accomplish this goal.

When you look at traditional advertising, the same problem exists. Review your current ads and ask yourself these questions: Are you running an ad that truly reflects your brand? Does it articulate your intended message and your brand through a series of a few choice words? And is there a defined call to action?

Now consider how you’re messaging to your prospects live, such as through your organization’s presence at trade shows.

At your booth, are you presenting a video reel that drones on for five or 10 minutes and includes every aspect of your company? Why waste a lot of money producing a corporate video that is too long, boring and that no one will watch? You will never see an ROI for your efforts.

Instead, determine whether you can develop a short experience at your booth that captures your desired audience’s attention. For example, combine a simple one-page handout with a brief video — no more than a minute long — that uses powerful imagery, focused messaging on your differentiators and a series of client icons that demonstrate who you work with.

You can always expand upon that brief overview video through a series of short complementary videos that are focused and highlight different segments of what your organization does and how it does it.

Let your prospect choose which area of your business he or she is interested in and wants to learn more about — whether it’s through your website, in print or in person. When someone chooses to learn more, it’s a safe bet that he or she is engaged.

The initial goal of all of this should be to generate interest rather than make a sale. The time for conversion is later, but you’ll never get there if you don’t generate interest and engagement first.

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

Published in Akron/Canton

When I was a young journalist, one day, an older colleague saw me at my desk struggling to hammer out a story on deadline. He wandered over, eyeballed me for a moment, and then offered up some of the best advice I’ve ever received: “Don’t fall in love with your words, kid; an editor is just going to kill your babies.”

At first, I thought it was simply the cynical grousing of a veteran writer whose work had been brutally rewritten by editors one too many times. But as time went on, I realized he had given me something much more valuable — practical advice.

What he was saying in a not-so-subtle way was that it is much more important to get the idea out of your head quickly than it is to make that idea perfect. There will always be time later to tweak and fine-tune that idea. Or, in the case of writers, know that you’ve nailed the facts and context of the story and leave the editing to the editors so you can move on.

In the years since, I have passed his sage wisdom along to every writer I’ve managed, mentored or hired. But I have also offered the same advice to young entrepreneurs and up-and-coming executives.

At first glance, it may not seem that writers are a lot like business leaders, but in a lot of ways, they are. Both have a natural tendency to spend too much time trying to be perfect — whether it’s writing a single sentence or story or developing a new business idea or the details for a major initiative.

Imagine the stereotypical writer alone in his or her room, sitting at a typewriter or computer and staring at a page or screen for hours or days, and you’ll have a better sense of the dilemma. He or she is locked in and determined to assemble those words in just the right sequence so that they’ll live forever alongside such brilliant literary gems as, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”

Unfortunately, reality is drastically different. Any idea needs an immense amount of work once it’s been drawn out of your head, and even the most carefully crafted and well-formed concept for a new product or service requires ample reflection, fine-tuning, tweaking, testing and, often, reformulation before it’s ready to take to the market. To get it right, you must be brutal in your critique before you amplify the idea.

Too often, there is a rush to take a product or service to market. Time is money, they say. So after a brief brainstorming session, one idea is accepted by consensus, sketched out and extrapolated to its logical conclusion.

But just like trying to write the perfect sentence before getting the entire story out of your head, this too is doomed to fail.

There is a better way.

  • First, brainstorm ideas and land on one or two that are worth further exploration.
  • Next, let them percolate for a little while. It is amazing how powerful at problem-solving the subconscious mind can be.
  • Then, start to expand and tweak the ideas.
  • Let them percolate again, just so they get another fresh look.
  • Finally, fine-tune them and go live.

In business, as with the written word, you have one true opportunity for a strong launch or release. And while it is imperative to adapt a philosophy of continuous reinvention and innovation with every idea that’s live, there are just too many half-baked ideas that weren’t well-thought-out, carefully scrutinized and fine-tuned before they were taken to market in the first place.

Remember, your consumer, reader or customer is going to be critical of whatever it is you offer them. So why shouldn’t you view your brilliant idea through the same lens?

Dustin S. Klein is publisher and vice president of operations of SBN Interactive, publishers of Smart Business magazine. Reach him at dsklein@sbnonline.com or (440) 250-7026.

Published in Akron/Canton

What if the leaders at IBM had stuck to making punch card equipment? What if after making the transition to the personal computer market, they had stayed entrenched there?

Punch card equipment is long gone, and with recent PC sales numbers significantly in decline, the leaders of IBM have stayed ahead of monumental changes in the market and kept the company moving forward for decades.

The secret?

An open mind.

Too often, CEOs place self-imposed limitations on themselves, both in business and personally. The status quo becomes acceptable and new ideas become verboten. When this happens, growth is stifled — a dangerous situation. Many business gurus will tell you that you are either growing or dying. A stagnant company sees itself as not losing ground, but as its competitors move forward, its relative position in the market fades, even though it views itself as standing firm.

The only way to avoid this is to keep an open mind. CEOs need to constantly grow and learn from a personal perspective — so they constantly improve their leadership and people skills — and also from a business perspective — so new ideas are allowed to push the organization forward.

While there are many approaches to keeping an open mind, here are three ways to get started.

 

 

  • Embrace trial-and-error. Finding success might require experiencing a dozen failures. Whether it’s a new way of running a meeting or trying to find the next innovative product, accept the fact that success has a cost. Don’t eliminate an idea because it goes against what the company has always done.

 

 

  • Seek knowledge. As a professional, a CEO should never stop learning. There should always be a curiosity about your industry that drives you to seek an understanding of the latest trends and strategies, but you should be constantly looking at other industries as well. Often, best practices in one industry can be applied to another. If you are the first to make the move, it will give you an advantage over the competition.

 

 

  • Find a mentor. The right mentor can make you aware of your blind spots. Without someone to offer a different perspective, it is easy to fall into familiar ways of thinking, thus stifling the chance of new ideas taking root.

 

 

The longer a CEO runs a business, the easier it is to fall into the trap of doing what worked yesterday or last week. When this goes on long enough, the business ends up with an overall strategy that is several years old.

You would never say, “Let’s use the same strategy we developed five years ago,” but because of a closed mind, that’s what ends up happening by default.

Be vigilant about your search for knowledge. In the end, it will make you a better leader and improve your company’s chances for success.

Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or fkoury@sbnonline.com.

Published in Akron/Canton

When you flip a light switch, turn on the water or start your car, you expect reliability every time. For employees, it’s just as mandatory that they be reliable, by showing up on time, completing the tasks at hand and basically doing their jobs time and time again.

By the same token, your employees expect you, as their leader, to be reliable. This means when you say you’ll do something, you do it, when they need direction, you provide it, and when the chips are down, you’ll be there for them.

Being reliable is good, but being too predictable — not always. In fact, being too conventional can make your company a “me, too” organization that only reacts to what the competition does, rather than taking the lead. It can be a bit more daring to set the trend, but if managed and controlled correctly, the rewards dramatically outweigh the risks.

Warning signs that your leadership has become too predictable occur when your subordinates begin finishing your sentences and know what you will think and say before you utter that first word on just about every topic. Compounding the problem is when your employees begin to perpetuate the negative effect of you being so darn predicable by believing it themselves and telling others, “Don’t even think about that; there’s no point bringing up your idea about X, Y or Z because the boss will shoot you down before you take your next breath.” This bridles creativity and stifles people’s thinking and stretching for new ideas.

It’s human nature for subordinates to want to please the chief. Under the right circumstances, that can be good, particularly if you are the chief. But it can be a very bad thing if you are looking for fresh concepts that have never before been run up the flagpole.

Uniqueness is the foundation of innovation and the catalyst for breaking new ground. George Bernard Shaw, the noted Irish playwright and co-founder of the London School of Economics, characterized innovation best when he wrote: “Some look at things that are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not?”

The “why not” portion of this quote is the lifeblood of every organization. A status quo attitude can ultimately do a company in, as it will just be a matter of time until somebody finds a better way.

As a leader, the first step in motivating people to reach higher is to dispel the image that you’re exclusively a predictable, same-old, same-old type of executive who wants things a certain way every time. There are dozens of signals that a boss can give to alter a long-standing image and dispel entrenched mindsets. You can always have a midlife crisis and show up at work in a Porsche or Ferrari instead of your unremarkable Buick. This flash of flamboyance will certainly get people questioning what they thought was sacrosanct about you. The cool car might also be a lot of fun; however, the theatrics might be a bit over the top for some, not to mention a costly stage prop just to send a message.

A better solution is to begin modifying how you interface with your team, how you answer inquiries from them and, most importantly, how to ask open-ended questions that are not your typical, “How do we do this or that?”

Another technique is when somebody begins to answer your question, before you’ve finished asking, particularly in a meeting, abruptly interrupt the person. Next, throw him off guard by stating, “don’t tell us what we already know.” Instead, assert that you’re looking for ideas about how to reinvent whatever it is you want reinvented or improved in giant steps as opposed to evolutionary baby steps. If you’re feeling particularly bold, for emphasis, try abruptly just getting up and walking out of the meeting. In short order, your associates will start thinking differently. They’ll cease providing you with the answers they think you want. Some players will hate the new you, but the good ones will rise to the occasion and sharpen their games.

If you want reliability, flip the light switch. To jump-start innovation, you could begin driving that head-turning sports car. Better yet, get your team thinking by how you ask and answer questions and by not always being 100 percent predictable but always reliable.

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. Reach him with comments at mfeuer@max-wellness.com.

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