This is no fish story. Instead, this column is about one of the most important roles an owner or CEO must fulfill on an ongoing basis.
Leaders spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with the issues du jour. These range from managing people, wooing and cajoling customers, creating strategies, searching for elusive answers and just about everything in between. These are all good and necessary tasks and undertakings. Too frequently, however, these same leaders delegate this effort to others or ignore it altogether. To be “in the game,” you have to know when to fish or cut bait.
Successful fishermen know that to catch a fish they have to sometimes cast their lines dozens of times just to get a nibble or bite. The first bite might not result in reeling in that big fish. Frequently, a nibble is just a tipoff as to where the fish are swimming.
The same applies to reaching out — casting a line, if you will, to explore new, many times unorthodox, opportunities for your organization. These opportunities can be finding a competitor to buy, discovering an unlikely yet complementary business to partner with or snagging a new customer from an industry that had heretofore gone undiscovered.
All of this takes setting a portion of your time to investigate unique situations, as well as a healthy dose of creativity and the ability to think well beyond the most obvious.
Too many times even the most accomplished executives lack the motivation to look for ideas in unlikely places. Some would believe that it’s unproductive to spend a significant amount of time on untested “what ifs.” Just like sage fishermen, executives can also cultivate their own places to troll.
Of course, networking is a good starting point, particularly with people unrelated to your business, where sometimes one may fortuitously stumble onto a new idea that leads to a payoff.
Other times, a hot lead might come from simply reading trade papers, general media reports and just surfing the Internet. The creative twist is reading material that doesn’t necessarily apply to your own industry or to anything even close to what you do. New ideas come disguised in many forms and are frequently hidden in a variety of nooks and crannies. This means training yourself to read between the lines.
Once something piques your imagination, the next step is to follow through and call the other company or send an inquiry by email to state that it might be worth a short conversation to explore potential mutually beneficial arrangements. This can at times be a bit frustrating and futile. That's when you cut bait and start anew.
However, reaching out to someone today could materialize into something of substance tomorrow. The often skipped but critical next step, even after hitting a seemingly dead end, is to always close the loop with whomever you made contact. Even if there is no apparent fit or interest at the moment, it’s easy and polite to send a short note of thanks and attach your one-paragraph “elevator” pitch.
That same person just might be casting him or herself, be it in a month or even a year later, and make contact with a different organization that’s not a fit for him or her, but recall you because you followed through and created awareness about your story.
This just might lead the person with whom you first spoke to call you because you had had the courtesy to send that note. Bingo — you just got a bite all because of continuing to cast your line.
Good CEOs and honest fishermen also have one other important characteristic in common: humility. They know that when a line is cast it won’t result in a catch every time. But if nothing is ventured, it’s guaranteed there will be nothing gained. Don’t let that big one get away. Just keep casting.
As an organization grows, changes are inevitable.
New employees are added, promotions are made and job responsibilities shift.
But any time you have change, you have the potential for conflict. Few people are comfortable with change, and each person will react differently in making the adjustments necessary to move forward with the company.
The most important thing a CEO can do is to be active in confronting potential conflict. Conflict goes hand-in-hand with change. Employees begin to question management, co-workers and even themselves as they are forced outside of their comfort zones. Those questions can lead to misunderstandings that can lead to conflict, and that will ultimately slow your growth.
Don’t passively avoid potential conflict. Instead, actively engage members of your organization by providing the necessary forums both for you to communicate your strategy and vision and for them to communicate their concerns back to you. An active conversation will help drive your vision for the company through the organization and will also help foster your next generation of leaders as they take a more active role.
Only when employees are challenged to think — and to challenge you — will you maximize your organization’s potential. Do you want employees who don’t speak up when they recognize what may be a fatal flaw in your grand strategy? Or would you rather have employees who are actively thinking about the big-picture goals of the company and doing their part to contribute?
Regardless of what size company you run, it comes down to a simple choice.
It’s a choice between having employees acting like robots or acting like people. If you choose robots, you will have to have all the answers. If you choose people, you only have to have some of the answers because the employees will help you find the rest.
Engaging employees in conversations, meetings and decision-making helps them take ownership and helps you create a happier work force. If they are not allowed to speak, gossip and rumors will drag down your productivity.
Actively provide two-way communication. Let employees do the talking and hear what they have to say. The results may surprise you. Those closest to the customer often know best what needs to be done to improve sales, service or efficiency.
Too many CEOs lament the lack of good people to help take them to the next level. Maybe the problem is more CEOs need to create good people rather than driving them off with a work environment that’s better suited to a good robot.
Read this quote and think about whether it sounds like something you have heard before:
“Stay under the radar. Do enough just to get by. Don’t make waves. Get the most out of your benefits such as sick time. Do only what you’re asked to do. If you are asked for more, do just enough to meet minimum expectations.”
This is an employee who is completely disengaged. Instead of leaving the organization, which might be a blessing, this employee will “retire in place.”
Employees who retire in place substantially impact the bottom line, as well as the satisfaction of other employees. One bad apple, if not addressed, can spoil the bunch.
There are ways to counter such an attitude, however, and even turn such an employee into a highly engaged, stellar performer. The research on engagement highlights a number of actions that can help employees feel more connected and motivated, and avoid “retiring in place.”
These include the following:
- Aligning employees with the goals and mission of the organization
- Regularly sharing information from top leaders, and being sincerely interested in employees
- Providing opportunities for employees to improve skills and abilities
- Offering regular feedback on performance
- Allowing input into decision-making
- Encouraging innovative thinking, and an acceptance of risk
- Building and sustaining a positive relationship between the manager and each employee and within teams.
Consulting firm Towers Watson, formerly Towers Perrin, has highlighted a number of characteristics demonstrated by engaging leaders. The first is high emotional intelligence.
Daniel Goleman, in his book “Emotional Intelligence,” noted that individuals with high emotional intelligence are skilled in understanding, interpreting and responding to emotions. They effectively deal with social and emotional conflicts and appropriately manage emotions to achieve best outcomes.
Additional characteristics of engaging leaders include great communication skills, a coaching/involvement orientation, the ability to inspire others and demonstrating authenticity and humility.
Use more than one approach
At the same time, employing engaging actions alone is not sufficient. Leaders cannot approach all employees in a cookie-cutter manner and assume that they all will respond in the same ways, or even perceive leadership actions as having the same intent and meaning.
The key to more effective engagement is looking from the inside out — how and what employees perceive is their reality. What is encouraging to one person is discouraging to another.
One person’s recognition is another person’s discomfort. What is motivating to one is demotivating to another.
The role of perception
The reality is that the value of an employee’s relationship with a leader, a manager, peers, and the organization itself is based on many factors. The most critical is the role of perception.
Organizations can do a much better job of managing perceptions. In his article “Coming to Grips with Organisational Values,” Vijay Padaki noted that a consistent set of practices over time are the organization’s values. Interrelated values that are internally consistent are the organization’s value system, he wrote.
If leaders at all levels take a sincere interest in employees and understand their perceptions, these leaders can do a better job of connecting personal needs and values with those of the organization. Leaders often have best intentions, but employees can be left feeling not heard and unappreciated.
Without understanding the context of what employees believe and feel, leaders run the risk of misaligning and discouraging employees. Without leaders consistently demonstrating their values, employees will perceive a different reality than possibly intended.
Jay Colker, DM, MBA, MA is core faculty for the master’s in counseling and organizational psychology program at the Adler School of Professional Psychology. He also maintains a human capital consulting practice and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (312) 213-3421.
The changes for tax year 2013 are already in place, but many individuals are still struggling to figure out what the new laws and regulations mean for their investments, estate plans, and businesses, says Steve Foster, a vice president and client adviser at FirstMerit. “With the 2012 tax season behind us, we’re spending a lot of time helping clients understand the significant changes that are taking place for 2013, how they may be affected, and the planning opportunities available to them,” he says.
Will anything change for taxpayers in 2013?
The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2013, signed into law on Jan. 2, averted the tax increases that would have resulted from the expiration of 2001 tax laws known as EGTRAA, or the Bush-era tax cuts. However, there are changes that will affect all wage earners, while others will impact only those taxpayers in the highest bracket. There are also a number of tax deductions, credits, incentives and tax treatments that were extended and will be a benefit to business owners.
What is the change that will affect all wage earners?
The act did not include an extension of the Social Security payroll tax reduction that began in 2011. As a result, the tax rate for the wage earner reverted from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent, so in 2013, taxpayers are taking home 2 percent less than they did in the previous two years.
What are some of the other significant provisions of the act?
While the income tax brackets enacted in 2001 — ranging from 10 to 35 percent — are now permanent, a new 39.6 percent income tax bracket has been added for high-income earners. In addition, those in that higher tax bracket — singles with taxable income over $400,000 and joint filers with taxable income in excess of $450,000 — will now have capital gains and qualified dividends taxed at 20 percent, compared to 15 percent previously. Other changes include reinstated phase-outs of personal exemptions, new limits on itemized deductions and increased adjusted gross income limitations for deducting medical expenses. In summary, it will primarily be the higher income earners who will feel the pain of both higher tax rates and reduced tax deductions.
What provisions could positively affect taxpayers?
In addition to maintaining existing income tax rates for the majority of taxpayers, numerous credits and exemptions were also extended or made permanent, including the alternative minimum tax exemption amount, which has been permanently patched and will be indexed for inflation. Additionally, the child tax credit was also made permanent, as well as a number of tax incentives pertaining to higher education.
In addition, the estate tax exemption remains at $5 million per person and $10 million per married couple and will be indexed for inflation. The exemption amount also remains portable to spouses, who previously had to use it or lose it. The downside is that the top estate and gift tax rate will increase from 35 to 40 percent. Lastly, the act extended the provision allowing tax-free distributions from individual retirement accounts directly to public charities through 2013.
How does the act affect business owners?
The act extended a number of tax deductions for businesses that were set to expire, including the enhanced code Section 179 business expensing and 50 percent bonus depreciation on qualified property. Both provisions allow businesses to take larger deductions now rather than waiting until future years.
Are there any other tax changes in 2013 that are not part of the act?
Yes. In 2013 taxpayers may now be subject to an additional income and capital gains tax under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) — a.k.a. Obamacare. Under PPACA, there is an additional 3.8 percent surtax on capital gains, dividends and other investment income for certain taxpayers — singles with more than $200,000 in modified adjusted gross income and joint filers with more than $250,000 — which also includes trusts and estates. Therefore, the effective top rate on capital gains and dividends is now 23.8 percent.
For more information, contact Steve Foster at steve.foster@?rstmerit.com. FirstMerit does not offer tax advice. Please consult your tax professional.
Every Company is a Media Company. It’s a phrase coined some eight years ago by tech journalist Tom Foremski to describe the impact of technology on marketing.
From the Internet to Wi-Fi to smartphones, a tectonic shift has taken place with technology forever changing the landscape of marketing, just as radio and television did before.
Only this time, it’s different. This time, the power has shifted from the hands of a few hundred powerful media outlets to the hands of billions of consumers.
At the same time, companies like yours have been handed powerful tools and an unparalleled opportunity to engage with customers like never before. It’s not just in the obvious new places like mobile websites, apps and the media. Technology has made it easier and cheaper to communicate through video, live events and, yes, even print publications.
Like it or not, you are a media company.
So what’s a media mogul like you to do? You need to do one thing: create content. And you need to do it well. You need to create content that generates interest among your target customer base and engages them with your organization.
It might sound easy, but it’s not. Most business leaders know that effective communication is one of the biggest challenges any company faces. When that communication is what sets you apart in the minds of your customers and prospects, the stakes are all the higher.
Here are a few important points to keep in mind as you set about embracing your new role as a media company.
Be where your audience is
Content comes in many forms. Most of us 40- or 50-something business executives are more comfortable reading printed material. Flipping through your brochure, newsletter or even your own custom magazine is comfortable for us. So hand us something.
But younger VPs and 20-somethings — many of whom do the heavy lifting of researching company buying decisions — are more comfortable gaining intel online. They scour videos on YouTube, mine infographics on visual.ly and peruse PowerPoints on SlideShare. So take the time to figure out which of these is the right channel to reach your target customer.
Share knowledge, not platitudes
Yeah, we get it. Your people are smarter, their customer service is better and their breath smells fresher longer. But that’s not why we might be interested in your business.
What we want to know is how you’re going to solve our problems and make our lives easier. We don’t want you to tell us you are smarter; we want you to show us you are smarter.
Thought leadership articles, white papers and blog posts showcase your knowledge of industries, issues and tactics. They differentiate you from your competitors and position you as a subject matter expert in your market.
Talk about customers more than yourself
The best communicators are great storytellers. Stories resonate. They connect us. They are, simply, what we remember.
Sharing client success stories is one of the best ways to tell your own story. The tried-and-true case study is one of the most effective forms of content in a marketer’s arsenal. If you show us how you can make our businesses faster, better, stronger, we will do business with you. It’s that simple.
And if you have particularly well known and respected clients, you get the added benefit of basking in their reflected glory. Welcome to the media business. Now go tell your story.
Michael Marzec is chief strategy officer of Smart Business Network and SBN Interactive. Reach him at email@example.com or (440) 250-7078.
When Ted Turner launched CNN, there were plenty of people who said a 24-hour news network would never fly.
But Turner saw a problem: He enjoyed watching the news, but his busy schedule typically had him missing the standard news broadcast time. That’s when he got the idea: What if the news was on all the time? He couldn’t be the only one who was unable to fit a regular broadcast into his schedule, so he knew the demand was there.
The next step was to dream big. What if the news was on all the time, not just locally, not just regionally, but nationally and even internationally? The result was the first 24-hour cable news network. It took a lot of effort to get CNN to where it is today, but Turner’s dream was realized. His big dream yielded a big result.
People need to dream big. If you never take the time to dream big, great things probably aren’t going to happen for you.
We have the power to visualize our future. A professional athlete visualizes hitting the game-winning shot so that when the time comes, he or she expects to succeed. As CEOs, we must also visualize ourselves and our organizations achieving great things. We must see where we want to be and then convince those around us to help us get there. When you can articulate the vision in a way that makes it as clear to them as it is to you, your goals will be easier to accomplish.
Here are four steps to achieving great things:
- Have you dreamt big enough? If you aren’t visualizing your business achieving all its goals and growing the way you want it to, it might be holding you back.
- Take time to reflect on the dream. Let it simmer as you consider the obstacles that will have to be overcome to achieve your dream.
- When you are comfortable that you have thought it through, share the dream with people you trust. They can point out challenges you may have overlooked or offer encouragement to keep you moving.
- Get started. Big dreams don’t happen without hard work. Lay out the steps that will get you from where you are today to where you want to be and start working toward your goal. You won’t get there overnight, so focus on taking small steps toward your vision each day. Sell others on your dream so they can help you get there.
Don’t be satisfied with small achievements. Visualize your potential and the potential of your organization. With hard work, you can turn it into a reality. Dare to dream big.
Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800)988-4726 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column is not a how-to painting guide for business executives — I’ll leave that to the experts at Sherwin-Williams. Instead, I offer a few suggestions on preserving ideas for future exploration and innovation. Let me explain further.
Hindering creativity typically rears its inhibiting, ugly head when you make definitive statements, either verbally to others or in the confines of your own mind, and too quickly dismiss new ideas as being too farfetched. We’ve all been there. How many times have you said, “Not on my watch,” or, “I’m drawing a line in the sand on that matter,” and sometimes adding for emphasis, “That will happen only over my dead body”?
Eating your words, even years later, can likely cause severe indigestion and can sometimes result in choking that could bring on a premature demise of that next big thing. Littering the bottom of the corporate sea are concepts with promising potential that executives, with the flick of the wrist, pooh-poohed. Most times, that was simply because there wasn’t enough time to deal with the unknown or because of myopia and the lack of an inclination to push the envelope. It doesn’t take much talent to say no, but it takes leadership and creativity to take a germ of an idea to the next level. And it takes true vision to shepherd a new anything through the difficult trial-and-error gauntlet.
Close-minded responses to the unproven are not just limited to management. Politicians particularly have a unique knack of painting themselves into a corner with unlikely promulgations that frequently come back to haunt them in November after the opposite occurs. Backpedaling is probably the method most politicians use to get their exercise.
In a 1966 Time Magazine print edition feature story, this then-prestigious publication asserted, “Remote shopping, while feasible, will flop because women like to handle the merchandise and, with so much time on their hands, want to get out of the house.” Someone might want to email Time and ask the publisher how to spell Amazon.
There are alternatives to summarily stymieing thoughts, dreams or unproven methods. Certainly, there is a time and place for everything, and frequently, you or your team may not have adequate resources, at a particular moment, to pursue every idea that comes down the pike. Instead of saying no, a more fitting response is to say or think, “Let’s put that idea on a back burner so that we can for the moment focus on more conventional solutions, at least, for the shorter term.” This leaves the door open for continued research and refinement of an idea that could ultimately evolve into something meaningful.
Here is where the bucket from my headline comes in to preserve an incomparable yet promising notion that, at the moment, might be superfluous to the task at hand but, at the right time and place, proves to be a killer idea. I use the word bucket as a euphemism for a holding place or repository for things that I may want to explore when the time is right. Certainly, one cannot investigate every idea ever pondered, but at least by retaining all such ideas in one place, they are always there for future consideration when either more is learned about the subject matter or when comments begin surfacing in the media or elsewhere touching on that similar idea you’ve kept tucked away.
Your very own bucket can also become a temporary refuge merely to take your mind off other, more thorny problems or a simple respite from the day-to-day grind when you’re looking for a new inspiration. Alternatively, at the end of the year, remove the mothballs from your bucket and review what you’ve deposited. A fresh look just might ignite a former idea, which then takes on a new life of its own.
Anyone who has ever painted a room already knows not to wind up in a corner, lest they may never get out. Worse yet, more open-minded competitors could use that bucket to throw cold water on an idea that you had earlier but never capitalized on it while they did.
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 online at: www.thebenevolentdictator.biz. Reach him with comments at email@example.com.
In order to succeed in business you need to have inner confidence - that state of feeling certain about and trusting in yourself. You can have confidence in your goals, your team, your system and your family, but if you lack self-confidence, you are missing the main ingredient for success.
Lack of confidence makes it harder to:
- Make sound decisions
- Lead others
- Perform tasks and duties correctly
- Get a raise or promotion
Today I will provide you with 5 confidence tools that you should use on a daily basis in your business and professional life.
Let's get started!
Confidence Tool #1 - Focus
As I mentioned last month in 5 Tips for Improving Your Focus as a Busy Professional - over the years in my coaching and speaking, I have found focus to be of the utmost importance for success in the workplace. Too many professionals try to "fly by the seat of their pants" and lack any ability to direct their attention.
To use the tool of focus effectively, you must first determine the things that need your concentration and focus. Take the time to assess and evaluate them. What should come first, second and so on.
Once you have things evaluated and set out, laser-target your focus and do not allow yourself to be swayed away from the task at hand.
Knowing what needs your attention and intently focusing on those needs helps free the mind of distractions that lead to second-guessing and lack of confidence. This builds motivation that in turn leads to building a positive energy that helps you remain calm and focused during times of stress.
Focus prepares the mind for action.
Confidence Tool #2 - Mentorship
Anthony Robbins and others have talked a lot in recent years about modeling the success of successful people. The idea is to find someone who is successful in your area of work or expertise and do what they do - modeling their successful behaviors.
While I agree that this is helpful, I have always felt that simple modeling comes up short. When I model, I am left to my own devices. I am forced to determine just what it is that has made the person successful. In essence, I have to guess.
Mentorship overcomes this shortfall. Mentoring involves working directly with someone who can help you find your strengths and weaknesses in business. Mentoring takes the guesswork out of the process.
Find someone in your area who is a leader - someone who has achieved a level of success and ask him or her to mentor you. Work with their schedule to find times where you can meet and discuss your needs and desires related to your business.
I have found that many leaders enjoy the ability to mentor others.
Can you see how this tool can help with your inner confidence? It is powerful!
Confidence Tool # 3 - Attitude
You can become the smartest, well-trained and mentored individual with the absolute worst attitude and that attitude will lead to your demise.
Zig Ziglar said it this way:
"Attitude, not aptitude, determines altitude."
How high you fly in the world of business is determined not by how much you know, but by the power of your positive attitude.
Ziglar was a trainer and teacher for dozens of years; he was not speaking against you learning new things and being mentored by the best. It's a matter of perspective.
Truly confident people - not those who think confidence is made up of simple arrogance, are those who have a great attitude toward business, work and life. These are the ones that co-workers want to follow.
Attitude moves your action forward.
Confidence Tool #4 - Exercise
In her article: Get Ahead at Work: 5 Ways to Increase Your Confidence In Business, Kelly Lynn Adams talks about the role exercise plays in developing confidence in business.
"Exercise has been shown to improve both mental health (by releasing mood-improving endorphins) and physical wellbeing (by reducing the likelihood of illnesses) while also improving the way you feel about yourself. So, whether you prefer to dance, go to the gym, run outside, bike, take a yoga class or box, get moving. It may just pay off, literally!"
I could not have said it better!
Exercise provides strength for action.
Confidence Tool # 5 - Action
I have been hinting all along in this article that there is one very important tool that must be used in order develop the confidence needed to achieve true success in business.
That tool is action.
We must get up, get moving and get out there on a daily basis. Actual hands-on doing is a powerful provider of self-confidence. Action defines the muscle of confidence. Consistent, daily action makes that muscle strong.
When focus, mentorship, attitude, and exercise bolster action, inner confidence no longer becomes a struggle we face.
Use these tools and develop the confidence you need to achieve your wildest dreams in business.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.
Trina Gordon looked at her company’s clients and could see that they wanted more. It wasn’t that Boyden World Corp. had done a bad job of meeting their needs. They just had more needs to be met.
“What we began to notice out of this downturn was challenges in the macroeconomic environment continued to persist globally,” says Gordon, president and CEO at the professional services firm.
“Clients, particularly global clients and emerging global clients all over the worldwide landscape were becoming more demanding about greater consistency and quality of service from their advisers,” she says. “What that meant was we needed to take a really hard look at what was an effective client advisory relationship.”
It can be a tough pill to swallow when you feel like you’re giving maximum effort to help your clients and then you find out that you could be doing it better.
“There’s a little bit of that in your psyche that says, ‘I want to hear the great things I’m doing,’” Gordon says. “I’m not sure I want to hear where I didn’t do as well or where I need to improve. But it’s the only way we’re going to get better at what they want us to do and deepen the relationship.”
Sometimes, you’ve got to set your ego aside, even when you’re a top 10 global executive search firm with 250 associates in more than 70 offices and 40 countries around the world.
“Sometimes partnerships tend to be more process-driven and internally focused and concerned with the practices and processes of how we do our work,” Gordon says. “In this case, we had to turn that perception completely around and push our organization facing outward at potential and existing clients. We had to build a foundation for how everything we did focused on what they told us they needed and how we performed against those needs and requirements.”
Get to the point
In the simplest terms, clients were looking for more bang for their buck with Boyden.
“Clients were no longer saying we have talent or human capital needs in emerging markets and anybody sitting in an emerging market can help us,” Gordon says. “What they began to say was we want real sector expertise, sometimes even deep functional expertise. You need to understand our business in a unique way. We began to see as a board, as a partnership, a real tipping point in how clients look at the professional services sector.”
Gordon wanted to respond swiftly, but methodically to this change in the marketplace. It needed to be done, but it needed to be done right.
“The challenge for a firm like our’s is how do you respond to those trends in a way that really adds differentiating value to clients,” Gordon says. “How were we going to uniquely stand apart from our competition and ensure that we could meet those client needs at an increasingly and more complicated demand level?”
One of the first things Gordon did was meet with all Boyden’s global partners and her leadership team. It would serve as a foundational meeting to begin developing a strategy to transform the firm.
“The message was we have this opportunistic window in our own retained search business to drive this concept forward and lead it as a premier global search firm, the first to do so,” Gordon says.
One of the next steps was a global conference in Asia where many of the firm’s key leaders sat down and defined the things that they felt the firm needed to represent going forward. These leaders had spoken with clients and gathered feedback. Now it was time to lay it all out there so Boyden could begin to shape its strategy.
“Part of what clients have shared with us is we want to have a singular kind of experience with you,” Gordon says. “That means you need to understand who we are and what our business strengths are. Understand our business. Get under our skin. Be sector specific with us. You have to demonstrate a genuine understanding of who we are, which meant the difference between a robust client relationship and one that isn’t robust.”
Know what you don’t know
There is a word of caution that must be addressed for any firm that is looking to adapt what it does for its clients. You better have a good idea of what you stand for before you begin the transformation.
“When we stray from our core expertise and we stretch out and try to do something we’re not capable of doing, we’re no longer acting with integrity and it ultimately will affect the client relationship,” Gordon says.
“We have to be able to know what our strengths are, be true to them and have the courage to say, ‘This is how we can best help you.’ We also have to be honest with the client and say, ‘This is what we can do and this is what we can’t do well.’ We’re not going to risk our relationship for the sake of saying we can be all things to a client.”
If you don’t know what your core beliefs and expertise are, then how will you know whether the thing you’re being asked to do fits in? You have to be clear about it so that you can give your best effort and performance on the project.
“It’s one thing to stretch in an area where we have done some work and there’s expertise elsewhere in our firm to help us and guide us and draw upon and bring into the client equation,” Gordon says.
“It’s another when it’s completely further afield from the core expertise of the firm. That’s where you can get into trouble with a client. And it’s very hard to recover a relationship that you’ve damaged.”
Boyden is a big firm and so there was a ton of information and data to sort through as this transformation took place. It was incumbent upon Gordon to not let it overwhelm her team.
“It’s important to take a step back, center yourself and think through what’s really important,” Gordon says. “Prioritize and move in steps. You’ll overwhelm the organization if you try to do much too soon without a coherent message, without responsible buy-in and without a very clear approach to staying true to who you are. “We’re still evolving as an organization because change is not always an easy thing. What I’ve learned is to take a deep breath and make sure you’re confident in the people around you and confident in what your clients are telling you.”
You want to please your clients and that’s obviously the most important thing. But don’t let it affect your work and force you into a pace that will result in a substandard final product.
You also need to make sure you’re cognizant of your personnel resources. What skills can your people jump right in and take on and which ones will require some level of training?
“You can’t just assume you have a completely homogenous organization that all can move forward at the same time toward this enhanced approach with clients,” Gordon says. “One of the things I tried to do very early with our leadership team was reach out to those key voices inside our firm who embody this work already and who are our greatest client advocates.”
You undoubtedly have some people in your company who can be trainers and who can help their peers grow. Tap into that resource and put it to use. And for other people who need to learn some new skills, do what you can to help them.
“There’s a lot going on inside a complex organization,” Gordon says. “Not everybody can drink from a fire hose at the same time. So you need to be able to call upon your leadership, those individuals that people respect and know that already embody this expertise with clients and utilize their knowledge base and their talent to train, teach and enrich younger partners or partners that are new to the profession. That is a continual process.”
It’s a process that will likely never be completely wrapped up. There’s always more to learn and more to figure out and Gordon says they’ll just keep on trying to do the best they can for their clients. But this process has already put the firm in a better position to serve those clients.
“Our dashboard is built, our metrics are built, so all of it is now launched,” Gordon says. “We’re at this exciting period where you’re diving off the board hand in hand with your client into this brave new milieu. I see it as a continual evolution that our own firm and each and every one of our partners will sort of continuously travel together.”
How to reach: Boyden World Corp., (312) 565-1300 or www.boyden.com
The Gordon File
Trina Gordon, president and CEO, Boyden World Corp.
Born: Alliance, Ohio
Education: Bachelor’s degree, political science; master’s degree, public administration, Auburn University
What did you want to be growing up?
From the time I was little, I always wanted to be an equine veterinarian. So my interest in Auburn, at least prior to going there, was they have one of the finest equine veterinary schools in the country. When I went there, I fell in love with the philosophy of the university, the campus and the people. But I found that the pre-veterinary program, I didn’t have the constitution for invasive medicine. So my dream of becoming an equine vet versus the leader of a professional search firm is quite different. So I switched majors, I stayed and I loved it.
What was your very first job?
In the summer, my brother and I ran a custom car detailing business part of the day out of my parents’ garage. Then in the afternoons, I ran a daycare nursery school for kids in our area. I had about 10 to 12 kids at a time and they were ages six to 10.
Who would you like to meet and why?
I love history, so if I had the opportunity to sit down with anyone, it would be Elizabeth I. I would like to know how a woman who was the first leader of a powerful, yet fledgling nation was able to bring a divided country together and bring them to global prominence. How she was able to unify them behind an individual who heretofore in their history, had never been a woman and reign long and lasting over a very respectful populace. She was able to gain the credibility of all the men around her and win respect around medieval Europe.
Be clear about your goals.
Understand your limitations.
Don’t rush just to get it done.
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.
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.
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.
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