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Any business owner can attest to the fact that running a business is no simple feat. As a small or mid-sized business owner, you must be prepared to wear many different hats, from new business guru, to HR manager, to janitor.

Running a business is all about preparing as much as possible, while still knowing that the unexpected is bound to happen, no matter how hard you anticipate. Being able to adapt quickly, think on your feet and learn as you go will help you be successful as you run your small business.

As cliché as it may sound, I often hear business owners and entrepreneurs say, “I wish I knew then what I know now.” With that in mind, here are a few simple lessons business owners have shared that might help make you successful in the business world:

•           Understand what it takes to be a business owner: One of the first steps is to decide on what you want your life to look like. If you’re looking for more control and to “make your own hours,” then entrepreneurship is probably the right step.

•           Be willing to go the distance: Leading a business takes time — time away from your personal life, spouse, family, and children. If you haven’t thought this through and developed a plan, you may find the demands of running a business pretty daunting.

•           Keep your eyes wide open: Business ownership can be a cold world and business owners may not receive as much support as they expect.

•           Know how and when to delegate tasks: Being a successful entrepreneur doesn’t mean being an ace at everything. It means knowing your strengths and working with others who complement your abilities by adding value to weak areas.

•           Be patient: Don’t expect overnight success. When you are pursuing a new venture, you need capital, and you need time. The only way to get there is by committing 100 percent.

•           Manage well: Never over-manage your employees, and learn to trust your staff. When it’s your blood, sweat and tears building a business, it is easy to become a micro-manager.

Truly trusting an employee means giving them the freedom and independence of working on their own and believing that they’ll do what is needed, even if unsupervised. Your employees will appreciate the mutual respect, and will be more inclined to reciprocate with hard work and loyalty.

•           Focus on your clients: If you’re looking for fame, get out now. Running a business isn’t about building fame and fortune; it’s about focusing on your clients and building your brand.

•           Be able to identify opportunities: Similarly, it’s important to be able to identify opportunities for profit and success. Some of the less cool, decidedly unsexy businesses are around because their owners saw an opportunity and acted on it.

The underlying theme for all of these tips is: Be prepared, be flexible and be successful, and keep in mind the tips above.

Gene Marks owns the Marks Group PC, a firm that provides sales and marketing technology and consulting services to businesses. He is a regular contributor to The New York Times, Forbes Inc. and has written five books on business, his most recent, “In God We Trust, Everyone Else Pays Cash.” Visit genemarks.com for more information. He is the featured entrepreneur and spokesperson for Hiscox Small Business Insurance's Author’s Series for Entrepreneurs.

 

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.

When you’re a powerhouse player in your industry, the key to success is often the ability to step back and take stock of who you are, where you are and where you’re going. Sometimes, an existential approach is intuitive; it’s easier to self-reflect when you’re beginning a new venture or making a monumental change.

But what about when you’re experiencing success? Taking stock when you’re on top is far from redundant; in fact, figuring out where your accomplishments have come from makes you more likely to duplicate them. Here are some suggestions for seizing the moment and sizing up your business.

Don’t agonize — organize

Rather than rely on the year’s end to inspire a big-picture appraisal, set quarterly dates to dissect core activities, finances, human resources and sales/marketing strategy.

Not only will it save you from feeling overwhelmed by the immensity of an annual assessment, but it will help you reassess and realign continuously, which can help make transitions more seamless — especially when they are unexpected.

Turn projects into projections

A few years after launch, Petplan transitioned to being an entirely paperless organization. Initially the transition was a success, and operationally, the project had already paid dividends.

But as time went by, it became apparent that we needed to create a tangible product for our clients. We decided to publish a glossy pet health publication for policyholders to help communicate our company’s core values and add a “touchable” touchpoint to our customer communications.

To our delight, Fetch! magazine was an overnight success and has grown its readership from 50,000 to more than 250,000 in just a few short years. The magazine project led to some new projections about ad revenue, and we eventually began selling space in its pages.

Because of big-picture thinking in small, regular doses, we were able to take an internal project, build off it to create something new, and then leverage that to add to the company’s overall profitability.

Find a fresh set of eyes

When trends need to be changed, getting back on the right track is essential, but sometimes the people closest to the “problem” are the least likely to be able to solve it. One of the best ways to chart a new course is to bring new talent to the table. This could mean finding a mentor, hiring a new executive or perhaps finding a visionary investor.

When we launched Petplan, we focused almost exclusively on sales, and all of our customer communications reflected that. Soon, it became clear that we needed to rework strategy to include not just sales but customer service.

To help us course-correct, we turned to Vernon W. Hill, the founder of Commerce Bank. Vernon joined our board as chairman and brought extraordinary experience around customer satisfaction to the company.

This year, in an effort to evolve partner veterinarian relationships, we’ve placed a heavyweight at the helm of our veterinary channel: Steve Shell. A fresh set of eyes can invigorate vision — whether it comes from the people above you or the employees you entrust with managing the daily activities of your business.

When you commit to unplugging from the daily drudgery to assess the scope of your operations a few times throughout the year, you’ll soon find that the only place to go is up.

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.

Friday, 16 November 2012 16:09

The importance of empathy in the workplace

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Empathy is the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions or experience of others. Empathy is more than simple sympathy, which is being able to understand and support others with compassion or sensitivity.

Simply put, empathy is the ability to step into someone else's shoes, be aware of their feelings and understand their needs.

In the workplace, empathy can show a deep respect for co-workers and show that you care, as opposed to just going by rules and regulations. An empathic leadership style can make everyone feel like a team and increase productivity, morale and loyalty. Empathy is a powerful tool in the leadership belt of a well-liked and respected executive.

We could all take a lesson from nurses about being empathetic. Time and again, nurses rate as the most trusted profession. Why? Because they use proper empathy to make patients feel cared for and safe.

Over the years I have discovered that most people who score high on assessments for empathy have no idea why. They do not completely understand what it is they actually do that makes others see them as empathetic. They can only express that they:

 

 

  • Like people.

 

 

  • Enjoy working with and helping others.

 

 

  • Value people as individuals.

 

 

In order to facilitate a deeper understanding of the importance of empathy in the workplace, I will pose four questions regarding the nature, role and benefits of empathy.

1.    Why does it matter for us to understand the needs of others?

By understanding others we develop closer relationships.

The radar of every good executive just went off when they read the word “relationships.” This is not a bad thing since most people understand the problems that happen when improper relationships are developed in the workplace.

This being said, the baby cannot be thrown out with the bath water. In order for a team of workers and their leaders to work powerfully together, proper relationships must be built and deepened.

When this happens through empathy, trust is built in the team. When trust is built, good things begin to happen.

2.    What traits/behaviors distinguish someone as empathetic?

Empathy requires three things: listening, openness and understanding.

Empathetic people listen attentively to what you’re telling them, putting their complete focus on the person in front of them and not getting easily distracted. They spend more time listening than talking because they want to understand the difficulties others face, all of which helps to give those around them the feeling of being heard and recognized.

Empathetic executives and managers realize that the bottom line of any business is only reached through and with people. Therefore, they have an attitude of openness towards and understanding of the feelings and emotions of their team members.

3.    What role does empathy play in the workplace? Why does it matter?

When we understand our team, we have a better idea of the challenges ahead of us.

To drive home the above point, further consider these:

 

 

  • Empathy allows us to feel safe with our failures because we won’t simply be blamed for them.

 

 

  • It encourages leaders to understand the root cause behind poor performance.

 

 

  • Being empathetic allows leaders to help struggling employees improve and excel.

 

 

Empathy plays a major role in the workplace for every organization that will deal with failures, poor performance and employees who truly want to succeed. As leaders, our role is simple—deal empathetically with our team and watch them build a strong and prosperous organization.

4.    So why aren’t we being more empathetic at work?

Empathy takes work.

 

 

  • Demonstrating empathy takes time and effort to show awareness and understanding.

 

 

  • It’s not always easy to understand why an employee thinks or feels the way they do about a situation.

 

 

  • It means putting others ahead of yourself, which can be a challenge in today’s competitive workplace.

 

 

  • Many organizations are focused on achieving goals no matter what the cost to employees.

 

 

Each of these reasons can be seen as true.

Let me ask a question though: What distinguishes average to mediocre leaders from those who excel?

In my opinion, the distinction comes through the ability of the leader who actively works against all the so-called “reasons” and incorporates an attitude of empathy throughout his or her organization. That type of leader will excel.

By spending more time learning about the needs of their employees, leaders can set the tone and approach taken by their employees to achieve their organization’s goals.

When writing about empathy I am reminded of the famous quote from Theodore Roosevelt:

“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

This is a truth that has long stood the test of time. It is true for our relationships in and out of the workplace.

DeLores Pressleymotivational 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 helps individuals utilize personal power, increase confidence and live a life of significance. Her story has been touted in The Washington Post, Black Enterprise, First for Women, Essence, New York Daily News, Ebony and Marie Claire. She is a frequent media guest and has been interviewed on every major network – ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX – including America’s top rated shows OPRAH and Entertainment Tonight.

She is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” To book her as a speaker or coach, contact her office at 330.649.9809 or via email atinfo@delorespressley.com or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.

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